English 233:  Introduction to Western Humanities  Baroque & Enlightenment


Extra-credit Option

on "The Struggle for Religious Liberty"

(Chapter 11 of Roland Bainton's

The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century)

The focus of the assignment is the bearing of certain theological doctrines upon a particularly urgent political question.  The fact that modern Western governments have resolved this political issue in a matter strikingly at variance from the ways in which sovereign powers did so during the Reformation period and for some time afterwards is a symptom of a deeper cleavage between ourselves and the past.  It means that somewhere along the way fundamental changes have occurred in the notion of political sovereignty or in shared theological understandings or both.  On the face of things, a shift has taken place in the prevailing conception of how governments may and may not exercise their power - that is, in the definition of legitimate political authority.  But, more deeply, there must have occurred a shift in theological outlook as well.  Either the populations or the governing elites in modern Western countries have largely abandoned religion altogether, or they have reached a historically novel religious consensus.  

From Augustine on beyond the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) which concluded the Thirty Years' War, traditional orthodox Christianity has been marked by a particular complex of understandings concerning Divine Providence (or God's Will in human history) that entails the necessity (to say nothing of the permissibility) of employing the power of the state to suppress heresy.  On these theological views - shared, be it noted, among virtually all parties involved in the Reformation conflict - it is a sin for the political magistrate not to use "the secular arm" (or "fire and sword") to enforce religious conformity.  Today, almost all Catholics and Protestants agree that God looks with disfavor upon the political repression of religious dissidents.

What considerations led to the abandonment of the traditional Christian understanding on this issue, and the formulation of a new - "the modern" - position upon it?  Bainton's point is that the Reformation unleashed a process of persecution and of reflection upon its consequences and underpinnings that led eventually to the surrender, on all sides, of a central tenet of traditional Christianity.


The purpose of the assignment is threefold.  It should help you



The assignment:  From the Arts & Sciences Copy Center (Eisenhower 11), acquire a copy of Chapter 11 of Bainton's The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.  Study it carefully.  Then construct a detailed outline of the whole.  Begin by deciding on what the logically highest-order divisions are within the piece.  Then take up each vision and examine how it breaks down in turn into subordinate and coordinate units, and so on.



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