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How dawson read the city of god.

TO EXAMINE HOW THE TWENTIETH-CENTURY English historian Chris-topher Dawson read St. Augustine's City of God brings to the fore-ground the problem of method, since one must ask whether any apparent influences came directly from The City of God or were de-rived from other sources. Augustine and Dawson had several texts in common-the letters of St. Paul, for instance-and it is likely that Dawson took ideas from many scholars who were influenced by Augustine. Nevertheless, what I intend to do in this article is to consider the ways in which Dawson developed the themes treated in City of God to illuminate modern issues while trying to indicate evidence of direct influence where possible. As Dawson's biographer Bradley Birzer writes, "Dawson admitted that nearly all of his ideas were 'an attempt to reinterpret and reapply the Augustinian theory of history.'" (1) And in his private notes Dawson calls The City of God "the urgent work of the greatest father on the most important sub-ject." (2) Knowing how Dawson read that work is therefore central to grasping the significance of his own writings.

The basis for this article will be two of Dawson's essays, "The Dy-ing World" and "The City of God," published together as "St. Augus-tine and His Age" in Dawson's coauthored Monument to St. Augustine (1931). Using these two essays as an outline, this article will com-prise, first, a comparison of Augustine's view of his age with Daw-son's perspective on the twentieth century presented in Progress and Religion (1929); and second, a comparison of Augustine's response to the sack of Rome in the City of God with Dawson's response to World Wars I and II in Judgment of the Nations (1943). In this second section, I will refer to Dawson's own copies of the City of God, which contain his original markings and annotations. Dawson found in the City of God a vision of history as the birthing process of a universal spiritual society that transcends time and that is created by charity, which alone unites humanity's religious and social instincts.

I. Augustine's Age: "The Dying World"

Augustine's writing of The City of God was prompted by the sack of Rome by Alaric and the Visigoths in 410 A.D. But this particular catastrophe was only one episode in a collapse of Roman civilization spanning several centuries in both directions. That collapse was in part due to economics. As Dawson points out in Progress and Religion, Rome was an agrarian state from the beginning: "The foundation of her power and of her very existence was the peasant-soldier citizen. ("3) While possessing no higher culture of their own, these peasant-soldiers adopted the Greek ideal of paideia, which sought to produce a "higher type of man" through a process of intellectual and moral education. (4) And, although Rome had only negligible contributions to make to the content of Greek thought, holding itself slightly aloof from the speculative character of Greek philosophy, it far surpassed the Greek mind in its ability to organize the materials of the world to embody its cultural principles. The Roman attitude is summed up nicely by Quintilian: "if the Greeks bear away the palm for moral precepts, Rome can produce more striking examples of moral performance." (5) Indeed, the great agrarian republic produced some outstanding cases of classical pagan virtue. One thinks for example of Marcus Regulus, of whom Augustine writes in the City of God that he "was so conscientious in his worship of the gods" that he kept his vow to return to captivity in Carthage where he was put to a torturous death. (6)

"But with the conquest of the Mediterranean," writes Dawson, "all this was changed."7 At the end of the PunicWars and the destruc-tion of the republic's habitual enemy, Carthage, Rome found itself master of the whole of the Mediterranean, and the rural Latin so-ciety was transformed into an Empire. "A progressive degeneration and transformation of the characteristic Roman types took place." (8) This was due largely to the movement of Roman society from rural to urban forms and to the influence of "oriental luxury-worse than any enemy-[that] crept into Rome for the first time." (9) A citizen of Imperial Rome would have enjoyed an extraordinarily comfortable life: attending public baths and gymnasiums, conversing in the forum and in public libraries, eating grain provided by state taxation, and engaging in ceremonial festivals in honor of the gods. (10) But what this meant for the conquered empire was that it was required to sup-port an entire city living beyond its means. Despite its infrastructural glory, the city of Rome was "for the most part ... entirely unproduc-tive," an enormous leech on the economy of the agrarian peoples it ruled.11 As Dawson writes,

  It was literally Rome that killed Rome. That great cosmopolitan
  city of gold and marble, the successor of Alexandria and Antioch,
  had nothing in common with the old capital of the rural Latin state.
  It served no social function, it was an end in itself, and its
  population drawn from every nation under heaven existed mainly
  to draw their Government doles, and to attend the free spectacles
  with which the Government provided them. It was a vast, useless
  burden on the back of the empire which broke at last under the
  increasing strain. (12)

Centuries before Augustine, classical civilization "had lost its roots in the human soil and was growing more and more empty and sterile." (13) The situation was unsustainable.

But in addition to economic factors--and both Dawson and Au--gustine would say, more important than economic factors--Roman society collapsed because of the burnout of its spiritual and moral capital. In the first several books of the City of God, Augustine careful--ly traces this moral collapse through the writings of Roman historians who mourned the loss of the earthy Roman pietas after the end of the PunicWars: "the Roman commonwealth was so overwhelmed by a host of evils arising from the prosperity and security of her affairs that the sudden overthrow of Carthage is seen to have harmed Rome more than did its prolonged enmity." (14) Indeed, "Cicero contends...

that in his day [the commonwealth] perished entirely, and nothing at all remained of [it]."15 Rome did not have the moral or spiritual in tegrity to adapt to the increase of wealth and power, and the virtuous pagan culture was overwhelmed by "the cult of material pleasure and success." (16) As Dawson writes, "all the vast development of material prosperity and external display [of Rome] had no spiritual purpose behind it. Its ultimate end was the satisfaction of corporate selfish--ness." (17) Augustine corroborates Dawson's verdict:

