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Persecution and tolerance : being the Hulsean lectures preached before the University of Cambridge in 1893-4 online

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IN 1893-4








All rights reserved



No one can feel more strongly than myself
the triviality of this book as a contribution
to the investigation of a large subject. It
is only published in the hope that it may
inspire some one to enter upon that subject
with the thoroughness that it deserves. I
have merely put together some conclusions
which, in the course of my reading, came
before my mind. They are fragmentary
and incomplete ; but I found that any
serious attempt at expansion would en-
tirely alter the form of the book. All
that I have done, in preparing them for
the press, is to divide the second lecture
into two parts for greater clearness, and to
expand the first portion of it. I have also
put into the Introduction the substance of
recapitulations which were necessary to


vi Preface.

carry on the argument after intervals. In
this revision I have been greatly helped
by the Rev. J. O. F. Murray, Fellow of
Emmanuel College.


9th January, 1895.



Preface v

Contents vii


Statement of the subject 1

The conclusions set forth in this treatise ... 2

Their difference from the current opinion, that perse-
cution arose from the sense of exclusive salvation

through Christ 3-5

But Christianity was not propagated by the sword - 5

Persecution was directed only to the maintenance of

the Church 6

Nor was persecution peculiar to Christianity, but was

advocated by Plato for political expediency 7

And was so used in the Roman Empire ... 8

Suppression of opinion always a matter of State

policy 9

The harmlessness of divergent opinions was a dis-
covery hi politics - - - - 9-10

Politics, when founded on principles, appeal to

religion - - - - 10

Religion, not the cause, but the cloak of political

contests - - - - 11

The spirit of Christianity hostile to persecution 12

viii Contents.


St. Luke ix. 54-6.


Textual criticism of the passage .... 13-14

Its meaning obvious, yet neglected .... 15-16
Question, Why ? to be answered by considering the

incident recorded 16

(1) The zeal of the Apostles prompted them to action 17

(2) But their motive a desire for revenge 18

(3) Cloaked by patriotism 19

(4) Stimulated by personal inconvenience - - 20

(5) Sheltered behind precedent- 21
Kebuked by Jesus - 22

Their precedent not sound 23-4

Their error moral, not intellectual ... - 25
The Church, in persecuting, followed their example

and forgot the Lord's rebuke .... 26

Allied itself with the State and grasped at power - 27

The errors of the Church to be admitted - - - 28-9

Moral errors not to be excused as intellectual mistakes 30

If men had thought, they might have known - - 31

Statesmen too frequently judged by their success - 32

Church to be judged by its fidelity to its Master 33

Was it misled by Old Testament precedents ? - 34

Meaning of the Old Testament history to us - 35-6

Understood in the same sense by St. Chrysostom - 37
The Church, hi persecuting, assumed that the wrath

of man could work the righteousness of God - 37

Result of this assumption in the writings of Paramo 38-41
But persecution not confined to any particular form

of the Church 41

It misrepresents God's attitude to man - 42
Springs from man's natural desire to have his own

way - .-.. - - 43-4
Was rebuked by Jesus and is in open contradiction

to the principles of Christianity - 45

Contents. ix


Gal. i. 9.


Persecution defined as the infliction of punishment for

erroneous opinions as such .... 46

The New Testament contains condemnation of false

opinions, which must be considered 47

(1) In the Gospels our Lord denounces religious
teachers for abuse of their position, for sub-
stituting tradition, for insincerity and selfishness 48

But He used no weapons save words 49

(2) St. Paul unmasks impostors who pervert the
truth through unworthy motives - - - 50-1

He asserts that there is a definite Gospel which

may not be changed 52-3

His method is unsparing denunciation of error - 54
St. John agrees, and makes the Incarnation the

test of Christianity - - - 54

(3) Visible punishment accompanied some cases of

discipline - - - - 56

As that of the Corinthian adulterer 57

And Hymenaeus and Alexander - 57
These cases rare, and the punishment came from

God - 58
Wrong opinion is denounced but not punished - 59-60
No ground for the claim of coercive authority by

the Church 60

(4) Need for some sternness to keep Christianity free

from pagan and Jewish errors .... 61

These warnings necessary for all times 62
For the truth has an exclusive claim on man's

allegiance 68

There are always dangers of compromising it - 64-5
The world wishes to fit Christianity to its own

purposes - - * 65-6

x Contents.


