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Christopher Henry Dawson (1889-1970)

At Hartlington Hall, in Yorkshire, Christopher Dawson now makes his home. His childhood there, with his parents, Lt. Col. H. P. and Mary (Bevan) Dawson, daughter of tire Archdeacon of Brecon, was steeped in religions and social tradition. He has been a student and a detached observer of life both in its contemporary phases and in the historical records of the past. Born in 1889, at hay Castle, he was educated at Winchester, the most religions of the English public schools, and at Trinity College, Oxford. Leaving there in 1911, he studied economics with Professor Gustave then returned to Oxford for post-graduate studies in history and sociology.

At this time he became acquainted with the work of Ernest Troeltsch and thereafter devoted himself entirely to the study of the relation between religion and culture. He came to know the Bible thoroughly and through it the fundamental unity of Catholic theology and the Catholic life.''the early reading of the lives of the Catholic mystics and saints had greatly impressed him as did also a later visit to Rome, when he was nineteen. These various influences led him to recognize the limitations of Anglicanism to which he had been so closely bound, and to embrace Catholicism. He was received into the Church at St. Aloysius'. Oxford, in 1914. Two years later he married Valery Mills; they have one son and two daughters.

After years of thorough study and careful preparation he published
in 1928 the first of a group of five books in which lie plans to cover world history: The Age of the Gods; The Rise of the World Religions; The Making of Europe The Breakdown of European Unity, and The Modern World. The third, which he subtitles An Introduction to the History of European Unity, appeared in 1932; and it was translated into French by Louis Halphen in 1934. The Age of the Gods is a study in the origins of culture in prehistoric Europe and in the ancient East. The Making of Europe interestingly relates how upon the ruins of the ancient world were laid the foundations of Europe, deriving its political unity from Rome, its religious unity from the Catholic Church. its intellectual culture from the classical tradition preserved by the Church, and embracing the barbarians in its human material. The author shows how A.D. 400 to 1 000, erroneously known as the "dark ages,'' created the ground of all future cultural achievements. Dawson is an omnivorous reader, and in both books he makes use of the vast material provided by archeological and historical investigation and presents fads in their proper perspective, the relation of man to God. He is essentially a philosophical historian. He has a wide and deep vision, a remarkable memory and erudition.

In Enquiries into Religion and Culture he takes into account the organic development of European, Islamic, Indian and Chinese cultures and sees religion as the energizing influence in every sphere of human activity. This book of essays has an underlying unity in its main thesis.

The Modern Dilemma: The Problem of European Unity is one of the Essays in Order. a series of which lie is a general editor. Religion and the Modern State considers the menace of the organized materialism of the social state'' and the necessity of reformation of the individual for the reformation 0f society. Communism, National Socialism or Capitalism, he says, cannot be regarded as "a final solution to the problem of civilization or even as a tolerable one.'' His book The Judgment of the Nations 'nearly resembles Religion and the Modern State but it is longer and more important.'' In it he urges a world order intermediate between the single state and the world organization.

He convincingly proves that only a return to the spiritual traditions of Christianity will save civilization, for culture, having lost its spiritual roots, is dying. The Catholic Church offers a program vital to the world today. In the worlds of Dawson: "Today she stands as he did under the Roman Empire. as the represenrative in a changing world of an unchanging spiritual order. That is why I believe that the Church that made Europe may yet save Europe, and that, in the words of the great Easter liturgy, 'the whole world may experience and see what was fallen raised up, what has grown old made new, and all things returning to unity through Him front Whom they took their beginning.'

Dawson is an outstanding figure in present-day literature. It is interesting to note that in a Sheed & Ward survey, he, more than any other European Catholic author of today, is recommended to American readers. He is also known as a lecturer. He lectured on Philosophy of Religion at Liverpool University, 1933 to 1934 and on the History of Culture at University College, Exeter in 1935. He also gave the British Academy annual master mind lecture in 1934, on Edward Gibbon. In 1945 he was appointed to give the Gifford lecture at Edinburgh University for 1946. Since 1940 he has, with notable success, been the editor of the Dublin Review.


Originally published by St. Mary's Abbey in Catholic Authors 1947. Written by Catherine M. Neale. Christopher Dawson died in 1970.

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