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Christopher Dawson and the History We Are Not Told

Je ffi-ey Hart
A people that no longer remembers has lost its history and its soul. -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn The temples of the gods are the most enduring works of man. -Christopher Dawson connections and comparisons you have never seen before, scholarly vistas unthought of suddenly opening before you. His erudition, however, works in the service o a large central project: f recovering the continuities o Western f culture and reshaping in a dramatic way f f our sense o the history o Western civilization. As an historian, Dawson radically revises our sense o thecontinuityof Westf ern culture, but within that continuity, its vicissitudes and heroisms. For the ordinary educated consciousness, what happened in Western Europe after the collapse o the Roman order tends to be f a blank page labelled the dark ages. The period from the fifth to the tenth centuries was indeed characterized by social chaos, roving bands of pillagers, Norse invasions, but as Dawson makes clear, there were heroic continuities, an enormous effort on the part of beleaguered communities to preserve and add to the inheritance o religion, culture, f and learning and to provide the basis for a revival o civilized order. f Dawson was not a great academic lecturer, as such reputations are usually measured. H e held minor British academic posts from time to time, but mostly

THE IMPRESSION has upon opening FIRST one a book by Christopher Dawson is o what f f can be called the romance o learning, a romanceexperienced as an independent aesthetic category apart from the substance o that learning. We experience f here the aesthetic appeal o sheer erudif tion, the sort of excitement that pervades Montaignes Essays, Burtons Anatomy ofMelancholy,BrownesReligio Medici, and many passages in Paradise Lost. It is the special aesthetic appeal of Old Books, an appeal that Walter Pater and T. S. Eliot knew well how t o exploit. Dawson did not publish until he was forty, but from early youth, he was a man o books-thousands of volumes o them f f in various languages. You encounter in Dawson names you have never heard of,

JEFFFEYHART ProfessorEmeritusofEngish at is Dartmouth College, and the author most recently of Acts of Recovery (1989).
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he pursued his research among his treasured books. When he was invited in 1958 to a chair at Harvard, he agreed on condition that Harvard ship his working library from England to Massachusetts. Harvard agreed, not realizing how many books Dawson considered essential. Dawson shipped two thousand books to Cambridge. At Harvard h e was beloved for his eccentricities, and the legend of Dawson still lingers there. He was an exceptionally effective teacher for gifted students; but for the generality o Harvard stuf dents, he was a puzzle and even a blank. His manner was such that Harvard felt obliged to appoint an interlocutor to workwith him, bridging the gap between Dawson and the students. In a useful biography of Dawson published in England in 1984 and now reissued in the United States, his daughter, Christina Scott, records:
He always read his lectures in his usual quiet voice and never raised it to reach the back of the hall, and when it came to seminars, of which he had no previous experience, he lacked the cut and thrust to get a discussion under way. The difficulty was largely overcome by the a p pointment of an assistant, Mr. Daniel Callahan, who fulfilled the office of interpreter for the professor .... When a student asked such a question as whether economics affected a particular period, Christopher might give a monosyllabic reply or one which was simply out of their depth. Mr. Callahan would then have to expand or explain.

world history, the classics; that they were prepared to read three or four books a week for one course; and their term papers would be models of scholarly research.

... It was my painful duty to insinuate that, as a matter of fact, nothing at all could be taken for granted about American students. And when I had a chance, I had to let the students, their faces blanched, know that if they read only eight hundred of the five thousand pages for the week, they could probably get by. Eventually these problems worked themselves out: the students read two hundred pages; 1 read two hundred and one; and Professor Dawson of course read all five thousand.
Rara aois. It is surely very much to Harvards credit that it appointed Dawson to a distinguished chair, and perhaps students who did not knowwhat to make o him were at least distantly f aware that they were in the presence o f someone both unusual and important. It is sad to learn that at Harvard he had the first o his cerebral hemorrhages and f returned to England partially crippled, dying of heart failurein 1970. I judge that today he is not much noticed intellectually. T. S. Eliot, lecturing in the United States, was once asked what writer was then the most powerful intellectual influence in England. Eliot answered, Christopher Dawson. That this influence was rarefied need not be doubted, but Dawson was a prolific writer, an original thinker, a skillfulpolemicist, and clearly, a deeply felt presence for such a person as Eliotof which more in a moment. But before speaking of what I would call the Dawson Revolution in our sense o the shape of f Western history, I would like to revert to f what I have called the aesthetics o erudition, or what might also be called the humility of learning. For example, I will adduce his Gifford Lectures, delivered at the University o Edinburgh in 1948 f
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Clearly, this was something o an acaf demic disaster. The late Mr. Callahan f wrote o the situation of Dawson at Harvard: For his students ... Mr. Dawson was frightening. Unlike most Englishmen of Oxford education, Mr. Dawson came to America with a number of illusions about American students: that they knew, as a matter of course, French, German and Latin,

