Five responses to the Enlightenment challenge

A traditional and widespread view of the nineteenth century is that Protestantism succumbed to a compromise with secular culture and ideals whereas Catholicism held out robustly but vainly against secular culture with the palladium of unyielding authority. Notwithstanding the evident truth in such a generalisation, there is a subtler picture. It would be more accurate to say that equally within Protestantism and Catholicism we can see both the drive to dialogue and reaction, although in Catholicism political circumstances -the impact of the French Revolution and the often precarious and embattled position of the Vatican in Italy - accentuated the element of reaction. Yet the nineteenth century was a period of revival of Catholic thought - often from converts as brilliant as Friedrich Schlegel or John Henry Newman, and many innovative schools of thought. Even the profoundly conservative Orthodox tradition produced thinkers like Solovyov who engaged with modern culture and thought.

Nevertheless, this period is dominated by the response to the Enlightenment criticism of the dogmas of the Christian religion as unreasonable. The remainder of this chapter will analyse nineteenth-century responses to the Enlightenment according to the following five categories:

1 Ultra-Romantic: Those who rejected the 'Enlightenment' challenge as misguided or resting on false assumptions.

2 Idealistic: Those who accepted the legitimacy of the challenge but denied that the 'Enlightenment' was employing an adequate conception of'reason', 'religion' or 'Christianity'.

3 Existentialist: Those who attempted to outflank both the Enlightenment and religious Idealism.

4 Rationalistic: Those who accepted the Enlightenment critique and agreed that Christianity as traditionally conceived is an illusion. Usually in this camp some naturalistic or materialistic metaphysics formed the basis ofthe evaluation. Christianity was either radically modified or rejected.

5 Pragmatic: Those who accepted the validity of the Enlightenment critique but limited its scope to the domain of facts as opposed to values.

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