Half the Business of Destruction Done
by Dr. John C. Rao
Popular perception of historical developments often lags far behind the time of their actual occurrence. Thus, most people look upon the twentieth century as the age of decatholicization of social life, when, in fact, the current era has merely hosted a further unfolding of a phenomenon ravaging the western world long before the 1900's. Even those aware of this particular error of perception frequently fail to pinpoint the movement of de-christianization in Catholic lands early enough, associating it only with the French Revolution and its aftermath. Nevertheless, the whole of the program and, more importantly still, the spirit of the assault on the Christian order were visible everywhere in the pre-revolutionary Catholic world, with half the business of destruction done before a single vote had been cast for delegations to the Estates-General.
Let us note at the outset that some even much of what might pass at first glance for eighteenth-century dechristianization is not really such in the final analysis. Christendom, with its many diverse corporate elements, ranging from parish sodalities through guilds, religious and crusading orders, universities, international confraternities, and up to the different branches of the royal and papal courts themselves, does, after all, provide shelter for an all too numerous collection of human concerns and ambitions, alongside and closely intermingled with those which are divine. It is always tempting to enlist theology in the defense and promotion of what might be merely self-interested goals, thus lending an exalted, sacred flavor to something unjustifiably parochial and even totally natural in character. An attack on ramparts which serve to protect purely or mostly human treasures, but which are nevertheless held together with much theological cement, may seem to be an assault on Christendom. In practice, however, it could actually be an aid in the liberation of the sacred from decadent secularizing incrustations. What is hidebound, overblown, and grasping is not inherently Christian due to a long term association with the Christian name. A lunge at the customary and grandiose, while risky, is not necessarily a thrust at the Christian heart itself.
Many servants of eighteenth century governments in Catholic Europe were convinced of the desperate need to implement certain educational, scientific, economic, administrative, and legal changes for the benefit of society-at-large. Very frequently, some immediate disaster hardened their determination to implement them. Ecclesiastical privileges and financial exemptions of labyrinthine proportions often stood in their way, alongside the corporate prerogatives of countless secular institutions. Did the State have any right to seek to modify this situation? Was a dismantling of specific aspects of the existing corporate order, religious as well as secular, ever justifiable? It is difficult to answer this question with an uncompromising "no" without jeopardizing the very raison d'être of the civil authority; without baptizing and declaring essential to the plan of God everything that every corporate body with some tie to the Church or to a Christian-inspired tradition has at one time or another succeeded in doing.
Nevertheless, pre-revolutionary statesmen went further than the mere assertion of the necessary role of the State in coordinating a corporate society for the sake of the common good, and thereby engaging in a salutary humbling of parochial self-interests decorated with theological icing. Many passed beyond the limits of an arrogant unilateral reform program which could have been totally justifiable if undertaken in cooperation with the Church. An impressive number of statesmen ventured into the work of ridding everyday life of truly indispensable sacred elements; supernatural influences which could not be eliminated without Christianity itself disappearing from the public arena.
Some of the stimulus for this unacceptable secularization can be laid directly at the door of the openly anti-Christian Enlightenment. Still, outrightly enlightened influences ought not to be overestimated, especially at the beginning of the reform movement. Enough enticement to secularization emerged out of disputes among Christians themselves, as well as from a contemporary reinterpretation of the pursuit of quite mundane goals as the most laudable of religious enterprises. These earlier non-Enlightenment factors, generally unknown outside of academic circles, need to be addressed before any others. Three subjects in particular call for closer investigation: missionary quarrels in China; the political and material successes of Britain and Prussia, and the arguments used to promote and justify them; and, finally, the late seventeenth and eighteenth-century school of "Reform Catholicism".
China provided a focus of European discussion of evangelization from the mid-l600's onwards. It was at that time that Jesuit missionary tactics, approved by the Papacy but contested even within the Society itself, were brought vigorously into question by Spanish Dominicans and Franciscans who were also toiling in the Chinese vineyard. The debate raged on into the next century, eventually involving mendicants, ordinary Jesuits, members of the Society working as scholar-courtiers in the Imperial City, the Sorbonne, disciples of the Paris Mission Seminary active as Vicars Apostolic in the Asian theater, and the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith and Papacy themselves. Their dispute exposed educated Europeans to the backbiting prevalent among many of those responsible for spreading the Gospel of Love. More importantly still, it also pointed to the possibility of the existence of a successful "atheistic" society.
