Cervantes at Lepanto and the Aftermath: In Captivity and with Don Quixote

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                         6 November 2019

Saint Leonard of Limoges (d. 559)

Saint Leonard of Reresby (d. 13th century)

The Death of Professor Josef Pieper (d. 1997)

Epigraphs

There are times when to open Don Quixote after closing Hamlet is like an escape from a clinic into a bracing gale in the High Pyrenees. Has it been said before? It can be said again.” (D.B. Wyndham Lewis, The Shadow of Cervantes (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1962), page 189—my emphasis added)

***

“Truly will Cervantes say as he lays it [his pen] down at last [in 1616], ‘Don Quixote was made for me, and I for him.’….’For me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him; his to act and mine to record.’” (The Shadow of Cervantes, 174 and 178—my emphasis added)

***

It may be too that Cervantes felt, as many must feel on skimming one of these dusty folios [of chivalric romances], a nostalgia for that lost aroma, pure and lovely and fragrant, the true quintessence of chivalry, to be found in a thirteenth-century masterpiece like La Quest del Sainct Graal [The Quest for the Holy Grail]. Malory [i.e., Thomas Malory, the late medieval English knight and author] well conveys its [chivalry’s own] exaltation. ‘And when he came to the sacring of the Mass and had gone, he called Galahad, and said to him: Come forth, servant of Jesus Christ, and thou shalt see what thou has most desired to see. And then he began to tremble right hard when the deadly flesh (la mortel char [mortal flesh]) began to behold spiritual things….’ Throughout the Quest runs the golden thread of knightly reverence for womanhood in honour of the Immaculata which is native to the Grail Cycle, Celtic and French, and was in truth one of the saving graces of a rough and bloody age. ‘Then were the natural charities exaled/Afresh from out the blessed love of Mary…,’” (The Shadow of Cervantes, pages 120-121—my emphasis added)

***

“But Hamlet is a pale sceptic feigning madness, whereas the Don’s logic [Don Quixote’s logic] is the sanity of the genuinely and gloriously crazy. Amid the metaphysical gymnastics of the learned [like Hamlet] one may easily lose sight of the key to Cervantes’ achievement. It is that gentility, in the noble obsolete sense, already remarked on. The old soldier Miguel Cervantes, a man with his normal share of sins and weaknesses, much battered by life, finds the springs of mirth in the clash between the ideal and the actual, and his amusement is mixed with tenderness for all his kind. ‘Qui creâsti me, miserere mei!‘….The Don is pre-eminently lovable; the most gallant and courteous of crackpots, endearing even in his rages; perpetually thwacked and tumbled in the mud by a gibing [and often cynical] world; perpetually rising again with his dream unimpaired, heart and courage high, a radiance in his poor crazy eyes; an hildalgo at every turn of fortune, a blood-brother to Parsival [one of the Grail Knights, like Galahad], the pure and guileless Fool.

“Life had treated his [Don Quixote’s] creator little less roughly. Its [life’s] buffets could not impair an inviolable sweetness of nature and an unquenchable valiance of spirit, based on eternal verities, which stamp Miguel Cervantes as being all that has ever been meant by the word ‘gentleman’. Nobody could teach him anything about the bitterness of this world. In his seventieth year, just able to pen his very last piece of writing, he takes leave of it as such a man would.—’Farewell, graces; farewell, elegances; farewell, my jovial friends, for now I find myself facing death and desiring to see you soon, happy in the other life.’ Thus in his own story as in that of his Don, Cervantes offers a cordial to a fainthearted posterity on the brink of a new Dark Age.

Untainted by what is known as the Pelagian [Heresy] or British heresy, the dogma of the Fundamentally Decent Fellow in no need of any divine grace, he recognizes a spark of goodness in the worst of us. It has often been observed that of the nearly seven hundred characters in his enormous comedy [Don Quixote] not a single one is wholly bad….” (The Shadow of Cervantes, pages 22-23—my emphasis added)

***

In his mid-sixties late in his life, Miguel Cervantes—the beloved author of Don Quixote—wrote the following brief and vivid description of himself and his earlier life, especially about his military service and combative presence at the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571— as well as its aftermath, to include his Turkish captivity and ransom. Cervantes wrote his modest self-description in a third-person narrative:

He is commonly called Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. He was a soldier for many years and a captive for five and a half, an experience that taught him patience in adversity. In the naval battle of Lepanto [7 October 1571] he lost his left hand as the result of a harquebus shot, a wound which, however unsightly it may appear, he looks upon as beautiful, for the reason that it was received on the most memorable and sublime occasion that past ages have known or those to come may hope to know; for he was fighting beneath the victorious banner of the son [Don John of Austria] of that thunderbolt of war, [Emperor] Charles V of blessed memory.1

Cervantes became a soldier at twenty-two years of age, in 1569, two years before Lepanto. He first enlisted in an infantry regiment where a few years later at Lepanto “his conduct in battle won encomiums from his officers, followed by extra pay and the ultimate offer of a commission [as an officer].”2 Moreover:

His motive for enlisting was not (as some troglodytes have surmised) dissatisfaction with Aquaviva’s service [with “the young prelate-diplomat Guilio de Aquaviva”(68)]. His patron, now a cardinal, was one of the most agreeable and cultivated of patricians, on the easiest terms with his entourage….We have to look elsewhere for the spring of his impulse to arms. It is not far to seek. He was fired with a chivalrous ardency of which the first volunteers of 1914 [at the outset of World War I] knew something, though in Cervantes’s case the motive was a nobler one than patriotism.

In 1570 the fate of all our civilization was at stake. A divided Christendom saw its doom advancing from the East like a thunder-cloud and heard a loud trumpet calling from Rome. The peril was nothing new. (71—my emphasis added)

Wyndham Lewis proceeds to give some apt details concerning these earlier and current perils:

Forty years previously [in 1530 or so] the Emperor Charles V, quoting the late fall of Byzantium [in 1453] and the current perfidy of [King] François I of France, Mahound’s ally, had predicted that without Almighty God’s intervention the Turk would before long be master of Europe. By the autumn of 1569 the process was seen to be actually taking shape. Sultan Selim II was now ready to take Cyprus from the Venetians as a preliminary to more far-reaching operations. Though a sot steeped in monstrous vices, the son of Suleiman the Magnificent was advantaged by inherited Oriental skill in exploiting the divisions of the Christian world, by vast resources, first-class armaments, and very capable commanders. (71—my emphasis added)

(Who, after reading this paragraph, does not also think of the strategic and moral situation today? Even the political divisions and the perfidy?! And not only in Europe.)

We shall now more closely follow and selectively quote Wyndham Lewis’ own compact and eloquent presentation of the history: especially the envious and fearful political factions and their resentfully stubborn divisions. We may thereby better follow the 7 October Lepanto battle itself and its discouraging aftermath:

Charles IX of France and Catherine de’ Medici, embroiled with [Admiral] Coligny and his Huguenots [Calvinists], were disinclined in any case to fall foul of the Turk. At Vienna Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, a genial nonentity, was sulking over the recent title of Grand Duke conferred by the Holy See on Cosimo of Florence, the first to suggest a league against Islam, and took no action. Elizabeth Tudor, recently excommunicated, was hardly likely to respond to any papal call; in fact her record as a businesswoman moved Selim’ Grand Vizier to assure the Emperor’s ambassador laughingly that after the first Turkish victory she and the English nobility would turn Mahometan overnight. Young Sebastian I of Portugal would have been eager to respond, but a severe recent plague-epidemic had put out of action his army, his galleys, and his munition factories alike. As for the Venetians, who had a reputation for neutrality [sic] in previous clashes with the Turk, they were in a chaotic state of alarm and shifting policy. At the Vatican conference on July 1, 1570, attended by representatives of the Holy See, Spain, and Venice, there was considerable wrangling over expenses as well. (72—my emphasis added)

Despite all of these varied, and often paralyzing, disputations, an unlikely but good surprise was to come from a gifted man of 23, which was also then the closely proximate age of young soldier Cervantes himself:

Laughing in the sun, Mustafa Pasha took Cyprus in September of that year [September 1570], except for the [Venetian Christian] garrison of Famagusta, which held out gallantly and might have been relieved under Colonna, but for the quarrels of the Venetians and the Genoese under his command. At the last moment a leader emerged: a man, as Pius V quoted thankfully later from the Gospel, sent by God, whose name was John [Juan]; twenty-three-years-old John of Austria, natural son of the Emperor Charles V by Barbara Blomberg, a soldier with a fearlessness matching his looks and his brains. Under his command as generalissimo of the forces of the Holy League some two hundred galleys and caravels sailed from Messina [in northeastern Sicily] to meet the Turk on September 15 and 16 [1571]. Among the troops aboard the Marquesa galley in Giovanni Andrea Doria’s squadron was Miguel de Cervantes. Don John engaged the Turk, coming from Cyprus and Crete, at Lepanto, in the gulf of Patras, 150 miles north-east of Athens, and after a day’s fierce battle [on 7 October] sent him reeling to the ropes [but not knocked out]. (72-73—my emphasis added)

We now hear about the moral and spiritual preparations for the momentous naval battle:

As befitted men sworn to save Christendom or perish, the entire army and fleet from Don John down to the smallest cabin-boy went to Confession and received the Blessed Sacrament at Messina before sailing, fortified likewise by a special indulgence dispensed by a papal legate and equal to that granted for the Crusades. (73—my emphasis added)

At the end of the day of 7 October 1571, “Uluch Ali turned with what survived of the Turkish fleet and fled” (74) and

Away in Rome that same evening St Pius V turned from the open window of his study to praise God for the great victory just won a thousand miles away…commemorated in the Roman Calendar thence-forward by Rosary Sunday….The great ode of Fernando de Herrera called Song of Praise to the Divine Majesty for the Victory of Señor Don Juan [John] is at once a silver fanfare and a humble breast-beating….“Blessed be Your clemency, Lord, for that [because] despite suffering our injuries, despite our punishable crime, You have broken the ruthless yoke of the enemy’s ancient pride.”….