  "Only let it stand," [the Romans] say; "only let it flourish
  with abundant treasures, glorious in victory or--which is
  better--secure in peace, and what do we care? ... Let
  the poor serve the rich because of their abundance, and
  let them enjoy under their patronage a senseless idleness;
  and let the rich abuse the poor as their clients and the
  appendages of their pride ... Let notng unpleasant be
  required; let no impurity be forbidden; let kings care
  not how good their subjects are, but how docile."(18)

Perhaps the most significant result of this moral failure within Roman civilization was the general withdrawal from social life by its citizens. This was expressed not only in the secular entertainment and idleness already mentioned, but also in mysticism and asceticism throughout the subject territories. Dawson notes that the popular religious movements of the time were marked by the desire to find "spiritual life outside the life of the city and of society in an esoteric ideal of individual salvation.... The reigning culture had become almost completely secularized, and the religious and the social instincts were becoming opposed to one another," with disastrous implications for the culture.19 He continues:

  The Roman Empire, and the Hellenistic civilization of which it
  was the vehicle, became separated in this way for any living
  religious basis ... and thereby, in spite of its high material and
  intellectual culture, the dominant civilization became hateful in
  the eyes of the subject Oriental world. Rome was to them
  not the ideal world-city of Virgil's dream, but the incarnation
  of all that was anti-spiritual, Babylon the great, the mother of
  Abominations, who bewitched and enslaved all the peoples of
  the earth, and on whom at last the slaughter of the saints and the
  oppression of the poor would be terribly avenged. (20)

Christians certainly had a share of the mystical-ascetic impulse, but Nicene Christianity remained, along with Judaism, the only re-ligion that managed to avoid the trend of pursuing individual salva-tion and abandoning social life. Instead of forsaking the public world for the sake of a private Nirvana, Christians created in the midst of the collapsing secular civilization a "new spiritual society," populated especially by the poor, and pastored by bishops such as Sts. Ambrose and Augustine, who preserved in their own persons the best of classical culture, blending and integrating it with the faith. (21) This new society, the Christian Church, was "the one living creative force in the social and spiritual life of the age" and "to a great extent an alternative and appealing substitute for the communal life of the city-state." (22) "Thus," writes Dawson, "the Church stands out in this dark age as the one hope of humanity both spiritually and materially. It saved the individual from being entirely crushed under the pressure of the servile state and it opened to him a new world of social and spiritual activity in which the free personality had room to develop itself."(23) This was true to such an extent that by Augustine's day, "The vital centre of the society of the future was to be found, not in the city-state, but in the Christian ecclesia. " (24)

Constantine was at least dimly aware of this horizon, as wasTheo dosius who in 380 A.D. made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and stopped all state support for the former pagan religion-the culmination of a series of religious reforms in which Christianity came to acquire civil recognition. But the legislation of Christianity was not enough to stave off the collapse of the empire. "If Christianity was a revolution in religious and cultural terms, the revolution did not extend to institutions." (25) And it seems from Augustine's writings that "even the Roman society of his day, though Christianized, [was] not one where Christian values prevail[ed]." (26) The building of a new civilization on Christian principles would be the task of the next eight centuries. And, in the decades immediately following Theodosius's rule, Rome continued to slump into its de-cline while Christianity became the scapegoat for the social ills that plagued the empire. The sack of Rome by the Visigoths was thus the edge of a storm that was "to last, not for decades, but for generations, until the very memory of peace was gone. It was no ordinary political catastrophe, but a 'day of the Lord' such as the Hebrew prophets describe, a judgement of the nations in which a whole civi-lization and social order which had failed to justify their existence were rooted up and thrown into the fire." (27)

II. Dawson's Age: Progress and Religion

Dawson's own time had profound parallels to the age of Augustine. He too was living at a time when the dominant civilization was undergoing what seemed to be the violent throes of death: most significantly exhibited by the two World Wars, during the latter of which Dawson brought forth much of his best historical work. While the nations of Europe soaked each other in blood, Dawson would have seemed, as Augustine must have seemed in his own day, to be engaging in a futile task, much "like the activity of an ant which works on while its nest is being destroyed."28 Why argue about the meaning and motor of history while civilization itself was collapsing? Yet Dawson had discovered-or at least claimed to have discovered- the cause of the European civil war: Like Rome, Europe had run out of its spiritual and moral capital just at the time when it was experiencing the greatest material advances it had ever known. He writes in 1929:

  The economic and social changes of the last century have produced a
  revolution in the relations of man to nature and in the vital
  structureof society itself. They have destroyed the biological
  equilibrium between human society and its natural environment. ...
  We have only to look back to the age of Roman world organization,
  which in many respects bears so striking a resemblance to our own,
  in order to see how rapidly the process of urbanization may change
  the character of a culture and affect its social vitality. ... The
  danger to civilization came, not from any lack of vital energy, but
  from a sudden change of conditions--a material revolution, which
  broke down the organic constitution of society. (29)

