Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Survivals and New Arrivals―VI. The Opportunity

• Chapter I: Introductory
• Chapter II. The Two Cultures
• Chapter III. Survivals
• Chapter IV. The Main Opposition
• Chapter V. New Arrivals
• Chapter VI. The Opportunity

Chapter VI. The Opportunity

THE New Paganism advances over the modern world like a blight over a harvest. You may see it in building, in drawing in letters, in morals.

But it seems—as yet—to be producing no positive force. It is breeding no new organized religion to combat the Faith. That may come Meanwhile there is a gap: and that gap is our Opportunity. It is possible to reconvert the world.

What weapons can Catholicism discover wherewith to reconquer from Paganism the advance which it shall have made in our culture?

This Opportunity presented to Catholicism has two aspects The first is, that Paganism being of its nature a confessed inability to answer the Great Questions on Man's nature and destiny is of its nature an invitation to those who possess the key. The second is that we are dealing, not with a Paganism native to those we have to meet, but with a Paganism which is a corruption of, and decline from, a much better state of society, some memory of which remains, and the corruption of which may soon prove sufficiently shocking to provoke reaction. We are still dealing with Christendom: with Christendom in ruins, but with Christendom. Our fathers aid us.

As to the first, our unique power to answer the Great Questions, it has always seemed to me the most powerful instrument possessed by the Faith in the spiritual crisis now so close upon us. You cannot perhaps convert despair when despair has been erected into a system, as it has in the greater part of Asiatic Paganism; but you can check it in its beginnings, when it is no more than the loss of something which the despairing man knows he has enjoyed, and cannot but wish he might recover. To the Great Questions which man must ask himself and which so insistently demand an answer (What is man? Whence comes he? Has the universe a purpose? What part does man play in that purpose? What final destinies may be his?) the Catholic Church gives not only a reply (Buddhism does that after a fashion, and even in a very vague manner other Paganisms less systematized) but a fully consistent solution: a sound, complete, system of philosophy. Moreover Her answer is not only consistent; It is triumphant. She knows fully her own validity; She can point in actual practice to the effect of happiness produced in society by Her philosophy.

Those Great Questions will be asked again and again. We are not hearing the last of them; we are rather at the beginnings of their second postulation, at the beginnings of a new interest in them.

It is a strange mark of the New Paganism, and the most hopeful one, that it should already have become occupied, with discussion at least, on the problem of Man. But the greater part of our Neo-Pagans remain throughout the discussion in ignorance of what the Catholic scheme may be. The success or failure of our effort against the New Paganism will depend much more on letting people know what the Catholic Church is, than upon anything else.

It is arresting to discover in what numbers modern men with a reasonable standard of instruction in the rest of the world about them are blank upon the most important subject of all; though it lies everywhere right to their hand. They have not the ABC of the Faith.

Here in England, where I am writing these lines, not a day passes but someone, often of eminence, starts a theological controversy in the popular Press, makes an affirmation, one way or the other, upon the Great Questions, and proposes an answer. But in the whole mass of the stuff—and there are thousands of columns of it—there is not one hundredth which shows the least acquaintance with what the Catholic Church may be: the Catholic theology and its two thousand years of accumulated definition and reason: the philosophy which made our civilization and in the absence of which our civilization may perish.

Thus an Anglican Bishop, Dr. Barnes of Birmingham, a man distinguished in his University, a very clear writer and, one would have said, compelled by his very profession to read some theology, told us his reasons the other day for denying the Catholic doctrine of the Resurrection. He said it was incompatible with chemistry! Evidently he had no idea what the Catholic doctrine might be.

Sir Oliver Lodge, a physicist, produced somewhat earlier a strong affirmation of the future life. It turned out to be this life: much as it is lived in the clubs and hotels of his acquaintance. He has never heard, apparently, the Catholic doctrine of Eternity, nor the implications of that doctrine, nor so much as an echo of the profound speculations, the profounder conclusions which contemplation of Catholic dogma has reached in that awful affair.

