In times of evil, prophets who see it in what Ronald Knox called a “clear light” are not necessarily heeded, though they are desperately needed. Such a man was Hilaire Belloc, as Monsignor Knox described him at Belloc’s funeral Mass in 1953. “By derivation,” Knox explained, a prophet “is one who speaks out.”
Belloc, the first truly revisionist historian, made it his life’s work to speak out. He warned of the rise of Islam throughout the early years of the 20th century and then between the two world wars, when such prophecy seemed absurd. In 2006 another great prophet, Pope Benedict XVI — James Schall, S.J., calls him “the clearest and most incisive mind in the public order in the world today” — spoke at Regensburg and addressed in a clear light, the light of reason and reasonableness, the problem of Islam.
Reading Belloc’s many references to the rise of Islam, one is struck by his amazement at what he calls its “permanence and endurance.” He pointed (as did Pope Benedict later) to the force of the creed of Muhammad: “The most powerful denial of the Incarnation, the denial which came armed and victorious, was gathering in the desert and coming upon us without our dreaming of the danger: Islam.” As the Western world struggles to comprehend the upheaval in the Middle East, and secular liberal democracies not only fail to understand the power of the threat but talk of “dialogue” with a “religion of peace,” Belloc’s clear light can help us understand the newfound strength of this hostile force after 1,400 years.
Islam’s success, in Belloc’s view, derives precisely from its being fundamentally a Christian heresy. As a denial of the Incarnation, it is the one heresy that has endured and flourished. In more-philosophical terms, Pope Benedict has made essentially the same observation. “Mohammed’s burning appeal was an appeal to simplicity and the relaxation of the intelligence,” Belloc remarked in 1929.
“There is something starkly simple about Islam, its constant effort since its beginning to submit the whole world to Allah,” Father Schall wrote, summing up Benedict’s message at Regensburg “We tend to think this is fanatical or outlandish. But to many Muslim minds, it is perfectly logical and indeed a basis of action. What the Pope was concerned about was the basis of this claim.”
Stark simplicity, as Belloc argued, is key: “Islam presented to a society entangled and fatigued the obvious and fatal lure of simplicity,” and so “Islam poured over like a flood, not because it beat down opposition, but because opposition was lacking.” That “fatal lure of simplicity” is as relevant to the “entangled and fatigued” societies in the 21st century as it was in the seventh century. So much of the West’s leadership, including academic and media elites who influence and manipulate public opinion, is perilously blind to this reality. And this, Belloc argued, is the failure of spiritually bankrupt societies to see, both historically and in the present, that one must “always look to moral (or, more accurately, to spiritual) causes for the understanding of human movements and political change.”
A post-Christian Western world, indeed a world that exhibits hostility to and prejudice against the Christian religion, is utterly unable to comprehend the threat of militant Islam. Benevolent buffoons talk of ecumenical dialogue — hard to engage in when your head has been severed from your body.
Belloc’s prophecy was twofold. He identified the cause of Islam’s enduring success, and he warned, when such warnings seemed irrelevant, of its resurgence. The reason for its success, we have seen: simplicity and lack of reason. For its resurgence: lack of resistance. “We are divided in the face of a Mohammedan world, divided in every way,” Belloc wrote, in 1937, “ . . . and that division cannot be remedied because the cement which once held our civilization together, the Christian cement, has crumbled.”
The Middle East, from Syria and Iraq to Lebanon and Egypt, is once again a land flowing with the blood of Christian martyrs. The Christ-haters are not only the scimitar-wielding psychopaths of the “caliphate.” They are those who willingly and deliberately fail to come to the aid of entire communities threatened with ethnic cleansing, even genocide. Perhaps if we lose, Belloc wrote, 80 years ago, “our Faith will rise.” The blood of the martyrs is the seed of holiness. It has always been so. And the ultimate victory is assured. Still, let the strong words of Amel Nona, the archbishop of Mosul, shine their own clear light for secular Westerners:
Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer. I lost my diocese. Please try to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. . . . Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.
The motivation for the Crusades was the fruit of a society that, despite its share of corruptions, enjoyed great spiritual wealth. It is no shame for a Christian to be called a “crusader.” It is a badge of honor.
— Father Benedict Kiely is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Stowe, Vt., and director of continuing education for clergy in the Diocese of Burlington.