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. [Read more…]
On Fame, from This And That and the Other
Fame is that repute among men which gives us pleasure. It needs much repetition, but also that repetition honorable. Of all things desired Fame least fulfills the desire for it; for if Fame is to be very great a man must be dead before it is more than a shoot; he therefore has not the enjoyment of it (as it would seem).
Again, Fame while a man lives is always tarnished by falsehood; for since few can observe him, and less know him, he must have Fame for work which he does not do and forego Fame for work which he knows deserves it.
Fame has no proper ending to it, when it is first begun, as have things belonging to other appetites, nor is any man satiated with it at any time. Upon the contrary, the hunger after it will lead a man forward madly always to some sort of disaster, whether of disappointment in the soul, or of open dishonor.
Fame is not to be despised or trodden under as a thing not to be sought, for no man is free of the desire of it, nor can any man believe that desire to be an imperfection in him unless he desire at the same time something greater than Fame, and even then there is a flavor of Fame certain to attach to his achievement in the greater thing. No one can say of Fame, “I contemn it;” as a man can say of titles, “I contemn them.” Nor can any man say of the love of Fame, “This is a thing I should cast from me as evil,” as a man may say of lust when it is inordinate, that is, out of place. Nor can any man say of Fame, “It is a little thing,” for if he says that he is less or more than a man.
The love of Fame is the mobile of all great work in which also man is in the image of God, who not only created but took pleasure in what he did and, as we know, is satisfied by praise thereof.
In what way, then, shall men treat Fame? How shall they seek it, or hope to use it if obtained? To these questions it is best answered that a man should have for Fame a natural appetite, not forced nor curiously entertained; it must be present in him if he would do noble things. Yet if he makes the Fame of those things, and not those things themselves his chief business, then not only will he pursue Fame to his hurt, but also Fame will miss him. Though he should not disregard it yet he must not pursue it to himself too much, but he will rightly make of it in difficult times a great consolation.
When Fame comes upon a man well before death then must he most particularly beware of it, for is it then most dangerous. Neither must he, having achieved it, relax effort nor (a much greater peril) think he has done his work because some Fame now attaches thereto.
Some say that after a man has died the spreading of his earthly Fame is still a pleasure to him among greater scenes: but this is doubtful. One thing is certain, Fame is enjoyable in good things accomplished; bitter, noisome and poisonous in all other things—whether it be the Fame of things thought to be accomplished but not accomplished, or Fame got by accident, or Fame for evil things concealed because they are evil.
The judgment of Fame is this: That many men having done great things of a good sort have not Fame. And that many men have Fame who have done but little things and most of them evil. The virtue of Fame is that it nourishes endeavor. The peril of Fame is that it leads men towards itself, and therefore into inanities and sheer loss. But Fame has a fruit, which is a sort of satisfaction coming from our communion with mankind.
|The elderly Belloc|
They that believe they deserve Fame though they lack it may be consoled in this: that soon they shall be concerned with much more lasting things, and things more immediate and more true: just as a man who misses some entertainment at a show will console himself if he knows that shortly he shall meet his love. They that have Fame may correct its extravagances by the same token: remembering that shortly they will be so occupied that this earthly Fame of theirs will seem a toy.
Old men know this well.
Bonus time! Thoughts on Fame by another British fellow. Sorry, but I can’t help myself. Note both artist’s names start with a “B.”
“Why should we suffer? Why should we die?”
Ah, the eternal question. And in this chapter “The Albigensian Attack“, Belloc gets to the heart of the matter of why the Incarnation came about, Christianity was founded, and why the Catholic Church exists. Because as we know, we are mere human beings. We die. And since the beginning, mankind has wanted to know “why?”
And in this chapter, Belloc synthesizes the ideas that we have formed in an attempt to come to terms with this truth. He touches on Manicheanism, Stoicism, and heck, even Buddism. For example he writes,
Various ways out of the torturing enigma have been proposed. The simplest and basest is not to face it at all…another way less base, but equally contemptible intellectually, is to say there is no problem because we are all part of a meaningless dead thing with no creative God behind it… another nobler way, which was the favourite way of the high pagan civilization from which we sprang, the way of the great Romans and the great Greeks, is the way of Stoicism. This might vulgarly be termed “The philosophy of grin-and-bear-it”… another way is the profound but despairing way of Asia, of which the greatest example is Buddhism: the philosophy which calls the individual an illusion, bids us get rid of the desire for immortality and look forward to being merged in the impersonal life of the universe. What the Catholic solution is we all know.
