Hilaire Belloc on Islam

Is Islam a Christian heresy? The Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc thought so. In his book, The Great Heresies, Belloc contended that Islam, like other heresies including Arianism, sought to simplify Christian belief by removing the mystery of such doctrines as the Trinity. Islam nevertheless preserved many aspects of Christian doctrine. In Belloc’s view, Islam “took over in the main from Catholic doctrine” many of the attributes of God including “the personal nature, the all-goodness, the timelessness, the providence of God, His creative power as the origin of all things, and His sustenance of all things by His power alone.” Moreover, Islam also preached “the mortality of the soul and its responsibility for actions in this life, coupled with the consequent doctrine of punishment and reward after death.” Finally, Belloc characterized Islam as similar to Christianity in visualizing Jesus as the judge of mankind at the day of judgment; Mary as prime among all women; the equality of all human souls; and personal immortality.

By contrast, Islam echoed Arianism by treating Jesus as “the greatest of all prophets, but still only a prophet: a man like other men.” It also discarded the doctrines of the Trinity; the Eucharist as the real presence; the Mass; and a special priesthood.

Belloc attributed the success of Islam to its appropriation of key Christian doctrines, including the equality of all men and the need for social and economic justice, while eliminating all of the mystery that was difficult for its adherents to appreciate or embrace. By seeking to simplify Christianity, Islam followed the path of other Christian heresies by eliminating the complexities of doctrines such as the Trinity and the Eucharist.

Writing in 1938, when Islam was largely a spent force in the Western world, Belloc was nevertheless prophetic by answering in the affirmative his own question, “May  not Islam rise again?” Given the simplification offered by its prophet to his followers, Belloc contended that “I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam,” and that we should expect to see “a revival of Mohammedan political power, and the renewal of the old pressure of Islam upon Christendom.”

Belloc’s insights may help to explain the general animosity of most adherents of Islam toward Christianity, which they view as a false and perverted version of their authentic religion because of  what they see as Christianity’s alleged denial of the oneness of God. Belloc’s insights may also, to some degree, put into a larger context the current atrocities committed by ISIS, the Taliban, and other Islamic groups directed not only against thousands of Christians, but also against thousands more Muslim and other religious peoples who do not share their particular views of jihad and Islam.

Heresies, it may be concluded, inevitably leave a trail of violence in their wake as long as they are extant, until, as Belloc traced the path of past heresies, they finally collapse and disappear.

Reference: Hilaire Belloc, The Great Heresies (TAN Books, 2012), Chapter 4, “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed.”

 

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