The Catholic Enlightenment?


I like to peruse new books on Amazon–or anywhere– and came across this new title named The Catholic EnlightenmentThe title of the book really drove my interest, as well as the billing of the book to be a huge addition to the historical record. My academic career being in history and also being a Catholic it would seem like the book is a home run for my interest of heart. Also, my ‘expertise’ or ‘focus’ in history academically seems to be tailor made for the book’s subject as it was a  focus on the Early American Republic, which was highly influenced by the Enlightenment.

The book, being released on February 3rd, 2016, has no reviews on Amazon, and so wanting to learn more about the title I sent off to find a more detailed review on the subject matter. I found one on and here are some of the interesting points I pulled from the review.

** “the Enlightenment (a.k.a. “Age of Reason“) is commonly used by atheists as a blunt tool against religious people.”

** “Catholics tend to see the Enlightenment as a period of sinful darkness and secular fanaticism. For them this secular ideology fueled the apocalyptic destruction of the French Revolution and 20th century totalitarianism.”

** And one of the  most interesting thoughts** “Most interestingly, Catholics got a jump start on many Enlightenment reforms thanks to the reforms of Trent. The Council, much like Vatican II, aimed to improve the quality of Catholic practice by stressing active participation and social involvement (through the Works of Mercy). This is definitely not how many Catholics remember Trent–if they are at all familiar with it.”

The review is very thought provoking, one would only hope the book serves the intellect just as well. Many of my posts lately have challenged Traditional stances on Catholicism; however, I wouldn’t necessarily claim that I attempted to co-opt Trent to justify Vatican II. It’s a very interesting position, because, in my conversations with my fellow Catholics, most Catholics either fall on the Pro-Trent aisle or the Pro-Vatican II aisle. However, it’s also the heart of many of my dialogues to co-opt the two councils has a development of faith in Christ. Let me be clear–and my traditional friends will love this assertion–The Council of Trent is so vital to the Catholic faith that if you are Pro-Vatican II then yes you do have to justify Vatican II council with Trent (they are not equals and this would be why when defending the vernacular Mass, I cite Trent documents and sessions.)

Nonetheless, one of the skills everyone learns, or should learn, taking university level college courses is how to detect bias in every author’s written work. Let’s make a clear distinction here, every historical thesis is filled with author bias on the events. My posts all have bias, it’s unavoidable.

It appears the author, from this review, attempts to treat the subject matter with fairness. Although it will be interesting to see if the author attempts to come down on a pro-Trent, pro-Vatican II, or an attempt at both that all Catholics seem to focus their attention on. Is the book an attempt to fashion a more appealing brand of Catholicism towards secularists and will use Vatican II to do so or attempt to place Vatican II as a development of Trent?

I suppose I’ll have to read the book as quotes, shown below, only attempt to entice one to open the book and read.


8 thoughts on “The Catholic Enlightenment?

  1. I did purchase the book. It appears upon reading some of the author’s thoughts–perhaps his thesis– on that he believes many of the ‘traditional’ viewpoints of the 19th century were the effect of the French Revolution and that The Council of Trent has been ushering in an era of Enlightenment that would be realized again during Vatican II. Again, this is what I mean above by the word “co-opted” the Council of Trent in support of Vatican II–Vatican II was merely the natural progression of Trent. An interesting assertion.


      1. Indeed, it’s almost as if when I found this book, I had a “duh” moment. It’s so obvious, I think many have simply missed it. Not to mention, that here in the States, the Enlightenment is synonymous with secularism and the separation of Church and state.


  2. UL

    Dear Mr AUgustine – I just saw your other comments on a different website about my book. You criticize that I describe instead of arguing – conceded – but for fairness you should have pointed out that I show where Cath.E. falls into heresy.
    Second – fetus was the regular term used and I am well aware of what John Finnis says – now I could have said unborn baby but the problem is that the common 17th and 18th c use is ‘foetus’ ‘ – which can mean animatus or inanimatus … if I translate it with unborn baby I commit an anachronism … you also failed to mention that I make the case for human personhood from the moment of conception … so before you trash somebody’s book and charge them with being pro-abortion I would read it with less anger … I am a faithful Catholic and stand by the magisterium in what I write and teach, carry the mandatum of the archbishop of Milwaukee, and I am a member of the Academy of Catholic theology (my teacher is Cardinal Mueller, head of the CDF) … I would wish that we rather have a discussion to eliminate misunderstandings (which I think there are in this case) rather than call each other names. I don’t have your email, so I post it here – please contact me by email. Respectfully, U.L.


    1. Frankly, I have no personal issue with you.

      How I framed my concerns and criticisms were fairly open-ended. Whether you’re in error with the Church or not, of course, is not for me to say. It would be for your Bishop to determine, which is why I did not and would not accuse you of heresy. Heresy, being an emotionally charged word, I refrain from use. Therefore, I would never argue that Catholic Enlighteners committed heresy without the support of the Church.

      However, since I do seem to have struck a chord with my comments on the unborn child, I concede that you’re correct such a term would be anachronism, I do think you should have probably used the term “Foetus” (or at least reference it with an explanation) as the word fetus has been co-opted by those who support abotion. Furthermore, from a Catholic perspective, I still think I would choose language that would illustrate the dignity of the child.

      It appears from my interpretation of the text, You framed a thesis for those academic colleagues, look my Church supported modernity. However, not fully knowing your background, I may have read your book with my own bias, which I thought would be the normal hook of saying now the Church needs to allow all of these changes.

      One thing that you did address in the book the Catholic enlighteners position on divorce. Perhaps, this is where the book turned for me. Wouldn’t it be prudent to stress how Anton Frenzel, or any enlightener, is not in accordance with the magisterium? I think one could certainly make the cause that Anton Frenzel, Karl Joseph Michaeler and Benedict Werkmeister commit heresy.

      “He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?”


  3. UL

    Thanks for your kind reply! I appreciate it.
    For the divorce issue you might consult my article in First Things. Since the book is history and not theology I refrained from judging the whole thing in the book but as far as I remember I mentioned that Frenzel was forced to recant. So no disagreement there (I am married with 5 kids).

    Pro-life philosophers like Robert George use the term fetus, too, and call it an accurate description as long as one understands that a fetus, regardless how small, is a human person. Thats how I understand it. I thought that would be clear where I show how the church arrived at the human life/person from conception on-stance in the debate over the feast of the Immaculate Conception. There also the passage where I show that once the secular Enlightenment and the Church went hand in hand pro-life (for different reasons though)?

    My question is: How modern can a Catholic be – how much dialogue with modernity is possible – and where does it lead into the abyss? Best. U.L.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for initial comment, I am going to pull the review, and give the book another examination in light of this information.

      In regards to your question, I think Catholics can certainly have dialogue with modernity, but what modernists will ultimately object to is the idea of Christianity/ Catholicism as being bearers of truth. It’s a crevasse that may always separate the two life philosophies.

      Do we need theologians physicists like Lorenzo Albacete engage with the modern world? Sure. However, folks must be careful to follow such intellectuals lest they fall into the abyss.


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