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  • A Companion to the Catholic Enlightenment in Europe
  • Derek Beales
A Companion to the Catholic Enlightenment in Europe. Edited by Ulrich L. Lehner and Michael Printy. [Brill's Companions to the Christian Tradition, Vol. 20.] (Leiden: Brill. 2010. Pp. vi, 462. $230.00. ISBN 978-9-004-18351-3.)

This is the first of the companions in Brill's series to deal with a topic that is itself questionable. A good many scholars of the Enlightenment and probably a good many more students of the Roman Catholic Church reject the notion of Catholic Enlightenment as a contradiction in terms. That was evidently what Pope John Paul II thought, and it also is the view of Jonathan Israel, the author of the latest blockbuster account of the Enlightenment. [End Page 822] Sebastian Merkle coined the term Catholic Enlightenment as long ago as 1908, and the concept has been under discussion ever since, although more intensively from about 1970. The nine authors of the chapters in this volume accept it. But they define it in a variety of ways, and some of them are much concerned to distinguish it from other related tendencies. For example, Harm Klueting's valuable chapter on "Austria or the Habsburg Lands"—a particularly tough assignment—contains this statement (p. 143):

I do not use the term "Reform Catholicism." I speak about "Enlightenment in a Catholic country" contrary to "Catholic Enlightenment". Catholic Enlightenment was anti-baroque and reform-orientated. Catholic Enlightenment sometimes overshot the mark but it was consistently Catholic. Therefore the Catholic Enlightenment was truly Catholic. . . . What some scholars call "Reform Catholicism" was not Catholic. It was heretical.

There is perhaps a translation problem here, as in some other places in the chapter. But this statement as it stands is more puzzling than helpful, especially since other contributors strongly disagree—for example, coeditor Michael Printy, whose fine chapter focuses on "Catholic Enlightenment and Reform Catholicism in the Holy Roman Empire." Coeditor Ulrich Lehner claims that "one root of the Catholic Enlightenment" was "the application of Tridentine Reform" (p. 18), and Jeffrey Burson tells us that "the Catholic Enlightenment in France, as in the rest of Catholic Europe, was a child of the sixteenth-century Catholic Reformation" (p. 66). This can reasonably be said of the concept of Reform Catholicism, but hardly of Catholic Enlightenment as naturally understood. The dogmatic rigor of the Council of Trent was surely anti-Enlightened, and it is questionable to talk of Enlightenment of any kind before the later seventeenth century. In a path-breaking chapter on Poland-Lithuania Richard Butterwick argues for the formula enlightened Catholicism rather than Catholic Enlightenment.

If some of the terminology used by the contributors seems problematic, their essays are all thoughtful and well researched, showing the continuing significance of the Church and religion in a supposedly secularizing age, and bringing out the interaction of Catholic with Enlightened thinking. They also address the relationship between Catholic Enlightenment and a range of other contemporary tendencies: Gallicanism and regalism, enlightened absolutism or despotism, Jansenism, and Protestant thinking. The campaign to suppress the Jesuits is, of course, much mentioned, but distinguished by most of the authors from Catholic Enlightenment: it comes over as an especially equivocal case, since the Society of Jesus had taken Descartes's philosophical method to its bosom and yet was assailed as reactionary and papalist.

Perhaps the wisest and most rounded chapter is Mario Rosa's, discussing the position in Italy within an exceptionally broad frame of reference and with cautious application of the concept that he interestingly calls "the [End Page 823] Catholic Aufklärung" (p. 215). He is unusual among the contributors in discussing the place of "positive science" in the story (pp. 240-41) and in suggesting that 'the Catholic Aufklärung . . . had given the Church a boost that would allow it over a long period to open itself up to the modern world" (p. 246). Burson, dealing skillfully with the rich topic of France, is at pains to distinguish "the Augustinian Enlightenment" from "the Pro-Unigenitus Enlightenment." Frans Ciappara produces a lively essay on the strange special case of Malta in which he identifies with unusual clarity those aspects of Catholic...


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