Catholic Thought Since the Enlightenment, by Aidan Nichols OP

Catholic Thought Since the Enlightenment, by Aidan Nichols OP

Michael Daniel
Aidan Nichols OP

(Gracewing, 1998, 198pp, $33.00. Available from Freedom Publishing)

Australia is not unique amongst Western nations in having a significant proportion of its population who are atheists, along with a large number of agnostics, those who are either uncertain as to whether God exists or who may believe in a higher force but deny or question the concept of divine revelation that a revealed religion such as Christianity proclaims.

By contrast, 300 years ago, those who did not believe in a supreme being were a tiny minority. Renowned English Catholic scholar, Fr Aidan Nichols, traces the development of Catholic thought over the last two centuries, particularly in relation to its responses to the Enlightenment and its derivative philosophies, which challenged the bases of Catholic faith, particularly revelation.

Beginning with intellectual antecedents to the Enlightenment, Nichols traces the Catholic response to the movement in the latter part of the 18th century before studying the Catholic intellectual movements of the 19th century, such as romanticism, ultramontanism and the Thomistic revival. He then considers 20th century movements, such as modernism, the development of the Church's social teaching, the liturgical revival and 'Lonerganism'. The work of significant thinkers, such as Newman, is also analysed.


While various movements embraced contemporary philosophical move- ments, others were defined by their reaction to them. Nichols does not hesitate to evaluate problems inherent in the various ideas analysed, particul- arly when they are in opposition to the Catholic Church's teaching.

Fr Nichols concludes by arguing that the Catholic Church, then led by John Paul II with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as his assistant, ended the millennium 'with its intellectual house relatively in order' (p. 193). This was reflected, for example, in the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, he argues that the biggest challenge is for Catholics to see their faith as 'a unitary vision of the world' (p. 197).

Catholic Thought Since the Enlightenment provides a good survey of Catholic philosophical and theological thought in the modern era. However, given the fact that the author attempts to explain complex theological and philosophical concepts, some understanding of philosophy is presumed on the part of the reader.

Michael E. Daniel teaches at a Melbourne secondary school.

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