13th May 2018
Robert Louis Wilken: Lecture 3 – Roger Williams, John Locke and Thomas Jefferson
Came across this. Particularly useful from 18 minutes 50 seconds.
Wilken is an academic at the University of Virginia. He has written a book, The Christian roots of religious freedom. I’ve ordered it and should get it from UK within a week.
I’ve taken the Youtube automatic transcript and am posting it below. It is full of inaccuracies, but one day, time permitting, I’ll fix it – including editing as appropriate.
What I want to do now is to turn first to the English Baptists.
The most energetic exponents of the distinction between the two realms were the leaders of communities suppressed by the ruling authorities – we’ve already seen some of that. Among these, the English Baptists during the reign of James I (after whom the King James version of the Bible is named) were the most articulate. James was not much of a friend to the nonconformists and dissenters. Already under Queen Elizabeth several nonconformists had been in prison because they separated themselves from the Church of England. But under James I, early in the seventeenth century, a small group led by John Smith or Smythe – had fled to Holland to escape persecution in Holland.
Smythe got to know the Mennonites and came to the conclusion that infant baptism was no baptism at all. That, of course, cut very deep in terms of traditional practice. He concluded that the only legitimate form of baptism was adult baptism or believers’ baptism. So firm was he in this conviction that he baptised himself – so the story goes – supposedly by pouring water from a pail over his head. Timothy George says he is not really sure that this actually happened but that is one of the stories told.
In Holland, Smyth’s group formed what is usually considered the first Baptist Church, Baptist meaning that they practice believers’ baptism. But they were also opposed to the Episcopal establishment in England the domination of the church by the king and his ministers and the rituals of the Anglican church that is vestment sign of the cross and the like a good idea of how they viewed religion in relation to the political order it can be found in Symth’s confession of faith.
The magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion or matters of conscience to force or compel men to do this for that form of religion or doctrine but to leave the Christian religion free to every man’s conscience and to handle only civil transgressions.
Now, the point being, that if you would have come across that statement simply reading Smythe it looks one way but after what we’ve been talking about now for the last day you can see that that language is now commonplace. So he’s drawing on things that had been formulated earlier in the 16th century and then of course going back to ancient texts.
So the state has only to deal with injuries and wrongs of man against man murder adultery theft for Christ only is the king and the lawgiver of the church and conscience.
In Amsterdam others joined the group most notably a man by the name of Thomas helvis – not exactly a household name but he’s a major figure like Smyth. He had concluded that the infant bath in different baptism with no baptism at all and he thought that because of his convictions he should not remain in Holland but returned to England to bear witness to his beliefs – courageous but in some ways foolish.
On return, he formed the first general Baptist congregation in London but he ran into opposition when he published a bracing biblical and theological defense of religious freedom entitled declaration of the mystery of iniquity at a publishing in ha.
