Chapter III:21: Tolerance

But Tolerance differs much from Syncretism. We admit the former concerning Heretics as well as Infidels in the external society of the world, imitating the example of God Himself, who bears with the same in His Tolerance, and does not deprive them of life: consult PETER MARTYR’S[1] Locos communes, division II, chapter IV, pages 135-147; and the Letters of Frederick III, Elector Palatine, in the year 1566, sent unto the Duke of Savoy for the favor of the Waldenses,[2] which letters are after of JOHANNES FLORENTIUS MARTINET’S[3] Kerckelycke Geschiedenissen der Waldensen, pages 215-229.

Our AUTHOR wills even the very Jews to be tolerated, which he will specifically inculcate again in Chapter XXXII, § 25. Of course, our Salvation is of the Jews, John 4:22, and their Conversion is awaited according to the promises, to which Conversion we ought apply whatever is in us.

And here, in the Tolerance of whatever sort of person, duties devolve upon different parties. Upon Private Individuals, in not denying friendly cohabitation with Heretics and Infidels; even domestic cohabitation, if a Marriage of this sort was already entered into, which sort, nevertheless, was not to be entered into: see below, Chapter XXXIII, § 40, 41. Upon Pastors, in gentle instruction upon suitable occasions, 2 Timothy 2:24, 25, with continual prayer for conversion being added, Romans 10:1. Finally, upon Magistrates, in the restraining of all violence against men of this sort, in the promotion of Conversion through means useful, not violent; not extending Tolerance for the promotion of error, or for the hardening of those erring. From this it is not able to be concluded that it is fitting or necessary for him to admit or to foster the public and free exercise of Idolatry or Blasphemy. On the contrary, blasphemous, agitating, and obstinate Heresiarchs, that cease not to spread their delusions for the seduction of others, are even to be made subject to the vengeance of the Magistrates in accordance with the Law of Moses: concerning which duties of the Magistrates our AUTHOR also treats at length and in detail, Chapter XXXIII, § 32.

Now, further inquiry is able to be made into just how far the Tolerance to be conceded to Heretics ought to be extended with respect to the Exercise of Religion. On this point, read our AUTHOR, who expresses his opinion on this matter prudently and in a few words. The Most Illustrious PETRUS LAAN’S, in his Dissertatione Priori de Tolerantia Civile ad Socinianos non extendenda, 1. asserts, that power over Conscience is to be left to God alone, § 1. 2. That Liberty of Exercise is to be distinguished from Liberty of Conscience, § 2. 3. That Liberty of the privato-public Exercise of Religion, granted to other Sects, in our republic has ever been denied to Socinians, § 3. 4. And that this is indeed rightly done by the Orders of our provinces, with the Objections of the Socinians and those Socinianizing removed, § 4-14. So, although the General Orders in the Year 1619 denied to the Remostrants the public exercise of Religion, and prohibited the setting up of Conventicles by them for the sake of this matter; nevertheless, they expressly add that they are quite averse to exercising any violence and coercion upon Consciences: see WILTENS’ Kerkelyk Placaat-boek, page 674. But above all others VOETIUS is to be consulted here, Politicæ Ecclesiasticæ, tome 2, in which all that has regard to this he thoroughly and prolixly exhausts, part I, book IV, tractate I, pages 354-450, discoursing in chapter I concerning the Ecclesiastical Liberty of Security; in chapter II concerning Liberty of Conscience and the Permitting of Religions in the republic: presenting in chapter III an inquiry concerning the liberty and coercion of Consciences: weighing in chapter IV whether Permission of multiple Religions in the Republic be not only lawful; but also whether Liberty of Exercise ought to be conceded by the Magistrate to whomever, to whatever extent they might ask according to the dictates of their own Conscience: or whether the Exercise of false Religions be able to be prohibited and repressed? treating in chapter V of the Liberty apart from conventicles, or without them, of professing and defending a false Religion in word, writing, and deed, and of opposing the opposite truth: treating in chapter VI the question, Whether the Magistrate be able or ought to impede the propagation of false Religions, whether Infidel or Heretical, for particular political reasons only, but not for general theological reasons: and whether they be hitherto impeded only for political reasons in the Federated Netherlands? Then more specifically determining in chapter VII the question, Whether Liberty of Exercise is to be conceded to Popery in reformed republics? in chapter VIII, Whether at this time Liberty of Exercise is to be conceded to the Papists in the Federated Netherlands whether for political reasons, or for ecclesiastical reasons? in chapter IX similarly, Whether any Liberty of Exercise and of Conventicles is to be conceded directly or indirectly in the Federated Netherlands to Antitrinitarians, Socinians, Arians and the like, and other Fanatics? Finally, treating in chapter X of the Liberty and Tolerance, both political and ecclesiastical, of the Dutch Remonstrants. Concerning the Prudence of the State concerning Religion, read the discourse of BUDDEUS, Elementis Philosophiæ Practicæ, part III, chapter V, section IX, pages 531-536. To the question, whether Papists are able to be said to be good Citizens in a Protestant republic? responds NIEUWLAND,[4] Otioribus exegeticis, part II, book IV, epistle XIV, pages 674-676.

[1] Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) began his career as an Augustinian monk, preacher, and lecturer in Italy. Through personal study of the Scripture and the Reformers, he came to embrace the Protestant doctrines. He settled in England and served as Professor of Divinity at Oxford and as Canon of Christ Church.

[2] Frederick III, Elector Palatine, was devoted to the Reformed theology, as was involved in the oversight of the drafting of the Heidelberg Catechism. He wrote to the Duke of Savoy, Emmanuel Philibert, encouraging the toleration of the formerly persecuted Waldenses.

[3] Jan Floris Martinet (1729-1795) was a Dutch Reformed pastor, theologian, and philosopher.

[4] Pieter Nieuwland (1722-1795) was a Dutch Reformed minister.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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