This latter theme emerged from the debate over the specifics of the so-called "Chinese Rites" ceremonies in honor of Confucius and the ancestral dead and the suitability for Christian use of the native "names" for God. Were such rites merely natural marks of honor akin to saluting a flag, or were they acts of pagan worship? Were the terms used by the Chinese to describe their divinity valid starting points from which to leap to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Or were they dead ends pulling the Christian vision downwards into a pantheistic-materialistic swamp? What about Confucianism itself, the grand system underlying the whole ethos of the Empire and its administration? Did it involve Taoist and Buddhist speculations and practices? If so, were these susceptible to allegorical Christian interpretation or editing, along the lines of what Catholic thinkers and missionaries had done with much Greek, Roman, and barbarian thought and custom? Was the entire Confucianist school basically a pagan religious construct or a secular philosophical-ethical system fitting together happily with the comparably powerful and positivist Chinese legal tradition?
A number of participants in the debate about Confucianism, the names of God, and the Chinese Rites in general emphasized an underlying atheism in the dominant native political-social vision. But here, as the Jesuit Le Comte worriedly noted, lay both exaggeration and a danger with consequences far beyond any related specifically to Chinese issues. European theologians had always insisted that atheism was actually an unthinkable position, every man having the instinct of God written in his soul. Disbelief was ascribed by them to a pure perversion of the will, and one that made any ordered society impossible. But if one accepted the notion that atheism was thinkable in the sophisticated Chinese intellectual world, and that it sustained the greatest non-European society, the whole apologetic of the necessity of religion for ordered community life would be shaken. Indeed, with the decisions taken against the Jesuit approach in China from the time of Pope Clement XI (l700-l72l) to Benedict XIV (l740-l758), it was so shaken. As A. Kors writes:
In the heat of the polemic...positions lost their nuances, and a concert of voices insisted that what most educated French took to be the most learned minds of the most civilized nation outside Europe were 'atheists' pure and simple...Its own Church would come to insist that this was not a theoretical possibility, but a historical fact. If one accepted the widely circulated view of the excellence of Confucian ethics and the official determination by both Rome and the Faculty of Theology at Paris that Confucianism was atheistic, this conclusion followed ineluctably (Phillips, p. 247).
Admittedly, proto-Enlightenment thinkers like Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), in his Pensées diverses sur la comète (1683) and Dictionnaire historique et critique (l696), were also arguing for the possibility of an atheistic society, one that was perhaps better ordered than any Christian counterpart, in Bayle's case, as part of a general plea for religious toleration. Nevertheless, China played a more important role in initially popularizing the argument. More than 130 books on the subject an astonishing number for the time were published in France alone between 1660 and 1714. Voltaire (1694-1778) gave testimony to its secularizing implications by breaking with the traditional western manner of discussing the history of the world in relation to the history of salvation, beginning his own global historical study with China. Here, the atheist society was not only shown to be possible, but (erroneously) given priority in time as well.
Still, questions regarding atheism could only be a tool to batter the Church intellectually in the early eighteenth century. Few people were actually earnest evangelical atheists. Voltaire was certainly not among them. In practice, secularization could not be brought about at that moment through an openly atheistic onslaught. More mundane and therefore more tempting paths to secularization were required, and Christianity itself summoned to bestow its approval upon the process to render it respectable. Discussion of these developments lead us directly to the extraordinary growth of and admiration for Britain and Prussia in eighteenth century Europe.
The most powerful and generally effective psychological argument in favor of any position is the argument from success. If something is successful, its justification is accepted by most people in history as a given; if it is not successful, it is overwhelmingly suspect. Everything Britain touched from the time of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) seemed to turn to political and literal gold. Prussia appeared to be similarly blessed, and at no time more than in the reign of Frederick II "the Great" (1740-1786), son of the "soldier-king", Frederick William I (1713-1740). What, the rest of Europe asked, was their secret?
On the one hand, that secret was nothing other than the willingness to seize each political and material opportunity that offered itself; to apply all of one's available strength to exploit it, regardless of obstacles arising from existing alliances or generally agreed upon norms of international behavior. One cannot help but share the contemporary astonishment at mid-century British diplomatic and commercial audacity, provoking Spain, France, and Austria without just cause, and then reacting with moral indignation when these countries responded in kind. Neither are the cynical admission of Frederick the Great that truth plays no role in the governance of men, nor his sudden aggression against Austria in Silesia without their own peculiar grandeur. The outrage of Louis XV (1715-1774) over illegitimate British colonial incursions in the Americas and Frederician diplomatic shenanigans, as well as Maria Theresa's (1740-1780) horror at the Prussian king's eagerness to dismember Poland, were interpreted by many contemporaries merely as the bewilderment or hypocrisy of outmaneuvered decaying powers. The telling French expression, "to work for the King of Prussia", indicating laboring without pay, and originating out of experiences with Frederick during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), once again underlines the basic attitude of the rest of Europe to both Britain and Prussia: no matter what we do, they win.
Another element central to our concerns here also entered into the British-Prussian secret: the enlisting of religion in the work of redirecting man's primary attention towards the attainment of natural goods; the gaining of a Christian blessing upon such a central change of focus as a sign of supernatural approval as well. Victory in this enterprise involved both a quieting of religious controversy and the turning of "common sense" and "natural virtues" conducive to procuring power and wealth into the only true means of knowing, loving, and serving God in our world of sin.
