abhorred both the 'enthusiasm' of radical Pietism and the sterile dogmatism of Lutheran orthodoxy. They were equally adverse to superstitious credulity on the one hand and excessive scepticism on the other. Instead they advocated a simple, clear, and reasonable religion whose true end was ethical action rather than empty speculation. Theirs was a tolerant and irenic religion, open to science, and optimistic about both human nature and reform.
One of the most creative contributions of the German Enlightenment was in the realm of history. It is noteworthy that the main innovation came from two theologians: Baumgarten and his student and successor Johann Salomo Semler (1725-91).12 These two Enlightened Protestants broke new ground, both in their interest in history and their approach to it. They insisted on rigorous historical methods. They argued that texts, even biblical texts, should be interpreted as products of their place and time. Adopting and reworking the well-known exegetical principle of accommodation, they seized on the idea that 'religion', which was moral, timeless and true, was something separate from 'theology', which was bound to a particular time and place, and therefore could be false. They came to the idea that religion, even Christianity itself, was evolving and, indeed, improving over time. Semler eventually developed this into a fully articulated notion of 'progressive revelation', which would go on to inspire pivotal thinkers as diverse as Gotthold Lessing and Benjamin Constant.13
It is important to note that the intentions behind these Enlightened breakthroughs in the field of historical scholarship were, in fact, religious. The historico-critical method, with its relatively new view of religion, was devised by sincere and committed Protestants with the express aim of better articulating and defending their religion. Once again, then, new and Enlightened ideas were generated for essentially confessional reasons. Both Baumgarten and Semler wished most of all to surmount the divisions within German Lutheranism and to refute deism. In essence, they tried to save revelation by historicizing it.
A growing number of studies offer evidence that the eighteenth century also witnessed a Catholic Enlightenment. This relatively widespread movement has been described in geographic terms as forming 'a southern crescent from the Catholic Germanies in the southeast through the north central Italies including Rome in the centre and on through the Iberian peninsula in the
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