Bookmark and Share
My Photo


    Opinions expressed on the Insight Scoop weblog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Ignatius Press. Links on this weblog to articles do not necessarily imply agreement by the author or by Ignatius Press with the contents of the articles. Links are provided to foster discussion of important issues. Readers should make their own evaluations of the contents of such articles.


« The emergence of the First (Kinda) New (Sorta) Pan-Protestant Church of the Changing Matrix | Main | "[H]ere is the man who killed off God." »

Monday, December 03, 2007



It makes me nervous that this movie is planting "the Magisterium" in children's minds as being a villian. But, hey, it's a movie about "tolerance," right?

Ellie in T.O.

Pullman's not attacking "all religions." Those are just weasel words. He's on record as saying "I'm trying to undermine Christian belief" and has one of the characters in his book say "Christianity was just a convincing mistake, that's all."

And the filmmakers played down the church references because they feared it would hurt their profits, not anybody's feelings.

Robert Miller

I think the saddest thing in all of this is how much it exposes of how little almost everyone -- kids, parents, bishops, MSM movie reviewers and columnists-- know about history.

Too often, we offer only C.S. Lewis' wonderful fantasies as antidote to the dark offerings of our contemporary "children's writers", when the real antidote to bad fiction is good history.

Let a boy be encouraged to read Belloc in a Catholic spirit, and he never again will find alluring the tawdry fictions of atheists, wiccans and and the whole assortment of hacks who win "book of the year" awards.

Ed Peters

RM wrote: "the real antidote to bad fiction is good history." Great line. Wish I'd said it.

Sandra Miesel

But why do you think that Belloc is offering "good history"? Books such as HOW THE REFORMATION HAPPENED were polemics and contain interpretations that are eccentric, to say the least. Even in his own day, a real Tudor scholar used to send out packets of data correcting Belloc's factual mistakes, but Belloc just laughed.

Yes, I realize that my low opinion of Belloc puts me at odds with most readers of this blog but there is much better stuff out there.

Ed Peters

Sandra, I don't suggest reading Belloc first for data, etc. I do suggest reading him, strongly, for interpretation. Like that classic scene in I CLAUDIUS where young Cla talks tot he two historians,,,,

Fine line, I know. Belloc is lot about art, ergo, De gustibus.

Sandra Miesel

Belloc's interpretation of Queen Elizabeth as the weak, easily manipulated puppet of the Cecils is just a fantasy. If you'd like a negative picture of her, Carolly Erickson's "high-popular" biography is excellent as are her other Tudor bios.

Robert Miller

Real history is more about memory than fact.

I doubt anyone would hold St. Augustine to the modern scientific-historical tests of fact. Nor should anyone hold Scripture to those tests. St. Augustine and Scripture remember the truth about our past (and future). As does Belloc: Think, for example, of his incredibly prescient prediction in the early 20th century that the West would face a new challenge from Islam. History as fact never would have foreseen (in "fact", did not foresee) the resurgence of Islam in the 21st century. History as memory can(and does)foresee.

The operative methods of real history are memory and tradition. Fact without foresight is antiquarianism, not history.

Kids prefer fiction to history because most of what passes for "history" is historical-scientific antiquarianism, a "history" without a future; fiction (even vile fiction) produces a myth, at least, that opens the imagination out into a future.

Cristina A. Montes

"The Golden Compass movie is a story about friendship, love, loyalty, tolerance, courage and responsibility. This movie also provides an opportunity for Coca-Cola to help raise awareness about climate change and the perilous state of the polar bear."

So Coca-cola is saying that as long as a book/movie nice moral lessons, it's a good movie/book?

Mark Brumley

Real history is more about memory than fact.

It is not clear what that means. However:

History can mean (a) what happened or (b) what we know of what happened. If "fact" here means "what happened", then history is either fact, i.e., what happened, or it is what we know of what happened based on the facts.

Historians have to wade through facts of history to make sense of them--to decide what caused what and what was most significant in situation X or in the decisions of Y. So history, in the sense of our knowledge of what happened, requires judgment and interpretation, as well as possession of all the pertinent facts. Judgments can be mistaken and interpretations can be erroneous, with the result that what we think is history--what we think is knowledge of what happened--may not be history. On the other hand, when we have the facts and our judgments and interpretations of them correspond to what was, then we have history in the sense of knowledge of what was.

Now if by "memory" one means the recollection of facts and on the basis of judgment distinguishing the more relevant facts from the less relevant facts in order to come to a deeper knowledge of what happened, then I suppose one can say that history, in the sense of our knowledge of what happened, involves memory as well as fact. I am not sure whether that means that history is more about memory than fact, but at least it would seem correct to say that knowledge of what happened requires more than the recollection of facts. It also requires judgment about the relations among those facts.

