The Streamlet’s Song (A Few Words for Wednesday)

—Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

I found this little poem, by a forgotten poet, in the journal whose banner you see above. How does one attempt to wrap their mind around the immensity of God and the smallness of our individual selves? If God is the ocean, than we are just streamlets…

The Streamlet’s Song.

As on its course the mountain stream
Unto the valley sped,
The echoes listened, wondering,
To what its murmurs said.
Deep in that mystic solitude
Singing, it passed along;
Around was silence, hushed repose;
This was the streamlet’s song:
“Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged, onwards,
onwards, to the sea.”

“I sing beside the peasant’s cot,
Beside the castle keep,
Mid forest gloom, neath sunshine bright,
And where the weary sleep,
Thro’ meads where flowers of varied hue
Around their perfume shed,
Thro’ rocky gorge and arid plain,
On to my ocean bed.
Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither’rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged,
onwards, onwards, to the sea.”

“On, on, the scorching air to cool,
The earth to fertilize,
Of hunted stag the thirst to slake
Ere yet he quivering dies.
On, to refresh the warrior pale
Who, couched on blood-stained sod,
Cries,’Water from yon streamlet give,
One drop for love of God!’
Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged,
onwards, onwards, to the sea.”

“The type am I of human life,
As down the course of years
It onward flows, mid laughter now,
Anon mid bitter tears,
Mid reckless mirth, mid breaking hearts,
On, till the sands are run,
On, till is gained the tideless sea,
On, till the goal is won,
Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged,
onwards, onwards, to the sea.”

—A. M. Healy

For the Catholic View of Love


Yesterday was Monday and as such I did a music post. The subject was love, and I called it Love: Three Minus One, because the form of love that I was spot-lighting was not romantic love, or eros as it is known in Greek.

Below are some thoughts written by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and published in his book entitled The Power of Love, which hit the bookstores back in 1964.

Bishop Sheen discusses the radical transformation of love from the Catholic perspective which has helped change the world as we know it. This form of love is from the Greek word agape, which in Latin is caritas, which translated into English is the word “charity.”

Historically, Catholics have used the word charity in lieu of agape, though many still think of the Salvation Army, or corporal works of mercy when they hear that word,  instead of this really unprecedented form of love. Have a look at this passage from Archbishop Sheen’s little book,

The third word for love was not much used in the classical Greek; it was a love so noble and divine that Christianity alone made it popular. That word is “agape.” It was used only ten times by Homer; it is found only three times in Euripedes; later on, it was used a bit in popular Greek which was spoken throughout the world after Alexander conquered it.

The Greeks did not need such a word, because Plato held that there could be no real love between God and man, inasmuch as the gods being perfect desired nothing; therefore, they had no love for man. Aristotle argued in the same way. He said that there was too great a disporportion between man and God to have any love between the two.

When God sent His only Son to this world to save it, and when His Divine Son offered His life on Calvary to redeem it, then was born a love between God and man which the Greeks could not and did not understand. That kind of love was best expressed by “agape.” In contrast to it, the word “eros” is nowhere found in the New Testament; the word “Philia” in all its forms is found forty-five times, but the word “agape” is found 320 times.

Once this agape began to exist, then it flowed down to illumine even Eros; Eros became the sensible expression of Divine Love; fraternal and friendly love was also sanctified by the agape inasmuch as we were to regard everyone else as better than ourselves. The only true lovers or friends are those whose love is explained by the agape of Him who so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son to redeem it.

So agape then is charity, the form of love that St. Paul expounded upon in chapter thirteen of his first letter to the Corinthians. It is this form of love that is used so often in the New Testament. On the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, a search of the word “agape” pulls 22 books (out of 360). Not much, see? But a search of the word “charity,” from the Latin form of “agape”(caritas) pulls 208 volumes from our library. Did I mention that Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Caritas in veritate, is on this very subject? And lest I forget, the Catholic Encyclopedia has a fact-filled citation on this subject as well.

