Parallel to those philosophical ideas went what is known as
the Aufklaerung.* Despite the noisiness of its objections to the
church, its successes were not as endurable as those of the philosophers who were putting down their thoughts sitting in their solitary studies, unremarked by the outside world.
Aufklaerung was a reaction to the inhuman excesses the Catholic Church had introduced with its Inquisition, torture, the burning of witches, serfdom, the suppression of science, and, on the other hand, the way ritual was made into an outer show, the sufferance of the search for miracles, etc., both in the Old World and the New.
Under the aegis of the Catholic Church, unprejudiced experimental science was made totally impossible. A first attempt, by Roger Bacon (d. 1294), failed immediately. Bacon was kept cruelly imprisoned for years on account of this.
Galileo was condemned to life imprisonment as soon has he had published his theory of the earth moving around the sun. The Inquisition called him a "criminal" in the sentence passed on 22 June 1633.
Well into the 19th century, the hierarchy utterly resisted all progress. Objections were raised to the building of railways, suspension bridges, street lights (Cologne), lightning conductors (Mannheim), etc. Indeed, under Gregory XVI (d. 1846), scientific congresses were regarded as "equivalent to rebellion". 34
The catalogue of senseless protest, and of prohibitions engineered by making use of government power is a long one, right down to the waltz being banned, it being considered immoral. The waltz was banned in 1883 at the instigation of Leo XII.
Church fanaticism, particularly in Spain, was so all-prevading that opposition had to develop. The spirit of opposition waxed greatly, and the Aufklaerung, taking different form in different countries, became successful, gaining wide recognition. The Inquisition in its previous form, torture, and serfdom were abolished. The concept of human rights was created, and science was liberated.
The movement soon went to extremes, however.
To begin with, Aufklaerung was anti-church, then it became anti-Christian, and finally antireligion. The critics of the 18th and early 19th centuries were polemical and filled with hatred. Voltaire even included a fable from a 7th or 9th century Jewish pamphlet against Jesus in his own writings. This stated that Jesus was the son of a Roman soldier coming from Germania. Even in 1863, Renan called this lapse of Voltaire's a "silly joke." 35
Voltaire's style of "Ecrazés l'infame" ("annihilate her, the infamous one" i.e., the church) has not been copied by later authors. But even Reimarus's writings (1694-1768) were in part polemical and will not stand up to critical assessment.
In the present century, several authors have expressed the view that Jesus was a political revolutionary. This is nothing new, for Reimarus already made the 16 cleansing of the temple into an uprising in the 18th century. 36
* The Aufklaerung was a philosophical movement in Central Europe aiming to overcome the dependent state with the aid of reason. The freedom of the individual is considered the standard on which life and science should be based. The movement was primarily directed against church dictatorship.