Sunday, March 1, 2015

Dawson in 1956

"Now this attitude of withdrawal is perfectly justifiable on Catholic principles. It is the spirit of the Fathers of the Desert and of the martyrs and confessors of the primitive church. But it means that Christianity must become an underground movement and that the only place for Christian life and for Christian culture is in the desert and the catacombs. Under modern conditions, however, it may be questioned if such a withdrawal is possible. Today the desert no longer exists and the modern state exerts no less authority underground in the subway and the air raid shelter than it does on the earth and in the air. The totalitarian state —and perhaps the modern state in general—is not satisfied with passive obedience; it demands full co-operation from the cradle to the grave. Consequently the challenge of secularism must be met on the cultural level, if it is to be met at all; and if Christians cannot assert their right to exist in the sphere of higher education, they will eventually be pushed not only out of modern culture, but out of physical existence. That is already the issue in Communist countries, and it will also become the issue in England and America if we do not use our opportunities while we still have them. We are still living internally on the capital of the past and externally on the existence of a vague atmosphere of religious tolerance which has already lost its justification in contemporary secular ideology. It is a precarious situation which cannot be expected to endure indefinitely, and we ought to make the most of it while it lasts.
     "And I believe that it is the field of higher education that offers the greatest opportunities; first on the ground of economy of effort, because a comparatively small expenditure of time and money is likely to produce more decisive results than a much greater expenditure at a lower level. And secondly because this is the sphere where there is most freedom of action and where the tradition of intellectual and spiritual freedom is likely to survive longest. Moreover the need for action is especially urgent in this field, because the social changes of the last half century have extinguished the old tradition of independent private scholarship to which these studies owed so much in the past. But today the disappearance of the leisure class makes this kind of unorganized individual scholarship impossible. Either the church or the universities must carry on the tradition and make themselves responsible for the maintenance of these studies or the work will not be done at all."

     Christopher Dawson, "Civilization in crisis" (1956), as reproduced in The historic reality of Christian culture:  a way to the renewal of life, Religious perspectives 1, ed. Ruth Nanda Anshen (New York:  Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1960), 96-98 (79-98).

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