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Encyclopedia > Catholic Enlightenment

The term Catholic Enlightenment refers to a heterogeneous phenomenon in Ancien Régime Europe and Latin America. It stands for the church policy pursued by a Catholic enlightened monarch and/or his ministers as well as for a reform movement within the Roman Catholic clergy to find answers to the ever-growing secularism of that period: In contrast to the zeitgeisty rationalism, which in its pure form rejects revelation as contrary to reason, Catholic Enlightenment is characterised by the attempt of reform-oriented parts of the church to counter the onrush of mainstream Enlightenment. They endeavoured to reconcile the conflicting concepts of reason, which is seen as the sole source of truth by rationalists, and revelation as a disclosure of information to man by a divine or supernatural agency. It is by definition beyond the ordinary course of nature and was ipso facto a prime target for enlightened intellectuals and statesmen. In doing so, they challenged the very foundations of Catholicism, and that consequently culminated in the complete suppression of Christianity in favour of a Cult of Reason during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. Ancien Régime, a French term meaning Former Regime, but rendered in English as Old Rule, Old Order, or simply Old Regime, refers primarily to the aristocratic social and political system established in France under the Valois and Bourbon dynasties. ... Enlightened Absolutism (also known as benevolent despotism or enlightened despotism) is a term used to describe the actions of absolute rulers who were influenced by the Enlightenment, a historical period of the 18th and early 19th centuries. ... Secularity is the state of being free from religious or spiritual qualities. ... The factual accuracy of this article is disputed. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article may require cleanup. ... The Age of Enlightenment (from the German word Aufklärung, meaning Enlightenment) refers to either the eighteenth century in European and American philosophy, or the longer period including the seventeenth century and the Age of Reason. ... This article was a word for word copy of an entry in the Rotten Library here ...


Mainstream Enlightenment was, however, by no means atheistic, but it denounced certain tenets crucial to the Catholic Church as merely historic and man-made and therefore fictitious. Many of the most influential philosophers of that time, like the Encyclopédistes, Voltaire or Reimarus, were secularists or promoted a deist view: In a nutshell, they proclaimed that nature was the only revelation God has ever made and thus the preoccupation with any other alleged revelation was superfluous. Additionally the Bible (and the Old Testament in particular) was considered contradictory in itself, to pure reason and to the perfection of God. Others, like Lessing, agreed with respect to biblicism and revelation, but he was more lenient toward "emotional (i.e. unenlightened) Christs" who were in need of the gospels to do good. Still, he detested ecclesiastical obscurantism and intolerance: He postulated a "Chistianity of Reason" without the obsolete traditions and dogmata of the church. For Lessing it was all about the Education of Humankind and this very attitude was actually an autostereotype of the enlightened elite: They saw themselves as guardians of reason and considered Christ principally a useful educator of virtue who was - in their opion - just to be freed from all the fake and superstitious church-masquerade of the Dark Ages. The 18th century writers in France who compiled the French Encyclopédie (Encyclopedia), most prominently Diderot, were known as the Encyclopédistes. ... François-Marie Arouet (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), better known by the pen name Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, essayist, deist and philosopher. ... Hermann Samuel Reimarus Hermann Samuel Reimarus (December 22, 1694, Hamburg - March 1, 1768, Hamburg), a German philosopher and writer of the Enlightenment who is remembered for his Deism, the doctrine that human reason can arrive at a knowledge of God and ethics from a study of nature and our own... Secularism means: in philosophy, the belief that life can be best lived by applying ethics, and the universe best understood, by processes of reasoning, without reference to a god or gods or other supernatural concepts. ... Deism is belief in a God or first cause based on reason, rather than on faith or revelation, and thus a form of theism in opposition to fideism. ... Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (January 22, 1729 - February 15, 1781), writer, philosopher, publicist, and art thinker, is the most outstanding German representative of the Enlightenment era. ...


