The Second Enlightenment



Second Enlightenment

    The British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper in "The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century," Religion, the Reformation, & Social Change, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, IN., identifies the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which marked the end of the Thirty Years Wars of Religions in Europe, as the serious beginning of the age of the first Enlightenment. What was/is "enlightenment" about?
    A great flourishing of the arts and mercantile skills (The Renaissance) had developed throughout Europe, much of which came to be displayed in the courts and churches of the empire. The old "Pax Romana" had been replaced by the imposed peace of the Holy Roman Empire (c. 1000AD), which ruled by sovereign political and religious authority. The burgeoning corruptions of the city/states in the royally extravagant use of wealth by kings, popes, princes, cardinals, lords, episcopacies and courts, fueled rebellion and demands for the reformation of clerics and political bureaucracies. The parasitic appetites of the city/states destabilized the central political authority. Responsive to the reformation demands of the Augustinian monk Martin Luther, multiple Christianities sprung up from within the Roman Church. A burgeoning renaissance-humanism counteracted the controlling authority of the Holy Roman Empire; arrogated authority, royal greed and structural rigidity against public accommodation came at a high and tragic price for all of Europe. These challenges ultimately left Europe in shambles after the competing factions eventually drained their will for war by 1648.Under the circumstances of "religious" opposition to reform and modernization, the clashes of competing factions was perhaps inevitable.
    The "enlightenment" involved a new and formal acceptance of the fact that there would continue to be multiple Christian denominations; that there would be many political factions and structures coexisting; and, that the people, merchants, and artisans, the different churches, would have to work out political-religious-economic arrangements under which they could co-exist. The birth of a neo-political, religious and economic reality characterizes the "First Enlightenment" that expanded on humanist insights previously advanced. In its bottom-line significance, the First Enlightenment is a people-push toward greater democratic expression and away from parasitic authoritarian domination.
    It is suggested here that the decade of the Third Millennium may be giving birth to a "Second Enlightenment," capable perhaps of finishing the unfinished business of the First. Like the First, the Second Enlightenment is about a new, more democratic political-religious-economic consciousness whose impact isn't merely European, but global. Recognized is the need of a globally formulated and supported world-consciousness, which motivates public engagement in greater global, political effort to meet the humanitarian needs and concerns of global peoples, and the more equitable usage of global resources. This awareness is inspired by the experience of the destructive and unconscionable exploitation of feudal systems, including colonialism and transnational corporations. This unjust circumstance of politicized inequity has its origins and its justification in the expansionist designs of the imperial church/states of sixteenth century Europe.
    The component of the new "religious" enlightenment also has dimensions beyond Europe; it is with respect to the legitimate, popular aspirations (Liberation Theologies) for religious expression by peoples of the world. In the course of the reformation "troubles", the Roman Catholic Church sought to stanch its internal hemorrhaging by clamping down on reasonable, public aspirations. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) was a reactionary convention of the Catholic Church intent on confronting and repressing the reformers. The Church's rigid counter-reformation theology was enforced by torture and condemnations in the Spanish and Roman Inquisitions.
    In 1869 the First Vatican Council was convened to expand on the work and discipline of the Council of Trent. By the Church's insistence on an exclusionary hierarchy and clergy it meant to extend and tighten its control over the people. The Church proclaimed its dogma of institutional inerrancy and papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The Church continued its assertion of only "one" true Church and its intention to extend itself globally. Its self-understanding of divine electionism, as the one true Church (of "fond" remembrance from the imperial days of the Holy Roman Empire), continues. The discipline of preserving publicly the face of institutional inerrancy became the primacy task of the Church's hierarchy, even if it meant that cardinals, bishops and priests together acted diligently and collectively to hide from the public even their failures in official matters of faith and morals.
    At this very time, the "uncovering" (apocalypse) of official conspiratorial cover-ups, on the part of cardinals, bishops and priests, in sexually deviant matters (faith and morals), is rocking the institutional church and is shocking the faithful. The fašade of Church inerrancy is rapidly evaporating from the minds of many of the faithful. Like never before, the ascendancy of lay influence within the Church is likely to happen, not because of any willful change on the part of Church and clergy, but because of public disclosures of clerical and hierarchical cover-ups, frauds and deceits. The internal collapse of ecclesial credibility is happening from within and due to institutional breaches of faith. If complete enlightenment did not yet come with the Peace of Westphalia, perhaps it will now come as a consequence of the uncovering of official Church wrongdoing-which uncovering may be but a mere introduction to a hidden history of institutional deceit and misdirection.