Fortitude, Proportion, and Innocence: Discerning Perceptions from Hilaire Belloc’s The Silence of the Sea (1940)

While I was last evening and this morning reading aloud to our six-year-old daughter the full 1836 text of “The Little Mermaid,” by Hans Christian Andersen, I came to think of Hilaire Belloc as well as of Caryll Houselander and their own deep hearts for the Little Children—and for the Sea (like Hans Christian of Odense, Denmark!). And since I have also been re-reading some of the later essays of Hilaire Belloc, especially those published in 1940 just before his incapacitating stroke in 1941, I thought to consider and interrelate three of his essays that are to be found near the end of our great-souled sailor’s collection, The Silence of the Sea: “On Proportion,” “Fortitude,” and “On Innocence.”

In these three brief essays, Belloc presents with clarity some especially refreshing approaches to important matters—at least matters that should be important to Catholics, such as: Analogy (the analogy of being, as well as the meaning of true analogical predications); Final Perseverance (as a Great Gift of Grace, a “Magnum Donum” according to the Council of Trent); and Purity (also in its fundamental connection with the Fourth Cardinal Virtue of Temperantia, and thus with a guilelessly Innocent, Sincere Heart, a Cor Sincerum sine Dolo). For, Belloc with fairness and fresh discernments helps us to consider in a variety of ways the importance of “Proportion,” (“Proportio” is also the Latin word for “Analogia”). Convinced that, for us men, truth resides in proportion, Belloc will show us his specific meaning with vivid examples both in the writing of true history and biography, and in the expression of beauty, to include Proportion’s relation both to Ars (Art) and to Prudentia (the first Cardinal Virtue or Prudence, or Practical Wisdom). He will even touch upon the most fitting and gracious proportions in architecture, the most public of art forms. When he then later speaks of Fortitude (Fortitudo), he will also help us understand the Third Cardinal Virtue, as well as one of the seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost—most especially in its aspect and quality of Endurance, or patient perseverance. When he speaks of Innocence, Hilaire Belloc will again make us think of the purity and innocence which are very movingly glimpsed and never thereafter forgotten—especially when it comes from the look in the innocent eyes of a child. To include the pure tears in the eyes of an innocent child—the pure tears of sorrow and also the tears of joy!

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