De Achttiende Eeuw 32 (2000) nr.1-2
Themanummer ‘Religie en Verlichting: Harmonie of conflict?’
Ernestine van der Wall, Religion and Enlightenment. Harmony or conflict?
The 1999 conference of the ‘Werkgroep Achttiende Eeuw’ was devoted to the relationship between religion and Enlightenment, which has again received explicit attention in recent years. One of the main questions is whether this relationship was characterized by harmony or conflict. On the one hand there are those who emphasize the conflictual aspects of this relationship – a prominent example is Peter Gay -, while on the other hand it has become fashionable, in the vein of Ernst Troeltsch, Sebastian Merkle and Ernst Cassirer, to stress the harmonious side, resulting in such concepts as ‘christian Enlightenment’ or ‘moderate Enlightenment’. The aim of the conference was to discuss questions relating to this ‘conflict-harmony’ debate from the perspective of various disciplines.
The conference focused on both the Dutch Republic and the Southern Netherlands, which brought out differences as well as affinities between Protestant and Roman-Catholic contexts. Due to the impact of Cartesian and Spinozist philosophies the Dutch Republic could easily be called the first country where the European Enlightenment manifested itself. The 1660s may be regarded as the great turning-point. One of the questions is whether the Enlightenment in the northern Netherlands is to be labelled as ‘moderate’ or whether other versions of the Enlightenment, for example, an anti-Christian one, can be detected.
Ernestine van der Wall, Criticism of religion and apologetics in the eighteenth century. The dynamics of a debate
Can ‘enlightened Christianity’ be identified with ‘true Christianity’? For many eighteenth-century Christian believers this was a crucial question. In the eyes of traditional Christians the answer was absolutely negative, while more progressive believers tended to think more positively.
While in recent decades many studies on the relationship between Christianity and Enlightenment have pointed to its harmonious aspects, it should be emphasized that enlightened thinkers liked to venture harsh criticism on Christianity, labelling many important dogmas and other usages as ‘superstition’. Since their criticism may be regarded as an enlightened form of apologetics, the debate between traditional and enlightened believers about religion and the Enlightenment can be regarded as a discussion between conservative and progressive apologists.
Conservative apologetics can be most helpful in showing us how contemporaries did perceive the nature of the Enlightenment attack on religion in its various stages. In the Dutch Republic Dutch Cartesianism and Spinozism were succeeded by British and French deism around the middle of the eighteenth century. In the second half of the century German neology took over. Was this last phase similar to the sixteenth-century Reformation, as the neologians themselves contended, or did it herald the rise of modern paganism? A prominent Dutch apologist, the reformed minister Jan Scharp (1756-1828), maintained the latter in his very interesting and learned Godgeleerd-historische verhandeling(‘Theologico-historical treatise’) of 1793. He stated that neology was worse than either Cartesianism or deism since it was a product of Protestant theologians. The enlightened enemy thus finally got a strong foothold within the church itself.
André Hanou, Wolff in sheep’s clothing: the Unalterable Santhorst Confession (1772)
In 1772, when this text appeared anonymously, it caused quite an upheaval. Especially the members of the public (Dutch Reformed) church were shocked. Why?
The satire by the up-and-coming author Elizabeth Wolff focuses on the beliefs allegedly accepted at ‘Santhorst’ manor, owned by the famous scholar Petrus Burman, a member of the ‘republican’ party. Here, Wolff states, meetings and festivities are conducted in an almost church-like and liturgical way, that commemorate the doctrines and political saints of the founding times of the Dutch Revolt. The Santhorst catechism implies belief in the original unity of freedom-loving Dutchmen, republicans by nature, not divided by religious bigotry. Dutchmen should be ‘catholic’, that is: united but tolerant.
The implication is clear: in these enlightened, modern times the Dutch Republic is once more threatened by tyrannism (the stadholderate) and inquisition (dogmatic calvinism). Our political ideals should be inspired by the thoughts and acts of our Founding Fathers.
Using literary means, Wolff adds insult to injury: her text continually uses the well-known forms of the most ‘sacred’ calvinist texts and writings, thus accentuating the unholy and worldly contents of her republican belief and confession.
Remarks by Gert-Jan Johannes
I would like to raise two points. Firstly: some ten years ago, Hanou was an eloquent spokesman for those who advocated the idea of a ‘radical’ Enlightenment in eighteenth-century Holland, as opposed to the traditional picture of Dutch Enlightenment as an exclusively ‘protestant’ affair. Hanou’s current contribution, in which Betje Wolff is considered to have been a representative of precisely this ‘protestant’ Enlightenment, reminds one of the fact that the discussion on this topic has somehow withered away, without reaching any conclusions. Secondly: the way ‘Roman-Catholic’ customs are portrayed in Betje Wolff’s satires raises some doubts regarding the real meaning of the ‘Tolerance’ she advocates. In my opinion, these satires represent the beginning of a new anti-Catholic discourse in Holland, which was to grew in importance after 1800. Can’t we hear the sound of scaffolds being built in the background of Wolff’s satirical menuettes?
