England: The Matrix has Had You for Five Centuries

The English Reformation was not a religious breakthrough but a cultural calamity, covered up by lickspittle propaganda and a civilizational brainwash job unparalleled in history.  It was a revolt by the rich against the poor and its victims were classic examples of Stockholm Syndrome.

And it marches on in the post-Protestant secular press of the Country that Used to be England, still as bitterly hostile to the Catholic Church as ever, but now contemptuous of Christ too.

Chesterton describes the process as it stood in his time (the 1920s).  It has slid far since he wrote:

looking back on older religious crises, I seem to see a certain coincidence, or rather, a set of things too coincident to be called a coincidence After all, when I come to think of it, all the other revolts against the Church, before the Revolution and especially since the Reformation, had told the same strange story. Every great heretic had always exhibited three remarkable characteristics in combination.  First, he picked out some mystical idea from the Church’s bundle or balance of mystical ideas.  Second, he used that one mystical idea against all the other mystical ideas. Third (and most singular), he seems generally to have had no notion that his own favourite mystical idea was a mystical idea, at least in the sense of a mysterious or dubious or dogmatic idea. With a queer uncanny innocence, he seems always to have taken this one thing for granted.  He assumed it to be unassailable, even when he was using it to assail all sorts of similar things. The most popular and obvious example is the Bible.  To an impartial pagan or sceptical observer, it must always seem the strangest story in the world; that men rushing in to wreck a temple, overturning the altar and driving out the priest, found there certain sacred volumes inscribed “Psalms” or “Gospels”; and (instead of throwing them on the fire with the rest) began to use them as infallible oracles rebuking all the other arrangements.  If the sacred high altar was all wrong, why were the secondary sacred documents necessarily all right? If the priest had faked his Sacraments, why could he not have faked his Scriptures?  Yet it was long before it even occurred to those who brandished this one piece of Church furniture to break up all the other Church furniture that anybody could be so profane as to examine this one fragment of furniture itself. People were quite surprised, and in some parts of the world are still surprised, that anybody should dare to do so.

Again, the Calvinists took the Catholic idea of the absolute knowledge and power of God; and treated it as a rocky irreducible truism so solid that anything could be built on it, however crushing or cruel. They were so confident in their logic, and its one first principle of predestination, that they tortured the intellect and imagination with dreadful deductions about God, that seemed to turn Him into a demon. But it never seems to have struck them that somebody might suddenly say that he did not believe in the demon.  They were quite surprised when people called “infidels” here and there began to say it. They had assumed the Divine foreknowledge as so fixed, that it must, if necessary, fulfil itself by destroying the Divine mercy. They never thought anybody would deny the knowledge exactly as they denied the mercy.  Then came Wesley and the reaction against Calvinism; and Evangelicals seized on the very Catholic idea that mankind has a sense of sin; and they wandered about offering everybody release from his mysterious burden of sin. It is a proverb, and almost a joke, that they address a stranger in the street and offer to relax his secret agony of sin. But it seldom seemed to strike them, until much later, that the man in the street might possibly answer that he did not want to be saved from sin, any more than from spotted fever or St. Vitus’s Dance; because these things were not in fact causing him any suffering at all.  They, in their turn, were quite surprised when the result of Rousseau and the revolutionary optimism began to express itself in men claiming a purely human happiness and dignity; a contentment with the comradeship of their kind; ending with the happy yawp of Whitman that he would not “lie awake and weep for his sins.”

Now the plain truth is that Shelley and Whitman and the revolutionary optimists were themselves doing exactly the same thing all over again. They also, though less consciously because of the chaos of their times, had really taken out of the old Catholic tradition one particular transcendental idea; the idea that there is a spiritual dignity in man as man, and a universal duty to love men as men.  And they acted in exactly the same extraordinary fashion as their prototypes, the Wesleyans and the Calvinists.  They took it for granted that this spiritual idea was absolutely self-evident like the sun and moon; that nobody could ever destroy that, though in the name of it they destroyed everything else.  They perpetually hammered away at their human divinity and human dignity, and inevitable love for all human beings; as if these things were naked natural facts. And now they are quite surprised when new and restless realists suddenly explode, and begin to say that a pork-butcher with red whiskers and a wart on his nose does not strike them as particularly divine or dignified, that they are not conscious of the smallest sincere impulse to love him, that they could not love him if they tried, or that they do not recognize any particular obligation to try.