and 1949 and later published as his magisterial Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (1950). The Gifford Lectureship is a very distinguished matter, and it is characteristic o Dawson that h e felt h e could not f rise t o the occasion. Yet he did so magnificently, though his manner was Daws0nish.h his daughter records, His shy manner and quiet intonation, combined with a lack of confidence in his own powers, must have made him seem the most unassuming of Cifford Lecturers, and of course, the deepest thinkers are not invariably the best speakers. But open the published version of these Gifford Lectures. The first thing you encounter is a frontispiece photograph entitled Figure o Christ: From f the Bewcastle Rood (c. 700). In this book there are eight such photographs o various historical objects with imf mensely erudite commentaries b y Dawson listed as Notes on the Illustrations. Because the learning here is so recondite, exquisite, and, when seen in perspective, important, I will quote in full the note on the Bewcastle Christ. The reader of this essay may savor it as a good introduction to Dawson: The Anglian High Crosses are among the earliest and most remarkable monuments of Western Christendom. Although they date from the first age of Northumbrian Christianity, they show an astonishing mastery of design and execution, unlike anything to be found elsewhere in Western Europe during this period. The new art owes its origin to the deliberate importation of Christian artists and Christian craftsmen from the Mediterranean world bytheleadersoftheAnglianchurch, above all St. Wilfrid and St. Benedict Bishop in the second half of the seventh century. But while the ornamentation, especially the vine scroll, shows clear signs of Mediterranean (Syrian) influence, the style is not purely imitative, but r e p resents an originalAnglian renaissance of classical Roman traditions. It is in fact a
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true Romanesqueart which anticipates the Continental development by centuries. The Bewcastle cross has a particularly close association with the great age of the Northumbrian church, because it was erected in commemoration of King Alchfrith, the friend of St. Wilfrid and the supporter of the Roman party at the Synod 64. of Whitby ( 6 ) It stands on the site of an old Roman fort high up on the Cumbrian moors beyond the Roman Wall. The figure of Christ in Majesty resembles that on the earlier and even finer Rood at Ruthwell in Durnfriesshire. In both cases, the face is unbearded, but carries a moustache. The Bewcastle inscription is entirely runic, whereas at Ruthwell the corresponding figure has a Latin inscription-IHS XPS IUDEX AEQUITATIS. BEST1 ET DRACONES COGNOVERUNT IN DESERT0 SALVATOR-EMMUNDI. It seems that both of these great crosses were set up as triumphant assertions of the Cross over the forces of outer barbarism. There is much o Dawson here in what f amounts to a minor passage in a major work: his sense o the past as a living and f present thing, his immersion in detail, his connoisseurs judgments, his awareness of civilization a s over against the outer barbarism. In the vast body of Dawsons writing there are many themes, though all o f them are related t o a central contention or insight. His enormous scholarship explored the insight in many contexts, sustained by his work, not only on the history o Western culture, but also on f Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and the matrix o archaic and primitive f religions, as well as legend and myth. Throughout, it is his central contention that religion is the foundation of culture:
If therefore we study a culture as a whole, we shall find there is an intimate relation between its religious faith and its social achievement. Even a religion which is explicitly other-worldly and appears to deny all the values and standards of hu-


man society may, nevertheless, exert a dynamic influence on culture and provide the driving forces in movements of social change. Religion is the key of history, said Lord Acton, and today, when we realize the tremendous influence of the unconscious on human behavior and the power of religion to bind and loose these hidden forces, Actons saying has acquired a wider meaning than he realized. Again and again Dawson returns to this theme: The great civilizations of the world do not produce the great religions as a kind of cultural by-product; in a very real sense, the great religions are the foundations on which the great civilizations rest. A society which has lost its religion becomes sooner or later a society which has lost its culture. Understanding this, Dawson is able t o distinguish one important aspect of Western culture from other cultures: The other great world cultures realized their own synthesis between religion and life and then maintained their sacred order unchanged for centuries and millennia. But Western civilization has been the great ferment of change in the world, because changing the world became an integral part of its cultural ideal. Centuries before the achievements of modern science and technology, Western man had conceived the idea of m a g n a instauratio of the sciences, which would open new ways for human understanding and change the fortunes of the human race. This illuminates the question o why it f was the European explorers rather than, say, the Chinese who reached the North American continent in the fifteenth century. The Chinese had the vessels to explore the Pacific and also navigational instruments that in some ways were superior t o those o the Europeans. The f Chinese, indeed, sailed to the western

