The Birth of Religious Toleration. (Religion & Philosophy)

The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The Birth of Religious Toleration. (Religion & Philosophy)


"Diplomacy and Domestic Devotion: Embassy Chapels and the Toleration of Religious Dissent in Early Modern Europe" by Benjamin J. Kaplan, in Journal of Early Modern History (2002: No. 4), Univ. of Minnesota, 614 Social Sciences, 267-19th Ave. S., Minneapolis, Minn. 55455; and "Fictions of Privacy: House Chapels and the Spatial Accommodation of Religious Dissent in Early Modern Europe" by Benjamin J. Kaplan, in American Historical Review (Oct. 2002), 400 A St., S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003.

In the aftermath of the Reformation, the religious division in European states caused a special problem for diplomats: Where was a Protestant ambassador to worship in a Catholic capital such as Paris, Vienna, Brussels, or Madrid? And where was a Catholic diplomat to worship in a Protestant capital such as London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, or The Hague? To deal with the diplomatic issue, and, more broadly, to keep domestic religious divisions from tearing countries apart, European states hit upon a distinction that allowed the furtive practice of religious tolerance.

The distinction they made, explains Kaplan, a historian at University College, London, was between public worship, in accordance with a community's official faith, and private worship. Beginning in the 17th century, ambassadors were allowed increasingly to establish chapels inside their residences where they could practice their forbidden faith in private--as long as they did not visibly flout the sacral community of the host nation.

Parallel practices evolved outside the rarefied realm of high diplomacy with the gradual acceptance of what the Dutch called the schuilkerk, or clandestine church. Most schuilkerken were created in-side homes, though some were inside warehouses or barns. But they shared a key characteristic, as did the embassy chapels: None looked like a place of worship from the street. …

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