Survivals and New Arrivals: The Old and New Enemies of the Catholic Church/Chapter IV
While the Faith is engaged in its main modern battle with the positive forces of Nationalism and Anti-Clericalism, the negative force of intellectual decline, those who are to be our next antagonists, after these are spent, wait in reserve: they will conduct the attack in the near future.
To change the metaphor, the New Arrivals are waiting in the wings while the Main Opposition of our day still fills the stage and the Survivals are filing away to their exits.
Now to appreciate the character of the New Arrivals at any epoch of the Church's history is essential to understanding Her position at that epoch: but it is also the hardest task of all. It is essential, because, by the nature of the New Arrivals do we test the effect the Church is having on Her time: the reaction which She, for the moment, provokes. It is difficult because the things to be studied are not yet developed. They are still slight in substance or embryonic in form. The Survivals we know thoroughly. They are our acquaintances from childhood, our senior friends. Everyone recognizes them and knows all about them. They were familiars of our own parents and we half regret their passing. But the New Arrivals are oddities, disturbing or ignored. Many of us have hardly come across more than one of them. Such as we have met come little into our lives, and when they do, so irritate us with their crudity or incomprehensibility that it is easier to turn aside from them and forget them.
The dear old "Higher Critic," the cousinly "Agnostic" with his test tubes and little geological hammer, these are of the Household as it were: furniture as domestic to us as the landscape of home. And Harnack still with us, Renan and Huxley lately gone, the decorous melancholy of Arnold, are on the best-used shelf of our library. But when it comes to the men who chat pleasantly with the dead, to the men who like discords in music, to the men who prefer the ugly in paint and stone, to the men who openly despair, to the men who willingly share their wives, to the men who laud what we used to call perversion in sex, to the men who find honor quaint and to the men who respect theft and swindling, we not only feel out of place but superior and impatient, as though these barbaric futilities were so ephemeral as hardly to be taken seriously. But we should beware of that mood or it may make us underestimate our enemies.
When I say "we," I speak of my own generation, and I that am writing here am close on sixty; it may be that men and women in the thirties would write differently and feel for the New Arrivals more respect.
Well, when we do look long enough at the New Arrivals pressing to come forward, we discover one very interesting mark common to them all: they are at issue with the Catholic Church not directly on doctrine as were their elders, but on morals. Morals derive from doctrine, of course, and indirectly the quarrel is doctrinal: as all human conflicts are. But the distinctive note of the New Arrivals is that they do not propose new theses to be held in theology, as did the heresiarchs of old, nor first principles in philosophy which contradict the first principles of the Faith, as did our nineteenth century opponents, but that they have a new ethic—or perhaps none.
All the Survivals and even the agents of the present Main Opposition maintained and maintain in practice (and more or less even in theory) the bulk of Catholic morals. They inherited these from the past. They were and are part of that general European civilization which was the creation of the Catholic Church. But the New Arrivals are, in greater and lesser degree, shedding so much of this heritage that they are of a novel kind: they speak in a new language.
Herein lie both the peril and the acute interest of our moment.
We are approaching unknown forms in the conflict between the Church and the world. We are about to meet—or our children are—not the assault of rebels, men of our own speech and manner, but the assault of aliens. Hitherto it has been Civil War: it is soon to be Invasion.
Hitherto the mysteries have been abandoned as unreasonable or illusory; for instance, the Eucharist, the Incarnation. The strict discipline of the Faith has been rejected as too harsh or too meticulous: Theology has been ridiculed as a map of "Terra Incognita," a whimsical imagination. The official framework of the Church has been attacked as tyrannical and man-made, lacking true authority: the main doctrines—even of the Godhead—as lacking evidence and therefore negligible. Hitherto all manner of competing systems in thought have been proposed for the supplanting of the Faith. But throughout these age-long quarrels the tradition of Catholic culture has been preserved. Those in theory most opposed to the Faith have in practice followed the conventions of Europe. Even when they attacked property or marriage it was in the name of Justice. They maintained the concept of human dignity. They were indignant, in all their vagaries, against evils (such as oppression of the poor) which the Faith itself had taught men to hate. Now something quite other is beginning to show. A strange New Paganism. We are concerned to discover its quality, what older allies it will find and whether it may not be the forerunner of some new positive religion.
What quality has it, this New Paganism? To what allies older than itself may it rally? Does it portend the advent of a new positive religion to be set up against the Church in the last days?
Those three questions I would now examine:
It is the common and very true remark of those who survey the modern world as a whole, and especially of those who survey it from the central standpoint, which is that of the Church, and more particularly of those who survey it from the heart of contemporary discussion, which is in France, that the struggle now lies between the Catholic Church and Paganism.
That is now a truism to all save the provincial and belated. But what Paganism? Therein lies our interest. Certainly it is not the Paganism of that radiant Greco-Latin antiquity from which we sprang. The pristine things are not recovered through decay. Senility may be called second childhood, but we do not find in it the eagerness and vitality of youth. Popular faith having rotted into that base welter called the "Modern Mind," there has arisen a growth from the slime. That growth is certainly a Paganism. But a Paganism of what character? Of what smell, taste and stuff? We must know that if we are to guess at its results.
First, why do we call it a Paganism at all?
Paganism at large may be defined as natural religion acting upon man uncorrected by revelation.
If the word "uncorrected" seems unsuitable—for after all, natural religion is true as far as it goes, and the truth does not, qua truth, need correction—let me substitute for the term "uncorrected" the term "unsupplemented." Paganism is what the special language of St. Paul calls "the old Adam," and what we today would put in terms more normal to our idiom as "the natural man."
Let us see in what this religious attitude (for it is a religious attitude—as are indeed all fundamental attitudes of the mind) consists.
