Beyond the Persecuting Society: Religious Toleration Before the Enlightenment.
Each of these books highlights a theme, admittedly marginal in medieval and early modern thought, urging its revaluation: religious toleration, in Laursen's and Nederman's case, and pacifism, in Lowe's. These books are otherwise quite different. A sequel to their Difference & Dissent: Theories of Tolerance in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Lanham, MD, 1996), the first is a volume of essays aimed at readers familiar with modern toleration theory, and its critics. To this audience the essayists propose that tolerance is good and that its roots were variegated, pre-dating John Locke. They treat figures and themes ranging from France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and England to colonial America, from the twelfth to the early eighteenth centuries. By contrast, Lowe, while he addresses continental thought, is expressly and exclusively concerned with the emergence of a peace ethic in English political culture by the mid-Tudor period.
The title of the Laursen-Nederman book, a riff on Robert I. Moore's The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950-1250 (Oxford, 1987), reflects its revisionist stance. The book has three parts, treating the Middle Ages, the sixteenth century, and the seventeenth century, each with a historical introduction, by Nederman, Randolph C. Head, and Laursen respectively. RQ's readers can skip these prefaces but the volume's intended readership needs them. In the medieval section, Nederman contributes a highly original analysis showing that John of Salisbury advocated tolerance on Academic skeptic grounds. Also quite original is Gary Remer on the Provencal Talmudist Ha-Me'iri, who, reversing predecessors' views, held that morally upright practitioners of all monotheistic faiths should be tolerated. Equally fresh is Constant J. Mews on Peter Abelard's Dialogue. He places it clearly in relation both to other contemporary interfaith dialogue texts and to Anselm of Canterbury's theology. While providing the best treatment of the Dialogue available, Mews observes that it is a stretch to read religious toleration into or out of it. In this sense, for all its excellence, his essay is not entirely ad rem in this book.
Most of the other essays - Thomas F. Mayer on Reginald Pole and his circle, Head on confessionalism in eastern Switzerland, Detlef Doring on Samuel Pufendorf, and Laursen on Pierre Bayle - depict toleration as a polemical or pragmatic strategy, not as a positive theory. In contributions by Marion Leathers Kuntz on Jean Bodin and Richard H. Popkin on skeptics and millenarians, the authors recycle their own earlier work and find theoretical and practical concerns in their subjects' thinking. Tracking the increase of tolerance in the Massachusetts Bay Colony through the early eighteenth century, H. Frank Way paints a still more complex picture. At issue were the theological contradictions within Puritanism, the moderating of Quaker and Baptist missionary tactics, and the shift of governmental priorities in the context of territorial expansion. The weakest essay in the collection is one by Arlen Feldwick and Nederman on Aphra Behn. While they show that her writings yield a coherent position, the critique of all established religions, they do not show that she espoused religious toleration. In sum, this collection is a mixed bag, whose principles of selection remain unclear and whose omissions - notably the virtuous pagan in Christian thought - are evident. Yet, the book does succeed in softening Moore's grim picture as well as nuancing the history of the toleration tradition.
Reformulating and expanding earlier interpretations is also Lowe's goal, especially Renaissance humanist pacifism as based exclusively on Christian and classical ideals in Robert P. Adams's influential account. Lowe's thesis, which he proves handily, is that anti-war sentiment in late medieval and early modern England was primarily situational, not theoretical. It sprang largely from objections to particular wars, the ways they were fought, and their results. Lowe tracks this discourse in patristic theology, crusade and anti-crusade rhetoric, canon law and scholasticism, Latin and vernacular literature, sermons, military propaganda and its critics, advice books for gentlemen, Protestantism, political advice, and more. The first of his seven chapters reprises the pre-fourteenth-century material. His survey, if derivative, is largely accurate, although he errs by equating scholastic theology with Thomas Aquinas, and he ignores the rise of the warrior saint, including the English cult of St. George, under the heading of how the western church replaced "turn the other cheek" with "onward, Christian soldiers." More problematic is Lowe's quest for a distinctively English outlook in such figures as Thomas of Chobham and Stephen Langton. In fact, there were no national schools of thought in medieval just war theorizing.
Three chapters then follow on the Hundred Years' War, and three more on the early Tudor era. Here, while Lowe makes good use of previous scholarship, he draws independently on a wide array of sources never put together this way. Acknowledging that his anti-war and pro-peace spokesmen generally failed to influence outcomes, he makes a strong case for their relevance in helping to shape England's early modern political culture. Regarding the Hundred Years' War, he shows England's decreasing enthusiasm for a conflict deemed not in the national interest, yielding only losses in return for the economic burdens it imposed. In comparing this English cost-benefit analysis with French attitudes, given that both countries suffered from weak leaders and licentious soldiers, he notes that the French understood that warfare was necessary to expel the foreigners occupying their homeland. Other situational issues Lowe bypasses are the fact that Joan of Arc had a higher and more durable charisma quotient than Henry V and the fact that French kings found alternative ways to finance the war - sales taxes, debasing the coinage - and were less dependent than the English on tax levies passed by national legislatures. In this section Lowe errs in describing John Wyclif as producing the first English translation of the Bible. That and the omissions noted aside, he shows that English anti-war critics had more to work with than the French.
In his Tudor chapters, Lowe agrees that Christian humanists made valuable contributions to pacifist theory but continues to maintain, persuasively, that pro-peace discourse was driven primarily by England's situational needs and opportunities. In addition to occasioning objections to particular wars, these circumstances made possible the development of a civilian rationale for public service. Lowe notes that England, more easily than her neighbors, could postpone religious-civil war and avoid international wars. True, the threat of Spanish invasion inspired militarism redivivus. But the emerging peace ethic survived the crisis after 1588. In weighing Lowe's conclusions, we may note that his account of Protestantism skirts true pacifists like Anabaptists and Quakers. And, while he cites war-weariness a propos of Scotland, he ignores the Irish wars and English intervention into the Dutch revolt against Spain. Still, these quibbles aside, Lowe argues convincingly that anti-war complaint contributed to a view of the Tudor commonwealth, and of service to it, not defined by war. For this understanding of Tudor exceptionalism we are in Lowe's debt.
MARCIA L. COLISH Oberlin College
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|Author:||Colish, Marcia L.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1999|
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