Belloc is one of my favorite Catholic writers. He was not a historian in the strict sense, but a historical writer. His not subjecting himself to the disciplines of the historian meant he was more liable to error, both in matters of fact and in judgments concerning the interpretation of fact. Still, he has a knack for often getting things right, he is fun to read, and he is often insightful, so long as you don't start building metahistorical systems on his opinions, and you handicap things for context and the genre of popular polemical history.

A Catholic historian I know who loves Belloc says that Belloc writes history the way it should have been. Those who have read a lot of Belloc, who share his basic sympathies, and who know well the scholarship on the periods and figures about which Belloc wrote can say whether they think that statement misfires or hits the target.

Ed Peters

Belloc is port or madeira. You don't start off with him, and in fact you don't even get to him until youve sampled deeply a lot of others, but then, afterwards, when you try him, you appreciate him for what he is; not more, not less.

Brian Schuettler

"But why do you think that Belloc is offering "good history"? Books such as HOW THE REFORMATION HAPPENED were polemics and contain interpretations that are eccentric, to say the least. Even in his own day, a real Tudor scholar used to send out packets of data correcting Belloc's factual mistakes, but Belloc just laughed."

Beside the excellent comments of Dr. Peters, Robert Miller and Mark Brumley, it is, I believe, important to look at the historical context of Belloc's writing and thereby obtain a glimpse into his motivation. If Belloc comes across as polemical there is good reason for it. He was a Catholic in a society dominated by Anglican history and culture. The history textbooks used were written by historians who represented the ruling class and culture. In to this milieu stepped a man who felt called to present an opposing view, let us just say, a different view of the developments in British history since the 16th century.
As Ed Peters says " when you try him, you appreciate him for what he is; not more, not less" and certainly not meant to be read in a vacuum. He was a brilliant man with many faults, as do we all, but if he was being tracked by a "real Tudor scholar" (oh, my!) it wasn't just to correct factual errors, it was also an attempt to scrub away the annoying writings of an inconvenient Catholic scholar who dared to contradict her majesty's official version of jolly old England.


And while this insidious and powerful attack on the Church and its teaching authority -- by NAME, for cryin' out loud -- is poised to impact a generation or two of children, the USCCB says nothing. And does nothing.

Interesting, isn't it? The first time the word "magisterium" really hits the public consciousness with a bang, it's part of a vicious -- and, I predict, a highly effective -- attack on the Church. If the bishops' pathetic organization had been doing its job all these years, it would have long ago brought the concept of the magisterium into the public eye in a positive light, and explained why it makes sense to have such a standard of truth, in contrast to the doctrinal chaos of Protestantism and the relativistic chaos of secularism. But they didn't, and the Enemy got there first. Now the word will carry a taint in our culture that will take decades to clean away, and the spiritual price will be steep.

But at their recent meeting, the bishops' conference did manage to do something they saw as more important: they formulated another weasel-worded voting "guide" that will give pro-abortion "Catholic" voters the cover they need to keep voting for pro-abortion "Catholic" politicians in '08. Gotta admire them for keeping their priorities firmly in mind.

Robert Miller

I am grateful for the dialogue on this thread with Ed Peters, Mark Brumley and Brian Schuettler (Sandra Miesel, too).

An historian (like a novelist) writes from within a collective memory. It is a memory composed of both "facts" and "interpretations". As Brian suggests, the most important reason to read Belloc is that his "collective memory" mix is Catholic -- in an English-speaking world whose dominant "collective memory" mix is overwhelmingly Protestant (or worse, but much the same thing, Enlightened -- think Gibbon).

Two historians could agree completely about the "facts" of the history of the Franco-Prussian War, but disagree dramatically in their interpretation.

The real relevance of Belloc to the current thread is that reading him -- on the Reformation, on heresies, on Christendom, on the servile state -- would innoculate against facile fictions of the "Magisterium", the Inquisition and the cult of free-thinking.

I don't think Belloc is mainly for seasoned wine-tasters. One can catch his spirit when young, then re-read and appreciate his vision when older.

Brian Schuettler

A remarkable but mild review of Old Thunder:

Mr. Belloc, Balliol, who had already taken a fair share in the conversational rhetoric of the debate, spoke as a Roman Catholic, a Frenchman and a Democrat. He abused the aristocracy, of whom he has quite primitive ideas, he abused the Church (of England) and he abused the preceding speaker. He cannot help being eloquent and whatever he says must always be listened to, for it is always interesting and well said. But it is a pity he does not always confine himself to the question at issue.

Isis Magazine (19th January, 1895)

Mark Brumley

Ah, but sometimes his best stuff comes by not confining himself to the question at issue. Still, I know what the reviewer means.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Ignatius Insight


Ignatius Press

Catholic World Report


Blogs & Sites We Like

June 2018

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Blog powered by Typepad