Thursday, 31 October 2013


Materialists and the Marriage Tie.            

Mr. Cecil Chesterton, a brother of the famous "G.K.," is a convert, and was received into the Church by Rev. Father Sebastian Bowden, in 1912. As a journalist and author, he is almost as well known as the predominating genius of the Chesterton family.   With Hilaire Belloc, he has been associated in the conduct of the "Eye-Witness," and he has written such books as " The Party System " (Hilaire Belloc, joint author)   "Gladstonian Ghosts," "The People's Drink," "Party and People," and "Nell Gwynne." Naturally, when it was announced that he would lecture before the annual conference of the Catholic Young Men's Society of Great Britain considerable interest was, manifested.  Taking as his subject "Enemies of the Faith," Mr. Cecil Chesterton prefaced his remarks with an apologetic allusion to the "presumption" on the part of a convert of less than three years' standing addressing lifelong adherents of the faith. In the course of a clever and vigorous championship of Catholicism, he said that among the things that helped to confirm him in the faith that that Church was a Divine institution, was the undeniable fact that while the Church remained immovable, being founded on a Rock, always teaching the same faith, the enemies of the Church moved round and round, attacking it now from one side and now from another, their only unity being the hatred of the Church itself. Mr. Chesterton, in a thoughtful, historical survey, adduced numerous instances to support this contention.

The Time of the Reformation.

He invited his hearers to recall to their minds the general lines of the attack at the time of the Reformation; what were the special points upon which the faith was then called in question; and then ask themselves what had become of those points to day. First, there was the Bible. The Church was accused of making little of Holy Scripture, because, though it affirmed then, as it affirms now, that Holy Scripture is a divine revelation, yet it would not regard it as the one and only form of divine authority. What was the situation to-day ? They were now attacked for believing in the Bible.
Another doctrine that was attacked at the Reformation was that of Purgatory. The Church was accused of sentimentally diluting the awful truths of judgment and punishment. The Protestants held that only for a few elect was there any hope of heaven ; the mass of sinning and suffering mankind were by a divine decree cast out of God's presence for ever. The attack now was again the exact opposite.
The honour paid to Our Lady and the saints was one of the main attacks at the Reformation, on the ground that by so doing we robbed Jesus Christ of His special honour as God.
As an extraordinary conclusion of the whole matter, they found those same heretics who two or three centuries ago were attacking the Catholic Church for belittling Our Lord's divinity, now making that divinity mean no more than, if as much as was meant by calling a man a saint.
Speaking of Modernism, in passing, Mr. Chesterton said that even human wisdom and experience ought to prevent people from being Modernists. What would have happened if the Modernists of the Reformation period could have captured the Church? For there were such; they might fairly identify the Jansenists with them. If the Church could have been beguiled, it would have lost all possibility of a hold over the future, for "Modernism means, if it means anything, keeping your eye on the fashions instead of on the truth," said Mr. Chesterton, amidst laughter. It appeared very clear to him that, one great revolution in the character of the attack having occurred since the Reformation, they were now on the eve of another. The Church, since the decline of Protestantism, had been very heavily hampered for about two hundred years by the batteries of what they might roughly call Rationalism. The shells which still fall on them from the old Rationalist batteries, besides being old-fashioned, were even fewer and farther between, and shells were beginning to hit now from an opposite quarter. By the Rationalist attack he meant an attack which proceeded from men who differed very widely, as did the Protestants, in many of their views, but who nevertheless were to some extent at least united in criticising the Church along three converging lines of thought. Their first attack was on the supernatural, and consisted mainly in a complete denial, always of the existence, and sometimes of the possibility, of miracles. It consisted in maintaining with great emphasis that all the phenomena of life could be referred to the purely mechanical operation of natural laws, and that any one who went outside natural law for the explanation of any phenomenon was writing himself down as a dupe of superstition.

Human Reason.

The second was that which gave the name Rationalist to the movement; the insistence on the human reason as the one and only possible means of arriving at truth, and the assertion that any truth which could not be demonstrated to the reason directly must be rejected, and that it was immoral to accept any truth on authority, human or divine. They said the Church challenged human reason by asking men to believe things of which they could not be rationally certain. The Secularist or Humanitarian aspect of Rationalism came to this: that the Church was primarily accused of thwarting human progress and interfering with the better government of this world by distracting men's minds to the supernatural. The enemies of the Church did succeed in creating a mental association in the minds of many men between a resistance to reform, and that concentration on the unseen which was, of course, the inevitable result of the faith. In that way they were able to bring against the Church, apart from their purely intellectual arguments, an immense mass of human feeling and tradition which was very much concentrated on the idea of reforming the institutions of this world.  
Those were the three great grounds of the Rationalist attack on the faith. What had become of them successively. First, the question of the supernatural. Undoubtedly, one of the most potent influences that made men in the 18th and early part of the 19th century leave the Christian faith altogether for Deism and Theism or Agnosticism was the general ridicule thrown on miracles. Those who at that time were playing the foolish and mischievous game of trying to reconcile the eternal truths of the faith with the passing fashions of the hour, were very busy in trying to strip off all that was miraculous from the Christian faith, a process which would leave no Christian faith to be stripped. If they looked at those essays in which Professor Huxley attacked the miraculous stories of the New Testament, they would find, he said, that if Christianity were to stand or fall by the belief in the miraculous as exhibited in such records, Christianity would die; but he went on to say that he himself believed that the kernel — the morality — of Christianity would survive the destruction of the miraculous part of its teaching. That was the view of a very large number of people at that time. But there had been a tremendous resurrection in belief in the supernatural all over the Protestant and free-thinking world. Being outside the Church, that resurrection had, unfortunately, like the Puritan super-naturalism in the Calvinist State of the 17th century, mostly taken the form of diabolism, spiritualism, or crystal gazing, or, as he preferred to call it, witchcraft.    