While basically under the same rationalistic pressure, the Protestant churches of Northern Europe could react a bit more flexibly to the rational challenge of the Enlightenment, because they already had got rid of their ultramontane superstructure, monasticism and the worship of the saints. Moreover, being anti-Catholic is the raison d'être of any Protestant church, so Protestant thinkers naturally joined forces with the enlightened critics of their Catholic rival and that way Protestantism could evade harsh criticism of their own doctrine of sola scriptura to a certain degree. Protestantism is a general grouping of denominations within Christianity. ... Ultramontanism literally alludes to a policy supporting those dwelling beyond the mountains (ultra montes), that is beyond the Alps - generally referring to the Pope in Rome. ... Sola scriptura (Latin By Scripture alone) is one of five important slogans of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. ...


The self-conception of Roman Catholicism on the other hand was (and is) not only the opposite of the Protestants' dry plainness and austerity, but also of their deliberate provinciality of independent national churches. The Catholic Church was supranational and especially since the Counter-Reformation flamboyant and splendidly baroque in appearance. With respect to its colourful feasts, processions and iconodule venereration it was in charge of everything extraordinary in community life. But this kind of devoutness was in the eyes of its critics rather anxious for effect and created some collective identity through a joint experience, which made a Catholic eo ipso a Catholic, but it wasn't so much aimed at the inner persuasion of the faithful based on reason and virtue. Instead it was an utterly visual world, and that was in the conceptual and iconophobic context of philosophy an illusionary world. Furthermore, abbeys started to look like pompous baroque castles which were anything but humble. The clergy was enormous and the hierarchy byzantine and incomprehensible with almost all senior jobs being reserved for the aristocracy as secundogeniture, which undoubtedly was of no theological significance at all. It was merely tradition. Combined with its firm supranationality all that made the church extremely inflexible, because with any reformatory change influence and privileges were at stake. But for most enlightened thinkers the point at issue was the freedom of thought: In spite of all progress made in science and in the arts, theology was still in the very centre of academic life, with the Jesuits controlling the universities almost everywhere. In the eyes of their critics - and much to the chagrin of enlightened monarchs who competed with their Protestant peers for prestige - the Jesuits failed to embrace modernity the way Protestant universities and academies did. The Counter-Reformation or the Catholic Reformation was a strong reaffirmation of the doctrine and structure of the Catholic Church, climaxing at the Council of Trent, partly in reaction to the growth of Protestantism. ... The Society of Jesus (Latin: Societas Iesu), commonly known as the Jesuits, is a Roman Catholic religious order. ...


Apart from ignoring the problem, there were two possible ways to confront the criticism: To treat it as potentially dangerous and fight it off in order to conserve the church's traditional position of power or to acknowledge that the church was in need of reform and disengange it from outdated ballast, either to appease the critics or out ouf real persuasion.


The group of apologists abode by Rome, because any reformatory change of the status quo would have weakened the Papacy and its claim to primacy consequentially. The ultramontane camp was spearheaded by the omnipresent Society of Jesus which first came into being as the Catholic fortress against the Reformation and rose to the occasion impressively. Since that time the Jesuits played key roles in the administrative mashinery of state, university and church in every Catholic nation and they were often most influential confessors at court. They were answerable to the pope only and had a reputation of being elitist, unscrupulous and obesessed with power. They were clouded in secrecy and thus people were fascinated about their alleged intrigues and plots to defend the Papacy. Given the crucial influence of the Society of Jesus and their obstructionism against any kind of reform, be it modest or radical, they attracted most of the critics' attention: It was necessary to break their firm resistance to change Catholicism. The reform willing camp on the other hand had no visual spearhead and was very heterogeneous, and they found themselves in the company of Protestant and enlightened critics in their effort to overcome the Jesuit blockage, and in doing so they all can be described as anti-Jesuits. So it's not wrong to state that the alleged antagonism between Enlightenment and Catholicism was in fact overshadowed by a severe conflict about the Jesuit influence. The list of their enemies who ultimately succeeded in the suppression of the Jesuits is impressive: The Pope is the Catholic Bishop and patriarch of Rome, and head of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches. ... Wiktionary has a definition of: Primacy Primacy is the state or condition of being prime or first, as in time, place, rank, etc. ... Seal of the Society of Jesus. ... The Suppression of the Jesuits in Portugal, France, the Two Sicilies, Parma and the Spanish Empire by 1767 was a product of a series of political moves rather than a theological controversy. ...

