The Christopher Dawson Society for Philosophy and Culture was formally incorporated in Perth, Western Australia in 2013. It is a not-for-profit association named in honour of Christopher Dawson the great English historian of the 20th century who throughout his work saw the world of spiritual belief “as the dynamic element in history and as a real world-transforming power.” Drawing inspiration from the thought of Christopher Dawson, the Society was founded to promote cultural and philosophic activities that recognise the spiritual, as well as the material, element in our nature and in society more broadly. It is hoped that in this way the Dawson Society may uphold and continue the work of its namesake.
“Western man has not been faithful to his Christian tradition. He has abandoned it not once, but again and again. For since Christianity depends on a living faith and not merely on social tradition, Christendom must be renewed every fresh generation, and every generation is faced by the responsibility of making decisions, each of which may be an act of Christian faith or an act of apostasy.” – Christopher Dawson (1889 – 1970)
The renewal of Christendom is a task that confronts every Catholic. It is a challenge from the heart of the Catholic faith, a personal call to holiness and a demand for cultural renewal. Each generation faces this challenge. The solutions and challenges of each generation are unique, no more so than those of the present generation who come to their task after more than two centuries of political, moral and cultural turmoil, the revolt of modernity and unprecedented technological progress.
The present generation of Australians cannot expect that the tools employed for the renewal of Christian culture by previous generations will remain effective today. The norms and mores that assisted the acceptance of the traditions of the faith have dissolved with the communities that fostered them. Contemporary man has been set adrift, atomised, isolated. Divorced from truth freedom is understood only as license. The intellectual climate meanwhile encourages the abandoning of traditional beliefs and behaviours and favours a cult of novelty and aimless progressivism.
It can no longer be assumed that current and future generations of Australians will accept the inherent goodness of the faith, its implicit role in public life and the desirability of belief. Australian culture is instead, generally ignorant of and often hostile to, the claims of religion. Past generations could justifiably argue that a broad swath of society accepted and understood basic Christian principles; the current generation cannot.
“Every society rests in the last resort on the recognition of common principles and common ideals, and if it makes no moral or spiritual appeal to the loyalty of its members, it must inevitably fall to pieces.”1 Australian society finds itself bereft of mission, at loss for identity of any sense of the meaning of life. The previous century witnessed, especially amongst the nations of Europe, great attempts to redefine the spiritual loyalties of their populations away from the Christian tradition. These attempts, nationalism, fascism and communism each failed in their turn; and in its turn, the present compromise, an attempt to unite society upon economic progress, materialism and relativism, faces its own failure amidst economic recession and the pressing claims of rival cultures.
Perhaps the result of these failures will be a realignment of Australian society towards a Christian way of life; a way of life which, in the words of G. K. Chesterton, “has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried”. Yet this will not be the case unless Catholics can intelligently articulate the Christian worldview. To be a force for renewal amongst the society at large, Catholics must able to converse with the universal languages of reason and culture to all people.
It is the tasks of the today’s generation of Catholics, alongside all those committed to the primacy of truth, to ensure that Christian principles shall always find an articulate voice in the Australian public square. For Christianity to evangelise the hearts and minds of future generations it is essential that Catholics possess a deep spirituality, founded primarily upon prayer and the sacraments, but capable also of mature intellectual engagement with the issues that perplex modern man.
The Christopher Dawson Society for Philosophy and Culture is established with the aim to assist Catholics to revitalise Australian culture suffering from an absence of higher values and purpose. The Society intends to achieve its aims through sponsoring and encouraging a revitalisation of lay Catholic thought and intellectual engagement within the realms of philosophy, theology and culture. Thus, by the will of God, the Society shall bring its members towards a deeper understanding of that which is truth, beauty and goodness; and shall assist the laity in their vocation to “seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will.”2
The Society then is understood by its founding members to be:
1) Catholic: The Society is founded firstly, and most fundamentally, upon the tenets of the Roman Catholic faith, defined by the Magisterium of the Church, whose cosmology, anthropology and moral insight must lie at the heart of all the Society’s motivations and doings.
2) Rational: An essential part of the Catholic anthropology is the understanding of men and women as a rational beings created in the image and likeness of God. The development of man’s rational nature is fundamental to the Society’s mission and to the dignity of the human person. The rational and intellectual charisma of the Society is in no way restricted by the Society’s Catholic identity which, on the contrary, informs us that, “Reason and faith cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of men and women to know themselves, the world and God in an appropriate way.”3
3) Cultural: That by bringing Catholics into close contact with the cultural fruits of previous generations we may imbue a heritage of more than 2000 years of Christian thought, art and literature. This heritage is neither dogmatic nor complete, but a living tradition to be embraced, and adapted for the needs, and developed by, every generation, through which the seeds of renewal of our own culture may be found.
Finally, and conscious that all the Society’s efforts must be subordinated to the will of God, we call upon the patrons of the society that, through their intercession, God may smile upon our efforts and, if it be his will, reward them in abundance.
Mary Help of Christians, Patroness of Australia, to whom St Pope Pius V entrusted the armada of the Holy League and the defence of Christendom – Pray for Us
St Benedict, whom as the Roman Empire collapsed about him, established the great tradition of Western Monasticism that has always served as a bulwark for culture and civilisation – Pray for Us
Blessed Karl of Austria, last king of the Hapsburgs, who as Europe tore itself apart, strove for peace amongst men and the unity of Christendom – Pray for Us
1. Dawson, C., “What Had Grown Old Will Be Made New”
3. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio n. 16