De Hæretico Comburendo (1401)

When we think about religious freedom, and the proper relationship of church and state, we tend to think of it in general terms. Of course we believe in the separation of church and state--but not the separation of religion and culture.There's plenty to complain about in contemporary culture. Nonetheless, I worry about the upswing in nostalgia for the Christianity of the past --for Christendom, sometimes, it seems. The nostalgia's mainly about liturgy--the retrieval of older, more beautiful forms of the mass--but I find myself wondering whether liturgical and moral and political sensibilities can be so neatly separated. If the liturgy makes a world, what are the other aspects of that world, both good and bad?The best remedy against nostalgia is history. A friend of mine recently assigned the above-named text to her class. . It makes the Declaration on Religious Liberty real, and a real achievement.Students today know that the the church and state no longer cooperate in the burning of heretics. They also know that they once did, but in the vaguest terms. Sometimes concreteness is necessary: So here's an actual law. De Haeretico comburendo (1401) was a statute passed by Henry IV, prohibiting, among other things, the distribution and possession of the Bible in the vernacular.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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