West'.14 Allowing for some regional variations and other particularities, it displayed characteristics remarkably similar to its Protestant counterpart.
The Catholic Enlightenment was, first of all, an effort at intellectual renewal, a concerted attempt to rearticulate Catholic beliefs and traditions using the language and tools of the Enlightenment. Once again, moderately rationalist clerics, aiming to steer a middle course between religious extremes, tried to reform and renew religion from within. Reacting to the excesses of both Baroque Catholicism on the one hand and rationalist scepticism on the other, they advocated a return to clarity and simplicity in religion. Like their Protestant colleagues, they argued that the true end of theology was practical. They tried to propagate the image of a church at the service of the people, and of a faith that was both reasonable and useful to society. Thus they shifted much attention away from dogma and on to matters ofeducation and reform, which they often undertook in conjunction with the state.
Enlightened Catholicism drew on many intellectual currents, including various local forms of Jansenism. Particularly noteworthy, however, is the extent of its borrowings from Protestant thinkers like Wolff and Locke. Newtonian natural theology was also popular, enabling Enlightened Catholics to reconcile their faith with the methods and aims of the new science. Finally, a more modern and critical awareness of history may very well have come from Protestant sources as well.
At first glance, France would seem a most unlikely place for a Christian Enlightenment to develop. It was there, after all, that the Enlightenment distinguished itself by its profoundly anticlerical and even anti-religious character. It was in France that the philosophes adopted a particularly virulent anti-Catholic tone, summed up by Voltaire's often-cited battle cry 'ecrasez l'infame' ('crush this infamous thing [the church]'!). This view of a France cleaved into two hostile camps has been restated recently by Darrin McMahon, whose book describes an intellectual climate polarized by secular philosophes and religious anti-philosophes. Thanks to important work on Jansenism, its hard-fought battle with the Jesuits, and its fascinating but paradoxical relationship with the Enlightenment, we also know that French Catholicism itself was deeply divided.
The truth is, however, that this tendency to focus on religious extremes and to posit stark polarities in French religious history has distorted our understanding of French Catholicism. It has diverted our attention from the development of a distinctly French version of the Christian Enlightenment. The existence of this French and Catholic Enlightenment invites us to discard the
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