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The European Enlightenment's Effects on Reform Judaism and Roman Catholicism

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

The European Enlightenment was an age of new ideas. Science, philosophy, mathematics, logic, and reason were all greatly evolving to change everyday life for the majority of society. It would inspire changes in ways of thinking and would eventually impact the entire world. The impact, however, would significantly vary for different parts of society, especially religious groups. Taking place in the 1600's and 1700's, the Enlightenment affected both Reform Judaism and Roman Catholicism, but in greatly different ways.

Scientific views took a giant step up during the Enlightenment era. Well-known people such as Isaac Newton, Voltaire, John Locke, Montesquieu, and many more became famous during this time because of discoveries and writings. Science was now at an all time high. In consequence, society was beginning to question religions and their beliefs. The questioning of beliefs would not stop until they had valid reason to believe it was true. It was the Age of Reason. People could obtain objective truth about the world around them and decisions were made from the mind instead of by the church. Rationality was the key to knowledge and ignorance was looked down upon. Superstitions were not seen as fact anymore and skepticism was constantly being brought to light. Philosophy was becoming more popular and people started thinking more deeply about everyday issues. Two striving religions, Reform Judaism and Roman Catholicism, were being affected by these new ideas and ways of thinking reasonably.

The religion of Judaism is based on the written Torah, which represents conversation spoken to Moses from Yahweh. They have an Oral Torah also, though. This Oral Torah is used to explain inconsistencies in the written Torah. Jews do not believe in a single person being in charge of the entire religion. Instead, they have rabbis who make interpretations of the Torah, making it easy to change the meaning of some scriptures. Judaism, prior to the Enlightenment, had dispersed from its homeland of Jerusalem. The Ashkenazic Jews, one of the two branches that developed from the dispersion, settled in Europe. Christians were very dominant in that area and did not let the Jews have any rights. From being oppressed for so long, the Reform Jews were extremely open to the new ways of thinking that were coming from the European Enlightenment. It opened up an entirely new world that the Jews had never had before in Europe. The Christians could no longer keep rights from them because the Bible was not being taken as literally anymore. Jews could now be educated, own land, and had many other rights that the Christians had kept from them previous to the Enlightenment. Also, the Jews were now able to practice their own religion more openly then before because private devotion was being accepted. To them, it was more progress being displayed in consistency with God's original plan. It was a turning point for the Reform Jews. European society was, for the first time, accepting them and they were accepting society. Ever since then, the Reform Jewish people have been eager to keep up with the world and be modernized.

Roman Catholicism was a dominant religion in Europe prior to the Enlightenment. The Catholic religion is based around the Pope. He is the one man who makes all the major decisions for Catholics because everything he says is supposed to be exactly what God wants. They were very traditionalized and straightforward in their beliefs. Catholics were seen as very superstitious, which is exactly what the people of the Enlightenment were telling society to question. Being told that their beliefs of taking the Bible literally were wrong, the Catholic Church was not very happy. They, along with the other Christians, now had to tolerate the Jewish people and give them rights as citizens. The basis for their entire religion was getting swept away. Catholics would not let this happen to them, though. They pushed and pushed back at the Enlightenment in dire attempt to save their traditions. The struggle was a long and tedious one. Pope Pius IX was in charge of a meeting, Vatican I, to discuss possible changes to the church doctrine. There, it was decided that everyone should resist these modern changes, causing the Catholics to be in large disputes with the other religious groups in Europe that had welcomed the Enlightenment's ideas. After spending many years fighting the modernity, Pope John XXIII held another meeting, Vatican II. The new Pope had different views and tells Catholics that modernism is not as bad as they thought it was. The Catholic Church, along with the help of Pope John XXIII, gradually opened up to the society that the Enlightenment had its affects on.

The European Enlightenment changed society forever. The world became more sophisticated with things such as science, philosophy, logic, and reasoning. Some parts of society enjoyed this new change, especially the Reform Jews. Other parts of society though, like the Roman Catholics, were opposed to these new ways of thinking. The Jews were being set free from the bonds that Christianity had put on them and gained rights as citizens. Catholics fought against this modernism because the whole basis for their religion was being questioned. Judaism has been able to be continually modernized because of the Oral Torah and Jews are very open to change and still are. Catholicism, on the other hand, is very traditionalized and set in its ways because the Pope is the basis. Whatever the Pope says has to be true, so to change things from the way they have always been would show that, at least at some point, the Pope was not correct. This resistance to modernism is still seen today with Catholic's conservative views, but they have been gradually changing ever since the Enlightenment. As science continually gets better and ways of thinking constantly change, both of these religions will be affected. The affect will be unique to each Catholicism and Reform Judaism, but all in all, the change will be seen throughout society.



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