Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Henry VIII: The Lion Who Knew His Strength


Remember that this morning I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show to discuss Hilaire Belloc's view of Henry VIII. Listen live here about 6:49 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern.

After Catherine of Aragon, perhaps Thomas More treated Henry VIII with the most respect when trying to influence him. He also had great insight into his monarch's personality. As he told Thomas Cromwell: "Master Cromwell, you are entered into the service of a most noble, wise, and liberal prince. If you follow my poor advice, you shall, in your counsel-giving unto his grace, ever tell him what he ought to do, but never what he is able to do. . . . For if a lion knew his own strength, hard it were for any man to rule him."

Cardinal Wolsey also warned that once Henry VIII got an idea in his head, he would not forget it, so once he thought that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was cursed and that the Pope should release him from those false marriage vows, he would get what he wanted--no matter what.

More, unlike those who tried to control Henry through flattery and making themselves (they thought) indispensable, knew exactly what power his monarch had over him. When William Roper congratulated his father-in-law for his close relationship to the king, he commented, "I thank our Lord, son," quoth he, "I find his Grace my very good lord indeed, and I do believe he doth as singularly favour me as any subject within this Realm. Howbeit (son Roper) I may tell thee, I have no cause to be proud thereof. For if my head would win him a castle in France (for then there was wars between us) it should not fail to go."

For our next discussion, we'll look at Catherine of Aragon AND Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's first two consorts. On All Saints Day, November 1.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Belloc on Henry VIII--On the Son Rise Morning Show Tomorrow!

Annie Mitchell and I will continue our discussion of Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation, starting with the "author of  that great disaster the English Reformation" as Belloc calls him. Listen live here tomorrow morning, October 18, about 7:48 a.m. Eastern/6:48 a.m.  Central.

On the cover of the new Ignatius Press edition of Belloc's Characters of the Reformation, Henry VIII is in the center. The portrait chosen is from 1537. By that year, Henry VIII's first two wives were dead and his third wife was pregnant with his long desired son who would be born on October 12--and she would be dead by October 24. He was half-way through his six wives: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour, and he took a three year break from matrimony. He had been Supreme Head and Governor, the Caesar-Pope of England since the Act of Supremacy in 1534. Henry VIII had survived the Pilgrimage of Grace, but Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher, the Carthusians, the Observant Franciscans, and a few others had not survived the proclamation of his Supremacy and the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries--the beginning of the end for the monks, nuns, and friars and the religious vocations of England was about to begin.

Belloc, however, starts his discussion of Henry VIII's character with the young man, succeeding to his father's throne and marrying his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon, in 1509:

Young Henry being thus left sole heir to the throne, his father died in the spring of 1509 some months before the boy would reach his eighteenth birthday. He duly succeeded under the title of Henry VIII, was crowned, and proceeded to marry at once this sister-in-law of his, Catherine, older than himself by nearly six years. They were at first very happy together, the young King was popular, his wife had an excellent influence over him, and everything went well.[His grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, was briefly his regent, and that provided stability in the transition.]

Now let me describe the character of this young fellow, upon whom so much was to depend. His leading characteristic was an inability to withstand impulse; he was passionate for having his own way — which is almost the opposite of having strength of will. He was easily dominated, always being managed by one person or another in succession, from this beginning of his life to the end of it, but being managed — not bullied or directly controlled.

It is exceedingly important to understand this chief point about him because a misjudgment of it has warped much the greater part of historical appreciation upon him. Because he was a big man who blustered and had fits of rage and was exaggeratedly eager to follow appetite and whim he had been given the false appearance of a powerful figure. Power he had, but it was only the political power which the mood of the time gave to whoever might be monarch. He had no personal power of character. He did not control others by their respect for his tenacity, still less by any feeling that he was wise and just and still less by any feeling that he was of strong fibre. 

On the contrary, all those who managed him, one after the other — except his wife — despised him, and soon came to carry on as though they could do what they liked on condition that they flattered him. They managed public affairs while he followed his appetites or private interests. That was true of the whole series of those who "ran" him: Wolsey, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell, and, at the end, his brother-in-law Seymour. The only exception was that admirable wife of his who, through the simplicity of her character and her strong affection as well as from her sense of duty, treated him with respect. But her influence over him was, perhaps on that very account, soon lost. 

