"Liberty in the Things of God" by Robert Louis Wilken

Liberty in the Things of God The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom Robert Louis Wilken

Publication date:
27 Apr 2021
Yale University Press
248 pages: 235 x 156mm
Sales territories:

From one of the leading historians of Christianity comes this sweeping reassessment of religious freedom, from the church fathers to John Locke

“Robert Louis Wilken’s new masterpiece.”—George Weigel, First Things
In the ancient world Christian apologists wrote in defense of their right to practice their faith in the cities of the Roman Empire. They argued that religious faith is an inward disposition of the mind and heart and cannot be coerced by external force, laying a foundation on which later generations would build.
Chronicling the history of the struggle for religious freedom from the early Christian movement through the seventeenth century, Robert Louis Wilken shows that the origins of religious freedom and liberty of conscience are religious, not political, in origin. They took form before the Enlightenment through the labors of men and women of faith who believed there could be no justice in society without liberty in the things of God. This provocative book, drawing on writings from the early Church as well as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, reminds us of how “the meditations of the past were fitted to affairs of a later day.”

Robert Louis Wilken is William R. Kenan Professor Emeritus of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia. His many books include The First Thousand Years, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, and The Christians as the Romans Saw Them.

“Cogent . . . [Wilken] contends that the principle of religious freedom—that is, that religious believers may worship as they wish—arose chiefly from Christian sources, not secular or skeptical ones.”—Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal

“A brief work of superb scholarship.”—Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal (“Best Political Books of 2019”)

“Wilken’s revisionist account…deals with an old problem in a new way.”—John Gascoigne, Journal of Religious History

“Short, clear, and helpful...The book's added value comes in the way in which it connects these Reformation arguments with those made by Christians of the Roman Empire”—Nick Spencer, Church Times

Listed on Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles List for 2019

“Wilken argues convincingly that the concept of religious freedom originated with Christian thinkers, challenging one of the most revered paradigms in Western intellectual history. In the process, he also injects a corrective twist into current debates about secularist hegemony.”—Carlos Eire, author of Reformations

“A remarkable work of daring and vision, moving from early Christianity to the eighteenth century with confidence and authority, from a distinguished historian of Christian history with a sharp eye for key intellectual developments.”—Bruce Gordon, Yale University

"A superb book of ecumenical and contemporary significance.”—Timothy George, Beeson Divinity School of Samford University

“In this original and erudite work, leading Patristic scholar Robert Wilken proves that the ancient Christian teachings of Tertullian and Lactantius on freedom of conscience and religious exercise remained axiomatic for Western champions of religious freedom—Catholic, Protestant, and Enlightenment Liberal alike.”—John Witte, Jr., Emory University

“A vibrant picture of where leading ideas about religious freedom came from and how they emerged.”—Robert P. George, Princeton University