Peter van Rooden, Piety, power, Enlightenment
Enlightened critiques of religion are best understood within the context of the politico-religious practices of the confessional state, which located religion socially by upholding a public order. The abuses of power which this regime made possible are the specific target of the enlightened critique. Still, almost all enlightened reformers took the confessional state for granted and presupposed its continuing existence.
The emergence of cultural nationalism and the nation-state, which located religion in the inner self of the members of the nation’s moral community, decisively changed the context, and thus the meaning, of the enlightened view of religion.
Remarks by Joris van Eijnatten
Van Rooden defines the Enlightenment as a discourse in which the intellectual elite criticized the abuses of power by the confessional state, without, however, calling the legitimacy of that state into question. I would like to set this definition against Immanuel Kant’s well-known text ‘Was ist Aufklärung?’. It is arguable that in this particular text Kant was, in fact, suggesting that relatively large sections of the population should comprehensively criticize the confessional state as such. Thus it seems that Van Rooden’s definition of Enlightenment does not hold for much of what is now generally regarded as ‘Enlightenment’ in both Germany and the Netherlands.
Jan de Vet, Ideas of the early Enlightenment: Pieter Rabus’ The Joy of Philology
In his collection of articles Vermakelykheden der Taalkunde (2nd edition, 1692), Pieter Rabus (1660-1702), a praeceptor and journalist from Rotterdam, addressed a public that had not had a classical education. It was his aim to contribute to the intellectual development of this category of his contemporaries. The initiative, enlightened in itself, was carried out in an enlightened way. Among other things Rabus analysed classic sources and explained the origin of superstition, what it looks like, how it is legitimated and how it spreads. Some of the subjects treated were the passage on Christ in the Antiquitates Judaicae by Flavius Josephus, the Messianic interpretation of Vergil’s Fourth Eclogue and the Sibylline prophesies. The starting points in the arguments are that superstition as well as disbelief may be discerned from true belief, that reason plays an essential role and that it befits man to be tolerant in his judgment.
Remarks by Cornelis A. de Niet
The literary genre which Rabus’ Vermakelykheden der Taalkunde belongs to, presupposes a mass of humanistic knowledge on the part of the readers. Rabus’ intended public, however, did not possess this. The use of the vernacular instead of Latin sharpens the incongruence between the author and readers of Vermakelykheden, which also emerges in Rabus’ attack on the roman-catholic clergy with regard to the (alleged) falsification of historical texts.
Dries Vanysacker, Enlightened Ultramontane: a contradiction in terms or reality?
This article wants to demonstrate that the Roman Ultramontane camp was far from being one monolithic entity, averse to any kind of renewal or openness to the world of Enlightenment. My argument is based on a study of concrete methods, attitudes, book collections, projects and activities of two pivots of the Roman Church and defenders of the rights of the Holy See, i.e. the Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Garampi (1725-1792) and the Bishop of Antwerp, Jacob Thomas Jozef Wellens (1726-1784).
The conclusion must be that Garampi and Wellens can, indeed, be called ‘Enlightened Ultramontanes’. Not only did they have open and critical minds, and employed ‘enlightened’ methods and approaches, their activities (such as reorganising the poor relief, catechizing adults, reworking curricula in post-seminary teaching) clearly show they both adhered to the Catholic Enlightenment.
Only after the difficulties between Rome and Joseph II, who dramatically enough had the same ideal of clearing and reforming the Church and catholic Faith, did both prelates change their attitudes. Since 1780 ‘Enlightened Ultramontane’ increasingly became a contradiction in terms. Anti-Ultramontanism appeared to Rome to be a greater danger than irreligion. Garampi too, fell into this trap. He could not longer answer the questions which were raised by the advocates of the radical Enlightenment and of the Revolution. Whether Wellens – who had shown much more attention to the Philosophes and the Freemasonry – would have done the same, remains the question since he died young.
Remarks by Theo Clemens
I would like to propose a more dynamic definition of ‘Enlightenment’, one which may help to solve the problematic relationship between the activities in favour of and those against the Enlightenment of the two roman catholic spokesmen described by Vanysacker. According to this dynamic definition ‘Enlightenment’ is a stage in the history of the western world which is characterised by an ongoing and intruding debate, at a theoretical and practical level, about the role of reason as opposed to that of Scripture and Church in the process of establishing a better world. This definition has the advantage of being inclusive. It keeps proponents and opponents together and allows for different developments in different times and contexts to be taken in account.
