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Christopher Dawson on theology and the social sciences.

THOUGH PRIMARILY KNOWN AS A HISTORIAN, Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) demonstrates remarkable theological insight in his scholarly work. Dawson successfully integrates the findings of the social sciences with careful theological attentiveness to achieve a view of history that accounts both for the natural striving for God as well as God's intervention in the world. Religion, as found throughout human history, must be seen as a human attempt to relate to and even reach the absolute. The context of this search has been historically conditioned and in turn enormously influential on history. Therefore, the social sciences are crucial in order to understand both the origin of religion in history and its crucial role in shaping it. Nevertheless, Dawson argues that the social sciences alone are not sufficient to understand religion for two reasons. The first is that empirical study cannot fully comprehend the nature of human spirituality. The second is that religious striving toward the divine provides the context for God's intervention in history, which transcends the limits of observable data. This article explores Dawson's central themes in relation to theology and suggests ways in which Dawson may aid modern theological study.

Dawson's Method

The most striking feature of Dawson's historical method is his ability to integrate findings in the social sciences while not succumbing to their limits. (1) He recognizes that many scholars in these disciplines actually ignore the most crucial aspects of human life. Dawson writes that "behind the rational sequence of political and economic cause and effect, hidden spiritual forces are at work which confer on events a wholly new significance." (2) Therefore, "if we rely on history alone we can never hope to transcend the sphere of relativity; it is only in religion and metaphysics that we can find truths that claim absolute and eternal validity." (3) Dawson certainly does not argue that the social sciences should be collapsed into theology or metaphysics, but rather makes the bold claim that any history that does not take the claims of these disciplines seriously will contain grave flaws.

Rather than allowing religious claims and data of the human sciences to stand apart from one another in an isolated fashion, Dawson attempts to create a comprehensive view of history that accounts for the totality of human experience. History must deal with those things for which "the men of the past cared most." What they cared for most were religious ideas, which usually arouse the interests of theologians only to receive "neglect by the historians, with the result that the latter devote more space to secondary movements that make some appeal to the modern mind than to the central issues that were of vital interest to the men of the past and governed not only their inner life but also their social institutions and practical activities." (4) Even though Dawson focused on elements intentionally overlooked by his colleagues, he also made use of the best modern scholarly material available to him. In particular, Dawson integrated the findings of anthropology and sociology, grounding his theory of the role of religion throughout history in rigorous, scientific study.

In his first book, The Age of the Gods, he lays out his vision:
 After a century and more of historical specialism and archaeological
 research, of the minute criticism of documents and sources, the time
 has come when it is becoming possible to reap the fruits of this
 intensive labour, and to undertake some general synthesis of the
 new knowledge of man's past that we have acquired ... a general
 vision of the whole past of our civilisation has become possible.

Dawson expressed a theory that stretched throughout all of history and that traced the development of human life alongside the development of religion. He did this by stressing the "organic relation between theology, history and culture," in order to see human life as an ordered whole, embracing both natural relations and supernatural aspirations. (6)

Religion and Culture

The heart of Dawson's theory consists in his insight that religion plays an essential role within the life of every culture. Because of this interdependence, Dawson's interdisciplinary method was well suited to illuminate these areas. In order to understand a culture, there is need for archaeological, anthropological, historical, and sociological study. In his pursuit of these disciplines, Dawson recognizes that the facts they provide are ultimately insufficient to account fully for the organized, sustained, and dynamic energy found within culture. In addition to the material examination of culture, theological reflection is necessary to account for humanity's relation to the divine:
 Every social culture is at once a material way of life and a
 spiritual order. Culture as a common way of life is inseparable
 from culture as a common tradition of language and thought and a
 common inheritance of knowledge, and this in turn involves an
 organized attempt to co-ordinate human action with the
 transcendent divine power which rules the world and on which man's
 life depends. (7)

Dawson insists that "the material and spiritual factors interpenetrate one another so completely that they form an inseparable unity, so that religion and life have become one." (8)

Given this theory of the unity of the material and the spiritual, it might appear that religion should be explained simply as a product of culture, even to the point that its intelligibility could be reduced to it. This thought would be tempting given that the empirical facts of a culture could provide an objective basis for the study of religion. Rather than following this "easy" course, Dawson proposes the exact opposite. He states that "it is the religious impulse which supplies the cohesive force which unifies a society and a culture." (9) Instead of basing a religion upon culture, it is religion that gives culture its foundation; religion's vision gives purpose to each aspect of humanity's social life. Religion is absolutely essential for a culture, since "every living culture must possess some spiritual dynamic, which provides the energy necessary for that sustained social effort which is civilization." (10) Though it is possible to study a culture solely through its outward achievements, Dawson argues that this study would be deficient, since it is spiritual energy that enables men and women to find the unity and strength needed to achieve social advancement.