In it he wrote that man’s religion is we tricked God in the cells and for that reason the King may not judge between God and men the King’s sword has no power over the subjects conscience ‘as he cannot command men’s consciousness and the greatest things between God and man let it suffice that the King have ruled over people’s bodies and goods again frame there with the theory and let not our Lord the King give his power to be exercised over the spirits of his people now besides Smith helvis another member of the group was a man named John Merton I mean these are the great heroes of the Baptist tradition like hell was he to return to England after living in Holland and both of them were then in prison they got to know each other one well and Merton also wrote a defense of Liberty of conscience and the full title was a most humble supplication of many of the Kings Majesty’s loyal subjects ready to testify all civil obedience by the oath of allegiance or otherwise and that of conscience who were persecuted only for differing in religion contrary to divine and human testimonies written imprinted in so he then prepares a category the dossier of biblical and patristic and other texts in support of Liberty of conscience the central theme stated at the outset it is not within the power of the King to compel the heart nor can he constrain us to practice things in God’s worship which we have not faith in at issues as I’ve already said we’re making the sign of the Cross at baptism wearing of a surplice during worship and he drew extensively on the scriptures to build his case he quotes the parable of the tears and along the way me the strong plea for the right of private judgment guided by the Holy Spirit to interpret the Scriptures independently of ecclesiastical Authority so these are familiar baptist seems the rule of faith is a doctrine of the Holy Ghost contained in the sacred scriptures and not any church council prince or potentate at the same time he appeals to a number of the church fathers coming about eggs and rhea us agustin john chrysostom and tertullian to show that the scriptures are not a closed book besides his selection from the scriptures Merton also included I’ve already said that church fathers on religious liberty early in the seventeenth century a Mennonite historian Peter twisting had put together a large collection of passages from early Christian writers on behalf of religious religious freedom written in Dutch there are only two copies of this in the United States and one of it is in the dutch army to ropo Mennonites empa college in virginia i’m not actually a chance to look at the book i don’t read dutch but i got a list of the text and i can at least make out the names and children attentions both appear in it and it’s his subtitle is a brief chronological description of the freedom of religion against the coercion of conscience drawn from many various books through the time of Christ of the year cub and as I’ve said he includes passages from to Toby and liked angi’s now Merton may have known twist and that’s where Merton may have first encountered these texts from the church fathers including the passage from totally an odd Scotland just to remind you what I’d scope of them said look at page two the second one it is a person human right at inborn capacity to worship whatever he intends the religious practice and that’s the phrase the religious practice of one person neither harms there helps another there’s no part of religion to glorious religious practice for this by free choice not coercion that we should be led to religion and that brings me then to Roger Williams who was born in England early in the seventeenth century most likely in and educator it came but he was drawn to the nonconformist in left his post as chaplain to sir will amaze him and sail to Boston but he soon found himself at odd with the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and moves to Plymouth for their to Colin as you know it was not long before he had disagreements with that community and became pastor in Salem which is part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony but here at during ran into trouble and because of his views was banished from the colony Williams was an equal opportunity irritant wherever he was he got onto people’s nerves he was however able to slip away before being arrested moved to Narragansett base which is he said was a Holling wilderness and it’s been a hauling wilderness the last few days they really have gotten dumped on unless a few weeks in Providence during the next several decades he carried on an extensive debate with John cotton who is head of the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the nature of the church and on the authority of the magistrates to enforce religious practices and what’s so interesting about the debate between these two is it cotton is basically a Puritan but he still assumes the medieval understanding that the magistrates in the colony have responsibility for religion so he does not accept the distinction that’s already been developed by many people for Williams or wherever the serum simple and spiritual realms are distinct as it was for the people with whom he had been associate each with his own sphere of responsibility in the scripture he says there was a two-fold state civil state of the spirituals a civil weapons spiritual weapons several vengeance and punishment these states are of different natures and consideration as far as differing differing as far as spirit from flesh for that reason civil weapons are most improper and on fitting in matters of the spiritual state and Kingdom so in the civil state most proper and suitable forget the same thing over and over those who are charged with administering the State John cotton cannot be judges