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Catholic Enlightenment

A Companion to the Catholic Enlightenment in Europe by Ulrich L. Lehner and Michael Printy (Brill's Companion to the Christian Tradition: Brill Academic Publications) The term "Catholic Enlightenment" is no longer considered oxymoronic within the historical profession. Nevertheless, it is a term that is much debated and much misunderstood; this is especially true amongst Anglo-American scholars. Indeed, the scholarship of such historians as Sebastian Merkle and Bernard Plongeron established the concept of a distinctly Catholic eighteenth-century reform for Continental historians well in advance of their English speaking colleagues. Still, Anglo-American historiography is ready to consider a distinctly Catholic and reformist dimension to the Age of Enlightenment.

This volume aims to provide an essential guide to scholarship on the Catholic Enlightenment by providing a country-by-country survey of the major events, figures, texts and subsequent scholarship of the Catholic Enlightenment. Moreover, this volume makes two other important contributions: first, it brings together European, English and American scholars as contributors. Second, and more importantly, essays contained in the volume significantly broaden the scope of the Catholic Enlightenment from the "center" (France, Holy Roman Empire, Italian States) to also include the periphery of Catholic Europe, including Poland, and Malta.

Excerpt from Introduction by volume editor, Ulrich L. Lehner:  Due to the rise of social history in the last decades, religion has become of interest once more for historians and is again regarded "as a form of knowledge and religious networks of communication as vehicles for exchanging and possibly reforming knowledge."' This shift in research interests has also allowed for a re-reading of 18th century religious thinkers and their contributions to intellectual and political life. The religious side of the Enlightenment was discovered, and there arose the conviction that modern culture has secular as well as religious roots.' This religious Enlightenment shared some presuppositions with its better known "secular" twin "[...] but could not share them all, precisely because it was grounded in an ecclesiastical institution based on divine revelation of a personal God, and could not, except with the sacrifice of its very essence, accept the whole program of the philosophes." The existence of a religious Enlightenment has meanwhile been established for Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism. Some scholars even argue for the inclusion of esotericism into this group. Common to the whole movement was its aim to harmonize faith and reason.

For Christians, the religious Enlightenment represented a renunciation of Reformation and Counter-Reformation militance, an express alternative to two centuries of dogmatism and fanaticism, intolerance and religious warfare. For Jews, it represented an effort to overcome the uncharacteristic cultural isolation of the post-Reformation period through reappropriation of neglected elements of their own heritage and engagement with the larger culture.'

However, research in the Catholic Enlightenment until now lacked a multinational and comparative history that pointed out intellectual similarities and national differences. This volume is the first step in this direction.' After examining the term Catholic Enlightenment and its history, this essay will argue that the conceptualization of a uniform Enlightenment has been transformed into a multitude of Enlightenments. Among these the specific leitmotifs of the Catholic Enlightenment will be outlined.


The term Catholic Enlightenment is a heuristic concept that describes the diverse phenomenon that mainly took hold of Catholic intellectuals in the 18th century and early 19th century.° It combines a multitude of different strands of thought and a variety of projects that attempted to renew and reform Catholicism in the 18th century. The Catholic Enlightenment was an apologetic endeavor defending the essential dogmas of Catholic Christianity against indifferentism, agnosticism, and atheism, or, as Mario Rosa puts it, "a composite and also a contradictory movement characterized by a dual tension: cultural dynamism and a commitment to apologetics, or defense of the faith."' It was inspired by the reforms of the Council of Trent but also by modern Protestant thought, e.g. Locke, Wolff, Newton and others. Moreover, it desired to show that Catholicism could be appealing to the academic and political elite, and that it was compatible with rationality, and able to embrace modern theories of economy, science, and constitutional changes. "The Catholic Enlightenment was, therefore, a reform movement within the Church that was linked, though in discordant harmony, with the Enlightenment reform movement and with interventions by reforming sovereigns who were inclined to welcome the collaboration of religious forces with the state in a more general process of cultural and social transformation."' Only the umbrella term Catholic Enlightenment seems able to convey that the Catholicism under investigation was in discourse, not only with a modern understanding of the Tridentine reform and Jansensim, but also with a movement that tried to "renew" and "reform" the whole of society. That this movement does not easily fit into a neatly defined conceptual category, that its "light" shone less brightly and less distinctly in different contexts, but was nevertheless projected, refractured and refocused in others, makes it very much like the often neglected peripheries of the Enlightenment, a subject worthy of intensive research?)

