The Catholic Enlightenment by Urich L. Lerner is a book in which I thought I would have no interest. After all, I am a conservative, Protestant evangelical, and what interest could I have in a movement within the Roman Catholic Church back in the 18th century? I was wrong. Lerner’s book proved to be one of the most interesting religious history books that I have read, and I have read many.
Honestly, I have to stretch to find any. If I could suggest one, it would be that Lerner assumes readers are more familiar with the Enlightenment than perhaps many are. He has written a few books on the subject of Catholic interaction with the Enlightenment, and I am sure most readers who pick up this book to read understand the background. However, I cannot help but feel for the poor college student who will be assigned this book for reading.
O, if only evangelicals wrote this well. His sentences are works of art without a wasted word. Lerner has a passion for this subject, and it comes through. He treats the material with balance, willing to reveal the good and the bad of the Roman Catholic Church and the struggle of some of its members to engage the Enlightenment. Lerner brings to light lost voices–voices that spoke for equality, democracy, and human rights with the context of their Catholic faith. He reveals the lost history that many assume not to have been a part of Roman Catholic history. In so doing, he shows that many of the thoughts that came out of Vatican II and are now reflected by Pope Francis have been present in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.
Would I recommend this book to others? It depends on the reader. The book is not for everyone. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in how Christianity engages culture. Missiologists will find it worthwhile both for that reason and for elements of local theology. As Christianity increasingly encounters a hostile culture, debates will grow as to how to do so without compromising faith. This book provides insight on that subject.
Full Disclosure: Oxford University Press provided me with a free copy for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.