Or hopefully you do. If you didn’t before reading this chapter, you know now. A lot of ground is covered here. Heck, you might want to let your children read this chapter so they will understand what all the fuss is about regarding being a practicing Catholic. What’s the deal? Well,
|Shaw, Belloc, And Chesterton|
the Catholic Church has on this particular problem a very definite answer within the field of her own action. She says, first, that man’s nature is immortal, and made for beatitude; next, that mortality and pain are the result of his Fall, that is, of his rebellion against the will of God. She says that since the fall our mortal life is an ordeal or test, according to our behavior, in which we regain (but through the merits of our Savior) that immortal beatitude which we had lost.
And then he proceeds to discuss and explain the various manifestations of this particular heresy. First up is Manicheanism. Have you ever seen Star Wars and it’s various sequels and prequels? May the Force be with you? The Dark Side of the Force and the good side? Now you know where George Lucas got that idea. Remember in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda is training the young Jedi(the Good Side) Luke Skywalker and he punches Luke in the shoulder and says “not this crude matter” referring to his human body? Hmmm, sounds like,
But one thing the Manichean of every shade has always felt, and that is, that “matter” belongs to the evil side of things. Though there may be plenty of evil of a spiritual kind yet good must be “wholly” spiritual.
You’ve probably heard, or maybe even experienced, Christianity of some stripe that treats matter and the human body like this. Not to mention any other religions out there, or new age thinking, that does the same. I know I’ve bumped into people who have said exactly what Belloc says when he describes the human body and its characteristics as follows:
That is something you find not only in the early Manichean, not only in the Albigensian of the Middle Ages, but even in the most modern of the remaining Puritans. It seems indissolubly connected with the Manichean temper in every form. Matter is subject to decay and is therefore evil. Our bodies are evil. Their appetites are evil. This idea ramifies into all sorts of absurd details. Wine is evil. Pretty well any physical pleasure, or half-physical pleasure, is evil. Joy is evil. Beauty is evil. Amusements are evil, and so on. Anyone who will read the details of the Albigensian story will be struck over and over again by the singularly modern attitude of these ancient heretics, because they had the same root as the Puritans who still, unhappily, survive among us.
I’m glad I’m a Catholic now because finally the world makes some sense! And I’m glad I’m a Marine too, because there is a lot of warfare in this chapter. But before I continue, I’m going to hand the reins over to Jason, one of our YIMC Book Club volunteers has these words to say about this chapter:
The Albigensian heresy today is also known as the Cathar heresy. Belloc points out that this heresy is actually a form of Manicheanism. Belloc connects the rise of the Albigensian/Cathar heresy as an attempt of answering the “the problem of evil”. Why are there evil, suffering, and death?
Atheists propose the solution that there is no God. Stoics grin and bear it. Buddists claim individual existence is an illusion.
The Albigensians/Cathars resorted to dualism, that is that God is good but not omnipotent. And that goodness is opposed by evil that was equally as powerful. God the Father is no more powerful than Satan. Furthermore, all matter (being subject to decay) was of evil and good was only spiritual.
The conclusions based on that claim are far-reaching. If matter is evil and God is good, then Jesus could not have been human (no Incarnation), could not have suffered, and was not resurrected. If matter is evil, then the sacraments are false being present in matter. How can Jesus be present in evil matter? Thus no Eucharist.
The heresy divided France. The southern lords embraced the heresy in opposition of the King of France in the north. Belloc isn’t explicit about this but we can see the violent conflict had significant political aspects. Both England and Spain (neither of which embraced the heresy) supported the heretics in hopes of weakening the French.
Belloc shows his bias in his historical account of the battles between the northern and southern French factions.
Of course, Belloc is many things but unbiased is probably not one of them. Not for the purpose of this book anyway. Jason, and probably others, have questions about the historical accuracy of Belloc’s accounts. Footnotes would have been nice here, but perhaps the best thing to do is to consider this chapter as a springboard for following your own curiosity regarding the historical facts surrounding the conflicts that ensued as a result of this movement. A preview of The Inquisition – A Political and Military Study of Its Establishment is available on Google Books.
But as an overview of an erroneous idea that just keeps cropping up over and over, I found this chapter to be very helpful. How about the rest of you? Share your thoughts with us in the comment box.
It’s meat and potatoes time here at the YIM Catholic Bookclub. Old Thunder (Belloc) kicks off this chapter with these terse and direct words, “Arianism was the first of the great heresies.” Where are the footnotes to back up this claim? You won’t find any footnotes in Belloc’s books. I suppose he is confident in making the claim because “everyone knows” this to be true.
