Christopher Dawson and the Catholic Cosmos
Christopher Dawson and the Catholic Cosmos
By Joseph Andrew Settanni
Christopher Henry Dawson (1889-1970) is considered to be, by those who appreciate genius, the most tenaciously probing student of the noted relationship of religion and culture who had the occasion of a professional career to document carefully such a very salient transcendent fact of human reality. His extraordinary historical achievement was in how he illumined those universal principles of religion and culture pertaining to man’s humanity that, if ignored with impunity, must then lead toward a definite societal, moral and, especially, spiritual catastrophe that always presages the manifest destruction of a civilization.
Dawson, a historian of ideas and a man who began ideologically on the Left, had, through his own deepening appreciation of Catholicism by conversion, come to see that Edward Gibbon (an early intellectual-historical hero) was only partly correct as to the set virtue of history. But, as a Christian humanist in the finest sense of such a term, Dawson did not become any so-called reactionary by profoundly finding the true heart of cosmic Christianity, by gaining the universal perception of Christ.
Coming out of the Victorian-Edwardian era, Christopher was yet essentially dissatisfied with the self-serving complacency often noticed in the smug England of that age, living parasitically, as it did, off of the inherited spiritual capital of Christendom, while basically not replenishing that often hard-won capital. Great Britain and the other Protestant powers, for all their pride, could not stop Europe’s slide toward secularism nor the coming of the Great War that had made a mockery of modern Christianity.
Pope Benedict XV (pontificate: 1914 – 1922), the Vicar of Christ on earth, had pleaded for peace and was, in effect, merely laughed at as a nonentity; a divided Christendom had, thus, simply disrespected papal authority and treated him with contempt. Europe and the world was punished, which should not have surprised keen observers, by yet another global conflict before the mid-20th century had arrived. As ever, God is not mocked with impunity.
Dawson’s Universal/Catholic Vision
Dawson both intimately and insightfully knew without question that every culture, since it must be well rooted in a necessarily comprehensive human reality, needs vital openness toward true spiritual order, metaphysical order (aka God), because as with a plant lacking sunlight, such culture will always surely, inevitably, die, sooner or later. Europe, consequently, paid a high price for its continuing secularization. But, such a basic truth is too often forgotten today. What he saw as the totalitarian movement is the complete politicization of life (inclusive these days of the homosexual agenda), society, and culture for the sake of fulfilling the power lust of the Left for achieving absolute control over people. Godlessness must be the ultimate goal of this unmitigated rationalization of all societal and cultural conduct for enjoining obedience to the State.
Modernity (and what generally passes for postmodernity) seeks to cut off, more and more, the ever ethically, morally, and spiritually requisite source of light forever. Christianity is the final enemy of statism by whatever name; in the warped minds of the collectivists, it must be crushed. But, if all that cannot be properly understood and thoroughly comprehended, then his writings and their meaning cannot be correctly grasped as to their great significance, as to his monumental accomplishment. In opposition to Marxist utopianism, religion as the basis of culture is a perennial, not merely accidental or dismissible, matter concerning man’s integral humanity; it is not really capable of political reductionism, so it must be supposedly extirpated forever in an ideological manner.
For the truly best paradigm for creatively studying culture and its various and sundry relationships and interrelationships with religion, Dawson critically chose the intensive and heuristic study of Christian culture, which this Roman Catholic historian had thought to be highly essential to both the secularist and Christian alike. Why? Christian culture, the Christocentric valuation of life, was absolutely held to forever be the critical master key to the best existential and experiential understanding of the important historical development and indispensable source of the comprehensive entirety of Western civilization, even, therefore, beyond Christendom as to a historical period.
Yet, perhaps illustrative of a curious gap in public knowledge, a recent Google search produced no link directly addressing the definition of Christian culture. A definition, which follows below, would help to make clear what it is that is being affirmed and defended as such.
Christian culture is the totality of ethical, moral, religious, spiritual, social, cultural, and other behaviors and beliefs, paradigms and traditions, centered, either directly or indirectly, on the critical notion of Christianity, meaning as the supreme axiological basis for all of the highest virtues, thoughts, and proper emotions attainable by (mere) human beings, fallen creatures; regardless of imperfections, it is normally found privately and publicly expressed in such diverse fields as literature, art, science, and virtually all endeavors, important and trivial, entered into by sentient beings.
But, ironically, when this something enters solidly into consciousness, it begins to cease being a living tradition and gets classified, more and more, as an artifact, as sociology teaches to be the case. The best way to achieve it is, therefore, to live the Christian life, with all of its joys and flaws, required for having the genuine reality, not the sociological-cultural archetype alone. Dawson understood this to be true, as is attested to by his studies and writings, by the compassionate depth and range of his humane values.
Dawson’s brilliantly articulate, protreptic, and solidly coherent analysis of the various driving forces of world history, as well as his overt advocacy of the significant and undeniable contributions of the Christian faith to the notable achievements of European culture, properly earned for him, moreover, many ardent admirers, including such major names as T. S. Eliot and Arnold Toynbee. Some of American conservatism, through Russell Kirk who became an enthusiast, was consequently influenced by him. Yet, none of this is any here supposed guarantee of terrene glory, or significance unto the ages. But, his impressive work is not unheralded nor, of course, a waste of time.
It is regrettable, however, that his name and writings are not, in fact, widely known either academically or popularly, certainly nothing much in the latter realm if at all. (Incidentally, the exactly same is fully true of another prolific, though American, convert to Catholicism by the name of Orestes Augustus Brownson. How so typical it is that both came to a progressive obscurity in Protestant countries.)
After his death, there has increasingly arisen efforts to coopt his legacy and put it into the service of trying to help defend various causes, none of which is consistent with Dawsonian teachings or concepts. His firm rejection of Marxism, early in his adult life, was not limited to dismissing just that one ideology alone; he sagaciously saw how all the ideologies of modernity were in conflict with not just religion and culture but, more importantly, with Catholicism, the Catholic cosmos. And, what is here to be defined as the always expansive Catholic cosmos?
It goes well beyond only dogmas, doctrines, and customs, past Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium. This developing universe encompasses all that was, is, and will be. Why? The Incarnation of the Christ took all of past history, not just the Old Testament time, the then present of when He was the Man-God preaching salvation, and the fullness of the complete future (the New Testament) unto the end of the world, for the Lord is ever truly the Alpha and Omega, not an incidental personage during one historical period of time. For as the eminent 19th century historian Leopold von Ranke keenly knew (in notably shocking his modernist colleagues), God, by definition, is forever equidistant to all ages simultaneously.
As the first Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard University, Dawson, moreover, was not a supposed reactionary who detested the modern age in preference for the stolidity of a medieval drama qua history, for its own retrograde sense of temporal glorification, due to spiritual needs or, perhaps, justifications. He was not a champion of nostalgia; Dawson was a Catholic intellectual in the best sense of the term and could not be described as any sort of sectarian bigot.
Contrary to some of his more nasty critics, he had never advocated the restoration of the Middle Ages nor thought it emblematic of perfection on earth as the only way of life for all time. What he rightly had condemned was hubristic modernity, the anthropocentric celebration of MAN writ large upon the world stage because his Catholic principles, seen manifestly in his volumes, could not have it otherwise. And, that is the truth, though, logically enough, he considered himself a political conservative who detested classical liberalism as well as its transformation into socialism; they were ideologies that sought, if the verity involved be told, to ultimately undermine and replace Christianity. He morally objected to that effort.
This critical reflection upon and assertion of truth had covered the needed full rejection of subjectivism, pragmatism, materialism, positivism, hedonism, and, ultimately, nihilism, which all is truly founded upon philosophical nominalism, though he never ever pretended to be a philosopher or had any interest in pursuing systemic theology. The both judicious and reflective writing he did, in defense of the idea that religions created cultures, including a Western Christian culture, was not in service to any ill-founded desire to pursue the course of nostalgia to its nth limit. His venture was, rather, a bold challenge put into historical context.
Influenced by such thinkers as Ernst Troeltsch and Frédéric Le Play, he saw that Western Europe could not really rebuild itself fully, after two devastating world wars and much else, until it would seek its proper historical, social, cultural, and, especially, religious realization as a Christian Western Europe; all of that is essential to understand concerning Dawson’s thinking, though he did not share Hilaire Belloc’s absolute equating of Catholicism as being a European phenomenon per se.
