Hilaire Belloc: attacks old and new on the Catholic Church
SURVIVALS AND NEW ARRIVALS:
The Old and New Enemies of the Catholic Church
by Hilaire Belloc (Tan Books, 168pp, $21.00. ISBN: 0-89555-454-2. Available from Freedom Publishing)
The title of this book brought to my mind a picture of a shipwreck with desperate survivors, newly arrived on our shores, relating the tale of their perilous journey. But the 'survivals' and 'new arrivals' Belloc was writing about in 1929 when his book was first published (here reprinted) were the attacks, old and new, on the Catholic Church.
Belloc says that at any given time in history the Church's enemies fall into three categories: 'The Main Opposition' (which doesn't get a guernsey in the title but which occupies centre stage while it is at its height); the 'Survivals'; and the 'New Arrivals'.
The 'Survivals' are those attacks which are on the wane, their strength and influence declining. The 'New Arrivals' are those attacks that are just beginning to make their presence known, their full nature as yet unclear.
'The Main Opposition' is the most prominent attack and occupies most of the battlefield and most of the attention and resources of the defenders of the Church at any given time. The 'Main Opposition' succeeds and in part is caused by the 'Survivals' on the one hand, and on the other in part paves the way for the 'New Arrivals' which succeed it.
Today's battle lines
At the time Belloc was writing this book he was concerned with the contemporary state of play. However this is not merely an 'historical exercise'. The fortunes of the world depend on the Church, for, as Belloc writes, 'She claims, and Her adherents maintain the claim, that Her's is the one and the only authoritative voice upon earth.'
So the position of the Church at all times is of ultimate importance not only to her members but to all Christians and to all men. This is especially so today when the battle lines are again becoming more clearly defined as being between Christianity and the 'forces of darkness', with the Church being the bulwark of the Christian defence of mankind.
The 'Survivals' Belloc describes are mostly exhausted but are worth knowing about as ideas get recycled and it insures against being taken in by old ideas dressed up as new.
The forces of the 'Main Opposition' of Belloc's day he identified as nationalism, anti-clericalism and the 'Modern Mind.' Belloc describes anti- clericalism as originating in Catholic cultures as a natural result of the working out of the boundaries between the province of religion and of the world - 'a protest against extravagant clerical action.'
However he saw another form of anti-clericalism developing, namely 'a conflict between two incompatible theories of the State - the Catholic and the Neutral or Lay.'
Today we are seeing what I think is that 'new' anti-clericalism Belloc was describing, which is really anti-religion - denying anything to do with religion any place in the public domain, especially in politics. It has cowed Christian politicians so they do not identify with positions that could be labelled 'Christian.'
Hence is up to Christian voters to ask them to promote Christian morality when it is challenged by proposed anti-Christian legislation or policies, and to let them know we will support them in their endeavours. The clearest instances of this relate to the laws governing abortion and eu-thanasia.
The last example of the 'Main Opposition' Belloc describes is the 'Modern Mind'. He said it was very difficult to define and variously refers to it as 'a morass', a 'bog', not able to state its position with any clarity, and as 'contain[ing] three main ingredients ... Pride, ignorance and intellectual sloth; their unifying principle [being] a blind acceptance of authority not based on reason.'
How similar to the 'modern mind' of today, for example, refusing to enter into debate on the 'science' of climate change while blindly accepting, on the claims of interested scientists and various prestigious- looking bodies (such as the IPCC), that the science is proven and 'settled'.
Here we see the pride of being certain they are right while intent on remaining ignorant of any other viewpoint, and the intellectual sloth of refusing to examine the evidence.
The 'New Arrival' Belloc identified in his own time was what he called 'Neo-Paganism', namely, a 'lack of reason which is intellectual despair, ... hideous architecture and painting and writing which are aesthetic despair, the dissolution of morals which is ethical despair.'
Belloc described the 'thing' as unformed and appearing only in isolated instances but predicted that it would gather cohesion and that, when it matured, we would see 'a positive coordination and organized affirmation of the repulsive and the vile.' A description of our present reality?
I think this 'New Arrival' is the 'Main Opposition' of our day, with left-over elements of that of Belloc's day aiding and abetting it in its assault not only on the Church but on mankind itself.
The Church is the protector of man, of life itself, which Christ said He came to give us and to give us more abundantly. So the fate of the Church in these battles is indeed the fate of mankind. And when you look at the main battle fronts in the current full frontal attack on the Church's teachings and morals they concern issues of human life such as abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, surrogacy and IVF.
Belloc identified two other forces as making for a 'moral alliance' with 'Neo-Paganism', one of which, Islam, is most pertinent today. His comment was: 'We shall almost certainly have to reckon with Islam in the near future. Perhaps if we lose our Faith it will rise.'
I have to warn the reader that Belloc is quite blunt in his descriptions at times and they could be offensive to some readers today. However, he is intent on clearly explaining his point, and with good will I think allowances can be made, especially as those points are worth taking.
I also have to confess that I found my knowledge of history not quite up to the task of fully appreciating or understanding Belloc's allusions to some of the events and movements he describes. However I found his descriptions not only enlightening but instructional as I discerned in them elements of the attacks the Church faces today.
I also found his language demanding at times and this book is dense with ideas. But I would encourage the prospective reader to dive in and persevere as the understanding to be gained makes it well worthwhile. And who would want to stand accused of 'ignorance' or 'intellectual sloth'?
Terri M. Kelleher is a former solicitor who has been active in the pro-life cause and also produced materials for home schooling.