On that day, away on the extreme left wing in the Marquesa galley under the immediate command of Francisco de San Petro, Miguel de Cervantes acquitted himself, as his officers testified, most valorously before being put out of action. When the Christian fleet sighted the Turk he was half prostrate with fever and ordered below. Appearing on deck as battle was joined, vowing that he would rather die in action for God than skulk under cover, and begging for a post of danger, he was given command of twelve men in a longboat from the San Petro galley and sent to an exposed position. Here, later in the day, he was knocked out in heavy fighting by three gunshot wounds; two in the chest, one in the left hand. On Don John’s triumphal return to Messina amid the banging of cannon and the pealing of bells Cervantes went into the hospital with the other wounded. Three months later he was still under the surgeon….How any soldier of the period survived even an ordinary bullet-wound is at times a matter for wonderment. (74-75—my emphasis added)

Soon after this admirable description of a “tough age” (74), Wyndham Lewis speaks to us of the combat-presence there of the future Saint Camillus de Lellis:

Cervantes never apparently encountered at Lepanto, or in Corfu, or in any subsequent campaign against the Turk, the big, cursing, brawling Italian soldier, later canonized as St Camillo de Lellis, who launched the first field-ambulance service of nursing brothers, with the Red Cross badge, in 1582. Nor can he [Cervantes] have seen, like de Lellis, his comrades reduced by hunger in one crisis to devouring dead Turks’ livers. He would certainly have enshrined such a recollection in the Captive’s story [in Don Quixote—Part I].

As for Lepanto, he [Cervantes] will never be able to forget it, and why should he? Did not Don John in person recommend him for a commission [as an officer] not long afterward? (75-76—my emphasis added)

Now we dare to approach some of the discouraging strategic aftermath of the tactical victory at Lepanto, and we now propose to consider the extent to which it was also a strategic victory. It is not long until Miguel Cervantes and his meritorious brother Rodrigo are also to be captured by the Turks:

And the Cervantes brothers returned with their regiment to resume garrison-duty in Naples, surely as dashed in spirit as their Commander-in-chief [John of Austria]. Worse was imminent. Before long all the heroism and glory of Lepanto were seen to be wasted. That swinging blow to the Turk was not to be followed by a knockout. In March 1573 the Venetians ratted [deserted]. On the day when their minister in Rome was pledging renewed loyalty to the [Holy] League [against the Turk] their minister in Constantinople was signing a treaty giving up Cyprus, returning the Albanian port of Sofoto—the only Venetian capture from the Turk so far—and engaging the Sublime Porte 300,000 ducats’ compensation. This act of treachery has been ascribed solely to terror. It might indeed be said in the Venetians’ behalf that the Turk’s first Christian objective had always been Venice; moreover it would take the Venetians some time to forget the fate of Marcantonio Bragadino after the storming of Famagusta [in Cyprus] on the eve of Lepanto; the fiendish torturing and flaying alive of their envoy, arrested during the negotiations for a capitulation, the stuffing of the disembowelled corpse with straw, and its final derisive hoisting to the yardarm of the Turkish admiral’s galley. Nevertheless the Venetian double-dealing and surrender shocked all Catholic Europe from the Holy See down. Pius V had died just in time to be spared seeing his hopes destroyed by this perfidy. His successor, Gregory XIII, minced no words. The Venetians had mortally wounded the League which had been formed to save them, and the blow fell of course most heavily on Don John of Austria, who, it now seemed, had swiped the Turk in vain. He, too, spoke his bitter mind. (77—my emphasis added)

Now we consider the beginning of another surprise and consequently bitter challenge: the capture and protracted retention in Algeria of the Cervantes brothers cruelly held by the Turk:

Miguel de Cervantes began bestirring himself vigorously [in the early autumn of 1575]….Backed by his commanding officer he was at length granted leave by G.H.Q. [General Headquarters] to return to Spain and apply for a captain’s commission in one of the new infantry regiments being raised for foreign service. A couple of letters of recommendation signed by Don John and the Viceroy in person accompanied the grant and testify to Cervantes’ standing in his superiors’ eyes. On September 20, 1575, we find him at Naples accompanied by his meritorious [elder] brother Rodrigo and, one may imagine, in the highest spirits, boarding the Sol galley, one of the flotilla bound for Spain under Captain Sandro de Leiva.

He must have been still in high feather when six days later, off the Provençal coast near Les Saintes Maries, three fast Turkish galleys captained by an Albanian renegade swooped of the Sol, which had been temporarily separated from the rest, and after a brisk hand-to-hand fight [the Turk] fled from the onrush of Leiva’s [Christian] main flotilla, carrying with them to Algiers a score of Spanish prisoners, the two brothers Cervantes among them. Those precious letters [of recommendation] carried by Miguel were shortly to prove no blessing. (79-80—my emphasis added)

For, in Algeria, as we are soon to be told in Chapter 3, the situation was cruelly bleak:

The sight everywhere of ragged Christian captives chained for transit or working under the lash—all these tokens, like a bad dream, of the presence and power of Mahound must have chilled even the stout blood of Miguel de Cervantes as he tramped that October day [in 1575], hustled by guards and linked to his fellow-prisoners, from quay to gaol [from the wharf to his jail]. (81—my emphasis added)

It is so that Wyndham Lewis’ Chapter 3—“Nor Iron Bars a Cage” (81-117)—will thoroughly and quite vividly present to the reader what Cervantes himself largely had to endure during his long captivity (and his several resourcefully attempted escapes) until his eventual ransom, which was achieved with the indispensable help of the chivalric order of the Trinitarians.

And yet, despite his cumulative suffering, Miguel Cervantes’ later writing in Don Quixote is so warm and generous—and so graciously forgiving and splendidly magnanimous.

We may recall now afresh what Cervantes intimately wrote near the end of his life: “Don Quixote was made for me and I for him….For me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him; his to act and mine to record.”

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1 See Samuel Putnam’s edition and translation of Cervantes’ Prologue to his own Exemplary Novels, in The Portable Cervantes (New York: The Viking Press, 1951), page 706.

2D.B Wyndham Lewis, The Shadow of Cervantes (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1962), page 70. Henceforth all references to this excellent and detailed work of some 190 pages will be placed in parentheses above in the main body of this essay. Our focus in this essay will be on two of the five chapters of this book: Chapter II—“Drum, Trumpet, and the Turk”; and Chapter III—“Nor Iron Bars a Cage.” Although we shall not be able to present a fuller depiction of Cervantes’ Captivity by the Turks (especially in Algiers) and his belatedly successful ransom back to Spain (indispensably helped by the chivalrous, self-sacrificing Trinitarian Order), we earnestly recommend to the reader a thorough savoring of Chapter III.

Cervantes’ Picaresque Tale About Criminal and Moral Disorder in Seville’s Underground

Dr. Robert Hickson                                       24 October 2019 Saint Raphael the Archangel

Epigraphs

“He is commonly called Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. He was a soldier for many years and a captive for five and a half, an experience that taught him patience in adversity. In the naval battle of Lepanto [1571 A.D.] he lost his left hand as the result of a harquebus shot, a wound which, however unsightly it may appear, he looks upon as beautiful, for the reason that it was received on the most memorable and sublime occasion that past ages have known or those to come may hope to know; for he was fighting beneath the victorious banner of the son [Don John of Austria] of that thunderbolt of war, [Emperor] Charles V of blessed memory.” (Cervantes Self-Description as found in the Prologue to his Two Exemplary Novels—in Samuel Putnam, The Portable Cervantes (1951), page 706.)

***

“And, finally, he [Rinconete] was astounded by the careless manner in which justice was administered in that famous city of Seville, with people so pernicious as these [in Monipodio’s covert academy and picaresque brotherhood of thieves] and possessed of such unnatural instincts carrying on their pursuits almost openly.” (Cervantes, Rinconete and Cortadillo, in The Portable Cervantes (1951), page 758.)

***

During the recurrent disturbances and prevarications coming from Rome outside (and sometimes even within) the 6-27 October 2019 Amazonian Synod, I consolingly thought to turn to Cervantes and his Picaresque Tales, especially one of them: Rinconete and Cortadillo,1 a generous and forgiving tale which was set mostly in Seville, Spain in early seventeenth century. Characteristically, as with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Cervantes vividly and magnanimously depicts both life as it is and life as it ought to be.

Let us therefore now consider the refreshing three-page ending of Cervantes’ Picaresque Tale as he deftly shows us the more mature second thoughts of his two young now experienced protagonists: those two young and very resourceful teenage rascals once known as Pedro de Rincón and Diego Cortado, the younger one of the two inimitable homeless rogues.

“Then turn on,” Monipodio directed him [Rinconete], “to where it says ‘Memorandum of Common Outrages.‘”

Rinconete [who was not illiterate] turned the leaves until he came to this inscription [concerning “Outrages”]….

“Don’t mention the house,” said Monipodio, “for I know where it is.”….

“Don’t read that [passage] either,” Monipodio admonished him; “the house and the address do not matter. It is enough to commit the offense without speaking of it in public, for it is a great burden upon the conscience. I would rather nail up a hundred horns [of infidelity or alleged cuckoldry] and as many sanbenitos [penitential garments], providing I was paid for it, than mention the [true] fact a single time even to the mother who bore me.”….“Give me the book, lad. I know there’s nothing else [to consider]. Business [the brotherhood’s thievery] is a bit slack just now, but times will change, and it may be we shall have more to do than we can take care of. There’s not a leaf stirs without God’s will, and we cannot force people to avenge themselves [by retaining our services], especially seeing that everyone is now so brave in his own behalf that he doesn’t want to pay for having something done that he can just as well do with his own hands.”

That is the way it is,” said Repolido….

What is to be done,” said Monipodio, “is this. You are all to go to your posts and stay there until Sunday, when we will meet in this same place and divide everything that has fallen into our hands, without cheating anyone. Rinconete the Good and Cortadillo [who earlier had also been called “Cortadillo the Good”] will have for their district until the end of the week that part of the suburbs [of Seville] that lies between the golden Tower and the Castle Postern. There they will have no trouble working their tricks, for I have seen others who were not nearly so clever come back every day with more than twenty reales in small change, not to speak of the silver, and all this with only one deck and with four cards missing. Ganchhuelo,” he [i.e., Chief Monipodio] went on, addressing the youths, “will show you the lay of the land, and even though you go as far as San Sebastian and San Telmo, it will not make much difference, although it is only right that no one [not even those clever two young and sympathetic rogues] should trespass on another’s territory.”

