Hilaire Belloc’s 1901 Reflections on Belief and the Faith in his The Path to Rome (1902)

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                     28 January 2019

St. Agnes (d. 304)

St. Peter Nolasco (d. 1256)

St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274)

Epigraphs

A faithless man is a hopeless man is a loveless man.” (These are the solemn words of Father John Hardon, S.J., spoken with gravity to R.D. Hickson in the late 1980s and early 1990s)

***

“[I]n private [however] he [Belloc] would sometimes give vent to his irritation: ‘I have been having my bellyful of clerics lately. I always like to associate with a lot of priests because it makes me understand anti-clerical things so well….Caveant sacerdotes. [Let the priests be attentive, and carefully aware of us!] (Hilaire Belloc’s 9 November 1909 Private Letter to E.S.P. Haynes)

“After one such gathering [with priests], he [Belloc] arrived to lecture at Repton, and banging his hat down in the hall remarked to William Temple: ‘The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine—but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.’” (Robert Speaight, The Life of Hilaire Belloc (New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1957), page 383—my clarifying brackets and emphases added

***

In a Swiss valley village in the Jura Alpine region while en route to Rome afoot in June of 1901, Hilaire Belloc had some sincerely wholehearted and profound reflections on the nature of Belief and on the matter of The Faith. What he so honesty considered at thirty years of age may well be of special moment to us yet today, for he dealt with timely as well as timeless things. Moreover, the beauty and reverence to be found in that little village of Undervelier, Switzerland enhanced Belloc’s own reflections and his vivid perceptions will still touch us deeply today, I believe.

Hilaire Belloc first sets the scene and tone that conduces to his deeper and sustained reflections:

Remembering him [that lax man he knew who was “given to drink”] and pondering upon the advantage of strict rule, I hung on to my cart [with the “boy in a waggon” pulling and leading him], taking care to let my feet still feel the road, and so passed through the high limestone gates of the gorge, and was in the fourth valley of the Jura [region of the Swiss Alps], with the fifth ridge standing up black and huge before me in the last of the daylight. There were as yet no stars.

There, in this silent place, was the little village of Undervelier, and I thanked the boy, and painfully approached the inn….1

When he yearningly entered a hospitable inn, he first “asked the woman if she could give me something to eat,”(155) and:

She said that she could in about an hour, using [an idiom], however, with regard to what it was I wanted to have, words I did not understand. For the French had become quite barbaric, and I was now indeed lost in one of the inner places of the world. (155-156—my emphasis added)

Desiring to relax a little while he waited, Belloc was able still to purchase there a cigar:

A cigar is, however, even in Undervelier, a cigar. One of these, therefore, I bought, and then I went out smoking it into the village square, and finding a low wall, leaned over it and contemplated the glorious clear green water tumbling and roaring along beneath it [the “low wall”] on the other side; for a little river ran through the village.

As I leaned there resting and communing I noticed how their church, close at hand, was built along the low banks of the torrent. I admired the luxuriance of the green grass these waters fed, and the generous arch of the trees beside it. The graves seemed set in a natural place of rest and home, and just beyond this churchyard was the marriage of hewn stone and water which is the source of so peculiar a satisfaction; for the church tower was built boldly right out into the [“torrent”] stream and the current went eddying round it. (156—my emphasis added).

We now are to be more deeply introduced to some of Belloc’s preparatory reflectiveness, here concerning the especially satisfying “marriage of hewn stone and [flowing] water”:

But why it is that strong human building when it dips into water should thus affect the mind I cannot say, only I know that it is an emotion apart to see our device and structure where it is most enduring come up against and challenge that element [strong flowing water, especially the sea] which we cannot conquer and which has always in it something of danger for men. (156-157—my emphasis added)

After briefly giving some illustrative and architectural examples, “a splendid thought of the Romans” (157)—such as the building of Venice and Le Mont St. Michel off the coast of Normandy, France—Belloc returns to his cigar and watchfulness of the hewn stone and the stream, and he soon hears something quite unexpected:

As I was watching that stream against those old stones, my cigar being now half smoked, a bell began tolling, and it seemed as if the whole village were pouring into the church. At this I was very much surprised, not having been used at any time of my life [of 30 years] to the unanimous devotion of an entire population, but having always thought of the Faith as something fighting odds, and having seen unanimity only in places where some sham religion or other glozed over our tragedies and excused our sins. Certainly to see all the men, women, and children of a place taking Catholicism for granted [reverently] was a new sight, and so I put my cigar carefully down under a stone at the top of the wall and went in [to the church] with them. I then saw that what they were at was Vespers. (157—my emphasis added)

Belloc was further astonished at how well the villagers knowingly sang, both the twilight hymn by Saint Ambrose of Milan, and also the words of the Psalms:

All the village sang, knowing the Psalms very well, and I noticed that their Latin [as spoken there “in one of the inner places of the world” (156)] was nearer German than French, but what was most pleasing of all was to hear from all the men and women together that very noble good-night and salutation to God which begins

Te, lucis ante terminam.”

My whole mind was taken up and transfigured by this collective act, and I saw for a moment the Catholic Church quite plain, and I remembered Europe, and the centuries. Then there left me altogether that attitude of difficulty and combat which, for us others, is always associated with the Faith. The cities dwindled in my imagination, and I took less heed of the modern noise. I went out [from the church] with them into the clear evening and the cool. I found my cigar and lit it again, and musing much more deeply than before, not without tears, I considered the nature of Belief. (158—my emphasis added)

Now will begin Belloc’s longer meditation on the nature of Belief, as such, and, then more specifically, on the Catholic Faith:

Of its nature it [i.e., “Belief”] breeds a reaction and an indifference. Those who believe nothing but only think and judge can not understand this [twofold act of belief: i.e., both a secure affirmation of something and a trust in the reliable testimony of someone]. Of its nature it [Belief] struggles with us [, however]. And we, we, when our youth is full on us invariably reject it and set out in the sunlight content with natural things. Then for a long time we are like men who follow down the cleft of a mountain and the peaks are hidden from us and forgotten. It takes years to reach the dry plain, and then we look back [and up] and see our home. (158-159—my emphasis added)

Then our Belloc—attentive, as well, to his own personal case—modestly meditates on the deeper causes of our freely chosen return to the Faith and all its firm and authoritative Belief:

What is it, do you think, that causes the return? I think it is the problem of living; for every day, every experience of evil, demands a solution. That solution is provided by the memory of the great scheme which at last we remember. Our childhood pierces through again…. But I will not attempt to explain it, for I have not the power; only I know that we who return suffer hard things; for there grows a gulf between us and many companions. We are perpetually thrust into minorities, and the world almost begins to talk a strange language; we are troubled by the human machinery of a perfect and superhuman revelation; we are over-anxious for its safety, alarmed, and in danger of [our] violent decisions.

And this is hard: that the Faith begins to make one abandon the old way of judging. Averages and movements and the rest grow uncertain. We see things from within and consider one mind or a little group as a salt or leaven. The very nature of social force seems changed to us. And this is hard when a man has loved common views and is happy only with his fellows.(159-160—my emphasis added)

Hilaire Belloc continues to specify how and why a delayed or belated return to the Faith presents us with difficult adjustments and additional, accepted challenges to our loyal integrity:

And this again is very hard, [namely,] that we must once more take up that awful struggle to reconcile two truths and to keep civic freedom sacred in spite of the organization of religion, and not to deny what is certainly true. It is hard to accept mysteries, and to be humble. We are tost as the great [medieval, philosophical and theological] Schoolmen were tost, and we dare not neglect the duty of that wrestling.

But the hardest thing of all is that it leads us away, as by a command, from all that banquet of the intellect than which there is no keener joy known to man. (160—my emphasis added)

As he still proceeds on his slow walk through the village of Undervelier with these poignant meditations in his heart, he continues his trenchant reflections about the burdensome magnitude of the Faith and thereby to be soon considering also the witness and experience of a great love:

I went slowly up the village place in the dusk, thinking of this deplorable weakness in men that the Faith is too great for them, and accepting it as an inevitable burden. I continued to muse with my eyes upon the ground….

There was to be no more of that studious content, that security in historic analysis, and that constant satisfaction of an appetite which never cloyed. A wisdom more imperative and more profound was to put a term to the comfortable wisdom of learning. All the balance of judgment, the easy, slow convictions, the broad grasp of things, the vision of their complexity, the pleasure in their innumerable life – all that had to be given up. Fanaticisms were no longer entirely to be despised, just appreciations and a strong grasp of reality no longer entirely to be admired.

The Catholic Church will have no philosophies. She will permit no comforts; the cry of the martyrs is in her far voice; her eyes that see beyond the world present us heaven and hell to the confusion of our human reconciliations, our happy blending of good and evil things. (160-161—my emphasis added)

In his elegiac and magnanimous wholeheartedness, Hilaire Belloc will now surprisingly conclude his memorable meditation upon loyal gratitude (also to his Balliol College at Oxford), and upon a severe personal tragedy, and yet upon a great love:

By the Lord! I begin to think this intimate religion as tragic as a great love. There came back into my mind a relic that I have in my house [in beloved Sussex]. It is a panel of the old door of my college [Balliol College], having carved on it my college arms. I remembered the Lion and the Shield, Haec fuit, Haec almae janua sacra domus. [That is: This was, this is still, the sacred door of my nourishing home—i.e., his alma mater.] Yes, certainly religion is as tragic as first love, and drags us out into the void away from our dear home. It is a good thing to have loved one woman from a child, and it is a good thing not to have to return to the Faith. (161—my emphasis added)

Again at the end of his reflections, we also recall Hilaire Belloc’s own earlier and still nourishing words: “It is hard to accept mystery, and to be humble.” (160—my emphasis added)

He has also elsewhere more than once pertly written that “the impatient rejection of mystery is one of the main marks of stupidity.” In his later Essays of a Catholic (1931), for example, Belloc says:

Now, Mr. Haldane’s interest in this is an excellent proof of his high intelligence. 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.2

CODA

Almost a quarter of a century after his pilgrimage to Rome afoot in June of 1901, Hilaire Belloc published The Cruise of the Nona (1925),3 and therein he discussed, among other fundamental matters, his theme and thesis that “truth confirms truth.” That is to say, especially the insight that “All human conflict is ultimately theological.” (52—emphatic italics in the original)

Introducing the insight of Cardinal Manning, Belloc, now at fifty-five years of age, very gratefully also says:

There is another form of impressing the truth, and testifying to it, and doing good by it, which is the dogmatic assertion of truth by the old and the experienced and the revered, to the young….One was a sentence which Cardinal Manning said to me when I was but twenty years old [just ten years before his own pilgrimage path to Rome]….

The profound thing which Cardinal Manning said to me was this: “All human conflict is ultimately theological.”…

The saying of his (which I carried away somewhat bewildered) that all human conflict was ultimately theological, that is that all wars and revolutions and all decisive struggles between parties of men arise from a difference of moral and transcendental doctrine, was utterly novel to me. To a young man the saying was without meaning: I would have almost said nonsensical, save that I could not attach the idea of folly to Manning. But as I grew old it became a searchlight: with the observation of the world, and with continuous reading of history, it came to possess for me a universal meaning so profound that it reached to the very roots of political action, so extended that it covered the whole.4 (51-52—italics in the original; bold emphasis added)

May Hilaire Belloc be now for you what, for so long, he has been to me. And so abundantly.

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1902 and again in 1936), p. 155—my emphasis added. All further references will be placed in parentheses above, in the main body of the essay.