governor’s or defenders in the spiritual or Christian state and worship spiritual matters only the sword of the Spirit is use and imagine such responsibility it’s only two civil go to safeguard civil rights or privileges therefore no civil magistrate King Caesar has any power over the souls or conscious of their subjects in a very revealing passage William says at the church our company of worshipers where the true of false is like unto a body or college of physicians in the city likened to a corporation society or company of East India or turkey Mary met merchants or any other Society or company in London in other words the church is a gathered community so this is a radically different way of understanding the nature of the community when you think back to what we talked about earlier about wrong where the civil and the religious communities you want so it’s an association we would say a voluntary association that you choose to become a membership it’s a radical departure to the medieval and some cases of reformation understanding because already in at the Peace of Augsburg they began to think about whoever the king or the Prince of the Duke was that person was able to determine what the religion of that territory would be some of you know that who he is renault who is religio that is whoever is the ruler is able to determine the religion now Williams has sent John cotton in Boston a company of merchants humble supplication which had all of these texts in it and cotton had written a critique of the world and from his comments it appears that cotton not only knew the passage from Tertullian society by Merton but the treatise as a whole and it’s very striking the Puritans had all these texts and many more of the church fathers in their libraries and they read Greek in a red light and the lights book came out by a woman and Stefan Schaeffer about three years ago called Ock toritos patre in which she shows just what was in the libraries of these great Puritan Divine’s in New England well the Williams knew the treatise at first hand is unclear he was not as learned as cotton but in the bloody tenant he confidently instructs cotton on the meaning of the passage from totally and thats the passage here the person’s right and the phrase the religious practice of one person neither harms or helps another I’m going to keep coming back to that debt according to cotton the purpose of total Ian’s treatise was to dissuade the Roman governor from persecuting Christians and to that end he argued from the naw law of natural equity that’s the way it’s translated natural right is really what the text says that one should not compel anyone in religious matters so according to cotton when tertullian says that one man’s religious practice has not heard another he was speaking of private worship private worship religion professed in private unity of religion in Cotton’s view was necessary to the health of the common weal religious divisions undermine solidity social and political solidarity so cotton interprets TRO trillions sentence to give support to his view that you can do what you want at your home but you can’t do it publicly but it’s precisely what Williams was questioning so he responds that suit onium was not speaking of private but of public worship and religion so he gives a completely different interpretation of the text and this was a nub of the matter whether we’re dissenting whether this community could practice his religion public in a realm where one confession as Massachusetts Bay was the norm for the society as a whole Williams grants Williams grants that if a false religion or worship is permitted within the church it will not cause harm but one practice out so that it will cause home read it again Williams says if a false religion or worship is permitted within the church it will cause harm but one practice outside the church will not a false religion out of the church will not hurt the church no more than weeds and the wilderness hurt the enclosed garden as for the commonweal a false religion and worship will not hurt the civil state in case the worshippers break no civil law gainst cottony says it’s all right to have religious two tenses as long as you don’t break any of the civil law the civil law is not broken civil pieces I broke so it is possible to have teased stability order with more than one religious confession and it was indicated Williams is working with ideas he would learn from the English but he was not alone William Penn who lived the next generation in Pennsylvania and John Locke same generation after after Williams lock and pen also drew on a variety is advanced by the English Baptist but there are six significant differences in accent in their works and the historical circumstances that prompted them Rogers wilt Roger Williams is writing throughout of the situation in Massachusetts Bay Colony pen and lock were caught up in the tumultuous political events surrounding the English Civil War the execution of King Charles in the ascent of James second a Roman Catholic to the throne and the Glorious Revolution of in England the religious divisions were much deeper than in colonial America Penn was expelled from Christ Church Oxford in for our religious nonconformity in he converted to quaker ism and his major work notice the title of this the great case for liberty of conscience in which he says that liberty of conscience is end of the denial of a little liberty of conscience is an affront to God for it invades a divine prerogative and divest the almighty of a right do to none beside himself God alone is king of conscience for it is God who has endowed us with those excellent gifts of understanding reasoned judgment and faith so if someone in authority should try to restrain us from what we are persuaded to do they usurp the