THE
ENLIGHTENMENT
  

 Rousseau

Voltaire  


Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith…

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Biglietto Speech, delivered on being raised to the College of Cardinals

The following is adapted from Madden, the Catholic Church in the Modern Age:

THE Enlightenment was born in France, itself a victim of brutal religious  wars [which it held in utter contempt].

The philosophes (many of whom were Deists) did not reject God, but they believed that He had created a rational universe [explicable by science as exemplified by Newton] and He expected humans to use their reason.

Reason itself was elevated to the highest level of importance.

By the use of reason humans could come to understand and control the universe and thereby find happy and fulfilling lives.

The God of the Deists did not intervene in creation since miracles are incompatible with a rational universe.

[Natural law] would thus be redefined as based in rational observation of a rationally-comprehensible nature.  Morality would be perceptible in the (rational) ordering of nature, rather than in a sunjective conscience mysteriously connected with the Will of God]

[Human nature would be characterized not as afflicted with original sin, but rather free and impressionable/formed by rearing and socialization]

Religious toleration only made sense, since the truth of a religious doctrine could not be demonstrated through reason. It was better then to allow people to believe what they wished and focus on perfecting this world.

Philosophes like Voltaire had nothing but scorn for the Catholic Church and its Inquisition. They were equally unhappy with the absolutist monarchy, itself based on medieval privilege rather than reason. They longed for a new world in which privilege and the old order would be washed away.


OCCULTISM


A PARADOXICAL FASCINATION with the occult and supernatural emerged during the Enlightenment even as - and probably a consequence of the fact that - the Church was increasingly dismissed as irrelevant.  Already present in Elizabethan England (e.g. John Dee) it manifested as Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and in figures such as Giordano Bruno and the elusive Saint-Martin.  See Fleming, The Dark Side of the Enlightenment [+1] and Monod, Soloman's Secret Arts [+1].  This tendency erupted in the forms of spiritualism and theosophy in post-Revolutionary Europe as the Esoteric branch of the Romantic Movement.


The following is adapted from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

AUFKLÄRUNG (German: ‘Enlightenment’). The term is applied in a technical sense to a movement of thought which appeared in an esp. clear-cut form in 18th-cent. Germany and is connected with the names of H. S. Reimarus, G. E. Lessing, and J. G. Herder. Set within the worldwide tendency to Rationalism, characteristic of the period, the ‘Aufklärung’ combines opposition to all supernatural religion and belief in the all-sufficiency of human reason with an ardent desire to promote the happiness of men in this life. One of its chief ideals was religious toleration, represented by Lessing’s Nathan der Weise and the policy of Frederick the Great. Most of its representatives preserved the belief in God, freedom, and immortality as consonant with reason, but rejected the Christian dogma and were hostile to Catholicism as well as to Protestant orthodoxy, which they regarded as powers of spiritual darkness depriving humanity of the use of its rational faculties. Their fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature, which blinded them to the fact of sin, produced an easy optimism and absolute faith in the progress and perfectibility of human society once the principles of enlightened reason had been recognized. The spirit of the ‘Aufklärung’ penetrated deeply into German Protestantism, where it disintegrated faith in the authority of the Bible and encouraged biblical criticism on the one hand and an emotional ‘Pietism’ on the other. In German Catholicism it had its exponents among the educated laity and the higher clergy, being favoured by the policy of Joseph II. It directed itself esp. against the religious orders, the celibacy of the clergy, devotion to the saints, and such popular expressions of piety as pilgrimages and the veneration of relics.

THE ENLIGHTENMENT Though the term originated as a translation of the German Aufklärung, it is now applied more generally to the movement of ideas which characterized much of 18th-cent. Europe. In many ways it was a continuation of the scientific spirit of the previous age, esp. of the thought of R. Descartes, J. Locke, and I. Newton. Its adherents distrusted all authority and tradition in matters of intellectual inquiry, and believed that truth could be attained only through reason, observation, and experiment.

