- Voices for Tolerance in an Age of Persecution
To speak of tolerance in an age that was most intolerant seems to be yet another paradox in that most paradoxical of ages. History has recorded the brutality of early modern Europe, which met challenges to orthodoxy with hanging, decapitation, burning, torture, and wholesale slaughter, all of which, as Vincent Carey reminds us, was "legitimized" by a tradition that had accorded license for such barbarity: Saint Augustine had recognized force as an acceptable means of promoting orthodoxy, while Saint Thomas Aquinas sanctioned death as suitable punishment for heretics and schismatics. While those revered theologians were concerned with the extirpation of the infidel and the heretic, or with their conversion to the true faith, the Renaissance complicated their mission, as Ute [End Page 209] Lotz-Heumann recalls, by founding new confessions, each claiming to be the true church, and thereby added a further challenge to the social ideal of a religiously unified society — as well as a grim irony to those pious battles in which Christian slew Christian.
Yet, beneath the clamor and din of religious and political strife that marked the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were to be heard voices that called for tolerance, voices that aimed to supplant extremism with moderation, war with peace, hatred with tolerance. Their writings, ranging from Erasmus to Locke, (although the majority have less celebrity), were viewed at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 2004 in an exhibition in conjunction with which the present volume was published.
In addition to a catalogue of the exhibition, Voices for Tolerance opens with nine essays dealing with various facets of the struggle for tolerance and for freedom from persecution in the Renaissance world. Ute Lotz-Heumann traces the origins and impact of Lutheranism in Germany up to the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, and places those of Luther's writings that have been victims of modern disapproval within the context of their historical moment. Turning to France, Barbara Diefendorf focuses on the maze of events culminating in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre and follows the Huguenot struggles up to 1598 when the Edict of Nantes brought a temporary solution to religious dissension. Donna B. Hamilton reexamines the anti-Catholic policies in Renaissance England, where Catholicism was reduced to "an underground and harassed church" (117). Catholics, to avoid execution, were given the choice of imprisonment, exile, conversion, or attendance at Protestant services. A contrasting tale is recounted by Clodagh Tait, who explains why in Ireland, where persecution created martyrs on both sides, the majority "rejected the religious position of their monarchs" in favor of Catholicism. And Karl Bottigheimer notes in a thought-provoking essay the particularity of seventeenth century England where the religious conflicts pitted Protestant against Protestant, and coincidentally occasioned a profusion of statements calling for religious toleration.
The scope of the volume is broad, and not limited solely to the politico-religious struggles of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Moving deftly through Renaissance Spain, Germany, Venice, Amsterdam, and England, Clare Carroll recalls the persecution "and limited toleration" of the Jews from the time of their expulsion from Spain in 1492 through their readmission to England in 1664, while Jyotsna G. Singh considers the ambivalent attitude of England toward Islam — an attitude marked by fear of the military strength of the Ottoman Turks on the one hand, but complemented by an underlying admiration of Islamic power and wealth, as well as a fascination with their exotic and most un-Christian domestic life — and Sujata Iyengar discusses the plight of black Africans, victims of myth and a burgeoning slave trade, in Renaissance England and Scotland.
If the inhumanity of the period seems at times incredible, Anna Battigelli's fascinating case study warns of the ease with which the hysteria of intolerance can be provoked by fictions and fabrications. We are not immune. [End Page 210]
These essays will teach little to those who have any knowledge of the specific topic...