14 September, 2022
The part played by Christianity has been neither ancillary nor supplementary, but literally essential, for western civilization has been Christian in its very essence. Those who would understand the West cannot sift the Christianity out of it. The honest unbeliever who is a serious student of history and culture will strive to understand the nature of Christianity.
It is arguable that in the purposes of God Roman civilization was prepared for the reception of Christianity. Obviously the unbeliever will reject this hypothesis, but we who are Christians are, I think, obliged logically to accept that the world was readied to receive the incarnate Word at the most opportune time and in the right place.
Those of us who lament the melting away of Christian congregations in our modern world can only be astonished by its rapid spread in antiquity! How on earth did they manage it? Part of the answer is that outside Italy Roman/Christian culture was seriously cool. I mean that in the teenager’s sense. If you were a Roman missionary taking the Gospel into western Europe in the early days your Romanitas, your ‘Romanity’ as they called it, was a huge asset: it was attractive, fashionable, enviable, sophisticated, polished and very, very couth. We can see something of the same effect much closer to our own times: in general Pacific islanders loved and admired their missionaries – and still honour their memory. They brought the Faith, the greatest treasure of all, but they also brought education, law, medicine, technology.
What a contrast with the current situation in the West, with its potentially fatal death-wish, its scorn for traditional culture and values, its hostility to the memory of missionaries, and its obsequious elevation of almost everything else. Reminds me of W. S. Gilbert’s: ‘the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone, all centuries but this and every country but his own.’ For centuries, read cultures and you have it in a nutshell.
Caring for the poor – the sense that we actually have a debt to those less fortunate than ourselves – and sorrow for sins – the idea that we should try to make amends for the evil that we’ve done, an idea that led to so many foundations and charitable institutions in Europe, all these things we owe to the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Even those who have lost or never held the Faith retain the conscience. Even when faith is dead, religious modes of thought survive. Ironically, the Christian (and post-Christian) world’s respect for such virtues as generosity to the poor, modesty and humility may hold within it the seeds of its own demise: Marxism found its most fertile ground in Europe.
Many Marxists and their followers have been men and women of genuine conviction and deep dedication to the needs of the poor, but there is no doubt that a world that had been ‘softened’ by Christian teaching, and that by and large had lost faith in the divine and succumbed to a materialistic vision of worldly progress, was a perfect target for the never foreseen horrors of the Leninist worldview.
John Newton began his career as a slave trader. He abandoned the non-conformist Christian faith of his childhood, but the dying embers of his conscience eventually burst into flame again, fanned by the horrors of the trade, so that he turned his back on his past and became a leading abolitionist, a priest, and a spiritual advisor to William Wilberforce. He strenuously campaigned for a total end to slavery and fought on tirelessly until his death just a few months after Parliament banned the slave trade throughout the British Empire in 1807. Today he is best remembered for his hymn Amazing Grace.
In 1787 he wrote this short hymn for his friend the Revd Richard Johnson, who had been appointed Chaplain to the First Fleet:
The Lord who sends thee hence, will be thine aid:
In vain at thee the lion, Danger, roars;
His arm and love shall keep thee undismayed
On tempest-tossèd seas, and savage shores.
Go, bear the Saviour’s name to lands unknown,
Tell to the southern world his wondrous grace;
An energy Divine thy words shall own,
And draw their untaught hearts to seek His face.
Many in quest of gold or empty fame
Would compass earth, or venture near the poles:
But how much nobler thy reward and aim—
To spread His praise, and win immortal souls.
On 3 February 1788 Johnson preached what is generally thought to have been the first Christian sermon on Australian soil, taking as his text a verse from Psalm 116, ‘What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me?’
No doubt there were many in his congregation who couldn’t quite see eye to eye with him on the worth of those ‘benefits’, and there would be many among the aboriginal population who would come to resent them bitterly. Many today feel only anger when they consider the price paid for that first settlement and for the nation that eventually emerged from it. Expressions such as ‘savage shores’ and ‘untaught hearts’ are offensive to many a modern ear.
Yet that little hymn deserves a closer look. Its emphasis is not on the convicts and their guards, but on the native peoples and their ‘immortal souls’. Winning those souls for Christ is the noblest of ventures, greater by far than any quest for gold or fame. It is often claimed by the very ignorant that Christians believed ‘native peoples’ to be sub-human. The absurdity of that is belied by the actions of countless men and women who expended their lives as missionaries, social workers, doctors, nurses, teachers and administrators to the betterment of the people they served.
Passing judgement on human endeavours is always difficult because no one’s hands are clean and our successes are always compromised by sin, but we live now in a great and diverse nation, blended from the blood of many races, and built upon Christian morality, even if the Faith itself has been (for the moment) sorely weakened. There is much to be thankful for.
QUEEN ELIZABETH’S FAITH
We don’t know who wrote this little article, but it’s an interesting reflection on what might be called the spiritual side of monarchy.
A NEW BRITANNIA?
The relationship between Australia and Great Britain has always been complex, even more so now at the beginning of a new reign. This review by Will Heyward of the recent book A New Britannia offers some bold and striking insights.
SYDNEY DINNER 27 OCTOBER
If you live in the Sydney area, you are invited to our very first major Sydney function, a dinner on Thursday 27 October at the Royal Automobile Club of Australia. The Director will speak on Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition. You can book on Eventbrite here.
PILGRIM ARTISTS FESTIVAL
This annual festival in Tasmania’s beautiful Huon Valley will run for ten days from 4 to 14 November. The organizers are seeking submissions from artists, writers, and musicians, addressing the theme Justice and Mercy. All details and submission forms are available here.
DEMOCRACY VS STATISM
ON CRITICAL RACE THEORY
This article lucidly defines CRT, compares it with classical liberalism, and contrasts it with the teaching of the Bible – with particular emphasis on St Paul and St Augustine.
CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY VS BARBARISM
George Weigel examines the generosity of Poland in its acceptance of Ukrainian refugees: ‘There is a crisis and people are under mortal threat; you help, period; there is no utilitarian calculus involved … This instinct for solidarity is one marker of a living Christian culture.’
ALL THE COLLOQUIUM TALKS HAVE NOW BEEN UPLOADED TO OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL:
OTHER COMING EVENTS
SUMMER SCHOOLS JANUARY 2023
The Dawson Centre will once again offer three summer schools. A FULL DESCRIPTION OF EACH COURSE IS AVAILABLE HERE.
16 – 20 January
THE WESTERN TRADITION: AN OVERVIEW OF 2000 YEARS OF HISTORY, LITERATURE, PHILOSOPHY, THEOLOGY AND ART.
23 – 27 January
NEW TESTAMENT GREEK: AN INTENSIVE INTRODUCTORY COURSE FOR BEGINNERS.
‘The Holy Church has cultivated and kept in highest honour the source texts of this wisdom, and especially the Greek and Latin languages, as if they were a sort of golden robe clothing Wisdom itself.’ (Pope John XXIII)
9 – 13 January
MEDIEVAL AND LATER LATIN: A READING COURSE IN SACRED AND SECULAR POETRY AND PROSE FOR PEOPLE WITH SOME PRIOR KNOWLEDGE OF THE LANGUAGE.
‘The Latin language is assuredly worthy of being defended with great care instead of being scorned; for the Latin Church it is the most abundant source of Christian civilization and the richest treasury of piety. We must not hold in low esteem these traditions of our fathers which were our glory for centuries. (Pope Paul VI)
Each school extends from Monday to Friday inclusive. Bookings can be made directly by email, or shortly on Eventbrite.