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Author: Hilaire Belloc Europe and the Faith "Sine auctoritate nulla vita"

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Title: Europe and the Faith

"Sine auctoritate nulla vita"

Author: Hilaire Belloc
Europe and the Faith
"Sine auctoritate nulla vita"
Hilaire Belloc





I say the Catholic "conscience" of history--I say "conscience"--that is,

an intimate knowledge through identity: the intuition of a thing which is

one with the knower--I do not say "The Catholic Aspect of History." This

talk of "aspects" is modern and therefore part of a decline: it is false,

and therefore ephemeral: I will not stoop to it. I will rather do homage

to truth and say that there is no such thing as a Catholic "aspect"

of European history. There is a Protestant aspect, a Jewish aspect, a

Mohammedan aspect, a Japanese aspect, and so forth. For all of these look

on Europe from without. The Catholic sees Europe from within. There is no

more a Catholic "aspect" of European history than there is a man's "aspect"

of himself.

Sophistry does indeed pretend that there is even a man's "aspect" of

himself. In nothing does false philosophy prove itself more false. For

a man's way of perceiving himself (when he does so honestly and after a

cleansing examination of his mind) is in line with his Creator's, and

therefore with reality: he sees from within.
Let me pursue this metaphor. Man has in him conscience, which is the voice

of God. Not only does he know by this that the outer world is real, but

also that his own personality is real.
When a man, although flattered by the voice of another, yet says within

himself, "I am a mean fellow," he has hold of reality. When a man, though

maligned of the world, says to himself of himself, "My purpose was just,"

he has hold of reality. He knows himself, for he is himself. A man does not

know an infinite amount about himself. But the finite amount he does know

is all in the map; it is all part of what is really there. What he does not

know about himself would, did he know it, fit in with what he does know

about himself. There are indeed "aspects" of a man for all others except

these two, himself and God Who made him. These two, when they regard him,

see him as he is; all other minds have their several views of him; and

these indeed are "aspects," each of which is false, while all differ. But

a man's view of himself is not an "aspect:" it is a comprehension.

Now then, so it is with us who are of the Faith and the great story of

Europe. A Catholic as he reads that story does not grope at it from

without, he understands it from within. He cannot understand it altogether

because he is a finite being; but he is also that which he has to

understand. The Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith.
The Catholic brings to history (when I say "history" in these pages I mean

the history of Christendom) self-knowledge. As a man in the confessional

accuses himself of what he knows to be true and what other people cannot

judge, so a Catholic, talking of the united European civilization, when he

blames it, blames it for motives and for acts which are his own. He himself

could have done those things in person. He is not relatively right in his

blame, he is absolutely right. As a man can testify to his own motive so

can the Catholic testify to unjust, irrelevant, or ignorant conceptions

of the European story; for he knows why and how it proceeded. Others, not

Catholic, look upon the story of Europe externally as strangers. _They_

have to deal with something which presents itself to them partially and

disconnectedly, by its phenomena alone: _he_ sees it all from its centre in

its essence, and together.
I say again, renewing the terms, The Church is Europe: and Europe is The

The Catholic conscience of history is not a conscience which begins with

the development of the Church in the basin of the Mediterranean. It

goes back much further than that. The Catholic understands the soil in

which that plant of the Faith arose. In a way that no other man can, he

understands the Roman military effort; why that effort clashed with the

gross Asiatic and merchant empire of Carthage; what we derived from the

light of Athens; what food we found in the Irish and the British, the

Gallic tribes, their dim but awful memories of immortality; what cousinship

we claim with the ritual of false but profound religions, and even how

ancient Israel (the little violent people, before they got poisoned,

while they were yet National in the mountains of Judea) was, in the old

dispensation at least, central and (as we Catholics say) sacred: devoted to

a peculiar mission.

For the Catholic the whole perspective falls into its proper order. The

picture is normal. Nothing is distorted to him. The procession of our great

story is easy, natural, and full. It is also final.
But the modern Catholic, especially if he is confined to the use of

the English tongue, suffers from a deplorable (and it is to be hoped),

a passing accident. No modern book in the English tongue gives him a

conspectus of the past; he is compelled to study violently hostile

authorities, North German (or English copying North German), whose

knowledge is never that of the true and balanced European.