Sure, I didn’t, and maybe you didn’t either. But I’ve stated before that I don’t know everything, so if I were you I would make a note to myself to check out these assertions. Perhaps by reading the works of St. Athanatius, for example, or more recently the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman. But for now, let’s just let Belloc draw back the veil on the early Church and see what almost happened to Christianity.
And let me remind you that from almost the very beginning of the Church, it has not been “smooth sailing.” Consider the words of St. John (1 John 2:18-19) when he states,
Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was our number.
Yes, the bold is my emphasis, but I’m not the one making the point. St. John is clearly stating that even in his lifetime (6 – 100 AD), controversy and heresy were getting off the ground. Heck, it sounds like they were actually thriving because otherwise why would he mention it? This is shocking to no one who is deep in the scriptures, which is probably why Belloc didn’t encumber every one of his points with footnotes. For the rest of us though, it wouldn’t hurt for you to keep the Bible and the Cathechism close at hand while reading the rest of Belloc’s book. And may I suggest Freiderich Knicht’s helpful book as well?
Now the central tradition of the Church here, as in every other case of disputed doctrine, was strong and clear from the beginning. Our Lord was undoubtedly a man. He had been born as men are born, He died as men die. He lived as a man and had been known as a man by a group of close companions and a very large number of men and women who had followed Him, and heard Him and witnessed His actions.
But, said the Church, He was also God. God had come down to earth and become Incarnate as a Man. He was not merely a man influenced by the Divinity, nor was He a manifestation of the Divinity under the appearance of a man. He was at the same time fully God and fully Man. On that the central tradition of the Church never wavered. It is taken for granted from the beginning by those who have authority to speak.
Did I mention that everything hinges on authority for Belloc? And in the end, isn’t that True?
Before I blather on, recall that at the start of the meeting for this book selection, I asked for volunteers to take a leadership role in guiding our discussion here. Up to the plate this week is “Mary R.” What follows is Mary’s brief synopsis of this weeks chapter and the high points as she saw them.
Let’s give Mary R. a hearty welcome and a dose of gratitude for being the first out of the gate in my little experimental twist on the YIMC Book Clubs’ rules of engagement: “all readers should be prepared to help discuss the book.” Maybe Webster, Allison and I will eventually just bring the refreshments!
Mary R., you have the floor,
Chapter 3 – The Arian Heresy
I erred in my first reading of this chapter. Hillaire Belloc stated, “There is no greater error in the whole range of bad history than imagining that doctrinal differences, because they are abstract and apparently remote from practical things of life, are not therefore of intense social effect. … Merely to say that Arianism was what it was doctrinally is to enunciate a formula, but not to give the thing itself.”
I read “enunciate” as “eunicate.” “Eunicate” is not a word (ed.- LOL) but “eunuch” is and that is what I did to the Arian heresy when I first heard about it. I removed the essential and kept the dogmatic part. I knew that Arianism concerned the denial of the divinity of Jesus but I did not take into consideration the society and the uniqueness of the era.
Belloc, referred to as HB going forward, corrected my view and gave me the history, the flesh and blood, of the Arian heresy. This chapter covers roughly 250 years from 300 to 550. It is about generals, emperors, men and motives. HB explains the cultural groundwork that allowed Arianism to take root.
There are the people who supported Arianism – the noble families who were reluctant to accept the social revolution of Catholicism; the intellectuals who were concerned about the loss of their social position; and the Army who supported it. It is the history of people and how their support strengthens or weakens the Church. And it is the doctrines that must be defended.
The competing doctrines were:
* Catholic Christianity: Jesus was at the same time fully God and fully man. “On that central tradition of the Church never wavered.”
* Arianism: Jesus was man and our Lord but not divine. He was not God.
The two main characters who supported opposing views were Areios and St. Athanasius. Both men were charismatic. Both were passionate and both believed what they taught. And finally, halfway through this chapter we find out how St Athanasius defeated Arianism. He was sincere, he was tenacious, he was Patriarch of Alexandria (2nd most important town in Eastern Empire), he enjoyed popular backing, he was a genius, and he was young when the Arian heresy started. He had a lot going for him but he also endured five exiles. Through it all, St Athanasius defended the doctrine.
If you are like me looking for answers, be careful not to read too fast this chapter or you might misread words, change meaning, and miss what you are looking for. Fortunately, I wrote this introduction and had to reread the chapter several times. Thus I have an answer to how I can personally combat heresy. No, I am not male therefore I cannot be a bishop. I don’t have a following of people to support my ideas. And I am not young. Finally, I shouldn’t look for an Army general (HB tells us how the Army was finally converted from Arianism).