The natural sciences and the foundation of academic societies and new universities forced Catholics in the 17th and 18th century to reshape their view of education in order to keep up with scientific achievements. As a result, theology gradually underwent an inversion of teleology that favored a more mechanistic explanation of nature." Around the same time, the idea of a natural religion began to gain acceptance among theologians and even found its way into Catholic textbooks." Political philosophy ceased to see the sovereign as the guarantor of supernatural salvation for his people, and instead saw him as a caretaker of public welfare and earthly happiness, which led to rationalist territorialism that authorized the State to interfere in ecclesiastical decisions or even to take possession of its property for the common good. Enlightened skepticism also had its impact on Catholic thinkers and motivated the Benedictines of St. Maur to defend the possibility of historical certainty."

When one calls the 18th century the "age of reason," this is certainly correct if one understands this to mean a rediscovery of the sovereignty of reason. However, it would be a complete misunderstanding to believe that Enlightenment thinkers were naïve optimists about their mental faculties. Only a few, e.g. Christian Wolff (1679-1754), considered the powers of knowledge to be limitless. Most of the Enlighteners and also such prominent figures as Kant worked for the clear and careful establishment of a realm of possible human knowledge versus one beyond the limits of understanding, and thus shared the Catholic idea that unlimited reason leads to anarchy.

Around 1740-1750, theological Wolffianism, which applied the so called scientific method to the Bible and tried to verify the harmony between reason and revelation, was introduced to Catholic institutions of higher education, primarily by Benedictines and Piarists. In the last two decades of the 18th century, the primary interest of Catholic theologians shifted from Wolff to the thought of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) whose work was considered valuable in the fight against atheism. Again, it was mostly the Benedictines who accomplished this." Nevertheless, it was not until the 1780s that a general consciousness of a new era began to take root among religious and secular Enlighteners. No longer did European intellectuals consider themselves as disciples of certain schools of thought, but as defenders of a common heritage and patrimony, the Enlightenment.

Despite the numerous differences between the European states and the development of the Enlightenment in these countries, one can determine a number of common characteristics or leitmotifs, which work as heuristic and pragmatic tools for further research. One can distinguish the Enlightenment's programmatic ideas and positive goals from the ideas against which it fought and its silent "background" ideas." The word Enlightenment meant, first and foremost, shedding light on dark conceptual language and substituting confusing terms with distinct and clear ones." This first programmatic idea was that the Enlightenment was originally understood as extending only to individual scholars. However, in the second half of the 18th century, the Enlightenment was popularized and extended to a general public, where social and political structures, states and society became the main concern of the Enlightenment.° Besides this, eclecticism, autonomous iudgment and intellectual maturity can be identified as positive goals and ideas. All three imply (relatively) unrestricted, independent thinking without prescribed conclusions.' The belief in perfectibility, especially of structures and organizations, is another programmatic idea. Such belief in progress was inherent in the majority of Enlightenment publications, although the conceptualization of this progress varied." For most Catholic Enlighteners, progress always relied on the supernatural help of the Church because without such assistance, progress would only encompass mundane reforms. The idea of progress was intimately connected with a more optimistic approach to anthropology.66 This new insight even changed the theological approach to apologetics in the 17th and 18th century: no more was the demonstratio evangelica the center of research and writing, but religion as the true fulfillment of human destiny and as the basis of society. This growing interest in the anthropological dimension of theology continued into the 19th century, but was brought to an abrupt halt with the rise of intransigent Neo-Scholasticism in the second half of the 19th century. If one regards the belief in perfectibility and optimism about the potential of human nature as core concepts of the Catholic Enlightenment, it becomes obvious that this movement was more influenced by the Early Enlightenment (which itself was shaped by Pietism) than by later thinkers who possessed more pessimistic views about human nature."

The ideas the Enlighteners fought against are easier to identify: one had to resist everything that worked against programmatic ideas such as dogmatism,69 "dark concepts," prejudice, superstition, and enthusiasm (seen as total subjectivism)." This also fits with what we know about the self-understanding of religious Enlightenment thinkers as reformers who did not desire (at least in most cases) a revolution, but the abolition of certain established structures!' Numerous Catholic Enlighteners fought against superstition, enthusiasm," philosophical dogmatism, and alleged episcopal or papal despotism. In most cases, however, the latter battle did in most cases not entail an attack on sacred doctrine and the hierarchy per se, but was meant as a constructive critique of outdated ecclesiastical structures and theologies as well as the abuse of power by bishops. Instead of blind faith and obedience—concepts that allegedly could be found in the constitutions of the Jesuits—Catholic reformers propagated an enlightened and rational obedience and faith (obsequium rationabile; Rm 12: 1)."