A Heavy Assault on Christian Morals.

Instead of Huxley's prophecy being fulfilled, and the moral part of Christianity being preserved while all belief in the supernatural was abandoned, what they were actually seeing was a heavy assault on Christian morals; and yet, with all that anarchy in morals, a mass of superstition, most of which was almost certainly fraud, some of it perhaps something worse, flourished all over the moral world. As the speaker's brother put it, they had only lost the Saviour ; they had kept the devils and the swine.
With regard to the second Rationalist point, the supremacy of the human reason, just as now the mere superstitious Bibliolatry of the early Protestants had failed, and Catholics were left as practically the only people who still believed in the Bible, so now, when the old Rationalism was fading, they would very soon be left, if modern European literature was any sample, as the only people who believed that there was any authority in reason. That was not nonsense, but was the irresistible conclusion forced by the current talk of all the universities, of all the philosophical magazines, throughout Europe. Pragmatism meant not that you had got to believe certain things over and above your reason because you were commanded by an authority recognised as divine; but that you were to believe, anything which the human will desired to believe and that made it true. (Laughter). That he called an absolute amputation of the reason. It was asking them to blaspheme against the reason, a thing which the Catholic Church had never done. Even Mr. Bernard Shaw in all he wrote on philosophy and religion derided the reason quite as heartily as ever secularist derided the Bible. (Laughter).

The Church not Hostile to Social Reform.

Mr. Chesterton also vigorously repelled the assertion that the Church was hostile to social reform. To the materialist philosophy "man" was simply a biological label which was given to a certain group of living animals differing among themselves, and forming really a sort of chain with the ape at one end and the superman at the other. (Laughter.)  That was the view of man taught by materialistic science, and it was a view patently incompatible with the theory of any rights of man whatsoever. Having referred to the materialistic basis of Socialism and the Church's opposition to it, being the only organisation strong enough and democratic enough to fight it, Mr. Chesterton remarked that not only had the Church been proved right, but there had risen from the Socialist movement itself another movement called Syndicalism, very vague in its aims, very loose in its philosophical basis, but, as far as its criticism of Socialism went, following exactly the lines laid down by Pope Leo XIII. Men who looked at history in tiny sectors or who only saw the things of their own time could always make out an apparent case for the view that the Church was reactionary and opposed to reform. But if they took history in the lump they would draw a precisely opposite conclusion.

The Weakening of the Marriage Ties.

"If a materialist theory of society be taken as the basis for the reform of abuses, what you will get will not be Socialism, but a retain to that servile basis of society from which the Catholic Church originally freed Europe," said Mr. Chesterton. There were abundant signs of this tendency already. As Mr. Hilaire Belloc had pointed out, the instrument by which the slave was emancipated under the Catholic Church was mainly the safeguarding of the family, and the one thing now wanted to complete the enslavement of the people was the weakening of the marriage ties, and the present most insidious attack upon the Church took the form of the cry for the cheapening of divorce facilities, and the next step would be that the marriages of the poor would be dissolved without their consent, and there would be introduced that abomination called eugenics — of which he could not trust him self to speak — to further debase the mass of the people to below the level of the beasts. So far as he could see, the only shield now remaining to protect the poor from utter slavery was the Catholic faith. (Applause.)

Other Speakers.

Bishop Vaughan moved a vote of thanks to Mr. Chesterton for his lecture, and remarked that they had seen clearly illustrated by an appeal to history how the Church conducted herself amongst the various circumstances and dangers with which she was confronted from age to age, and how she was changeless amidst change. His Lord ship pointed out a danger to religion in the intense activity of our own times. A person might be occupied in what was innocent in itself, but if his occupation spread over practically the whole of his life and left no opportunity for the exercise of supernatural duties, it had the effect of destroying him just as certainly as a direct attack.
Mr. Chesterton, in responding to the vote of thanks, remarked that since August there were two theories current about the morals of war, and both of them appeared to him to be equally idiotic. The Prussian view was that "you are to kill because it is good," and that "if you can kill it proves that you ought to kill." The other theory was that you must stand by and see gross injustice done on every occasion rather than take the sword to right that injustice. Like other heresies, these were facts of the same thing. The root cause of both was materialism. Materialism could be interpreted either that the strongest shall always conquer the weakest, and the weakest had better submit — that was the optimistic view — or it could be interpreted on the other hand to mean that the weakest must always submit to the strongest because they are weak; that was the pessimistic view. But both of those creeds came from materialism, and in the centre as usual came the Catholic faith, with its inspired common-sense, defining now, as ever, the sound and true ethics of war should be resistance to evil. (Applause.)

 The Catholic Press 22 July 1915,

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