Introduction: Heresy Scheme of This Book The Arian Heresy The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed The Albigensian Attack What Was the Reformation?. In this new edition of a classic work, the great Catholic apologist and historian Hilaire Belloc examines the five most destructive heretical. The Great Heresies has ratings and 58 reviews. Ben said: Another eye opening history from a very readable writer. Hilaire Belloc was half English, ha.
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How pertinent — yes, how terribly, poignantly pertinent — your great books of the s and s are to the world of grfat …. At one level, it is a book about historical heresies, including Arianism, Albigensianism, Protestantism — as well as what you call a great modern heresy, yet unnamed …. Rather, it is all to do with the menacing power of this great still-unnamed heresy today. For this is certainly why you wrote it …. Heresy is … thought to be of no contemporary interest.
Interest in it is dead, because it deals with matter no one now takes seriously. Dear Reader, will you listen with me as Belloc unpacks why understanding heresy remains so vital today?
And will you bear with me if I not only quote Belloc at length, but even elaborate on this point myself? In thhe event, we see, with Belloc, that the first critical task is to understand and define what heresy is.
And that is exactly how Belloc opens the book. Here are his first sentences:. What is a heresy, and what is the historical importance of such a thing?
It is used vaguely because the modern mind is as averse to precision in ideas as it is enamoured of precision in measurement. It is used diversely because, hillaire to the man who uses it, it may represent any one of fifty things.
Yet the subject of heresy in general is of the highest importance to the individual and to society, and heresy in its particular meaning which is that of heresy in Christian doctrine is of special interest for anyone who would understand Europe: For herewies whole of that story, since the appearance of the Christian religion, has been the story of struggle and change, mainly preceded by, often, if not always, caused by … diversities of religious doctrine.
We must begin by a definition, although definition involves a mental effort and therefore repels. Heresy is the dislocation of some complete and self-supporting scheme by the introduction of a novel denial of some essential part therein [Italics mine]. It is of the essence of heresy that it leaves standing a great part of the structure it attacks.
On this account it can appeal to believers and continues to affect hresies lives through deflecting them from their original characters. For instance, that religion has for one essential part though it is only a part the statement that the individual soul is immortal — that personal conscience survives physical death.
Now if people believe that, they look at the world and themselves in a certain way and go on in a certain way and are people of a certain sort. What we believe or disbelieve shapes us in a very deep-seated manner. And if belief shapes the individual — what are we to conclude if we recognise not simply the individual, but the great mass of individuals who make up a society? Heresy originates a new life of its own and vitally affects the society it attacks.
The reason that men combat heresy is not only, ihlaire principally, conservatism — a devotion to routine, a dislike of disturbance in their habits of thought — it is much more a perception that the heresy, in so far as it gains ground, will produce a way of living and a social character at issue with, irritating, and perhaps mortal to, the way of living and the social herewies produced by the old orthodox scheme. Because heresy, in this particular sense the denial of an accepted Christian doctrine thus affects the individual, it affects all society, and when you are examining a society formed by a particular religion you necessarily concern yourself to the utmost with the warping or diminishing of that religion.
The ecclesiastics who fought so furiously over the details of definition in the Eastern councils had far more historical sense and were far more in touch with reality than the French sceptics, familiar to English readers through their disciple Gibbon.
A man who thinks, for instance, that Arianism is a mere discussion of wordsdoes not see that an Arian world would have been much more like a Mohammedan world than what the European world actually became.
Let us be clear. And so Belloc stresses how St.
BELLOC-THE GREAT HERESIES
Athanasius, who defeated the Arian heresy, was awake to that very fact …. That local council in Paris, which greaf the scale in favour of the Trinitarian tradition, was of as much effect as a decisive battle ….
The point is that the doctrine and its denial were formative of the nature of men, and the nature so formed determined the future of the society made up of those men. Heresy, then is not a fossil subject. It is a subject of permanent and vital interest to mankind because it is bound up with the subject yhe religion, without some form of which no human society ever has endured, or ever can endure. Changes in, or deflections from, that religion necessarily affect our civilization as a whole.
The whole story of Europe, her various realms and states and general bodies during the last sixteen centuries has mainly turned upon the successive heresies arising in the Christian world.
Hilaire Belloc on The Great Heresies (Review)
We are what we are today mainly because no one of those heresies finally overset our ancestral religion, but we are also what we are because each of them profoundly affected our fathers for generations, each heresy left behind its traces ….
Now, Belloc controversially argues that Islam is a heresy, according to the given definition of heresy — something that is not a wholesale denial of Christian truth, but rather a selective partaking of it. Thus he relates how Islam appropriated many core elements of Christianity — including hsresies veneration of the Virgin Mary!
That said, Belloc clearly acknowledges the atrocities of the Catholics — and highlights a crucial element much ignored these days. The Albigensian conflict grwat France was hilalre simply a religious matter; it was political.
It involved something like a civil war in France between the Catholic north and the increasingly Cathar south.
Considered in this light, it is easy to think of the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln unleashed terrible forces which wreaked horrific destruction on the American South — yet no-one looks at Lincoln as monstrous today.