And Dawson had no qualms about drawing more explicit parallels between the two periods. Significantly, he compares the Indus-trial Revolution, which was carried out especially in England and America, to "the conquest and unification of the ancient world by Rome in the first and second centuries B.C." (30) While the expansion of the Roman Empire was due primarily to force of arms, the re-organization of the modern world was due above all to economics, with military actions playing a subordinate role. "Nevertheless," he says "the builders of the Roman roads were doing the same work as the English engineers who planned the first railways, and the Roman publicans and financiers played somewhat the same part in the expansion of the Empire as the European capitalists and bond holders of modern times." (31) Both had organized the world to exploit it, and both acquired wealth and power through the endeavor. (32) So on the whole the economic transformation of capitalist Europe was quite similar to that of imperial Rome: "modern Europe and America appear as the heirs and continuators of the old Roman tradition of world pacification and organization on a far wider stage sthan that of the Mediterranean world." (33) The cultural result was similar, too. Dawson speculated in 1929 that Europe had "entered upon a new phase of culture ... in which the most amazing perfection of scientific technique [was] being de-voted to purely ephemeral objects, without any consideration of their ultimate justification. "It seems," he writes, that "a new society [has been] arising which will acknowledge no hierarchy of values, no intellectual authority, and no social or religious tradition, but which will live for the moment in a chaos of pure sensation." (34) Dawson connected this prediction of secular social decay to its ancient "counterpart ... the great cities of the Roman Empire, which lived for the games of the amphitheater and the circus."35 But while the material aspects and cultural effects of the two periods were comparable, the spiritual dynamics were markedly different. "The situation that Christians have to face to-day [sic]," Dawson wrote in 1943, "has more in common with that described by the author of the Apocalypse, than with the age of St. Augustine."36 And the reason for this is simple: the collapse of ancient Rome was the collapse of a pre-Christian civilization, whereas the collapse of Europe was the collapse of a post-Christian one. And it is perhaps one of Dawson's most important insights that neither collapse was caused by Christianity-neither by its rise, as Edward Gibbon claimed had happened in the ancient world, nor by its fall, as many of Dawson's contemporaries might have supposed was happening in the modern world. For the dominant religion of modernity, Dawson said, was not Christianity but the religion of Progress, or "Liberalism," which "has been, in fact, the working faith of our civilization."37 The religion of Progress was characterized first in the writings of Rousseau, whose political philosophy had a distinctly eschatological flavor, and later in the philosophical-historical writings of thinkers such as Hegel. (38) The catastrophic events of the twentieth century were largely caused by the failure of this eighteenth- and nineteenth-century religion to suit to the needs of human life the new industrial world it had produced. Europe had achieved a paradise of material production at the cost of human flourishing: "Our civilization is becoming lifeless and moribund," says Dawson, "because it has lost its roots and no longer possesses vital rhythm and balance.... The rawness and ugliness of modern European life is the sign of biological inferiority, of an insufficient or false relation to environment, which produces strain, wasted effort, revolt or failure." (39) This was not the kind of progress that the cultural architects had promised, and the twentieth century turned with rage on the very societies that had produced it.

In some ways this should have come as no surprise since the liberal religion of Progress was intrinsically revolutionary, born during the age of secular revolutions in Europe following the religious wars that were sparked by the Protestant Reformation. And, according to Dawson, "The revolutionary attitude--[which] is perhaps the characteristic religious attitude of Modern Europe--is in fact nothing but a symptom of the divorce between religion and social life" caused by the secularization of Christian Europe during the eighteenth century. (40) But whereas the religious instinct of Rome's imperial age was social withdrawal, the religious instinct of the modern world would be that of social upheaval, since the dominant religion had taken up the apocalyptic vision of Christianity while rejecting its theological claims. "The liberal faith," says Dawson, "owed its strength to the elements that it had derived from the religious tradition that it attempt-ed to replace. Thus, in so far as it succeeded in secularizing European culture, it undermined the foundations on which its own existence depended. Instead of uniting Europe in a new spiritual unity, it had helped to destroy the spiritual tradition to which European culture owed its unity and its very existence." (41)s The intrinsic weakness of this religion of revolution is that it could cope with neither success nor failure. Where it fails it ends in despair; where it is successful, the finitude of its goals becomes apparent and the movement ends in disillusionment, having cut out the ground on which it stood. And "when the process of disillusionment is complete," warns Dawson, "this religious impulse that lies behind the revolutionary attitude may turn itself against social life altogether, or at least against the whole system of civilization that has been built up in the last two centuries." (42) The final result is that the religious impulse that had been "denied its normal expression, and driven back upon itself," would become "an anti-social force of explosive violence."(43)

III. Augustine's Response: "The City of God"

In Dawson's view, Augustine was "the founder of the philosophy of history" because he was the first person to write a "metahistory," that is, a work "concerned with the nature of history, the meaning of history, and the cause and significance of historical change." (44) Augustine's aim in the City of God, however, was pastoral. As Gerard O'Daly writes, "It is more in keeping with what Augustine actually says about his aims to think of the work's readers as Christians or others closely concerned with Christianity, who require[d] fluent and convincing rebuttals of pagan views, both for their own satisfaction and as weapons to be used in arguments with defenders of paganism." (45) Indeed, nearly half of the City of God deals with defeating the specious claim that the sack of Rome was a punishment for a failure to worship the traditional deities. (46) So Augustine did not write "history" in the sense of compiling a chronological series of past events. Rather, what Augustine presents in the City of God is "a synthesis of universal history in the light of Christian principles. His theory of history is strictly deduced from his theory of human nature, which, in turn, follows necessarily from his theology of creation and grace." (47)

It would be impossible to elucidate every strain of influence that this theory of history had on Dawson. But the marginalia in Dawson's own copies of the City of God provide a useful indicator of how one might narrow in on some passages of Augustine's work that he thought were especially important. Dawson's library contains two copies of the book, one in Latin, which he likely purchased as a student from Parker and Son Booksellers, and the other translated and abridged, which was given to him as a gift in 1931 by Ernest Barker, the medievalist and professor of political science who was Dawson's tutor at Trinity College, Oxford. (48) There are markings in both copies, comprising for the most part marginal lines that appear to have been made in haste with a blunt pencil. (49) These markings generally highlight passages that have to do with providence, time, and human nature--not a bad summary of Dawson's preoccupations.