For this reason, Dawson argues that scholars within the social sciences have been mistaken both in their estimation of religion and consequently even of culture. First, religion's role in the formation and life of culture has been underestimated. (11) Dawson argues that it is simply "absurd ... to study the physical environment of a society and to neglect the spiritual forces that condition its psychic life." (12) Given this misconception, culture has been studied from a one-sided point of view. Each discipline of the social sciences has approached culture isolated from the others, taking its own methodology as sufficient. One could examine archaeological evidence or sociological trends, but neither of the views actively sought to integrate the other, and, most importantly, each treated the religious element of culture merely through its own lens. Dawson directly addresses sociologists, challenging them to change their methodology. Rather than seeking a "one-sided relation of causal dependence between the different factors" in culture, they need to "view the social process as the result of a complex series of interdependent factors," including the "material environment, social organization and spiritual culture." (13) As regards the last element, Dawson argues that "as sociologists we have to accept the existence of this independent order of spiritual truths and values and to study their influence on social action ... the objective intellectual validity or spiritual value of religious doctrines and philosophical theories lies entirely outside of our province." (14) Thus, Dawson attempts to limit the ability of the social sciences to negate the spiritual force of religion by subordinating it to their own discipline.

Religion cannot be understood properly as simply an empirical phenomenon. That is not to say that empirical studies are inappropriate with regard to religion, but rather that any science "needs the help of philosophy and theology in order to understand the spiritual elements in the social process." (15) Dawson's claim is remarkable: sciences based on empirical study should not only accept as valid the findings of a discipline outside their methodology, but should also take it seriously in their own research.
 The sociologist cannot study religion fruitfully unless he
 recognizes that religion is an autonomous activity which has its
 own independent principles and laws. It is impossible to
 understand religion simply as a function of society, or to
 identify the social and religious categories, as Durkheim
 attempted to do. It is his business to study religion as a factor
 in the social process, but this is only one aspect of religion and
 by no means exhausts its content. The other aspects of
 religion--the trans-social ones, if I may use the expression, have
 also to be taken account of, though here the sociologist is
 incompetent to make final conclusions. Here the sociologist is
 dependent on data furnished by theology or the science of
 religion, which alone can attempt to define the nature and scope
 of religion comprehensively. (16)

What is more remarkable is that Dawson himself exemplifies this method in his own research, creating a history of religion and culture that stretches throughout every age of human life. He makes use of the findings of the social sciences in relation to both theology and the scientific study of religion in order to present a comprehensive account of religion. One can determine the adequacy of this method by examining Dawson's treatment of religion in the successive stages of the history of culture.

The Origin and Development of Religion

An explanation of the origin of religion rests not only in history, but also in a proper anthropological vision. In attempting to fulfill this task, Dawson argues that the scientific study of religion must recognize its own limits for two main reasons. First, religious experience cannot be reduced to empirical observation: "Genuine religion, even in its simplest and most elementary forms, goes deeper than reason. It reaches the deepest level of the human soul and consciousness. For there is in human nature a hunger and a thirst for the transcendent and the divine which cannot be satisfied by anything less than God." (17) Second, this deep need placed within the interior life is not simply subjective, but actually bears relation to something beyond this world. Dawson states that "all religion is based on the recognition of a superhuman Reality of which man is somehow conscious and towards which he must in some way orient his life. The existence of the tremendous transcendent reality that we name GOD is the foundation of all religion in all ages and among all peoples." (18) Inner experience does not reach its fulfillment within the self, but rather reaches into a spiritual order that both exists outside of and permeates the world. The common orientation of human nature toward God has created a fundamental unity to all religious experience, with "certain elements common to" all religions, such as worship and a moral order. (19) The commonality of religion, however, is complemented by Dawson's recognition that religious life has undergone real advancement, due especially to its changing relationship with culture, consummated by God's intervention in history.

