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Tolerance and Intolerance in the European Reformation.

Ole Peter Grell and Bob Scribner, eds. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. x + 294 pp. $59.95. ISBN: 0-521-49694-2.

The aim of this volume is to reconstruct a new working model of religious toleration and intolerance in the age of the European reformations in the wake of the collapse of an older (largely whiggish) model articulated' by intellectual historians such as W.K. Jordan and Joseph Lecler. This older paradigm was constructed around the idea of a persecuting medieval society slowly giving way to a more tolerant modern society, in which the first seeds of toleration were sown by Christian humanists. After the dissidence and intolerance of the sixteenth-century reformations, the mantle of toleration was eventually picked up by Protestantism, from which it was taken over by the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. Seen purely as the history of ideas, this teleological journey from Reuchlin, Erasmus, More, and Castellio to Locke had much to offer despite its inherent contradictions.

What is clear from these well-documented essays - and every one of the sixteen has something to offer - is that almost nothing of the older paradigm stands up to the evidence. In general terms, the older notion that it was ideas of toleration that led to changes in lived religious experience to produce religious pluralism has been turned on its head. Many of these essays echo again and again how it was political or social expediency, not a philosophical commitment to religious toleration, that forced coexistence between rival confessions in states all over Europe. Moreover, some also show that it was this lived and shared experience of coexistence that ultimately led to more widespread popular support for the idea of toleration. This is what happened in Strasbourg, as Lorna Jane Abray shows, and similar stories are told by Bruce Gordon for Berne and by the late Hans Guggisberg for Basel. Likewise, the late Bob Scribner shows that in Germany there were many different kinds of toleration - nine by his count - but all of them "were pragmatic in nature" or they were "no more than a working political compromise' (09). Similarly, Andrew Pettegree argues that in the Dutch Republic, the alleged bastion of religious toleration, arguments for religious pluralism usually "served particular strategic ends." Despite an occasional visionary thinker such as Dirck Coornhert, he argues, "in the main, toleration in this period was only ever likely to be the party cry of the disappointed, the dispossessed, or the seriously confused" (198). This argument is echoed by Ole Peter Grell in a piece about religious exiles, who shows that only the losers championed true toleration. Euan Cameron shows nicely how Lutheran and Calvinist toleration of each other in Germany after 1555 was based more on fear of Catholicism than on a belief in religious choice. Diarmaid MacCullogh demonstrates that Archbishop Cranmer's toleration of the foreign stranger churches in England was not because he favored religious pluralism, but because he thought it the easiest way to win them over to the Church of England. Although the chronology was somewhat different from western Europe, studies of Bohemia and Moravia by Jaroslav Panek, of Hungary by Katalin Peter, and of Prussia and Poland-Lithuania by Michael G. Muller also demonstrate that it was political expediency that led to religious coexistence there. And finally, in the most systematic analysis of all these studies, Philip Benedict shows that in France it was expediency and necessity that forced the crown to grant the Huguenots limited toleration from 1562, make Protestantism illegal in 1585, and issue the Edict of Nantes in 1598. By contrast, it was the enforced religious pluralism from 1598 to 1685 that resulted in wider support for toleration, not the introduction of ideas of toleration.

A few essays attack the older paradigm in a different way, by arguing that the Reformation era was hardly an age of toleration at all: Heiko Oberman's analysis of witches and Jews, William Monter's survey of heresy executions, and Norah Carlin's analysis of the Puritans' treatment of Catholics in the 1650s. The older model's chronology and geography must now also be abandoned, as the picture here is much more complicated. In a world on the eve of the twenty-first century in which religious intolerance is still a daily feature in Bosnia, Ulster, and the west bank of the Jordan River (to mention only the most obvious), this fine book goes a long way to help us understand that the dialectic between toleration and intolerance is not just one of ideas, but of lived experience.

MACK P. HOLT George Mason University
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Author:Holt, Mack P.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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