A general British retreat from open religious controversy in the eighteenth century is certainly understandable. Memories of nearly two hundred years of unpleasant political and social consequences stemming from such disputes were painfully vivid. Moreover, given the fact that all contemporary Christians seemed to share a common code of morals and manners which, in practice, they shockingly neglected, it is also understandable that concerned men might argue for the primary importance of a public campaign to reform and uplift basic behavior. Finally, the impressive emergence of the Press in the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) explains the central function this medium began to exercise in the switch of attention from Scripture and sacraments to morals and manners.
Nowhere was the connection of the quieting of religious controversy, the interest in a reform of behavior, and the importance of the Press more clear than in the work of the two periodicals, The Tatler and The Spectator, brought out by the joint effort of Joseph Addison (1672-1719) and Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729) in the years between 1709 and 1714. Readers of these journals were exposed, week after week, to social and behavioral commentaries, in the latter through representatives of the worlds of commerce, the army, the town, and the country gentry, presented by one Mr. Spectator, an observer of the London scene. Both periodicals served as models for manifold imitators on the European Continent, such as the Hamburg Patriot and Il Caffè of Milan.
What one finds in The Tatler, and even more in The Spectator, is the insistence upon the need for men of "common sense" to gather together without religious rancor and cooperatively undertake the truly moral business of bettering themselves and their surrounding societies. The fact that such journals would generally be read in public places like coffee houses emphasized still further the need for moral men to develop friendly manners, keep passions down, avoid grating on one another's nerves, and thereby allow the very establishment in which one was thinking and speaking peacefully to survive.
A similar emphasis upon the prevention of divisive controversy and dedication to good-mannered cooperative ventures of obvious personal and social value could be found in the varied reading clubs and scientific-agricultural-commercial "patriotic" societies founded in Britain and Ireland in the late seventeenth century. Already promoted by Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), these included the Royal Society (1660), the Society for the Improvement of Husbandry, Agriculture, and Other Useful Arts of Dublin (1731), and, one might add, the Freemasons (1717) also. Here, the class distinctions operative outside such circles could, just as in cafes, temporarily be suspended for the good of all. Here, then, were truly God-blessed confraternities and sodalities, "religious orders" with a purpose. In such communities, swords were literally beaten into plowshares through practical achievement. In such an environment, men could begin an honest, practical ascent of Mount Carmel. For, if the scientist and the practical entrepreneur whose discernible fruits could be weighed and measured and imitated with mathematical exactitude were not in union with God and His plan for the world, who was? Squabbling missionaries in China? Did not Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), head of the Royal Society from 1703, and humble student of the laws of motion and their practical consequences, point the way to true service of the God who presided over nature's mysteries and the men He commands us to love infinitely better than quibblers battling over the Divine names and the suitability of honoring Confucius?
Prussia also feared religious controversy as the pathway to disaster. Its population at the time of the proclamation of the kingdom in 1701 was basically Lutheran. Its ruling House of Hohenzollern, in contrast, was Calvinist. Unity could only be made possible by deemphasizing doctrine. Pietism, a movement within the Lutheran camp, became the chief instrument in this dynasty friendly enterprise.
Pietism's essential concern was commitment to a Christianity which could visibly be recognized as being a vibrant force in the lives of men. Such a Christianity was, its supporters claimed, obscured or even totally smothered by the highly credal denominations and ceremonial practices of a politicized Europe. Hence, Pietists stressed the need for a true faith born of the experience of each individual and judged with reference to that faith's obvious fruits. The path of Pietism is generally understood to have moved from the work of Englishmen like William Ames (1576-1633), author of The Marrow of Theology (1627), over to the Dutch Republic through Willliam Teelinck (1579-1629), Gisbertius Voetius (1589-1679), and Jadocus Lodensteyn (1620-1677), and into the German Lutheran world with Johann Arndt (1555-1621), Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705), August Hermann Francke (1663-1725), and Nicolaus Graf von Zinzendorf (1700-1760). Spener's book, Pia desideria (1675), gave the movement its lasting name.
But this one name covers a diversity of approaches. Pietism could end in very traditional territory. It influenced men like John Wesley (1703-1791), who gained from it a general concern for an internal conversion active in love for one's neighbor which did not shun ordinary organized Church structures and ceremonies. A Pietism of the Wesleyan Methodist variety could easily open a man to the practice of good works on a natural level while still retaining a central goal of mystical union with God that tapped into the mainline of Christian contemplative history.
