For One Democratic State
in the whole of Palestine (Israel)


FOR One Man, One Vote



Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                        23 October 2006

                                                                                                                      Saint John Capistrano


Belloc's “The Missioner” and Esto Perpetua – 100 Years Later:
Reverence, Rootedness, and a Sense of Devastation



“But genius and sanctity do not survive except by suffering.”

Evelyn Waugh, Monsignor Ronald Knox (1959)


“One had to accept sorrow for it to be of any healing power, and that is the most difficult thing in the world .... A Priest once said to me, 'When you understand what accepted sorrow means, you will understand everything. It is the secret of life.'”

Maurice Baring, Darby and Joan (1935)



One hundred years ago, shortly before the manifold devastation of World War I, Hilaire Belloc wrote “The Missioner” about the gradual implantation of the Faith in Norway in the Viking days. He also composed at that time a complementary and more extended essay, Esto Perpetua (1906), about the historical implantation of Rome in North Africa after the Punic Wars, and the later rootedness of the Christian Faith in those lands before it was lost to the sudden, combative, and permeating Mohammedans.

In this centenary commemoration of Belloc's Nordic essay and Esto Perpetua – his longer study and historically informed travel-book containing cultural and religious reflections on the former Roman Province of North Africa  in the Maghreb – we shall also come to see the vivid insights of a young man in his mid-thirties.

But, as was often the case with him, both in Norway and Barbary, and as in his later sailing journey, The Cruise of the Nona (1925), “its underlying feeling is elegiac and sad.”[1] There is an unmistakably pervasive poignancy and plangency[2] in his tone, even as his Faith and vivid hope are deeply rooted. For tragedy is always a human possibility. And there is the inherent fragility of human life.

Having seen the Mohammedan devastation and its long-range effects upon former Christian North Africa, Belloc deeply felt the destruction of beauty – not only architectural beauty – but also the wasting of moral beauty and the deeper spiritual beauty of the Faith, which was only then (1905-1906), and especially through the French implantations, starting to make a slight, yet still precarious, recovery and re-conquest on the coasts of the Maghreb. (The saintly Charles de Foucauld was soon to be killed there during World War I, in 1916, after his years of selfless missionary work among the Touaregs and the others, living “the hidden life of Nazareth” along the edges and in the heart of the desert.)

Belloc's plangency of soul is often to be found in the stirring tones of his prose and verse – tones that move the human heart like Homer and Virgil and yet draw one to the deeper plenitude of the Faith. For, like Whittaker Chambers later in his own loneliness, Belloc was a Witness who also knew the trials of loneliness.

The revered Dominican priest, Vincent McNabb, wrote moving words to Belloc in 1936 from his own gracious heart, and by way of consolation to “an old contender” and this salty sailor whom he knew so well:

You have been a light-house for almost more than the run of life-times. It has brought you a certain loneliness amongst the sea and winds. But your moments of conscious loneliness can hardly be more than moments when you know – as we must make you know – how many your light has guided and how many your heroism of accepted loneliness has heartened. What I personally owe to the light-house that you are I can only dimly discern but can never repay.[3]

After Belloc had lost both his wife, Elodie, on Candlemass 1914 and his first-born son in World War I, he had also received a letter of consolation from his beloved confessor. In 1919, Father McNabb had written: “I often ask God to further you in your great battles for the poor and for their Master.”[4]

Speaking himself about the defender of truth in his 1925 book, The Cruise of the Nona, Belloc wrote:

Reality will confirm him, and he is not so much testifying to the world as it is – which is worth nothing – as to Him who made the world, and Who is worth more than all those things. And, as it seems to me, a man ought to do this even about the truths not so very important, but he should observe some proportion between them [i.e., the lesser truths] and truths of vital importance.[5]

One of the truths of vital importance which Belloc had heard directly and personally from Henry Cardinal Manning himself in 1890 (when Belloc was only twenty years of age), he never forgot and often was to reflect upon, until he finally saw its fullness and varied application. In Belloc's own words, thirty-five years later, in The Cruise of the Nona:

The profound thing which Cardinal Manning said to me was this: All human conflict is ultimately theological .... This saying of his (which I carried away with me somewhat bewildered) that all human conflict was ultimately theological, that is that all wars and revolutions and all decisive struggles between parties of men arise from a difference in moral and transcendental doctrine, was utterly novel to me [at twenty]. To a young man the saying was without meaning: I would have almost said nonsensical, save that I could not attach the idea of folly to Manning. But as I grew older it became a searchlight; with the observation of the world, and with continuous reading of history, it came to possess for me a universal meaning so profound that it reached to the very roots of political action, so extended that it covered the whole.[6]

In this following centenary tribute to Belloc, we propose to consider his own finely expressed “searchlight-insights” of truth, and to offer thereby a further elucidation of this great-souled man.

By our viewing him in and through one of his especially vivid and intimate books, Esto Perpetua, we hope to reveal the heart of Belloc a little more. For he truly loved Rome and her rooted civilization – Pagan and Christian – and her abiding continuity, and especially the permeating and reverent and rooted nourishments of the Faith and the culture of the Faith.

But, to enhance our understanding of Esto Perpetua and of Belloc's own capaciously understanding heart, we shall also interweave one of his other essays about Scandinavia and thereby better approach his 1905-1906 historical and missionary journey to the southern shore of the Mediterranean. Aiding us by its clarifying contrasts and counterpoint, this essay itself is significantly entitled “The Missioner.”

By way of introduction to this complementary little essay, we shall come to know how it is written in vividly sacramental prose, and quietly leads us to consider with gratitude the slowly fruitful coming of the Faith to Scandinavia. Combining mystery and concreteness, it memorably depicts a certain missionary journey, in this case not to North Africa, but up to the far north and just beyond the frontiers of Roman civilization.

It, too, was a solitary journey. And the mission gradually took root, though sometimes precariously. Itself a very intimate essay, “The Missioner” will prepare us well to savor Belloc's even more spacious and varied little book, Esto Perpetua, which is itself essentially about Roma: about Rome and the meaning of Rome. By way of contrast to other cultures in North Africa, Esto Perpetua contemplates  Rome and her civilization, and is especially attentive to the implantation of and struggle for the Faith in the Maghreb (Barbary). It is this adventure which our Belloc will convey to us, in the longer light of its military and cultural history and strategic geography, to include the permeating devastations of Islam: desolation and isolation which remained long after Mohammedans made their initial seventh-century cavalry charge out of the desert.


Part I – The Coming of the Faith to the Frontiers of Europe

Almost ten years before the later devastation of World War I and during the consoling reign of Pope Saint Pius X, Hilaire Belloc thus quietly illuminated the Christian Faith for his readers in an historical essay on North Africa, and also in his earlier imaginative missionary essay on the fjord lands of Scandinavia, the latter of which depicts, not the obdurate Mohammedans, but, rather, the resistent pagan culture of the “pirate fishermen.”

Through his variously counterpointed insights and clarifying contrasts, Belloc also helps us today to be aware of the historical and persistent enemies of the Christian Faith: those whose dualism (or occultism) denies the reality of the Incarnation and of the Holy Trinity. He will also show us how the quiet seeds of the Faith can touch a human heart, even the heart of “the Old Pilot” of the marauding Viking fleet who remembered so well the coasts of Brittany and “the vineyard lands” of the Romans and their Priests. Grace could build on such a nature and purify his heart and give him tears of joy.

In his subsequent, longer book Esto Perpetua, Belloc will present to us an even larger panorama through his depiction of the Phoenician, Berber, Pagan-Roman, Christian-Roman, and Mohammedan-Arab presence in the Maghreb (“Barbary”). He will show us their specifically distinctive long-range effects and the special fruitfulness and qualities of the Roman civilization there – in sharp contradistinction to Islam's heritage of cultural and spiritual devastation.

Belloc had first travelled to Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea in 1895, as a man of twenty-five; he later traveled widely in the Maghreb, largely in foot, in 1905, as a man of thirty-five, having approached by ship that Southern Mediterranean coast and appreciating at once the beauty of the lateen sails and of their graceful sailing ships. Even later, furthering the collection of material for his histories and biographies, Belloc returned to the Baltic and to Scandinavia just before the devastation of World War II. He was then a man of sixty-eight; it was in 1938. He was soon to lose another son in World War II, an added sorrow to his capacious and vivid heart.

On the premise that “context establishes and preserves meaning,” we should further consider the spiritual context of “The Missioner” and the Maghreb book. For, in the same year in which Belloc had published another book, An Open Letter on the Decay of Faith (1906), he wrote with characteristic magnanimity the following about the permeating and abiding effects of the faithful followers of Islam itself, as well as and the cultural fruits of “the God of the Mohammedans,” specifically as they were to be seen in the monuments and society of North Africa at that time:

Against this vast permanent and rooted influence we [i.e., modern attenuated Christians] have nothing to offer. Our designs of material benefit or of positive enlightenment are to the presence of this common creed as is some human machine to the sea. We can pass through it, but we cannot occupy it. It spreads out before our advance, it closes up behind. Nor will our work be accomplished until we have recovered, perhaps through disasters suffered in our European homes, the full tradition of our philosophy and a faith which shall permeate all our actions as completely as does this faith of theirs.[7]

Such is the honesty and magnanimity of Belloc, even towards what he regards as a false religion. And we shall also see the same magnanimity in his essay on the Pagan Pirates, “The Missioner.”

With further reference to the then-recent European return to North Africa, especially as a Colonial Power, but with a woefully attenuated Faith, Belloc says:

That no religion brought by us stands active against their own [Islamic faith] is an apparent weakness in the reconquest [i.e., “the reconquest of Barbary”], but that consequence of the long indifference through which Europe has passed is not the only impediment it has produced. The dissolution of the principal bond between Europeans – the bond of their traditional ritual and confession [i.e., the Mass and the Catholic Faith] – has also prevented the occupation of Africa from being, as it should have been, a united and therefore an orderly campaign of the West to recover its own.[8]

Within the following decade, World War I was to add to these dissolutions and further impede the Christian recovery.

