H. Belloc’s 1910 Sense of “Sacramental Things”: The Revival of the Past as a Vivid and Abiding Presence

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                  29 June 2020

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (d. 67 AD)

Hilaire Belloc’s Final Arrival Afoot in Rome (1901)

Epigraphs

“But whatever prompts the adventure [in the night] or the necessity, when the long burden [of the night] has been borne,…while all the air, still cold, is full of the scent of morning;…when in the end of that miracle the landscape is fully revealed,…then the great hill before one,…towering at last into the peaks and crests of the inaccessible places, gives a soul to the new [newly revealed] land….The sun, in a single moment and with the immediate summons of a bugle-call, strikes the spear-head of the high places [as in the Alps!], and at once the valley…is transfigured, and with the daylight all manner of things have come back into the world….

Livelihood is come back with the sunlight, and the fixed certitudes of the soul; number, and measure and comprehension have returned, and a just appreciation of all reality is the gift of the new day. Glory (which, if men would only know it, lies behind all true certitude) illuminates and enlivens the seen world, and the living light makes of the true things now revealed something more than truth absolute; they [these very providential things] appear as truth acting and creating.” (Hilaire Belloc, “On Sacramental Things,” from his 1910 anthology, On Something, pages 260-261—my emphasis added.)

***

“And there lies behind it [i.e., “the first shaft of the sun”], one is very sure, an infinite progress of such exaltations [after “the long night” (265)], so that one begins to understand…what has been meant by those great phrases which still lead on, still comfort, and still make darkly wise, the uncomforted wondering of mankind. Such is the famous phrase: ‘Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor can it enter into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those who serve Him.’” (Hilaire Belloc, “On Sacramental Things,” in On Something, pages 261-262—my emphasis added)

***

“To consider such things is a sacramental occupation. And yet the more I think of them the less I can quite understand in what elements their power consists….There is a resurrection, and we are refreshed and renewed. But why all these things are so neither I nor any other man can tell.” Hilaire Belloc, “On Sacramental Things,” page 257 and 265—my emphasis added)

***

While still an adventurous young man in his thirties, Hilaire Belloc wrote a moving and grateful short essay on the mediation and mystery of “sacramental things.” His vivid perceptions of the manifold world of the senses so often led him to deeper and abiding contemplative insights and sustaining nourishments.

For example, here is how, with examples, Belloc begins his grateful essay “On Sacramental Things”1:

It is good for a man’s soul to sit down in the silence by himself and to think of those things which happen by some accident to be in communion with the world….They will comfort him; they will prove a sort of solace against the expectation of the end….

A woman smiling at a little child, not knowing that others saw her, and holding out her hands towards it, and in one of her hands flowers; an old man, lean and active, with an eager face, walking at dusk upon a warm and windy evening westward towards a clear sunset below dark and flying clouds;….a deep, strong tide running back to the sea, going noiselessly and flat and black and smooth, and heavy with purpose under an old wall; the sea smell of a Channel [an English Channel] seaport town; a ship [under sail] coming up at one out of the whole sea when one is in a little boat and is waiting for her, coming up at one with her great sails merry and every one doing its work, with the life of the wind in her, and a balance, rhythm, and [a] give in all that she does which marries her to the sea….(257-258—my emphasis added)

Belloc then decides to add some technical sailing details and, with it, some implied history:

Whether it [the arriving sailboat] be a fore and aft rig and one sees only great lines of the white, or a square rig and one sees what is commonly and well called a leaning tower of canvas, or that primal rig, the triangular sail [the lugsail], that cuts through the airs of the world and clove a way for the first adventurers, whatever its rig, a ship so approaching an awaiting [small] boat from which we watch her is one of the [sacramental] things I mean.

I would that the taste of my time [around 1910 and just before world War I] permitted a lengthy list of such things: they are pleasant to remember! They do so nourish the mind! (258—my emphasis added)

Among others of Belloc’s more intimately and allusive wishes to have now openly recalled, he includes now some of his special, personal combinations, namely:

A glance of sudden comprehension mixed with mercy and humour from the face of a lover or a friend;…[also a] chief and most persistent memory, a great hill when [as on his 1901 long foot-path to Rome] the morning strikes it and one sees it up before one round the turning of a rock after the long [mountain] passes and despairs of the night.

When a man has journeyed and journeyed through those hours in which there is no colour or shape,…and when, therefore, the waking soul is bewildered or despairs, the morning is always a resurrection—but especially when it [the morning] reveals a height in the sky.

