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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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Gesta Romanorum: The Debate about Religion Within a Christian Context


Late medieval literature experienced a tremendous growth both in secular and in religious terms. The Gesta Romanorum (Deeds of the Romans) was one of the highly popular collections of didactic-religious tales that circulated widely, virtually more than any other text (perhaps with the exception of the Roman de la rose, 13th century). The Gesta are extent in more than 300 manuscripts and ca. forty early modern incunabula and prints from 1472 to 1558. There were translations into German, English, French, Czech, Polish, and Russian. Many major poet such as Boccaccio, Chaucer, Gower, Shakespeare, Hans Sachs, and others apparently were familiar with some of the texts in the Gesta and adopted them for their own purposes. All these short prose narratives served for entertainment and instructions, specifically religious in nature.

Although the Gesta were so enormously popular, we do not know the name of the original author or compiler, or the exact date of the composition. We can reasonably assume that the author was a Franciscan preacher. The earliest manuscript is Innsbruck, Universitätsbibliothek, cod. lat. 310 from 1342, but earlier versions must have existed, maybe as early as 1300. At any rate, as a compilation, the Gesta must have grown over the decades, as many additional writers contributed to its constant expansion. The earliest manuscripts were produced in England and Germany, with a majority originating from southern Germany, but this is not sufficient to determine the exact place of the author’s background. Judging on the basis...

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