Dawson argues that religion has its origin in human intuition, which can be confirmed by rational enquiry. (20) Though natural religion may have "its origin in the depths of the soul," this does not mean that it can be studied solely within the inner life. (21) Religion can never be solely interior, since it is linked with an objective spiritual order outside of a human being. While this recognition is certainly a huge leap in the study of religion, this link with the transcendent does not cut Dawson off from detailed study of religion's social aspects. Since religion necessarily seeks external expression, the study of outward forms complements and completes its interior foundation. Consequently, Dawson traces the development of religion precisely by examining the way in which religion shaped our social life throughout history. To understand a religion is to see how it expressed itself, addressed our internal and external needs, and ultimately how it formed a culture, the goal of every religion. (22) Though the sociologist cannot judge the validity of a religious experience or a truth claim, he or she can critically evaluate its outward expression. Thus, using the social sciences as a tool, Dawson writes a detailed history of religion based on its developing relationship with the social order. (23)

Though Dawson's account is extremely detailed and continues to develop throughout all of his works, three general and interrelated stages of humanity's religious life stand out in his thought. (24) In every stage there are both social and religious forces at work. The social sciences and theology will play a different role in evaluating each stage based on the way in which a particular religion interacts with its corresponding culture. For instance, in understanding the first stage of prehistoric religion, one is dependent wholly on archaeology and anthropology to gather evidence about early religious practices (though Dawson cautiously looks to modern accounts of aboriginal religion to corroborate his claims). Early human religion was bound up intimately with external circumstances. This external focus was not materialistic, but flowed from an "utter dependence on Nature," which saw "every manifestation of Nature as the work of individual personal spirits." (25) This attitude brought about a strong religious view, which did not separate nature and the supernatural, but saw all of life as one spiritual reality to which men and women sought to accommodate themselves. Dawson describes "primitive religion" as "essentially an attempt to bring man's life into relation with, and under the sanctions of, that other world of mysterious and sacred powers, whose actions it always conceived as the ultimate and fundamental law of life." (26) Everything in which primitive humans engaged involved religious ritual, through which they sought the help of the mysterious spiritual powers manifest in the natural world around them.

As primitive society developed into civilization, the religious nature of human life did not essentially change, but took on new forms of expression. Developments in agriculture, learning, and government all revolved around sacred rites. These rites sought to imitate the forces at work in nature and to bring about right relation with them. As an "imitation of the processes of nature, they afford an opportunity for men to acquire knowledge and control over nature which is substantial and real." (27) As city-states grew and even became empires, the religious life of the people became ever more concentrated on the priestly ruler, who became the representative of the patron deity to the people and vice versa. Through his initiative, the great works of civilization were undertaken at the command of and for the honor of the patron deity. (28) This sacral relationship of the ruler exemplified the identity that existed between social and religious life in the ancient world.

In reaction to this excessive identification, a spiritual revolution, or what Dawson calls "a cultural change of the most profound significance," occurred in the latter part of the first millennium B.C. stretching from Greece to the Far East. (29) Dawson states that "men could no longer accept the existing state of society and human life as a manifestation of the divine powers." (30) Religious life dynamically shifted from attempting to create an earthly order subjugated to the divine to seeking a spiritual reality apart from the world. This "new type of religious experience ... consisted in an intuition that was essentially spiritual and found its highest realization in the vision of the mystic." (31) Thus, Dawson notes that "the supreme principle is no longer identified with the world substance." (32) Here we have for the first time a sharp distinction between the transcendent reality sought by religion and immanent earthly life.