This last picture I would particularly cherish, so great a consolation is it, and so permanent a grace does it lend later to the burdened mind of man. (258-259—my emphasis added)

After his additional descriptions of, for example, “so many rivers crossed, and more than one of them forded in peril” (259), Belloc also acknowledges more broadly the fuller proportions and accents of human communion:

So much, then, is conveyed by a hill-top at sunrise when it comes upon the traveller or the soldier after the long march of a night, the bending of the shoulders [with a heavy rucksack], and the emptiness of the dark.

Many other things put one into communion with the whole world….

Apart from landscape other things belong to this contemplation [of sacramental things]: Notes of music, and, stronger even than repeated and simple notes of music, a subtle scent and its association, a familiar printed page [verse or prose]. Perhaps the test of these sacramental things is their power to revive the past [to include the sacred, inasmuch as Belloc had also just candidly spoken of “the Faith, the chief problem of this world.” (263—emphasis added)].

There is [for example also] a story translated into the noblest of English writing by Dasent [Sir George Webbe Dasent, circa 1860]. It is to be found in his Tales from the Norse. It is called “The Story of the Master Maid.” (263—my emphasis added, to include those additional emphases placed inside the subordinate, clarifying brackets.)

It is now fitting, I believe, to present Hilaire Belloc’s entire eloquent summary of this poignant Norse tale of loyalty and deep love and the final fruits of a sincere vow, once forgotten and broken, but touchingly later restored:

A man had found in his youth a woman on the Norwegian hills: this woman was faëry, and there was a spell upon her. But he won her out of it in various ways, and they crossed the sea together, and he would bring her to his father’s house, but his father was a King. As they went over-sea together alone, he said and swore to her that he would never forget how they had met and loved each other without warning, but by an act of God, upon the Dovrefjeld. Come near his father’s house, the ordinary influences of the ordinary day touched him; he bade her enter a hut and wait a moment until he had warned his father of so strange a marriage; she, however, gazing into his eyes, and knowing how the divine may be transformed into the earthly, quite as surely as the earthly into the divine, makes him promise that he will not eat human food. He sits at his father’s table, still steeped in her and the seas. He forgets his vow2 and eats human food, and at once he forgets [his vow].

Then follows much for which I have no space, but the woman in the hut by her magic causes herself to be at last sent for to the father’s palace. The young man sees her, and is only slightly troubled as by a memory which he cannot grasp. They talk together as strangers; but looking out of the window by accident the King’s son sees a bird and its mate; he points them out to the woman, and she says suddenly: “So was it with you and me high up upon the Dovrefjeld.” Then he remembers all. (264-265—my emphasis added)

After contemplating Belloc’s deftly crafted and heart-piercing well-told-tale, we are more fully prepared for his immediately final summary paragraph on the Mediation and Mystery of Sacramental Things—perhaps even as “External Channels of Grace” as Father John A. Hardon, S.J. (d. 30 December 2000) would often solemnly say to us. Analogously, Hilaire Belloc here humbly says:

Now that [Norse] story is a symbol, and tells the truth. We see some one thing in this world, and suddenly it becomes particular and sacramental; a woman and a child, a man at evening, a troop of soldiers; we hear notes of music, we smell the smell that went with a passed time, or we discover after the long night a shaft of light upon the tops of the hills at morning: there is a resurrection, and we are refreshed and renewed.

But why all these things are so neither I nor any other man can tell. (265—my emphasis added)

The Mystery abides. Yet we also remember the words “Sapientis Ordinare”—it is characteristic of a wise man to give order to things—perhaps even unto the “sacramental things.’

With his own special gifts, and as our guide, Saint Thomas Aquinas always strove to remain proportionally attentive to both Ordo et Mysterium. He humbly believed and trusted that reality as such is knowable and intelligible, and yet unfathomable.

–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, “On Sacramental Things,” (pages 257-265 in full), the essay being from Belloc’s own 1910 anthology, entitled On Something (London: Methuen & Co. LTD, 1910). The first passage of citation above is from pages 257-258—my emphasis added. All further citations to the Belloc essay will also be placed above in parentheses in the main body of this short essay and brief commentary.

2 Hilaire Belloc’s intimate friend, G.K. Chesterton, wrote his own profound chapter VII, entitled “The Story of the Vow,” and it is especially worthy of a savouring and close reading. It is a chapter (chapter seven) in Chesterton’s own 1920 book, The Superstition of Divorce.

