Front Page Titles (by Subject) NOTES ON THE TEXTS - A Letter concerning Toleration and Other Writings
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
NOTES ON THE TEXTS - John Locke, A Letter concerning Toleration and Other Writings 
A Letter concerning Toleration and Other Writings, edited and with an Introduction by Mark Goldie (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
NOTES ON THE TEXTS
This volume opens with Locke’s principal work on toleration, the Letter Concerning Toleration. It is followed by excerpts from A Third Letter for Toleration, his public defense of the Letter. Practically all of the other writings included here remained unpublished during his lifetime. Whereas this edition of the Letter and the Third Letter follows the spelling, punctuation, and capitalization of the early printed editions, the remaining texts, which are mostly derived from manuscripts, have been modernized, since an exact rendering of Locke’s private drafts and memoranda would give the modern reader a tough time. I have, however, retained some verbal features that alert us to the fact we are reading seventeenth-century texts, such as “hath” and “’tis.” Words in square brackets are editorial interpolations. All references in the following notes to “MS Locke” are to the Locke archive at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
A Letter Concerning Toleration
Locke wrote the Letter Concerning Toleration in Latin, and it was first published as the Epistola de Tolerantia at Gouda in Holland in April 1689. In the three centuries since, the anglophone world has known the work from the translation made by William Popple and published in London about October of that year.
The text reproduced here is the second edition, which appeared about March 1690, the title page of which announced it to be “corrected.” It contains some 475 amendments to the first. These mostly comprise changes to punctuation (generally strengthening it), capitalization (generally more capitals), italicization (usually more), and spelling. Just two typographical errors were corrected: both editions were prepared with care. More significantly, there were two dozen changes in wording, which clarify or finesse the meaning. They show Popple’s hand at work, for these are not just printer’s corrections. Some scholars have suggested that Locke was involved in these amendments, but this is unlikely. I have, however, noted a couple of occasions that may justify the claim.
Later editions of the Letter have been evenhanded in their preferences between the first and second editions. The Works (1714), Sherman (1937), Montuori (1963), Horton and Mendus (1991), and Sigmund (2005) follow the first edition; Gough (1946) and Wootton (1993) follow the second, as did most eighteenth-century editions; Hollis (1765), the Works (1777 and later), Tully (1983), and Shapiro (2003) are hybrids.
In reading the English Letter, it is important to realize that it is not of Locke’s composing. Scholars have disputed the reliability of Popple’s translation. In his will, Locke wrote that it was prepared “without my privity,” meaning without his authorization. However, as early as June 1689 he did know a translation was being undertaken, and he was evidently content with the result, for it was the English version that he defended in his subsequent controversy with Jonas Proast. Moreover, in his Second Letter he remarked of one passage that, though it might have been rendered “more literally . . . yet the translator is not to be blamed, if he chose to express the sense of the author, in words that very lively represented” his meaning. Even so, the reader should be alert to Popple’s style and not take the text for granted as unmediated Locke.
I have footnoted some passages to illustrate the more marked deviations from the Latin; generally I do not supply Locke’s Latin but use the modern English translation published by Klibansky and Gough in 1968. Such notes are indicated by the phrases “alternatively,” “Popple omits,” or “added by Popple.”
Some general characteristics of Popple’s approach are worth noting, since I have made no attempt to footnote all the variants. He used intensifiers to heighten the emotional tone. For example, “vices” becomes “enormous vices,” “superstition” becomes “credulous superstition,” and “immutable right” becomes “fundamental and immutable right”; the cool “magistrate’s favour” becomes the more pointed “Court favour.” He gave literary variety to Locke’s mechanical repetition of “You say” and “I answer” in stating and responding to his imaginary interlocutor’s objections. He gave a topical spin to points that Locke stated more abstractly, and he anglicized some references that originally had a Dutch context. He sometimes omitted, but more often elaborated, a phrase. One (extreme) example may suffice: where the modern translation of Locke’s Latin has “blindly accept the doctrines imposed by their prince, and worship God in the manner laid down by the laws of their country,” Popple has “blindly to resign up themselves to the will of their governors, and to the religion, which either ignorance, ambition, or superstition had chanced to establish in the countries where they were born.”
