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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2009

Chapter 5 - The toleration of heretics


The crime of heresy was an indelible marker of the confessional state. It represented the key suture point between religious deviation and criminal delinquency, pointing to the superimposition of the Eucharistic and civil communities. In concluding our study with a discussion of Thomasius's arguments for the toleration of heretics, we thus have a final opportunity to view his campaign against the confessional state working at full strength. This discussion will also serve as an introduction to our translation of one of his two key disputations on heresy, the De jure principis circa haereticos (On the Right of the Prince regarding Heretics) of 1697, which is presented in the appendix. It will be clear from the preceding chapter that Thomasius's construction of the right of toleration differs markedly from the Lockean and Kantian conceptions that dominate modern thought on this topic. We have seen that Thomasius restricts the right of toleration to the prince or state whose duty it is to coerce those who threaten social peace through their religious intolerance; and he simultaneously treats individual freedom of conscience as a non-justiciable moral matter lying outside the political domain. It is this view of toleration in terms of the state's power to impose a political obligation that makes Thomasius's conception so foreign to modern philosophies of toleration – although not necessarily to the modern politics of toleration – and thus warrants the following discussion and translation.