The Theological Origins of Modernity

Titian, “Madonna of the Rabbit” (1530), oil on canvas
[>>Musée du Louvre, Paris]

It is a mistake to imagine that modernity is in its origins and at its core atheistic, antireligious, or even agnostic. Indeed … from the very beginning modernity sought not to eliminate religion but to support and develop a new view of religion and its place in human life, and that it did so not out of hostility to religion but in order to sustain certain religious beliefs. […] Modernity is better understood as an attempt to find a new metaphysical/ theological answer to the question of the nature and relation of God, man, and the natural world that arose in the late medieval world as a result of a titanic struggle between contradictory elements within Christianity itself. Modernity, as we understand and experience it, came to be as a series of attempts to constitute a new and coherent metaphysics/theology. […] While this metaphysical/theological core of the modern project was concealed over time by the very sciences it produced, it was never far from the surface, and it continues to guide our thinking and action, often in ways we do not perceive or understand. […] The attempt to read the questions of theology and metaphysics out of modernity has in fact blinded us to the continuing importance of theological issues in modern thought in ways that make it very difficult to come to terms with our current situation. Unless and until we understand the metaphysical/theological core of modernity, we will remain unable to understand religiously motivated antimodernism and our response to it. The current confrontation thus demands of us a greater understanding of our own religious and theological beginnings, not because ours is the only way, but in order to help us understand the concealed wellsprings of our own passions as well as the possibilities and dangers that confront us.

— From the Preface to Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), p. xii