33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2003
Catholic University Press of America is coming out with the Works of Christopher Dawson. To my mind, this is one of the most important publishing events in recent memory. In addition, these works are reset and contain solid introductions by experts in the field. This is third in the series (following Progress and Religion; and Medieval Essays).
The Making of Europe: An Introduction to the History of European Unity is an important book, which came out in 1932. Dawson highlights the central factors and contributions in the formation of European unity - the Roman Empire, Classical Culture, Christianity, the Barbarians, the Byzantines and Islam. Although Dawson was a Catholic, the book is balanced and can be enjoyed by just about anyone. I liked in particular the fair overview of Islam. It's fashionable to say that history books of the past ignored the contributions of other culture and only contemporary (and leftist) historians rescued us from the evils of "eurocentrism" and "ethnocentrism." This is silly, as anyone who has read history books from the past knows. (In addition, take for example the success of books in the nineteenth century such as Salambo by Flaubert, or the exaggerated claims of Masons of the contributions of Egyptians, which rival the "Black Athena" crowd).
In particular, I enjoyed Alexander Murray's introductory essay, which updates some of Dawson's arguments in light of current scholarship and also places this work within his oeuvre.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2006
What amazes me most is that this book is probably not even known about in most modern educational circles, yet it should be required reading in every 101 history class in academia. In fact everything Chistopher Dawson writes should be on that list. This book is brilliant on so many levels I couldn't address them all in this space. Christopher himself was one of those extreamly rare individuals who had the ability to truely see the 'forest through the trees' and even better he could write about it for the rest of us to understand. Its one thing to know about a giantic and complex topic and a whole different thing to be able to put it into understandable sentences. The amount of books he read, understood and then tied the thoughts together is itself a staggering feat. The bibliography iteslf list the 100's and 100's of books that when into forming Dawson's mind and then the concepts in this book. As Tiger is to golf Dawson is to history, particularly western cultural history. The other reviewers have done a good job of telling you what the contents of this book are about so read them to get the idea, I second all their thoughts and reviews. What I can add for you is about the author himself. He is from England and grew up in a wealthly and privilaged family of book worms. It is important to understand that he came from wealth for one reason only. He didn't have to waste time like the rest of us toiling away to make ends meet. He understood this yet didn't live the life of a rich playboy. He felt an obligation to his fellow man and dedicated his free time to learning history and then teaching it to the rest of us. He read an wrote for 5 to 10 hours each day. Married young and never divored. His uncle gave him a library full of books where he spent most of his time growing up. He went to all the finest schools and was a professor at Harvard later in his life. All I can say is that this book is well worth the effort of working your way though it. It will give you a deep down spiritual-like experience to know so much more about your roots and where you came from. Enjoy!
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2005
A rare book. It is profound, prophetic, insightful, level-headed. Christopher Dawson is one of the few authors whose books are still mandatory reading in university history circles because of the vastness of his knowldege exhibited in his books. Few writers have the ability to say as much so succinctly: reading one chapter gives you almost as much as a book on the same topic written by someone else.
We need to remember that if the West saw far, it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants. The giants of our past who, step by step, brought disparate tribes, from many races, speaking many languages and coming from different parts of the world, into one cohesive whole known as Europe. We had better find out how our ancestors did it, before we lose it all.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This concise little work attempts to cover the rise of nations from the crumbling Roman and Byzantine empires and the progress of Christianity all in less than 250 pages. Amazingly, the feat is accomplished with entertaining text. There is one shortfall in that there are no maps but the political characters and the events that brought about the European nations are given life. Very well done and a wonderful overview in its brevity and clarrity without paying the expense of literary color.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2007
This book has to be the best survey of the beginnings of European, i.e. Western, civilization in the English language.
It reveals that European culture has its origins in the confluence of four vital elements: (1) the Roman Empire; (2) the classical, or Hellenistic, tradition; (3) Christianity (more specifically, the Catholic Church); (4) and the barbarians who infiltrated the collapsing Western Roman Empire. Each is treated in detail, and the combination of Dawson's encyclopedic knowledge and eloquent diction has the singular merit of making a vast and complex subject accessible and appealing to the educated reader.
To me what makes this book so special is the author's unique capacity to project the reader into the period under discussion without filtering it through the distorted lens of modern mores and attitudes that seem typically to color texts dealing with medieval history. He seems to have an intuitive understanding of what was important to the people of the period, and conveys this to the reader while at the same time he refrains from disparaging the so-called "dark ages" with remarks that emphasize its "primitiveness" by constantly comparing it to contemporary culture. (Aside from technological superiority, I see little basis for superciliousness on our part) Such parochialism of viewpoint is entirely absent from The Making of Europe, and for this, and other compelling reasons, I am sure that the interested and discriminating reader will find that it is, indeed, indispensible.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Christopher Dawson (1889-1970)wrote a knowledgeable history of the historical events and cultural influences that defined Europe. Dawson was a devout Catholic who had a meticulous concern for careful research and honest history. He discussed the phenomena of how the concept of Europe expanded from Ancient History to Early Medieval History.
