The Rise Of The Toleration Movement -- By: Franklin C. Clark
BSac 65:258 (April 1908) p. 249
The Rise Of The Toleration Movement
Down to the opening of the seventeenth century, religious intolerance was the order of the day. The human mind was held fast under the thrall of the spiritual power, and confined to a narrow channel to abandon which was perilous in the extreme. With sword and fagot the church maintained its claim to divine authority; but, in thus appealing to human weapons, it entirely ignored the human side of the question. However, this spiritual intolerance was not the exclusive possession of medieval ecclesiasticism. The maternal hierarchy had well instructed its offspring in the use of weapons which they, in their turn, were not slow to wield in upholding the authority of their own doctrines. And, even when transplanted to a new soil, whither they had sailed to escape persecution for maintaining offensive dogmas at home, and to obtain, in that distant wild, “freedom to worship God” according to their own interpretation of it, these very sectaries, despite their former sufferings for their religious belief, there failed to learn the lesson of toleration. “When the charge of persecution,” observes Guizot, “was applied to the ruling party in the Reformation, not by its enemies, but by its own offspring; when the sects, denounced by that party, said, ‘We are doing just what you did; we separate ourselves from you, just as you separated yourselves from the Church of Rome’; this ruling party was still more at a loss
BSac 65:258 (April 1908) p. 250
to find an answer; and frequently the only answer they had to give was an increase of severity.” The very liberty of conscience which they had demanded for themselves, did they, when their opportunity came, deny to all who should differ from them. The reconciliation of the different religious sectaries belonged to a period in the dim future.
But the Reformation was not altogether a religious movement, as it marked a great and far-reaching crisis in human thought. It constituted the first successful attempt to throw off the shackles whereby the human mind might regain its freedom. The first step made towards the accomplishment of this result was the overthrow of that spiritual power that had for centuries sat like an incubus on humanity and precluded all hope of material prosperity. Though this spiritual freedom was by no means complete, yet the first step had been taken; a break had been made from the old order of things. Conditions and environment, the character of the ruler and of the ruled, have all, in a greater and less degree, delayed the total emancipation of the mind. But the mind was at least awakened to a just sense of its needs both in religious and in temporal matters. There was now no going backward; the old order of things would nev...
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