The pair kissed his hand in return for the favor he had done them and [they] promised to fulfill their [admittedly picaresque] tasks faithfully and well, with all diligence and discretion. (754-756—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

After this preparatory sample of the life of our two young rogues, we shall now more understandably be able to consider the specific “honors” that Rinconete and Cortadillo received from Monipodio—although the two lads will soon thereafter also mature a little more and then experience some quite resonant disillusionments:

Monipodio then took out from the hood of his cloak a folded sheet of paper containing a list of members [in the brotherhood] and directed Rinconete to put down his own name and that of Cortadillo; but since they had no ink there, he told them they might take the paper with them and attend to the matter in the first apothecary’s shop to which they came. The entry was to read: “Rinconete and Cortadillo, full members; apprenticeship, none; Rinconete, card sharper; Cortadillo, sneak thief.” They also were to note the day, month, and year, but were to say nothing about their parents or place of origin….

He [Monipodio] embraced Rinconete and Cortadillo and dismissed them with his blessing, charging them that they should never have any permanent lodging or stopping place, as that was best for all concerned. Ganchuelo went with them to show them their post, and took occasion to remind them once again that they should not fail to put in an appearance on Sunday, since he believed that Monipodio intended to give [the two of] them a lecture on the things that had to do with their trade. He then went away, leaving the two lads quite astonished at all they had seen. (756-757—my emphasis added)

With this implicit transition, we shall now witness our two picaros‘ critical observations of the Seville underground and the varied brotherhood of thieves (and helpers) amidst all their fresh adventures and abiding astonishment. (We also think of the Rome-Vatican underground today and its own networked and privileged brotherhoods—and their very effective demoralizations, as it seems.)

In support of this view, let us consider how the talented Rinconete expresses his new and more distant (even somewhat derisive) reflections about his own challenging and morally compromising way of life. For, Cervantes, through his tale’s narrator, refreshingly says to us the following, while also showing us the illusions:

Although a mere boy [of some fifteen or sixteen years of age], Rinconete had a naturally keen mind, and having accompanied his father in selling papal bulls [in Latin], he knew something about the proper use of language [to reveal, not to conceal, reality!]. He had to laugh loudly as he thought of some of the words [malapropisms or solecisms] that Monipodio and the rest of that foolish community had employed [e.g., “to keep my promise and follow destructions,” instead of to “follow instructions”! (751)]. In place of per modum suffragii [about spiritual intercession] Monipodio had said per modo de naufragio (“by way of shipwreck”)….Then there was [the prostitute] Chubby Face’s remark…(He [Rinconete] was especially amused by her [Chubby’s] hope that the labor she had expended in earning the twenty-four reales would be counted by heaven against her sins.) (757-758—my emphasis added)

But, the final two paragraphs of the Picaresque Tale (758-759) are most important:

Above all, he marveled at the absolute assurance they all felt of going to Heaven when they died so long as they did not fail in their devotions, and this in spite of all the thefts, murders, and other offenses of which they were guilty in the sight of God. He laughed also as he thought of the old woman, Pipota, who leaving the stolen hamper at home, went off to place her wax candles in from of the [sacred] images; by doing so she doubtless was convinced that she would go to Heaven fully clothed and with her shoes on. He was no less astonished at the obedience and respect they all showed Monipodio, that coarse, unscrupulous barbarian. He recalled what he had read in the latter’s memorandum book of the practices in which they were all engaged. And, finally, he was astounded by the careless manner in which justice was administered in that famous city of Seville, with people so pernicious as these and possessed of such unnatural instincts carrying on their pursuits almost openly.

He made up his [perceptively keen] mind to persuade his companion [the younger rascal, Cortadillo] that they should not continue long in this desperate and evil way of life, one so free and dissolute and marked by such uncertainly. But in spite of it all, being young and inexperienced, he did continue it for a number of months, and in the course of that time had certain adventures which it would take too long to set down here. Accordingly, we must wait for another occasion to hear the story of his life and the strange things that happened to him, as well as to his teacher Monipodio, along with other events having to do with the members of that infamous academy, all of which should be very edifying and well might serve as an example and a warning to those who read. (757-759—my emphasis added)

The magnanimous Miguel Cervantes has so much more to teach us still, and not only about the generous forgiveness and affectionately chivalrous illusions of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Moreover, my Special Forces Team-Sergeant in the late 1960s once very memorably said to me: “Sir, no one is completely useless; you can always serve as a bad example.”

Meditating on Cervantes’ final two paragraphs above (758-759) has somehow also reminded me of the recent Amazonian Synod in Rome and its often covert preparations and some dubious fruits and prevarications. However, what has been going on in Rome is not a Picaresque Tale, much less a tale in the spirit of Miguel Cervantes.

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1Samuel Putnam, The Portable Cervantes (Don Quixote, “Rinconete and Cortadillo,” et al.)—Translated and Edited, with an Introduction and Notes by Samuel Putnam—(New York: The Viking Press, 1951), 854 pages. The text of “Rinconete and Cortadillo” will be found on pages 709-759, from which text all further references will be made and placed above in parentheses in the main body of this essay. This Picaresque Tale is sometimes called the first of Cervantes’ two “Exemplary Novels,” the second one being entitled “Man of Glass” (760-796).

The Oath Against Modernism (1910-1967) and Cardinal Walter Brandmüller’s Recent Words

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                              7 October 2019

Our Lady of the Rosary (571 A.D.)

Epigraph

“We are only as courageous as we are convinced.” (Father John A. Hardon, S.J.)

***

In an article recently published on LifeSiteNews, the learned scholar and church historian, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, reported the following fact and has thereby especially arrested my attention, in part because of its momentous implications. For, the proposed fact is also what G.K. Chesterton would have called a “Tremendous Trifle,” a seeming trifle, but momentous if one has the proper criterion.

Cardinal Brandmüller wrote the following:

The philosophy of German idealism [Kant and Hegel et al.]—which is fixed on human consciousness—and its connection with evolutionary thought had led to the result that one regarded religion as a product of the depth of the human soul which develops from one stage to the next higher one in the course of evolution and that religion therefore is subject to change. From today’s perspective [sic], one might consider some of the actions on the part of “Rome” in those years to have been rigid, but one cannot put in doubt the danger of these ideas—which one since then summarizes with the name “Modernism”—which were indeed undermining the foundations of the Faith.

That Pius X here pulled the emergency brake in this situation by demanding from theology teachers [and others] that they make the Oath Against Modernism [1910], one should not demean or ridicule it as an expression of “Roman alarmism.” It can, instead, astonish us that, of all people, the German theology professors were excluded from fulfilling this demand. They feared for their freedom in teaching and research, whose loss would have exposed them to some disdain in the academic world.1 [my emphasis added]

However, the German Cardinal does not then additionally present any more specificity or historical clarifications about this momentous German exemption, indeed this mysterious German dispensation and its consequent exclusion from the standard requirement, under obedience, to affirm the contents of that carefully crafted solemn Oath Against Modernism.

Was the Oath also exempted from the vows of the Austrians and others of the German linguistic groups in Europe or in Foreign Missions or as Germanic citizens in diaspora? Did it apply, as well, to ethnic German Catholic teachers dwelling in other cultures? Was the oath not even required of German theological teachers or broadly religious teachers in Rome? Was the German exclusion ever even written down and officially promulgated? If so, when? Where is the official document to be found? Was it in place even from the outset in 1910—or did it come quietly into the public later?

These are the kinds of questions I wanted to ask Cardinal Brandmüller, and my wife Maike Hickson even proceeded, in fairness, to ask him for some his further clarifications, if feasible, about that presented momentous fact.

I would also have some more questions to ask him about a later event: namely, the quiet 17 July 1967 rescinding of the 1910 Oath Against Modernism—which was done by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the reign of Paul VI and with his approval.2

Was it the case that Modernism or an even more subtle Neo-Modernism was now to be tolerantly accepted and variously institutionalized within the modern Church? How are we to understand this removal of a grave 57-year-old Oath of honor?

But, did not the prelates and other clergy with their advisors (periti) during the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council also face the danger of having perjured themselves especially if they had actually and obediently also earlier taken the solemn Oath Against Modernism—although the German delegates might well have had a mitigating dispensation and had thus been exempted from making the vow, even then and even in 1962-1965 Conciliar Rome?

By way of an analogous contrast, it was back in the 1980s that I first read—with Arnaud de Lassus’s indispensable help—Jean Madiran’s reliable analyses of two admittedly secret meetings in France—in Metz and in Strasbourg —conducted just before the October 1962 opening of the Second Vatican Council.3 The Metz meeting was with representatives of Soviet Communism and with the French Cardinal Eugène Tisserant from Rome. In Strasbourg, France, there was a secret meeting with representatives of modern Judaism and with Rome’s official representative, Father Yves Congar, O.P. (a Dominican who was later in 1994, shortly before his 1995 death, made a Cardinal by John Paul II).

Rather than now considering the troubling substance of these compromising agreements—intended to help guide the impending Pastoral Vatican Council as to the political action of both Communist forces and Jewish forces—we only want to raise a few questions: namely, to what extent were the Council Fathers informed about these important secret meetings and binding promises and subversive arrangements? To the extent that these two secret meetings were not disclosed, to what extent was the Pastoral Council playing with a crooked deck of cards, from the outset—even before the original Schemata were diverted and disposed of?

With so much talk afloat about openness and all that, there are many signs of oligarchic secret assemblies, protective censorship, and frightened self-censorship that gradually becomes a withering and atrophying self-censorship.