None of this is to justify, of course, the tragedy of the war waged Catharism and velloc terrible atrocities. For tbe Catholic reader who simply wants history told in a rich, engaging way can learn much heresiies it, not only about the great heresies — but also about his own faith. Because each time Belloc considers a particular heresy — and its particular effects on culture — he simultaneously illumines just what the Catholic faith is.
This comes out distinctly as Belloc turns to the Reformation. Here he reflects profoundly on what Protestantism gave us — as grsat as what we lost. Here is but one example:. The Protestant culture … had more vitality. It had begun in a religious revolution; the eagerness of that revolution carried on and inspired it. It had broken up old traditions and bonds which had formed the framework of Catholic society for hundreds of years. The social stuff of Europe was dissolved in the Protestant culture more thoroughly than in the Catholic, and its dissolution released energies which Catholicism had restrained, especially the energy of competition [Italics mine].
The Great Heresies
All forms of innovation were naturally more favoured in the Protestant culture than in the Catholic; both cultures advanced rapidly in the physical sciences, in the colonisation of distant lands, in the expansion of Europe throughout the world; but the Protestants were more vigorous in all these than were the Catholics.
Yet whilst acknowledging this, Belloc turns to a theme well-familiar to his readers: Hilajre the Protestant culture save where it was remote and simple the free peasant, protected by ancient customs, declined. He died out because the old customs which supported him against the rich were broken up [Italics mine]. Rich men acquired the land; great masses of men formerly owning farms became destitute.
The modern proletariat began and heresids seeds of what we today call Capitalism were sown. We can see now what an evil that was, but at the time it meant that the land was better cultivated.
New and more scientific methods were more easily applied by the rich landowners of the new Protestant culture than by the Catholic traditional peasantry; and, competition being unchecked, the former triumphed. Again, inquiry tended to be more free in the Protestant culture than in the Catholic, because there was no one united authority of doctrine; and though in the long run this was bound to lead to the break-up of philosophy and of all sound thinking, the first effects were stimulating and vitalizing.
But the great, the chief, example of what was happening through the break-up of the old Catholic European unity, was the rise of banking. Usury was practised everywhere, but in the Catholic culture it was restricted by law and practised with difficulty.
In the Protestant culture it became a matter of course. Their mobile capital and credit kept on te compared with their total wealth. The mercantile spirit flourished vigorously among the Dutch and English, and the universal admission of competition continued to favour the growth of the Protestant side of Europe.
Whilst Belloc acknowledges Protestant innovation and a certain freedom of enquiry limited, it must be said, given the persecution of Catholicism in places like Ireland and Englandhe clearly regards the end results as tragic. He describes them thus:. The spiritual basis of Protestantism went to pieces through the breakdown of the Bible as a supreme authority. This breakdown was the result of that very spirit of sceptical inquiry upon which Protestantism grest always been based.
That great mass of Jewish folklore, poetry and traditional popular history and proverbial wisdom which we call the Old Testament, that body of records of the Early Church which we call the New Testament, the Catholic Church had declared to be Divinely inspired. Protestantism as we all know turned this very doctrine of the Church against the Church herself, and appealed to the Bible against Catholic authority. Hence the Bible — Old and New Testaments combined gfeat became an object of worship in itself throughout the Protestant culture.
There was a great deal of doubt and even paganism floating about before the end of the nineteenth century in the nations of Protestant culture; but the mass of their populations, in Germany as in England and Scandinavia, certainly in the United States, anchored themselves to the literal interpretation of the Bible [Italics mine].
Now historical research, research in physical science and research in textual criticism, shook this attitude. Gfeat Protestant culture began to go to the other extreme; from having worshipped the very text of the Bible as something immutable and the clear voice of God, it fell to doubting almost everything that the Bible contained. In most places where it was powerful and especially in England Protestantism had destroyed the peasantry altogether.
They had bred vast social evils which went from bad to worse, until men, without consciously appreciating the ultimate cause of those evils which cause is, of course, spiritual and religious at any rate found the evils unendurable.
Clearly, Belloc pulls no punches! The passage above is but one of many where Belloc argues that the Reformation was catastrophic, fostering the spirit of nationalism and the breakup of Christendom, culminating in World War I as well as:. The institutions of the Protestant hegemony — control by the banks, the levying of general grfat through international loans, the wholly competitive industrial system, the unchecked exploitation of a vast proletariat by a small capitalist class ….
I understand the feeling. When I was a New Ager — without the slightest notion as to what Catholicism was, nor much of history either — I would have found Belloc disagreeable indeed, perhaps even dangerous. Now, this foreboding sense of danger — grave, acute, and highly erudite — is key to understanding Fhe Belloc. He saw, moreover, that Christian Revelation existed … and that it was hardly unimportant.
Rather, it was critical for our civilisation! That Revelation included matters as vital as the Incarnation denied by Arianism or Transubstantiation denied by Protestantism. And it is precisely because those things are not trifles, but of consequence unfathomable, their denial is, likewise, of unfathomable consequence.
Dominic — he who had tried so hard to overcome Catharism in France. Belloc obviously also highly esteemed St. Ignatius who strived to overcome Protestantism. But if Belloc was not a saint like Ignatius or Dominic, still he cared very much about the course of humanity was taking — a course increasingly deprived of Christian Revelation. And his heart was pierced by that course. And so, like St. Dominic and St Ignatius, he launched a hilaore of sorts, with his books ….