2Hilaire Belloc, Essays of a Catholic (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1992—first published in 1931), page 209—my emphasis added. This passage comes from Chapter 13 as a response to J.B. S. Haldane (d. 1964), who was a scientist of considerable distinction, and with a highly gifted intellect.

3Hilaire Belloc, The Cruise of the Nona (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925). See especially pages 51-52, concerning Henry Edward Cardinal Manning’s influential “searchlight” words to young Hilaire Belloc.

4Hilaire Belloc, The Cruise of the Nona (1925), pages 51-52).

Glimpses of H. Belloc’s Pluck and Youthfulness: G.K. Chesterton and The Path to Rome

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                              17 January 2019

Saint Anthony the Great (356)

Saint Benedict Center (Founded in 1949, 70 Years Ago)

Epigraphs

“Oh, he didn’t believe

In Adam and Eve,

He put no faith therein!

His doubts began

With the fall of man,

And he laughed at original sin!”

(Hilaire Belloc, “Song of the Pelagian Heresy” (1911))

***

“Whatever are those keen lives which remain alive under memory—whatever is Youth—Youth came up the valley that evening, borne upon a southern air. If we deserve or attain beatitude, such things at last will be our settled state….This, then, was the blessing of Sillano, and here was perhaps the highest moment of those 700 miles….” (Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome (1902))

***

In 1916, G.K. Chesterton memorably told us how he first met Hilaire Belloc in London in 1900. He also chose to convey to us vividly the abiding impression which that first encounter had made upon him.1 It was a high tribute, and even a mirthful sort of warning!

If we now further consider Chesterton’s perceptive 1916 Introduction, we may also better understand and savor Belloc’s unique energy, stamina, and youthful spirit back in 1901 when, at thirty years of age, he made his pilgrimage (largely on foot) from France to Rome; a journey which he soon thereafter inimitably recorded and personally illustrated in his own variegated and unmistakably rumbustious 1902 book, entitled The Path to Rome.

Chesterton begins his Introduction with the following words:

When I first met Belloc he remarked to the friend who introduced us that he was in low spirits. His low spirits were and are much more uproarious and enlivening than anybody else’s high spirits. He talked into the night; and left behind in it a glowing track of good things. When I have said that I mean things that are good, and certainly not merely bons mots, I have said all that can be said in the most serious aspect about the man who has made the greatest fight for good things of all the men of my time. (vii—my emphasis added)

Giving us now some specific and vivid details, Chesterton thereby effectively proposes to support his high tribute of Hilaire Belloc, who soon became his good friend, as well:

We met between a little Soho paper shop and a little Soho restaurant [in London in 1900]; his arms and pockets were stuffed with French Nationalist and French Atheist newspapers. He wore a straw hat shading his eyes, which are like a sailor’s, and emphasizing his Napoleonic chin….The little restaurant to which we went had already become a haunt for three or four of us who held strong but unfashionable views about the South African War [the Second Boer War, 1899-1902], which was then in its earliest prestige….To understand how his [Belloc’s] Latin mastery, especially of historic and foreign things, made him a leader, it is necessary to appreciate something of the peculiar position of that [our own!] isolated group of “Pro-Boers.” We were a minority in a minority….But we might, in one very real sense be described as Pro-Boers. That is, we were much more insistent that the Boers were right in fighting than that the English were wrong in fighting. We disliked cosmopolitan peace almost as much as cosmopolitan war….and I myself had my own hobby of the romance of small things, including small commonwealths. But to all these [things and differences and nuances] Belloc entered like a man armed and as with a clang of iron. He brought with him news from the fronts of history;…that cynical Imperialism not only should be fought, but could be fought and was being fought [as against the unjust “Transvaal adventure” in South Africa then];….There were many other uses of his genius, but I am speaking of this first effect of it upon our instinctive and sometimes groping ideals. What he brought into our dream was this Roman appetite for reality and for reason in action, and when he came into the door there entered with him the smell of danger. (vii-ix—my emphasis added)

After this Chestertonian introduction, a thoughtful and sufficiently leisured reader might now well want to glimpse and savor a few vignettes from The Path to Rome2 as composed in 1901-1902 by its charming young author. I now propose, for example, his passages concerning his arrival in Flavigny early in the morning and exhausted from his 20-mile march from Toul, France (the starting point of his pilgrimage afoot); his considerations of the meaning of a Vow, just before arrival in the memorable village of Undervelier; and his appreciation of Sillano and spiritual childhood in a valley in Italy.

These passages will “warm hearts,” as my wife Maike just memorably said. And they may also, I hope, prompt some young Catholic graduate students—and prompt even some young Catholic Priests—whom I have recently met also to read The Path to Rome in its entirety, and at least once!

About the village Flavingny, Belloc says:

To return to Flavigny….But [by my digressions] I continue to wander from Flavigny. The first thing I saw as I came into the street [out of the forest] and noted how the level sun stood in a haze beyond,…was a cart drawn by a galloping donkey, which came at and passed me with a prodigious clatter as I dragged myself forward [in fatigue]. In the cart were two nuns, each with a scythe; they were going out mowing, and were up first in the village, as Religious always are. Cheered by this happy omen, but not yet heartened, I next met a very old man leading out a horse, and asked him if there was anywhere where I could find coffee and bread at that hour, and he shook his head mournfully….so I went on still more despondent till I came to a really merry man of about middle age who was going to the fields, singing, with a very large rake over his shoulder….And when I asked him how I should know the baker’s he was still more surprised at my ignorance, and said, “By the smoke coming from the large chimney.”….So I thanked him and went and found there a youth of about nineteen who sat at a fine oak table and had coffee, rum, and a loaf before him. He was waiting for the bread in the oven to be ready; and meanwhile he was very courteous, poured out coffee and rum for me and offered me bread.

It is a matter often discussed why bakers are such excellent citizens and good men. For while it is admitted in every country I was ever in that cobblers are argumentative and atheists (I except the cobbler under Plinlimmon, concerning whom I wish I had the space to tell you all here, for he knows the legend of the mountain), while it is public that barbers are garrulous and servile, that millers are cheats (we say in Sussex [my beloved home county in southern England along the sea] that every honest miller has a large tuft of hair on the palm of his hand), yet—with every trade in the world having some bad quality attached to it—bakers alone are exempt, and everyone takes it for granted that they are sterling: indeed there are some societies in which, no matter how gloomy and churlish the conversation may have become, you have but to mention bakers for voices to brighten suddenly and for a good influence to pervade every one. I say this is known for a fact, but not usually explained; the explanation is, that bakers are always up early in the morning [like the Nuns] and can watch the dawn, and that in this occupation they live in lonely contemplation enjoying the early hours.

So it was with this baker of mine in Flavigny, who was a boy. (40-43—my emphasis added)

A second vignette that Belloc presents to us—before he is to have his profound reflections and rare experiences in the village of Undervelier (155-161)—is about the meaning of a vow.

While I was occupied sketching the slabs of limestone [along a beautiful gap in the gorge], I heard wheels coming up behind me, and a boy in a waggon stopped and hailed me.

What that boy wanted to know was whether I would take a lift, and this he said in such curious French that I shuddered to think how far I had pierced into the heart of the hills, and how soon I might come to quite strange people. I was greatly tempted to get into his cart, but though I had broken so many of my vows one remained yet whole and sound, which was that I would ride upon no wheeled thing. Remembering this, therefore, and considering that the Faith is rich in interpretation, I clung on to the waggon in such a manner that it did all my work for me, and yet could not be said to be actually carrying me. Distinguo. The essence of a vow is its literal meaning. The spirit and intention are for the major morality, and concern Natural Religion, but when upon a point of ritual or of dedication or special worship a man talks to you of the Spirit and Intention, and complains of the dryness of the Word, look at him askance. He is not far removed from Heresy.

I knew a man once that was given to drinking, and I made up this rule for him to distinguish between Bacchus and the Devil. To wit: that he should never drink what has been made and sold since the Reformation—I mean especially spirits and champagne. Let him (I said) drink red wine and white, good beer and mead —if he could get it—liqueurs made by monks, and in a word, all those feeding, fortifying and confirming beverages that our fathers drank in old time; but not whisky, nor brandy, nor sparkling wines, not absinthe, nor the kind of drink called gin. This he promised to do, and all went well. He became a merry companion, and began to write odes. His prose clarified and set, that had before been very mixed and cloudy. He slept well; he comprehended divine things; he was already half a republican, when one fatal day—it was the feast of the eleven thousand virgins, and they were too busy up in heaven to consider the needs of us poor hobbling, polyktonous and betempted wretches of men—I went with him to the Society for the Prevention of the Annoyances of the Rich, where a certain usurer’s son was to read a paper on the cruelty of Spaniards to their mules. As we were all seated there around a table with a staring green cloth on it, and a damnable gas pendant above, the host of that evening offered him whisky and water, and, my back being turned, he took it. Then when I would have taken it from him, he used these words—“After all, it is the intention of a pledge that matters”; and I saw that all was over, for he had abandoned definition, and was plunged back into the horrible mazes of Conscience and Natural Religion.

What do you think, then, was the consequence? Why, he had to take some nasty pledge or other to drink nothing whatever, and became a spectacle and a judgment, whereas if he had kept his exact words, he might by this time have been a happy man.

Remembering him and pondering upon the adherence of strict rule, I hung on to my cart, taking care to let my feet still feel the road, and so passed through the high limestone gates of the gorge, and was in the fourth valley of the Jura, with the fifth ridge standing up black and huge before me against the last of the daylight. There were as yet no stars.

There, in this silent place, was the little village of Undervelier, and I thanked the boy, withdrew from his cart, and painfully approached the inn….(153-155—my emphasis added)

We now may consider the nuances and spirit of a third vignette. For, near the end of his pilgrimage, Belloc was to find a little valley and village in Italy, which, like Undervelier, especially touched his heart. It was the village of Sillano:

Crossing the Serchio [River] once more [while descending the hills of the Apennine ridge], … I passed by a wider path through the groves, and entered the dear village of Sillano, which looks right into the pure west. And the peaks are guardians all about it: the elder brothers of this remote and secluded valley.

An inn received me: a great kitchen full of men and women talking, a supper preparing, a great fire, meat smoking and drying in the ingle-nook, a vast timbered roof going up into darkness: there I was courteously received, but no one understood my language. Seeing there a young priest, I said to him—

Pater, habeo linguam latinam, sed non habeo linguam Italicam. …”

To this [request for help in translation] he replied, “Libenter,” and the people [hearing our discussion in Latin] revered us both. ….

And a little while after he [the priest] left for his house, but I went out on to the balcony, where men and women were talking in subdued tones. There, alone, I sat and watched the night coming into these Tuscan hills. ….

The fire flies darted in the depths of the vineyards and of trees below; then the noise of grasshoppers brought back suddenly the gardens of home [in Sussex], and whatever benediction surrounds our childhood. Some promise of eternal pleasures and of rest deserved haunted the village of Sillano.

In very early youth the soul can still remember its immortal habitation, and clouds and the edges of hills are of another kind from ours, and every scent and colour has a savour of Paradise. What that quality may be no language can tell, nor have men made any words, no, nor any music, to recall it—only in a transient way and elusive the recollection of what youth was, and purity, flashes on us in phrases of the poets, and is gone before we can fix it in our minds—oh! my friends, if we could but recall it! Whatever those sounds may be that are beyond our sounds, and whatever are those keen lives which remain alive there under memory—whatever is Youth—Youth came up that valley that evening, borne upon a southern air. If we deserve or attain beatitude, such things shall at last be our settled state; and their now sudden influence upon the soul in short ecstasies is the proof that they stand outside time, and are not subject to decay.

