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Tolerance

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Caroline Warman

5. John Locke (1632-1704), Letter on Toleration, 16861

Texte intégral

  • 1 John Locke, Letter on Toleration, London: A. Churchill, 1689.

1The English philosopher John Locke wrote his Letter on Toleration (1686) in Latin and sent it to a friend who published it. We reproduce here, unmodernised, William Popple’s 1689 English translation. Locke is arguing for religious toleration and also for a clear separation of power between the State – whose aim is to promote the ‘common wealth’ of its citizens – and the church – whose focus is the salvation of their souls.

2That any man should think fit to cause another man—whose salvation he heartily desires—to expire in torments, and that even in an unconverted state, would, I confess, seem very strange to me, and I think, to any other also. But nobody, surely, will ever believe that such [conduct] can proceed from charity, love, or goodwill. If anyone maintain that men ought to be compelled by fire and sword to profess certain doctrines, and conform to this or that exterior worship, without any regard had unto their morals; if anyone endeavour to convert those that are erroneous unto the faith, by forcing them to profess things that they do not believe and allowing them to practise things that the Gospel does not permit, it cannot be doubted indeed but such a one is desirous to have a numerous assembly joined in the same profession with himself; but that he principally intends by those means to compose a truly Christian Church is altogether incredible. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at if those who do not really contend for the advancement of the true religion, and of the Church of Christ, make use of arms that do not belong to the Christian warfare. If, like the Captain of our salvation, they sincerely desired the good of souls, they would tread in the steps and follow the perfect example of that Prince of Peace, who sent out His soldiers to the subduing of nations, and gathering them into His Church, not armed with the sword, or other instruments of force, but prepared with the Gospel of peace and with the exemplary holiness of their conversation. This was His method. Though if infidels were to be converted by force, if those that are either blind or obstinate were to be drawn off from their errors by armed soldiers, we know very well that it was much more easy for Him to do it with armies of heavenly legions than for any son of the Church, how potent soever, with all his dragoons.

3The toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion is so agreeable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the genuine reason of mankind, that it seems monstrous for men to be so blind as not to perceive the necessity and advantage of it in so clear a light. I will not here tax the pride and ambition of some, the passion and uncharitable zeal of others. These are faults from which human affairs can perhaps scarce ever be perfectly freed; but yet such as nobody will bear the plain imputation of, without covering them with some specious colour; and so pretend to commendation, whilst they are carried away by their own irregular passions. But, however, that some may not colour their spirit of persecution and un-Christian cruelty with a pretence of care of the public weal and observation of the laws; and that others, under pretence of religion, may not seek impunity for their libertinism and licentiousness; in a word, that none may impose either upon himself or others, by the pretences of loyalty and obedience to the prince, or of tenderness and sincerity in the worship of God; I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other. If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side, a concernment for the interest of men’s souls, and, on the other side, a care of the commonwealth.

Read the free original text online (facsimile), 1689 edition: https://books.google.co.uk/​books?id=bOxiAAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover

Notes

1 John Locke, Letter on Toleration, London: A. Churchill, 1689.

Table des illustrations

Titre Portrait of John Locke by Godfrey Kneller (1697)
Crédits https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:John_Locke.jpg
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2954/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 92k