Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Atheism

The Atheist is he that has forgotten God. He that denies God may do so in many innocent ways, and is an Atheist on form, but is not condemnable as such. Thus one man will reason by contradiction that there can be no God. If there were a God (says he), how could things be? This man has not read or does not know sufficient to his purpose, or is not wide enough. His purpose is Truth, so he is not to be condemned. Another will say, “There is no God,” meaning, “There is none that I have heard called God”: as, the figure of an old man; some vengeful spirit; an absurdity taught him by fools; and so forth. Another also will say, “There is no God,” as he would say, “Thus do I solve this riddle!” He has played a game, coming to a conclusion of logic, and supposes himself right by the rules of the game. Nor is he to be more condemned than one who shall prove, not that God is not, but that God is, by similar ways. For though this man proves truth, and that that first man falsehood, yet each is only concerned with proving, and not with making good or standing up for the Truth, so that it shall be established. Neither would found in the mind something unshakeable, but each would rather bring a process to its conclusion for neatness.

We call that man Atheist who, thinking or unthinking, walking or sleeping, knows not God; and when it is brought to him that either God is not or is, would act as though the question mattered nothing. Such an Atheist makes nothing of God’s judgments nor of his commands. He does not despise them but will have them absent, as he will have God absent also. Nor is he a rebel but rather an absconder.

Of Atheism you may say that it is proper to a society and not to a man, so that Atheists are proper to an Atheist Commonwealth, and this because we find God in mankind or lose him there.

Rousseau would have no Atheist in the Republic. All other opinion he thought tolerable, but this intolerable because through it was loosened every civil bond. But if a commonwealth be not Atheist no Atheist will be within it, since it is through men and their society that one man admits God. No one quite lonely could understand or judge whether of God’s existence or of much lesser things. A man quite lonely could not but die long before he was a man grown. Also a man Atheist in a Commonwealth truly worshipping would be abhorrent as a traitor with us and would stand silent. How, then, would Rousseau not tolerate the Atheist in his Republic, seeing that if his Republic were not Atheist no Atheist could be therein? Of this contradiction the solution is that false doctrine of any kind is partially hidden and striving in the minds of men before one man shall become its spokesman. Now of false doctrine when it is thus blind and under water nothing can be either tolerated or proscribed. The ill-ease of it is felt but no magistrate can seize it anywhere. But when one man brings it up to reason and arms it with words, then has it been born (as it were) into the world, and can be tried and judged, accepted or expelled.

No Commonwealth has long stood that was Atheist, yet many have been Atheist a little before they died: as some men lose the savour of meats, and the colours and sounds of things also a little before they die.

A Commonwealth fallen into this palsy sees no merit in God’s effect of Justice, but makes a game of law. In peril, as in battle or shipwreck, each man will save himself. In commerce man will cozen man. The Commonwealth grown Atheist lets the larger prey upon the less, until all are eaten up.

They say that a man not having seen salt or knowing that such a thing as salt might be and even denying that salt could be (since he had not seen it), might very livelily taste the saltness of the sea. So it is with men who still love Justice, though they have lost Religion. For these men are angered by evil-doing, and will risk their bodies in pity and in indignation. They therefore truly serve God in whose essence Justice resides, and of whom the Effect in Society is Justice. But what shall we say of a man who speaks of salt as a thing well known, and yet finds no division between his well and the water of the sea? And that is the Atheist case. When men of a mean sinfulness purchase a seat of judgment, and therein, while using the word “God,” care nothing for right but consider the advantage of their aged limbs and bellies, or of the fellow rich they drink with, then they are Atheist indeed.

That Commonwealth also is Atheist in while the rulers will use the fear of God for a cheat, hoping thereby to make foolish men work for them, or give up their goods, or accept insult and tyranny. It is so ordered that this trick most powerfully slings back upon its authors, and that the populace are now moved at last not by empty sentences which have God’s name in them, but by lively devils. In the end of such cheats the rich men who so lied are murdered and by a side wind God comes to his own.

One came to a Courtier who had risen high in the State by flattery and cowardice, but who had been a keen wit. To this courtier he propounded a certain scheme which would betray the Commonwealth, and this Courtier agreed to. But when he had done so he said: “Either God is or is not. If he is not, why then we have chosen well.”

This instance is a mark and Atheism is judged by it. For if God is not, then all falsehoods, though each prove the rest false, are each true, and there is confusion everywhere. But if God is, then the world can stand. Now that the world does stand all men know and live by, even those who, not in a form of words but in the heart, deny its Grand Principle.

~Hilaire Belloc: This and That and the Other. (1912)


Friday, March 21, 2014

Poem: The South Country

WHEN I am living in the Midlands
That are sodden and unkind,
I light my lamp in the evening:
My work is left behind;
And the great hills of the South Country
Come back into my mind.