Man has a conscience; he knows the difference between right and wrong. He also is necessarily aware of certain great problems upon his nature, end, and destiny which he may not be able to solve, but the solution of which, if it could be reached, must be far more important for him than anything else. Does he only mature, grow old and die, or is that process but part of a larger destiny? Have his actions permanent or only ephemeral consequences to himself? Are awful unseen powers to which he devotes gratitude, worship and fear, imaginations of his or real? Are his dead no longer in being? Is he responsible to a final Judge?
He may decide that as there is no evidence no conclusion is possible, that the search for it is a waste of effort and any apparent discovery thereof an illusion. But he cannot deny that on what the answer is—did he but know it—all conduct and all values turn.
He has a sense of beauty which is, in the average man, strongly founded, and consonant to the great Catholic doctrine that the Creation is good. He is necessarily informed by a sense of justice, and feels that some degree of conformity to it is necessary to the very existence of civil society. He recognizes (does the natural man inspired by natural religion) the folly and danger of excessive pride, of excessive appetite, anger, and the rest: for he has humor to keep him sane.
It might seem at first sight that man thus turned loose and sufficient unto himself would fall into a vague but contented philosophy under which we would live well balanced, as the animals live normally to their instincts, and that the Pagan would be the least troubled of men.
That man would so live if he were left free from the trammels of what calls itself "revelation" is the fundamental doctrine of all that movement which has been leading us back towards Paganism. There is already present among us the conception that Paganism, once re-established, will result in a decently happy world, at any rate a world happier than that world of Christendom which was formed throughout the centuries under the spell of the Faith.
But it is not so. There appears one eccentric point of supreme moment, most revealing, bidding us all pause. It is this: Paganism despairs. Man turned loose finds himself an exile. He grows desperate, and his desperation breeds monstrous things.
Each kind of Paganism came to suffer from horrid gods of its own at last, and these give to each Paganism its particular savor. But the mark of the New Paganism is that it has not reached these last stages by a long process of debasement. It is not entering a period of fresh life. Its gods are already the vile gods of complexity and weakness. The New Paganism is born precocious and diseased.
We conceive of the Pagan, when first we hear of his advent, as a normal man. We all sympathize with him in our hearts; we all understand him: many of us have been at one time or another (mostly in youth) of his company. What quarrel, we then asked, has revealed religion with him? Wherein lies his weakness? We know now. It lies in his rejection of a central spiritual truth, to wit, that man is permanently degraded in his own eyes—without escape: that he has in him the memory of things lost: that he is of heavenly stuff, condemned and broken. It is the doctrine which we Catholics call the Fall of Man.
We cannot use that doctrine as an argument against the Pagan, because if we do so we are, in the eyes of the Pagan, begging the question. But what will appeal to him and to any observer from without, is this: that Paganism, the natural man, acting without revelation, does not conform to his own nature: he is not in equilibrium and repose. It looks as though he ought to be, but in fact he is not. Before the advent of the Faith, even despair could struggle to be noble. But since the medicine for despair has been known, those who refuse the remedy turn base. Europe expecting it knew not what, was one thing. Europe baptized and apostatizing is quite another. Its material has changed.
The New Pagan, of course, laughs at the strict doctrine of the Fall; but he cannot laugh at the actual fact that man, when he acts as though he were sufficient to himself, not only permanently, necessarily and regularly does a myriad things of which he is himself ashamed, not only lacks the power to establish his imaginary healthy normal condition, but increasingly, as his Pagan society progresses, falls into worse and worse evils.
That is patently true. It is not a theory of what should happen when men cease to accept the truth upon man's nature: it is a statement of what does actually happen, witnessed to by all contemporary history and by the experience of individual characters. The old pre-Catholic Paganism did evil but admitted it to be evil. One of the greatest, and, I think, the most tragic lines in Latin verse is that famous phrase:
"Video meliora, proboque: deteriora sequor."
It is a very epitome of the human story: of one man and of all.
But the New Paganism works in an attempted denial of good and evil which degrades all it touches.
Well, then, we say "Pagan society ends in despair." But despair is not normal to men; despair is not the healthy mental state of the healthy natural creature. To say that it is so would be a contradiction in terms. Therefore do we find the old Paganism of the classics accompanied by a perpetual attempt to cheat despair by the opiates of beauty or of stoic courage.
But the New Paganism lives in despair as an atmosphere to be breathed, lives on it as a food by which to be nourished.
The New Paganism then, which is just raising its head, has this quality distinguishing it from the old: that it is beginning where the old left off.
If all Paganisms end in despair, ours is accepting it as a foundation. That is the special mark we have been seeking to distinguish this New Arrival. Hence the lack of reason which is intellectual despair, the hideous architecture and painting and writing which are aesthetic despair, the dissolution of morals which is ethical despair.
The thing is as yet unformed and only shocking in isolated instances. It is tentative as yet, not universal: rather appearing so far, as a series of special lapses from the old Christian standards of civilization in this, that and the other respect, than as a mode. Some few deliberately detestable buildings and sculptures in our towns, (especially in our capitals): books, still somewhat eccentric, portraying every vice; the forced and still novel apology in speech for evil of every kind—preferably for the worst: all these are still no more than isolated insults and challenges. The New Paganism is still no more than a New Arrival. But it is rapidly growing; it is also gathering cohesion; and it cannot but appear in full and formidable strength within a comparatively short period as historical time is reckoned.
We elder people may not live to see the thing full blown though I think we shall—noting as I do the pace at which change is proceeding; but our children will certainly see it. When it is mature we shall have, not the present isolated, self-conscious insults to beauty and right living, but a positive coordination and organized affirmation of the repulsive and the vile.
The New Paganism is advancing to its completion. It is about to take on body and to act as one.
