One thing in this world is different from all other. It has a personality and a force. It is recognized and (when recognized) most violently loved or hated. It is the Catholic Church. Within that household the human spirit has roof and hearth. Outside it, is the night." This statement from "A Letter to Dean Inge" encapsules the spirit of Essays of A Catholic by the great Catholic historian and writer Hilaire Belloc. For within these pages he develops a number of his favorite themes, themes derived from his intimate knowledge of history, his diverse reading and his extensive traveling.
First issued in 1931, Essays of A Catholic is a book as germinal and provocative in its thinking as it was when first published-perhaps more so-because we are the benighted witnesses to many of the evils Belloc predicted, and we today can see the working out of destructive issues and trends and forces which he predicted would eventuate. And why? What was the secret behind his perspicacity?
It was his profound realization that it is the Catholic Church which has inspired and formed our great Western Civilization, and conversely, as the influence of that mighty institution gradually diminishes, and as society slowly abandons what it has learned from her, then with that process, slowly comes the nighttime of culture and civilization as we have known them. And in their place emerges, slowly and apace, the new paganism, and with it a new barbarism-differentfrom the old paganism and the old barbarism from which our forefathers emerged centuries past, under the guiding influence of the Church, but a paganism and a barbarism nonetheless, one that will be more deep-seatedand more difficult to overthrow and that brings with it (among other evils)the dread institution of slavery-though of course it will not be called such. In "The New Paganism," "The Two Cultures of the West," "The Catholic Church and the Modern State," "On Usury," "The Schools," and other essays in this important series, Hilaire Belloc sharpens our thinking to the disastrous effects of the continued decline of the influence of the Catholic Church in our society. No thinking reader will come away from these pages without serious misgivings for our future-unless we as a people emulate our ancestors and embrace once more the solid and liberating truth of the Catholic Faith, that truth which sets men free.