Friday 30 November 2018

Dawson VI, part b.

In this age Europe ceased to lead the world, and its own civilization was weakened through national rivalry and dis-union. This instability reached down to the structure of society. No longer did changing, urban, society have as its foundation the stability of rural society, with its natural rhythm and traditional human culture. That which had fed the new urban culture was now exhausted by the strain which urban, artificial culture put upon it. And so, rural society becomes a small minority. The powers of the State and public opinion acted to streamline and bring conformity to the entire population.
In the new “civilization” the conditions of life became more and more artificial as it moved away from the natural rhythm, making increasing demands on people’s energies. The change was not just material but also biological, a change which will affect the future of mankind. Can human beings adapt themselves successfully to these conditions? Can people maintain the energy that these conditions require of them? Will people become exhausted, and an era of social degeneration follow? Will a new form of social equilibrium be scientifically engendered?
Let us remember that the Roman Empire fell because of a sudden change of material conditions. These conditions, the foundation of her power, were the agrarian, peasant life of the soldier citizen. Once the Mediterranean world had been conquered by Rome, a new, sophisticated elite arose who lived by war and plunder, exhausting Rome’s strength. Rome killed Rome; a vast, useless burden broke the back of the Empire.
Yet the Church was in the midst of this, as the Prophets had foretold; and her foundation was neither power, science nor the natural rhythm, but the mystical union of her human faculties with the Son of God.
Today, urban development does not have the parasitic character of the ancient world. Moreover, science has helped to nurture the material conditions of life. But the social changes carry more weight. What our civilization needs today is social and moral unification – a profound human fellowship and sharing in our common lot. The Church’s contribution to this is precisely the New Evangelisation.
Actually, the world, which was a European creation, needs Europe. Neither politicians nor politics appear to offer the remedy. Europe today is waiting for a new Augustus; the emperor who converted the selfish forces of the Empire into agents of peace and world order.
Europe needs to be a place of social and economic co-operation. However, Liberalism, in its project to secularise Europe, has undermined its own foundations and has destroyed the spiritual tradition upon which Europe was built.

Thursday 29 November 2018

Dawson VI, part a.

The Age of Science and Industry.
As we progress through these chapters of Dawson’s magnificent book, “Religion and Progress”, the changes that took place during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries can seem very depressing from a Catholic point of view; I’m sure that they will indeed have depressed many! However, the Church has already lived these events and circumstances, and that is why there is today a call for a New Evangelisation. Now that doesn’t seem so depressing, does it! It is a world subject to these influences, and not a utopia, that we are called to evangelise.
So far Dawson has principally discussed philosophical movements and political trends. Economic methods were also in play during this era. On the European continent the two great movements of the age were science and reason, and theology and faith. In England there existed a via media between the two. This was the search for a practical approach to the building of civilization: the Industrial Revolution.
The social movement of activism, which was already underway in England since the Reformation, enabled the development of industry and thrift. In this context, work was like a religious vocation. The Industrial Revolution was led by the new moral force and asceticism that served the ideals of duty and of economic power. However, the reality was that economic freedom was sacrificed to economic conquest and exploitation, paving the way for a new, vast, process of managing and forming society.
As the new Industrial empire spread, traditional culture, customs, and economy were broken down. The world became a single community with an international economic life and ideals.
Modern Europe and America are the heirs of the old Roman Empire; achieved not now by military force, but through Liberal ideas and political democracy. Material progress led to a social crisis. But, even though industrialization raised the general standard of life, it degraded the position of the ordinary worker.
Socialism also grew out of Liberalism. The Marxist interpretation of history actually expresses the failure of material progress to satisfy the human condition, on whose labour the whole new enterprise had come into being. Marxism is in reality a dis-affection with the modern social order and a demand for another one.
The exploitation of the world by the newly industrialised Europe was too rapid and could not be maintained. Today, those factors are reversed, and now non-Western countries are taking their share of the world market. In England the heavy industries declined sharply, whilst its need for imported foods increased.

Saturday 24 November 2018

Dawson, Part V b.