coast of Africa but lost interest in further exploration there. The European explorers pushed ever westward, beyond the pillars of Hercules, down the African coast, outward to the Canaries and beyond. As Dawson would say, the Chinese belief system was static and inward-looking, the European belief system exploratory and devoted to change. Though Dawson is finely discriminating as a phenomenologist o religion, he f does discern the core that they have in common, that core being a mode o bef ing: Nevertheless, underlying all this complex development there is a unity of religious experiencewhich is no less striking than the unity in diversity which characterizes the conceptions of the ritual order in the different archaic civilizations. This unity is the conviction that the true end of the religious life is to be found within the soul itself and is reached by a psychological process of introversion and concentration. This interior way of perfection begins with asceticism and discipline, proceeds by contemplation and enlightenment, and culminates in the experience of divine union or identity in which all distinctions are transcended and the soul is merged in eternal and absolute Being. This experience may be started in either theistic or pantheistic terms, as in the Upanishads or the Gita, in Sankara. and Ramanuja, and in the various schools of Mahayana Buddhism. It is, however, always a via negativa, a search for the Absolute by the denial or strip ping away of all forms and images, and the whole positive content of consciousness. There is no evidence of which I am aware that Christopher Dawson had any personal experience o introversion and f concentration leading t o an experience o the timeless and the transcendent, f yet as an historian, h e recognized the importance of this central religious experience, the encounter with the holy, the divine. I have noted that T. S. Eliot,
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during the 1940s, said that Dawson was the most influential writer in England. That Dawson was thus influential may be doubted and would certainly have been news to Professor Harold Laski, but one may well think that in recognizing the pursuit o the holy as central t o f religion, Dawson was o special imporf tance t o Eliot. It is theexperienceDawson so well describes, the experience in and out o time, that is the subject of Eliots f poetry. That poetry describes a quest through the desert of fragments t o the experience that provides a glimpse of unity, which I judge to be brilliantly concluded in the final section o Little f Gidding. In her two biographicalcritical volumes on Eliot, Lyndall Gordon shows that this quest for the holy state o mind f had very early been a preoccupationwords become inadequate here-for Eliot. So far as we know, his first experience o that state o mind occurred at his f f Harvard commencement o 1910: f Then in June there came the indescribable Silence in the midst of the clatter of f graduation, the exhortations o practical men, the questions of parents, the frivolity of millinery and strawberries in the Yard. Suddenlyable to shed the world, he experienced a fugitive sensation of peace that he would try all his life to recapture. It is likely that Eliot had such experiences earlier than 1910, on the evidence of his poetry. Thus, as a child in St. Louis, he had heard the voices of children b e hind a wall that separated his own home from a school.
At the source OF the longest river The voice OF the hidden waterfall And the children in the apple-tree Not known, because not looked For But heard, half-heard,in the stillness Between two waves OF the sea. Quick now, here, now, always A condition of complete simpliciry (Costing not less than everything). Modem Age

Perhaps Eliot experienced such moments, o r intimations of them, while sailing his boat as an adolescent off Cape Ann, where his family had a summer place near Cloucester:
The boat responded Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar. The sea was calm, your heart would have responded Gaily, when invited, beating obedient to controlling hands.

The way t o the timeless moment was hard for Eliot, costing, as he wrote, not less than everything, and he was well aware that others had made the same journey and done so more successfully than he. As he writes in East Coker:
And what there is to conquer By strength and submission, has already been discovered Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope To emulate-but there is no competitionThere is only the Fight to recover what has been lost And Found and lost again: and now, under conditions That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss. For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

The overall meaning o this passage f is clear enough, but there are tricky places in it. What sort o judgment is f Eliot passing when he says that the moment o holy peace has been discovered f once or twice, or several times? Does Dante make the first team, along with St. Augustine? And what about St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, Milton, Henry Vaughan, and GeorgeHerbert? Does John Wesley make the cut, and John Henry Newman? Lyndall Gordon observes that Eliots desire for transcendence, for the unseen pattern behind the perceived chaos

of phenomena, is firmly a part o the f nineteenthcentury New England inheritance, at least in experienced intimations. Emerson thought that one design unites and animates the farthest pinnacle and the lowest trench. Lyndall Gordon adduces Hawthornes Blithedale Romance, in which the hero suddenly sees through natures mask and enjoys the experience. But that was all, Hawthorne writes. Melville, too,writes Gordon, wrote in a letter t o Hawthorne: This all feeling ... . You must have felt it, lying in the grass on a warm summers day. Your legs seem to send out shoots into the earth. The major New England writers did not locate this experience within the orthodox Christian system o meaning, f but it seems clear that Eliot thought that without such a system, the experience remained cognitively rootless. Eliot sought to give the experience meaning f beyond itself through a system o belief that made the experience o the holy a f part-indeed, the culminating part-of the objective nature o reality, as much f f a fact o the cosmos as the atomic table, and, indeed, more real than the atomic table. It is not surprising that Eliot, even though headed for the Department o f Philosophy at Harvard and writing his dissertation on F. H. Bradley, abandoned philosophy and undertook a voyage where early twentieth century philosophy could not sail. When Eliot sought to explain his ultimate position in prose, his sentencesp e r h a p s understandably-become strained and convoluted, as in the following famous passage from his essay on Pascal: The Christian thinker-and I mean the man who is trying consciously and conscientiously to explain to himself the sequence which culminates in faith rather than the public apologist-proceeds by rejection and elimination. He finds the world to be so and so; h e finds its charac216

