With the HHS Mandate, Belloc’s Heresy “The Modern Phase” Has Arrived UPDATED

Image Credit: Ted Schluenderfritz.

A couple of years ago, when I was boring folks with YIMCatholic Book Club posts, we tackled Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies. We started it around the time school was out in the Summer of 2010, beginning with the Introduction. We followed along for six weeks as Belloc made his way through all the big heresies you’ve heard of, but didn’t know diddly squat about. First, we learned the plan of the book, and then we dug into the following heresies in succession: Arianism; Islam; Albegensianism; and Protestantism. And what was the last selection? Funny you should ask.

You see, my friend Deacon Scott Dodge posted a story that I saw from the Catholic Herald regarding the lawsuits that have been filed recently . Basically it was just a recap of everything you already know, with the possible exception of this,

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary to the Department of Health and Human Services, who is pushing forward the mandate, describes herself as a Catholic. In reality, she is “modern woman”, just as Barack Obama himself is “modern man” – part of a powerful cohort today, largely in the West, who has no fixed principles of any kind, except for the fixed principle that all morality is simply a matter of individual rights and choices; and that these rights must trump all other rights, especially those hallowed by traditional religious beliefs. For such people, truth is simply a matter of one’s personal feelings and preferences; and “Christianity”, as they see it (and as Obama has invoked it recently), can be reinterpreted and moulded to accommodate whatever flawed and a-historical zeitgeist happens to be dominant.

It will be interesting to see what happens in this case, when the irresistible force of modern, democratic “rights” meets the immovable object of the Catholic Church.

Modern Woman and Modern Man? Absolutely. If these sound like archetypes from a bad science fiction movie of Orwellian proportions, let me share with you some nuggets from the prophet Hiliare (pronounced “Hillary”) Belloc’s final chapter. Pray tell what’s the name of the last heresy that the Church must face and defeat? He called it  The Modern Phase.

In every chapter of the book, Belloc threw heaps and heaps of history at us.  It really was 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  additional 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, see. But he’s quite parsimonious with the footnotes. Indeed, there are practically none.

But the last chapter didn’t find me caught completely 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? Though from the looks of that quote in your photograph above, we all need some immersion training in Catholicism. Because the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and there’s a sour taste in my mouth nowadays. But perhaps the Administration is really just trying to help people after all. What say you, Hilaire?

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, see,  he would know we now have a new name for this attack. We call it the Culture of Death. Take a look at Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, written in 1995 for a refresher. And the Church knows plenty more about the threats of Modernism too. And then there were Cardinal Ratzinger’s thoughts. Those three links not enough to convince you? Okey-dokey. How about some more Belloc then?

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 from way back in the Summer of 2010, after President Modern Man mentions prayer in his national press conference on the B.P. oil disaster.  “Freaky talk” indeed. Hell hath no fury like a modern man scorned. No wonder the POTUS has since changed his stance on same-sex marriage.

I could go on quoting passages of Belloc here for hours. Heck, if we were reliving this in 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 in the fight against this last heresy?

Surely you know that I believe there is, even though I may not live to see the ending. The Administration’s HHS Mandate aggression is obviously a part of this conflict, and I’ve been a combatant in the struggle since day one. Remember the petition we planted in the President’s front yard? That got their attention. Will this struggle end in Armageddon? Yes, of sorts. But not for the Church.

Many who now ally themselves with the Catholic Church never thought they ever would. Many other Christians, not in full communion with the Church, have joined us in this fight now.  Especially now that they realize they are in the cross-hairs too. ‘We are all Catholics now,” is being said by more and more folks nowadays. Perhaps the government carries the day in a pyrrhic victory that leaves them winning the battle, but losing the war. I have no idea. Maybe the Church will become extremely small and inconsequential as a result. It makes no difference to me. Either way, see, I intend to stay the course with the pilgrim Church, and her *cough* “pugnacious”  (see Maureen Dowd’s description of  Cardinal Dolan) leaders.

Because Modern Woman and Modern Man are nothing new, and the paths they walk are well worn. Where they lead, I don’t intend to go, neither in this election cycle, or any other that follows.

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 are available on the handy YIM Catholic Bookshelf. One of these days soon, I need to read them. In the meantime, how about a nice glass of De Belloc bordeaux?

UPDATE: More on that portrait of Belloc from the top of the post.

  • http://www.bedlamorparnassus.blogspot.com Magister Christianus

    Frank, is “the Great Heresies” available as a free e-book? I can’t seem to find it on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

    • Frank Weathers
      • http://www.bedlamorparnassus.blogspot.com Magister Christianus

        Thanks, Frank! Got it…looking forward to reading.

  • http://4freedoms.ning.com/profile/Kinana Kinana

    Thanks for the exposure to Belloc. I should read more of him. I am amazed that he wrote this in 1936:

    ‘These things being so [the declining power of Islam during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries], the recrudescence of Islam, the possibility of that terror under which we lived for centuries reappearing, and of our civilization again fighting for its life against what was its chief enemy for a thousand years, seems fantastic. Who in the Mohammedan world today can manufacture and maintain the complicated instruments of modern war?
    ‘Where is the political machinery whereby the religion of Islam can play an equal part in the modern world?
    ‘I say the suggestion that Islam may re-arise sounds fantastic but this is only because men are always powerfully affected by the immediate past: one might say that they are blinded by it.’

    The terror has returned, the fight resumes, and the outcome undecided.

  • http://www.thewordinc.org Kevin O’Brien

    Frank, I do a one-man show in which I portray Hilaire Belloc, and the bulk of it is me delivering a lecture culled from “The Great Heresies” – which means that I have memorized large portions of this masterpiece.

    It is indeed a prophetic book. Not only does Belloc predict the resurgence of Islam, as noted above, but he also predicts that the hallmark of morality for “Modern Man” will be cruelty. We think of ourselves as enlightened and “nice”, but abortion and euthenasia and genocides (“eugenics”) – all of which are not only practised but endorsed and fought for these days – are an indication of the devotion to the god of cruelty that springs up from beneath the surface of the bland exterior of “Modern Man”.

    For those in the St. Louis area, I will be performing “The Great Heresie” as Belloc Aug. 19 at the Credo of the Catholic Laity Dinner. See http://credostlouis.org/2012/01/10/2012-credo-forums/

    • Frank Weathers

      I’d love to see that show, Kevin. :)

  • http://www.thecatholicbeat.com Gail Finke

    I have that book! Gonna pull it off the shelf right now, where it has languished in the “to be read” area since I read his scary chapter on Islam. I love this: “… 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.” Isn’t that the case? You cannot argue with these folks because they contradict themselves all the time. The only thing that matters to them is that they say something, they don’t care whether they just said the opposite. If you really want to be depressed, read de Lubac’s “The Drama of Atheist Humanism” — Belloc is hardly the only person to have noticed this stuff. It’s tough going, but SO spot on. I was depressed for days after I finished it, because I found so much of what he was talking about in my own thinking. Like Belloc says about Catholicism, atheist humanism or “modern man” or whatever you call it is in the air, you live and breathe it.

    • http://www.thecatholicbeat.com Gail Finke

      Guess I should mention that I am not depressed by it anymore! I take it as a challenge, and a life or death one at that.


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