These are two typical examples from England. Of course, things are better on the continent of Europe where there is some acquaintance with scholastic philosophy even among the opponents of the Catholic Church. But everywhere the chief need is instruction, and our greatest weakness in the conflict which has begun is the difficulty of getting our opponents to know the mere nature of the subject they are so ready to discuss.

The second opportunity we have is of a different sort, not intellectual but moral. The falling of Christendom into Paganism must necessarily produce results shocking to our inherited culture.

Of this reaction there are already signs, but how far will it be pushed? Left to itself that reaction will effect little. The more hopeful Catholic is encouraged when he sees the disgust already provoked by the first products of the new Paganism. He notes the appeal still presented by traditional morals, by the desire to save beauty and proportion and decent living. The less hopeful Catholic notes the vast and increasing proportion of the world about him in which such disgust is not aroused: on which the worst innovations meet with no protest, though commonly, it is true, with no welcome. He sees the continued progress of slime and the gradual (or rapid) swamping of province after province in our ancient culture.

How far the reaction may go, whether we may not even be able to lead it to a triumphant conclusion, no man can tell. I cannot but wish—somewhat temerariously—that the new Paganism may develop a little too rapidly, shock a little too violently the dormant conscience of Europe, and thereby prepare the counter-attack against it.

Our world finds itself moving towards nothingness; can it remain content in the prospect of such a goal?

All the old goals have disappeared. Civil liberty has not done what was asked of it, it has not even been achieved. Its concomitant, so-called "democracy," has not done what was asked of it, it has not given man dignity or security. Both these great ideals of the 19th century are ending in mere plutocracy and in our subjection to a few quite unworthy controllers of all our lives: the monopolists of material, of currency, information and transport; the tyranny of trust—masters in production, banking, journals and communications.

The lay philosophies have gone. They have all broken down. They are no longer in effect. They fulfilled no ultimate function; they solved no problem, they brought no peace. Their power has departed.

Even the noble religion of Nationalism has only brought us to the mutual self-destruction of the Great War and threat of much worse: and Nationalism itself is growing weary. It made its supreme effort in compelling men to muster for the huge slaughter; it will hardly so muster them again.

The void which I thus indicate is not only negative. It creates what engineers call "a potential," just as a void in nature creates a "a potential." For a void must be filled. Therefore the emptiness of the present moment, and its unrest, have a certain most important, positive effect; and that is the Opportunity. We live not only in a moment of confusion, disappointment and anger, but also in a moment of Opportunity for the Faith.

I have discussed in the last section what signs there might be of new Counter-Religions arising against the Faith and said that, as yet, none appeared. I said also that though not certain yet such a creation was probable. I add here that in its delay is the Opportunity for the Faith to take the initiative again after its long siege of 300 years.

Some solution, as we saw in the discussion of New Arrivals will presumably be attempted; some creed, some social philosophy in which men can rest. Nor will the process perhaps be very long delayed. Mankind of our sort seems unlikely to carry on for long without certitude, real or imaginary. Our minds need something on which to bite and should sooner or later, and sooner rather than later, erect doctrines of which tradition will make an unshaken system; men should adopt not only conventions of conduct, but a code of morals; they should discover or invent something to worship. We of the Faith can present them something real to discover, which, when they have found it, will destroy any desire to invent.

Such is the nature of the Opportunity—and it is of deep interest. Perhaps there has never been an occasion in history when interest of the same kind was present in the same degree.

Perhaps it is more than an Opportunity. Perhaps action has already begun.

The men of a particular period are not aware of the forces that arise in their day. Men in the mass appreciate a force when it is mature and when its action has begun to produce effects upon a large scale. When it is nascent its presence goes either unnoticed or despised.

There is present today throughout the civilization of Europe and its expansion over the New World, a force of this kind; it is the recovery of the Catholic Apologetic.