authority of God and invade his in communicable right of government over conscience those who had force men to believe what they do not will to believe in throne man as king over conscious and deprived god of his just claiming privilege soph liberty of conscience means free exercise of our consciences in a way of worship we are most clearly persuaded God requires of him and pen as you might expect by now also includes a number text from the church fathers including lactantius and the passage from chateau lien which was debated between cotton and Williams also the parable of the wheat and the tears oh they’re all drawing on the same material now John Locke’s letter concerning toleration which as I said at the very beginning was really kind of the considered the definitive statement when you come to that letter and read that letter after the things we’ve been talking about you realize that he’s drawing on precisely the same tradition it was published in Latin in almost two decades after the publication of pens great case for liberty of conscience lock had fled England during the reign of james the second because he was suspected of being part of a plot against the king he lived in holland as a fugitive William will mourns the ruler was the son-in-law of King James and while there in exile he wrote his letter concerning toleration now lock cites a number of biblical passages in his essay but his arguments are more philosophical than those of Williams and pen and earlier writers nevertheless he presents his ideas on toleration as an elaboration of how Christians should treat those who hold to different confessions i esteem the Toleration to be the chief characteristic mark of the true church and the toleration of those that different from others in matters of religion is so agreeable to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to genuine reads in a man can but it seems in monstrous for men to be so blind as not to perceive the necessity and advantage of it in so clear light so lock basically is saying that the church should talk so he’s writing as a Christian but as a philosopher like the Baptist’s and Williams Locke argued that the two realms civil and religious are to be kept separate we must distinguish exactly the business of government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other the civil has to do with live Liberty health body that is outward things money lands house furniture and the light the care of souls is not committed to the magistrate civil magistrate care of every man’s soul belongs to himself and is to be left unto himself well clearly he’s pretty getting more philosophical and less religious turn and he goes into some detail to show how his understanding of toleration applies to specific situations in dealing with religious belief he said one must distinguish matters of practice public worship matters of doctrine the churches or communities of Jews or free societies and what they practice can be determined only by those who share they believe so a magistrate has no right to ordain that children should be baptized by priests in a sacred font to purify their souls or force the child of Jews to be baptized even an idolatrous church should not be suppressed the magistrate has no authority to forbid the preaching or professing of any opinions in the church because such things have no relation to the civil rights of his subjects and then he says this if a Roman Catholic believes that to be really the body that to be really the body of Christ which another man calls bread he does no injury to his neighbor go back to two trillion the religious practice of one person neither horns there helps another that looks to me like an allusion to turtle you he doesn’t quote it the treatise is in Latin and I went back to the Latin of it and the sentence is not at all the sentence however this particular phrase the religious practice of one person either helps to another was well known to locks teacher who is a man named John Owen and he had studied with him when he was a student at Christ Church in Oxford Owen in his essay on toleration cited not only tritonians treatise a scalpel them but the passage in his apology that includes the phrase religious freedom as well as tact text from elect answers and Gregory the Great all in Latin it’s the most complete in that particular time and the sentence does no injury to his neighbor as I said appears to be an illusion tresilian though you can’t establish it in any case it’s very likely that he learned many of these things from Owen as well as from earlier English writers second Locke argues that coercion has no place in religious matters because true religion consists in the inward and full possession of the mind again I think we can hear locked ansys their inward persuasion faith is not faithful i believing religion is a matter of inner conviction true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind without which nothing can be acceptable to God and faith only in inward sincerity are the things that procure acceptance with God the magistrate’s power consists in outward force which is unable to persuade the mind let’s say these phrases seem to come at the echo right Angeles so the central ideas and locks letter concerning toleration are not new there to be found in earlier writers primarily people like oh and Roger Williams but he knew him but then the English Baptists who he probably didn’t know at the same time the thoroughness and comprehensiveness of his letters set it apart from earlier writings and liberty of conscience it is the work of a philosopher with religious commitments it’s not a theological essay and the others with theologian lock was fully engaged in the debates of his day but in the letter he steps back to survey the landscape and to deal with the