It might appear that the process has come to an end, and that there is nothing more for the naked realist to shed.  But it is not so; and the process can still go on.  There are still traditional charities to which men cling.  There are still traditional charities for them to fling away when they find they are only traditional. Everybody must have noticed in the most modern writers the survival of a rather painful sort of pity.  They no longer honour all men, like St. Paul and the other mystical democrats.  It would hardly be too much to say that they despise all men; often (to do them justice) including themselves.  But they do in a manner pity all men, and particularly those that are pitiable; by this time they extend the feeling almost disproportionately to the other animals. This compassion for men is also tainted with its historical connection with Christian charity; and even in the case of animals, with the example of many Christian saints.  There is nothing to show that a new revulsion from such sentimental religions will not free men even from the obligation of pitying the pain of the world. Not only Nietzsche, but many Neo-Pagans working on his lines, have suggested such hardness as a higher intellectual purity. And having read many modern poems about the Man of the Future, made of steel and illumined with nothing warmer than green fire, I have no difficulty in imagining a literature that should pride itself on a merciless and metallic detachment.  Then, perhaps, it might be faintly conjectured that the last of the Christian virtues had died. But so long as they lived they were Christian.

And that, children, is where Hitler, Stalin, Mao, postmodern “Sure Abortion is Murder, So What?” agitprop–and Republican Intellectual Leading Light Ayn Rand–came from.

For further reading:  The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580

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Chesterton: A Spirit of Vatican II Bibliography
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  • S. Quinn

    Thank you especially for the Chesterton, and also for the link. The comments under Duffy’s article are extremely frightening in their bigotry and ignorance, and display in all their chilling blindness the very thing you and the article desribe. The comment about the “old pope handing out annulments like they were Smarties” but just refusing to do it in Henry’s case; the ones about ” what’s a few broken stained glass windows” if they liberated the English from “oppression” (!), or about how England would have been as poor as Ireland if it had stayed Catholic (followed by a denial that the vicious anti-Catholic laws the Brits imposed on the Irish CAUSED the poverty), not to mention the abysmally ignorant comments about the Church and science (how is it that. 99% of people get the Galileo story so wrong?) ……….well, it seems many of the English are the Pantileone character in the Matrix: they don’t care if it isn’t steak ; blindness is better than truth or reality.

    • Richard M

      If what was done to Fisher, More, the Carthusian Martyrs, or the many laypeople of the Pilgrimage of Grace was not “oppression,” I wonder what *is*.

      But the Whig historians always managed to avoid such uncomfortable topics. Or distort them.

      • Beccolina

        St. Margaret Clitherow–crushed to death while pregnant for refusing to stop hiding priests. But what oppression by the CofE?

        • Tom R (Australia)

          And yet, if Jews start worrying about anti-Semitism recurring among Christians, Catholics (well, the non-Trads anyway) will shake their heads in wonderment: “For heavens’ sake, Jews, it’s a whole five decades since Vatican II removed ‘perfidious’ from the liturgy and the Popes declared hatred of Jews to be a sin! Can’t you people just move on?!”

          This double standard is common among many religions (our martyrs’ suffering feels like only yesterday; but your martyrs suffered centuries ago, in lands far away, and under people who may share a sectarian label with me but who have nothing to do with the TRUE teachings of the One True Sect to which I belong…”), but Catholics seem particularly prone to it, perhaps because of the prominent role of saints and martyrs as intercessors in Catholic theology: whereas, say, Protestants won’t be praying to Graham Staines http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Staines 500 years from now. Thus Foxe’s Book of Martyrs gets called “tired old sixteenth-century propaganda” by Catholics who know chapter and verse (so to speak) of which Christians were martyred fourteen centuries before that by the pagan Romans for praying before statues or whatever the reason was the pagan Romans used to martyr the early Christians.

