Long? Yes! But essential reading for every Catholic who know seeks to understand the essence of the modern day challange we now face. These exceprts are taken from Hilaire Belloc's book, The Great Heresies. The chapter: The Modern Phase. Year of publication: 1938. Belloc, a native of England and a Catholic historian, predicted the resurgence of Islam when Islamic civilization was at its lowest point in history. Here, he is equally prophetic about another formidable challenge for the Catholic Church: Secular-liberalism, especially when it takes the form of an all-powerful State.
If you can afford the time, do not shortchange reading this piece. Take the time to read the whole post; digest it and prayerfully discern what God is calling you to do about it. You will have a much better understanding about what is at play in America. Because past is prologue, Catholic historians often foresee future trends. This was one such case.
The Modern Attack: A 1939 Prediction for 2012
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. 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.
Men sometimes call the modern attack "a return to Paganism." That definition is true if we mean by Paganism a denial of Catholic truth: if we mean by Paganism a denial of the Incarnation, of human immortality, of the unity and personality of god, of man's direct responsibility to God, and all that body of thought, feeling, doctrine and culture which is summed up in the word "Catholic," then, and in that sense, the modern attack is a return to Paganism.
But there is more than one Paganism. There was a Paganism out of which we all came — the noble, civilized Paganism of Greece and Rome. There was the barbaric Paganism of the outer savage tribes, German, Slavonic and the rest. There is the degraded Paganism of Africa, the alien and despairing Paganism of Asia. Now since, from all of these, it has been found possible to draw men towards the universal Church, any new Paganism rejecting the Church now known would certainly be quite unlike the old Paganisms.
A man going uphill may be at the same level as another man going downhill; but they are facing different ways and have different destinies. Our world, passing out of the old Paganism of Greece and Rome towards the consummation of Christendom and a Catholic civilization from which we all derive, is the very negation of the same world leaving the light of its ancestral religion and sliding back into the dark.
Let us examine the Modern Attack — the anti-Christian advance — and distinguish its special nature.
We find, to begin with, that it is at once materialistic and superstitious. There is a huge 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 proceeding 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 byproduct of this state of mind. It nourishes on its surface the silly vagaries of spiritualism, 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…
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, 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 human reason. Such an attitude would seem again to be a contradiction in terms; for if you deny the value of the 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 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. But there is (as the greatest of the ancient Greeks discovered) certain indissoluble Trinity of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. You cannot deny or attack one of these three without at the same time denying or attacking both the others. Therefore with the advance of this new and terrible enemy against the Faith and all that civilization which the Faith produces, there is coming not only a contempt for beauty but a hatred of it; and immediately upon the heels of this there appears a contempt and hatred for virtue.
The better dupes, the less vicious converts to the enemy, talk vaguely of "a readjustment, a new world, a new order"; but they do not begin by telling us, as in common reason they should, upon what principles this new order is to be raised. They do not define the end they have in view.
Communism (which is only one manifestation, and probably a passing one, of this Modern Attack) professes to be directed towards a toward a certain good, to wit, the abolition of poverty. But it does not tell you why this should be 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.
"The Modern Attack" . . . it is not the rising of the proletariat against capital injustice and cruelty, it is something from without, some evil spirit taking advantage of men's distress and of their anger against unjust conditions. Now that thing is at our gates. Ultimately, of course, it is the fruit of the original break-up of Christendom at the Reformation. It began in the denial of a central authority, it has ended by telling man that he is sufficient to himself, and it has set up everywhere great idols to be worshiped as gods.
Such is the nature of the battle now engaged — and against such enemies the position
of the Catholic Church today seems weak indeed.
I shall next consider what the immediate results may be of this new great idolatry; and in the pages following discuss the main question of all: whether things point to the Church's becoming an isolated fortress defending itself against great odds, an ark in the midst of a rising flood which, though it does not sink the vessel, covers and destroys all else; or whether the Church shall perhaps be restored to something of her ancient power.
The Modern Attack on the Catholic Church, the most universal that she has suffered since her foundation, has so far progressed that it has already produced social, intellectual and moral forms which combined give it the savor of a religion.
Though this Modern Attack is not a heresy in the old sense of the word, nor a sort of synthesis of heresies having in common a hatred of Faith (such as the Protestant movement was), it is even more profound, and its consequences more devastating than any of these. It is essentially atheist, even when the atheism is not overtly predicted. It regards man as sufficient to himself, prayer as mere self-suggestion and — the fundamental point — God as no more than a figment of the imagination, an image of man's self thrown on the universe, a phantasm and no reality.
Among his many wise pronouncements, the reigning Pope [Pius XI] uttered one sentence, the profound judgment of which was most striking at the time and has been powerfully confirmed by events ever since. What he said was that whereas the denial of God had been confined in the past to a comparatively small number of intellectuals, that denial had now gained the multitude and was acting everywhere as a social force.
This is the modern enemy: this is that rising flood; the greatest and what may prove to be the final struggle between the Church and the world. We must judge it principally by its fruits which, though not yet mature, are already apparent. What are those fruits?
[C]ommunism is full slavery. It is the modern enemy working openly, undisguisedly, and at high pressure. Communism denies God, denies the dignity and therefore the freedom of the human soul, and openly enslaves men to what it calls "the State," but what is in practice a body of favored officials.