But, this was not, after more than twenty books, spiritual insight, profound reflection, decades of teaching, and the writing of hundreds of supportive articles, just a mere guess. It was because the beloved Catholic cosmos was and is real that he did not hesitate to soundly document, through quite extensive research, the honorable roots and the substantive reasoning in support of Christian culture, now and forever.
This Catholic writer and professor, one of the most distinguished Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century, had engaged in both a discovery and rediscovery of the elements of human order that ought never to become detached from metaphysical order, which is only the road to barbarism, whether ancient, medieval, modern, or postmodern in nature. He wanted to discover those universal features of man’s humanity and match them to the highest universality of faith ever yet visited upon man by the birth of the Christ that interrupted what might have supposedly been the then more normal course of human history.
The profane was made to yield ground to the sacred. Mundane reality was changed by the Incarnational Reality of Christianity that was meant to inform and infuse its high ideals into all aspects of human life forevermore. Politics, economics, society, culture, and anything and everything connected to man’s humanity is, in fact, to be thoroughly Christianized, as all things are to be seen illuminated in Christ.
His research had led him to the unalterable conclusion that there had to be a vital rediscovery of all those important matters that had become uncertain, dispersed, dismissed, or disfigured by the thrusts of modernity, the attacks of nominalism, set eagerly against Christianity in general and, of course, Catholicism in particular, the Catholic cosmos. But, without such a mission of both discovery and cognate rediscovery, the vast and increasingly wild derangement and dislocation caused by modernity would become crescively unknown in terms of deciphering the meaning of the resultant wreckage.
How best to put the matter? Malcolm Muggeridge knew that contemporary civilization was the very first, in all of recorded history, to just blithely assume that there can be a total denial of metaphysical order and, consequently, that all of human life can be lived that way. The secularization and logically attendant progressive dehumanization of mortal life has, thus, progressed accordingly. What seems more insane than that, however, is how many modernists and postmodernists are yet shocked by the discordant and dark consequences, degradation and statism, which appear inexplicable or nearly so to almost all of them.
What history has revealed, time and again, whether in the Nazi gas chambers, Soviet and Chinese gulags, the killing fields of Cambodia, or, of course, the ever prolific abortuaries of the Western world, man can be either seen as created in the image of God or merely a sort of “advanced” beast. Ideologies, often as ersatz religions, are breeding grounds for barbarism in contemporary disguise, besides their inherent dehumanization.
Contrary, thus, to both modernist and postmodernist myth, there really is not and, therefore, has never been and will never really be any middle ground or via media available to human beings. It is either hellish versions of Moloch or the Lord God, nothing in between actually exists as to what can be realistically expected. Only human vanity and its concomitant hubris insist, of course, otherwise.
Every vainglorious or ideologically inspired attempt to supposedly achieve some sort of perfection on earth, moreover, has invariably lead to, first, hundreds of thousands and then millions and tens of millions of exterminations, never a heaven on earth certainly. And yet, because of the noted effects of Original Sin, people are not ever capable of really learning; the errors, through the course of time, get repeated, sin triumphs above and beyond dreams of any terrene paradise. This has had consequences.
Dawson, informed by both theologico-historical considerations, how theology reflects upon history, and what can be described as historico-theological thoughts, wisely saw both sides of the equation to the neglect of neither. Reading his quite wondrous works leads the invited reader to both aforementioned worlds of discovery and recovery that, for many, would have seemed previously impossible, nay, formerly unthinkable.
Having an Augustinian sense of history as a moral inquiry, Dawson, as discoverer and recoverer, sought to boldly adventure through history by combining many disciplines and subdisciplines of learning, often simultaneously. He notably combined elements of cultural anthropology, historical sociology, social anthropology, cultural theology, social psychology, political theology, social history, philosophical sociology, historical philosophy, and much else. The Dawsonian viewpoint was, as noted, holistic in conception.
Commentators upon Dawson have, as a result, usually split into two camps for trying to explain his tremendous relative neglect today. Many assume, for instance, that his work was so vast and expansive such that few people, these days, have the requisite intellectual capacity to take in and digest so much demonstrated and complex erudition; others simply note that, well, he was just a traditionalist Roman Catholic whose work would, logically, have yet little appeal beyond a relatively tiny group of similarly inclined readers.
Some, of course, simply wish to split the difference by assigning these two above cited reasons for a discrete and, probably (to them), dwindling readership, in the many decades and scores of years to come. Though, admittedly, many of his works are being reprinted and by at least several publishers so there must be, one suspects, a necessarily growing demand for this Dawsonian literature. 1
But, honestly, what really has come to contribute to the loss of interest in such writing, meaning on the part of those who ought most to be reading it, has much more to do with the apostasy of the Christian West, in its now valuing and cherishing greatly that which is plainly demonic over and against Christian culture.
Paganism generally prefers that which is abnormal, strange, perverse, or diabolic, which easily explains, for instance, the rapidly exploding interest in the favoring of sodomy with all of its ugly indelicacies and vile indecencies, its deliberate attack upon Natural Law. What basically exists today, more or less, is a nihilistic pseudo-culture dedicated to what has been rightly denominated as the Culture of Death, which is, of course, to be seen as actually an anti-culture upon close examination.
Demographically, Western Europe, concerning its sterile native inhabitants, is notably depopulating itself due to abortion, artificial contraception, sodomy, and euthanasia to be replaced, if documented trends continue, with an immigrant Moslem population. Moral and spiritual sterility, as Dawson would have recognized, produces its like, sooner or later, concerning an infertile populous with souls as dead as stone; Weimarization, in short, has no future, as sodomy remains ever the epitome of sterility.
Obviously, no new Christendom is there possible, much less conceivable, under such highly unfavorable circumstances, as this sinful death wish gets so played out, generation by dwindling generation. Only a true return to the Christian (aka Catholic) roots of historic Europe, especially in the Western half of it, could help to restore the then viable basis of the Christian culture that Dawson wrote about; this is as to its many inherently life-giving principles, as to its righteous sense of a truly sanctified humanity made in the image of the loving Deity, the Lord God Almighty. Otherwise, the predictable birth dearth can surely guarantee a notable demographic disaster, demographic winter, of epic proportions for the then once native peoples of that region.
One easily sees what happened. Religion gives life to a culture; its absence, sooner or later, historically marks the necessary and inevitable direction of its observed death, not simply its assumed malfunction, as with sociological discourses upon such a subject; as Dawson critically knew so well, from his decades of intensive professional research, writing, and contemplation, no society or civilization, dependent as it is upon the vitality or lack thereof of the associated culture, can be vigorously renewed or successfully sustained by secularism indefinitely. Man does not live by bread alone, as Holy Scripture teaches.
The vile grasping appeals of materialism, positivism, pragmatism, and hedonism eventually lead people, meaning the vast majority, down the road to annihilation, toward the nihilistic conclusion that death is preferable to a greatly disvalued life; as surely, e. g., drug addiction possess its own inherent death wish. Look at Western Europe for the empirical and existential truth of this fact, though America is not really that far behind. Equally, an aggressively pro-sodomite “civilization” has reached toward the depths of what is, historically, guaranteed to be an utter societal obliteration. Further argumentation would, thus, be simply superfluous. Q. E. D.
The final “promise” of a gloriously triumphant modernity, or even its attempted raw apotheosis through variants of ideological postmodernism, is not really, after all is said and done, the ever sought after New Eden, only a version of a living hell. The easily notable decay and decadence, decline and degeneration, of European society and culture was not accidental or merely coincidental; it was deliberately willed by how, literally, tens upon tens of millions had turned away from Christianity, the source of spiritual life.
It can be overtly seen in the repaganization that has retrogressively occurred as a logical consequence of this terribly massive apostasy, which shows no broad signs of abating, at a minimum, any time soon. A secularized culture is, thus, a dead end, which ought to be obvious to any intelligent mind. Living for bread alone (or whatever equivalent) has never attracted the sustained ambition and attention of any people; especially those who eventually seek out the lowest common denominators by calculating self-interest; through reductionism, the finitude of nihilism, therefore, awaits debased seekers after the always perilous Nietzschean abyss.
