Thursday, April 30, 2015

"The American way of life was built on a threefold tradition..."

THE process of secularization which has accompanied the progress of technology threatens the foundation of American culture no less than the traditional culture of the Old World. The American ideology on which the Constitution was based involved two essential and related concepts—in the first place the philosophy of Natural Law and Natural Rights and secondly the limitation of the power of the state which left the individual citizen free to lead his own life and organize his economic and cultural activities.

According to the old American system, the state or states were concerned with the preservation of law and order and national independence. Everything else—religion, education and economic life—was the sphere of free individual action in which the state had no voice. All this, has been changed in the last hundred years by inevitable historical forces.

The State, that unitary authoritative bureaucratic power, against which the American Revolution was a protest, has returned armed with new powers of supervision and psychological control of which George III never dreamed, while technology has unified the economic life of the nation into a vast system of organization in which every individual has his allotted place.

In the new America the socialization and secularization of education has created an immense professionalized organ for the creation of moral and intellectual uniformity. In this way the constitutional principle of the separateness of Church and State which was intended to secure religious freedom has become the means of secularizing the American mind so that the churches have lost all control over the religious formation of the people. This was not so in the earlier phase of American history when the churches were the chief, and often the only, organs of education and culture.

The American way of life was built on a threefold tradition of freedom—political, economic and religious—and if the new secularist forces were to subjugate these freedoms to a monolithic technological order, it would destroy the foundations on which American culture was based. The American way of life can only maintain its character within the general framework of Western Christian culture. If this relation is lost, something essential to the life of the nation will be lost and American democracy itself will become subordinated to the technological order.

. . . I dealt with this subject in The Judgment of Nations, when in England Catholics and Liberals were forced to stand together against the menace of totalitarianism and when these two principles of Natural Law and the limited or constitutional state were the special object of totalitarian attack.

Today the attack comes from a different quarter, but it is the same principles that are threatened alike by the Communist ideology, which is totalitarian in the same sense as National Socialism, and by the technological secularism which is the enemy within the Western world and which is equally opposed to these fundamental principles. It is only from the standpoint of a living Christian culture that we can defend these principles that are the common foundation of the Western way of life.

~Christopher Dawson: from The Crisis of Western Education, Ch. XIV—American Culture and the Liberal Ideology.       

"A scientific specialist or a technologist is not an educated person"

“THE old domination of classical humanism has passed away, and nothing has taken its place except the scientific specialisms which do not provide a complete intellectual education, and rather tend to disintegrate into technologies. Every educator recognizes that this is unsatisfactory. A scientific specialist or a technologist is not an educated person. He tends to become merely an instrument of the industrialist or the bureaucrat, a worker ant in an insect society, and the same is true of the literary specialist, though his social function is less obvious.”

~Christopher Dawson: The Crisis of Western Education, Ch. X—The Case for the Study of Christian Culture. (1961)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Renaissance Humanism, Reformation and Counter-Reformation

From The Crisis of Western Education
By Christopher Dawson

NORTH of the Alps also the influence of the Italian Renaissance was first felt in university circles, and the leaders of the movement in Germany, France and England, Reuchlin, Erasmus, Lefère d’Etables, Fisher and John Colet, still represented the medieval tradition of clerical learning and ecclesiastical society. Consequently it is not surprising that the Christian aspect of the Renaissance was even more strongly accentuated here that in the South, and the influence of Christian Platonism and of the Florentine Academy was stronger that that of the purely literary humanism of Poggio and Valla. But although this Northern humanism was overtly and consciously Christian, it aroused much sharper opposition from the representatives of the old order than was the case in Italy. The literary quarrels that were so numerous and bitter between the Italian scholars became transformed in the Gothic North into an ideological warfare between conservatives and the modernists in which the latter used the weapons of ridicule and vituperation against the monks and theologians, while the conservatives responded with accusations of heresy and ecclesiastical censures.

