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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Church and the ‘Encyclopædia’
By John Morley (1838–1923)
From ‘Diderot and the Encyclopædists’

THE CHURCH had known how to deal with intellectual insurgents, from Abelard in the twelfth century down to Giordano Bruno and Vanini in the seventeenth. They were isolated; they were for the most part submissive; and if they were not, the arm of the Church was very long, and her grasp mortal. And all these meritorious precursors were made weak by one cardinal defect, for which no gifts of intellectual acuteness could compensate. They had the scientific idea, but they lacked the social idea….  1
  After the middle of the last century, the insurrection against the pretensions of the Church, and against the doctrines of Christianity, was marked in one of its most important phases by a new and most significant feature. In this phase it was animated at once by the scientific idea and by the social idea…. Its leaders surveyed the entire field with as much accuracy, and with as wide a range, as their instruments allowed; and they scattered over the world a set of ideas which at once entered into energetic rivalry with the ancient scheme of authority. The great symbol of this new comprehensiveness in the insurrection was the ‘Encyclopædia.’  2
  The ‘Encyclopædia’ was virtually a protest against the old organization, no less than against the old doctrine. Broadly stated, the great central moral of it all was this: that human nature is good, that the world is capable of being made a desirable abiding-place, and that the evil of the world is the fruit of bad education and bad institutions. This cheerful doctrine now strikes on the ear as a commonplace and a truism. A hundred years ago in France it was a wonderful gospel, and the beginning of a new dispensation. It was the great counter-principle to asceticism in life and morals, to formalism in art, to absolutism in the social ordering, to obscurantism in thought. Every social improvement since has been the outcome of that doctrine in one form or another. The conviction that the character and lot of man are indefinitely modifiable for good, was the indispensable antecedent to any general and energetic endeavor to modify the conditions that surround him.  3

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