As might be expected with a nature of this kind, he revolted against each manager one after the other. He felt he was being "run" by each in turn, grew peevish about it, had explosions of anger and would in a fit of passion get rid of them. Getting rid of them often meant, under the despotic conditions of that day, putting them to death. That is how he suddenly broke with Wolsey, that is how he broke with Anne Boleyn, that is how he broke with Thomas Cromwell — who had all three done what they willed with him, acting independently of him, showing their contempt for him in private and ultimately rousing his fury. . . .

Annie Mitchell and I will discuss this and more--including that famous comment by Thomas More about working with Henry VIII--tomorrow on the Son Rise Morning Show.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

For the Inklings Festival

The Inklings Festival is less than a week away. On Friday, October 20, Joseph Pearce will talk about two of the poets of WWI, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and of course, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Here is the schedule for the lectures on Friday and Saturday:

World on Fire: How the Inklings Responded with Hope & Creativity by Joseph Pearce
"Tolkien & Lewis among the War Poets" - Friday, 7 PM

Anniversary Reception at Eighth Day Books - Friday, 8:30 PM

Beyond the Waste Land: Hope and War in the Work of Lewis - Saturday, 9:30 AM

War & Mordor: Hope and War in the Work of Tolkien - Saturday, 11:00 AM

The rest of the details are here.

I wrote a little essay for the Eighth Day Institute blog on some of the music of WWI, including the young Classical music composers who served in the trenches:

POPULAR music during World War I served to rouse the troops, comfort the grieving, and encourage patriotic spirit. Several classical composers served in the British armed forces during the war and their works reflected their experience, as did the works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, subjects of this year’s Inklings Lecture Series.

Popular songs wistfully recalled home or reminded home to remember the soldiers who were away. Lewis and Tolkien must have heard these songs at home and at the front. One of the most popular songs, composed in 1914, was “Keep the Home Fires Burning” by Ivor Novello, sung here by the great Irish tenor, John McCormack, who recorded many of these songs, toured the USA during the war for the Red Cross, and also sang opera around the world . . .

George Butterworth died in action at the First Battle of Somme on August 5, 1916. Upon his death, his father found out that his son had been awarded medals for bravery, and his military commander found out that he was a promising composer. Butterworth was interested in the English folk song and traditional dancing, especially Morris dancing. He composed “A Shropshire Lad Rhapsody”, based on the poetry of A. E. Housman, and “The Banks of Green Willow.”

Frederick Septimus Kelly and William Dennis Browne were closely associated with the poet Rupert Brooke. Browne wrote the famous description of Brooke’s death and midnight burial on the Isle of Skyros among the olive groves. He died on June 15, 1915 during the Battle of Gallipoli.

Please read the rest on the Eighth Day Institute website. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The "Battle" for Evensong

BBC Four is advertising a programme to be broadcast on October 17 hosted by Lucy Worsley with the title "Elizabeth I's Battle for God's Music"!

Lucy Worsley investigates the story of the most remarkable creation from the tumultuous and violent era known as the Reformation - choral evensong.

Henry VIII loved religious music, but he loved power more - when he instigated his English Reformation he dramatically split from the ancient Catholic church that controlled much of his country. But in doing so set into motion changes that would fundamentally transform the religious music he loved.

Following Elizabeth I's personal story, Lucy recounts how she and her two siblings were shaped by the changes their father instigated. Elizabeth witnessed both her radically puritan brother Edward bring church music to the very brink of destruction and the terrifying reversals made by her sister Mary - which saw her thrown in the Tower of London forced to beg for her life.

When Elizabeth finally took power she was determined to find a religious compromise - she resurrected the Protestant religion of her brother, but kept the music of her beloved father - music that she too adored. And it was in the evocative service of choral evensong that her ideas about religious music found their ultimate expression.


I know that conflict is what drives plot and that there was lots of conflict during the English Reformation, but some of this language seems a bit over the top! 

Henry VIII never experienced Evensong so his links to Elizabeth's version of "God's Music" seem weak. In what way did the "ancient Catholic church control much" of England? As Thomas More's Poor Souls protested to Henry VIII in The Supplication of Souls, it was clear who had the authority in England--Simon Fish had stated that the Catholic Church was preventing Henry from ruling his people but More denied that completely. Henry VIII was, even before his split from the universal Church, deeply involved in naming bishops, communicating with Church hierarchy--Bishops and Archbishops served the monarchy in diplomacy and administration--the Church and State were separate powers, but they had worked together smoothly for years. Remember that Henry VIII, like his father, even had Cardinal Protectors to argue English positions on ecclesiastical issues to the Pope and the Curia in Rome

Did Edward VI really "bring church music to the very brink of destruction"? Listening to Thomas Tallis's English anthems from that reign might bring that into question. Tallis would compose music for English translations of the Psalms for Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker during Elizabeth I's reign too. Edward VI's reign, through Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer's creation of The Book of Common Prayer, made Evensong possible, combining Vespers and Compline into one prayer service.

