A Companion to the Catholic Enlightenment in Europe

By Kennedy, Rick; Lehner; Printy, Ulrich L. ;. Michael | Church History, June 2012 | Go to article overview

A Companion to the Catholic Enlightenment in Europe


Kennedy, Rick, Lehner; Printy, Ulrich L. ;. Michael, Church History


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Brill's commitment to publishing a series of reference books and handbooks on the intellectual and religious life of Europe is to be praised, and this volume of heavily footnoted essays with extensive bibliographies will be particularly useful.

The best aspect of this volume is its open struggle with its title term: "Catholic Enlightenment." Ulrich Lehner in his excellent introduction is the first to point out that the term is slippery. This volume of essays, he notes, is a companion not a manual . What the essays make clear in their own ways is that distinctively Catholic thinkers were engaged in a multiplicity of negotiations with exuberant rationality, Baroque spirituality, political philosophies concerning centralization of power, and moral philosophies of varying degrees of laxity and rigor. The essays emphasize the particular negotiations of individuals and religious orders. At the physical center of the book is Mario Rosa's depiction of the mediation skills of Pope Benedict XIV who was able to open spaces for Christian tradition and apologetics to be enriched by "the powerful flow of the new culture of Enlightenment" (227). However, most of the book is not about popes and papal pronouncements. Writing about Benito Jerónimo Feijoo in Spain, Andrea Smidt notes the pervasive issue for enlightened Catholics was to avoid the extremes of "blind belief and obstinate unbelief" (418). Tensions between the tendencies of Jansenists and Jesuits play a variety of roles in most of the essays. In France, Jeffrey Burson describes the psychological and cultural tensions between Jesuit optimism about moral progress and the more pessimistic social reformism of the Jansenist form of an "Augustinian Catholic Enlightenment" (65). Harm Klueting describes the inability of Austrian Jansenism to remain viable within the moderate Catholic Enlightenment as it was co-opted by politics and Protestantism after the Jesuits were repressed. In most of these essays the Jesuit and Jansenist relationship to centralized politics of different countries affects the way each promoted regional versions of enlightened Catholicism.

Evident in all the essays is a Catholic eclecticism that undermines old reference-book traditions of hard categories and simple definitions. Jeffrey Burson, for example, writes of a "Jesuit Synthesis" that was "sculpted and refined in various forms by Claude Buffier and Réné-Joseph Tournemine" (79). This synthesis responded to radical statements in Spinoza and Descartes while adapting Malebranche and Descartes to Aquinas by way of Locke (79-80). This kind cut-and-paste thinking was usually regional and ephemeral. It responded to specific needs at specific times, usually supporting specific political and ecclesiastical situations. Andrea Smidt describes the predominance in Spain of a particular Spanish Jansenism, rooted in humanist, Erasmian, episcopalist, and Augustinian traditions peculiar to Spain. Michael Printy writes about rival Catholic enlightenments in the Holy Roman Empire that were not simply manifestations of anti-clerical or anti-religious ideas, but rather, "the culmination of several generations of pious renewal and revival" (173). …

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