On this centenary of these magnanimous and farsighted missionary reflections from Esto Perpetua, which are only a foretaste, let us now consider more closely Belloc's other religious writings of that time, especially his essay on Viking Scandinavia and, in contrast to Islam, Norway's own quiet reception of the then-spreading Christian Faith. We shall thereby better understand why the much-beloved G.K. Chesterton himself so deeply cherished Hilaire Belloc, whom he first memorably met in 1900, only five years after Belloc's trip to Scandinavia and five years before his roving adventure in North Africa:

When I first met Belloc he remarked to the friend who introduced us that he was in low spirits. His low spirits were and are much more uproarious and enlivening than anybody else's high spirits. He talked into the night, and left behind a glowing track of good things. When I have said that I mean things that are good, and certainly not mere 'bons mots,' I have said all that can be said in the most serious aspect about the man who has made the greatest fight for good things of all men of my time.[9]

The magnanimous and gratefully humble Chesterton continues his description of that unforgettable occasion on which he and Belloc first met:

We met between a little Soho paper shop and a little Soho restaurant; his arms and pockets were stuffed with French Nationalist and French Atheist newspapers. He wore a straw hat shading his eyes, which are like a sailor's, and emphasizing his Napoleonic chin .... The little restaurant to which we went had already become a haunt for three or four of us who held strong but unfashionable views about the South African War [i.e., in opposition to the British imperial war against the Boers], which was then in its earliest prestige....

What he brought into our dream was this Roman appetite for reality and reason for action, and when he came into the door there entered with him the smell of danger.[10]

  Hilaire Belloc is, moreover, the only man who has a chapter specifically dedicated to him, by name, in G.K. Chesterton's own posthumously published Autobiography. G.K. Chesterton, like Father McNabb himself, owed so much to Hilaire Belloc.

Five years after Chesterton and Belloc first met, Belloc was off again sailing to the North African coast with his “Roman appetite for reality” and vivid savor of life, during which interval he had also written “The Missioner,” that imaginative presentation of the coming of the Faith to a northern frontier of Europe.

After first meeting Belloc, Chesterton – who was not yet a Catholic (not until 1922) – probably read his friend's essay, “The Missioner,” which was first published some time shortly before 1909, the year when it was presented again to the public in one of Belloc's fine collections of short essays.[11] We may well imagine how the heart of Chesterton was touched by this poetic prose depiction of the slow fruitfulness of the Faith, as it quietly came to the culture of the Nordic north and was received by a few ready hearts.

On this centenary of Esto Perpetua, therefore, it is fitting to savor a little of this contemporary and preparatory and religious essay of Belloc's. For it is a truly exquisite one, marked by reverence, a sense of high mystery, and a feel (and longing) for human companionship. In “The Missioner,” we may also see Belloc's pietas, which is itself, properly understood, a reverent respect for roots. Such a pietas will prepare us more fully to receive the depths of Esto Perpetua.

It is important for us first to note that the narrator – or “the narrative persona” – of “The Missioner” is not himself in any obvious way a Roman Catholic, a fact which gives the essay more poignancy and resonance. The narrator is, rather, a reverent and dispassionate describer of the quiet coming of an Alien Faith to the cold northern lands; coming up out of what he calls “the vineyard lands” and slowly and softly arriving up there amidst the pagan and polytheist Scandinavians. These Scandinavians, moreover, dwell “in the fjord lands” and near the open sea; and they are also called “pirate fishermen” who in certain seasons “go a-viking” along the Breton Coast to the South, and among the Roman lands of the Franks.

With his sense of the sea and a certain epic (or Christian-Homeric) spirit, Belloc introduces us to the rich resources of the English language. In his hands, the narrative language deftly combines sacred mystery and concrete, sensible intimacy in a kind of “sacramental prose.” It subtly manifests what Chesterton himself, already in 1917, called “a mystical materialism” as an abiding mark of the Faith:

A mystical materialism marked Christianity from its birth; the very soul of it was a body. Among the stoical philosophies and oriental negations which were its first foes [as in the Heresy of Docetism] it fought fiercely and particularly for a supernatural freedom to cure concrete maladies by concrete substances. Hence the scattering of relics was everywhere like the scattering of seed. All who took their mission from the divine tragedy [i.e., the Crucifixion of the Incarnate God] bore tangible fragments which became the germs of churches and cities.[12]

In “The Missioner,” too, we may appreciate in a concentrated way this amplitude and this humble intimacy, in combination. Through Belloc's modulated words we may come to know the rooted heart of this good and vivid-souled man of faithful memory, and a man of enlarging vision whom G.K. Chesterton so deeply and gratefully cherished as a friend and healing guide.

From the very outset of “The Missioner,” Hilaire Belloc's sympathetic narrator frames a scene of hospitality and an atmosphere of warmth and human companionship:

In one of those great halls which the winter darkens and which are proper to the North, there sat a group of men, kindly and full of the winter night and of their food and drink, upon which for many hours they had regaled together, and not only full of song, but satiated with it, so long and so loudly had they sung.[13]

To savor his prose rhythms, we should read Belloc's sonorous words aloud!

After first noting their epic boasting – “They all claimed descent from the Gods, but in various degrees” (261) – and then how “a large fire smouldered” and “sent up so strong a shaft of rising air as drew all smoke with it ... whence it could escape to heaven” (261), Belloc resumes his inviting, and introductory theme of companionship and festive communion:

I say they were tired of song and filled with many good things, but chiefly with companionship. They had landed but recently from the sea [these Scandinavian pirates!]; the noise of the sea was in their ears as they so sat round the fire, still talking low, and a Priest who was among them refused to interpret the sound; but he said in a manner that some mocked doubtfully, others heard with awe, that the sea never sounded save upon nights when the Gods were abroad.[14]

This pagan priest, we soon discover, was “the priest of a lesser God, but he was known throughout the fleet of those pirate fishermen for his great skill in the interpretation of dreams.”[15] Moreover, “he could tell by the surface of the water in the nightless midsummer where the shoals were to be found.”[16]

Building up this intimate atmosphere and reverent mood, Belloc continues with an incremental repetition:

He [the Priest] said that on that night the Gods were abroad, and indeed, the quality of the wind [like the varied ways of the Holy Ghost] as it came down the gulf of the fjord provoked such a fancy, for it rose and fell as though by a volition ... and ... like a voice ... the wind pitied or appealed or called. Then a man who was a serf, but very skilled in woodwork, lying among the serfs in the outer ring beyond the fire in the straw, called up and said: “Lords, he is right; the Gods have come down from the Dovrefield; they are abroad. Let us bless our doors.”[17]

And there immediately follows something unexpected, as with the coming of Grace or with the coming of a new friend, who is himself an external channel of grace coming to us in our need:

It was when he had so spoken that upon the main gate of that Hall ... came a little knocking. It was a little tapping like the tapping of a bird. It sang musically of metal and of hollow metal; it moved them curiously, and a very young man who was of the blood said to his father: “Perhaps a God would warn us.”[18]

By way of further subtle characterization of this group of “pirate fishermen” and especially of the young ones among them, Belloc continues with another memorable sketch:

The keeper of the door was a huge and kindly man, foolish but good for lifting, with whom by daylight children played, and who upon such evenings lay silent and contented enough to hear his wittier fellows. This serf rose from the straw and went to unbar [the huge door “a large double engine of foot-thick pine swung upon hinges wrought many generations ago by the sons of the Gods”]. But the Chief put his hand forward, and bade him stay that they might still hear that little tapping. Then he lowered his hand and the gate was swung open.[19]

A guest has suddenly arrived:

Cold came with it for a moment, and the night air; light, and as though blown before that draught, drifted into the hall a tall man, very young [the Missioner], who bowed to them with a gesture they did not know [probably a sign of the Cross!], and first asked in a tongue [Latin!] they could not tell, whether any man might interpret for him.[20]

By way of confirmation of the guest's sacred gesture and language, Belloc presents another vivid nuance:

Then one old man who was their pilot [of those Viking boats] and who had often run down into the vineyard lands, sometimes for barter, sometimes for war, always for a wage, said two or three words in that new tongue, hesitatingly. His face was wrinkled and hard; he had very bright but very pale grey eyes that were full of humility. He said three words of greeting which he had painfully learned twenty years ago, from a priest upon the rocks of Brittany, who had also given him smooth stones wherewith to pray; and with these smooth stones the old Pilot continually prayed sometimes to the greater and sometimes to the lesser Gods. His wife had died during the first war ...; he had come home to find her dead and sanctified, and being Northern, he had since been also a silent man. This Pilot, I say, quoted the [Latin] words of greeting in the strange tongue.[21]

“The old Pilot” thus welcomes the guest with humility, almost like a Benedictine Monk, whose ethos of hospitality is “Hospes venit, Christus venit!” When a guest comes, it should be as if it were Christ Himself coming!