What terrifying reversals in Church music did Mary I make? Seems like Worsley is mixing things up here a little bit, referring to the restoration of Catholic worship and unity with the Catholic Church, and the revival of the Heresy Laws by Parliament in the context of changes in religious musical styles. I don't think those reversals "saw" Elizabeth thrown into the Tower, but the Wyatt Rebellion and concerns about Elizabeth's involvement in it as the one who would replace Mary on the throne. Elizabeth I would throw many people into the Tower whenever she felt threatened too. 

Shouldn't Mary's restoration of English polyphony be the main point of this discussion? If Edward was bringing it to the brink of destruction, didn't Mary save it? 

It's a little strong to say that Elizabeth I "was determined to find a religious compromise"; I think most scholars agree that Elizabeth was pragmatic and her Parliament created the religious settlement she wanted but I doubt that she thought of it as a compromise.

Image (public domain): The Pelican Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard. The pelican was thought to wound her breast to nourish her young, and became a symbol of Passion and Eucharist, adopted by Elizabeth portraying herself as the "mother of the Church of England."

Perhaps we'll see it here in the USA on PBS someday to see how this history is really presented.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Book Review: "Holiness in a Secular Age"


National Catholic Register published my review of Father Juan Velez's new book on Blessed John Henry Newman in the October 1 print edition. NCReg then published it on-line yesterday!

When young John Henry Newman experienced his first conversion to an evangelical form of Anglicanism, he was inspired by two maxims of Thomas Scott. One of them — “holiness rather than peace” — became a motto for the rest of his life.

In this introduction to Blessed John Henry Newman’s example of pursuing holiness in 19th-century England as it was becoming more secularized, Father Juan VĂ©lez guides readers through Newman’s life, projects and published works. He presents Newman as a man of faith evangelizing a world that was moving away from Christian doctrine and morality.

After a succinct survey of Newman’s life, including his leadership in the “Oxford Movement,” his conversion to Catholicism, his foundations of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England and the short-lived Catholic University of Ireland, and his struggles and eventual acceptance within the Catholic Church in England, the author addresses a number of themes in Newman’s life.

Please read the rest there. I just love the cover of the book, which is a detail of the stained glass window behind the altar of the chapel for the Newman Center on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Note that Father Velez has produced a study guide, which he is sharing for free on his website, www.cardinaljohnhenrynewman.com/

Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us!

O God, who bestowed on the Priest Blessed John Henry Newman the grace to follow your kindly light and find peace in your Church; graciously grant that, through his intercession and example, we may be led out of shadows and images into the fulness of your truth. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Suppressed But Not Defeated: the Benedictines of England


As James Kelly writes in The Catholic Herald of the Benedictine Order in England after the Dissolution of the Monasteries:

The significance of what they represented was not lost on them: as several monks testified at their martyrdoms, they were from the same order as the first missionary to England, St Augustine of Canterbury, “from whom,” as George Gervase, executed in 1608, put it, “England acknowledged that she had received the Christian faith”.

Like the other missionary clergy who had been secretly entering England since the 1570s, these missionary monks brought with them the Catholic Reformation. Imbued with the zeal of a movement then sweeping Catholic Europe and, increasingly, far-flung parts of the globe from Asia to America, they were agents for the transfer of religious and intellectual ideas gaining ground in mainland Europe.

But nor were they solely about the new: they also tracked down the last surviving monk of Westminster Abbey. By the start of the 17th century, the infirm Sigebert Buckley lived under a form of house arrest. In 1607, he aggregated two of the new monks to him, thereby ensuring the continuity of the English Benedictines from the medieval period. As the new monastic movement grew and the monks re-founded the English Benedictine Congregation in 1619, this symbolic act took on greater significance. . . .