ter inexplicable by any non-religious theory: among religions he finds Christianity, and Catholic Christianity, to account most satisfactorily for the world
and especially for the moral world within;

and thus by what Newman calls powerful and concurrent reasons, he finds himself inexorably committed to the doctrineof thelncarnation.... [The unbeliever] does not consider that if certain emotional states, certain developments of character, and what in the highest sense can be called saintliness are inherently good, then the satisfactory explanation of the world must bean explanation which will admit therea1ityofthesevalues. (emphasis added) Lionel Trilling once remarked t o me in conversation that in this passage Eliot had more or less blown his cover and declared himself a Christian for moral reasons. That does not seem to me t o be true, or-better-adequate. Taken at face value, Eliot seems t o be saying that the state o mind he pursues-and which f has been pursued by others before himis in fact an objective clue to the nature of the cosmos. In Burnt Norton he makes a pun on the title o his 1922 poem f The Waste Land
Ridiculous the waste sad time Stretching before and after.

In common sense terms, this is absurd. Our ordinary pleasures are not ridiculous o r a waste. Only from the perspective o the moment in and out of f time can Eliots lines be understood. As Henry Vaughan wrote:
I saw eternity the other night
Like a great ring o f pure and endless light All calm as it was bright And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years Driven by the spheres Like a vast shadow movd, In which the world And all her train were hurld.

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Lyndall Gordon makes shockingly clear the high price Eliot paid for his pursuit of spiritual perfection and the divine moment and the price paid, t o her bewilderment, by Emily Hale, a Boston girl he had met while a Harvard undergraduate and whom, under normal circumstance, he surely would have married. Emily Hale was confident that, after the death of his first wife, the disastrous Vivienne Haigh-Wood, he would return to her. Lyndall Gordon explains why he could not in fresh and interesting interpretations o Eliots LaFigliaChePainge f and Cerontion, in the latter o which f Eliot is addressing Emily Hale. For Eliot she was an intimation of spiritual perfection. He records a divine moment with her in the opening section o Burnt f Norton. Dante could never have married Beatrice, nor Aeneas Dido, and Eliots enormous correspondence with Emily Hale remains unopened in the vaults of t h e Firestone Library a t Princeton until the next century. In the Gifford Lectures and elsewhere, the philosopher of culture consorts with the historian, and one o Dawsons major f contributions is that he makes us aware o the continuities o the West following f f the breakdown of the Roman order in Western Europe and the onset o what is f called the dark ages. He introduces us to heroic figures and profound m o v e ments about which we do not customarily hear. Indeed, Dawson can shock the educated contemporary mind: The beginnings of Western culture are to be found in the new spirituality which arose from the ruins of the Roman Empire owing to the conversion of the northern barbarians to the Christian faith. The Christian Church inherited the traditions of the Empire. It came to the barbarians as the bearer of a higher civilization, endowed with the prestige of Roman law and the authority of the Roman name. The breakdown of the political organizaModern Age

tion of the Roman Empire had left a great void which no barbarian king or general could fill, and this void was filled by the Church as the teacher and law-giver of the new people. The Latin FathersAmbrose, Augustine,...and Gregorywere in a real sense the fathers of Western culture, since it was only insofar as the different peoples of the West were incorporated in the spiritual community of Christendom that they acquired a common culture. It is this, above all, that distinguishes Western development from that o other world civilizations.The great f cultures of the ancient East, like China and India, were autochthonous growths which represent a continuous process of development in which religion and culturegrew from thesame sociologicalroots and the same natural environment. But in the West it was not so. Primitive Europe outside the Mediterranean lands preserved no common center and no unified tradition of spiritual culture. The people of the north possessed no written literature, no cities, no stone architecture. They were, in short, barbarians,and it was by Christianity and the elements of a higher culture transmitted to them by thechurch that Western Europe acquired unity and form. Especially striking in Dawsons exposition on the dark ages from the fifth t o the tenth centuries is the civilizational role played by the monastic movement, perhaps most notably by t h e Benedictines. With the collapse o the f Roman order, Western Europe entered a Hobbesian period of social chaos and civilizational breakdown. The emerging monasteries were islands, not only o f religious retreat, but of social safety and order. A monastic community began, typically, on a small scale but gradually became an economic unit, productive agriculturally, protected by walls, dedicated in one aspect to the preservation of learning: Here the great legislators of monasticism were not Justinian, but St. Benedict and