He comes perpetually across phrases which he sees at once to be absurd,

either in their limitations or in the contradictions they connote. But

unless he has the leisure for an extended study, he cannot put his finger

upon the precise mark of the absurdity. In the books he reads--if they

are in the English language at least--he finds things lacking which his

instinct for Europe tells him should be there; but he cannot supply their

place because the man who wrote those books was himself ignorant of such

things, or rather could not conceive them.

I will take two examples to show what I mean. The one is the present

battlefield of Europe: a large affair not yet cleared, concerning all

nations and concerning them apparently upon matters quite indifferent to

the Faith. It is a thing which any stranger might analyze (one would think)

and which yet no historian explains.
The second I deliberately choose as an example particular and narrow: an

especially doctrinal story. I mean the story of St. Thomas of Canterbury,

of which the modern historian makes nothing but an incomprehensible

contradiction; but which is to a Catholic a sharp revelation of the

half-way house between the Empire and modern nationalities.
As to the first of these two examples: Here is at last the Great War in

Europe: clearly an issue--things come to a head. How came it? Why these two

camps? What was this curious grouping of the West holding out in desperate

Alliance against the hordes that Prussia drove to a victory apparently

inevitable after the breakdown of the Orthodox Russian shell? Where lay the

roots of so singular a contempt for our old order, chivalry and morals, as

Berlin then displayed? Who shall explain the position of the Papacy, the

question of Ireland, the aloofness of old Spain?

It is all a welter if we try to order it by modern, external--especially

by any materialist or even skeptical--analysis. It was not climate against

climate--that facile materialist contrast of "environment," which is the

crudest and stupidest explanation of human affairs. It was not race--if

indeed any races can still be distinguished in European blood save broad

and confused appearances, such as Easterner and Westerner, short and tall,

dark and fair. It was not--as another foolish academic theory (popular some

years ago) would pretend--an economic affair. There was here no revolt of

rich against poor, no pressure of undeveloped barbarians against developed

lands, no plan of exploitation, nor of men organized, attempting to seize

the soil of less fruitful owners.
How came these two opponents into being, the potential antagonism of which

was so strong that millions willingly suffered their utmost for the sake of

a decision?
That man who would explain the tremendous judgment on the superficial test

of religious differences among modern "sects" must be bewildered indeed!

I have seen the attempt made in more than one journal and book, enemy and

Allied. The results are lamentable!

Prussia indeed, the protagonist, was atheist. But her subject provinces

supported her exultantly, Catholic Cologne and the Rhine and tamely

Catholic Bavaria. Her main support--without which she could not have

challenged Europe--was that very power whose sole reason for being was

Catholicism: the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine which, from Vienna, controlled

and consolidated the Catholic against the Orthodox Slav: the House of

Hapsburg-Lorraine was the champion of Catholic organization in Eastern

The Catholic Irish largely stood apart.

Spain, not devout at all, but hating things not Catholic because those

things are foreign, was more than apart. Britain had long forgotten the

unity of Europe. France, a protagonist, was notoriously divided within

herself over the religious principle of that unity. No modern religious

analysis such as men draw up who think of religion as Opinion will

make anything of all this. Then why was there a fight? People who

talk of "Democracy" as the issue of the Great War may be neglected:

Democracy--one noble, ideal, but rare and perilous, form of human

government--was not at stake. No historian can talk thus. The essentially

aristocratic policy of England now turned to a plutocracy, the despotism

of Russia and Prussia, the immense complex of all other great modern

states gives such nonsense the lie.

People who talk of "A struggle for supremacy between the two Teutonic

champions Germany and England" are less respectable still. England is not

Teutonic, and was not protagonist. The English Cabinet decided by but

the smallest possible majority (a majority of one) to enter the war. The

Prussian Government never dreamt it would have to meet England at all.

There is no question of so single an issue. The world was at war. Why? No

man is an historian who cannot answer from the past. All who can answer

from the past, and are historians, see that it is the historical depth of

the European faith, not its present surface, which explains all.
The struggle was against Prussia.
Why did Prussia arise? Because the imperfect Byzantine evangelization of

the Eastern Slavonic Plains just failed to meet, there in Prussia, the

western flood of living tradition welling up from Rome. Prussia was an

hiatus. In that small neglected area neither half cultivated from the

Byzantine East nor fully from the Roman West rose a strong garden of weeds.