  • The Portuguese prime minister Marquês de Pombal suppressed the Jesuits as early as 1759 in Portugal and its colonial empire. He broke off the diplomatic relations with the Papacy until 1770 and reorganized the ecducational system and modernised the teachings by spending more tax money: He added faculties of natural science to the University of Coimbra, introduced general vocational education and rose the number of teachers. To rival the Jesuits' alleged obscurantism the Order of the Oratorians presented themselves markedly progressive with a huge modern library and a prominent experimental laboratory to entertain and impress the nobility.
  • The Austrian chancellor Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz and Kaiser Joseph II claimed that a sovereign state's authority also covers ecclesiastical affairs. With their reforms, generally referred to as Josephinism, the borders of the dioceses were adjusted to the Archduchy of Austria, the Jesuits's influence was reduced and a Patent of Tolerance of 1781 allowed some freedom of worship.
  • The French prime minister Étienne-François, duc de Choiseul allowed the Encyclopédie to be published and was on good terms with the philosophes. With the backing of the royal maîtresse Madame de Pompadour, who was denied absolution by the Jesuits for being an adulteress, Choiseul was a declared opponent of the Society of Jesus and the obsolete baroque catholicism he thought they represented.
  • As prime minister in the kingdom of Naples Bernardo Tanucci successfully reduced the ecclesiastical influence and played a crucial role in the suppression of the Jesuits in all Bourbon states (France, Spain, Parma and all their colonies) in 1767.

Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal (in Portuguese, Marquês de Pombal), (13 May 1699 – 15 May 1782) was a Portuguese statesman. ... The University of Coimbra (Portuguese: Universidade de Coimbra) is a Portuguese public university in Coimbra, Portugal. ... The Oratory of Saint Philip Neri is a congregation of Roman Catholic priests and lay-brothers who live together in community bound together by no formal vows but only with the bond of charity. ... Wenzel Anton Graf (Count) von Kaunitz-Rietberg (February 2, 1711 - June 27, 1794), born into Germanized Moravian family, was an Austrian statesman. ... Joseph II may refer to either: Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ... Josephinism is a term used in reference to the ecclesiastical policies of the Holy Roman Empire Emperor, Joseph II of Austria (1765-1790). ... Choiseul can refer to: Etienne Francois, Duke of Choiseul Choiseul, Haute-Marne, a commune in the Haute-Marne département in France Choiseul province, Solomon Islands, a province of the Solomon Islands Choiseul, Saint Lucia This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might... The neutrality of this article is disputed. ... The Philosophes (French for Philosophers) were a group of French thinkers of the 18th century Enlightenment. ... Madame de Pompadour, portrait by François Boucher circa 1750 Madame de Pompadour, (1721 – April 15, 1764) was a well known courtesan and the famous mistress of King Louis XV of France. ... Marchese Bernardo Tanucci (Stia, near Arezzo, Tuscany, February 20, 1698 - Naples, April 29, 1793) brought enlightened government to the backward Kingdom of the Two Sicilies for Charles III and his son Ferdinand IV. Born of a poor family, but educated, thanks to a patron, at the University of Pisa, Tanucci...

Further Reading

Kenneth Maxwell: Pombal - Paradox of the Enlightenment, Cambridge 1995


Richard van Dülmen: Religion und Gesellschaft, Frankfurt 1989


Samuel J. Miller: Portugal and Rome - An Aspect of the Catholic Enlightenment, Rome 1978


Ernst Cassirer: Philosophy of the Enlightenment (1932)


 
 

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