English 233: Introduction to Western Humanities
Baroque & Enlightenment
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
To make sense of their behavior (not the same thing as judging it to
be correct), we have to construct the shared axiom system within which
otherwise bitter (and mutually persecuting) opponents lived.
In our legal system, under the doctrine of separation of powers, the
judicial branch is expected to exercise a certain restraint, in not taking
over for itself certain functions (the making of laws) reserved
to the legislative branch. One of the practical principles by
which this "judicial restraint" operates is that, in construing
ordinances, statutes and constitutional provisions, judges should consult
the "intent of the legislator" (here, the original framers). Legal
measures are attempts at solutions to problems, and to arrive at a hypothesis
about what a given law was designed to accomplish, judges have to learn
about the background of problems and disputes over their solution that
lie behind the measure whose language they are trying to interpret. That
is, the Constitution is read, by judges, to require them to look
to history in deciding upon the meaning of laws (including
the Constitution itself) that they are called upon to apply to fact situations
that the authors of the law in question may never have imagined in the
It is crucial to appreciate that this is not merely a specialty of the
judicial profession. Since this is the way judges in our legal
tradition have to go about their business, and since what
judges decide will end up being the law actually in force in our communities,
lawyers have to follow suit. But the same goes for citizens -
at least those who are concerned enough to be conscious participants in
shaping the futures of the communities in which they live. That
is: given these features of how laws actually acquire meaning
in the context of our particular legal system, those who insist on having
a say about "freedom of religion" but do not know the history
summarized in Bainton's chapter literally don't know what they are talking
about. This assignment is a convenient opportunity to acquire
the experience that gives fundamental content to what is otherwise a vague
slogan that seems to invite anyone to assert whatever he pleases under
You may be one of those who received a comment on one or more of you exam essays that you needed to invest more effort in organizing what you have to say. Now it may be that your problem happened to have been no more than that you got flustered by time constraints or that you panicked because you found yourself inadequately prepared. (Perhaps you were absent from class the week before the exam and so did not acquire the prep sheets distributed in class.) But it may be that you are at a stage in which you're still shaky on matters organizational. If so, the problem probably lies in the fact that you aren't accustomed to reading exposition and argument with the particular kinds of attention they presuppose. And the most immediate task is to start to pick up on the moves a writer is making in saying this or that (as distinct from just picking up on what he's saying) - and on the functional relationships among those moves, which is what gives them point.
In the case at hand, Bainton is engaging in a process of CAUSAL AND CONDITIONAL ANALYSIS. That is, he is trying to convey a picture of what was necessary for something to take place in the way that it did (the conditions of its possibility and actuality), and what was necessary and sufficient in order for something different eventually to come about (the causal process of change). The contribution of various factors to the status quo ante or to the novel state of affairs that replaced it is itself various, and clarity depends on getting these matters sorted out. The organization of the overall picture is simply not separable from WHAT the picture is. Concentrating on picking up the form of the picture is healthy practice for equipping yourself to discover and construct relevant organizational strategies for your own analyses/syntheses.
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.
Devise an appropriate system of indentations, labels, and tags to make
explicit the logical relationships of subsumption and subordination (ends
and means) within Bainton's analysis what had to be the case for suppression
of dissent to make sense and of what the various factors were that supported
these pillars or worked to subvert them.
OR: Cast your analysis (of the structure of Bainton's analysis of his subject) in the form of a flowchart.
Review the general instructions on Extra-Credit Assignments.
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