To appreciate that truth take the instance of Marriage. Antique Paganism held the institution of marriage, but of marriage as a civil contract and dissoluble. When the Catholic Church had succeeded to the Pagan Empire it declared marriage holy and indissoluble. It affirmed of marriage and the instincts on which marriage was based, not only that they were good but that the institution itself was a Sacrament.
The Manichaean—that is, the Puritan—regarded these instincts as evil. The Church restricted them outside the sphere of marriage; The Manichaean condemned them altogether. The Neo-Pagan objects to both. He would set up man as an animal. He would, so far, make of marriage nothing but a civil contract terminable on the consent of both parties; soon he must make it terminable at the will of only one. The older heretics in this matter emphasized the human misery caused by the doctrine of indissoluble marriage, denied its divine sanction and worked to abolish its consequences in law. The New Pagans reject it from the root. Logically the Neo-Pagan should get rid of the institution of marriage altogether; but the very nature of human society, which is built up of cells each of which is a family, and the very nature of human generation, forbid such an extreme. Children must be brought up and acknowledged and sheltered, and the very nature of human affection, whereby there is the bond of affection between the parent and the child, and the child is not of one parent but of both, will compel the Neo-Pagan to modify what might be his logical conclusion of free love and to support some simulacrum of the institution of marriage. But his aim is opposed to the whole scheme, and we may truly say that the facility and frequency of divorce is the test of how far any society once Christian has proceeded towards Paganism.
Neo-Paganism grows prodigiously. The process has till recently been masked by the fragmentary survival of the Catholic Scheme, in attenuated and rapidly disappearing forms, through-out the Protestant culture; the tradition of free Will for instance, with its strong effects upon the organization of society, still lingers, retarding the return of servile conditions in Industrial England. You may even note with surprise occasional spasmodic rebellions by the individual against monopoly, legal, economic or political: the survival, however vague and attenuated, of some dogma such as that of future reward and punishment for conduct in this life, or of human equality in despite of riches.
These remnants of Catholic doctrine both put a brake upon the pace of the great change and hide the process from the eyes of the average observer. But I do not see what chance of survival these fragments have in the modern world outside the Catholic body itself: the full corpus of Catholic faith and discipline in communion with Rome.
So long as there were definite Protestant creeds, more or less thought out and sustained by logic of a kind, so long as men could say what they thought and acted thus and thus, Paganism was kept out.
Whether this were to the advantage or disadvantage of mankind may be debated; just as one may debate whether it is better for a body to be warped or to be dead; but at any rate, so far as our present problem goes, these poor survivals of isolated and (in large part) distorted Catholic doctrines, oppose the return of Paganism.
Take, for instance, the Catholic doctrine of Charity. Out of that sprang, in the Middle Ages, and has been carried on to our own time, the whole body of social services, relief of the poor, hospitals, and the rest. These continue after a fashion, though the tradition outside the Catholic body has degenerated into sentimentalism on the one side and wild egalitarian extravagance upon the other. But present as are for the moment these distortions of sane Catholic truth, they cannot survive, because they do not answer the question "Why?" Why should one be charitable to one's fellow men? Why should one be at a burden, social or personal, of tending the sick with particular care and saving suffering, even to the poorest?
The old Paganism did not do these things. It permitted, for sport, such cruelty to man as Catholicism alone dispelled.
Most people, if they were asked to answer this question "Why?" would reply that such Charity was part of men's natural instincts; but all Pagan history and Pagan literature is there to prove the contrary; or at any rate, that if a certain measure of Charity be part of natural religion, and thus admitted by Pagan man, he does not act upon it. For, when a consistent creed is absent, the various parts of moral action are disassociated one from another, and all rapidly fail.
To take another instance. Why should I believe in moral sanctions applicable in a future life? So long as people went definitely by an accepted body of doctrine, such as the Calvinist, even so long as they accepted the authority of canonical scripture (though at their own individual interpretation) there was cohesion and therefore a principle of survival in the whole of what they thought and did. But when these creeds and authorities have gone—and take the white world as a whole, there is not much of them left today outside the Catholic Church—no guide to conduct remains but the instincts of men left to themselves, uncorrected, and the tendency to satisfy those instincts, even to their own hurt.
Paganism once erected into a system, once having taken on full shape, and proceeding to positive action, must necessarily become a formidable and increasingly direct opponent of the Catholic Church. The two cannot live together, for the points upon which they would agree are not the points which either thinks essential.
The clash must arise at first indirectly. A Pagan state makes certain laws which are repugnant to the Catholic conscience, laws concerning marriage or property, or domestic habits in eating and drinking, or concerning the freedom of labor, or any other function of the dignity of man. It proposes, let us say, what is called the "sterilization of the unfit," or compulsion in the matter of hours and wages ("compulsory arbitration" the beginning of fully servile institutions)—or "eugenics," or the compulsory limitation of progeny, or any other nastiness.
In no such examples—and one might add a hundred more—would it be possible for the Catholic individual or the Catholic body to approve or even to stand aside as a neutral.
We have seen how this is so in the case of a universal compulsory educational system—there the Catholic objection is obvious. But it is present also, though less obvious, in any other hypothetical case you may consider. There will arise as the New Paganism spreads instances in which a Catholic finds himself asked to obey a law which he cannot in conscience obey—as for instance, to make a declaration of mental incapacity in a dependent, well-knowing that this will legally involve castration. There cannot be an indefinite postponement of the issue
I have suggested that the threat of Paganism returning among the white races, and the strength of Paganism when it shall have returned, will be presumably enhanced by a sort of moral alliance between it and the exterior Paganism of the East, of Asia and not only of Asia, but, for that matter, of Africa too.
