Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview

3

Faith and Reason: Bayle versus the Rationaux

1. EUROPE'S RELIGIOUS CRISIS

To grasp the full scope of the religious crisis of the late seventeenth century one must bear in mind the extent of the shock and anguish inflicted by the horrific destruction and seemingly incomprehensible confessional stalemate of the Thirty Years War. During three decades from 1618, much of Germany and Bohemia were devastated and large areas brutalized. The cost in men and money to the German lands, Spain, France, Sweden, Denmark, Flanders, Portugal, and parts of Italy was unprecedented. And yet, this terrible struggle, ostensibly between Catholicism and Protestantism in the name of God and religious truth, had no clear-cut outcome. However reluctantly, by the time of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Europeans had to accept that the Almighty, for whatever reason, refused to signal which church teaches the true faith, for the time being at least, and ordained, instead, general confessional deadlock reaching from the Americas and Ireland to Poland, Hungary-Transylvania, and the fringes of the Orthodox world, with many lands in between remaining deeply split. Theologically, this was altogether inexplicable and yet a reality that had to be grappled with.

The profound spiritual crisis which ensued after 1650 was partly caused then by an exacerbated but wholly unresolved schism between Catholicism and Protestantism (sometimes nuanced by a growing awareness of the history and doctrines of the eastern churches), but it was due also to the growing fragmentation of the Protestant churches themselves. For besides the three major Protestant churches, the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican, which enjoyed the support of numerous princely, civic, and colonial governments across the western Atlantic world (while in the case of the first two regarding each other with almost as much animosity as all three evinced for Catholicism), numerous dissident Protestant sects—Mennonites, Spiritualists, Socinians, Remonstrants, Quakers, and Collegiants— had arisen since the Reformation which despite widespread persecution and suppression had gained toeholds in parts of Germany, Poland, Hungary-Transylvania, the Netherlands, Britain, and North America.

But this was not all. For even the pattern of broad regional domination by one particular church had begun to disintegrate when first the Dutch, from the 1560s, and then, in the 1640s, the English rebelled not only against kings and courts,

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