The great hills of the South Country
They stand along the sea;
And it's there walking in the high woods
That I could wish to be,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Walking along with me.

The men that live in North England
I saw them for a day:
Their hearts are set upon the waste fells,
Their skies are fast and grey;
From their castle-walls a man may see
The mountains far away.

The men that live in West England
They see the Severn strong,
A-rolling on rough water brown
Light aspen leaves along.
They have the secret of the Rocks,
And the oldest kind of song.

But the men that live in the South Country
Are the kindest and most wise,
They get their laughter from the loud surf,
And the faith in their happy eyes
Comes surely from our Sister the Spring
When over the sea she flies;
The violets suddenly bloom at her feet,
She blesses us with surprise.

I never get between the pines
But I smell the Sussex air;
Nor I never come on a belt of sand
But my home is there.
And along the sky the line of the Downs
So noble and so bare.

A lost thing could I never find,
Nor a broken thing mend:
And I fear I shall be all alone
When I get towards the end.
Who will be there to comfort me
Or who will be my friend?

I will gather and carefully make my friends
Of the men of the Sussex Weald,
They watch the stars from silent folds,
They stiffly plough the field.
By them and the God of the South Country
My poor soul shall be healed.

If I ever become a rich man,
Or if ever I grow to be old,
I will build a house with deep thatch
To shelter me from the cold,
And there shall the Sussex songs be sung
And the story of Sussex told.

I will hold my house in the high wood
Within a walk of the sea,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Shall sit and drink with me.

~Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mohammed and Calvin

"THERE is thus a very great deal in common between the enthusiasm with which Mohammed's teaching attacked the priesthood, the Mass and the sacraments, and the enthusiasm with which Calvinism, the central motive force of the Reformation, did the same."

~Hilaire Belloc: The Great Heresies.

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick

IF there is one thing that people who are not Catholic have gone wrong upon more than another in the intellectual things of life, it is the conception of a Personality. They are muddled about it where their own little selves are concerned, they misappreciate it when they deal with the problems of society, and they have a very weak hold of it when they consider (if they do consider) the nature of Almighty God.

Now, personality is everything. It was a Personal Will that made all things, visible and invisible. Our hope of immortality resides in this, that we are persons, and half our frailties proceed from a misapprehension of the awful responsibilities which personality involves or a cowardly ignorance of its powers of self-government.

The hundred and one errors which this main error leads to include a bad error on the nature of history. Your modern non-Catholic or anti-Catholic historian is always misunderstanding, underestimating, or muddling the role played in the affairs of men by great and individual Personalities. That is why he is so lamentably weak upon the function of legend; that is why he makes a fetish of documentary evidence and has no grip upon the value of tradition. For traditions spring from some personality invariably, and the function of legend, whether it be a rigidly true legend or one tinged with make-believe, is to interpret Personality. Legends have vitality and continue, because in their origin they so exactly serve to explain or illustrate some personal character in a man which no cold statement could give.

Now St. Patrick, the whole story and effect of him, is a matter of Personality. There was once — twenty or thirty years ago — a whole school of dunderheads who wondered whether St. Patrick ever existed, because the mass of legends surrounding his name troubled them. How on earth (one wonders) do such scholars consider their fellow-beings! Have they ever seen a crowd cheering a popular hero, or noticed the expression upon men's faces when they spoke of some friend of striking power recently dead? A great growth of legends around a man is the very best proof you could have not only of his existence but of the fact that he was an origin and a beginning, and that things sprang from his will or his vision. There were some who seemed to think it a kind of favour done to the indestructible body of Irish Catholicism when Mr. Bury wrote his learned Protestant book upon St. Patrick. It was a critical and very careful bit of work, and was deservedly praised; but the favour done us I could not see! It is all to the advantage of non-Catholic history that it should be sane, and that a great Protestant historian should make true history out of a great historical figure was a very good sign. It was a long step back towards common sense compared with the German absurdities which had left their victims doubting almost all the solid foundation of the European story; but as for us Catholics, we had no need to be told it. Not only was there a St. Patrick in history, but there is a St. Patrick on the shores of his eastern sea and throughout all Ireland to-day. It is a presence that stares you in the face, and physically almost haunts you. Let a man sail along the Leinster coast on such a day as renders the Wicklow Mountains clear up-weather behind him, and the Mourne Mountains perhaps in storm, lifted clearly above the sea down the wind. He is taking some such course as that on which St. Patrick sailed, and if he will land from time to time from his little boat at the end of each day's sailing, and hear Mass in the morning before he sails further northward, he will know in what way St. Patrick inhabits the soil which he rendered sacred.

