Europe and the Faith
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Tertullian was a man of about forty in the year This Man was a known and real person with whom numbers had conversed. This Man the Church said was also the supreme Creator God. There you have an apparent contradiction in terms, at any rate a mystery, fruitful in opportunities for theory, and as a fact destined to lead to three centuries of more and more particular definition. This Man, Who also was God Himself, had, through chosen companions called Apostles, founded a strict and disciplined society called the Church.
The doctrines the Church taught professed to be His doctrines. They included the immortality of the human soul, its redemption, its alternative of salvation and damnation. The central act of worship of the Christian Church was therefore a consecration of bread and wine by priests in the presence of the initiated and baptised Christian body of the locality. The bread and wine so consecrated were certainly called universally the Body of the Lord. The faithful also certainly communicated, that is, eat the Bread and drank the Wine thus changed in the Mystery.
It was the central rite of the Church thus to take the Body of the Lord. There was certainly at the head of each Christian community a bishop: regarded as directly the successor of the Apostles, the chief agent of the ritual and the guardian of doctrine. The whole increasing body of local communities kept in touch through their bishops, held one doctrine and practiced what was substantially one ritual ….
The numerical proportion of the Church in the city of Carthage, where Tertullian wrote, was certainly large enough for its general suppression to be impossible. One might argue from one of his phrases that it was a tenth of the population. Equally certainly did the unity of the Christian Church and its bishops teach the institution of the Eucharist, the Resurrection, the authority of the Apostles, and their power of tradition through the bishops. A very large number of converts were to be noted and to go back to Tertullian the majority of his time, by his testimony, were recruited by conversion, and were not born Christians.
Such is known to have been, in a very brief outline, the manner of the Catholic Church in these early years of the third century. Such was the undisputed manner of the Church, as a Christian or an inquiring pagan would have been acquainted with it in the years and onwards.
Europe And The Faith
I have purposely chosen this moment, because it is the moment in which Christian evidence first emerges upon any considerable scale. That ritual and doctrine firmly fixed are long anterior to the time in which you find them rooted is obvious to common sense. To see that the state of affairs everywhere widely apparent in A. Belloc goes into this in more depth than we can offer here.
Although the book is easily found online and the interested reader can pursue the matter there, as to why Belloc continues:. I have taken the early third century as the moment in which we can first take a full historical view of the Catholic Church in being, and this picture is full of evidence to the state of the Church in its origins three generations before. So much for the Catholic Church in the early third century when first we have a mass of evidence upon it.
It is a highly disciplined, powerful growing body, intent on unity, ruled by bishops, having for its central doctrine the Incarnation of God in an historical Person, Jesus Christ, and for its central rite a Mystery, the transformation of Bread and Wine by priests into the Body and Blood which the faithful consume. By the year the thing was done. I encourage the interested reader to turn to it, for, like the rest of the book, it is a rich, erudite feast. Now, however, this continued civilisation in the West developed under the auspices of the Roman Church.
Rather than Roman civilisation being conquered by barbarians, Belloc will stress how the Christianised Roman civilisation could now conquer the hearts of the barbarians. Hardly had the Roman Empire turned in its maturity to accept the fruit of its long development I mean the Catholic Church , when it began to grow old and was clearly about to suffer some great transition. But that transition, which threatened to be death, proved in the issue not death at all, but a mixture of Vision and Change ….
Dissolution was in some strange way checked. Death was averted. And the more closely one looks into the unique history of that salvation—the salvation of all that could be saved in a most ancient and fatigued society—the more one sees that this salvation was effected by no agency save that of the Catholic Church.
There is no parallel to this survival in all the history of mankind. Every other great civilization has, after many centuries of development, either fallen into a fixed and sterile sameness or died and disappeared. There is nothing left of Egypt, there is nothing left of Assyria. The Eastern civilizations remain, but remain immovable; or if they change can only vulgarly copy external models. Its essential seeds were preserved for a Second Spring.
For five or six hundred years men carved less well, wrote verse less well, let roads fall slowly into ruin, lost or rather coarsened the machinery of government, forgot or neglected much in letters and in the arts and in the sciences. But there was preserved, right through that long period, not only so much of letters and of the arts as would suffice to bridge the great gulf between the fifth century and the eleventh, but also so much of what was really vital in the mind of Europe as would permit that mind to blossom again after its repose.
And the agency, I repeat, which effected this conservation of the seeds, was the Catholic Church. In the next part, we shall continue with this, of course, as Belloc turns to Charlemagne, the Crusades and the rise of the High Middle Ages.
For as we mentioned at the outset, what Belloc is really concerned with is the Reformation — and the sundering of Christendom. However, my readers should not infer that I agree with absolutely everything Belloc writes. Some of it is, I think, at times, put too extremely. For those who prefer paper books, there are numerous editions.
Or if you are in Europe, you can order the same from Amazon here. They all help us.
Europe and the Faith by Hilaire Belloc
Details of that book, which is most definitely deeply indebted to Hilaire Belloc, can be found here. Although I am now caught up in numerous other projects, I do mean to complete this review. Your email is never published nor shared.
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