By way of further confirmation of the nature of his sacred gesture,

Then the tall young stranger man advanced into the circle of the firelight and made a sign upon his head and his breast and his shoulders .... When he had done this, the Pilot attempted that same sign; but failed at it, for it was many years since he had been taught it upon the Breton coast. He knew it to be magical and beneficient, and he was ashamed to fail.[22]

Before the fuller welcome of hospitality, the leader of that group of men needed further discernment:

The Chief of those who were descended from the Gods and were seated around the fire, turned to the Priest and said: “Is this a guest; a stranger sent [Latin, missus], or is he a man come as an enemy who should be led out again into the night? Have you any divination?”[23]

Since the pagan Priest at once admitted his inability to render divination or any further discernment, the Chief resorted to the old Pilot himself with his “bright ... eyes that were full of humility”:

He asked the Pilot, not as a man possessing divine knowledge, but as one who had travelled and knew the sea, whether he knew this Stranger and whence he came. To which that Pilot answered: “Captain, I do not know this young man nor whence he comes, nor any of his tribe, nor have I seen any like him save once three slaves [like those three Angles seen by Pope Gregory the Great] who stood in a market-place of the Romans .... Then these three slaves were loosened, and they came to the house of the Priest of the Gods of that country, and they told me the name of the people whence they sprang. But I have forgotten it. Only I know that it is among the vineyard lands.”[24]

The old Pilot, moreover, was himself trustful and openly receptive to this guest who likely came also from “the vineyard lands”:

I believe this Stranger to be a man like ourselves, born of a woman, and coming northward upon some purpose which we do not know. It may be for merchandise, or it may be for the love of singing and of telling stories to men.”[25]

Indeed, those pirate fishermen “saw that he had with him a little intrument that was not known to them, for it was a flute of metal” and “with this had he summoned at the gate.”[26]

The pagan rituals of welcome and gracious hospitality then began:

The Chief then brought out with his own hands a carven chair, on which he seated the Stranger, and he put into his right hand a gold cup taken from the Romans in a city of the Franks, upon which was faintly carved a cross, and round the rim of which were four precious stones, an emerald, a ruby, an amethyst, and a diamond; and going to a skin which he had taken in a Gascon raid, he poured out wine into that chalice and went down upon one knee as is proper to strangers when they are to be entertained, and put a cloth over his arms and bade him drink. But when the young man saw the cross faintly carved upon the cup and the four precious stones at the corners of it, he shuddered a little and put it aside as though it were a sacred thing, at which they all marvelled. Yet he longed for wine.[27]

With deference and reverence of bearing and gesture, and with winsome tact, the Scandinavians respond to their young guest and respect at once his sense of the sacred:

And they, understanding that in some way this ornament was sacred to his Gods, gently took it from him and through courtesy put it aside upon a separate place which was reserved for honourable vessels, and poured him other wine into a wooden stoop; and this he drank, holding out now to one and now to another, but last and chiefly to their Captain; and as he drank it he drank it with signs of amity.[28]

In gratitude “for so much kindness he took his silver flute and blew upon it shrill notes,” and they were, indeed,

all very sweet, and the sweeter for their choice and distance one [note] from another, until they listened, listening every man with those beside him like one man, for they had never heard such a sound.[29]

Implicitly, it is as if the “faith that comes from hearing” – “Fides ex auditu” in Saint Paul's own words – comes to them, now through hearing the beauty of music, which produced in them a sort of unity of hearts amidst their diverse responses to grace; it is as if the music is a channel of actual grace, a prevenient grace, as it were:

And as he played one man saw one thing in his mind and one another thing; for one man saw the long and easy summer seas that roll after a prosperous boat filled with spoil, whether of fishes or of booty, when the square sail is taken aft by a warm wind in the summer season, and the high mountains of home first show beyond the line of the sea. And another man saw a little valley, narrow, with deep pasture, wherein he had been bred and had learned to plow the land with horses before ever he had come to the handling of a tiller or the bursting of water upon the bows. And another saw no distinct and certain thing, but vague and pleasurable hopes fulfilled, and the advent of a great peace and another saw those heights of the hills to which he ever desired to return.[30]

Who will not think of Homer when reading such lines of vision and benediction and repose; and who will not fittingly consider the rooted and vivid-souled Belloc himself to be a worthy Christian successor of Homer, especially in such lines of poetic prose? And we feel it, too, in those following lines which draw us once again back to “the old Pilot”:

But the old Pilot, straining with wonder in his eyes as the music rose, thought confusedly of all he had seen and known [like Odysseus' own old companion, “Sea Reach,” as he was affectionately named]; of the twirling tides upon the Breton coast and of the great stone towns, of the bright vestments of the ordered armies in the market-places and of the vineyard lands.[31]

The Missioner's pagan hosts were so joyful that “they begged him play again,” for they wanted to hear once more this young Stranger-Man of Vision who could evoke such a Healing of the Memory:

The second time he played all these men heard one thing: which was a dance of young men and women together in some country where there was little fear .... This time they were so pleased that they waited a little before they would applaud, but the old Pilot, remembering more strongly than ever the vineyard land, moved his right hand back and forward with delight as in some way he would play music with it, and thus by a communication of heart to heart stirred in that Stranger a new song.[32]

With an answering heart, he graciously proceeded:

And taking up his flute for a third time he blew upon it a different strain, at which some were confused, others happy in their hearts, though they could not have told you why, but the old Pilot [the one most responsive to this channel of grace] saw great and gracious figures moving over a land subject to blessedness; he saw that in the faces of these figures (which were those of the Immortals) stood present at once a complete satisfaction and a joyous energy and a solution of every ill.[33]

It was if the Old Pilot “with bright eyes that were full of humility” had had a glimpse, a foretaste, of Beatitude. Together went the music and the memory and the vision.

The Missioner's northern hosts were so grateful for what “the Flute Player had given them” that “they desired to keep him in their company, and so they did for three full years. That is, the winter long, the seed time, and the time of harvest; and the next harvest also, and another harvest more.”[34]

From his special and intimately sacramental perspective, Belloc continues his tale:

Now, his Gods were his own, but he pined for the lack of their worship and for Priests of his own sort, and when he would explain these in his own manner some believed him, but some did not believe him.[35]

Then, with more explicit signs that the Flute Player is himself a Christian Missioner, the evocative text continues:

And to those who believed him he brought a man from the South, from beyond the Dovrefield [in Norway], who baptised them with water: as for those who would not have this they looked on, and kept to their own decree: but there was as yet no division among them.[36]

“As yet,” but it would come – as is always to be expected from the Challenge of the Faith. Shortly after the third harvest, even though he had “learned their tongue,” the Missioner was ready to return:

Hearing that the fleet, which was of twelve boats, would make for Roman land, he begged to go with it, for he was sick for his own, but first he made them take an oath that they would molest none, nor even barter with any, until they landed him in his own land. The Chief took the oath for them, and though his oath was worth the oath of twelve men, twelve other men swore with him. In this way the oath was done.[37]

Like Odysseus yearning to return home, the Missioner was also filled with such a “nostalgia” (in its full and etymological sense). That is to say, in him there was a painful yearning to return home.

So they took the Flute Player for three days over the sea before the wind called Eager, which is the north-east wind, and blows at the beginning of the open season; they took him at the beginning of the fourth year since his coming among them, and they landed him in a little boat in a seaport of the Franks, on Roman land ....[38]

After that sudden ellipsis in the text, there also came a sudden transition, and an unexpected conclusion, which is evocative of Christ's own Parable of the Sower:

The Faith went over the world as very light seed goes upon the wind, and no one knows the drift on which it blew; it came to one place and another, to each in a different way [like the music and the varied memories and visions it had educed]. It came not to many men, but always to one heart, till all men had hold of it.[39]

The cultivated soul is likened to the cultivated soil. The good soil, as well as the humble soul (like “the old Pilot” with “eyes that were full of humility”) received the seed and it was fruitful, both in nature and in grace.

Until the last paragraph of “The Missioner,” the narrator had appeared to be himself a reverent pagan polytheist from the Northern Lands, and one who respects the sincere pieties of others, and epecially the pietas of those who came from the vineyard lands of the Roman Christian Civilization.

After savoring the text of “The Missioner,” who could forget Belloc's own sense of reverence and rootedness and the challenge of the Faith? And a gracious foretaste of plenitude!


Part II – Belloc's Longer Essay on the Coming and the Loss of the Faith

in the Southern Lands of the Maghreb

Thus it was back in 1906, now a full century ago – and less than a decade before the carnage of World War I – when Hilaire Belloc himself was only thirty-five years of age and still a vigorous traveller, that he roamed to the southern Frontier of Roman Christian Civilization; travelling through northwest Africa from the Mediterranean Coast to the edge of the Sahara Desert, traversing the plateaus and heights of the Atlas Mountains, where he sought and saw vivid and elegiac signs of a vanished Roman civilization and also signs of its continuities and its poignant expressions of permanence, despite the Mohammedan devastations and neglect.

In 1906, our Belloc published Esto Perpetua as a commemoration of those travels of 1905, which included his reflections upon Rome and its civilization, both pagan and Christian – and its abiding and still-nourishing deep-rootedness. His Latin title expressed a soft imperative, as it were, and also a yearning: “Be Perpetual!” – be permanent and abiding, O Roma; and be still rooted both in our soil and in our soul. Remain forever – and nourish us still.

His book, though usually subtitled “Algerian Studies and Impressions,” is so much more than that. Modestly claiming to be but a brief historical essay, it is a discerning reflection on the coming and passing continuities of various civilizations, especially those that permeated that section of northern Africa called the Maghreb – where Saint Cyprian of Carthage and Saint Augustine of Hippo both memorably dwelt during their influential passage through this world.

Speaking of a special part of the Maghreb, namely “that belt of coast upon which the Atlas [Mountain range] descends” to the Mediterranean, which is called “the Tell” – “a territory of great luxuriance” –Belloc says the following concerning these parts and their historical cities:[40]

Their earth is black, deep, and fertile: inviting the plough. Such fields fed Utica, Icosium and Hippo Regius and Caesarea. They remained wild and abandoned for over a thousand years [after the seventh-century coming of Islam and its ruinous long-lasting conquest], but to-day you may see miles of vineyards planted in rows that run converging to the limits of the plain, where, until the last generation, no one had dug or pruned or gathered or pressed since the Latin language was forgotten in these lands. Indeed, it would be possible for a fantastic [i.e., a romantic and an imaginative visionary] man to see in this replanting of the vine a symbol of the joy of Europe returning; for everywhere the people of the desert have had a fear of wine, and their powerful legends have affected us also in the north for a time. But the vine is in Africa again. It will not soon be uprooted.

Such plains, then, their rivers and their adjacent seaport towns, make up the Tell, in which the Romans nourished many millions and in which the most part of the reconstituted province[in 1906, and especially by the French] will at last build its homes.

