Wednesday, July 02, 2008

In Further Defense of Belloc

I was grateful for Love2Learn Mom's earlier post about Belloc. He does seem to get a lot of negative press, which I think is very unfortunate. All men have faults, and Belloc's strengths seem to be largely overlooked. I particularly admire him for his absolutely extraordinary faith. Apparently his relationship with God was never charged with emotionalism. Rather, one could almost say that his whole life was a dark night of the soul. He said that if he weren't a Catholic he would be an atheist, but that he was a Catholic because Catholicism was real and true.

I can't even begin to express how awed I am by this faith of his. Through sheer will he kept to the Faith, and kept to it strongly, even when he felt nothing. Some people, particularly those who seem to put a huge emphasis on an emotional relationship with God, would take this to mean that he didn't love. Quite the contrary. Lack of emotion doesn't mean lack of love. Rather, I think, it is the great love of loyalty, of fidelity in the face of everything, of a strong fortitude.

That was a bit of a passionate sidetrack, so excuse me. My original intent was to give you a quote from A.N. Wilson's biography of Belloc, in an attempt to show Belloc's truly beautiful character. It's a tragic bit, concerning the death of his wife Elodie:

The next day, her body was carried down to the hall at King's Land where it lay surrounded by candles. Neighbours and friends came to pray beside it. Belloc wandered upstairs again and along the narrow corridor to her room. He glanced round once more at her dressing table, at her clothes, at her bed with its scarlet coverlet. It had always been a dark room, its small windows preventing it from getting much sunlight. He came out of the room and turned the key in its lock. From that moment, Elodie's bedroom was sealed up forever. So, too, was her little parlour downstairs. No one entered them again in Belloc's lifetime. Nor would he ever pass that bedroom door without pausing to kiss it or trace upon it the sign of the cross. And this he did for the next forty years.

--from Hilaire Belloc: A Biography by A.N. Wilson


Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"Through sheer will he kept to the Faith, and kept to it strongly, even when he felt nothing."

Eh ... no. Nothing he said indicates he felt nothing. He did enjoy the beauty of the Mass. And nothing indicates he kept believing through sheer will. He kept believing in God, like he kept believing in beauty or truth or morality ... and because he knew that these concepts are unbelievable without God, and also that a religion reduced to a god that just props our ideas about the good, the true and the beautiful up is sham religion. Or like he believed in the battle of Waterloo ... because he knew that the historic evidence for Crucifixion and Resurrection is sufficiently strong.

Racoon said...

“I am by all my nature skeptical,” Belloc wrote Chesterton on the occasion of the latter’s conversion. “But when religious doubt assails me,” he continued, “I discover it to be false; a mood, not a conclusion. My conclusion is the Faith. Corporate, organized, a personality, teaching. A thing, not a theory. It.”

Racoon said...

Forgot to say I always liked that Belloc's quote. I'm currently reading a biography, Old Thunder by Joseph Pearce, I managed to get at the Conference. It hasn't been translated into Spanish yet.

Lauren (RoseinFaith) said...

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to read as much of Belloc's work as I'd like. However, I became convinced of his love of God, tradition, and orthodoxy (in other words, just about all the same things Chesterton loved and fought for) when I read his essay, "A Remaining Christmas." It's poetically beautiful, and rings with love of the Church and the importance of Christian traditions. The ending was prophetic! I'm sure I don't understand how a man who could write with such fervor and love could be called cynical or bitter.

When a piece of work is genuinely beautiful expression of truth, it strikes a chord in us and we cry: "Yes! This is true!" It isn't often I come across such pieces; Belloc's "A Remaining Christmas" was one of them.

P.S. I've been wanting to get Pearce's biographies of Chesterton and Belloc... by all accounts they are quite good! I just finished Pearce's book on Shakespeare, and it was brilliant.

Clare said...

Perhaps I was a bit unclear in my post. Forgive me for that; it happens quite often.

I was pointing out that Belloc's loyalty to the faith was a true loyalty. He was a Catholic because he believed Catholicism to be true.