This, then, was the blessing of Sillano, and here was perhaps the highest moment of those 700 miles—or more [from Toul, France, his point of departure in Lorraine in eastern France]. (pp. 372-375—my emphasis added)

CODA

By way of conclusion, Hilaire Belloc also shows another side of his robustness and humor and deep insight when he surprises us again with an example of his own verse and commentary thereon:

When I got to the top of the ridge there was a young man chopping wood outside a house, and I asked him in French how far it was to Moutier. He answered in German, and I startled him by a loud cry, such as sailors give when they see land, for at last I had struck the boundary of the languages, and was with pure foreigners for the first time in my life. I also asked him for coffee, and as he refused it I took him to be a heretic and went down the road making up verses against all such, and singing them loudly through the forest that now arched over me and grew deeper as I descended.

And my first verse was—

“Heretics all, whoever you be,

In Tarbes or Nîmes, or over the sea,

You never shall have good words from me.

Caritas non conturbat me.”

If you ask me why I put a Latin line at the end, it was because I had to show that it was a song connected with the Universal Fountain and with European culture, and with all that Heresy combats. I sang it to a lively hymn-tune that I had invented for the occasion.

I then thought what a fine fellow I was and how pleasant were my friends when I agreed with them. I made up a second verse, which I sang even more loudly than the first; and the forest grew deeper, sending back echoes—

“But Catholic men that live upon wine

Are deep in the water [of Baptism], and frank, and fine;

Wherever I travel I find it so,

Benedicamus Domino.”

There is no doubt, however, that if one is really doing a Catholic work, and expressing one’s attitude to the world, charity, pity, and a great sense of fear should possess one, or, at least, appear. So I made up this third verse and sang it to suit—

“On childing women that are forlorn,

And men that sweat in nothing but scorn:

That is on all that ever were born,

Miserere Domine.”

Then, as everything ends in death, and as that is just what Heretics least like to be reminded of, I ended thus—

“To my poor self on my deathbed,

And all my dear companions dead,

Because of the love that I bore them,

Dona Eis Requiem.”

I say “I ended.” But I did not really end there, for I also wrote in the spirit of the rest a verse of Mea Culpa and Confession of Sin, but I shall not print it here. (pp. 164-166)

Nine years later, in his 1911 book The Four Men, our beloved Belloc—in the persona of a salty Sailor—also even composed, and then did sing aloud, “The Song of the Pelagian Heresy for the Strengthening of Men’s Backs and the very Robust Out-thrusting of Doubtful Doctrine and the Uncertain Intellectual.”3

For our further sobriety and jollification, and as a grateful viaticum, here is the first stanza (with chorus) of that robust and stout-hearted drinking song:

Pelagius lived in Kardanoel,

And taught a doctrine there,

How whether you went to Heaven or Hell,

It was your own affair.

How, whether you found eternal joy

Or sank forever to burn,

It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,

But was your own concern. ….

[Semi-chorus.]

Oh, he didn’t believe

In Adam and Eve,

He put no faith therein!

His doubts began

With the fall of man,

And he laughed at original sin!

May we too come to preserve—or recover and restore—such pluck and spiritual youthfulness. What we have is Nature, what we need is Grace. Gratia est Gloria incepta, Gloria est Gratia perfecta.

With gratitude to G.K.Chesterton, too, for helping us to savor the nuances of Hilaire Belloc once again, and now even more so.

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1G.K. Chesterton, “Introduction” (vii-xii) to the book by C.Creighton Mandell and Edward Shanks, Hilaire Belloc: The Man and His Work ( London: Methuen & CO. L.T.D., 1916), pp. vii-xii. All further references to this Introduction will be placed in parentheses above in the main body of this essay.

2Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1936—the second edition of the original first edition of 1902). Further page references will be placed above in parentheses. This will include citations from pages 41-43; 152-155; and 371-375. In the CODA, I shall cite Belloc’s special verses on Heretics, from pages 164-166 of his 1902 book.

3Hilaire Belloc, The Four Men: A Farrago (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984—first published in 1911), pages 48-51.

“That Unended War…Against the Innocent”: Evelyn Waugh and Father McNabb, O.P.

Dr. Robert Hickson                            9 January 2019 (Within the Octave of Epiphany)

Saint Julian of Antioch (d. 313 AD)

Epigraph

***

“The present writer’s years of life can now be so few, at most, that the only reason for stating an opinion is that he thinks it true, and its opposite opinion not only untrue but harmful.” (Father Vincent McNabb, O.P., “The Family,” Chapter 5 of the 1934 anthology Flee to the Fields—Father McNabb, speaking himself, was to die eleven years later, during World War II, in 1943.)

***

“As if in gratitude to the Family for having given Him welcome, He raised to the dignity of the supernatural the plighted love that unites husband and wife—father and mother.” (Father Vincent McNabb, O.P., “The Family,” Chapter 5 of Flee to the Fields (1934))

***

“And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was subject to them.” (Luke 2:51)

***

Recently re-reading after some twenty years one of Father Vincent McNabb’s own writings on the family, and thus on Nazareth, I saw for the first time the importance and timeliness of one of the principles that he so concisely and lucidly articulates.

Writing in the early 1930s about one of “The Dangers to the Family”–in one sub-section of his longer essay, entitled “The Family”—he acutely said:

The second danger arises from the sentimental as distinct from the rational and ethical view of divorce. We have reached a legal state [already in 1934] when the fate of children can be decided by the existent sentiment between their father and their mother. Our divorce laws [in England], although not considered wide enough, are sufficiently wide to be governed by the principle that “it is immoral for a man and woman to remain together when they have ceased to love each other.” This principle largely initiated here in the West has been carried out with characteristic consistency in Soviet Russia [under Lenin, N. Krupskaya, A. Kollontai, and Stalin].1

Soon after reflecting on this principle and its increasingly promiscuous implementation, which is all too often to the grave detriment and long-term harm of the innocent children, I thought of Evelyn Waugh’s 1950 historical novel, Helena, especially one passage from Chapter 11, entitled “Epiphany.”2 The conjunction and counterpoint of these two Catholic authors, with their fresh insights, will teach us still many important truths.

Shortly before Waugh’s Helen is to find the Cross in Jerusalem, she visits Bethlehem on the Feast of the Epiphany and, with deep wonder, identifies with the Three Royal Wise Men, as they were personified and presented by three Greek monks in their re-enactment of the composite scene:

Helena [herself a recent convert] knew little Greek and her thoughts were not in the words or anywhere in the immediate scene. She forgot even her quest [for the True Cross] and was dead to everything except the swaddled child long ago and those three royal sages who had come from so far to adore him.

“This is my day,” she thought, “and these [three royal sages] are my kind.”….

Like me,” she said to them, “you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before; even the cattle. They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way.”….

How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating, where the shepherds had run barefoot.”….

“You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you. What did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod [i.e., “Crudelis Herodes”]. Deadly exchange of compliments [false flattery and deception] in which there began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent!” (222-223—my emphasis added)

We think at once about the impending Slaughter of the Holy Innocents and the three-decade later call for the release of criminal Barabbas and the resultant raging betrayal of innocent Jesus. Today, too, the Little Ones—the Parvuli of Christ—are indifferently, even impenitently, slaughtered. We are numbed by the magnitude of the dead and we struggle yet with the Permissive Will of God.

The wholehearted Evelyn Waugh nonetheless chooses to show us more of Empress Helena’s heart (and Waugh’s own heart, too) as he presents further and imaginative expressions to “those three royal sages” (222):

“Yet you came [to the Nativity], and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family….

You are my especial patrons,” said Helena, “and patrons of all late-comers [to Christ], of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.

“Dear cousins [ye royal sages], pray for me,” said Helena, “and for my poor overloaded son [the still unbaptized Emperor Constantine]. May he, too, before the end, find kneeling-space in the straw….

For His sake who did not reject your [three] curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.” (223-224—my emphasis added)

In this passage, Evelyn Waugh shows us a reverent mother’s prayer for her son, hoping that he, too, would soon come to kneel humbly in adoration before the Christ Child—considering also His later, maturing youth in Nazareth. Helena herself, despite her energetic quest and mission, manifests a gracious reverence and spiritual childhood. She again and again acknowledges and submits to Divine Authority, believing that her own son must yet, and soon, be baptized—not just on his deathbed. For, she sees that he is pitifully “overloaded” by his own “Power without Grace.”

In 1934, Father McNabb likewise saw the pitiful spread of temporal “power without grace”–that is, without divine grace. After first commenting on “the fate of children” (76) and thus on the ill fruits of an increasingly-resorted-to secular principle of disorder—namely, “it is immoral for a man and woman to remain together [in marriage and thus in the full rearing of their children] when they have [purportedly] ceased to love each other” (76—my emphasis added)—he speaks of another peril to the family:

The third danger to family life springs from the modern rejection of obedience to authority [to include the authority of the father]. This rejection begins by disobedience to the authority of God [thus also to the Rights of God abiding]. But, as all lawful authority is, as such, of divine right, the rejection of divine authority tends to dissolve the claims and rights of all authority. In this welter of might without right such fundamental rights as that of the parent and the family [as a unit] tend to be set aside as belated [outmoded] or suppressed as harmful. (76—my emphasis added)

Such interrelated matters are part of “the threatened social avalanche” (76) that was seemingly accumulating, and thus “of deep concern” (76) to Father McNabb five years before the outbreak of World War II.

Five years after the end of World War II, Evelyn Waugh had another insight about that then-actual “social avalanche.” For, like Father McNabb (1868-1943), Waugh knew that Christ was being hunted even at His birth and also soon thereafter. Other Holy Innocents were likewise altogether threatened. For, in a prior and deceitful “deadly exchange” with the graceless and cruel power of Herod (“Crudelis Herodes”) “there began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent!” (223—my emphasis added)

Almost seventy years after those heartfelt words from Evelyn Waugh, that war is still “unended.” The attacks on innocence and purity have now even increased. The amount and intensity of crude and cruel “power without grace” have also seemed to have increased. Yet, for the Loyal Faithful, wherever evil abounds, indispensable Divine Grace superabounds and we are to co-operate.

In one of his 416 A.D. sermons against the Pelagians (Sermo 169, 13—PL 38, 923), Saint Augustine of Hippo effectively said that God created us without our co-operation, but He will not save us without our co-operation. That is to say, without our free consent.

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1Father Vincent McNabb, O.P., Chapter 5 of Flee to the Fields (Norfolk, Virginia: IHS Press, 2003), p. 76—my emphasis added. This is a new addition of the original 1934 book, Flee to the Fields: The Founding Papers of the Catholic Land Movement, which also preserves Hilaire Belloc’s original 4-page Preface, which is now on pages 15-18. All further references to this book will be placed above in parentheses.

2Evelyn Waugh, Helena (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1950). All further references to this book will be placed above in parentheses.

Remembering Father John A. Hardon, S.J. (1914-2000)

Dr. Robert Hickson                 27 December 2018 Saint John the Evangelist

Epigraph

Any developments?” (Jesuit Father John A. Hardon’s first question and memorable customary greeting, spoken often in his low-toned voice whenever we spoke together, either by phone or again in person.)