In these two great movements, Dawson traces the development of religious life from a social relationship with cosmic forces into the personal ascent of mystical union. What unifies them is that their foundation springs from their reliance on human intuition (which Dawson acknowledges as natural). (33) Though Dawson does not deny the claim of divine intervention in every religion, this presence was conceived of as a theophany in which the divinity entered into human intuitive experience, not the historical world. In contrast, Dawson describes the third movement in religious history in terms of the historical religions, that is, religions that claim as their basis God's intervention in the world, guiding it to some specific goal. This notion arrives first in Judaism. Dawson argues:
 Revelation is altogether different in kind from those revelations
 in esoteric wisdom of ... the religious literature of the East. It
 was a creative revelation, a process of continuous training and
 education by which a half-savage tribe of wandering herdsmen were
 gradually remade into a unique instrument for the fulfillment of
 the divine purpose toward mankind. (34)

Judaism did not claim to be based upon a personal, mystical experience, but saw its corporate life as complete reception and obedience to God as its sovereign. (35) Yahweh is both Other and immanent, not united as one with the physical or completely apart from it. In the life of Israel, the objective spiritual order to which humankind is related in the soul now acts directly in the world to form a culture and people, and according to Christianity, to prepare for God's actual incarnation in the physical world.

The change in humanity's religious life is radical. Rather than seeking either earthly protection or transcendent fulfillment through one's own experience, humanity is now presented with an invitation that relies upon God's own self-revealing knowledge and salvific acts. This new religious ideal entails the following:
 An adaptation of divine truth to the means of human understanding,
 whether by inspired Scriptures, as in the case of the Hebrew
 prophets, by a historical dispensation, as with the history of the
 Chosen People, or above all by the central mystery of the
 Incarnation by which the Word of God is embodied in a historical
 Person who is both human and divine. This marks a new beginning in
 the history of the human race--a new creation by which humanity is
 raised to a higher spiritual level which transcends the natural
 life and the rational knowledge of the human animal. (36)

Though revealed religion marks a new era in human history, it is not wholly divorced from its religious past. The importance of one's social way of life found in primitive religion and the striving for a direct relationship of union with transcendence in mystical religion unite and mutually correct each other in Christianity. What seemed to be two opposing forces meet in the "conception of the Incarnation as a bridge between God and Man, the marriage of Heaven and Earth, the channel through which the material is spiritualized and brought back to unity." (37) Thus, Christianity stands out in particular as an attempt to reach human nature as a whole, bringing "the transcendent reality of spiritual Being into relation with human experience and the realities of social life." (38) Thus, it may seem that Dawson's Catholic faith enables him to realize the importance of studying these "realities of social life," while still recognizing the existence and even interaction of a "transcendent reality." The fact that Catholicism argues that grace elevates nature necessitates a careful understanding and appreciation of the natural life proper to humanity, including the history of religious experience and cultural life.

Dawson's Method in Relation to Theology

It would not be appropriate to say that Dawson wants to influence historiography by imposing upon it his own Catholic convictions. Rather, he takes seriously humanity's natural religious life and sees the uniqueness of Christianity in the history of that religious life Christianity's uniqueness does not preclude its relation with other religions, since both are related to human nature and stand within a common history. Likewise, as theology presents its unique claims, especially the claim to interpret a direct revelation of God, it can seek common ground with other disciplines. If theology and sociology both speak of the reality of religion, though from drastically different perspectives, then they must seek to appreciate the integrity of each other's approach and findings within their respective competencies. Dawson claims that the two disciplines need each other in order to appreciate the intrinsic relationship between religion and culture. This mutual respect and cooperation would benefit both sides: the social sciences would not misconstrue religious life to fit it into their own methods and theology would benefit from the use of empirical data concerning human history and culture.

Social sciences recognize the human element within religion, such as its close relation with culture, and therefore seek to explain it completely in light of this relation. Religion is seen as "a product of the social process, since there can be no spiritual culture apart from society." (39) On the other hand, culture does not simply produce its religion, but rather the culture largely forms around the ideals presented by the religion. Regardless of a sociologist's opinion concerning religious belief, it has been the major source of cultural development and therefore cannot be easily neglected in treating human history and social life. Therefore, to understand a culture fully, one must recognize religion's autonomy with its own "objective intellectual validity," which must be evaluated in a way that respects the limits of empirical study. (40)