What concerns us here is the quite distinct Pietism of Francke, the chief protégé of Spener. Francke was appointed Professor of Near Eastern Languages at the University of Halle in Prussia in l692. Francke's Pietism, unlike Wesley's, and, for that matter, unlike Spener's as well, was very much tied in with the need to overcome a personal experience of despair and disbelief, which struck with particular fury at one moment in his life and threatened constantly to return. He became convinced that God would give him the sense of His presence and the peace that indicates forgiveness of sin only if he developed an intensely disciplined and constant activity on behalf of the good of his neighbor. He would know that he was persevering on the right track if his labors were crowned with success. Success could not help but witness to God's blessing. Lack of success, inactivity, and failure to maintain the inner personal discipline needed to sustain one's enterprise promised a return of existential anxiety.
Francke's Pietist work, which he wished to serve as a model for a worldwide Christian renewal, involved the creation at Halle of what are referred to as the Anstalten or Frankesche Stiftungen, various institutions at whose core lay clearly charitable ventures like a well-developed orphanage. Since charitable endeavors required money to survive, however, Francke's foundations also encompassed commercial organizations designed to procure needed funds. Educational projects intended to form men with the iron-like inner discipline that could sustain constant commitment to enterprise and the service of one's neighbor also played a crucial role in his labor at Halle. Francke provided Lebens-Regeln to guide them, rules which emphasized the task of breaking the individual's self-will and rebuilding it the way his own conversion experience demonstrated God unquestionably wanted.
Charitable, commercial, and educational Anstalten moved forward vigorously under Francke's direction from the 1690's onwards. They were fortunate in finding favor with Frederick William I, who had himself undergone a similar conversion experience independently of Francke. He, like his father, Frederick I (1688/1701-1713) before him, sought some means of unifying religiously-divided Prussians, but instead of attempting this through Lutheran-Calvinist credal or ceremonial union, began to place his hope in Pietist-inspired commitment to common, practical Christian activism. By the 1720's, he was eagerly promoting the Anstalten, and incorporating Francke's educational ideals into his own plans for the general instruction of the entire Prussian population.
For Frederick William as for Francke, a self-disciplined, constantly active citizenry, alert to the good of one's neighbors in society-at-large, needed to be successful to demonstrate its retention of God's favor. A man in Frederick William's position, and with his responsibilities, needed to see their success reflected in the growth and benefit of the Kingdom of Prussia. Christian action on behalf of one's neighbor in society, must, to a large, and, indeed, primary degree, mean the co-operation of all individuals and groups in the development of the Prussian State, whose every victory would mean a further confirmation of divine approval.
Prussia, like other German states, was already familiar with "cameralism", a set of studies designed to form administrators who could better manage governmental resources and performance. Halle Pietism taught the cameralist the God-given duty lying behind his work, while simultaneously passing down to all Prussians in their various stations in life an inner sense of personal responsibility for sharing in the bureaucrat's task. Pietism bestowed the blessings of Heaven upon all the manifold labors undertaken by the active citizen in the City of Man, with its highest approbation of work on behalf of the State. Francke's educational methodology, with its complex system of surveillance of pupils and insight into their psychology, insured that the lesson of the moral importance of such labors would stick for life. Mobilization of the clergy as a teacher of morals and a morals police seemed to Frederick William to be the most suitable means of drilling the Pietist message into the population-at-large. It, too, had to learn and utilize the Francke spirit and method systematically, and turn away from unproductive theological dispute that would immorally weaken the State in the process.
A British-Prussian Christianity shorn of doctrinal clarity, centered round practical moral achievement and friendly manners, and aimed at a common action of immediate, obvious, successful benefit to one's neighbor, proved to be susceptible to more powerful secularizing tendencies than many of its original proponents perhaps expected. The more the world of God was shunned as the realm of the controversial, the more that the world of nature taught what was pleasing to the Almighty and deemed to be successful in His eyes on its terms alone. Moreover, the reading of the meaning of nature and the teachings of natural experiences changed once Christian doctrine began to lose its hold on people. What was taken as common sense and natural law and virtue by a first generation that still knew Christian teaching but simply ceased to engage in theological dispute over its significance was no longer the same as that of a second generation lacking doctrinal formation and prohibited from seeking it under the penalty of being "divisive". The commands of God which were learned from nature alone were then registered and carried out by groups or individuals who retained a strong conviction of divine guidance in their secular activities, regardless of whether these fit together with traditional Christian considerations of what was socially acceptable and good. And who would know what traditional Christian considerations were any longer anyway? For history, alongside doctrinal disputation, would also have to be discarded or reinterpreted to rid it of its potentially dangerous effects on the success-and-unity oriented personality.