The programmatic ideas were based on a common anthropology that stemmed from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Two of its essential components were the belief in an ultimate goal of human life and belief in human reason. The Early Enlightenment in particular had a positive view of human beings and their capacities. The concepts of the public sphere, freedom of expression, liberality, and tolerance were all derived from the idea that reason is equally bestowed on all human beings!' This confidence in reason gave rise to the scientific study of human cognitive faculties and their value, human beings' needs and actions, etc., and anthropology gradually became the focus of philosophical and theological thought. As a consequence of this, the practical side of intellectual endeavors was stressed. Thus, ethics became very important, while systematic theories of theology became rarer and rarer. Jesus was thought of as a moral teacher of virtue, freedom, and happiness." An overly self-confident optimism about human nature led certain groups of Protestant Enlighteners to deny original sin. Although Catholic Enlighteners could accept the new insights about the malleability of human nature in the face of social and natural changes, almost none shared the denial of such a central Christian doctrine.

However, such thinking was nothing new for Catholics. Free will, or more explicitly, posse dissentire, si velit, had been Catholic dogma since the sixth session of Trent (1547). Nevertheless, the Council left it to theologians to determine the relationship between freedom and grace, and, although the controversies on grace were supposed to have officially ended in 1611, they continued as a dispute between the religious orders (especially Jesuits vs. Dominicans) until well into the 17th and 18th centuries. It was the Jesuits, however, who defended the most liberal concept of freedom (Molinism) and who argued for a more favorable outcome for deceased unbaptized children (unlike strict Thomism or Augustinianism)." Furthermore, Catholic anthropology already maintained a belief in the natural light of reason (lumen naturale), affirming that creation is intelligible, because it was brought into existence by truth and wisdom personified, i.e. God.

One Root of the Catholic Enlightenment: The Application of the Tridentine Reform

The Catholic Enlightenment did not have to reinvent the wheel. It stood on the shoulders of an old theological tradition that can be traced back to the reforms of Trent." However, it took almost 200 years until the time was ripe to fulfill the Tridentine reforms with the help of new spiritualities, new media, a rediscovered optimism about social change and a new view of the role of the state. In the 18th century the popes, as well as the national churches, increasingly took care to implement these reforms.

Once confessional boundaries settled down after the Thirty Years War, the Catholic Church finally achieved a wider and more profound implementation of the decrees of Trent. At the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, a few decades before explicit Enlightenment influences were fermenting in the Church, the spirit of Trent was in full force. The Catholic Enlightenment reformers "coordinated, rationalized and deepened" these reform attempts. Nevertheless, the Peace of Westphalia also implied the end of the vision of the unity of Christendom. This had drastically reduced the power of the papacy on the European political stage, and the Holy See had also lost some of its strength internally. A good example for this was the trouble that Pope Gregory VII caused, even a thousand years after his death. In 1606 Paul V, without any problem, was able to canonize the former German monk Hildebrand, who had so ferociously defended the rights of the popes. However, in 1728/29, Benedict XIII (17241730) was unable to enforce the extension of this holy day to the whole Church. The breviary text for the commemoration day mentioned the virtues of Gregory VII and his fight for the primacy of the pope over secular power, which was an offense to Gallicans and to most Catholic monarchs.81 In 1725, the same pope established the Congregatio Seminariorum, which was supposed to foster the education of the clergy, and, in 1728, he issued an encyclical about erecting new seminaries. Benedict XIV (1740-1758) considered it necessary to remind the bishops of their duties—also in regard to seminary education—in his first encyclical, Ubi Primum (1740): "Bishops usually complain that the harvest is indeed great, but the laborers are few. Perhaps it also ought to be lamented that the bishops did not extend the necessary efforts in order to prepare enough good laborers for the harvest."" However, the bishops gradually lost touch with Rome and "around the midst of the 18th century they were no longer as ready to accept papal interventions