Even Thomas Hobbes, author of the classic of political thought, Leviathan (1651), states it thus,

For these seeds have received culture from two sorts of men. One sort have been they that have nourished and ordered them, according to their own invention. The other have done it, by God’s commandment and direction : but both sorts have done it, with a purpose to make those men that relied on them, the more apt to obedience, laws, peace, charity, and civil society; So that the religion of the former sort is a part of human politics; and teacheth part of the duty which earthly kings require of their subjects. And the religion of the latter sort is divine politics ; and containeth precepts to those that have yielded themselves subjects in the kingdom of God. Of the former sort were all the founders of commonwealths, and the lawgivers of the Gentiles: of the latter sort, were Abraham, Moses, and Our blessed Saviour; by whom have been derived unto us the laws of the kingdom of God.

To close this brief post on Love, I’ll leave you with Archbishop Sheen again, this time from an episode of his television series Life Is Worth Living. Here he discusses Pope John XXIII and his living of this Catholic, this Christian, form of Love. Enjoy.

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From the Treasure Chest: “Difficulties of Private Interpretation”

Alec Guinness (as Chesterton’s Fr. Brown) stands in for Fr. Bampfield

A few weeks ago, I happened upon a lengthy essay by Reverend George Bampfield entitled “Cannot.” Yesterday, I posted a little note on the Bible, and today Reverend Bampfield will help me explain something else that helped me decide to become a Catholic. I don’t know what Father George looks like so I have borrowed Sir Alec Guinness in the role of Chesterton’s Father Brown as a proxy.

The reason, or answer if you will, is right there in the title of this new Bampfield gem that I discovered today, by searching the YIM Catholic Bookself with the word “scripture.” I think you will enjoy what my friend Father George has to say on this matter. [Read more...]

With God’s Grace And A Little Help From My Friends

When I was a newly minted Marine, fresh out of boot camp and on my way into life, I was certain that I could lick it. Everything was possible, and all would be right in the world. Well, maybe not the whole world, but my world would be just fine. I realized that I was no all-powerful genie, but I had complete confidence in the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. The winner, which I knew I was, would take all. [Read more...]

Because St. Anthony Helped Me Find John C.H. Wu

Anyone remember Webster’s first post on minor miracles? Something a little more than a coincidence led me to John C. H. Wu and I’m not ashamed to go “on the record” and say that. While browsing the shelves of my local public library, I came upon this little volume called St. Anthony’s Treasury. It’s a wee little book of prayers that is about the size of a pocket New Testament, like the ones the Gideon’s publish.

Catholic prayer books in the public library? That’s a minor miracle in itself, right? I know it was a gift from a patron. How? Because in pencil on the top right-hand corner of the blank page facing the inside cover is written carefully the word “gift.” The library, see, doesn’t have the money to purchase every published book under the sun. Especially not little Catholic prayer books like this one.

So I checked the book out, with the intention of looking over the prayers and devotions later. I was on my break and as I walked back to my office I learned about the First Friday Devotions right there on page 76. I always wondered what that devotion was all about. As someone who pretty regularly attends daily Mass, First Fridays are the same as every Friday, or so I thought. Now I know better.

When I got back to the office, I tossed the book into my book bag and forgot about it. And when I got home that evening, I dropped my bag in its customary resting place.  I forgot about it again until I needed to put my lunch into it the next morning. My routine? Grab my lunch, stuff it in the bag, grab my coffee, and out the door. Just another day, so far.

I work downtown and park in a garage that is about a ten minute walk from my office. So I get out of the car, throw my bag over my shoulder, lock the car and start walking. Oh yeah, then I dug into the bag and pulled out St. Anthony’s Treasury to read while I walked. Who knows? Maybe I’d learn something new.

The day before, I had checked the contents and skipped to the first devotion that caught my eye. For my walk, however, I started in the foreword, which is where I used to never look. You know, from before, when I was a “know-it-all.” I used to never read introductions, prefaces, or forewords, because I just wanted to get right to the action. I learned over the years that this wasn’t always a great idea.

