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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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Toleration and Tolerance among Ordinary Citizens in Nuremberg at the End of the Sixteenth Century: David Altenstetter and Martin Küenle


Far away from the public discourse on religion, the ordinary people often held their own opinions, and sometimes we can find those expressed in official records because authorities felt the great need to investigate some individuals who did not want to join either the Protestant or the Catholic Church. In this context, a kind of tolerant world seems to have opened up in which the very personal belief was granted some freedom from external pressures. The focus here rests on the individual vis-à-vis the religious institutions, and not on theoretical reflections about the relevance and status of one religion versus another.

In December 1598, the famous Augsburg goldsmith David Altenstetter, the furrier Martin Küenle, and his son (?) Potiphar were apprehended, taken to court, and threatened with torture because they had stayed away from all church services and were suspected of belonging to the Spiritualists. Courageously and self-consciously, Altenstetter testified that “er sei der Religion halben biß hero frei gewesen” (he had been independent regarding religion until now).172

As he commented, he could not fully make up his mind regarding the Catholic and the Protestant faith, and in order to find an alternative, he ←379 | 380→had turned to a private reading of religious books, probably some works by late medieval mystics, such as Johannes Tauler. He might subscribe to Catholicism, but would need more instructions. He had been born in Switzerland, where the teachings of Ulrich Zwingli had dominated, but in...

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