Dawson Project

Education is the transmission of civilization.

                            --- Will Durant

This page contains quotes from: Dawson, Christopher. 1961. The crisis of Western education. New York: Sheed and Ward. (Citations from Franciscan University Press: Steubenville, OH; Reprint 1989.)


It has always been the curse of education that it has been under the spell of the past in its methods and ideas. But today this past is not the past of the medieval schoolmen or the Renaissance humanists; it is the late nineteenth-century tradition of utilitarianism and secularism which is reducing modern education to a disintegrated mass of specialisms and vocational courses. It is the function of higher education to rise above this by giving the mind a unifying vision of the spiritual sources from which western civilization flowed. p. 99


The fact is that the average educated person is not only ignorant of Christian theology, he is no less ignorant of Christian philosophy, Christian history and Christian literature, and in short of Christian culture in general. And he is not ashamed of his ignorance, because Christianity has come to be one of the things that educated people don’t talk about. This is quite a recent prejudice which arose among the half-educated and gradually spread upwards and downwards. . . . Today there are signs of improvement . . . But this cannot go far unless religion is brought back into higher education, and this can only be achieved by giving the systematic study of Christian culture a recognized place in university studies. p. 114


3 Sources of the West: Christianity, Classical Culture (Greek and Roman), National/Local culture -- p. 122


No other culture in the world has devoted so much attention to the problem of political power and the moral principles of political action as that of the West. p.124


This freedom of political discussion on the highest level is something which Western civilization has in common with that of classical antiquity, but with no other. It presupposes the existence of an international body of educated opinion which is not a creature of the state and which is free to discuss ultimate social and political principles in an atmosphere of relative impartiality. But modern nationalism leaves no room for scientific impartiality. It takes all it can from the common treasure of European culture and rejects with hostility and contempt all that it cannot claim as its own. p. 124


It is therefore as important as it ever was to understand the nature of Western civilization and how it was that this relatively minute group of European states came to transform the rest of the world and to change the whole course of human history. p. 126


The activity of the western mind, which manifested itself alike in scientific and technical invention as well as in geographical discover, was not the natural inheritance of a particular biological type; it was the result of a long process of education which gradually changed the orientation of human thought and enlarged the possibilities of social action. In this process the vital factor was not the aggressive power of conquerors and capitalists, but the widening of the capacity of human intelligence and the development of new types of creative genius and ability. p. 128


The old domination of classical humanism has passed away, and nothing has taken its place except the scientific specialisms which do not provide a complete intellectual education, and rather tend to disintegrate into technologies. Every educator recognizes that this is unsatisfactory. A scientific specialist or a technologist is not an educated person. He tends to become merely an instrument of the industrialist or the bureaucrat, a worker ant in an insect society, and the same is true of the literary specialist, though his social function is less obvious. p. 132


The time is ripe for a new approach to Catholic education in general, and specifically religious instruction p. 132


Education is disintegrating into a chaos of competing specialisms p. 132


The current unifying purpose of education is the urgent practical necessity of finding a job and making a living p. 132


This combination of utilitarianism and specialism is one of the main causes of the intellectual disintegration of modern Western culture p. 133

I believe that the study of Christian culture is the missing link which it is essential to supply if the tradition of Western education and Western culture is to survive, for it is only through this study that we can understand how Western culture came to exist and what are the essential values for which it stands. p. 134-135


For the educated person cannot play his full part in modern life unless he has a clear sense of the nature and achievements of Christian culture: how Western civilization became Christian and how far it is Christian today and in what ways it has ceased to be Christian: in short, a knowledge of our Christian roots and of the abiding Christian elements in Western culture. p. 135


When I speak of Western culture . . . [I mean] . . . the whole pattern of human life and thought in a living society. . .a culture is a definite historical unity . . .it has a much wider expansion in space and time than any purely political unit, and it alone constitutes an intelligible field of historical study, since no part of it can be properly understood except in relation to  the whole. p.135-136


