Constraint on Trial: Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert and Religious Freedom

Gerrit Voogt

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Constraint on Trial is a thorough examination of the life and thought of Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert (1522–1590), the Dutch notary, artist, poet, playwright, translator, and controversialist who defended freedom of conscience and toleration. (SCE&S 52)

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Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies, Vol. 52

Constraint on Trial is a thorough examination of the life and thought of Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert (1522–1590), the Dutch notary, artist, poet, playwright, translator, and controversialist who defended freedom of conscience and toleration. Coornhert’s individualism made him eschew any restrictions on personal religious choice. His spiritualist beliefs are revealed in his writings on toleration, most notably his Synod on the Freedom of Conscience (1582) and Trial of the Killing of Heretics (1590). Coornhert’s prolific writings and public debates with theologians and humanists show him as a man who saw himself as “God’s battering ram against the prison of men’s conscience.”

Among sixteenth-century writers, Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert (1522–1590) offers the fullest defense of religious toleration, but his work has hitherto been largely inaccessible, save to readers of his native Dutch. Gerrit Voogt’s Constraint on Trial is now the best biography in any language, with the best account of how Coornhert both made use of and departed from the advocates of toleration who came before him.

—James D. Tracy 

 

Contents

A Sixteenth-Century Defense of Toleration

Before Entering Public Service
Politico-Cultural Developments in the Netherlands
Coornhert’s Early Life
Revolt and Exile
“Only God Is Master over Man’s Conscience”
“Be Ye Perfect”
Coornhert’s Toleration Writings
The Sword of the Spirit
Freedom of Conscience
Sola Scriptura
Gamaliel’s Counsel
Wheat and Tares
The Golden Rule
The Power of Truth
Two Worlds Apart
The Many-Headed Hydra: Coornhert against the Sects
Heretics
Freedom of Conscience in the Political Sphere
The Controversialist at Work
Debate in Delft (1578)
Debate in Leiden (1578)
Debate in Haarlem (1579)
Debate in The Hague (1583)
Coornhert vs. Justus Lipsius

Epilogue
Appendix
Bibliography
Index

Authors

Gerrit Voogt was born Delft, the Netherlands, and teaches history at Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Ga. He received his Ph.D. at Georgia State University and his M.A. and B.S. in history at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam.

Reviews

Voogt gives an excellent investigation into this sixteenth-century stalwart for religious freedom.... A thoughtful and positive contribution to the study of religious toleration.

Journal of Church and State

Voogt gives us the best study in English of a major figure in mankind’s search for toleration.

—Robert Coogan,
Renaissance Quarterly, Spring 2002

 

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