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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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Nicholas of Cusa: De pace fidei (1453) – a Fictional Debate with Other Religions


In 1453, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, which had huge ripple effects throughout Europe. This defeat meant the end of the Eastern Roman Empire, and a major triumph for the Turkish Muslims who emerged as the most important military and political leader in the eastern Mediterranean, on the Balkan, and in Hungary, as well as in the Habsburg empire. Not everyone, however, believed that this Turkish victory meant the end of Christianity or the predominance of European culture. The Brixen Bishop (since 1450) (today in South Tyrol) Nicholas of Cusa (today near the southwestern German town of Trier), highly acclaimed already as a major intellect and author, sat down the same year and composed his treatise, De pace fidei (On the Peace of Faith).123

He might have been naive or overly optimistic, but Nicholas formulated here a fictional dialogue among representatives of various religions and races, who, in the author’s imagination, managed to reach a universal agreement on the foundation of all religion, which ultimately turned out to be Christianity, of course. Nevertheless, Nicholas formulated ideas as expressed by the various speakers in the text that strongly evoke the basic concept of toleration, if not tolerance.124 Nicholas, however, did not stay the same course, and already in 1461 he argued quite differently, harshly condemning Islam as a false religion, when he composed his Cribratio Alchorani.125 But no one can expect every intellectual to pursue always the ←279 | 280→same opinions; those who voice very harsh comments...

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