An issue that I have with my American Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ is a beam that I use to have in my own eye. Those in favor of originalism of the United States Constitution, Enlightenment philosophers, and the natural law have created idols out of them. The founding documents, the men who created them, and the supposed “rights” which out of the Enlightenment has promoted the ideology of self-idolization in the form of ‘Individualism’. Of course, one can make the argument that relativism was birthed from the Protestant Reformation, given a pedestal during the Enlightenment, and now has led to secular atheism of Western Civilization as it’s logical conclusion. No doubt, some friends here will certainly disagree, but the statement must be stated regardless.
We could certainly look to Locke’s anti-Catholicism or Paine’s flirtation with Atheism or pantheism at best, but instead, let’s look at Rousseau for the moment. This “enlightened” philosopher I’ve heard said by academics to be the most influential critic of Christianity at the time, who promoted the misguided philosophy of individualism. Rousseau’s basic argument in regards to religion was that one could have “spiritualism without religion,” and it’s an argument that is constantly being put forth in our current times. However, a parish priest by the name of Nicholas Bergier challenged Rousseau by writing a book titled “Deism Refuted by Itself.” In the Book Fr. Bergier made clear that Enlightenment philosophers do not believe in a Biblical God but in an impersonal “nature”–hence pantheism. In the book, Fr. Bergier articulates that man cannot have just a private relationship with God outside of Government or the community in which they live because of God and later’s Christ’s covenant with mankind.
In the 13th century, of course, before the Enlightenment, St. Thomas Aquinas challenges proto-enlightenment philosophers thoughts by arguably originating the concepts of “natural law theory.” The problem with Enlightenment philosophers is that they look at government, natural law, and justice as a negative principle. They rightly judge that we cannot take away from our neighbors right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness without paying the penalty of the law. However, Christ exclaimed not a negative principle of justice, but a positive one”
Mt. 22:36-40 NABRE
36 “Teacher,[a] which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him,[b] “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it:[c] You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 [d]The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
In this regard, according to Aquinas, Justice and the law–must be fully connected with Charity. The issue with Enlightenment philosophy is that it is a philosophy of individualism that does not view Charity as a necessity but rather an option, which can promote self-idolization as it seeks nothing more but to keep people from hurting others but fails to promote help for our neighbors. What Aquinas writes in the Summa Theologica, Q 90, Second Article, “Consequently the law must needs regard principally the relationship to happiness. Moreover, since every part is ordained to the whole, as imperfect to perfect; and since one man is a part of the perfect community, the law must needs regard properly the relationship to universal happiness. ”
Furthermore, Aquinas writes, “Since then every man is a part of the state, it is impossible that a man be good, unless he be well proportionate to the common good…Consequently the common good of the state cannot flourish unless the citizens be virtuous. (Q 92 Obj 3.)