For more than a thousand years from the conversion of the Roman Empire down to the Reformation the peoples of Europe were fully conscious of their membership in the great Christian society and accepted the Christian faith and the Christian moral law as the ultimate bond of social unity and the spiritual basis of their way of life. p. 136


A glimpse of the intellectual and spiritual riches to which he is heir and to which he can return in later years for light and refreshment. p. 136


What is needed, so it seems to me, is a study of Christian culture as a social reality – its origins, development and achievements – for this would provide a background of framework that would integrate the liberal studies which at present are apt to disintegrate into unrelated specialisms p. 137


This kind of program is not simply a study of the Christian classics; nor is it primarily a literary study. It is a cultural study in the sociological and historical sense, and it would devote more attention to the social institutions and the moral values of Christian culture than to its literary and artistic achievements. p. 137


What we need is not an encyclopedic knowledge of all the products of Christian culture, but a study of the culture-process itself from its spiritual and theological roots, through its organic historical growth to its cultural fruits. It is this organic relation between theology, history and culture which provides the integrative principle in Catholic higher education, and the only one that is capable of taking the place of the old classical humanism which is disappearing or has already disappeared. p. 137-8


If we desire to promote religious and intellectual understanding among the different religious groups within American society, surely the best way to do this is to understand and appreciate our own culture in all its depth and breadth. p. 138


But for the Christian the past can never be dead, as it often seems to the secularist, since we believe the past and the present are united in the one Body of the Church and that the Christians of the past are still present as witnesses and helpers in the life of the Church today. p. 138


But as there is an organic unity between the Christian faith and the Christian life, so also there is a relation between Christian life and Christian culture. p. 138


. . . it is the very nature of the Christian faith and the Christian life to penetrate and change the social environment in which they exist, and there is no aspect of human life which is closed to this leavening and transforming process. p. 139


Christianity did actually come into the historical world and did actually transform the societies with which it came into contact: first, the Hellenistic-Oriental society of the Eastern Roman Empire, and secondly, the Latin and barbarian societies of Western Europe. From this two new cultures were born-the Byzantine culture of the East and Western Christendom . . . p. 139


We must recognize that Christian culture can be studied in two ways: externally, as an objective historical study of Christendom as one of the four great world civilizations on which the modern world is founded; and from within, as the study of the history of the Christian people-a study of the ways in which Christianity has expressed itself in human thought and institutions through the ages.


The Christian culture has passed through six successive phases or periods, each with its distinctive form of culture:

  1. Primitive Christianity
  2. Patristic Christianity
  3. The Formation of Western Christendom
  4. Medieval Christendom
  5. Divided Christendom
  6. Secularized Christendom

p. 140-1


Each of these periods has its own specific character, which can be studied in art and philosophy, in literature and in social institutions. Most important and characteristic of all are the successive forms of the religious life itself which have manifested themselves in each of the different periods. p. 142


We study political ideas in relation to history, although we know that the majority of men are never governed by purely ideological motives. How much more then should we study the religious element in culture, for this affected the majority influence on western culture for more than twelve centuries. It was not studied in the past because men took it for granted like the air they breathed. But now that our civilization is becoming predominantly and increasingly secular, it is necessary to make an express study of it, if we are to understand our past and the nature of the culture that we have inherited. p. 142-143


If this were all, we should be forced to conclude that modern Western society does not possess a civilization, but only a technological order resting on a moral vacuum. p. 150


It is still possible to restore moral order by a return to the spiritual principles on which our Christian civilization was based. p. 150


In order to free the mind from its dependence on the conformist patterns of modern secular society, it is necessary to view the cultural situation as a whole and to see the Christian way of life not as a number of isolated precepts imposed by ecclesiastical authority, but as a cosmos of spiritual relations embracing heaven and earth uniting the order of social and moral life with the order of divine grace. p. 150


The need to compete successfully with the dominant secular education may lead him to sacrifice the study of Christian culture to the modern curriculum of studies, so that the Catholic college comes to provide merely an alternative system of secular education under a denominational label. p. 152


It is not just a question of the Christian classics and Christian philosophy, it is the whole tradition of Christian life and thought through the course of history. p. 155


(The great religions that have sustained civilizations) They are six in number; three in the West- Christendom, Islam and Judaism; and three in the East-Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.


