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Never-Before Published Christopher Dawson

Never-Before Published Christopher Dawson Thursday, November 9, 2006

 A never-before published lecture by noted historian and author Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) has been released by Saint Vincent Archabbey Publications. The book, The Movement Towards Christian Unity in the Nineteenth Century, is based on a lecture Dawson gave at Saint Vincent in 1960.

Dawson campaigned for an integrated study of Christian philosophy, history, literature, and art in the same way as literae humaniores had studied every aspect of classical culture. Only this, he believed, could overcome the schism between religion and culture in the West. Dawson made his name as a scholar outside of traditional academic circles, but in 1958, at the age of sixty-nine, he and his wife, Valerie, traveled to Harvard University where he would occupy the Stillman Chair in the Divinity School until 1962.

During his time in America, Dawson was invited by Archabbot Denis Strittmatter, O.S.B., the monastic superior at Saint Vincent Archabbey, and Father Quentin Schaut, O.S.B., the President of Saint Vincent College, to give the annual Wimmer Lecture. Dawsons lecture explores the rebirth of English Catholicism and how it sought to heal the religious divisions created by misunderstanding and centuries of intolerance.

Born in 1889, Christopher Dawson was educated at Trinity College, Oxford, where he studied modern history, and while an undergraduate, he converted to Roman Catholicism. Dawson graduated in 1911, and his reputation as a historian and writer grew.

At Harvard, Dawson presented lectures dealing with the relationship between Catholicism and western culture, the Reformation, and a series of lectures describing the movement toward Christian unity in the nineteenth century, said Father Rene Kollar, O.S.B., who authored the introduction to the new publication. The latter formed the basis for his Saint Vincent College Wimmer Lecture.

Dawson and his wife spent much time traveling throughout America, a country which he admired, noted Father Rene. They accepted numerous invitations to lecture on Catholicism. Officials at Saint Vincent College recognized Dawsons importance as a spokesperson for Catholic values and the liberal arts, and invited him to speak at the Latrobe campus.

The correspondence between Saint Vincent and Harvard, which appears in this book, not only reveals how valued Christopher Dawson had become as a lecturer in America, but also the hectic nature of his schedule and his failing health.

After some laudatory remarks about American Catholicism, Dawson discussed the rebirth of English Catholicism and the part played by John Henry Newman, Nicholas Wiseman, and Edward Manning in this spiritual and intellectual renaissance. Both Newman and Manning, he pointed out, had succeeded in breaking down the cultural division which had so long separated Catholicism from the life of the nation, Father Rene said.

Father Rene added that according to Dawson, schism is evil because it destroys God's plan for unity among people. Dawson ended his lecture with a plea for Christian unity: And the tragedy is that schism could be removed if all Christians willed it, as for the most part they say they do and they are usually sincere or not consciously insincere in saying so. Christopher Dawson was certainly optimistic as the Catholic Church prepared for the upcoming work of Vatican Council II, and had he lived longer, Dawson would have approved of the Council's decree on unity among Christians.

After Dawson returned to Harvard, the process to have the Wimmer Lecture published was begun, but. Due to Dawson's failing health, the work was never completed.

Christopher Dawson's 1960 Wimmer Lecture still has relevance today in a world split by discord, religious division, and schism within Christianity, Father Rene concluded.

The book is available for $8.75 from Archabbey Publications, 300 Fraser Purchase Road, Latrobe, PA 15650-2690, http://www.stvincentstore.com.

 

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