This is the text of that key document, aggregating the two monks to guarantee continuity from St. Augustine of Canterbury to 1607:

I, D. Sebert, otherwise Sigebert, priest and monk of the monastery of St. Peter, Westminster, of the Congregation of England of the Order of St. Benedict: lest the rights, privileges, insignia, should perish which were formerly granted by Princes and Pontiffs and which for some years, God so permitting, have been preserved in me the sole survivor of all the English monks: did at London in the year 1607, the 21st day of November, with the consent of their superiors receive and admit as brethren and monks of the said monastery D. Robert Sadler of Peterborough and D. Edward Maihew of Salisbury, English priests and monks professed of the Cassinese Congregation of St. Justina of Padua: and to them did grant, impart and assign all rights, privileges, ranks, honours, liberties and graces which in times past the monks professed and dwelling in the said monastery did enjoy. And the same by these presents I do again approve, ratify and confirm. And I do receive and admit as monks, brethren, lay-brethren, oblates of the said monastery – and to them do grant, impart and assign all rights, privileges, as above, all those whom D. Thomas Preston of Shropshire, D. Augustine [Smith] and D. Anselm [Beech] Lancastrians, and D. Maurus [Taylor] of Ely have admitted or received as monks, lay-brethren, oblates, and to whom they have granted the rights, &c, as above: since to them I did grant authority and power so to admit, &c, as appeareth more at large in my letters of the 21st November 1607: the which [letters] as to all and each of their parts I do by virtue of these presents hold ratified and confirmed, and will so hold them in perpetuum. Given at Punisholt, otherwise Ponshelt, Anno Domini 1609, the 8th day of November, in the presence of the underwritten Notary and witnesses."

As Kelly continues:

It meant that the English Benedictines of the 17th century could lay claim to the old monastic properties which the Order had once enjoyed. As such, the English Benedictines throughout the period elected priors of, for example, Durham, Canterbury and Ely cathedrals, ready for the moment when England – as they believed, inevitably – returned to the Catholic faith.

This did not stop the monks forming new houses in exile, three of which remain to this day. St Gregory’s, founded at Douai in northern France in 1606, is now better known as Downside Abbey; St Laurence’s, founded in the town of Dieulouard in Lorraine in 1608, is now Ampleforth Abbey; St Edmund’s, Paris, founded in 1616, is now settled at Woolhampton, Berkshire, as Douai Abbey.

More and More Reformation Books: Another Stark Choice

Rodney Stark, whose books I've enjoyed and learned from, has written a book about the Reformation (his most recent book before this is Bearing False Witness). His contribution to the library of Reformation books coming out this fall is Reformation Myths: Five Centuries Of Misconceptions And (Some) Misfortunes. As the publisher, SPCK (the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) describes the book:

What has the Reformation Ever done for us? That's the question asked by church historian and sociologist Rodney Stark, whose latest book (one of SPCK's August 2017 Releases) Reformation Myths . . . offers an alternative consideration of the way culture and church remembers the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation of the Church in the West.

Stark takes and skewers eight myths that, from his uniquely informed perspective, have tainted the way our culture has been shaped. Unafraid to engage with some of the 'sacred cows' of Reformed and other streams of thought, this little book challenges common views and wonders if there might be another way to think.

Bracketed by chapters on mythical Protestants (Who were they anyway?) and a conclusion of prejudice and persistence, Stark has penned a wide ranging and entertaining tone, that Martin Luther would no doubt have spluttered into his Weissbier were he alive today and regularly reviewing books. Some of those myths include:

The myths of full pews, pious kings, and limited monarchies
The misfortune of state churches, with forced piety and bigotry
The ongoing misfortune of nationalistic states
The enduring myth of the Protestant Ethic
The myth of the way that Protestantism and Reformed thought led to the scientific revolution

Written in an informed, authoritative, and iconoclastically engaging style, and published to provide a mirror to the celebrations around the world of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, this book asks the question, inviting us to consider a range of answers, and rethink what we thought we knew about Luther, Calvin, the Diet of Worms, and all that.

Remember that part of Stark's iconoclastic charm is that he is NOT a Catholic, so when you read the sample from the book that's available for free from Amazon, you may be amazed when he notes that the only way to define Protestantism is in the negative: it's Christian but not Catholic or Orthodox! And the fact that the SPCK, a publisher founded to defend the Anglican church and support Church of England missions in 1698, is just another twist in the story.

Illustration credit: a weissbier in Munich!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Tudor Gothic Romance: The Miracle of St. Bruno's

While searching for an image of St. Bruno of Cologne, founder of the Carthusians, I found the cover of an historical novel, The Miracle of St. Bruno's by Philippa Carr (aka Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, Eleanor Hibbert, etc). This was the first novel in Carr's series Daughters of England, 20 novels published from 1972 to 1993, with historical eras from the Tudor Era to the 20th century as the backdrop.