[Note also religious predecessors in Socianism (anti-Trinitarianism) and the Anabaptist movements both of which rejected the Councils and claimed to strip away all "accretions" from the pure biblical tradition (see thesis on Socianism in Voltaire)]

On the whole, however, they were more socially committed than their predecessors. They sought to diffuse knowledge as much as to create it and where possible to use their scientific method in the service of their humanitarian ideals of tolerance, justice, and the moral and material welfare of mankind. The more scientific among them (e.g. J. Bentham and other Utilitarians) tried to discover ‘Newtonian’ laws governing man and his social relationships, believing that if these could be found, man would be in a position to control his destiny. Others, such as C. L. J. de S. Montesquieu, D. Hume, and Adam Smith (1723–90), attempted a more open-minded investigation of the nature of society. A third group (esp. French writers such as P. H. D. d’Holbach (1723–89) and J.-J. Rousseau) were more revolutionary in their programme. The movement embraced a wide spectrum of views and aims, incl. Voltaire’s defence of the victims of religious persecution, the encouragement of technology in D. Diderot’s Encyclopédie, and attempts to improve legal practice in Italy and the economy in Spain, but its adherents were united by a common belief in ‘reason’ and zeal for human welfare. In general, with notable exceptions such as Hume and I. Kant, they were propagandists rather than philosophers. But their activity transformed the intellectual map of Europe.

The thinkers of the Enlightenment often came into conflict with the Church. Some, such as d’Holbach, were dogmatic atheists; others, such as Hume and Diderot, rejected religion less vehemently. The majority were probably deists. Yet, though the movement as a whole was undoubtedly hostile to orthodox Christianity, there were many exceptions to this generalization. Even in relatively intolerant Catholic countries, such as France and Spain, it was possible for men such as A. R. J. Turgot (1727–81) and G. M. de Jovellanos (1744–1811) to reconcile their faith with ‘enlightened’ ideas. In Protestant lands, where ‘rational theology’ was developing within the Churches, there was more co-operation; and in Scotland, e.g., many of the leaders of the Enlightenment were also ministers of the Kirk.

[Thus some vestige of traditional Christianity would (or could) be maintained, but principally as a means of organizing society and buitressing a particular form of morality]

 


There is a very extensive lit. E. Cassirer, Die Philosophie der Aufklärung (Tübingen, 1932; Eng. tr., Princeton, NJ, 1951); P. Hazard, La Crise de la conscience européenne (3 vols., 1935; Eng. tr., 1953); id., La Pensée européenne au XVIIIe siècle de Montesquieu à Lessing (3 vols., 1946; Eng. tr., 1954). P. Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (2 vols., New York, 1966–9); N. Hampson, The Enlightenment (Harmondsworth, 1968); D. Outram, The Enlightenment (Cambridge, 1995). Introduction by R. Porter, The Enlightenment (1990; 2nd edn., 2001). L. G. Crocker, An Age of Crisis: Man and World in Eighteenth Century French Thought (Baltimore, 1959); id., Nature and Culture: Ethical Thought in the French Enlightenment (ibid., 1963). R. J. White, The Anti-Philosophers: A Study of the Philosophes in Eighteenth-Century France (1970). G. R. Cragg, Reason and Authority in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 1964). Collection of previously pub. arts. by R. Mortier, Le Cœur et la Raison (Oxford, Brussels, and Paris, 1990). J. [M.] Byrne, Glory, Jest and Riddle: Religious Thought in the Enlightenment (1996). E. Hegel in NCE 5 (1967), pp. 435–9, s.v.


from: Cragg  The Church and the Age of Reason,
ch. 15, ‘The High Noon of Rationalism, and Beyond
, 236-247

In France history, politics, and economics became a kind of ‘social physics’. The new outlook can be seen in Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws; thenceforth the study of man’s institutions became a prolongation of natural science. The emphasis fell increasingly on the practical consequences of knowledge: man is endowed with reason, said Voltaire, ‘ not that he may penetrate the divine essence but that he may live well in this world’. Even in ethics, natural law reigned supreme; morality was a science which substituted independence and autonomy for submission to the divine will. The natural and the reasonable became the secular as well. The Age of Reason was chiefly interested in the elaboration, elucidation, and exposition of this analytical procedure derived from Newtonian physics. Its most brilliant achievement was the Encyclopedia (175-1770). Diderot, the directing genius of the enterprise, explained its purpose. He and his colleagues were not primarily interested in communicating a specific body of knowledge; rather, they aimed at effecting a fundamental revolution in the prevailing pattern of thought.