We know that among the marks of holiness is the working of miracles. Ireland is the greatest miracle any saint ever worked. It is a miracle and a nexus of miracles. Among other miracles it is a nation raised from the dead.

The preservation of the Faith by the Irish is an historical miracle comparable to nothing else in Europe. There never was, and please God never can be, so prolonged and insanely violent a persecution of men by their fellow-men as was undertaken for centuries against the Faith in Ireland: and it has completely failed. I know of no example in history of failure following upon such effort. It had behind it in combination the two most powerful of the evil passions of men, terror and greed. And so amazing is it that they did not attain their end, that perpetually as one reads one finds the authors of the dreadful business now at one period, now at another, assuming with certitude that their success is achieved. Then, after centuries, it is almost suddenly perceived — and in our own time — that it has not been achieved and never will be.

What a complexity of strange coincidences combined, coming out of nothing as it were, advancing like spirits summoned on to the stage, all to effect this end! Think of the American Colonies; with one little exception they were perhaps the most completely non-Catholic society of their time. Their successful rebellion against the mother country meant many things, and led to many prophecies. Who could have guessed that one of its chief results would be the furnishing of a free refuge for the Irish?

The famine, all human opinion imagined, and all human judgment was bound to conclude, was a mortal wound, coming in as the ally of the vile persecution I have named. It has turned out the very contrary. From it there springs indirectly the dispersion, and that power which comes from unity in dispersion, of Irish Catholicism.

Who, looking at the huge financial power that dominated Europe, and England in particular, during the youth of our own generation, could have dreamt that in any corner of Europe, least of all in the poorest and most ruined corner of Christendom, an effective resistance could be raised?

Behind the enemies of Ireland, furnishing them with all their modern strength, was that base and secret master of modern things, the usurer. He it was far more than the gentry of the island who demanded toll, and, through the mortgages on the Irish estates, had determined to drain Ireland as he has drained and rendered desert so much else. Is it not a miracle that he has failed?

Ireland is a nation risen from the dead; and to raise one man from the dead is surely miraculous enough to convince one of the power of a great spirit. This miracle, as I am prepared to believe, is the last and the greatest of St. Patrick's.

When I was last in Ireland, I bought in the town of Wexford a coloured picture of St. Patrick which greatly pleased me. Most of it was green in colour, and St. Patrick wore a mitre and had a crosier in his hand. He was turning into the sea a number of nasty reptiles: snakes and toads and the rest. I bought this picture because it seemed to me as modern a piece of symbolism as ever I had seen: and that was why I bought it for my children and for my home.

There was a few pence change, but I did not want it. The person who sold me the picture said they would spend the change in candles for St. Patrick's altar. So St. Patrick is still alive.

~Hilaire Belloc: First and Last.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Heresy originates a new life of its own"

"THE denial of a scheme wholesale is not heresy, and has not the creative power of a heresy. It is of the essence of heresy that it leaves standing a great part of the structure it attacks. On this account it can appeal to believers and continues to affect their lives through deflecting them from their original characters. Wherefore, it is said of heresies that "they survive by the truths they retain."

"We must note that whether the complete scheme thus attacked be true or false is indifferent to the value of heresy as a department of historical study. What we are concerned with is the highly interesting truth that heresy originates a new life of its own and vitally affects the society it attacks."

~Hilaire Belloc: The Great Heresies.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

"Where men are men"

"IF you would ask what society is imperilled of death, go to one in which song is extinguished. If you would ask in what society a permanent sickness oppresses all, and the wealthy alone are permitted to make the laws, go to one in which song is a fine art and treated with criticism and used charily, and ceases to be a human thing. But if you would discover where men are men, take for your test whether songs are always and loudly sung."

 ~Hilaire Belloc: On Song.

"The corrupting effects of wealth"

"OF all the corrupting effects of wealth there is none worse than this: that it makes the wealthy (and their parasites) think in some way divine, or at least a lovely character of the mind, that which is in truth nothing but their power of luxurious living. Heaven keep us all from great riches—I mean from very great riches!"

~Hilaire Belloc: The Path to Rome.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Poem: March

The north-cast wind has come from Norroway,
Roaring he came above the white waves' tips!
The foam of the loud sea was on his lips,
And all his hair was salt with falling spray.
Over the keen light of northern day
He cast his snow cloud's terrible eclipse;
Beyond our banks he suddenly struck the ships,
And left them labouring on his landward way.

The certain course that to my strength belongs
Drives him with gathering purpose and control
Until across Vendean flats he sees
Ocean, the eldest of his enemies.
Then wheels he for him, glorying in goal
And gives him challenge, bellowing battle songs.

~Hilaire Belloc

Vessels in a Strong Wind, by Jan Porcellis.
Oil on panel, c. 1630; private collection.

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