Science and technology in themselves are morally neutral and do not provide any guiding spiritual principle. p. 159


For modern society, lie all societies needs some higher spiritual principle of co-ordination to overcome the conflicts between power and morality, between reason and appetite, between technology and humanity and between self-interest and the common good. p. 159


Even if we reject the traditional religions and deny the truth of any particular theological system or doctrine as the modern world has done, we have not escaped from the need of some higher principle of coordination if our society is to survive. p. 159


Modern Christians have all been more or less influenced by the dominant secular conception of culture. Most of us are shockingly ignorant and forgetful of the wealth of our inheritance. Even the well-educated among us are much better instructed-and usually more interested-in modern secular politics and culture than in the tradition of Christian culture. p. 160


What is need, therefore, is nothing less than a radical reform of Christian education: an intellectual revolution which will restore the internal unity of Christian culture. p. 161


We have to recover the idea of Christian people as a true world society of which Israel was the shadow and the antitype; no mere ecclesiastical organization but the organ of a new humanity. This conception is expressed in the early Christian idea of The Third Race and more superficially I the medieval idea of Christendom.  It finds its classical and authoritative formulation in the Catholic liturgy, especially in that of Easter and Pentecost. On the whole, however, as a result of the narrowing of Christian culture since the Reformation by sectarianism and secularism, we have lost sight of the ideal of a Christian people. p. 162


It is essential above all to recover the traditional Christian conception of history: first, the doctrine of the transformation and recreation of humanity in the Incarnation; secondly, the traditional Christian theory of the successive world ages as progressive stages of revelation; thirdly, the ideal of the expansion of the Kingdom of God by the incorporation of the nations in the Kingdom and the enrichment of the Christian tradition by the various contributions of different national cultures and traditions; fourthly, in relation to this, the idea of a providential preparation through which all the positive elements in the pre-Christian and non-Christian world find their fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. p. 163


The immense wealth of Christian culture as a living world tradition has not been realized except by the specialists who have utilized some part of it for their own ends. – p. 163


[Speaking about the development of Christian culture] This process involves three successive phases: (1) the confrontation of Christianity-the Church and the Gospel-with a non-Christian secular or pagan environment; (2) the process of permeation of one by the other; (3) the eventual creation of new forms of culture and though-art, literature, institutions, and so forth-from the process of interaction. – p. 164


We can study these three phases in relation to the whole civilizations, e.g., the conversion of the ancient world and the rise of the Byzantine culture; or in relation to particular peoples, e.g., the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons and the rise of Old English Christian culture; or in relation to particular areas of culture, as in the case of the contact and interaction of Christian theology and Greek philosophy and the rise of the Christian-Aristotelian scholastic philosophy; or in relation to particular institutions. – p. 164


The whole process creates a religious unity which provides a living spiritual bond of community and possesses a tradition of culture richer and deeper than that of national societies, even though it has been weakened and undermined by centuries of secularism. – p. 165


Christianity is a real world society which differs from political societies in that it transcends time. The bond of membership is not destroyed by death. It is a world society which unites ages as well as nations. We believe that the men who died for the faith in third-century Rome or seventeenth-century Japan are still partners in the common struggle, no less than those who are leaders of Christian thought and action in our own days. – p. 165


. . . the real cause of modern irreligion is not intellectual, nor is it due to the influence of Communism and dogmatic anti-Christianity. It is sheer indifference: the practical paganism of people who have never thought deeply on this subject, or perhaps on any subject, and who cannot see that Christianity has any relevance to their actual lives. – p. 171


