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European History Essay

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When questioned in regards to the Enlightenment, an individual may give the general description that it was a time period ranging from the mid seventeenth to late eighteenth century that stressed the cultivation of philosophical, intellectual and cultural movements. However, they may not be aware of specific implications it had on former central powers such as the church. Although the scientific revolution was a stepping stone to the destabilization of the church, it was the enlightenment that ultimately removed the church from the central control of cultural and intellectual life.

The scientific revolution is a time period in history roughly from 1500 to 1700 that is known as one where advances in European mathematical, political and scientific thought occurred. A “founding father” of the scientific revolution was a polish scientist by the name of Nicholas Copernicus, whose conclusion that it was the sun, not the earth that lies at the center of the solar system, was a direct contradiction to the church, which strongly believed the vice-versa or the Geo-Centric theory.


It was this initiating step that led other scientists to further question and test traditional church beliefs. An example of this is Galileo Galilee and his creation of a telescope that would confirm the geocentric theory, although for which he was decreed a heretic and put under house arrest. (Merriman 296) In the “Crime of Galileo: Indictment and Abjuration of 1633” we can directly see Galilee’s theories being refuted by the church in the following quote: “The proposition that the sun is in the center of the world and immovable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical; because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures… The proposition that the earth is not the center of the world, nor immovable, but that it moves, and also with a diurnal action, is also absurd, philosophically false, and, theologically considered, at least erroneous in faith….Therefore: We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo . . . have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy.” (2)

Here we can see the church counter-arguing Galilee’s theory by stating that it contradicts the Holy Scriptures, the biblical text that virtually controlled how individuals interpreted the world. Through Galileo’s thought’s individual’s became encouraged to see the world through measurable means such as experiments and evidence, as oppose to biblical texts that told otherwise. It was only after scientific discoveries such as the one above that philosophers started questioning the natural world. It was discoveries such as the one above that influenced great thinkers such as Isaac Newton, whose discoveries altered not only scientific thought but views about religion for decades to come. (Merriman,300) A Prussian philosopher by the name of Immanuel Kant, who lived from the mid seventeen hundreds to the early eighteen hundreds, was influenced by these ideas of empiricism and reason. In his 1784 publication “What is Enlightenment” Immanuel Kant writes: “Sapere aude! (Dare to know)

Have courage to use your own reason. If I have a book which understands for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me…I need not trouble myself. I need not think, if I can only pay – others will easily undertake the irksome work for me.” (1-2) This can be interpreted that Kant is advising individuals to use their own sense of logic and to understand the natural world. Here, we can see that traditional church ideas are being pushed away for ones of a logical nature, hence a church that is surely losing its grip on the people of Europe. This idea of tradition church ideas being replaced can be further seen in Kant’s writing when he states: “The escape of men from their self-incurred tutelage – chiefly in matters of religion because our rulers have no interest in playing guardian with respect to the arts and sciences and also because religious incompetence is not only the most harmful but also the most degrading of all.” (12)

The interpretation that can be derived from this is that Kant believes that church officials have no concern for the development of man and wish for them to remain uneducated about the world in which they reside. Moreover, the argument can be made is that because the church’s negligence in accepting evolving scientific theories, people came to understand that the need to stray from church beliefs in order to grasp their own sense of understanding was unmistakable, therefore ultimately decreasing the churches once high standing in the lives of early Europeans. The scientific revolution, a corner stone for mankind, whose implications are being felt to this very day, was in addition responsible for the development of a time period known as the enlightenment.

Characterized as a movement of philosophical, cultural, and intellectual gains, in addition the enlightenment was responsible for the decentralization of church power in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Scientist such as Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo Galilee, and Isaac Newton influenced individuals through their theories which stressed using empirical evidence and reasoning to define the world they dwell in. It was through these ideas that Europeans came to understand the Church’s denial to accept reason and empiricism, decentralizing the churches one’s great grasp over society.


Kant, Immanuel. “What is Enlightenment?” Internet Modern History Sourcebook. 15 November 2012. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/kant-whatis.html. Merriman, John. A history of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the age of Napoleon. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. London: W.W.Norton and Company Inc., 2010. N. pag. Print. “The Crime of Galileo: Indictment and Abjuration of 1633.” . Web. 15 Nov. 2012. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1630galileo.asp>.

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