But the historic Christ must be maintained - 67
And the Church, as it holds the truth, must guard it

against error, though not with worldly weapons - 68-9


The early history of the Church was a struggle, first
against the power of the world, then the wisdom

of the world 70

Imperfections visible even in martyrs 71

More in controversialists 72

Yet no wish to constrain opinion - - - - 72

Persecution came from desire for uniformity by State 73
At first shocked the Christian conscience in the case

of Priscillian 74-5

Yet this case quoted with approbation by Pope

Adrian V. - - - 76
Early protest soon forgotten, and Church accepts the

position of defender of the social order - - 77
Which was the function of the State - 78-9
Thus the system of the Church, as educator of man-
kind, suffered 80

And its discipline became legal 81

Heresy regarded as high treason .... 81
Spiritual work of Church distinct from its temporal

authority - - - 82

And always felt to bs so 83

But power more convenient than influence 84
And hardened into a system which was used for

political ends 85-7

Yet the Christian consciousness struggled against the

system, as in the Mendicant Orders 87

Which were, however, enslaved by it after a time - 88-9

Contents. xi


St. John xii. 32.


The contradictory attitude of men's minds about per-
secution illustrated by St. Louis - - - 91-3
" The faith in honest doubt " recognised - - - 93-4
Intellectual grounds for tolerance fully expressed by

Marsiglio of Padua ... - . 94-8
Though known to Liberalism were not acted upon - 99

Example of Gerson 100-4

Of Thomas More 104-10

Of Luther 110-12

Of Calvin and Melanchthon - - - - 112

The Eeformation in Protestant countries made per-
secution avowedly a matter of expediency - - 113-4
By changes in political relations tolerance became

more expedient - - - - 114-5

Thus tolerance grew from public expediency - - 115
A testimony to the solidarity of common life - - 116
Tolerance can only be maintained by being elevated

to a principle 117

This principle found in the work of the Incarnation - 118-20


Phil. iv. 5,

Tolerance arose from a denial of the right to persecute 121

Like other protests has rested on various grounds - 122
Kegarded as a virtue, it is a just attitude towards the

opinions of .others 123

This excludes alike coercion and indifference - - 123-4

For the indifferent man is not really tolerant - - 125

xii Contents.


Absolute freedom of opinion impossible, for freedom

implies responsibility 126

Every organisation must define its basis 127

The Church cannot alter the Divine purpose for

which it exists - - - - 128

And ought not to be accused of intolerance for refus-
ing to do so 129-30

Indeed it alone fosters a spirit of independent judg-
ment of events 131

Tolerance rests on the respect for man as a spiritual

being 132-4

Embodies the idea of forbearance while waiting for

the judgment of God 135-6

Faith in Him alone saves us from the temptations of

self-will 137-8

The lessons of the past history of the Church enforce

this 139

Liberty is always unsafe in the world, and must be
guarded by the Church, which alone knows man's
destiny 140


THE existence of persecution in the Christian
Church is a fact which is more frequently com-
mented on than explained. Greater attention has
been paid to the methods and extent of persecu-
tion than to the causes which produced it, or the
causes which brought it to an end.

It is indeed difficult to approach the subject in
an impartial spirit. Those who write the history
of any period of persecution tend either to exag-
gerate or to apologise. On the one side, there
is a desire to represent persecution as especially
inherent in all religious systems, or it may be, as
especially inherent in Christianity. On the other
side, there is a tendency to plead the generally
beneficent action of a particular form of religious
organisation in relation to the world's progress
as an extenuation of its particular misdoings.

The history of persecution is a large subject,
and requires accurate discrimination of its separ-

2 Persecution and Tolerance.

ate phases. The meaning of tolerance, its basis,
and the causes which produced it, form a neces-
sary complement to any such inquiry. On so
wide a field it is presumptuous to enter without
complete equipment. Yet I feel that it may be
possible to turn attention to some aspects of the
question which have been overlooked ; and I am
not without hopes that even a few fragmentary
thoughts may perhaps awaken an interest in the
mind of some one who may be enabled to pursue
the subject more systematically. It seemed to me
that, sometimes at least, the object of the founder
of this lecture might be fulfilled by propounding a
large question, rather than by working out some
point of detail.

It may be well, for the sake of clearness, to state
at once the main conclusions which I have en-
deavoured to set forth in the following pages.
These are (1) that persecution, or the infliction of
punishment for erroneous opinions, was contrary
to the express teaching of Christ, and was alien
to the spirit of Christianity ; (2) was adopted by
the Church from the system of the world, when
the Church accepted the responsibility of main-
taining order in the community ; (3) was really

Introduction. 3

exercised for political rather than religious ends ;
(4) was always condemned by the Christian
conscience ; (5) was felt by those who used it to
land them in contradictions ; (6) neither origin-
ated in any misunderstanding of the Scriptures
nor was removed by the progress of intellectual
enlightenment, but (7) disappeared because the
State became conscious that there was an ade-
quate basis for the maintenance of political society
in those principles of right and wrong which
were universally recognised by its citizens, apart
from their position or beliefs as members of any
religious organisation.