Now such a statement sounds, when it is put thus simply and shortly, and today, too unlikely to be acceptable. Its unlikeliness is even violent in the ears of the modern man. We have stood apart for centuries from organized Heathendom: that great sea surrounding the island of Christendom.
Latterly—that is, during the last three centuries, but especially during the nineteenth—we had even grown to despise the heathen world. It was far weaker than ourselves in military power, and in nearly all those arts of life which, even as we lost our own religion, we had come to regard as the most important.
But great tendencies are not to be judged by contemporary experience alone; still less by an inherited habit of thought from the past. We have to strike a curve and to find out the future probable development of that curve. It is worthless merely to strike a tangent from the particular moment in which we live If you had hazarded such guesses, even as little as fifty years ago, as (l) that by 1929 the United States would be under prohibition, (2) that women would be sitting in the English House of Commons, (3) that Russia would be organized as an experiment in Communism under a clique of Jews, the suggestions would have sounded mad. Yet all these things have come to pass and an observer of general tendencies in the course of the nineteenth century might have observed the beginnings of the forces which were to lead to such widespread changes.
What forces are present today making for a moral alliance between the rising Paganism of the white man and the age-long Paganism of the black, brown and yellow man?
They are two, and they are sufficiently remarkable.
There is, in the first place, the sympathy between any one Paganism and another; for all forms of Paganism have in common the principle that man is sufficient to himself, and all have in common the negation of an absolute Divine Authority acting through revelation. They also have all in common the indulgence of human passion, and the practical permission of excess in it, whether in the passions of the appetite, or of anger, or of any other driving power in natural man.
In the second place there is propinquity. We are today mixed up with the old outer world as the classic Paganism of our forefathers never was. The Paganism of the Mediterranean basin, from which all our culture springs, was not originally affected very much by the Paganisms of Asia; by the Paganism of the Black races it was affected hardly at all: not because they would not have had some natural affinity with any other Paganism, but because there was little physical contact between them. Today such opportunity is universal, and is increasing in effect. Today the barrier, the only effective barrier, against such infiltration of Pagan ideas from races other than our own, is a strong anti-Pagan moral system and creed—and there is none such outside the Catholic Church.
If anyone doubt the menace of which I speak, let him note the nature of the degradation which has already, so recently and rapidly, come over our art. It is not the most important side of the affair, but it is the most easily discoverable, and therefore I mention it before the others. Thus, in our popular music the thing is glaring. The modern revolution in that art is a direct introduction of a force deriving from African Paganism. There is a strong though indirect and veiled corresponding influence in architecture, coming, not indeed from Africa, where Paganism was too debased to have any architecture at all, but from the same spiritual roots as nourished the monstrous moles of the ancient East. In this perversion the Prussians have been pioneers, the Bavarians after them, and the French are now following suit. England, happily for herself, lags behind. In Italy, with its strong Catholic culture, there is now a powerful reaction towards the ancestral beauty of European things as towards order in all its forms. But take Europe as a whole, and it is suffering heavily, and perhaps increasingly, in its external forms of art, not only architectural but pictorial, from the Pagan influence of Asia. In sculpture this repulsive innovation is notorious.
But by far the most profound effect of what I will call "The Pagan Alliance" appears in what lies at the root of everything—to wit, Philosophy.
Whether it be in the form of religious error, or in the commoner form of negation (which is the essential of the Buddhist business—what it is plainer to call, in Christian terms, Atheism) the influence of these ancient alien Paganisms is upon us everywhere.
At the same time we are growing more and more to respect the cultures arisen from those exterior paganisms. Our modern Neo-Pagans of European stock have welcomed this fraternization as a good thing. This welcome springs in part from their "brotherhood of the world" business; but much more is it a response of like to like.
It is not a good thing: it is a very bad thing, is this new respect for the non-Christian and anti-Christian cultures outside Europe. Insofar as it progresses it will inevitably breed, as it has already bred in so many, a contempt of Christian tradition and philosophy, as being things at once old-fashioned and puerile. There is more than one prominent European writer professing not only close acquaintance with, but reverence for, the Buddhist negation of God and of personal immortality: at the other extreme you have the respect for the Pagan ruthlessness and the Pagan doctrine of right-by-conquest.
There is no doubt that a powerful accelerator to this tendency was the sudden modern development of Japan. When the Japanese army defeated the Russian twenty odd years ago, it was a turning point in the history of our culture. When the Government of Great Britain took the step of allying itself openly with this new force—a policy which preceded that victory—it was a moral turning-point even more serious.
The thing has not yet gone so far as to become an immediate menace. The inter-communion between the new Paganism of Europeans and the very ancient Paganism of other races is as yet only faintly sketched out; but it is advancing. I cannot but believe that in another generation it will be powerful, apparent to all.
There remains, apart from the old Paganism of Asia and Africa, another indirect supporter of Neo-Paganism: a supporter which indeed hates all Paganism but hates the Catholic Church much more: a factor of whose now increasing importance the masses of Europe are not as yet aware: I mean the Mahommedan religion: Islam.
Islam presents a totally different problem from that attached to any other religious body opposed to Catholicism. To understand it we must appreciate its origins, character and recent fate. Only then can we further appreciate its possible or probable future relations with enemies of the Catholic effort throughout the world.
How did Islam arise?
It was not, as our popular historical textbooks would have it, a "new religion." It was a direct derivative from the Catholic Church. It was essentially, in its origin, a heresy: like Arianism or Albigensians.
When the man who produced it (and it is more the creation of one man than any other false religion we know) was young, the whole of the world which he knew, the world speaking Greek in the Eastern half and Latin in the Western (the only civilized world with which he and his people had come in contact) was Catholic. It was still, though in process of transformation, the Christian Roman Empire, stretching from the English Channel to the borders of his own desert.
