Hilaire Belloc: Essays 

The Conversion of England

The conversion of England would seem impossible of attainment. If it is to be attained it can only be attained by recognizing the nature of the obstacles to it, much the strongest of which is the patriotism of the English people; the Faith is in their eyes alien and therefore something inferior as well as something to be hated. Approach through the gentry is no longer possible, for the gentry have ceased to govern, our efforts must be upon the bulk, the chaotic masses of town population. Such small chance as it has lies in two forms of action-----exposing the insufficiency and absurdity of the official anti-Catholic history and philosophy-----that is, undermining the opponent-----and, on the positive side, creating a fashion in favor of the Faith, or at any rate of sympathy with the Faith.


  Humanly speaking, it is impossible.

  I do not say impossible in a thousand years, after I know not what transformations and catastrophes, when our civilization shall have broken down, as every civilization does in its turn, and when men shall have been taught reality by chastisement. But humanly speaking, it is impossible.

  It was difficult enough apparently in our fathers' time; they thought it at least possible, however, and they showed their wisdom in concentrating upon it; for in the conversion of England one main problem of civilization would be solved. It was the defection of England from the Faith that made the break-up of Europe possible [for without the gradual uprooting of the Faith in England Europe would have remained one, instead of falling into the chaos which it presents today] so the restoration of England, while England is still powerful, would probably lead at last to the reunion of Europe.

  But humanly speaking, it is impossible.

  It is impossible within the limits of, say, a couple of centuries. It is impossible for the effects of the change to be observable within, say, seventy years. I give those figures, "seventy years," "two hundred years," because they are the figures of the original process in the time when the vested interest of rich men and the patient genius of the Cecils gradually crushed out the Faith of the English people. It was a process covering nearly two hundred years from first to last [1525-1715], and a process of which the main effects began to be apparent after about seventy years of governmental effort [1530-40; 1600-10].

  Now, if we are to examine the conditions of a task apparently impossible, our first business is to inquire why it should seem beyond our powers. One can deal with no problem until one has analyzed its nature. What is the nature of the resistance presented by England to perceiving once again what was manifest to all Englishmen when England was in the making, and from returning home to that which was the native air of England
for eight hundred years? The obstacle lies in the present character of the English people and in four salient manifestations of that character. These four salient characteristics are the English imaginative power, rendering Englishmen strongly emotional and also strongly attached to national myths; the English patriotism, which is by this time fixedly associated with anti-Catholic ideas; English homogeneity, which makes England present a solid block of hostility to Catholicism and presents no considerable dissentient body upon which Catholic influence could begin; and English self-sufficiency, which makes Englishmen certain that what they are, to wit, anti-Catholic, is necessarily superior to what they might be. Of these four the first was not the product of the Reformation, the second was enhanced by the Reformation, the last two are the special creations of Protestantism.

   Of the strong English emotionalism and imaginative power working today in anti-Catholic social tradition and habit, in other words the anti-Catholic character of the English polity, here are certain examples:

   No one will deny that for a sentiment of indignation against the maltreatment of animals the English are distinguished. In their vehemence on this point they stand out from all other nations, and particularly from the Catholic nations. The feeling is due to strong imaginative power and emotionalism. Its excess is clearly at issue with Catholic culture. We all know this, both from the ridicule and anger it excites among foreigners of a Catholic culture and from the corresponding intensity of reproach which is levied by Englishmen against, let us say, the ltalians in their management of animals. The Catholic takes the affair in a different proportion from the anti-Catholic, whether that anti-Catholic be Buddhist or Protestant.

For instance, I read in my newspaper that a man in a small way of business in a suburb, trying to get rid of a cat which was diseased, and failing to do so by poison, knocked it on the head several times until it was killed. For this action he was condemned to prison, his life presumably ruined and his human home destroyed, on the evidence of a person paid to discover such cases by a private society. On reading the report of this, your average Englishman would say: "Serves him right. The cat and the man are both of them part of animated creation, not different essentially; there is less difference between a man and what are called the higher animals than between these and the lower forms of life. Animals have rights just as we have . . ." and so on. All that way of looking at such things is the product of intense imagination and emotionalism working on a false philosophy.

  To men of Catholic culture this mixing up of men and animals in one category is not only false, but abominable. The report of such a case in Catholic social surroundings would raise a storm. The destruction of a human home for the sake of a cat would seem intolerable. As for animals having rights, the Catholic system of morals specifically denies that. We have duties to God in regard to animals, but they have no duties to us. There is no contract between us; and they are made for our service.

  Here is only one example, but a forcible one, and I think the concrete instance is illuminating.

  The Englishman instinctively feels that a change in religion, that is, in his philosophy of life, would change him on this point where his emotions and imagination are deeply engaged. He feels in his bones that if his people fell to accepting in the bulk the atmosphere of Catholicism, his peculiar sympathy with the beasts would be lessened. And he is quite right. It is an example of the way in which the high emotional and imaginative power of the Englishman, captured by an anti-Catholic philosophy, is today a force against Catholicism.

