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Hilaire Belloc (1870- 1953): The Great Heresies

Belloc was a lively and opinionated Catholic writer. The Great Heresies was first published in 1938. In the book, Belloc describes five heresies, beginning with Arianism, and argues that the five he lists form the basis for all heresies. They keep changing their clothes, so to speak, but underneath they are in a sense these five:

  • Arianism: Christ was not fully divine.
  • Islam: A distant, cold God more concerned with might than right.
  • Albigensian: Denies that God is all good, or all powerful (many are mulling this in the wake of the recent Tsunami).
  • The Reformation: Separates the Bible from the Church, making each man an island in the faith.
  • The Modern attack: There is no truth, no good, and no evil. Man or Nature decides all.

I’m quoting only from the chapter on Arianism. The period Belloc discusses is just before and just after the Council of Nicea. If readers like this subject, I might look at the others in the future.

Belloc writes of Arianism, that it

… sprang from the desire to visualize clearly and simply something which is beyond the grasp of human vision and comprehension. Therefore, though it began by giving to Our Lord every possible honour and glory short of the Godhead, it would inevitably have led in the long run into mere unitarianism and the treating of our lord at last as a prophet and, however exalted, no more than a prophet.

[Arianism] it would have rendered the new religion something like Mohammedanism…

[Arianism] attracted all the “high brows,” at least half the snobs and nearly all the sincere idealistic tories [Roman pagans]. It attracted great numbers of people who were Christian. But it was also the rallying point of these non Christian forces which were of such great importance… Men of old family tradition and wealth found the Arian more sympathetic than the ordinary Catholic and a better ally for gentlemen…

Many intellectuals were in the same position… they thought that this great revolution from paganism to Catholicism would destroy the old cultural traditions and their own cultural position.

The Roman Army was strictly bound together by its discipline, but still more by professional pride… No one else except the Army had any physical power. There could be no question of resisting it by force, and it was in a sense the government. Its commander in chief was the absolute monarch of the whole state. The Army went solidly Arian.

A battle of vast importance was joined… Had this movement for rejecting the full divinity of our Our Lord gained victory, all our civilization would have been other than what it has been… Such rationalistic efforts against the creed produce a gradual social degradation following on the loss of that direct link between human nature and God which is provided by the Incarnation. Human dignity is lessened. The authority of Our Lord is weakened. He appears more and more as a man – perhaps a myth. The substance of Christian life is diluted. It wanes. What began as Utilitarianism ends as paganism.

I don’t have much to add other than that I find Belloc’s conclusions about the effects of Arian thinking plausible. It is something of an effort to push God back into the closet and let our human bettors do as they see fit. I do look forward to comments, however.

The Maverick Philosopher responds to John Ray’s support for Arianism here:

Here is a reason for an atheist to take the doctrine [the Trinity] seriously: it raises fascinating questions in philosophical logic and ontology, questions about numerical and qualitative identity, about the absoluteness vs. relativity of identity, about the relation between logic and reality, and others besides.


Written by Curt

January 5, 2005 at 9:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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