issue that had arisen since the Reformation in a systematic way one scholar of Locke says locks work on toleration is significant not because it advances new or previously unheard of arguments but because it’s so concisely synthesizes every nearly a century of ongoing debate on this vexing problem that seems to me to be pretty accurate the inspiration behind the letter of his Christian and locks ideas cannot be understood without reference to Christianity yet the appeal to reason into nature is more pronounced again as another lock scholar puts it what Locke believed in was the Christian God and his own intelligence okay in Virginia in the separate Baptists as a matter of principle did not apply to the crown for a permit to preach required of non-establishment that is non Anglican clergy and Anglican clergyman on horseback interrupted a Baptist preacher who was singing a hymn he beat him with a horsewhip and with the help of the sheriff dragged him into a field and flogged a few months later a large group of separate Baptists held the general convention at Blue run church in Orange County where James Madison lived it was the largest crowd ever assembled in Orange County and Madison surely knew of the gathering and what led up to the English Toleration Act of was the morrow for dealing with religious minorities in colonial America it granted freedom of worship to nonconformist and dissenting Protestants Baptist and congregations though not to Catholics under certain conditions but in the United States some thought the policy needed to be revised and expanded and the Madison was elected a delegate from Orange County to the revolutionary convention that met in May he was placed on the committee to prepare a declaration of rights for the colony the document that came from the committee had articles one of which dealt with religion a Madison was a very junior member of the committee only years old but the article on religion stirred him to action and go into Madison’s own biography but he studied at Princeton to the College in New Jersey with done with his bone after he graduated he spent a whole summer studying Hebrew and the Bible and early Christian writings so he had a religious sensibility that were thanked bigger and richer than a number of the other of founding fathers now the original draft of the article on religion was written by George Mason and it read his follow that is religion or the duty which we owe to our divine and omnipotent creator and the manner of discharging it can be governed only by reason and conviction not by force or violence and therefore that all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience Madison was dissatisfied with the wording of the text and wrote another draft with the significant alteration he eliminated the word toleration and its place wrote all men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise of religion according to the dictates of but eliminating the word toleration Madison had substituted a phraseology recognizing an effect that freedom of conscience was a natural right beyond the civil power and in he drafted his memorial in respond in remonstrance in response to a bill Patrick Henry had proposed establishing a provision for teachers of the Christian and religion so they’re going to use taxes done by the civil government to support teachers in effect it was a new form of establishment of religion accepted included other denominations and the Anglicans taxpayers could decide to which group they would pay their tax in his notes to the remonstrance Madison highlighted the theological or religious dimensions of religious freedom religion he said is the duty we owe to our correct creator and duty means the hamed’s that each person in conscience deems acceptable to the Creator and I’ve got that passage here I’ll just read a little bit of it because because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion of the duty we owe to our Creator in the manner of discharging it can only be directed by reason and conviction not by force or violence the religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man and it is the right of every man to exercise it as they make these may dictate this right is in its nature and unalienable right it is unavailable because the pinions of men depending on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men it is unalienable also because what is hero right towards men is a duty towards the Creator it’s the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him and then he says this duty is precedent both in order of time and a degree of obligation to the claims of civil society that’s really mean by natural before any man can be considered as a member of civil society must be considered as the subject of the government of the universe and a member of civil society so we say that in matters of religion no man’s right is abridged by the institution of civil society that religion is wholly exempt from its cognizant so here we get genuine religious freedom as a right no longer toleration now there’s no indication the remonstrance are on other writings of Madison that he was familiar with the passages from till the end Hall Arkansas but he’s clearly working with ideas that go back to the English Baptists in the th century too many evil notions of conscience and ultimately to the church fathers and the scriptures I haven’t been able to find I have discovered in dealing with Madison and Jefferson which is really new territory for me they’re not very interested in these kind of questions I can’t get any help trying to trace down where they would have learned about such things what is more however even in th century of Virginia Virginia living Madison aside one of the classic passages on religious liberty from the church fathers was known and