The early parts of this book dealt with Mesopotamian influences on Western Civilzation. Dawson then dealt that the concept of "Europe" meant Hellenic Greece. When Augustus Caesar's (63 BC-14 AD) forces won the battle of Actrium in 31 BC, the concept of Europe expanded to include the Greek world and the Roman Empire. The intellectual and cultural influences of these events could not be over estimated.
Dawson explains that as the Roman Empire declined, the emergence of Christianity held its followers as the old religions became stagnant. The ruinous taxation and the divisions within the Roman army led to the phrase, "Enrich the soldiers and scorn the rest." The early Christian martyrs were not impressed by Rome's power and cheerfully faced martydom which showed firm resolve. The early Catholic Bishops became de facto authorities because of their organization and influence. The bishops and clergy became the economic and social forces that absorbed functions that the Roman authorities could no longer afford such as refuge from famine and social collapse. Esubius (c. 260-c.341)mentioned that the Catholic Church preserved intelligent tradition over chaos. As history students may know, the differences between the Eastern Church and the Latin Roman Catholic Church gradually resulted in schism. Dawson gave credit to the Byzantine Greek Church as having more astute thought, but the Latin Catholic Church was more disciplined. Dawson also gave credit to St. Augustine (354-430)for creating "The Church Intellectual" which helped attract intelligent men and woman especially when he wrote THE CITY OF GOD.
The Byzantine Greek Orthodox Church was closely tied to the Byzantine ruler via Caesaropapism which meant that secular and religious authority were under the Byzantine emperors and kings. While the Latin Western Catholics and Greek Eastern Orthodox were divided, the status of the Pope still had some influence in the East, but this ended by the Iconoclastic Controversy re the use of icons and images in churches.
Due to the apparent differences between early Christianity and Classical learning, there was the expected tension of comparison/contrast between beliefs and philosophy-especially Greek philosophy. Tertullian (c. 160-225) denegrated Greek thought while St. Clement (d. 215)argued that Greek philosphy was a blessing in knowing about the mystery of Creation and God. St. Clement's view was mirrored in Boethius' (c. 480-535)book titled THE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY.
In the midst of the emergence of Catholicism, Dawson gave careful attention to the barbarian intrusions into the Roman Empire. Many of the barbarians considered themselves as career Romans and not barbarians. However, after the rule of the Roman Emperor Theodosius (379-395), the Roman Empire faced disaster. St. Jerome (346-420), who translated the Vulgate Bible, argued that God was for eternity while the Roman Empire, like all empires, would disappear.
One of the problems for the Latin Catholic Church was to appeal to the barbarians whose model was the hero warrior and whereby war was the ideal. To penetrate this view would be difficult. However, the Catholic West clergy had literate men who gained influence because of their usefulness as administrators. When Clovis (480-520)converted to Catholicism in 493, the Catholic Church found fertile ground for conversion and influence.
Dawson then compared/contrasted the Latin Catholic Church with the Byzantine East whose Christians were not as well organized. After the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Egyptians and others in the Greek East literally massacred bishops and authorities because of local loyalty to personalities rather than concepts. The Latin Church authorities faced outside pressures as well as doctrinal threats from the Gnostics who believed that an intermediary and not God Himself made Creation. The Manichians argued that the material world was evil and part of an evil God as opposed to Christ who was good. The Monophysilism heresy argued only for Christ's divine nature and not His human nature.
The rise of Islam was a serious threat to both the Greek Orthodox Christians and the Latin Catholics. The Byzantines lost considerable territory and the loss of the library in Alexandria, Egypt. Yet, the Byzantines who faced such threats started the Iconoclastic controversy during the reign of Leo III (717-740) and got worse in 1054 when the Byzantines need allies and not more enemies.
Yet, the Byzantines were able to recover from their refusal to examine and learn from Ancient Greek thought. Photius (815-897), who was responsible in part for the Iconclastic Controversy, and Psellus (1019-1079)helped to resurrect Greek thought and wisdom the realm of Byzantine rule.
While the Byzantine was more advanced than the Latin West, Dawson made a good point that intellectually the Latin West was more dynamic. Dawson cited the work of the Irish Celtic monks whose missionary zeal took them to Iceland before the Vikings arreivd. The Benedictines, started by St. Benedict (480-543)and his twin sister St. Scholastica (480-543)gave the Western Latin monasticism discipline and learning. The Benedictines created the great library at Monto Cassio. The Benedictine monastary at Jarrow, England produced such great scholars as St. Bede (680-735). St. Boniface (c.680-755)helped to spread Catholicism to Germany.
These efforts were embellished by the Franks. The Merovingian Franks were secular while the Carolingians were religious. Dawson argued that Charlemagne (768-814)was the protector of the Latin Catholic Church via his military exploits and his encouraging of learning especially at the school at Aachen. Dawson informed readers of the important work of Alcuin (735-804)whose scholars developed minuscule writing and "Bookhand." Their work embellished teaching and learning for subsequent generations of students.
