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7 Christianity and Western Culture T HE SURVIVAL OF a civilization depends on the continuity of its educational tradition. A common educational system creates a common world of thought with common intellectual values and a common inheritance of knowledge, which makes a society conscious of its identity and gives it a common memory of its past. Consequently any breach in the continuity of the educational tradition involves a corresponding breach in the continuity of the civilizationj so that if the breach were a complete one, it would be far more revolutionary than any political or economic change, since it would mean the birth of a new civilization, or at any rate the death of the old one. I do not know how far these facts are generally admitted, or whether they would be regarded as a platitude or as a paradox. Certainly I do not think that modern opinion fully realizes the immense antiquity and persistence of the great educational traditions. Perhaps it is easier to see this in the case of the more remote and alien civilizations than in that of our own, for example in the case of China where the continuity of the Confucian tradition of education and learning has always impressed Christianity and Western Culture the Western observer. But I do not think we give sufficient consideration to the parallel phenomenon of the tradition of liberal education in Western culture which is practically as old as the Confucian tradition in China and which has played such an essential part in forming the mind and maintaining the continuity of Western civilization. Only the specialists in classical studies (and by no means all of them) realize the full significance of that great tradition which had its origins twenty-four centuries ago in ancient Athens, and which was handed down from the Latin rhetoricians to the monks of the West, from the medieval church to the humanists of the Renaissance, and from the humanists to the schools and universities of modern Europe and America. The failure to recognize the importance of this element of educational tradition in our civilization is the more serious because everywhere today civilization is being subjected to the growing pressure of revolutionary forces which threaten it with complete disintegration. In the East, above all in China, the issue is a comparatively simple one. There the tradition of an ancient and intensely conservative culture has been violently interrupted by the sudden invasion of a new political order, a new social system and a new ideological doctrine, all of them closely related to one another. But in the West the situation is a much more complicated one. Western culture has never rejected change as such. It has given birth again and again to critical and revolutionary movements and it has been strong enough to overcome them and even to profit by them. And so our problem is not that of an alien invasion but rather of an internal revolt and a schism between the divergent tendencies in our own culture. What makes the present situation different, and more serious than in the past, is that European civilization is suffering from a sense of discouragement and a loss of faith in its own values, such as we have never experienced before. Now it must be admitted that this reaction is neither incomprehensible nor unjustifiable. For more than a century Western 86 The Historic Reality of Christian Culture man was inspired by a boundless faith in the absolute superiority of Western civilization and in its inevitable progress to higher and higher stages of social perfection. It was only during the lifetime of the present generation that these utopian hopes have been suddenly dissipated by the bitter realities of the two world wars and their sequel. It is true that these disasters have been mainly political and economic. There is little real evidence that the internal resources of European culture, in science and literature and intellectual activity, have declined in the catastrophic way in which the intellectual culture of the classical world declined during the later centuries of the Roman Empire. No doubt the nineteenth-century faith in Western civilization and progress was so largely based on material considerations of wealth and power and external expansion that it was not fitted to cope with the situation which has arisen from Europe's sudden loss of her position of world hegemony. But the disillusionment caused by the present crisis of European culture is not confined to a reaction against the nineteenth...

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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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