By such a bay and entering such a harbour [very near to where Saint Augustine lived and taught], whoever comes to Africa reaches land.[41]

 Indeed, Belloc immediately adds:

It is perhaps at Bone, which stands to half a mile where Hippo stood, that the best introduction to Africa is offered. Here a mountain of conspicuous height rules an open roadstead full of shipping small and large, and fenced round with houses for very many miles. A far promontory on the eastern side [of that bay] faces the western mountain, and half protects the harbour from summer gales. Below the mountain, the plain belonging to this bay stretches in a large half-circle, marked only here and there with buildings but planted everywhere with olives, vines and corn. In the midst of this great flat stands up a little isolated hill, a sort of acropolis, and from its summit, from a window of his monastery there, Saint Augustine, looking at that sea, wrote UBI MAGNITUDO, IBI VERITAS.[42]

And what a missionary was Saint Augustine, and with such a capacity for friendship!

With his poignant sense of loss, while reflecting with sobriety and lucidity on the devastation of Saint Augustine's Hippo, Belloc says:

The town is utterly gone .... Here was a great town of the Empire. It detained the host of Vandals, slaves and nomads for a year. It was the seat of the most famous bishopric of its day, and within its walls, while the siege still endured, Saint Augustine died [in 430 AD]. It [Hippo] counted more than Palermo or Genoa: almost as much as Narbonne. It has completely disappeared. There are not a few bricks scattered, nor a line of Roman tiles built into a wall. There is nothing. A farmer in his ploughing once disturbed a few fragments of mosaic, but that is all: they can make a better show [of Roman remnants] at Bignor in the Sussex weald [of South England, Belloc's rooted home], where an unlucky company officer [a Centurion of the Roman Legions] shivered out his time of service with perhaps a hundred men.[43]

Such is Belloc's reverence and persistent sense of vanished or remnant Roman civilization, especially under the devastation and neglect of Islam.

In the Introduction to his book, Belloc found himself “in a village that overlooked the Mediterranean” on its northern shore, and saw a craftsman shaping and fitting two contrasting emblems for separate human dwellings “over-sea” to the south; “it was spring-time, and he was singing.”[44] The one symbolic emblem which he crafted was a Cross, the second was a Crescent. Further pondering this striking contradistinction, Belloc says:

The contrast moved me to cross the sea, to understand the land upon the further shore, and to write upon Africa some such little historical essay as follows.[45]

In his little book – containing many beautiful drawings by his own gifted hand – he speaks of “the four changes of Barbary”[46] – the Phoenician and Punic history; the pagan Roman history; the Christian Roman conversion and history; and the Mohammend history and its long-abiding linguistic and religious culture of some 1200 years.

The land Belloc desired to understand, initially as a “traveller” and largely on foot in Northwest Africa, is

that land, shut off from all the rest between the desert and the sea, which the Arabs call the Island of the West, the Maghreb, but which we in Europe for many hundred years have given the name of Barbary.[47]

Belloc was especially drawn to the seacoast of the Maghreb and its little bays and towns, that is,

to the shore that runs ... from Tunis and the Gulf of Carthage to Tangier; that was snatched from Europe in one great cavalry charge twelve hundred years ago .... The soul and the relief [i.e., topography] of the Maghreb, coupled with its story, have made it peculiar and, as it were, a symbol of the adventures of Europe.[48]

Indeed, upon “this great bastion of the Maghreb,” Europe – “our western race” – “began its own life and entered its ceaseless struggle against the East” and against this “Eastern Spirit,” this Oriental “Influence” of Asia “in the states of Barbary.”[49]

Further clarifying the Maghreb's strategic geography, Belloc says: “It is at the furthest limit from Asia; it is an opposing shore of our inland sea; it links Sicily to Spain.”[50]

As it seemed to Belloc in 1905-1906, the Maghreb “is now at last again in the grasp of Europe,” some long years after “it fell for the last time when the Roman Empire declined,” and this still precarious, recent “reconquest has been the latest fruit of our recovery.”[51]

Resisting the easy and falsely fatalistic conclusion that the Maghreb has long existed “as though it were by some right originally Oriental and by some destiny certain to remain so,” Belloc saw in the recent “reoccupation” the slowly fruitful return of Europe.[52] Even though he continuously thought that “our reoccupation seems assured,” he also saw the very great challenge, because

during the many centuries of our decline and slow resurrection, the countries [of Barbary] were first cut off so suddenly and so clean from Christendom, next steeped so long and so thoroughly in an alien religion and habit of law [i.e., the Sharia and its Courts and Legal Scholars].[53]

Belloc was especially attentive to the permanent challenge of “the old dominion of the East and of the religion that made them: of the united civilization that has launched them over all its seas, from east of India to south of Zanzibar and right out here in the western place [i.e., the Maghreb] which we are so painfully recovering.”[54] This lateen sail in its beauty – “the gift of Islam” – was for Belloc also “evidence of their conquering energy,” when the Arabs left their deserts and took to the sea.”[55]

For, he adds,

With such a sail they drove those first fleets of theirs which gave them at once the islands and the commerce of the Mediterranean. It was the sail which permitted their invasion of the northern shores and the unhappy subjection of Spain.[56]

A persistent theme in Esto Perpetua is “why [and how, again and again] Asia streched out towards it [i.e., the Mediterranean and its harbours] in order to learn, and attempted (but always failed) to absorb it.”[57] For, Belloc says: “it is easy to see how this great surrounded water nourished the seeds of our [European] civilization: why all the influences we enjoy here in the north came upwards to us from its harbours.”[58]

“At one point things alien to us” – i.e., alien to “Europe, which is ourselves” – “impinge upon this sea,”, that is, the Mediterranean.[59] These alien things, “alive with the essence of the Asiatic spirit: with the subtlety, the yielding and the avarice of the Phoenician cities,” were to be seen and felt not only along “the long Levantine coast” and “the delta of the Nile from which Egypt looked but jealously against rivals whom she despised or ignored;” but also later in the Maghreb itself, especially in the commercial and maritime city of Carthage.[60] Indeed,

the first attack which Europe was to suffer came not from the sands [like the later Mohammedans], but from its own sea, and the first conquerors of the Maghreb were the Phoenicians.[61]

As was the case with later manifestations of “the Asiatic Spirit,” so, too, here with the Phoenicians:

This people were Orientals ...; but they had, as it were, specialised upon one notable character of their race, which is to accumulate wealth by negotiation, and to avoid [especially in their governing Plutocracy] as far as may be the labour of production. To no other family of men has toil appeared to be a curse save to that of which the Phoenicians were members; nor are fatigues tolerable to that family save those endured in acquiring the possessions of others and in levying that toll which cunning can always gather from mere industry.[62]

Furthermore, after these Asiatics developed “travel by sea,” it “became for many centuries their monopoly and gave them the carrying [i.e., trade and seaborne freight] of the world and the arbitrament  of its exchanges” and when they pushed into remote areas they were “passionate especially for metals, but carefully [i.e., cunningly] arranging that there should arise between the nations whom they exploited or served no such direct bond as would exclude their own mediation.”[63]

That is to say, they wanted to be – and strategically manipulated to become – the indispensable intermediaries! (As in Belloc's charming later satire, The Mercy of Allah (1922), here, too, one is to think of other Semitic peoples and their own contemptuous ways and means of dealing with “the nations,” especially so as to accumulate “the wealth of nations”!)

With greater explicitness and emphasis, our Belloc later says:

There was something in the temper of Asia that was intolerable to the western people. They saw it always ready to give way and then to turn and strike [like a serpent]. They detested its jealous and unhappy rites. Its face was hateful and seemed dangerous to them. The two great struggles, at the close of which Rome [i.e., the pagan Roman civilization] destroyed as one destroys a viper, were conducted against members of the same family, Carthage and Jerusalem [in the three Punic Wars and in the 70 AD Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple, respectively].[64]

In the case of Carthage, the “final act of Rome was accomplished within a hundred and fifty years of the Nativity.”[65] It was only very near the beginning of the Christian era, therefore, that

the Roman habit took root in Africa, [and] a century more before the Maghreb was held by any complete organisation. By the middle of the fifth century the Vandals had come to ruin it [in the process of which, in 430 AD, Saint Augustine died within the besieged walls of Hippo]. There were, therefore, but little more than three hundred years during which Rome was to bring up this land into the general unity of Western Europe. There is no other portion of the world Rome governed, not even Southern Gaul, where her genius is more apparent. In that short interval of daylight – a tenth of the known history of the Maghreb – Rome did more than had Carthage in seven hundred years and more than was Islam to do in seven hundred more.[66]

The effects of Islam, however, went deeper and were even longer lasting, for

Africa was finally invaded, not by dull barbarians staring at the City [of Rome] and humble before her name, but by a brilliant cavalcade which galloped, driven forward by high convictions. The Arabs came in the seventh century, like a sort of youth contemptuous of the declining head of Rome. Barbary, then, I repeat, was swept into the Arabian language and religion in one cavalry charge [not from the sea, but this time out of the desert], and that language and religion not only became immediately the masters of its people, but had twelve hundred years in which to take root and make a soil. For about five hundred years, from a little after the birth of Our Lord to the close of the sixth century our [Christian-Roman] culture had been universal among the Berbers [nomadic horsemen like the ancient ally of Scipio Africanus, Massinissa]. In the last three centuries the Faith was dominant. But rebellion was in them [still, as of old], and when the Arabs came the whole edifice suddenly crumbled.[67]

Once again, like the encroachment of Islam today, we encounter Europe under the challenge of Asia:

Asia, which had first sailed in by sea [with the Phoenicians] and had been destroyed, or rather obliterated, when Carthage fell, came in now from the desert; Asia was like an enemy who is driven out of one vantage, and then, after a breathing-space, makes entry by another .... The Maghreb our test of sovereignty [hence the protection and control of our internal and external borders] had admitted the Phoenician for some six or seven hundred years. It had been thoroughly welded into Rome for five hundred. The Vandals came, and did no more than any other wandering tribe: they stirred the final anarchy a little; they were at once absorbed. But the tenacity by which Gaul, Britain, Spain and the Rhine were to slough off the memories of decay and to attain to their own civilisation again ... – that tenacity was not in the nature of Barbary.[68]

(And, Belloc accentuates, “Let it be noted that in Africa every heresy arose. That Africa admitted the Vandals by treason, and even when Africa accepted Islam, sect upon sect divided its history.”[69])

As in the earlier experience of these Numidian horsemen with Pagan Rome before the Mohammedans came:

The Berbers were not destined to preserve their Roman dignity. Something barbaric in them, something of the boundaries, of the marches, planted in these men ... a genius for revolt.[70]

Then, “in the seventh and eighth centuries, when all the remainder of the west had fallen, ... this southern shore of the Mediterranean was overwhelmed, and, what is more, persuaded” by Islam.[71] The roots of their Faith, perhaps, were too shallow. And bereft of its “living waters.”