St. Gregory the Great. The rule of St. Benedict marks the final assimilation of the monastic institution by the Roman spirit and the tradition of the Western Church. Its conception o the monastic f life is essentially social and cooperativeas a discipline o the common life. ...The f Rule lays down that the monastery should be so arranged that all necessary things such as water-mills, gardens, and workshops should be within the enclosure. In fact, the Benedictine Abbey was a self-contained economic organism, like the villa o a Roman landowner, save that f the monks themselves were the workers and the old classical contrast between servile work and free leisure no longer obtained. The primary task of the monk, however, was still the performance of the divine liturgy o prayer and psalm, which f is minutely regulated by St. Benedict.... Thus, in an age of insecurity and disorder and barbarism, the Benedictine rule embodied an ideal of spiritual ode and disciplined moral activity which made the monastery an oasis of peace in a world at war .... It was the disciplined and tireless labor o the monks which turned the tide f of barbarism in Western Europe and brought back into cultivation lands which had been deserted and depopulated in the age of the invasions.

university professor, no doubt because our sense o that history is still affected f by the dismissive attitudes toward the monastic tradition held by both the Renaissance Humanists and the Protestant Reformers. Yet, as Dawson makes abundantly clear, that link is there, demonstrable, and a vital part o our history. f Recent scholarship has elucidated other continuities in Western culture, sometimes surprising in the shape they take. Thus the earlier medieval period neglected t h e natural sciences, and a bridge was required to connect the ancient philosophers and scientists with the revival of the natural sciences in twelfth century Europe. In The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450 (1992), David C. Lindbergh demonstrates that the bridge from the ancient world to the beginnings o modf f ern science consisted o Muslim scholars, philosophers, and scientists. T h e Greeks, and preeminently Aristotle, had created the foundations for a variety of disciplines-physics, zoology, medicine, and meteorology. The lslamic scholars translated, commented upon, and modified the work o the f Greeks. For example, t h e translator Hunayan ibn Ishaq (80-473) translated three dialogues o Plato, four works o f f Aristotle, fifteen Hippocratic texts, and ninety works o the Greek physician f Galen. Professor Lindbergh demonstrates that the Muslim writers attempted to make use of Greek metaphysics as well, although here the effort ran f into the problem o reconciling Greek metaphysics with Islamic religious faith, modifying it in the direction o t h e f double truth later expounded by Averroes and others. In Lindberghs account, medieval science was that of Aristotle combined with some Platonic elements and also with the Islamic comSummer I997

N o doubt there are academic specialists in medieval history who are well aware o the developments Dawson def scribes, but the richness of his philosophical and historical learning places him in a small category of thinkers and allows him to place the developments h e describes in a context o special cultural f density. And with this, he combines t h e ability to reach the generally educated reader through the grace and lucidity o f his prose style. For several difficult and chaotic centuries the monasteries were foci o relif gious, cultural, and social order. So far as I can tell, this vital link in the continuity o Western culture has not registered f in the sense o history possessed by t h e f generally educated reader, or even t h e

mentaries, and he is entirely persuasive in showing that ancient and medieval science were linked by an Islamic bridge across the earlier medieval period. Victorian England witnessed a debate, carried on with intellectual force and high elegance. T. H. Huxley emerged as the champion o science, armed with f the potent new doctrines o Charles f Darwin. The towering figure o John f Henry Newman defended the claims o f religion incountless essays and in books that have become classics-the Apologia, the Grammar of Assent, and The Development of Christian Doctrine. Matthew Arnold spoke for the humanities, the best that has been thought and said. This was very much a university fight-indeed, a fight over the desirable emphasis in the curriculum-but it was also a fight about the content of high culture itself. In an odd reprise in our own period, C. P. Snow,thescientist andnovelist,spoke for science. F. R. Leavis, the stand-in, puritanically, for Newman, blasted Snow unmercifully. Lionel Trilling, not surprisingly, took up the role of Arnold and tried t o adjudicate the quarrel. Trilling tried t o build a bridge which at once not only recognized the claims o science f but also advanced the strong claims o f the humanities. It must be said that in its later version the three-way debate did not come close to the cogency and intellectual reach o its great Victorian pref deces sors. In a small but tightly argued and important book, the philosopher Mortimer Adler carries the debate to a new level that strikes me at least as highly cogent. Not least of its virtues, Truth in Religion: The Pluralily of Religions and the Unity of Truth (1990) shows how intellectual history, even ancient intellectual history, bears on some of the controversies that agitate us today. Professor Adler has many things of great interest to say, but
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his central argument goes this way: we now understand that the truths of mathematics, science, a n d logic a r e transcultural. If theChinese wish to build a nuclear reactor, there is nothing distinctive in the Chinese tradition that can advance the project. There is no alternative Chinese math or physics. They must turn to Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, and the rest. Adler builds upon this observation by arguing-very much against the multicultural spirit o the academy f today-that if the truths o mathematf ics, logic, and science know no cultural borders, then neither do the truths o f religion.
Whenever twentieth-century technology is employed, the mathematical and scientific truths that underlie it are either explicitly or implicitly affirmed. No matter how they differ in all other cultural respects-in their religions, their philosophies, their interpretation o history, and f their mythologies-all cultural communities on this globe that use the technological devices now available affirm, at least implicitly, the mathematics and the natural sciences on which technology is based.