Though it is possible to distinguish the role of theology and the phenomenological study of religion, if one is to gain a comprehensive understanding of religion, one must have recourse to both of these approaches. While sociology must rely on theology to evaluate and make clear the truth claims of a given religion, theology must also draw upon sociological study. (41) Dawson argues that "theologians have often failed to recognize the social and economic elements in religious phenomena, with the result that they have confused religious and sociological values and have allowed a racial or economic opposition to translate itself into a religious conflict." (42) If it is true that religion becomes the driving force within culture, then a religion will necessarily contain social elements that are not simply the domain of theology, but must be studied scientifically. Therefore, just as the sociologist has methodological limits in examining religion, so Dawson argues that for theologians to fully understand a religion there must be attention to social and historical conditions. (43)

In particular, Christianity stands in a uniquely close relation to history. Since God has spoken and acted in history, especially in the Incarnation, Dawson argues that history has become an "integral part of the Christian revelation" and therefore is "inseparable from the Christian faith." (44) Christianity's relation to history is not limited to salvation history; it also bears an essential relation to all of history and must be studied within that context. Christianity's uniqueness consists precisely in its incarnational nature: while claiming a transcendent origin and a spiritual nature, it does not seek to flee the world, but rather to enact a radical transformation within it. Therefore, we cannot study Christianity "apart from the history of culture in the widest sense of the word," because it "has entered into the stream of human history and the process of human culture." (45) Due to this fact, the theologian must be attentive to the social sciences to understand Christianity's interaction with and penetration of the world. Following Dawson's method "involves the study of two different processes which act simultaneously on mankind in the course of time." He continues:
 On the one hand, there is the process of culture formation and
 change which is the subject of anthropology, history and the
 allied disciplines; and on the other there is the process of
 revelation and the action of divine grace which has created a
 spiritual society and a sacred history, though it can be studied
 only as a part of theology and in theological terms. (46)

While theology's primary task must remain the exposition and defense of revelation, this task cannot be conducted apart from the overall context of man's cultural existence. In the history of religion, one clearly recognizes that there is a human yearning for the divine, and that this yearning has been extremely vital in shaping his cultural life. In revealing God's truth and performing saving actions, God has entered into the religious life of humanity to free it from its sinful distortions and to enable it to reach its desired end. Both in the life of Israel and now in the Church, God uses the same basic elements found in every religion, such as a system of belief, moral codes, and acts of worship, which become supernaturally based upon God's own initiative.

One particular instance of God's use of an element "common to ... all" religions can be seen in "worship and prayer" and more specifically "the rite of sacrifice." (47) This rite has profoundly marked human history and also finds its place within Christianity. Thus, sacrificial worship, which marks humanity's own attempt to expiate for its sinfulness, (48) is taken up by the Incarnate God as the means of definitive salvation for man on the Cross. (49) Christ imparts fruit upon the religious striving for union with God by taking on humanity's religious nature and perfecting it through His own offering of obedience to the Father. As Hans Urs von Balthasar states: "Therefore, one cannot simply say, as radical dialectical theology does, that God can be recognized only through God. If that were so, the Word would not have become flesh, would not have become man. The natural religious tendencies of created man are incorporated into revealed religion as understood by Catholics." (50) Christianity stands in continuity with other religions insofar as it elevates rather than negates the human religious nature, but it also transcends them since it makes God's grace and truth supernaturally present. This recognition enables the theologian to utilize common points as the basis for dialogue, and also to present Christianity's uniqueness more clearly as God's definitive answer to humanity's religious and cultural aspirations. (51)


Dawson's central achievement consists of his recognition that the hermeneutical key to history is the universal experience of religion as embodied in different forms in various social settings. Insofar as this universally present experience is historical, it is open to scientific study. Nevertheless, the deepest elements of religion stand beyond the reach of the social sciences. Theology's role is to understand and systematically present the truth claims of religious traditions. This role is in jeopardy as Western civilization has rejected religion as the dominant force in culture, largely due to its insistence on empirical standards to evaluate all truth claims. Thus, religion has been marginalized and its speech restrained, leaving man's life more and more dominated by the technocratic rule of the modern state. (52)

As he responded to the crisis of religion in the modern world, Dawson's theory of the relationship of religion and culture grew into a call for Christians to view their mission as a real instantiation of their faith within culture. To have a Christian culture presupposes all of the natural elements of culture, which are then informed by revelation. Dawson's method of inquiry established the foundation for what he saw as a larger movement of cultural restoration. "In Christian culture these two processes [cultural formation and God's revelation and grace] come together in an organic unity, so that its study requires the close co-operation of Theology and History." (53) Dawson's methodology has pinpointed the crucial juncture of these two forces within history, and argues for the necessity of a return to this cooperation in the future. Human society without religion is not truly a human culture; it is cut off from the true source of its life, without a real vision or dynamism to achieve human greatness. (54) Therefore, Dawson has called for study of the history of Christian culture, not solely Christian theology or history, but the real conjunction between the two so that this study can inform a new generation about their heritage and future task.