This was a deliberate challenge to accepted beliefs. The [237] theology and ethics of the churches were subjected to a criticism more merciless than any which they had hitherto faced. The appeal to reason and to natural law was closely related to the desire for freedom from traditional patterns of authority. The old forms of feudal power were disintegrating; the old forms of belief which had provided their sanction were discredited. The new age refused to follow the old guides. What men wanted, however, was a change, not a revolution. For all its destructive appearance, the thought of the Enlightenment was curiously conservative. The philosophes were members of the middle class, believing in order and security, and wanting a stable society. The idea of a disordered universe was abhorrent to them. Hence, for convenience sake, they retained the kind of God that Deism in its later phases could countenance. He was scaled down and domesticated; his majesty was no longer disconcerting, and he was useful as a guarantor of order. He was abstract and remote; he was no longer inconvenient because he no longer encountered man with an exacting personal demand. ‘I believe in God,’ said Voltaire, ‘not the God of the mystics and the theologians, but the God of nature, the great geometrician, the architect of the universe, the prime mover, unalterable, transcendental, everlasting.’ Such a God stood entirely outside the drama of human history; he could not be connected with anything that happens on this insignificant planet. He built the machine, and set it in motion, but the machine now runs its predetermined course in complete independence of its maker. The philosophes therefore denied the fact of revelation. They dispensed with the Holy Scriptures and the holy church. The God they retained inevitably faded into the abstraction of a first cause. This was the natural consequence of their glorification of the Newtonian revolution; having ‘deified nature’, they ‘denatured God’.

The critical scrutiny of authority developed in four distinguishable stages. The first phase in the attack on traditional beliefs is represented by Pierre Bayle (see p. 49). No matter what the subject, he tabulated the reasons against belief in exhaustive detail. He claimed that he was just as [238] meticulous in enumerating the grounds for faith, but his protestations did not convince his contemporaries. Certainly his works provided an almost inexhaustible reservoir from which lesser critics could freely draw. The second stage of the attack is represented by the Encyclopedia. This great enterprise, the rallying point of the philosophes, both exemplified their methods and diffused their point of view. Diderot’s article on Christianity professed the profoundest regard for the transcendent religion of Jesus, but its effect (and probably its aim) was to excite in the reader an equally profound contempt for its social morality. But the aridities of pure reason were provoking a reaction, and Jean Jacques Rousseau was the prophet of the new approach. Logic alone could not satisfy the heart of man, and emotion claimed its rightful place. In the name of sensibility, Rousseau advocated a simple religion of reverence for God and love for mankind. Feeling was more important than thought. Nature was fundamentally good; man had been corrupted by the evils of society, but an easy solution lay to hand: he need only recognize and return to the Social Contract on which our life is rightly founded.

Rousseau, it might appear, was far more sympathetic to Christianity than the rationalists against whose teachings he reacted so vehemently. In his Creed of a Savoyard Vicar’, he set forth a view of religion which is simply Deism permeated with emotional enthusiasm. Though he doubted the value of revelation and questioned the adequacy of the proofs advanced in its support, in the Gospels and their teachings he found a beauty and a holiness in striking contrast with the arrogance of the rationalists. Yet Rousseau was at best a dangerous ally for Christianity. His religion of feeling stripped away all the distinguishing marks of the historic faith, and encouraged a diffused form of theism.

The fourth stage of the attack on religion reflects the confusion which had overtaken thought by the reign of Louis XVI. The influence of Voltaire encouraged a complete denial of God; the disciples of Rousseau propounded a vague worship of nature and of the Supreme Being who stands behind it. ‘Illuminism’  (a movement which combined [239] theosophical and mystical elements and relied heavily on allegorical methods of interpretation) is characteristic of the strange cults which were arising. Even quacks, like that colourful knave Cagliostro, who toured Europe dispensing his elixir of youth, reflected the restless hunger of the times. The ridicule of the philosophes had shaken confidence in the ancient forms of faith, and the aspirations of man’s soul were seeking satisfaction in strange and unexpected ways.

 

THE INFLUENCE of VOLTAIRE

The influence of Voltaire cannot be restricted to any one of these stages of the attack on traditional beliefs. For the better part of half a century he was the most powerful influence in European thought. He was a superb critic but a mediocre philosopher. In his earliest phase, he drew heavily (and not always exactly) on the English Deists, and gave their views the widest possible circulation. Long after they had been virtually forgotten at home, they were affecting the intellectual climate of the continent. From the Deists, Voltaire drew the arguments with which he attacked miracles, prophecy, and the authority of Scripture. He popularized the views of Locke and Newton. Here, too, he was profoundly influential in determining the pattern of eighteenth-century thought. He emphasized the simplicity and sublimity of Newton’s laws - and gave a superficial and inaccurate account of them. The inferences which he drew from them were important: man’s mind, he claimed, has now been emancipated from authority, from innate ideas, and from revelation. Into the place thus left vacant, reason stepped, and brought with it a method which used a few simple principles to account for everything that could be explained. As concerning other things - the inscrutable regions of mystery or paradox - Voltaire airily dismissed them as of no account. In the early stages of his long career he accepted the abstracted kind of deity in whom Deists could plausibly believe. ‘I am not an atheist,’ he said, ‘nor a superstitious person; I stand for common sense and the golden mean.’ But as time progressed, Voltaire’s golden mean was increasingly obscured by violent antipathies. The [240] idea of Providence — of God’s watchful care of individual lives — he dismissed as absurd. His attacks on the organized church grew more and more vitriolic. Instead of relying on his usual weapons of supercilious ridicule and urbane sarcasm, he resorted to angry denunciation.