Under full Communism there would be no unemployment, just as there is no unemployment in a prison. Under full Communism there would be no distress or poverty, save where the masters of the nation chose to starve men or give them insufficient clothing, or in any other way oppress them. Communism worked honestly by officials devoid of human frailties and devoted to nothing but the good of its slaves, would have certain manifest material advantages as compared with a proletarian wage-system where millions live in semi-starvation, and many millions more in permanent dread thereof. But even if it were administered thus, Communism would only produce its benefits through imposing slavery.
These are the fruits of the Modern Attack on the social side, the first fruits appearing in the region of the social structure. We came, before the Church was founded, out of a pagan social system in which slavery was everywhere, in which the whole structure of society reposed upon the institution of Slavery. With the loss of the Faith we return to that institution again.
Next to the social fruit of the Modern Attack on the Catholic Church is the moral fruit, which extends of course over the whole moral nature of man. And throughout this field its business so far has been to undermine every form of restraint imposed by human experience acting through tradition.
I say, "so far," because in many parts of morals this rapid dissolution of the bonds must lead to a reaction; human society cannot co-exist with anarchy; new restraints and new customs will arise. Hence those who would point to the modern breakdown of sexual morals as the chief effect of the Modern Attack on the Catholic Church are probably in error; for it will not have the most permanent results. Some code, some set of morals, must, in the nature of things, arise; even if the old code is on this point destroyed. But there are other evil effects, which may prove more permanent.
Now to find out what these effects may be, we have a guide. We can consider how men of our blood carried on before the Church created Christendom. What we chiefly discover is this: that in the realm of morals one thing stands out, the unquestioned prevalence of cruelty in the unbaptized world. Cruelty will be the chief fruit in the moral field of the Modern Attack, just as the revival of slavery will be the chief fruit in the social field.
Here the critic may ask whether cruelty were not more the note of Christian men in the past than it is today. Is not all the history of our two thousand years a history of armed conflict, massacre, judicial tortures and horrible executions, the sack of towns, and all the rest of it?
The reply to this objection is that there is a capital distinction between cruelty exceptional, and cruelty the rule. When men apply cruel punishments, they depend on physical power to obtain effects, let loose violence in the passions of war, if all this is done in violation of their own accepted morals, it is one thing; if it is done as part of a whole mental attitude taken for granted, it is another.
Therein lies the radical distinction between this new, modern, cruelty and the sporadic cruelty of earlier Christian times. Not cruel vengeance, nor cruelty in excitement, nor cruelty in punishment against acknowledged evil, nor cruelty in repression of what admittedly must be repressed, is the fruit of an evil philosophy. Though such things are excesses or sins, they do not come from false doctrine. But the cruelty which accompanies the modern abandonment of our ancestral religion is a cruelty native to the Modern Attack; a cruelty which is part of its philosophy.
The proof lies in this: that men are not shocked at cruelty, but indifferent to it. The abominations of the revolution in Russia, extended to those in Spain, are an example in point. Not only did people on the spot receive the horror with indifference, but distant observers do so. There is no universal cry of indignation, there is no sufficient protest, because there is no longer in force the conception that man as man is something sacred. That same force which ignores human dignity also ignores human suffering.
I say again, the Modern Attack on the Faith will have in the moral field a thousand evil fruits, and of these many are apparent today, but the characteristic one, the one presumably the most permanent, is the institution everywhere of cruelty accompanied by a contempt for justice.
The last category of fruits by which we may judge the character of the Modern Attack consists of the fruits it bears in the field of the intelligence — what it does to human reason.
When the Modern Attack was gathering, a couple of lifetimes ago, while it was still confined to a small number of academic men, the first assault upon reason began. It seemed to make but little progress outside a restricted circle. The plain man and his common sense (which are the strongholds of reason) were not affected. Today they are. But reason today is everywhere decried. The ancient process of conviction by argument and proof is replaced by reiterated affirmation; and almost all the terms, which were the glory of reason, carry with them now an atmosphere of contempt...
So the words "God is Truth" which the mind of Christian Europe used as a postulate in all it did, cease to have meaning. None can analyze the rightful authority of government nor set bounds to it. In the absence of reason, political authority reposing on mere force is boundless. And reason is thus made a victim because humanity itself is what the Modern Attack is destroying in its false religion of humanity. Reason being the crown of man and at the same time his distinguishing mark, the Anarchists march against reason as their principal enemy.
So the Modern Attack develops and works. What does it presage for the future? That is the practical, the immediate question we all have to face. The attack is by this time sufficiently developed for us to make some calculation of what the next phase may be. What doom will fall on us? Or, again, by what good reaction shall we benefit? On that doubt I will conclude.
The Modern Attack is far more advanced than is generally appreciated. It is always so with great movements in the story of mankind. It is yet another case of a "time-lag." A power upon the eve of victory appears to be but half-way to its goal — even perhaps to be checked. A power in the full spring of its early energy appears to contemporaries to be a small precarious experiment.
The modern attack on the Faith has advanced so far that we can already affirm one all-important point quite clearly: one of two results must become definite throughout the modern world. Either the Catholic Church (now rapidly becoming the only place wherein the traditions of civilization are understood and defended) will be reduced by her modern enemies to political impotence, to numerical insignificance, and, so far as public appreciation goes, to silence; or the Catholic Church will, in this case as throughout the past, react more strongly against her enemies than her enemies have been able to react against her; she will recover and extend her authority, and rise once more to the leadership of civilization which she made, and will thus recover and restore the world.
In a word, either we of the Faith shall become a small persecuted, neglected island amid mankind, or we shall be able to lift at the end of the struggle to the old battle-cry: "Christus Imperat!" [Christ Rules!]