In order to understand this very great thing which captured and transformed the old pagan world, we must grasp its nature. We must be able to answer the question, “what was it that spread so rapidly and so triumphantly throughout the Graeco-Roman world?’Secondly, we must appreciate the “method’ by which this revolution was accomplished; lastly in order to understand both the nature and the method of the ‘thing’ we must discover why it met with so ‘intense a resistance’, for that resistance explains both its character and its ways of propagation and it was victory over that resistance which established the Catholic Faith and practice so firmly over our race for so many centuries and generations.
First then, as to the nature of the conquest. The great change did not come because ‘it met a need’; it did indeed meet needs that were universal. It filled up that aching void in the soul which was the prime malady of the dying ancient society; also it relieved and dissipated despair, the capital burden imposed by that void.
Yet the meeting of the need was not the essential character of the new ‘thing’; it was not the driving power behind the great change; it was only a result incidental thereof.
It was not merely in order to assuage such needs of the spirit that men turned towards the Catholic Church: had that been so, we should have been able to trace the steps whereby from vague gropings and half-satisfied longings there should have crystallized this and that myth, this and that fulfillment of desire by imagination, until the system should have come into being long after the inception of the first influences.
That such a gradual process did take place is commonly affirmed by those who have not a sufficient acquaintance, even on the largest lines with the ‘thing’ historically but in fact nothing of the kind took place. You discover not a vague frame of mind, but a definite society from the first; no criticism of documents or of tradition can prevent any other conclusion.
A man appeared, gathered together a certain company and taught.
And not only so soon ass that company begins to act, but at the root of all memory with regard to its action, you have the specific claim of Divine revelation in the Teacher, of His Human and Divine nature; of His resurrection from the dead; of His establishing a central rite of Sacrifice, which was called the Eucharist (the Act of Gratitude); the claim to authority; the Apostolic organization of the tradition; the presence of a hierarchy and all the rest.
part 3 to follow
From The Foundation of Christendom by H. Belloc,