by Hilaire Belloc (1929)
• 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 I: Introductory
THE curious have remarked that one institution alone for now nineteen hundred years has been attacked not by one opposing principle but from every conceivable point.
It has been denounced upon all sides and for reasons successively incompatible: it has suffered the contempt, the hatred and the ephemeral triumph of enemies as diverse as the diversity of things could produce.
This institution is the Catholic Church.
Alone of moral things present among man it has been rejected, criticized, or cursed, on grounds which have not only varied from age to age, but have been always of conflicting and often of contradictory kinds.
No one attacking force seems to have cared whether its particular form of assault were in agreement with others past, or even contemporary, so long as its assault were directed against Catholicism. Each is so concerned, in each case, with the thing attacked that it ignores all else. Each is indifferent to learn that the very defects it finds in this Institution are elsewhere put forward as the special virtues of some other opponent. Each is at heart concerned not so much with its own doctrine as with the destruction of the Faith.
Thus we have had the Church in Her first days sneered at for insisting on the presence of the full Divine nature in one whom many knew only as a man; at the very same time She was called Blasphemous for admitting that a Divine personality could be burdened with a suffering human nature. She was furiously condemned, in later ages, for laxity in discipline and for extravagant severity; for softness in organization and for tyranny; for combating the appetites natural to man, and for allowing them excess and even perversion; for ridiculously putting forward a mass of Jewish folklore as the Word of God, and for neglecting that same Word of God; for reducing everything to reason—that is, to logic, which is the form of reason—and for appealing to mere emotion. Today She is equally condemned for affirming dogmatically the improbable survival of human personality after death, and for refusing to admit necromantic proofs of it—and pronouncing the search for them accursed.
The Church has been presented, and by one set of Her enemies, as based upon the ignorance and folly of Her members—they were either of weak intellect or drawn from the least instructed classes. By another set of enemies She has been ridiculed as teaching a vainly subtle philosophy, splitting hairs, and so systematizing Her instruction that it needs a trained intelligence to deal with Her theology as a special subject.
This unique experience suffered by the Church, this fact that She alone is attacked from every side, has been appealed to by Her doctors throughout the ages as a proof of Her central position in the scheme of reality; for truth is one and error multiple.
It has also been used as an argument for the unnatural and evil quality of Catholicism that it should have aroused from the first century to the twentieth such varied and unceasing hostility.
But what has been more rarely undertaken, and what is of particular interest to our own day, is an examination of the battle's phases. Which of the attacks are getting old-fashioned? Which new offensives are beginning to appear, and from what direction do they come? Which are the main assaults of the moment? What is the weight of each, and with what success are they being received and thrown back?
I say, this cataloging of the attacks in their order of succession, from these growing outworn in any period to the new ones just appearing, has been neglected. A general view of the procession is rarely taken. Yet to make such an appreciation should be of value. The situation of the Church at any one time can be estimated only by noting what forms of attack are failing, and why; with what degree of resistance the still vigorous ones are being combated; what novel forms of offensive are appearing. It is only so that we can judge how the whole position stood or stands in any one historical period.
Now the historical period in which we have most practical interest is our own. To grasp the situation of the Catholic Church today we must appreciate which of the forces opposing her are today growing feeble, which are today in full vigor, which are today appearing as new antagonists, hardly yet in their vigor but increasing.
As for the Faith itself it stands immovable in the midst of all such hostile things; they arise and pass before that majestic presence:
"Stat et stabit, manet et manebit: spectator orbis."
Let us note at the outset that the result of our examination (the true position of the Catholic Church today, and Her chances of triumph or defeat) is of the most urgent and immediate importance to all our civilization. There is no other judgment concerning the fate of mankind—and particularly of our own European civilization with its extensions in the New World—compatible in significance to a just estimate of the strength and chances of the Catholic Church. There is no other matter on the same level of interest. That interest is of the same absorbing kind to the man who regards the Faith as an illusion, to the man who hates it as an enemy, and to the man who accepts it as the only authoritative voice on earth.
How Catholicism stands today is obviously a vital matter both to the man who recognizes it for the salvation of the world, and to the man who regards it as a mortal poison in society. But it is also a vital matter to any neutral observer who has enough history to know that religion is at the root of every culture, and that on the rise and fall of religions the great changes of society have depended.
