The Enlightenment epoch, or rather the many different streams of Enlightenment thought, which rather facetiously applauded itself as being in the ‘light of reason’, when in fact many of the doctrines, were dark, dreary, deluded, irrational and tyrannical, occupied the more philosophically minded for about 2 centuries, from 1650-1850. One of the birth defects of this period is of course the French Revolution, which was generated by the philosophes and their ‘enlightened’ ideals, it led ineluctably to death, war, totalitarianism and the general effacement of religious belief, now found in today’s various cults named Humanism, Rationalism, Deism, and Atheism. Whilst one can make an argument for some good which emanated from the Enlightenment, there is no doubt that the balance sheet of liability including Darwinism, Socialism, Communism, and now Medical Fascism, and Gaia Greenism, has generated a tidal wave of misery, dislocation, death and anti-science. Rarely if ever is a voice or a critique raised against the ‘Enlightenment’.
Rather perversely, the Catholic Church’s ‘reformation’ and reform minded programs preceded and anticipated the secular-Atheist movement of reform, which sought to separate church from state, religion from science, the material from the immaterial, and render the faith and doctrines of religion, subservient to the state and its interpretation of materialist science, now proclaimed as the ‘one’ and ‘only’ science.
Lehner’s book is a good overview of this global program, and he seems to approve of most of the agenda of ‘liberal reform’ leading to the ‘reforms’ of the Second Vatican Council from 1962-65, in which many of the keystones of Church policy and belief were changed or discarded, in order to conform to the pressures of a secular, irreligious society. Though careful not to condemn traditionalism, Lehner and many modern Catholics seem to be impressed by, and desire to show their cult adherence to, ‘reason’, though few if any define the word, or can coherently explain what reason might be, or why there is only one ‘reasonable’ set of rational beliefs.
The fact that Catholic Enlighteners predate the secular philosophes would surprise most people. The truncation of the Church post the Protesting-revolution and civil war initiated by Lutheranism, demanded a response. For much of the 16th century the Church was engaged in an almost endless quest to understand the split, rectify it, create and initiate various transformations including ending simony (buying of a parish, or bishopric), priestly education, communication of standard canon laws, ending corruption, turning the Church away from mysticism back to practicality, and of course defending Catholic territory from the Protestants and Musulmans. Art, science, building and welfare agencies supporting the general society became key foci as the Church sought a new relationship with the laity and endeavoured to defend and expand the Church within and outside Europe.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, as Lehner explains, Catholic Enlighteners developed plans for the improvement of the individual, humans, the church and the state. All of these predate the secular-Atheist-Humanist philosophers. Such far reaching plans were not always equal to the problems they hoped to address, examples being ‘taming capitalism’, promoting economic fairness, or introducing a fair wage for labourers and craft-workers. The Catholic Enlighteners were the first to propound and disavow religious zealotry, superstition, and prejudice against non-Catholics, which in their view, limited reason, and clarity. These ideals were the foundations of the secular Enlightenment, yet they were formed by Catholics, who worked with the secular state to redress what they perceived to be imbalances within the church and society. Far from being opposed to the state, the Church actively engaged it.
Until 1789 the Catholic Enlighteners were on the rise. After the French Revolution and its all-out, totalitarian attack on Christianity, the Churches, faith and innocent laity, with at least a hundred thousand Catholic peasants alone murdered in La Vendee, there was little hope in reconciling a Church of Reason based on Atheism, with Catholic doctrine. The French Revolution threw up a new Godhead, a new Church it called ‘reason’ based on materialism, rejecting 1400 years of Catholic heritage and legacy. The Church of reason sought the complete abolition of Christianity. It still does today.
Not only was the Catholic Church emasculated and eviscerated in France. It was assailed wherever French armies murdered and marauded. When Napoleon occupied the Rhineland, the various German princes dissolved the monasteries and stole their assets and wealth. As the Napoleonic totalitarianism rolled across Europe, Catholic schools, institutes and even Churches were closed or taken over by the state. Charity organisations, newspapers, printing firms, were taken over or shuttered by the state. Pope Pius VI died a prisoner of Napoleon in 1799. The entire construct of religiosity and organisation was assaulted by the ‘Enlightenment’ Church of ‘Reason’, forcing an obvious response from traditional Catholics, namely the rejection of this secular-Atheist program and its ideals.
Post the French Revolution and quite rationally, Catholic Enlighteners became viewed as a heretical cancer, part of the enemy’s forces of secular evil, an insidious collection of those opposed to the Church itself and its long history of rational thought including the creation of early modern science, education, universities, and naturalism. Those opposed to the secularisation of the Church, promoted a Catholic Romanticism in the 19th century, linking the faith back to medieval scholasticism.
This important movement, itself little understood and ignored by modern historians, made serious and important contributions in art, philosophy and science. It opposed the largely secular ‘rational’ primacy of the Catholic Enlighteners whose agenda resurfaced in the early 20th century with the rise of the ‘modernists’ who posed difficult questions about the Church and modernity, and again of course during the second Vatican council of 1962-65 in which much of the vestiges of the Romantic and traditional Church was replaced by a new conformity to the modern.
The Catholic Enlightenment finds its expression in the philosophies of the current Pope and the Vatican. It is quite absurd, when one peruses the current doctrines of both, that this program is shining a ‘light’ onto human affairs. Given the current acceleration toward some form of totalitarian fascism, premised on a minor flu disease, the opposite conclusion is apposite.