Scheme of This Book
THE GREAT HERESIES
by Hilaire Belloc
Scheme of This Book
I propose in what follows to deal with the main attacks upon the Catholic Church which have marked her long history. In the case of all but
the Moslem and the modern confused but ubiquitous attack, which is still in progress, I deal with their failure and the causes of their failure. I shall conclude by discussing the chances of the present struggle for the survival; of the Church in that very civilization which she created and which is now generally abandoning her.
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.
It is further an admitted historical truth, which no one denies, that such an institution putting forth such a claim has been present among
mankind for many centuries. Many through antagonism or lack of knowledge deny the identity of the Catholic Church today with the original
Christian society. No one, however hostile or uninstructed, will deny its presence during at least thirteen or fourteen hundred years.
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.
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.
Hence we must distinguish between two conceptions totally different, which are nevertheless often confused. One is the historical fact that the claim to Divine authority and Infallible doctrine was and is still made; the other the credibility of that claim.
Whether the claim be true or false has nothing whatever to do with its historical origin and continuity; it may have arisen as an illusion or an imposture; it may have been continued in ignorance; but that does not affect its historical existence. The claim has been made and continues to be made, and those who make it are in unbroken continuity with those who made it in the beginning. They form, collectively, the organism which called itself and still calls itself "The Church."
Now against this authoritative organism, its claim, character and doctrines, there have been throughout the whole period of its existence continued assaults. There have been denials of its claim. There have been denials of this or that section of its doctrines. There has been the attempted replacing of these by other doctrines. Even attempted destruction of the organism, the Church, has repeatedly taken place.
I propose to select five main attacks of this kind from the whole of the very great_the almost unlimited_number of efforts, major and minor, to bring down the edifice of unity and authority.
My reason for choosing so small a number as five, and concentrating upon each as a separate phenomenon, is not only the necessity for a framework and for limits, but also the fact that in these five the main forms of attack are exemplified. These five are, their in historical order, 1. The Arian; 2. The Mohammedan; 3. The Albigensian; 4. The Protestant; 5. One to which no specific name has as yet been attached, but we shall call for the sake of convenience "the Modern.''
I say that each of these five main campaigns, the full success of any one of which would have involved the destruction of the Catholic Church, its authority and doctrine among men, presents a type.
The Arian attack proposed a change of fundamental doctrine, such that, had the change prevailed, the whole nature of the religion would have been transformed. It would not only have been transformed, it would have failed; and with its failure would have followed the break-down of that civilization which the Catholic Church was to build up.
The Arian heresy (filling the fourth, and active throughout the fifth, century), proposed to go to the very root of the Church's authority by attacking the full Divinity of her Founder. But it did much more, because its underlying motive was a rationalizing of the mystery upon which the church bases herself: the Mystery of the Incarnation. Arianism was essentially a revolt against the difficulties attaching to mysteries as a whole though expressing itself as an attack on the chief mystery only. Arianism was a typical example on the largest scale of that reaction against the supernatural which, when it is fully developed, withdraws from religion all that by which religion lives.
The Mohammedan attack was of a different kind. It came geographically from just outside the area of Christendom; it appeared, almost from the outset, as a foreign enemy; yet it was not, strictly speaking, a new religion attacking the old, it was essentially a heresy; but from the circumstances of its birth it was a heresy alien rather than intimate. It threatened to kill the Christian Church by invasion rather than to undermine it from within.
The Albigensian attack was but the chief of a great number, all of which drew their source from the Manichean conception of a duality in the Universe; the conception that that good and evil are ever struggling as equals, and that Omnipotent Power is neither single nor beneficient. Closely intertwined with this idea and inseparable from it was the conception that matter is evil and that all pleasure, especially of the body, is evil. This form of attack, of which I say the Albigensian was the most notorious and came nearest to success, was rather an attack upon morals than upon doctrine; it had the character of a cancer fastening upon the body of the Church from within, producing a new life of its own, antagonistic to the life of the Church and destructive of it_just as a malignant growth in the human body lives a life of its own, other than, and destructive of, the organism in which it has parasitically arisen.