The focus on culture, not just theological study, is crucial because of the need for religion to guide the course of human life. In The Crisis of Western Education, Dawson argues that it is imperative to realize that Western culture has become inhuman. It no longer lives in touch with even the natural realities of the world; it has an "artificial character" as it seeks to minimize the effects of the seasons, suffering, and death. (55) Even worse than this, modern man has become oblivious to supernatural realities, which have "objective value ... no less important for human welfare and for the understanding of reality than economics and the science of nature." (56) Dawson argues that it is essential for men and women to understand that their life is incomplete without religion, both personally and culturally. Christians need to raise this awareness to enable them to become active within culture, because "it is only through the medium of culture that the Faith can penetrate civilization and transform the thought and ideology of modern culture." (57) Culture is the meeting place where religion confronts and informs humanity's needs, and it is only there that Christianity will constructively overcome the challenges of the modern world.

As stated above, though theology must be attentive to human history and culture, its primary task remains the exposition and defense of God's revelation. If theology fulfills this task, it then can be a guide to cultural life, providing it with cogent presentations of God's intervention into history and God's will to transform human life. In light of the knowledge of God's inner life and humanity's call to participate in it presented by theology, all other knowledge must be reevaluated. Theology can never substitute for any of the social sciences, yet it nevertheless has a central mission not only to inform culture, but even to aid other academic disciplines. Simply because theology's claims do not fit within the method of empirical inquiry does not mean that it should be so quickly dismissed. In order for any study to succeed in reaching a coherent presentation of the truth, it must be informed by the highest principles of human life. Theology can offer an overall framework that not only provides moral guidelines, but also a vision that can incorporate how the different disciplines relate to human life. As is becoming ever more clear, science needs theology to inform it of the dignity and purpose of human life, which cannot be grasped from the partial perspective of one particular discipline. Theology will not be able to overcome its exclusion from influence in the greater academic milieu by rational argumentation. Dawson argues rather that "the only real solution is to change the cultural environment." (58) There is a need for a radical reorientation of Western culture that will open its perspective beyond the confines of strict empirical study "to recover the moral and spiritual foundations on which the lives of both the individual and the culture depend." (59)

Dawson describes our present culture and contrasts it with what it could be if it were open to religion as follows: "A Christian culture is a culture which is oriented to supernatural ends and spiritual reality, just as a secularized culture is one which is oriented to material reality and to the satisfaction of man's material needs." (60) Openness to the spiritual does not mean that culture should be theocratic, but rather that it must recognize the limits of human culture alone to achieve moral unity and vision for human fulfillment. If humans are seen as solely material, culture will become a project meant to manipulate them and dominate them to achieve a material goal. In the end, this approach does not leave humanity satisfied, as if its spiritual nature could be fulfilled by material progress. Religion cannot be confined to the private realm, because culture has an intrinsic need for religious direction. The spiritual frustration of a secularized culture opens the way for its revitalization, which entails openness toward a higher perspective by recognizing that human life is not reducible to material causes alone. Rather, we all "[stand] on the threshold of a spiritual world which is as real as the material and is in some degree accessible to [the] mind." (61)

With this recognition, any discipline could be open to theology, not as a dominating force, but as one that supplies the overarching vision through which it conducts its study. Dawson articulates this point as follows:
 Philosophy and science, history and literature, all acquire a new
 character and become deepened and widened when they are seen in
 this perspective. That is why the Christian culture of the past
 saw theology as the queen of the sciences. The extension of the
 field of the sciences by the growth of knowledge brings new
 opportunities for widening the range of Christian culture. Every
 advance of this kind, however small, makes the faith more
 accessible and intelligible to the modern world. (62)

