Hilaire Belloc bought King's Land (in Shipley, Sussex), 5 acres and a working windmill for £1000 in 1907 and it was his home for the rest of his life. Belloc loved Sussex as few other writers have loved her: he lived there for most of his 83 years, he tramped the length and breadth of the county, slept under her hedgerows, drank in her inns, sailed her coast and her rivers and wrote several incomparable books about her. "He does not die that can bequeath Some influence to the land he knows, Or dares, persistent, interwreath Love permanent with the wild hedgerows; He does not die, but still remains Substantiate with his darling plains."

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Monday, 26 September 2011

The Hon. Hilaire Belloc MP - contribution to the debate on the Accession Declaration Bill - 27 July 1910...

I agree with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. Redmond) who spoke a while ago from the benches opposite that it might be as well on the whole if no other Catholic spoke in this Debate. As I had spoken on the First Reading of this Bill that would be another reason why it might be thought I should abstain from rising, and I had resolved to do so when I first came to the House, but as a matter of fact we are now discussing a new Bill. The Prime Minister suggested—and the course of the Debate has turned that suggestion into something more than a suggestion—that this is practically a new Bill for Debate, and anybody who has spoken, with whatever authority from the Catholic point of view on the First Reading, could not give a vote on the Second Reading of this Bill easily unless they explained that vote. Personally, I shall vote for the Second Reading not only for the Constituency that sent me here, but also for that unrepresented mass—a mass that must be unrepresented so long as you have single-Member constituencies—the mass of the Lancashire Catholics. But I shall not vote for the Second Reading with the same ready explanation to myself as I would vote for the Second Reading of the original proposal. The original proposal was that in place of picking out doctrines upon which men were divided, and which certain forms of religious belief, for what reason I cannot say, imagined to be particularly attached to Catholicism, whereas in fact they cover the whole of the Eastern Church and many more religions, including the Coptic, in place of that original proposal there is given us a proposal which says that the King shall declare himself what he is by constitutional habit and tradition and plan and actual statute law, and make him declare himself the Head of the Established Church in this country. In my humble judgment the masses of this country have ceased to care for these theological points so interesting to the middle classes. The masses cease to care for them, but they have a traditional respect for the Establishment, and they regard it as normal that the King should declare himself as the Head of the Established Church. But when it comes to making His Majesty declare himself attached, by the word "Protestant," to a point of view, to a transcendental philosophy, to a scheme of morals which have, as hon. Members well said, still a concrete meaning though much vaguer than they used to have—opposed as I am naturally to religious tests in any form save where religion is the subject-matter, as in the case of a school teacher or a chaplain in the Navy—opposed as I am to the existence of religious tests, as I am sure are all Liberals, I should have with some regret voted for the Second Reading of the first proposal, and I shall with more regret vote for the Second Reading of the second proposal, but I shall vote for it, because it is certainly the less of two evils.
There is one thing that should be emphasised by any Catholic speaking from the Catholic point of view before we go any further. We have heard two Members already, and I am the third of the Catholic Faith speaking on this subject, and I therefore should like to pay my respectful tribute to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House for permitting so large a proportion of what is a small minority of your fellow-citizens to express their views upon this occasion. There is one thing that ought to be brought out at once: a large part of the Debate has turned upon theology, as if we were a Parliament trying to make laws for Bishops and for kirks. I submit that that attitude is not relevant to the Bill. It would have been far better, and it would have given a cleaner-cut Debate, and we should have had much more interest if less expressions of animosity against the Catholic Church had been made. I should regard such expressions quite philosophically in their proper place. The stronger such expressions are in their proper place the better for the morals of the world. Very little acquaintance with the culture of the world would teach hon. Members that the struggle has already begun in modern Europe between the Church and its opponents, and that these two are to-day the chief antagonists, and, although you may not have it here Yet, it is bound to come. That is so if you take European culture as a whole; and successful as the governors of this country have been in keeping out of those great European debates in regard to the Catholic Church the reflex of that great quarrel will ultimately reach these shores. In its proper place I welcome discussion and attack upon the Church. It clears the air and it affords the only chance in a country so overwhelmingly anti-Catholic of the Catholic point of view being stated. I welcome such action; but I submit the theological attitude which many Members have taken up in the course of this Debate does not affect the Bill. You might have the greatest love for the Catholic Church and the highest possible detachment, devotion and loyalty to it but that would not affect the subject of the Bill before the House. What we are concerned with here is whether we shall impose a test, the one last remaining test upon the one office and the highest in the State and in what form that test shall be imposed. It has been stated, and the old Declaration contains the statement that the Pope could tell a man before he tells a lie that it would not be a sin to do so. Under what system of morals is it conceivable that such a power could exist? In what canon or doctrine of the Catholic Church will you find even an adumbration of such a proposition? I must say that if in the confusion of the moment in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries any such doctrine was bandied about, if anyone permitted these exaggerations then they sound extraordinarily foolish to-day. In the Catholic theology Christ Himself could not have permitted you a sin of that kind. How then could the Vice-Regent, His repre- sentative on earth, if he be His representative, permit it? How can he go to a man and say, "You may break one of the great canons of the law next Thursday and I will let you off." Wherever such a supposition arose, or however it came about, it is historically a falsehood. That power does not exist, never has existed, and could not exist.
