oversimplified and bipolar view of eighteenth-century French religious history and to realize that the boundaries between Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment were, in fact, often blurred.
Over forty years ago, R. R. Palmer pointed the way when he wrote of the many educated men in the French church who were willing to give a sympathetic hearing to the new ideas circulating in Europe. They were favourably inclined to the sensationalist theories of Locke and Condillac. They were open to science and optimistic about human nature. Although they did not advocate an official policy of religious toleration, they were 'inclined to a kind of tolerance'. Deploring 'fanaticism', 'superstition', and 'vain [theological] disputes', they often maintained cordial relationships with leading members of the secular Enlightenment. It was undoubtedly thanks to men like these that, well into the eighteenth century, many, if not most, French Catholics felt that it was very possible to be Christian and Enlightened at the same time. In the words of Palmer, 'the line that separated the orthodox from the philosophical was indistinct'.15
It is not difficult to find evidence of the Christian Enlightenment in eighteenth-century France. Many French Catholics were receptive to science and physico-theology, as the very popular works of the abbe Pluche show. In France, as elsewhere in Enlightened Europe, sermons focused increasingly on moral edification, rather than on doctrinal instruction. Religious writings in general displayed a marked decline in taste for dogma and a rising interest in the so-called 'advantages' of religion. More and more frequently, one heard the argument that Christianity was a useful religion. It was useful because it contributed to social and political order. It was a bridle to all the unsociable passions. As the French admirer and translator of Bishop Warburton explained in 1742, the idea that Christianity was useful to society was heard so frequently in France that it was becoming hackneyed.16 Nevertheless, the French clergy reiterated the point in its General Assembly of 1775. Its official Avertissement stated succinctly: 'Our God is a God who teaches useful things'.17
Enlightened French Catholics repeatedly made the point that the faith required of a Christian was not blind; rather it had strong foundations in reason. The abbe Bergier (1718-90), for example, who was one of the most important apologists of the period, and whose prolific writings were subsidized by the French church, stated unequivocally that 'Far from forbidding reason to examine the proofs of revelation, the Christian religion teaches it as necessary'.18 Another popular Catholic writer, the abbe Gerard, declared starkly that 'To believe without reason, or against reason, is the lot of idiots'. It was what
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