Scripture and toleration between Reformation and Enlightenment
chapterposted on 21.10.2014, 14:50 by John R. D. Coffey
That recent years have witnessed a resurgence of historical scholarship on religious toleration is hardly surprising. Rarely has the subject seemed so relevant or so pressing. Of course, earlier historians were equally convinced that it mattered in their own time. W.K. Jordan published his four volume history of The Development of Toleration in England under the growing shadow of fascism in the 1930s, and it was designed as an apologia for fragile liberal values. The Jesuit Joseph Lecler’s great work, Histoire de la Tolérance au Siècle de la Réforme (1955) appeared in the midst of Catholic debates over church-state relations that culminated in Vatican II’s landmark Declaration on Religious Freedom. But twenty-first century anxieties over religion and politics have injected a new sense of urgency into what might otherwise be a quiet backwater of historical enquiry. While the clash between Islamic militants and the West has caused many to revisit the Crusades and the history of Muslim-Christian interaction, public intellectuals have been equally inclined to turn to the early modern era. This is perhaps most marked in the United States, where controversies over church and state are routinely rooted in the eighteenth century. Here the Religious Right fights the secular Left over the Founding Fathers as Protestants and Catholics once fought over Augustine. As Gordon Wood remarked, the Founders have become America’s church fathers. But we find the retrospective turn in Europe too. Salman Rushdie once pronounced that the problem with Islam was that it had never had a Reformation; he later corrected himself. What Islam needs, he explained, is ‘not so much a reformation…as an Enlightenment’. Either way, he recommended a recapitulation of Europe’s early modern learning experience.