There is another point. A great deal has been said about toleration, and it is said, and said with a certain hint, though a false hint, that because the Church of Rome was herself not tolerant, therefore it was logical and right, and even common sense, that the ordinary rules of toleration should not be extended to her. I waited for, but did not hear, that famous historical inaccuracy which always comes out in debates of this kind, and which is attributed to a man who never said it, Veuillot, that Catholics claim liberty on the Protestant principle, but refuse it to Protestants on the Catholic principle. Toleration means this, that when in the State you cannot get what is certainly desirable—a united philosophy—that when you have a body of men already fixed and rooted in tradition and having the claim to be citizens within the State, you have no right to extirpate such a body. You have no right of authority to constrain a man in such a body who sincerely and bonĂ¢ fide agrees with it upon a matter of opinion. You will not find any theological treatise to excuse tyranny of that sort. You will find tyranny exercised by civil magistrates, both among Catholic and among other nations, but you will not find the Catholic doctrines more intolerant than the proposition I have laid down, and I marvel that educated men should imagine or believe that toleration should consist in having a vague idea that after all anything may be true. It is perfectly true that the Catholic Church alone says "What I say is true is true." It does not say "It may he true or it will be true on next Tuesday or Wednesday. "It says, "What I say is true is true." The foundation of mathematical science and the foundations of economic science are denied, and the very denial of them is often the gate to intellectual eminence to-day. But it so happens that there is in this world a philosophy which says, "What I say is true is true; not half true, but altogether true," and to accept such an altitude is conviction. It is intolerance to say to another man. "Your position is a hereditary position. You hold the traditions of a fixed and long-existing body in the State. You belong, therefore, to such and such a religion, but I forbid you or restrain you from practising the tenets of which I disapprove. When you say that the Catholic Church is intolerant because she does not change in authority, you do not understand the first meaning of the word "toleration" or the word "authority." I have said that theology ought not to have been introduced in this Debate. I have dealt with the question as briefly as I could, and I would just like to say shortly what seems to me to be the point before us. There ought to be no proposals for any test whatsoever. Nevertheless, there are two good reasons why if we are to have a proposal of this kind it is the milder proposal which we ought to vote for. First, we owe a duty, even in the House of Commons, to reality, and it is our business to remember something of what is going on outside. It is not true to say that there is a vast popular movement in the country against any change in the Oath. What is true is that this is a good stick to beat the Government with, and it offers a good chance for a rising politician to advertise himself. It is true that you can fill the Free Trade Hall in Manchester and pass resolutions denouncing this change; it is also true that you might fill the same hall to overflowing with Irish Catholics, who would come to the opposite conclusion. What I say is that outside all this opinion there is a vast majority of working men who are profoundly indifferent to the whole agitation. I have been told that there is a strong movement in Scotland, and I daresay there is, in favour of something rude being said about the Catholic Church; but I think it is quite untrue to say that there is a widespread and rising popular opposition to, this proposal. What is more important is the opinion of a powerful, well-organised minority that can decide an election. That point, I think, has explained more than one speech this evening. When the overwhelming majority of the country want a thing done or not done, they are of little effect—though they still have the House of Lords. When a small organised minority want a thing, then the politicians are afraid. I am ashamed to think, but I do think, that a little of the support in favour of this evident act of justice has come from men who are not themselves very much in favour of it but who have to remember that there is a Catholic vote in their constituencies. I hope more sincere principles will obtain. After all, we do represent those masses even under the party system. We represent their indifference to these theological squabbles. We must also remember that we represent here only the British Isles, but we are acting now for the whole Empire. Does anyone believe that if all these different parts of the Empire were represented, if we had chosen men from the various Colonies to meet the Government and the Opposition of the day, they would allow an Oath like the old one to stand? You might get the fanatical Orange clique, a few up-country Boers, and a much small number in New Zealand and Australia to support the old Oath, but the vast majority of them would regard it as fantastic and archaic nonsense. Under the circumstances I think it is plainly our duty as Liberals to accept the second best of two bad things, and vote for the Second Reading.

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