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Introduction I This edition of selected works of the historian Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) brings together his thoughts on two general themes. The first is Dawson's contention that the modern era presents a challenge to traditional ways of living in the West that is totally new and inhospitable, yet one that at the same time offers a rare opportunity for evangelization and the development of an authentic Christian culture. The second theme presented by these selections is Dawson's answer to this contemporary challenge and his suggested method of exploiting the present opportunity. Dawson noted the paradox that a great expansion of the Christian faith throughout the world has taken place during the very centuries when Europe itself was losing its connection with its spiritual foundations. This dissociation of religious faith from other aspects of life has only increased since his death. Through his works Dawson sought to reconnect Europe's material wealth and economic power with the fundamental values that had made that wealth and power possible. He proposed to meet the challenges he saw for Christianity in the modern world by engaging in a deep study of the Christian past. This course of study, however, was not intended to recall a way of life that, however admirable, has disappeared. Rather, Dawson sought to refresh the theological and historical resources of Christian belief in order to build the foundations of a new Christian culture. Dawson did not think that the present age had the spiritual depth required for such a task, and he turned especially to the early centuries of Christianity for guidance . Dawson's vision of the basis of Christian society was (and is) an ambitious one. In liThe Recovery of Spiritual Unity," an ix x Introduction essay included in this collection, he described the task in this way: [Ilf we are to make the ordinary man aware of the spiritual unity out of which all the separate activities of our civilization have arisen, it is necessary in the first place to look at Western civilization as a whole and to treat it with the same objective appreciation and respect which the humanists of the past devoted to the civilization of antiquity. Dawson advocated the study of Christendom as a cultural entity united by a common faith and common moral standards. He would focus on Europe, but would include the other, nonWestern Christian societies, such as North Africa and the several cultures served by the Orthodox Churches. Indeed, Dawson's treatment of the cross-cultural nature of Christianity is a model of engagement with other cultures, in sharp contrast to the more partisan contemporary forms of cultural studies. Dawson also stressed the importance of studying the Christian cultures both before and after the Middle Ages, an emphasis the philosopher Russell Hittinger has called Dawson's most significant contribution to Catholic historiography.l Dawson's point, in essence, is a simple one. Europe-indeed, any cultural unit-cannot be understood as a whole by studying only its parts; to study a culture through its parts alone renders its most important aspects unintelligible. Dawson saw much of Europe's modern difficulty as arising either from a loss of historical memory, as in his own Britain, or from the totalitarian attempts of the Nazis and Communists to borrow Christianity's salvific message and transform it into a stage along the road of Aryan domination or the classless society. These ideologies share an extremely narrow view of European history, which either exaggerated differences between the European peoples or elevated some aspects of culture over others. Nationalist and racialI . Russell Hittinger, "'The Metahistorical Vision of Christopher Dawson," in The Dynamic Character of Christian Culture, ed. Peter J. Cataldo (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, I984), I7. Introduction xi ist history deny the unitive nature of Christianity, which creates a supranational spiritual community from disparate nationalities . If anything, the fragmentation of European identity has accelerated since Dawson first wrote. In addition to a revived nationalism in many parts of Europe, scholars have increasingly chosen to view history through the narrow prisms of race, class, or gender, to the exclusion of other motivating forces in Western and world history. For Dawson, the prime motivating force was spiritual. Dawson believed that it is only when we acknowledge the historic role of the Christian Church as the agent of and inspiration for the community of nations called Europe that we can confront the problems that face it, now that the influence of Christianity has diminished. With...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813220420
Related ISBN
9780813209142
MARC Record
OCLC
815969435
Pages
296
Launched on MUSE
2013-02-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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