Recurrently Assessing the Battle-Situation of the Catholic Church: H. Belloc’s 1929 Insights

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                         4 April 2019

Saint Isidore of Seville, Doctor of the Church (d. 636)

Saint Benedict the Moor, Franciscan Lay Brother (d. 1589)

Recurrently Assessing the Battle-Situation of the Catholic Church: H. Belloc’s 1929 Insights in Survivals and New Arrivals

Epigraphs

“Between the forms of attack on, or resistance to, the Faith which are retiring exhausted—Survivals—and new forms [of attack] not yet fully developed but only beginning to appear—New Arrivals—stand, at any one moment in history, the Main Opponents of the day.” (Hilaire Belloc, Survivals and New Arrivals (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1929 and 1992), pages 101 and 74, respectively—my emphasis added)

***

Truth lies in proportion. It is proportion which differentiates a caress from a blow, a sneer from a smile. It is the sequence and the relative weight of doctrines, not the bald statement, that makes the contrast between what damns and what saves.” (Hilaire Belloc, Survivals and New Arrivals, 1929 and 1992), pages 158 and 119, respectively—my emphasis added)

***

As for the ‘Modern Mind,’ nothing can deal with it but dissolution. It is like a huge heap of mud which can only be got rid of by slow washing away. It will be the last of the three [i.e., “Nationalism, Anti-Clericalism, and the Modern Mind”] to remain as a Survival.” (Hilaire Belloc, Survivals and New Arrivals (1992), page 78—my emphasis added)

***

“Why is this mood [of the “unreasoning” Modern Mind] so dangerous to the Catholic Church?….But in what, we may ask, is it a peril? It is a peril because true faith is based upon reason, and whatever denies or avoids reason imperils Catholicism.” (Hilaire Belloc, Survivals and New Arrivals, 1929 and 1992 ), pages 147 and 111, respectively—my emphasis added)

***

“The color in which the whole of the ‘Modern Mind’ is dyed is essentially stupidity: it will not thinkand that is a very strange weakness for anything which calls itself a ‘mind’!

If it were an active enemy, its lack of reason would be a weakness: being (alas!) not active, but a passive obstacle, like a bog, it is none the weaker for being thus irrational….There stands the ‘Modern Mind, a morass. (Hilaire Belloc, Survivals and New Arrivals, 1929 and 1992), pages 145-146, 153; and 110, 115 respectively—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

***

In his 1929 book dedicated to his beloved daughter Eleanor, Hilaire Belloc wrote out for her as well as for us some of his long-cultivated and still illuminating historical and theological insights on the old and new enemies of the Catholic Church and the Faith, entitled Survivals and New Arrivals.1 For example, he said in passing that, if the widespread Arian doctrinal challenge and martial-heretical movements had further permeated the lands and the seas and had been victorious, Europe itself would now (as of 1929) be a confident and powerful religious culture with qualities that were much closer to those of “Mohammedism” (Islam) than to those of orthodox Christianity. For, both Arianism and Islam deny the Incarnation and the personal divinity of Jesus Christ.

Moreover, even though he first published his insights in 1929, Belloc’s book still shows itself to be a farsighted presentation of what was likely soon to come to Europe and spread elsewhere.

This short essay therefore first proposes to present Belloc’s chosen categories of interpretation in his “examination of the battle’s phases” (2) against the Catholic Faith and Catholic Church (as an Institution with a divine foundation and a set of seven sacraments). Then we propose to examine a little more closely one example of the alleged “Main Opposition” against the Church, as of 1929: i.e., the case of the hypothetical “Modern Mind.”

We hope thereby to draw others to a close reading (and further savoring) of this brilliant book—it is a justly proportioned and generously fair-minded book—which could also be usefully applied, with some slight adjustments, to other historic institutions and religions, such as Calvinism and Islam, or even “the Masonic Corporation” and “ the Masonic Organization…organized like an army against the Church” (99).