actually cited by none other than Thomas Jefferson and their lives the story in query of his notes on the state of Virginia title that section is the different religions received in the state Jefferson traced the history of laws in colonial Virginia on religious freedom in contrast to former generations we now recognize that the exercise of religion should be free it matters having to do with the conscience we are answerable only to God for the power of the government extends only to those acts that are injurious to others then he says it does me no injury from my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God it neither picks my pocket no breaks my leg dr. Julian the religious practice in one person neither harms their helps another sometime later Jefferson copied out the passage from odds Coppola to in Latin in his personal copy of the notes of Virginia at the bottom of the page where that sentence is found here’s what’s Italian had written in Jefferson copy it is a person’s human right and inborn capacity to worship whatever he intends the religious practice of one person either Hans nor helps another went to the University of Virginia books library got out Jefferson’s copy of the notes in the state of Virginia and sure enough there the bottom of the page where the sentence occurs it’s odd scalping them to written out in his neat hand in Latin now in Jefferson bought an addition of several writings of jute olean from a book dealer in Paris after I read the passage from totally written out in Jefferson’s hand and his copy the notes of the Special Collections at the library at the University of Virginia I went to the library of congress that old the book when it was brought up from the stacks are held in my hand a small leather-bound volume published in Cambridge England in as I turned the pages and came to a desk on top of them too to my astonishment I saw the Jefferson had underlined the passage and put a big X in the morning I could not believe what I was seeing now there are no other markings in the text so I assumed the Jefferson did not come across the text by reading Churchillian it is most unlikely he spent winter evenings at Monticello reading the church fathers so I think he got it from somewhere but I haven’t been able to find out from where whether he knew of the passage when he wrote the notes on the state of Virginia which would have been about years earlier years earlier I cannot say but that’s possible but I would think he might have included it but it’s not what seems likely is that when he received the addition of due till Ian’s writings he turned to odds Koppelman and found the pass marked it and then copied it in his own personal copy now don’t overdo this two trillion and lacked answers were not the immediate source of ideas developed by Madison Jefferson much had happened in the sixteenth and seventeenth century in this history politically religiously intellectually was the context in which madison and jefferson worked.
The breakup of the medieval order as a result of the reformation the proliferation of religious communities congregational assyrians anglican Anabaptist lutheran Huguenots was a powerful factor in shaping the consciousness of statesmen and philosophers in the th century and you can read you number in the Federalist Papers you see that Madison is worried about that the turmoil bitter strive sectarian rivalries and persecution of the years following the Reformation disposed many to think that religious belief was inherently imperious and led inevitably to violence.
An Enlightenment idea is the premise of reason skepticism Ford received truth opposition to establish religious institutions where the coin of the realm in the 18th century.
So it is not possible to draw a straight line from these founding fathers back to the church photos.
The route is circuitous and many factors play into the developments in the 18th century.
Yet the ideas about religious freedom formulated by the founding fathers religion having to deal with beliefs about God religious conviction of springing from inter persuasion hence not subject to conversion the distinction between a civil and a religious realm freedom in religious matters as a natural right prior to the state have their roots in Christianity.
It was Christian thinkers who first set forth notions of freedom of religion in the ancient world and defended the dignity of the human person it was Christian philosophers and theologians who developed an understanding of liberty of conscience and it was the dualism of political and spiritual authority within Christian tradition that provided a foundation for the idea that civil government and religious belief and practices must be kept separate.
Though the early modern conception of liberty of conscience grew out of events in the sixteenth and seventeenth century it rests ultimately on Christian beliefs that rich fact that reached back to the scriptures and the writings in the church for.
The exponents of liberty of conscience and religious liberty were Christians.
Christians believers the British philosopher intellectual historian John clamonade said Liberty of conscience was first asserted and cherished in an age of strong beliefs not skepticism rigid freedom arose among peoples who had been taught for centuries that nothing was more important than they have the right belief who had recently become divided in their beliefs in the th century beyond hope of ever gaining agreement so the Europeans and the West seemed to matter enormously not merely home and belay behaved but what they believed.
This was no doubt the source of fanaticism and persecution but it was also the source of a new conception of freedom.
Liberty of conscience was born not of indifference not of skepticism not of mere open-mindedness but faith.