This doesn't mean that he 'felt' nothing if feeling is properly defined. However, I was tackling the unfortunate definition of feeling that seems so prevalent these days: the feeling which consists of waving hands at Mass, sobbing, hysterical laughing, and generally a rather disturbing emotionalism with no foundation.

Belloc's faith was strong. He had a foundation. But unless I'm seriously misunderstanding everything I'm reading, he was never one to fly into sentimental raptures. That's not a bad thing. He not only felt that Catholicism was true, but he firmly believed it because it had to be believed.

I think in essence we agree, but I think also that you misinterpreted what I meant by 'feeling' and 'sheer will.' That was probably my fault. Hopefully I've made a bit clearer what I mean by 'feeling.'

When I said 'sheer will' I did not mean it as a negative thing. I meant it as a beautiful and glorious thing. Not 'will' as in forcing oneself to continue to believe, in forcing oneself to be faithful, but 'will' as in the undeniable knowledge that there is a God and He is in Catholicism, whatever darkness might envelope the soul. I was speaking of it in the way that Belloc spoke of it when he wrote to G.K. about the latter's conversion:

"And that is why Faith through an act of the Will is Moral. If the Ordnance Map tells us that it is 11 miles to Wookey Hole then, my mood of lassitude as I walk through the rain at night making it feel like 30, I use the Will and say: 'No. My intelligence has been convinced and I compel myself to use it against my mood. It is 11 and though I feel in the depths that of my being to have gone 20 miles and more, I know it is not yet 11 I have gone."

What I was getting at in my post was this: Belloc's faith was very, very solid. He considered it both Poetry and Reality. These days, many people don't consider Catholicism to be either. They consider Catholicism to be Feeling, or Emotionalism, and Nice. A faith without the wild passions isn't considered to be a real faith (I got a lot of this at the horrid youth masses I went to occasionally... apparently kneeling in prayer isn't as pleasing to God as hysterically weeping a laughing). A faith that proclaims to be the one and only True Faith is just mean.

Briefly, in expressing my love for Belloc in various quarters, I'm often told that he was a mean old grouch about a Faith that he wasn't even that sincere in. I think we'd both agree that such a statement is absurd. I was attempting to show in my post that a Faith lacking in emotionalism is not a bad thing, that 'feeling' means more than flighty tears, and that the Will in faith is far better than swings of the mood.

Unfortunately I seem to have conveyed my point rather poorly, but I hope I've clarified a bit?

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

ah, that kind of will is about forcing oneself to believe the personal obedience to commandments and ascesis is reasonable

when it comes to major dogmas, I do not think Belloc needed any effort of will

that said, I have not read as much Belloc as I would like to: you seem to have read some I haven't, like this about mileage

Lauren (RoseinFaith) said...

I think Mamselle has made herself quite clear. Remember, Faith and Reason are two indispensable aids God has given us to know Him, love, Him, and serve Him. God made us rational creatures, and Reason is ours to help us understand and intelligently accept our Faith, knowing by our Reason that it is True. Faith is given us so that we may trust God in those things which are beyond our feeble human reason, as in the example of theological mysteries like the Most Holy Trinity--the paradox of three in one.

Reason and Faith are not in conflict; they work in harmony with one another. Emotional swings, as Mamselle pointed out, aren't really either rational or faith-filled-- they are simply emotions. The point that she has been trying to make about Belloc is that he, in his Faith (which, by the way, necessarily also employed his Reason) did not rely on emotion, but simply took his Reason and Faith into action: an act of the will in believing what he knew to be true.

Dear me, I hope *I* made sense there. :)

On a side note, emotions aren't to be condemned as all bad, for they are gifts from God too---just like everything else, it is only when they are misused, or used in excess, that they become wrong. However, it is also interesting to note that God often puts His loved ones to the test (as a means to purify them) to see if they will transcend emotions in their love for Him, if they will persevere in following Him despite lack of emotional comfort or joy. That is why some of the greatest saints experienced "Dark Night of the Soul," which St. John of the Cross compared to looking directly at the brightness of the sun--it is so bright, that for a moment one is blinded and can see only darkness, though the sun still shines bright as ever.