As I read this chapter again, which treats of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, it seemed to me more like a commentary on the last part on the Twentieth Century and the first part of the Twenty-first, yet the book was published in 1929. Again, the comment of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn about the Renaissance, made during his 1978 Harvard address came to mind: “ This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the intrinsic evil in man, nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs.”
The new humanism of the Renaissance focused on what the human person could do, not upon what he was called to be. Human beings could master nature, but were not now called to become more human. Rather, the more that a person can do or experience, the ‘better’ he or she will be.
Morality had been overtaken by observation and experiment; modern science was just beginning. The mathematical structure of reality was the new metaphysics.
The corollary of this was than man lost his central place in the Universe. He was no longer the link between the spiritual and material order, but had now embarked on an independent project in which his truth and goodness were left behind. He had become a by-product of a vast mechanical order which the new form of science had just revealed.
Cartesian philosophy well expressed the dualism of matter and spirit. Secular culture and religious tradition came apart and, without the other, neither could fully develop. Even so, religious ideas remained dominant in society, represented by the Puritans, the Jansenists, St Teresa and St Vincent de Paul.
In England, the 1688 revolution ironed out religious differences by abandoning toleration, and enforcing the Test Act and the Penal Laws.
The effect of this was the suppression of the religious foundation of society and the emergence of a progressive, secular State. Even so, the good elements of the new culture were drawn from the old Christian culture; the new culture was an abstraction of Christianity.
The progress and development of people took the place which Christ Jesus had formally held in his work of the Redemption. Human effort was now the key; a golden age lay ahead.
The belief in progress was the religion of the age, but the disappointment that followed from the destruction and terror of the French Revolution, divided Europe again into two camps, one Liberal and the other Catholic.
As the Age continued, the Idea of Progress was seen as the great hope; a ‘new Christianity’, which would restore unity to Europe. An ideal, but without a genuine human basis.

Friday 23 November 2018

Dawson, Part V.

The secularisation of Western Culture and the rise of the Religion of Progress.
In two short paragraphs of pages 140 and 141, we have one of the best analyses of the Reformation ever made in a sociological frame.
Medieval Europe was civilized by the Church. The State was essentially the cultural tradition of a Christian people. The unity of peoples within Christendom was torn apart by the movement which we call the Renaissance.
In Southern Europe the Renaissance was a movement which sought the recovery of the culture that had been before the Middle Ages. In doing so it found a newly Christianised, Classical past, which led it to re-embrace its Catholic inheritance.
In Northern Europe this same movement led it back to its culturally barbaric roots, and so it sought a new form of expression. What took place was a quest for independence by a re-moulding of Christianity. The Renaissance in Northern Europe was the Reformation. To the north it was Lutheran and to the south it was Calvinist (which appealed to the Latin mind), and in the middle, England was Calvinist with a Catholic minority, and France was Catholic with a Calvinist minority (including the Calvin-influenced Catholics, the Jansenists.) In England the Church is Protestant, but Anglican. In France it is Catholic, but Gallican.
The Reformation, which was originally a religious and theological movement, is propelled by social forces. People sought independence from any influence that was felt to be repressive or foreign. Nietzsche called the Reformation “a spiritual, Peasant revolt” – the elimination of everything that was intellectual, complicated, Catholic.
However, the Reformation did not follow the Oriental path of centuries before, where people had turned away from human experience to contemplate the Divine. Rather, it led to an accentuation of what had taken place in the West centuries before, where faith became a dynamic force. Now, in Protestantism, faith was no longer seen as one’s participation in the Divine life, but was seen as a purely non-rational experience, the conviction of personal salvation.
For Catholics, God was the principle of the intelligibility of the created Universe. For Protestants, God was a despotic power who saved or damned men by mere arbitrary will. This understanding did not lead to an attitude or fatalism or apathy, but rather to a sense of practical moral duty. Having abolished spiritual ‘works’, Protestantism invented a new code of activism.
In the Catholic south there was also a movement from the cloister to the world. The active, or apostolic life of lay people came into focus.