The Berber “horsemen of Numidia” could more easily mix with and understand the ways of the Arab, in whose “ornaments the half-tamed tribesmen recognised an old appetite for splendour”; and the Bedawin-Arab “invaders themselves were nomads, and even on the shore of the Maghreb, where men had abandoned the nomadic habit [unlike in “that nomadic part ... [which was] thickest towards the desert from which the invasion came”], the instinct of roving still lingered.”[72] Even on the coast!

Resorting again to the images and metaphors of “soil” and “implantation” and “rootedness,” Belloc says:

Islam, therefore, when it first came in, tore up [i.e., extirpated] what Rome had planted as one tears up a European shrub planted in the friable soil of Africa. The Bedawin, as they rode, bore with them a violent and simple creed. And here, again, a metaphor drawn from the rare vegetation of this province can alone define the character of their arrival. Their [Islamic] Faith was like some plant out of the solitude; it was hard in surface; it was simple in form; it was fitted rather to endure than to grow. It was consonant with the waterless horizons and blinding rocks from which it had sprung.[73]

With respect to this immediate conquest and victory of the Mohammedans in the Maghreb, Belloc makes a trenchant a fortiori argument:

It was only here, in Africa [as distinct from their incursions “in Syria and in Asia [i.e., Asia Minor] and in Spain”], that their victory was complete. Therefore it is only here, in Africa, that you see what such a victory meant, and how, when it was final, all power of creation disappeared.[74]

More specifically and as a vivid example, he shows what the culture of Islam did in the destruction of trees and, generally, in “the fall of the woods”:[75]

Here Islam worked itself out fully: its ignorance of consequence, its absolute and insufficient assertion, its lack of harmony with the process and modulation of time, its Arabian origin, are all apparent in the destruction of trees. If the rainfall is as abundant as ever, it is not held, for the roots of the trees are lacking, and if it be true that trees in summer bring rain of themselves by their leaves, then that benefit is also gone .... Here ... where now are stretches of ugly earth quite bare, the legionaries [of Rome] saw meadows. At any rate the trees have gone.[76]

And the Faith was not held in the heart, either, when the test came. Insufficient rootedness there was for the seeds of the Faith.

Later, Belloc adds these poignant words; as he “went on through the night towards Timgad” keeping in mind “the sharp and recent memory of the [Roman] ruins of Lamboesis”:[77]

The Romans had once thoroughly possessed and tilled this land: the scrub had once been forests, the shifting soil ordered and bounded fields; but the Mohammedan sterility had sunk in so deeply that one could not believe that our people had ever been here.[78]

With these considerations in his heart, all else, even

those ruins of Lamboesis faded in the stillness. Europe came back into my mind. The full rivers and the fields which are to us a natural landscape are but a made garden and are due to continuous tradition, and I wondered whether, if that tradition were finally lost, our sons would come to see, in England as I saw here in the night of Africa, vague little hills without trees and drifts of mould and sand through which the rain-bursts would dig deep channels at random.[79]

All culture, not just agriculture, requires discipline and cultivation and attentiveness. Like the Faith itself, cultus always produces and fosters cultura.

As an instance of the warm humor as well as the more personal irony which pervades Esto Perpetua, we may consider just one of the early twentieth-century attempts at “French Afforestation” and the barriers which the tenacious French were to encounter:

This lack of trees the French very laboriously attempt to correct. Their chief obstacle is the nature of that religion which is also the hard barrier raised against every other European thing which may attempt to influence Africa to-day. There was a new grove planted some ten years since in a chosen place. It was surrounded with a wall [i.e., a protective wall], and the little trees were chosen delicately and brought at a great price, and planted by men particularly skilled. Also, there was an edict posted up in those wilds (it was within fifty miles of the [Sahara] desert, just on the hither side of the Atlas [mountains]) saying that a grove had been planted in such and such a place and that no one was to hurt the trees, under dreadful penalties. The French also ... gave a reason for what they did, pointing out that trees had such and such an effect on the climate – the whole in plain clear terms and printed in the Arabic script. There was, however, a Mohammedan who, on reading this, immediately saw in it an advertisement of wealth and pasture. He drove his goats for nearly fifteen miles, camped outside the wall and next day lifted each animal carefully one by one into the enclosure that they might browse upon the tender shoots of the young trees. “Better,” he thought, “that my goats should fatten than the mad Christians should enjoy this tree-fad of theirs which is of no advantage to God or man.” When his last goat was over two rangers came, and, in extreme anger, brought him before the magistrate, where he was asked what reason he could give for the wrong thing he had done. He answered, “R'aho, it was the will of God. Mektoub, it was written” or words to that effect.[80]

In contradistinction to this narrative of shortsightesness and religious determinism, Hilaire Belloc, as in “The Missioner,” leads us once again to a sacramental sense of life – that sense of the vivid combination of the spiritual with the material. In this case, he speaks of the geographical and artistic setting of a former Roman municipality and its outdoor theater:

In the heart of the Tell, behind the mountains which hide the sea, yet right in the storms of the sea [blowing up the valleys], in its clouds and weather stands a little town which was called Calama in the Roman time and is now, since the Arabs, called Guelma.[81]

Moreover, Calama (Guelma) is at “the centre of that belt of hills” near the beautiful seacoast of the Mediterranean Sea, and is itself both “a survival” and “a promise”:

A broad valley, one of the hundreds which build up the complicated pattern of the Mediterranean slope, lies before the platform upon which the [old Roman] fortress rose. A muddy river nourishes it, and all the plain is covered with the new farms and vineyards – beyond them the summits and shoulders [of the mountains] that make a tumbled landscape everywhere along the northern shores of Africa guard the place whichever way one turns. From the end of every street one sees a mountain.

If a man had but one day in which to judge the nature of the [old Roman] province, he could not do better than come to this town upon some winter evening when it was already dark, and wake next morning to see the hurrying sky and large grey hills lifting up into that sky all around catching the riot of clouds. It is high and cold: there is a spread of pasture in its fields and a sense of Europe in the air .... Its site is a survival from the good time when the Empire packed this soil with the cities of which so great a number have disappeared: it is also a promise of what the near future may produce, a new harvest of settled and wealthy walls, for it is in the refounding of such municipalities that the tradition of Europe will work upon Africa and not in barren adventure southward [to the Sahara Desert] towards a sky which is unendurable to our race [i.e., to our European culture] and under which we can never build and can hardly govern.[82]

Speaking then of the rooted “permanence of Rome,” Belloc says:

Here [at Calama], as throughout the Empire, the impression of Rome is as indefinable as it is profound, but one can connect some part of it with the magnitude of the stones [of the Roman architecture] ... and with the double evidence of extreme antiquitiy and extreme endurance ... so many centuries visibly stamped upon the stone [of “the citadel”], and able to evoke every effect of age but not to compel decay. This nameless character which is the mark of the Empire [still present in the Maghreb], and carries, as it were, a hint of ressurection in it, is as strong in what has fallen as in what stands.[83]

And, what is more,

Nor do any of these fragments suggest the passing of an irrecoverable good, but rather its continued victory. To see so many witnesses small and great is not to remember a past or lost excellence, but to become part of it and to be conscious of Rome all about one to-day. It is a surety for the future to see such things .... where this perpetuity and this escape from Time refresh the traveller with peculiar power.[84]

But, on the evidence to be seen in the Maghreb Province of 1905-1906, the Mohammedan could not even make good use of the surviving Roman fragments, since “the decay of Islam [like the earlier-mentioned “sterility of Islam”] had left him aimless:”[85]

He could not build or design. He could not cut stone or mould brick. When he was compelled to enclose his pasture [with old carved stones], the only material he could use was the work of the old masters [the carvers of the Roman stones] who had trained his fathers but whom he had utterly forgotten or remembered only in the vague name of “Roum” .... It is with a lively appreciation that one notes how all he did is perishing or has perished. The poor binding he [the Mohammedan peasant] put in has crumbled. The slabs slope here and there. But the edges of those [Roman] stones, which are twenty times older than his effort, remain. They [the peasant's fence of carved Roman stones] will fall again and lie where he found them; but they and the [Roman] power that cut them are alike imperishable.[86]

Indeed, says Belloc:

There is one great note in the story of our race which the least learned man can at once appreciate with keen eyes looking everywhere for antiquity .... That note is the magnitude of the first four centuries [of our Christian era].[87]

As Saint Augustine had said: “Ubi magnitudo, ibi veritas”![88]

And, like Augustine himself, Belloc has those “keen eyes” so attentive to the beauty of form and to the splendor of order.