as they had been at the beginning of the 17th century."83 Trent had strengthened their position considerably, and in the course of the 18th century many more realized their responsibility for the pastoral care of their flock than in the centuries before. The ideal of a bishop as a pastor and an administrator was taken more seriously, while the worldly aspect of the episcopal office gradually declined, despite the fact that most bishops were still recruited from noble families. Nevertheless, their education increasingly meant earning a university degree. After Trent, the diocesan bishop was better able to control the clergy by making use of an administrative presbyterian council, and through diocesan synods and regular parish visitations, the limitation of exemptions for religious orders, and better seminary education. Such efforts made the parish the center of religious activity and helped the clergy to develop a new identity that imitated the ideals of Bérulle's Christocentrism. Additionally, priestly congregations (French and Italian Oratorians, Sulpicians, Lazarists, Eudists, Barthelemites, etc.) came into being and instead of requiring special privileges or monastic seclusion, these men wanted to serve at the pleasure of the bishops and to help them in their dioceses. Moreover, the Counter-Reformation orders, like the Capuchins, participated in a reform of the Church, and with their zealous preaching and austere life-style they contributed to a renewal of the ideal of saintly religious life. Also, religious orders for women were founded that required only simple vows and did not follow the monastic ideal of the Middle Ages, emphasizing instead practical care of the needy, sick and uneducated. Many of them even gave up the cloistered life and had constitutions very similar to 20th century secular institutes. To a certain extent, they revived the tradition of the medieval beguines. Last but not least, the Benedictine reform congregations that, through the spirit of St. Maur, contributed so much to the Enlightenment of Catholicism, were seen by contemporaries primarily as champions of monastic renewal and only secondarily as places of academic scholarship." Peter Hersche estimates that, in the years 1770-1780, approximately 400,000 members of religious orders were living in Europe (compared to probably one million in the 17th century).87

Another Root of the Catholic Enlightenment:
New Approaches to Spirituality and Theology

The calmer, more individualistic approach to spirituality that one encounters in the 18th century was, as Derek Beales pointed out, a reaction against the "dominant and aggressive cultural and intellectual movement of [baroque Catholicism]." As for most historical phenomena, a single explanation would not do justice to the facts, especially in this case. It was not only Jansenism that contributed to this new understanding of the interior life, but also the classical schools of mysticism and ascetic theology.

With regard to the relationship between the Catholic Enlightenment and Jansenism, Owen Chadwick astutely observed that "we cannot define where one movement ends and the other begins." Antoine Arnauld (1612-1694), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) and Pasquier Quesnel (1634-1719) were some of its most famous advocates. It had its greatest stronghold in the Abbey of Port Royal. Rome's failure to engage wholeheartedly in reform contributed to the rise of Jansenism and its idea of reforming the Church in the spirit of the Early Church Fathers.92 The attempt to revive the Church of the first centuries was accompanied by a more irenic reception of Protestant thought that was centered on the idea of Christian practice.93 Jansenism soon spread in various degrees to Italy, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire, and thus became a European movement." Since the movement also emphasized the particular national churches, it gradually became politicized after the dissolution of its main religious enemy, the Jesuits, and no longer restricted itself to moral rigorism and the critique of baroque spirituality. Jansenism started in the 18th century to bring about a radical reform of the Church, in many countries in collaboration with Christian princes. This reform aimed at a reorganization of Church practices according to nostalgic ideals that were based on the Church of the first four centuries. "In point of fact, one of the most striking aspects of Reform Catholicism was the rigor with which [the Jansenists] applied all their forces in seeking salvation."96 They fought for a decentralized Church, an increase in monastic discipline in light of excessive privileges and scandals, better education and pay for the clergy, practical education of the laity, and a certain liberality concerning individual religious practices (including the use of the vernacular in the liturgy).

After the great crisis of Unigenitus (1713), the declaration of the papal constitution as royal law by Louis XV in 1730, and the closing of the cemetery where deacon François de Paris was buried, the Jansenists learned to use politics, e.g. the parlements, to exercise their resistance to Rome and governmental oppression. Nevertheless, they lost influence and the broader public did not show as much interest in the group as before. The tide changed in Paris in 1749 when the viaticum was denied to dying Jansenists. Now, political Jansenism triumphed and in 1763, it defeated its greatest enemy—the Society of Jesus—when the Jesuits were expelled from France.

Jansenist ideals were soon adopted by Enlightenment Catholics like Muratori, himself deeply influenced by the erudition of Leibniz,99 who had already called for a reduction of the cult of the saints and of pilgrimages and for the discouragement of superstitious religious practices and the exaggerated style of many preachers. They also found a supporter in Pope Benedict XIV—to a certain degree—because the pontiff allowed the use of vernacular translations of the Bibles for all the faithful on 13 June 1757.100

The reformers, influenced by Jansenism's admiration of the Early Church, renounced both recently introduced and medieval forms of devotions (e.g. the veneration of the Sacred Heart),'°' called for a limitation of the veneration of saints, and heavily criticized monastic—especially mendicant—asceticism.'" They argued for a less ostentatious, more individualistic and more praxis-oriented piety, which is one of the reasons that they wanted to use the vernacular in the liturgy. The Jansenist cry for a more individualistic approach to spirituality was a religious phenomenon that was also sociologically influenced by the rise of "bourgeois self esteem."'" The latter also gave rise to a new ideal of aesthetics that was independent of the Church. The wealthy members of the bourgeoisie gave up collecting religious art and concentrated on other pursuits.'"