The intimately exoteric Catholic spirit of vital candor and robust lucidity thus now tends to become a more “occult organization of revolution.” That is to say, comprising both the fast path and the slow path of revolution. The principle of “solve et coagula” also now has more unimpeded scope for its Hegelian Dialectic and Evolutionary Pantheism. The Geist needs us, as it were, to complete Itself. Such “Process Philosophy” even boldly says that “God needs us to complete Himself.” The Church, we dare say, now still has Her work cut out for Her, sub Gratia Divina.

May we be able to face with courage some of those “Tremendous Trifles,” as well: Installed Neo-Modernism, for example. And still, during this pervasive Occupation, to preserve our font of “Battle Joy”!

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/dubia-cardinal-warns-church-in-germany-against-synodal-path-that-leads-to-final-decline (The invited commentary and article by Cardinal Brandmüller, with its English translation from the German and with its brief introduction being both presented by Dr. Maike Hickson, is only some seven pages in length, and the public article is entitled “Dubia Cardinal warns Church in Germany against synodal path that leads to ‘final decline.’”)

2AAS-59-1967; see here for the original 1910 Oath Against Modernism: https://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius10/p10moath.htm; and see here for the replacement Profession of Faith: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19670717_formula-professio-fidei_en.html

3Since the electronic archives of Apropos Magazine do not seem anymore to be available, I shall give herewith links to other websites with the two Jean Mardiran articles: https://theeye-witness.blogspot.com/2013/10/jean-madiran-romes-other-secret-accord.html; https://livinginjmj.com/2017/10/10/the-vatican-moscow-agreement/

Hilaire Belloc’s 1910 Reflective Essay “On Sacramental Things”

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                       26 September 2019

The Eight North American Martyrs (d. 1642-1649)

Saint Thérèse Couderc (d. 1885)

Epigraphs

One of the main marks of stupidity is the impatient rejection of mystery; one of the first marks of good judgment, combined with good reasoning power, is the appetite for examining mystery.” (Hilaire Belloc, Essays of a Catholic Layman in England (London: Sheed & Ward, first published in July 1931), page 275—my emphasis added)

***

Truth comes by Conflict” (Hilaire Belloc’s own Epigraph to his 1931 book, Essays of a Catholic Layman in England.)

***

Perhaps the test of these sacramental things is their power to revive the past….But why all these things are so neither I nor any other man can tell.” (Hilaire Belloc, “On Sacramental Things,” in his 1910 Anthology entitled On Something, pages 263 and 265—my emphasis added. )

***

“Now that story [of the Dovrefjeld in central Norway’s mountains] is a symbol, and tells a truth. We see some one thing in this world, and suddenly it becomes particular and sacramental; a woman and a child, a man at evening, a troop of soldiers; we hear notes of music, we smell the smell that went with a passed time, or we discover after the long night a shaft of light upon the tops of the hills at morning: there is a resurrection, and we are refreshed and renewed.” (Hilaire Belloc, “On Sacramental Things,” in the author’s own 1910 Anthology, On Something, page 265—my emphasis added.)

***

 

In January of 1910, when Hilaire Belloc was almost forty years of age and already widely traveled on land and sea, he published his intimately reflective essay “On Sacramental Things,” which was first presented in his own authorial anthology, entitled On Something.1 He will effectively teach us herein to be more perceptive and attentively receptive and grateful; and, he will give us help to preserve a vivid memory and even sacred devotion.

Moreover, near the end of his essay, Belloc will even show us a rare portion his heart, as he gives us his own memorably purified version of an old Norse Tale with its evocative presentation of trustworthiness and the implicit meaning of a Vow and of Loyal Love.

Mindful of the nourishing needs of the soul of man, Belloc begins his refreshing reflections, as follows:

It is good for a man’s soul to sit down in the silence by himself and to think of those things which happen by some accident [or providence?] to be in communion with the whole world. If he has not the faculty of remembering these things in their order and of calling them up one after another in his mind, then let him write them down as they come to him upon of piece of paper. They will comfort him; they will prove a sort of solace against the expectation of the end [“Respice Finem!”]. To consider such things [e.g., one’s end and purpose] is a sacramental occupation. And yet the more I think of them the less I can quite understand in what elements their power consists. (257-my emphasis added)

Belloc then directly gives us an initial taste of what he has so vividly perceived and remembered himself, especially from all his travels afoot in Europe, in North Africa, and on his formidable 1901 Path to Rome:

A woman smiling at a little child, not knowing that others see her, and holding out her hands toward it, and in one of her hands flowers; an old man, lean and active, with an eager face, walking at dusk upon and warm and windy evening westward towards a clear sunset below dark and and flying clouds; a group of soldiers, seen suddenly in manoeuvres, each man intent upon his business, all working at the wonderful trade, taking their places with exactitude and order and yet with elasticity; a deep, strong tide running back to the sea, going noiselessly and flat and black and smooth, and heavy with purpose under and old wall; the sea smell of a Channel seaport town; a ship coming up at one out of the whole sea when one is in a little boat and is waiting for her, coming up at one with her great sails merry and every one doing its work, with the life of the wind in her, and a balance, rhythm, and give in all that she does which marries her to the seawhether it be a fore and aft rig and one sees only great lines of the white, or a square rig and one sees what is commonly called a leaning tower of canvas, or that primal rig, the triangular sail, that cuts through the airs of the world and clove a way for the first adventures, whatever its rig, a ship so approaching an awaiting boat from which we watch her is one of the [consoling, sacramental] things I mean….

They do so nourish the mind! A glance of sudden comprehension mixed with mercy and humour from the face of a lover or a friend;…chief and most persistent [is the] memory,[namely] a great hill when the morning strikes it and one sees it up before one round the turning of a rock after the long passes and despairs of the night.

When a man has journeyed and journeyed through those hours in which there is no colour or shape, all along the little hours that were made for sleep and when, therefore, the waking soul is bewildered or despairs, the morning is always a resurrection—but especially when it reveals a height in the sky. This last picture I would particularly cherish, so great a consolation is it, and so permanent a grace does it lend later to the burdened mind of a man. (257-259—my emphasis added.)

Belloc is certainly a sensitive “tuning-fork,” as it were, able to perceive nuances of atmosphere and the varied responses of the human soul to geography or to the radiant goodness of a human face and the fresh face of a child. Sometimes he just bursts out in his own digressions, such as this passage:

Glory (which, if men would only know it, lies behind all true certitude) illumines and enlivens the seen world, and the living light makes of the true things now revealed something more that truth absolute; they appear as truth acting and creative….

So one begins to understand, as the pure light shines and grows,…what has been meant by those great phrases which still lead on, still comfort, and still make darkly wise, the uncomforted wondering of mankind. Such is the [slightly modified] famous phrase: “Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor can it enter into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those that serve [and thereby love] Him.” [1 Corinthians 2:9] (260-261—my emphasis added)

Before Belloc introduces us to a Norse Tale, he mentions a little-known place:

There is another place more dear to me but which I doubt whether any other but a native of the place can know….A traveller [suddenly] breaks through a little fringe of chestnut hedge and perceives at once before him…the most historic of European things, the chief of the great capitals of Christendom and the arena in which is now being debated…the Faith, the chief problem of this world. (263—my emphasis added)

Just after his commentary on the Faith and its challenges and its consequent, permanent struggles, he tells us about “the Master Maid” (263):

Apart from landscape other things belong to this contemplation [of sacramental things that lead us to God and thus to the seven sacraments and to a greater sacred devotion]: Notes of music, and, stronger than repeated and simple notes of music, a subtle scent and its association, a familiar printed page. Perhaps the test of these sacramental things is their power to revive the past. [In this context, we recall The Concept and Reality of the “Memoria Corporisthe Memory of the Body—as in the Body of the Lord, or in the Body, the Corpus, of Sacred Tradition.]

There is a story translated into the noblest of English writing by Dasent.2 It is to be found in his [1904] Tales from the Norse. It is called the “The Story of the Master Maid.” (263—my emphasis added)

As he had earlier done with his 1903 translation of The Romance of Tristan and Iseult,3 Hilaire Belloc now again shows us how he is able to summarize and purify a sometimes truculent Scandinavian tale, and to do it with compactness and lucidity and a resonant poignancy:

A man had found in his youth a woman on the Norwegian hills: this woman was faerie, and there was a spell upon her [cast by a troll]. But he won her out of it in various ways, and they crossed the sea together, and he would bring her to his father’s house, but his father was a King. As they went overseas together, he said and swore to her that he would never forget how they had met and loved each other without warning, but by an act of God, upon the Dovrefjeld. Come near to his father’s house, the ordinary influences of the ordinary day touched him; he bade her enter a hut and wait a moment until he had warned his father of so strange a marriage; she, however, gazing into his eyes, and knowing how the divine may be transformed into the earthly, quite as surely as the earthly as the earthly into the divine, makes him promise that he will not eat human food. He sits at his father’s table, still steeped in her and in the seas. He forgets his vow and eats human food, and at once he forgets.

Then follows much for which I have not space, but the woman in the hut by her magic causes herself to be at last sent for to the father’s palace. The young man sees her, and is only slightly troubled as by a memory which he cannot grasp. They talk together as strangers; but looking out of the window by accident [or providence?] the King’s son sees a bird and its mate; he points them out to the woman, and she says suddenly: “So it was with you and me high up upon the Dovrefjeld.” Then he [the young man] remembers all. (264-265—my emphasis added)

As we are savoring Belloc’s tones and tenor, and his gracious brevity, he says, once again, that “We see some one thing in this world, and suddenly it becomes particular and sacramental; …[and] there is a resurrection, and we are refreshed and renewed.” (265—my emphasis added)

He had, at the outset of his essay, earlier said: “To consider such things is a sacramental occupation. And yet the more I think of them the less I can quite understand in what elements their [mysterious] power consists.” (257) At the end of his inquiring essay, he says: “But why all these [sacramental] things are so neither I nor any other man can tell.” (265—my emphasis added)

Granted our own slightly greater perceptiveness now as to the “Memoria Corporisour memory of the body of thingsmay we now also better be able to contemplate with love the Passion of the Lord.

And to contemplate, as well, the Passion (and the Joys) of Our Lady, the Blessed Mother.

