Info

of the civil wars and Commonwealth; thinkers in the humanist tradition, such as John Milton and those in the circle at Great Tew, had contributed a great deal in support of toleration, as had the Cambridge Platonists. Anglican Latitudinarians, who placed relatively little importance on dogma, ecclesiastical organization or liturgy, were ambivalent about toleration because they insisted upon a national church and would not allow the idea of liberty of conscience to extend to the point of separation from the established church.11 Deists, however, consistently favoured toleration, and Commonwealthmen of both the orthodox and heterodox variety, who cherished the egalitarian ideals of the mid-seventeenth-century Commonwealth, would sustain and develop these views through the end of the eighteenth century. In the Dutch Republic, the toleration debate in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was advanced by well-known intellectuals utilizing the traditional scholarly vehicles of learned treatises and periodical essays written mostly in Latin.12 The thought of Simon Episcopius (1583-1643) and Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) was deepened and extended by Philip van Limborch and Jean Le Clerc who advanced Dutch Arminian theories with their insistence upon the salvific efficacy of human free will and its compatibility with divine sovereignty. John Locke and Pierre Bayle were nurtured by their Dutch friendships and associations, but the two emigres worked independently of each other. Early Dutch authors on toleration tended, like English Latitudinarians, to be Erastian in outlook (that is, tending to allow the ascendancy of the state over the church in ecclesiastical matters) and generally favoured a national church provided it was sufficiently broad and open.

Various classifications for the arguments in favour of toleration have been constructed - theological, philosophical, and political. In this period, however, theological arguments had unavoidable political overtones, and philosophical arguments about the will or the conscience or the limited nature of all human knowledge were almost without exception grounded in the Bible. Broadly speaking, the key to the early debate hinged on biblical interpretation and the extent to which the new covenant of grace could be separated from the old covenant of law. One dominant theme was that the New Testament era brought an end to the theocratic ideal, and that from Christ forward there was a clear distinction between spiritual and temporal authority which dispensed with the need for coercion in religious matters.

John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) built on this religious foundation and argued for an expanded toleration in a latitudinarian Anglican idiom. True belief, he said, is brought about not by compulsion, but by reason working through persuasion, and he grounded his arguments on the gospel

0 0

Post a comment