Carr sets up a dual narrative in this Tudor Gothic novel: all the Court action of Henry VIII's six wives, wars, executions, religious changes, etc takes place off site. It's reported, not depicted. Even the dissolution of the monastery next door to the heroine's home, the Carthusian Priory of St. Bruno's, is mentioned at arm's length.

The heroine's name is Damask (named for a rose) and she and her father are fictional versions of Margaret More Roper and St. Thomas More, even down to the beheading of the fathers. Except for the historical action conducted in London and at Court, this is a typical Gothic novel, the kind Jane Austen mocked in Northanger Abbey. The ruined monastery, rumors of it being haunted, the secret love affairs, the hidden source of riches, the witch in the forest, who seems both to curse and to love the heroine, the mysterious spouse, etc: all Gothic elements.

Carr's Tudor history, especially the reportage of Anne Boleyn's rise and fall, is sometimes a little shaky. For example, Mary I was not called "Bloody Mary" during her reign--that came later. The religious changes of the Tudor monarchs create the atmosphere of danger in the family, but except for Damask's mother becoming convinced of the validity of the New Religion, there are few signs of religious fervor, apart from the dispersed monks who come back together in the monastery as it is being rebuilt. Even the father's heroism is muted by the fact that Catholic prayer and worship never seem to be part of the household or Damask's upbringing. The Carthusians next door are a source of fascination not devotion. The hero, Bruno, is a Byronic figure, thinking himself superior to all other men, capable of achieving his every goal, and impervious to danger. He disappears and then reappears, obtaining the Priory of St. Bruno's and rebuilding it.

One of the supporting characters undergoes a drastic, unexplained change from a manipulative rival to a concerned friend of Damask's. Everything happens to Damask, who takes a strangely modern view of religious toleration with a live and let live attitude foreign to the 16th century. At the end of the novel, the promise of the new reign of Elizabeth seems to suggest that all the conflicts of the past 20 years are over, which is risible.

For 99 cents on Kindle, it's a fast read, but there are long sections where nothing happens and Carr attempts to maintain some tension without great success: the reader knows what will be revealed at the end, and has as soon as the hero reappears in the story. The miracle is that you'll probably keep reading the book until Carr reveals the secret.

Friday, October 6, 2017

St. Bruno and the English Carthusian Martyrs


I have often posted about the Carthusian Order and its English Reformation martyrs on this blog. Today we celebrate the feast of the order's founder, St. Bruno of Cologne:

Born in Cologne around 1030, he begins studying at the school of the Cathedral of Reims at an early age. Made a "doctor", Canon of the Cathedral Chapter, he is made the Rector of the University in 1056. He was one of the most remarkable scholars and teacher of his time "a prudent man whose word was rich in meaning."

He finds himself less and less at ease in a city where scandal has little affect towards the clergy and the Bishop himself. After having fought, not without success, against this disorder, Bruno feels the desire of a life more completely given to God alone.

After an attempt at a solitary life of short duration, he enters the region of Grenoble, of which the Bishop, the future Saint Hugues, offers him a solitary site in the mountains of his diocese. In June 1084, the Bishop himself leads Bruno and six of his companions in the primitive valley of Chartreuse, where the Order eventually gets its name from. They build a hermitage, consisting of a few log cabins opening towards a gallery which allows them access to the communal areas of the community -- church, refectory, and chapter room -- without having to suffer too much from intemperate conditions.

After six years of a pleasant solitary life, Bruno is called by Pope Urban II to the service of the Holy See. Not thinking of being able to continue without him, his community first thinks of separating, but it allows itself to be convinced to follow in the life that he first formed. Advisor to the Pope, Bruno is ill at ease a the Pontifical Court. He only lives in Rome for a few short months. With the Pope's blessing, he establishes a new hermitage in the forests of Calabria, in the south of Italy, with a few new companions. There he dies 6 October 1101.

I note this on the website: "Liturgical celebration does not have any pastoral intent. This explains why those outside the Order are not admitted to participate at the offices or the Mass celebrated in the churches of our monasteries. Because of our call to solitude, visits are limited to the family members of the monk (2 days a year) and to those who feel called to our life, whom we call retreatants."--so when St. Thomas More spent any time with the Carthusians of the Charterhouse of London, it would have been as a retreatant. Note also how much Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Audley, at al, were interrupting the solitude of the Carthusians.