Popple wrote stylishly, and some of the more memorable phrases are entirely his. The likening of a church, as a voluntary society, to a “club for claret” has no authority in Locke’s Latin. All translation involves interpretation, and Popple is not quite Locke. But Locke broadly approved, and, for us today, Popple’s version has the supreme advantage of being a text that is at once an authentic seventeenth-century voice, both vivid and readable.
The English Letter has two further differences from the Latin Epistola. Popple added a preface of his own, “To the Reader,” which does not make explicit that it is written by the translator rather than the author, so that many generations of readers assumed that the preface was Locke’s own work. Many Enlightenment readers therefore attributed Popple’s ringing phrase about “absolute liberty” to Locke. The other difference is that Popple deleted the perplexing cryptogram that appeared on the title page of the Latin edition: “Epistola de Tolerantia ad Clarissimum Virum T.A.R.P.T.O.L.A. Scripta à P.A.P.O.I.L.A.”
There are two versions of what the abbreviations on the title page stand for. Phillip van Limborch, the Dutch Arminian theologian and friend of Locke who put the Epistola through the press, deciphered them as “Theologiae Apud Remonstrantes Professorem, Tyrannidis Osorem, Libertatis Amantem, a Pacis Amante, Persecutionis Osore, Ioanne Lockio Anglo” (Professor of Theology among the Remonstrants, Enemy of Tyranny, Lover of Liberty, from a Friend of Peace, Enemy of Persecution, John Locke, Englishman). But Jean Le Clerc had a different reading of the medial “L. A.”: “Limburgium Amstelodamensem” (“Limborch of Amsterdam” instead of “Lover of Liberty”). Although Limborch might be expected to know best, Le Clerc’s version seems more plausible: the parallel between the two names of Limborch and Locke seems natural; and Limborch contradicts himself by also saying that Locke “wanted our names to be hidden by the letters of the title.” In offering his explanation, Limborch was probably being modest.
When Locke’s publisher Awnsham Churchill issued the first edition of the Works in 1714, he placed an epigraph (in Latin) on the title page of the Letter, from Cicero, De Officiis, ii.83, saluting Locke: “A wise and outstanding man, he thought that he should consult the interests of all; and it showed the wisdom and extreme reasonableness that befits a good citizen that he did not separate the interests of the citizens, but held everyone together under a single standard of fairness.”
I have taken the opportunity of the present edition to provide a fair amount of information by way of explanatory notes. Oddly, scarcely any of the editions published in the past half-century provide notes, and yet the references and allusions in the text are not always perspicuous. I have also drawn attention to some of the clues that the Letter provides to Locke’s secular politics and hence to connections with his Two Treatises of Government. Although Popple’s text has been reproduced in its original form, the scriptural citations that were awkwardly placed have been moved to appropriate points in the text and the names of biblical books spelled out.
Excerpts from A Third Letter for Toleration
Of the three responses that Locke prepared against his critic Jonas Proast, much the longest is the Third Letter for Toleration, published by Awnsham Churchill in 1692. Anonymous, it is signed “Philanthropus, June 20, 1692,” and fills 350 quarto pages. It is sadly neglected today, though readers can be forgiven for not pursuing Locke through all the thickets of his relentless contradiction of Proast.
The tract is too long to reprint in its entirety here, and I have selected passages that either illuminate themes in the original Letter or pursue new lines of inquiry. In the footnotes I indicate the location of the excerpts in the 1692 edition and in volume 6 of the Works, 1801 and 1823. The topical headings supplied to each excerpt are mine. The first excerpt usefully incorporates passages from Locke’s Second Letter (1690). Locke’s marginal citations have been transferred to notes, except that biblical citations are incorporated in the text.
Proast’s principal claim was that compulsion can indirectly achieve religious conversion and that the function of laws for conformity was to make people reconsider their beliefs. State and church were obliged to ensure that civil penalties were accompanied by evangelizing effort. It is these arguments that Locke sets out to refute.