Such opinions differ materially from those
which are generally current on this subject.
The origin of persecution is commonly found
in the overwhelming claim which Christianity
makes on its adherents. Christianity, it is said,
regards man's life on earth as but the beginning
of an eternal destiny, and asserts that eternity
can only bring happiness to those who are with-
in the fold of the Church. Consequently the
maintenance of right opinion about religious
matters is a point of primary importance for
human happiness, rightly understood, and ought

4 Persecution and Tolerance.

in the interests of mankind to be enforced even at
the cost of immediate suffering to obdurate and
misguided individuals. 1 This is doubtless a
logical position and is warranted by the language
of the advocates of persecution. But a line of dis-
tinction must be drawn between the motives
which prompted to persecution, and the argu-
ments by which it was defended, when once it was
undertaken. It is obvious that this reasoning was
the only one by which persecution could be de-
fended, and it is equally obvious that persecution
needed a defence.

But persecution was never upheld as being a
method of general application ; it was always
described as a surgical operation, as cutting out
plague spots that the health of the body politic
might be preserved. Its object was not the
salvation of the greatest number, in spite of
themselves, but the protection of the purity of
the Church, on the basis which it had laid down
for itself. In fact persecution was directed against
heretics and schismatics rather than against un-

1 This is briefly the position taken up by Mr. Lecky,
History of Rationalism, chap, iv., which is probably ohe best
statement of the current view of the subject.

Introduction. 5

Now if the motive of persecution had been the
overpowering sense of exclusive salvation through
the Church, the whole history of Christianity
would have been different. In the first place, it
would have been bound to spread its dominion by
the sword ; and this it did not attempt to do.
Its missionary enterprise was great ; but even
the ideal motive of the crusades was not the
forcible conversion of the Mussulman, but the
recovery of an heirloom of Christendom. More-
over, even within the limits of Christendom itself,
coercion was not employed against those who
were not Christians. Let me quote the words of
one who believes that persecution arose from
mistaken zeal, but recognises facts that make
against his view :

" Man is seldom wholly consistent in the practical
application of his principles, and the persecutors
of the thirteenth century made one concession
to humanity and common-sense which was fatal
to the completeness of the theory on which they
acted. To carry it out fully they should have
proselytised with the sword among all non-
Christians whom fate threw in their power ; but
from this they abstained. Infidels who had

6 Persecution and Tolerance.

never received the faith, such as Jews and
Saracens, were not to be compelled to Christi-
anity. Even their children were not to be
baptised without parental consent, as this would
be contrary to natural justice, as well as dangerous
to the purity of the faith. It was necessary that
the misbeliever should have been united to the
Church by baptism in order to give her jurisdic-
tion over him." *

There is no inconsistency in these opinions,
which are quoted from the writings of St. Thomas,
if we recognise that persecution was used for the
maintenance of the organisation of the Church ;
and that the opinions of the heretics, against
whom persecution was directed, were regarded by
the State as endangering social order. Jews and
Saracens were not citizens, but aliens who might
be expelled at any moment. Their existence
within the limits of Christendom constituted no
menace to the framework of civil society.

Moreover, this theory of the basis of persecution
assumes that persecution had its origin purely in
the Christian belief. But this was not so. The

1 H. C. Lea, History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, i.,

Introduction. j

ancient conception of the State as a community
for the purpose of civilised life accepted man as
he was, recognised the operative motives of
conduct, and tried to bring them under State
control. It was a matter of political expediency
that men should at least profess to hold the
same religious opinions. The language of Plato
did not materially differ from that of the Inquisitor:
"Let this then be the law: No one shall possess
shrines of the Gods in private houses, and he
who is found to possess them, and perform any
sacred rites not publicly authorised, shall be in-
formed against to the guardians of the law ; and
let them issue orders that he shall carry his
private rites to the public temples, and if he do
not obey, let them inflict a penalty until he
comply. And if a person be proven guilty of
impiety, not merely from childish levity, but such
as grown-up men may be guilty of, let him be
punished with death." 1

These were the matured principles of Plato,

after he had seen them applied in some degree to

the case of Socrates. Yet Plato had no belief in

exclusive salvation, but was concerned only with

1 Plato, Laws, 908-10 ; Jowett's translation.

8 Persecution and Tolerance.

the problem of a well-ordered State. I need not
recall the existence of similar principles in the
Koman Empire. Koman religion was willing to
make a place for every cult which could be
trusted not to outstep the bounds of political
convenience : but it had its illicitae religiones,
and Christianity was one of them. Koman civili-
sation fell, because the old motives for patriotism,
public spirit, duty, and helpfulness were worn out,
and could not be renewed from any elements
which the State had at its command. It was
conquered by Christianity, because Christianity
had a new power of binding men together. Then
came the temptation to the Christian Church to
permit the State to make this power the outward
framework, as well as the inner principle, of
social life.