What Dawson means by Augustine's "theory of human nature" is perhaps best indicated by the two passages he highlighted in both copies of the text (corresponding in Dyson's translation to Book XI, chapter 28 and Book XII, chapter 28). And if this indicator is ac-curate, then Dawson's appropriation of Augustine's anthropological theory can be reasonably divided into two major aspects: human beings are social creatures who are moved by love. Thus, in his defense of the goodness of bodily existence against the Platonists, Augustine writes, and Dawson doubly highlights, that

  our true religion rightly affirms [that God is] the Maker both
  of the world, and all creatures therein, bodies, and souls, of
  which, in earth man, the chief piece was made alone, after
  His image . . . yet was he not left alone, for there is nothing
  in the world so sociable by nature, and so jarring by vice
  as man is; nor can man's nature speak better either to the
  keeping of discord whilst it is out, or expelling it when it is
  entered; than in recording our first father, whom God created
  single (from him to propagate all the rest), to give us a true
  admonition to preserve a union over greatest
  multitudes. (50)

Dawson also doubly highlights Augustine's treatment of man's creation as a rational being in the image of God. "If we were stones, water, wind, fire, or so," says Augustine, "we should want sense and life, yet should we have a natural appetite for our due places, for the motions of weights are like the body's loves, go they upward or downwards: for weight is to the body, as love is to the soul. " (51)

It is from these two principles of human nature that Augustine builds his sociological theory "that every human society finds its constituent principle in a common will--a will to life, a will to enjoyment, above all, a will to peace." (52) Thus, says Dawson, "The sociology of St. Augustine is based on the same psychological principle which pervades his whole thought--the principle of the all-importance of the will and the sovereignty of love." (53) Augustine defines a "people" as "an assembled multitude of rational creatures bound together by a common agreement as to the objects of their love." (54) Consequently, "if we are to discover the character of any people, we have only to examine what it loves." (55) But the objects of love ultimately reduce to two alternatives: "the love of self extending even to the contempt of God," which is what creates the City of Man, or the "love of God extending to the contempt of self," which creates the City of God. (56) "From this generalization," says Dawson, "springs the whole Augustinian theory of history," which Augustine then applies as he traces out the earthly courses of the two cities. (57)

Dawson further points out that Augustine's theology of creation and grace underlies these anthropological claims. For although his anthropology is reasonable, it is rooted not in reason but in revelation. And this is what makes Augustine's work unique in the history of history-writing. The idea of Creation enabled Augustine to break out of the dominant Hellenistic conception of time as an eternal recurrence. (58) Because God is an eternal Creator, time itself can be recognized as a creature. As Augustine writes--and, again, Dawson takes special note--"if eternity and time be well considered, time never to be extant without motion, and eternity to admit no change, who would not see that time could not have being before some moveable thing were created; whose motion, and successive alteration (necessarily following one part or another) the time might run by?... Before it is time past, after it is time to come: but no time passed before the world, because no creature was made by whose course it might pass. " (59)

Moreover, unlike all other religions besides Judaism, "Christianity from the first based its teaching on a sacred history" with a clearly de-fined direction. (60) The religion of the Hebrews looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, while Christianity claimed that he had come and would come again. The Incarnation was thus for Augustine the single most important event that had happened or that would hap-pen in created time, the one event that gave meaning to the whole of history. The significance of the Incarnation was that it contained the promise of eternal life for the faithful; or rather, that Christ himself was Eternal Life for those who would believe in him. (61) Christ came to call to himself from fallen humanity--from the massa damnata those who were predestined by grace to eternal life. (62) Thus "the whole of the redeemed City," he writes, "that is, the congregation and fellow-ship of the saints--is offered to God as a universal sacrifice for us through the great High Priest Who, in His Passion, offered Himself for us in the form of a servant, so that we might be the body of so great a Head." (63)

History therefore has an "organic unity" (64) and an "ultimate goal." (65) It is the process of development and growth of a spiritual society that is trans-temporal because it is in relationship with an eternal Being, who gives eternal life to its members. On account of this insight, Augustine was in Dawson's view "the first man in the world to discover the meaning of time." (66) What he had recognized before anyone else was that "The measure of time is not to be found in things, but in the soul--time is spiritual extension distentio animae." (67) If time were mere motion, then the past and the future would not "exist"; but they do exist because all times are present to God's eternity, and consequently are present to those spiritual beings who are in relationship with him. The City of God can thus be "older than the world, since its first and truest citizens are the angels" and "as wide as humanity" since God has become a human being. (68) It is "co-extensive with the spiritual creation in so far as it has not been vitiated by sin. It is, in fact, nothing less than the spiritual unity of the whole universe, as planned by the Divine Providence, and the ultimate goal of creation. " (69)

This meta-historical vision was an extraordinarily effective response to the double crisis of Augustine's age. On the one hand, it responded to the crisis of despair by relativizing the importance of the state. For it places God, not Rome, at the center of human history: "Thus, when illustrious kingdoms had long existed in the East, God willed that there should arise in the West an empire which, though later in time, should be more illustrious still in the breadth and greatness of its sway." (70) Then, says Augustine, "He who gave power to Marius also gave it to Gaius Caesar; He Who gave it to Augustus also gave it to Nero; He Who gave it to the Vespasii, father and son, the gentlest of emperors, also gave it to Domitian, the cruelest; and ... He Who gave it to the Christian Constantine also gave to the Apostate Julian." (71) "I entirely fail to see what difference it makes, aside from the most empty pride and human glory, that some men should be conquerors and others conquered." (72)

