It all begins with a jest. The essence of comedy is the coming together of opposites, the juxtaposition of incongruous things. So we laugh when an adult speaks like a child or when a simple man finds himself lost amid the complexities of sophisticated society. The central claim of Christianity — still startling after two thousand years — is that God became human. The Creator of the cosmos, who transcends any definition or concept, took to himself a nature like ours, becoming one of us. Christianity asserts that the infinite and the finite met, that the eternal and the temporal embraced, that the fashioner of the galaxies and planets became a baby too weak even to raise his head. And to make the humor even more pointed, this incarnation of God was first made manifest not in Rome, Athens, or Babylon, not in a great cultural and political capital, but in Bethlehem of Judea, a tiny outpost in the corner of the Roman Empire. One might laugh derisively at this joke — as many have over the centuries — but, as G.K. Chesterton observed, the heart of even the most skeptical person is changed simply for having heard this message. Christian believers up and down the years are those who have laughed with delight at this sacred joke and have never tired of hearing it repeated, whether it is told in the sermons of Augustine, the arguments of Aquinas, the frescoes of Michelangelo, the stained glass of Chartres, the mystical poetry of Teresa of Avila, or the little way of Thérèsa of Lisieux. It has been suggested that the heart of sin is taking oneself too seriously. Perhaps this is why God chose to save us by making us laugh.
Fr. Robert Barron, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, pp. 9-10
This relatively lengthy book is actually not a single book at all but a collection of small books on just about every topic one can write about in regards to the Enlightenment. There are chapters on perception of space and time, on the relationship of the king to his subjects, and on such seeming minutiae as the rise in the popularity of coffee and chocolate. And Daniel Roche masterfully weaves all of these various subjects together into a single, cohesive whole, explaining, for instance, how new trends in furniture during the Enlightenment were linked to new ideas of space, freedom, and luxury.
Before approaching this book, I knew a fair amount about the great thinkers of the Enlightenment and their ideas. I had read Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. But, in retrospect, I hardly understood the Enlightenment as a whole and had no conception whatsoever of the way the various pieces fit together. Roche did that and more, filling in the numerous blank spaces in my understanding of the Enlightenment as a whole and of particular aspects and personalities of the Enlightenment and, perhaps most importantly, bringing them all together in a cohesive way.
Roche’s assessments are always fair and well-reasoned. Where disagreement exists on any matter, he never fails to point out the disagreement, to summarize the best arguments for both sides of the divide, and to direct us to the best proponents of each position.
This is a fascinating book from front to back and one that I highly recommend for anyone with an interest in history and/or who is seeking to understand the Enlightenment and the effect that it continues to have on us today.