Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe

Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe

Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe

Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe

Synopsis

As religious violence flares around the world, we are confronted with an acute dilemma: Can people coexist in peace when their basic beliefs are irreconcilable? Benjamin Kaplan responds by taking us back to early modern Europe, when the issue of religious toleration was no less pressing than it is today. Divided by Faith begins in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, when the unity of western Christendom was shattered, and takes us on a panoramic tour of Europe's religious landscape--and its deep fault lines--over the next three centuries. Kaplan's grand canvas reveals the patterns of conflict and toleration among Christians, Jews, and Muslims across the continent, from the British Isles to Poland. It lays bare the complex realities of day-to-day interactions and calls into question the received wisdom that toleration underwent an evolutionary rise as Europe grew more "enlightened." We are given vivid examples of the improvised arrangements that made peaceful coexistence possible, and shown how common folk contributed to toleration as significantly as did intellectuals and rulers. Bloodshed was prevented not by the high ideals of tolerance and individual rights upheld today, but by the pragmatism, charity, and social ties that continued to bind people divided by faith. Divided by Faith is both history from the bottom up and a much-needed challenge to our belief in the triumph of reason over faith. This compelling story reveals that toleration has taken many guises in the past and suggests that it may well do the same in the future.

Excerpt

In the three centuries of European history sandwiched between the medieval and modern eras—the period known as early modern—no episode is more notorious or horrifying than the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacres of 1572. It began with a botched attempt to assassinate Gaspard de Coligny, political and military leader of France's Calvinists, known as Huguenots. It proceeded, on the order of Charles IX, with the murder of the flower of the Huguenot nobility. By a bitter irony, the latter had gathered in Paris to celebrate the wedding of Henri of Navarre to the king's sister, a match intended to pacify relations between Protestants and Catholics and end a decade of religious wars. Crowds of Parisian Catholics then took the killing a great, unauthorized step further. The episode ended with the wholesale slaughter of Huguenots, first in Paris, then in some dozen other French cities. Thousands of Huguenots died—perhaps two thousand in Paris and another three thousand in the provinces, though we will never know for sure. Many died gruesome, painful deaths, as their killers joyously, almost playfully, mutilated and degraded the bodies of these "heretics." In 1535, France's "Most Christian King" Francis I had declared that he wanted heresy banished from his realm "in such manner that if one of the arms of my body was infected with this corruption, I would cut it off, and if my children were tainted with it, I would myself offer them in sacrifice." In 1572 . . .

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