Thus, theology could truly exercise a primary role in fostering the proper coordination between disciplines due to its higher perspective. Drawing from Balthasar's dictum: "'Wer mehr sieht, hat recht' (Whoever sees more is right)," theology can have a preeminent role by providing an overarching vision through which one can understand the body, society, economy, history, and so on without impeding the study of their particularities. (63) Theology can articulate moral and anthropological principles, which can lead to cultural renewal by providing the proper context to understand and guide modern scientific and technological advances. No other discipline contains the necessary resources for this task; theology alone possesses the ability to "see more," to speak of man's life as an intelligible whole, and to place science within a vision of the human vocation in God. Dawson provides a model for this cultural renewal by allowing God's revelation to guide his scholarly study of humanity's earthly life.


(1.) In this he shows himself to be a thinker who does not succumb to either trap elaborated by Romanus Cessario in his "The Sacred, Religion, and Morality." Dawson chose neither to ignore the social sciences nor "to allow the methods and findings of those sciences to distort" his own thought in a manner inconsistent with "Catholic doctrine and theology." Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 9, no. 4 (2006): 16-32.

(2.) Christopher Dawson, "History and Christian Revelation," Dynamics of World History, ed. John J. Mulloy (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2002), 269.

(3.) "The Kingdom of God and History," Dynamics, 286-87.

(4.) Dawson, Making of Europe: An Introduction to the History of European Unity (London: Sheed & Ward, 1932), xx.

(5.) Dawson, The Age of the Gods (London: Sheed & Ward, 1933), xii.

(6.) Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education (Steubenville, OH: Franciscan University of Steubenville, 1989), 137.

(7.) Dawson, Religion and Culture (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1948), 197.

(8.) Ibid.

(9.) Dawson, "Religion and the Life of Civilization," Enquiries into Religion and Culture (London: Sheed & Ward, 1933), 115. This theme has been taken up by both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II. Benedict, while yet Joseph Ratzinger, wrote in Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions that "in all known historical cultures, religion is an essential element of culture, is indeed its determinative center" ([San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004], 59). John Paul forcefully enunciated the role that Christianity must exert in contemporary culture, stating:
 Faith is capable of generating culture. ... Culture cannot be
 reduced to the level of instrumental use: its focus is and must
 remain the human person, with his dignity and his openness to the
 Absolute. ... This is born of an awareness that "the synthesis
 between culture and faith is not just a demand of culture, but
 also of faith. ... A faith which does not become culture is a faith
 which has not been fully received, nor thoroughly thought through,
 nor faithfully lived out." ("Message to the Sixth Annual Meeting
 of Catholic University Professors," October 4, 2001).

(The quotation within the text comes from John Paul II, "Letter establishing the Pontifical Council for Culture," May 20, 1982.)

(10.) Dawson, Progress and Religion (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2001), 3-4.

(11.) Ibid., 81.

(12.) Christopher Dawson, "Sociology as a Science," Dynamics, 24. This essay was originally published as part of a symposium titled Science for a New World in 1934. See also the introduction to Enquiries for a similar treatment.

(13.) Dawson, "Sociology as a Science," 28.

(14.) Ibid., 30.

(15.) Ibid., 31.

(16.) Dawson, "Prevision in Religion," Dynamics, 97.

(17.) Christopher Dawson, Formation of Christendom (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1967), 24-25.

(18.) Dawson, Religion and Culture, 25.

(19.) Dawson, Formation, 21.

(20.) Ibid., 25. One could look to Newman's grounding of natural religion in conscience (cf. Oxford University Sermons and Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent) or the virtue of religion as dictated by the natural law in Aquinas (ST II-II, q. 81) to help support the claim that there is a basis for religion in man.

(21.) Dawson, Religion and Culture, 33.

(22.) Dawson articulates this as a goal of religion, namely "to be the center round which the whole culture revolves," "Prevision in Religion," 98.

(23.) Joseph Ratzinger also acknowledged the development of religion throughout history. His description largely follows Dawson's, yet differs somewhat in presentation. See in particular his treatment of the topic in the chapter "The Unity and Diversity of Religions: The Place of Christianity in the History of Religions," Truth and Tolerance, which also bears many other similarities to Dawson's treatment of religion.