***

After recently receiving some appreciative comments about Father John Hardon’s memorable words to me, as they were just briefly circulated on the Internet by my wife Maike, she modestly thought that we might provide more quotes—even as a small tribute to him. She thought that she and I still could—and still should—present some additional instances of Father’s discerning insights—especially as he had freshly expressed them to me down the years (and sometimes, emphatically, more than once) from the late autumn of 1980 up until the time near his death on 30 December 2000.

Thus, I propose a twofold division: first a list of Father Hardon’s specifically remembered words to me; and then a slightly longer presentation of what he told me about some important years in his life (1950 in Rome; in 1957 with the new leadership of the Jesuit Order in the U.S.; 1990-1991 when considering the Final Draft of the New Catechism; and some of his doctrinal work, for example on the Spiritual Works of Mercy with Mother Teresa of Calcutta).

The first list is reported by me, almost always exactly, as Father spoke the words to me, although I cannot repeat his memorable variations of tone in his deep voice—especially not his slow and solemn tone and grave facial expression. In the following list, I have had to resort to a close paraphrase only a few times, especially in his longer expressions. Moreover, there is no chronological or logical rationale in the following list of vividly preserved recollections—some of which my wife and children often hear me use in our daily life.

“What we have is Nature, what we need is Grace.”

“The highest function of Nature is to provide us with clarifying analogies of the Supernatural Christian Mysteries.”

“Love is the willingness to suffer with the beloved, for the beloved, and—most painfully—from the beloved…. Hence also sometimes even from the Church.”

“Archbishop Fulton Sheen also often spoke of the tragedy of wasted pain. Often enough, those in hospitals did not offer up their pain and consecrate their own suffering in a Christian sacrifice.”

“Suffering is the consciousness of pain; sacrifice—Christian sacrifice—means the consecration of suffering.”

“We are only as courageous as we are convinced…. But what are we truly convinced about?”

“Meekness is not weakness.”

“We have to use our temper not lose it.”

“A temptation wouldn’t be a temptation if it weren’t attractive.”

“As to our purpose in life, we are to live and to die supernaturally alive in the state of Sanctifying Grace.”

“We shall finally be judged by how many people we have helped get to heaven.”

“Sanctifying Grace is to the supernatural life of the soul what the soul is to the natural life (and form) of the body: the two principles of life, supernatural and natural. As in Anima forma corporis est.”

“Grace [i.e., “sanctifying grace”] is Glory begun; Glory is Grace perfected: Gratia est gloria incepta; gloria est gratia perfecta.”

“But the basis of unity is truth. Why do you think I have been working with Mother Teresa?”

“We are witnessing a massive effort to remake our historic Faith.”

“Walter Kasper does not even believe in the Incarnation.”

“In practice, perhaps the hardest thing for me to do is to be charitable to a public heretic—especially to a heretic priest. Such as my recurrent companion at the Georgetown dinner table, Father Robert Drinan, S.J., who continues to sign and to give me a copy of his most recent book in person, even handing it to me across the table.”

“If it were not for Catholic Christianity itself, which—as in Christian Chivalry—so deeply respects and honors Our Lady, there would not be a Feminist Movement today. Just read Vladimir Lenin’s writings on women as published by [Nadezhda] Krupskaya herself, Lenin’s favorite wife, or companion.”

“Irreconcilably so, the Japanese Code of Bushido and the Samurai elite did not have, much less reverence, the Blessed Mother, Our Lady, and thus they are deeply distinct from Christian Chivalry.”

“Hinduism is finally a form of Pantheism where the Atman becomes the Brahman.”

“The days of America are numbered.”

“As with my recurrent Spiritual Exercises, I divide the various creatures in my life into four distinct categories: those creatures who are to be enjoyed; those who are to be endured (tolerated); those who are to be removed; and those who are to be sacrificed (thereby giving up a lesser good for a greater good, or a lower good for a higher good).”

“Without heroic Faith Catholics will soon not be able to endure and survive, much less grow in the Faith and pass it on intact and faithfully—whole and entire– to their own children. I say it again, and earnestly: our Faith, and all of our derivatively cultivated virtues, must become and truly be heroic.”

“The are no such things as Accidents; there are only Acts of Divine Providence.”

“Is sin within the Divine Providence?…. If you say ‘no,’ we have a problem.”

“The comparative word in the Jesuit motto is fundamental and purposive: ‘Unto the greater glory of God’—’Ad maiorem Dei Gloriam.’ We may thus never become complacent, and we may not presumptuously think we have been sufficient. We may always do more. No sloth!”

“Sanctity may also be summed up in one word: ‘More’. Sanctity is disposed to give more, to suffer more, to love more, to endure more, to be more generous, to pray more.”

“When I am discouraged, two passages from Saint Paul always bolster me, fortify me, and they make me more resilient: (1) wherever sin abounds, grace superabounds; and (2) for those who love God, all things co-operate unto the good—and to the greater good. But to love God and even to love the good, means that you must love the Cross—do you hear me? But you must not be—much less remain—a mere amateur in suffering.

“Have you ever wondered why Saint Thérèse of Lisieux—of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face—was also known as the Little Flower? In thinking this morning about the deeper meaning of that title, I thought of a possible meaning for that metaphor and analogy. Flowers are cut for those we love.”

“How many theological virtues did Jesus have? If you do not say ‘one,’ we have a problem. For you would then show that you have not sufficiently understood Our Lord’s Hypostatic Union in the Incarnation. Our Lord had only the theological virtue of charity; He did not need, or have, the infused virtues of faith or hope.”

“In the Final Draft of the New Catechism, it was difficult to see that Christ had added anything essential to what was already said and admired in the Old Testament—even the Eight Beatitudes.”

“The Beatitudes in the New Testament cannot be lived without Grace. It is impossible.”

“My greatest intellectual humiliation is teaching Catholic theology in English, instead of in Latin. For example, how does one teach Grace as ‘a supernatural accident’? What are then one’s first mental associations and images? A crash?”

“An informed Latin American friend once said to me, sometime in the 1950s, and by way of suggestive contrast, as follows: ‘If you take the average Latin American, no matter how unchurched he is, and you scratch him beneath the surface, you will find a Catholic; if you take the average American Catholic, no matter how churched he is, and you scratch him beneath the surface, you will find a Protestant.’ Perhaps it would no longer entirely be the case today [in the 1980s]. What do you think?”

“In the mid-1950s, in its New York office, the Protestant World Council of Churches told me (and my superior from Rome) that, after World War II, they had made a major geographic shift and Grand Strategic decision: to shift all of its main resources and missionary efforts to Latin America. For, they had first seen that the Catholic Church was having much more success in Africa and in Asia.”

“Sometimes I get tired of being good, and even of just trying to be good. But that is a temptation. To be resisted.”

“I wrote almost all my books in front of the Tabernacle.”

“I haven’t gone to Confession yet today.” [Father tried to go every day to the Sacrament of Penance, even when it required driving some distance by car.]

“I’m still wringing pride out of me.”

“You have to endure many humiliations to grow even a little in humility.”

“Early in my priesthood I made a Private Vow that I would always, when at all possible, live in community, in the Jesuit community, despite the trials: ‘vita communis, mea maxima poenitentia.’”

“I also made a Private Vow that I would not waste time.”

“You think you have an irascible temper and fiery anger, but your anger is nothing compared to mine own white-hot temper. Remember that meekness is not weakness.”

“As a novice in the Jesuits, I was at once considered by my fellow novices—and by my novice master—to be ‘an intellectual bully,’ and I was not only severely warned, but almost thrown out of the novitiate in my first month! No one had ever talked to me like that! Thereafter ‘mum was the word’!”

“I think that one part of Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition was that Saint Peter was to go to Rome. Another instance is, I believe, a Corpus of Sacred Music.”

“In solemnly defining in 1950 the Dogma of Our Lady’s Assumption, Pope Pius XII was also trying to show us that this truth could not be supportively found in Divinely Revealed Sacred Scripture, but only as a part of Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition. The learned Jesuit Father, Hugo Rahner, tried to prove this Irreformable Doctrine from Scripture; but he was unsuccessful.”

By way of conclusion, we shall now briefly consider some focal years and some companion transpiring events that were of special import in Father Hardon’s life and loyal priesthood: especially the years 1950, the late 1940s and early 1950s, 1957, 1980, 1990-1991, and the 1980s-1990s (with Mother Teresa and her sisters).

I first met Father Hardon in Virginia in 1980. He was conducting a short day of recollection at a local college. His first words to me were in Sacramental Confession. In the interior forum he asked me whether he could speak with me outside of Confession. Given his solemn tone of voice, for the first time in my life I thought I was not going to receive Absolution. But he wanted to speak with me about “rock music” and its nature and destructive effects—and its then growing permeation, even in monasteries. This discussion began our long association, even our common research and collaborations, also for the Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan.

In a few of our conversations about his own life and priesthood, he memorably discussed three things in which he was involved in Rome in 1950, and while he was completing his doctoral dissertation: Pius XII’s canonization of Maria Goretti (24 June 1950); Pius XII’s promulgated Encyclical, Humani Generis (12 August 1950), which is, in part, an updated Syllable of Errors; and Pius XII’s Declaration of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Blessed Mother, entitled Munificentissimus Deus (1 November 1950).

Father Hardon said he was involved with Vatican Radio and the Pope in the Canonization of Maria Goretti, whom the Pope honored as “a Martyr to Purity.” Father never forgot that title.

After Humani Generis came out—though it did not mention any names explicitly—there was a large bitter reaction, as Father Hardon then saw. As an assistant to the Head of the Jesuit Library at the Gesù, he had the unpleasant and insulting task of recalling various privately circulated samizdat-manuscripts written by papally unapproved more modernist authors in light of Humani Generis. Father Hardon vividly recalled many hostile faces in their doorways as they reluctantly gave up the officially summoned texts. (I never saw a list of those texts and suspect authors, if Father Hardon had preserved one for himself, although I think that Hans Urs von Balthasar—then himself a Jesuit, up until 1950—was one of them. In any case he soon left the Jesuits. Another on the list was likely Henri de Lubac, S.J., especially his writings on Nature and Grace.)

The year 1957 was important for Father Hardon, for he places that year as the pivotal time when his troubles more fully arose within the Jesuit Order. For, in 1957 there returned from the General Jesuit Congregation in Rome a new set of hierarchical leaders in the Jesuit Society throughout the United States. Despite Father Hardon’s education and dogmatic specializations, he was, for example, no longer to be allowed to teach Dogmatic Theology to his fellow Jesuits or Novices. Never again.

When I asked him about comparable things in the Jesuit Order in the Northeast of the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, and especially the controversial dogmatic matters of de Ecclesia, in view of the opinions of Jesuit Father Leonard Feeney, Father Hardon claimed not to know of these doctrinal and disciplinary matters. Father only said that those things occurred in the Northeast Jesuit Province about which he had little reliable knowledge. However, Father Hardon’s non-Jesuit friend, Father William Most, had and publicly expressed a very strong doctrinal criticism of Father Leonard Feeney, also after Leonard Feeney (d. 1978) himself, for disciplinary reasons, was no longer a Jesuit.

In 1990, Father Hardon was belatedly asked by then-Archbishop Jan Schotte to be deeply involved in the assessment and writing of the new Catechism, and thus in working, as well, on the accurate translation of its final Latin text. (I was with Father Christoph von Schönborn, O.P., the Executive Secretary of the Universal Catechism, when the Austrian Dominican priest explicitly invited Father Hardon to help translate what would be the final, official Latin text of the Catechism, under Cardinal Ratzinger’s overall management for Pope John Paul II.)

