Periodical Reviews -- By: John A. Adair

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 176:704 (Oct 2019)
Article: Periodical Reviews
Author: John A. Adair

Periodical Reviews

By The Faculty And Staff Of Dallas Theological Seminary

John A. Adair


“From North Africa to the New World: How English Separatists and Baptists Passed on the Patristic Rhetoric of ‘Religious Liberty,’ ” Paul Hartog, Fides et Historia 50, no. 2 (Summer/Fall 2018): 1–21.

Hartog, professor of Christian thought at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, suggests that the concept of “religious liberty” has an ancient heritage rather than a merely Enlightenment one, as is often asserted. The terminology itself was first used in the early third century by the Christian apologist Tertullian and then adopted by Lactantius, who helped shape the so-called “Edict of Milan,” issued in the names of emperors Constantine and Licinius. Of particular interest for Hartog is the way that the English Separatists and Baptists rekindled the concept of “religious liberty” in advance of the founding of the United States.

After a brief section detailing patristic contributions to religious freedom, Hartog turns his attention to Sebastian Castellio, an early Protestant and sometimes co-laborer with John Calvin in and around Geneva. Castellio was “morally outraged” (6) by the execution of Michael Servetus, including Calvin’s role in the punishment. Castellio, having quoted Lactantius’s affirmation of religious freedom, also reasoned that Servetus had not taken “up arms but argumentation,” so “he should have been resisted with the same” (7).

Moving quickly forward to the American founders, Hartog—with the assistance of Robert Wilken’s work on the Christian roots of religious liberty—impressively uncovers connections between the work of Thomas Jefferson and Tertullian, to a greater degree, and Lactantius, to a lesser. In particular, Jefferson’s personal copy of Tertullian’s works reveals that “he had underlined the relevant passage on religious freedom” (9).

Having established the bookends of his argument, Hartog moves backward to establish the presence of the patristic sources in early American voices that predate the founders, as well as English voices from the same period. Dovetailing with Wilken, Hartog shows the patristic influence on early Americans such as William Penn and Roger Williams as well as the English Baptist John Murton. But Hartog also stretches beyond Wilken to include other English Baptists in his account of patristically influenced defenders of religious freedom—including Jeremy Taylor, Henry Burton, and John Robinson. Interestingly, Robinson, who organized

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