Noted historian and author Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) “campaigned for an integrated study of Christian philosophy, history, literature, and art in the same way as literae humaniores had studied every aspect of classical culture. Only this, he believed, could overcome the schism between religion and culture in the West.”
Dawson made his name as a scholar outside of traditional academic circles, but in 1958, at the age of sixty-nine, he and his wife, Valerie, traveled to Harvard University where he would occupy the Stillman Chair in the Divinity School until 1962.
Without any extensive experience in the lecture hall, this appointment presented challenges to Dawson, but “Harvard felt well satisfied by Christopher Dawson’s presence there and it was generally thought that with his quiet but persuasive personality and his learning he was the right occupant for the first Stallman Chair.”
During his time in America, Dawson was invited by Archabbot Denis Strittmatter, O.S.B., the monastic superior at Saint Vincent Archabbey, and Father Quentin Schaut, O.S.B., the President of Saint Vincent College, to give the Wimmer Lecture. Dawson’s never-before-published 1960 talk, The Movement Towards Christian Unity in the Nineteenth Century, explores the rebirth of English Catholicism and how it sought to heal the religious divisions created by misunderstanding and centuries of intolerance.
Born in 1889, Christopher Dawson was educated at Trinity College, Oxford, where he studied modern history, and while an undergraduate, he converted to Roman Catholicism. Dawson graduated in 1911, and his reputation as a historian and writer grew.
One of the Saint Vincent Benedictines who attended this talk recalls Dawson’s frail condition and his weak speaking voice, but this monk also remembers the favorable impression which the speaker’s words had on the large audience. After some laudatory remarks about American Catholicism, Dawson discussed the rebirth of English Catholicism and the part played by John Henry Newman, Nicholas Wiseman, and Edward Manning in this spiritual and intellectual renaissance.
Christopher Dawson’s 1960 Wimmer Lecture still has relevance today in a world split by discord, religious division, and schism within Christianity. Editorial changes to Dawson’s typescript are few. I have included the appropriate reference citations and made some minor corrections in direct quotations. A special thanks to Mr. Julian Scott for permission to publish this lecture.
The introduction to this lecture was written by Rene Kollar, O.S.B.