[addressing modern irreligion] . . . contemptuous indifference . . . The real threat to Christianity and also to the future of Western Culture, as shown in this survey, is not the rational hostility of a determined minority, but the existence of a great mass of opinion which is not anti-religious but sub-religious, so that it is no longer conscious of any spiritual need for Christianity to fulfill. – p. 172


On the one hand, man is sheltered from the direct impact of reality, while on the other he is subjected to a growing pressure which makes fro social conformity. He seldom has to think for himself or make vital decisions. His whole life is spent inside highly organized artificial units—factory, trade union, office, civil service, party—and his success or failure depends on his relations with this organization. If the Church were one of these compulsory organizations modern man would be religious, but since it is voluntary, and makes demands on his spare time, it is felt to be superfluous and unnecessary. – p. 173


The only real solution is to change the cultural environment which has made it possible for this unnatural state of things to develop. – p. 173


In recent years we have often been forced to ask the question how the average well-meaning and well-behaved German or Russian accepted the existence of the concentration camps and the mass purges which have so shocked our humanitarian instincts. And the answer is that the instinct of social conformity is stronger than the instinct of humanitarianism. When the state decides that inhuman measures are required for the good of the party, the individual accepts its decision without criticism and in fact without recognizing what the state is doing. – p. 173-4 (think about this in relation to abortion in the U.S. and the West)


For the contemporary indifference to religion is accompanied by an indifference to many other things which are necessary for the welfare of society. It is essentially a negative attitude which implies the absence of any deep moral conviction and of any effective social dynamics beyond the appeal to self-interest. It is a sort of spiritual vacuum, which can produce no cultural fruit whatever. In this respect it is inferior even to Communism, which has a dynamic character, even though in the last resort its dynamism is that desire for power which is embodied in the party dictatorships and the police state. And this is one of the greatest of the dangers that threaten the existence of Western culture when the latter is identified with what we call “the democratic way of life.” It produces a society which is spiritually neutral and passive, and consequently it affords an easy prey for any strong, aggressive revolutionary power like Communism. – p. 174-5


Now it is not the business of Christianity to defend our secularized Western culture from the menace of social or political revolution. From the Christian point of view there is not much to choose between passive agnosticism or indifferentism and active materialism. In fact, both of them may be different symptoms or phases of the same spiritual disease. What is vital is to recover the moral and spiritual foundations on which the lives of both the individual and the culture depend: to bring home to the average man that religion is not a pious fiction which has nothing to do with the facts of life, but that it is concerned with realities, that it is in fact the pathway to reality and the law of life. This is no easy task, since a completely secularized culture is a world of make-believe in which the figures of the cinema and the cartoon-strip appear more real than the figures of the Gospel; in which the artificial cycle of wage earning and spending has divorced men from the direct contact with the life of the earth and its natural cycle of labor and harvest; and in which even birth and death and sickness and poverty no longer bring me face to face with ultimate realities, but only bring them into closer dependence on the state and its bureaucracy so that every human need can be met by filling in the appropriate form. In such a world ther still remains one great social and spiritual institution which is the visible embodiment of divine authority and supernatural truth. So long as the Catholic Church is free to lead its own life and to show in its life and teaching the truth for which it stands, it is bound to make an impression on society, however secularized the culture of the latter has become. – p. 175


And so it is not enough for Catholics to maintain a high standard of religious practice within the Catholic community, it is also necessary for them to build a bridge of understanding out into secular culture and to act as interpreters of the Christian faith to the world outside the Church. This work is not limited to direct missionary activity and religious propaganda in the formal sense. It is the business of ever Catholic and especially of every educated Catholic. – p. 176


