- Purchase/rental options available:
The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 749-751
[Access article in PDF]
I Gesuiti e l'Illuminismo. Politica e religione in Austria e nell'Europa centrale (1773-1798)
I Gesuiti e l'Illuminismo. Politica e religione in Austria e nell'Europa centrale (1773-1798). By Antonio Trampus. [Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia, Fondo di studi Parini-Chirio, Università degli Studi di Torino, Nuova Serie, 5.] (Florence: Casa Editrice Leo S. Olschki. 2000. Pp. 386. Lire 77,000 paperback.)
The author's aim is to examine the situation of the ex-Jesuits in the German provinces of the Austrian Empire, from their suppression in 1773 to 1798. How did ex-Jesuits conduct themselves after suppression? Did they survive as more than dispersed fragments? What role did they play in the intellectual and political life of the time? Dr. Trampus approaches these questions on the basis of a careful examination of an impressive array of archives, with results that are often surprising.
After a detailed survey of the flourishing state of the Society in these provinces at the time of suppression, he traces the fate of the ex-Jesuits. Their numbers slowly declined, but only from the effects of age, mortality, and the end of recruitment; few laicized. Equally few left the Empire. Most remained in their former locations, often their former abodes. Surprisingly, they usually continued to live a common life according to their old rules; and they did so with the tacit consent not only of the bishops and civil magistracy, but that of Joseph II. Thus the Jesuit community survived, despite the dissolution of the Society. The ex-Jesuits, aside from those who from age or infirmity had to survive on government pensions, followed various activities: in 1780 over 30% were teachers, 15% parish priests, others librarians, preachers, confessors, a few even bishops.
But the ex-Jesuits were not content merely to survive. Despite their dissolution, they did not sink into apathy and despair, but continued to take an active part in cultural and intellectual life. They sought in particular to carry on the struggle against the radical Enlightenment that had caused their suppression and sought to undermine Christianity. They were not hostile to the Enlightenment as such, favoring the effort to improve society by the application of reason [End Page 749] and science, but only to the efforts of its radical wing, which saw the destruction of Christianity as a necessary step to that end. They hoped rather to reconcile the Enlightenment and Christianity, a project far more plausible in central Europe than in France.
Of the ways in which they sought this reconciliation, perhaps the most unexpected was their presence within the masonic lodges, which the author's archival research documents in great detail. Though this has been noted before, it has usually been dismissed as simply an example of the seductive appeal of the Enlightenment. The reality was different. The archives show them taking an active part in the debates within the lodges, especially on the possibility of reconciling faith and reason, the Enlightenment and Christianity, perhaps through reform in the Church. They had temporary successes, but the advocates of the radical Enlightenment were too well entrenched, and after a bitter contest, which the author describes in detail, by the end of the 1780's they had managed to marginalize the ex-Jesuits.
Meanwhile, the ex-Jesuits were fighting the same battle in the press, whose new importance they fully grasped. They were fully engaged in the typical activities of the period--journalism, books, projects for encyclopedias--all with the same aim, of combating the radicals and reconciling the Enlightenment and Christianity. Their works had considerable influence in central Europe. This compensated for the loss of their former role in the censorship, when Joseph II introduced press freedom, primarily in hopes of stimulating the publication of works supporting his policies. Some of the ex-Jesuits denounced this as harmful to religion and morality, but others took full advantage of it to advance their own ideas. The restoration...