This morning at The Imaginative Conservative, my review of an extraordinary new book by Ulrich Lehner.
The sum of Dr. Lehner’s argument is this: contrary to popular and secular mythologies, the Church possessed a number of critical personalities and intellectual leaders who actively engaged the ideas of democracy, individualism, liberalism (properly understood), and what would be called, ultimately, modernity. All of this happened between the Council of Trent and the end of the French Revolution. Surprisingly, at least to me, Catholic scholars and theologians considered, studied, and digested the importance of the thought of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and even Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Indeed, they not only took the ideas of non-Catholic scholars seriously, they actually attempted to meld secular thought with Catholic theology. Dr. Lehner, much to his credit, never over-makes his case. He recognizes that there were many, many “Enlightenments” during the few centuries leading up to the French Revolution, just as our own John Willson stresses the need to acknowledge many “Foundings” in the American Founding period. Additionally, Dr. Lehner never claims that these Catholic Enlighteners—as he calls them—dominated scholarship or the thinking of the Church as a whole. Rather, he notes, time and time again throughout his book, they attracted attention, bonded with one another, and changed, shaped, and delimited the philosophical and theological discussion within the Church.