The Church and the Age of Enlightenment (1648–1848): Faith, Science, and the Challenge of Secularism (Reclaiming Catholic History)


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Catholics—both religious and the laity—made significant contributions to science, the arts, and the betterment of human life during the Enlightenment, the period between the Reformations and the modern world.

Scholar Dominic A. Aquila writes that it is not uncommon for historical accounts of the time to conclude that the Church stood in the way of the scientific revolution and that faith and reason could not coexist. In The Church and the Age of Enlightenment (1648–1848), Aquila outlines Catholic contributions in mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, the arts, and politics, and highlights key figures of the era including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, St. Vincent de Paul, Queen Christina of Sweden, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Aquila begins by looking back at the work of important figures such as Copernicus, Francis Bacon, and Galileo, all of whom died before the 1648. Aquila bookends the Enlightenment era by wars due to dynastic rivalries and social change—beginning with Europe’s Thirty Years War, which prompted a rethinking of religious and political practices, and ending with the Napoleonic Wars.

Aquila also highlights key works of visual arts and music from the period, including Giovanni Bellini’s Frari Triptych, the world-renowned Oberammergau Passion Play, and George Fredric Handel’s Messiah.

In this book, you will learn:

  • the Church has been western civilization’s primary patron of art and science for centuries;
  • Blaise Pascal believed that the Biblical revelation of God is the story of God’s action in human history;
  • Isaac Newton was unique among the Enlightenment elite because he believed in God;
  • the separation of Church and state was influenced by Catholic thinkers;
  • Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson embodied Enlightenment ideals in the American colonies; and
  • one of the most enduring outcomes of the Enlightenment is the heart-felt desire for continual improvement of life for more people.

Additional free resources, including links to these great works in historical context and Catholic contributions to human ingenuity, intellectual pursuits, and artistic endeavors are available at

Books in the Reclaiming Catholic History series, edited by Mike Aquilina and written by leading authors and historians, bring Church history to life, debunking the myths one era at a time.

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