Josef Pieper’s Double Challenge to a Character of Virtue: Facing Both an Unjust Exercise of Power and an Intrinsically Unrepayable Debt

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                  12 April 2020

Easter Sunday 2020

Saint Sabbas the Goth (d. 372)

Epigraphs

“We must remind ourselves…that our reflection here regards justice as a virtue, namely, an attitude [prompt disposition] to be achieved by the individual alone…We can speak of justice when each person in a group is accorded his rightful due:…. the habitual disposition of the will to render each and all we encounter their rightful due.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989—first published in 1984, in Germany), pages 58-59.)

***

“Christopher Columbus died in 1506. Not unlike his Master, who was crucified and abandoned by His own disciples. Columbus entered eternity without anyone paying any attention. He died estranged from his own contemporaries. In fact he died in disgrace. That too is a deep lesson. The price of bringing souls to Christ is suffering.” (Father John A. Hardon, S.J., Christopher Columbus: The Catholic Discovery of America (Bardstown, Kentucky: Eternal Life—Inter Mirifica, 2012, page 12))

***

After his many years of deepening his forthright search and understanding of the varied traditional intellectual and moral virtues—and then writing about them with lucidity—Josef Pieper also often counterpoints some of the deeper aspects of these challenging virtues by which we may so honorably and sincerely aspire to live.

One such virtue, now to be briefly considered through his eyes, is the second cardinal virtue of justice (iustitia), to include part of its range of meanings and, especially, our own candid acknowledgment of its inadequacy in human society, and in our human relations with God.

Let us thus now consider how, and even on one solid page effectively,1 Josef Pieper awakens us to much deep and abiding truth. For example, after introducing a surprising supportive quote from Immanuel Kant himself—“not exactly a Christian philosopher, either” (59)—Dr. Pieper says:

The fundamental rationale for all power is to safeguard and protect these rights. Whether we consider political power or authority in more confined situations—in the family, on the job, in a military unit—the following always proves true: whenever such power is not exercised to safeguard justice, dreadful iniquity will result. No calamity causes more despair in this world than the unjust exercise of power. And yet any power that could never be abused is ultimately no power at all—a fearful thought! (60—my emphasis added)

Although he does not discuss the matter in this chapter, one of the main themes in Josef Pieper’s writings is that, moreover, the very corruption of language leads to the corruption of power. (“Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power”—being the title of one of Dr. Pieper’s profound and lucidly brief books.)

Proceeding to disclose another recurrent challenge, Dr. Pieper politely says:

If we persist in pushing our reflection still further, we catch one feature that makes our topic of “justice” radically more complicated. The realm of our human relations is such that in certain highly significant situations it becomes impossible actually to render to the other what is doubtless his [rightful] due. The ancient thinkers here recalled first of all our relationship with God to whom we could never ever say: “Now we are even,” meaning “Now I have rendered you your due.” For this reason Christianity’s great teachers have declared that our relationship with God could not possibly be marked by justice, and that in its place, almost as a substitute and makeshift, there had to be religio: devotion, worship, sacrifice, a penitent heart.

But even in our human relationships lie certain debts that, by their very nature, can never truly be repaid and absolved. Thus, strictly speaking, I can never render what is their due to my mother, to my teachers, to honest public officials. And, to come right down to it, I cannot really “repay” even a friendly waiter or a reliable domestic in such a way that everything I owe them is rendered….Some other virtue is called to substitute [as in the reverential Latin concept,“observantia”] whenever justice proves inadequate: reverence, honor, and such respect (not only internal respect) as to proclaim: I owe you something I am unable to repay; and I let you know hereby that I am aware of this. (60—my emphasis added)

An “Honorarium” given to a good speaker, as distinct from a stipulated payment presented to him, illustrates such respect and gratitude, and deftly implies that we could never properly quantify the wisdom and eloquence you have imparted to us in you invited and unmistakably learned lecture. (Dr. Pieper, for example, often thought and spoke gratefully of all the unrepayable insights of truth and wisdom he had harvested and even gleaned from his master, Saint Thomas Aquinas.)

Aware that he has been the beneficiary of so many intrinsically unrepayable gifts, Josef Pieper movingly concludes his modest (and artful) chapter with these memorable words:

Once we thus acknowledge ourselves to be the debtors and recipients in relation to others and to God, we may be reluctant to base our life simply on the selfish question: “What is my due?” (61—italics mine)

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1See Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), pages 57-61 (Chapter 19—“We Have a Holy Sovereign”). All further citations will be to this English translation and placed above in parentheses, in the main body of this essay. This chapter was originally published separately in 1980, in German, as “Menschliches Richtigsein.”

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).

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