by Chris Gacek
November 19, 2014
If you have some time, watch FRC’s lecture with Jim Tonkowich discussing his new book, The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today. One particularly interesting aspect of the talk was Tonkowich’s discussion of the rise of religious freedom during the Roman Empire. Of particular importance was the Edict of Milan of 313 A.D. Read George Weigel’s First Things blog on this important document. Referencing the great church historian Robert Louis Wilken (The First Thousand Years), Weigel describes the document’s foundational significance in Western political thought and practice:
[The Edict] involved all religions, not just Christianity; it went beyond mere toleration and embodied a more robust idea of religious freedom, based on the conviction that true faith and true worship cannot be compelled; and it treated the Church as a corporate body with legal rights, including property-owning rights. Thus the not-really-an-Edict of Nicomedia and Elsewhere cemented into the foundations of the West ideas first sketched by the Christian philosopher Lactantius: that coercion and true religious faith don’t mix because “God wishes to be adored by people who are free” (as Joseph Ratzinger would rewrite Lactantius a millennium and a half later, in the 1986 Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation). The rather humane provisions of the mis-named “Edict of Milan” were not infrequently ignored in subsequent Western history; but that doesn’t alter the fact that the “Edict” had a profound and, in many respects, beneficial influence on the future of the West.
(Weigel quotes a passage from Wilken revealing that the Milanese origins of the documents putting the policy into effect arose from meetings between Emperors Constantine and Licinius during a state wedding.)
So, watch the lecture and learn other interesting things that will impress your friends and confound your opponents.