The efforts of Charlemagne and the Franks was almost destroyed by the Viking invasions. Victories by the forces of Alfred the Great (848-899)at Eddinton, and victories by Charles III 898-922)stopped the Viking invasions, and these North Europeans became absorbed in Catholic culture and religion. The successful invastion of England by the forces of William the Conqueror (1066-1087)gave the English better administration and organization. The military success of Otto I (912-973)against the Magyars (Hungarians)were important in expanding European culture and thought in what were then considered non European areas.
Dawson wrote an informative account of European History. As mentioned above, Dawson was a devout Catholic. He cited the failures of the Catholic Church, but he also gave readers a good assessment of the vast achievements during the History of Catholic Church and the making of Europe. This book should be slowly read and absorbed.
James E. Egolf
June 23, 2011
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2011
The Making of Europe: An Introduction to the History of European Unity
by Christopher Dawson
London: Sheed and Ward, 1932; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2003; new introduction and reprint
Review by Reverend Brian Van Hove, S.J.
Published in The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 43
We have waited a long time to see the works of Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) reappear. One of the joys of the new millennium is to discover this expectation partially fulfilled.
The Catholic University of America Press now lists Progress and Religion, Medieval Essays, and The Making of Europe as again in print. Also an edited collection of his works, Christianity and European Culture, contains The Historic Reality of Christian Culture (1960) and selections from The Making of Europe (1932), The Judgment of the Nations (1943), and Medieval Essays (1959). There is still a void for his 1928 classic, The Age of the Gods.
Dawson had a fine British education, thanks in part to his religion. However, Dawson never had a university teaching position in Britain because he changed his religion in 1914. As a Catholic, he was refused when he applied for a post as professor at the University of Leeds shortly after the 1932 publication of The Making of Europe. The author of the new introduction, Alexander Murray, sees some good in this. It made Dawson a kind of "historian prophet" who gained respect and an eager audience in the English-speaking world outside the academic establishment. Dawson finished only two of his planned major works, and The Making of Europe is one of them.
The Making of Europe treats the period between 300 BC and 1000 AD. Let us remember that the Renaissance mentality saw no real good after the classical period which effectively came to an end with the Emperor Constantine. The mood of the Enlightenment was even more severe in accepting nothing good from the past when it replaced "the myth of the golden age" with "the myth of progress". Marxism pushed this further taking the stance that "all history is the history of oppression". But Dawson brought light where there was darkness, and his work rejected the concept of the Dark Ages. His thought was original when he saw the complex history of Europe as more akin to the myth of the Phoenix--something new and vital arising from the ashes of the old when Christian Europe was born.
In just over 250 pages Dawson shows how conflicting movements eventually coalesced into a vibrant medieval unity. Roman institutions and learning, barbarian spirit and energy, contact with the East--both the Byzantine State and Islam, and the fusion of church and state in the Carolingian period, all had a role in the story. There had been partial revival and partial reversal with Justinian and Charlemagne, but by the eleventh century what we know as Western culture was in place, and it has continued without interruption to the present.
Though The Making of Europe dwells upon the past, it ends with a warning about the present. Dawson says that the deeper spiritual needs of man were met by the medieval synthesis which he has outlined in the manner of a "meta-history". But in the last four centuries this spiritual aspect has been muted in favor of secular culture and material advantage. He warns that this is not enough. Surely since 1932 his warning seems correct. The fashionable Nihilism of our day does not satisfy, and Europe is poised either to regain her lost soul or to lose it to alien forces.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 29, 2012
I'm really satisfied with the book I received: it is well written and detailed without being boring. It has been useful to the project about the making of Europe which I'm doing at school with my pupils (II year at scientific high school). I would recommend it to anyone who needs to know more about the history of Europe.
on August 24, 2014
Christopher Dawson will delight anyone who considers himself a history buff. this book is probably the best introduction to western (Christian) history that one can get his hands on. it covers a lot of bases and shows a true understand of the development of Christianity in the west throughout the ages. The brilliance of this book lies in several things. The clarity and organization of his writing, the ability to connect the dots, and the ability to turn all stones. He is able to draw some very basic principles about the monastics, who were essentially the older version of the Catholic missionaries, and shows their particular relevance to the development of western (European) culture. He also give praise where praise is due. There is no single (major) religion that has not contributed to the general understanding and preservation of the Catholic tradition.
Dawson was well respected in his time by his colleagues, yet remains relatively unknown today. I certainly hope that his work experiences a revival, especially in this current 'dark age' of the west.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
274 pages, small font. References and footnotes. A few illustrations. An excellent overview for test preparation or general education. Sections include:
The Foundations (Rome through fall of Empire)
The Ascendancy of the East
The Formation of Western Christendom, with chapters on the Moslem expansion and the Vikings.