Preparing us to consider more closely the fuller setting and the manifold aids to the senses to be found at the site of the Old Roman theater of Calama, Belloc first deals with the matter of landscape, in general:

It has been said that men of antiquity had no regard for landscape, and that those principal poems [like those of Homer and Vergil] upon which all letters repose betray indifference to horizons and distant views [as of the Alps]. The objection is ill-found, for even the poems show through their admirable restraint the same passion we feel for hills, and especially for the hills of home [like the beloved hills of Belloc's Sussex]; they speak also of land-falls and of returning exiles, and an Homeric man desired, as he journeyed [homeward to Ithaca to see his wife, Penelope, and young son, Telemachas], to see far-off the smoke rising from his own fields and after that to die. But much stronger than anything their careful verse can give us of the appetite for locality is the emplacement of their buildings [such as the outdoor theater at Taormina to be seen with joy on the eastern coast of Sicily!].[89]

Like “the spirit which built a certain temple into the scenery of a Sicilian valley,” where all of the light and lines of the topography converge and “the shrine becomes the centre of the picture, and, as it were, of a composition;” so, too can we appreciate this same spirit and form in Calama: “this antique consciousness of terrestrial beauty.”[90] For, “upon an edge of the high town” of Guelma (Roman Calama), “the site of the theatre gives evidence of the same zeal:”[91]

The side of a hill was chosen .... so that the people and the slaves upon the steps could have a worthy background for their plays .... Beyond the actors, and giving a solemnity to the half-religious concourse of the spectators, the mountains of the Tell stood always up behind the scene, and the height not only of those summits but of the steps above the plain [“down sharply ... below”], enhanced the words that were presented. We have to-day no such aids to the senses. We have no such alliance of the air and the clouds with our drama .... The last centuries of the Empire had all these things in common: great verse inherited from an older time, good statuary, plentiful fountains, one religion [Catholic Christianity], and the open sky. Therefore its memory has outlasted all intervening time, and it itself the [Christian] Empire (though this truth is as yet but half-received), has re-arisen [with at least some growing “hints of resurrection”].[92]

Such is “the presentness of the past.” Such is Belloc's memoria fidelis – his memory faithful to the truth and goodness and beauty of the past – the past which is still so intimately present to him, and through him, to us lesser men.

Recalling the magnitude of the first four centuries of the Christian era, Belloc candidly acknowledges that

To establish the character of the [Roman-Christian] Empire [i.e., in “the process of its conversion”] and its creative mission is the less easy from the prejudice that had so long existed against the action of religion, and especially of that religion which the Empire embraced as its cataclysm approached. The acceptation of the creed [the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed] is associated in every mind with the eclipse of knowledge and with a contempt for the delights which every mind now seeks. It [the Christian Creed] is often thought the cause, always the companion, of decay, and so far has this sentiment proceeded that in reading books upon Augustine or upon Athanasius one might forget by what a sea and under what a sunlight the vast revolution [of the Catholic Faith] was effected .... The vague overwhelming and perhaps insoluble problems which concern not a city but the whole world, the discovery of human doom [i.e., judgment, accountability, the final verdict of Truth] and of the nature and destiny of the soul, these occupied such minds [such as the Church Fathers, Doctors, and the Saints] as would in an earlier time have bent themselves to simpler and more feasible tasks than the search for finality .... The Empire at its end, when it turned to the contemplation of eternity, broadened much more than our moderns – who are enemies of its religious theory – will admit. The business which Rome undertook in her decline was so noble and upon so great a scale that when it had succeeded, then, in spite of other invasions, the continuity of Europe was saved .... These first four centuries ... formed our final creed.[93]

And these intimate and differentiated Dogmas of the Faith are ever-fruitful and permanent irreformable doctrines.

In his Chrismas 1923 letter of encouragement to Monsignor Ronald Knox, Hilaire Belloc very self-revealingly wrote the following personal words:

A chief function [or indispensable mission for us of the Faith], most admirable, was the bearing of witness .... Those who bear witness do so at a vast and enduring cost. It is an act of unique value and of proportionate excellence and pain. It [i.e., bearing witness to the truth and the Faith of the Church] is of the heroic and receives reward in a different character from all other, and carefully hidden from their recipients till their day comes. For it is in the nature of such witnessing that it looks into the dark and is burdened. I respect [it], I would, if I could, follow it, more than any other action of men. This act is a confirmation of the Faith in others and in all, at the expense of one's own self. It is the most real, enduring, and endless of the sacrifices. It is militant, expects nothing, and is paid at last in coin corresponding to its permanence of effect and magnitude of service .... Once a man begins to bear witness to the Faith he is bound to a task ... and he is bound to the abominable absence of human sustenance by applause, by recognition, by the support of a native air [as in the case of “The Missioner”]. I believe that those early ones whom we call today the Martyrs, the witnesses, were lonely enough and exhausted at the end; for they gave all they had, all any man has, which is home.[94]

The last words of Our Lord to us, just before His Ascension, were: “you shall be my witnesses [Latin testes; Greek martyres]  ... even to the very ends of the earth” (Acts of the Apostles 1:8).

Bearing further witness to the Faith himself, Belloc leads us to another inland town slightly to the south of ancient Calama, the fortified remnant Roman town of Constantine perched high on “the Rock of Cirta,” upon which is to be found the ancient “centre round which nature and history have grouped the four changes of Barbary.”[95] At the foot of the Rock of Cirta's several long precipices, and through a steep gorge, there runs a stream called “Runnel.” This town is located far into “the Tableland,” or the high plateau between the Great Atlas and the Little Atlas (the latter range of mountains being closer to the sea, to the north):

It is this stream which has made on the Rock of Cirta ... a habitable fortress and a town; the town called Constantine.[96]

Moreover, “the name Cirta given it by these horsemen of Numidia” long ago “was the name of their universal mother,”[97] whom they honored in this very special location:

Such sites are very rare. Luxemburg is one, a stronghold cut off by similar precipitous valleys. Jerusalem is another. Wherever they are found the origin of their fortress goes back beyond the beginning of history, they are tribal and their record is principally of war. So it is with Cirta .... Permanence and continuity are to be discovered here only among the cities of Africa [in the Maghreb]; and its landscape and character of themselves impress the traveller with a certitude that here [in Constantine] will be planted on into time the capital of the native blood: too far removed from the sea for colonisation or piracy to destroy it: too well cut off by those trenches of defense to be sacked and overrun: too peopled and well watered to decay.[98]

Then Belloc will have us better feel the “full history of the town”[99] and to consider what has been lost or destroyed, and, more importantly, what of the human spirit has been preserved. We shall come to see a certain continuity of the human spirit and the yearnings of the human heart which are memorably expressed in Latin on the epitaphs still to be found there, even after the iconoclastic fury of the Moslems. “Ingemuerunt Dryades” said one inscription, written “in memory of a priestess of Isis who was so gracious and who so [well and so fully] served the divinities of the woods” that, when she died, the Dryads themselves wept and mourned.[100] In such a context, even two words could so touch the heart of Belloc.

In this Roman town, Belloc also notes a certain “presence of absence,” the absence of the full culture of the Faith. For, says he and with poignancy, that it came to pass that “The manifold aspect of the Divine was forgotten: there were no shrines nor priests to rear them.”[101]

Nonetheless, he adds, “from the beginning of the Italian [Pagan] influence till the time of the [Christian] martyrs” one could still perceive there in “the record of the epitaphs” that self-revealing “slow change of the mind,” namely “that sort of content which the acceptation of the Creed was to bequeathe to succeeding time,”  “the spirit ... [of refreshment] transforming the African soil [and soul]”:  “the spirit that made Saint Cyprian,” bishop and martyr.[102]

In “the august and reasonable Latin” inscriptions that are still to be seen in the chronological sequence of pagan and Christian epitaphs in this still existing and once famous fortress-city of Constantine, there is also to be found, says Belloc, “a rediscovery of ourselves” – “and as you read you feel about you the air of home.”[103]

Such was the refreshment, restoration and repose which he gratefully and unexpectedly found, which is all expressed so well in that liturgical, Christian Latin word: Refrigerium.

However, looking about him, he also saw how “Islam destroyed with fanaticism” all the images – “the figures of animals and men;” and how “the barbarian creed conceived or implanted a barbarian fear of vines” – yes, even a fear of “Bacchus young, ... and gentle old Silenus”![104]

Throughout Belloc's reverent travels so full of pietas – in his reference and respect for one's roots – he was always poignantly aware of “the wound that Europe suffered by the Mohammedan invasion,” and this wound was even “more marked” and “more apparent” there in the monuments and culture of the Maghreb, where one could truly feel “the long eclipse of our race.”[105]

(That Mohammedan conquest, it will be remembered, had first come and spread in the late-seventh and early-eighth century. Belloc's poignant reflections came to him some 1200 years later, in the early twentieth century. Indeed, it was a long eclipse.)

Belloc's own very moving, elegiac considerations keenly perceived, in contrast to the slow fruitfulness of Christianity (as was seen in “The Missioner”), the effects of an entirely different, very rapid – and profoundly uprooting – Islamic “missionary effort”:

The Mohammedan invasion [had come] which everywhere destroyed, or rather abandoned, a Roman endeavor [even the beautiful Aqueduct still to be seen near Cherchel!]. The neglect which was native to the Arab, the sharp breach which he made in tradition, ended Caesarea [that very lovely Roman coastal city].[106]

Moreover, nearby a certain very stately Roman Aqueduct, there still stands “a little town,” which only “barrenly preserves a memory” of the presence of Rome. It stands there, says Belloc, as if “to emphasize the retreat of the empire.”[107] This beautiful (and once plentiful) Aqueduct – which was “something the Arab could not waste” – “still stands and carries an aspect of endurance which is the more awful”; indeed, “it appals one because it it quite alone and the multitude [of life and persons] who gave it meaning has disappeared,” leaving it thereby, so to say, “fixed forever in an intangible isolation” – the loneliness of its graceful arches still to be vividly cherished – and standing still after “the fifteen hundred years of its abandonment.”[108]

This beautiful form, which Belloc himself has with his own hand elegantly drawn in his book, is also a sort of trenchant metaphor for “the presence of absence”: the presence of the absence of Rome. The presence of the absence of the Living Waters of Rome and the Faith!

