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15 - Limits of Public Life – Jews, Heretics, Witches

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Thomas A. Brady Jr.
Affiliation:
University of California, Berkeley
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Summary

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

All Protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent.

Edmund Burke

Witchcraft celebrates / Pale Hecate's offerings; and withered murder, / Alarumed by his sentinel, the wolf, / Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace, / With Tarquin's ravishing strides, toward his design / Moves like a ghost.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth

The rapid growth, large followings, and powerful leaders of the confessions in the German lands vastly expanded the limits of public life, that is, the boundaries between those who possessed defensible rights and those who did not. The massive, overwhelming scope of the religious division defied the traditional remedy for heresy, which was judicial prosecution with three possible outcomes: acquittal, recantation, or death. The Peace of Augsburg transformed heresy from a spiritual crime into a question of temporal obedience, to be enforced – or not – at the temporal ruler's pleasure. This law averted the terrible spectre of a general civil war by accepting the lesser evil of a political toleration of religious differences. The Empire remained, on the one hand, a Catholic polity that tolerated those of the emperor's direct subjects who adhered to the (Lutheran) Confession of Augsburg. This is why the Calvinists, who appeared on the scene only five or so years later, had to present themselves as Lutherans with a difference.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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