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Daniel Chodowiecki , 1791: Minerva as a symbol of tolerance and wisdom protects followers of all religions

Tolerance , including forbearance , is generally the acceptance and allowance of other or other people's beliefs, actions and customs . Colloquially, this often means the recognition of equal rights today , but this goes beyond the actual term (“Duldung”).

The underlying verb to tolerate was borrowed in the 16th century from the Latin tolerare (“to endure”, “to endure”). The adjective tolerant in the meaning of "tolerant, indulgent , generous, generous" has been documented since the 18th century, the time of the Enlightenment , as has the counter- education intolerant , as "intolerant, no other opinion or worldview counting as one's own".

The opposite term to tolerance is intolerance , which means “intolerance” borrowed from the French intolérance in the 18th century . Acceptance , the approving, approving attitude towards another person or their behavior is considered to be an increase in tolerance .

Range of terms

The term tolerance can be found without consistent meaning in legal theory, political theory, sociology and ethics, in each case in connection with the handling and regulation of conflicts in social systems. Many decrees that historically guaranteed tolerance for (religious) minorities are also known as edicts of tolerance .

According to the history of the idea of ​​tolerance, the term is often linked to the religious demand for tolerance. The philosopher Max Müller sees tolerance as the mutual respect of the individual towards the views on the " last things " and sees it anchored in the Christian love law.

In the political and social sphere, tolerance is also seen as the answer of a closed society and its binding value system towards minorities with divergent convictions that cannot be easily integrated into the ruling system. In this respect, tolerance protects an existing system, since foreign views are acknowledged but not necessarily adopted. However, tolerance also protects those who hold minority opinions from repression and in this respect is considered a basic condition for humanity . In these contexts, tolerance is also the precondition for a peaceful, theoretical, conflict about competing claims to truth. In this sense, Andreas Urs Sommer defines tolerance in general as a “social ability to relativize”, which does not only include positive aspects. The term repressive tolerance , coined by Herbert Marcuse , criticizes in particular that in a society with unclear pluralism of values, in which tolerance is the norm, rational and justified criticism can remain ineffective.

Another point of criticism is that tolerance can indicate ethical indifference, i.e. a reduction in awareness of good and bad . According to Kees Schuyt, tolerance can also be described as an imperfect virtue because one allows something that is actually considered bad. Some authors also differentiate between passive and active tolerance.

In philosophy, the problem of tolerance is linked to the question of truth and freedom : is there “truth” in the possession of individuals or groups and what is the relationship with freedom in relation to what is seen as “truth”?

History of the idea of ​​tolerance

European cultural area

In the intellectual history of the European cultural area , the idea of ​​tolerance arose from the practical necessity of the state to enable social coexistence by integrating deviating religious beliefs. Essential considerations concern the relationship between Christianity and other religions, and since the Reformation also the relationship between the various Christian denominations.

In the Roman Empire, the religions of subjugated peoples were tolerated, provided they accepted the divine worship of the emperor as a unifying bond of the state. Since Christians did not do this, there was no tolerance for them. It was not until the Edict of Tolerance by Galerius in 311 that the persecution of Christians ended .

The Christian Middle Ages made a distinction between "unbelievers" (Jews and Gentiles) and heretics . Only the former were tolerated, as access to faith should not be forced. In the year 602 , Pope Gregory the Great ordered tolerance for the Jews. Heretics, on the other hand, were to be persecuted because they had fallen away from the truth already known.

Freedom of religion that goes beyond mere tolerance (“Tuldung”) presupposes a differentiation between church and state as well as social pluralism and is therefore reserved for the modern age .

