Modern Phase attack on the Church from the left socialist and on the right by the Islamists
We approach the greatest moment of all. The Faith is now in the presence not of a particular heresy as in the past the Arian, the Manichean, the Albigensian, the Mohammedan nor is it in the presence of a sort of generalized heresy as it was when it had to meet the Protestant revolution from three to four hundred years ago.
The enemy which the Faith now has to meet, and which may be called "The Modern Attack," is a wholesale assault upon the fundamentals of the Faith upon the very existence of the Faith. And the enemy now advancing against us is increasingly conscious of the fact that there can be no question of neutrality.
The forces now opposed to the Faith design to ‘destroy’. The battle is henceforward engaged upon a definite line of cleavage, involving the survival or destruction of The Catholic Church. And, all if not a portion, of its philosophy.
We know, of course, that The Catholic Church cannot be destroyed. But what we do not know is the extent of the area over which it will survive; its power of revival or the power of the enemy to push it further and further back on to its last defences until it may seem as though anti-Christ had come and the final issue was about to be decided. Of such moment is the struggle immediately before the world.
To many who have no sympathy with Catholicism, who inherit the old Protestant animosity to The Church (although doctrinal Protestantism is now dead) and who think that any attack on The Church must somehow or other be a good thing, the struggle already appears as a coming or present attack on what they call "Christianity."
You will find people saying on every side that the Bolshevist movement (for instance) is "definitely anti-Christian"-_"opposed to every form of Christianity" and must be "resisted by all who call themselves Christians.
Speech and writing of this kind are futile because they mean nothing definite. There is no such thing as a religion called "Christianity" there never has been such a religion.
There is and always have been The Church, and various heresies proceeding from a rejection of some of the Church's doctrines by men who still desire to retain the rest of her teaching and morals. But there never has been and never can be or will be a general Christian religion professed by men who all accept some central important doctrines, while agreeing to differ about others.
There has always been, from the beginning, and will always be, The Church, and sundry heresies either doomed to decay, or, like Mohammedanism, to grow into a separate religion.
Of a common Christianity there has never been and never can be a definition, for it has never existed.
There is no essential doctrine such that if we can agree upon it we can differ about the rest: as for instance, to accept immortality but deny the Trinity. A man will call himself a Christian though he denies the unity of The Christian Church; he will call himself a Christian though he denies the presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament; he will cheerfully call himself a Christian though he denies the Incarnation.
No; the quarrel is between The Church and the anti-Church, The Church of God and anti-God, The Church of Christ and anti-Christ.
The truth is becoming every day so much more obvious that within a few years it will be universally admitted. I do not entitle the modern attack "anti-Christ" though in my heart I believe that to be the true term for it: No, I do not give it that name because it would seem for the moment exaggerated. But the name doesn't matter.
Whether we call it "The Modern Attack" or "anti-Christ" it is all one; there is a clear issue now joined between the retention of Catholic morals, tradition, and authority on the one side, and the active effort to destroy them on the other. The modern attack will not tolerate us. It will attempt to destroy us. Nor can we tolerate it. We must attempt to destroy it as being the fully equipped and ardent enemy of the Truth by which men live. The duel is to the death.
Men sometimes call the modern attack "a return to Paganism." That definition is true if we mean by paganism a denial of Catholic truth: if we mean by Paganism a denial of the Incarnation, of human immortality, of the unity and personality of God, of man's direct responsibility to God, and all that body of thought, feeling, doctrine and culture which is summed up in the word "Catholic," then, and in that sense, the modern attack is a return to Paganism.
But there is more than one brand of Paganism. There was a Paganism out of which we all came the noble, civilized Paganism of Greece and Rome. There was the barbaric Paganism of the outer savage tribes, German, Slavonic and the rest. There is the degraded Paganism of Africa, the alien and despairing Paganism of Asia. Now since, from all of these, it has been found possible to draw men towards the universal Church, any new Paganism rejecting The Church now known would certainly be quite unlike the Paganisms to which The Church was or is unknown.
A man going uphill may be at the same level as another man going down hill; but they are facing different ways and have different destinies. Our world, passing out of the old Paganism of Greece and Rome towards the consummation of Christendom and a Catholic civilization from which we all derive, is the very negation of the same world leaving the light of its ancestral religion and sliding back into the dark.
These things being so, let us examine the Modern Attack the anti-Christian advance and distinguish its special nature.
We find, to begin with, that it is at once materialist and superstitious. There is here a contradiction in reason, but the modern phase, the anti-Christian advance, has abandoned reason. It is concerned with the destruction of The Catholic Church and the civilization preceding there from. It is not troubled by apparent contradictions within its own body so long as the general alliance is one for the ending of all that by which we have hitherto lived.
