Sunday, June 28, 2015

"The family is not a product of culture"

“IT is impossible to go back behind the family and find a state of society in which the sexual relations are in a pre-social stage, for the regulation of sexual relations is an essential pre-requisite of any kind of culture. The family is not a product of culture; it is, as Malinowski shows, “the starting point of all human organization” and “the cradle of nascent culture.” Neither the sexual nor the parental instinct is distinctively human. They exist equally among the animals, and they only acquire cultural significance when their purely biological function is transcended by the attainment of a permanent social relation. Marriage is the social consecration of the biological functions, by which the instinctive activities of sex and parenthood are socialized and a new synthesis of cultural and natural elements is created in the shape of the family. This synthesis differs from anything that exists in the animal world in that it no longer leaves man free to follow his own sexual instincts; he is forced to conform them to a certain social pattern. The complete freedom from restraint which was formerly supposed to be characteristic of savage life is a romantic myth. In all primitive societies sexual relations are regulated by a complex and meticulous system of restrictions, any breach of which is regarded not merely as an offence against tribal law, but as morally sinful. These rules mostly have their origin in the fear of incest, which is the fundamental crime against the family, since it leads to the disorganization of family sentiment and the destruction of family authority.”

~Christopher H. Dawson: from The Patriarchal Family in History. (1933)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The natural order and religious faith

“EVERYWHERE man’s way of life is capable of being guided and informed by the spirit of religious faith. But, however completely a culture may seem to be dominated by religion, there remains a fundamental dualism between the order of culture which is a part of the order of nature and the principle of faith which transcends the natural order and finds its centre outside the world of man.

“It is this conception of the intervention of a transcendent divine principle in the life of man which none the less retains its roots in the earth and in the order of nature that renders the history of Christian culture so difficult to investigate and the ideal of Christian culture so hard to realize. But it is a problem that we cannot afford to ignore. In the past the problem was simplified by the existence of a common religious tradition and a common standard of literary culture which were generally accepted by Christians and educationalists. Today these common traditions have been abandoned by the rulers of the modern State and the planners of modern society, while at the same time the latter have come to exercise a more complete control over the thought and life of the whole population than the most autocratic and authoritarian powers of the past ever possessed. In this situation the work of men like Mr. T. S. Eliot who are able to meet the planners and sociologists on their own ground without losing sight of the real spiritual issues may be of decisive importance for the future of our culture.”

~Christopher Dawson: from “T. S. Eliot on the Meaning of Culture.” (1949) 

God seen as hostile by Martin Luther

IT is true that Luther’s own religious experience was both genuine and profound, but it was not the positive intuition of the contemplative; it was a dark and tormented sense of man’s utter helplessness and of the otherness of the Divine Power. For his discarding of the intellectual element in religion had brought his mind back, as it were, to the religious attitude of primitive man who sees the Divine as an unknown and hostile power from which it recoils in terror, “Yea,” he writes,

“God is more terrible and frightful than the Devil, for he dealeth with us and bringeth to ruin with power, smiteth and hammereth us and payeth no heed to us. ‘In His majesty He is a consuming fire,’ For therefrom can no man refrain; if he thinketh on God aright his heart in his body is stricken with terror. . . . Yea, as soon as he heareth God named he is filled with trepidation and fear.

“For He assaileth a man and has such a delight therein that He is of His Jealousy and Wrath impelled to consume the wicked.”

But Luther’s personal attitude is decidedly abnormal and nonrepresentative; the normal Protestant religious experience is of the milder and more emotional type represented by pietism and revivalism. Here faith is no longer conceived as a super-rational knowledge founded on the Divine Reason, but as a subjective conviction of one’s own conversion and justification, and in place of the personal ecstasy of the mystic, who realizes his own nothingness, we have the self-conscious attitude of the pietist, who is intensely preoccupied with his own feelings and with the moral state of his neighbor. And this substitution if the ideal of pietism for those of asceticism and mysticism eventually led to the weakening and discrediting of the ethical ideals of Christianity, just as sectarianism undermined its social authority. however unjust may be the popular caricature of the pietist as a snuffling hypocrite of the type of Tribulation Wholesome or Zeal-of-the Land Busy or Mr. Chadband, there can be no doubt that Puritan and Evangelical pietism succeeded in making religion supremely unattractive in a way that medieval asceticism had never done.

~Christopher Dawson: Christianity and the New Age, Chap. III.

Portrait of Martin Luther, by Lucas the Elder Cranach.
1543, panel; Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

Friday, June 12, 2015

"The recovery of the spiritual vision"

“IT is necessary that Christians should remember that it is not the business of the Church to do the same thing as the State—to build a Kingdom like other kingdoms of men, only better; nor to create a reign of earthly peace and justice. The Church exists to be the light of the world, and if it fulfills its function, the world is transformed in spite of all the obstacles that human powers place in the way. A secularist culture can only exist, so to speak, in the dark. It is a prison in which the human spirit confines itself when it is shut out of the wider world of reality. But as soon as the light comes, all the elaborate mechanism that has been constructed for living in the dark becomes useless. The recovery of the spiritual vision gives man back his spiritual freedom. And hence the freedom of the Church is in the faith of the Church and the freedom of man is in the knowledge of God.”

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

The Church as the Path to Salvation (east wall), by Andea da Firenze. 
Fresco, 1366-67; Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

"Rome that killed Rome"

“FOR it was literally Rome that killed Rome. The great cosmopolitan city of gold and marble, the successor of Alexandria and Antioch, had nothing in common with the old capital of the rural Latin state. It served no social function, it was an end in itself, and its population drawn from every nation under heaven existed mainly to draw their Government doles, and to attend the free spectacles with which the Government provided them. It was a vast useless burden on the back of the empire which broke at last under the increasing strain.”

~Christopher Dawson: Progress and Decay. (1924)

Capriccio with the Colosseum, by Bernardo Bellotto.
Oil on canvas, 1743-44; Galleria Nazionale, Parma.

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