Tuesday, March 17, 2015

So Maybe It Was the Unitarians After All...

Who first gave us religious liberty. And from Transylvania of all European places. From Wiki:
March 18th (1568): The Act of Religious Freedom and Conscience (Edict of Torda) was issued by (Unitarian) Prince John Sigismund of Transylvania, instituting in his principality the path-breaking idea of religious freedom. The Edict of Torda was revolutionary for its time.
Here is a pretty picture of it.


Tom Van Dyke said...

If we're turning into Wikipedia now, we should at least follow the links.


This edict was not the first attempt to legislate religious freedoms in Hungary. Owing to the near collapse of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary in this era (accelerated by the Battle of Mohács in 1526, in which most of the Roman Catholic leadership of Hungary perished), the Reformation made great inroads in Hungary. The edict was only one of a series in which various religious groups seized the opportunity to secure legal tolerance for their own adherents. The edict of 1568 legally applied to Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Unitarians. Other groups, such as Eastern Orthodox Romanians (over half the population), Jews, and Muslims, were "tolerated" but not granted legal guarantees. Moreover, the edict speaks of preachers and congregations, not of individuals. It does not guarantee the free exercise of personal religious conscience.

[BF mine.]

jimmiraybob said...

Who first gave us religious liberty.

Was there no religious liberty prior to the 16th century? Was religious and philosophical tolerance a new world concept or a concept missing from the west? It seems to me that the central question that's relevant to European and American Enlightenment is why and where the idea of tolerance arose in 16th century Europe, outside of immediately pragmatic concerns for survival. The idea that one religious sect, holding to a true belief, trying to eliminate others to establish dominance predates the European Medieval period. this issue had been dealt with by the Greeks and Romans - I'm referring to ancient Helenistic and Roman periods where stability of the state depended on some kind of system to accommodate the fact that different people's hold different religious and/or political beliefs.

What happened between Themistius' plea for tolerance of traditional pagan beliefs against the Christian emperors in the 4th century and the pleas for tolerance in 16th century Europe?

So, in answer to the question, I'd say Alexander the Great and Hellenization.

Also too, check out Article 13 of the Union of Utrecht (1579) - Dutch Low Countries:

As for the matter of religion, the States of Holland and Zeeland shall act according to their own pleasure, and the other Provinces of this Union shall follow the rules set down in the religious peace drafted by Archduke Matthias, governor and captain-general of these countries, with the advice of the Council of State and the States General, or shall establish such general or special regulations in this matter as they shall find good and most fitting for the repose and welfare of the provinces, cities, and individual Members thereof, and the preservation of the property and rights of each individual, whether churchman or layman, and no other Province shall be permitted to interfere or make difficulties, provided that each person shall remain free in his religion and that no one shall be investigated or persecuted because of his religion, as is provided in the Pacification of Ghent…

Tom Van Dyke said...

Pacification of Ghent = a Dutch rebel political move to unify various religious factions vs. the Spanish.


Once again we see religious tolerance evolve first as a practical matter, not a theo-philosophical one.

As for freedom of religion in the Roman Empire, some seem to forget the persecution of Christians--polytheism persecuted the monotheists.


Periods of peace were shattered by incidents like the great Rome fire of A.D. 64, which Emperor Nero blamed on Christians, or by the threat of external invasion, which often caused communities to close ranks.

Christianity was punishable by death during this era, yet pardon was available to those willing to renounce their religion by offering sacrifice to the emperor or Roman gods. The offering of sacrifices became a particularly contentious issue and a kind of religious litmus test. Honoring Rome's gods and goddesses was considered a civic obligation and, at times, a law.

But many Christians refused to break with their faith. They were often executed and then hailed by their coreligionists as martyrs.

During Emperor Decius's short reign (A.D. 249 to 251), all Christians were required not only to offer sacrifice, but also to acquire official certificates from witnesses to their offering.

Perhaps the most comprehensive of such anti-Christian hostilities were the early fourth century persecutions by the co-emperors Diocletian and Galerius. Fortunately for the Christian faithful, they were to be the last...

JMS said...

Yes, the Edict of Torda was not perfect, extending toleration to only four state approved churches, and not to other Christian and non-Christian minorities. But, given the historical context of the era,
it was an impressive achievement being the first modern principle of religious toleration articulated by Europeans at the state level. And, it was a unique assertion of freedom of conscience, ”because faith is a gift of God, it springs from listening, which listening forwards the word of God.”

As noted by Unitarian historian Earl Morse Wilbur, “Protestant theologians were still praising Calvin for having burned
Servetus alive, the Inquisition was shedding Protestant blood in the Netherlands, the massacre of Protestants in France on St. Bartholomew’s eve was still a year and a half in the future, and more than forty years were
still to pass before persons ceased to be burned at the stake in England for holding wrong religious opinions.”

Speaking of being burned at the stake, I must give a big “hat tip” to C.J. Sansom’s latest Tudor-era historical
mystery novel, Lamentation. It opens with a ghastly atmospheric account of Protestant martyr Anne Askew’s grisly demise (after her post-conviction torture (of being racked) in the Tower of London) in 1546 during Henry VIII’s reign.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well you and your pal have been selling Spinoza and the "Enlightenment."

Not really in evidence here. Religious tolerance was a practical matter first, usually on one's own behalf.

The edict was only one of a series in which various religious groups seized the opportunity to secure legal tolerance for their own adherents. The edict of 1568 legally applied to Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Unitarians. Other groups, such as Eastern Orthodox Romanians (over half the population), Jews, and Muslims, were "tolerated" but not granted legal guarantees.

jimmiraybob said...