However, one must not forget the influence of classical ascetic theology on the Catholic Enlightenment and on Jansenists themselves.'" After the theological battles of the 17th century, especially the controversies on grace, 18th century mystical theology was a time of calm. Scholasticism and Cartesianism became less and less popular, while the new mystical theology that propagated a personal relationship to Christ, absolute abandonment to God and his providence, and the perception of God's grace in one's own soul soon took their place.

The debate over Quietism in the last two decades of the 17th century also led a majority of theologians to maintain that contemplation is only a gift for a few chosen souls, but not for the community as a whole. With Giovanni Scaramelli S.J. (1687-1752) and his handbook, the differentiation between asceticism and mysticism was universally accepted, the former embodying the attempts of the ordinary faithful to achieve salvation, the latter the contemplative way of a few. The trend in canonization processes towards an emphasis on heroic virtues accessible to all, instead of mystical union, visions, and extraordinary gifts (e.g. levitation or the ability to live on no food other than the Eucharist), had begun with the case of St. Charles Borromeo in 1610. Also, a number of the new religious orders, like the Vincentians of St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660), started to regard charitable works, and thus heroic virtues, as prayer.'" This theological shift increased over the next 150 years until it became institutionalized in academic theology when Prospero Lambertini's standard work on the canonization of saints, De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione (1734), was published. When Lambertini became Pope Benedict XIV in 1740, this view began to shape the whole Catholic Church. After 1750, Catholic spirituality rediscovered the public, i.e. the people of God, and considered it of the utmost importance to educate and promote true devotion among all people, not just the elite.'" This was also necessary because of sociological and economic changes: as city populations increased, capitalism grew stronger, and a broader section of society had access to education. Moreover, the clergy was better educated than ever before. Now was the time to catechize the world, a goal that Trent had not been able to fulfill.

The focus of this Companion is restricted to the development of the Catholic Enlightenment in the predominantly Catholic countries of Europe. Therefore, the British Isles, the Dutch Republic, and even Ireland were not included in this book, since the social and political dynamics of these states would be dissimilar to nations ruled by Catholic sovereigns and administrations." This exclusion also covers all other non-Catholic (sometimes confessionally mixed) countries, in which individuals worked in the spirit of the Catholic Enlightenment. The authors of this book, however, did not lose sight of the importance of the interaction between these Catholic countries and the Protestant world. However, in order to give a fair presentation of the Catholic Enlightenment in Protestant countries or areas, more research has to be done that can demonstrate clearly the different levels of exchange between Protestant and Catholic areas. There is insufficient knowledge about the various communication structures and channels amongst Catholics, and we know even less about the various forms and grades of bi-confessional communication throughout Europe. It is only once further insight is gained into these networks that the bi-confessional, irenic erudite culture of religious Enlightenments in Europe will become understandable. Therefore, it is the hope of the editors that this Companion will be able to rouse the necessary interest for such research.

Moreover, this Companion does not see the Enlightenment as a "national" phenomenon only. Rather, the authors have portrayed it as a cosmopolitan and patriotic intellectual process within Catholicism, which is crucial for a proper understanding of the role and place of Catholicism in the 18th century and the social and religious history of Modern Europe." This volume is also the first overview of this intellectual movement. That it took 100 years to bring international scholars together for such a project may be due to the fact the Catholic Enlightenment is practically the only period of Church History for which no research institution exists." Another unacknowledged reason might be because there is a certain discomfort with the Enlightenment within the Church, combined with the embarrassing realization that a number of Enlightenment reforms were implemented as a consequence of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). It should also be noted that this Companion is not a homogenous work, partly because the field of Catholic Enlightenment scholarship is still in the process of gaining definite shape. Thus, it is not surprising that the contributors of this volume have different methodologies and therefore different ways of presenting and interpreting the Catholic Enlightenment. For example, while the author of the introduction sees it as a leitmotif and heuristic concept, others regard it as a given starting point. Rather than imposing a false uniformity, these minor variations in conceptualization, style, and terminology were left untouched in order to demonstrate the differences of the authors. Moreover, the editors understand this book in the truest sense of the word as a Companion and not as a manual. As a first step towards a more nuanced understanding of the Catholic Enlightenment, it is a contribution to the long-term goal of a detailed comparison between the radical/moderate Enlightenment narrative and its religious counterparts, as well as to a history of 18th century Christianity that takes into account the multi-confessional religious Enlightenments.



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