Were human society molded by material environment the fate of no spiritual institution, however august or widespread, would be of final moment. A new mechanical invention, a new turn in the external mode of life, would be the thing to note and the thing upon which we might base our judgment of human fates. But it is not so. The form of any society ultimately depends upon its philosophy, upon its way of looking at the universe, upon its judgment of moral values: that is, in the concrete, upon its religion.
For whether it calls its philosophy by the name of "religion" or no, into what is, in practice, a religion of some kind, the philosophy of any society ultimately falls. The ultimate source of social form is the attitude of the mind; and at the heart of every culture is a creed and code of morals: expressed or taken for granted.
If it were true that economic circumstances mainly decided the fate of society (and that is a more respectable error than the mechanical, for every human economic system or discovery or adaptation, proceeds from the mind) then we might waste our time, as so many do today, on discussing economic tendencies as determining the future of man. But it is not true that economic circumstance molds our destiny. Industrial Capitalism, for instance, did not develop of itself: it was the slow product of false religion. It arose out of the Reformation; and in particular from the influence of Calvin. But for the Reformation that economic arrangement would not be troubling us today. Its root is still in religion; a change in religion would kill it and its attendant parasite called Socialism.
Again, chattel slavery in the West slowly disappeared under the influence of the Catholic Church. There are those who regret its disappearance; the majority of us have been taught to approve its disappearance: at any rate it disappeared.
A group of intellectuals have argued that the gradual action of a Catholicism had no such effect upon the pagan world, and that the slow dissolution of slavery (it took more than a thousand years) was a function of material environment. They are wrong The old, absolute, pagan slavery which seemed essential to civilized society slowly dissolved because it was incompatible with the Catholic doctrine. It was not directly condemned by the Church, but it proved indirectly unable to live in an atmosphere not pagan. It had to be modified; and once it began to be modified it had started on its long road to dissolution: the slave became a serf, the serf a peasant. And by just so much as society is sinking back into paganism today, by just so much the institution of slavery begins to reappear in the new laws regulating labor.
Neither brute material circumstance, though it is of great effect on society, nor more subtle economic arrangement is the ultimate framer of human politics. As we proceed deeply and more deeply from cause to cause we discover that what gives its nature to a human group is its attitude towards The Last Things: its conception of the End of Man.
Even when a positive creed has lost its vigor and dwindled under indifference, its remaining effect upon the stuff of society remains profound.
Should any doubt this let them mark the effects of the two contrasted religious cultures in the West: the Protestant and Catholic; that proceeding from the schism in the sixteenth century, and that which, in the sixteenth century, weathered the storm and maintained tradition.
All may see the ease with which industrialism grows in a soil of Protestant culture, the difficulty with which it grows in a soil of ancient Catholic culture.
In the latter, whether that difficulty take the form of negligence or of revolt, it is equally apparent. Industrialism has flourished under Prussia, as in England and the United States; it has starved in Ireland and Spain; it menaces civil war in France and Italy. It is indeed a common matter of reproach against the Catholic culture that there has been such friction between it and the industrial system. (It is true that hypocrisy hesitates to use the words "Catholic Culture." But when it talks of "Celt" or "Latin," Catholicism is what hypocrisy means by such terms.)
Again, if we look at the grouping of national policies today in Europe, we at once discover the effect of a common religious sympathy. Why else do we hear sneers against the Pole, the Italian, the Frenchman, the Spaniard, the Belgian, and a corresponding admiration for the Dutch, the Scandinavians, the Prussians?
His popular press and fiction hide from the townsman of today this elementary truth, that upon religion all turns, and that every main political problem, every main economic one, is finally a function of the philosophy which is at work beneath all. He hears of "race" as the ultimate factor. He even hears of "Nordic," "Alpine," "Mediterranean." His attention is drawn to physical conditions: the presence of coal or of ports. Meanwhile the major cause of all social difference is left unmentioned.
