A Belgian Priest
Ste,—You have forwarded to me an extremely long letter from a septuagenarian Belgian priest—the only one of its sort, as you consolingly tell me—and suggest that I should allude to it in, maybe, some forthcoming article upon a Saint. Oddly enough, I have anticipated it in what I have written on St. George, for April.
Your correspondent thinks that by disregarding the " secondary traditions" about Saints, I not only do wrong, but turn the Saints into "myths," accuse the Church of fostering lies, play into the hands of Protestants, and mock at the Saints.
As to "method," I rely entirely on the work of your correspondent's compatriots, the Bollandists of world-wide fame for accurate Catholic scholarship, and (more accessible) Butler's Lives of the Saints as revised by Fr. Thurston and his collaborators, whose judgment is no less honoured everywhere. If I have erred, it was rather by including details for which the evidence might not be perfect. I would like your readers to study carefully Chapter I in Fr P. Hughes's admirable Life of the reigning, Pontiff. , whose own ideals of scholarship are well set forth there. I would like humbly to follow in his steps.
Far from "turning the saints into myths," reverent criticism of legends rescues them from "myth-dom ": earlier critics because of legends unsupported by evidence hastily declared that certain Saints (e.g., SI. Anthony of Egypt; St. George) never existed. It was, too, such legends that enabled nonCatholics to say that the Church fostered lies (whereas she herself drastically purged the 2nd Nocturns in the Breviary); it is to retain and to use them that plays into Protestant hands. And I don't think any English reader will suppose that I "mock" the Saints.
Finally, the trend of modern research has been towards establishing the value of tradition. (Homer: the Old Testament at large.) Mr. Belloc makes much good use of the fact that a massive tradition is always true at the core; indeed it may well be its very massiveness that attracts to it all sorts of extra matter (rather as all "cpic" Greek poetry tended to be assigned to Homer; all Spartan laws, etc., to Lycurgus). Thus I am clear that St. George existed and so impressed his contemporaries by his martyrdom, that all manner of stories, in the course of whole centuries. attached themselves to his name. But I doubt if anything else is known about him save, probably, that he .was an oriental.
C. C. MARI INDALE.