existed a vibrant network of enlightened Protestants who subscribed to similar beliefs and employed a similar language. Moreover, they were joined by many Catholics who also felt that they could be religious and enlightened at the same time.
Enlightened Christians, wherever they were from, shared a commitment to a few central ideas and values. They sought ways to reconcile their faith with the new sciences emerging in Europe. They advocated 'reasonableness' in all things, including religion. It was in the name of this reasonableness that they championed a simpler, clearer, more tolerant and morally efficacious religion. They subscribed to a relatively optimistic view of human nature and had a generally positive attitude towards both reform and progress. Perhaps most importantly, they saw themselves as moderates charting a middle course, what one called 'a wise, enlightened and reliable piety',4 equidistant from fanaticism and superstition on the one hand, and irreligion on the other.
Recognizing the existence of this Christian Enlightenment forces us to abandon the widespread assumption that the influence of religion on other realms of thought is always conservative or retrograde. Throughout history, Christian writings have served as vehicles for progressive political and social ideas. This is certainly true of the eighteenth century. However, it is also true that Christians of varying orthodoxy could be found on different points of the political spectrum. Evidence shows that the Christian Enlightenment frequently allied itself with the state, thereby providing a valuable buttress to the political status quo. In other words, the politics of the Christian Enlightenment were varied and its implications ambiguous.
In one short chapter, it will be impossible to do justice to what is now a rapidly growing field. Rather, this essay will concentrate on a few key Protestant and Catholic examples in England, Geneva, Germany, and France in order to highlight some of the movement's distinguishing features and most salient characteristics. It will then suggest some of the ways in which these characteristics were transformed over the course of the eighteenth century. The goal will be to show how Christian theologians and clergymen across Europe shared in, and contributed to, many aspects of the complex intellectual and cultural movement we refer to as the Enlightenment.
The Protestant Enlightenment: a reasonable and useful Christianity
England's role in the elaboration and dissemination of the Christian Enlightenment was seminal. Theological developments there show how wrong it is
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