At the very outset of his book, Belloc forthrightly says the following about the Church’s history, and her permanent combats with adversaries outside and also inside the Catholic Church:

But what has been more rarely undertaken [in studies of the Catholic Church], and what is of particular interest to our own day, is an examination of the battle’s phases. (2—my emphasis added)

Then Belloc presents to us a series of criteria and helpful standards of judgment, and does it subtly by way of his sets of linked and interdependent questions. For example:

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 those growing outworn in any period to the new ones just appearing, has been neglected. 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. (2-3—my emphasis added)

Belloc approaches the deeper lucid structure of his book by presenting additional questions concerning the Church and in light of “Her unique character” (7):

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 [at] 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. (7-8—my emphasis added)

It will be helpful to understand these three groups as he presents them in his own summary words:

There is, most prominent, what I will call the Main Opposition of the moment….At any moment there lie upon one side of the Main opposition old forms of attack [such as the early medieval danger of “a rationalizing movement from within, against the Sacramental mysteries and later against the Hierarchy” (8)] which are gradually leaving the field—I will call them The Survivals. There are, on the other side [of the Main opposition], new forms of attack barely entering the field. These I will call The New Arrivals (8—my emphasis)

After giving many examples of earlier main oppositions—such as “Heathen pirates of the north, and the eastern Mongol hordes” (8) as well as the martial forces of the Arians and of the later Mohammedans—he says the following:

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 this kind essential to a full comprehension of the age. (8—my emphasis added)

A careful reading of his earlier historical analyses—full of specific details and vivid examples– will prepare us to appreciate the nuances of his important section on “The Modern Mind”–the third element of the Main Attack and Opposition, after the formidable facts of “Nationalism” (to include the endurance of Jewish Nationalism) and of “Anti-Clericalism” (as in the cases of France, Portugal, and Spain and Mexico in the early twentieth century).

For example, he asks: “Are there…contemporary conditions [as of 1929] which point to a future hostility to [various forms of] Nationalism [as of 1929]?” (88) He answers:

I think there are. Besides the Catholic Church there are two great international forces (not to quote more) which are already clearly apparent [as of 1929]. Once is that of Finance, the other is that of the Protest of the Proletariat against Capitalism; a protest which in its most lucid and most logical form is called Communism. Both of these [forces] are solvents to that religion of nationality which was universal before the Great War [1914-1918].

These two forces, International Finance and International Socialism, act after fashions often unexpected [as in the propaganda of “the big newspapers” (8)], and [often] more drastic….

But when you suppress a religious order, you have the opportunity to loot its property. Under the oligarchic Parliamentary system (strangely called “democracy”) the loot will go into the pockets of the politicians, the lawyers, and the hangers-on of both. The first taste of loot breeds an increasing appetite. (88, 97-98—my emphasis added)

Now we turn to his considerations of the hypothetical (still often professed) “Modern Mind”:

The third and far the most formidable element of Main Opposition to the Faith today, is what I propose to call by its own self-appointed and most misleading title: “The Modern Mind.”…

We note that it acts in a fashion wholly negative. It is not an attack but a resistance. It does not, like Anti-Clericalism, exercise an active effect opposed to religion, nor, like Nationalism, substitute a strong counter-emotion which tends to supplant religion. It rather renders religion unintelligible. Its effect on religion [hence on the Catholic Faith] is like that of an opiate on the power of analysis. It dulls the faculty of appreciation, and blocks the entry of the Faith. Hence its power. (105-106—my bold emphasis added, italics in the original)

Speaking again of the sapping importance of the third and final element of the then-current Main Opposition against the Faith, he says:

For, indeed, we are met at the outset of this, perhaps the most important section of our enquiry, by a difficulty which was not known in any other time than ours: that difficulty to which I have alluded, that this chief adverse condition we have to examine has no suitable name….Nevertheless,…it [“the Modern Mind”] is the word [that] its own votaries use.” (106-107—my emphasis added)

Belloc also warns us: “But everywhere it is of the same character, and everywhere, so far as its influence extends, it fills with despair those who attempt to deal with its fearful incapacities. (106—my emphasis added)

Yet, very soon after considering the difficulty of giving a “clear definition,”Belloc himself proposes “first to analyze its character,” that mark of the “Modern Mind”; and thus to postpone until later in his Chapter 4 an examination of “the causes of this philosophical disease—and it is an appalling one—which is affecting such a large numbers in our time [circa 1929]”(108):

Upon dissecting it we discover the “Modern Mind” to contain three main ingredients and to combine them through the force of one principle. Its three ingredients are pride, ignorance, and intellectual sloth; their unifying principle is a blind acceptance of authority not based on reason. (108—my emphasis added)

Belloc shows his magnanimity and sense of pathos when he adds a short note to the above characterization and statement of principle:

With most men who are afflicted [with the Modern Mind] the thing is not so much  a mixture of these vices as the mere following of [intellectual] fashion; but these vices lie at the root of the mental process in question.