I will cite here another brief passage in which he puts the matter a bit differently and advances it a bit further:
If the underlying mathematics and natural science are true, then the underlying view o reality as free from inherent conf tradictions must also be true, for if it were not, the conclusions of the empirical natural sciences could not be true by virtue of their correspondence with reality.

Adlers phrase about inherent contradictions is important here. He returns t o the logic of Aristotle, who held that two contradictory statements cannot both logically be true (although of course both might be false). Adler sees thedominant Greek logic as fundamental to Western metaphysics, to the Western world view, and thence to science, logic, and

mathematics. Aristotle's logic was a statement about the nature of the universe: a statement cannot be both true and untrue. A thing cannot both exist and not exist. As Adler observes, the Aristotelian metaphysics triumphed in the famous controversy between Aquinas a n d Averroes, an Arabic philosopher who tried to save the Muslim position on religion from the onslaught o Aristotef lian thought. He argued that there are separate truths existing in logic-tight compartments: Greeklogic and religious truth. For Averroes they are, though often contradictory, nevertheless both true. Aquinas said no and argued strenuously for the unity o all truth. A propof sition could not be true in science and at the same time false in religion.The sphere o factual and logical truth is allembracf ing and unitary. No matter how diverse their assertions, religion and science cannot be incompatible, contradictory. The religious concept of eternity, for example, though it cannot be proved by scientific means, is not contradictory to the assertions of science. There is no conflict possible between philosophy and religion. Adler follows Aquinas. The assertions of religion, he says, are meant t o be assertions o truth. They are not matters f o taste, like a preference for Picasso f over Miro. Religious assertions may be based upon history, probability, deductive logic, and so forth, but they are part of the unitary Aristotelian universe. And, as noted above, Adler thinks that Western metaphysics, which underlies Western science, goes back to a fundamental axiom o the ancient Greeks: f With regard to the logic of truth, there is another important difference between the three Western religions and the six or seven religions o the Far East. The culf ture in which the Western religions originated and developed all adopted or accepted the logic that had been formu220

lated by the Greeks in antiquity. This is certainly true of Christianity and Islam, and while it is not true of the Judaism that predated Greek philosophy, it is true o f the Jewish philosophers in the Hellenistic period and of Jewish philosophers in the Middle Ages. The principles of Aristotelian logic do not similarly underlie such major Far Eastern religions as Hinduism or Buddhism in its several forms, much less the assortment of lesser religions-animism and the like-that flourish in the Third World. Thus, all such religions are objectively false at their cores: The foregoing argument cannot avoid ending with a conclusion that will seem harshly illiberal to those who wish to defend unrestricted cultural pluralism. The conclusion is that the Averroistic duality of truth in the domains of science and religion (where neither domain regards its truth as poetical or fictional rather than factual) is not a healthy state of mind and should not be welcomed and embraced.
A striking example of how such schizo-

phrenia works can be imagined as follows. A Buddhist Zen master who lives in Tokyo wishes to fly to Kyoto in a private plane. When he arrives at the airport, he is offered two planes, one that is faster but aeronautically questionable and one that is slower but aeronautically sound. H e is informed by'the airport authorities that the faster plane violates some of the basic principles of aeronautical mechanics and the slower plane does not. Adler concludes that in matters o f taste, cultural pluralism is highly valuable, but in matters of truth it is not. The underlying Western assumptions about reality are validated by the evident succ e s s of Western science-which is transcultural. He speculates that some day religious truth will be transcultural as well, whenever Greek logic makes a bit more headway.
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If these arguments are accepted, they lead to questions about how non-Western religions should be studied in the university. The non-Western religions should certainly be studied, but not as possible alternative truth systems. They may well be studied as objects of fascination, objects of aesthetic pleasure, areas o anthropological interest, and so f on. But the kinds o claims they are f capable of making are not equivalent t o those o Western religions. They tripped f up over their own local version o the f Averroistic heresy. Among other things, by t h e way, Adlers book strikes me as a fine example o multiculturalism taken serif ously, rather than as a sentimental campus plaything: your rain dance is as good as Aristotles logic. Multiculturalismthus seriously pursued would not be a bad thing at all. Unfortunately, that is not going t o happen. Nor, by all indications, is there going t o happen another serious aspect o f multiculturalism. Central t o Arnolds critical method and t o his concept of culture was the comparative method, reading and comparing literary works in their original languages. He did not think that English literature could be properly understood without a knowledge of French and German literatures, and one has the sense that he regretted that he was not more expert in other modern languages. He certainly knew Greek and Latin. He looked with favor-and, indeed, longing-on the serious study o f Asian languages and literature. Nothing along these lines is happening in the college curriculum today. Language study is extremely thin. The non-Western books are polemical, complaining, and mostly thin. We are required t o admire the Sioux and denounce Columbus-in English. Everything is read in translation. For decades now, Adler has been fighting these trends. In removing the oppoModern Age