What I did learn is that I need to study and understand Church teachings – the dogmas of what it is to be Catholic. I need to believe by both reason and faith. I need to listen to my bishop and give him my support as he leads me back to union with God.
Okay. Now it is your turn. What did you learn?
Thanks Mary R., and Bravo Zulu! I’m looking forward to our members’ (and anyone else who has read the chapter) discussion in the comm-box below.
In last weeks introduction, Belloc spelled out why we should study heresy. This week, he explains the plan of his book and why he choose the five heresies that he did. Although the number of heretical ideas that assault Christianity are as numerous as sand is on a beach, Belloc argues that the five heresies he covers here should suffice in alerting us as to what we need to be aware of.
It’s disclaimer time here at the book club: I’m fully aware that Belloc’s book is provocative. And his point of view is that Christianity is seen in it’s fullness in Catholicism. Period. This will likely irritate many modern readers, but so be it. As Belloc discussed in the introduction, heresy has become an unused word.
For example, he is unapologetic about the following statement:
There is, as everybody knows, an institution proclaiming itself today the sole authoritative and divinely appointed teacher of essential morals and essential doctrine. This institution calls itself the Catholic Church.
Going further, Belloc states that,
Many through antagonism or lack of knowledge deny the identity of the Catholic Church today with the original Christian society.
Are you still with us? Because for Belloc, and for many others who have converted to Catholic Christianity, the matter of authority is a key issue. One which many don’t concern themselves with. Not Belloc, though, because for him the matter of authority is crucial. May I suggest you switch off your “know-it-all-ness” for a bit and just listen to what he says? You’ll be glad you did because in doing so you will gain the knowledge to identify “old hat” heresies dressed up in new clothing.
Santayana opined, and I paraphrase, that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Do you believe that? I admit that I do. Qoheleth, in Ecclesiastes, flatly states that what has been before will be again. So if we don’t know what was “before,” how will we know if we are being led astray? Well, I’ve come to believe the Church because,
From the day of Pentecost (some time between A.D. 29 and A.D. 33) onwards there has been a body of doctrine affirmed for instance, at the very outset, the Resurrection. And the organism by which that body of doctrine has been affirmed has been from the outset a body of men bound by a certain tradition through which they claimed to have the authority in question.
It is further historically true (though not universally admitted) that the claim of this body to be a divinely appointed voice for the statement of true doctrine on the matters essential to man (his nature, his ordeal in this world, his doom or salvation, his immortality, etc.) is to be found affirmed through preceding centuries, up to a little before the middle of the first century.
Belloc then provides brief sketches of the following heresies and how they attack the Catholic Church. Belloc claims that each of the following present a type of attack. They are as follows,
1) Arianism: Attacked the authority of the Church by denying the divinity of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity. But even more, it was a “large-scale reaction against the supernatural.” Ever meet a Christian who scoffs at the miracles the Catholic Church has approved of? Sure you have.
2) Islam: So you thought this was an indigenous religion of the Middle East like Shinto Buddism is to Japan or Confucianism is to China? Belloc notes that Islam is essentially, a heresy alien rather than intimate. It threatened to kill the Christian Church by invasion rather than to undermine it from within. This should be interesting.
3)Albigensianism: Much like the Manichean heresy (that St. Augustine dabbled with prior to his conversion) with the concept of good fighting evil, and the equal power of the two. Combined with this is the idea that matter is evil and that “all pleasure, especially of the body, is evil.” Ever heard Christians lamenting that our bodies are just corrupt and that we would be better off without them? Show of hands?
4)Protestants: Here is the elephant in the room, eh? Protestants denied the unity of the Church and the central authority Christ gave to Peter as his vicar. Denial of “not the doctrines it(new denominations) might happen to advance, but its very claim to advance them with unique authority” while rejecting unity. This one is going to be hairy!
5)The Modern: Belloc claimed this heresy was on the rise when he wrote this back in 1936 and it is probably blowing full force by now, wouldn’t you say? If I can’t touch, taste, see, or smell it, then it obviously doesn’t exist. If it can’t be measured and tested by the scientific method, then it is make-believe. This heresy, Belloc notes, came before all the other ones, so it looks like we are back to where they started.
Such are the five great movements antagonistic to the Faith. To concentrate our attention upon each in turn teaches us in separate examples the character of our religion and the strange truth that men cannot escape sympathy with it or hatred of it. To concentrate on these five main attacks has this further value, that between them they seem to sum up all the directions from which the assault can be delivered against the Catholic Faith.
Next week we jump into Arianism with the help of reader Mary R. Until then, happy reading!