At the beginning of the 16th century, humanism and above all the Reformation set in motion a development in Western culture that led to the emergence of the modern idea of ​​tolerance and its realization. A worldwide process of social modernization started in the 15th century. According to the philosopher Jürgen Habermas , it was driven by Martin Luther and the Reformation movement . According to the historian Heinrich August Winkler , the "freedom of conscience of the individual" is the "original postulate of Protestantism". For Luther, belief in Jesus Christ is the free gift of the Holy Spirit and can therefore not be forced upon anyone. Heresies should not be countered with the use of force, but with the preaching of the Gospel. Luther: “One should overcome the heretics with writings, not with fire.” False teachers can be expelled by the secular authorities. They face the death penalty only if they disrupt public order. In doing so, Luther overcame medieval criminal law on heretics. However, Luther remained stuck in the Middle Ages insofar as he saw the Anabaptists' rejection of the oath, military service and, in part, private property as a political danger to the community that would lead to chaos. This is why there was persecution, torture and murder of Anabaptists in Lutheran and Reformed territories. So the Baptist was as Fritz heritage solely because of his faith several years in the so-called fear hole of Wartburg imprisoned , where he eventually died 1548th Luther also advocates the killing of people with disabilities , the burning of alleged witches and the destruction of Jewish synagogues and schools. Ulrich Zwingli demanded the expulsion of people of different faiths and, in some cases, the execution of Anabaptist leaders. The so-called Anabaptist Chamber and state Anabaptist hunters existed in Switzerland until 1742. The proceedings against the anti-Trinitarian Michael Servet in Geneva were formally a criminal case on the basis of imperial law. Trinity denial was long considered atheism in all churches. In 1566 the anti-Trinitarian Giovanni Valentino Gentile was beheaded for his faith . As a defender of freedom of belief and conscience against John Calvin , Sebastian Castellio developed a theory of religious and general spiritual tolerance in his writings. The Anabaptists also contributed significantly to the emergence of modern tolerance by tirelessly demanding tolerance and advocating it through their suffering.

The fundamental separation of the spiritual and the secular through Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms made possible the separation of state and church . This was first practiced by the persecuted minority churches of the Anabaptists and Huguenots .

The first modern European edict of tolerance was the Edict of Torda , which recognized Lutherans, Reformed, Unitarians and Catholics in Transylvania as denominations with equal rights and for the first time established general religious freedom theologically. However, Orthodox and Jews were not formally covered by the Edict of Torda. The Confederation of Warsaw followed in 1573, which guaranteed the nobles the right to religious freedom and is considered the beginning of state-guaranteed religious freedom in Poland-Lithuania . In the wake of the Schmalkaldic War, the Passau Peace of 1552 and the Augsburg Religious Peace of 1555 may be regarded as precursors . The latter was forced by the fact that the churches could no longer be changed. He legalized the situation that had arisen: tolerance prevailed between the secular imperial estates, intolerance in the territories, parity in the imperial cities; the individual was given freedom of belief and the right to emigrate. In addition to the right of the two denominations to exist, the principle of Cuius regio, ejus religio [“whose territory, whose religion”] was legally established. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) confirmed the Peace of Augsburg. The Reformed and the private and domestic practice of religion for the respective religious minorities were also recognized. Reformation denominations such as the Anabaptists ( Mennonites ), the Unitarians and the Bohemian Brethren were not covered by peace and not included in imperial law . Although the Thirty Years' War changed little legally, it strengthened doubts about the justification of religious intolerance.

The next important step was taken by the Baptist Roger Williams (1636), the Congregationalist Thomas Hooker (1636) and the Quaker William Penn (1682) in the North American colonies of Rhode Island , Connecticut and Pennsylvania . They combined the democratic form of government created in the Plymouth Colony (1620) and Massachusetts Bay Colony (1628) with unrestricted freedom of religion. These colonies, especially the large area of ​​Pennsylvania, became places of refuge for persecuted religious minorities. Catholics and Jews also received full citizenship and were free to practice their religion. Like Luther, Williams, Hooker, and Penn established religious tolerance theologically: Since Christian faith is the free gift of the Holy Spirit, it cannot be forced.