In this respect, Voltaire did not stand alone. All the philosophes participated in this bitter vendetta against established religious authority. The contrast with English thought is conspicuous. In England the Deists had been met with a willingness to discuss their case, even a readiness to com. promise at certain points. In France they were opposed by an unbending orthodoxy which held in reserve the ancient weapons of imprisonment and persecution, and which was ready enough to use them. The church expected the secular authorities to apply a repressive policy; its attitude inevitably provoked resistance to a religious system in which intolerance played so large a part. This lurking threat of persecution explains a certain oblique disingenuousness in Voltaire, a readiness to hide behind the authority of others and to imply that he accepted more than he really did. He was sometimes abusive, sometimes cringing. He used abuse when he felt brave; he resorted to lies when he felt timid. But it also accounts for the violence, even the extravagance, into which the champions of reason and common sense allowed themselves to fall. When it was safe to do so, they attacked the strongholds of superstition with volcanic energy. Nothing was so sacred as to escape their ribald criticism, nothing so mysterious as to defy their confident analysis. The beliefs, the prescriptive rights, the ancient prerogatives of the church were incessantly attacked. The failings of the priesthood were magnified into a deliberate conspiracy against reason and the elementary rights of man. ‘Écrasez l’infâme’ was Voltaire’s battle cry; he repeated it with the monotony of an unvarying refrain. ‘L’infâme’ was not God, nor Christ, nor Christianity, nor even Catholicism. Probably what Voltaire meant by it was privileged and persecuting orthodoxy. In this particular respect, that attack of the philosophes was almost wholly destructive in purpose; they did not worry [241] about the casualties they inflicted on what they called the empire of superstition.

Their consuming desire was to free the élite from the bondage of authority. But this deliverance would extend to the enlightened alone. Voltaire wasted no sympathy on democratic aspirations, and both his hatred of Christianity and the deliberate class-consciousness of the Age of Reason are admirably conveyed by his words to Frederick the Great: ‘Your majesty will do the human race an eternal service in extirpating this infamous superstition [Christianity], I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among the well-bred, among those who wish to think.’ In certain areas this violence was beneficial. The philosophes attacked theology because they wished to establish the freedom of scientific inquiry. They sought a science which would be free from theological preconceptions. Voltaire attacked the physics of the Bible in a way that betrayed bad taste, but his purpose was clear enough. There was no appreciation of the fact that theological and empirical methods might be different, yet valid in their distinct areas. Only gradually was the distinction recognized between different disciplines, and meanwhile Voltaire and his friends were intent on establishing the fact that there were certain areas in which ecclesiastical authority was irrelevant and where coercion could not legitimately be applied.

In his pleas for toleration, Voltaire’s more generous instincts coalesced with his hatred of traditional authority. The whole bent of his mind made him an enemy of coercion, and a particularly flagrant case of religious persecution aroused him to launch his notable attack on intolerance. Though the French Huguenots had few legal rights, they were not consistently repressed. Their freedom was limited and precarious; at any moment unpredictable circumstances might precipitate a fresh outburst of persecution, and the fate of Jean Calas was an extreme example of what could happen. In 1761, Calas’ son committed suicide. The father was a respected member of the community; the young man [242] had been suffering from melancholia and was known to be of unstable mind. But the Catholics claimed that Calas had hanged his son in order to forestall his conversion to Romanism. Popular feeling was fanned to a fierce intensity and the case came to trial in an atmosphere charged with emotion. The Toulouse Parlement found the family guilty, and with a refinement of cruelty out of keeping with the spirit of the age, sentenced the father to be broken on the wheel. Voltaire’s interest was aroused. He examined the evidence and satisfied himself that a flagrant miscarriage of justice had taken place. This was a case which gave full scope to his superb gifts as a publicist. Its tragic circumstances lifted him above the faults of violence and ribaldry into which religious controversy usually betrayed him. With passionate but disciplined intensity and with a clarity which never left the essential issues in doubt, he brought the matter to the bar of public opinion. The reaction which followed was too powerful to be ignored. The verdict was reviewed by the king and council and was reversed. Belated justice was done to Calas’ memory and to the members of his family, but of greater importance was the effect upon the European mind. Intolerance suffered a mortal blow, and it was fondly assumed that the judicial punishment of religious beliefs had been discredited for ever.