In such an environment, whoever had the strongest feelings and the most powerful will to enforce them became the voice of Heaven in nature and of true "tradition" themselves. In Britain, this amounted to a shared dominance of different secular, materially-minded groups and interests; in Prussia, to the victory of the bureaucratic State. No appeal could readily be made in either case to any supernatural force transcending such powers since God had already been appealed to by them in a nature liberated from metaphysical considerations. Recourse to a divine message coming from beyond nature could, again, axiomatically be dismissed as "divisive", and, hence, immoral; un-Christian even. The initial work of naturalizing the supernatural having been undertaken within a Christian idiom and in Christian circles, this bridge to the Enlightenment and its concerns could be completed without the sharp anti-clericalism emerging in countries like France. Prussian thinkers such as Christian Wolff (1679-1754) are instructive in tracing the path from a Christian-sounding discussion of life truly rooted in the supernatural to one that in fact draws its inspiration from nature and natural tools almost exclusively.
British and Prussian influence, practical and "spiritual", are crucial to understanding pre-revolutionary secularization in lands ostensibly loyal to the Roman Church as well. Still, their impact must be noted in tandem with another late seventeenth and eighteenth-century force: that which is often referred to by historians as "Reform Catholicism".
Reform Catholicism included in its ranks a wide variety of different but interrelated groups, united publicaly chiefly by a dislike for the Society of Jesus. Oratorians objected, among other things, to the nature of Jesuit education, priding themselves on their colleges' greater openness to useful natural sciences, and, hence, to the achievements of René Descartes (1596-1650) and Isaac Newton. Men like Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672-1750), the Italian priest-historian, whose Della regolata divozione dei cristianti (1747) was "the classic statement of Catholic reforming ideals in the eighteenth century" (Chadwick, in Scott, p. 59), opposed the emphasis upon grand liturgical ceremonies and public devotions encouraged by Jesuit Baroque culture. These he deemed to be an obstacle to the Pietist-like inner moral development, fed by a solid Scripture-based education, and confirmed in useful productive activities which he supported. Jesuit understandings of the relationship of grace and free will were targeted not only by Dominican Thomists, but also by Augustinian friars, the latter influenced by the Historia pelagiana and Vindiciae augustinianae of their confrère, Cardinal Enrico Noris (1631-1704). Reforming bishops, extolling the memory of the anti-Jesuit episcopal activity of Juan Palafox y Mendoza (1600-1659) of Puebla in Mexico, saw in the Society the symbol of all self-interested regular clergy sabotaging the legitimate power of local Ordinaries and work of diocesan priests.
Regalist defenders of the "dignity" of the monarchy, and its primary responsibility for the guidance of a kingdom's spiritual environment, often aided the work of reformers. They loathed the Ultramontanism associated with the Jesuits, and the papally-dominated national churches that the Society's "Romanism" would encourage. In fact, regalist concerns seems to have been the chief motivating factor in the reform programs of many Italians, particularly graduates of the University of Pavia, like the Tuscan-Neapolitan statesman Bernardo Tanucci (1678-1783). It also strongly influenced the contemporary Electors Emmerich Joseph (1707-1774) of Mainz and Clemens Wenceslaus (1739-1812) of Trier, bishops of the Roman Church though they were. The episcopal-regalist camp was further strengthened by the writings of a wide group of reforming canonists, beginning with Zega-Bernard van Espen (1646-1728), author of the Ius ecclesiasticum universum (1700) in the Lowlands, and passing through Johann Kaspar Barthel (1697-1771) and Georg Christoph Neller (1709-1783) down to Johann Nikolaus von Hontheim (1701-1790), auxiliary Bishop of Trier, who wrote underneath the pseudonym of Justinus Febronius. Such canonists rejected Ultramontanism, and encouraged bishops to defy Rome on the grounds of their intrinsic worth as "popes in their own dioceses". They also stressed the State's divinely given right to concern itself with religion, and the logic of a secular institution responsible for control over all aspects of man's nature taking charge of "natural" spiritual needs. Nature's God required nature's civil policeman, aided by what in effect would be an army of ministers of that natural religion formerly known as Christianity.
Behind the varied wings of Reform Catholicism an entire army of French, Belgian, Dutch, German, Italian, and Spanish Jansenists maneuvered, bringing with them a program which had snowballed since the time of the publication of Cornelius Jansen's (1585-1638) Augustinus (1640/1641). Jansenism, by the eighteenth century, entailed support for a Calvinizing theology of grace involving rigorous penitential practices and reticence to receive communion; disdain for a devotional life and mystical theology encouraging hopes for union with God; a desire for a Church guided by that segment of the lower clergy and laity which had not accepted papal-episcopal condemnations of the movement; an unparalleled talent for underground organization, for propaganda, and for spreading doctrinal deviations under the rubric of engaging in purely pastoral activities; and, of course, unvarying antipathy towards the Jesuits and everything associated with them.
All aspects of Reform Catholicism were visible and influential in Rome from the late 1600's onwards. Oratorians of the Chiesa nuova provided ready recruits for its ranks, a major center for whose meetings was in the so-called Circolo dell'Archetto. Reform Catholicism was certainly prevalent by the reign of Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758), who himself, as a canonist, could be counted in its ranks, along with his Cardinal Secretary of State, Gonzaga, and numerous other Princes of the Church, heads of religious orders, and clerical scholars. One would not be far off the mark in saying that Rome herself seemed to be embarrassed at Catholic "inadequacy" as a spiritual force, and calling out for help from more serious students of nature to remedy this scandal.
