Page 3, 8th May 1953

8th May 1953
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Page 3, 8th May 1953 — New Renaissance of Catholic Western Thought
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Organisations: Renaissance
Locations: Belfast, Oxford

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New Renaissance of Catholic Western Thought

By G. C. Mortimer THE title of this brief essay was suggested by a sentence in Mr. Dawson's new book called Understanding Europe. He writes: "If we wish to understand our past and the inheritance of Western culture. we have to go behind the 19thcentury development and study the old spiritual community of Western Christendom as an objective historical reality.

"The study and understanding of this cultural tradition ought to be given the same place in modern education as the study of the GraecoRoman tradition received in the classical humanist education of the past."

Now since I was brought up in the classical tradition. and so were most of the lads of my generation, both at school and college, I ought to be the last person to run it down. Moreover at Oxford this tradition included the study of ancient history and philosophy down to Plato and Aristotle; but after that we made an enormous leap over the centuries into the arms of Descartes who was born at the close of the 16th century and died in 1650. Thus the student for classical Greats in those days missed entirely the very period that Mr. Dawson thinks of such compelling interest: the old spiritual community of Western Christendom.

Now after I became a Catholic at the age of 32, I began to be dimly aware of this shocking hiatus in my previous education and was thankful to discover that our own Catholic writers and professors were only too willing to fill up the gap apd have been trying steadily to fill it up ever since. And that is what I call the New Renaissance: by which I mean not only the labour of distinguished scholars in these neglected fields, but. by today. the general acceptance of the rightness and value of what these authors had to teach and display.

There was of course much ignorance and prejudice to be overcome, but gradually, at.any rate on a small scale, the battle was won : it was realised that Catholic scholarship in many fields could not be overlooked; old errors were gradually abandoned and-in fact-the tide at last began to turn. And the result is that today there is a much better chance of educated people listening to Catholic arguments and even doctrines than there was, say, 50 years ago. Moreover, owing to the great disturbances of the 20th century, two things have slumped which once told heavily in favour of the general Protestant or nationalist tradition in Europe: firstly. the great external successes of the first Renaissance movement from the 16th century onwards were perishing; and secondly. it was discovered that the physical science of the 19th century had taken up far too dogmatic a position and that Catholic writers had a great deal of value to contribute in this sphere. as well as in history, philosophy and the fine arts.

It has often been thought that Leo XIII's endeavour to revive the study of St. Thomas Aquinas was of success only in Catholic circles, or in Catholic seminaries; but this was very far from being the case. It was found that a good deal of medieval thought had in it still a living quality 'that was badly needed in the problems and controversies of modern life. Nor was this merely a battle of the schools. Catholics, it was realised at last, had much to contribute to social theory or the real aims of education; while many of their books. too. helped not only to correct historical errors, hut also to free the mind from the dreadful philosophical enigmas that were the fruit of the English and German schools that had so long held sway and done, alas, incalculable evil. The Englishman is not as a rule a philosopher and is slow to realise how bad thinking can lead to such disasters as world war and atheistic Communism. Hence, by what may seem a strange paradox. the Catholic cause has actually been helped by the

Crossword 250 Prize-wittners.-First prize. one guinea : Miss M. Dunne, Great Billing, Northants. Consolation prize, a book : Mr. J. V. Fitzpatrick, Belfast.

sharp personal crises that have fallen on so many individuals, caught up in the stream of world events. It is true at the same time that the Church has met with the most bitter persecution; this is to some extent compensated by the striking advance of Catholicism in the New World and the enormous influence that has been won deservedly by so many of our Popes in the last century.

Hence this New Renaissance, as I call it, that began a century ago with the "Second Spring" and the Restoration of the Hierarchy, has blossomed out into a general culture which we can trace clearly after our great protagonists. such as Newman and Manning, had passed Away. A new book has been published recently on the poet Francis Thompson and Wilfrid Meynell; the latter. who lived to be 96, was a wonderful propagandist-untiring in his efforts -and became of great value to Messrs. Burns & Oates whose business was rapidly developing.

Then of course we had the epoch of men like Belloc and Chesterton, and today it would be impossible to list the Catholic writers in so many fields whose opinions are no longer regarded as the fads of an obscure sect! Moreover some of their works have sold very widely, and others. though not so well known, are like the leaven that "worketh in secret."

As regards the complex and vast subject of the physical sciences that owing to faulty thinking became mixed up with metaphysics in an era now passing. here obviously we need the specialist: for it would be ridiculous for a writer with no genuine scientific training to traverse some of the theories that are current today or to estimate their truth or falsity.

* I will however take here the risk of mentioning one book that seems to me of great value, especially for those of us whose training has been literary rather than "scientific": I refer to The Power and Limits of Science by E. F. Caldin (Chapman & Hall, 1449). The author is himself a scientist and was helped in his labours by another name one is proud to mention --Dr. F. Sherwood Taylor. I cannot here give a precis of this hook, but in short, it puts the neglected study of "metaphysics" on the map once more, and shows that the presuppositions of science must appeal to metaphysical method rather than scientific method in order to justify themselves.

There are a great many people in this century still who are very much bothered by the "deliveries of science," and afraid that, after all, the grounds for religion and first philosophy have given way before the onset of modem discoveries. Well. this Is the kind of book I would ask them to consult.

I have sought to indicate in this sketch the trend and atmosphere of the New Renaissance. It is for others now to take up the clue and discover for themselves whether there is justice in the claims I have tried here to formulate.




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