Jan Wim Buisman, The changing view of man in the Dutch protestant Enlightenment: some introductory remarks
Around 1800 a major transition in the intellectual history of Dutch calvinism took place, as the old pessimistic view of man gave way to a more optimistic one. Even ministers of the prevailing Dutch Reformed Church gave a more liberal interpretation to the Heidelberg catechism. Self-denial lost its central place in their moral philosophy to eudaemonism.
A similar evolution of thought can be found in the traditionally more radical milieu of the protestant dissenters and in the mainstream of contemporary catholicism.
Generally we may speak of a tendency towards a ‘double harmony’. In the first place, progressive spirits of all confessions tried to combine the optimistic anthropology of the Enlightenment with an equally enlightened version of Christianity. Secondly, enlightened protestants and catholics found each other in their more optimistic view of man. In a sense, an early ecumenism was born, often focusing on themes of moralism and happiness. The fragile synthesis, however, was criticised by more conservative minds of both confessions.
Remarks by Roel Bosch
In debates about ‘old’ questions theologians, also the more enlightened ones, kept using the old words, loyal as they were to their background. About the authority and the meaning of these words, however, they did not share their ancestors’ ideas. This makes it hard to discern where old anthropology ends and new anthropology begins, when we look at dogmatic theology.
However, became far more important than dogmatic theology. Here, new words were introduced: instead of ‘unwillingness’ and ‘conversion’ came ‘improvement’ and ‘education’. Enlightened theologians believed in a better future: God’s good earth as a place for God’s good people.
Another source of knowledge about the protestant anthropology in this period is the large number of pedagogic publications, hymnals and alba amicorum. This commentary discusses an example from a book by the renowned minister A. van den Berg, who wrote on such concepts as being satisfied, happiness, the power and the light of reason, friendship, equality with angels, and gratitude.
Jan Snoek, Rational and irrational: on the flourishing of esotericism in the eighteenth century
During the eighteenth century, the central opposition was not that between ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’, but rather that between inflexible tradition and dynamic experience. This experience has two components: scientific (rational) and personal (irrational, esoteric). Both are understood as keys to ‘Enlightenment’, as two complementary ways of understanding resp. experiencing the Divine. Therefore, it is not really surprising to see the same persons active in both areas, and esoteric movements acting as propagators of ‘rational’ Enlightenment. The two were to be regarded as incompatible only during the nineteenth century, which created the opposition rational-irrational, and associated the first of these with materialism.
Remarks by Wouter Hanegraaff
The complex relations between the Enlightenment and esoteric traditions is an often neglected but highly relevant area of historical investigation that has been put on the agenda only recently, most notably by the German historian Monika Neugebauer-Wölk. Snoek is right in calling our attention to this problematic, but goes too far in suggesting that the philosophy of the Enlightenment as such might be rooted in western esotericism. His approach is essentially an application of the now superseded ‘grand narrative’ of hermeticism, associated with the name of Frances Yates. The importance of western esoteric elements in the thought of at least a number of Enlightenment thinkers is undeniable and in need of further study, but this does not imply that the project of the Enlightenment as such is indebted to esotericism.
Wiep van Bunge, Rationality and Enlightenment
In this article I argue that the debate about the nature of the Dutch Enlightenment and its relation to the German and the French Enlightenment in particular would profit considerably from the recognition that the early Dutch Enlightenment should be situated in the second half of the seventeenth century. During the first stadholderless age, it is argued, a radical Enlightenment may be discerned in the writings of Spinoza and his friends, who were just as critical of revealed religion as some of the fiercest French critis of the Ancien régime, while making room for an understanding of the Christian heritage which goes beyond the sheer hostility of d’Holbach. Accordingly, the romantic, German reaction to French materialism is deeply inspired by Spinoza, turning him into a key figure in the emergence of both French materialism and German idealism. The main differences between the early, radical Enlightenment in the Republic and in France should probably be attributed to the fact that in the Netherlands there seems to have been no equivalent to the French seventeenth-century ‘libertinage érudit’. The violent scepticism still rampant among the authors of the first clandestine manuscripts was fundamentally at odds with Spinoza’s rejection of the ‘pyrrhonist’ challenge.
Jan Roegiers, Enlightened Activism
The term Catholic Enlightenment met with strong resistance, both in and outside the Church. Many consider it a contradictio in terminis. The term does not occur in eighteenth-century sources. Does this mean it is an anachronism? On the other hand, contemporary authors and later historiographers do not hesitate to use the term Christian Enlightenment and often underline the connaturality of Protestantism and Enlightenment. Some eighteenth-century Catholics presented themselves firstly as Christians and only in the second place as Catholics. This was the result of a process of ‘reduction’ that intended to emphasize the essentials of faith.
The antinomy between the two terms was solved in the eighteenth century, not in a theoretical, but in a pragmatical and practical way. The Enlightenment is characterized by its activism. Rather than solving the problems of their time by theological discussions or a theoretical discourse, Catholics developed a new practice that suited the contemporary developments and that was intended as a contribution to the European Enlightenment in its own right.