Hilaire Belloc: Essays 

A Letter to an Anglo-Catholic Friend

The people strangely calling themselves "Anglo-Catholic" [i.e., Anglicans] are the nearest to us in mood, just as the skeptic is the nearest to us in intelligence. Yet their intellectual position is as Protestant as any, for they do not admit unity as the test of the Visible Church. There is a Person and a Voice. It has authority. The Anglo-Catholic does not follow that authority, and as for the Voice and the Features, he has them only by reflection or portraiture. He is not in their presence. Let him come there.

We of the Faith have heard for now many years past the thesis which you present. It affects us in a special manner.

  It is but one of very many which reach our ears. We are, in Protestant countries, daily insulted. We are also reproached courteously, jostled with indifference, attacked crudely from all manner of positions, by those who can make nothing of us and who, from the very little they know of true religion, are moved by it to contempt and hostility. For the Faith seems to them an absurdity in this world of the senses, where knowledge upon the ultimate things is hidden from the direct gaze of men.

   But the one thesis which you present has for us a special interest of its own, because it is sympathetic.

   I have confessed for myself [it is a purely personal confession] that I am more in sympathy with the skeptic than with any of the enemies opposed to that which is the sole solution of our riddles and therefore the salvation of mankind: the only House. It is my fault, perhaps; and certainly my misfortune. The skeptic thinks more than he feels, and there I am with him-----or rather, I take thinking to come before feeling: wherein I have a quarrel with the Seraphim. But no matter.

   Among all those outside the famous boat of the Fisherman you are most in sympathy with us.

   The skeptic does not sympathize with us at all. We sympathize with him-----which is a poor substitute. We say to ourselves: "At least this man uses his reason, on such postulates as are common to the human race." This moves our hearts towards him, especially in such a time as ours when men have ceased to reason. But he does not correspondingly say that we reason. As a rule he knows nothing about us, and too often he is, in these days of mechanics, deplorably uncultured.

   But you who call yourselves Anglo-Catholics have the heart, if not the root, of the matter in you. That living force which has transformed the world makes for unity, and you know it. Moreover, you know its name, which is the Incarnation. Its manifestations are not only familiar to you, but loved by you. You would accept: in a fashion you have accepted. You desire to undo [only in your own province, oddly enough, and not, as reason should demand, throughout the world] the almost-murder of Christendom in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. You desire unity, not mechanically, but organically. You are athirst for the Living Truth: you proclaim it, and in a fashion you follow it.

   Now to you thus situated we appear wrongly. You misunderstand the Church. You take our outline for our substance, our manifestations for our essentials, and our manner for our being.

   I will attempt in this very short space to put before you the problem as it appears to us.

  The essential in our judgment [we of the Faith] is that there stands on earth an Individual to be recognized as we recognize human individuals-----by the voice, the gesture, the expression.

  The chain of reason is complete. Is there a God? Yes. Is He personal? Yes. Has He revealed Himself to men? Yes. Has He done so through a corporation-----a thing not a theory? Has He created an organism by which He may continue to be known to mankind for the fulfillment of the great drama of the Incarnation. Yes.

  Where shall that organism be found? There is only one body on earth which makes such a claim: it is the Catholic Roman Apostolic Church. That claim we of the Faith accept. The consequences of that acceptation are innumerable, satisfactory and complete. We are at home. No one else of the human race is at home.

  Now to this you answer that such an organism [the Visible Church], being worked by men and through men and being [because it is visible] of this world [as well as of the other world for which and by which it is], suffers the faults of humanity. On that all are agreed. Only fools confuse the vices of officials, their occasional and abominable corruptions, with the essential of what they serve: and you are not a fool. But you specially insist upon one part of this truth-----that, among other human errors is abuse of authority, the exaggeration of a claim by those whose claim is justified. You maintain that there may be periods of doubt and chaos, that we have been passing through one such period [has it not lasted a long time?] and that, during the misunderstanding, the Visible Church, though it still exists, is in suspension, and that meanwhile you are part of it.

  Why, then, let me invite you to definition. It is not an idle nor a mechanical invitation. It is not a matter of logomachy. Can we not recognize this Visible Church? Can we not know it for what it is? Does not personality involve recognition? Can any person be himself, if none can recognize him, if he do not bear marks of his individual character by which he may be known?
The Visible Church cannot have nationality for its mark: nationality is in a different category; it is wholly human; it is mortal, however deeply loved. How can the Universal Authority be national? How can it continue indefinitely without a form? Ubi est Christus? [Where is Christ?] If you answer as I would, and as would any man of our sort, "He is in those who follow Him in the spirit and in truth," I agree-----though I am not much given to words of that kind. Holiness is everywhere. * You may find it in Pagans at one end of the scale, as in foolish emotionalists at the other, though I confess I find it with increasing frequency in those who are of the Faith, and fully in communion. But where is the holy Institution?

You are debarred both by your intelligence and by your particular profession of belief from defining the Church as the collection of all those who show some virtue, or as the vague cohort of those who more or less follow a Divine model. You will not advance the plea that individual holiness is enough and a Church unessential. You are not [to use the tiresome modern term] "subjectivists." You know well enough, if others do not, that a Church is necessary, that there is somewhere a Church and this Church is not a theory, but a thing. You know that a thing is or is not, and that reality is apprehended by the human mind, not created by it. Further, you know that a thing only is because it is one. Now what say you on the mark of unity?

   You know very well, indeed it is the very core of your character and teaching, that the Church is the lighthouse of mankind, across the night sea-journey of this world. Well, then, in the place of "Ubi est Christus," put this plain question: "Ubi est Ecclesia? [Where is the Church?]" Have you seen the majestic face? Have you heard the authoritative voice? The face may be warped through media of perception, the voice may be confused by instruments of transmission. But have you so much as seen that face unmistakable, or heard that voice in its indubitable tone? Can you affirm Personality of that ill-defined abstraction which you propose as an Authority?
   Can you speak of divided Christendom in the tone of one who meets a lost friend at last and cries, "I know you. These are the features. This is the Voice"?
If you cannot, then you have not found the Church. Love of nation will not find the Church, nor will habit, still less the following of ease.

   There is a city full, as are all cities, of halt and maimed, blind and evil and the rest; but it is the City of God. There are not two such Cities on earth. There is One. 

  The author is obviously using the term "holiness" in a loose sense. The more accurate term would have been "goodness." Goodness can exist on the natural plane and does not necessarily entail the possession of Catholic faith and Sanctifying Grace, as does holiness. ----Editor, 1992. 

Taken from ESSAYS OF A CATHOLIC, TAN Books, originally published in 1931.