It would be interesting, had I the space, to consider the causes of this strange silence. It is most profound in England though there the most glaring examples of religious effect are beneath the eyes of all: Scotland for centuries the fierce enemy of England now fallen into one commonwealth with her through a common ethical system; Ireland increasingly hostile and now at last separated.
There is another cause, the truth which all should feel in appreciating the present situation of Catholicism. It is the fact that the Church is unique. The line of cleavage throughout the world lies between what is with, and what is against, the Faith.
If it were true that the modern world is full of warring creeds, then the situation of the Catholic Church would not be of that transcendent interest. She could not claim to be one of many moral institutions, each based on separate doctrines: Her creed one of many creeds; and we might debate with solemn stupidity (as indeed our contemporaries do debate) whether this, that, or the other, among many sects and opinions, were of the greater value or had the greater chance of survival.
But that is not the situation at all. There is no parallel between the Catholic Church and any other institution. There is no parallel between the Catholic Church and any other man-made grouping of opinions or of moods. She is wholly distinct. As with Her Founder, so with Her: all that is not of Her is against Her; for She claims, and Her adherents maintain the claim, that Hers is the one and the only authoritative voice upon earth.
Her doctrines are not conclusions arrived at by experiment, nor slipped into by personal emotion. Still less are they opinions, probabilities, fashions. Her corporate unity is not one of which others are tolerant, or which is itself tolerant of others. She has no borderland of partial agreement with error nor is there a flux or common meeting place between Herself and things more or less similar, more or less neighborly. She has frontiers rigidly defined: not only in Her doctrine and its claim to divinity but in Her very stuff and savor. Within Her walls all is of one kind; without, all is of another.
It is abundantly clear to those who are members of this Institution that it thus presents throughout the world a unique personality. It is becoming clear to most who are not members. The Church is loved and hated in a degree greater than that which measures other loves or hatreds: even those between nations in our modern fever of exalted nationalism. The loyalty She obtains is more vivid than that produced even by modern patriotism. The hatred She arouses is stronger than the hatred felt for an enemy in arms. And these loves and hatreds have immediate and tremendous reactions upon all around.
Take one example of Her unique character. The Catholic Church is the one bulwark today against the probably ephemeral but still very dangerous conflagration called Communism. Take another and more profound example: She is the one stronghold against modern pantheism, and its accompanying chaos in art and morals.
There is, then, no man who cares to understand the character of the world but must acquaint himself with the situation of the Faith. What are its present enemies? What dangers beset it? Where and how is it checked? Where lies its opportunities for growth? These are the outstanding questions. Compared with a judgment upon the present situation of the Catholic Church, a judgment upon the rise and fall of economic systems or of nations is insignificant.
This is my postulate, and the outset of my inquiry.
I have said that the situation of the Church at any moment (and therefore in our own time) is best appreciated by judging the rise and decline of the forces opposing Her at that moment.
Now these, when we pause to estimate the state of the battle in any one phase of it, fall into three fairly distinct groups:
(i) There is, most prominent, what I will call the "Main Opposition" of the moment. Thus in the fourth and fifth centuries Arianism filled the sky. The Faith seemed in peril of death no longer from official and heathen persecution but from internal disruption. The new Heresy supported by the Roman armies and their generals, not only in the east but in Gaul, in Italy, Africa and Spain, seemed an attack too strong for the Church to survive. Society was military then, and the soldiers were Arian. In the seventh and eighth centuries the Arian attack first rapidly declines then wholly passes; the Mahommedan rises gigantic against us. In the ninth and tenth, to the Mahommedans are added the Heathen pirates of the north, and the eastern Mongol hordes. In the eleventh and twelfth the danger lies in a rationalizing movement from within, against the Sacramental mysteries and later against the Hierarchy.
(ii) At any moment there lie upon one side of the Main opposition old forms of attack which are gradually leaving the field—I will call them The "Survivals."
(iii) There are, on the other side, new forms of attack barely entering the field. These I will call The "New Arrivals."
The Survivals exemplify the endless, but always perilous, triumph of the Faith by their defeat and gradual abandonment of the struggle. A just appreciation of them makes one understand where the weakness of the main attack, which they preceded and in part caused, may lie. The New Arrivals exemplify the truth that the Church will never be at peace, and a just appreciation of them enables us to forecast in some degree the difficulties of tomorrow.