But, the kind of Christian culture defended and praised by Dawson should never be equated with any kind of a general Christianity or a, perhaps, Christian lite version of a diluted and laicist-approved type of quasi-Christianity for “safe” public consumption. There is a risk to Christian culture. For instance, no variety or version of Protestantism would be enough because of degrees and styles of sectarianism and denominationalism that continue, as one reads this passing sentence, to see the ongoing and weary fragmentation of the so-called Reformed Religion having endless sects as the true legacy of the so-called Protestant Reformation; to many, of course, this is rationalized as being a sign of positive success.
Protestantism is inherently inadequate, theologically “thin” (aka Sola Scriptura), religiously deficient, and lends itself freely to degrees of nominalism, as to its odd teachings that can vary (and usually do) denomination by denomination, at least 40,000 sects according to a counting thereof. How so?
The so-called Reformed Religion has proved inadequate entirely to its original plan/intention to fully discredit and then replace Catholicism totally (thus, all the Reformed Theology had integrally failed); the above cited thinness has scandalously, as thoughts or passions may have it, allowed believers to both interpret and re-interpret an unending variety of pseudo-, quasi-, and partial or other Scripture surely convenient and/or acceptable to the often disparate devotees.
The religious deficiency is seen in how the (liberal) mainstream religious denominations continue to lose members, while the sects or denominations stressing authority usually are seen gaining members; a consistent inconsistency is the hallmark of a theological shambles in place, not a quest for a solidity of religious insight building toward a unified theological edifice surely; a house divided against itself cannot stand. Lastly, who says Protestantism, says nominalism, for ideas have consequences.
It, moreover, began the steady pernicious process of the repaganization of the Western world as when, e. g., Martin Luther decided that marriage was really a State function, not a religious sacrament truly instituted by Jesus at the Wedding Feast of Cana. This yielding of more and more ground to the secular order then continued wherever and whenever Protestants were dominant, while the individualist or private interpretation spirit lent itself to creating the conditions for Enlightenment and its broad goal of thorough secularization for State, society, and culture. Eventually, the harmful and predominant laicist attitude had it that religion was to be thought of as a merely private matter having no place in the public square.
Admittedly, liberal Catholicism, favored by the Novus Ordo (New Mass) and its postconciliar results, is equally to be intelligently rejected, due to its philosophical subservience, again, to nominalism and its reductionist devotion to the “Church of nice” having copiously vast reservoirs of cognitive dissonance, often, among other epithets, called ecumenism. Dawson himself, toward the end of his life, eventually turned against the questionable innovations and changes that he originally had great hopes for in terms of a renewal of Catholicism, which was expected by the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965). Those hopes faded; the nightmare became real.
Nonetheless, it is boldly asserted here that the traditional Latin Mass Community, e. g., possesses the useful and lively elements of what he, seemingly, hoped for as to a genuine revival of Catholic spirit, the Catholic cosmos is seen in the lives and habits of those dedicated to upholding the Mass of the ages, along with devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Here is best seen the explicated revelation of the axiology, epistemology, and ontology of Catholicism, as it developed through the ages; for as Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman had found it, it was virtually impossible to diligently read the writings of the Church Fathers and early Church histories without, thus, coming to realize that only Catholicism correctly highlighted the discovered and recovered meanings to be religiously noted, by such careful historical study. Of course, to be fair to Dawsonian teachings, he did not limit the range of Christian culture to Catholics but allowed for many kinds of Christian adherents.
For Catholics, there is the Mystery of Good and the Mystery of Evil geared toward the four last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell; for good or evil in particular, neither can be rationalized out of existence, contrary to modernism and its ideologies or the false hopes of modernity. The Eucharistic life, mocked by the secularists as mere vain superstition, is congruent with the life of the Church; it is part of a necessarily sacramental life; this is the sacred distinctiveness of what should be the highest aspiration of a Christian way of life, which should include the sacraments, blessed sacramentals, and the praying of the rosary. All are, finally, directed toward the glorious Communion of Saints through holiness for all.
The sacramentals are supremely useful for helping to properly minimize all unneeded worldliness that demands its attention nearly constantly versus the pursuit of holiness, through humility, repentance, and chastisement of one’s soul, demanded by solid and righteous adherence to the requirement of Christianity. Metaphysics of this specific nature must then revivify and give meaning to any attempted metahistory. This Christocentric spirit is, thus, contrary always to the secularists for whom worldliness is the supreme value and, to them, just plain common sense, not the Sacred Mass.
Furthermore, in all epochs, as Dawson knew, the Holy Sacrifice continued as to the pure essence of the Holy Faith, which includes the Church Militant (on earth), Suffering (in Purgatory), and Triumphant (in Heaven).
However, this should not be limited, in consideration, to just thinking that the “Tridentine Rite” is simply being upheld, rather, the entire Latin liturgical religious accomplishment that has existed for over 1500 years as the traditional Mass is being continued. There can be no vital Christian culture, therefore, without the adamant effort and allied desire to properly maintain and nourish continuity, meaning inclusive of the dogmas, doctrines, and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, which encompasses that Mass and ongoing support for the Church Militant always versus the deformed “Church of nice.”
For Dawson, true unity, in its ultimate, is founded in healthy religious orthodoxy, not any expansive heterodoxy or a merely generalizing Christianity. Among others, G. K. Chesterton, even prior to his conversion, had recognized this matter to be a supreme fact of Christian reality, as is, e. g., so forever brilliantly expressed in his impressive work entitled: Orthodoxy. How was this expressed by the writings done by this English historian and convert?
Dawson correctly appreciated the serious consequences of his vitally knowing that religion and culture are quite intimately bound societal and civilizational concepts that, when (ever wrongly) separated, do unwanted violence of one against the other to the detriment of both. A deracinated religion, thus, usually produces a reified culture that discloses all the expected faults and flaws of a very subjective transition from spiritual certainty to secular doubt by which a debased people experiences decadence.
As C. E. M. Joad had long ago expressed the issue, decadence is the loss of the object; when Christ is lost, all is lost; a society, a culture, misplaces truth and, rarely if ever, can find it again without much hardship, regret, and remorse. Sin, in short, has its expected consequences. In all of recorded human history, no society, no civilization, has survived the obnoxious and deleterious, obscene and atrocious, onslaught of a rapidly spreading and militant homosexualization of its culture. Any such contaminated society or civilization is headed surely toward the dustbin (or cesspool) of history. So, what needs to be rather urgently elucidated?
The appropriate impression to be formed in one’s mind is that Christian culture, for Western Europe, nay, for Western civilization as a whole, is not to be ever thought of as being somewhat optional, as to any attempted and wanted restoration and revitalization of the civilization of the Western world. The present anthropocentric point of view, dedicated to triumphal secularism, is to be replaced entirely by the fully theocentric or, better yet, Christocentric attitude, though never any call for establishing a theocracy. The proper spirit in which this is meant can be properly seen, however, in Thomas E. Woods, Jr.’s How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.
In terms of the long haul of the drama of the West and for all of its vicissitudes, this, in a philosophical version, was still rightly expressed by Plato who wisely rejected the assertion of Protagoras that man is the measure of all things. Even the ancient pagan world was given the correct answer by one of the finest of the Greek philosophers.
For Dawson and all those other profound historical thinkers who sympathetically understand what is urgently needed, the cultural assent still goes fully to Plato who stated, as to appropriate philosophical epistemology, that God is the measure of all things. The truly best features of Western culture are not, therefore, antagonistic but contribute to Christian culture and its ongoing verification and substantiation as well, for Chesterton noted how the finest of the ancient Roman virtues were, in effect, Christianized.
But, in all events, this sincerely Catholic historian, imbued with the proper need to affirm the best of Christianity, ought not to ever be linked or associated with heresies or heretics, as is the sad case these days. 2 How so? His name has, unfortunately, become intimately linked with that of Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, a documented heretic. 3
The works Dawson left to posterity ought then not to become so unnecessarily tainted with matters extraneous to the nature and thrust of what had been significantly accomplished, for he sought to rehabilitate, in a sense, both the history of salvation and religion in Europe through the reflection upon culture, which he consummated with superb literary grace.
