H.G. Wells's War on The Church

Recently, while running my fingers along a bookshelf at home, I found a work I first fell across a few years ago. It is one of H.G. Wells's least-known books, Crux Ansata. The subtitle is An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church. First published in 1943 in Britain, it was reprinted recently by Prometheus Press, but the copy I have dates from 1944. Wells died two years later, aged 80. As a boy I enjoyed his science fiction, but this book shows that at the end of his life his inventive powers were consumed in hatred for the Catholic Church.

Crux Ansata is at once depressing and encouraging. It is depressing to read 116 pages of venom and to see Wells demonstrating his incompetence as a historian, theologian, and logician. It is encouraging to realize that the subsequent half century has shown that Wells was wrong in all his prejudices, whether political, economic, historical, or religious.

On the opening page Wells says, “Not only is Rome the source and center of Fascism, but it has been the seat of a Pope [Pius XII], who, as we shall show, has been an open ally of the Nazi-Fascist-Shinto Axis since his enthronement.” He asks, “Why do we not bomb Rome? Why do we allow these open and declared antagonists of democratic freedom to entertain their Shinto allies and organize a pseudo-Catholic destruction of democratic freedom?”

Then he surveys the history of the Church. “Early on Christianity entangled itself with archaic traditions of human sacrifice, with Mithraic blood-cleansing, with priestcraft as ancient as human society, and with elaborate doctrines about the structure of the divinity.” These words I have heard elsewhere, in discussion groups at a local Unitarian Church, where, years ago, I listened to people with no background in theology or religious history darkly warn about “priestcraft” and recount the early corruption of “non-doctrinal” Christianity.

Wells is worse than vicious — he is sloppy. He says Augustine “wrote between 354 and 430,” which suggests that Augustine's first work appeared in 354, which, if true, could only increase one's estimation of the saint, since 354 happened to be the year of his birth. Wells refers to 16th-century people of Munster “who did not draw the blinds.” (Blinds had not been invented yet.) He speculates that Shakespeare may have been neither a Catholic nor a Protestant, but an atheist. He thinks that on matters concerning the Catholic Church, Professor G.G. Coulton was a “patient, unrelenting, trustworthy guide” — the middle term surely was true, but Father Herbert Thurston demonstrated that Coulton's prejudices against Catholicism went so deep that he fumbled repeatedly in writing about the Church.

Wells hated the Church and Catholic society and advised readers to ‘avoid true and social intercourse with Roman Catholics …’

Wells is no better in theology. He says, “The filioque is a subtle [idea], and a word or so of explanation may not seem amiss to those who are uninstructed theologically…. The [Eastern] attitude seems to incline a little towards the Arian point of view [in fact it does not]. The Catholic belief is that the Father and the Son have always existed together, world without end; the Greek orthodox [sic] idea is tainted by a very human disposition to think fathers ought to be at least a little senior to their sons” — a grotesque misreading. But he gives sound advice: “The reader must go to his own religious teachers for precise instruction on this point.” Precise instruction cannot be had from Wells.

He describes the people of the Middle Ages this way: “These people were often married at 13, they were warriors and leaders in their later teens; they became cruel old satyrs at six-and-thirty. In fact they never grew up either physically or mentally. They lived in a world of witless lordship and puerile melodrama.” They never grew up physically? What can this mean? And did they all become cruel old satyrs?

Wells, always pictured in a dull, three-piece suit and indistinguishable in dress from other men on London's streets, complained that in the late Middle Ages “the costume of the [upper class] displays a resort to pinking, puffing, slashing, legs of different colors, and the like feeble devices.” He adds, “Nobody catered for the ordinary man's clothing. He wore old cast-off stuff.” Since there were so many more “ordinary men” than men of any other social class, how could there have been enough “cast-off stuff” to go around? And did all these ordinary men wear worn-out clothes noted for “pinking, puffing, slashing”?

Wells hated the Church and Catholic society and advised readers to “avoid true and social intercourse with Roman Catholics … Condemn every mixed marriage which introduces a priest into the menage as the supervisor of the children's education. Resist the diversion of public funds for the upkeep of Roman Catholic schools, withdraw patronage from Roman Catholic booksellers, organize public protests at the inordinate preference shown by the BBC for Jesuit discourses…. Fight intolerance with intolerance. We have tolerated the Roman Catholic Church in England for more than a century, believing that it would play a game of candor. We know better now.”

Poor Wells. Wherever he is, he really knows better now.

Karl Keating is the founding director of Catholic Answers.