Heritage Events Podcast


Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Robert Kagan wrote, “Only with the advent of Enlightenment liberalism did people begin to believe that the individual conscience, as well as the individual’s body, should be inviolate and protected from the intrusions of state and church.” It is widely thought, as Kagan assumes, that religious freedom is the work of the Enlightenment. Only with the decline of religious faith and the end of the religious wars engendered by the Reformation did liberty of conscience gain a foothold in the emerging secular states of Europe. Or so the story goes. Liberty in the Things of God tells a different story. The origins of modern notions of liberty of conscience and religious freedom are to be found in Christian writers from the early centuries (e.g. Tertullian of Carthage and Lactantius), medieval churchmen and theologians, and Christian thinkers in the 16th and 17th centuries. Three features of this tradition of thinking are distinctive: religious faith cannot be coerced; conscience is a form of spiritual knowledge that mandates action; the realm of statecraft and the realm of religion are distinct and must be kept separate. Please join us for a conversation with Robert Louis Wilken about the Christian origins of religious freedom.

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