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
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 first place.
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 its banner.
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.
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This page last updated 09 December 2001 .