After Father Hardon first read the final Draft in 1990, he was deeply shocked. Truly shaken. He then memorably, and with grave solemnity, said to me: “We are witnessing a massive effort to re-make our historic Faith.” At least three times, he repeated these trenchant words—also in the presence of others, at least twice. I could say much more about this whole matter, but not here. (I have, however, already published some things on this important matter of Father Hardon’s commentary on the Final Draft of the Catechism in the Catholic journal, Christian Order, which is edited by Rod Pead. Please see here Part I and Part II.) It was also in the context of the drafting of this Catechism, with then-Father Walter Kasper’s own welcomed role in it – there was a nervous excitement within the drafting group in Rome about the late arrival of the eagerly awaited Modi of Walter Kasper – that Father Hardon so intensely exclaimed: “Walter Kasper does not even believe in the Incarnation!”

I wish to conclude with one revealing incident Father Hardon very carefully told me about: his trip to Rome with Mother Teresa, with whom he was then closely collaborating. Mother Teresa and Father were inside the Vatican and waiting for the arrival of Pope John Paul II, which was somewhat delayed. Mother Teresa was especially effervescent—”very bubbly,” Father Hardon said. She was expressively going around to the larger audience and speaking “very ecumenically” about Hindus and about “unity.”

Suddenly and very unexpectedly, as Father put it: “A Cardinal spoke to Mother Teresa and very earnestly said to her: ‘But, Mother, the basis of unity is truth.’” Father Hardon would never tell me who that Cardinal was, although I asked him and pleaded with him again and again to do so!

However, after telling me again the unnamed Cardinal’s incisive words, Father Hardon said to me: “Robert, Mother Teresa needed to hear that. Robert, Mother Teresa needs to hear that. Robert, why do you think I am now working with Mother Teresa? Already, for example, I am working on adapted catechetical texts and other aids whereby she and her sisters may also fundamentally teach the spiritual works of mercy, not only the corporal works of mercy, and thereby even expand their own founding charism.”

(Mother Teresa also came to hand out an abundant number of already blessed Miraculous Medals, because Father Hardon had once told her about about a miracle of healing that had occurred to a young boy in coma from a sledding accident—and it was early in Father’s own priesthood. Father Hardon, after once telling me the full story in private when the two of us were alone, said to me: “Robert, that miracle was not for that little boy; that miracle was not for the suffering, loyal family of that little boy; Robert, that miracle was for me: it saved my priesthood.”)

May we now also better consider and more deeply incorporate those brief words from the Cardinal in Rome which were also so important for Father Hardon: “The basis of unity is truth.”

Father Hardon was to enter into eternity on 30 December 2000. But, with his voice and words still vivid in my heart, his poignant death seems such a short while ago. May he now know the more abundant life Christ promised us.

 

–Finis–

© 2018 Robert D. Hickson

G.K. Chesterton on “the New Sort of Cynic”

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                               18 December 2018

The Expectation of Mary

G.K. Chesterton on “the New Sort of Cynic”

Epigraphs

“All this [fastidiousness] has ended in a sort of Manichean madness against the fundamental facts of life.” (G.K. Chesterton, Avowals and Denials (1934), p.171)

***

“People are positively nervous about mentioning duty or [informed] conscience or religion [hence sacred tradition and irreformable dogma], because of the high-strung and delicately poised sanity of the new sort of cynic….This is something more than a perversity; it is an inversion, and an inversion which amounts to a sort of mental malformation….The real and reasonable question of morality and immorality awaits discussion; and it will not be best discussed by [“the new type of sensitive”] epileptics, even if they are also cynics.” (G.K. Chesterton, Avowals and Denials, p. 171—my emphasis added)

***

“Those who are now called Pagans actually do what they themselves have chiefly blamed in the Puritans: they despise the body and all the affections that lie nearest to the body. Their aestheticism, more than any asceticism, has produced a repugnance for the real facts of life [like the birth and nurturing of children]….This is a new and curious philosophical phase. It may not yet be conscious. But for many it will be the final phase of that fury of fastidiousness which already rages in them against the mere mention of common affections or even natural habits….being unsatisfied even with the most harmless natural affections. (G.K. Chesterton, Avowals and Denials, p. 173-174—my emphasis added)

***

In his published 1934 essay—two years before his death—entitled “On the Touchy Realist,”i G.K. Chesterton, amidst some verbal antics, imparts to us a few unexpected insights about cynicism, and they may well shed light, as well, on some contemporary manifestations of soft mercy and sensitive forms of diversity and purportedly pastoral tenderness.

Chesterton begins his essay with a compact summary of his main thesis:

Not very long ago, men complained of the cynic, saying that he was hard and had no human feelings. Now they [the faithful, too?] are asked rather to respect the cynic, because his feelings are so soft and sensitive. (170)

About this new kind of sentimentalism, Chesterton then modestly adds:

This [phenomenon] is a curious change, but a real one, and one that has not been adequately noticed. There is a type of modern youth [or modern pastor?] which is cynical not because it is thick-skinned, but because it is thin-skinned [and “touchy”]. It has…the…tendency to shudder at anything conventional [or especially traditional?]….Indeed, the cynical youth [or a promiscuous libidinous prelate?] is in many ways very like the [sensitive] Victorian spinster, only not so self-controlled. (170—my emphasis added)

Attempting to understand this potential vulnerability and provocative weakness, Chesterton goes on to comment upon this arguably new kind of irrational cynicism:

It [this type of cynicism] has exactly the same tendency to shudder at anything conventional [much less traditional] as the Victorian spinster had to shudder at anything unconventional….There is, however, in his [the cynical youth’s] world of culture exactly the same fundamental weakness that really weakened the worst parts of the old world of convention. I mean, there is the horror of certain phrases as such, [a constricted ideological horror] of certain allusions and associations, without any real effort to reduce them to any system recognized by reason. The new type of sensitive [sic] is sickened by anything that he would call sentimental [e.g., a happy traditional family, the love of a mother, the protection of innocent children], just as the [touchy Victorian] spinster was [sickened] by anything she would call cynical. In both cases it is a matter of associations and not of analysis; and it matters more what words are used than what thought is presented. (170-171—my emphasis added)

Such a new cynicism thereby shows itself to be a form of sentimentalism, as well as a form of ideological irrationality. We probably already know that cramped ideological mentation is often “touchy,” if not fundamentally irrational. Unwilling to consider rational objections to its claims and “armed new doctrine,” an ideologue is often himself paradoxically “more discontented if he is not discontented.” (He is understandably agitated when he is uprooted—or when he is unrooted.)

With his artful tones of irony, Chesterton now proceeds to give some illustrative examples:

The truly refined [cynical] youth will turn pale at the mention of a mother’s love or be seriously unwell on hearing of a happy marriage….I know a distinguished lady who can hardly even hear the words “woman and children”…without being carried fainting from the room. People are positively nervous about mentioning [one’s] duty or conscience or religion, because of the high-strung and delicately poised sanity of the new sort of cynic [and decadent? or barbarian?]….If our [Victorian] aunts ought to have been able to hear about immorality without fainting, surely our [currently surviving, seemingly soft, if not decadent] nephews might brace themselves to hear about morality without throwing an epileptic fit. (171—my emphasis added)

After noting, by way of further example, that “there are…husbands who are too selfish or unsociable” and even saying that that fact is “so obvious that it has been satirized by all the satirists of human history,” (172) Chesterton makes some important distinctions and a contrast:

But the [new] modern thing that I mean carries with it quite a different [cynical] implication. It implies not that the fruit is sometimes rotten, but that the root is always rotten; and the further that feeling goes, the more it works backwards to the rottenness in the very roots of the tree of life. It rather resembles a sort of rage of amputation in a mad surgeon who has forgotten the difference between the malady and the man. There is nothing that needs a sense of proportion so much as amputation; and in this [mad] inhuman philosophy it [amputation] has gone far beyond the cutting off of the hand [as in the amputated right hand of the courageous Scaevola, circa 500 B.C.], or the plucking out of the eye, which symbolize the extremes of asceticism….Meanwhile the general stampede against nature goes on [as with the natural moral law]….(172-173—my emphasis added)

Chesterton will now take us to an even deeper consideration of these matters of the natural and the unnatural and the fact of evil:

The serpent always bites its own tail; and the whirlwind always turns upon itself; and all emanations of evil in history have always described this strange curve [turning upon itself] and [have] ended up by contradicting themselves. (174—my emphasis added)

To bolster his thoughtful and humane opinion that disproportionate and excessive fastidiousness and cynicism have grave and near incorrigible effects, Chesterton now has us consider other historical manifestations of excess:

The excess of Private Judgment [in Luther and other Protestants] ended in Prussianism; the excess of Prohibitionism and Puritanism [as in the U.S.A.] ended in a government of bootleggers and gangsters; the excess of cut-throat competition, born of the [British and Ricardo] Manchester School, ended in the universal tyranny of the Monopoly and the Trust. This is not the first time in history that the excess of Paganism has led to mere Pessimism, and its name now, like its name two thousand years ago, is, or ought to be, Manicheanism [as well as Gnosticism, a dark and chosen “escapist” religion, as well]….That was the frame of mind in which many men, in the age of St. Augustine, for instance, passed from a Greek glorification of nature to an Oriental glorification of nothing [i.e., an acknowledgement of final Nothingness]; because nature herself demanded sacrifice and life itself imposes limits. By ignoring limits, they lost all sense even of the limit that divides life and death, and finally [in despair?] found in death the only unlimited liberty [hence voluntary and permissible suicide]. That ancient and tragic transformation from the Pagan to the Manichee is passing through many minds [at least as of 1934], and fulfilling itself before our very eyes to-day; and whether there be any cure for it, deeper than the destruction [or self-destruction] itself, this is no place to inquire. (174-175—my emphasis added)

Have we, perhaps, now come to such a point where “we can tolerate neither our vices nor their remedies”? The historian Livy once thought this to be the case in Rome around 19 B.C. (in his Latin, he incisively said “nec vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus”).

In a partial response, Chesterton himself has resolutely said: “But we can [and we should] protest against history and human experience being distorted by these fleeting fads and fashions.” (175—my emphasis added)

On the prior page of his essay, Chesterton had already given to us a well-rooted and memorable illustration of the recurrent historical excess displayed by “the Pessimism of Manicheanism” (and its closely related Gnosticism, which also essentially rejected the divine Creation of material Nature):

It [this “frame of mind,” this destructive phenomenon] appears at a point when men no longer distinguish between the leprosy that is devouring the life and the life which it devours; when their rage against the weeds that choke the flowers passes into a wild feeling that all flowers are weeds; when the tares and the wheat seem so hopelessly entangled that the demented farmer is more angry with the wheat than with the tares. (174—my emphasis added)

As it is with the cultivation of the soil, so is it with the cultivation of the soul. (Does not Christ’s own “Parable of the Sower” try to teach us that? It is His longest parable, as well: Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8: 4-15.) By way of her stern rebuke, Dante’s beloved Beatrice—near the end of the Purgatorio—also tried to teach her yearning Pilgrim that a richer soil like loam needs to be more frequently and more attentively weeded (and pruned), so too with a richly gifted and endowed soul—for instance, like G.K. Chesterton’s!