Economic resentment, defeat in war, and natural disasters drove most Catholic lands down the pathway of reform by the middle years of the eighteenth century. For Portugal and Spain, inability to resist British commercial pressures at home and in the Americas were major incitements to change. Austria shared similar anti-British sentiments since the reign of Charles VI (1711-1740). She was, however, pushed to tinkering with her own system more by her bad military showing, first against the Ottoman Empire in the 1730's, and even more versus Prussia in the War of the Austrian Succession and the subsequent Seven Years' War (1757-1763). Severe crop failures which seemed unnecessarily destructive, given the state of contemporary science and technology, urged certain Italian and German lands down the same direction. France responded to comparable stimuli, though her complicated story requires special treatment in another article.
In all the cases cited above, the success stories of rival Britain and Prussia offered themselves as models for reforming activity. Maria Theresa (1740-1780) began such changes in Austria. Joseph II (co-ruler, l765-1780; sole ruler, 1780-1790) and the Austrian Chancellor, Wenzel Anton Kaunitz (1711-1794), who had imbibed cameralist-pietist principles in foreign schools, were still more vigorous promoters of Hapsburg administrative, fiscal, and educational changes along Prussian lines. Austrian Prussophilia also influenced smaller German states, many of which had already made tentative moves down the same highway, following the model of co-operative activity offered by the Dublin Society. Prussian methods and ideas penetrated from Hapsburg Austria into its lands in Italy, though the entire peninsula was itself filled with men like the Neapolitan, Antonio Genovesi (1713-1769), who pointed to the English experience for their primary guidance.
Portugal's secularization under José I (1750-1777) is forever associated with the influence of his Prime Minister, Sebastiao José de Carvalho e Melo (1699-1782), known as the Count of Oeiras from 1759, and the Marquis de Pombal after 1770. Pombal became a member of a British-style "confraternity" established by the Ericeiras Family, the Academia dos Illustrados, in 1733. He drank in more British influence during his diplomatic work in London (1739-1744), at which time he was admitted to the Royal Society. Pombal completed his education during a second assignment in Vienna in the 1740's, just as Prussian fever was taking hold of the Hapsburg Crown.
King Charles III of Spain (1759-1788) already gained a reputation as a reformer while ruler of the Two Sicilies (1734-1759). His work in Italy was aided and continued by men like the regalist, Tanucci. In Spain, other allies also proved to be useful in the effort to redirect society to the primary goal of practical, constructive labor. One of them, Pedro Rodriguez de Campomanes (1723-1803), in his Discourse on the Encouragement of Popular Industry (1774) argued for the universal spread of the English-style cooperative movement as the best means of promoting economic efficiency. This movement was mediated in Spain through organizations such as the Basque Economic Society of Friends of the Country, founded in 1763.
Wherever Regalists took up the banner of practical regeneration, they found that Reform Catholics of various stripes would enthusiastically fall in step alongside them, often pressing them to advance still further in their assault. Oratorians like the Portuguese Luís António Verney (1713-1792), whose O Verdadeiro metodo de estudiar (1746) had called for the introduction of a type of instruction "intended to be useful to the Republic and to the Church commensurate to the style and necessity of Portugal" (Scott, p, l04), was of central assistance to Pombal's educational policies. The Spanish bishops José Clíment (1706-1781) and Felipe Bertrám (1704-1783), as well as the Benedictine Benito Jeronimo Feijoo (1676-1764), author of the Teatro critico universal, proved valuable to Charles III's reform program, in education as well as in other fields of activity. Johann Ignaz Felbiger (1724-1788), Augustinian Abbot of Sagan in Prussian Silesia and noted educational reformer, was imported to Vienna in 1774 to supervise the alterations in Austria, which provided its own Benedictine apologist for change in the person of Franz Stephan Rautenstrauch (1734-1785). Muratori's influence over reform fever was palpable. Two of his disciples, Johann Joseph Trautson (1751-1757) and Christoph Anton Migazzi (1757-1803), who ensured the translation of the Italian's major work into German in 1763, became Archbishops of Vienna, and, thus, advisors to reforming Hapsburgs. Jansenists were not far behind Muratori in impact. A Jansenist trio the natural law theorist Carlo Antonio Martini (1726-1800), along with Maria Theresa's physician, Gerard van Swieten (1700-1762), and confessor, Ignaz Müller (1713-1782) were most conspicuous in Austria. The University of Pavia was a conduit for practical Jansenist support of reform in Italy, though its most famous active proponent was the Bishop of Pistoia and Prato, Scipione de'Ricci (1741-1809), himself a close collaborator of the secularizing Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany (1765-1790). Jansenists from the reform circles of Feijoo, Clíment, Bertrám, and the historian-philosopher, Gregorio Mayáns y Siscar (1699-1781), flourished in Spain and assisted Charles III's activities there.
