A Companion to the Catholic Enlightenment in Europe

By Beales, Derek | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2011 | Go to article overview

A Companion to the Catholic Enlightenment in Europe


Beales, Derek, The Catholic Historical Review


A Companion to the Catholic Enlightenment in Europe. Edited by Ulrich L. Lehner and Michael Printy. [Brill's Companions to the Christian Tradition, Vol. 20.] (Leiden: Brill. 2010. Pp. vi, 462. $230.00. ISBN 978-9-004-18351-3.)

This is the first of the companions in Brill's series to deal with a topic that is itself questionable. A good many scholars of the Enlightenment and probably a good many more students of the Roman Catholic Church reject the notion of Catholic Enlightenment as a contradiction in terms. That was evidently what Pope John Paul ? thought, and it also is the view of Jonathan Israel, the author of the latest blockbuster account of the Enlightenment. Sebastian Merkle coined the term Catholic Enlightenment as long ago as 1908, and the concept has been under discussion ever since, although more intensively from about 1970. The nine authors of the chapters in this volume accept it. But they define it in a variety of ways, and some of them are much concerned to distinguish it from other related tendencies. For example, Harm Hueting's valuable chapter on "Austria or the Habsburg Lands"- a particularly tough assignment- contains this statement (p. 143):

I do not use the term "Reform Catholicism." I speak about "Enlightenment in a Catholic country" contrary to "Catholic Enlightenment". Catholic Enlightenment was anti-baroque and reform-orientated. Catholic Enlightenment sometimes overshot the mark but it was consistently Catholic.Therefore the Catholic Enlightenment was truly Catholic - What some scholars call "Reform Catholicism" was not Catholic. It was heretical.

There is perhaps a translation problem here, as in some other places in the chapter. But this statement as it stands is more puzzling than helpful, especially since other contributors strongly disagree- for example, coeditor Michael Printy, whose fine chapter focuses on "Catholic Enlightenment and Reform Catholicism in the Holy Roman Empire." Coeditor Ulrich Lehner claims that "one root of the Catholic Enlightenment" was "the application of Tridentine Reform" (p. 18), and Jeffrey Burson tells us that "the Catholic Enlightenment in France, as in the rest of Catholic Europe, was a child of the sixteenth-century Catholic Reformation" (p. 66). This can reasonably be said of the concept of Reform Catholicism, but hardly of Catholic Enlightenment as naturally understood.The dogmatic rigor of the Council of Trent was surely anti-Enlightened, and it is questionable to talk of Enlightenment of any kind before the later seventeenth century. In a path-breaking chapter on PolandLithuania Richard Butterwick argues for the formula enlightened Catholicism rather than Catholic Enlightenment.

If some of the terminology used by the contributors seems problematic, their essays are all thoughtful and well researched, showing the continuing significance of the Church and religion in a supposedly secularizing age, and bringing out the interaction of Catholic with Enlightened thinking. …

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