For Belloc, this symbolic Aqueduct, so isolated and so neglected there in the Maghreb, constitutes a representative example of “Rome arrested, as it were – its spirit caught away and its body turned to stone.”[109]

Rome's animating soul had left the graceful body – anima forma corporis.[110] And, this abandoned, gracious embodiment of culture and long-neglected relic have now truly and altogether petrified. Belloc was a “Fruit Inspector.” He saw the fruits of Islam. He had likewise seen the effects of the “Punic religion” and of the ever-encroaching “Asiatic spirit” and its “enduring challenge” to Europe and the Faith – most especially the “enduring challenge” of “the Mohammedan.”[111] (It is still so today.)

For, in his varied and intimate travel afoot in the Maghreb out to the “iron boundary” and “barrier” of the Sahara Desert, Belloc had seen many a “true Arab” – that is to say, what the French call “'An Arab of the Great Tent.'”[112] One such Arab horseman whom he saw was not at all a European, “but a rider of that race which makes one family from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic.”[113]

After Belloc's final view from a hill down upon the desert, he “had then seen a limit beyond which men of my sort cannot go, and I was content to leave it to those others who will remain for ever the enemies of our Europe” – such as that same “true Arab .... on a horse going up before me into the hills, with the snow of Aurès [in the high Atlas Mountain Range] above him, and between us a tall palm.”[114] And, says Belloc:

As I watched him and admired his stately riding, I said to myself: “This is how it will end; they [“for ever the enemies of our Europe”] shall leave us to our vineyards, our statues, and our harbour-towns, and we will leave them to their desert here beyond the hills, for it is their native place.”[115]

(Would that this were altogether so! But, in 2006, a hundred years later, our mutual encroachments and the consequent deracinations and religious-cultural conflict have increased.)

Belloc also met on his long journey “a fierce Moor of gigantic stature and incredible girth” as well as “a poor Arab and old ... in [whose] face there was a deep contempt for Christendom.[116] And then there was yet another face, a very haunting face. He truly was “a Stranger,” “a man of a kind I had not met in Africa before” and whose “face could be seen inspired with a peculiar power.”[117] But, “it was his eyes that gave him so singular and ... so magical an influence.”[118]

In this vivid context, after leaving the haunting Roman ruins of Timgad, Belloc says:

Here, so near the waste places where men cannot live, [and] alone with such a companion [i.e., this Mohammedan], I felt afraid. We walked along together slowly for a few paces; his sentences were shorter than my replies, and were spoken low, and full of what he and his [Arab “race which make one family”] call wisdom, but I, despair.[119]

Further describing this Arab of “peculiar power” and haunting expression, Belloc says: “His lips ... had in their firm outline something of high sadness” and the expression in his eyes “arrested me, for it had an expression of immense horizons;” and “his whole features recalled those which tradition gives to the makers and destroyers of religion.”[120] Moreover, he says:

The very short dialogue we had together influenced me in my loneliness for a whole day .... but I listened to him for the sake of the tones of his voice: these had a sort of laugh in them when he added that I should be glad to get back to water, to trees and to men.[121]

By way of confirmation, it was likewise about himself that Belloc later wrote these very words, words which reveal so much of his heart, as a man “of the Faith” and “the Latin Order” and as a “poor heir of the Catholic Church”:

I would advance it to be true that the soul is supported by all sacramental things; that is, by all unison of the mind and the body upon a proper object; and that when great architecture and glorious colour and solemn music, and the profound rhythms of the Latin tongue, and the ritual of many centuries, and the uncommunicable atmosphere of age, all combine to exalt a man [of a humble heart] in his worship, he is made greater not less. He is supported. He is fed.

Well do I know that the greatest of visions have come to men in small rough huts of stone, round in shape, piled by their own hands above the Western seas of Ireland or in the Hebrides. And I know very well that these men scaled heaven.

I know also that men similarily isolated in the deserts between the Nile and the Red Sea perceived our final inheritance and were admitted into divine company.

There is no necessity of any aid from the senses, and the greatest of those who were adepts in the search for heaven did, upon the contrary, withdraw themselves from all influence of the senses when they most desired the satisfaction of the Praegustatum – the foretaste of that for which we were designed [i.e., for Beatitude]: our home.

But I can not boast to be of such a kind, and on my poor level it is landscape, the sea, human love, music, and the rest, that help to make me understand; and in their absence I am very empty indeed.[122]

To return to the closing incidents in Esto Perpetua, we again hear Belloc speak of the Stranger and his disturbing, foreboding words there near the edge of the desert. Answering Belloc's question “What other danger can there be?” the Stranger responded darkly:

He answered that many who saw the desert learnt more that they desired to learn. I knew very well what he meant for I had heard many men maintain that what was eternal must be changeless, and that what was changeless must be dead. And I had noted how men who had travelled widely were more simple in the Faith [with an oculus simplex and thus, says Christ, with a corpus lucidum!] if they had chiefly known the sea; but, if they had chiefly known the desert, more subtle and often emptied of the Faith at last: the Faith dried up out of them as dews [also an image of Grace!] are dried up out of the sand on the edges of the Sahara in the brazen mornings.[123]

He himself now recalls the isolation and loneliness of the old Roman city of Timgad – the ruins where is to be found, and still so “physically present, ... a desolation so complete that measure fails it.”[124] And, from these ruins Belloc had just come on foot in his long march to the desert. In this mood, he listens again to the tones and words of this mysterious Stranger:

He said that in the desert the stars were terrible to man, and as he spoke of the endless distances I remembered the old knowledge (but this time alive with conviction) how great nations [without the humility and Grace and the merciful magnanimity of the Faith], as they advance with unbroken records and heap up experience, and test life by their own past, and grow to judge exactly the enlarging actions of man, see [in their Despair] at last [horribile dictu!] that there is no Person in destiny, and that purpose is only in themselves.[125] Their Faiths turn to legend [in their Apostasy], and at last they enter the shrine whose God has departed and whose Idol is quite blind.[126]

Stopping “at the edge of a little wood,” after their talk together for less than twenty minutes, both of them, says our Traveller, looked down “at the plain below us, and the salt dull valley and the dead town; the broken columns and the long streets of Timgad.”[127] Then they parted and, says Belloc, “When he had left me the oppression of his awful intensity and of his fixed unnatural reason began to fade:”[128]

Then I turned and went up into Atlas and as I went I was in two minds, but at last tradition conquered and I was safe in my steadfast instincts, settling back as settles back with shorter and shorter oscillations some balanced rock which violence had disturbed. The vast shoulder of Aurès [in the snow-capped Atlas Range of Mountains above him] seemed worthy of awe, but not of terror [like the desert and its spirit]. I made companion of the snow, and I was glad to remember how many living things moved under forest trees.[129]

After he had seen “the last of the oases under the Atlas upon the edge of the wild” Sahara Desert, and “with the snow of Aurès above him” once again, Belloc, like the Christian Missioner to Norway, desired to return home.[130]

On Belloc's return march from the desert and toward the sea, and to a welcoming harbor-town, he sees, finally, a little refuge:

I saw a Christian house after so many miles and days. I went in at once, [and] drank wine ... for I was tired of this land. I was hurrying to get back [and without the help of “the Old Pilot” with “bright eyes that were full of humility”] to reasonable shrines, and to smell the sea.[131]

Again, when soon he was enroute home, aboard a little ship, Belloc says, “I drank in my soul to her destiny” – i.e., the destiny of Europe and the Faith – “although I had no wine (for I had drunk it long before...)![132]

Then, by way of a Grateful Apostrophe, addressing Europe and the Faith – Roma in her fullness – he said to himself – and with his characteristic elegiac tone, but also with a rooted hope – the following words:

Remain forever. We pass .... But do you remain for ever. What happens to this [precarious and vulnerable] life of ours, which we had from you, Salvâ Fide, I cannot tell: save that it changes and is not taken away. They say that nations perish and that at last the race itself shall decline; it is better for us of the Faith that you are preserved, and that your preservation is the standing grace of this world.[133]

Roma, esto perpetua!

Être catholique, c'est tout.”[134]



                                                                                                                        © 2006 Robert Hickson


[1]    A.N. Wilson, Hilaire Belloc: A Biography (New York: Atheneum, 1984), p. 305.

[2]    Like the Portuguese “Saudade” in The Lusiads of Camoëns, plangency implies the sea as it strikes with deep, reverberating sounds, as waves against the shore, or the toll of bells plaintive, expressing sadness and the depths of things. Or Virgil's “sunt lacrimae rerum, mentem mortalia tangunt” – also, even especially, for a Christian of deep heart and generous soul, like Belloc.

[3]    Ibid., p. 306 – my emphasis added.

[4]    Ibid.

[5]    Hilaire Belloc, The Cruise of the Nona (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925), p. 49. See also A.N. Wilson's comment, on p. 306 of his biography.

[6]    Ibid., p. 51-52 – emphasis in the original text, except for the added emphasis of “a searchlight.”

[7]    Hilaire Belloc, Esto Perpetua (New York: AMS Press, 1969 and 1979), pp. 97-98 – my emphasis added. Belloc wrote these words before World War I, in 1906, the year of the first edition. Would that we Americans considered such insights today, and acted upon them!

[8]    Ibid., p. 98 – my emphasis added.

[9]    Herbert Van Thal, Belloc: A Biographical Anthology (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), p. 41. Chesterton's words are also and originally to be found in his “Introduction” to the book, written by C. Creigthon Mandell and Edward Sharks, entitled Hilaire Belloc: The Man and His Work (London: Methuen and Co.Ltd., 1916), pp. vii-xii. Chesterton's Introduction should be read in its entirety. It is a little masterpiece.

[10]  Ibid.

[11]  Hilaire Belloc, On Everything (London: Methuen and Co., 1909), pp.  261-269.

[12]  G.K. Chesterton, A Short History of England (New York: John Lane Company, 1917), p. 36.

[13]  Hilaire Belloc, On Everything, p. 261.

[14]  Ibid., pp. 261-262 – my emphasis added.

[15]  Ibid., p. 262 – my emphasis added.