The philosophes were anti-Christian but not necessarily irreligious. They attacked the church with every weapon at their disposal, and fashioned the kind of anti-clericalism which has had such a vogue in certain European countries. Clearly in attacking God they were attacking the pretensions of priestcraft; it is equally obvious that in their own way they cherished beliefs and aspirations which can only be described as religious. They detested dogma but hankered after an awareness of God which would be as all-embracing as the universe itself. In the very process of seeking to define these non-Christian truths, the Age of Reason laid bare the insufficiency of reason. The problem of evil in a world apparently so good could neither be evaded nor resolved. They repudiated the explanations advanced by [243] the theologians, but had nothing to substitute for them. Hume had shown that the resources of reason are restricted; to certain questions the human mind, if left to its own resources, can find no answers. Before the eighteenth century had half run its course the arrogant confidence in man’s unaided reason had been chastened. To this was due the enthusiasm with which men turned to more practical matters. The reforming spirit of the philosophes increasingly sought satisfaction in ethics rather than in metaphysics. Diderot’s concern with morality was not exceptional; most of his associates also wished to be considered ‘men of virtue’. Their opponents represented them as enemies of virtue. What more effective answer could they offer than the assurance that they were replacing an outworn morality with a new and effective one? ‘It is not enough’, said Diderot, ‘to know more than [the theologians] do; it is necessary to show them that we are better, and that philosophy makes more and better men than sufficient or efficacious grace.’ Moreover, useful studies would in all likelihood prove much more rewarding than abstract speculation. Hume turned from metaphysics to history and economics, and thus established a pattern which many others followed. This was more than a shift in interest. Here, too, we can detect the desire to change and improve the world. History was regarded as philosophy teaching by example. The didactic motive was strong, and behind it lay the conviction that society was in need of regeneration. One of the marks of the age was its desire to set things right and it was increasingly clear that reason alone could not effect the needed change. An increasing emphasis was therefore placed on practical measures to improve the world. The Abbé Saint-Pierre is remembered because of his ambitious plan to establish universal peace, but he was fertile in schemes of all kinds, and in his zeal he was conspicuous but not exceptional.

The religious concern of the philosophes carried them beyond an emphasis on ethics and an interest in practical studies. They rejected traditional doctrines but did not necessarily repudiate religion itself. Holbach might parade [244] his atheism but he spoke for a relatively limited coterie. The chief ingredients in the outlook which the philosophes encouraged are clearly religious in implication, however far removed they may be from Christian belief. To begin with, they taught that by nature man is good, not bad. There is no native bias which predisposes him to evil; he is not born with a propensity to sin. The right comes as naturally to him as the wrong; encourage him with a favourable environment, and his propensity to good will assert itself. It will then be seen that he is easily enlightened, susceptible to reason’s guidance, and disposed to be generous and humane. We have already noted that this basic tenet made it difficult for the philosophes to deal realistically with the problem of evil. Frederick the Great, with his cynical assessment of this damned human race’, could pierce at a single glance through the naïve benevolence of this enlightened estimate of man, but few who shared his general outlook could bring themselves to accept the hard realism of his view of human life. In the second place the philosophes insisted that our primary concern is with the life we now live, not with some hypothetical existence hereafter. They were contemptuous ofpreoccupation with heaven, though many of them retained a belief in the immortality of the soul. They wanted to alter the centre of interest; instead of regarding this life as a mere probation for another, men should strive to achieve the good life here and now. And this good life is within our reach; with the light of reason and the guidance of experience to show us the way, we can reasonably expect to achieve perfection. The necessary steps to this goal are few and simple: we must break the tyranny of ignorance and superstition, and overthrow the oppression of feudal authorities.