Yet however sub-religious and lacking in spiritual culture and awareness modern society may be, it has a real, if rather foggy, respect for education, and its chief criticisms of orthodox religion are that Christianity is out of date, that the Church takes up a reactionary and obscurantist attitude to modern science and sociology, and that Christians are out of touch with modern thought. Consequently any Catholic who is intellectually alive and is a the same time obviously convinced of the truth of his religion administers a shock to their preconceived ideas. He is not likely to convert them, but he shakes their confidence in the inevitability of the secularist outlook in the stupidity of the religious view of life. This is the first step, and small as it is, it is of vital importance. The second step comes when men become aware of the objective value and importance of religious knowledge: when they realize that such knowledge is no less important for human welfare and for the understanding of reality than economics and the science of nature. This step is still below the threshold of Christianity; it only leads to a point which his common to all the world religions and to many thinkers who have no religious faith . . . Nevertheless when this step is taken the turning point has been reached. – p. 176


But he cannot follow this path [becoming “aware that he is standing on the threshold of a spiritual world which is as real as the material world”] unless Catholics play their part as interpreters and communicators. – p. 177


In the past, this higher (spiritual) world was rendered intelligible and visible to Western man through the medium of Christian culture, which provided a whole series of ways of approach adapted to the different types of mind and the different forms of intellectual activity. Today all these avenues have become closed by ignorance, prejudice or neglect, and they have t obe re-opened by the spiritual and intellectual action of Catholics . . . There is an apostolate of study as well as an apostolate of action and of prayer. – p. 177-178


Christian culture is not the same thing as the Christian faith. But it is only through the medium of culture that the Faith can penetrate civilization and transform the thought and ideology of modern society. – p. 178


In [Augustine’s] view, the dynamic principle of society is the common will or psychological drive. Therefore the only dynamic principle in a human society which is godless and self-centered is the will to self-satisfaction . . . – p. 178


But against this tendency of man to create a self-centered, closed world which is ultimately doomed to self-destruction by its own destructive instincts, there is the divine process of spiritual restoration and reintegration which finds its center in the Incarnation and its orbit in the Christian faith. – p. 178


Philosophy and science, history and literature, all acquire a new character and become deepened and widened when they are seen in this [Christian] perspective. That is why the Christian culture of the past saw theology as the queen of the sciences. – p. 179


The American way of life can only maintain its character within the general framework of Western Christian culture. . . . It is therefore important that the study of Christian culture in the American Catholic college should not confine itself to the Christian culture of Europe but should devote special attention to the problem of the Enlightenment and the way in which the doctrince of Natural Law and the theory of the limited state had their original roots in the Christian tradition. – p. 184-185


Christian education should be an initiation into a universal spiritual society—the community of the civitas Dei. The central purpose of Christian education should be to actualize this citizenship which we all accept as a truth of faith which should be realized as a membership of a real community, more real than that of nation or state and more universal than secular civilization. It is a community that transcends time so that past and present coexist in a living reality. – p. 187


The vital problem of Christian education is a sociological one: how to make students culturally conscious of their religion otherwise they will be divided personalities—with a Christian faith and a pagan culture which contradict one another continually. We have to ask ourselves are we Christians who happen to live in England or America, or are we English or Americans who happen to attend a church on Sundays? There is no doubt which is the New Testament view; there the Christians are one people in the full sociological sense, but scattered among different cities and people s. But today we mostly take the opposite view, so that our national cultures are the only culture we have and our religion has to exist on a sectarian sub-cultural level. Thus the sociological problem of a Christian culture is also the psychological problem of integration and spiritual health. This is the key issue. Even a ghetto culture is preferable to no religious culture at all, but under modern conditions the ghetto solution is no longer really practicable. We must make an effort to achieve and open Christian culture which is sufficiently conscious of the value of its own tradition to be able to meet secularist culture on an equal footing. – p. 187-188


Western man has created the technological order, but he has not discovered how to control it. It is beginning to control him, and if it does, there seems no way of preventing it from destroying him. – p. 189


Our dilemma is most obvious in the new techniques of warfare. These have become so efficient that they make the path to self-destruction, mass destruction, and even world destruction a short and easy one. Yet the technological order offers us no techniques of international relations by which this might be avoided. – p. 189