Santa Madonna!

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, “On Sacramental Things,”is to be found in his anthology On Something (London: Methuen & Co. LTD, 1910), pages 257-265.) All future references will be to this 1910 edition and placed in parentheses above in the main body of this appreciative essay.

2See Sir George Webbe Dasent (1817-1896), Popular Tales from the Norse (London, 1904).

3See Hilaire Belloc, The Romance of Tristan and Iseult (London: George Allen, 1903) as translated from the French of Joseph Bédier by Hilaire Belloc. See also a later-published text: Hilaire Belloc, Tristan and Iseult (London: Unwin Books and George Allen, 1913 and 1961).

Strategic Bombing and the Innocents: Considering Gertrud von Le Fort and Pope Pius XII in Response to World War II

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                        8 September 2019

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Epigraphs

“I was…thinking…about the nights in the city when the sirens had wailed so horribly to say: The foreign airplanes are coming!….That was eight years ago, and the [1939-1945] war has been over for a long time. I am not a little child now; I am a big boy—twelve years old soon. Yet even today, Mommy never talks to me about airplanes—I know she wishes I would forget all about the sirens and the airplanes. But I cannot forget them, although my thoughts always go only up to the edge of the memory—when I try to think of the most terrible moments, then suddenly there is a big hole, as dark as the cellar where we were sitting then, and there is such a terrible droning noise that I can no longer think about anything. Then all I hear is Mommy’s voice, loud and clear as a shout through all the other shouting: ‘Mary, take my child into your arms!’….

“When I began to think and see again, I thought at first that it really was the Virgin Mary holding me in her arms because Mommy’s face was as black as the picture of Our Lady of Altötting that hung in her room. But soon I noticed that it was Mommy’s face, covered with smoke and soot, completely frozen with fear and terror….” (Gertrud von Le Fort, “The Innocents” (7-46) in The Innocents and Other Stories (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2019—first published in 1960 in German and entitled “Die Unschuldigen”), see now pages 7-8 for the above-cited passage.)

***

“Several days later the Church celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents, to whom the castle chapel is dedicated….The priest said that the [Psalm 124:7] verse expresses the voice of the Holy Innocents.

“Suddenly one of the refugee women began to whimper audibly. ‘But the children did not escape at all; they froze! They lay motionless and stiff on the ice when we fled across the lagoon [as was our coming from East Prussia]. They threw them into the water like dead fish!’ She moaned so loudly that the priest had to interrupt his sermon until they had led the woman out.

“Later when we left the chapel, Mommy was standing on the stairs holding in her arms the woman who had whimpered before. She had nestled her head on Mommy’s bosom and wept very gently and quietly. Later Grandmama told Mommy that she would like to explain to the woman [refugee] the psalm verse she had misunderstood. But Mommy just shook her head.” (Gertrud von Le Fort, “The Innocents,” pages 28-29—my emphasis added)

***

“Mommy [Melanie, Heini’s mother] never goes with Grandmama to church in Niederasslau. Since she lost her rosary, she does not go to Mass anymore, either—she does not even go to the castle chapel when one is said there. But Mommy cannot stand the castle chapel at all because it is dedicated to the Holy Innocents. On the chapel wall to the right of the altar is a painting of the massacre of the children in Bethlehem.” (Gertrud von Le Fort, “The Innocents,” page 18)

***

“I think that Grandmama was much fonder of Uncle Eberhard than of my father [Karl], who was also her son, after all….But there is something else that Grandmama has against my father.

“’You hold Karl’s death [by suicide] against him, Mother,’ Mommy recently said to her—Karl was my father–‘and yet it was a noble, heroic death,’

“’But not for a Christian,’ Grandmama replied. ‘A Christian must find another way out.’ Grandmama, I think, is very pious….

“But then she [Mommy] told me honestly and decisively, ‘No, Heini, your father shot himself, but his death was nevertheless a noble one. Your father preferred to die rather than to kill the innocent.’” Gertrud von Le Fort, “The Innocents,” pages 15-16 and 33—my emphasis added)

***

“’Karl [my officer husband] did not fear certain death,’ Mommy insisted. ‘He feared God, and you claim to be a pious woman.’

“’But you are unwilling to be one,’ Grandmama replied, ‘and that is at bottom the reason for all your trouble and unrest. God permitted this terrible event [a massacre in 1944 France at Oradour]; if you could believe in Him, you would soon find peace.’

“’No, on the contrary, then I most certainly would not find peace,’ Mommy said stubbornly, ‘because if God existed, He would have to be as indignant as I. But there cannot be a God, because the whole world is full of the suffering of the innocent!

“’That is precisely how the world was redeemed,’ Grandmama said calmly. ‘The guilty merely get their just punishment, but the sight of innocent people suffering softens hearts—Christ suffered, too, although He was innocent. Until you accept that, you cannot be a Christian woman.’

“’And I do not want to be one,’ Mommy protested, again looking quite desperate.’…I thought, ‘What Grandmama just said really sounded beautiful and mysterious. Why, then, will Mommy not accept it?’ But then I recalled what Herr Unger recently said to her: ‘But what could be the reason why people today no longer believe the piety of pious people?‘ (Gertrud von Le Fort, “The Innocents,” pages 30-31—my emphasis)

***

“’But why, then, did Grandmama weep so bitterly at my bedside [after again Heini’s having been wounded by the fall of the tower-bell, but not a bomb]? I never knew she [in her poised dignity] could still weep like that! And why did she then tell you that she can now understand why you no longer want to pray?‘….

“’Well, does Uncle Eberhard not want to marry you anymore?’

“’No, my poor child rescued me from that.’

“’Oh, then I am glad, Mommy. But why are you kneeling down all of a sudden? Can you pray again now? And why are you praying downstairs in the chapel? Is there another Mass today for the Holy Innocents?

“’It is the domestics and the refugees, darling [and all the “children of Oradour” in France (46)]. I think they are praying for you.’….

“’So, now I want to go to the children—but suddenly I can no longer stand up—someone has to carry me. Ah, Mommy if you can pray again [as on page 8], then please say once again: Mary, take my child in your arms…’

“’Mary, take my child…‘” (45-46—my emphasis added) [Finis]

***

Introducing Gertrud von Le Fort’s 1960 poignant and at times very disturbing novella, “The Innocents,” has seemed a fitting way to speak of Allied strategic bombing in World War II, as well as of the later 24 January 1943 Allied demand for unconditional surrender. It may also lead us to wonder what Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church first specifically thought and then did about these two major moral decisions and the consequential actions. (Pope Pius XII, who knew German well, died on 9 October 1958, not long before Gertrud von Le Fort published “The Innocents,” which was dedicated to the lost children: “In memory of the children who died in World War II.”1 )

Moreover, Gertrud von Le Fort—by her vivid fiction—has intimately depicted some of the deep and longstanding effects of the promiscuous and often cynical aerial bombing, to include the ill fruits of revenge that such bombing so often incited and aggressively reciprocated, especially after the innocent were deliberately or negligently slaughtered. Culpable ignorance and culpable negligence were frequently present, as it appears—and as I have been told by pilots and naval aviators.

In this short reflection, I therefore propose to discuss, without any apparatus of learning, some of what I have learned over the years, to include oral history, beginning with my time as an eager cadet at West Point from 1960-1964.

The theorists of strategic bombing all essentially claimed that such a method would shorten the war, and avoid the stalemate-situation and moral horror of the Trenches of World War I, especially in Western Europe.

But, a declaration of unconditional surrender would—and did—protract the war, especially in light of the earlier vengeful “Carthaginian Peace” of Versailles (and the related stark Trianon Treaty and such). The enemy would also become more resolute as well as much more distrusting and deceptively mistrustful. That is to say, an already betrayed enemy was all too likely to “hunker down” intransigently and try to endure.

The strategic air power theorists had a set of presuppositions—fundamental premises—on which to base their confidence and their practices: the “industrial web theory” (about a vulnerable interdependent society of modernity); the belief that the bombers could get though to their targets without a fighter escort; their confidence that they could find, and in a timely way, the most important long-range strategic targets (such as the key nodes and choke points in the infrastructure of Romanian oil fields, so indispensable for sustained logistics); the reliable and continuous employment and precision of the new Radar); and their pilots’ ability to handle safely unexpended ordnance after an incomplete bombing mission over Germany, for example. But, almost all these assumptions were false. (My former father-in-law, a combatant bomber pilot in the 8th Air Force, told me calmly that, of course, he, like the other crews, often just dumped unused bombs anywhere he could—on cities or on the countrysides—before he returned to England and safely landed without any active munitions. He also landed in the Soviet Union twice, both times because of near emergencies, but, he reported, it was not a welcoming place or “ally” to be visiting, even briefly.)

Stalin first said that he wanted the capitalistic Western societies to fight each other and thereby to deplete each other, and then he would arrive into their own dissolution and take charge. Later, he did not want his putative Western allies to come up through Northern Italy into Austria. He even made some suggestions that, if the West did that, he just might have to make a Separate Peace with Germany, instead, another Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty (on 3 March 1918, late in World War I). But, this time, he said, to the advantage of the Soviet-Russians and not to the Germans. Stalin slyly wanted his Western allies to attack as far west as possible, instead, for example starting in western France so that the Soviet Army could more easily advance into eastern and central Europe (like the Mongols, but even further). Here was the country who had made an August 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact, and then invaded Poland on 17 September 1939, after losing to the Poles the decisive August 1920 Battle of Warsaw,2 which occurred only two years after Brest-Litovsk Surrender (in March of 1918). To appease their new Soviet ally (soon after 22 June 1941), England, on 6 December 1941, even declared war on heroic, anti-Bolshevist Finland, opening the way to the Soviet conquest of the three Baltic Republics.

From all things I have read down the years—and from all the searching questions I have asked—I have never discovered that Pope Pius XII ever even mentioned his warning or cautious assessment of “Strategic Bombing” and of the moral and immoral effects of effectively unlimited “Unconditional Surrender,” which Stalin himself hesitated to accept and to proclaim openly and then also to apply.