          • Tom R (Australia)

            The equivalent Protestant double standard, at least in the US, revolves more around race than religion. Hence (a) “Here, read the writings of John Locke and James Madison denouncing the absolutist kings of England – these timeless truths are as relevant as ever today and we ignore them at our peril!” vs (b) “Sheesh, African-Americans, a whole six decades have gone by since the Southern States stopped practising Jim Crow and winking at lynchings. The moment the federal government made a law saying that racial discrimination was illegal, we started complying immediately. Time to move on!!”.

          • Ronk

            Oh come on now, take note fo the facts. Anti-semitism occurred among Catholics (though much less so than among ANY other religion) and was never dictated from the top but arose as an aberration from the ill-educated gutter dwellers. There was a reason that for 1900 years the majority of the world’s wandering Jews CHOSE to make their homes in Catholic-majority countries. In fact a lot of Catholic anti-semitism was a way of attacking the Pope who was the traditional protector of the Jews. For the last several centuries at least, the vast majority of the world’s anti-semitism has come from Moslems and atheists.
            In contrast the persecution of both Catholics and Jews among Protestant-ruled countries was dictated from the top and implemented in obedience to the protestant bosses.
            Under every Pope since St Peter, the Catholic Church has continuously declared hatred of Jews or anyone else to be a sin, and has NEVER taught that hatred of Jews is not a sin. The word “perfidious” was (unfortunately in my opinion) removed from the Good Friday prayer (which by the way is a prayer to God FOR THE JEWS) because in English and other languages it had come over recent centuries to acquire a somewhat pejorative meaning which affected the way some people viewed the word in the Latin liturgy (even though Latin is in theory an unchanging language) which referes simply to teh fact that the majority of the Jews of the first century did not recognise the Messiah when He came (though a very large minority did).

  • Scott W.

    Distracting tu quoque in 3…2…1…

    • Scott W.

      My timing was off, but my prediction right. Scroll down.

  • bob

    Stripping The Altars is a chilling read. What a terrifying time to have lived in England. The only safe thing a person could say was “I believe what the king believes”, whatever that was in a given week.

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov


    The secular god to rule us
    Not on a throne, in a wheelchair,
    Not numinous, not luminous
    Just there

    There to control the thoughts
    Of the lesser, of the base,
    In world of ones and naughts
    He sits God’s place

    He comes, he says, of the random
    Then he by a chance would be
    The ruler of all kingdoms
    Just he

    For he counts what is fitting and good,
    It is what the god desires,
    And how the submissive should
    Approach his cold fires

    April 18, 2013

  • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

    I just wrote a post on my blog wondering if this can be applied to modern atheism as well. They really to borrow mystical ideas from Christianity and don’t seem to know they are mystical ideas or where they got them. Yet they use these ideas like “causing suffering is evil” to defeat the most basic mystical idea that God exists. Oddly enough using the bible to prove God does evil and therefore does not exist.

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    “Oddly enough using the bible to prove God does evil and therefore does not exist.”

    Well, one could say that God exists and He is a bastard if He wants to be, and what have you to say about it. But I think that the truth is this: We know nothing about His purposes except that His creation is inexpressibly beautiful, even the baffling parts of it – which for us is most of it – and that our destiny is to be His in heaven in peace and joy throughout all eternity.


    On the surface, on the very edge
    The upturned top of what is very deep,
    Of what we cannot see and cannot judge
    Although we sight the depth of it in sleep

    Like Jesus bugs, the insects of the pond,
    The eddy of a slowly moving stream,
    Rowing on the surface they go on -
    We move across the surfaces of dreams

    Remember Jesus walking on the sea,
    How miracles are taken as a sign,
    And how the twelve disciples could not see
    The depths beneath His feet, the great design

    April 16, 2013

    • Kathleen Lundquist

      Pavel, in case no one’s told you lately: Your poetry (in general, and this one in particular) is awesome. Thank you so much, whenever you post it.

