Simone Weil entered a small Portuguese fishing village on the day of the festival of its patron saint. “I was alone. It was the evening and there was a full moon over the sea. The wives of the fishermen were, in procession, making a tour of all the ships, carrying candles and singing what must certainly be very ancient hymns of a heart-rending sadness. Nothing can give any idea of it. I have never heard anything so poignant unless it were the song of the boatmen on the Volga. There the conviction was suddenly borne in upon me that Christianity is pre-eminently the religion of slaves, that slaves cannot help belonging to it, and I among others.” (From letter 4 in Waiting for God.) Such a conviction supported her belief that the simple faith of the lowly - in this case the peasants of this Portuguese village - imparted a wisdom that is born from their experiential contact with suffering, a wisdom inaccessible to many privileged individuals. The outcasts and the poor are bearers of truths about God, the human condition, and even nature - truths that, in the words of St Paul, shame the powerful and wise of the world (1 Cor. 26ff).
He was transfixed by this whole village, taking religion for granted, transfigured by this collective act. It made him rethink the course of history. The peasant mind moved happily within a tradition and here was a depth of meaning that went down to the earliest moments of western history, and it was still alive. These people were still living out ritual activities that were hundreds and thousands of year old. He discovered that these certainties could be relived, if only one could shed those qualities of modernity that desire to gnaw away and criticise everything. If only one could shed the suspicion of tradition and embrace it. This would have nothing to do with the anodyne comforts of studious learning. From now self-knowledge would begin with faith, an openness to reality, an openness to the past.
“There was to be no more of that studious content, that security in historic analysis, and that constant satisfaction of an appetite which never cloyed. A wisdom more imperative and more profound was to put a term to the comfortable wisdom of learning."
Weil and Belloc had, until these moments of epiphany, experienced relationships to faith that were common to the modern age; one of secular indifference, the other of struggle and doubt. Their experiences of peasant life in Portugal and France represented a turning of their souls that was to profoundly mark the direction of their lives, connecting them both to tradition.