Modern Pioneers: Christopher Dawson
When noted eighteenth-century scholar Edward Gibbon studied the history of civilization, he concluded, "As the happiness of a future life is the great object of religion, we may hear, without surprise or scandal, that the introduction, or at least the abuse, of Christianity had some influence on the decline and fall of the Roman empire."
When Christopher Dawson examined the same subject about 150 years later, in Progress and Religion: An Historical Inquiry, he came to the opposite conclusion: "The secularization of a society involves the devitalization of that society. …[T]he passing of a religion is not a sign of progress but a token of social decay."
Dawson became one of the twentieth century's most forceful defenders of Christianity and western culture. In response to sentiments like William Butler Yeats's famous quote, "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold," Dawson offered a vision of transcendent unity through faith—specifically the faith of the Roman Catholic church.
Henry Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) was born into a pious Anglo-Catholic family whose roots rested securely in the English gentry. Following a childhood plagued by illness and a year or so at the great public school at Winchester, he was placed under the tutelage of an Anglican parson for university preparation. During this period, Dawson met Edward Watkins, another high church Anglican, who entered Trinity College, Oxford, with him and whose personal religious pilgrimage would greatly influence Dawson's own.
While at Oxford, Dawson regularly attended Anglo-Catholic religious services, even though he was not a member of the "spikes" (university slang for high churchmen). Then Watkins converted to Roman Catholicism, and Dawson made a cultural pilgrimage ...