[16]  Ibid. – my emphasis added. So, too, the dangers of human shallowness, like in the Parable of the Sower: superficial faith without deep roots.

[17]  Ibid. – my emphasis added. See also Hilaire Belloc, “On a Great Wind,” First and Last (London: Methuen and Co., 1912 – 1st ed. 1911), pp. 285-290.

[18]  Ibid. – my emphasis added.

[19]  Ibid., pp. 262-263 – my emphasis added.

[20]  Ibid., p. 263 – my emphasis added.

[21]  Ibid., pp. 263-264 – my emphasis added.

[22]  Ibid., p. 264.

[23]  Ibid. – my emphasis added.

[24]  Ibid., pp. 264-265.

[25]  Ibid., p. 265.

[26]  Ibid.

[27]  Ibid., pp. 265-266.

[28]  Ibid., p. 266.

[29]  Ibid.

[30]  Ibid., pp. 266-267.

[31]  Ibid., p. 267.

[32]  Ibid., pp. 267-268.

[33]  Ibid., p. 268.

[34]  Ibid.

[35]  Ibid.

[36]  Ibid., pp. 268-269.

[37]  Ibid., p. 269.

[38]  Ibid. In the essay “On a Great Wind” (pp. 289-290), we may read more about “those Norwegian men who set out eagerly before the north-east wind when it came down from the mountains in the month of March.”

[39]  Ibid.

[40]  Hilaire Belloc, Esto Perpetua, p. 62 – first published in London in 1906.

[41]  Ibid., pp. 67-68.

[42]  Ibid., pp. 68-69. My emphasis added.

[43]  Ibid., pp. 70-71.

[44]  Ibid., p. vii.

[45]  Ibid., p. viii.

[46]  Ibid., p. 115.

[47]  Ibid., p. 1.

[48]  Ibid., pp. 2-3 – my emphasis added.

[49]  Ibid., pp. 3 and 5 – my emphasis added.

[50]  Ibid., p. 4.

[51]  Ibid., pp. 2 and 4 – my emphasis added.

[52]  Ibid., p. 4.

[53]  Ibid., p. 5.

[54]  Ibid., p. 10 – my emphasis added. Belloc also saw this in the efficient and gracious “Lateen Sail,” “the only form we ever accepted from the Arab” (p.10). Their little ships are a delight. They belong to the sea and they animate it.” (pp. 10-11) The Lateen Sail perched on their little sailboats – “a gift of Islam” (p.8)  – “makes a man's heart so buoyant” (p. 11)!

[55]  Ibid., pp. 8 and 7. Speaking of “the lug sail” – “the original of all sails” – Belloc says: “The Norwegians had it when they were pirates a thousand years ago. They have it still.” (p. 6) But that sail – “the square sail” – is not as efficient in the wind as the lateen sail, which can propel a boat even in very light winds and can sail much closer into the wind than the “lugger” sails!

[56]  Ibid., pp. 7-8.

[57]  Ibid., p. 16 – my emphasis added.

[58]  Ibid. – my emphasis added.

[59]  Ibid., p. 17 – my emphasis added.

[60]  Ibid., p. 18.

[61]  Ibid.

[62]  Ibid., p. 19 – my emphasis added.

[63]  Ibid., pp. 19 and 20 – my emphasis added.

[64]  Ibid., p. 38. Carthage had “manifested to the full the spirit which had made her” (p. 25), and, “as for their religion, it was of that dark inhuman sort” (p. 28), and “certainly cruelty, silence and fear distinguished it. Even the goddess who presided over their lives had something in her at once obscene and murderous” (p. 29).

[65]  Ibid., p. 39.

[66]  Ibid.

[67]  Ibid., pp. 49-50 – my emphasis added.

[68]  Ibid., pp. 50-51 – my emphasis added.

[69]  Ibid., p. 48.

[70]  Ibid. – my emphasis added.

[71]  Ibid., p. 51 – my emphasis added.

[72]  Ibid., pp. 51-52.

[73]  Ibid., pp. 52-53 – my emphasis added.

[74]  Ibid., p. 53 – my emphasis added.

[75]  Ibid., p. 110.

[76]  Ibid., pp. 110-111 – my emphasis added. Earlier, Belloc had said: “and to this day in the salt marshes south of Tunis” are “a group of date-trees, abandoned and unplucked. (p. 18 – my emphasis added)

[77]  Ibid., pp. 155 and 156.

[78]  Ibid., p. 156 – my emphasis added.

[79]  Ibid., pp. 156-157.

[80]  Ibid., pp. 112-114 – my emphasis added.

[81]  Ibid., p. 71.

[82]  Ibid., pp. 71-73 – my emphasis added.

[83]  Ibid., pp. 74-75 – my emphasis added.

[84]  Ibid., p. 75 – my emphasis added.

[85]  Ibid., p. 76.

[86]  Ibid., pp. 76-77 – my emphasis added.

[87]  Ibid., p. 80 – my emphasis added.

[88]  Ibid., p. 69.

[89]  Ibid., pp. 77-78 – my emphasis added.

[90]  Ibid., p. 78 – my emphasis added.

[91]  Ibid.

[92]  Ibid., pp. 79-80 – my emphasis added.

[93]  Ibid., pp. 84-86 and 87 – my emphasis added.

[94]  Letters from Hilaire Belloc (edited by Robert Speaight) (London: Hollis and Carter, 1958), pp. 148-149 – my emphasis added.

[95]  Esto Perpetua, pp. 114 and 115.

[96]  Ibid., p. 116.

[97]  Ibid., p. 117.

[98]  Ibid., pp. 116-118 – my emphasis added.

[99]  Ibid., p. 119.

[100]          Ibid., p. 121.

[101]          Ibid., pp. 120-121 – my emphasis added. The manifoldness of the Trinity, in contrast to the lonely aloofness and isolation of Allah, led to the manifold rooted richness of the varied cultures of the Christian Faith.

[102]          Ibid., p. 120.

[103]          Ibid. – my emphasis added. 

[104]          Ibid., p. 121 – my emphasis added.

[105]          Ibid., p. 122.

[106]          Ibid., p. 126. Modern Cherchel was once called Caesarea, once a famous port city: “Caesarea [unlike Constantine] has lost its name and its dignity too. The Barbarians have come to call her 'Cherchel.'” (p. 122) In this matter it is clear that Belloc's heart was lacerated. Saeva indignatio cor lacerat.

[107]          Ibid.

[108]          Ibid., pp. 126, 127, 128, and 129.

[109]          Ibid., p. 129.

[110]          That is to say, “the soul is the inner form of the body,”and its principle of natural life, just as Sanctifying Grace is the principle of the supernatural life of the soul.

[111]          Esto Perpetua, pp. 28, 18, and 90, respectively. Our Belloc wants us not “to forget the vast foundation of Rome” (pp. 40-41), to which we have been too often inattentive and for which we – especially those of the Faith – have been too ungrateful. He wants us “to return to the facts” and not to know nor bitterly taste the desolation of ingratitude.

[112]          Ibid., pp. 190 and 182, respectively.

[113]          Ibid., p. 182 – my emphasis added.

[114]          Ibid., p. 182.

[115]          Ibid., pp. 182-183.

[116]          Ibid., p. 154.

[117]          Ibid., p. 171.

[118]          Ibid.

[119]          Ibid., p. 175 – my emphasis added.

[120]          Ibid., pp. 172, 173, and 174 – my emphasis added.

[121]          Ibid., p. 174 – my emphasis added.

[122]          Hilaire Belloc, Towns of Destiny (New York: Robert M. McBride and Company, 1927), pp. 227-228. These words came from Belloc's essay on the city of Narbonne in France, a very exquisite essay indeed – and to be slowly savored in its entirety. The essay, entitled “Narbonne,” is Chapter XXXII, pp. 223-229. It describes a visit in 1925 to that historic city, on the Feast of the Holy Ghost, Pentecost.

[123]          Esto Perpetua, pp. 174-175 – my emphasis added.

[124]          Ibid., p. 170 – my emphasis added.

[125]          That is to say, there is no Personal Transcendent God, that human destiny is only a cold impersonal Thing, that purposiveness only dwells within the subjective consciousness  (i.e., sheer immanentism), and that there are no “Final Causes” in Nature. 

[126]          Esto Perpetua, pp., 176-177 – my emphasis added.

[127]          Ibid., p. 177.

[128]          Ibid. – my emphasis added.

[129]          Ibid., p. 178 – my emphasis added.

[130]          Ibid., pp. 190 and 182, respectively.

[131]          Ibid., pp. 184-185 – my emphasis added.

[132]          Ibid., pp. 188-189 – my emphasis added.

[133]          Ibid., p. 189 – my emphasis added. And Belloc also remembered at the end “the last of the oases under Atlas upon the wild” where “a little palm-tree lives all alone and cherishes its life” (pp. 190 and 191)

[134]          That is to say, “To be Catholic, that is everything.” Hilaire Belloc, writing from home, included these words at the end of his already quoted, important personal letter to Monsignor Ronald Knox at Christmas 1923, two years after Knox had been Belloc's guest at King's Land, Sussex, for the Feast of the Nativity in 1921. See Letters from Hilaire Belloc (ed. Robert Speaight) (London: Hollis & Carter, 1958), pp. 147-149. Ronald Knox had been received into the Catholic Church in 1917 and ordained a Catholic Priest in 1919. Finally, halfway through this letter to Knox, Belloc says with his characteristic depth of soul something about the Mental and Mortal Agony of the Lord: “If emotion or rhetoric could determine the Divinity of Our Lord I should find it in The Agony [in the Garden of Gethsemane] and especially in the “Eli, Eli”. That is the true note of the affair, and without it there is no witness [to the Faith, to the Truth]. At least, so I think. It is a march in the night.” (p. 148) Such was, also, the Passion and Mortal Agony of Our Lord. Our own Memoria Corporis – our Memory of the Body of the Lord – is so important, as is our consequent action and responsive heart.