The Arabs of whom he came and among whom he lived were Pagan; but such higher religious influence as could touch them, and as they came in contact with through commerce and raiding, was Catholic—with a certain admixture of Jewish communities.
Catholicism had thus distinctly affected these few Pagans living upon the fringes of the Empire.
Now what Mahomet did was this. He took over the principal doctrines of the Catholic Church—one personal God, Creator of all things; the immortality of the soul; an eternity of misery or blessedness—and no small part of Christian morals as well. All that was the atmosphere of the only civilization which had influence upon him or his. But at the same time he attempted an extreme simplification.
Many another heresiarch has done this, throwing overboard such and such too profound doctrines, and appealing to the less intelligent by getting rid of mysteries through a crude denial of them. But Mahomet simplified much more than did, say, Pelagius or even Arius. He turned Our Lord into a mere prophet, though the greatest of the prophets; Our Lady (whom he greatly revered, and whom his followers still revere), he turned into no more than the mother of so great a prophet; he cut out the Eucharist altogether, and what was most difficult to follow in the matter of the Resurrection. He abolished all idea of priesthood: most important of all, he declared for social equality among all those who should be "true believers" after his fashion .
With the energy of his personality behind that highly simplified, burning enthusiasm, he first inflamed his own few desert folk, and they in turn proceeded to impose their new enthusiasm very rapidly over vast areas of what had been until then a Catholic civilization; and their chief allies in this sweeping revolution were politically the doctrine of equality, and spiritually the doctrine of simplicity. Everybody troubled by the mysteries of Catholicism tended to join them; so did every slave or debtor who was oppressed by the complexity of a higher civilization.
The new enthusiasm charged under arms over about half of the Catholic world. There was a moment after it had started out on its conquest when it looked as though it was going to transform and degrade all our Christian culture. But our civilization was saved at last, though half the Mediterranean was lost.
For centuries the struggle between Islam and the Catholic Church continued. It had varying fortunes, but for something like a thousand years the issue still remained doubtful. It was not till nearly the year 1700 (the great conquests of Islam having begun long before 700) that Christian culture seemed—for a time—to be definitely the master.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Mahommedan world fell under a kind of palsy. It could not catch up with our rapidly advancing physical science. Its shipping and armament and all means of communication and administration went backwards while ours advanced. At last, by the end of the nineteenth century, more than nine-tenths of the Mahommedan population of the world, from India and the Pacific to the Atlantic, had fallen under the Government of nominally Christian nations, especially of England and France.
On this account our generation came to think of Islam as something naturally subject to ourselves. We no longer regarded it as a rival to our own culture, we thought of its religion as a sort of fossilized thing about which we need not trouble.
That was almost certainly a mistake. We shall almost certainly have to reckon with Islam in the near future. Perhaps if we lose our Faith it will rise. For after this subjugation of the Islamic culture by the nominally Christian had already been achieved, the political conquerors of that culture began to notice two disquieting features about it. The first was that its spiritual foundation proved immovable; the second that its area of occupation did not recede, but on the contrary slowly expanded.
Islam would not look at any Christian missionary effort. The so-called Christian Governments, in contact with it, it spiritually despised. The ardent and sincere Christian missionaries were received usually with courtesy, sometimes with fierce attack, but were never allowed to affect Islam. I think it true to say that Islam is the only spiritual force on earth which Catholicism has found an impregnable fortress. Its votaries are the one religious body conversions from which are insignificant.
This granite permanence is a most striking thing, and worthy of serious consideration by all those who meditate upon the spiritual, and, consequently, the social, future of the world.
And what is true of the spiritual side of Islam is true of the geographical. Mahommedan rulers have had to give up Christian provinces formerly under their control: especially in the Balkans. But the area of Mahommedan practice has not shrunk. All that wide belt from the islands of the Pacific to Morocco, and from Central Asia to the Sahara desert—and south of it—not only remains intact but slightly expands. Islam is appreciably spreading its influence further and further into tropical Africa.
Now that state of affairs creates a very important subject of study for those who interest themselves in the future of religious influence upon mankind. The political control of Islam by Europe cannot continue indefinitely: it is already shaken. Meanwhile the spiritual independence of Islam (upon which everything depends) is as strong as, or stronger than, ever.
What affinities or support does this threat of Islam promise to the new enemies of Catholic tradition?
It will sound even more fantastic to suggest that Islam should have effect here than to suggest that Asiatic Paganism should. Even those who are directly in contact with the great Mahommedan civilization and who are impressed, as all such must be by its strength and apparently invincible resistance to conversion, do not yet conceive of its having any direct effect upon Christendom. There are a few indeed who have envisaged something of the kind. But what they had to say was said before the Great War, was confined to individuals either isolated or eccentric, and produced no lasting impression upon either the French or the English: the only two European countries closely connected, as governing powers, with the Mahommedan. To the New World the problem is quite unfamiliar. It touches Mahommedanism nowhere save very slightly in the Philippines.
Nevertheless I will maintain that this very powerful, distorted simplification of Catholic doctrine (for that is what Mahommedanism is) may be of high effect in the near future upon Christendom; and that, acting as a competitive religion, it is not to be despised.
No considerable number of conversions to Mahommedanism from Christendom is probable. I do not say that such a movement would not be possible, for anything is possible in the near future, seeing the welter into which Christian civilization has fallen. But I think it improbable, and even highly improbable, because Mahommedanism advances in herd or mob fashion. It does not proceed, as the Catholic religion does, by individual conversions, but by colonization and group movement.
But there are other effects which a great anti-Catholic force and the culture based upon it can have upon anti-Catholic forces within our own boundaries.
In the first place it can act by example. To every man attempting to defend the old Christian culture by prophesying disaster if its main tenets be abandoned, Mahommedanism can be presented as a practical answer.