In their attack upon Christianity, the philosophes appealed both to the past and to the future. They wrote history in order to point a moral: the Dark Ages coincided with the period of Christian ascendancy. Their facts were often subordinate to their theories. When Raynal wrote his immensely popular Philosophical and Political History of the Indies, he gave a facile summary of all the virtues of other civilizations, and [245] proved that contact with Christian intruders had invariably destroyed them. If the philosophes regarded the Christian past with aversion, they looked to the philosophic future with confidence. Man’s true fulfilment lay neither behind him (in the golden age of antiquity) nor ahead (in the Christian expectation of paradise). It would be achieved when men substituted true values for false ones — self-fulfilment for vicarious atonement and the love of humanity for the love of God. By the latter part of the eighteenth century, the smiling confidence of its earlier years had been displaced by a restlessness which looked beyond the imperfections of the present to a future in which all wrongs would be righted — by man. God had been dethroned as judge, and posterity was exalted in his stead. It would be more than a time of fulfilment; it would provide the true vindication of the aspirations and endeavours of all enlightened men. Posterity’, wrote Diderot, ‘is for the philosopher what the other world is for the religious man,’ and he could invoke its blessings in the spirit of ardent worship: ‘O Posterity, holy and sacred! Support of the oppressed and unhappy, thou who art just, thou who art incorruptible, thou who wilt revenge the good man and unmask the hypocrite, consoling and certain idea, do not abandon me!’ The circle of the devout might be small, but the effects of this faith were significant. This belief in an enlightened and liberated humanity strongly possessed the early leaders of the French Revolution — a political upheaval which functioned in the manner and took on in some sense the aspect of a religious revolution’.

This movement of thought, directed against traditional Christianity but inspired by religious motives of its own, had other important results. It challenged the principle of supernatural authority. It denied divine revelation, scoffed at miracles, and assaulted the chief dogmas of the faith. It profoundly affected the way in which religious authority was conceived and broke the coercive spirit in which theological systems had been enforced. Intolerance was discredited: the individual could no longer be compelled to submit to prevailing ecclesiastical systems. The churches forfeited their [246] controlling influence in the intellectual life of Europe, and science was free to pursue its autonomous course. It encouraged far greater freedom in the pursuit of truth. It gave a new dignity to individual insight, even to intellectual heresy. It did so at the cost of aggravating the confusion in religious values which has been so conspicuous a feature of modern life. And it profoundly modified the standards and methods of all the churches.

So serious a threat to Christian convictions demanded a corresponding effort on the part of Christian apologists. The challenge was not entirely ignored, but in Catholic countries it bore no adequate relation to the danger. No one arose who could rebuke unbelief with the authority of Berkeley or Butler. Religion had lost its sense of immediacy, and in France there was no counterpart to Wesley. Church leaders were not indifferent to the rising tide of infidelity, but they tried to check it with methods which were harmful and ineffective. They appealed to the secular authorities. They invoked the regulations against those who wrote and distributed ‘dangerous’ works. This was merely an irritant; censorship was out of keeping with the spirit of the age, and even so massive a work as the Encyclopedia circulated in spite of everything that could be done to check it. Attempts were made to encourage the production of books which would answer the attacks on Christianity, but they achieved a limited success. In France there was an effort to answer ridicule in kind, but ridicule is not the best instrument of Christian apologetic, and against an adversary like Voltaire it proved to be a dangerous weapon. Serious works suffered from even more serious defects. The authors were too often unaware of what had been happening in the scientific fields to which their opponents appealed with special confidence. The philosophes had chosen the ground for the encounter. They also dictated the weapons that would be used, and the Christian apologists were usually unfamiliar with the chief issues involved. Their confusion was aggravated by the tendency of the critics to widen the debate to include legal, political, and economic issues. The apologists fell into errors [247] of tactics, and forgot that successes at minor points did not constitute a major victory. Their weaknesses could often be attributed to faulty training. The long primacy of the Jesuit colleges had taught the clergy to rely unduly on authority alone, and it had also confused the distinction between words and things. They appealed to arguments either which carried little conviction, or which no one was disposed to dispute. Late in the century we find them implying that the truth of Christianity was less important than its usefulness, and that its high morality made it unnecessary to stress its theological claims. The enemies of the faith were scoffing at the absurdity of Christianity; its champions were busily defending secondary positions. This was a grave blunder in strategy. ‘We cannot deny’, wrote Benedict XIV, ‘that today there are people who are notable for capacity and learning but they waste too much of their time in irrelevant matters or in unpardonable disputes among themselves, when it should be their sole aim to resist and destroy atheism and materialism.’


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