In the pre-technological order, the craftsman and the manual laborer tended to release their psychic tension in the exercise of their work. But in the technological order this is not so, the man who drives a truck or minds a machine has to subordinate himself to the discipline of the machine. His emotions find no expression in his work—or, if they do, he is a bad workman. They must find an outlet outside his work—in his free time—occasionally by violent action, but more usually by the contemplation of the patterns of violent action that are provided by the mechanized industries that cater for this need. But this is not a real solution. It is only a temporary palliative, and the fundamental emotional needs remain unsatisfied. – p.190-191


There has never been a society that was more civilized in the humanist sense than the French society of the Enlightenment, nor one more completely convinced of the powers of reason and science to solves all the problems of life and to create a completely rational culture, based on a firm foundation of science and philosophy. Yet when this society, as represent by Condorcet and his friends, had the opportunity to put their ideas into practice in the first years of the French Revolution, they failed disastrously and were themselves destroyed, almost to a man, by the eruption of the irrational forces that they released. – p. 192


We must face the fact that the vast expansion of man’s external powers by science and technology which are the creation of human reason have done nothing to strengthen the power of reason in the moral order which is its proper domain. For the moral order and the technological order have become out of gear with one another, and as the technological has advanced and become stronger, the moral order has grown weaker. – p. 194


For while the democratic technological society is free, it lacks the higher moral aims which alone can justify the immense developments of technological power and organization. The system exists primarily to satisfy the material needs and demands of the consumers, and these demands are artificially determined by the advertisers who are the agents of the producers so that the whole system has a circular movement and feeds upon itself. – p. 197


This alternative is represented by the traditional religious or philosophical doctrine which solves the psychological and moral conflict by referece to a higher order of transcendent truths and values and ends, to which both the life of the individual and that of society are subordinated. The strength of this solution is that it, and it alone, provides a principle of co-ordination so that the individual is not entirely sacrificed to the community, nor the community to the individual. It is, therefore, psychologically the more “economical” method, whatever may be its metaphysical validity. Without such a principle there is no satisfactory means of reconciling the aims of the ego with the collective will. – p. 198-199


(Wiker’s principle of uniformity – in the relationship between one’s cosmology and morality, the morality tends to conform to one’s cosmology.)

We cannot ignore the fact that every civilization from the beginning of history down to modern times has accepted the existence of a transcendent spiritual order of this kind and has regarded it as the ultimate source of moral values and of moral law. An in ever high civilization we find a correspondingly high development of this conception. – p. 199


If this [the need for a spiritual and moral principle] is an illusion, then civilization is also an illusion, for there is an obvious relation between the breakdown of the moral order with it is deprived of its spiritual aims and sanctions and the breakdown of civilization when it loses its relation to the moral order. – p. 199


The reason why modern civilization has been able to secularize itself as it has done, is that the domain of reason has been so widened and strengthened by the development of science and technology that man came to believe that his reason was strong enough to create a self-sufficient moral order which would in turn produce the perfect society. In this he was mistaken, as the experience of the last fifty years has shown us. As Freud pointed out, man was attempting to live beyond his psychological means, an attempt that must lead to bankruptcy sooner or later. – p. 199-200


. . . The more science a culture has, the more religion it needs. – p. 200


No doubt they [science and religion] may become exclusive subjectively, owing to the concentration of attention on one field at the expense of the other. This is what actually occurred in modern times when Western culture turned its face away from the spiritual world in order to concentrate its whole energy on the discover and exploitation of the new world of science and technology. But as soon as men come to realize that this one-sided development of culture has become a threat to its survival and is contrary to the real interests of man and society, there is nothing except habit and prejudice to prevent a return to the principle of spiritual order and a recovery of this lost dimension of Western culture. – p. 200-201


As I have said, the human mind has always been conscious of the existence of an order of spiritual values from which its moral values derive their validity. This is also an order of spiritual realities which finds its center in transcendent being and divine truth. All the great religions of the world agree in confessing this truth-that there is an eternal reality beyond the flux of temporal and natural things which is at once the ground of being and the basis of rationality.