On the other hand, and perhaps more important, Augustine's historical vision united the religious and the social instincts, which were being pulled apart by the secularization of the empire. In a passage of which Dawson was particularly fond, Augustine writes,

  For as long as this Heavenly City is a pilgrim on earth, she
  summons citizens of all nations and every tongue, and brings
  together a society of pilgrims in which no attention is paid to
  any differences in the customs, laws, and institutions by which
  peace is achieved or maintained. She does not rescind or destroy
  these things, however. For whatever differences there are among
  the various nations, these all tend toward the same end of earthly
  peace. Thus she preserves and follows them, provided only that
  they do not impede the religion by which we are taught that the
  one supreme and true God is to be worshiped. And so even the
  Heavenly City makes use of the earthly peace during her pilgrimage,
  and desires and maintains the co-operation of men's wills in
  attaining those things which belong to the mortal nature of
  man ... Indeed, she directs that earthly peace towards heavenly
  peacen ... This peace the Heavenly City possesses in faith while
  on its pilgrimage, and by this faith it lives righteously,
  directing towards the attainment of that peace every good act
  which it performs either for God, or--since the city's life is
  inevitably a social one--for neighbor. (73)

Dawson explains that for Augustine, "although the kingdom for which the Christian hoped was a spiritual and eternal one, it was not a kind of abstract Nirvana" but rather "a real kingdom which was to be the crown and culmination of history and the realization of the destiny of the human race." (74) Consequently, he writes,

  St. Augustine never separates the moral from the social life.
  The dynamic force of both the individual and the society is
  found in the will, and the object of their will determines the
  moral character of their life. And as the corruption of the
  will by original sin in Adam became a social evil by an hereditary
  transmission through the flesh which unites fallen humanity in the
  common slavery of concupiscence, so too the restoration of the will
  by the grace o  Christ is a social good which is transmitted
  sacramentally by the action of the Spirit and unites regenerate
  humanity in a free spiritual society under the law of charity. (75)

The upshot is that, while it is "impossible to identify the City of God with the Church," it would nevertheless be "an even more serious error to separate the two concepts completely.... Certainly the Church is not the eternal City of God, but it is its organ and representative in the world." (76) The Church is, despite all its apparent imperfections, the "most perfect society this world can know," and, indeed, "the only true society" since it alone "has its source in a spiritual will." (77) In other words, the Church "is actually the new humanity in the process of formation, and its earthly history is that of the building of the City of God which has its completion in eternity."78 Viewed from this eternal perspective, history is "not an external process of events, but an internal spiritual development to which every individual contributes in proportion to his spiritual powers." (79)

As Dawson explains, the result of this historical vision was that, unlike the more socially-static East, which was influenced by Ori gen's conception of time as a continuous process with no definite goal, (80) the Western Church would be preoccupied in the following centuries with "the concrete problems of its corporate life." (81) During this time, the "European civilization" would be born, which "owed its origin neither to racial unity nor to political organization but to the spiritual forces which united Romans and barbarians in the new society of Christendom." (82) Augustine's desacralization of the state, combined with his insistence on the importance of social life, largely "made possible the ideal of a social order resting upon the free personality and a common effort toward moral ends. And thus," Dawson concludes, "the Western ideals of freedom and progress and social justice owe him more than we realize." (83)

IV. Dawson's Response: Judgment of the Nations

Just as Dawson's interpretation of the twentieth century made explicit reference to Augustine's understanding of the downfall of Rome in the City of God, so his response to the ruin of modernity reflected Augustine's reply to his own age. Yet, as was already noted, Dawson's analysis of the spiritual dynamics of the World Wars suggests that the modern situation was fundamentally different from that of the early fifth century. Dawson writes in The Judgment of the Nations: "In [Augustine's] day the world was falling, and the gates of the Church stood open as a city of refuge for a defeated humanity. To-day [sic] the world is strong; and it has no pity for weakness and suffering. It has no use for Christianity which it despises as the most dangerous form of escapism and defeatism." (84) Given Dawson's earlier characterization of Christianity as a movement that combined the religious and social instincts, this latter statement should strike the reader as strange. Why, after fifteen hundred years, was the religion that had built Europe viewed by Europeans as a kind of escapism?

The historical answer to this question has two stages: first, the dividing of Europe by the Reformation; and second, the rise of the liberal religion of Progress, which pushed explicitly Christian ideas and institutions out of public life. "We [Christians]," Dawson admitted, "must ourselves take our share of the responsibility" for the present world crisis. "We have failed to make our voices heard before the nations. We have allowed 'the blessed vision of peace, the City of God whose king is Truth, whose law is Charity, whose frontier is Eternity,' to be hidden behind the dust of controversy and narrowed to the field of our own feeble and partial sight."85 During the Reformation, a new belief had arisen, particularly in Puritan circles, in the "possibility of the realization of the Holy Community on earth by the efforts of the elect," and this belief was the single most important influence on and the immediate predecessor of "the modern Western belief in progress, in the rights of man and [in] the duty of conforming political action to moral ideals."86 This new ideology, which can be called both Progress and Liberalism, was largely conceived first as a means to end the religious wars in post-Reformation Europe, and so "prepared the way for the complete secularization of society by making a sharp division between the public world of economics and politics and the private world of religion and intellectual culture. It confined planning to the lower sphere and left the higher entirely free and entirely unorganized." (87) Christianity was thereby forced out of its public role as the unifying principle of society and was reduced to the realm of personal opinion and feeling, whose expression often took forms of escapism from the rising secular culture.

