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Reliable Sources: Christopher Dawson

January 5, 2007

By Christopher Dawson:

“What Had Grown Old Will Be Made New”

If Christianity is necessary to Europe, the Catholic Church is no less necessary to Christianity, for without it the latter would become no more than a mass of divergent opinions dissolving under the pressure of rationalist criticism and secularist culture. It was by virtue of the Catholic ideal of spiritual unity that the social unity of European culture emerged from the welter of barbarism, and the modern world stands no less in need of such an ideal if it is to realize in the future the wider unity of a world civilization.

Christianity as the Soul of the West

The moment that a society claims the complete allegiance of its members, it assumes a quasi-religious authority. For since man is essentially spiritual, any power that claims to control the whole man is forced to transcend relative and particular aims and to enter the sphere of absolute values, which is the realm of religion. On the other hand, if the state consents to the limitation of its aims to the political sphere, it has to admit that its ideal is only a relative one and that it must accept the ultimate supremacy of spiritual ideals which lie outside its province.

This is the solution that Western society has hitherto chosen, but it implies the existence of an independent spiritual power, whether it be a religious faith or a common moral ideal. If these are absent, the state is forced to claim an absolute and almost religious authority, though not necessarily in the same way that the Communist state has done. We can easily conceive a different type of secularism that conforms to the needs of capitalist society: indeed, we are witnessing the emergence of something of the kind in the United States, though it is still somewhat coloured by survivals from the older Protestant tradition.

And so too in Western Europe the tendency seems all towards the development of a purely secular type of culture which subordinates the whole of life to practical and economic ends and leaves no room for any independent spiritual activity. Nevertheless a civilisation that fails to satisfy the needs of man’s spiritual nature cannot be permanently successful. It produces a state of spiritual conflict and moral maladjustment which weakens the vitality of the whole social organism. This is why our modern machine-made civilisation, in spite of the material benefits that it has conferred, is marked by a feeling of moral unrest and social discontent which was absent from the old religious cultures, although the lot of the ordinary man in them was infinitely harder from the material point of view.

You can give men food and leisure and amusements and good conditions of work, and still they will remain unsatisfied. You can deny them all these things, and they will not complain so long as they feel that they have something to die for.

Is the Church too Western?

The Church as a divine society possess an internal principle of life which is capable of assimilating the most diverse materials and imprinting her own image upon them. Inevitably in the course of history there are times when this spiritual energy is temporarily weakened or obscured, and then the Church tends to be judged as a human organization and identified with the faults and limitations of its members. But always the time comes when she renews her strength and once more puts forth her inherent divine energy in the conversion of new peoples and the transformation of old cultures. At no time can we expect this work to be unopposed, for the very fact that the Church represents something entirely different–the intervention of a supernatural principle and the coming of a divine kingdom–must inevitably arouse the fierce apposition of all those human societies and powers which claim absolute power over man and refuse to admit a superior or rival.

See also:
The Catholic Church
On Spiritual Intuition in Christian Philosophy
The Nature and Destiny of Man
Christianity and the Humanist Tradition

Catholic Culture: Articles by Christopher Dawson

On Christopher Dawson:

Robert Moynihan: Christopher Dawson
Acton Institute: Christopher Dawson (1898–1970)
James Hitchcock: The Rise & Decline of Christendom in the West:
Christopher Dawson’s Panoramic View of Christian Europe

Araceli Duque: The Vision of Christopher Dawson
Gerald Russello: The Relevance of Christopher Dawson
Fr. Herbert Musurillo, S.J.: Christopher Dawson: Prophet at Harvard
Joseph Koterski, S. J: Religion as the Root of Culture
Gerald Russello: Christopher Dawson – Christ in History
James Hitchcock: To Tear Down and to Build Up: Christianity and the Subversive Forces in Western Civilization

See also:
Touchstone: Sitting Still with Christopher Dawson: Review of Eternity in Time: Christopher Dawson and the Catholic Idea of History, edited by Stratford Caldecott and John Morril
Touchstone: Dawson Revisited (Book Reviews)
ad2000 Book Review: Dynamics of World History

ISI Library: Christopher Dawson

Website: Christopher Dawson Archives
Blog: Christopher Dawson Archives

Wikipedia: Christopher Dawson


From → Reliable Sources

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