The Great Heresies by Hilaire Belloc
“The Great Heresies is possibly the greatest book written by Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953), the famous Catholic historian, for here the author, calling upon his vast knowledge of history, outlines in simple terms for his readers, not only the meaning and influence of heresy against the Catholic Church, but the impact on the entire world of five of the greatest heresies of all time: Arianism, Mohammedanism (Islam), Albigensianism, Protentantism and (what for a better word he calls) the “modern Attack.” This high praise on the part of the Publisher is no exaggeration, and the subject of heresies should be of the utmost interest to every Catholic.
In this article, references will be made to the chapter dealing with the Arian heresy because the Arian attack on the Catholic Church in the 4th century mirrors the Conciliar attack on the Catholic Church in the 20th century and on Tradition (and now on the Resistance) in the 21st century.
Belloc writes: “The Arian attack proposed a change of fundamental doctrine, such that, had the change prevailed, the whole nature of the religion would have been transformed. It would not only have been transformed, it would have failed; and with its failure would have followed the breakdown of that civilization which the Catholic Church was to build up” (p 11).
What Belloc wrote nearly eighty years ago could well be written today, only substitute “Modernism” for “the Arian attack”.
Belloc writes that as soon as the Arian heresy made its presence known, the response was immediate: “A battle of vast importance was joined. Men did not know of what importance it was, violently though their emotions were excited” (p 27). Was this perhaps an over-reaction? Belloc explains: “Had this movement [the heresy that rejected the full divinity of Jesus Christ] gained the victory, all our civilization would have been other than what it has been from that day to this” (p 27).
Ever since the French Revolution, Liberalism has been steadily making inroads and gaining strength, combing all errors into one mega heresy called Modernism. Had this synthesis of all heresies won, we would likely not be Catholic today. Most likely, we would not be at all.
The author continues: “To settle the quarrel by which all Christian society was divided, a council was ordered by the Emperor to meet, in A.D. 325, at the town of Nicaea…. The reaction against the innovation of Arius was so strong that at this Council of Nicaea he was overwhelmed”(p 28).
Likewise, St Pius X took a strong stance against Modernism. As Pope, he exposed and condemned it, and tirelessly warned and educated Catholics of the danger of this super heresy.
But victory for the Catholics was short-lived: “It [the heresy] re-arose at once, and it can be said that Arianism was actually strengthened by its first superficial defeat” (p 28).
While St Pius X put up a valiant fight against Modernism, the Modernists continued their fight underground, preparing for Vatican II.
Belloc then explains the nature of this “battle” between the Catholics and the heretics: It was “a quarrel between two opposing personalities, such as human personalities are: on the one side the Catholic temper and tradition, on the other a soured, proud temper, which would have destroyed the Faith” (p 29).
The nature of the battle in our present day is the same as it was in the 4th century: it is between traditional Catholic common sense and pride.
The heretics then adopted a key strategy: “Arianism learned from its heavy defeat at Nicaea to compromise on forms, on the wording of doctrine, so that it might preserve and spread, with less opposition, its heretical spirit” (p 29).
The Modernists adopted the same strategy: Calling Vatican II a “pastoral” rather than a “dogmatic” Council gave them a tactical advantage. It put the “good” men off their guard, and the Modernists won the day.
And the heretics were successful. Belloc writes: “When the Arians began this new policy of verbal compromise, the Emperor Constantine and his successors regarded that policy as an honest opportunity for reconciliation and reunion” (emphasis mine)(p 29).
During the fifty years following Vatican II, the Modernists likewise resorted to a “policy”: In the name of “reconciliation and reunion”, they infested the Traditional communities, and, one by one, all were taken over by the Conciliar Church. In 2012, the turn came for the last bastion of Tradition, the SSPX, to be lured into the Conciliar trap. The current SSPX leadership’s quest for reconciliation and reunion is by no means a modern invention!
And punitive actions followed. Belloc comments: “The refusal of the Catholics to be deceived became, in the eyes of those who thought thus, mere obstinacy; and in the eyes of the Emperor, factious rebellion and inexcusable disobedience” (p 29).
The Resistance priests remained true to Tradition and were therefore subjected to punitive actions, including expulsions.
Belloc then gives the Emperor’s accusations: “Here are you people, who call yourself the only real Catholics, prolonging and needlessly embittering a mere faction-fight. Because you have the popular names behind you, you feel yourselves the masters of your fellows. Such arrogance is intolerable” (p 29).
Likewise, the SSPX hierarchy labeled the Resistance laity disobedient and divisive.
And the Emperor continues: “The other side has accepted your main point; why cannot you now settle the quarrel and come together again? By holding out you split society into two camps; you disturb the peace of the Empire, and are as criminal as you are fanatical” (p 29-30).
Just as the Emperor came down hard on the Catholics in the 4th century, so also the SSPX hierarchy manipulated the Traditionalists in 2012. The June 8, 2012 DICI Interview with Bishop Fellay was one method amongst many, intended to soft-peddle the fact that Vatican II was the stumbling block that could not be accepted. The Bishop said: “What has changed is the fact that Rome no longer makes total acceptance of Vatican II a prerequisite to the canonical solution.” Also, the Bishop downplayed the importance of Doctrine: “We must set aside the secondary problems and deal with the major problems”. Since when has Catholic Doctrine become a “secondary problem”!! And what “major problems” could the Bishop be referring to if not to the problem of the “canonical solution?!
Belloc gives the Catholic position: “The heretics have not accepted our main point. They have subscribed to an Orthodox phrase, but they interpret that phrase in an heretical fashion…. Therefore we will not allow them to enter our communion. To do so would be to endanger the vital principle by which the Church exists, the principle of the Incarnation, and the Church is essential to the Empire and Mankind” (p 30).
Belloc then writes: “At this point, there entered the battle that personal force which ultimately won the victory for Catholicism: St Athanasius” (p 30).
And, as the saying goes, the rest is history!
What lesson can we then draw from The Great Heresies? That Catholics can never compromise on “the vital principle by which the Church exists” and that the “vital principle” is called the Catholic Doctrine.
Read Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies and do not compromise!
The Great Heresies, Hilaire Belloc, Tan Books and Publishers Inc., 1991, pp 161
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Sr Constance (TOSF)