Thereafter, no one could reasonably hold, with, e. g., the typical sneering Enlightenment-inspired attitude, that religion is just something ever extraneous, disposable, or nonessential to basic human culture, as it has been universally understood. If religion gets overlooked, a tremendous gap or vacuum develops concerning the fullness of human enterprise encompassing society, ethics, and much else. A deformed view of civilization occurs by which, sooner or later, a warped perspective is realized by which man gets existentially and experientially reduced to the oddly parlous level of an interesting but mainly spiritless beast merely occupying space and time. Evolutionism, for instance, quickly comes to mind.
This splendid historian of Western society was able to perceive, therefore, that if man is not seen in the image of God, then all sorts of reductionisms must eventually come about by which, as Edmund Burke phrased the matter, e. g., a king is but a man, a queen is but a woman and a woman but an animal. However, concerning the celebratory context of this article, what is being indicatively meant?
Those historical figures and movements that have aligned themselves most consistently with orthodox Catholicism, the Catholic Faith, have been the most representative and genuinely productive of sincerely authentic Christian culture, not the opposite. And, moreover, this is the true sense, the great insight, of what can be rightly gained from his voluminous writings.
Thus, for instance, trying to heap the Second Vatican Council and its horrendous and troubled aftermath upon the Dawsonian historical perspective and legacy is, in fact, illegitimate, especially since he himself had turned against the ill consequences of that council. 4 Other (ignorant) critics of Dawson would fault him for not composing a distinctive historical theology or for claiming really too much on behalf of either religion or culture, which only ends up creating unneeded misinterpretations that do so add too much heat, not much light.
After experiencing two world wars and their results, he wondered how it could be that the once valued worship of progress had contributed to the secularization that promised, upon sharp examination, mainly death, not life, to Europeans in particular and, of course, the rest of the world in general.
His fundamental answer was the requisite restoration of Christian culture in proper terms of the best that the Western world had to offer, especially, as could reasonably be guessed, Catholicism. But, the Occidental sphere of life had, increasingly, sought to cut off itself from its valuable Christian roots. The sickening influence of nihilism, provoked heavily by a successful modernism in thought, spread its hate-filled acid across vast stretches of ethical, economic, social, cultural, and other central areas of human life.
Pragmatic, existential, naturalistic, and other excuses were given as to why secularization had to be the only direction chosen; this is since the presumed experts and intellectuals insisted that the proverbial clock of history could never be turned back, as if man himself had then become a mere mechanism of a device called history, bereft of any real free will. Secularization and its atheism, thus, became its own rationalization in becoming a then quite perverse tautology, not a substitute for genuine cognition, for profound thought, of any kind certainly.
Dawson came to keenly understand, more and more, how this gross and blatant nonsense had gained an ersatz authority and awful power by which to superciliously dictate to the Western cognoscenti and intelligentsia who, in turn, handed on this “wisdom” to the lesser breeds below the law. Backed by his magisterial command of cultural history, he had the courage and insight, aided by a staunch adherence to his Catholic Faith, to seriously and thoroughly question such pernicious and errant nonsense.
The demonstration, through many impressive books and learned articles, was made that religion was not a merely atavistic relic that could be (carelessly) discarded as unimportant or irrelevant, rather, the theological basis of life and society is whatever comes to help cultures to grow, survive, and prosper as human and, fairly often, humane extensions of a fully lived life; these are, thus, of an uplifted humanity, meaning especially, though not exclusively, within what ought to be the beloved context of Christianity.
The truly and simply best of what Europe had to offer, concerning the heights of a valid moral wisdom, was superbly contained within Christian culture, not within any secular order of reality. The steady weight of history is still, furthermore, decisively on Dawson’s side; this is versus the insanely vain and hubristic pleadings of the grasping ideologies of modernity that have, repeatedly, brought death and destruction to tens upon tens of millions of people, not the too often promised New Eden on earth.
The fate of Western and, in effect, all of contemporary civilization is dependent heavily upon whether or not a solidly mature attitude can be adopted, so that human beings can, once again, see themselves in the image of their Creator, not as just ideological extensions of the modern State. The penetrating mind of Dawson acts as a beacon of light in a dark world, as is seen by his insightful recognition that the more radical ideologies of modernity, products of bourgeois intellects, were quite desperate efforts to find substitute religions.
As he easily saw, from the late 1910s into the 1930s, with the coming and then consolidations of Communism, Fascism, and Nazism, the more that modern man drifted away from belief in God, the further statism, injustice, oppression, and tyranny had engulfed much of the world. Through his dauntless research and writing efforts, there was, indeed, found a profitable way and means of revitalizing and restoring, stimulating and reinvigorating, those central motivating ideas that had inspired Christian people during similarly dark times.
He honestly felt that religion could, once again, come to restore Western culture, regardless of the horrendous devastations brought on by two world wars with all of their suffering and inhumanity. For the blessed light of the living Christ can always overcome the blackest of nights, where men are willing to subordinate their selfish egos for yielding proper service to the King of Kings, when the roots of a Christian civilization could, in fact, be suitably refreshed.
And, how exactly did Dawson, who excelled Eric Voegelin in this regard, reach this kind of conclusion through his metahistorical approach to the impressive flow of history? Dawson categorically excluded the laicist comprehensive assumption that the Middle Ages in Europe fundamentally failed to contribute any truly indispensable characteristics toward what ought to be rightly conceived of as the European enterprise; instead, he had forcefully contended, through his writing and advocacy of this point, that the medieval Catholic Church was the surely crucial factor in the impressive growth of European civilization, and without any serious question of such a confident asseveration. But, what has actually occurred?
A kind of massive, horrid cultural amnesia, on the part of literally millions of Europeans, has, however, contributed to the now pandemic apostasy that has diluted Christianity, such that there is now apparent a post-Christian age being observed. Neopaganization, as a result, has substantially occurred. The mighty civilization that was Europe is now in the unfortunate process of gross disintegration through demographic changes, the depopulation of the native peoples, and for other important reasons.
But, the ever vital questions dealt with by him covered matters that universally concern human beings regarding what either enhances or degrades man’s humanity that, in turn, reflects upon spirituality in both a broad and narrow sense, even beyond Christianity. It could not be otherwise. And, this is why those who would say that he was, in effect, only a medievalist do, of course, a grave injustice to the significant work produced that actually ranged far above and beyond the Middle Ages.
Dawson creatively sought to capture and illustrate the precise elements of what critically constitutes man’s humanity by carefully exploring how Catholicism, in particular, had added to the exemplification of that noted humanity, under many actual historical circumstances, and was, in fact, never supposedly a detraction from it.
This necessarily spoke against, contradicted, the various and sundry historical scenarios of Reformation, Enlightenment, Revolution, and post-Enlightenment fabrications of people, places, and events. The truth had to superbly rise above querulous factions, ideologies, and sectarian interests and urgently, therefore, toward that eternal light that had vitally illumined mankind for, literally, many centuries.
History presented narrowly by either Protestant or secularist authorities, whether done deliberately or not, ended up wrongly distorting the facts that could be yet objectively researched, especially in terms of the short and long-range consequences of those compelling facts. Classic illustrative volumes, such as Unpopular Essays in the Philosophy of History by Fr. Moorhouse F. X. Millar, and, much more recently, Philip Trower’s The Catholic Church and the Counter-Faith help to explain and illuminate the profound epistemological and philosophical meaning of these incredible distortions and, thus, their indicative implications. Errors, therefore, should not be ever transmogrified into convenient pseudo-truths.
Ultimately, what so occurs, through Dawson’s metahistorical approach, is not just an exposition of Catholic history or Western chronology; it is, ultimately, the historical account of how human beings had and will respond to the ever greater metaphysical order of reality set ever above and beyond the mere course of events or circumstances. What he valiantly proposed was not just his own isolated opinion but, rather, what he discovered to be and, more importantly, recovered as the universal understanding and comprehension of what it is that courageously affirms man’s humanity versus what detracts from it, not simply/only an affirmation of Catholicism done by one convert.
Thus, he, for instance, certainly surpassed Oswald Spengler, Douglas Northrop, or Arnold Toynbee by having a vigorously transcendent hold upon history, through his Christocentric approach, that had enlightened all the historical discussions and contentions, which, in particular, had made Western history important and, in that sense, special or extraordinary. Though having its origins as a Semitic Oriental religion, Christianity sunk its glorious roots initially throughout most of the Western world of that era; this made the matter, therefore, not simply coincidental but, rather, highly providential that Jesus the Christ chose the time and place of the ancient Roman Empire for appearing on earth.
