Sunday, September 27, 2015

The late Owen Chadwick's Gifford Lectures on the secularization of the 19th Cent. European Mind

I read the Anglican historian Owen Chadwick's history of the Reformation period while at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1979. His writing is crisp, balanced, and generally on target. And here is a good introduction for Catholics to another of his excellent works:

David Warren, "Owen Chadwick" (The Catholic Thing, July 24, 2015):
I would recommend to anyone Owen Chadwick’s survey, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century. These Gifford Lectures were published in 1975. I remember them as fresh and new about the time I was losing my faith in atheism, and steering a course for Christianity that landed me first in his Anglican church.

The book is a magnificently balanced, concise account of something unprecedented in human history. That balance is struck between social and intellectual history. That “ideas have consequences” is acceptable as a modern, subtly self-flattering cliché; Chadwick also shows that “consequences have ideas.” Man in the nineteenth century was becoming alienated from nature and society alike, by the sweep of industrial innovation. The new, “secular,” atheist and evolutionary quasi-religion could be taken as a by-product, too. The ideas and consequences were all of a piece.

Chadwick, who died last week at age ninety-nine, was among the most formidable intellects on that Anglican shore.... Regius Professor History [at Cambridge ... he] embraced "cultural history" in the manner almost of a Christopher Dawson.

... Roman Catholics may remember his defense of the reputation of Pius XII, during the “Hitler’s pope” controversy of past decades. He marshaled evidence, chiefly from the British diplomatic archive, to show that the charges were ludicrous; and provided historical context to more than explain the pope’s selective “silences.” His forensic skill, in establishing strict chronology through murky events, was of real service in exposing very malignant lies.

Chadwick impressed me for his aloofness in controversy. He calmly pursued the truth, in subjects of vast human complexity. His chief interest was our modern world, and how it came to be that way, in light of its deeper history.
[Hat tip to JM]

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