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    The existence of God is not a mystical idea. It is a perception.

  • Benjamin

    Anglicans/Episcopalians tend to have better music in their services than Catholics, though.

    *ducks quickly*

    • Dustin

      Practically speaking, compared to the music you’ll hear in the average American parish, you won’t get much disagreement. One could argue that Protestants have a liturgical leg-up on us because they’ve been vernacularized for a few hundred more years than Catholics have (just my pet theory.)

      Here’s some lovely Anglican chant, Psalm 121: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkIrg0SDSoQ

    • Richard M

      That’s why we’re working on building the Ordinariates, Ben.

      Even so, ten years from now they’ll likely still have better music on average. But the Episcopal Church by that point will be reduced to a boutique high church urban gay universalist denomination, with an ASA of well under 100,000 attending a handful of old but pretty city churches. A sad fate for the church of George Washington and Robert E. Lee.

      • Matthew

        I would suggest picking up a copy of “Why Catholics Can’t Sing” by Thomas Day. An excellent commentary on the state of things (althought that is changing) and he largely agrees with you.

  • Benjamin

    Seriously, though, Henry VIII was a d**k and Anglicanism is a political compromose, not really a religion, and one whose time has long expired. I say this as someone who was raised Episcopalian.

  • sibyl

    I’ve been pursuing a desultory course of reading on the English Reformation. May I strongly recommend Hilaire Belloc’s book (cannot remember the exact name, but I got it for free on my Kindle).

    What still astonishes me, though, is the lack of general outrage by the people at the time — the general shrug of the overall shoulders. Of course, there were several rebellions as things progressed from Henry through Elizabeth to James, but not as many as you’d think. Belloc makes the good point that the sacking of the monasteries effectively silenced most of the aristocracy, who were the beneficiaries of huge tracts of fertile lands and therefore in no position to protest as one item after another of the Church’s life was thrown out.

    What also astonishes me is the English monarchy’s resistance, until quite recently, of divorce, when the whole thing was founded by a several-times-divorced king and his cronies.

  • Mark R

    To give credit where due, Anglicanism, for a time, afforded to ordinary people the riches of scripture married to some aspects of Catholic tradition…I often wonder if the would have been deprived had they remained Catholic judging from the poor examples we ordinary Catholics set in countries resisting the Reformation.. H. Froude was right in his assesment that the Reformation was a poor reset of a broken limb.and as it remains, Anglicanism is a total disaster…including the wing which likes to pretend that it restored the Church to its, largely, pre-Reformation praxis. It is all just pretend, though their hearts seem to be in the right place. We Catholics have nothing to gloat about…given the confusion of the past several decades and the utterly dismal parochial structure which we are stuck with, at least as far as I know of in N. America. “Grin and bear” it seems to be the attitude to maintain a balance of serious attention to the Faith and Sanity, but we Catholics are not supposed to be stoics. Shrug.

  • Clare Krishan

    I haven’t the time to read all the fake dugeon on perceived misdemeanors, just want to give you a taste of Divine Mercy’s creativity in one of the places with priest holes we visited as children growing up Catholic in the UK:
    “The Small Chapel decorated about 1600 with red and white drops for the blood and water of the Passion”
    made to look like wallpaper in case suspicions were aroused.
    and related, the history of the Thames Valley Papists including the press at Stonor and the Lyford Grange Agnus Dei here

  • Clare Krishan

    URLs mean post held for moderator’s consideration? Pls advise.

  • Half Heathen

    This post is nothing but rank anti-Angloism.