As to the principle of blindly accepting an authority not based on reason, it runs through the whole base affair and binds it [like servitude] into one: Fashion, Print, Iteration, are the commanders abjectly obeyed and trusted.

Let us take a leading test: [for example] the attitude taken by the “Modern Mind” towards the supernatural….(108-109—my emphasis added)

A representative and fitting selection from Belloc’s examples and guiding interrogatives will aid us a little further in our understanding of “the horrible welter of the ‘Modern Mind’” (116) :

There stands the “Modern Mind,” a morass.

The great difficulty of the intelligent in dealing with this thing, whether they be Catholic or skeptical, is the lack of hold. It is like fighting smoke….

What are you to do with a man who always argues in a circle?….What do you do with a man who does not recognize his own first principles?….What are you to do with a man who uses the same word in different senses during the same discussion?….What do you do with a man who puts it forth as a foundation for debate that the human reason [logos] is no guide, and who then proceeds to reason through hundreds of pages on that basis? (115-116—my emphasis added)

(Do these comments and specific questions make anyone else think of the current Vatican and its ambiguous language? Perhaps we may honestly and reliably now recall some of the ongoing verbiage in the lengthy verbose Official Documents, partly deriving from the multiple and equivocal Bishops’ Conferences with their garrulous speeches, and the sometimes demeaning sermons from the higher Leadership, to include associated interviews with the Media given by the progressive, sometimes evasive, Prelates; and sometimes even to their artfully sophistical votaries and to their abrasively loud and voluble lay supporters of innovation against long-standing Tradition?)

In any case, Belloc reminds us: “the acceptance without question of such authority as it meets—especially that of print–‘blind faith‘ we have said, ‘divorced from reason‘–is the very mark of the ‘Modern Mind.’” (126—my emphasis added)

In this context Belloc also constructively speaks of our cultivating of “the faculty of distinction—[the faculty] of clarity in thought through analysis” (126—my emphasis) in contrast to the “sustainers” and “ill fruits” of the “Modern Mind.” On the premise that contrast clarifies the mind, he then additionally says:

Look around you and note the incapacity for strict argument, the impatience with exact definition, the aversion to controversyand the facility in mere affirmation [or “in mere assertion”]. (126—my emphasis added)

Near the beginning of his searching, candid and encouraging book, Hilaire Belloc would have us at the outset always remember something important and decisive, and then keep the proposed criterion in our hearts and in our enduring convictions:

As we proceed deeply and more deeply from cause to cause we discover that what gives its [specific] nature [thus a distinctive character] to a human group is its attitude towards the Last Things [“Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell”]: its conception of the End of Man.

Even when a positive creed has lost it 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 the Catholic; that proceeding from the schism in the sixteenth century, and that [“Catholic Thing”] which, in the sixteenth century, weathered the storm and maintained tradition.

All may [indeed] see the ease with which industrialism grows in a soil of Protestant culture, [and] the difficulty with which it grows in a soil of ancient Catholic culture.” (5—my emphasis added)

May we too be blessed to help cultivate the soil and defend the deep ancient culture of the Catholic Faith.

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, Survivals and New Arrivals (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1929—219 pages). This book was also later “retypeset and republished in 1992 by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc.” of Rockford, Illinois. For convenience of access to this 1929 book, we shall henceforth refer to the text and pagination of the 1992 TAN paperback edition of 167 pages. References to that 1992 paperback edition of Survivals and New Arrivals will also henceforth be placed above, in parentheses, in the main body of the essay.

2 thoughts on “Recurrently Assessing the Battle-Situation of the Catholic Church: H. Belloc’s 1929 Insights

  1. “As we proceed deeply and more deeply from cause to cause we discover that what gives its [specific] nature [thus a distinctive character] to a human group is its attitude towards the Last Things [“Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell”]: its conception of the End of Man.”
    April 5 – Feast of St. Vincent Ferrer – the Dominican preacher of Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. He, along with St. Thomas Aquinas, saved the Catholic world from the worst spiritual and intellectual effects of the coming “Reformation” catastrophe.

    Like

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