Friday, April 23, 2010

Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome, and the English Reformation

I belong to a reading group named the Ignatius J. Reilly society (after the protagonist in John Kennedy Toole’s novel). We usually just use the initials IJR. Our dear departed founder organized it as a potluck dinner event; he was the great cook among us and that part of IJR passed with Jim. We still bring snacks and beverages. This weekend we will discuss Hilaire Belloc’s The Path to Rome. Several years ago we discussed his book, The Servile State.

Hilaire Belloc was born and raised a Catholic and was a friend of G.K.Chesterton. (Our group has read several of Chesterton’s works including Orthodoxy [twice] and The Napoleon of Notting Hill). Belloc’s most famous statement is probably that “Europe is the Faith and the Faith is Europe”.

In The Path to Rome Belloc describes his walking pilgrimage from southeastern France to Rome; when he gets to Rome, the book ends. It is not that the destination does not matter; it’s just that the book is about the journey. As he progresses along the Rhone, across the Alps and into Italy, Belloc drinks wine, meets innkeepers, soldiers, and farmers along the way, draws pictures and maps, composes and sings songs, drinks wine, breaks the vows of his journey (he misses Mass the first day, rides on a train because his money is running out, and has to replace his boots), braves dangerous river and mountain crossings, and drinks wine, but he makes it to Rome on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul as he vowed. As the book ends, he is relaxing in café, waiting for the next Mass—drinking . . . brandy.

Like Chesterton, Belloc was a prolific writer, including several biographical and historical works among his oeuvre. Unfortunately, as John Vidmar comments in his English Catholic Historians and the English Reformation, Belloc did not do much research—his historical works are often apologetic propaganda. Nevertheless, as Vidmar also comments, much of Belloc’s historical view of the English Reformation has been verified and footnoted by historians after him, from Philip Hughes to Eamon Duffy.

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