Christopher Dawson and Johannine Divine Madness

March 29, 2007

[Thanks to Phillip Carl Smith, the Orestes Brownson Council, and ISI for the invitation to speak at Notre Dame; it’s always a great pleasure to be here at Our Lady’s University; as was mentioned in my bio—I lived in Zahm for three years back when Fathers Tom King and Bill Miscamble were the rectors.  This past August, my wife, family, and I came over to the college for a day of research.  It happened to coincide with the arrival of the students.  As we pulled into the visitor parking lot by the library, my wife noticed a sign for Farley parking.  It said, “Farley, protecting its residents from Zahm since 1973.”  My wife hasn’t let me forget this.

I also want to thank Kevin Cawley, an amazing archivist over at the ND archives]

To put it simply (and perhaps a bit “simplistically”—but I prefer to think of it as “with fervor”), Dawson was one of the greatest historians of the twentieth century, certainly one of its greatest men of letters, and perhaps one of the most respected Catholic scholars in the English speaking world.

“For Dawson is more like a movement than a man,” his publisher and friend, Frank Sheed, wrote of him in 1938. “His influence with the non-Catholic world is of a kind that no modern Catholic has yet had, both for the great number of fields in which it is felt and for the intellectual quality of those who feel it.”[1]  

Additionally, prominent American Catholic colleges began teaching courses on the thought of Christopher Dawson and other figures of the Catholic literary revival as early as the mid-1930s.[2]  

In 1933, the American Catholic journal Commonweal stated that “the writings of Christopher Dawson demand the thoughtful attention of all educated men.”[3]  

Six years later, the Jesuit journal, The Month, claimed that to “commend Mr. Dawson’s work is unnecessary; nothing that he writes could be unimportant.”[4]  In 1949, Waldemar Gurian, a refugee from the Nazis and a professor at the University of Notre Dame, wrote, Dawson’s “very ability to make brilliant understatements and to display without pride, as something self-evident, his extraordinary broad knowledge make his synthesis particularly impressive.”[5]  

In 1950, the English Dominican journal, Blackfriars, claimed “that Mr. Dawson is an educator; perhaps the greatest that Heaven has sent us English Catholics since Newman.”[6]

[Please keep reading on page 2 of this post]