Nevertheless, Dawson observes that because "it is the religious impulse which supplies the cohesive force which unifies a society and a culture," it follows that "a society which has lost its religion be- comes sooner or later a society which has lost its culture." (88) And this was just what had happened to Europe. The various "liberal parties" failed to give "adequate expression" to the ideology of Liberalism and "to the still deeper social tradition" that lay behind it, with the result that while "the liberal movement in the wider sense transformed the world by an immense liberation of human energies," such as the abolitionist movement and the recognition of the political equality of women, "liberalism in the narrower sense proved incapable of guiding the force it had released."(89) During the two centuries when Liberalism or Progress was the dominant creed, the nations of Europe and North America made great strides in organizing and mechanizing the world. But the dominant creed subsequently failed to give that new mechanical world a spiritual direction that could encourage true human flourishing. As Dawson put it in 1943, "the revolutionary tendencies in modern civilization which were originally inspired by a positive humanitarian optimism have become perverted into a 'Revolution of Destruction.'"(90)

Europe was from its foundation primarily a spiritual rather than a political or economic community. And the loss of awareness of this fact, let alone the earlier loss of Europe's spiritual unity, was consequently the cause of its internal conflict. (91) The crisis manifesting itself in the two World Wars was therefore

  not the breakdown of the traditional culture of Christendom, [but]
  the catastrophe of the secular culture ... For the failure of our
  civilization to satisfy man's deeper needs has created a spiritual
  vacuum, a heart of darkness and chaos beneath the mechanical
  order and the scientific intelligence of the modern world. Hence
  the demand for a new order, for a total solution of our social
  problems, for a replanning of society which will transform
  human life and remake man himself. They are, in fact, symptoms
  of the fundamental religious need--the need of salvation--manifesting
  itself in new forms which correspond to the purely secular culture in
  which they haven arisen." (92)

The World Wars were being waged not between the inhabitants of the City of God and the city of man, but between rival versions of the self-sufficient earthly city, each of which claimed to possess a divine or ideological sanction as the fulfillment of history. The European civil war was being fought out between two rival forms of the libido dominandi, that is, the "attempt of the mind to dispense with the Spirit to build a world that should be entirely in man's power and should find its end in him," which, "as St. Augustine showed, [is] a universal tendency that runs through the whole of history and takes on different forms in different ages." (93) Therefore, says Dawson, "while the fundamental Augustinian principle of the Two Loves and the Two Cities retain their validity, they have assumed a new form in these times, unlike anything in the previous experience of the Church. For to-day [sic] a deliberate attempt is being made to unify and energize human society from its lower depths: to bring Jerusalem-the spirit of Man as the vessel of the Spirit of God-into servitude to Babylon-the spirit of man degraded into the blind instrument of a demonic will to power." (94)

He goes on to detail more precisely how this was taking place. "A civilization which concentrates on means and neglects almost entirely to consider ends must inevitably become disintegrated and despiritualized," he writes. (95) "Our democratic societies [viz., Eng-land and America] have done this by devoting all their planning to the technical and industrial organization and leaving the sphere of culture to the private initiative of individuals, i.e. to unplanned ac-tivities." The Nazi, Fascist, and Socialist states, by contrast, "have in-stituted centralized planning for definite ends. But they have been even more crudely materialistic than the democratic states." (96) The twoWorld Wars are thus "the result of the application of similar technique in an opposite spirit and for opposite ends: science and mechanization being used, in the one case, in a commercial spirit for the increase of wealth; in the other, in a military spirit for the conquest of power. And as the conflict proceeds, the more complete becomes the mechanization of life, until total organization seems to be the necessary condition of social survival." (97) "This," he writes, "is the greatness and misery of modern civilization-that it has conquered the world by losing its own soul, and that when its soul is lost it must lose the world as well." (98)

The Church, in Dawson's view, could not accept this new situation as it did when it accepted the fall of Rome. "For that was an external disaster, which left the sources of spiritual vitality unimpaired, while this is a spiritual catastrophe which strikes directly at the moral foundations of our society, and destroys not only the outward form of civilization but the soul of man which is the beginning and end of all human culture." (99) At a deeper level than the conflict of the two competing worldly visions of capitalist democracy and totalitarian-ism, there was at work the "law of spiritual duality and polarization which is expressed ... in St. Augustine's doctrine of the two cities Babylon and Jerusalem whose conflict runs through all history and gives it its ultimate significance." (100) The world therefore had two alternatives: either it would be completely engulfed by consumerism and totalitarianism, which would ultimately destroy humanity, or it would recover Christianity as the center of its culture--with the Divine Humanity of Christ as the shared object of its love--and so become again a true society. Dawson writes,

  The only way to desecularize culture is by giving a spiritual
  aim to the whole system of organization, so that the machine
  becomes the servant of the spirit and not its enemy or master.
  Obviously this is a tremendous task, but it is one that we cannot
  avoid facing in the near future. If culture is not to be dynamized
  from below by the exploitation of the sub-rational animal forces
  in human nature, it must be activized from above by being once
  more brought into relation with the forces of Divine power and
  wisdom and love. (101)

In Augustinian terms, the only alternative to a civilization artificially held together by the libido dominandi was a spiritual society united by the love of God. And this is just to say that the only alternative to