sition between science and religion and in effect making them partners through Greek logic, he has produced a variant on the old argument from design, which has not been much heard from lately. Popular in the eighteenth century, the argument from design tried to move from perceived regularities in nature to religious assertions. In its popular and journalistic form, it appealed t o assorted aspects of physical nature--the seasons, animal behavior, the human eye, etc. Hume treated the argument in its popular form roughly in his Dialogues on Natural Religion.Adlers argument about Greek logic and the performance o scif ence and technology much more resembles Newtons use o the equations f o physics in his own sense o design. f f One epigraph to this essay is a quotation from Solzhenitsyn: a people that no longer remembers has lost its history and its soul. Dawsons work, in the large, consists of a great act of remembering as recovery, discerning the shape o Western civilization in the context o f f his vast knowledge o other civilizations. f Yet the weather of a great writers mind makes itself felt locally, in the small acts o insight and recognition, and Dawsons f work is indeed rich in these sudden shafts of illumination. Herewith a few examples: The result was that the modern world has been inundated by a shallow flood of universal literacy which destroyed the old traditions of popular culture and increased the mass-mindedness of modern society without raising cultural standards or deepening its spiritual life. There are forces of nature in the strict f sense and there are higher forces o spiritual good and evil which we cannot measure. Human life is essentially a warfare against unknown powers-not merely against flesh and blood, which are themselves irrational enough, but against principalities and powers, against the

Cosmocrats o the Dark Aeon,to use St. f Pauls strange and disturbing expression, powers which are more than rational and which make use of lower things, things below reason, in order to conquer and f rule the world o man. In that second quotation, Dawson speaks in terms that John Milton would haveunderstood but which we havevery largely excluded from our working vocabulary. Yet the suspicion that Dawson is right lingers around the margins o f consciousness. One thinks o Thomas f Manns famous story, Mario and the Magician, of t h e Holocaust a n d Auschwitz, and o the absence o surf f prise one felt at the revelations about the Manson family at the end o the f 1960s. Whatever the degree of assent one wishes to give t o Dawsons view o the f Cosmocrats of the Dark Ages, that view nevertheless allows him t o understand such a colossal figure as St. Augustine in a way that comes freshly to a modern secular consciousness. Here h e distinguishes Augustine from the admirable Prudentius, who was devoted to the Roman Empire, although a Christian: St. Augustine saw things otherwise. To
him the ruin of civilization and the destruction o the Empire were not very f

tion and spiritualized it. He was born on October 12, 1889, at Hay Castle in the Wye Valley, the son o f a major in the Royal Artillery. His mother was the daughter o an Anglican archf deacon. The castle had been built in the twelfth century and possessed a ruined tower and secret passages. The family had inherited a trinket from an ancestor who was Captain o the Guard in the f Tower of London when Ann Boleyn was beheaded. The legend has it that s h e gave the soldier the gold trinket, which was fashioned like a snake, saying as s h e did so, A snake it is, a snake it has proved to me. The trinket was Henry VlIIs first gift to her? When Dawson was six, his father retired from thearmytoavoid being posted to Singapore, and the family settled at an inherited family property, Hartlington Hall in Yorkshire, where Dawson spent his boyhood. When h e was ten, he was sent to a boarding school near Rugby, and in the familiar way loathed it, and then went t o Winchester for a year, which, although Spartan, was more to his liking, since it gave him abundant time for reading, and he collected books on a large scale. Winchester Cathedral appealed to his youthful but already profound historical sense:
I learnt more during my schooldays from

important things. He looked beyond the aimless and bloody chaos of history to the world of eternal realities from which the world o sense derives all t h e signifif cance which it possesses. His thoughts were fixed, not on the fate o the city of f Rome or the city o Hippo, nor on the f struggle o Roman and barbarian, but on f those other cities which have their foundations in heaven and in hell. It is impossible to be more English than Christopher Dawson and, at the same time, more universal. There is nothing in American culture at all like him, perhaps because America never aspired t o a global empire. Dawson may b e said to have internalized the English imperial aspira222

my visits to the Cathedral at Winchester than I did from the hours of religious instruction in school. That great church, with its tombs of the Saxon kings and the medieval statesmen-bishops,gave one a greater sense of the magnitude o the f religious element in our culture and the depths of its roots in our national life than anything one could learn from books. After one year at Winchester, he was removed because his parents feared a susceptibilityto consumption-throughout his life, his health was delicate-and placed under private tutors. H e entered Trinity College at Oxford in the. MichaelSummer 1997