For Dawson, religion was perceived insightfully as the dynamic element of culture. Though he shared the concept with Toynbee of the architectonic ideal of a universal spiritual society being the objective of history, he had rejected Toynbee’s decidedly syncretistic vision as an achievement through a consensus of the great world religions, both East and West; Dawson, instead, spoke of it as only truly coming from the continual development of the Catholic principle spiritually enlightening the entire human globe, of a religious spirit of transcendence putting into transactional human terms the hierophantic radiance of Christ.
For him, the Holy Faith did not ever rely upon any supposed “consensus of human wisdom” that might be thought of as the greatest or the latest and most spiritual position imaginable; rather, it is ever the significant case that the clearly divine revelation of Catholicism was given to mankind simultaneously as an act of creation, the eternal Word was made flesh and the gates of Heaven, by the Crucifixion and Resurrection, were then opened forever for all those who would so achieve salvation of their souls.
Thus, the Church was perceptively seen as being the true and vital koinos kosmos opposed, by strict definition, to every heretical, ideological or other (defective) idios kosmos as the great elemental force in history having the salvific role of remediating humanity’s disunity; this was by seeking to gather lovingly all the nations toward a spiritual oecumenical unity, with the living Christ at its center.
Consequently, all that came before, the BC of time, and all that came after, the AD of existence, would, then, forever be necessarily changed forever in its related theological-historical significance by that permanent monumental fact, which equally, of course, concerns salvation history. But, what might be critically said of current history and European history in particular?
Western Europe or the World qua Utopia?
There is no real doubt whatsoever that Dawson, who died in the year 1970, would have been absolutely appalled by what happened between the 1970s and into the 2010s, besides the ill-favored future of what must come about in this region. Routinization, rationalization, and bureaucratization, which in the early thinking of Max Weber, were once highly commendatory terms eagerly promising an enlightened, modernized Europe and world had, of course, contributed toward massive dehumanization.
By the time of Weber’s death in 1918, he looked aghast at a frightening European nightmare not at all predicted by devotees of secularized Progress, which had often overlooked militarization and its results. Furthermore, the questionable outcomes, in general, of a once desired industrialization, modernization, and urbanization had, seemingly, run wild. Dawson, of course, was not at all blind to such a reality. He had the insight to see how Nazism and Communism successfully exploited the totalitarian elements that were already sufficiently present in modern society by, thus, further developing and organizing them, not necessarily inventing all such features.
By the late 20th century and into the 21st, contemporary man, therefore, especially in the Western world, faced harsh variants of socialist, social-democratic, regimes promising versions of Utopia, the New Eden on earth, but delivering, more or less, variants of death. A Godless, soulless world, valuing situation ethics, positivism, materialism, hedonism, and pragmatism, should have expected nothing less, besides the consequences.
Minus the immigrant, legal and illegal, populations, European nations, in effect, are willingly racing fast to see who can achieve ZPG (Zero Population Growth) first. Through the results of bureaucratization, the contemporary welfare/social-democratic State has brought about, in effect, the rather widespread dehumanizing institutionalization of entire societies and peoples, such that modern society has been often popularly referred to, e. g., as the rat race.
The “successful” pursuit of Utopia has encouraged a Brave New World fostered hatefully by nihilism, the true end of the road for final secularization and its cohabitant reality known as collectivism/statism, by whatever euphemism. Demography, as it has been said so many times, is destiny, regarding the birth dearth with its expected demographic disaster of monumental proportions; the future is best seen, however, not as quickly in Europe as it is, surely, in Japan with a both diminishing and rapidly aging population.
The United States of America, if it were not for its illegal immigrants, would not be able to barely sustain the 2.1 replacement ratio needed, for mere survival, so as to maintain a viable population for a country. Even more so, Western Europe has deservedly suffered as religion has become further and further marginalized, as human life, not surprisingly, has then become cheaper and cheaper in its estimation.
The nation of Italy, which surrounds Vatican City, has basically ceased to be a Christian, much less a Catholic, country. Abortion plagues Portugal and Spain, formerly strong Catholic nations, of course. As of the year 2014, the suicide rate in post-Christian Spain has, not unexpectedly, risen to an eight year high. The European Union’s prohibitions, e. g., made against the Scottish fisheries has sadly encouraged the Scots to abandon many traditional ways and, instead, become partly a pathetic nation of alcoholics and drug addicts. A rather heavy price, in terms of human lives wasted and destroyed, has to be paid for journeying on the broad highway known as Utopia, by whatever euphemism.
Meanwhile, in the Western Hemisphere, suicides in America are expected to very significantly increase due to the innumerable, ever increasing, and often predicted socialist perils and failures and crescive costs of Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act). Predictably, a law that ostensibly was going to see to it that more people got healthcare insurance coverage will, as was predicted, take health insurance away from many times more people than it ever could have purportedly helped.
The analysis given above of a clearly triumphant modernity could go on and on, but the demonstrative point, one may hope, has been substantially enough made. As Dawson would have heartily concurred, only the adoption of those ethical, moral, and spiritual attributes and virtues genuinely emblematic of a true and, in fact, substantive Christian culture could hope to turn the tide against the blatant forces of a prideful nihilism; this is now, one seriously suspects, groping toward a postmodern culture worshipping ZPG as one of its aggressive terrene gods, besides the overall death worship.
Of course, a deeply religious transformation and revitalization, on a massive scale of intense endeavor, is really requisite to the important task needed now for the sincerely authentic restoration of a culture worthy to be called Christian. Nothing less will really do. Nothing more could be hoped for given the predilection toward sin of fallen creatures living in a fallen world, meaning the continuing reality of what Pope Innocent III (pontificate: 1198 – 1216) had rightly called the misery of the human condition.
His De miseria humane conditionis was a document well known during the Middle Ages, though today’s postmodern man brutishly denies the intensely spiritual sense of the existential or phenomenological validity of any pain, suffering, or misery because sin itself gets dismissed, of course. For those, however, who are intelligently perceptive and whose cognizance reaches deep within the soul, there comes the, thus, quite easy recognition that the writings and thoughts of Dawson are now more relevant and persuasive, coherent and cogent, than ever since more needed than when first written or thought.
The Culture of Life must, therefore, replace the evil nihilistic Culture of Death with its quite devastating sodomy, abortion, infanticide (aka partial-birth abortion), suicide, euthanasia, artificial contraception, divorce, pornography, etc. The Satanic practice of human sacrifice with its blood offerings (abortion, etc.), in all its various contemporary modes, must be justly and righteously put to an end. Any thoughts of the Church Militant ought, moreover, not to pleasantly abide with the, in effect, institutionalization of immorality on a massive scale of demonic endeavor.
In short, whatever there is that essentially or emphatically opposes Christian culture must be recognized as being, by definition, anti-life and, when all is said and done, also fundamentally pro-death, as is the morally vile liberal/leftist euphemism known as pro-choice. It is, therefore, equally true that for any Catholic to accept any part of the Culture of Death is to then be exactly the same as a denial of the validity, the whole truth, of Catholicism; more to the point, even the denial, e. g., of just one dogma becomes the inherent rejection of them all, meaning, in effect, some sort of Protestantism.
Catholicism, as the height of Christianity, is to cover the absolute totality of one’s entire life; there is no compartmentalization, as with modernity and its nominalist belief. Part-time Catholics are an anathema. The dogmas, doctrines, and teachings of the Church are a coherent and indivisible unity as is the Trinity, as is the Trinitarian Dogma. Cafeteria Catholicism as it has been called is, thus, a mortal sin without question.
Being just a so-called cultural Catholic is moral nonsense, for it too, by definition, is a mortal sin, which is all, in fact, opposed to true Christian culture. One can then easily see how the Holy Faith became the core inspiration for the accomplishment of Dawson that, in turn, had correspondingly radiated throughout his writings.
Furthermore, any endeavored reestablishment of genuine Christian culture will, logically, require the acceptance and practice of orthodox Catholicism; otherwise, any attempted, viable creation of a new Christendom would be essentially impossible to achieve. Is there, however, a valid sign of hope? From where can be gained the proper recruits for the continuous and valiant fight against secularism and, upon cogent analysis, its finally nihilistic outcomes?