There is a Charterhouse in England today: St. Hugh at Parkminster (make sure you have the sound turned on your computer; the site comes with chant!) It was founded in 1873 and the house originally had two houses from the Continent to accommodate. Their site includes a gift shop, with this book about the Beauvale martyrs of the English Reformation.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Belloc in the Morning on the Son Rise Morning Show


Annie Mitchell and I will start a series this morning on the Son Rise Morning Show, discussing Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation, recently reissued by Ignatius Press. We'll start today a little after 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern with some background on Belloc and the book. Listen live here and find podcasts there later, too. We'll continue going through the book, discussing Belloc's insights every two weeks. If you want to read along, you could join our book club!

Hilaire Belloc was born on July 27, 1870 and died on July 16, 1953. Belloc (Joseph Hilaire Pierre Rene) was born in France; his father was French, his mother English. After his father's death, his mother brought him and his sister Marie to England, where he attended the Oratory School in Birmingham founded by Blessed John Henry Newman. He then served in the French military as required and returned to attend Balliol College at Oxford. He was president of the Oxford Union Debating Society and hoped for a fellowship at All Souls. All Souls selects its Fellows by offering examinations. Hilaire Belloc took the examination and failed to earn a Fellowship after earning a First in History from Balliol College in 1895. This site suggests that he might have failed because he placed a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the desk before his examination. I can imagine Belloc being so demonstrative about his faith. 

Belloc married Elodie Hogan in 1896 and they had five children before her death in 1914, one of whom, Louis, died in World War I. Belloc became British citizen in 1902. When he ran for Parliament in 1906, his campaign manager begged him not to mention his Catholicism--so Belloc proclaimed during one of his speeches (when heckled for being a "Papist"): "Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This (taking a rosary out of his pocket) is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that he has spared me the indignity of being your representative." Of course, he was elected.

Frederick Wilhelmson, author of a study of Belloc titled Hilaire Belloc: No Alienated Man, A Study in Christian Integration, published by Sheed and Ward in 1953, commented on his energy and vigor in another essay:

At my last count, Hilaire Belloc wrote 153 books. The business has to do with vigor, an enormous lust for life, and a willingness to make mistakes. Belloc did not give a damn for what anybody thought of him. He wrote his life of King James II in a hotel on the edge of the Sahara in ten days: “It is full of howlers and is the fruit of liberty.” He walked to Rome as a young man, coming in upon the Appian Way on a mule drawn cart — but with his feet dragging on the road so his vow would not be broken.

His vigor was legendary, and I have mentioned as well his lust for life. Belloc — and this is a key to understanding his role as a Catholic apologist — was a man totally at home in this world, but one who knew it was an illusion to be so at home. There was not a trace of Manicheanism in him, and he called puritanism, in his biography of Louis XIV, an “evil out of the pit”, meaning the pit of hell. A mountain climber, he was even more a sailor. His Hills and the Sea and The Cruise of the Nona are classics. If The Path to Rome is the work of a young genius, rollicking and rolling his way over mountain and valley toward the Eternal City, The Four Men, on the contrary, called by its author “A Farrago”, was penned in solitude mixed with melancholy. Grizzlebeard, the Poet, and the Sailor are all extensions of Myself, and Myself is Belloc. Only when life is lived close to the senses, when the intelligence is engaged immediately on what is yielded to man through the body, is the paradox of sadness in created beauty brought home in all its delicacy and inexorableness. Page after page of Belloc’s writing is troubled by a deep and troubled gravity, heightened by his profound communion with the things of his world: English inns; old oak‑burnished and sturdy; rich Burgundy and other wines” that port of theirs” at the “George” drunk by the fire with which he began this book; the sea and ships that sail — but, please, “no abomination of an engine”; the smell of the tides. These loves run through Belloc’s essays, recurring themes testifying to a vision movingly poetic in its classic simplicity. His eyes are fixed on the primal things that always nourished the human spirit, on the things at hand.

In Characters of the Reformation, Belloc provides sketches of major figures in the English Reformation and some French leaders. He does not include Martin Luther, John Calvin, or any other Continental Reform leader in this collection. He does not narrate the history of the Reformation on the Continent or in England in this book. His How the Reformation Happened provides that narration.

As Wilhelmson said of Belloc and English Reformation history:

Time prohibits my detailing Belloc’s revolution in English historical writing. Suffice it to say — and this is said formally and altogether without rhetorical emphasis — that one man, Hilaire Belloc, turned the whole writing of British history around. Since Belloc, nobody can get away with understanding the Reformation as the work of high‑minded souls bent on liberty and democracy, noble souls who brought England out of the darkness of Catholic superstition and medieval obscurantism. Others footnoted Belloc and traded on his vision. They did well in doing so, but the vision was his — as was the persecution of silence that followed on his work.