Now consider another effect of this vivid imaginative power of England, captured as it has been, and now at the service of anti-Catholicism: I mean the myths and legends of England as she is today. The historical story taught to Englishmen and forming part of their general education in the schools, in the universities, through fiction, through the press, through conversation, is one strong body of national myth all on the anti-Catholic side. The historical heroes, not only national but foreign, are the anti-Catholic heroes-----William the Silent, the great Cecil, the corsairs of the Reformation, with Drake at their head, Henry of Navarre, Gustavus Adolphus-----and so on through a hundred names. While upon the other side stand the villains-----Philip II of Spain, Louis XIV, James II, Torquemada, Mary Tudor, and the whole list of the Catholic champions.

   Exceptions are granted for the sake of emphasis, but in every case of these exceptions-----from Sir Thomas More to Saint Francis of Assisi-----what is praised is not the specifically Catholic thing about them, but what they have in common with the Protestant ethic: in the case of More the heroic defense of a private conviction; in the case of Saint Francis a general tenderness to the natural life around him. But who can conceive the modern Englishman devoted to Saint Dominic, the great twin Saint to Saint Francis and historically an equal figure? The governmental attempt to stamp out the revolution under Mary Tudor is put forward as an exceptional horror, anti-national in character and abominable; a corresponding and successful attempt-----successful because it lasted over a much longer space of time and was much more universally applied-----to extirpate the Mass by torture, mutilation, exile and terror in every form, is represented as a national achievement. [emphasis added] The reign of the Cecils, the period 1559-1606, over which this effort was spread and in which it triumphed, is the chief national legend, apparent in every book and enshrined in the noblest verse.

   In all this, I say, you find the vivid, creative imagination of the English-----the power which sends them out on adventures, that fills their literature with landscape, that has given the world its highest treasure of lyric verse: for the English lyric, manifold, intense, vast in volume, is supreme.

As for patriotism, that second character in the English which renders the task of conversion, as I have called it, impossible, why, English patriotism is best defined in the phrase-----"Patriotism is the religion of the English." In no other society is the worship of the corporate body of the nation exalted to such a height, and this worship of the native country as an idol-----which was the great moral force whereby Cecil worked his religious revolution under Elizabeth-----is the main cause of English Homogeneity. Such a religion of nationalism demands the close cohesion of the national character, which is the very object of its adoration. It would be impossible in England to imagine those divisions which have affected other nations, such as the French or the Irish. One cannot imagine in England armed conflict between two political theories struggling to the death as they have recently struggled in Ireland. One cannot imagine in England a Dreyfus case, with its upshot in the deliberate ruin of the national army by one faction and the resultant of the Great War. There has not been civil conflict in England [save of the wealthy against popular monarchy] since England became the modern and Protestant country it is. It is always when you touch the patriotic nerve in Englishmen that you are at serious issue with them, for in asking England to be other than she is you are asking whom you address to be renegades from their religion-----that religion of patriotism.

   That, I say, has helped England to become, beyond any other nation, all of one stuff; and this solidarity, this unity, opposes in a block all prospect of essential change. This character is rightly recognized by Englishmen as the peculiar strength of their state. To whatever strain social relations may be put, unity is preserved. But there was another factor at work: aristocracy.

   The political instrument whereby this striking homogeneity in the English social structure was attained was aristocracy. It was under the rule of the gentry, now in jeopardy, or rather manifestly declining, that the unity of the English thing was brought into being; and this aristocratic constitution of the English world was, in its turn, a direct result of the Reformation, which killed popular monarchy by enriching the squires with the loot of the Church and making them and their great working committee, Parliament, the master and supplanter of the Crown.

   This unity is of especial effect on foreign policy. It has been the making of the English Imperial power. It may also be observed in the absence of all active criticism against public men, and in the absence of any real political opposition-----indeed, for Englishmen, the very word "opposition" in politics has come to mean a label in a rather dull game. Of internal opposition-----such as Rome, France, Ireland, have thrived on-----the English remember no more than did Venice in the sixteenth century.

   The effect of this unity may, again, be seen in the spontaneous discipline observed by the Press, and even by men in general conversation, whereby that which it is agreed not to mention, never is. Citizens of other nations, accustomed to full discussion of public affairs and to mortal struggle between contrary policies, marvel at the result. They do well to marvel, for it is unique in the world. This homogeneity, like the preceding
characteristics we have noticed, stands firm against all efforts at disintegration: all effort at changing one part of the whole; yet one part must be changed before the whole can be changed. With an effort at the conversion of England there would soon come a stage where that effort meant differentiation between one part of the nation and the other.

   Take another example of this unity: the passion for order, because disorder threatens unity. In the English polity the effect of law is directed towards the preservation of order as its prime end.

   Now, the law and its courts, its magistrates and its officers have in every society whatsoever two causes to serve. These two causes are Justice and Order. In Heaven the two are coincident. On earth they are in practice convergent, but not identical. You must in practice lean either towards the side of Justice or towards the side of Order. In the Catholic atmosphere the emphasis is on Justice, in the anti-Catholic it is upon Order. In both, every effort is made by good men to combine the two, but when the one must be sacrificed to the other or when there must be compromise between them to the advantage of the one or the other, the Catholic ethic results in an emphasis upon Justice, the anti-Catholic in an emphasis upon Order. And this is more strikingly seen in the English system of administration and legal judgment than in any other of the more modem nations. The English system is the supreme example of an emphasis upon Order; and by that system England has secured a more perfect social security and a more exact machinery of administration than any other country. Disorder abroad is the laughingstock of the English. Exactitude of rule in the taking of evidence, for instance, precision and definition therein, are native to the English system; laxity or elasticity in this matter abroad is for Englishmen a constant source of amusement and, on the rare occasions when they are themselves subject to it, of exasperation.

