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.
ShareIt is best to allow Dr. Lehner to explain this himself:(Read more.)What was on the agenda of Catholic Enlighteners? Their aim was (a) to use the newest achievement of philosophy and science to defend the essential dogmas of Catholic Christianity by explaining them in the new language, and (b) to reconcile Catholicism with modern culture. If anything held these diverse thinkers together, it was their belief that Catholicism had to modernize if it wanted to be a viable intellectual alternative to the persuasive arguments of the anti-clerical Enlighteners. Catholic Enlighteners differed among themselves as to how such a modernization should be brought about, but all agreed that Aristotelian scholasticism could not longer serve as the universal foundation for theology.