  • Tom R

    I hold no brief for the Tudors, who persecuted genuine Protestants as harshly as they persecuted Catholics, but,… seriously? “A Man For All Seasons”, which has joined the secular canon along with “Inherit the Wind”, whitewashes Thomas More into Atticus Finch. I mean, seriously, guys, do you really want to get into a game of theologico-historical snap where the Catholics put down Henry VIII and the Protestants respond with the Borgias? Do you really want to put England up against Spain or France for religious toleration? Are you arguing that Foxe (who, incidentally, interceded for the life of Edmund Campion) invented or exaggerated his examples of Catholic persecution, or are you saying it’s a hatefact? Keeping in mind that for impartial observers, atrocities by Catholics discredit the Catholic Church just as much as atrocities by Protestants discredit the Reformation, since they’re not pre-committed as an article of faith to “the Catholic Church must have been established by God to have survived so many wicked popes, priests and bishops”.
    As for Ireland – yes, religious intolerance exacerbated the racial/ colonial divide, but didn’t create it. England was exploiting Ireland centuries before the Reformation: it was a Pope who first gave the London “permission” to conquer Hibernia. Plenty of prominent Irish nationalist leaders (eg, Wolf Tone) were Protestants and saw no inconsistency between “faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, the Bible alone” on one hand, and opposing English imperialism on the other.
    So the lesson is that history on Planet Earth is more complicated than it is on Pizarro World [*] a.k.a Planet Chesterton.
    [*] That happy alternative universe, often and lovingly referenced in the Catholic blogosphere, where whites’ enslavement of dark-skinned races was solely the result of Protestants following “sola Scriptura”, and where Bartolomé de las Casas or King Leopold of the Belgians never existed.

    • Scott W.

      I see the tu quoque showed up late, but showed up nonetheless.

      • Tom R

        If you are going to make a choice between two alternatives, you need to compare them point for point. Jennifer Fulwiller-style lists of “Eight Things That Really Rock About Catholicism” or “Eleven Things That Suck About Being Protestant” don’t have much probative value. Comparing the idealised myth of one side with the grubby reality with the other is a recognised fallacy.
        So is “tu quoque”, but properly understood that particularly fallacy is committed when one side is arguing (say) “The nuclear arms race is bad! From now on, let’s all stop doing it!” and the other side scores a point by replying “Nyah, nyah, you’ve been guilty of stockpiling nuclear weapons too.” “Tu quoque” is not committed when one side wails “Woe is us! Why, oh, why, is every man’s hand against us? Why do we so constantly suffer discrimination and persecution for no reason?” because then it is a perfectly rational reply to say “Uh, guys, because whenever your side’s had the upper hand you’ve done quite a lot of persecuting and discriminating yourselves, you know.” (To be fair, Catholicism is a minor-league player at this compared to Islam and Communism.)

        • Tom R

          That should have read in full “Uh, guys, because whenever your side’s had the upper hand you’ve done quite a lot of persecuting and discriminating yourselves, you know, so we really don’t want you getting the upper hand ever again.” I’m not advocating punishing today’s individual members of the group because of the sins of their predecessors, but rather being open-eyed about who you vote for to govern your society. So, for example, the notion, not uncommonly put about on C&EI, that (say) the 13th or 14th-century English state would have been more solicitous of religious freedom than the Obama Administration is (“Sorry, Your Majesty, but our village is solidly Waldensian and we do not want statues of saints in our parish church because worshipping using graven images goes against our consciences…”) needs to be, as they say, interrogated.

    • Harry Piper

      He is being polemical but the points he makes are fair. Even though his dig at Chesterton is a bit much, it can hardly be denied that you will not find strenuously well-researched history in his enjoyable polemics, however else wise they may be.
      To Tom R, I think Catholics are annoyed by the commonly-held presentation of the Reformation in England as a joyous rebellion of the People against a corrupt Church rather than a top-down implementation of a do-it-yourself faith that was created entirely on the basis of Henry VIII’s desire for an heir.