An Essay Concerning Toleration
The Essay Concerning Toleration was written in 1667, shortly after Locke joined the household of Lord Ashley, later Earl of Shaftesbury. It remained in manuscript during Locke’s lifetime and was not published until the nineteenth century, though a number of its arguments later appeared in the Letter: the parallels are numerous and I have not sought to record them in the notes. The Essay registers Locke’s conversion to the principle of toleration and his break with the position he took in his earlier Two Tracts on Government (1660–62).
There are four surviving manuscripts, whose interrelationship is complex, and no attempt has been made to record textual variants: there are over a thousand of them. The version printed here derives from the manuscript in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California (HM 584). With the generous permission of J. R. Milton and Philip Milton, I have used their authoritative transcription (2006) but have modernized the text. To clarify the structure, I have slightly adjusted Locke’s numeration of paragraphs and introduced a few section breaks. Some of the more significant variants in the version in MS Locke c. 28 are recorded in notes, as are also a couple of variants within the Huntington MS. Some other modern editions have preferred to use MS Locke c. 28 as their copy-text. An Essay Concerning Toleration is Locke’s own title, but in one part of the Huntington MS he gives an alternative: “The Question of Toleration Stated.”
Additions to the Essay.
The version in MS Locke c. 28 contains three additional passages not found in any other: these are Additions A to C (fols. 22, 28). Another of the manuscripts contains two further additions, which also have no counterpart: D and E (the notebook called “Adversaria 1661,” pp. 125, 270–71). A to C are probably contemporaneous with the Essay; D probably dates from ca. 1671–72, and E from ca. 1675. I have indicated in the notes the places where A to C belong; D and E have no placements, since they follow at the end of the main body of the manuscript.
In the final two additions Locke sketches the corruption of Christianity by the ambition of priests, and the rise of the persecution of heresy and dissent. He suggests there has often been an unholy alliance between priests and princes, the former preaching the divine right of kings, the latter persecuting those deemed unorthodox. Locke notes the propensity of all priesthoods to domineer over civil society.
Fragments on Toleration
This is a collection of Locke’s essays, notes, and memoranda on topics relating to toleration, composed at various times between the 1660s and 1690s. With the exception of The Constitutions of Carolina, none was published in Locke’s lifetime. Some items carry the title Locke gave them; other titles are editorially supplied.
Untitled. The National Archives: PRO 30/24/47/33. Written in Latin, with the title “An necesse sit dari in ecclesia infallibilem sacro sanctae scripturae interpretem? Negatur.” (Is it necessary that an infallible interpreter of Holy Scripture be granted in the church? No.) The translation used here is from J. C. Biddle, “John Locke’s Essay on Infallibility: Introduction, Text, and Translation,” Journal of Church and State 19 (1977): 301–27. The format of this essay—a question posed for disputation—is simi lar to that of Locke’s Essays on the Law of Nature (1663–64).
Locke addresses the topic of scriptural hermeneutics and evinces a conventional Protestant hostility to Catholicism. He perhaps borrows from William Chillingworth’s Religion of Protestants (1638) and Jeremy Taylor’s Liberty of Prophesying (1647). He affirms the principle of sola scriptura (the self-sufficiency of the Bible), in opposition to the Catholic claim that Scripture is often obscure and must be understood in the light of the church’s tradition of authoritative teaching. Catholics believed that the church’s authority to interpret the Bible was infallible (but did not necessarily place that infallibility in the pope). Locke warns against clogging the mysteries of faith with vain philosophy.
The Constitutions of Carolina (excerpt) (1669–70).
Against Samuel Parker (1669–70).