Well JMS, I guess we're found out. We should meet at the secret lair and plan our next moves.

As to Spinoza (and his posse, don't forget the posse) and the "enlightenment," or, as historians call it, the Enlightenment(s), it is what it is. I have always cited pathways to the "evidence," for my position or as the academics call it, the historical scholarship. So, there's that.

jimmiraybob said...

And, I should point out that my position isn't that 17th century Spinoza, and the posse, had anything to do with the edict of 1568

JMS said...

Tom – I hope your “you and your pal have been selling Spinoza and the ‘Enlightenment’” was not directed at me because I made no such reference.

To elucidate rather than cavil, it is interesting to note that in the 16th century Eastern Europe offered a measure of religious freedom and toleration (and yes, I know they are not the same) unknown in Western Europe. The weaker monarchies in Bohemia, Hungary, Transylvania and Poland were dominated by large estate-owning aristocrats of varied Reformation affiliations who controlled parliaments. This enabled a greater diversity of Protestant influences to take hold, regardless of the monarch’s religious predilections. This environment attracted religious refugees from oppressive princes in Western Europe, none of whom tolerated more than one religion in their domains (Cuius regio, eius religio - "Whose region, his religion").

So, in regard to Unitarians (which Jon cited in his original post), in Transylvania it took hold more firmly than anywhere else in Europe. In 17571, Prince Istvan Bathory granted the Unitarians complete legal equality to found their own churches along with Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists. At that time – this was unique – i.e.., in terms of state religion in Europe. But as Tom noted, Transylvania also had other significant communities of Jews, Armenian Christians and Orthodox Christians (I am not sure about Ottoman Muslims).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Like Germany, central Europe lacked strong central government. Quasi-feudal "principalities" were the rule, hence more opportunity for multiplication of sects.

Again, we're rather proving the argument that religious tolerance evolved more as a practical matter in Christendom than being the result of some secular philosophical "Enlightenment."

Not to mention that tolerance tended to include the prince's preference even if excluding that of the majority of the population. Unitarianism did indeed see its first flower in central Europe, specifically Poland and Transylvania, in the 1500s.

These were the "Socinians," and in fact they even had a catechism, the Racovian catechism.

The unitarian fad was picked up in England among some of the "Enlightenment" elite during the 1600s, and enjoyed some influence until its eventual cratering commenced in the mid-1800s, when "free thought," not the Bible, became its central tenet.

"Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed." --Neuhaus's Law

"A sort of halfway house from nominal orthodoxy to absolute infidelity."---William Wilberforce on unitarianism


Disgruntled church members have charged the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), which prides itself on accepting people no matter what their beliefs, of being intolerant of theists, those who believe in God.

A new reform group, calling itself the American Unitarian Association (AUA), is hoping to return the UUA from its world of liberal political action and atheistic humanism and relativism back to its theistic roots.

JMS said...

Jon – I agree that you are on the right trail for tracing the origins of our “modern” conception of religious liberty. At least it was the anti-Trinitarians (if not Unitarians). I recommend the scholarship of Martin Hillar (google search and you can find many of his essays online). The trail goes from Servetus, to Castellio, to Socinus et al.

Hillar states* that, “Servetus was the first Christian thinker in modern times who proclaimed the right of every individual to follow his own conscience and express his own convictions. He was the first to express an idea that it was a crime to persecute and kill for ideas. His argument was rational based on the humanistic principle of morality, [and] contrary to the teaching of the apostles and the original church doctrine.

In a letter in 1531 Servetus stated:
“It seems to me a grave error to kill a man only because he might be in error interpreting some question of the Scripture when we know that even the most learned are not without error.”(15)

This assertion of Servetus was later fully elaborated by Sebastian Castellio in his famous defense of Servetus and condemnation of Calvin, Contra libellum Calvini (1554):
“To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man. When the Genevans killed Servetus they did not defend a doctrine, they killed a man. The defense of a doctrine is not a matter to be resolved by the judges, it is an issue only to be solved by teachers. What has the sword to do with the matter of teaching?” (16)

“In the long run, Servetus’s legacy led to the development first of the Antitrinitarian and Unitarian movement represented by the Unitarians of Transylvania and Socinians of Poland, then the Unitarians in England and America. The Socinians were the first who demanded and fully understood the moral imperative of the complete separation of church and state. Such ideas were developed by Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) and other “Polish brethren.” Their moral, social, and political doctrines eventually led to the development of the Enlightenment with writings of philosophers John Locke (1632-1704), Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), Voltaire (1694-1778), and David Hume (1711-1776), leading eventually to the establishment of the principles of American democracy by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and James Madison (1751-1836), expressed in the Bill of Rights.”

*Legacy of Servetus Humanism and the Beginning of Change of the Social Paradigm. On the Occasion of 450th Anniversary of His Martyrdom by Marian Hillar Center for Philosophy and Socinian Studies Published in A Journal from The Radical Reformation, A Testimony to Biblical Unitarianism, Volume 11, No. 2, 2003, pp. 34-41.

Tom Van Dyke said...

JMS said...
Jon – I agree that you are on the right trail for tracing the origins of our “modern” conception of religious liberty. At least it was the anti-Trinitarians (if not Unitarians)

Actually, it started at least 100 years before Martin Luther invented "Protestantism."


With all due respect, professor, America wasn't founded with the "godless" Constitution of 1787. You appreciate that fact.