If anyone could give me evidence of Pope Pius XII’s analysis and resistance to Strategic Bombing and Unconditional Surrender taken together, and mercilessly applied, I would be very grateful—and even consoled.

Father John Anthony Hardon, S.J. once tested me orally by asking: “Is evil within the Divine Providence?” I said “Yes” but that didn’t get me very far, nor help my understanding very much. But Father then slyly said: “If you had said ‘No,’ however, we would have a problem!”

Then we spoke about the Mystery of the Permissive Will of God. For, Father said that God allows certain evils to avoid a greater evil or sometimes to enable a greater good to come forth and to abide. Then I said: “Papal Diplomacy certainly is a Test of your larger and manifold insights about the Providence of God.” What Pope Pius XII did or did not do—nor mention—during World War II is another Test about the purposes and allowances of the Divine Providence. No matter what, World War II was not—is not—“the Good War.” Gertrud von Le Fort has helped us to realize and to spread this true fact with empathy and with compassion.

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1Gertrud von Le Fort, The Innocents and Other Stories (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2019), page 7 for her Dedication. All further references to “The Innocents” will be to this recent edition, and will be placed above, in parentheses, in the main body of this brief essay.

2For the conduct and the strategic implications of this battle and victory against the great Soviet Marshal Toukhatchevsky, see the excellent book by Viscount Edgar Vincent D’Abernon (d. 1941), entitled The Eighteenth Decisive Battle in the World: Warsaw, 1920 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1931—or its later 1977 Reprint by Hyperion Press in Westport, Connecticut.)

Hilaire Belloc’s 1938 Return to the Baltic and Poland

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                              28 August 2019

Saint Augustine of Hippo (d. 430)

Epigraphs

“With every people of Europe outside the old limits of the Roman Empire [such as the Danes] there is a moment of origin to be discerned, a moment in which it passed out of the formless mist of barbaric paganism into the fixed culture of Christendom: a moment in which there came to it for the first time in sufficient strength the formative institutions of our civilisation, writing and record, the monastic centres, permanent building, and also, and above all, the kernel of the whole affair, the Mass.” (Hilaire Belloc, Return to the Baltic (London: Constable & CO LTD, 1938), page 5—my emphasis added.)

***

“Yet Cracow [in the southeast Poland, in “Carpathian Poland” and at the upper waters of the Vistula] will always be the real heart of the people, the sacred place. And one feels in Cracow the reality and the presence of the Polish soul as one feels it nowhere else. That is but the judgment of a chance foreign visitor, and as like as not romantically out of perspective, for after all Cracow is a frontier town not central to the Polish realm [like Warsaw on the Vistula, “the political center of Poland”]. Yet never have I trodden the streets of Cracow when I have visited and re-visited the town without a feeling of being in the immediate presence of that holy something which inhabits Poland like a secret flame.

“The Church of Our Lady from within, when you enter from the market place, strikes you suddenly like a vision: something hardly of this world. It is of a supernatural beauty.” (Hilaire Belloc, Return to the Baltic, page 159—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

***

“But there is another nucleus, the famous shrine of Czenstohowa [Our Lady’s Shrine, which is located not very far to the north from Cracow itself]. It is characteristic of our ignorance, here, in the west, of all things Polish that the monastery, the spire, the altar of Czenstohowa should be hardly known to us. It was the turning point of the invasions. It was here that the last of the [invasive] Swedish effort turned back.” (Hilaire Belloc, Return to the Baltic, page 161—my emphasis added)

***

“Oddly enough the one man, the only man then in the public eye, who wrote in English something sufficient about Poland, was Lord d’Abernon. He understood the full significance of the [August 1920] Battle of Warsaw and you would do well to read his book on the sharp turning-point in the history of the world. [See Viscount D’Abernon’s The Eighteenth Decisive Battle of the World: Warsaw, 1920 (1931)]. (Hilaire Belloc, Return to the Baltic (1938), page 147—my emphasis added)

***

At sixty-eight years of age and only one year before the grave outbreak of the Second World War in Poland in September of 1939, Hilaire Belloc visited with a friend some of the Baltic-Scandinavian countries (Denmark and Sweden) as well as his cherished Poland on the southern shore of the Baltic.1 Belloc was now again traveling to the coasts of the Baltic Sea with his close friend (and exquisite illustrator) Edmond “Bear” Warre with whom he had also earlier visited the Baltic back in 1895, forty-three years earlier and when Belloc was but a youthful twenty-five years of age.

In light of the then impending war in Poland, Belloc’s mature perceptions and vivid historical comments in 1938 will still teach us many things of import, especially when we, from the outset, also candidly acknowledge (and unflinchingly remember) that the Soviet Army itself destructively invaded Poland from the east, in September of 1939.

The Russian invasion began on 17 September 1939, slightly more than two weeks after the German Army had first come into Poland from the west. The Soviet actions might also have been part of the intended vengeance to be inflicted for the Polish having twenty years earlier defeated and effectively humiliated the Russians themselves in the decisive 1920 Battle of Warsaw.2 (It was fought from 12-25 August 1920; the victory is also reverently now called “The Miracle of the Vistula.”)

But who denounced or actively tried to counteract this consequential Soviet invasion of Poland which was soon afterwards also to be imposed on the Baltic Republics and Finland? Did Pope Pius XII himself even say anything, or take other public or covert measures? But what of the Soviet Union’s later alliance with the West against Germany and Finland?

Moreover, says Belloc:

When [General] Pilsudski won the famous [1920] battle he did more than save the city called by its name (the Battle of Warsaw). He saved, as I have said, everything east of the Rhine. [However,] It looks as though the Germans may not have been saved for a better fate. It looks as though another barbarism, almost as bad as the modern barbarism of Moscow, were to take the place of the German culture, for that culture shrieked when Vienna fell [to the German National Socialists on 12 March 1938]. (175—my emphasis added)

Adding some further details (and hints) a few pages later, Belloc returns thereby to the strategic importance of the Baltic and to the reality of power in 1938, to include financial power:

Since it was taken for granted [after 1919 and Versailles] that the new Poland could not live [long], the international banking system, of which the chief exponent was the Bank of England, put all their money on Berlin. The English politicians, but still more the English banking power, restored Prussia, and that is why Prussia is not only leading and organises all the German millions, but unhappily dominates the Baltic to-day [in mid-1838]. (179—my emphasis added)

Leading us back to an earlier time of religious strife, Belloc will now expound some important history for us in light of the realities of Baltic geography:

So far so good. But the interest of Poland to a man who is considering the Baltic of the past, and the story of Scandinavia, is the varying fortunes of the two cultures into which Europe split after the Reformation, their struggle to have the Baltic in their hands: to leave the Baltic a Protestant or a Catholic lake. Poland made its effort towards the close of the Middle Ages. It was on the way to achievement when the storm of the Reformation burst and it was under that storm, and its later effects, that Poland lost the Baltic shore.

All energy polarises. The intense energies of the turmoil which shattered the unity of Christendom polarised as a matter of course, and the Baltic swung between two poles. Anti-Catholicism centered in Sweden, the revival of Catholicism centered in Poland. (147-148—my emphasis added)

In his characteristic light-hearted way, Belloc brings out some important points about the opacity or inaccessibility of a foreign language and how to begin to deal with it in public affairs:

The test of the business is [German] Dantzig [on the northern shore of the Vistula River] ….Meanwhile, the rival [Polish Gdynia] that cannot but kill Dantzig grows apace…..But can Gdynia remain Polish….

Gdynia has one disadvantage [with regard to Germanic Dantzig] however. It is a disadvantage attaching to many another Polish thing—it is the disadvantage of a name which the West cannot pronounce: the old language difficulty again. It would be of service indeed to Polish relations if the Poles would consent to transliterate for the purpose of those relations and to spell their place names and the rest so that we of the West—especially those of us who are the friends of Poland—could read the names and pronounce them. I know that one is here up against a point of honour. There is the same trouble with the Welsh. There is no great harm done to Europe by the bristling difficulties of the Welsh but a great harm is done to Europe by anything which makes Poland the bastion of our civilisation seem outlandish.

Yes, Poland is the bastion. It saved us in the [1920] Battle of Warsaw as it saved us more than 200 years earlier in the [17 July-12 September 1683] Battle of Vienna. It is of high moment to Europe that Poland should be in full communion with the rest of Europe, and the Polish place-names—and personal names for that matter—are the difficulty.

It was with the Poles as with the French. They lay balanced between two forces [Protestant and Catholic] which made a battlefield of all Christendom from 1530 and 1600. (148, 151-152—my emphasis added)

The struggles of the Faith, and the struggle for the Faith, during the early years of the Reformation were intense, but Belloc will reasonably be able to show us now only some of the results:

The recovery of Poland was a chief triumph of the Jesuits. The Society [of Jesus] re-established Poland, though here, as in France, it was the wealthiest men who most inclined to the new doctrines. Happily for Poland and for Europe there had not been so much loot available as in England and Sweden. The lesser gentry were not so much tempted, but perhaps what did most good was that irrational force of a nickname and the mere association of ideas. The Reformation began to be talked of as “that German thing,” and the Poles, like the Danes, though a very different nation, dreaded the power of the empire [as in the oft-misunderstood historic formulation of “the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations”].

Yet remember that Poland, had she received the full effect of the Reformation, might well have benefited on the material side. The breakdown of European civilisation let usury loose and the letting loose of usury created that credit system which had so vastly increased the wealth of the nations which adopted it and which is only now beginning to appear as a poison. Also in Sweden as in England the Reformation depressed the peasantry to the advantage of the wealthy, favoured adventure, and therefore enhanced leadership, judgment in commercial adventure, a readiness to accept novel instruments and new methods.

The Reformation killed the Guild. It gave us in the long run industrial capitalism, but its first fruits were only triumphs among the towns, where it meant new energies, new adaptations. In these [areas] the Poles, like all communities which had preferred the sacred things and the traditions, lagged behind the rest. (154-155—my emphasis added)

These deeply fair-minded and magnanimously refreshing words will continue to give us much to reflect upon and so much to reassess in some portions of our history. Belloc has so many admirable gifts in these areas.