MS Locke c. 39, fols. 5, 7, 9. Endorsed: “Q [uerie]s on S.P.’s discourse of toleration. 69.” A commentary on Samuel Parker’s Discourse of Ecclesiastical Politie: wherein the authority of the civil magistrate over the consciences ofsubjects in matters of religion is asserted; the mischiefs and inconveniences of toleration are represented, and all pretences pleaded on behalf of liberty of conscience are fully answered (“1670,” in fact 1669). This book was one of the most influential and virulent attacks on the dissenters (though its sentiments are not dissimilar from Locke’s now abandoned position in his early Tracts). It was encouraged by Archbishop Gilbert Sheldon and was part of the inaptly styled “friendly debate” between churchmen and dissenters, which spanned the years 1666 to 1674. The Congregationalist John Owen and Andrew Marvell took part on the dissenters’ side. Locke’s patron, Lord Ashley, hoped to persuade the king to grant toleration, while Sheldon and Parker worked with the Anglican gentry in Parliament to implement further coercive legislation. Excerpts from Parker’s book (pp. 11–12, 12, 21–22, 24, 25–26, 29, 144–47, 153) are supplied to make sense of Locke’s comments and to indicate the contemporary case for intolerance. Locke’s page citations are omitted.
Civil and Ecclesiastical Power (1674).
MS Locke c. 27, fol. 29. The title is a modern attribution: the manuscript is endorsed “Excommunication 73/ 4.” Partly in Locke’s hand. Locke is emphatic that the civil magistrate has no business to enforce religious conformity. He allows that churches have the right to discipline their members by excommunication, but without civil penalties attached.
MS Locke c. 27, fol. 30. “Philanthropoy [ sic ] or The Christian Philosopher’s” [ sic ]; endorsed “Philanthropy 75.” A paper not certainly of Locke’s authorship: the manuscript is in an unknown hand but has corrections by Locke and the endorsement is his. Possibly a statement of intent for a philosophical club. It is a reflection on the things that distort the pursuit of truth, a theme Locke pursued in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, bk. 4. There is a strong anticlerical strain.
Infallibility Revisited (1675).
MS Locke c. 27, fols. 32–33. Headed “Queries”; endorsed “Queries Popery 75.” Not in Locke’s hand; the authorship is not certain. These notes again show Locke’s distaste for the Catholic doctrine of infallibility. He believes that the intolerance of Rome is built on implausible claims. The topic of church councils is discussed. The Church of England accepted the authority of genuine councils of the Christian church but did not believe there had been any such councils since the fourth century; later councils were deemed partisan and papistical.
Religion in France (1676–79).
Excerpts from MS Locke f. 1–3 (1676–78), and British Library, Add. MS 15642 (1679); omissions within the excerpts are marked [. . .]. These manuscripts are Locke’s journals during his sojourn in France. They illustrate his observations on the pressures upon Protestants, which would culminate in savage persecution after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685; also his comments on the Protestants’ own system of discipline and his attitude to Catholicism. The transcriptions are taken from the edition by John Lough, Locke’s Travels in France, 1675–1679 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), pp. 15, 22–23, 29–30, 40, 43, 45, 85–86, 108, 130, 223, 229–30, 271. The journals contain many kinds of entry besides Locke’s travelogue: the next three items below are also from these journals but are philosophical memoranda. Locke spent most of this period at Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast, in a region where many towns were predominantly Protestant.
The Obligation of Penal Laws (25 February 1676).
MS Locke f. 1, pp. 123–26. Marginal keywords: “Obligation of Penal Laws,” “Lex Humana.” This memorandum is an important measure of Locke’s political opinions at this time. It is conservative in tone, showing no hint of a right of resistance, which suggests that the transition to the Two Treatises of Government came late. Locke does, however, stress that most human laws are purely regulatory and that divine authority cannot be invoked beyond the general duty of obeying those governments that uphold civil peace and mutual preservation. Similarly, no particular form of government has divine sanction.
Toleration and Error (23 August 1676).
MS Locke f. 1, pp. 412–15. Marginal keywords: “Toleration,” “Peace.” Written in shorthand: the transcription is from Wolfgang von Leyden’s edition of Locke’s Essays on the Law of Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954), pp. 274–75. Locke answers objections to religious toleration and distinguishes between civil and ecclesiastical government.
