Women, Enlightenment and Catholicism explores, for the first time, how Catholic women in Europe used Enlightenment thought and culture in their living contexts to articulate their beliefs about how to live their faith in the world. The chapters address their new understanding of womanhood, conceived independently from marital relationships, distinctive contributions to political and religious philosophy, spirituality, and mysticism, and the womens' efforts to bring scientific knowledge to the attention of other women. This book uses biographical studies of nineteen women to guide students through the complex religious, intellectual, and global connections the Enlightenment influenced.
The author commences: "I am a Catholic. I accept the divine authority of the Catholic Church to interpret the meaning of human life, and in this interpretation I have gradually found a Catholic Ideal. I was not born into this system, I deliberately adopted it. I was born into that variegated and shifting mass of opinion, external to the Church, which leans more or less on individual private judgment as an habitual court of appeal in matters of faith and morals." And consider this later on: "If God be the Author and Sustainer of the material universe and civil society, and if man, sensible of his own frailty, ambitious for his own perfection, and anxious as to a future state, wills to communicate with his Creator, what hope has he of any possible intercourse between God and man? To deny the religious aspirations of the human race would be to deny ourselves; but it will be objected that man's hunger for righteousness is no guarantee of its supreme embodiment in a personal God. United with this aspiration, however, stands the conviction of the intellect that some intelligent First Cause must be predicated for the universe, and the judgment of the moral sense which claims divine beneficence for a final restitution of all things. To deny a First Cause is to dethrone the only Sovereign Good able to fill the human heart, the only tribunal before which man can arraign his secret soul, setting up instead the fool's fetish of cosmic anarchy, which gives no rational explanation of the universal testimony of the human race in favour of an intelligent and moral Creator." And then this: "But let us look at the great religious phenomena of the world, the ancient religions of Egypt, Assyria, Greece, Rome, India, and Western Europe. The old surviving religions, Hindu, Buddhist, Mohammedan, Confucian, or the fetish and ancestral worships of primitive tribes; do they not form a spectacle similar to the varied geology and zoology of the material world? Detached on the surface, they are united below in certain broad features. They recognise supernatural powers acting on the world, and possess traditional sacred teachings preserved by priests or sages. Such similarities point to a common origin, differentiated by the reflex action of racial and local tradition, and demonstrate the universal desire of man's heart for some form of faith and holiness."
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