The deciding factor was the proclamation of religious freedom within the framework of human rights in the American Declaration of Independence (1776), the constitution and the Bill of Rights . Despite great theological differences, Baptists and Presbyterians in particular worked with Deists like Thomas Jefferson to give constitutional status to the separation of church and state and religious freedom. The declaration of independence established the human rights equality, the right to life and freedom, including freedom of religion, from the biblical belief in creation. They have been bestowed on people by "their Creator". Heinrich August Winkler: “The reference to God [...] expressed the insight into the theological prehistory of human rights. The idea of ​​the personal dignity of every single person had its origin in the Judeo-Christian belief in the one God who created people in his own image. The commitment to the equality of men before the law historically presupposed the belief in the equality of men before God. "

The English philosopher John Locke conceived an essay in English in 1667, which appeared anonymously in Latin in 1689 under the title Epistola de tolerantia ("Letter on Tolerance"). This was followed by two more in English, A Second Letter Concerning Toleration (1690) and A Third Letter Concerning Toleration (1692). Locke pleaded for a certain tolerance of different religious denominations, but not of atheism and only to a limited extent of Catholicism. In England, the Toleration Act was passed by parliament in 1689 in a similar sense .

In the age of the Enlightenment , the idea of ​​tolerance becomes a requirement for toleration of all denominations, the scope of the concept of tolerance is also expanded beyond the religious, to a general toleration of those who think and do differently. Enlightenment thought leaders advocate implementation. In Lessing's drama Nathan the Wise , published in 1779, the parable of the ring is considered a contemporary formulation of the idea of ​​tolerance in relation to the three great monotheistic religions. In France, as early as 1763 , Voltaire made himself an advocate of unrestricted freedom of belief and conscience in his treatise Traité sur la tolérance (“Treatise on the Thought of Tolerance”) .

At the beginning of the 19th century Brockhaus defined in the Conversations Lexicon : “Tolerance - Duldung - means the admission of individual persons or even entire societies who think differently in consideration of religion than the residents of a place or country who profess the prevailing religion . ”And Goethe demanded maxims and reflections in his collection of aphorisms :“ Tolerance should actually only be a temporary attitude: it must lead to recognition. To tolerate means to insult. "

The English philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill did not use the term tolerance as a term in the middle of the 19th century , but spoke of religious tolerance in the traditional sense. His emphasis on individual freedoms, however, is considered to be groundbreaking for the idea of ​​tolerance and the expansion of the scope of meaning: Since Mill in particular, tolerance has been spoken of not only in relation to the relationship between groups, but also in relation to groups to individuals and individuals to individuals.

See also


Primary literature

  • Pierre Bayle : Tolerance - A Philosophical Commentary. (= Suhrkamp pocket book science. 2183). Edited by Eva Buddeberg and Rainer Forst. Translated from the French by Eva Buddeberg with the assistance of Franziska Heimburger. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2016, ISBN 978-3-518-29783-4 .
  • Voltaire : About tolerance. (= Suhrkamp Taschenbuch. 4656). With a foreword by Laurent Joffrin. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2015, ISBN 978-3-518-46656-8 .