The traditional Latin Mass Community, which does not adhere to the New Mass of Pope Paul VI, exists today as the truly needed nucleus for properly infusing a society with the still fundamental elements and essentials of Christian culture and its implications. There is the deep desire, in this specific regard, to fill all of a Christian life with a very much wanted sense and spirit of holistic Catholicity, which would certainly have been easily understood by Dawson.
All aspects of human life, not just religion, are to be appropriately filled with the eternal truths of the Catholic Faith, which is, one may add, not meant to be existentially unitized or phenomenologically compartmentalized. A Catholic life is meant to be a holistic as well as a holy life, for proper holiness is the valid means for obtaining future salvation in the life of the world to come. This perspective is, of course, meant to be entirely against all the ideologies of either modernity or postmodernity, which are based, as ought to be known, upon neo-Pelagianism, meaning a secularized version of the Pelagian heresy (which includes, e. g., the total denial of the existence of Original Sin).
Nominalism as the ultimate basis of neo-Pelagianism, the spirit of modernity, is surely the spiritual and cognitive acid that has helped to destroy all of the supposedly finest aspirations, dreams, or hopes of mankind, century after century, because faith in God is increasingly diminished and, then, just denied completely. Religion gets rationalized and diluted out of existence as pre-Enlightenment superstition, while gradations of individualism and collectivism, the two sides of the same coin of modernity, fight for control of the human mind.
The immoral and evil effects of nominalism work through degrees of hedonism, pragmatism, naturalism, materialism, empiricism, individualism, and positivism to then produce ideologies, such as Communism, Liberalism, Nazism, Feminism, Conservatism, Fascism, etc., that do celebrate modernity and, in turn, had laid the foundations down for what is now often called postmodernity. As a result, the alternative of Christian culture, therefore, must include the always firm rejection of all ideologies, all means of earthly idolatry, for the proper sake of lovingly and dutifully affirming the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ.
Ideologies have, as ought to be seen, derailed past and present efforts at the attainment of a truer and most needed adherence to Christianity. As Dawson would have so strongly agreed, there is no truth to political or ideological salvation on earth. Existential, phenomenological, or experiential immanentism is anti-Catholic, by definition. In addition, as Jesus said, one cannot serve both God and mammon. The perceived “new barbarism” of the post-Christian age must also, of course, be rejected.
The rational and logical demand of orthodox Catholicism, the Catholic Faith to its fullest degree, is that Catholics must purge themselves of all secularist heresies, regardless of how near or dear any of them may ever seem to be. Neither Conservatism nor Feminism, Libertarianism nor Socialism, Capitalism nor Liberalism, is to have any place above Catholicism nor, moreover, any claim whatsoever upon one’s true allegiance.
Why is this always necessary? In terms of the old Christendom, the Church in Europe had tried, through long and weary centuries, through barbarian invasion after invasion, to Christianize that portion of the globe, as best as it reasonably could, under various and quite often, it needs to be said, rather disconcerting circumstances. Thus, the new barbarism of ideology must be crushed out of existence.
Modernity, increasingly because of the perverse “tutelage” of William of Occam and his disciples, had sought to do the opposite; this was, in general, through usually steady and often, at times, swift efforts at desacralization; at last, as is the case today, the secular side of life was held superior to the previously needed religious affirmation of human existence, such that contemporary Western society and culture is, of course, basically post-Christian.
The culture war against Christianity was, in truth, lost about two generations ago by the majority of the Christians; all that remains, on the whole, are disjointed rearguard actions having very little, if any, impact upon the mainly successful secularizing bulldozer, meaning the secularist civil society with its ever allied, dominating political apparatus (aka the modern State).
Thus, the European Union, in its still latest constitutional formulation, had stridently refused all and any valid requests by the Vatican to include any mention of the Christian heritage of Europe, which is highly indicative without question. It is a Western phenomenon. Most politicians in America are, e. g., afraid to say whether or not the USA is still a Christian country for fear of offending the mass media, upper classes, intelligentsia, and cultural elites.
The laicist point of view, a demonic product of modernity, is taken to be merely a commonsensical, routine, (even bland) attitude that just recognizes the set reality that exists in which the Church is to remain permanently both subordinate and subservient to the State. What is being said, however, relative to the specific nature of this present article discussing the thinking of one Catholic historian?
Not surprisingly, Dawson had uncompromisingly denounced all of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism for making these same claims that the social-democratic State, now routinely, accepts as being simply a normal part of all sociopolitical and socioeconomic reality. In effect, by now, all of humanity had lost World War I and II; the lauded victory over tyranny in that second world conflict has, in truth, proved to be largely an illusion or, perhaps, a merely sophisticated political game involving advanced semantics. Leviathan hath conquered at last through the Regulatory State, Administrative State or, perhaps, what better should be called the Nanny State.
The old creative and fruitful tension between Church and State that had moderated the dynamics that once insured the existence of social civil liberty and a free society, when each stayed within its proper sphere of authority and power, has been effectively dissolved. Secularization, within the Western world, is the clearly predominant contemporary norm and pragmatic paradigm; so, Christianity is at best mainly tolerated for now, though not for long, which suggests so strongly why the requisite resistance uniquely afforded by the unapologetic affirmation of Christian culture is now so imperatively urgent, not supposedly optional.
Reading Dawson’s magnificent works, in the useful sense of wanting to subvert and overthrow the anti-Christian secularist agenda, becomes then a quite needed subversive activity; this is, surely, concerning the healthy opposition of Christian culture to the ever aggressive demands placed upon the increasingly debased subjects of the triumphant Hobbesian Leviathan.
As the prevalent and popular (Leftist) Culture of Death spreads by leaving its many victims throughout the decadent societies inhabited, his texts should no longer seem to be mere dusty books of interest only, perhaps, to a tiny group of elitist academics dedicated to obscurantist studies. This viable kind of historically impressive, life-sustaining knowledge will be absolutely needed by which, one hopes, to creatively reconstruct a disintegrating and decaying civil social order, as was true after the fall of the Roman Empire; and, Dawson thought it could be done.
While the collapse of an entire empire was, of course, a grave material disaster in that region of the world, however, the horrid spiritual deterioration of Europe to its very core Dawson would have rightly perceived as a quite tremendously devastating occurrence of monumental proportions, no doubt, absolutely dwarfing ancient Rome’s eclipse; yet, he was not a pessimist as to the possibilities for renewing or reviving Christian culture.
Once again, the Church, for Europe (and the world), must spiritually step forward to deal with the shattered pieces of what had been the decadent mainstream culture and society that could not be realistically sustained by a constantly centralizing State that ideologically allows for the destruction of conventional social reality, especially at the peripheries. Every form of statism, of tyranny, possesses an inevitable self-destructive principle: what can be called hyper-centralization.
Those still fairly sound parts of the Church, such as the Latin Mass Community, not contaminated by the heinous effects and affects of the Conciliar Captivity 5 will be able to help with the reconstitution and revitalization work necessary for the redevelopment of what needs to become the Christian culture, as it was known to Dawson and all those who truly value religious orthodoxy. Why must this be?
Paradoxes and Wonderment: Dawsonian Legacy
It has never occurred, in the entire course of recorded human history that, e. g., a cadre of degenerate, pot smoking, fornicating sodomites and allies had ever created, much less sustained, a viable culture or civilization. And, this plainly cited substantive consideration, in the end, becomes the valid bottom line as to the confrontation of traditional reality versus Leftist/progressive ideological fantasies. It could not be otherwise pertaining to the highest realities of the temporal orders, involving the upper limits of all societies and peoples, as to civilized life and its inherent requirements and so related responsibilities. This is the nature of the human condition, and why good Catholics pray for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary during their lives. It is, when seen as a whole reality, the moral quest for Christian culture.
That noble and compelling task, guided always by the light of Christ, can only be viably taken up by those clear headed enough and morally capable enough to struggle through with the many arduous demands and hardships fully requisite to such an effort; this is, of course, to substantially revive a society that, in turn, can then provide the living basis for a reasonable, sustainable, and healthy culture; nothing less will do.
