Details of Thesis

Title Catholicism, History and Culture: A Dawsonian synthesis
Author Lynch, Michael Richard
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2008
Abstract At present the Church is confronted by two major problems, specifically, its marginalization within Western society, and the difficulty of transmitting the faith to the young. This confusion has had a particularly severe impact on Catholics within English-speaking countries such as Australia, where a dominant secularized Protestant culture has repudiated its Catholic roots. Catholics have had limited opportunities to appreciate the depth and richness of their heritage or to understand the forms and substance of a flourishing Catholic culture. There have been two major responses to the dilemma of the Church’s interaction with modern culture. The first, which predominated before 1960, drew largely upon neo-scholastic philosophy, a major proponent of which was the prominent French Catholic intellectual, Jacques Maritain (1882-1973). However, a sole reliance on this approach has proved unsatisfactory in countries such as Australia, where the Catholic cultural and historical understandings remained underdeveloped. The second major response, which has dominated the period since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), has interpreted the term aggiornamento to mean accommodation by the Church to the modern world. This response has been particularly problematic for Catholics in Australia, which has experienced substantial social and cultural changes in the last forty years. Consequently, major declines in religious practice and the marginalization of Christian understandings and beliefs within the broader society are indicative of a need for new ways to respond to modern culture and the challenge of secularization. Since the early 1970s, Communio scholars have explored the relationship between theology and culture. Their perspectives have also led to a renewed awareness of the importance of tradition, memory and history in understanding culture. This thesis will build on this renewed awareness, to argue that the confusion about the rôle of culture has resulted from a failure to recognize the challenge posed by modernity’s breach with the Christian past, and the accompanying distortion of the historical narrative. A solution to these difficulties draws upon the historical and cultural understandings of the English Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson (1889-1970). He sought to emphasize the essential quality of the spiritual dimension in culture and history. In particular, Dawson’s understanding that religion forms culture gave him a unique insight into the importance of memory and tradition in the survival of a culture. Thus, his work addressed such themes as the rôle of Christianity in forming the West, and the need to analyse the forms and substance of a Christian culture. During the 1950s, Dawson became increasingly convinced of the importance of education in transmitting the spiritual and cultural heritage of society. He advocated the idea of a Christian culture course that would teach students about their Christian past and help them to understand that religion provides the most vital aspect of society. In particular, this thesis will propose that Dawson’s historical and educational framework is an important way to respond to the amnesia of modern culture and to transmit the faith to the next generation. Specifically, this thesis will use the Dawsonian perspective as well as the cultural analysis of the Communio school, as a means to focus on the importance of culture, history, the European heritage and education, in order to argue for new catechetical and educational directions. A focus on Europe would benefit Australia not only because it has a European heritage, but because it would allow a greater knowledge of a culture that was formed by Christianity, and of the challenge that arises from a secularization of the Christian ethos. The Dawsonian proposal for a Christian culture course provides an alternative to historical and cultural perspectives that are based on secular and Whig versions of history. Instead of focusing on the three-fold division of history into Ancient, Medieval and Modern eras, Dawson’s course developed an understanding of the impact of Christianity by developing a knowledge of six stages of Christian culture: The Apostolic Age; the Patristic Age; the Formation of Western Christendom; the High Middle Ages; Divided Christendom, after the Reformation; and finally, Secularized Christendom. Thus, the Dawsonian course with its emphasis on the formative rôle of Christian culture within Western society is an important means to address the problems of the marginalization of the Church, and the urgent need to find more effective ways to transmit the faith to the next generation.
Thesis 01front.pdf  264KB
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