The Protestant attack differed from the rest especially in this characteristic, that its attack did not consist in the promulgation of a new doctrine or of a new authority, that it made no concerted attempt at creating a counter-Church, but had for its principle the denial of unity. It was an effort to promote that state of mind in which a in the old sense of the word_that is, an infallible, united, teaching body, a Person speaking with Divine authority_should be denied; not the doctrines it might happen to advance, but its very claim to advance them with unique
authority. Thus, one Protestant may affirm, as do the English Puseyites, the truth of all the doctrines underlying the Mass_the Real Presence, the Sacrifice, the sacerdotal power of consecration, etc._another Protestant may affirm that all such conceptions are false, yet both these Protestants are Protestant because they communicate in the fundamental conception that the Church is not a visible, definable and united personality, that there is no central infallible authority, and that therefore each is free to choose his own set of doctrines.
Such affirmations of disunion, such denial of the claim to unity as being part of the Divine order, produced indeed a common Protestant temperament through certain historical associations; but there is no one doctrine nor set of doctrines which can be affirmed as being the kernel of Protestantism. Its essential remains the rejection of unity through authority.
Lastly there is that contemporary attack on the Catholic Church which is still in progress and to which no name has been finally attached, save the vague term "modern.'' I should have preferred, perhaps, the old Greek word "alogos''; but that would have seemed pedantic. And yet it is a pity to have to reject it, for it admirably describes by implication the quarrel between the present attackers of Catholic authority and doctrine, and the tone of mind of a believer. Antiquity began by giving the name "alogos'' to those who belittled or denied, though calling themselves Christians, the Divinity of Christ. They were said to do so from lack of "wit,'' in the sense of "fullness of comprehension,'' "largeness of apprehension.'' Men felt about this kind of rationalism as normal people feel about a colour-blind man.
One might also have chosen the term "Positivism,'' seeing that the modern movement relies upon the distinction between things positively proved by experiment and things accepted upon other grounds; but the term "Positivism'' has already a special connotation and to use it would have been confusing.
At any rate, though we have as yet perhaps no specific name, we all know the spirit to which I refer: "That only is true which can be appreciated by the senses and subjected to experiment. That can most thoroughly be believed which can most thoroughly be measured and tested by repeated trial. What are generally called `religious affirmations' are, always , sometimes , illusions. The idea of God itself and all that follows on it is man-made and a figment of the imagination.'' This is the attack which has superseded all the older ones, which is now gaining ground so rapidly and whose votaries feel (as did in their hey-day all the votaries of the earlier attacks) an increasing confidence of success.
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.
Doubtless in the future there will be further conflict, indeed we can be sure that it is inevitable, for it is of the nature of the Church to provoke the anger and attack of the world. Perhaps we shall have later to meet the heathen from the East, or perhaps, earlier or later, the challenge of a new system altogether_not a heresy but a new religion. But the main kinds of attack would seen to be exhausted by the list which history has hitherto presented. We have had examples of heresy, working from without and forming a new world in that fashion, of which Islam is the great example. We have had examples of heresy at work attacking the root of the Faith, the Incarnation, and specializing upon that_of which Arianism was the great example. We have had the growth of the foreign body from within, the Albigenses, and all their Manichean kindred before and after them. We have had the attack on the personality, that is the unity, of the Church_which is Protestantism. And we now behold, even as Protestantism is dying, the rise and growth of yet another form of conflict_the proposal to treat all transcendental affirmation as illusion. It would seem as though the future could hold no more than the repetition of these forms.
The Church might thus be regarded as a citadel presenting a certain number of faces between the angles of its defences, each face attacked in turn, and after the failure of one attack its neighbor suffering the brunt of the battle. The last assault, the modern one, is more like an attempt to dissolve the garrison, the annihilation of its powers of resistance by suggestion, than an armed conflict. With this last
form the list would seem exhausted. If or when that last danger is dissipated, the next can only appear after some fashion of which we have already had experience.
I may be asked by way of postscript to this prelude why I have not included any mention of the schisms. The schisms are as much attacks upon the life of the Catholic Church as are the heresies; the greatest schism of all, the Greek or Orthodox, which has produced the Greek or Orthodox communion, is manifestly a disruption of our strength. Yet I think that the various forms of attack on the Church by way of heretical doctrine are in a different category from the schisms. No doubt a schism commonly includes a heresy, and no doubt certain heresies have attempted to plead that we should be reconciled with them, as we might be with a schism. But though the two evils commonly appear in company, yet each is of a separate sort from the other; and as we are studying the one it is best to eliminate the other during the process of that study.
I shall then in these pages examine in turn the five great movements I have mentioned, and I will take them in historical order, beginning with the Arian business_which, as it was the first, was also, perhaps, the most formidable.