CODA:

Chesterton himself knew the dangers of tepidity and limpness and the inordinately soft corruptions of putative mercy. He also knew of the corrosive effects of cynicism and its selective slothful evasiveness of fundamental facts and purposes of life. Moreover, if he had been alive and active during the Second Vatican Council and its too often-deliquescent aftermath, he would have lucidly warned us—with characteristic and polite charity—about how certain excessive forms of sentimentalism are also an unmanly form of cynicism inattentive to the risks and results of our grace-extinguishing sins which lead us finally to “the corrosion of hopelessness.” Such presumption and despair—the two sins against hope—do not, however, display much softness or sensitivity or tenderness and diversity.

The robust former Jesuit priest, Father Vincent P. (“Pete”) Miceli, used to say to me (in his memorable New York accent): “We are to be the Church Militant, not the Church Milquetoast.”

The excesses of fastidiousness” and often “petulant undisciplined softness” shown by “the new sort of cynic” that our Chesterton has detected will only be exacerbated by subtle new (but still subversive) claims of “historical and cultural relativism” and of its closely related “nominalism.” Furthermore, they will also be aggravated by certain high-dialectical proposals for a developmental evolution of the Church’s once-irreformable dogma (as well as of broader doctrine), to include the Church’s longstanding traditional moral doctrine. That is to say, the sophistry and infidelity will advance by way of appeals for a “creative” and often Grace-Free “Integra Humana Progressio” and All That. As it now appears, this new orientation will also call for a new tenderness and a special sensitivity toward sustained turpitude and perversion and intrinsic acts of evil. The corruption of mercy is surely “a terrible thing to think upon” (in the robust sixteenth-century words of Father François Rabelais). “Touchy” feelings “so soft and sensitive” (170) also conduce to the effeminate.

We are indeed grateful to G.K. Chesterton for his helpful foresight and for his cautionary essay about “excess” concerning “corrosive cynicism” and other matters of moment to man. With his keen intellect and sincere heart—his “cor sincerum”—G.K. Chesterton vividly saw so much ahead of time.

–Finis–

© 2018 Robert D. Hickson

iG.K. Chesterton, “On the Touchy Realist,” in his anthology, entitled Avowals and Denials (London: Methuen & Co. LTD., 1934), pages 170-175 (Chapter XXIX). All references to this brief essay will henceforth be placed in parentheses above, in the main body of this text. The emphases that are added to Chesterton’s original pages will also be noted in the parentheses above. Italics are usually made by Chesterton, and will be so indicated.

Pope Pius X’s 1908 Words on Joan of Arc, Courage, and Lukewarm Catholics

There is an address written by Pope Pius X which we consider to be of much help for us Catholics in this current Church crisis, a text which could strengthen us in our courage and persevering combat.

Therefore, having seen over the years certain quotes from Pope Pius X’s discourse on the day of Joan of Arc’s beatification, we were wondering about the full content of that address. The Vatican has only listed it in an Italian version, so Giuseppe Pellegrino was so kind and translated it for us into English.

Pope Pius X, on 13 December 1908 — the Feast of Santa Lucia — the day of the beatification of the great Joan of Arc (in Orléans, France), speaks about the fact that divine providence “here below, allows her [the Church] to encounter along her way obstacles of every kind and formidable resistance.” The saintly Pope reminds us that “the Church is militant and therefore in a continuous struggle: a struggle that makes the world a living battlefield and every Christian a brave soldier who fights under the banner of the Crucified One.”

The Pope shows himself glad that “in times of so much disbelief and religious indifference; that in a time of so much weakness of character there are presented for our imitation generous souls who, in confirmation of their faith, have given their lives.” He inspires us thus to imitate the saints who witness for Christ until the end.

Pope Pius X inspires us to abandon a lukewarm Faith, saying that “many are ashamed to call themselves Catholics, many others seek to ruin God, faith, revelation, worship and clergy, and talk about everything with mocking impiety, deny everything and turn to mockery and ridicule, not even respecting the sanctuary of conscience.” In light of this deplorable state in our societies, we Catholics are called to a stronger Faith, to more courage. So the Pope says that he is glad about these saints, “because the virtue of these heroes must revive the weak and fearful in the practice of Christian doctrine and belief and make them strong in the faith. Courage, in fact, has no reason to exist except in so far as it is based on a conviction.”

These words of the Pope resemble those of another devout priest. As Father John A. Hardon, S.J. used to say to Robert Hickson: “We are only as courageous as we are convinced.”

The saintly Pope put is this way: “Courage will come when faith is alive in the heart, when all the precepts imposed by faith are practiced, because faith is impossible without works, just as it is impossible to imagine a sun that does not give light and warmth.”

We invite our readers to read the full address below. In light of these inspiring words from Pope Pius X, let us try to imitate St. Joan of Arc:

And to speak of the one who is best known to you, the Pulcella d’Orléans, who both in her humble native country, as well as among the vices of soldiers, kept herself as pure as an angel, proud as a lion in all the trials of battle, and devoted to the poor and unhappy. Simple as a child, both in the quiet of the fields and in the tumult of war, she was always recollected in God, and was full of love for the Virgin and for the Most Holy Eucharist like a Cherub.

See here the full text:

Discourse of Pope Pius X, 13 December 1908, on the Day of Joan of Arc’s Beatification in Orléans, France:

I am grateful, Venerable Brother [Monsigneur Touchet, Bishop of Orléans], to your generous heart, which would like me to work in the field of the Lord, always having full sunlight, without clouds or storms. But you and I must adore the dispositions of divine providence, which, having established the Church here below, allows her to encounter along her way obstacles of every kind and formidable resistance.

And the reason is evident, because the Church is militant and therefore in a continuous struggle: a struggle that makes the world a living battlefield and every Christian a brave soldier who fights under the banner of the Crucified One; a struggle that, inaugurated with the life of our most holy Redeemer, will only be accomplished at the end of time. And so every day, like the warriors of the tribe of Judah returning from slavery, we must with one hand repel the enemy and with the other raise the walls of the holy temple; that is to say, we must work for our sanctification.

And in this truth we are confirmed by the lives of these heroes, for whom the decrees were published: heroes who came to glory not only by passing through black clouds and storms, but also through continuous opposition and difficult temptations, to the point of giving their blood and life for faith.

I cannot deny, however, that I am very happy, that with the glorification of so many Saints God manifests his mercies in times of so much disbelief and religious indifference; that in a time of so much weakness of character there are presented for our imitation generous souls who, in confirmation of their faith, have given their lives; and that these examples for the most part come, venerable Brother, from your country, where the civic rulers have openly unfurled the banner of rebellion and have wanted to break all ties with the Church, whatever the cost.

I am happy because at a time when many are ashamed to call themselves Catholics, many others seek to ruin God, faith, revelation, worship and clergy, and talk about everything with mocking impiety, deny everything and turn to mockery and ridicule, not even respecting the sanctuary of conscience. In the face of these manifestations of the supernatural, however much they may try to close their eyes before the sun that illuminates them, it is impossible that a divine ray will not penetrate them, and, if nothing else, by the way of remorse will lead them back to faith.

I am glad, because the virtue of these heroes must revive the weak and fearful in the practice of Christian doctrine and belief and make them strong in the faith. Courage, in fact, has no reason to exist except in so far as it is based on a conviction. Will is a blind power when it is not enlightened by intelligence; nor can one walk more safely through darkness. But if the present generation has all the uncertainties and doubts of a man who is groping in darkness, this is a clear sign that he no longer treasures the Word of God, which is the lamp that guides our steps and the light that illuminates our paths, lucerna pedibus meis verbum tuum et lumen semitis meis.

Courage will come when faith is alive in the heart, when all the precepts imposed by faith are practiced, because faith is impossible without works, just as it is impossible to imagine a sun that does not give light and warmth. And the martyrs we have commemorated are witnesses of this truth, because it is not to be believed that martyrdom is an act of simple enthusiasm, in which the head is subjected to the axe to go straight to Paradise, but rather supposes the long and painful exercise of all the virtues, omnimoda et immaculata munditia. And to speak of the one who is best known to you, the Pulcella d’Orléans, who both in her humble native country, as well as among the vices of soldiers, kept herself as pure as an angel, proud as a lion in all the trials of battle, and devoted to the poor and unhappy. Simple as a child, both in the quiet of the fields and in the tumult of war, she was always recollected in God, and was full of love for the Virgin and for the Most Holy Eucharist like a Cherub; you have said it well, venerable Brother. Called by the Lord to defend her country, she responded to a vocation to an enterprise, which everyone, and even she herself, believed impossible; but what is impossible for men, is always possible with the help of God. However, let us not exaggerate the difficulties of practicing what faith imposes on us to fulfill our duties and to exercise the fruitful apostolate of giving good example, which the Lord expects of each of us: unicuique mandavit de proximo sua. Difficulties come from those who create and exaggerate them, from those who trust in themselves without the help of heaven, from those who give in vilely, fearful of the mocking and derision of the world, for whom it must be concluded, that in our days more than ever the main strength of evil men is the cowardice and weakness of those who are good, and all the backbone of the kingdom of Satan lies in the weakness of Christians. —
Oh! if I were allowed, as the prophet Zechariah did in spirit, to ask the divine Redeemer: what are these wounds are in the middle of your hands: quid sunt plagae istae in medio manuum tuarum? The answer would not be doubtful: these have been given to me in the house of those who loved me: his plagatus sum in medio eorum qui diligebant me; given by my friends, who have done nothing to defend me and who in every meeting have become accomplices of my opponents.

And to this reproach, given to the infamous and fearful Christians of all countries, one cannot exempt many Christians of France, which has been called, both by my venerated Predecessor as well as by you, venerable Brother, as you have recalled, the most noble missionary nation, generous and chivalrous, and I will add to his glory what Pope Gregory IX wrote to King St. Louis: “God, whom the heavenly legions obey, having established here below different kingdoms according to the diversity of languages and climates, has conferred on many governments special missions for the accomplishment” of his plans. And just as he once preferred the tribe of Judah to the tribes of Jacob’s other sons and gave them special blessings, so he chose in preference to all the other nations of the earth for the protection of the Catholic faith and the defense of religious freedom. For this reason, “France is the kingdom of God himself, the enemies of France are the enemies of Christ. That is why God loves France, because he loves the Church, which “spans the centuries and recruits legions for eternity. God loves France, which no effort has ever been able to detach entirely from God’s cause. God loves France, where at no time has faith ever lost its vigor; where kings and soldiers have never hesitated to face dangers and to give their blood for the preservation of faith and religious freedom”. Thus far, Gregory IX. Therefore, venerable Brother, on your return you will say to your fellow countrymen that, if they love France, they must love God, love faith, love the Church which, as for your fathers, so even now is the most tender mother of all of them. You will say that they treasure the testaments of St. Rémy, Charlemagne and St. Louis, which are summed up in the words so often repeated by their heroine of Orléans: “Vive le Christ qui est roi des Francs.” Only France is great among nations in this regard, by this covenant God will protect it by making it free and glorious, on this condition it will be possible to apply to France what is said in the holy books about Israel, “that no one was “found” to insult this people except when it “departed from God”, et non fuit qui insuttaset, populo ipsi visi quando reeessit a cultu Domini Dei sui. Therefore, your idea is not a dream, Venerable Brother, but a reality, nor is there only hope in me, but also the certainty of full triumph. The Pope died, a martyr in Valence, when France, having ignored and annihilated authority, banned religion, demolished temples and altars, exiled, persecuted and decimated priests, had fallen into the most detestable abomination. Two years had not passed since the death of him who was supposed to be the last Pope, when France, guilty of so many crimes, still soaked in the blood of so many innocent people, devoutly turned her eyes towards the one who, prodigiously elected Pope, far from Rome, was enthroned in Rome, and France implored, along with forgiveness, the exercise of that divine power in the Pope that it had so often contested, and France was saved. What seems impossible to men is possible to God. And in this certainty I am confirmed by the protection of the martyrs who gave their blood for the faith and by the intercession of Joan of Arc, who, as she lives in the hearts of the French people, so she continuously repeats her prayer in heaven: Great God, save France!

