Rethinking the Enlightenment from within the Catholic intellectual traditions – Catholic World Report

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

In my last column, I looked at the history of Hollywood film censorship as a specific example of a Catholic effort to engage the modern world. This month I will take a step back from the specifics of modernity to look at the Catholic encounter with the intellectual foundations of modernity in general, the movement we call the Enlightenment. As a guide to this reflection, I will consider the arguments presented in Joseph T. Stuart’s recent Sophia Institute Press book Rethinking the Enlightenment: Faith in the Age of Reason (2020). In an age of increasing polarization within the Church, Stuart’s book is timely in its call for greater nuance in our approach to the relation between Catholic intellectual traditions and those of the Enlightenment. Stuart clearly wishes to offer a corrective to “conservative” Catholics often too quick to dismiss modernity and “liberal” Catholics often too quick to embrace it. Modernity has many distinct and at times conflicting strands; Catholics must separate the wheat from the chaff. Stuart’s effort at discernment should inspire renewed respect for the Catholic intellectual achievements of the eighteenth century, but his Americanist pieties often obscure the continuity of principles across the range of the great political revolutions of the Enlightenment era. For Catholics interested in the history of the Church, the Age of Enlightenment can often appear as a black hole separating the end of the Reformation and the onset of the French Revolution. Nineteenth-century historians told the story of this era with barely a mention of the Church as anything other than a source of reaction and obscurantism; their successors in the decidedly anti-historical “Great Books” movement invented a canon that included no serious Catholic thinker from this era.

Rethinking the Enlightenment from within the Catholic intellectual traditions – Catholic World Report

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