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Pragmatic Toleration

Pragmatic Toleration: The Politics of Religious Heterodoxy in Early Reformation Antwerp, 1515-1555

Victoria Christman
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 301
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  • Book Info
    Pragmatic Toleration
    Book Description:

    This study takes as its focus the early-sixteenth-century metropolis of Antwerp in the southern Low Countries. Reformation thought made swift inroads into this community, not least via the city's active trade routes and renowned publishing houses. As part of his patrimonial inheritance, Charles V was keen to quash reforming thought in Antwerp, and constructed a secular inquisition in an attempt to achieve this aim. But the city fathers of Antwerp fought all of Charles's efforts to curtail the religious activities of their inhabitants, albeit for reasons that were dominated by economic and social rather than religious concerns. Via a series of case studies, this book documents the development of various practices of pragmatic toleration on the part of the Antwerp fathers as they defended their heterodox inhabitants. It seeks to understand the motivations underlying the councilors' lenient treatment of heterodoxy in their city, and attempts to answer the question of how we are to understand such pragmatically tolerant behavior as part of the broader history of religious tolerance in the Christian West. The book challenges the notion that religious tolerance was a linear development, and argues that practices of religious toleration first emerged not as the outgrowth of ideological beliefs about human rights, but rather as a practical consequence of religious coexistence. Victoria Christman is associate professor of history at Luther College.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-878-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In 1543, the young Spanish humanist Francisco de Enzinas traveled from Wittenberg, in Saxony, where he had been staying with his friend Philip Melanchthon, to Antwerp in the Low Countries. In that city, one of the principal publishing centers in Europe, he had his newly translated Spanish New Testament printed, with an opening dedication to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Enzinas then made his way to Brussels, where he exploited his aristocratic connections to secure a private audience with the emperor himself, in order to present him with his freshly minted vernacular Bible. But Charles had recently issued a...

  5. Chapter One The Lay of the Land: Government and Law in Brabant
    (pp. 15-35)

    Although the teachings of the Reformers found fertile ground in many European cities, the political, intellectual, and commercial infrastructure of the city of Antwerp enabled the particularly rapid and broad dissemination of Reformed ideas during the first decades of the sixteenth century. Already by the mid‒1520s, a veritable community of underground dissent had formed in Antwerp, connected via dissident networks throughout the Low Countries that provided an outlet for the reforming zeal that had revealed itself increasingly in the early years of the century. However, because of Antwerp’s cosmopolitanism and determined political independence, the city’s officials were intentionally slow in...

  6. Chapter Two Undercover: The Claes vander Elst Conventicle
    (pp. 36-55)

    Conventicle leader Claes vander Elst and a group of more than sixty of his followers were discovered and prosecuted in 1527. Their case is something of an exceptional example among the case studies in this volume, in that it was not centered in Antwerp, and did not involve the Antwerp court. However, many of the members of the conventicle (including vander Elst himself) either resided in the city, had done so previously, or had become involved in the group as a result of their experiences there. Although the Antwerp council was not one of the prosecuting authorities in this particular...

  7. Chapter Three Pragmatic Intolerance: Antwerp’s Anabaptists
    (pp. 56-68)

    The case of the Claes vander Elst conventicle highlights the unintentionally lenient treatment of a group of heterodox thinkers who benefited from the confusion in the law throughout the 1520s. One feature of the new legislation introduced by Margaret in 1529 was that it was far more specific in terms of both the crimes that were to be punished and the penalties that were to be imposed. After this promulgation, it became increasingly rare for religious offenders to benefit from the kind of accidental toleration that the vander Elst conventiclers enjoyed. One of the arguments of this book is that...

  8. Chapter Four People of the Book: Heterodox Printers and Publishers in Antwerp
    (pp. 69-86)

    Unlike the pedestrian Anabaptists, Antwerp’s bookmen and bookwomen were some of the wealthiest and most influential of the city’s sixteenth–century residents, and among those most favored by the municipal officials as a result.¹ The city was a world–renowned publishing center in this period, known for the great wealth generated by that industry, and for the scores of heterodox works that emanated from its presses, many of which were then transported via trade routes throughout Europe and beyond. Already in September 1520, the papal legate Jerome Aleander arrived in Brabant to investigate rumors of heresy.² A few months later,...

  9. Chapter Five Between Stage and Scaffold: Rederijker Trials in Antwerp
    (pp. 87-106)

    Because of its status as a lucrative early modern publishing center, it is perhaps not surprising that bookmen were among those who benefited most from the selective toleration of the city officials of Antwerp. But the municipal authorities extended similarly tolerant treatment to other groups of valuable intellectuals in their city as well. Chief among these were therederijkers(rhetoricians),¹ a group that was intimately involved in the business of intellectual exchange, functioning as cultural mediators, filtering, assimilating, and transmitting information.² They were not, by and large, wealthy, but their occupation endowed them with a certain amount of power, in...

  10. Chapter Six Trade in Tolerance: The Portuguese New Christians in Antwerp, 1526–50
    (pp. 107-130)

    The cases so far considered span much of the first half of the sixteenth century. They demonstrate the intensification of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s religious policies, and the opposition those policies elicited from the municipal officials of Antwerp and, occasionally, elsewhere. In these cases, the rulers of Antwerp exercised various tactics of opposition to Charles in an attempt to maintain the political autonomy and religious independence of their city. In so doing, they evinced several forms of pragmatically tolerant behavior, falling primarily into the categories of selective toleration and toleration as resistance. In this chapter, we shall examine the...

  11. Conclusion: Rulers and Religious Renegades
    (pp. 131-136)

    This book began with the story of the young humanist and Bible translator Francisco de Enzinas delivering his newly completed, illegal copy of the Bible to the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V, who possessed the power to execute him for such an offense. Enzinas’s story reveals Antwerp as a city rife with religious license, in which pragmatic forms of toleration were exercised daily. The reckless audacity with which this young Spanish upstart acted in imagining that the emperor himself would not balk at his vernacular biblical translation becomes comprehensible only when viewed against the backdrop of a city in which...

  12. Appendix 1: Chronology of Antiheresy Legislation in Brabant
    (pp. 137-140)
  13. Appendix 2: Answers at Ghent
    (pp. 141-142)
  14. Abbreviations
    (pp. 143-144)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 145-214)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-236)
  17. Index
    (pp. 237-241)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 242-242)