Christopher Henry Dawson Quotes
“The great fault of modern democracy -- a fault that is common to the capitalist and the socialist -- is that it accepts economic wealth as the end of society and the standard of personal happiness....
The great curse of our modern society is not so much lack of money as the fact that the lack of money condemns a man to a squalid and incomplete existence. But even if he has money, and a great deal of it, he is still in danger of leading an incomplete and cramped life, because our whole social order is directed to economic instead of spiritual ends. The economic view of life regards money as equivalent to satisfaction. Get money, and if you get enough of it you will get everything else that is worth having. The Christian view of life, on the other hand, puts economic things in second place. First seek the kingdom of God, and everything else will be added to you. And this is not so absurd as it sounds, for we have only to think for a moment to realise that the ills of modern society do not spring from poverty in fact, society today is probably richer in material wealth than any society that has ever existed. What we are suffering from is lack of social adjustment and the failure to subordinate material and economic goods to human and spiritual ones.”
“Today everybody admits that something is wrong with the world, and the critics of Christianity are the very people who feel this most. The most violent attacks on religion come from those who are most anxious to change the world, and they attack Christianity because they think that it is an obstructive force that stands in the way of a real reform of human life. There has seldom been a time in which men were more dissatisfied with life and the more conscious of the need for deliverance, and if they turn away from Christianity it is because they feel that Christianity is a servant of the established order and that it has no real power or will to change the world and to rescue man from his present difficulties. They have lost their faith in the old spiritual traditions that inspired civilization in the past, and they tend to look for a solution in some external practical remedy such as communism, or the scientific organisation of life; something definite and objective that can be applied to society as a whole.”
“The whole tendency of modern life is towards scientific planning and organisation, central control, standardisation, and specialisation. If this tendency was left to work itself out to its extreme conclusion, one might expect to see the state transformed into an immense social machine, all the individual components of which are strictly limited to the performance of a definite and specialised function, where there could be no freedom because the machine could only work smoothly as long as every wheel and cog performed its task with unvarying regularity. Now the nearer modern society comes to the state of total organisation, the more difficult it is to find any place for spiritual freedom and personal responsibility. Education itself becomes an essential part of the machine, for the mind has to be as completely measured and controlled by the techniques of the scientific expert as the task which it is being trained to perform.”
“Democracy bases its appeal on the sacredness of the People – the consecration of Folk; socialism on the sacredness of Labor – the consecration of Work; and nationalism on the sacredness of the Fatherland – the consecration of Place. These concepts still arouse transcendent religious values or sanctions. It is religious emotion divorced from religious belief.”
“The Western Church did not come to the barbarians with a civilizing mission or any conscious hopes of social progress, but with a tremendous message of divine judgment and divine salvation. Humanity was born under a curse, enslaved by the dark powers of cosmic evil and sinking ever deeper under the burden of its own guilt. Only by the way of the Cross and by the grace of the crucified Redeemer was it possible for men to extricate themselves from the massa damnata of unregenerate humanity and escape from the wreckage of a doomed world.”
“The spiritual reformer cannot expect to have the majority on his side. He must be prepared to stand alone like Ezekiel and Jeremy. He must take as his example St. Augustine besieged by the Vandals at Hippo, or St. Gregory preaching at Rome with the Lombards at the gates. For the true helpers of the world are the poor in spirit, the men who bear the sign of the cross on their foreheads, who refuse to be overcome by the triumph of injustice and put their sole trust in the salvation of God.”
“But its exclusive character and irreconcileable hostility to the religious cults and ceremonies with which the whole social life of the city-state and the empire were inseparably connected at every turn, brought the Christians into inevitable conflict with the government and with public opinion. To the man in the street, the Christian was an anti-social atheist who would take no part in the public feasts and the games, which played such a large part in city life. To the authorities he was a passive rebel, who would neither take his share of municipal offices nor pay loyal homage to the Emperor. Hence the rise of persecution, and the driving of the Christians into an underground existence, as a proscribed sect. The Church grew under the shadow of the executioner's rods and axes, and every Christian lived in the peril of physical torture and death. The thought of martyrdom coloured the whole outlook of early Christianity. But it was not only a fear, it was also an ideal and a hope. For the martyr was the complete Christian, he was the champion and hero of the new society and its conflict with the old, and even the Christians who failed in the moment of the trial - the lapsi - looked on the martyrs as their saviours and protectors”
“It is the cultures of the great world religions which have shaped the course of civilization, and these possess a kind of supercultural position. (...) The three great religions of the East - Confucianism, Brahmanism and Buddhism - and the three world religions in the West - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - have been the great unifying factors in the civilization of the world. They are, as it were, the spiritual highways, which have led mankind through history from remote antiquity down to modern times. (...) In the past all these world religions with the exception of Judaism have been what I have termed supercultures - common forms of faith and moral order which embraced and united large numbers of previously existing cultures with their own languages and histories.”