For these reasons the Northern humanists have been regarded as the forerunners and even the originators of the Reformation. And to a certain extent this is true. It was the humanists who began the public campaign against the corruptions and superstitions of the late medieval Church, and it was the greatest of them all, Erasmus of Rotterdam, who began the propaganda for a return to Christian antiquity and to the pure evangelical Christianity of the New Testament. Nevertheless the spirit of the German Reformation was entirely different from that of Erasmus, and when its character became plain, no one was more horrified than the humanists. It was a revolutionary movement of the most far-reaching kind which embodied all the elements in Northern Europe that were most alien from the ideals of the new humanists culture of the Mediterranean world. Its great leader, Martin Luther, was the supreme example of the antihumanist spirit, the enemy of moderation and human reason, an individualist who denied human freedom, a man of passion who condemned nature, a conservative who rejected tradition.

This inherent contradiction between Protestantism and Humanism became overt in the early years of the Reformation in the controversy between Luther and Erasmus on the Freedom of the Will, which led to a bitter antagonism between the two leaders and to the progressive estrangement of the German Reformation from the humanist culture. In this field, however, the success of Luther was far less complete than in the sphere of religion and politics. He destroyed the spiritual unity of medieval Christendom, the Roman order and the Catholic hierarchy together with the institutions and beliefs on which the medieval culture had been founded, above all the monastic orders, which had been for centuries the chief representatives of the higher culture and the teachers of the Christian people. And by so doing, there was generated, for the first time in Western history, a revolutionary attitude towards the past and to the inherited norms of culture. As Döllinger wrote, the new generations in the schools and universities “were taught to despise past generations and consequently their own ancestors as willingly plunged in error” and to believe “that the Popes and bishops, the theologians and the universities, the monasteries and all the teaching corporations had formed for centuries a vast conspiracy to deform and suppress the teaching of the Gospel.”*

This revolutionary change was even more serious than we can realize today, owing to its destructive effects on the mind of the masses and the education of the common people. In the Middle Ages that education has never been a matter of book learning. The main channels of Christian culture were, liturgical and artistic. The life of the community centered in the Church, in the performance of the liturgy and the cult of the Saints. The annual cycle of feasts and fasts was the background of social life, and every vital moment in the life of the community found in it an appropriate ritual and sacramental expression. Architecture and painting and sculpture, music and poetry were all enlisted in its service, and no one was too poor or too uneducated to share in its mysteries.

Now all this was swept away in the course of a single generation and a new Protestant culture had to be built up based almost exclusively on the study of the bible and the dogmatic theology of the new sects. There was a complete ideological separation between Catholic and Protestant Europe. Truth in one country was heresy in another; even the fundamental conceptions of the Christian life, or moral perfection, of sanctity and salvation were different.

If therefore the religious revolution of the Reformation had developed to its logical conclusion, there can be no doubt that Western Europe would have ceased to exist as a cultural unity. There would have been two completely separate cultures in the Protestant North and the Catholic South, divided by an iron curtain of persecution and repression which would, have made the two parts of Europe as alien and incomprehensible from one another as Christendom was from Islam.

For there were humanists in both camps from the first, and in spite of their theological opposition they remained in substantial agreement in their educational ideals and their concept of humane learning. It is true that the majority if the Northern humanists followed the example of Erasmus and soon lost whatever sympathies they had with the Protestant Reformers. But these were exceptions to the rule, especially in the younger generation, and the most important of these exceptions, Melanchthon, did all in his power to check the breakdown of culture and to establish a sound traditions of Protestant education. But his success was a very limited one, for German humanism never recovered from the shock of the Reformation. In the West, however, the situation was different. French Protestantism from the first found wide support in humanist circles. Calvin himself fully appreciated the importance of education and study. Wherever the Calvinists went, from Transylvania to Massachusetts, they brought with them not only the Bible and Calvin’s Institutes, but the Latin grammar and the study of the classics.