Toleration in Israel (19 April 1678).
MS Locke f. 3, p. 107. Marginal keyword: “Toleration.” A note concerning the ancient Jewish state.
Toleration and Sincerity (1679).
MS Locke d. 1, pp. 125–26. Heading: “Toleratio.” Locke reiterates principles laid down in the Essay Concerning Toleration.
MS Locke d. 1, p. 5. Headed “Conformitas.” Locke recounts a story about Protestants at Constantinople, which implies a preference for the “comprehension” of dissenting Protestants within the fold of the national church.
The Origin of Religious Societies (1681).
An excerpt from Locke’s critique of Edward Stillingfleet. MS Locke c. 34, fols. 75–79. This substantial manuscript is written in the hands of Locke, James Tyrrell, and Locke’s amanuensis Sylvester Brounower. It is untitled, and the common designations, “Critical Notes on Stillingfleet” and “Defence of Nonconformity,” are modern. The target is a sermon and treatise by Stillingfleet, The Mischief of Separation (1680) and The Unreasonableness of Separation (1681).
There is as yet no published edition, though short excerpts have appeared in various places, and there is a complete transcription in Timothy Stanton, “John Locke, Edward Stillingfleet, and Toleration” (Ph.D. thesis, Leicester, 2003), from which the present excerpt is derived, with his permission. I have not registered the innumerable alterations that occur in the manuscript. The sentence preceding this excerpt refers to examining “the original of religious societies.”
Enthusiasm (19 February 1682).
MS Locke f. 6, pp. 20–25. Untitled. A commentary on Select Discourses (1660) by the Cambridge Platonist John Smith, concerning “The True Way or Method of Attaining to Divine Knowledge.” “Enthusiasm” was a pejorative term for extravagant and dangerous forms of spirituality, involving claims for direct divine inspiration. Locke included some of this material in a letter he wrote to Damaris Masham in April. Later, he inserted a chapter on “Enthusiasm” in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding: bk. 4, chap. 19.
MS Locke d. 10, p. 43. Locke’s heading. A commentary on Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1593–97). Locke bought a copy of Hooker in June 1681 and took extensive notes from it.
MS Locke d. 10, p. 163. Headed “Traditio.” A criticism of the role of clerical “tradition” in the teachings of Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam. Locke’s implied position is the Protestant principle of sola scriptura: the sufficiency of Scripture alone, without the necessity of priestly interpretive authority. The quarrel between the sufficiency of Scripture and the necessity of tradition was known as the “Rule of Faith” controversy.
Pennsylvania Laws (1686).
MS Locke f. 9, fols. 33, 39. Excerpts from Locke’s comments on William Penn’s Frame of Government, headed “Pensilvania Laws.” Only the comments on religious and moral matters are included. The first several items appear at the head of the document; the last item, on schools, appears later. Locke’s final comment is comprehensively negative: “the whole is so far from a frame of government that it scarce contains a part of the materials.”
Pacific Christians (1688).
MS Locke c. 27, fol. 80. Headed “Pacifick Christians.” Apparently a set of guiding principles for a religious society. Compare “Rules of the Dry Club” (1692), whose members must declare that they believe “no person ought to be harmed in his body, name, or goods, for mere speculative opinions, or his external way of worship” (Locke, Works, 1801, vol. 10, pp. 312–14).
In the notebook “Adversaria 1661,” p. 93. Locke’s heading. He begins with an account of ancient religion, out of Cicero, and then turns to stress the essential character of Christianity as holy living, not ritual performances. The passage is a commentary on Pierre Bayle’s Pensées diverses (1683), §127.
In the notebook “Adversaria 1661,” pp. 320–21. Locke’s heading. He attacks elaborate doctrinal confessions of faith, unquestioning belief, and the tyranny of orthodoxy. He affirms the priority of sincerity in belief and morality in conduct.
Scriptures for Toleration (undated, ca. 1676–90).
MS Locke c. 33, fol. 24. Headed “Tolerantia Pro.” A series of biblical citations that Locke takes as favoring toleration.