mas term of 1908,a golden age at Oxford of Newman and Arnold, not t o mention t h e dreaming s p i r e s of Compton Mackenzie. Like so many other converts to Catholicism o that era, writes his daughf ter Christina Scoff,such as Ronald Knox, C. C. Martindale, Vernon Johnson and E. 1. Watkin, his path to Rome went by the middle way o Anglo-Catholicism,which f had a strong following in Oxford. It represented a reaction not only from the secularism and materialism o the age, f but from the more worldly aspects o f Establishmentreligion or Mayor and Corporation religion, as Christopher used t o call it.The beautiful Anglo-Catholic ritual was also acontrast t o the severity of much of the Low Protestant tradition-the gloom of their Sundays, the long Bible readings and sermons, and the bare ugliness o their unadorned f churches. A 1909 visit to Rome when he was nineteen opened Dawsons eyes t o a new world o religion and culture, the f wonderful flowering o Baroque. In Italy f he deepened his sense of the continuities o culture and o the power o relif f f gion in shaping it. He remembered particularly, writes Christina Scott, visiting the church of the Ara Coeli, built on the summit o the Capitol on the site o f f the former temple of Jupiter, and one o f the oldest churches in Rome. It was here, according to an ancient legend, that Augustus, after hearing a Delphic prophecy foretelling the coming of the Savior, built an altar t o the Son o God f (the Aru Primogeniti Dei),while later, in thetimeof GregorytheGreat, thechurch was dedicated to the Mother o God. f Even the architecture o the interior f showed the same link between the two worlds, the one o pagan classical antiqf uity and the other of Christianity. Classical columns, mosaic pavements and the marble tombs o Roman dignitaries are f reminders of the earlier pagan civilizaModem Age

tion, while medieval and Renaissance Rome is represented by the baroque high altar, the great gilded ceiling commemorating the victory o Lepanto and f Pinturiccios frescoes depicting the life o St. Bernardino of Siena. f f Today it is odd to read o the intense disapproval with which Dawsons conversion to Catholicism was resisted by his and his wifes immediate family. They regarded it as almost a form o treason t o f England and English ways. He became a Catholic in 1913,and an important influence in his decision, ironically enough, was the liberal Protestant German theologian Adolf Harnack, whose researches persuaded him that the Church o Rome f was the historical successor to an unbroken tradition extending back to the Apostles, a tradition broken by the Reformation. As Dawson recalled:
Harnack, a liberal Protestant, never knew how much he contributed to the process of my conversion to the Catholic Church! H e had never heard o me, o course, but f f I wonder if it ever occurred to him that he might have helped anyone along that particular road.

The Anglican faction at Oxford had historically been anti-Reformation, though opposed to Rome as well. Thus Newmans friend Hurrell Froude, in a letter to Newman, declared that he could never call the Holy Eucharist the Lords Supper or Gods priests ministers o f the w o r d or the altar the Lords table. Clearly there were not only theological but stylistic difficulties with Low Church terminology and doctrine. Adolf Harnack aside, the most eloquent testimony I have found to the sources of Dawsons conversion occurs in an essay entitled Why I Am a Catholic. I quote here a few sentences:
It was by the study of St. Paul and St. John that I first came to understand the mental unity of Catholic theology and the Catho-


lic life. 1 realized that the incarnation, the sacraments, the external order of the Church and the internal work Of sanctifying grace were tall parts of one organic unity, a living tree whose fruit is the perfection of the saints....This fundamental doctrine of sanctifying grace, as revealed in the New Testament and explained by St. Augustine and St. Thomas in all of its connotations, removed all my difficulties and uncertainties and carded complete conviction to my mind. Dawson was received into the Catholic Church on January 5, 1914, at St. Aloysius Church in Oxford, rented a cottage in the Cowley Road, and began what hecalled fourteen years o isolated study f before he published. After what today seems an interminable courtship, he finally married Valerie Mills in the summer of 1916, vacationed with her in Italy, and moved with her into a house at Boars Hill in Oxford. In 1928 he published his first book, The Age ofthe Gods: A Study of the Origins of Culture in Pre-

Historic Europe and the Ancient East. The book was a critical success. T. S. Eliot invited him to write for the Criterion quarterly, and his productivity became immense. Between 1928 and his death in 1970, the bibliography of his writing is extraordinary in its scope. It was in 1959, during his Harvard professorship, at age seventy that he had his first, though minor, cerebral stroke. He cut down on his public activities and continued to write and lecture, but during the winter o 1962, a particuf larly severe one, Dawson suffered a second and more damaging stroke in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He returned to England in awheelchair and was thenceforth a cripple. In May 1970,writes his daughter, Christopher had a sudden heart attack; at first he seemed to recover from it and was soon sitting up in bed asking for champagne and a copy o f The Times, of which h e had been a lifetime reader, but hesoon after contracted pneumonia, which proved fatal.

1. Lyndall Gordon, Eliots Early Years (New York, 1977); EliotsNew Life (New York, 1988). 2. This and the following biographical information comes from

ChristinaScott,A Historian andHas Wor1d:A Life of CbrisropherDawson (New Brunswick, N.J.,1991).


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