Between the two, Survivals and New Arrivals, we can more fully gauge the character of the Main Action and only in a survey of all three can we see how the whole situation lies. For such reasons is a survey of the kind essential to a full comprehension of the age.
We have lost much by the paucity of such testimony in the past, due perhaps to the fact that in the heat of battle men cannot be troubled with the general surveys.
Men tell us amply how the Main Action of their time raged. We hear all about Jansenism and Puritanism in the seventeenth century, and all about nationalism immediately after; but very briefly and disconnectedly do we hear what were the last efforts of older enemies in each period, and still more scrappily, or not at all, do they tell us of approaching new ones. Indeed, these last are only to be guessed at, as a rule, from indications which contemporaries misunderstood: because the beginnings of a new form of attack are small, scattered and hidden. It is not usually until the offensive has developed that men are awake to it.
In the records of the Past, then, descriptions of the gradual decline of old forms of attack and the indications of new ones arriving are imperfect or absent.
Yet how interesting would it be if we had (for instance) some such view of the end of the seventeenth century, in which the author should describe the effect upon his time of the failing Puritanical and Jansenist movement, and the advent of the rationalist, which was just beginning to show the tips of its ears! How interesting it would be to have someone presenting in the eleventh or early twelfth century the decline of the brute, external, pagan and Mahommedan attack in arms and the appearance of the new, more subtle, philosophic poison from within!
In the following pages I propose to attempt something of the kind for the time in which we live: hence have I used this title "Survivals and New Arrivals." I do not pretend to a detailed study: I am writing no more than a general survey, the interest of which, to its author at any rate, lies both on the intellectual and on the comic side. For there enters an element of Comedy (in the full sense of that great word) whenever we watch the death or passing of a human mood which had thought itself absolute and eternal. There is a high comedy in discovering new moods still timid or struggling, which will in their turn affirm themselves to be indestructible, and in their turn will die. To this comic interest is added another of a very practical kind: forewarned is forearmed.
Thus, to make two particular examples out of several with which I shall deal: The old Bible Christian offensive is a Survival pretty well done for. No one will deny the comic side of its exhaustion. The recognition of that comedy is no bar to sympathy with its pathetic side. There is something very gallant about these Literalists. They never retreated, they never surrendered, they were incapable of maneuver, and the few that remain will die where they stand rather than give way a foot. Their simplicity sometimes has a holy quality about it. On the other hand, of the New Arrivals, you see, among the forces beginning to organize themselves against the Faith, a denial of human responsibility and even of personality: a denial that would have seemed fantastic and insane in the eyes of all those attacking the Church, from no matter what angle, only a generation ago. And that is comic too: when Professor Schmidt says: "I cannot help doing all I do. I have no will. And what is more, there is no Professor Schmidt."
I must make a further apology before I begin my consideration of these Survivals and New Arrivals, which is, that my sketches will necessarily suffer from a defect of locality. I am naturally better acquainted with Survivals and New Arrivals in the society I inhabit, than I am with those of foreign countries, and though the problem is universal as the Church is, I must deal with men and writings, particular opinions, which have hardly been heard of by those who are not acquainted with the English tongue.
No one, for instance, is in French eyes a more perfect example of a Survival than Paul Souday or more widely known; yet in England his name is not heard. Or again, certain of the new fancy religions, such as Christian Science, have real weight with us; while a Frenchman would use of them the word "fumisterie" or even "blague." He would not take them seriously for a moment. What is more, he would imagine that their adherents did not take them seriously: in which he would be wrong.
Such, then, are the limits and necessary defects of the task upon which I shall now set out. I shall accomplish it most imperfectly, but I hope to leave a general impression the outline of which shall be true.
Survivals and New Arrivals: The Old and New Enemies of the Catholic Church
"Here Belloc analyzes the various intellectual attacks on the Church in the last two centuries, showing how each thrived for a time before disintegrating; then he analyzes the two ultimate enemies which we see everywhere today! Says the temporal fate of the world depends upon the health of the Catholic Church. Essential ideas to understand where we are and where we need to go from here to rebuild civilization."