The modern attack is materialistic because in its philosophy it considers only material causes. It is superstitious only as a by-product of this state of mind. It nourishes on its surface the silly vagaries of spiritualism, the vulgar nonsense of "Christian Science," and heaven knows how many other fantasies. But these follies are bred, not from a hunger for religion, but from the same root as that which has made the world materialist from an inability to understand the prime truth that faith is at the root of knowledge; from thinking that no truth is appreciable save through direct experience.
Thus the spiritualist boasts of his demonstrable manifestations, and his various rivals of their direct clear proofs; but all are agreed that Revelation is to be denied. It has been well remarked that nothing is more striking than the way in which all the modern quasi-religious practices are agreed upon ‘this’ that Revelation is to be denied.
We may take it then that the new advance against The Church what will perhaps prove the final advance against The Church, what is at any rate the only modern enemy of consequence is fundamentally materialist. It is materialist in its reading of history, and above all in its proposals for social reform.
Being Atheist, it is characteristic of the advancing wave that it repudiates the human reason. Such an attitude would seem again to be a contradiction in terms; for if you deny the value of human reason, if you say that we cannot through our reason arrive at any truth, then not even the affirmation so made can be true. Nothing can be true, and nothing is worth saying.
But that great Modern Attack (which is more than a heresy) is indifferent to self-contradiction. It merely affirms. It advances like an animal, counting on strength alone. Indeed, it may be remarked in passing that this may well be the cause of its final defeat; for hitherto reason has always overcome its opponents; and man is the master of the beast through reason.
Anyhow, there you have the Modern Attack in its main character, materialist, and atheist; and, being atheist, it is necessarily indifferent to truth. For God is Truth.
But there is, (as the greatest of the ancient Greeks discovered) a certain indissoluble Trinity of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. You cannot deny or attack one of these three without at the same time denying or attacking both the others. Therefore with the advance of this new and terrible enemy against the Faith and all that civilization which the Faith produces, there is coming not only a contempt for beauty but a hatred of it; and immediately upon the heels of this there appears a contempt and hatred for virtue.
The better dupes, the less vicious converts to the enemy, talk vaguely of a "readjustment, a new world, a new order"; but they do not begin by telling us, as in common reason they should, upon what principles this new order is to be raised. They do not define the end they have in view. Communism (which is only one manifestation, and probably a passing one, of this Modern Attack) professes to be directed towards a certain good, to wit, the abolition of poverty. But it does not tell you why this should be a good; it does not admit that its scheme is also to destroy other things which are also by the common consent of mankind good; the family, property (which is the guarantee of individual freedom and individual dignity), humour, mercy, and every form of what we consider right living.
Well, give it what name you like, call it as I do here "The Modern Attack," or as I think men will soon have to call it, "Anti-Christ," or call it by the temporary borrowed term of "Bolshevism" (which is only the Russian for "whole hogger"), we know the ‘thing’ well enough. It is ‘not’ the revolt of the oppressed; it is not the rising of the proletariat against capitalist injustice and cruelty; it is something from without, some evil spirit taking advantage of men's distress and of their anger against unjust conditions.
Now that thing is at our gates. Ultimately, of course, it is the fruit of the original break-up of Christendom at the Reformation. It began in the denial of a central authority, it has ended by telling man that he is sufficient to himself, and it has set up everywhere great idols to be worshipped as gods. It is not only on the Communist side that this appears, it appears also in the organizations opposed to Communism; in the races and nations where mere force is set in the place of God.
These also set up idols which hideous human sacrifice is paid. By these also justice and the right order of things are denied. Such is the nature of the battle now engaged and against such enemies the position of The Catholic Church today seems weak indeed. But there are certain forces in her favour which may lead, after all, to a reaction, whence the power of the Church over mankind may re-arise.
I shall in my next pages consider what the immediate results may be of this new great idolatry; and in the pages following I shall discuss the main question of all. It is this: whether things point to The Church's becoming an isolated fortress defending itself against great odds, an ark in the midst of a rising flood which, though it does not sink the vessel, covers and destroys all else; or whether The Church shall perhaps be restored to something of her ancient power.
There is not, as there was even quite a short time ago, a confused and heterogeneous margin or penumbra which could talk with confidence of itself under the vague title of "Christian," and speak confidently of some imaginary religion called "Christianity." No. There are today already almost quite distinct and sharing the field between them, soon to be as markedly exposed as black and white, The Catholic Church on one side, and on the other opponents of what has hitherto been our civilization.
The ranks have lined up as for a battle; and though such clear division does not mean that the one or the other antagonist will conquer, it does mean that a plain issue is defined at last; and in plain issues a good cause, like a bad one, has a better chance than in confusion.
Even the most misguided or the most ignorant of men, talking vaguely of "Churches," are now using a language that rings hollow. The last generation could talk, in Protestant countries at least, of "the Churches." The present generation cannot.
There are not many churches; there is one. it is The Catholic Church on the one side and its mortal enemy on the other. The lists are set. Thus are we now in the presence of the most momentous question that has yet been presented to the mind of man. Thus are we placed at a dividing of the ways, upon which the whole future of our race will turn?
H Belloc 1936