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Religious Toleration in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age

An Anthology of Literary, Theological, and Philosophical Texts

Albrecht Classen

More than ever before do we need the critical engagement with religious tolerance. Historical perspectives allow us to gain access to the discourse on this universal, often very contested topic. Already the Middle Ages and the early modern age witnessed the emergence of significant voices addressing toleration, if not even tolerance. This anthology opens many new perspectives toward this centrally important topic, adding a cultural-historical, religious, literary, and philosophical dimension mostly unknown today.

„Albrecht Classen reminds us in this volume that, "we all know just too well that the survival of the human species and its future development depends existentially on its ability and willingness to subscribe to the fundamental ideals of at least toleration, if not tolerance." As with others of Classen's works on the full range of medieval and early modern culture, this book could not be more timely or more urgently needed, especially for its positive approach to a highly volatile topic."

Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, Creighton University, Omaha, NE

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Introductory Case Studies: Toleration and Tolerance Throughout the Centuries: Three Cases

In order for us to understand the broad framework of the many historical and literary documents dealing with toleration and tolerance, this introductory chapter provides excerpts from three different documents produced in the eighteenth, the twentieth, and then in the thirteenth century.

Excerpts from Voltaire, Pope Paul VI, and the Middle High German Reinfried von Braunschweig:


François-Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire (1694–1778), published one of the most influential treatises on tolerance in 1763: Pieces Originales Concernant la Mort des Sieurs Calas det le Jugement rendu a Toulouse.4 Of course, at first it was banned, but in subsequent centuries it gained much fame and is today regarded as one of the masterpieces of French literature in the Enlightenment.

In chapter 6, Voltaire concludes:

“So the ‘law of intolerance’ is absurd and barbaric; it is the law of tigers; except that it is even more horrible, because tigers tear and mangle only so as to have food, whereas we wipe each other out over paragraphs.”

Chapter 11:

“Is each citizen to be allowed to trust only his own reason, and to believe whatever this enlightened or deluded reason dictates to him? Yes indeed, provided he does not disturb the public order; for although he cannot choose whether to believe or not, he can choose whether to respect the usages of...

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