Rome herself frequently stimulated or accepted reform fever, depending upon pope and pontificate. Encyclicals on varied matters signaled papal support for change. Concordat after concordat, some forced, some bought, still others willingly conceded, abandoned Church prerogatives to State authorities in Spain, Portugal, Sardinia, and elsewhere. Once again, the practical reformer might be excused for thinking that the Papacy itself saw the justice of securing or submitting to secular help in order to control a voracious regular clergy and a self-interested traditional lay elite that led people away from useful activity both divine and human.
But what reforms were actually undertaken? As noted at the beginning of this article, many were of an administrative, fiscal, and legal character, concerned with bureaucratic efficiency, tax collection, and the reduction of expenses. Even if generally unilateral and insensitive in their planning and implementation, they did not necessarily impinge upon the essential spiritual rights of the Church. Where unjust, they were often unjust regarding primarily secular matters. Moreover, it must be admitted that certain changes that even did impinge upon the spiritual realm ultimately helped to alleviate undeniable abuses which Trent itself had sought to address, one of them being the exaggeratedly early and easy entry into religious life.
Others reforms, however, entailed unbearable tightening of regalist restrictions on all Church activities, spiritual as well as secular, according to the naturalist, secularizing plan. Unacceptable measures included the almost total destruction of the Jesuits, the abolition of contemplative monasteries, the abolition of "unproductive" feast days, devotions, and liturgical ceremonies, the prohibition of confraternities not engaged in "practical" work as ipso facto "useless" , the expropriation of properties supporting such "pointless" groups and their activities, the civil usurpation of controls over marriage questions, and State direction of seminary education. This last reform, in places like Austria, was integral to the overall effort of the civil authority to train the secular clergy as a Pietist morals police in the Prussian manner, and the consequent need to prohibit non-governmental (especially Papal) spiritual influence over the formation of priests. Such changes were repeatedly promoted and implemented by prince-bishops as well as lay rulers, while popes like Clement XIV (1769-1774) cooperated, willingly and unwillingly, in radical reform. They savaged the Jesuits and avoided "insulting" the "spiritual" activities of the secularizing Catholic monarchs of Europe by abandoning the traditional Holy Thursday catalogue of State abuses in the religious sphere altogether.
Whatever the specific measures dictated by reform fever, its truly offensive aspect was the spirit in which they were adopted: an ultimately closed-minded and self-interested spirit which, nevertheless passed itself off as a public-minded, philanthropic attack on obscurantism. Pombal's Deducção chronólogica analítica and Relação abbreviada laid all secular problems at the doorstep of a Church dominated by Jesuit irrationality, and this at a time when fellow reformers like Joseph II were scattering scholarly Bollandist libraries as useless scrap paper, and van Swieten rejecting the Jesuit-encouraged use of smallpox vaccine. Love of mankind led reformers simultaneously to deep anguish over religious intolerance and summary condemnation of many, many Jesuit priests to a decades-long living death in monstrous Portuguese prisons. Numerous popular anti-reform protests were attributed to Jesuit conspiracy alone, and brutally suppressed on that basis. Meanwhile, "the People" as a whole were said to benefit by capitalist battening on a "practical" end of price controls in grain, the tossing of aged contemplatives into the street, and the prohibition of evening outdoor diversions that kept men up too late at night, limiting their sleep, and, hence, their following morning's productivity. The "reform movement" rejected contemptuously and out of hand the idea that Catholic Christianity had the ability to say anything sensible and practical. Catholicism was there to learn, not to teach, and the teaching it was obliged to swallow displayed that same union of sweet rhetoric, practical cruelty, and bourgeois money-grubbing which has been a central characteristic of most revolutionary movements since the twelfth century.
All of this leads us to note that outright, root-and-branch enemies of the Christian name were also active in the mid to late century reform movement. Indeed, by the 1750's, Enlightenment supporters and Freemasons were operating at every level of government and practically everywhere. A few of them were playing with the "atheistic" China model much more seriously than their precursors might have done in 1700. Interestingly enough, Voltaire found it easy to utilize the writings of Reform Catholics in his more radical, post-1750 work, and men such as Joseph von Sonnenfels (1733-1817), one of Joseph II's educational czars, could move back and forth from the Reform Catholic to the anti-Catholic Enlightenment camp without notable difficulty.
