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.

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