(24.) Progress and Religion serves as the best introduction to the breadth of Dawson's account of history. See The Age of the Gods for a detailed description of the early stages and "Religion and the Life of Civilization," in Enquiries, for a shorter synopsis of the stages.

(25.) Dawson, Age of the Gods, 26-27.

(26.) Christopher Dawson, Christianity and the New Age (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1985), 31.

(27.) Dawson, Progress and Religion, 89.

(28.) Ibid., 95.

(29.) Ibid., 98.

(30.) Ibid., 99.

(31.) Dawson, Christianity and the New Age, 39.

(32.) Dawson, Progress and Religion, 105.

(33.) Dawson describes the natural role of intuition in relation to reason as follows: "The difference between the discursive reason and the intuition of the contemplative is not the same as the difference between the natural and the supernatural (in the technical, theological sense of the words)-between reason and faith; it is simply the question of the different levels of consciousness which are equally parts of human nature," Religion and Culture, 33-34.

(34.) Dawson, Formation, 71.

(35.) Ratzinger makes an important distinction in recognizing reason's inability to discern between natural and revealed religion. To fill in this gap, there must be recourse to the doctrine of faith, "albeit a faith that makes use of rational standards." Truth and Tolerance, 32. He also argues that "the first order for any carefully differentiated theology of religions would be the precise clarification of the concepts of faith and religion," 50.

(36.) Dawson, Formation, 23-24.

(37.) Dawson, Christianity and the New Age, 82-83.

(38.) Ibid., 84.

(39.) Dawson, "Sociology as a Science," 28.

(40.) Ibid., 30.

(41.) Though sociological data may be important to theologians, Henri de Lubac makes an important clarification, quoting Bishop Andre Charue, "that 'natural sociological data cannot be determinative in theology.'" Its role must be subordinating to theology's central task, which is founded in God's revelation. The Motherhood of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982), 228. Balthasar gives another perspective:
 It is essential to examine fearlessly the supernatural revealed
 truths of Christianity in light of the sciences that have man as
 their object. ... God, in becoming man and taking man into his
 Trinitarian life, did no violence to human nature; in founding a
 new community centered on his incarnation it was not in spite of
 the laws of sociology, and religious sociology in particular.
 Consequently it cannot be disputed that the "religion" we contend
 to be the only true one is in one of its aspects on the same
 sociological plane as "other" religions. Explorations in Theology,
 vol. 1, The Word Made Flesh (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989),

(42.) Dawson, "Sociology as a Science," 32.

(43.) Dawson, Enquiries, ix.

(44.) Dawson, "History and the Christian Revelation," Dynamics, 263.

(45.) Dawson, Formation, 17.

(46.) Ibid., 18.

(47.) Ibid., 21.

(48.) Cf. Barth's treatment of religion, in which he argues for the inherent inability and even sinfulness of humanity's attempt to achieve this on his own. Church Dogmatics, vol. 1, part 2, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1985).

(49.) Aquinas argues that Christ has taken up and fulfilled the ceremonial precepts of the Old Testament, which were based mainly upon expiatory sacrifices, by offering himself. Cf. Matthew Levering, Christ's Fulfillment of Torah and Temple: Salvation According to Thomas Aquinas (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002).

(50.) Hans Urs von Balthasar, "Catholicism and the Religions," Communio 5 (1978): 9-10.

(51.) Cf. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol. 1, Seeing the Form, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998), 498, and Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance, 195.

(52.) See Dawson, Formation, 26-27.

(53.) Ibid., 18.

(54.) This is not to say that even secular ideologies cannot become religions. In fact, Dawson argues that these ideologies many times serve the same purpose as a religion in shaping a culture, though in a defunct way. See The Modern Dilemma: The Problem of European Unity (London, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1933), 94-95.

(55.) Dawson, Crisis, 173.

(56.) Ibid., 177.

(57.) Ibid., 178.

(58.) Ibid., 173.

(59.) Ibid., 175.

(60.) Ibid., 178.

(61.) Ibid.

(62.) Ibid., 179-80.

(63.) Hans Urs von Balthasar, Epilogue (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 43.
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Author:Staudt, Robert Jared
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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