Looks like we made it all the way to the end of The Great Heresies. We started it around the first of June with the Introduction, and then followed along as Belloc made his way through the biggies. First, the plan and then the following in succession: Arianism; Islam; Albegensianism; and Protestantism. And this weeks selection? The final chapter, The Modern Phase.
In every chapter, Belloc has thrown heaps and heaps of history at us. It has really been enough to make your head spin, or at least mine anyway.
My curiosity, prompted by Belloc's writings, lead me to add a number of book selections to the YIM Catholic Bookshelf too, in an attempt to try to make sense of it all. Belloc can rattle off 2000 years of history like it's nobody's business. Sheesh!
But this last chapter didn't find me caught short on historical knowledge. It was the easiest of the chapters to read by far. Maybe that's because the terrain he describes is so familiar to those of us living and experiencing what he was forecasting way back in 1938. Sure, back then they may have believed Belloc was a tin-foil hat kind of guy. But reading The Modern Phase today is like reading front page news now. Belloc's future-shock is here now.
Here is an example,
The Faith is now in the presence not of a particular heresy as in the past; the Arian, the Manichean, the Albigensian, the Mohammedan; nor is it in the presence of a sort of generalized heresy as it was when it had to meet the Protestant revolution from three to four hundred years ago. The enemy which the Faith now has to meet, and which may be called "The Modern Attack," is a wholesale assault upon the fundamentals of the Faith—upon the very existence of the Faith.
And the enemy now advancing against us is increasingly conscious of the fact that there can be no question of neutrality. The forces now opposed to the Faith design to "destroy." The battle is henceforward engaged upon a definite line of cleavage, involving the survival or destruction of the Catholic Church. And "all"—not a portion—of its philosophy.
Oh Hilaire, me hopes thou dost protest too much?
No; the quarrel is between the Church and the anti-Church, the Church of God and anti-God, the Church of Christ and anti-Christ. The truth is becoming every day so much more obvious that within a few years it will be universally admitted. I do not entitle the modern attack "anti-Christ", though in my heart I believe that to be the true term for it: No, I do not give it that name because it would seem for the moment exaggerated.
But the name doesn't matter. Whether we call it "The Modern Attack" or "anti-Christ" it is all one; there is a clear issue now joined between the retention of Catholic morals, tradition, and authority on the one side, and the active effort to destroy them on the other.
The modern attack will not tolerate us. It will attempt to destroy us. Nor can we tolerate it. We must attempt to destroy it as being the fully equipped and ardent enemy of the Truth by which men live. The duel is to the death.
If Hilaire were around today, he would know we now have a name for this attack: it's called the Culture of Death. Take a look at Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae, written in 1995. And the Church knows plenty more about the threats of Modernism too. Not enough to convince you?
We find, to begin with, that it is at once materialist and superstitious. There is here a contradiction in reason, but the modern phase, the anti-Christian advance, has abandoned reason. It is concerned with the destruction of the Catholic Church and the civilization preceding therefrom. It is not troubled by apparent contradictions within its own body so long as the general alliance is one for the ending of all that by which we have hitherto lived.
The modern attack is materialistic because in its philosophy it considers only material causes. It is superstitious only as a by-product of this state of mind. It nourishes on its surface the silly vagaries of spiritualism, the vulgar nonsense of "Christian Science," and heaven knows how many other fantasies.
But these follies are bred, not from a hunger for religion, but from the same root as that which has made the world materialist, from an inability to understand the prime truth that faith is at the root of knowledge; from thinking that no truth is appreciable save through direct experience.
And you know what results from this?
Thus the spiritualist boasts of his demonstrable manifestations, and his various rivals of their direct clear proofs; but all are agreed that Revelation is to be denied. It has been well remarked that nothing is more striking than the way in which all the modern quasi-religious practices are agreed upon this: that Revelation is to be denied.
We may take it then that the new advance against the Church, what will perhaps prove the final advance against the Church, what is at any rate the only modern enemy of consequence—is fundamentally materialist. It is materialist in its reading of history, and above all in its proposals for social reform.
Being Atheist, it is characteristic of the advancing wave that it repudiates the human reason. Such an attitude would seem again to be a contradiction in terms; for if you deny the value of human reason, if you say that we cannot through our reason arrive at any truth, then not even the affirmation so made can be true.
Nothing can be true, and nothing is worth saying. But that great Modern Attack (which is more than a heresy) is indifferent to self-contradiction. It merely affirms. It advances like an animal, counting on strength alone. Indeed, it may be remarked in passing that this may well be the cause of its final defeat; for hitherto reason has always overcome its opponents; and man is the master of the beast through reason.
Anyhow, there you have the Modern Attack in its main character, materialist, and atheist; and, being atheist, it is necessarily indifferent to truth. For God is Truth.
Not according to The Daily Show. Check out this episode after the President mentions prayer in his national press conference on the B.P. oil disaster. "Freaky talk" indeed.
I could go on quoting passages of Belloc here for hours. Heck, if this were a real book club meeting in my living-room, I would probably read the whole chapter to everyone aloud. And the sweep of subjects he talks of here, Communism for example, you should be familiar with. One last quote on that particular subject,
Communism (which is only one manifestation, and probably a passing one, of this Modern Attack) professes to be directed towards a certain good, to wit, the abolition of poverty. But it does not tell you why this should be a good; it does not admit that its scheme is also to destroy other things which are also by the common consent of mankind good; the family, property (which is the guarantee of individual freedom and individual dignity), humor, mercy, and every form of what we consider right living.
See how Belloc noted that Communism was probably short-lived? Lucky guess do you think? Hmm. Of course, there is still Cuba, China and North Korea, not to mention The Servile State that he forecasts as well. But Frank...what of the ending? Is there hope for us?
Surely you know that I believe there is, I just may not live to see it. This particular Armageddon is a man-made one. And many who will ally themselves with the Catholic Church probably don't realize it yet. Many other Christians, not in full communion with the Church, may join us one day. Especially once that they realize that they are in the cross-hairs too. Or maybe not. Maybe the Church will become extremely small and inconsequential, like the Amish, for example. Either way, I intend to stay the course.
Note: Belloc mentioned two novels written by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson. The first is Lord of the World; the second is The Dawn of All, both available on the handy YIM Catholic Bookshelf.
For those of you who have soldiered through this book with me, I thank you. I have learned a lot and I hope that you have as well. Also, I very much appreciate the help that Mary R, Jason, and Brandon gave me in contributing to the discussion for several of the chapters. That was a great help and made this virtual book club more actual.
Any suggestions for the next book? Send me your suggestions along with your comments on this chapter in the comm box below. We'll run a poll again if you send us enough entries. In the meantime, how about a nice class of Belloc bordeaux?