      • Tom R

        Harry, fair point. Didn’t Froude (a Protestant) say that universal suffrage at any time before the Armada would have voted for a return to the Pope? I may have missed something but I don’t know that the Reformation’s supporters do appeal all that much to having popular majorities on their side, as alleged by the critics of “Whig History” (the most famous of these critics being of course Hillaire Belloc, who sat as a Member of Parliament for the, uh, Whig Party). As Bertrand Russell noted, “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” is a text that particularly appeals to Protestants. Moreover, the Biblical precedents they cited for the stripping of the altars generally involve leaders like Moses, Hezekiah, and Josiah realising that forbidden idolatry was widespread throughout Israel and taking stern action to deal with it, oblivious to the plaintive objections of any Canaanite Eamon Duffys. Truth to them did not depend upon numbers, nor doctrines on majority vote.
        As for the passage from Chesterton Mark likes to quote… This is the same GK Chesterton who also wrote “You cannot put a book in the witness-box and ask it what it really means”; but since The Thing is classed as a “tract” or “pamphlet” rather than a “book” proper, this means that readers a century later do have a hope of understanding what its author was saying, even without a divinely-appointed interpreter. Where to begin? “The truth is a fine balance between A and Z so that if you take away Z as contradictory to A, you muck everything up” is one approach to epistemology. “How long halt ye between two stools?” and the Law of Non-Contradiction are an alternative approach. His complaint that the Protestants kept the scriptures but abolished the priests and sacraments is only self-contradictory if one assumes that the priests are the source of the scriptures. If, on the other hand, one can imagine the owner of a vineyard appointing stewards and giving them instructions, but then the stewards (appointed by the owner himself) ignore the instructions he left while simultaneously inventing novel rules of their own, then it would make perfect sense for the one wise steward to disregard the foolish ten stewards, following the master’s instructions while cleansing the vineyard of alien intrusions. Finally, it’s a rather odd complaint for Chesterton to make given that Catholics answer Protestant charges “you’ve been corrupted by pagan polytheism” by replying “Just because we copy wise and good things here and there from the better parts of paganism doesn’t mean we have to go overboard and adopt it in toto.” This way, the Pope can keep the title “Pontifex Maximus” but get rid of the sacred geese; yet didn’t they both originate with the priests of Jupiter?

  • Mark R

    Had there been no Eng. Reformation, there would have been no Chesterton. He was the product of the mixed upwardly mobile/class system which picked up steam after the Ref. His family was upper Middle, a la Forsyte Saga, one can say his upbringing was close to that provided by Jolyon, but without the infidelity. He went to a posh school, the Chestertons still have the most posh real estate co. I f anyone benefited from the Eng. Ref. it was he. Not that it should be held against him…I think it a paradoxical outcome.

  • Tom R

    Other Catholic races don’t come off all that well in GKC’s writings. The Irish tend to be depicted as sentimental drunkards while Italians are described on several occasions as being “pagan” (eg, “The Sins of Prince Saradine”). The French are cold rationalists ruled by brute logic (admittedly these tend to be anti-Clericals – but not even GKC can pin the blame for the Revolution on Henry VIII’s desire for an heir). Chesterton intensely wanted to be English and he intensely wanted to be Catholic, and he deployed his immense literary talents to trying to make the twain meet.

    • JoFro

      I believe he was quite successful then :D

  • Tom R

    Interesting that the absolutist monarchs of England either wanted a very high-church version of Anglicanism (Henry VIII, Charles I, and James “No bishop, no king” I) or else went all the way to Catholicism. Elizabeth is the only one, apart from the short-lived Edward, who could be described as doctrinally Protestant in any meaningful way (ie, not in the Catholic blogospheric sense of “everyone from Easter Orthodox to Sedevacantists to Anglo-Catholics to Mormons”) and she was no keener than the others on abolishing episcopacy.
    It is an understandable error for Catholics to see “Protestantism” as a top-down push by the monarchy to suit Henry VIII’s agenda (it glosses over Tyndale and others who gave their lives for the principles the low-church reformers later carried, but hey, this is the Catholic blogosphere, where “hagiography” is a good thing) because it began from that direction when the main obstacle to royal absolutism – the only large bloc of literate subjects – were the abbeys. However, within a century or two, with literacy more widespread, the bulk of the populace were (sorry, GKC) solidly Protestant and far from being a “Protestantising” influence, the monarchy was now a “Catholicising” one. Hence 1641 and 1688. Speaking of which, and back to the topic of Protestant English racism against the Catholic Irish, a mintie for anyone here who can tell me which side the Pope supported at the Battle of the Boyne?