This is John Paul’s explanation of “the drama of the European Enlightenment”: In marginalizing Christ’s role in history, Enlightenment ideologies helped pave the way for the dehumanization that reached its zenith in 20th-century totalitarianisms. But this Pope’s criticism of the Enlightenment is very different from the anti-Enlightenment views of reactionaries nostalgic for the days of throne and altar. “The European Enlightenment not only led to the carnage of the French Revolution,” he writes, “but also bore positive fruits, such as the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity, values which are rooted in the Gospel. Even when proclaimed independently, these ideas point naturally to their proper origin. Hence, the French Enlightenment prepared the way for a better understanding of human rights. . . . This was the time when human rights began to be properly acknowledged and put into effect more forcefully, leaving behind the traditions of feudalism.”
The idea of a Pope praising “liberty, equality, and fraternity” would have horrified 19th-century ultramontanes; but John Paul II’s understanding of that era is deep, judicious, and devoid of sectarian spirit. Memory and Identity is, finally, a call to Christians to remember who they are: people with a mission to bring the good news of Christ and His Redemption, the whole truth about man, to their fellow men and women. “When he was instituting the Eucharist during the Last Supper, [Christ] said, ‘Do this in memory of me.’ . . . Christians, as they celebrate the Eucharist in ‘memory’ of their Master, continually discover their own identity.
March 30, 2005
National Review review of Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium
Posted by TS at 10:24 AM