   Yet when England was Catholic the courts obtained the name which they still preserve. They were called "Courts of Justice," not "Courts of Order."

   Nothing is commoner than to hear in England today an interesting conversation between lawyers upon why a man was condemned, although he may well have been innocent. He committed this technical error; his counsel played the game badly in this or that respect. Nothing is more typical of the social attitude adopted than the half ironic but very serious phrase: "After all, if a policeman is attacked somebody ought to be hanged." And talking of hanging, what a gulf between the old phrase which is still retained as a fossil, "malice prepense," in the definition of murder, compared with actual practice, in this non-Catholic society! "Malice prepense" signifies a desire to do some evil act, entertained before that act was accomplished and guiding the act to its conclusion. A man who slowly poisons another is guilty of "malice prepense." The phrase is retained from other times, but it no longer has vitality. A burglar who shoots at a man in order to escape and kills that man is held guilty of murder, though he had no intention of killing him, but only of wounding him. Save in very exceptional cases, passionate crime, which is certainly not premeditated, is treated as murder. Why? Because it is thought all-important to prevent the killing of citizens by other citizens, and, with that end made preponderant, England is rendered freer from such killing than any other State of similar magnitude and complexity. On this freedom from disorder Englishmen universally congratulate themselves and are often congratulated by foreigners, and it is an excellent proof that order has precedence over justice. From the same source we obtain the celerity of English law, and particularly of English criminal law, in its action; and that immense power of the police which is so much greater in England than the corresponding power of their fellows in any other nation.

   Here, then, also, you have that passion for political unity at work; and such English unity, the very mark of the English political soul today, would be directly menaced by the first serious expansion of Catholicism within the realm.

   Even the small Catholic body already existing is a cause of misgiving, though that body is so gentle and apologetic that its power is not seriously considered. Let it become stronger, let the English instinct for solidarity be threatened, and the society around us will react most vigorously against the Church. Lastly, there is that indurated quality which those who would give it a bad name [as I would] call "self-sufficiency" and those who would give it a good name call "a just recognition of our own superiority." This is not peculiar to England; it is a mark of all the Protestant culture.

   It is very genuine, and so profoundly rooted today that it coexists with the very being of the nation. Such a spirit is held without question to be a strength; the notion of humility is either not grasped at all or, when glimpsed, is felt at once to be a weakness.

   This sense of superiority is nourished in the simplest but most effective fashion by an unconscious permanent insistence upon what is well done in one's own society, and an ignoring or ignorance of what is done ill. Instinctively, when comparison is made between one's own people and another, those things wherein we excel are treated as the tests of universal excellence. Those things wherein we fall behind others are either not noticed or treated as unimportant.

   The sense of superiority here spoken of is nowadays of a piece with all the rest. It supports as it proceeds from homogeneity and patriotism and is fed and sustained by the vigorous imagination of the race.  . . . So powerful is the work of fancy here that men tell you how deeply foreigners admire them and praise those foreigners for showing such good sense.

   You feel this national sense of superiority very strongly in the contrasting spheres of administration and government. Mechanical administration being better carried out here than elsewhere, foreign societies are tested by their success or failure to reach a similar standard in mechanical administration. In the efficiency of the police, of the secret intelligence service, of the civil service [notably in the Post Office], English administration is supreme. Government-----which, when we are governing aliens means the molding of men's minds towards our own fashion and is a success or failure according to whether we can stamp them with our own character or fail to do so-----is felt to be unimportant. Why Rome and Spain did these things, why France is doing them today, Englishmen do not trouble to inquire. They only note that in the department of administration-----to which we usually give the name [wrongly] of government-----the rivals of England do not approach her standards. She is unrivaled therein.

   Of this sense of superiority, appearing in a thousand ways, I will give two concluding examples, taken among thousands-----the phrase: "We are not a logical nation," and the sincere affectation of national virtue. The phrase: "We are not a logical nation" is perpetually used as a term of praise, with not a shadow of suspicion that it may equally be a confession of imbecility. The reiterated sentences in which men congratulate themselves upon some common virtue as peculiarly their nation's own, have the same source. Some few of these expressions are disappearing; for instance, one does not often hear, as a commonplace, allusions to the purity of Parliamentary life or the Spartan indifference to money among politicians; the absence of all financial scandals at Westminster. But there has been no attempt at stopping corruption-----for that would be an admission that it existed. Instead of criticism, or what would be much better, punishment, there is silence; and this silence is the best proof you could have of how strong is the feeling of which I speak.

   Well, that feeling of superiority, like all the other characteristics I have here considered, works permanently and effectively against such a metamorphosis from the anti-Catholic to the Catholic, as the phrase "Conversion of England" implies.