"You say that monogamy is necessary to happy human life, and that the practice of polygamy, or of divorce (which is but a modified form of polygamy) is fatal to the State? You are proved wrong by the example of Mahommedanism."
Or again "You say that without priests and without sacraments and without all the apparatus of your religion, down to the use of visible images, religion may not survive? Islam is there to give you the lie. Its religion is intense, its spiritual life permanent. Yet it has constantly repudiated all these things. It is violently anti-sacramental; it has no priesthood; it wages fierce war on all symbols in the use of worship."
This example may, in the near future, be of great effect. Remember that our Christian civilization is in peril of complete breakdown. An enemy would say that it was living upon its past; and certainly those who steadfastly hold its ancient Catholic doctrines stand today on guard as it were, in a state of siege; they are a minority both in power and in numbers. Upon such a state of affairs a steadfast, permanent, convinced, simple philosophy and rule of life, intensely adhered to, and close at hand, may, now that the various sections of the world are so much interpenetrating one and the other, be of effect.
The effect may ultimately be enhanced in the near future by a political change.
We must remember that the subjection of the Mahommedan—a purely political subjection—was accomplished by nothing more subtle or enduring than a superiority in weapons and mechanical invention. We must further remember that this superiority dates from a very short time ago.
Old people with whom I have myself spoken as a child could remember the time when the Algerian pirates were seen in the Mediterranean and were still in danger along its southern shores. In my own youth the decaying power of Islam (for it was still decaying) in the Near East was a strong menace to the peace of Europe. Those old people of whom I speak had grandparents in whose times Islam was still able to menace the West. The Turks besieged Vienna and nearly took it, less than a century before the American Declaration of Independence. Islam was then our superior, especially in military art. There is no reason why its recent inferiority in mechanical construction, whether military or civilian, should continue indefinitely. Even a slight accession of material power would make the further control of Islam by an alien culture difficult. A little more and there will cease that which our time has taken for granted, the physical domination of Islam by the disintegrated Christendom we know.
That the New Arrival called Neo-Paganism will increase seems assured. That it will find support, positive from the older Paganism, negative from Islam as a fellow opponent of Catholicism, is possible or probable—though the modes of such support are not apparent today. But will it long remain as the Main Opposition when it shall have come to maturity? Or will it give way to some New Religion, with definite tenets and an organization of its own? Is there any appearance as yet of such a development? That is what we may next examine, and we must begin by looking at one or two typical bodies of the sort already in existence in order to decide whether they threaten to grow, or point to what might succeed them.
Outside the Catholic Church, we say, what was once Christendom is rapidly becoming Pagan: Pagan after a new fashion, but still Pagan. It is falling into the mood that man is sufficient to himself, and all the consequences of that mood will follow under a general color of despair.
But will this mood, after a first trial, be supplanted by a new religion sufficiently universal, organized and strong to challenge the Catholic Church? At present there is no sign of such a thing. None is present among the New Arrivals. But may not some such force soon arise?
It is very probable. It is not certain.
It is probable, because man can with difficulty persist in mere ideas or abstractions. He can with difficulty live on such thin food. He needs the meat of doctrine defined, of a moral code also defined—and with instances. He needs the institutions of a ritual and of all the external framework of worship. Moreover, man corporate demands answers to the great questions which face him: the problems of his own origin, nature and destiny. Man as an individual can decide them to be insoluble and lead his life—not easily—under the burden of that decision. But man in society does not repose in such negations. Therefore is the production of a new positive religion (with a special character of its own, a ritual, a doctrine) probable.
But it is not certain, for we know that, as a fact, great societies have long persisted content with a social scheme in which conventions take the place of doctrine and in which no defined philosophy clothed with external ritual and supported by organization is universal or even common. And when we consider the present situation we do not discover anything (as yet) from which, as from a seed, this new religion could spring.
It would seem, to begin with, that there will be no resurrection of the Protestant sects.
Not so long ago these were actual religions, and in particular Calvinism, with its fierce logic, iron conviction and completeness of structure, all informed with the French character of its creator. More loosely defined, but, still, organized and individual, heretical or schismatical bodies existed side by side with Calvinism. One could discover in each of these an ethic of its own, and, for all the Protestant ones combined, a fairly defined Protestant ethic or tone of mind. Meanwhile the Greek Church nourished an antagonism rather political than doctrinal and was also a powerful adverse force. But today these forces seem to have passed beyond the possibility of resurrection. Even the political strength of the Greek Church has been put out of action permanently by the effects of the Great War and revolution, with a gang of international adventurers replacing the old power of the Czardom and presiding over the ruin they have made.
I do not mean to deny that the strong evangelical spirit of Protestantism, and particularly of Calvinism, does not survive and is not an opponent; but when one is speaking of its resurrection as a religion for the future one must consider doctrine; and its doctrine has so thoroughly dissolved in the last fifty years that its re-establishment is hardly conceivable.
It is debatable, as I have said, whether this change is one for the worse or the better: on that point we may delay for a moment.
In one sense the power to hold any transcendental doctrine shows the soul to be still awake and therefore capable of achieving true transcendental doctrine, while those who lose the sense of the supernatural will be more difficult of approach.
On the other hand, with the loss of doctrine has gone the loss of support and framework of what opposed us. For instance, a Calvinist of the old school, with his passionately held dogma of salvation by faith, had for the ornament and ritual of the Catholic Church a correspondingly fierce hatred. His son today feels for such things indifference at the best or contempt at the worst; sometimes even admiration of adventitious beauty in Catholic rite and image.
At any rate whether this great change, the decay of the old Protestant bodies, be good or evil, it is an undoubted historical fact of our day. In Britain, as in Germany and the United States, the old catechisms, and what were in their odd way quasi creeds, have disappeared and we shall surely not hear of them again.
