Synod on the Freedom of Conscience
D.V. Coornhert
Synod on the Freedom of Conscience

This is the first English translation of a pivotal work in the history of religious tolerance. In Synod on the Freedom of Conscience (1582) the Dutch humanist Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert (1522-1590) provides one of the first book-length pleas for religious freedom published in the West. His central concern in his writings and exchanges with ministers of the Reformed Church was the safeguarding of freedom of conscience, the chief cause, he believed, for which the struggle against Habsburg Spain was being waged. The imaginary Synod, held in "Freetown," gathers together chief Catholic and Protestant leaders and theologians who engage in spirited debates on such matters as religious diversity, the freedom to criticize, the norms used to determine what constitutes heresy, freedom of the press, and the role of the state in the suppression of heresy. Each session concludes with remarks by the irenic Gamaliel (Coornhert's alter ego), who shows that both parties sin equally on the side of intolerance and pleads for the tolerant alternative. In this work Coornhert continues an Erasmian theme which would be picked up again in the following century by the Remonstrants and Hugo Grotius.

In deze Engelse vertaling van Synode over de gewetensvrijheid voert Coornhert een fictief debat met vertegenwoordigers uit de verschillende religieuze kampen die hij soms letterlijk citeert (o.a. Beza, Calvijn, Du Plessis-Mornay en Bullinger). Synod on the Freedom of Conscience is niet alleen een belangrijk tijdsdocument; door Coornherts doelstelling - bevordering van de religievrede - en zijn rijkdom aan argumenten kunnen we in het huidige tolerantiedebat zeker ons voordeel doen met de lessen van deze Hollandse meester.

Synod on the Freedom of Conscience. First Book
Abbreviations Used for the Titles of Books in the Margins of this Booklet in Order not to Encumber the Text
First Session. Whether or Not the True Visible Church of Christ May Err
Second Session. Proofs based on Antiquity, Customs, and Traditions
Third Session. Rules and Ceremonies not Based on Scripture
Fourth Session. The Credibility of the Patristic Writings
Fifth Session. Proofs taken from Councils and Consensus
Sixth Session. Proofs Based on Examples from Ecclesiastical Histories
Seventh Session. Proofs from Pagans
Eighth Session. Passing Judgment on Everyone, Yet Not Wanting to Suffer Anyone’s Judgment
Ninth Session. Who is to Judge on Doctrine
Synod on the Freedom of Conscience. Second Book
Tenth Session. Whether Judgment of Heresy Belongs to the Civil or the Ecclesiastical Authority
Eleventh Session. Freedom of Conscience in Faith as Well as in its Exercise and Whether Only the Exercise of What the Civil Magistrate Judges to Be the True Religion Shall Be Allowed, and None Else
Twelfth Session. Those Who Criticize Doctrine or Disturb the External Peace of the Church, and How They Ought to Be Punished
Thirteenth Session. Those Whose Teachings Differ from the Teachings of the Church, and Whether They Ought to be Punished by Death
Fourteenth Session. Whether or not We Should Dispute with Those Who Teach Differently
Fifteenth Session. The Writing, Publishing, Printing, Selling, Having and Reading of Tracts and Books
Sixteenth Session. Condemning Others without Hearing Them
Seventeenth Session. Whether it is in Accord with Scripture that Religious Leaders Seek the Help of the Magistrate for Support of their Doctrine
Eighteenth Session. Denouncing Mercifulness, Praising Severity, and Recommending Bloodshed in Matters of Faith
Nineteenth Session. Whether it is Right for Religious Leaders to Tell the Civil Magistrate that They Have a Duty towards God to Kill Some People for Matters of Religion
Appendix – The Balance
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