Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview

34

GERMANY: THE RADICAL
AUFKLÄRUNG

i. Initial Reaction

As in France and England, it was specifically in the 1670s that academics, theologians, and philosophers in Germany first became seriously alarmed by what was perceived as a sudden, powerful upsurge of philosophical sedition against authority, tradition, and revealed religion. This intellectual rebellion powered by philosophy was diversely classified as 'Naturalismus', 'Deisterey' (deism), 'Freydenkerey' (freethinking) and 'Indifferentisterey', but these names all refer to the same disturbing phenomenon. Various books and writers were denounced but, invariably, much the fiercest outcry was in reaction to the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, copies of which arrived in Leipzig, the chief book distribution centre of northern Germany, immediately following the work's clandestine publication in Amsterdam, early in 1670.

The first noted figure to respond to Spinoza's perceived onslaught on Revelation and revelation-based authority was Leibniz's teacher, Jacob Thomasius (1622–84), professor of moral philosophy at Leipzig and father of Christian Thomasius. He denounced the book in a lecture on 8 May 1670 as inimical to religion and society, deploring especially its advocacy of unrestricted 'freedom of thought and speech'.1 The same month his Leipzig colleague, Friedrich Rappolt (1615–76), who was similarly unaware of the anonymous writer's identity, but equally appalled by his ideas, likewise fulminated against this attempt to redefine 'religion' as nothing other than 'justice' and 'charity' (cultum Dei in sola justitia et charitate consistere) rather than truth revealed to man through God's Providence. Rappolt especially abhorred its subversive call to every individual to interpret Scripture for himself, according to his own judgement.2 This detestable rebellion against God's Word, he declared, claims true, genuine religion is nothing other than the 'faith' taught by reason, that is, 'natural religion', thereby contradicting Scripture and ecclesiastical authority.

In his Oratio contra Naturalistas, delivered a month later, Rappolt again trumpeted

1 Subsequently published under the title Adversus anonymum de libertate philosophandi (1670); see Walther,
'Machina Civilis', 187–70.

2 Rappolt, Opera Theologica, 2162–2; Walther, 'Machina Civilis', 190; Otto, Studien, 16, 26.

-628-

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