The Firm Foundation of Roman Catholicism: Thoughts on Hilaire Belloc
Roman Catholicism contains a certain charm that almost all people who are acquainted with the religion easily recognize. Even John Adams, a fervent Protestant, spoke about its attractions: “Thousands were before [the Eucharist], on their knees, adoring. I could not help cursing the knavery of the priesthood and the brutal ignorance of the people ; yet, perhaps, I was rash and unreasonable, and that it is as much virtue and wisdom in them to adore, as in me to detest and despise” (1780).
From what I have heard and read, one of the people who most adequately captures the pull of the Roman Catholic Church is Hilaire Belloc, an English writer, politician, and apologist who lived at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. He wrote eloquently about the connection between the soul of Europe and the spirit of the Catholic Church. In fact, he went as far as asserting, “Europe is the Church, and the Church is Europe” (4). Now, upon typing a statement such as this one, I can already sense the tension of those who vehemently oppose Catholicism. I would simply encourage such critics to read his works and to discover the merit of his ideas for themselves.
In this post I will share a few of his quotations that I’ve found in The Essential Belloc. Some commentary will follow.
1. “Others, not Catholic, look upon the story of Europe externally as strangers” (3).
- Belloc argues that history, at its most fundamental level, is a product of human philosophy and theology. Our underlying ideas, which are essentially spiritual, shape the way we live. This fact is unavoidable. As for the history of Europe, Roman Catholicism is the foundation upon which everything rests. The region’s formative period–the Middle Ages–is akin to our young adulthood, the point in time at which we decide who we are. Belloc, though, loves the Middle Ages! He claims that the medieval times solidified the concepts of property, of human dignity, of family life, of marriage, of truth, of science, and of hierarchical order. Naturally, these fixtures are still in place today in almost all societies that trace their roots back to Europe. With this background in mind, Belloc argues that Catholics (the preservers of the great medieval tradition) best comprehend the meaning of modernity because they best understand its foundation.
2. “The bad work begun at the Reformation is bearing its final fruit in the dissolution of our ancestral doctrines–the very structure of our society is dissolving” (16).
- Well before postmodern scholars “discovered” the contemporary effects of the Reformation, Hilaire Belloc did. He knew that Protestantism introduced a disorder that challenged the basis of medieval authority: the Church’s traditions. Protestantism is the origin of modern materialism, modern atheism, and modern skepticism; for, if the Church’s magisterium is fallible, who is to preserve the Truth?
Belloc, surely, is a most controversial and interesting figure. Get to know him!
May God bless you.
–David J.W. Inczauskis