Monday, September 19, 2011

Dawson's choice of the truest son of St. Thomas Aquinas

Biographer Bradley Birzer says that Christopher Dawson -- the great Yorkshire Catholic and historian who died in 1970 -- had an Augustinian mind and reveled in the saint's emphasis of the moral imagination. But this certainly did not constrain him from having a deep love for Aquinas:

"According to Dawson, St. Thomas completed the work of St. Augustine, the other Latin church fathers, and the neo-Platonists on grace by sanctifying Aristotelian thought as well as incorporating Eastern Orthodox notions of Christification and the sacraments as means for deification."
Dawson called Thomas' reconciliation of Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics his greatest achievement.

"By combining Eastern Orthodox thought with Augustinian thought, Dawson contended, Thomas dramatically changed the western notion of grace... 'It is not merely a power that moves the will but a light that illuminates the mind and transfigures the whole spirit.' It was this new East-West synthesis that the Protestant Reformers fought in the sixteenth century..."
Dawson, while revering the master, had nothing but contempt for the post-Thomas Scholastics. By turning Thomism into a rigid system which rendered "the imagination impotent," the opponents of Scholasticism responded with their own rigidity... and the Reformation was off to the races.

Dawson counseled students to temper their instruction in Thomism with some doses of the less brilliant St. Bonaventure [both he and Thomas died in 1274] -- but a man who emphasized the creative workings and imagination of the Holy Spirit.

The man, though, whom Dawson believed to be the most sublime heir of Thomism was the poet whom his Anglican father taught him to love: Dante.

Dante (who was 9 years old when Aquinas died) was the link between medieval and Renaissance cultures.

"For Dante, an objective reality existed. 'There is no subjectivism or idealism in his world,' Dawson claimed; 'everything has its profound ontological basis in an objective spiritual order.' Unfortunately, Dawson lamented, no one of Dante's caliber followed him... This was unfortunate, Dawson wrote; 'otherwise we might have been saved alike from the narrow rationalism of eighteenth-century Classicism and from the emotional debauches of nineteenth-century Romanticism.'"

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