Hugo Grotius - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
When any one was accused of Christianity, he was required, as a means of testing the truth of the charge, to offer incense to the gods or to the statues of deified Emperors. His compliance at once exonerated him. The objection of the Christians—they and the Jews were the only objectors—to the worship of the Emperors was, in the eyes of the Romans, one of the most sinister signs that their religion was dangerous. The purpose of this worship was to symbolize the unity and solidarity of an Empire which embraced so many peoples of different beliefs and different gods; its intention was political, to promote union and loyalty; and it is not surprising that those who denounced it should be suspected of a disloyal spirit. But it must be noted that there was no necessity for any citizen to take part in this worship. No conformity was required from any inhabitants of the Empire who were not serving the State as soldiers or civil functionaries. Thus the effect was to debar Christians from military and official careers.
Christian Thomasius - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia
If we take the three large States of Western Europe, in which the majority of Christians are Catholics, we see how the ideal of progress, freedom of thought, and the decline of ecclesiastical power go together. In Spain, where the Church has enormous power and wealth and can still dictate to the Court and the politicians, the idea of progress, which is vital in France and Italy, has not yet made its influence seriously felt. Liberal thought indeed is widely spread in the small educated class, but the great majority of the whole population are illiterate, and it is the interest of the Church to keep them so. The education of the people, as all enlightened Spaniards confess, is the pressing need of the country. How formidable are the obstacles which will have to be overcome before modern education is allowed to spread was shown four years ago by the tragedy of Francisco Ferrer, which reminded everybody that in one corner of Western Europe the mediaeval spirit is still vigorous. Ferrer had devoted himself to the founding of modern schools in the province of Catalonia (since 1901). He was a rationalist, and his schools, which had a marked success, were entirely secular. The ecclesiastical authorities execrated him, and in the summer of 1909 chance gave them the means of destroying him. A strike of workmen at Barcelona developed into a violent revolution, Ferrer happened to be in Barcelona for some days at the beginning of the movement, with which he had no connection whatever, and his enemies seized the opportunity to make him responsible for it. False evidence (including forged documents) was manufactured. Evidence which would have helped his case was suppressed. The Catholic papers agitated against him, and the leading ecclesiastics of Barcelona urged the Government not to spare the man who founded the modern schools, the root of all the trouble. Ferrer was condemned by a military tribunal and shot (Oct. 13). He suffered in the cause of reason and freedom of thought, though, as there is no longer an Inquisition, his enemies had to kill him under the false charge of anarchy and treason. It is possible that the indignation which was felt in Europe and was most loudly expressed in France may prevent the repetition of such extreme measures, but almost anything may happen in a country where the Church is so powerful and so bigoted, and the politicians so corrupt.
In the period, then, in which the Church exercised its greatest influence, reason was enchained in the prison which Christianity had built around the human mind. It was not indeed inactive, but its activity took the form of heresy; or, to pursue the metaphor, those who broke chains were unable for the most part to scale the walls of the prison; their freedom extended only so far as to arrive at beliefs, which, like orthodoxy itself, were based on Christian mythology. There were some exceptions to the rule. At the end of the twelfth century a stimulus from another world began to make itself felt. The philosophy of Aristotle became known to learned men in Western Christendom; their teachers were Jews and Mohammedans. Among the Mohammedans there was a certain amount of free thought, provoked by their knowledge of ancient Greek speculation. The works of the freethinker Averroes (twelfth century) which were based on Aristotle’s philosophy, propagated a small wave of rationalism in Christian countries. Averroes held the eternity of matter and denied the immortality of the soul; his general view may be described as pantheism. But he sought to avoid difficulties with the orthodox authorities of Islam by laying down the doctrine of double truth, that is the coexistence of two independent and contradictory truths, the one philosophical, and the other religious. This did not save him from being banished from the court of the Spanish caliph. In the University of Paris his teaching produced a school of freethinkers who held that the Creation, the resurrection of the body, and other essential dogmas, might be true from the standpoint of religion but are false from the standpoint of reason. To a plain mind this seems much as if one said that the doctrine of immortality is true on Sundays but not on week-days, or that the Apostles’ Creed is false in the drawing-room and true in the kitchen. This dangerous movement was crushed, and the saving principle of double truth condemned, by Pope John XXI. The spread of Averroistic and similar speculations called forth the Theology of Thomas, of Aquino in South Italy (died 1274), a most subtle thinker, whose mind had a natural turn for scepticism. He enlisted Aristotle, hitherto the guide of infidelity, on the side of orthodoxy, and constructed an ingenious Christian philosophy which is still authoritative in the Roman Church. But Aristotle and reason are dangerous allies for faith, and the treatise of Thomas is perhaps more calculated to unsettle a believing mind by the doubts which it powerfully states than to quiet the scruples of a doubter by its solutions.