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  • “Mit was für Gewissen kan man sie ...?”: Conscience and Toleration in Christoph Andreas Fischer’s Vier und funfftzig erhebliche Vrsachen
  • Adam W. Darlage (bio)

Research into the concept of toleration has demonstrated that it did not always connote a positive appreciation and treatment of others that could be contrasted with a position of intolerance. In fact, the etymology of the Latin tolerare and its older German equivalents leiden and dulden imply that the toleration of someone or something different is the result of circumstances that make persecution of such difference unappealing to those in power (Head 97). Literally, toleration is about some person or group of persons putting up with, or “suffering,” something undesirable for the sake of something else, be it sustained peace among rival ethnic groups in a nation, financial gain, or family unity. To be sure, Enlightenment discourses about toleration linked the concept to political, economic, and social concerns about equality and human rights and argued for toleration as a fundamental good within civil society. Nevertheless, critics such as Goethe have argued that toleration itself is an insult to human dignity if it does not give way to recognition of the other: “Toleranz sollte eigentlich nur eine vorübergehende Gesinnung sein: sie muß zur Anerkennung führen. Dulden heißt beleidigen” (122). According to this argument, toleration itself does not lead one to embrace difference; it only defers potential conflicts that may arise when the reason for toleration becomes less and less compelling within a given context.

Our post-Enlightenment understanding of toleration as a public good that is linked to a conception of individual human rights is relatively new in the history of the West (Dougherty 2). Yet scholars have dealt with the concept in a number of different ways and reached conclusions that bear on questions of public policy, human rights, and economic equity. Research on toleration in German-speaking lands during the early modern period before Enlightenment philosophers brought the issue to the fore, however, has lagged behind, especially with respect to negative attitudes toward religious toleration. Scholars seem to be most interested in finding and doing research on early modern historical figures (e.g. Erasmus of Rotterdam, Hans Denck, Sebastian Franck, Sebastian Castellio, Valentin Weigel) who advocated some kind of religious toleration, albeit not in the name of Enlightened concerns about human rights or individual freedom [End Page 289] (cf. Nederman and Laursen 5–6; Weeks xiii). While John Marshall devotes attention to early modern attitudes of intolerance, he does so with an eye toward establishing an “early Enlightenment culture” of men of letters who advocated forms of toleration in the 1680s and 1690s (14). Moreover, he focusses primarily on English, French, and Dutch sources, and John Locke is the principal figure.

The focus on exceptional figures in studies of religious toleration is somewhat surprising from a historical perspective. After all, toleration was an incredibly important issue during the confessional age of religious warfare and polemical literary conflicts that followed the Reformation era in the Holy Roman Empire. The crisis of religious authority initiated by Martin Luther effectively fragmented the German-speaking areas of central Europe into competing religious groups and inspired both Catholics and Protestants to defend their positions through polemical writings commonly known as controversial literature. Lutherans held sway in territories such as Electoral Saxony and Hesse and grew strong in the Habsburg hereditary lands of Austria and Bohemia, which were already home to the Utraquists and Bohemian Brethren (Unitas Fratrum). The Reformed tradition of Zwingli and Calvin was especially strong in certain Swiss cantons and some southern imperial cities. The Roman Catholics maintained or regained their strength in many areas of the empire, especially in Cologne, the Tyrol, and in Wittelsbach Bavaria. The ever-persecuted Anabaptists, the radical Reformation group that practiced adult baptism, even found refuge in areas of weak central authority, such as the margravate of Moravia.

Despite the fragmentation of “Christendom” into these confessional churches by the mid-sixteenth century, most people continued to believe that God valued unity of belief over diversity of opinion. Therefore, religious toleration was considered an unattractive and potentially dangerous option. There were dissenting voices, of course, but most princes, bishops...


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pp. 289-300
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