Dawson Centre Colloquium, 29 June, 2019

‘Rebuilding the Walls of Sion’

On Saturday 29 June 2019 the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies hosted its fifth annual colloquium in Hobart, Tasmania.

Voice recordings of all papers are available at https://soundcloud.com/christopherdawsoncentre


 Dr Peter Cunich

Praying for the Dead: The Role of intercessory Prayer in the Construction and Maintenance of Christian Communities

The Catholic Church’s ancient doctrines concerning purgatory and the communion of the saints supported the development in medieval Europe of localised Christian communities which included in their ranks both the living and the dead, and in which the living, through their intercessory prayers, played a central role in assisting the dead to make the transition from purgatory into heaven. While praying for the dead is still a regular feature of the prayer life of Catholic parishes in the modern world, the practice has gradually been drawn into the domain of private prayer, with only limited recognition now being given to the role of the whole community of the faithful in praying for deceased members of the parish. In this paper, I will outline the medieval practices of communal prayer for the dead, and discuss some more recent examples of Catholic groups that have used prosopographical means to reconstruct and maintain a vibrant sense of community which encompasses both the living and the dead. I will ask whether these examples perhaps suggest a largely forgotten but nevertheless potent means by which every faith community within the church might strengthen their bonds of community and help to maintain a flourishing sense of Christian identity within a secularised world.

Peter Cunich is an historian of early modern Europe with a research focus on the dissolution of the monasteries and state finance in sixteenth-century England, but he also writes on the history of higher education, nineteenth and twentieth-century missionary activity in East Asia, and the history of the Catholic church in Australia. He is currently writing a biography of Roger Bede Vaughan OSB, second archbishop of Sydney.

Clara Geoghegan

Answering Gnosticism in the 21st Century

‘…Gnosticism was and still is a spiritual parasite which uses other religions as “carriers” (Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity)

Christianity has dealt with numerous manifestations of a dualist world view: an overt gnostic challenge to Christianity in the second century; the Cathars in the twelfth century;  and in a tangential way, in the Iconoclast crisis in eighth century Byzantium. Gnosticism, or at least dualism in religious systems, dates back to ancient Egyptian and Persian faiths. Some interpretations of Genesis 1-11 suggest, it too, is a rebuttal of Gnosticism.

In our society, dualism is again becoming prevalent. It is manifest in the trans-gender movement; the campaign for surrogacy; and even, euthanasia; –  as though what happens in and through the body is inconsequential. The mantra of ‘spiritual but not religious’ is an expression of Gnosticism –  they eschew religion, but religion is actually embodied spirituality.

This paper proposes that the answer today is the same as in the previous gnostic crises – The Incarnation. The challenge is how to present this answer in a way that is meaningful to those caught in the contemporary crisis.

Clara Geoghegan is a PhD candidate in Church History at the University of Divinity. She and is a researcher for the Australian Christian Lobby and lectures in Church History at Catholic Theological College, Melbourne. Clara is also co-director of the Catherine of Siena Institute, Australia and is passionate about encouraging Christians to engage in the public square.

Philippa Martyr

‘Your Healing Shall Spring Up’: psychological and spiritual interventions for rebuilding a wounded Church

Contrary to popular opinion, the Church in Australia is not being persecuted. It is experiencing the inevitable consequences of decades of liturgical abuses, doctrinal dissent, and sexual revolution on the part of both clergy and laity alike. Both the people of God and its ecclesial leadership need profound spiritual healing – but where do we start? The US-based Grief to Graceprogram offers a model of healing which is working to restore wounded, abused and scandalised clergy and laity by identifying and expressing individual injuries, and then re-uniting these powerfully to the Passion of Christ.

Dr Philippa Martyr is a historian, writer, researcher, and psychology student. She lives in Perth, and currently teaches at the University of Western Australia.

Graham McDonald

Christianity and Jesus – an Inconvenient Truth.

The Christian church in Australia has had the incredible privilege of being legally allowed to teach about Jesus to approximately one million primary school and 800,000 secondary students in NSW.  It also has had opportunity to minister to students through school Chaplaincy and the Christian school’s movement.

However, all the above are far from being secure and new strategies must be considered so that all our students may have the opportunity to be taught about the reality of Jesus and his impact on Australia and the world.

The Australian Curriculum presents us with such an opportunity to create a strategy whereby we teach students about our Christian Heritage.  Not from a Religious perspective but from an historical perspective. This suggested strategy may require a paradigm shift and hopefully will be embraced by parents and teachers alike.

