Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The American Chesterton, XII: Sheen at St. Edmund’s College

Fulton Sheen’s association with Msgr. Ronald Knox at St. Edmund’s College, Ware (with apologies to the Edmundians, vide Waugh, Ronald Knox, op. cit., 172), could only have strengthened Sheen’s commitment to reason and Aristotelian-Thomism.  It would also have confirmed him in his opposition to all forms of socialism.

St. Edmund's, "For the Faith of Our Fathers"
It comes as no surprise that the noted novelist and economics writer William Hurrell Mallock (1849-1923) heavily influenced Knox.  Mallock opposed socialism and, although an Anglican, insisted on holding up the Catholic Church as an example of how a unified creed made “the Church of Rome” a bastion of reason and common sense (e.g., Mallock’s Doctrine and Doctrinal Disruption, 1900).

It is also far from shocking that G.K. Chesterton sometimes referred to Mallock, especially after Chesterton published Orthodoxy in 1908.  Chesterton and Mallock were sometimes put into the same camp by various commentators and critics, even though Mallock does not appear to have appreciated the need for widespread ownership of capital.

Mallock’s analysis of socialism, especially its reliance on the labor theory of value and the ease with which it can change its outward form and confuse people, is excellent.  In addition, his understanding of the need for objective and absolute principles of reason and common sense in civil and religious life equals that of Chesterton, Knox, and Sheen.

Unfortunately, Mallock’s own economic theories are seriously flawed by attributing production to “ability.”  This seems to be a form of “entrepreneurship” embodied in capital instruments.  This approaches the concept of “productiveness” found in binary economics, but never acknowledges that capital is independently (though not necessarily autonomously) productive; “ability” for Mallock seems to be a super form of congealed labor, entitling the one with “ability” to derive the income attributable to capital.  This, of course, made it easy for socialists to divert attention away from the flaws of socialism by focusing attention on the inadequacies of Mallock’s theories.

William Hurrell Mallock (1849-1923)
What attracted Knox and Chesterton to Mallock,  then, was not Mallock’s own economic theories.  Rather, it was that Mallock strongly opposed both the rejection of basic principles of reason in the Church of England, the growth of State power, and, especially, the acceptance of socialism as the equivalent of social justice in Anglican High Church circles.  Mallock’s 1884 book, Property and Progress (London: John Murray) is a refutation of the agrarian socialist Henry George’s 1879 Progress and Poverty, which earned him a flood of vituperation from the georgists (e.g., “Labor and the Popular Welfare,” The Age, Wednesday, March 20, 1895, 1 — an article signed only with the initials “B.H.”).

Mallock’s analysis of socialism also earned him the ire of the Fabian Society.  This was natural enough, as Fabian socialism is based on an expanded version of Henry George’s program, combined with what Mallock saw as the irrationality of New Age spirituality.  Both socialism and New Age thought had gotten a secure foothold in the Anglican Church — which Sheen hoped to prevent from spreading further in the Catholic Church, especially after what he had experienced at the Catholic University of America.

Shaw: a running battle with Mallock
Criticisms of Mallock’s analysis of socialism tended to the ad hominem rather than the substantive, usually insisting that Mallock was stupid and just didn’t understand “real” socialism.  George Bernard Shaw, for example, who carried on a running battle with Mallock for years, blasted him in 1909 with Socialism and Superior Brains: A Reply to Mr. Mallock (London: The Fabian Society) implying Mallock’s lack of intelligence.  It is not one of Shaw’s better performances.

True, Mallock’s economic analysis was inadequate by the standards of the Just Third Way.  He assumed, for example, that labor had a permanent place in the production process, and that this would necessarily result in ever-increasing income for workers and ameliorate the wealth gap.  He did, however, accurately point out that labor is not the sole factor of production, and that owners of capital have rights just as much as owners of labor.

Mallock saw doctrinal confusion in the Church of England.
Mallock’s analysis of the intellectual condition of the Church of England also excited wrath.  (His habit of delivering “Lay Sermons” did not endear him to the Anglican establishment, either.)  In Doctrine and Doctrinal Disruption, Mallock described what he observed in the Anglican Church.  That is how, once a useful assumption is accepted, regardless of its truth, what is derived from the assumption becomes more important than truth:

“Each party, in building up its own system of theology, assumes its premises, instead of analyzing and defending them, and remains content with the task of arguing that, these premises being assumed, its own special doctrines follow from them.  Indeed, this task so completely absorbs its attention that it practically forgets, when controverting the conclusions of its opponents, that the premises from which its opponents start are not the same as its own, and that if their conclusions are to be disproved, it is their premises that must be dealt with first.  I do not say that any party is forgetful of this theoretically.  They all remember it, but they remember it inadequately, or, in other words, they forget it practically.  They forget it to such good purpose that in the Anglican controversy of to-day the question of authority, of proofs, and of first premises hardly makes in appearance as a disputed point at all.” (William Hurrell Mallock, Doctrine and Doctrinal Disruption.  London: Adam and Charles Black, 1900, 34, quoted in David Rooney, The Wine of Certitude: A Literary Biography of Ronald Knox.  San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2009, 64.)

