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Issue 19


Letters from our readers.


Michael Hanby’s outstanding essay (“The Crisis of Catholic Atheism,” Trinity 2023) put a name to a vague feeling I have had for some time about modernity. We do not often act as though God’s existence affects our discussions on policy, society, or morals. But it most reminded me of the famous passage in Hilaire Belloc’s Path to Rome wherein he contemplates the nature of Faith and Belief while smoking a cigar on a bridge in the village of Undervelier, Switzerland: “The Catholic Church will have no philosophies. She will permit no comforts; the cry of the martyrs is in her far voice; her eyes that see beyond the world present us heaven and hell to the confusion of our human reconciliations, our happy blending of good and evil things.” I have returned to Belloc’s mystical vision time and again when the transcendentality of the Church recedes from my day-to-day life, and it was a pleasure to recall it when reading Hanby.

The question is how to resurrect that vision in the eyes of many clergy who seem only too happy to blend good and evil things. I do not mean necessarily that we must return to the Church as Belloc experienced it fifty years before Vatican II. We are not the same church sixty years on from Vatican II, and those solutions to the struggle cannot be simply reinstated. Belloc himself recognizes that there must be trade-offs in balancing our divine obligations and our civic duties: “This again is very hard, that we must once more take up that awful struggle to reconcile two truths and to keep civic freedom sacred in spite of the organization of religion, and not to deny what is certainly true. It is hard to accept mysteries, and to be humble. We are tost as the great schoolmen were tost, and we dare not neglect the duty of that wrestling.” But the modern experience has pushed too many churchmen into the immanentist mindset; we must look back to the peaks, as Belloc wrote, and find our way home there. I hope Hanby’s essay finds ready ears and willing hearts among our Catholic clergy to do just that.

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