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Review of the Work of Missionaries and Monasteries in Christopher Dawson's "religion and the Ride of Western Culture"

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In our introduction to Religion and The Rise of Western Culture, Dawson asserts that there is a complex and interwoven relationship between the visibly secular events of history and the religious subliminal beliefs of those ancient societies. Although most historical work focuses on the worldly progress of man, the religious factor is far more reaching than what it appears on the surface in the Western historical chain of events. According to Dawson, Western Culture owes its formation, development and survival to the vast and multiple efforts of Christianity throughout history. He outlines for us that Christianity, and specifically the Christian missionaries and monasteries, were not only able to survive, but were able to thrive in dynamic, unstable political and social environments. They were the very fiber that not only held the Western Culture together but transformed all the cultures that came into contact with Christianity. We see this reoccurring model of Christian deliverance with every culture, sovereign and event in the pages of the Western saga. Unlike other religions that were practiced in the West, such as Islam and Buddhism, Christianity had social freedom and independence. This freedom allowed missionaries and the monastic movement to take on the many forms that were needed in order for it to survive. This ability for the missionaries and the monastic centers to mutate, adapt and permeate the changing landscape of Western Civilization speaks to not only the growth of Western Culture but the growth of the Christian religion as well. It was the combined efforts of the monasteries and the Christian missionary's tireless endeavors that truly shaped Western Civilization.

After the fall of Rome, the barbaric pagan world was an unstable, brutal world but it could also be a varying world for its citizens. "There were, of course, very wide differences in the conditions that prevailed in the different provinces and the different strata of society. An Aristocrat... could continue to lead the life of a cultured and wealthy landowner while his contemporaries of the same class in less favoured regions were being slaughtered or reduced to beggary." (p. 30) On the whole though, many cities had been and were continuing to be destroyed and most of society was subject to constant wars, violence and corruption. In this desperate world there was a void in the political organization of society compared to the previous existence in the Roman Empire. Christianity was able to fill that void where the barbarian rulers could not.

However, it was difficult for the barbarians to understand Christianity without the access to literature or tradition of philosophy. It took the visual observance of Christianity for it to have a significant meaning for the barbarian culture. "The barbarians could understand and accept the spirit of the new religion only when it was manifested to them visibly in the lives and acts of men who seemed endowed with supernatural qualities. The conversion of Western Europe was achieved not so much by the teaching of a new doctrine as by the manifestation of a new power, which invaded and subdued the barbarians of the West, as it had already subdued the civilized lands of the Mediterranean. And as the martyrs had been the heroes and witnesses of the conquest of the Empire, so it was the hermits and the monks who were the confessors and apostles of the faith among the barbarians." (p. 35) It was through the work of these monks and the monasteries that we begin to see the barbarians gradually converted to Christianity.

The monastic humanistic focus and the ability to provide unity, salvation and the preservation of liturgy by the Church, was critical in marshalling humanity through this brutal deterioration after the fall of Rome. These institutions, although free from external control due to the weak organization of the barbarians, developed into communities that had highly governed spiritual lifestyles that were familiar replacements of secular custom and laws for pagans. "The correspondence between the patterns of pagan and monastic culture made it possible for men to pass from one to the other by a profound change in their beliefs and their system of moral values without losing contact with their old social tradition, which was sublimated and transformed, but not destroyed or lost." (p. 50) The monastic structure and its familiarization to the barbaric culture was key in gaining barbarian support.

These centers of Christian culture were not immune from all barbarous attacks and destruction, however, they somehow managed to re-establish and flourish throughout the West. With the growth of and attraction to the monastic life, we also begin to see a large transference and active conversion of royalty to these Christian centers. They became the new schools and spirit for the sovereign. Monasteries also became a haven for those peasants weary of the continual war, famine and strife that ruled the barbarian society. The appeal of the monastic lifestyle was quite attractive for the large peasant population. "By its [monasteries] sanctification of work and poverty it revolutionized both the order of social values which had dominated the slave-owning, society of the Empire and that which was expressed in the aristocratic warrior ethos of the barbarian conquerors, so that the peasant, who for so long had been the forgotten bearer of the whole social structure, found his way of life recognized and honoured by the highest spiritual authority of the age." (p. 52) Fortunately for the Christian religion, the monastic movement was able to lay a foundation among all of its new converts, barbaric, peasants and the sovereign alike. This ability to appeal to all levels of society would have an impact to outlast the rise and fall of many civilizations to come. These centers were able to plant seeds into the moral consciousness at every level of its followers that would forever grow and re-emerge, even in later barren times.

During this time, monasteries grew all throughout Europe including Ireland, Scotland, England, France Spain, Italy and Germany. Soon we see pilgrimages being made and teachings and traditions being transferred among the various Christian centers by missionaries and monks. The monastic centers and its monks become flexible and adaptable to these various cultures and this created centers that many could identify with. "The immense literary and patristic learning of the Venerable Bede [St. Bede] testifies to the strength of the Latin element, while the art of Anglian stone crosses shows Syrian or East Mediterranean influences. On the other hand the calligraphy of the Lindisfarne Gospels and the evolution of the Insular Script represent a blending of Celtic and Latin influences." (p. 61) The transference

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