So to the foreword it was. Written by a Robert Nash, S.J., he reminds us that St. Anthony is renowned as an “expert in the art of finding lost articles.” Does everyone know St. Anthony’s Prayer? You have lost something, say, and can’t find it anywhere. So you ask St. Anthony of Padua to help you out by calling on him like so,

St. Anthony!, St. Anthony!
Please come down.
Something is lost,
And can’t be found.

But, as far as I knew, I hadn’t lost anything on this day, so I kept on reading Fr. Nash’s foreword which was a lamentation on the huge numbers of people who have lost their faith and don’t really seem to care about it. It sounded like he was sulking, really, and I was just going to turn the page when I ran smack dab into these words,

The pagan philosopher Dr. Wu read…this in the Life of St. Thérèse. “What a wonderful girl!” he exclaimed. “If this saying of hers is an expression of the meaning of Catholic faith I see no reason why I should not become a Catholic.”

Having done a few posts on a guy named Wu, I was intrigued. The Wu I knew, though, became a Jesuit priest way before Thérèse of Lisieux had been born. As I walked, I resolved to see if I could find any information on this “pagan philosopher” named Wu, because from the quote Fr. Nash used, he sounded like a smart guy to me.

Now, this foreward is in the edition of St. Anthony’s Treasury that was published in 1975 by the Anthonian Press out of Dublin Ireland. I had some pretty good clues on this Wu person, and a Google search later, I had discovered that the guy who uttered these words was no pagan. Heck, by 1975, my friend John had been a Catholic for 38 years, and had published numerous books about the Faith. He had been an envoy to the Vatican in the early 1940′s, for crying out loud, and this Fr. Nash had no idea!

Something had been lost, alright, but it wasn’t my car keys. It was the Catholic legacy of John C.H. Wu that had been lost. Perhaps St. Anthony was pointing me in this direction so that John’s legacy can be rediscovered? That’s what I believe, anyway. Especially when I realized that most of his books are out of print, and used copies of them are few and far between. And expensive! Which got me thinking too.

Take a look at this map below.

This is the map of the world shaded by percentage of the population that identifies themselves as being Christian. See the big light colored space? Like all the way from Casablanca on the coast of Morocco to the islands of Japan? Less than 10 percent of the people in these areas are Christians. And the most populated country on that map is the Peoples Republic of China, right next to the second most populated country, the Republic of India.

Which leads me to make this appeal to the good folks at Our Sunday Visitor. Would OSV please consider republishing the works of John C.H. Wu if they still own the rights to them? I think the market for John’s books is pretty large. Heck, I love what he has written too and I’ve only read The Science of Love so far. He is the “Chinese” Chesterton after all. Just imagine the souls that could be reached in Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, Arabic, and other lanquages.

What do you say OSV? Can you bring John’s work back to the presses (or to Kindle)? St. Anthony has found him, but we here at YIMCatholic do not have a printing press. Thanks in advance for taking up this cause. If anyone reading this post knows anyone who can help make this happen, I would be much obliged.

Because of Catholics like the “Chinese Chesterton”

Today I want to introduce you to another man from China named Wu, who also became a Catholic. His full name is Wu Jingxiong, or Wu Ching-hsiung. As he spent much of his life in Western countries, he did what many do and adopted an Anglicized form of his name: John Ching Hsiung Wu, or John C. H. Wu for short.

Earlier this year, before summer started, I happened upon the story of a Chinese painter and poet who became a Catholic, way back in the year of Our Lord 1681. His name is Wu Li and I wrote several posts about him, his art, and his poetry. He eventually became a Jesuit Priest and spent the remainder of his years serving Christ as a missionary to his native land.