The Christian faith goes much further than this. It and it alone shows how this higher reality has entered into human history and changed its course. It shows how a seed of new life was implanted in humanity by the setting apart of a particular people as the channel of revelation which found its fulfillment in the Incarnation of the Divine Word in a particular person at a particular moment of history. It shows how this new life was communicated to a spiritual society which became the organ of the divine action in history, so that the human race may be progressively spiritualized and raised to a higher spiritual plane.

Seen from this angle the modern progress of science and technology acquires a new meaning. The technological order which today threatens spiritual freedom and even human exist ence by the unlimited powers which it puts at the service of the human passion and will loses all its terrors as soon as it is sub ordinated to a higher principle. Technology that is freed from the domination of individual self-interest and the mass cult of power would then fall into its place as a providential instrument in the creation of a spiritual order. But this is impossible, so long" as our society remains devoid of all spiritual aims and is intent only on the satisfaction of its lust for power and the satisfaction of its selfish desires. – p. 201-202


A change can only be brought about by the radical reorienta tion of culture to spiritual ends. This is an immense task, since it means a reversal of the movement which has dominated West ern civilization for the last two or three centuries. Yet such a change has been in the air for a very long time, and it has been predicted or advocated by prophets and poets and philosophers ever since the beginning of the nineteenth century: by the poets, like Blake and Coleridge and Novalis; by the socialists and sociologists, like Comte and Saint-Simon and Bazard; and by philosophers like Nietzsche. All of them were aware of the nature of the problem and the inevitability of a great spiritual change, though they were all blinded by the partiality of their vision-the poets by their rejection of science, the sociologists by their rejection of God, and Nietzsche by his simultaneous rejection of both God and humanity.

The conversion and reorientation of modern culture involves a double process, on the psychological and intellectual levels. First, and above all, it is necessary for Western man to recover the use of his higher spiritual faculties-his powers of contem plation-which have become atrophied by centuries of neglect during which the mind and will of Western man was concen­trated on the conquest of power-political, economic and technological. This rediscovery of the spiritual dimension of human existence may be either religious or philosophical: it may be based on some kind of religious conversion through which man realizes his need for God and discovers a new world of spiritual truth and moral values; or it may involve an objec tive metaphysical recognition of the ontological importance and significance of the spiritual factor.


   Perhaps it must be both, for the study of the varieties of religious experience in the last two hundred years has shown how little can be achieved by the non-intellectual emotionalism of the revivalist traditions which have been so strong even in a secular environment like that of nineteenth-century America. But a complete change of spiritual orientation cannot be effective unless it takes place on a deep psychological level. It cannot be had for the asking! It can only be reached by a long and painful journey through the wastelands. Meanwhile there is an essential preliminary step which can be taken at once wherever and whenever people can be found who recognize this need for spiritual change.

   This is the reform of our system of higher education of which I have spoken at length. In the modern world the average man can go through his whole education without becoming aware of the existence of this elementary and essential spiritual factor either in the individual psyche or in the life of civilization. Whether he studies the liberal arts or science and technology, he is given no inkling of the existence of any higher principle which can be known and which can influence individual behavior or social culture. Yet, as I have said, all the great historic civilizations of the past recognized the existence of some spiritual principles or ends of this kind and made them the key of their interpretation of reality and their concepts of moral order. Hence a system of education like that of the modern secular state which almost totally ignores the spiritual component in human culture and in the human psyche is a blunder so enormous that no advance in scientific method or educational technique is sufficient to compensate for it. In this respect we are inferior to many far less advanced cultures which have retained their consciousness of a spiritual order, for wherever this consciousness exists the culture still possesses a principle of integration.

