the equation of absolutism with Catholicism was a given. In the minds of many Protestants the equation had suddenly been rendered stark by the reality of what could onlybe defined as tyranny and persecution. In 1685, all signspointed to a revival of religious warfare, in words, if not in deeds. Well over 200,000 French Protestants made the journey out of France, and those who stayed behind were imprisoned or submitted to conversion. These were the events that form the essential background to understanding the Enlightened critique of Christianity as it emerged with virulence in the period of the 1680s. From that moment onward, the critique only became more pointed, more strident, sometimes less anonymous, but always suspicious of clerical authority and often bitter. It lay at the heart of the crisis provoked by monarchical absolutism.
Not only negative factors provoked the Enlightened critique of Christianity. New and positive intellectual forces affected all Christians, and these indigenous resources were available to the disaffected from church and state. The seventeenth century had been the great age of natural philosophical enquiry that began with Galileo and ended with the publication in 1687 of Newton's Principia. These thinkers intended no assault on Christianity, nor implied any in their scientific writings. But adjusting the western understanding of nature in radically new directions had been perilous. Piously it was believed that the Bible said that the earth was in the centre of the universe. In 1543 Copernicus argued that mathematically it made more sense to put the sun in the centre. Fifty years later Galileo went further. He challenged the basic medieval assumption that only the earth was a real body, that all other heavenly bodies were made of a fine ethereal matter. In 1610 he trained his telescope on the moon and proclaimed that the shadows he saw were best explained as mountains. The celestial and terrestrial worlds werebeginningto lookincreas-ingly like the same matter, heavy and measurable, just configured differently. These new metaphysical assumptions about nature played into the religious crisis of the 1680s, the roots of which had been festering for at least two decades.
Gradually, especially after 1685, one villain emerged as the ogre of choice among the anonymous libellers whose literary momentum surged with the renewed persecution of Protestants: Louis XIV, the Sun King, the enemy of French Protestants who in his amorous liaison with a new Catholic mistress had suddenly got pious and devout. The potential of this French king to abuse his power had been suspected as early as his coronation in 1661. The French-language press outside of France, generally located in the Dutch Republic, sometimes in Liege, was largely a Protestant operation and it wasted no time pointing out the dangers to religious liberty posed by the new king. Phoney
Was this article helpful?