Friday, August 12, 2011

Christopher Dawson on the Role of Catholic Education

The Christian college must be the cornerstone of any attempt to rebuild the order of Western civilization. . . . but as a cosmos of spiritual relations embracing heaven and earth and uniting the order of social and moral life with the order of divine grace. Christian culture is the Christian way of life. As the Church is the extension of the Incarnation, so Christian culture is the embodiment of Christianity in social institutions and patterns of life and behavior. It is the nature of Christianity to act as a leaven in the world and to transform human nature by a new principle of divine life.

Christendom, the historical reality of Christian culture as a world movement, was created by the conversion of Hellenistic Roman culture to Christianity and its diffusion to the peoples of the West. . . . It has inherited the sacred learning of the Hebrews and the wisdom of the Greeks and law of Rome and has united them in a new unity.

What is vital is to recover the moral and spiritual foundations on which the lives of both the individual and the culture depend: to bring home to the average man that religion is not a pious fiction which has nothing to do with the facts of life, but that it is concerned with realities, that it is in fact the pathway to reality and the law of life. This is no easy task, since a completely secularized culture is a world of make-believe in which the figures of the cinema and the cartoon-strip appear more real than the figures of the Gospel; in which the artificial cycle of wage earning and spending has divorced men from their direct contact with the life of the earth and its natural cycle of labor and harvest; and in which even birth and death and sickness and poverty no longer bring men face to face with ultimate realities, but only bring them into closer dependence on the state and its bureaucracy so that every human need can be met by filling in the appropriate form.

Any Catholic who is intellectually alive and is at the same time obviously convinced of the truth of his religion administers a shock to their preconceived ideas. He is not likely to convert them, but he shakes their confidence in the inevitability of the secularist outlook and in the stupidity of the religious view of life.

We may not be able to build cathedrals like the Catholics of the thirteenth century, or write epics like Dante, but we can all do something to make man conscious of the existence of religious truth and the relevance of Catholic thought, and to let the light into the dark world of a closed secularist culture.

--Christopher Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education, 1961.

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