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The Christian Origins of Toleration

Long seen as an essential virtue for liberal democracies, tolerance has begun to fall out of favor in our current deeply polarized political climate. Doesn’t tolerating what we believe to be unjust allow injustice to continue and even make us complicit in the resulting harm? Paying special attention to this objection, Prof. Atkins will revisit the early history of toleration. The idea of toleration and the virtue of tolerance arose first, not from the modern liberal enlightenment, but out of the theological reflections of Christians within the first five centuries CE: Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius, and Augustine. These thinkers made valuable contributions that deserve to be considered in our contemporary climate.