Belloc has also written worthy comments about the elective Polish monarchy and its insufficiency during the rebellious times of the extended Reformation, and how the monarchy’s weakening and eventual loss of position would lead not only to Swedish dominance (especially at sea and along the Baltic coast), but also to the greater benefit and dominance of Prussia, which then led to achieving the humiliating Three Partitions of Poland (enforced by Prussia, Russia, and Austria):

But probably what hurt the strength of Poland most was the loss of monarchy….But [on the premise that “the whole task of government is to govern”] how should kingship govern without continuity? This new Polish crown was elective at the hands of an aristocracy. Permanent kingship there was not. [King] Sigismund the IIIrd [Vasa], the champion of the old Faith, he who made Warsaw the capital, would have done it if any man could, but the forces of rebellion were too strong….He saved the Faith of Poland, he saved the soil of Poland, too, triumphing to the east by land—but he lost the sea.

He [Polish King Sigismund, as mentioned] was a Vasa [i.e., of Swedish lineage and blood], the legitimate heir of Sweden and indeed accepted as king, but his religion was too much for the new millionaires. That [very Catholic] religion endangered their great fortunes based on the loot of the church land and revenues. He was driven out and, though he triumphed in the great flats of the east [toward Lithuania], the sea was not recovered. From his time [1566-1632] onward Sweden is the conquering power, barring Poles from the ways that led to the open seas, and to the ocean. (155-156—my emphasis added)

Moreover, says Belloc, “It was in the second lifetime after the full effect of the Reformation that Catholic Poland, like Ireland, was submerged. In the late seventeenth century the effects of the Reformation were clinched. (156—my emphasis added)

That is to say, more fully, yet somewhat unexpectantly, perhaps even to the learned:

The Polish fortunes were at their lowest [in those late 1600s]. In the eighteenth century Poland [then] fell a prey to the growing power of Protestant Prussia. It is a good example of how the thing that is both prophesied and dreaded does not usually come off. Another unexpected evil takes its place. [For example:] Sweden had barred Poland from the sea. After that the Swedes continued to invade and at the worst moment reached the very heart of the country at Czenstohowa. Yet it was not they [the Swedes] that benefited by the collapse of the restricted, harassed and undermined Polish monarchy. The beneficiary was Prussia.

It was Frederick of Prussia who was the real author of the partition [the three of them!]. His active and willing accomplice was the empress of Russia, but the main responsibility lies with that great soldier, the Hohenzollern….

There was more than one partition of Poland [i.e., three of them: 1772, 1793, and 1795], but throughout the bad business—the launching of our modern moral anarchy in international affairs—it is Prussia that presides over the murder.

England being morally an ally of Prussia for nearly two centuries [as of 1938], the part Prussia played has naturally been under-emphasised in our official histories, the new Oxford and Cambridge historical school of the nineteenth century. (156-157—my emphasis added)

At one point near the end of his richly nuanced and little-known book—Return to the Baltic—Belloc has an important and timely reflection:

I wonder how many of those few Englishmen who go into Poland and feel something of the Polish story have so much as seen Czenstohowa? It remains unspoken of in our letters. It was not even revealed to us when the attempt at framing a new Europe was made—and ruined by London and the Banks—after the victory of 1918. Czenstohowa has not even been subject to the general abuse which has fallen on most things Polish from the enemies of the Christian thing. Czenstohowa is not deliberately ignored. It is simply unknown, unrepeated in the Western tongue. (163—my emphasis added)

On the prior page, Belloc had modestly and more intimately written:

Czenstohowa and the Lady Church in Cracow between them are the spiritual pillars of the State. Czenstohowa has survived the floods of invasion after invasion, the ebb and flow of armies right up to yesterday. It remains as certain of continuance as the unseen forces [and thus Grace] which inspired it from the beginning and raised its walls and towers [in honour of Our Lady and the Holy Mass, “the kernel of the whole affair” (5)]….

So much for Czenstohowa. I could hope that the [Marian] shrine retains the memory of one, even dimly, as strongly as that pilgrim [Belloc himself] retains the scene of Czentsohowa. (162—my emphasis added)

Yet, we now know how much Poland had suffered and will soon have to face again many forms of betrayal between 1938 and 1945, and then once again after the Soviet post-War occupation of Poland, and thus after the broken promises of the British, to include perfidy from other Western Allies.

See the American Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane’s 1948 book, I Saw Poland Betrayed: An American Ambassador Reports to the American People. It is essentially about the betrayal of Poland by the Western Allies at the end of World War II. (What would Belloc also then have said to us?)

Our Lady of Czenstohowa, pray for us—and for the Polish people still.

CODA

Soon after the 22 June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, Great Britain was to ally herself firmly with those same Soviets who had invaded Poland first on 17 September 1939.

Moreover, on 6 December 1941—one day before the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack—Britain declared war on heroic little Finland, a long-time enemy of the Russian Bolsheviks.

Ambassador Lane’s 1948 book (just mentioned above3) will also make us consider again the nature of the purported 1945 victory in World War II.

In 1940, two years after Return to the Baltic was published, Hilaire Belloc had to face the sorrowful fact of the death of his beloved son, Peter, his second son to die in war. (His eldest son, Louis—an aviator—died in World War I and his body was never found.) Hilaire Belloc never quite recovered from this death of his son Peter and he even started, at age 70, to have some debilitating strokes.

Return to the Baltic, though regrettably too little known, is one of the last group of Belloc’s lucid and wise and fruitful books about history and strategic geography and culture—and the Faith. May the reader read and savor this fortifying book, which is about many other things, in addition to the increasingly vulnerable Poland, such as the Danes and the Protestant (and a few Catholic) Swedes.

Hilaire Belloc was to die on 16 July 1953, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, Return to the Baltic (London: Constable & Co, 1938). This hard-back edition’s excellent format also contains a set of twenty exceptionally beautiful illustrations and additional maps which were both made and provided by Belloc’s close friend and travel companion, Edmond L. Warre (affectionately known as “Bear” Warre). These pertinent and enhancing drawings are to be found throughout the book’s 191 pages, to include the vivid maps to be found inside the book cover, front and back.

2For an excellent and much fuller 1931 treatment of this decisive battle against the famous attacking Soviet Marshal Toukhatchevsky, see the original 1931 book by Edgar Vincent,Viscount D’Abernon (d.1941), entitled The Eighteenth Decisive Battle in the World: Warsaw, 1920 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1931; or the later 1977 Reprint of the 1931 Text—Westport, Connecticut: Hyperion Press, INC., 1977).

3Arthur Bliss Lane, I Saw Poland Betrayed (New York and Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948). Lane was the American Ambassador to Poland during the transitional days to Soviet control, from 1944-1947. His report is candid.

Hilaire Belloc’s 1931 Insights from His Survey of the New Paganism

Picture: Greek Architecture in Agrigento, Sicily (Pixabay)

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                            18 August 2019

Saint Helena (d. 326)

Epigraphs

“We call Paganism an absence of the Christian revelation. That is why we distinguish between Paganism and the different heresies; that is why we give the name of Christian to imperfect and distorted Christians, who only possess a part of Catholic truth and usually add to it doctrines which are contradictory of Catholic truth [e.g., nominalism and syncretism or a denial of free will]….

“This New Paganism is already a world of its own. It bulks large [as of 1931], and it is certainly going to spread and occupy more and more of modern life [and thus not only in the sprawling Amazon Region then]. It is exceedingly important that we should judge rightly and in good time of what its effects will probably be, for we are going to come under the influence of those effects to some extent, and our children will come very strongly under their influence. Those effects are already [in 1931] impressing themselves profoundly upon the Press, conversation, laws, building [i.e., architecture as a public art], and intimate habits of our time.” (Hilaire Belloc, Essays of A Catholic Layman in England (London: Sheed & Ward, 1931), pages 13 and 14—my emphasis added)

***

“Of these marks [of the New Paganism] the two most prominent are, first, the postulate that man is sufficient to himself—that is, the omission of the idea of Grace; the second (a consequence of this [postulate]), despair. The New Paganism is the resultant of two forces which have converged to produce it: appetite and the sense of doom….A licence in act and a necessarily more extended licence in speech [also “exercising the fullest license for what is called ‘self-expression’” (15)] are therefore the mark of the New Paganism…. I will say this much: that the one very powerful agent in producing this mood [of fatalism] is the desire to be rid of responsibility. (Hilaire Belloc, Essays of a Catholic (1931), page 15-17—my emphasis added)

***

“But the New Paganism will tend, not to punish, but to restrain with fetters; to prevent action, to impose coercive bonds. It will be an issue more and more with human dignity. It has already, in certain provinces (the Calvinist canton of Vaud in Switzerland is an example), enacted what is called ‘the sterilisation of the unfit’ as a positive law. It has not yet enacted, though it has already proposed and will certainly in time enact, legislation for the restriction of births. Not only in these, but in many other departments of life, one after another, will this mechanical network spread and bind those subject to it under a compulsion which cannot be escaped.” (Hilaire Belloc, Essays of a Catholic (1931), page 19—my emphasis added)

***

In the first chapter of his 1931 book, Essays of a Catholic Layman in England,1 Hilaire Belloc presents his own farsighted “survey of the New Paganism”—its resistance and lack of receptivity to the Faith—which contains some profound insights that are timely for us still, and refreshingly articulated.

Given the current discussions about the nature (and proposed new modifications) of Catholic missionary activity in the large and multi-cultural Amazon Region of South America, Hilaire Belloc’s reflections and differentiated view of Classical Paganism and its History might well be especially welcomed now—at least so as to give us a fitting sense of proportion and distinction and integrity.