Where else may the seed of a New Religion, which shall grow to be the future arch-enemy of the Catholic Church, be sought?
We are surrounded by many novel experiments in worship and doctrine, but in none of them, not even in the Spiritualist, which would seem the strongest in structure, does there appear a vitality sufficient to produce any universal growth.
We find no such vitality in what may be called the "experiments in subjectivism."
Their name is legion. Half-a-dozen have cropped up within the later part of my own lifetime, and no doubt another dozen or more will crop up within the same length of time in the immediate future. It was only the other day that I came across the Sect of Deep-Breathers. In a sense the petty experiments thus based on what is called "subjectivism" are always with us, because almost any statement of religious experience through the individual, and that experience treated as a full authority without reference to the Church or any other form of authority, is subjectivism. Every revivalist meeting is an example of subjectivism. So is every book claiming to discover the truth through personal emotion.
But the subjective sects of this sort are swarming today with an especial vigor that merits attention if we are seeking for the possible signs of a new religion. At least, they are swarming in the English-speaking world.
There is no space to discuss the origins of these things; it must be sufficient to mention them. All ultimately derive from the protest against the authority of the Church at the Reformation. Since the authority of the Church was denied, some other authority had to be accepted. The parallel authority of Holy Scripture was put forward. Then came the obvious difficulty, that, since there was no external authoritative Church, there was no one to tell you what Holy Scripture meant, and you were thrown back on the interpretation which each individual might make of any passage in the Bible, or its general sense. For instance (to take the leading example) the individual had to decide for himself what was meant by the words of Consecration. But the modern extension of the thing has gone far beyond such comparatively orthodox limits as trusting to the authority of Holy Scripture, even under private interpretation. It has taken the form of basing religion upon individual feelings. Men and women say: "This is true, because it is true to me. I have felt this, and therefore I know it to be true."
Of these subjective sects the most curious, though not the most powerful at the present moment, is the strange system called Christian Science. No doubt tomorrow another will succeed it, and after that yet another; but today it is Christian Science which stands out most prominently as the type of a subjective sect. Its votaries, of course, will tell us of much that it includes besides its most striking tenet; but that most striking tenet is sufficient to characterize it. The faithful of the sect are asked to regard the individual mental attitude towards evil, and especially physical evil, as a purely subjective phenomenon. Persuade yourself that it is not there, and it is not there. Hence powers of healing and all the rest of it.
Now these counter-religions, opponents to and, in their little way, rivals of the Catholic Church, have two characteristics apparently contradictory but not really so. One is the permanence of the phenomenon, the other is the ephemeral quality of individual instances. They are always cropping up—especially today—but they are also perpetually disappearing after a short life.
I would like to concentrate upon the second characteristic, to show why I do not regard any one of these counter-religions of the subjective sort as a serious menace to Catholicism.
The sectarian of these vagaries is often intense and always sincere. Based as her (sometimes his) mood is upon personal enthusiasm and personal spiritual experiences, it brooks no contradiction. But it does not last, because it makes no appeal to that fundamental necessity of the human reason for external proof. I may be told that it does so in the particular case of Christian Science which appeals to actual cures. But there is not sufficient volume and persistence of such cures. Moreover, the claim made is at issue with the common sense of mankind.
It is here that the various forms of subjective religion show themselves so much weaker than Spiritualism; for Spiritualism, as we shall see, bases itself on controllable positive proof. Amid a mass of fraud there is a certain residue of ascertainable evidence; and though much of that evidence may be shaken there is a remainder which cannot be denied. Spiritualism appeals to something which the human race has always demanded, to wit, external evidence verifiable by a number of independent means. Your purely subjective religion does not appeal to such evidence. It appeals to intensity of enthusiasm, and to little more. Hence its lack of substance, its probable lack of endurance.
Here it may be objected: "If you say that this or that sect, based on such mere emotions and wholly subjective in character, cannot form the seed of an organized Universal Religion; what about the Catholic Church, which Herself arose from such a beginning of enthusiasm and illusion?"
The parallel is wholly false.
Nothing is commoner than for those who are ill-acquainted with the early history of the Catholic Church and of the society in which it arose, to explain the origin of Catholicism in these terms. They put it forward as a subjective religion, confirmed by some marvelous cures which were real and a host of imaginary events which men only accepted because they were in an abnormal state of mind.
But has Catholicism really been like this in its origins it would never have survived. It survived because it appealed also to the general sense of mankind; because it fitted in with what mankind knew of itself and its needs, and of what it lacked to satisfy such needs; also because it confirmed itself every day in the lives of those subjected to it; because, of the wonders put forward, the greatest of all—the Resurrection—was reluctantly witnessed to by opponents; but most of all because it maintained unity. The Catholic Church was from Her origin a thing, not a theory. She was a society informing the individual, and not a mass of individuals forming a society. From Her very beginning She tracked down heresy and expelled it. She is a kingdom. Subjective religion is a private whim. Though it must continue an unceasing form of error so long as men refuse authority and are strongly subject to religious emotion, it will never build up a rival church. As a general tendency, especially while it still inherits the general ethic of its Protestant origins three hundred years old, it is an influence hostile to Catholicism; but its various products have not the stuff of permanence in them. They have not in them a sufficient correspondence with reality to create any one formidable opponent. Spiritualism has such correspondence with real (objective) phenomena.
What of Spiritualism?
When I examine Spiritualism from the outside I notice certain characteristics about it which are very remarkable.
In the first place there is a positiveness, an unquestioning and sober conviction which is quite different from the hysteria of the sects and which it is of the highest interest to note and analyze.