It was an exciting discovery, for me anyway, to find a convert to Catholicism whose decision to become a Catholic made my own decision to join the Church look like a cake-walk. There I was,  thinking that my swimming the Tiber had been the biggest step that anyone could have ever possibly taken. But from a cultural perspective, living in a nation founded on Christian principles, it can’t begin to compare to the decision Wu Li made to become a Catholic. Unlike Wu Li, though, John is a modern convert to the Church, having been born in the year 1899 and passing on to eternity in 1986.

John had already made the leap to Christianity, as a Methodist, 20 years before he entered the Roman Catholic Church, so he was a bold pioneer who stepped aside from the norms of his own culture early on. Again, I’m humbled by stories of courageous, audacious actions of converts like these. See what the Holy Spirit can do? So how did he wind up becoming a Catholic? That’s where the story gets good.

But first, the biographical information that will help you understand my new friend better.  I am indebted to the work of Li Xiuqing, editor-in-chief of the Journal of East China University Political Science and Law for her paper on the college life of John, as well as to Nicholas Howson of the University of Michigan School of Law for translating it. Howson’s commentary appears in italics below.

John was born in 1899 in Ningbo, China, a little town south, and across the bay, from Shanghai. Details of his youth are lacking, but he wrote of them and when I get my hands on one of his books, I look forward to learning more. He studied and graduated from the Suhzou University Law School with an L.L.B in 1920, and then went on to obtain his J.D. degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1921. Yep, you read that correctly, one year later.  Because he was a “young man in a hurry,” see? I know the type. Howson writes the following,

John C. H. Wu is one of the giants of post-Imperial Chinese law, philosophy, education and religion, who visited at law schools and universities throughout the United States and Europe — including Paris (1921), Harvard (1923 and 1930) and Northwestern (1929). He engaged in a long correspondence with Justice Holmes between 1921 and 1935, founded “Tianhsia Monthly” (1935) as a bridge between Chinese and Western culture, and served as Vice Chairman of the KMT-era Legislative Yuan’s Constitutional Drafting Committee starting in the early 1930s. In fact, he is well-known in China and Taiwan as the principle drafter of the 1946 Chinese Constitution, largely based on his June 1933 draft constitution (still described in Chinese as the “Wu draft”).

Whaat?! Yes, he wrote a government’s constitution. Like Madison, Jefferson, Adams, Morris, et al., wrote the U.S. Constitution. And he corresponded with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as well. He was getting pretty well known. Did I mention he later became Chief Justice of a district court in China too?

In January 1927, he was appointed by the Jiangsu Provincial Government to sit as a judge on the new “Shanghai Provisional Court”, a court with jurisdiction over all controversies in the Shanghai International Settlement, except those cases where the defendants were citizens of the Treaty nations. (As he exulted to Justice Holmes at that time, “I shall try to Holmesianize the Law of China!”) He was later promoted to Chief Justice and then President of the same Court.

Soon he tired of this position and left it to further hone and polish his legal expertise by heading to the United States for a few plum assignments.

He resigned from the Court in the Fall of 1929 to return to the United States as a Rosenthal Lecturer at Northwestern Law School (Winter 1929) and a Research Fellow at the Harvard Law School (Spring 1930). By the Fall of 1930 he had returned to Shanghai, where he practiced law until the Japanese invasion.

And from what I gather, he became a wealthy and very influential lawyer during that short time—and disenchanted, nay, with an empty feeling inside as a result. Surely there is more to life than this. It is time for a saint to intervene. More on that further on, but first, let’s round out his career.

After 1937 John Wu rediscovered his early Christian faith, only now as a Catholic and not a Methodist, and went on to an equally rich career as a Catholic intellectual and leader, translating the New Testament and the Psalms into Chinese, and serving as Chinese minister to the Vatican in 1947-8. (He later, in 1961, completed a still popular English translation of Laozi’s Taoist classic, the Tao Teh Ching (Classic of the Way).

He kept busy, huh? It’s humbling to me to think of translating a menu at a restaurant into English, but John translated the entire New Testament and the Psalms into Mandarin. Gulp! And my friend Jonathan Chaves informs me that his translation of the Tao Teh Ching is excellent. And he was the Chinese minister to the Vatican too? Sheeeeesh. What more can this guy possibly have accomplished? Well, there was revolution brewing back home, see. Surely that tripped him up.

