Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Eternity in Time: Christopher Dawson and the Catholic Idea of History

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Eternity in Time: Christopher Dawson and the Catholic Idea of History

Article excerpt

Eternity in Time: Christopher Dawson and the Catholic Idea of History. Edited by Stratford Caldecott and John Morrill. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 1997. Pp. 214. $39.95.)

Christopher Dawson (1889-1970), although perhaps one of the century's more important historians, presents a seemingly contradictory legacy His religious beliefs and innovative approach to historical study made him suspect in the eyes of the historical establishment of his day, while his ecumenism and reluctance to reify the Middle Ages reduced his influence among fellow Catholics, especially in his :native England. Nonetheless, Dawson's work remains the most sophisticated attempt by a Christian historian to incorporate a providential vision into empirical analysis. His focus on "metahistory," as a means to discover the underlying purposes of history, has become even more crucial in our postmodern age, when the denial of true knowledge has become fashionable. And many of his methods-if not his conclusions-have been adopted by the contemporary historical profession.

This collection of papers arose out of a conference held at Westminster College, Oxford, in honor of the silver jubilee of his death, and treats of two main subjects. The first is an examination of Dawson and his work. The second purpose is to extract from that examination an historical approach that is both truly Catholic and fully compatible with general standards of scholarly rigor. As the subtitle indicates, what the essays explore is a Catholic idea of history, not simply a "Catholic history which, as Dawson himself noted, too often becomes merely a "department of apologetics:' Rather, Eternity in Time seeks a new synthesis between the reality centered in the Incarnation and the truths of history. The contributors demonstrate Dawson's profound sensitivity both to the complexity of history and to his conviction of its underlying unity.

Dawson's conclusion that religion is the key to history suffuses his work. "Every human culture must possess some spiritual dynamic, which provides the energy necessary for . . . civilization," he wrote in 1929, and his life was spent exploring the implications of that insight. …

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