Monday, May 30, 2011

Gettysburg Address

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- this this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Christopher Dawson and Western History

I don't remember when I first read any of Christopher Dawson's work, but I have read six of his works --

The Dynamics of World History

The Making of Europe

Medieval Essays

Religion and the Rise of Western Culture

Progress and Religion

The Dividing of Christendom --

and now I have a seventh -- The Formation of Christendom (fascinating so far).

I would recommend him to anyone seriously interested in the history of Western civilization and culture.

As far as I know, Dawson is far from being the only historian who argued that Roman Catholic Christianity was one of the indispensable elements in the formation of Western Civilization.

My professor of Medieval History, at the University of Minnesota 1968-69, Robert S. Hoyt, the author of Europe in the Middle Ages, says in that book: "The Christian contribution to the transformation from late antique to early medieval culture was the controlling force that dominated the assimilation of the Germanic, classical, and distinctively Christian elements." (p. 74)

And long before him, G. K. Chesterton quipped that the Church is accused of trying to drag us back to the Dark Ages, when in fact it was the Church that got us out of them. (Sorry I don't have the exact quote or the book title.)

The point of course is that which so many good bloggers have said over and over -- in so far as the West repudiates its Judeo-Christian heritage, it will die. We in the United States are seeing religion being "marginalized," shoved out of the public square where, in my opinion, it has every right to be. And we're seeing our beloved nation going under.

Coincidence? I don't think so.

God bless you all!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Philip Trower's Books

I consider myself learned, not necessarily wise, because most, very likely all, of my good ideas came from somewhere or someone else, or from thinking about things that I learned from somewhere or someone else. (Wasn't it our favorite fat friar who said that anything in the intellect is first in the senses?)

A couple of years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Philip Trower's book The Catholic Church and the Counter-Faith, and I found it really good, and I like it a lot, because Trower manages to pull together lots of scattered scraps I picked up over the years, make a coherent whole out of them, and point me toward a need for more study and better understanding of the scraps.

For instance, one of my favorite sentences from that book is this:
"After Descartes had philosophically shut men up inside their minds, the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) redecorated the prison's interior, the Scot David Hume (1711-1776) locked the door and the Prussian Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) threw away the key." (p.73)

I read a little Descartes in college (philosophy, not math; how could such a great mathematician be such a lousy philosopher?) and I think I've dabbled a bit in Locke, Hume, and Kant (getting old, can't really remember); but the thing is that if I want to really understand Trower's statement, all I have to do is pick up these men's books and read them.

So the other day in the mail I finally got my hands on a copy of Trower's book Turmoil and Truth, and just a few minutes ago stumbled across another of his gems which exactly describes my experience with the world of learning (whether it's higher mathematics or growing flowers):

"One of the chief hazards for scholars of every kind is 'not being able to see the forest for the trees.'
"When we look at any of the things God has created, perhaps the most striking thing about them is the contrast between their simplicity and intelligibility when taken as a whole, and their complexity and obscurity when examined in detail. That is why there are biologists who cannot see any essential difference between men and animals, and ordinary folk who can. Peering at the details produces a kind of myopia about the whole." (p.54)