In February 1949 he returned from Rome to Shanghai and was asked by the Guomindang Prime Minister Sun Fo (Sun Yat-sen’s son) and Acting President Li Chung-zen (Chiang Kai-shek having “retired” to his home of Ningbo, prior to his transfer to Taiwan) to be China’s Minister of Justice. The appointment was never formalized with the collapse of the Sun Fo cabinet, and in March 1949 – after a final, melancholy, interview with Chiang Kai-shek at their shared hometown Ningbo – John Wu departed China for the last time. After the 1949 Revolution, he was a long-time professor at the University of Hawaii and later still Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Wow. Have you seen the movie Field of Dreams? “Hey Rookie—you were good!” This guy was a secular superstar if there ever was one. And then he became a Catholic and, to use a baseball term, he kept hitting long balls over the fence. I mean, Mao Zedong came to power on the mainland and John left China and settled in the United States none the worse for wear. At least that’s how is seems. Of course there is probably more to the story, much more.

That’s enough for the particulars though, wouldn’t you say? Not quite, because there are a few more things to cover. According to Dr. Karl Schmude, of Campion College in Sydney, Australia, John was given the sobriquet “the Chinese Chesterton” by “a Chinese-Australian lady whom the Australian author and publisher Frank Sheed met in Sydney in 1944.” Sheed published one of John’s books about Catholicism entitled Beyond East and West and I can’t wait to read it.

John authored a number of books. As mentioned above, some were related to his cultural heritage, like his translation of the Tao. Others concerned his profession as a lawyer. After his conversion to Catholicism, his writing career flourished as a means to explain his conversion to others and as a way to explore the common ground between Confucianism and Catholicism. In fact, he wrote another book that I look forward to reading entitled From Confucianism to Catholicism.

Here is a list of his published works,

Jingxiong Wu, Juridical Essays and Studies

Some Unpublished Letters of Justice Holmes

The Art of Law and Other Essays Juridical and Literary

Essays in Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy

The Science of Love: A Study in the Teachings of Thérèse of Lisieux

Justice Holmes to Doctor Wu: An Intimate Correspondence 1921-1932

From Confucianism to Catholicism

Beyond East and West

The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love

Fountain of Justice: A Study in Natural Law

Justice Holmes: A New Estimate

Cases and Materials on Jurisprudence

Chinese Humanism and Christian Spirituality

Sun Yat-sen: The Man and His Ideas

The Four Seasons of T`ang Poetry

Zhongguo zhe hsuëh [Chinese philosophy]

The Golden Age of Zen

*Translations*

Jingxiong Wu, Tao Teh Ching

Not quite as prolific as Chesterton, you say? Sure, but John was a law professor for his day job, remember? That can take up a little bit of your time too. Anyway, I think I’ve covered the basics of what you need to know about my newest friend in the faith for one post. I’ll delve more into the particulars of John’s “rediscovery of his Christian faith,” and what led him to Rome, in a post tomorrow.

For Thoughts Like These from Robert Hugh Benson

Robert Hugh Benson was an English convert to Catholicism. No big deal, right? Wrong! You see, RHB had been ordained an Anglican priest in 1895. The thing was, his dad was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time.  Think of how proud his parents and the rest of his family were of him.

In 1896, his father passed away suddenly, and Benson himself was ill as well. While on a field trip to recover his health, he began delving into his beliefs and began to lean toward becoming a Catholic. His relatives were underwhelmed with the idea of the son of the late head of the Church of England doing such a thing. Preposterous—but Bobbie did just that in 1903. [Read more...]

YIMC Bookclub, “The Great Heresies,” Chapter 4

“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.

YIMC Book Club “The Great Heresies” Chapter Two

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?

Belloc writes,

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.

YIMC Book Club “The Great Heresies” Chapter 1

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!


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