It is curious to note that the power of this new influence is more readily recognized by the opponents of the Catholic Church than by its friends. These last are too much aware of the old anti-Catholic fashion in history and literature. They exaggerate its survival and are timid.

On the top of that there is the desire not to disturb. What is worse, the very philosophy of our opponents has tinctured our supporters. Among the less-cultivated the connection between religion and its secondary social effects is unfamiliar. Among the somewhat more cultivated there is the fear of disturbing superficial worldly relations. Even in the highest rank of intelligence and sincerity there has grown up a sort of habit in accepting insult, and a "vis inertiae" which inhibits the Catholic from doing freely what his opponents do freely. Yet the Catholic apologetic grows.

This new force, the modern Catholic apologetic, is fought shy of, even by those in whose favor it is working; but to convince yourself of its existence, note two things: the rapidity with which its opponents have discovered its presence, and the change in general tone now running like a tide through the thought of our time.

A new antagonism to the new force of the Catholic Church shows itself in nations of Protestant culture by a certain note of exasperation which in the day of our fathers was unknown. There was plenty of active opposition and bludgeoning of the Church in mid-Victorian days; but it was a contemptuous and assured anger: that of today is panicky. In nations of the Catholic culture the ill-at-ease Catholic advance shows itself in a sort of sullen muttering among our opponents; the complaint of an old cause which thinks its success a matter of right but no longer certain.

If we turn to the positive evidences of this Catholic advance we shall discover these only after a very general fashion.

The characteristically modern test of numbers fails. We are not as yet rapidly advancing in numbers. But the numerical test does not apply at first to a rising moral force. A modern man accustomed to testing everything by numbers, would, if he had been put down in Rome about the year 280, have decided that the Catholic Church had no chance—but he would have been quite wrong.

In numbers, I repeat, the Catholic Church is not advancing appreciably in the modern world. I think that on the whole, in mere numbers, She is slightly receding. Great peasant areas in France have been lost, and in all Catholic countries great numbers of the new working-class suburbs of the towns have been lost: and these losses more than compensate, on a mere counting of heads, for the new recruitment among the thinkers.

In Ireland there may now be some increase over twenty years ago, especially since the stoppage of emigration after 1914. I have no statistics by me as I write; but certainly, compared with a lifetime ago, the figures are against the Faith even there. Whether they be so in Great Britain or no I cannot tell—nor can anyone else—for there is no satisfactory record; but I doubt whether the increase through conversion and the bringing up of the children of mixed marriages has either compensated for the leakage or proved equivalent to the general increase of the population.

Here I am subject to correction by many good observers who will disagree with me. But, at any rate, their margin of disagreement will not be very wide. In Italy and Spain, where the position has been firm now for many years, there have been lost throughout two generations, and especially latterly, great bodies of artisans in the new industrialism. The bulk of the Germans have been subjected for a long lifetime to an anti-Catholic hegemony; in certain Slav States, notably in Bohemia, Nationalism lost, or weakened, Catholic numbers.

But the more important intellectual and moral tests of the advance are all in our favor. To begin with, the Catholic case has "got over the footlights." It has "pierced." Intellectual Europe today is again aware of the one consistent philosophy upon this earth which explains our little passage through the daylight; which gives a purpose to things and which presents not a mere hodgepodge of stories and unfounded assertions, but a whole chain and body of cause and effect in the moral world. It is further becoming apparent that there is, as yet, no rival in this respect to the Catholic Church. There is now no full alternative system left.

Of perhaps more effect in a time such as ours, after so long a prevalence of intellectual decline, is the pragmatic test of the Faith, that is, its test in practice; for practice and experience affect even those who cannot think.

It has become more and more clear in the last generation, and with particular acceleration since the latest and immense catastrophe of the Great War, that the Faith preserves whatever, outside the Faith, is crumbling: marriage, the family, property, authority, honor to parents, right reason, even the arts. This is a political fact—not a theory. It is a fact as large and as certain as is a neighboring mountain in a landscape.