   The Reformers were very proud of translating the word [Greek] metanoia in the New Testament by the word "repentance," and were never weary of denouncing the old Catholic translation, "doing penance." But the old Catholic translation is the best, for to do penance is an active change, and unless you do penance you have not really undergone a change at all.
And in their weaker word to express the older stronger word, they have managed to get rid altogether of the thing for which the word stood; the reformers have made repentance, humanly speaking, impossible.


Well, then, to begin again, the Conversion of England is impossible.

   But nothing is impossible with God, save things which are contrary to His nature.

   What is more, things which seem, humanly speaking, impossible, are discovered in the course of no very long lifetime to take place all the same.

   I have myself seen in the course of forty active years not a few impossibilities take place. I have seen the boundary between the gentry of England and the classes inferior to them grow very indistinct, and the gentry selling themselves in case after case to men whom, a lifetime ago, they would have treated as untouchables.

  I have seen England, with its very small professional army and with military operations on any large scale unknown to it within the memory of man, produce suddenly a force of two million fully equipped and increasing in value with miraculous rapidity, though trained on the very field of action.

  I have seen what may appear the most remarkable example of all, the disappearance from the most humorous nation in the world of most of the old popular humor, the disappearance of all funny papers [of the sheet, for instance, which published the Bab Ballads], of the old music-halls and of the glorious old popular comic songs. If a thing like that can happen in the social order on a minor scale-----not of the very first import, though significant-----it would seem to be possible in a higher order. Now, the order wherein this desired achievement, the Conversion of England, should take place, is the highest order possible; and it is precisely on that highest level that the incredible becomes credible and the impossible possible. Those who have seen, as we have all seen, individual conversions by the score which were, humanly speaking, inconceivable, cannot call even so great an operation as the Conversion of England impossible.

   If that be so-----and it is so-----let us consider in what direction effort would seem to offer most prospect of fruit.


We must consider a new method, because the old method has failed. By which I do not mean it has failed to convert England-----it has obviously failed to do that-----but it is not even going forward. It is actually in retrogression. And we must consider why it failed, in order to understand what new method now proposes itself to us. For the choice of a right method in any effort is by a process of elimination.

  The old methods depended upon the social state in which England stood when they were first so enthusiastically proposed and when they were thought by many to have such great and even immediate chances of success. Some eighty years ago, the days of Newman's and Manning's reconciliation with the Faith, the Conversion of England was envisaged by the small but enthusiastic Catholic body of that time upon lines consonant to social structure. The agreement between action and environment was not wholly conscious, of course. In most men it was not, perhaps, conscious at all. It was taken for granted as part of the air they breathed.

   They were themselves citizens of a country ruled by a select governing class. It was a country in which all, or nearly all, rulers and ruled, were steeped in a doctrinal atmosphere, a social atmosphere wherein nearly all men and women accepted certain main Christian doctrines. The converts among them [who were the leaders in the effort at general conversion] had come out of that atmosphere; they were familiar with it; it seemed to them an inevitable concomitant of English life as they knew it.

   Today all that has changed. A transmutation of English thought cannot come today through the old channels. It cannot spread from something socially superior to what lies below; and, more important, the doctrinal atmosphere has evaporated. Outside the Catholic body few now believe in the main doctrines.

   Let us first see what the old method was.

   An upper class in those days was, I say, everything. The Press which "counted" was the Press which catered for the educated and the leisured; even the daily papers, though the cultured affected to despise them, were manifestly not written for the mass of Englishmen, and, indeed, the mass of Englishmen did not generally read at all. [I am not falling into the silly error that the mass of the older England was less cultivated than the mass of England today-----it was far more cultivated, as anyone of us can testify who remembers the older generation of the poor. But the habit of reading was not widespread as it is today, and, above all, it was not constant and repetitive as it is today]. There were in those days drawing-rooms, which some even tried to pronounce after the French fashion and call "salons," and even those who like neither the native nor the foreign term will admit that there were receptions and converse of the gentry wherein opinion was formed and from which it seeped downwards, percolating through the structure of the nation. In such commerce political ideas were nourished and developed. In the surroundings and furniture of a leisured class religious ideas also were nourished and developed. The university was an expression of that upper class. The intellectual domination exercised by the university was a class domination; and in the universities, especially at Oxford, the battle of religion raged. Everyone was familiar with the issue, and to the majority which opposed there stood up a very brilliant, advancing, minority which supported this or that element in Catholic tradition.

  Meanwhile, all the body upon which attempted conversion had to work, the stuff of England, was as I have said, doctrinal. The ancient and fundamental Catholic doctrines were possessed by all, or by so nearly all as made no difference. The tone of English life was doctrinal. The conception of personal immortality, our responsibility for good and evil, the presence of a personal, just and good God, the Creator and Judge of us all, these main Catholic doctrines were still fundamentally English, expressed English ideas, and resulted in English conduct. There was a Heaven and there was a Hell, however much one might wrangle about Purgatory. The great bulk of English men and women, moreover, accepted the idea of the Incarnation, not as a tradition to be clung to, nor as a memory, but as a truth which formed part of the body of thought. Skepticism had its place in that same leisured class which gave its tone to the whole, but it had very little place amid the run of the people.

