Old Thunder

Photograph from the Hilary A. Belloc Collection, MS1998-004 Box 2,Folder 21, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Defender of the Faith: Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

Hilaire Belloc’s nickname that stuck with him for life was ‘Old Thunder’, so named for his fierceness in argument and strong views. Yet he was also a kind and sympathetic man with a mischievous sense of humour. He was a prolific writer of fiction, poetry, essays, history, biography and a huge number of letters.

Belloc was born in July 1870 in a village just outside Paris on the eve of the Franco-Prussian war to a French father, Louis, a lawyer, and an English mother, Elizabeth, who converted from the Unitarian church to Catholicism. A great lover of Catholic culture, apologetics, the outdoors, sailing, Belloc’s life was nevertheless beset by tragedy. Following the death of his father (after five years of marriage) in 1872, when Belloc was only two, the family returned to Birmingham and Belloc was then educated at Cardinal Newman’s Oratory School. On leaving school, Belloc chose to serve a term of military service with the French army. Back in England, he went to Balliol College, Oxford University where he became President of the Oxford Union, the University’s debating society, and began to establish his reputation as a brilliant but intemperate speaker. He became good friends with G. K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw, who along with H.G.Wells became known as the ‘Big Four of Edwardian Letters’. Graduating with First Class honours, Belloc was aggrieved not to be offered a Fellowship, a failure he put down to his Catholicism. Following a long involvement in politics after he’d become a British subject, he turned all his energy to journalism and writing.

Belloc’s robust Faith was the guiding force of his life, and he believed it to be central to the survival of Western civilisation, famously declaring “the Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith”. He feared no foe, challenging in debate and condemning all the heresies of his day, and those in history, sometimes using very strong language which made him plenty of enemies! Many of Belloc’s strongest views were aimed against Islam which he prophesied would be a returning menace and threat one day. At the time of his writing, the Islamic world was still largely under the rule of the European colonial powers and the threat to Britain was from Fascism and Nazism. Belloc, however, considered that Islam was permanently intent on destroying the Church, as well as the West, which Christendom had built.

He had a great love for the Blessed Virgin and prayed the rosary daily.

In an excerpt from his ‘Ballade to Our Lady of Czestochwa’ we read:

“You shall receive me when the clouds are high

With evening and the sheep attain the fold.

This is the faith that I have held and hold,

And this is that in which I mean to die.”

Elodie Agnes Hogan was born in 1868, the daughter of Irish immigrant parents.

Belloc was happily married to Elodie, an American from California, and they had five children. A great sportsman, Belloc practically crossed the U.S.A. on foot in seach of his beloved. He had met and fallen in love with her on a trip she and her family had made to Europe. Elodie’s untimely death on the feast of the Purification 2nd February 1914 at 45 years of age left a deep wound in Belloc’s heart that lasted till he drew his last breath. Tragedy struck again in 1918, when his eldest son Louis was killed in action during the First World War. Post-war a torrent of articles and books continued to pour from his pen, many critical of the modern world. In 1942 he suffered a stroke, not long after the death of another son, Peter, in the fighting of the Second World War, which effectively brought his literary career to an end.

He lived on till his shortly before his death in 1953 (at nearly 83 years) at his home in the beautiful dales of West Sussex, England, to which he’d often expressed a deep fondness.

For further reading:


And to hear a recording of Hilaire Belloc’s voice singing four of his poems:


A new book has just been published by St. Benedict Press  on Hilaire Belloc’s writings, titled “The Essential Belloc: a Prophet for Our Times”. It is co-edited by Scott J. Bloch, who gave an interesting interview on EWTN’s ‘Bookmark’ about this fascinating, larger-than-life character.


Ignatius Press of California and IHS Press of Virginia have been reissuing Belloc. TAN Books of Charlotte, NC publishes a number of Belloc’s works, particularly his historical writings.

(Original pictures from here)

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17 Responses to Old Thunder

  1. athanasius says:

    Thank you, Kathleen, for this fascinating article, about a figure of whom I previously knew very little.


  2. Gareth says:


    Belloc is a real Catholic hero and a reminder to us all not to remain silent when our Faith ia assaulted on so many fronts.


  3. kathleen says:

    Athansius & Gareth – thanks!