Catholicism, especially in superb terms of religious orthodoxy, has both the unique internal and requisite resources to carry the mission on toward such a fulfillment, when the will to do so gets empowered for such needed action. And, this is the reason Dawson had noted why the Medieval-spiritual Catholic synthesis could be, in truth, called to life as the ingredient necessary for the re-sanctification of human society and culture not just in Europe but for and throughout the entire Catholic cosmos.
What is here meant to be properly understood? Not old wine absurdly forced into new bottles, not any supposed simple “return” to the (stereotyped) Middle Ages, rather, advancing adamantly the always Christocentric orientation, dedicated openly toward fostering holiness, that decisively, meaning without question, renews all things in Jesus the Christ, the Savior of the world.
A Dawsonian revival, moreover, gains strength as it gets appropriately directed toward the ever true source of the profound inspiration, the loving hope, that had called forth wondrously such dedicated writings and professorial lectures, namely, Catholicism. For many, however, they will blankly read the available books but think not too heavily about what had necessarily inspired a man to deal with the inconsiderate discrimination directed against him, in England, for having chosen the ancient faith against Anglicanism. How does this manifestly happen? Many choose to be blind to the truth; they may forfeit their salvation fully, as a result, if it is due to willful obstinacy.
There are the same kinds of the many who could be quite enormous admirers, indeed, of the memory of the impressive St. Francis of Assisi or, perhaps, Mother Teresa of India but who yet would actually never, in (the often said proverbial) thousand years, seriously contemplate becoming converts. No, not that. Therefore, the rather serious epistemological question must then be logically raised concerning if they really both correctly understood and knowledgeably comprehended exactly what Dawson had to say, if they cannot see the forest because of the trees.
The only realistic conclusion, sad to say, is that they do not and, probably, never will then respond to the offered promptings of supernatural grace in their lives, meaning as long as their heads and/or hearts are hardened stubbornly against what simply ought to be the proper religious response. It is so possible, unfortunately, to become a dedicated Dawsonian reader all of one’s life without coming to the logical realization that there is the substantive reciprocal need to positively affirm the basis of what has been read, without doing what is, in truth, obvious by converting to Catholicism. Those who are viscerally repulsed by the notion of conversion are temperamentally incapable of comprehending the implications and cognate ramification of what Dawson had relatedly written.
Nor would such people, probably, do as Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wisely did by going back to the original writings of the Church Fathers and those at the origins of Christianity and discovering and recovering the truth about the Holy Faith. What must be overtly said? Those who remain Protestant readers, all their lives, of Dawson’s works must deliberately remain fundamentally ignorant, thoroughly unconscious, and spiritually oblivious to the nth degree of what they (supposedly) think that they are or have been reading. No other conclusion is reasonably possible. They are not the proverbial savages in the hinterland of North Borneo who suffer from a natural invincible ignorance; modern people, as ought to be known, really have no such excuse.
Admittedly, however, for those who are both non-Protestant and non-Catholic, they have more of a reasonable excuse for being quite so spiritually obtuse to such an extreme gradation, if they genuinely do not understand and are ignorant of the fact that their immortal salvation is a stake. Ignoring or, especially, holding Catholicism in contempt, while ever warmly admiring the impressive accomplishment of this author, is seemingly indicative of cognitive dissonance, mental dyslexia, and, in the end, rabid nonsense.
But, this incredible depth of a distinct lack of needed consciousness does not only affect the minds of Protestants but does also, amazingly enough, afflict the souls of many liberal Catholics who may also be readers of Dawson. They do generally misinterpret him as being a literary product compatible with the postconciliar Church, which is not true. He was, of course, interested in a kind of ecumenism, directed toward Catholic truth, which avoids anything like the varieties of indifferentism and latitudinarianism to be generally seen, since the ending of Vatican Council II. Such nonsense often, of course, gets itself tendentiously called ecumenism.
It is astounding how a liberal Catholic can read such writings without fully appreciating the sensibilities, behind those scripted words, that ought to redirect substantive attention toward the requirement that there is the need to extend fidelity to orthodoxy, not heterodoxy, concerning the proper understanding of a sound Catholicism. Furthermore, the eternal spirit of Medieval Christianity, as critically defined by Dawson and others, is not at all compatible with the (nominalist) thrust, the modernist orientation, of the Novus Ordo and its followers. 6
How may this be empirically known? Anything that leads to the dissolution of the Sacred Faith would have been furthest from the thinking of this historian who had been dedicated to the proposition that the religion he chose for his own had, indeed, greatly inspired many generations before him and would, without a doubt, do so for unknown generations after him. He was no enthusiast for heresy.
The affirmative touchstone of orthodoxy informs with clarity the practical and theoretical basis upon which this English writer had so trusted his cognizance, concerning these historical features that had contributed most toward the comprehension of the interaction of religion and culture that was carefully discerned, over many centuries of time; in fact, the catholicity of the Faith was not a lie.
In short, there was no room for modernism, regarding his interpretation of the essence and heart of the Christianity once extant in Western Europe, during the Middle Ages or, moreover, ever after that time. Catholicity and liberal Catholicism must, eventually, part their separate ways because the spirituality involved with the preconciliar Church is not of the same substance as that which purports to exist in the postconciliar Church, subject, as it is, to the unfortunate effects of the continuing Conciliar Captivity (aka the dark Spirit of Vatican II). This allows for many aberrant practices and highly questionable attitudes that invite heretical and quasi-heretical notions freely into the Church with the excuse given of reform, or the reform of the reform.
Factually and theologically speaking, e. g., Catholic dogmas can never be reformed, they are, once defined officially, unchangeable assertions of the Faith; they are, moreover, to be always accepted unconditionally by Catholics as de fide. As one of the major social thinkers of the 20th century, Dawson, obviously, would not have anything to do with liberal Catholicism, which term ought to be regarded as being a kind of oxymoron. There have been vile consequences noted.
Sadly, the postconciliar Church slides toward postmodernism in its orientation because virtue, self-restraint, self-respect, holiness, and much else are antithetical values not congruent with the movement of postmodern society in its ideological mode; they, the degenerate values, now constitute, moreover, weird anti-cultural attitudes that reject the moral crucifixion of the self and, thus, praise a nihilistic concern for absolute freedom, the right to do wrong without shame or guilt, as with, e. g., the homosexualization of postmodern society.
Gone is the classical, premodern thought that true liberty actually consists in the freedom to do those things that one ought to do. But, all those who do not love the Cross of Christ must end up hating Him, however, because such genuine love, if it truly exists, logically requires taking up the Cross every day of one’s life. Christian culture, therefore, as to its glorious spiritual essence begins and ends with the Sign of the Cross, not merely pious intentions or, perhaps, impressive religious slogans or affectations as such.
Those superficial things are not sufficient for the salvation of souls; genuine practice of the Faith is not a generalized Christianity. Mere religiosity is never enough nor is being spiritual. Catholicism has and will demand much more, as can be attested to by those Catholic historians who write in the same spirit of Dawson. 7
He saw that disbelief has never created any avalanche of human devotion and creativity. Atheism has and will never hold the imagination or belief of the vast majority of mankind; it is too vacuous and lacks substance, for the proclaimed faith in nothing, a supposedly empty metaphysical order, has and will have highly limited appeal; even neopaganism, though now totally minus the original pagan innocence, offers more than nothing. Atheism has been rightly dismissed as an odd paradoxical solecism in history, for Dawson studied many cultures and did not find, on the part of a diverse lot of people through many ages, any enormous demand to believe in nothing.
This preposterous solipsism extraordinaire remains, one suspects, almost uniquely and fixedly a Western preoccupation found exclusively with integrally deformed cognition parading as profound philosophy, which finds its suitable home, sooner or later, nesting within a trivial, favorable and welcoming nihilism, predictably, a dead end. It often feels, as a result, underappreciated, while fully lacking justification for the vapid thought.
Thus, a realization here easily occurs. The de-Christianization of Western Europe, as well as the Western world in general, would have to be substantially reversed to an enormous degree through faith in Christ and His Church; the massive re-Evangelization effort urgently needed, moreover, could then have the beneficent result of at least reconstituting, initially rebuilding, the vital beginnings of a Christian culture; it alone, realistically speaking, could not simply guarantee it without adding a dynamically growing base of committed believers having the cognate social and religious skills, meaning to properly sustain such culture.
