Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Enlightenment and Catholicism in Europe::ATransnational History

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Enlightenment and Catholicism in Europe::ATransnational History

Article excerpt

Enlightenment and Catholicism in Europe: A Transnational History. Edited by Jeffrey D. Burson and Ulrich L. Lehner. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 2014. Pp. x, 482. $46.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-268-02240-2.)

Many students of church history, especially non-Catholics, assume that the Roman Catholic Church takes little or no account of general social, political, and intellectual developments, even among Catholics. After all, the doctrines of the Church rest on an unchanging Bible and on supposedly infallible pronouncements by church authorities over many centuries. The concept of a "Catholic Enlightenment" or "Enlightened Catholicism" can easily seem an absurdity, especially given the ridicule to which the literal Bible stoiy and the pronouncements of the popes were subjected by leaders of the Enlightenment in Catholic countries such as Voltaire. But "the Catholic Enlightenment" and "Enlightened Catholicism" are now themes widely studied and discussed by Catholics and non-Catholics, reflecting the fact that the Church, while claiming to be "always the same," has produced numerous critics and innovators whose "Enlightened" views have eventually become orthodox, or at least accepted by church authorities as worthy of consideration. This is a phenomenon perhaps especially difficult for British students to grasp, since their countries were largely cut off from internal Roman Catholic debates from the time of the Reformation onward, and little of the relevant literature is in English. Furthermore, in the history of the United Kingdom Catholic Irish inflexibility has been much more conspicuous than Continental subtleties. It is scarcely surprising that Ireland hardly figures in this volume.

The volume is introduced by a valuable essay from Jeffrey Burson titled "Catholicism and Enlightenment, Past, Present, and Future," which gives some account of the history of the concept, together with a short bibliography. But the book's great contribution is that it supplies English-language accounts of some of the most significant Catholic writings of the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries from many European countries, not only France, Italy, and Germany but also Spain, Austria, Poland, and Scotland. In each case a bibliography is also supplied. No other book conveys so well the pan-European nature of Catholic discussion, or its range and depth. …

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