I am concerned only with persecution in
its ecclesiastical aspect. But the considerations
which I have just put forward, lead into a larger
field. Persecution is supposed to be an iniquity
peculiar to ecclesiastical institutions. I have not
striven, in the following pages, to extenuate the evil
doings of Church or Churchmen; they must bear the
responsibility of allowing the struggle for liberty of

Introduction. g

opinion to be fought on religious grounds. But
the struggle in itself was inevitable. Those re-
sponsible for the maintenance of any form of
social order, think it wise to prevent new opinions
from finding premature expression. They seek to
keep them within harmless limits, and constitute
themselves judges of what is harmful. The con-
scious and deliberate expression of man's attitude
towards the great issues of life will always awaken
discord. Political sagacity is always employed in
preventing the possibility of a revolution. There
would have been suppression of opinion, if there
had been no Christian Church. But this does not
lessen the responsibility of the Church, which set
up Inquisitors in aid of the civic police.

I have spoken so fully of the evils of persecu-
tion, that I may be allowed to dwell for a moment
on some faint gleams of compensation. If we
attempt a general survey of political progress,
it may be said that persecution is concerned with
that period of social development in which the in-
dividual made good his right to form his own
opinions; but he made it good by proving that
a great diversity of opinions was compatible with
the existence of social order. It must be remem-

io Persecution and Tolerance.

bered that this was a discovery to be made, a
truth to be proved. States and individuals alike
needed training before it could be accepted.
From the point of view of the Church, it is abso-
lutely indefensible that she should have allowed
the conflict to be waged round her teaching
or her organisation. But the battle on such a
ground was at least fruitful of results ; and the
cry of liberty of conscience raised the issue in its
noblest form. The combatant, or the sufferer,
for such an object knew the responsibility attach-
ing to freedom ; and the struggle brought to light
great principles of common life, which had to be
recognised before the fight was won. Dreadful as
are the records of wars of religion, it must be
admitted that these wars had causes which were
entirely independent of religion, and corresponded
to national aspirations, which found expression in
religious differences, but were not religious in
their real origin. In fact religion is almost the*
necessary covering for principles; and war must
be waged in behalf of a principle, if it is not
waged merely for greed. Parties formed for the
maintenance of a principle rest after all on a
nobler basis than do shifting combinations for

Introduction. 1 1

material ends. The wars of the fifteenth century,
when princes and people, emancipated from all re-
ligious and moral considerations, pursued an ever-
changing policy of personal, or national, aggran-
disement, were not so fruitful for the future as
were the religious wars of the sixteenth century.
" Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum " is
an old exclamation, which has oft times been
repeated. But there are evils in the world even
where there is no religion. Any form of religion
implies some limitation on arbitrary caprice. It
must always be remembered, in surveying the past,
that the contrast is not between oppression, in the
particular form which it took, and freedom ; but
between one form of oppression and another.
Mediaeval England was singularly free from
religious persecution, but it was not free from
injustice. Persecution only began in England
when new forces in society made themselves felt ;
and religious differences, in this country, have
always been closely connected with social distinc-

But these are considerations which lead be-
yond my immediate subject, which is, to main-
tain that Christianity cannot justly be charged

12 Persecution and Tolerance.

with persecution. It arose from impulses of
human nature, common at all times, which
Christianity did not immediately succeed in sub-
duing, and which succeeded for a time in cloaking
themselves with the semblance of doing God
service by promoting the common welfare. The
spirit of Christianity never ceased to protest, and
finally supplied the force before which persecution

Though persecution, as expressed in legal penal-
ties, may be a thing of the past, the temper which
produced it may still survive in altered forms.
The desire to have one's own way, because it is
one's own, may still wear the appearance of zeal
for the common good, or care for the purity of an
institution. Penalties may still be inflicted after
trial with closed doors. Discussion may be pre-
maturely checked by means as efficacious as the
threat of the faggot and the stake. In surveying
the mistakes of the past, it is well to remember
that their causes are not removed.



11 When His disciples James and John saw this, they said,
Lord, wilt Thou that we bid fire to come down from heaven
and consume them ? But He turned and rebuked them. And
they went to another village." (St. Luke ix. 54-6) Revised

SUCH is the account of this remarkable incident in
the simple form to which it has been reduced by
recent criticism of the sacred text. It is better

1 3 4 5 6 7 8

Online LibraryM. (Mandell) CreightonPersecution and tolerance : being the Hulsean lectures preached before the University of Cambridge in 1893-4 → online text (page 1 of 8)