Dawson's Augustinian solution to the problems of his day was to suggest to society that it change the object of its love in such a way that would reunite the religious instinct with the social instinct, by making Christianity once again the heart of European culture. Only Christianity could do this, because it alone was a religion of charity--of love for God and neighbor. "The reconciliation of the nations," he says, "can only be accomplished on a deeper plane than that of political power or economic interest. It is essentially a spiritual task which demands the spiritual vision that is faith and the spiritual will that is charity." (103) Indeed, Christianity, when it has the freedom to be itself and is not relegated to the private sphere, necessarily has a "world mission" that "is based on its conception of a spiritual society which transcends all states and cultures and is the final goal of humanity. Wherever Christianity exists there survives a seed of unity, a principle of spiritual order, which cannot be destroyed by war or the conflict of economic interests or the failure of political organization." (104) The hope of the world therefore rests on "the existence of a spiritual nucleus of believers who are the bearers of the seed of unity." (105)

And what is perhaps most remarkable about Christianity's mission for a "spiritual universalism," carried out and visibly embodied in the "superpolitical society of the Church," is that this mission gives to history a supernatural direction. (106) "What distinguishes the Christian view of history from that of secular philosophy," Dawson notes, "is above all the belief in the divine government of the world and the intervention of the Spirit in history and in the power of man to resist or co-operate with this divine action." (107) So whereas the Christian historical vision had worked in Augustine's age primarily to relativize the temporal by downplaying the importance of the collapse of Ro-man civilization, in the twentieth century Dawson believed it could the destruction of Western civilization was the creation of a modern "Christendom"--not because the Church is itself the City of God, but because Christendom is the temporal ordering of society by the Church to the eternal population of that City. (102) work to relativize the temporal by challenging the inevitability of secularism and conflict. History is providentially guided, but it is not predetermined. The Christian view of history is therefore the one force capable of saving all that is good in the liberal religion of Progress. The "new theory of time which St. Augustine originated," Dawson writes, "also renders possible a new conception of history. If man is not the slave and creature of time, but its master and creator, then history also becomes a creative process. It does not repeat itself meaninglessly; it grows into organic unity with the growth of human experience. The past does not die; it becomes incorporated into humanity. And hence progress is possible." (108)

But the kind of progress available to humanity is not the progress of a "mechanistic universe," which would be merely "progress to eternal death."(109) Rather, it is the progress of populating the eternal City of God by the temporal work of Christian culture. For, as Dawson understood, "Christianity, more than any other religion, is characterized by its doctrine of spiritual renewal and regeneration. It stands for the restoration or transformation of human nature in Christ--in other words the creation of a new humanity."110 This task would in turn give meaning to the material progress of the mechanized world, and would keep it at the service of humanitarian goals. A Christian culture would not shun scientific advances, but, like Augustine, rejoice in them while acknowledging their finitude: "How wonderful, how astonishing, are the achievements of human industry in devising clothing and shelter!" writes the saint:

  What progress man has made in agriculture and navigation! ...
  How many medicines and remedies do we find used to preserve or
  restore health? ... What of the delight which the mind find in the
  ornaments of oratory and in the abundant diversity of poetry?
  Or that which the ears find in musical instruments and the various
  kinds of melody which have been devised? ... How fully has
  [humanity] come to understand so many things of this world! ...
  And here we are speaking only of the natural capacities with
  which the human mind is adorned in this mortallife, not of the
  faith and the way of truth by which man achieves life
  immortal. (111)

Thus, the Liberal project that originated in Christianity could be renewed and steadied by Christianity if only it would recognize its subordinate position, and indeed, its vocation, within the larger task of populating the Eternal City. (112) Its goal would then be not progress and freedom for its own sake, carried out by "homo incurvatus in se"-- man turned in upon himself--but rather progress and freedom for the sake of God and neighbor.

The prerequisite for rescuing Liberalism from itself, however, was the return to unity in a single visible Church, which could be accomplished only by a systematic reengagement with the sources of Christian culture, through a reproposal of the concept of natural law, and through renewed emphasis on the Church's vocation to wit-ness to its identity as a spiritual community held together by love. For this, Christians would need nothing less than "the power of the Spirit," in whose strength they "faced and overcame the pagan civilization of the Roman Empire and the pagan savagery of their barbarian conquerors," and in whose strength they would also master the challenges of modernity. (113)


(1.) Bradley J. Birzer, Sanctifying the World:The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Daw-son (Fort Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2007), 26.

(2.) Christopher Dawson, handwritten notes (1930s?) in University of St. Thomas special collections, box 8, file 53, "Miscellaneous--Saints."

(3.) Christopher Dawson, Progress and Religion: An Historical Inquiry (Washington, DC: University of America Press 2001 [First published in London: Sheed and Ward, 1929]), 166. Hereafter cited as "Progress."

(4.) Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, Vol. I, trans. Gilbert Highet (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945), xvii.

(5.) Quintillian, "Institutio Oratoria," in The Great Tradition, ed. Richard M. Gamble (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007), 124.

(6.) Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans, trans. R. W. Dyson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 24 [I 15]. Hereafter cited as "Dyson."

(7.) Progress, 166.

(8.) Ibid., 166.

(9.) Dyson, 129.

(10.) Christopher Dawson, "St. Augustine and His Age," in A Monument to St. Augustine, ed. T. F. Burns (London: Sheed and Ward, 1934 [1930]), 19-20. Hereafter cited as "Monument."

(11.) Monument, 20.

(12.) Progress, 167.

(13.) Monument, 25.

(14.) Ibid., 130 [III 21]

(15.) Dyson, 76 [II 21].

(16.) Monument, 21.

(17.) Ibid.

(18.) Dyson, 75 [II 20]. Dawson paraphrases this passage in Monument, 22.

(19.) Ibid., 23.

(20.) Progress, 179.

(21.) Monument, 33.

(22.) Ibid., 30, 24.

(23.) Ibid., 32-33.

