Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Dividing of Christendom - Christopher Dawson: Where Islam Meets Christianity by Judy Joyce

When the July 29 Charlie Rose interview with the head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, turned to a discussion of news coverage of terrorist arrests in the United States as recently as this very month, Rose inquired with Ms. Napolitano about the state of the country's security.

Turning to one news columnists widely publicized coverage of Ms. Napolitano's latest series of public speeches, he noted the criticism of Homeland Security for dropping the use of the term “terrorist” as if an effort toward appeasement with enemies of the United States.

On the other end of the spectrum, former leftist Britain's Pat Coddell has promoted a video podcast that cites chapter and verse as to what constitutes "apologists for evil." Codell contends that U.S. leftists who are these apologists are self-righteous and intolerant of everyone and everything except the enemy.

They come from the very segment of society that he was so fed up with he left the left. His language is quite colorful. Codell states words to the effect that this leftist mania comes in the form of multi-cultural purists who refuse to identify Jihadist terrorists with Islam.

During exchanges such as these within the culture, a lot of discussion revolves around all the major religions of the world, the role of the West's Christianity, the Crusades from centuries ago, and other elements of clashes with the East. In theWest, there seems to be an effort to explain this post-modern phenomenon and a new interest in the history of religions.

Perhaps this latest release covering the history of some of the Christian religions most salient developments and based on his Harvard lectures, The Dividing of Christendom, Ignatius Press -2009 will further assist in educating the interested in separating out fact from fiction. In this way, and throughout the country's long slog that will be required, it is in everyone's interest to educate themselves and prevent what can deteriorate into confusion about the role of Western religion, if any, in the current morass of public opinion.

About the Author and His Work

Regius Professor Emeritus of Modern HistoryUniversity of Cambridge, David Knowles, in 1965 wrote:

In the past forty years much has been written of the period in European history between 1300 and 1550. The epoch of open religious conflict that began with the emergence of Luther in 1517 was indeed momentous, but in many ways the revolution in thought and theology had begun two centuries earlier, when Duns Scotus and William of Ockham departed from the tradition of philosophy as a body of accepted reasonings (philosophia perennis) and began the construction of personal systems that has continued ever since, while Marsilius of Padua and John Wyclif broke with the traditional views on the government of the church and primitive Christianity.

Dawson saw this well, and began in this period with his story of the break-up of Christian thought. In the lectures that followed he described with great economy of words and an excellent sense of proportion the initial movement of European thought away from religious unity, and later its rejection of traditional religion of any kind.Thoughts and sentiments have changed in spectacular ways in the past fifteen years. Dawson, who saw continuity between the classical civilization of Greece and Rome and the culture of the medieval and modern world, was at one with such thinkers as Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson in France in expounding a Christian humanism in terms of a realist philosophy.
This is now an unfashionable outlook.

The conception of a stream of historical influences, and of a 'realist' universe of which the individual mind is a part, indeed, but one that can within limits comprehend the whole and recognize truth, is currently under attack in favour of an existentialist or phenomenalist outlook, which is true only for the individual, while history is a series of 'cultures' which inform the thought and sentiment of the present generation but which, when past, have no more meaning for those who come after than the culture of the 'Beaker Folk' or the people of La Tène.

To some Christopher Dawson may seem to 'date' but when truly assessed he is dateless. The principles for which he stood, the truth and beauty that he saw, cannot be lost, even if they may for a time be obscured. It may be that the 'silent majority' here as elsewhere, will feel kinship with a great historian who saw the development of Europe 'steadily, and saw it whole'.

The Books Foreward by Prof. James Hitchcock, Ph.D. - St. Louis University

How did Catholics and Protestants come to be divided? What impact has their division had on Western culture? Historian Christopher Dawson answers these and other important questions in his classic study, The Dividing of Christendom.

Based on Dawson's Harvard lectures, this book provides a highly readable, masterful overview of the factors that led to one of the deepest divides in Western history--one that endures and gave momentum to social, cultural and political changes whose consequences are still with us. The decline of medieval unity, the Renaissance, the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, the cultures of divided Christendom, the rise of modern secular culture, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution are all presented in an engagingly, popular style.

This is a work for all Western Christians who want to understand the historical origins of their present divisions and possible ways of overcoming them. Dawson writes, "Of all divisions between Christians, that between Catholics and Protestants is the deepest and the most pregnant in its historical consequences. It is so deep that we cannot see any solution to it in the present period and under existing historical circumstances. But at least it is possible for us to take the first step by attempting to overcome the enormous gap in mutual understanding which has hitherto rendered any intellectual contact or collaboration impossible."

Ecumenism progressed significantly after Dawson penned those words, especially following the Second Vatican Council, but the problem of Christian disunity persists. This is a fitting subject for Christopher Dawson, whose genius was to present theSa broad sweep of history with verve, clarity, insight and authority. Only a deep appreciation of how the present Christian divisions arose, Dawson argues in The Dividing of Christendom, will permit an authentic return to full Christian unity.

Saturday Review of Literature

On Dawson's companion book, The Formation of Chistendom SRL writes:

The renowned historian Christopher Dawson devoted his long and brilliant career to precisely the kind of historical research of which theologians and churchmen stand in great need, particularly if they are to meet the authentic demands of this ecumenical era.

Dawson’s book traces the formation of Christian culture from its roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition through the rise and the decline of medieval Christendom. Here, as in all his works, he sees religion as the dynamic element of culture. He shares with Arnold Toynbee the ideal of a universal spiritual society as the goal of history; but whereas Dr. Toynbee sees this as C historian and as a Christian Humanist.

"Unequaled as an historian of culture. Unless we read him, we are uninformed".

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