And weeds sow themselves. Prussia, that is, this patch of weeds, could not

extend until the West weakened through schism. It had to wait till the

battle of the Reformation died down. But it waited. And at last, when there

was opportunity, it grew prodigiously. The weed patch over-ran first Poland

and the Germanies, then half Europe. When it challenged all civilization at

last it was master of a hundred and fifty million souls.
What are the tests of this war? In their vastly different fashions they

are Poland and Ireland--the extreme islands of tenacious tradition: the

conservators of the Past through a national passion for the Faith.
The Great War was a clash between an uneasy New Thing which desired to live

its own distorted life anew and separate from Europe, and the old Christian

rock. This New Thing is, in its morals, in the morals spread upon it by

Prussia, the effect of that great storm wherein three hundred years ago

Europe made shipwreck and was split into two. This war was the largest, yet

no more than the recurrent, example of that unceasing wrestle: the outer,

the unstable, the untraditional--which is barbarism--pressing blindly

upon the inner, the traditional, the strong--which is Ourselves: which is

Christendom: which is Europe.
Small wonder that the Cabinet at Westminster hesitated!
We used to say during the war that if Prussia conquered civilization

failed, but that if the Allies conquered civilization was

reestablished--What did we mean? We meant, not that the New Barbarians

could not handle a machine: They can. But we meant that they had learnt all

from us. We meant that they cannot _continue of themselves_; and that we

can. We meant that they have no roots.

When we say that Vienna was the tool of Berlin, that Madrid should be

ashamed, what do we mean? It has no meaning save that civilization is

one and we its family: That which challenged us, though it controlled

so much which should have aided us and was really our own, was external

to civilization and did not lose that character by the momentary use of

civilized Allies.

When we said that "the Slav" failed us, what did we mean? It was not a

statement of race. Poland is Slav, so is Serbia: they were two vastly

differing states and yet both with us. It meant that the Byzantine

influence was never sufficient to inform a true European state or to teach

Russia a national discipline; because the Byzantine Empire, the tutor of

Russia, was cut off from us, the Europeans, the Catholics, the heirs, who

are the conservators of the world.
The Catholic Conscience of Europe grasped this war--with apologies where

it was in the train of Prussia, with affirmation where it was free. It

saw what was toward. It weighed, judged, decided upon the future--the two

alternative futures which lie before the world.

All other judgments of the war made nonsense: You had, on the Allied side,

the most vulgar professional politicians and their rich paymasters shouting

for "Democracy;" pedants mumbling about "Race." On the side of Prussia (the

negation of nationality) you have the use of some vague national mission of

conquest divinely given to the very various Germans and the least competent

to govern. You would come at last (if you listened to such varied cries)

to see the Great War as a mere folly, a thing without motive, such as the

emptiest internationals conceive the thing to have been.

So much for the example of the war. It is explicable as a challenge to the

tradition of Europe. It is inexplicable on any other ground. The Catholic

alone is in possession of the tradition of Europe: he alone can see and

judge in this matter.

From so recent and universal an example I turn to one local, distant,

precise, in which this same Catholic Conscience of European history may be

Consider the particular (and clerical) example of Thomas ŕ Becket: the

story of St. Thomas of Canterbury. I defy any man to read the story of

Thomas a Becket in Stubbs, or in Green, or in Bright, or in any other of

our provincial Protestant handbooks, and to make head or tail of it.

Here is a well-defined and limited subject of study. It concerns only a

few years. A great deal is known about it, for there are many contemporary

accounts. Its comprehension is of vast interest to history. The Catholic

may well ask: "How it is I cannot understand the story as told by these

Protestant writers? Why does it not make sense?"
The story is briefly this: A certain prelate, the Primate of England at the

time, was asked to admit certain changes in the status of the clergy. The

chief of these changes was that men attached to the Church in any way even

by minor orders (not necessarily priests) should, if they committed a crime

amenable to temporal jurisdiction, be brought before the ordinary courts of

the country instead of left, as they had been for centuries, to their own

courts. The claim was, at the time, a novel one. The Primate of England

resisted that claim. In connection with his resistance he was subjected to

many indignities, many things outrageous to custom were done against him;

but the Pope doubted whether his resistance was justified, and he was

finally reconciled with the civil authority. On returning to his See at

Canterbury he became at once the author of further action and the subject

of further outrage, and within a short time he was murdered by his

exasperated enemies.

His death raised a vast public outcry. His monarch did penance for it.

But _all the points on which he had resisted_ were in practice waived by

the Church at last. The civil state's original claim was _in practice_

recognized at last. Today it appears to be plain justice. The chief of St.

