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All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World
All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World
Stuart B. Schwartz
Yale University Press, 2008
352 pp., $52.50

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Carlos Eire


Tolerant Propositions

Pluralism side-by-side with the Inquisition.

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Keeping in mind that the "other" was always close at hand in the Iberian transatlantic world, due to the large presence of descendants of Jews and Muslims and of New World natives who had been forcibly converted, Schwartz admits that tolerance of such neighbors might have had some unique features in Iberia and its colonies. But he also proposes that the kind of tolerant pluralism persecuted by the Iberian Inquisitions could also be found in the rest of Western Christendom, especially after the Protestant Reformation created more "others" than ever before. Unlike Carlo Ginzburg, who made a quantitative leap of faith in his classic microhistory The Cheese and the Worms by arguing that one freethinking miller in a remote corner of Italy was representative of a vast, silent majority, Schwartz is always cautious enough not to make too large a claim about the number of tolerant pluralists.2 He also takes into account William Christian's warning about reconstructing the history of early modern Spain through the eyes of the Inquisition—which, as he says, would be akin to writing American history solely from FBI files.3 But he does suggest repeatedly that what really matters the most is not the number of dissenters but rather what they stood for. As he sees it, their inchoate, street-level acceptance of all religions was an attitudinal substratum of sorts, as essential for the development of the Enlightenment as for the eventual triumph of laws of toleration. In his own words: "All of these people provided the context of tolerance in which the ideas of the Englightenment could flourish … . They were as much the precursors of modernity as their more literate and eloquent contemporaries."

Schwartz's book packs a hefty conjectural punch, but its heart and soul is a flowing narrative that is at once gripping and enlightening. His tolerant deviants seem to be everywhere, and despite vast differences among them, all seem to share a common attitude toward religion, and toward life in general. Given how widely and how deeply he has cast his net (twelve different archives on three continents), it would be immensely difficult to disprove Schwartz's claims. Spain, Portugal, and their colonies seem as awash in tolerant "propositions" as in informers who are eager to report their neighbors to the Inquisition. These doubters are there, no doubt about it; and so are the inquisitors, recording all the challenges to authority in great detail, tending to be relatively lenient in most cases—a far cry from the sadistic monsters imagined by the so-called Black Legend. Tolerance and intolerance relate to one another in this narrative as opposite magnetic charges in an electric motor, keeping things in motion.

In a similar way, deviance and discipline are also inseparably intertwined. Many of Schwartz's tolerant or indifferent pluralists are as casual in their approach to certain behaviors as they are toward belief. This is not to say that they are all antinomians, but rather that they simply choose not to observe certain norms. Disregard for the church's sexual ethics seems to be an especially salient common link, and quite often it is a casualness about consensual extramarital sex, or simple fornication, that brings these people to the attention of the Inquisition. As the inquisitors themselves would argue, and as theologians of all stripes have argued for centuries, "heresy" and immorality are inseparably linked, for any sort of disregard for the church's teachings brings one to a slippery slope. A single case brought to light by Schwartz sums up hundreds of others: the Peruvian mestizo Francisco de Escobar, who not only made light of theology and piety but also slept with as many Indian women as he could—including mothers and daughters—and argued that fornication was not a sin, but rather a way to obey God's command, "be fruitful and multiply."

All Can Be Saved should prove to be a very important contribution to our understanding of religious belief, past and present, on several levels. First, it offers us a different kind of "history from below" which takes belief as seriously as material factors, as something that makes a difference in people's lives and is no mere response to deeper, "real" factors, such as grain prices. Second, it takes individuals as seriously as the classes or cultures and states to which they belong, simply assuming that then, as now, what one is offered by those who dominate the public sphere, or direct one's destiny, does not have to be accepted and indeed is often rejected. Third, it widens and deepens our understanding of the ways in which religious toleration—a key marker of "modernity"—developed at crucial time in Western history, not so much as an idea or a legal principle, but rather as an attitude, among the common folk. It is as much an affirmation of the significance of the individual as it is of one of the rights that even secularists are eager to consider "sacred": that of freedom of religion. Fourth, it provides further proof that the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions were not as monstrously sadistic as previously thought. Fifth, this book lays to rest any romantic notions anyone may have ever had about the distant past as an Age of Faith, when Christian values were monolithic. In addition, this book has many lessons to convey to all who are caught up in the culture wars that bedevil political discourse in our own day.

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