   Now, there was in all this a certain factor of social structure too much forgotten today and important for us to insist upon when we envisage the difference between those times and ours. England was agricultural; and England remained agricultural on through the greater part of Queen Victoria's reign. The England of forty-five to fifty years ago which I can remember as a boy was an England the older members of which, the still living men and women who decently trained their children, and who still bore witness to their own traditions, had been born in the villages. Most of them already lived in the great industrial towns, but they had known other things and had been formed under other influences. Even to this day the life of the English village, insofar as it survives [it is now the environment of a petty minority], is possessed of the old traditions of thought and in great measure of the conduct following upon those traditions-----which  traditions may generally be called by the vague term, Christian. The villagers were organized under squires. The leisured class, the cultivated, ruled ideas even more than they did things, because they were the natural and present heads of village communities into which the bulk of people had been born.

   A host of consequences followed upon this agricultural origin of Englishmen. For one thing, they were in touch with reality as people always are who live upon the soil. They were in touch with organized religion; the village had its calendar, and though its feasts were few it knew its feasts. The village church was a center, and the village clergyman, who then was much more of one class than he is today, led intellectually. The fine parsonages in which it is so difficult for the impoverished modern clergy to carry on, witness to that past. The Englishman of the village, the Englishman born in the village, getting his strong impressions of childhood there, though he were early absorbed by the industrial centers, the modern great cities, was trained to individual impressions. The people with authority over him were people he knew, his neighbors were real neighbors, there was upon him
 the pressure of society, and that society was organized-----it was not as are our millions of the city now, an inchoate dust.

   Things standing thus, the Conversion of England seemed within my own memory to be a question of change in leading individuals, of spreading the idea of the Church among those
who typified ideas and fed upon them.

   Notable individual conversions among the gentry and intellectuals thus pointed towards the conversion of the nation. Not only the numbers of such conversions, which were at one moment considerable, but much more their character, impressed the people of the time. There was certainly a phase during this development in which it seemed reasonable to believe that though the efforts were made against great odds the effort might succeed. We should recover an appreciable section of the gentry and their example would spread. It was not put in so many words; it was not seen, even by the most enthusiastic, for what it was; but therein lay the soul of the effort. Every new name added to the roll call heartened those who had put before them that distant goal, difficult, yet not apparently impossible, of attainment. Through the movement in the universities, through the movement in the English Church, through the movement in the great households, through the movement among what some foreigners call the "intelligentsia," the thing was going forward.

  I have used with regard to all this the brutal term "failure." I have said that the thing failed; and though the term is brutal it is exact. The tradition so founded was strong and continued to run in a full stream on into our own time, but it did not spread. We all know what happened; and there were two factors in that happening.

  The first factor was this. What was morally the major part of the affair, the tendency, was captured by nationalism, "patriotism-----the religion of the English." "I will not leave the Church of my Baptism."

  There arose the historical theory generally called "continuity." There arose as a consequence with many what is also called "the branch theory." Catholic ideas spread, not only within the organization of the established Church-----where they became very powerful-----but outside its boundaries; and in our own time there have been most striking effects of this in certain of the Non-conformist [non-Anglican Protestant] bodies; also [what is in my eyes most remarkable] in the general attitude of skeptics towards history and towards contemporary thought. Many who had no faith at all grew to be in sympathy with some one aspect of Catholicism, and sometimes with many aspects. But the major tenet of Catholicism from which it both derives its name and spiritually lives-----that the Church as one thing is separate from all that is not the Church-----struck no root. That vital point-----the Church Divine, all else man-made-----did not affect those who were thus impressed among Anglicans, skeptics, and even the Non-conformist bodies by much else in Catholicism. The reason that this essential tenet of a Divine Supremacy in the Church failed to catch hold was the necessary conflict between that tenet and the worship of the State, which is also the love of the Nation. Catholicism seemed the more alien the more vigorously it acted; the more it showed its intellectual and moral strength the more un-English was its savor.

   The second factor in the failure was the social transformation of England. The Englishman ceased to be a country-man and became what was once, and perhaps still is, called at Oxford a "townee"-----I apologize for the term, but it is short and convenient. A generation was born and grew up which had never known anything but the great modern city. The influences of the modern city molded the character first of an enlarging majority and lastly of nearly all the nation.

   I would not be so foolish as to ascribe the vast business of modern English change to one such cause; there were many others. The gentry left all for money; yet, at the same time, great wealth became unstable, so the town masses went adrift without leadership. At the same time, the fact that physical science was achieving its triumphs so rapidly, and upon so steep a curve of progression, happened to be accompanied by a process which has nothing to do with physical science as such, but which colored the whole of its influence, a process in which its votaries and leaders became in bulk the active enemies of defined and organized religion and specifically of Christian doctrine. The idea of the miraculous, and its concomitant, the Sacramental idea, became inconceivable to those few who analyzed and thought; negligible and forgotten to those who did not.

   When the Sacramental idea and miracles are presented to the modern Englishman in the bulk he finds them so contemptible that he cannot believe them to be seriously held; or, if held, held only through an illusion which a little instruction will dissipate. To such a base intellectual level have the masses fallen!