This conviction is not of the nature of Faith, properly so-called. Faith is a virtue, a grace, and an act of the will. The essential of Faith is an acceptation, upon authority, of things unseen; that is a refusal by the will to admit the opposite of a proposition, although experimental proof be lacking. But Spiritualism holds its convictions upon sensible, or supposedly sensible, experience; that is, upon experimental proof.
Now that is a new note altogether in the story of modern religions. The Presbyterian, the Lutheran, the Baptist and the rest did not say that they held their tenets through a direct personal experience of the senses. Neither Zwingle nor any other Heresiarch claimed that they had seen or heard the things which they believed. On the contrary, apart from their novel doctrines they retained a great mass of the ancient Catholic dogmas such as the Incarnation, the Trinity, etc., which of their essence are transcendental, and cannot be witnessed to by the senses. But Spiritualism says "I have physical evidence of those things hitherto called supernatural, and it is upon that physical evidence I base myself, not upon an internal emotion or 'religious experience' as does the typical Protestant sectarian today, nor on Authority as does every Catholic."
I think we ought to recognize how strong a foundation is this appeal to positive evidence, and what a fixed type of certitude it produces. I could quote the case of a man for whom I have the highest respect; one of the best living writers of the English language, who was frankly and openly an atheist and materialist till he was quite elderly, and who, being a very sincere man, made no concealment of his philosophy. He denied the survival of the soul and even the existence of God. This man by his own testimony (and he would be the last person to affirm anything he believed to be false) heard at a seance the voice—and, if I remember rightly, saw the face as well—of someone he had deeply loved and who was dead. He bore witness to this sight and hearing to myself and to the world. This man I have personally known and shall always revere.
Note further that all those who support Spiritualism talk in the same fashion. We have a prominent popular writer of fiction, a great physicist, and many other names drawn from every kind of intellectual pursuit repeating with passionate earnestness that "the thing is proved," that those who deny it are willfully refusing to examine plain testimony, and that anyone who will impartially do so will be convinced.
Now it may be contended that none of the phenomena, for which there is indeed a great body of testimony, have necessarily the character claimed for them. Many (for instance, the mentioning by a medium of things only known to one of those present) may be explained by what is a certainly proved fact and established (though abnormal and seemingly not of this world)—telepathy. Others (for instance, the seeing of a face or the hearing of a voice) may be set down to illusion. But it seems to be the general agreement of those who have gone deeply into the matter—and not less of those who abhor Spiritualism than of those who revere it—that there is, when all is explained (trickery, illusion and the rest of it) a certain balance of what we should call transcendental experience. You may meet many a man and woman in the case of the one I quoted; people who have become convinced of what are called "the truth of Spiritualism" after having been, like most of us, contemptuously skeptical. But the other process, the man who has believed in it and lost faith, is perhaps unknown, or at any rate very rare. Here then I say is the first mark of the thing, the strength of its conviction.
There is a great deal of tomfoolery about it (the spirits of the dead drinking whisky and smoking cigars: talking base journalese: playing silly little tricks and practical jokes). But when all this is allowed for, some real experience does remain, and on that real experience is based the intense conviction of which I have spoken.
Now there is a second mark in connection with spiritualism which renders it a considerable opponent, and it is a mark not usually recognized: its venerable lineage.
The thing, though of today in its existing form, is in essence as old as human record. It is one with witchcraft, necromancy, magic. What seems novel in it to us, only so seems novel because it has come after a period of rationalism. The average educated man of the nineteenth century thought that all the talk of all the centuries about witchcraft and demonology and the rest was too absurd to be worth noticing. He laughed it out of court. But his view was not a sound one historically. Whether such phenomena have occurred in the past is a matter to debate upon the evidence, but that mankind in the overwhelming mass of its extension in time and in space, that is, over much the greater part of the world and over much the greater part of its recorded history, has believed that such things go on, cannot be denied.
The fact that this very new religion is also nothing but a resurrection of a very old one, adds to its strength and to the seriousness with which we must regard it.
Catholic doctrine upon the matter is well-known. All such investigation is forbidden as an immortal act. It is either playing with falsehood, or (if there be, or where there be reality in it) it is of evil origin. We do not communicate with the blessed dead save in those very rare experiences which God may grant to a very few as visions. If we communicate with spirits of another world at will, summoning them regularly for our purposes, the spirits with which we are dealing are evil spirits. That is the teaching of the Church on this matter from the beginning to this our day.
We know (it may be said in passing) that its votaries are sometimes driven mad, sometimes exhibit all the phenomena of Possession, and that even its strictest supporters admit these practices to be perilous and only to be engaged in cautiously.
Everyone who has read that striking book by the late Father Hugh Benson, "The Necromancers," will remember the true drawing of the sincere medium and that medium's admission of the peril which his creed and practice involved.
There, then, are the two main features so far as I can analyze them of this strange new sect: (1) The quality of its certitude based, not upon emotion, but upon experiment: (2) The very deep roots in the human past from which it springs; the antiquity of the doctrine and practice of which it is but the resurrection.
Yet it has not in it the seed of a great new religion, and the reason should be plain. It enjoys advantages common to all research: it has experiment and evidence to work on. But it suffers the corresponding disadvantages. It has nothing of revelation in it, no unity of Philosophy, no general reply to the great questions and therefore no Authority. It takes on no body: it has no organization. That it will persist I believe. That it will grow is probable. That it will become a Church is not possible, for it is not made of the stuff of Universality out of which great organisms arise.
Where then shall we look for the seed of a New Religion? I should reply, tentatively, in this: the satisfaction of that Messianic mood with which, paradoxically, the despair of the New Paganism is shot. The expectation of better things—the confident expectation of their advent—affects the vileness and folly of our time everywhere. Let an individual appear with the capacity or chance to crystallize these hopes and the enemy will have arrived. For anti-Christ will be a man.