Translation Giuseppe Pellegrino

Robert Hickson: Sentimentalists and Barbarians — Contrasting Thoughts of Hilaire Belloc in 1912 and G.K. Chesterton in 1934

12 October 2018 Our Lady of the Pillar (40 A.D.)
General Robert E. Lee (d. 1870)

Epigraphs

“The Barbarian hopes—and that is the very mark of him—that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilisation has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort but he will not be at the pains to replace such goods nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is for ever marvelling that civilisation should have offended him with priests and soldiers.” (Hilaire Belloc, “The Barbarians,” Chapter XXXII from his anthology This That and the Other (1912))

***

“The Barbarian wonders what strange meaning may lurk in the ancient and solemn truth, ‘Sine Auctoritate nulla vita‘ [‘Without Authority there is no life’].

“In a word, the Barbarian is discoverable everywhere in this that he cannot make; that he can befog or destroy, but that he cannot sustain; and of every Barbarian in the decline or peril of every civilisation exactly that has been true.” (Hilaire Belloc, “The Barbarians,” Chapter XXXII from his anthology This That and the Other (1912))

***

Just lately [around 1933], and at historical intervals, he [the Teuton] becomes the bear-garden [not beer-garden] German…and [I] would prefer to avoid his embrace. For the embraces of bears…are apt to show that over-emphasis, or excess of pressure, which is the fault of the German temperament. Now…there has been an increasing impression on sensitive and intelligent minds that [as of the 1930s] something very dangerous has occurred. A particular sort of civilisation has turned back towards barbarism….Never be merely on the side of barbarism, for it always means the destruction of all that men have understood, by men who do not understand it [also in the Church if there be the crude destruction of Sacred Tradition and Dogma, as is so today]. That is the sense in which a detached and dispassionate person, watching that strange turn of the tide in the centre of tribal Germany, will be disposed to suspect a tragedy.” (G.K. Chesterton, “On the Return of the Barbarian,”Chapter VII from his 1934 anthology Avowals and Denials (London: Methuen & Co. LTD., 1934))

***

“Oddly that [“racial mass solidified”] is the advantage of hypnotism [and thus of “a hypnotic faith”]. That is the charm of illusion and the compelling power of unreality….That is the advantage of being a sentimentalist. You only remember what you like to remember. It is also the advantage of being a barbarian…The danger of the emergence of anything really barbaric in the world is that we do not know what it [or even a pope?] will do next, or where it will turn up at last….Now Barbarism is a beast [like “a runaway horse”], and has the nature of a beast….But in all these [varied “movements among Teutons…or Turks or Mongols or Slavs”] we can mark the moment of history when men turned back towards it [“Barbarism”], and delayed for centuries the civilization of mankind. What is really disquieting about this new note of narrow nationalism and tribalism [in Germany] in the north [Prussia, especially] is that there is something shrill and wild about it, that has been heard in those [earlier] destructive crises of history….All these things have a savour of savage and hasty simplification,… which, when taken altogether, give the uncomfortable impression of wild men who have merely grown weary of the complexity that we call civilization.” (G.K. Chesterton, “On the Return of the Barbarian,” Chapter VII from his 1934 anthology Avowals and Denials—my emphasis added)

***

In a posthumously published, undated collection of Hilaire Belloc’s essays, One Thing and Another (1956),i one may alertly note the title of Chapter XXXV—“The Barbarians”—and rightly see it as a companion piece or a deepened counterpoint to Belloc’s more widely known and somewhat longer 1912 essay, which is also entitled “The Barbarians.”

One paragraph from his posthumously published 1956 book will give us, at the outset, a good sense of his lucidity and farsightedness:

We to-day in what used to be called Christendom are slipping down the same slope [as our Roman ancestors]. Our leaders become more indifferent to culture, the organized masses grow less susceptible to the leadership of men trained in a high tradition, the area of freedom grows rapidly less, the great mass of men suffer an increasingly servile condition. The relation between the mass of men and their labour is inhuman and the relation between the mass of men and their economic masters has also lost its own human savour. Men will accept subjection when it is connected with loyalty and humour and the air of domesticity; they will not accept it when it is mechanical and therefore hopeless. (204—my emphasis added)

By way of contrast, in 1934, two years before his own death, G.K. Chesterton wrote in his Avowals and Denialsii a set of short sentences that, as is so often the case, have caused others to ponder afresh his subtle and fuller meanings, and his abiding charity—even toward the Germans:

That is the charm of illusion and the compelling power of unreality….That is the advantage of being a sentimentalist. You only remember what you like to remember. It is also the advantage of being a barbarian. (16—my emphasis added)

Chesterton’s use of the word “advantage” in this context seems to imply a privileged advantage that maneuvers (and even exploits) others, but is nonetheless blinkered and even somewhat constricted. However, Chesterton has here expressed his possible meanings in a politely ironic way. If, perhaps, his “advantage” likewise subtly implies a dubious and unfair or even a merely temporary advantage, his word “advantage” further conveys itself as a subtle substitute for the word “temptation.” That is to say, “Taking unfair advantage is itself an alluring (even permanent) temptation.” (For, a temptation wouldn’t be a temptation if it weren’t attractive.) Moreover, not all such attractive “advantages” are themselves wholesome and presented in proper proportion, just as a tendentiously constricted and over-simplified, armed “ideology” is often not very healthy, nor abidingly just. Such armed and all-too-constricted ideologies have also been memorably called those “mind-forged manacles” (as expressed by the poet William Blake in his own verse, entitled “London”).

In any case, what has especially prompted me to greater reflection was Chesterton’s own unusual coupling of “the sentimentalist” and “the barbarian.” That has caused me to return, first of all, to Hilaire Belloc’s essay, “The Barbarians” (1912), which is to be found in his own pre-World War I anthology, This and That and the Other.

Moreover, in addition to Hilaire Belloc’s earlier 1912 essay, “The Barbarians,”iii we may also now fruitfully consider, even as an ongoing clarifying contrast, his brief posthumously published 3-page essay, which is also entitled “The Barbarians.”iv Belloc deftly begins his 3-page essay, as follows:

It is a pity that true history [including ecclesiastical history] is not taught in schools. If it were, People would understand much better the history of what is passing in their own time. For instance, the dangers which are now threatening European civilization are of the same sort in part with those which threatened and at last undermined the old pagan civilization of Rome.

That civilization was not destroyed by invaders, it was never defeated in a decisive battle. What happened to it was that it was undermined from within by the very same forces which are destroying the supports of our own traditional culture. (203—italics in the original; bold emphasis added).

Moreover, says Belloc, as he remains especially loyally attentive to one of his own recurrent themes, namely about the destabilizing binary combination of “insecurity and insufficiency”:

Those [undermining] forces are the forces of contrast between well-being and indigence, coupled with the contrast between freedom and servitude [today to include “electronic servitude,” as well] and enforced by the contrast between human and inhuman relations. When a large number of men are compelled to labour by a small number of men, when their labour is passed under inhuman conditions and the sense of servitude inseparable from the enforcement of labour in any form, they end by driving the masses subject to such disabilities to rise against their wrongs. But in doing this, the rebels [and barbarians] may well act blindly, for the very conditions of their subjection forbid them the culture that would enable them to act wisely. They are impelled not only by the desire for freedom but by the hatred of those who exploit them and who enjoy a freedom of security and substance denied to themselves. They [such effectively unreconciled and vengefully germinating barbarians] are filled also with a general hatred; a love of destruction for its own sake. (203—italics in the original; bold emphasis added)

In Belloc’s eyes, such are the inclinations and even the entrenched habits of the recurrent barbarian, as his own circumambient society (in the pagan empire of Rome) “was accumulating these same evils in its old age.” (203)

Belloc’s special attentiveness to the organized pagan Roman military institution will help us further understand how the barbarian elements were consequently to develop:

The organized armed force upon which everything depended was more and more recruited from men not possessed of the full Roman civilization, but either born outside the boundaries of the Empire or settled within them and yet not fully digested into the general culture. Soldiers of such a kind tended to take things more and more into their own hands and be officered by people like themselves. The men who watched the general breakdown of society in the West saw what was passing before them as a social revolution—and they were right. (204—my emphasis added)

Belloc then contrasts our current situation with the tragedy of the ancient decomposition:

But though the parallel between our present entry into general revolution is singularly like the entry of our fathers into the Dark Ages, there is one disturbing difference between the two tragic epochs, making our peril far more tragic than theirs.

This difference does not come from the triumphs of what is called “Science” in the art of destroying mankind, nor does it lie in the use of this or that instrument of war. It was possible to exterminate one’s fellow beings by the myriad and to unpeople the whole of a vast country when men [like the Mongols] had nothing more than bows and sharp blades to do it with. Mesopotamia was thus destroyed.

No, the difference between our father’s [sic] entry into their Dark Ages and our own is this: there inhabited [in] an increasing number of men during the fourth and fifth centuries [A.D.] a certain spirit or philosophy which was capable of saving all that could be saved of the old culture. There was a new religion abroad [i.e., the Catholic Faith]–well-organized, universal, and definitive. By this instrument [i.e., the Sacramental Catholic Church, also an Ecclesia Militans] our civilization was saved half-way down the slope. It did not recover the fullness of its ancient [pagan] glory, but it survived and rose again after a long ordeal of nearly five hundred years. The eleventh century was a daybreak, and the twelfth was a morning, and the thirteenth was a glorious day. (204-205—my emphasis added)

Hilaire Belloc will now end his articulate perceptive insights with a somewhat bleak and sobering assessment of the dimming down of the ancient Traditional Faith and that yet very robust Faith’s own abiding challenge to all of us still:

We [of the West] have with us now no such saving influence. There is, indeed, a sort of new miasmic philosophy drifting about [as is so with the syncretistic ecumenisms?], but morally it is of the basest [sort] and intellectually contemptible, not even capable of definition. It will not be able to insure its own survival as a mood [much less as a conviction!], let alone the survival of our inheritance [to include our sacred inheritance]. You may see its fruits in the works of modern men: their building, their daubs [i.e., their purported arts of painting], their obscenity of prose, their deafness to harmony and rhythm, and their blindness to beauty. We of to-day have no chance of survival, save by reaction, by the restoration of ancestral things [hence divinely revealed Sacred Tradition]. But among these [restorations] we must include a passion for social justice and an establishment of human relations between man and man. Otherwise we shall not only perish but perish in hypocrisy, and therefore despair. (205—my emphasis added)

Although we are not sure when Belloc first composed his fine three-page essay posthumously published in 1956, we are certain that he published his ten-page article on “The Barbarians” two years before the outbreak of World War I. From this latter composition of 1912 we also have much to learn.

Belloc often openly said that for us human beings “truth resides largely in proportion.” Therefore, we should not be surprised to find that, in the opening sentence of his 1912 essay and with his characteristic integrity, Belloc uses the more abstract word for “proportion,” i.e.,“analogy” (273):

The use of analogy [Greek and Latin “analogia,” that is to say, “proportion”], which is so wise and necessary a thing in historical judgment, has a knack of slipping into the falsest forms. (273—my emphasis added)

Then Belloc aptly discusses “the Barbarian invasions” (273) into the Roman lands and Empire:

When ancient civilisation broke down its breakdown was accompanied by the infiltration of barbaric auxiliaries into the Roman armies, by the settlement of Barbarians (probably in small numbers) upon Roman land, and, in some provinces, by devastating, though not usually permanent, irruptions of barbaric hordes.