If the influence of the Church declines, civilization will decline with it and all the effects of tradition. It is a commonplace with educated men that the Catholic Church made our civilization, but it is not equally a commonplace—as it ought to be—that on Her continued power depends the continuance of our civilization. Our civilization is as much a product of the Catholic Church as the vine is the product of a particular climate. Take the vine to another climate and it will die.

It is error to mistake this product of the Catholic Church, Civilization, for her true end and nature. Her nature is that of an infallible and divine voice. Her end is beatitude elsewhere for us all: who here are exiles. But my point is that all men should closely watch the fortunes of the Faith, both those who accept it and those who reject it, because that fortune is bound up with all those lesser things which even those who reject the Church regard as essential to right living, from the lesser arts and amenities to the main institutions of European society.

Those who defend and support the Church (though believing it to be but a man-made illusion) because it happens to be the support of a temporal structure, are in grave moral and theological error. The Faith is not to be supported on such grounds. My thesis is not of that kind—God forbid!—but rather that all men believing or unbelieving should fix their close attention, at this moment of revolution and transition, upon the Catholic Church, as being the pivotal institution whereupon the fate, even temporal, of all must turn.

Two things still partly mask that truth: chaotic and feverish industrialism and the idea that tradition can be destroyed and yet life remain. For the second I would say that those who maintain it do not understand the nature of life, of maturity, of a fixed organism—from which if you take away its vital principle the whole decays. While as to the first, industrialism, I should say that it has lived its odd diseased life (strangely and suddenly expanding, but without sufficient happiness) by what it retains of Catholic doctrine. Insofar as Industrialism and its bad commercial morals have lived with any health—and health is not their conspicuous feature—that non-Catholic culture has hitherto lived by retaining some sense of moral responsibility, and I might add (however distantly) of the Incarnation—of the Incarnation's effect, at least, upon human dignity. It has survived on ideas inherited from a better time. Moreover today the non-Catholic culture is manifestly failing, and its only issue is towards nothingness—even more among its Pagan rich than among its now rebellious poor.

I apprehend that in the near future there will arise grave difficulties from the very fact that the tide of the Faith is rising. Those engaged upon helping on that tide will confuse Faith with fads. For this peril a recognition of authority is the first and indeed the only safeguard. Moreover, we have no doubt where Authority lies, and therein we are singularly fortunate, for we act under obedience to a Society of Divine Foundation, of known and definable organs for its expression, and of infallibility in its final decisions.

And upon the right conduct of our passage through such perils, how much depends! Upon the right conduct of the presentation of the Faith in the next long lifetime surely depends the future of the world.

There would seem to be no third event between two issues. Either we shall see the gradual permeation of mankind by the only body of truth to which the mind leaps in unison, rendering all as secure as it can be among a fallen race; or our civilization will sink to be a completely alien body, knowing even less of the Faith than do the distraught town millions of today.

It would seem as though, before the youngest of our children has passed, the world will have had to take its decision between these two alternatives: either the spreading of the Faith throughout the now closely intercommunicating body of mankind, or the splitting of that vast association into two camps: one small, and perhaps dwindling, of the fold; the other large, perhaps growing larger, upon the hills without.

Not a few profound observers (one in especial, a modern French-Jewish convert of the highest intellectual power) have proposed, as a probable tendency or goal to which we were moving, a world in which a small but intense body of the Faith should stand apart in an increasing flood of Paganism. I, for my part (it is but a personal opinion and worth little) believe, upon the whole, a Catholic increase to be the more likely; for, in spite of the time in which I live, I cannot believe that the Human Reason will permanently lose its power. Now the Faith is based upon Reason, and everywhere outside the Faith the decline of Reason is apparent.

But if I be asked what sign we may look for to show that the advance of the Faith is at hand, I would answer by a word the modern world has forgotten: Persecution. When that shall once more be at work it will be morning.

~Hilaire Belloc

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