Graham McDonald is the founder and Executive Officer of The DIDUNO Network.  He has been involved with Children’s ministry for over 35 years, having taught Religious Education classes in the public school system and trained many hundreds of Scripture and Sunday School teachers around Australia, including ethnic church groups within Australia and overseas.

Overseas trainees included clergy and Sunday school teachers; some of his resources have been translated for local use.  Graham instigated and helped organise several national events: The Australian Children’s Ministry Expo (TACME) in 1998 and 1999, Year of the Child 2003, and the National Forum on Australia’s Christian Heritage in 2006.  He was the National Children’s Advocate and National Team leader of Children of the Worlda ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ(now Power to Change) for twenty-two years.

Karl Schmude

The Qualities of Christian Civilisation: The Transcendence of Goodness, Truth and Beauty.

The secularised condition of Western civilisation has now reached an advanced stage of spiritual exhaustion and cultural disintegration. Yet this has not yet brought about a realisation of the religious foundations of our culture, and the extent to which its character was shaped by, and continues to depend upon, Christian insights and impulses.  While other elements such as Greek philosophy and Roman law and organisation were crucial, Christianity supplied the underlying inspiration and unity of Western civilisation. This paper explores the qualities of Christian civilisation through the eyes of the three transcendentals that correspond to ultimate human desires – goodness, truth and beauty.  It cites ways in which the Christian expression of these principles gave birth to distinctive moral, intellectual and artistic traditions that may inspire and inform a rebuilding of the walls of Sion.

Karl Schmude has combined a long career in universities with freelance writing and speaking.  He served for 16 years as University Librarian at the University of New England in Armidale NSW.   He is a co-founder of Campion College, an independent institution of Catholic inspiration which offers an integrated undergraduate degree in the Liberal Arts.  It is now in its fourteenth year of operation.  Karl has written widely for Australian and overseas journals on subjects associated with religion and culture – particularly literature, history, and education.  He is President of the Australian Chesterton Society, editor of its quarterly newsletter, The Defendant, and author of a short biography of Chesterton. In 2014 the Christopher Dawson Centre published his biographical booklet on Christopher Dawson.

Brendan Triffett

Only the Rest of God Can Save Us: On Resisting ‘The Nothing’ by Abiding in the Divine Order 

With each passing year, there is less rest in the world. As one controversial event after another incites a reaction and counter-reaction, the spirit of restlessness gathers more momentum. As radical progressives are mobilised into action and society folds under the pressure of their utopian demands, the peace of God withdraws into oblivion. We descend further into cultural amnesia and even psychosis. We forget what it means to rest. We become enemies of God, strangers to the Logos. Our habitual way of being turns into a feverish hatred of the divine order—that order where alone there is peace. In Michael Ende’s fantasy novel The Neverending Story, “the Nothing” (das Nicht) threatens to destroy the entire universe. This is a poignant illustration of our contemporary situation. My claim is that nothing will be saved if we forget the rest of God. In one sense, then, ‘rebuilding the walls of Sion’ is a misleading metaphor. We must remember how to dwell, how to belong, how to be in harmony—which above all means being attuned to the eternal harmony of the divine.

Brendan Triffett holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Tasmania and has lectured in ethics, critical thinking and theology. He is especially interested in the intersection of metaphysics and theology and is (still) working on a book on the Trinity. His influences include Aquinas, Augustine, Heidegger, Jean-Luc Marion, John Milbank and Dietrich von Hildebrand. He lives in Melbourne and works as a contract lecturer and tutor.

Annette Young

Sparking Joy in a Wowser Culture: Lessons from Babette’s Feast (1987)

 A new Puritanism permeates twenty-first century Western attitudes. Virtue signalling by tight circles of self-appointed elect both testifies and contributes to a bleak, isolated, and isolating society which functions culturally at subsistence level. This paper explores how Gabriel Axel’s 1987 film, Babette’s Feast, encapsulates this post-modern predicament and presents an attractive alternative. Examined in the light of the teachings of St Josemaria Escrivà de Balaguer, St Thérèse of Liseaux, and Pope St John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, the film demonstrates how joyful humility, the sanctification of the ordinary, and the Arts are of vital importance in rebuilding society.

Annette Young holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of New South Wales. She is the author of two novels: A Distant Prospect (2012), and By Violence Unavenged (2019).