Thomas' contentions, for instance, that men in orders should be exempt from

the ordinary courts, seems as remote as chain armors.

So far, so good. The opponent of the Faith will say, and has said in a

hundred studies--that this resistance was nothing more than that always

offered by an old organization to a new development.
Of course it was! It is equally true to say of a man who objects to an

aëroplane smashing in the top of his studio that it is the resistance of an

old organization to a new development. But such a phrase in no way explains

the business; and when the Catholic begins to examine the particular case

of St. Thomas, he finds a great many things to wonder at and to think

about, upon which his less European opponents are helpless and silent.

I say "helpless" because in their attitude they give up trying to explain.

They record these things, but they are bewildered by them. They can explain

St. Thomas' particular action simply enough: too simply. He was (they

say) a man living in the past. But when they are asked to explain the

vast consequences that followed his martyrdom, they have to fall back

upon the most inhuman and impossible hypotheses; that "the masses were

ignorant"--that is as compared with other periods in human history (what,

more ignorant than today?) that "the Papacy engineered an outburst of

popular enthusiasm." As though the Papacy were a secret society like modern

Freemasonry, with some hidden machinery for "engineering" such things. As

though the type of enthusiasm produced by the martyrdom was the wretched

mechanical thing produced now by caucus or newspaper "engineering!" As

though nothing _besides_ such interferences was there to arouse the whole

populace of Europe to such a pitch!

As to the miracles which undoubtedly took place at St. Thomas' tomb, the

historian who hates or ignores the Faith had (and has) three ways of

denying them. The first is to say nothing about them. It is the easiest way

of telling a lie. The second is to say that they were the result of a vast

conspiracy which the priests directed and the feeble acquiescence of the

maim, the halt and the blind supported. The third (and for the moment most

popular) is to give them modern journalistic names, sham Latin and Greek

confused, which, it is hoped, will get rid of the miraculous character;

notably do such people talk of "auto-suggestion."
Now the Catholic approaching this wonderful story, when he has read all the

original documents, understands it easily enough from within.

He sees that the stand made by St. Thomas was not very important in

its special claims, and was probably (taken as an isolated action)

unreasonable. But he soon gets to see, as he reads and as he notes the

rapid and profound transformation of all civilization which was taking

place in that generation, that St. Thomas was standing out for a

principle, ill clothed in his particular plea, but absolute in its general

appreciation: the freedom of the Church. He stood out in particular for

what _had_ been the concrete symbols of the Church's liberty in the past.

The direction of his actions was everything, whether his symbol was well

or ill chosen. The particular customs might go. But to challenge the new

claims of civil power at that moment was to save the Church. A movement

was afoot which might have then everywhere accomplished what was only

accomplished in parts of Europe four hundred years later, to wit, a

dissolution of the unity and the discipline of Christendom.

St. Thomas had to fight on ground chosen by the enemy; he fought and he

resisted in the spirit dictated by the Church. He fought for no dogmatic

point, he fought for no point to which the Church of five hundred years

earlier or five hundred years later would have attached importance. He

fought for things which were purely temporal arrangements; which had indeed

until quite recently been the guarantee of the Church's liberty, but which

were in his time upon the turn of becoming negligible. _But the spirit

in which he fought was a determination that the Church should never be

controlled by the civil power_, and the spirit against which he fought

was the spirit which either openly or secretly believes the Church to be

an institution merely human, and therefore naturally subjected, as an

inferior, to the processes of the monarch's (or, worse, the politician's)

A Catholic sees, as he reads the story, that St. Thomas was obviously and

necessarily to lose, in the long run, every concrete point on which he had

stood out, and yet he saved throughout Europe the ideal thing for which he

was standing out. A Catholic perceives clearly why the enthusiasm of the

populace rose: the guarantee of the plain man's healthy and moral existence

against the threat of the wealthy, and the power of the State--the

self-government of the general Church, had been defended by a champion

up to the point of death. For the morals enforced by the Church are the

guarantee of freedom.
Further the Catholic reader is not content, as is the non-Catholic, with a

blind, irrational assertion that the miracles _could_ not take place. He is

not wholly possessed of a firm, and lasting faith that no marvelous events

ever take place. He reads the evidence. He cannot believe that there was

a conspiracy of falsehood (in the lack of all proof of such conspiracy).

He is moved to a conviction that events so minutely recorded and so amply

testified, happened. Here again is the European, the chiefly reasonable

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