Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson, Bradley J. Birzer
Towering above the early twentieth century Catholic literary revival stands Christopher Dawson, the English historian and man of letters who identified culture as the animating principle of history. Since religion is the heart of culture, Dawson wrote, then “religion is the key to history;” therefore “[w]e cannot understand the inner form of a society unless we understand its religion.” To understand Europe and the West, then, one must see Christianity at its center, a central theme of Dawson’s voluminous writings for decades.
In this thoroughly researched book, Birzer analyzes Dawson’s work in light of the venerable thinker’s own philosophy of history: To understand Dawson is to recognize the Catholic faith that shaped his life and work. As the subtitle suggests, Birzer stresses the Augustinian element of Dawson’s Catholicism; following St. Augustine, Dawson saw the world as created by God, and history “as the vehicle for the Divine to interact with humanity.” Moreover, he shared St. Augustine’s view of human beings as created in God’s image, and while each individual has his own unique purpose, he requires “God’s grace to fill the vacuum and remake” himself. As a result Dawson saw his writing as a vocation “to sanctify the world, through grace.” Whether explaining the relationship of history and culture, or critiquing the troubled ideologies of his day, Dawson tirelessly labored to inspire the present through his study of the past.
In addition to expounding Dawson’s thought, Birzer paints an honest picture of the man behind the writings: brilliant yet shy, hopeful yet depressed, prolific yet often unable to set his best ideas to paper. But above all, like St. Augustine, Dawson was a man of the imagination, a gift of the Holy Spirit that he deemed the critical component for restoring Christian culture in the West. Such insightful exposition of the mind of this great historian will aid those seeking a deeper understanding of Dawson’s work and influence.