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How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West

How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West

Perez Zagorin
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 392
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    How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West
    Book Description:

    Religious intolerance, so terrible and deadly in its recent manifestations, is nothing new. In fact, until after the eighteenth century, Christianity was perhaps the most intolerant of all the great world religions. How Christian Europe and the West went from this extreme to their present universal belief in religious toleration is the momentous story fully told for the first time in this timely and important book by a leading historian of early modern Europe.

    Perez Zagorin takes readers to a time when both the Catholic Church and the main new Protestant denominations embraced a policy of endorsing religious persecution, coercing unity, and, with the state's help, mercilessly crushing dissent and heresy. This position had its roots in certain intellectual and religious traditions, which Zagorin traces before showing how out of the same traditions came the beginnings of pluralism in the West. Here we see how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century thinkers--writing from religious, theological, and philosophical perspectives--contributed far more than did political expediency or the growth of religious skepticism to advance the cause of toleration. Reading these thinkers--from Erasmus and Sir Thomas More to John Milton and John Locke, among others--Zagorin brings to light a common, if unexpected, thread: concern for the spiritual welfare of religion itself weighed more in the defense of toleration than did any secular or pragmatic arguments. His book--which ranges from England through the Netherlands, the post-1685 Huguenot Diaspora, and the American Colonies--also exposes a close connection between toleration and religious freedom.

    A far-reaching and incisive discussion of the major writers, thinkers, and controversies responsible for the emergence of religious tolerance in Western society--from the Enlightenment through the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights--this original and richly nuanced work constitutes an essential chapter in the intellectual history of the modern world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5071-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Religious Toleration: The Historical Problem
    (pp. 1-13)

    Of all the great world religions past and present, Christianity has been by far the most intolerant. This statement may come as a shock, but it is nevertheless true. In spite of the fact that Jesus Christ, the Jewish founder of the Christian religion, is shown in the New Testament as a prophet and savior who preached mutual love and nonviolence to his followers, the Christian church was for a great part of its history an extremely intolerant institution. From its inception it was intolerant of other, non-Christian religions, first Greco-Roman polytheism, then Judaism, from which it had to separate...

  5. CHAPTER 2 The Christian Theory of Religious Persecution
    (pp. 14-45)

    In 1887 the famous English historian and liberal Catholic Lord Acton had an exchange of correspondence with Dr. Mandell Creighton concerning the latter’sHistory of the Papacy during the Period of the Reformation, in which he commented as follows about the popes of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and their responsibility for the medieval Inquisition:

    These men instituted a system of Persecution, with a special tribunal, special functionaries, special laws. They carefully elaborated, and developed, and applied it. They protected it with every sanction, spiritual and temporal. They inflicted, as far as they could, the penalties of death and damnation...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Advent of Protestantism and the Toleration Problem
    (pp. 46-92)

    It is easy to idealize or exaggerate the unity of medieval civilization because it shared a single religion under papal headship and was still comparatively free of the divisive nationalism of later centuries. As we have seen, however, the medieval Catholic Church was never a spiritual monopoly in which all religious faith and worship were concentrated. Beginning during the eleventh century, it was continually forced to deal with heretical movements opposed to its central tenets and to its institutional wealth and power. In addition, since the year 1054 it had been formally separated by a schism from the Greek Orthodox...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The First Champion of Religious Toleration: Sebastian Castellio
    (pp. 93-144)

    On Friday, 27 October 1553, Michael Servetus, forty-two years of age, was taken as a prisoner from the town hall of Geneva to the hill of Champmel just outside the city gate. There, soon after midday, he was burned alive for the crime of heresy. His captors had earlier rejected his terrified plea that they kill him by the sword instead of fire. On hisvia dolorosato the place of execution, the pastors accompanying him pressed him to repent of his beliefs, but he refused. Tied to his body when he was chained to the stake was one of...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Toleration Controversy in the Netherlands
    (pp. 145-187)

    The problem of toleration that troubled so many of the states of western and central Europe in the later sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, and which also affected the English colonies in North America, may be said, despite all its facets and complications, to have involved two fundamental issues. One was the question of religious toleration between Catholics and Protestants. The other was the question of toleration within Protestantism itself of dissenters and sects. After Protestant state churches replaced Catholicism in a number of countries, the second of these questions at times equaled or even exceeded the first in its...

  9. CHAPTER 6 The Great English Toleration Controversy, 1640–1660
    (pp. 188-239)

    The English Reformation did not originate as a widespread popular movement of discontent with Catholicism. It began as the work of the state and monarchy, which initiated, imposed, and enforced it. In the 1530s, Henry VIII (1509–1547) broke England’s ties of obedience to the papacy for political reasons and assumed the title of supreme head of the English church. His son Edward VI (1547–1553), a child who governed through his advisers, made England Protestant by law. Edward’s successor Mary I (1553–1558) restored Catholicism and England’s submission to the papacy, but in 1559 her half sister and heir...

  10. CHAPTER 7 John Locke and Pierre Bayle
    (pp. 240-288)

    In the closing years of the seventeenth century and the first decades of the eighteenth, the fires of religious passions were slowly dying down in Europe, and the last age of faith in Western civilization springing from the Protestant Reformation was gradually expiring. Rationalist, deist, empiricist, and skeptical trends were making steady inroads in philosophy and theology and, together with the beginnings of the historical criticism of the Bible, were undermining orthodox religion and fostering free thought, indifference, and unbelief. These developments, whose growing effects were felt chiefly among members of the educated upper classes, intellectuals, and men of letters,...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Conclusion: The Idea of Religious Toleration in the Enlightenment and After
    (pp. 289-312)

    In the battles over religious toleration that were so bitterly and widely waged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the idea of toleration was itself very largely inspired by religious values and was fundamentally religious in character. The proponents of toleration, whether Anabaptists, Sebastian Franck, and other sectarians, or Castellio, Socinians, Dutch Arminians, Roger Williams, Milton, and others of similar mind, might have been seen by their Catholic and orthodox Protestant adversaries as either dangerous heretics or doctrinally deviant, but there could be no question that they were nevertheless profoundly Christian in their thought and ideals. It is only stating...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 313-366)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 367-371)