Meanwhile in Catholic Europe the influence of Christian humanism continued to develop. The leaders of Catholic culture in the age of the Reformation, like Cardinal Sadoleto’s treatise de liberis recte instituendis (1530) explains the ideals of humanism in their most mature form. After the Council of Trent the situation was changed by the Counter-Reformation and the drastic measures that were taken to repress Protestantism arid to reassert the control of the Church over literature and education. But there was no breach in the continuity of culture such as occurred in the North. The tradition of popular culture remained unchanged, and the Church used the new art and music and drama as the church of the Middle Ages had dome in the past. It was this permeation of Renaissance art and literature by the religious spirit of the Catholic revival which gave rise to the Baroque culture which in the seventeenth century spread over the whole of Catholic Europe and extended its influence into the North, in very much the same way as the Gothic art and culture had expanded four centuries earlier, in the opposite direction.

The carriers of this culture were the new religious orders, above all the Society of Jesus, which played a similar part in European culture in that later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to that which the Benedictines had played in the early Middle Ages or the Franciscans and Dominicans in the thirteenth century. Like them, the Jesuits owed their influence above all to their educational activities; and as the Benedictines had based their teaching on an adaption of the classical education of the later Roman Empire to Christian aims, so now the Jesuits adapted the new classical education of the humanists of the Renaissance to the religious ideals of the Counter-Reformation. The Jesuit Ratio Studiorum belongs to the same tradition as that of the humanist treatises on education of which I have spoken above. It was, however, more limited and more practical in its aims. Its originality lay in its technique and organization rather than in its subject matter. Nevertheless it did more than anything else to establish a common international standard of higher education, so that even in Protestant Europe the Jesuit schools met with the approval if such a revolutionary critic of education as Francis Bacon.**

* Dollinger, The Reformation in Its Relations with the Schools and Universities and the Education of Youth in the Reformation, vol. I, p.397. (French trans.)

** “As for the Pedagogical part, she shortest rule would be ‘consult the schools of the Jesuits,’ for nothing better has been put in practice.” Bacon, de Augmentis Scientiarum, Bk. VI, ch. iv.

Source: Christopher Dawson. The Crisis of Western Education, Ch. III, “The Age of Humanism,” pp. 26-30.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

“The Christian interpretation of history is inseparable from the Christian faith"

“THE Christian interpretation of history is inseparable from the Christian faith. It is not a philosophic theory which has been elaborated by the intellectual effort of Christian scholars. It is an integral part of the Christian revelation; indeed that revelation is essentially an historic one, so that the most metaphysical of its dogmas are based upon historical facts and form part of that great dispensation of grace in which the whole temporal process of the life of humanity finds its end and meaning. In this respect Catholicism and Communism agree, in spite of the absolute contradiction that characterizes their several interpretations of history. For Communism is also an historic faith and the materialist interpretation of history is no less fundamental to Communism than is the spiritual interpretation of history to Christianity. The economic doctrines of Marxism are based on history to an almost greater extent than the theological doctrines of Catholicism; and a Socialism which professes Communism and Materialism without the doctrine of Marx has no more right to be called Marxism than a religion which accepts the ethical and theological teachings of Christianity while rejecting the historic elements of the faith has a right to the name of Catholicism.”

~Christopher Dawson: from History and the Christian Revelation. (1935)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Man "has lost the control over his individual life"

“THE changes that have come over Europe in the last century are too great to be ignored by anyone, but their very greatness and nearness to us prevent their really being understood. They have been admired blindly and enthusiastically as the dawn of a humanitarian millennium or they have been condemned by the traditionalists for undermining authority and order. By both parties, however, the fundamental characteristic of the new age has been misconceived. It is not liberty, but power which is the true note of our modern civilisation. Man has gained infinitely in his control over Nature, but he has lost the control over his individual life.”

~Christopher Dawson: from The Catholic Tradition and the Modern State.  (1936)

Share This