And again —

A unified teaching authority.
“The fact, therefore, that Rome is provided by the Roman theory with a teaching authority, which it never has lost or can lose, which is as living to-day as on the day of the first Council; which is as ready to meet the scientific discoveries of the future as it ever was to meet the philosophic thought of the past; and which is destined, perhaps, to unfold to us a body of Christian doctrine wider and deeper even than that which it has unfolded and defined already — the fact that Rome is provided with an authority of this indestructible kind, is the feature by which that Church is most clearly shown to be the one Christian body still possessing the means of presenting Christian doctrine to the modern world as a body of truths supported by a system of definite proofs, and destined, like other truths, to develop as knowledge widens.” (W.H. Mallock, Doctrine and Doctrinal Disruption.  London: Adam and Charles Black, 1900, 153, quoted in David Rooney, The Wine of Certitude: A Literary Biography of Ronald Knox.  San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2009, 66.)

Thus, Knox could declare in one of his own Anglican clerical sermons,

“[H]ow can we pretend to appeal to the Bible, when the Bible is for every man’s private interpretation, and not expounded by authority?  The Reformation compromise was based on an infallible certainty, that of the literal inspiration of the Bible; but the new compromise does not claim to believe in that, and is therefore powerless in the face of modernist theology.”  (Ronald Knox, University and Anglican Sermons. London: Burns and Oates, 1963, 458, quoted in David Rooney, The Wine of Certitude: A Literary Biography of Ronald Knox.  San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2009, 63.)

Sheen and Knox identified the same problem sources
Many of the modern philosophers and theologians Sheen analyzed in God and Intelligence and Religion Without God were the same ones Knox targeted a few years later with some of his pithier wit in Broadcast Minds (1932).  Ralph Barton Perry, Rudolf Otto, Samuel Alexander, William “Dean” Inge, and others recur in the writings of both men during this period.  Julian Huxley in particular seems to have impressed both Knox and Sheen with the vapidity of his arguments in his 1927 book, Religion Without Revelation, which probably suggested the title of Sheen’s Religion Without God a year later.

Knox’s comments are more acerbic than Sheen’s learned discourse, and thus more fun to quote.  For example, as Knox remarked on Huxley’s proposal to worship existent Nature with all the ritual and trappings reserved to a (to Huxley) non-existent God, “[O]ur human make-up includes not only a sense of reverence, but a sense of irreverence; not only an appreciation of the numinous, but an appreciation of the humorous. . . . And the churches of Huxleyism — well, I am afraid I shall never be able to pay them a visit for fear of disgracing myself.” (Knox, Broadcast Minds.  London: Sheed and Ward, 1932, 88, quoted in Rooney, The Wine of Certitude, op. cit., 134)

Huxley: bend the knee and burn incense to Nature.
In case you were wondering, bursting out laughing during a religious service, especially of another religion, would be considered disgraceful — raw-ther — for a proper English gentleman, especially a member of the reverend clergy.  The laity would hardly be laughing, however.  As Knox observed, commenting on Huxley’s proposal to keep all of the outward forms of religion on the grounds of utility (shades of Durkheim), including attendance at some kind of service, “the public, I gravely fear, will accuse him of having taken away its God without even saving it the bother of going to church.”  (Knox, Broadcast Minds, op. cit., 89, quoted in Rooney, The Wine of Certitude, op. cit., 134.)

And Huxley’s conception of the Triune God?

“God the Father is a personification of the forces of non-human Nature; God the Holy Ghost represents all ideals; and God the Son personifies human nature at its highest, as actually incarnate in bodies and organized in minds, bridging the gulf between the other two, and between each of them and everyday human life.  And the unity of the three persons as ‘One God’ represents the fact that all these aspects of reality are inextricably connected.”  (Julian Huxley, Religion Without Revelation.  New York: Harper and Brothers, 1927, 37, quoted in Rooney, The Wine of Certitude, op. cit., 134.)

Advantage of a scientific education.
Knox’s response?  “In fact, his trinity consists of the real, the human mind and the ideal.  That, doubtless, is what the early Fathers would have meant if they had had the advantage of a scientific education — three persons in no God.”  (Knox, Broadcast Minds, op. cit., 89, quoted in Rooney, The Wine of Certitude, op. cit., 134.)

If Sheen learned a great deal from Knox, it is evident that Knox may also have learned a thing or two from Sheen.  This was especially the case after Sheen’s bravura performance (in academic terms) in God and Intelligence.

The suspicion intrudes that today’s neo-Chestertonians and neo-distributists might want to compost their copies of works by George, Gill, Penty, Tawney, Schumacher, et al., and get some use out of them by mulching their three acres, or feeding them to the cow (they have four stomachs, one of them should be strong enough).  They can then shift their reading to Knox, Sheen, Adler, Rommen, and others of similar mind.  It would, at least, have the advantage of opening a window to let in some of the freshness Cardinal Mercier recommended, without the odor of socialism or the New Age.


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