   But of all the causes I still think that the most prominent, if not the most profound, is the transformation of England from an agricultural to an urban society: and urban not in the organic sense of a city inspiring its citizens, but urban in the sense of that mere loose sand, that formless mass, of our town millions. They all must read trash, and read it continually; they are all formed upon a state system of "education" [as it is called-----for the term is most misleading] which is compulsory and universal, and, which has for one of its main products the modern Press of England. I mean by the word "Press" the newspapers which are in every hand and the flood of popular fiction, the accepted official view of history-----especially of national history-----and all the other forms of lamentable ignorance which proceed from this source, including the increasing ignorance of Europe and of what was once meant by Christendom.

  Now, upon that urban body the old method and the old tradition have no grasp. To the attention of those millions the old path by which it was imagined that the Conversion of England might be reached does not lead.

  This truth can be tested numerically. Individual conversions seem more notable than ever, or, at any rate, more notable than they were in the intervening period, after the first great burst of Catholic effort more than a lifetime ago. But in proportion to the population our numbers do not increase, or, if they increase, increase but slowly. And what is more, the "penumbra"-----the belt of non-Catholic sympathizers with Catholicism-----does not extend, but, on the contrary has shrunk; so that there is now a fairly definite line to be drawn between the well-lit world of active Catholicism, and the dark anti-Catholic world outside.
The time when travel, instructed, curious, based upon high culture, worked in our favor has ended. There is indefinitely more travel than there was, but it is deaf, blind and of no cultural effect. The time when historical reading worked through the cultivated and the leisured, the time when Lingard was the chief historian of England [he was the first to write our history soundly, to base it upon numerous documents; he was the founder of modern English history and he is still-----though now never acknowledged-----the principal source of it] has concluded. That chapter has come to an end.

   Note further that there is within the Catholic body itself a noticeable result of the new state of affairs. The non-Catholic attitude has for now some considerable time past affected the Catholic body. We have not molded the university to our own image, it has molded us. Our historical textbooks, those upon which our Catholic youth is trained, are the textbooks of the opposition. [Emphasis added] When the Church is fighting her battle in some foreign land the English Catholic does not know what is toward; if he sees her in peril he foolishly falls into the nationalist error of congratulating himself that this particular kind of peril is not felt by himself; and in practice, though he would be horrified to hear it, he is singing the old refrain which thanks God for having made him a Happy English Child.

   I have found this very marked in the matter of the Religious Orders. Where they are persecuted and exiled it is due to the natural depravity of foreigners-----in our blessed island world no such injustice would be tolerated. The magnitude of the struggle between the Church and the world is altogether missed by us. Conversely, millions upon millions of Catholics throughout the world who are maintaining the Faith have ceased to trouble themselves upon the lack of sympathy felt for them by the handful of Catholics here. 

During the close wrestling which we called the Irish question, and which was essentially a religious struggle, we know how leading Catholic opinion stood in England and how much of it was contemptuous of the Irish claim. All England, you may say, was ignorant of the great force arrayed against it across St. George's Channel, but none were more completely wrong in their calculation of that force than the small group of English Catholics, who thought of it only in terms of nationality. No one was more bewildered by the result, when Catholic Ireland recently achieved her partial, but very considerable, success. It is, I think, indubitable that the conversion of England through an upper class and through the organs which the upper class used to control, is no longer to be considered.

  The old method has failed. Upon what new lines are we to advance?


  The new method should begin with an appreciation of the main new factors in the problem. Some of the old factors remain, notably the profound feeling throughout England that Catholicism is alien and anti-national. But the new factors are what we must especially seize. These we have seen. They are the change of England from an aristocratic state to a state we know not what as yet, but certainly less and less aristocratic; a body of millions which have the town habit, are under the town influences, molded by a Press with whose character we are only too familiar, and now cut off from all the older agricultural traditions of England. We shall no longer achieve our purpose through the gentry; we shall no longer advance it through the infiltration of what is a rapidly dwindling and less and less effectual cultivated class.

  The next point in the modern situation, arising out of this first one, is the omnipresence of the State in England today, particularly in the field of instruction. This State influence is uniform, intensely national, and in all its spirit less and less Christian.

  The third factor, equally allied to the other two, is the spread of a mood which is already that of the greatest number and may soon be that of all England outside the little Catholic body. This mood is contemptuous of tradition in religion, has quite forgotten doctrine and has come to think all dogmatic definition absurd.

  The first conclusion to be drawn, I think, in the presence of this new problem and of the new factors of which it is composed, is that two new efforts must be made, apart from, and supplementary to, the effort at individual conversion.

  One of these efforts is negative, the perpetual criticism and ridicule of and attack upon the indurated, half-consciously held, but strongly anti-Catholic, philosophy of the world against which we are moving. The other is positive. We must instruct, not in the sense of instructing the individual, but in the sense of giving the new great town masses a general idea, at least, of what the Church is.

   But here I would digress upon that phrase "supplementary to" individual conversions.
   It is in the nature of the thing that the advance of the Catholic Church, now as at all other times, must be effected, ultimately, by individual conversions; so was the Church originally founded, so did it recover what it had lost in the sixteenth century, and, indeed, conversion can never be anything but individual by definition; to call it anything else in its essence would be a contradiction in terms. The process of individual conversions will be the constant and inevitable process of Catholicism wherever it has sufficient vitality to advance at all. There is not, in any new method, room for slackening here; the appeal to the individual, the revelation of reality to the individual, remains the cell and unit of effort. If that were not present, no mass effect could develop. But I say that "supplementary to it" must be a new conception of the way in which we should set to work, and I say that that new conception involves the two directives of negation against what is false, and of instructing the mass, the bulk; of making the idea of the Church familiar.