The presence of those foreign elements, coupled with the gradual loss of so many arts, led men to speak of “the Barbarian invasions” as though they were the principal cause of what was in reality no more than the old age and fatigue of an antique society. (273—my emphasis added)

Belloc then applies this brief insight to our actual situation in Europe as of 1912:

Upon the model of this conception [of the illusory and the true causes of a larger peril], men, watching the dissolution of our own civilisation to-day [1912], or at least its corruption, have asked themselves whence those Barbarians would come that should complete its final ruin….For though the degradation of human life in the great industrial cities of England and the United States was not a cause of our decline, it was very certainly a symptom of it [of our decline]. Moreover, industrial society, notably in this country [of England] and in Germany, while increasing rapidly in numbers, is breeding steadily from the worst and most degraded types.

But the truth is that no such mechanical explanation will suffice to set forth the causes of a civilisation’s decay. (273-274—my emphasis added)

A related insight, perhaps another helpful analogy, might be: “There are no technical solutions to moral problems.” But now our Belloc, in pursuit of some of the true causes, will employ another analogy, as it were: the metaphor of a slowly weakened immune system. It is, for sure, “a terrible thing to think upon” (Rabelais) when one candidly beholds—as is the case today—an ongoing and self-sabotaging “cultural immune system.” For, such self-sabotage constitutes a “provocative weakness” (Fritz Kraemer) and it becomes a tacit invitation and allure to the barbarians from without, and from within. Such is also the current situation (and plight) of the Roman Catholic Church.

Belloc continues his consideration of the deeper causes of a civilization’s decay, and as well as some corrective remedies:

Before the barbarian in any form can appear in it [i.e., in a specific civilization], it must already have weakened. If it cannot absorb or reject an alien element it is because its organism has grown enfeebled, and its powers of digestion and excretion are lost or deteriorated; and whoever would restore any society which menaces to fall, must busy himself about the inward nature of that society [to include a religious society, such as the Jesuits and the larger Holy See] much more than about its external dangers or the merely mechanical and numerical factors of peril to be discovered within it.

Whenever we look for “the barbarians,”…we are [often] looking rather for a visible effect of disease than for its source.

None the less to mark those visible effects is instructive, and without some conspectus of them it will be impossible to diagnose the disease. A modern man may, therefore, well ask where the [Modernist?] barbarians are that shall enter into our inheritance, or whose triumphs [over the doctrinal and liturgical Sacred Tradition?] shall, if it be permitted, at least accompany, even if they cannot effect, the destruction of Christendom.(275-276—my emphasis added)

It should be remembered that Hilaire Belloc wrote these words during the anti-Modernist Reign of Pope Pius X (1903-1914).

Belloc then chooses to clarify a little more the concept and the reality of “Christendom”:

With that word “Christendom” a chief part of the curious speculation [about the fact of civilizational decay] is at once suggested. Whether the scholar hates or loves, rejects or adopts, ridicules or admires, the religious creed of Europe, he must, in any case, recognise two prime historical truths. The first is that that creed which we call the Christian religion was the soul and meaning of European civilisation during the period of its active and united existence. The second [historical truth] is that wherever the religion characteristic of a people has failed to react against its own decay and has in some last catastrophe perished, then that people has lost, soon after, its corporate existence….

Christendom was Christian, not by accident or superficially, but in a formative connection….It is equally true that a sign and probably a cause of a society’s end is the dissolution of that causative moral thing, its philosophy or creed. (276-277—my emphasis added)

After his remarks about the former “religious creed of Europe,” he becomes more specific about Europe’s vulnerability and plight in the year 1912:

Now here we discover the first mark of the Barbarian.

Note that in the peril of English society today [as of 1912] there is no positive alternative to the ancient philosophical tradition of Christian Europe. It [the current English society] has to meet nothing more substantive than a series of negations, often contradictory [as with the subtle Hegelian Dialectic], but all allied in their repugnance to a fixed certitude in morals.

So far has this process gone [as in the Catholic Church today, in 2018] that to be writing as I am here in public, not even defending the creed of Christendom, but postulating its historic place, and pointing out that the considerable attack now carried on against it [i.e., the Christian Creed] is symptomatic of the dissolution of our society, has about it something temerarious and odd. (277-278—my emphasis added)

We are then asked to look at, and also allowed to consider, some of the “secondary effects” and other principles (or causes) of disorder or dissolution, especially to “consider how certain root institutions native to the long development of Europe [e.g., Marriage and Property, to include the possibility of Private Property] and to her [arguably unique] individuality are the subject of attack, and [we should] note the nature of the attack.” (278—my emphasis added)

Belloc’s argumentation and propositions continue, as follows, especially about one’s effectively accepting and inwardly appropriating the criteria, often the very language, of the attacker or subverter:

It is certain that if the fundamental institutions of a polity are no longer regarded as fundamental by its citizens, that polity is about to pass through the total change which in a living organism we call death….

Our peril is not that certain men attack the one or the other [i.e., upon property or marriage] and deny their moral right to exist. Our peril is rather that, quite as much as those who attack, those who defend [them] seem to take for granted the relativeness, the artificiality, the non-fundamental character of the institution which they are apparently [but lukewarmly?] concerned to support.

See how marriage is defended [in 1912, to boot!]. To those who would destroy it under the plea of its inconveniences and tragedies, the answer is no longer made that, good or ill, it is an absolute and intangible. The [often tepid and lax] answer made [to the potential destroyers of marriage] is that it is convenient, or useful, or necessary, or merely traditional.

Most significant of all, the terminology of the attack is on the lips of the defense, but the contrary is never the case. Those opponents of marriage…will never use the term “sacrament,” yet how many for whom marriage is still a sacrament will forgo the pseudo-scientific jargon of their opponents? (278-280—my emphasis added)

After his few further points of lucid discussion about “the threat against property” (280) and about those who believe themselves “superior to reason” (281) and thus “free to maintain that definition, limit, quantity and contradiction are little things which he [“the Barbarian”] has outgrown” (281), Belloc will give us two very discerning and memorable paragraphs:

The Barbarian hopes—and that is the very mark of him [and also the mark of the Sentimentalist!]—that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilisation has slowly produced after generation of selection and effort [as with the cultivation of a great musical culture and enduring literature, and good wine and cheese, or the well-rooted vines of olives] but he will not be at the pains to replace such goods nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is for ever marvelling that civilisation should have offended him with priests and soldiers….

In a word, the Barbarian is discoverable everywhere in this that he cannot make; that he can befog or destroy, but that he cannot sustain; and of every Barbarian in the decline or peril of every civilisation [and even of even the Catholic Church?] exactly that [crippled and parasitic manifestation of incapacity] has been true. (281-282—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Belloc concludes his searching and sobering essay with the following words:

He [the Barbarian], I repeat, is not an agent, but merely a symptom. It is not he [the Barbarian] in his impotence that can discover the power of disintegrate the great and ancient body of Christendom, but if we come to see him him triumphant we may be certain that that [weakened] body [of Christendom]…is furnishing him with sustenance and forming for him a congenial soil—and that is [or would be!] as much as to say that we are dying. (283—my emphasis added)

May the cultural immune system and the human elements of the Church Militant and the Corpus Christi Mysticum today (in 2018) not be so weakened and destructively self-sabotaging, as if we are dealing with a subtle “auto-immune disease.”

May G.K. Chesterton’s own characteristic charity and insights refresh us now at the end of our essay’s presentation, also of his “On the Return of the Barbarian” and on the Barbarian’s own recurrently discoverable and minatory traits:

That is the [sound] sense in which a detached and dispassionate person, watching that strange turn of the tide [in all of Germany itself after the vengefully unjust 28 June 1918 Treaty of Versailles and even condignly continuing up to the early 1930s] in the centre of tribal Germany, will be disposed to suspect tragedy. The Germans have done many things that many of us may think right, but there is nothing to hold them back from doing anything that all of us think wrong….The danger of the emergence of anything really barbaric in the world is that we do not know what it will do next, or where it will turn up at last; just as we do not know whether a runaway horse will be stopped [or where]….What is really disquieting about this new note of narrow nationalism or tribalism in the north [especially Prussia] is that there is something shrill and wild about it, that has been heard in those destructive crises in history. There are many marks by which anybody of historical imagination can recognize the recurrence [of barbarism]…—all these things have a savour of savage and hasty simplification, which, …when taken altogether give an uncomfortable impression of wild [though at times very disciplined!] men who have merely grown weary of the complexity that we call civilization. (17-18—Chapter VII—my emphasis added)

In his essay, Chesterton first introduced us to these grave developments with politeness and with charitable charm, not with any stridency nor depreciative condescension:

The common garden German may be described as a beer-garden German. As such I love and embrace him. Just lately, and at historic intervals, he becomes a bear-garden German. As such I regard him with a love more mystical and distant, and would prefer to avoid his embrace. For the embraces of bears, even in the most festive and…illuminated bear-gardens, are apt to show that over-emphasis, or excess of pressure, which is the fault of the German temperament.

Now, ever since Herr Hitler began to turn the beer-garden into a bear-garden [in the 1920s and early 1930s], there has been an increasing impression on sensitive and intelligent minds that something dangerous has occurred. A particular sort of civilization has turned back towards barbarism….But that is the advantage of hypnotism. That is the charm of illusion and the compelling power of unreality. The Germans, not being realistic [here], have already forgotten that they were defeated ten years ago [in World War I]; but they still remember vividly that they were victorious [against Austria and then France some] fifty years ago [circa 1860-1870]. That is the advantage of being a sentimentalist. You only [selectively] remember what you like to remember. It is also the advantage of being a barbarian. (16-17—my emphasis added)

Just as Belloc said that the Barbarian effectively wants his cake and wants to eat his cake concurrently, too, he is also shown to deny or defy, quite emotionally, the foundational “principle of non-contradiction,” as does the subversive, occult Hegelian Dialectic. If something is itself and is not itself at the same time, then what is an identity? Thus the revolutionary slogan:“Solve et coagula.”

–Finis–

© 2018 Robert D. Hickson

iHilaire Belloc, “The Barbarians,” in One Thing and Another (London: Hollis & Carter, 1956), pages 203-205 (Chapter XXXV). See also Hilaire Belloc, “The Barbarians,” in This That and the Other (1912), pages 273-283 (Chapter XXXII).

iiG.K. Chesterton, “On the Return of the Barbarian,” Chapter VII of his book, Avowals and Denials (London: Methuen & Co. LTD., 1934), pp.16-18. Page references will be placed above in the main body of this text, in parentheses.

iiiSee H. Belloc, This and That and The Other (Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1968—an exact reprint of Belloc’s original 1912 book). Belloc’s essay “The Barbarians” is to be found in Chapter XXXII, on pages 273-283. All future references to this text will be placed in parentheses above in the main body of this essay.

ivSee Hilaire Belloc, “The Barbarians,” which is to be found Chapter XXXV of his anthology, One Thing and Another (London: Hollis & Carter, 1956). This 1956 book is subtitled “A Miscellany from his Uncollected Essays selected by Patrick Cahill.” All further references will be from this text—pages 203-205—and placed in parentheses in the main body of this essay above.