The vast odds against success would, one suspects, require a miracle for that much of an attainment, meaning given what sadly presently exists and, thus, into the harsh foreseeable future of a much too debased contemporary civilization. For instance, a truly educated human being is becoming a relative rarity due to many influences, including the extensively documented and progressive dumbing down of culture and education, besides the harmful anti-literate effects of most pop culture; the MTV generation is lost in space.
Most people these days, being quite average types, are incapable, e. g., of reciting Natural Theology’s arguments in favor of the existence of God, which was properly demonstrated, of course, by Aristotle millenniums ago, much less Thomistic metaphysics. Reality precludes the attempted significant success of educational efforts since (authentic) educational standards rarely rise and usually, on average, keep falling. There would need to be an educated enough population of readers available to appropriately appreciate what had been written before wondering if, supposedly, many tens of thousands would be expected to converse knowledgeably upon, e. g., the various Dawson books and their contents.
No matter how seemingly “large,” therefore, the observed Dawsonian revival may be, it will still exist among a fairly discrete number of people almost all of whom, as could be easily guessed, are never going to be among the major movers and shakers of this world. The typical Dawson reader is not going to be the president of any prestigious university anywhere in the world, the head of a major nation, the CEO of a dominating international conglomerate, the inventor of the simply latest and greatest software in existence, etc.
Such is not the general case. The lordly worlds of power, economic, political or otherwise, and technical brilliance rarely, if ever, seek special historical wisdom, especially from any dedicatedly Christian, anti-materialistic and anti-secularistic metahistorians. But, even pragmatism is yet a mundane and rather shallow god with feet of clay; flat histories are incapable of explaining away irruptions within time, such as St. Joan of Arc, who still, incredibly, had changed the course of Western history, against all positivist, pragmatic, and naturalist reasoning imaginable on such a subject. What, however, is critically meant?
Faith can and has, quite repeatedly, trumped the mere secular order of reality, much to the very harsh chagrin of those who think themselves to be oh-so-superbly enlightened. The Catholic worldview, which Dawson was so definitely steeped within, can explain such rather remarkable things, not a too arrogant modernity nor an ultra-sophisticated (read: nihilistic) postmodernity.
Secularism, in short, has never proven itself capable of supposedly pulling itself up by its own bootstraps, in all of the recorded history of civilization. In definite contrast, it can be noted that Christianity, of course, has/will inspire such impressive efforts at massively effective societal and cultural coherence, which can be accomplished in a humane manner, that rightly corresponds to a Christian culture.
Therefore, the depth, range of knowledge, and rare insight, enriched by powerfully humane values, exhibited by Christopher Henry Dawson has rarely, if ever been equaled; only Lord Acton, among a few others, comes close. While Acton, however, merely dreamed, e. g., of writing a full scale history of the idea of liberty, Dawson had, basically, achieved the intensive exposition and extrapolation concerning and of the expansive Catholic cosmos of history and, therefore, mankind’s cognate adventures with religion and culture. He demonstrated the viability of either sustaining or, as needed, recreating Christian culture.
He is, moreover, the foremost historian of Catholic religious culture who has yet to be surpassed, as to the elegance of expression and expression of elegance, regarding whatever matters most supremely pertain to mankind’s slow rise up from barbarism, to man’s humanity when assisted by grace. What is, however, finally meant within the loving context of the Catholic cosmos? With an Augustinian sense of charity, he came to an ideal vision of Christ living in and through the history of Western culture and civilization seen at its best, while yet maturely, realistically, recognizing that vast human imperfection, continuing sinfulness, often exhibited terrible features at its worst.
In the end, Dawson would have agreed that a Christocentric life is the only life worth living, not the demonic-nihilistic lust for ZPG, rather, that all may be renewed forever in and for Christ.
Athanasius contra mundum!
1.) http://www.christopherdawson.org.uk/ Ironically, this website states that, “Most of his works are now in print or are scheduled for re-publication in English, with versions in several foreign languages such as Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean.” One could, also, relatedly consult what is said at: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6090 The priest-author there says, “For almost a generation now [written in 2014] Christopher Dawson has been steadily growing into an heroic figure in the firmament of Catholic world scholarship.”
2.) Works such as: Eternity in Time: Christopher Dawson and the Catholic Idea of History edited by Stratford Caldecott and John Morrill. Certain authors there insist that Dawson can only be properly understood, e. g., in light of the Second Vatican Council (VCII), which is doubtful.
3.) See: Alyssa Lyra Pitstick, Light in Darkness: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Catholic Doctrine of Christ’s Descent into Hell. Also, six articles by Atila S. Guimaraes refuting Balthasar’s book Casta Meretrix in Catholic Family News, January to June 2000. At the least, there must be the suspicion that much and, perhaps, most of Balthasar’s writings do fairly border on or are quite near heresy. See also: http://www.culturewars.com/CultureWars/Archives/Fidelity_archives/VonBal.htm
4.) Joseph Pearce, Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief. Dawson and many others among the converts were mightily displeased by the Spirit of the Second Vatican Council and, especially, its horrid aftermath. Too many changes seemed, e. g., just like the Protestantism that they had left behind as inadequate or imperfect, concerning the wanted fullness of Christianity.
5.) https://callthepatriot.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/pope-francis-exemplifies-the-decay-of-religion/ It is no secret that Pope Francis considers himself a completely convinced disciple of VCII and that he has many warm admirers among the open enemies of the Church, including, of course, various hardened Marxists and atheists, which is, at the least, a most curious situation. Could they know or, perhaps, suspect something about him?
6.) See: Dawson’s Medieval Religion and Other Essays and his Medieval Essays; see also: Étienne Gilson’s The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, and his Medieval Essays; see also: issues of the magazine entitled: The Latin Mass and Rodney Stark’s God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.
Most people hold ignorant ideas about the stereotyped Middle Ages; they see only the “Dark Ages” filled with ignorance, violence, injustice, cruelty, and rampant superstition. This is versus the contemporary era so filled with ignorance, violence, injustice, cruelty, and, yes, rampant superstition such as, e. g., manmade-global-warming-climate-change beliefs or other such PC thinking. To illustratively quote from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, … in short, the period was so far like the present period …” One could, also, read: Those Terrible Middle Ages! authored by Regine Pernoud.
7.) Diane Moczar, Seven Lies About Catholic History: Infamous Myths about the Church’s Past and How to Answer Them; also, her other volumes: The Church Under Attack; Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know: The Divine Surprises and Chastisements That Shaped the Church and Changed the World; Converts and Kingdoms: How the Church Converted the Pagan West and How We Can Do It Again; and her What Every Catholic Wants to Know: Catholic History: From the Catacombs to the Reformation. Moczar carries on the fight for truth and, moreover, the thorough vindication of the Faith, which Dawson would have appreciated.
Primary Sources: Dawson – Historical Bibliography of Books
The Age of Gods, 1928
Progress and Religion, 1929
Christianity and the New Age, 1931
The Making of Europe, 1932
The Spirit of the Oxford Movement, 1933
Medieval Religion and Other Essays, 1934
Religion and the Modern State, 1936
Beyond Politics, 1939
The Judgment of the Nations, 1942
Religion and Culture, 1948
Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, 1950
Understanding Europe, 1952
Medieval Essays, 1954
Dynamics of World History, 1957
The Movement of World Revolution, 1959
The Historic Reality of Christian Culture, 1960
The Crisis of Western Education, 1961
The Dividing of Christendom, 1967
Mission to Asia, 1966
The Formation of Christendom, 1967
The Gods of Revolution, 1972 (posthumous)
Religion and World History, 1975 (posthumous)
Jaime Antúnez Aldunate, Filosofía de la historia en Christopher Dawson (Philosophy of History in Christopher Dawson).
Bradley J. Birzer, Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson.
Stratford Caldecott and John Morrill, eds., Eternity in Time: Christopher Dawson and the Catholic Idea of History.
Peter J. Cataldo, ed., The Dynamic Character of Christian Culture: Essays on Dawsonian Themes
Joseph Pearce, Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief.
Gerald J. Russello, ed., Christianity and European Culture: Selections from the Work of Christopher Dawson.
Christina Scott, A Historian and His World: A Life of Christopher Dawson.
Wethersfield Institute, Christianity and Western Civilization: Christopher Dawson’s Insight– Can a Culture Survive the Loss of Its Roots?