   The first of these directives, the negation of what is false, is the easier mechanically, but morally far the more difficult of the two. To undermine the crude false philosophy opposed to us, to loosen its hold on the masses by ridicule of its ignorance, exposure of its errors, satire of its pompous self-assurance and isolation, is a task open to any man. The method is easily available. But it involves very unpleasant consequences to the agent. We need such agents, nonetheless. Without them we shall do nothing. As it seems to me [and Heaven knows that here I am being more personal than ever and present myself as a target for abuse] we need Tertullians. We must be militant. There were, perhaps, in the past, moments when that spirit was unwise; today, it seems to me demanded by a just judgment of the situation. Our society has become a mob. The mob loves a scrap, and it is right. We must attack the enemy in his form of rationalistic "science," we must analyze and expose his hidden false postulates, so that the individuals who hold those postulates shall be brought to shame-----but to bring a man to shame makes him angry. His anger, I think, is a test of our success.

  We must expose the confusion of thought in the opposing camp; its ignorance of the world and of the past, its absurd idols. And in doing so we must face, not only ideas-----which is easy-----but men, the defenders of those ideas-----which is difficult. We must wound and destroy.

  Such action involves suffering. Now, there is no lack of heroism, God knows, in the effort made by each individual convert to advance the Faith against the mountainous forces opposed to it. The individual convert suffers here in England as he suffers nowhere else. The body of English converts is a body everywhere heroical. I know not one of them, even among the rich, who has not shown heroism nor one who has not faced extremes of suffering from loss of fortune, loss of close ties in friendship and blood, loss, above all, of that support which a man feels when he is in tune with society around him and with his own past.

   But here is a call for suffering of a new kind. There is [as I take it] today a necessity for braving corporate opinion, and those who get on horseback to challenge that particular dragon are in for a very bad time. You will be despised or disapproved if you practice your religion quietly with no effort to oppose its organized enemies, but if you overtly attack these enemies you will get something much worse than disapproval. Every weapon will be turned against the man who is attempting to destroy the defenses thrown up against us.
   Boycott is the strongest of those weapons and the most effective; he will have to endure that. Where the boycott cannot be applied he will have to endure the reputation of a crank, of an absurdity. He will become an "object." Whatever irrelevant truth or falsehood can be dragged in against him will appear. The more plainly he speaks the more will he be accused of paradox. The stronger his appreciation of the national past the more will he be accused of foreign taste. He will lose fame and repute, he will quite certainly suffer in his pocket, he will lose affection. Remember that the reaction of men against what they dislike is exactly proportioned to its activity. Now, activity is the condition of success. When the great Lord Salisbury said [I believe I am quoting him rightly though only from memory]: "First find out what particularly annoys your enemy and then do it as often as ever you can," he was proposing a sound rule of combat. That is the spirit in which victories are achieved. Nor is it blameworthy. On the contrary, it is glorious. It is indeed blameworthy to attack with the mere object of irritation, it is also futile and vulgar; but to challenge active hate as the proper means to a good end-----that is excellent. [Emphasis added]

  Thus, if you wish to undermine the false authority of false history, it is not enough to expose particular misconceptions which have arisen from some ignorance of detail in the matter of Faith; if the man is an enemy of the Faith, then let his whole body of work be battered. Let him be fallen upon. Let it be argued from his bad judgment in particular affairs that his judgment in the main affair is also bad. If there is a lack of good faith in his method let that be proved, not only by examples pertinent to religion, but also by examples which have nothing to do with the main quarrel in themselves, but which are pertinent to the general thesis that the enemies of the chief truth are the enemies of all truth . . . So may the siege be joined, and those engaged in it will be surprised to discover the wealth of ammunition prepared to meet them. When all else is exhausted there remains this most perilous of all perils menacing those who attack to undermine: calumny. That also must be faced. The attacker of corporate opinion will be a target for calumny.

  As for those who maintain that militancy is barren, I will reply with the precisely contrary truth, that conflict is the mother of all things. The most powerful ally one can have is fashion, and fashion is set when a battle is won. But a battle is not won without wounds.
  The first signs of victory [if the impossible victory be achieved] will be, I say, a change in fashion. Long before we have made it fashionable to be Catholic we may have made it fashionable to sympathize with Catholicism. Long before we have made it fashionable to sympathize with Catholicism, we may have made it fashionable to ridicule anti-Catholic history, anti-Catholic materialism, anti-Catholic morals.

   Fashion is a tawdry ally-----but we must not despise it. Fashion governs with peculiar power in times such as ours when intelligence is failing. And fashion is set by the energetic few.

  The second directive, the positive one, is instruction. I have said that it is the easier morally, and so it is, by far; but mechanically it is the harder. You do not excite enmity by merely making the nature of a system known. The most violent enemy of Socialism would be interested in reading a book which explains what it is. The most ruthless invader is ready for maps of the enemy's country. The moral side of instruction is easy, for there are no risks to be run and nothing to suffer but boredom. The mechanical side of it, the method of achieving it, is hard to obtain. Merely to formulate fact is easy. But how to get instruction "over the footlights," how to get the elements of Catholicism known to the urban masses is a difficult question to answer. One thing, however, is certain, we must here act in general upon society. In other words, our advance must be political.

