The essays selected here for translation derive largely from Thomasius’s work on Staatskirchenrecht, or the political jurisprudence of church law. These works, originating as disputations, theses, and pamphlets, were direct interventions in the unresolved issue of the political role of religion in Brandenburg-Prussia, a state in which a Calvinist dynasty ruled over a largely Lutheran population and nobility as well as a significant Catholic minority. In mandating limited religious toleration within the German states, the provisions of the Peace of Westphalia (1648) also provided the rulers of Brandenburg-Prussia with a way of keeping the powerful Lutheran church in check by guaranteeing a degree of religious freedom to non-Lutherans and thereby detaching the state from the most powerful territorial church. Thomasius’s writings on church-state relations, many of them critical of the civil claims made by Lutheran theologians, are a direct response to this state of affairs. At the same time, owing to the depth of intellectual resources at his disposal, these works constitute a major contribution to the broader discussion of the relation between the religious and political spheres.
"On the History of Natural Law Until Grotius
1. All men by nature are in the same miserable shape. All demand to live long and happily, that is, cheerfully, well-off, and honored. In spite of this, every thought and desire they have had since their youth leads them to do things that make their lives unhappy, wretched, or both. Thus, the natural end of life is cut short. Man becomes the agent of his own misfortune.
2. Few recognize this misery. Even fewer use their knowledge of this misery to seek the reasonable means of saving themselves from it. Fewest of all, however, when investigating these means, take the necessary care or muster up the strength to grasp these means. Everywhere it is not the Creator but man himself who is thus to blame, despite the fact that God has bestowed upon him and presented him with partly natural, partly supernatural teachings, means, and powers. It lies thus in man’s obstinacy and negligence if he neither recognizes nor utilizes such teachings and means, nor wants to accept those offered, but rejects them willfully and pushes them away with his feet, so to speak.
3. This misfortune can be ascribed, among other causes, to the fact that man confuses the natural and supernatural lights, reason and divine revelation, thereby bringing disorder to all knowledge. As a result, man regards true teachings as errors and passes off errors for truths. He attempts to assert them by force. In doing so, he misses the right path and, while intending to help, seduces others, plunging them and himself into misery. Thus sincere lovers of truth have always recognized that the light of reason and divine revelation, as well as nature and grace, should be clearly distinguished. Recently, not only in France but also in Germany, learned men have published treatises about this, some scholarly, others polemical."
Christian Thomasius (1655–1728) was a German philosopher and legal theorist, a professor of natural law at Leipzig University. He was a follower of Hugo Grotius and an ardent defender of the religious toleration and opponent of torture. Christian Thomasius was a cofounder of the University of Halle, where he was also a professor.