The aims and the attraction of the Enlightenment

The new ideas of the Enlightenment first captured the minds of Protestants in the north west of Europe, in Great Britain and the Netherlands. While British and Dutch thinkers made bold moves towards a new world-view, their counterparts in German Protestantism were, as a rule, more cautious, if not timid when it came to expressing new ideas. This was true, for example, of the political writings of the German Protestant, Samuel Pufendorf, as well as of the philosophical treatises of his fellow German, Christian Thomasius. Both lacked the vision and the determination of such Scottish or English authors as David Hume, Thomas Hobbes, or John Locke. And the same was equally true of the writings of such early eighteenth-century German Protestant theologians asJohann Franz Buddeus, Johann Lorenz von Mosheim, Johann Georg Walch, Christoph Matthaeus Pfaff, and Johann August Ernesti. Their writings appear like cautious adjustments to new ideas when compared to the works on Deism by British and Irish authors like Anthony Collins, John Toland, William Whiston, Thomas Woolston, or Matthew Tindal. During his lifetime, Baruch Spinoza, writing in the Netherlands, had no influence in Germany Not until almost a hundred years after his death in 1677 were his ideas discussed or greatly appreciated. The books of Pierre Bayle and of Christian Wolff had an impact on German intellectual life somewhat earlier, but not before the middle of the eighteenth century. Even the celebrated German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz received little attention from his contemporaries. Only in retrospect have the quality of his philosophical reflections and his contribution to paving the way towards an Enlightened theological discourse found the necessary attention and received their due praise.

What has to be stressed once again is the importance of the caesura of 1740. The Enlightenment had little impact in Protestant Germany before Frederick the Great became king. The Enlightenment then gained momentum between 1740 and the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763. In the years between 1763 and the beginning of the French Revolution, the public sphere, including the theological faculties of the German universities, became dominated by the themes that were central to the Enlightenment. It was in this period that Lessing published some of the texts on biblical criticism written by Hermann Samuel Reimarus, that Johannes Joachim Spalding explained the principles of Enlightened thought in his writings, that August Friedrich Wilhelm Sack and

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