   I do not use the word "political" in the ridiculous sense of that puppet show, the professional politics of the House of Commons. There action has no value, sincerity or meaning, even in temporal things, such as the economic struggle, still less in the majestic warfare of the Church. The idea of a Catholic party, now that the word "party" means nothing, would in England be ridiculous; and whether a Catholic votes for this or that empty label, "labor" or "liberal," in the dreary business of an election is of no consequence whatsoever. Our votes mean today nothing, save in the matter of the schools.

   Should there arise tomorrow a considerable party of politicians labeled "Communist," I can see no reason why a Catholic should not vote for the worthy Mr. Jones, who wants to increase his income as a lawyer or as a company promoter by getting into Parliament under the title "Communist," quite as innocently as for the worthy Mr. Brown, his cousin, who wants to achieve exactly the same ends in the card-shuffling game under any other label-----"Patriot," for instance. Neither the presence of Mr. Brown or Mr. Jones among the dull herd of the House of Commons will make any difference to England. It is not the House of Commons that governs nowadays. I can easily imagine in the future a Catholic saying to his fellow Catholic: "Are you voting Patriot or Communist this time?" just as he said a few years ago, "Are you voting "Unionist?"-----meaning, are you voting for the people who will be nominally in conduct of affairs when the real financial masters of the country decide to destroy the union with Ireland.

No, I mean "political" in the true sense. An effort is political when it aims at changing the structure of society, and in that sense must we work to instruct and to use the result of our instruction. We must act upon the masses as citizens, through the means by which the masses are today reached.

   It is advice more easily given than applied. What methods are available to us at the outset of our efforts? What are available to a small body possessing at the outset none of the engines for popular appeal? There are two kinds of methods: the direct and the indirect. The direct offers the least opportunity; the indirect, the greatest.

   Not the cinema, certainly. Not, as yet, the schools; for the schools are controlled by the State, and, from the elementary schools to the university, are based on anti-Catholic history, philosophy and everything else.

  There is the platform. The work done by the Catholic Evidence Guild is an example. Such a method has the greatest of traditions behind it, for by preaching and exposition of this kind was the Church founded throughout Europe in the great missionary time of the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries. And in this we have once more on our side the energy of the Irish.
   What of the Press in this province? I would here emit an opinion purely personal and repeated at greater length on later pages of this volume; I do not think that instruction is to be achieved mainly by the serial Press. I am nearly certain that it cannot be achieved by a daily Press; I think it is to be achieved mainly by books. But insofar as we can act through a serial Press, the weekly journal is the strongest force, and the prime condition of it must be an economic guarantee. We should subsidize in order to make certain of the effort in that field.

   Though no action through social leadership is possible, action through intellectual leadership is still doubtfully possible; a good review, read by non-Catholics, would, I think, ultimately affect opinion.

  But the best way to use the Press for instruction is by challenge: by repeatedly asking, and occasionally obtaining, space in, the popular journals, where we are read by non-Catholics, to correct false impressions. By telling the truth in such freelance work, in letters, in reported speeches, in protests upon Catholic countries, the Catholic past, the nature of Catholic doctrines. The great need here is industry: repetition. We are working up hill. Our chief danger is fatigue.

      Again, while we lack the machinery for popular dissemination of truth, yet if we make that dissemination our aim its effect will appear. Most of us do the opposite. Most of us are careful to keep out of quarrels. If all of us, or the greater part of us, few though we are, kept protest and statement continually alive, some corporate effect would follow.

       The indirect method is far the most promising. Every day practical problems arise, every day the difficulties of our dissolving civilization are brought up sharply against the daily lives of our fellows. The breakdown of marriage, of property, of Christian morals as a whole in modern England has come rapidly upon us, and whenever the acute necessity for a solution arises we can be there with the solution. We might end, if our effort here be untiring, by making men associate the Faith-----of which now they as yet know nothing-----with the remedy for their immediate ills.

       For we should always remember this, perhaps the only consoling thing one can remember in the desperate and difficult situation of the Faith here in England today: that in the very negations around us lies our opportunity.

       We alone have the key to the lock; we alone have the cypher of life; we alone are in full touch with reality; we alone are the organized and certain definers of morals; we alone can throw the chaos into order and give perspective and proportion to the torturing confusion in which men find themselves throughout the modem world, and particularly where it is at issue with the Catholic Church.

       Sooner or later every man asks himself the Great Questions. No man can of himself discover the replies to them. We alone have the replies. These replies form one consistent body of thought, each part supporting each, and all in company building up one grand reply wherein alone the human spirit can repose. 

 Though the need for satisfaction is universal it does not follow that men will turn to the source from whence alone it can proceed, but, at any rate, they will find no other. We gamble on that chance; we stake upon that opportunity. Those around us, for whose recovery we set out, are in despair, or, at any rate, will, each of them, at some time come up against despair. We alone can present the solvent to despair. And such men as come to know that the claim is made will not neglect it.