The Religious Enlightenment: Protestants, Jews, and Catholics from London to Vienna.
Since the early 1980s, scholars have convincingly challenged the notion of the Enlightenment as a single, largely unified movement centered in France. We now know that there were a variety of enlightenments, each reflecting different national settings and emphases. But the idea that these enlightenments were fundamentally opposed to religion persists, in part because earlier studies canonized only those eighteenth-century authors who seem to reflect our own secular values. David Sorkin's important new work examines six influential leaders of moderate forms of enlightenment across Europe and offers significant scholarly support for the importance of religious convictions in shaping enlightenment values.
The introduction sketches the main features of the newer revisionist accounts of the positive role of religion in the Enlightenment; Sorkin's study is broadly congruent with the recent contributions of John Laursen, Johannes van den Berg, Joris van Eijnatten, and Benjamin Kaplan. The study itself commences with the Anglican William Warburton (1698-1779), who was the most well-known apologist for the Revolution Settlement and the Anglican-Whig hegemony. As with each of the six authors examined here, Warburton represented a moderate approach to religion and society that stood mid-way between religious and political extremes, in his case, enthusiastic religious dissent on the one hand and Catholicism on the other. Warburton embraced both Newtonian science and the authority of scripture, and he defended the alliance of the national church with the state. Chapter two examines Jacob Vernet (1698-1789), an influential leader of Geneva and a confidant of Montesquieu and Rousseau. Though orthodox, Vernet assimilated aspects of Arminianism, Cartesian philosophy, and Anglican moderatism, and arrived at a middle way similar to that of Warburton, with an accent on Christian ethics and practice rather than doctrine. Here again, we find a notable embrace of both "reasonable simplicity" and the need for biblical revelation utilized by the Protestant regime with its emphasis on order and subordination. Favoring the ruling patrician elite of Geneva, Vernet eventually fell out with Rousseau when the latter championed the Genevan bourgeois and renounced revealed religion.
The third Protestant theologian examined is Siegmund Jacob Baumgarten (1706-1757), eminent professor at Halle, who influenced the German theological enlightenment in both direct and indirect ways. Pietism was to Baumgarten what Arminianism was to Warburton and Vernet, but Sorkin also traces the influence of Dutch Collegialism and English moderatism on Baumgarten's defense of "the true middle way"--a way that included appeals to natural law, natural religion, and revelation and scripture. Here, Pietism functioned like Arminianism by nurturing practical Christian living and toleration, but in Brandenburg-Prussia, just as in England and Switzerland, dissenting, enthusiastic religion was not to be allowed the full privileges of the ruling religion. Still, Baumgarten defended the freedom of conscience, and working in the capacity of a legal expert, he was particularly active as an advocate for the toleration of the Jews. The chapter on Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), the polymath known as the "Socrates of Berlin," affords the author the opportunity to summarize his own extensive research into the Haskalah or Jewish enlightenment. A friend of Lessing and indebted to Christian Wolff, Mendelssohn drew on aspects of the German, Dutch, and English enlightenments, and in his writings we find the same practical impulses toward a reasonable, ethically oriented interpretation of the Bible as we found in Protestantism. Because Jews lacked the institutional base of the universities and appointments in the civil service, the Haskalah was handicapped in its influence on the states of Europe and was therefore distinct from the other forms of the religious enlightenment, but Mendelssohn became increasingly involved in the defense of the Jew's natural rights. The attention Mendelssohn gave to the recovery of Bible study in terms of practical knowledge, along with the value he ascribed to church and Jewish history, have direct parallels in the Catholic enlightenment.
Two representatives of the Catholic enlightenment round out the book in chapters 5 and 6. Joseph Eybel (1741-1805) was a second generation leader of Catholic reform in the Habsburg lands and one of Joseph II's most important counselors. Sorkin helpfully draws out the links between natural law theory in Gallicanism and in German Protestantism and the efforts of Eybel under Maria Theresa and Joseph II. As the leading figure behind the dissolution of the monasteries in Austria, Eybel also wrote thousands of pages of Christian devotional literature; he was at one and the same time a devotee of church reform and of the absolutist state. Adrian Lamourette (1742-1794) was a teacher of the Abbe Gregoire, a friend of Mirabeau, and ultimately a victim of the Terror. Elected constitutional Bishop of Lyon in 1791, Lamourette represents a small, moderate minority of patriot clergy who sought to fuse reform Catholicism with the leading principles of the early Revolution. Sorkin's moving narrative of the Jacobin siege of Lyon and Lamourette's subsequent execution provides a fitting metaphor for the end of the religious enlightenment. In an age of increasing polarities, the moderation of those who believed that revelation was compatible with reason was doomed, it seems, to fail, but that failure came at the end, not the beginning, of the Enlightenment.
While making adjustments for the distinctive national contexts in which each author worked, Sorkin discerns four abiding emphases in these leaders of the religious enlightenment. They all sought a middle ground of religious belief that was reasonable and that combined natural religion with biblical revelation. Second, all were supporters of toleration within strict limits set by confessional states. Third, they appealed to the public sphere as a crucial venue for adjudicating philosophical and religious differences. Finally, most of them adopted state support for their programs and were advocates for national churches. Hence, the book is rigorously comparative and its importance reaches considerably beyond the contributions of six individuals. In brief, this is a deeply researched, well-written, and compelling account of the importance of religion in shaping European enlightenments.
James E. Bradley
Fuller Theological Seminary
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|Author:||Bradley, James E.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2011|
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