    Just in case readers have not had time to scroll down to read the lengthy link mentioned in the article in its entirety, I’d like to just reprint here this excerpt that explains so well Belloc’s reputation as ‘Defender of the Faith’:

    “After answering point by point Dean Inge’s objections to Catholicism — some of them were infantile: no man can be an Englishman and a Catholic; others were vicious: the Church is “ a bloody and treacherous association” and an “imposter” — Belloc concluded his open letter with the following peroration. I beg your leave to read it as he wrote it:

    There wholly escapes you the character of the Catholic Church …. You are like one examining the windows of Chartres from within by candle‑light but we have the sun shining through . . . . For what is the Catholic Church? It is that which replies, co‑ordinates, establishes. It is that within which is right order; outside the puerilities and the despairs. It is the possession of perspective in the survey of the world …. Here alone is promise, and here alone is foundation. Those of us who boast so stable an endowment make no claim thereby to personal peace; we are not saved thereby alone …. But we are of so glorious a company that we receive support, and have communion. The Mother of God is also our own. Our dead are with us. Even in these our earthly miseries we always hear the distant something of an eternal music, and smell a native air. There is a standard set for us whereto our whole selves respond, which is that of an inherited and endless life, quite full, in our own country. You may say, “all that is rhetoric.” You would be wrong, for it is rather vision, recognition, and testimony. But take it for rhetoric. Have you any such? Be it but rhetoric, whence does that stream flow? Or what reserve is that which can fill even such a man as myself with fire? Can your opinion (or doubt or gymnastics) do the same? I think not! One thing in this world is different from all others. It has a personality and a force. It is recognized and (when recognized) most violently hated or loved. It is the Catholic Church. Within that household the human spirit has roof and hearth. Outside it is the night.”


  4. Toadspittle says:

    Enjoyed the piece on the back half of the Chesterbelloc, Kathleen.

    Toad was interested to see a mention, even en passent, of H. G. Wells, a very great man. (As was Shaw.)

    Wells once wrote that he was always a bit uneasy when driving through France in case he saw a priest crossing the road in front of him, because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to run the cleric over.


  5. Toadspittle says:

    Toad has been fascinated for some time now, as to why there is such an interest in the works of Belloc and Chesterton (both currently almost entirely unfashionable in the world of contemporary letters) on CP&S.

    Now he realises why, The dashing duo – Belloc particularly – write about a bygone age where Catholicism prompted exceedingly strong feelings, pro or con.

    “One thing in this world is different from all others. It has a personality and a force. It is recognized and (when recognized) most violently hated or loved. It is the Catholic Church.”

    Strikes Toad that Catholics should be grateful to Dawkins and Hitchens for treating them as serious and deadly enemies nowadays.

    Few others do.


  6. Toadspittle says:

    Toad has achieved a notable first, on April 18th 2011, at 20.53 – an entirely innocuous post.


  7. manus says:

    … and to the point.


  8. athanasius says:

    You certainly have a point regarding Dawkins and Hitchens, Toad. (We had better also include Fry and much of the rest of the gay, metropolitan luvvie clique which has such an inordinate amount of coverage in the secular media.) Their virulent hatred of the Church should be worn by Catholics as a badge of honour: we must be doing quite a lot right to engender such loathing from the likes of them.


  9. Toadspittle says:

    Spot on as usual, Manus. And Toad thinks the open debate is a very good thing, for both sides ultimately.
    And it is conducted in civilised fashion, without resorting to fatwah, Muslim style. (So far.)

    Toad prefers the middle of the road himself, despite constantly being run over.


  10. manus says:

    Indeed, and Golden Cherosenne showed us some lovely pictures of flattened Toad around Christmas time.

    But perhaps some time you might think about the words of Christ about those who were neither hot nor cold. I’m afraid there’s no such thing as a comfortable position. But you know this of course. Being run over so regularly.


  11. Toadspittle says:

    “But I can’t really see why a good author like Wells should be taken as an argument to disqualify another writer.”

    Puzzles Teresa.

    Neither can Toad, and neither, possibly, can anyone else.

    But we shall see.


  12. Srdc says:


    It’s the atheist’s who are turning into radical Muslims.

    “Atheists Announce Public Campaign Against Catholics”

    April 2011:” In a broadcasting interview by ELA radio, in Madrid, a group of people who identified themselves as “representatives of different atheist groups”, expressed openly that their goals are to “punish” the Catholic belief, and to “damage” the views of Catholics. They praised the burning of churches in 1936, and they expressed their intention to “welcome” the Pope “as he deserves”, during the announced visit to Madrid in the summer of 2011.”



  13. Toadspittle says:

    If they turn into Muslims, they won’t be Atheists any more, will they, Srdc?


  14. piliersdelaterre says:

    …the enemy of my enemy is my friend?


  15. Srdc says:


    Fire-brand atheists murdered millions of people in the 20th century, were responsible for the brutal persecution of churches in the Soviet Union, in the Spanish civil war, the French revolution, the Mexican genocide. Guess, the beast is still not dead.


  16. Toadspittle says:

    “Guess, the beast is still not dead.” Opines Srdc, and who will argue with that?
    From the first syllable of recorded time – and no doubt long before that – mankind has cheerfully occupied itself with tyranny, opression, bigotry and mass murder, generally in the name of ‘truth.’
    Sadly, it shows no sign of letting up any time soon.

    And now the threat of Radical Muslim Atheists, (led no doubt, by Osama Bin Dawkins) only fills one with deeper gloom.

    It’ll be off with all our heads, thinks Toad.


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