“The events of the last forty years have inflicted such a blow to the self confidence of Western civilization and to the belief in progress which was so strong during the nineteenth century, that men tend to go too far in the opposite direction: in fact the modern world is experiencing the same kind of danger which was so fatal to the ancient world--the crisis of which Gilbert Murray writes in his Four Stages of Greek Religion as "The Loss of Nerve.”
There have been signs of this in Western literature for a long time past, and it has already had a serious effect on Western culture an education. This is the typical tragedy of the intelligentsia as shown in nineteenth century Russia and often in twentieth century Germany: the case of a society or class devoting enormous efforts to higher education and to the formation of an intellectual elite and then finding that the final result of the system is to breed a spirit of pessimism and nihilism and revolt. There was something seriously wrong about an educational system which cancelled itself out in this way, which picked out the ablest minds in a society and subjected them to an intensive process of competitive development which ended in a revolutionary or cynical reaction against the society that produced it. But behind these defects of an over-cerebralized and over-competitive method of education, there is the deeper cause in the loss of the common spiritual background which unifies education with social life. For the liberal faith in progress which inspired the nineteenth century was itself a substitute for the simpler and more positive religious faith which was the vital bond of the Western community. If we wish to understand our past and the inheritance of Western culture, we have to go behind the nineteenth century development and study the old spiritual community of Western Christendom as an objective historical reality.”
“Language is the gateway to the human world. (...) Language is far older than civilization. (...) The fact that it is possible to teach apes to ride bicycles, but impossible to teach them to talk, suggests that it is the use of language rather than the use of tools which is the essential characteristic of humanity. The word, not the sword or the spade, is the power that has created human culture.”
“No culture is more striking than that of Eskimo peoples of the Arctic, which is remarkably ancient and stable, distinctive and highly specialized. It is a classical example of the way in which people can learn to adapt itself to a harsh and unfavorable environment by creating a specialized way of life adapted to its peculiar circumstances. Eskimo culture is a work of art (...) since it uses the poor material that nature provides with admirable skill and artifice in order to construct a social world which is the best of all possible worlds for the Eskimos - who call themselves Innuit. The Men.”
“The intellectual climate has become increasingly unfavorable to the study of the relations between religion and culture in the modern world and the modern university. For theology has long since lost its position as a dominant faculty in the university and as an integral part of the general educational curriculum. It continues to exist on sufferance only as a specialized ecclesiastical study designed for the clergy. Consequently the student in a modern university may be totally ignorant of religion.”
“And when at last Peter does confess Jesus to be 'the Messiah', 'the Son of the Living God', this is immediately followed not by any declaration of future triumph, but by Jesus' announcement of his passion and death. The revelation of the mistery of the kingdom is at the same time the revelation of the mystery of the cross.”
“Chritians' experience of persecution and their consequent hostility to the Roman Empire found its most passionate expression in the pages of the Apocalypse. Rome is Babylon, the great mother of harlots, drunken with the blood of the Saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus, the Empire the kingdom of the Beast which seeks to destroy the Church.”
“If we are to make the ordinary man aware of the spiritual uity out of which asll 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 wit the same objective appreciation and respect which the humanists of the past devoted to the civilization of antiquity.
This does not seem much to ask; yet there have always been a number of reasons which stood in the way of its fulfillment.
In the first place, there has been the influence of modern nationalism, which has led every European people to insist on what distinguished it from the rest, instead of what united it with them. It is not necessary to seek for examples in the extremism of German racial nationalists and their crazy theories, proving that everything good in the world comes from men with Germanic blood. Leaving all these extravagances out of account, we still have the basic fact that modern education in general teaches men the history of their country and the literature of their own tongue, as though these were complete wholes and not part of a greater unity.
In the second place, there has been the separation between religion and culture, which arose partly from the bitterness of the internal divisions of Christendom and partly from a fear lest the transcendent divine values of Christianity should be endangered by any identification or association of them with the relative human values of culture. Both these factors have been at work, long before our civilization was actually secularized. They had their origins in the Reformation period, and it was Martin Luther in particular who stated the theological dualism of faith and works in such a drastic form as to leave no room for any positive conception of a Christian culture, such as had hitherto been taken for granted.
And in the third place, the vast expansion of Western civilization in modern times has led to a loss of any standard of comparison or any recognition of its limits in time and space. Western civilization has ceased to be one civilization amongst others: it became civilization in the absolute sense.
It is the disappearance or decline of this naive absolutism and the reappearance of a sense of the relative and limited character of Western civilization as a particular historic culture, which are the characteristic features of the present epoch.”