(24.) Ibid., 25.

(25.) Gerard O'Daly, Augustine's City of God: A Reader's Guide (NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1999), 3; see also 3-8.

(26.) Ibid., 83

(27.) Monument, 38.

(28.) Ibid.

(29.) Progress, 164-66.

(30.) Ibid., 161.

(31.) Ibid.

(32.) See ibid., 162.

(33.) Ibid., 161.

(34.) Ibid., 176.

(35.) Ibid., 177.

(36.) Christopher Dawson, The Judgment of the Nations (London: Sheed andWard, 1943), 7. Hereafter cited as "Judgment."

(37.) Progress, 15.

(38.) See ibid., 155-57.

(39.) Ibid., 59-60.

(40.) Ibid., 178.

(41.) Ibid., 168.

(42.) Ibid., 178.

(43.) Ibid., 177.

(44.) Birzer, 73-75.

(45.) O'Daly, 36.

(46.) See, for example, Dyson, 176 [IV 27] and Monument, 20.

(47.) Ibid.

(48.) The two copies are S. Aurelii Augustini Hipponensis episcopi de Civitate Dei libri XXII (Lipsiae: Sumptibus Ernesti Bredtii, 1877), cited hereafter as "CD1," and The City of God, trans. John Healy, with an introduction by Ernest Barker (London: J. M. Dent, 1931), cited hereafter as "CD2." For more on Dawson's relationship with Barker, see Birzer, 27-28. Dawson's library also includes An Augustine Synthesis (London: Sheed and Ward, 1945 [1936]) by Erich Pryzwara, SJ, who had contributed to A Monument to St. Augustine. In this volume, Dawson highlights passages from Book XI, chapter 28; Book XIV, chapter 28; and Book XV, chapters 1 and 2. I have omitted these since they could not have been made until after the Judgment of the Nations was published.

(49.) In the Latin version, Dawson made such markings in each of the following sections, which are standardized here to the 2010 Cambridge edition translated by R. W. Dyson: Book VII, chapter 32; Book VIII, chapters 1, 12, and 26; Book X, chapters 6, 18, and 20; Book XI, chapters 2, 25, 26, and 28; Book XII, chapters 17 and 28 (16 and 27 in Dawson's text); Book XIV, chapter 26; Book XVIII, chapter 22; Book XIX, chapter 17; Book XX, chapter 30; and Book XXII, chapter 24. In the abridged Eng-lish text, whose divisions are numbered rather differently, Dawson marked passages in Book V, chapters 13, 17 and 21 (3, 7, and 12 in Dawson's text); Book XI (his Book X), chapters 6 and 28; and Book XII, chapter 28 (his Book XI, chapter 26). There are also substantial markings in the two tables of contents of CD1, and a few indeciphersable markings on the back pages of both CD1 and CD2. I have chosen simply to ignore these for the purposes of this article, since they are less specific than the marginalia and their meanings less clear.

(50.) CD2, 263-64. Cf. Dyson, 539 [XII 28]. Italics added. 51. Ibid., 212-13. Cf. Dyson, 487-88 [XI 28]. Italics added.

(52.) Monument, 59.

(53.) Ibid.

(54.) Dyson, 960 [XIX 24].

(55.) Ibid.

(56.) Ibid., 632 [XIV 28].

(57.) Monument, 60.

(58.) See ibid., 69.

(59.) CD2, 181; cf. Dyson, 456 [XI 6].

(60.) Monument, 45. Italics in original.

(61.) See Dyson 307 [VII 32]. The relevant passage is marked in CD1.

(62.) Ibid., 630 [XIV 26]. Marked in CD1.

(63.) Ibid., 400 [X 6]; see also 422 [X 20]. Both relevant passages are marked CD1.

(64.) Monument, 71.

(65.) Ibid., 67.

(66.) Ibid., 69.

(67.) Ibid., 70.

(68.) Ibid., 66.

(69.) Ibid., 67.

(70.) Dyson 212 [V 13]. Marked in CD2.

(71.) Dyson, 228 [V 21]. Marked in CD2.

(72.) Dyson, 217 [V 17]. Marked in CD2.

(73.) Dyson, 946-47 [XIX 17]. Marked in CD1 and cited in Monument, 66, 76.

(74.) Monument, 47.

(75.) Ibid., 75.

(76.) Ibid., 72.

(77.) Ibid., 75.

(78.) Ibid.

(79.) Dawson, handwritten notes, "Miscellaneous-Saints."

(80.) Monument, 68.

(81.) Ibid., 52.

(82.) Judgment, 152.

(83.) Monument, 77.

(84.) Judgment, 6.

(85.) Ibid., 116.

(86.) Ibid., 35.

(87.) Ibid., 83.

(88.) Progress, 180.

(89.) Judgment, 45.

(90.) Ibid., 7.

(91.) See ibid., 16; see also Progress, 169.

(92.) Judgment, 90.

(93.) Ibid., 109.

(94.) Ibid., 7.

(95.) Ibid., 80.

(96.) Ibid.

(97.) Ibid., 74.

(98.) Ibid., 68.

(99.) Ibid., 9.

(100.) Ibid., 125.

(101.) Ibid., 87.

(102.) See ibid., 141-54.

(103.) Ibid., 154.

(104.) Ibid., 153.

(105.) Ibid.

(106.) Ibid., 141.

(107.) Ibid., 103.

(108.) Monument, 71.

(109.) Progress, 173.

(110.) Judgment, 88.

(111.) Dyson, 1162 [XXII 24]. Marked in CD1.

(112.) See Judgment, 140, 152.

(113.) Ibid., 154.

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