We have a long way to go before we can recover this lost principle of integration. But it is the function of education to open the mind to an appreciation of the spiritual as well as the scientific and humanistic inheritance of culture. If, as I have suggested, the spiritual vacuum in modern Western culture is a danger to its existence, it is the duty of the educationalist to point this out and to show how this vacuum has been filled in other ages or in other cultures. But the Christian educationalist can do much more than this, since he is fully aware of the reality of the spiritual order and is a living witness to the spiritual values on which our civilization was founded.

No doubt his position is a difficult one, since if he is a teacher in a denominational school or college his work is confined to a small separate world which is hardly aware of the enormous gap which divides its traditional beliefs from the forces that rule the world today; while if he is engaged in public education, he is forced by the conditions of his work to treat vital spiritual issues as lying outside his sphere of competence.

But in spite of all this, he is the one man who is in a position to bridge the gulf between the private world of religious faith and spiritual values and the public world of technology, scientific positivism and social conformism. So long as the Christian tradition of higher education still exists, the victory of secularism even in a modern technological society is not complete. There is still a voice to bear witness to the existence of the forgotten world of spiritual reality in which man has his true being. p. 202-204


Why study Christian Culture?

The heritage of the West is religious freedom, modern science and technology, Western democracy, and social & political freedoms. To understand this legacy, we must understand that Christianity is the central fact of the West, both implicit and explicit. Christianity is seeping out of the West, thus removing the pillars of its legacy and heritage. To understand any possible future of the West, we must have a unified picture of the Christian sources from which Western civilization flowed



The Biggest Problem

Materialism and secularism are cutting off Western culture from the essential source of its history, life & future. The consequent decay of the West can only be prevented by making Christian culture studies a significant part of education.

The Big Problem

There are many problems inhibiting the study of Christian culture, but the biggest is the cultural stigma related to the idea that Christianity is an old and worn out idea of the past. (i.e. Christianity is barbaric, or is an idea from the dark ages) Or worse, Christianity is politically incorrect. This is a false dilemma.

This is the Catholic Education problem

As currently presented, Christian religion classes are sterile; separated from real lives and real times

Integrating cultural components into religion class provides concrete knowledge that can be related to on a human level.

What is needed today? A social nest that can develop new types of creative genius, impeccable integrity, and enduring ability. Christian culture has provided such a nest, and can likely do more than we have seen. Christianity has the necessary breadth and depth to sustain civilization.

Fixing the problem

Restoring Christian culture to its central role in education

A greater integration between the study of the Christian religion and the culture, people & times of Christianity


Christian culture consists of

Christian theology

Christian philosophy

Christian history

Christian literature

Christian art & music


Ages of Christianity (abbr.)









Ages of Christianity (unabbr.)

Origins to Constantinian Conversion (c. 30 – 313 CE)

Constantinian Conversion to Rise of Islam (c. 313 CE – c. 632 CE)

Construction of European Christendom (c. 632 CE – c. 1085 CE)

Emancipation of the Church from Feudal Structures (c. 1085 – c. 1520 CE)

Reformations and Revolutions (c. 1520 CE – c. 1789 CE)

The Church and the Modern World (c. 1789 CE – c. 1962 CE)

The Church and the Post-Modern World (c. 1962 CE – the present)

The Christian Difference 1

Social and Political

The Christian Difference 2


The irony

The irony of the current dilemma is that everything that people don’t want Christianity to mess up are all things that Christianity delivered to the world.


Education Crisis

The solution:

The simple remedy for educational disintegration is for a clear and unifying purpose to be put in place.


Christian Culture Bibliography

- Dawson, Christopher. 1961. The crisis of Western education. New York: Sheed and Ward. (Citations from Franciscan University Press: Steubenville, OH; Reprint 1989.)

- Moser, Paul K., and Paul Copan. 2003. The rationality of theism. London: Routledge.

- Woods, Thomas E. 2005. How the Catholic Church built Western civilization. Washington, DC: Regnery Pub.

- Stark, Rodney. 2005. The victory of reason: how Christianity led to freedom, capitalism, and Western success. New York: Random House.