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1 A Companion to the Catholic Enlightenment in Europe, ed. Ulrich L. Lehner and Michael Printy, in Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2010), pp. 466, $230 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-04-18351-3. 461 The Thomist 75 (2011): 461-75 THE CATHOLIC AND RADICAL ENLIGHTENMENTS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY BRAD S. GREGORY University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, Indiana T HE FIRST COMPREHENSIVE overview of the Catholic Enlightenment has recently been published. Co-edited by Ulrich L. Lehner and Michael Printy, A Companion to the Catholic Enlightenment in Europe includes substantial contributions from nine distinguished international scholars.1 The collection draws on a vast range of primary sources and synthesizes several decades’ worth of scholarship in multiple languages. With all these resources to hand, one might ask, what has taken so long? The beleaguered but still entrenched principal narrative of Western intellectual history from the Middle Ages to the present helps to explain why such a publication, which in principle could have appeared many decades ago, has only now seen the light of day. In 1908 the German Church historian Sebastian Merkle conceptualized and called for the study of the katholische Aufklärung, but at the time the Enlightenment as such was widely regarded as an inherently anti-religious or at least anti-Catholic movement. The dominant narrative that then held sway was one still rooted in the Enlightenment’s own rhetoric. According to this narrative, the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation transcended medieval Catholicism in its revolutionary appeal to BRAD S. GREGORY 462 Scripture alone as the standard for Christian faith and life, undermining the foundations of papal tyranny and thus laying some of the first paving stones of modernity. Then the most advanced thinkers of the Enlightenment transcended creedal Christianity and revealed religion altogether, finding in reason alone the sole and sufficient basis for morality and the useful organization of society aimed at this-worldly progress and human happiness. Virtually the essence of the Enlightenment as the intellectual high road to modernity was the rationalist rejection of authority, tradition, hierarchy, faith, and dogmatic religion—all of which were inextricable from early modern Roman Catholicism. A light shone in the darkness and dispersed the obscurantist gloom especially of Catholic superstition and backwardness. Certainly some versions of rationalizing, progressive Protestantism could have contributed and did contribute to the Enlightenment, whether in England, Scotland, Holland, or Germany. But how could there have been a “Catholic Enlightenment?” The standard narrative required that the very expression function as a virtual contradiction in terms. The story all but demanded that eighteenth-century Catholicism play its prescribed part as a reactionary source of an anti-philosophe Counter-Enlightenment ignominiously continuous with postFrench Revolutionary, ultramontane papal retrenchment in the nineteenth century. Ironically, although anti-modernist Catholic theologians and Church historians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries evaluated the relevant historical phenomena in diametrically opposite ways, they agreed that “Catholic Enlightenment” was fundamentally an oxymoron. In an odd alliance of unlikely intellectual bedfellows, adamant postChristians and staunch ultramontanist clericalists shared a similar interpretation of an alleged Catholic Enlightenment. Plenty of eighteenth-century Church leaders and laity alike were apparently content with the religious status quo, hostile both to new philosophical ideas and to calls for sweeping ecclesiastical and social reforms. Nevertheless, nonspecialists unacquainted with the work of scholars such as Bernard Plongeron and Louis Rogier since the 1960s, and with the burgeoning recent scholarship on CATHOLIC AND RADICAL ENLIGHTENMENTS 463 2 See, e.g., Louis J. Rogier, “L’Aufklärung catholique,” in Nouvelle histoire de l’Église, vol. 4 (Paris, 1966); as well as Plongeron’s seminal essay, “Recherches sur l’Aufklärung catholique en Europe occidental, 1770-1830,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 16 (1969): 555-605. Examples of significant recent contributions on religion and the Enlightenment include Religion and Politics in Enlightenment Europe, ed. James A. Bradley and Dale E. Van Kley (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001); and David Sorkin, The Religious Enlightenment: Protestants, Jews and Catholics from London to Vienna (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008). the relationship between the Enlightenment and religion more generally, are likely to be surprised at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 461-475
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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