Many of the proponents of practical change and Reform Catholicism were, however, ultimately quite well-meaning believers. Upon seeing that governmental reform was moving down an openly anti-Christian direction, they became honestly frightened for the future. Archbishop Migazzi and Maria Theresa, contemplating the work of her more radical son, Joseph II, were among them. Pope Pius VI (1775-1799), another reformer, also became alarmed over its unfolding consequences, his famous journey to Vienna in 1782 to urge the Austrian Emperor to retract his de-christianizing Edict of Toleration, illustrating the extent of his alarm. Unfortunately, objections of repentant pragmatists and reformers got almost nowhere. The Migazzis of the movement had badly underestimated the way in which their own confused intellectual and spiritual statements had deprived them of logical consistency when wishing to bridle more radical elements. The pre-revolutionary Revolution could not be halted by their action. Mass resistance in places like Belgium, stimulated by a mixture of "gut" parochial and religious feeling, did much more to stop it. So did the later horror over the excesses of the Terror of Republican France, and the full-scale, profound nineteenth century re-examination of the issues of Church-State-society relations. Still, by that time, the whole Catholic understanding of political and social life and its relation to God had received a tremendous and seemingly irrevocably jolt.
What lessons ought we Catholics in 2004 to learn from this story of the pre-revolutionary Revolution? Four come to mind, all of them important to mention, though none of them, as is true of many serious historical judgments, not particularly surprising.
First among these lessons is the crucial need for a clear and full understanding of the entirety of our tradition. It is only through complete knowledge that we can know what is essential to Catholicism, what is transitory, and what has elbowed its way into Christendom for an easier ride to its own peculiar destination. Failure to be rigorous in this matter can lead us to make hasty and dangerous alliances with predatory "friends". It can also cause us to draw equally sudden and perilous conclusions once we understand and withdraw from compromised positions. Many Catholics had so misunderstood their own tradition that they themselves had helped to construct the Regalist vision of exaggerated State power. They then tried to "correct" their mistake in the nineteenth century through the singularly more egregious error of rejecting all proper union of Church and State whatsoever. Neglect of the full riches of tradition assures Christian failure to make the right distinctions and to judge accurately between erroneous and correct Church and State activity.
Secondly, while recognizing the scandal of heretical ideas and influences entering into serious disputes regarding the Faith and the pastoral methods designed to spread it, we must nevertheless remind ourselves repeatedly of the need to conduct our quarrels with the maximum of self-awareness and charitable restraint. Apostolic activity can be never be based on the desire purely for winning points for one's camp. The eighteenth-century European reaction to the China dispute shows that the population-at-large will recognize and be repelled by the vicious backbiting predominating in a battle fought in the wrong spirit, ignore the serious issues at stake, and fall prey to the machinations of enemies wishing to use our flaws for their own benefit.
Thirdly, Catholics must rigorously strive to avoid succumbing to the spirit of the times, the zeitgeist. This is not a simply matter. It is easy to oppose and be outraged by those who did not reject the Zeitgeist of another era; it is extraordinarily more difficult to escape one's own, and often even to begin to identify it properly. Fallen men have a "natural" tendency to justify what is useful to them. Catholics, as all other natural, fallen men, have to examine themselves regularly to see if they, too, are not engaged in the process of baptizing whatever the governing ethos of the day promises will give them practical material and political success. Barriers against the eighteenth century British-Prussian recipe for worldly success are particularly important to erect because, mutatis mutandis, it is that same model which tempts Catholics today, almost everywhere, in the triumphalist ideology of global American Pluralism. When those barriers are dismantled the consequences go far beyond a simple change in "style" regarding secondary matters of "practical" daily life. A full scale attack on the Faith comes free of charge along with the superficial benefits of the Zeitgeist.
Finally, seeing that failure to understand the whole Catholic tradition leaves us in a vulnerable position, that lack of charity in our own ranks can teach lessons destructive to our cause, and that abandonment to the modern Zeitgeist of success goes beyond a simple common sense practicality into dechristianization (or rather, makes dechristianization seem common sensical and practical), let us always remember what that secularization ultimately entails. Iced in a sugary language of progress and goodness and happiness and freedom, it is and always will be a mere love affair with power. This was true of eighteenth century Britain and Prussia as well as of the "moderate" Enlightenment encouraged by and encouraging them. It is altogether too true of America and its global imitators today. As Gawthrop notes, focusing on Prussian Pietism, but expanding his argument into a critique of the whole modern dilemma:
In light of the demonstrated connections and affinities between Lutheran Pietism and Anglo-American Puritanism it should be evident that these psychocultural tensions, which have haunted German history in perhaps an archetypal way, are endemic in the very nature of modernity itself. Although the Prusso-German path toward modernization was characterized by an unusual degree of primacy given the collective state power, its deeper significance will elude us if we fail to focus on the Promethean lust for material power that serves as the deepest common drive behind all modern Western cultures. Thus, when we look upon such figures as August Hermann Francke and Frederick William I, we should not simply dismiss them as embodying something alien, but rather see them as possible reflections of ourselves (p. 284).