  • Religious tolerance. Documents on the history of a claim. (= Modern times under construction. 4). In., Come. u. ed. by Hans R. Guggisberg. Frommann-Holzboog, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1984, ISBN 3-7728-0873-5 .
  • Paths to Tolerance. History of a European Idea in Sources. Ed., Introduced and ext. by Heinrich Schmidinger. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2002, ISBN 3-534-16620-5 .
  • Andrei Plesu: Tolerance and the intolerable. Lecture on Burckhardt Talks at Castelen, Schwabe-Verlag, Basel 2004, ISBN 3-7965-2109-6 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Tolerance  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Synonymy for tolerance. In: Mackensen German Dictionary. 11th edition. Südwest Verlag, Munich 1986.
  2. a b c d e f g h tolerance. In: Max Müller, Alois Halder: Small Philosophical Dictionary. 3. Edition. Herder, 1973.
  3. a b c d e f g Dieter Teichert: Tolerance. In: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. 4th volume, Metzler, 1996.
  4. tolerate. In: Kluge Etymological Dictionary of the German Language. 24th edition. 2002.
  5. a b c tolerate. In: Duden «Etymologie» - dictionary of origin of the German language. 2nd Edition. Dudenverlag, 1989.
  6. Andreas Urs Sommer: Is tolerance a value? on: NZZ . August 9, 2016.
  7. a b Horst Lademacher: Rejection - Tolerance - Recognition . Waxmann Verlag, 2004, ISBN 3-8309-1161-0 , p. 13 ( limited preview in Google Book Search [accessed May 26, 2015]).
  8. Religious Pluralism and Tolerance in Europe . Springer-Verlag, 2008, ISBN 978-3-531-90293-7 , pp. 85 ( limited preview in Google Book Search [accessed May 26, 2015]).
  9. Joachim Vahland: Tolerance Discourses. In: Zeno . Issue 37, 2017, p. 13: "The career of the concept of tolerance since the early modern age begins in the context of religious disputes with their destabilizing consequences for state cohesion and social solidarity."
  10. Oliver Lellek: Tolerance. In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages . Volume 8, 1997, pp. 849-850.
  11. ^ Pope Gregory I .: Letter "Qui sincera" from November 602. In: Denzinger-Hünermann . No. 480.
  12. ^ Thomas Aquinas : Summa theologica . II II, q. 10f.
  13. Christian Spieß: Religious Freedom and Tolerance. In: Yearbook for Christian Social Sciences . 50, 2009, pp. 225-248. (PDF, 431KB)
  14. Jürgen Habermas: Time of Transitions. Frankfurt am Main 2001, pp. 175, 176, 179, 182.
  15. ^ Heinrich August Winkler: History of the West. From the origins in antiquity to the 20th century. 3rd, revised edition. Munich 2012, p. 152.
  16. Martin Ohst: Tolerance / Intolerance. In: Religion Past and Present. 4th edition. 8th volume, Munich 2005, column 463.
  17. Rudolf Pfister : Church History of Switzerland , Volume 3, 1964, page 123
  18. ^ Heinrich Bornkamm: Tolerance. In the history of Christianity. In: Religion Past and Present. 3. Edition. Volume VI, Tübingen, Sp. 937-939.
  19. Winkler, p. 262.
  20. Bornkamm, Col. 939.
  21. Lorenz Hein: Italian Protestants and their influence on the Reformation in Poland , Leiden 1974, page 23
  22. ^ Anton Schindling: Was 1648 a Catholic defeat? In: Horst Carl ua (Hrsg.): War defeats: experience and memory . Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-05-004015-7 , pp. 269 .
  23. Bornkamm, Col. 9 40
  24. Winkler, p. 121ff.
  25. Allen Weinstein, David Rubel: The Story of America: Freedom and Crisis from Settlement to Superpower. New York 2002, pp. 60-63.
  26. Winkler, pp. 265, 280ff.
  27. Martin Ohst, Col. 464
  28. ^ Clifton E. Olmstead: History of Religion in the United States. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1960, pp. 64-76, 99-105, 113-115.
  29. Bornkamm, column 943.
  30. ^ Robert Middlekauff: The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789. revised and exp. Edition. Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-19-516247-1 , pp. 4-6, 48-52, 634-638.
  31. ^ Thomas S. Kidd: God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. Basic Books, New York 2010, ISBN 978-0-465-00235-1 , pp. 6ff, 75ff, 167ff.
  32. Winkler, p. 308.
  33. a b c sentence after winged words. 2nd Edition. VEB Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1982, p. 251.
  34. Quoted from Conversations-Lexikon or concise concise dictionary. 1st edition. 1809-1811. ( online at: , accessed August 15, 2009)
  35. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: 875. Tolerance ... In: Maximen und Reflexionen. No. 875, 1907, p. 190.