The Preface to Belloc’s set of Catholic Essays shows us his modesty and his cultured reticence about some important matters of moment to a mature man:

I do not know whether I ought to apologise for the fact that these papers [these reflective essays] deal only with what may be called the externals of religion, are even in great part political, and without exception controversial. I have, perhaps, no faculty for dealing on paper with the more essential, the all-important, interior things of Catholic life. If ever I have dealt or shall deal with them I am sure I should not sign my name. (10—my emphasis added)

At the beginning of his essay on “The New Paganism,” Belloc reveals what for him is the importance of the difference between first struggling and receptively going uphill into the fresh air and the fresh water and lucid vision, as distinct from one’s later, in disillusionment and even still bitterly bearing “a rejected experience” (16), going back downhill into a mephitic and fetid swamp:

Our civilisation developed [gradually] as a Catholic civilisation. It developed and matured as a Catholic thing. With the loss of the Faith it will slip back not only into Paganism, but into barbarism with the accompaniments of Paganism, and especially the institution of [or different forms of] slavery. It will find gods to worship, but they will be evil gods as were those of the older savage Paganism before it began its advance toward Catholicism. The road downhill is the same as the road up the hill. It is the same road; but to go down back into the marshes again is a very different thing from coming up from the marshes into pure air. All things return to their origins. A living organic being, whether a human body or a whole state of society, turns at last into its original elements if life be not maintained in it. But in the process of return [“downhill,” as it were] there is a phase of corruption which is very unpleasant. That phase the modern world outside [and now, in 2019, maybe also, in part, inside?] the Catholic Church has arrived at. (11—my emphasis added)

However, Belloc acknowledges that, as of 1931:

The Christian scheme is still close enough even to the most Pagan of the New Pagans to be familiar, and the social atmosphere which is created still endures as a memory, or as a rejected experience, in their lives. The social atmosphere insisted on a number of restrictions. Of course, no society could exist in which there were not a great number of restrictions, but the restrictions imposed by Christian morals were severe and numerous, and most of them are meaningless to those who have abandoned Christian doctrine, because morals are the fruit of doctrine.

It is not only in sexual matters (the first that will be cited in this connection), but in canons of taste, in social conduct, traditional canons of beauty in verse, prose, or the plastic arts that there is outbreak [in the New Paganism]. The restriction and, therefore, the effort necessary for lucidity in prose, for scansion in poetry and, according to our tradition, for rhyme in most poetry—the restrictions imposed by reverence for age, for certain relationships such as those between parent and child, for the respect of property as a right—and all the rest of it are broken through. A licence in act and a necessarily more extended [and promiscuous] licence in speech are therefore the mark of the New Paganism. (16—my emphasis added)

A few pages later Belloc shows us, with vivid force, how the New Paganism considers moral responsibility and logicality and human reason:

It is true that the professors of this creed [of “Monism,” of “Fatalism” or of Evolutionary “Determinism”] are illogical; for no one gives louder vent to moral indignation than themselves, especially when they are denouncing the cruelties or ineptitudes of believers in moral responsibility, but then, as the denial of human reason is also a part of their creed, or, at any rate, the denial of its value as the instrument for the discovery of truth, they will not be seriously disturbed by the incongruity of their outbursts; for what is incongruous or illogical is not to them blameworthy or ridiculous—rather in their mouths does the word “logical” connote something absurd and empty. (18—my emphasis added)

Belloc will now comment on the overlapping interrelationship of religion and politics, and he criticizes an error that the moderns sometimes make, especially when considering the loyal Catholics:

And here I have…a quarrel with those moderns who will make of religion an individual thing (and no Catholic can evade the corporate quality of religion), telling us us that its object being personal holiness and the salvation of the individual soul, it [religion] can have no concern with politics. On the contrary, the concern of religion with politics is inevitable. Not that the Christian doctrine and ethic rejects any one of the three classic forms of government—democracy, aristocracy or monarchy, or any mixture of them—but it does reject certain features in society which are opposed to the Christian social products, and are opposed to them because they spring from a denial of free will. (21-22—my emphasis added)

Moreover, Belloc will continue to accent for us the importance of doctrine and its practical fruits:

The battle for the right doctrine [also in the Amazon now] in theology is always also a battle for the preservation of definite social things (institutions, habits) following from right doctrine; nor is there anything more contemptible intellectually than the attitude of those who imagine that because doctrine must be stated in abstract terms it therefore has no practical application nor any real fruit in the real world of real men. Contrariwise, difference in doctrine is at the root of all political and social differences; therefore is the struggle for or against, the most vital of struggles. (22—my emphasis added)

After this compact and profound summary of his courageous convictions and principles, Hilaire Belloc will gradually conclude his essay (22-26) by comparing and contrasting the New Paganism with Classic Paganism (sometimes called the Old Paganism):

But apart from these [earlier-examined] aspects of the New Paganism there is another which I confess I happen to feel myself closely concerned with. It is the connection between the New Paganism and that lure of the antique world, which is of such power over all generous minds, and especially upon those who are in love with beauty….

Yet this attraction [of created loveliness] of the antique [Pagan] world I conceive to be a dangerous decoy, leading us on to things very different from, and very much worse than, that classic Paganism from which we all descend. (22—my emphasis added)

After noting that “most modern people who fall into the New Paganism know nothing about the Paganism of antiquity” (23—emphasis added), Belloc goes on to specify his meaning:

There never was a time when educated men had a larger proportion among them ignorant of Latin and Greek [as of 1931], since first Greek was taught in the universities of Western Europe; and there was certainly never a time during the last two thousand years when the mass of people, the workers, were given less knowledge of the past and were less in sympathy with tradition.

None the less,….There is a general knowledge that men were once free from the burden of Christian duty, and a widespread belief that when men were free from it [Christian duty] life was [putatively] better because it was more rational and directed to things [“such as the health of the body and physical comforts and pleasant surroundings, and the rest”]….To direct life again to these objects, making man once more sufficient to himself and treating temporal good as the supreme good, is the note of the New Paganism.

Now what seems to me by far the most important thing to point out in this connection is that the underlying assumption in all this is false. The New Paganism [which is a “corruption”] differs, and must differ radically, from the Old [Paganism]; its consequences in human life will be quite different; presumably much worse, and increasingly worse. (23—my emphasis added)

But what are Belloc’s well-grounded reasons for having such a dark assessment of the processes and finality of the the New Paganism? (Let us, for now, remember the return downhill to the swamp after having once deeply experienced and resolutely rejected the Faith and Traditional Catholicism.)

Since Hilaire Belloc remains, on principle, resistantly attentive to a false synthesis of religions or to the formation of a hybrid religion (as is being done now in the Amazon Region, as it seems), he will offer his own set of reasons for firmly resisting the New Paganism on many fronts:

The reason of this [mark of difference] is that you cannot undo an experience. You cannot cut off a man or a society from their past, and the world of Christendom has had the experience of the Faith. When it moves away from the Faith to return to Paganism again it is not doing the same thing, not producing the same emotions, not passing through the same process, not suffering the same reactions, as the Old Paganism did, which was moving towards the Faith. It is one thing to go south from the Arctic towards the civilised parts of Europe; it is quite another thing to go north from the civilised parts of Europe to the Arctic. You are not merely returning to a place from which you started, you are going through a contrary series of emotions the whole time.

The New Paganism, should it ever become universal, or over whatever districts or societies it may become general, will never be what the Old Paganism was. It will be other, because it will be a corruption. (24—my emphasis added)

As he moves to a more specific presentation of his condign warnings and fuller admonitions, he sharpens the contrasts between the Old Paganism and the New Pagan manifestations:

The Old Paganism was profoundly traditional; indeed, it had no roots except in tradition. Deep reverence for its own past and for the wisdom of its ancestry and pride therein were the very soul of the Old Paganism; that is why it formed so solid a foundation on which to build the Catholic Church, though that is also why it offered so long and determined resistance to the growth of the Catholic Church. But the new Paganism has for its very essence contempt for tradition and contempt of ancestry. It respects perhaps nothing, but least of all does it respect the spirit of “Our fathers have told us.”

The Old Paganism worshipped human things, but the noblest human things, particularly reason and the sense of beauty….But the New Paganism despises reason, and boasts that it is attacking beauty. It presents with pride music that is discordant, building that is repellent, pictures that are a mere chaos, and it ridicules logical process, so that, as I have said, it has made of the very word “logical” a sort of sneer. (24-25—my emphasis added)

Now Belloc considers the openness to authority and the need for an alert perceptiveness:

The Old Paganism was of a sort that would be open, when due time came, to the authority of the Catholic Church. It had ears which at least would hear and eyes which at least would see; but the New Paganism, not only has closed its senses, but is atrophying them, so that it aims at a state in which there shall be no ears to hear and no eyes to see.

The one [the Old Paganism] was growing keener in its sight and its hearing; the other [the New Paganism] is declining towards a condition where the society it informs will be blind and deaf, even to the main natural pleasures of life and to temporal truths. It [i.e, such an atrophied, pagan-informed society] will be incapable of understanding what they [the pleasures and truths] are all about. (25—my emphasis )

One final contrast will prepare us for his last alert and warning:

The Old Paganism had a strong sense of the supernatural. This sense was often turned to the wrong objects and always to insufficient objects, but it was keen and unfailing; all the poetry of the Old Paganism, even when it despairs, has this sense. And you may read in those of its writers who actively opposed religion, such as Lucretius [especially in his lengthy epic poem, De Rerum Natura], a fine religious sense of dignity and order. The New Paganism [by contrast] delights in superficiality, and conceives that it is rid of the evil as well as the good in what it believes to have been superstitions and illusions [such a the traditional Catholic Faith and the Sacraments of the Church].

There it [the New Paganism] is wrong, and upon that note I will end. Men do not live long without gods; but when the gods of the New Paganism come they will not be merely insufficient, as were the the gods of Greece, nor merely false; they will be evil. One might put it in a sentence, and say that the New Paganism, foolishly expecting satisfaction, will fall, before it knows where it is, into Satanism. (25-26—my emphasis added)

CODA

Beware of superficial or syncretic, newly proposed “inculturations” and the sly use of both the Hegelian and the Marxist Dialectic, both of which deny the logical principle of non-contradiction. These recommendations apply not only to the current developments in the Amazon Region and Rome.

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, Essays of a Catholic Layman in England (London: Sheed & Ward, 1931). Future references to this book will be to this first edition and, for convenience, be placed above in parentheses in the main body of this commentary.