- Tolerancia: Teoría y Práctica en la Edad Media ed. by Rubén Peretó Rivas
Historically tolerance has travelled choppy waters. Que drȏle d’histoire, Voltaire may have said. Gregorio Piaia tops it off by adding, “che molteplice e varie, se non proprio infinite, sono le vie percose dall’idea di tolleranza nel suo faticoso e talora ambiguo affermarsi” (“that multiple and varied, if not infinite are the ways travelled by the idea of tolerance in reaching its wearied and at times ambiguous affirmation”—195). Piaia’s is just one of the many gems collected by Rubén Peretó Rivas. The essays included are proceedings of the Colloquio de Mendoza (Arg.) from June 2011. That conference—a collective instrument of scholarship that should be more prevalent in our country than it is—performs the service that all such colloquia should do, and that is its transactions become an inventory of current opinion, a register of scholarly interest. All sixteen of the essays gathered are learned, sensitive, and sensible. Their extent edges somewhat beyond the bounds of what is normally considered medieval, but one can hardly complain of the inclusion of the [End Page 347] sublime thoughts of Gregory of Nisa or those equally sublime of Nicholas of Cusa. Here the editor performs a useful service when he contributes in his Introduction an elegant summary of each of the essays. This allows the reviewer the license to focus on features in common, notable alignments of thought, and greater issues, but also, regretfully, to neglect more localized works that are of equal worth.
The first essay by Ernesto Arguello places Thomas Aquinas at the entrep ȏ t of thoughts on the subject of tolerance; he does so by engaging Thomas in his favorite practice of making distinctions. Against the flat-out charge that Thomas thought the heretic ought in no way be tolerated, Arguello introduces levels of offense and varieties of punishment. Always the thought is to spare the heretic but crush the heresy and to proceed with patience and understanding. Thus, Thomas advocates at first several admonitions; should these first measures not succeed due to obduracy there is in reserve the punishment of excommunication, prior to the last resort of turning the offender over to the civil authorities. The principle operating is that of finally eliminating “the greater evil.” If growing modern sentiment opposes execution of any one at any time, “medieval philosophy considers heresy to be so terrible an evil because it considers Faith to be a precious good” (10).
Christian thinkers from Augustine to Aquinas developed a relationship with tolerance that was neither love nor hate, rather ambiguous at best, even as the word itself was slowly sliding over from its original meaning (to endure with patience and fortitude) to a secondary meaning indicating one person’s granting of allowance toward another person or cause. These thinkers allowed tolerance a limited usefulness regarding such sideline offenses as brothels, the practice of usury, the necessary activities of minority groups, etc. The public executioner (“verdugo”) is granted clemency, according to Augustine, because his action is a necessary evil. They could tolerate that of which they disapproved. Ecclesia non approbat sed permittit. (Silvana Filipppi, in Tolerancia 112–113; for a summary of this mode of thought, see also 115).
The essay by Francisco Bastitta Harriet indicates that other understandings of faith were available along with the “greater good” that outweighs the “greater evil.” These have much to do with the image of God. Much of the argument of tolerance depends upon the accepted nature of the Godhead. And this in turn depends in part (and only in part) upon our sense of life and of nature. If our experience is harsh and life one of struggle, then our conception of divinity might well be equal to that rule. Yet Gregory of Nisa would argue (and Erasmus follows) that if we are made in the image of God, then we too must be tolerant and “philanthropic.” And if...