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Thomasius, Christian (1655–1728)

THOMASIUS, CHRISTIAN (16551728)

THOMASIUS, CHRISTIAN (16551728), German philosopher. Christian Thomasius was the leading legal theorist and university reformer in Protestant Germany during the early Enlightenment. A self-consciously controversial figure who built on the writings and influence of his mentor Samuel von Pufendorf (16321694), he developed a new philosophical outlook, eclecticism, which united all of his contributions to many intellectual fields. It also underpinned his high-profile assaults both on the outmoded Scholastic pedantry of German university life and on several contemporary instances of what he took to be intolerance and superstition in wider society, notably witchcraft prosecutions and the use of torture to extract confessions.

He was the son of Jakob Thomasius, himself an influential Aristotelian moral philosopher of the Altdorf School, which sought to introduce some of the ideas of Francisco Suárez (15481617) into German Protestant Scholasticism. Trained and educated at the Universities of Frankfurt an der Oder and Leipzig, he was a product of the intellectual synthesis between Lutheran Protestantism and Scholastic Aristotelianism, which had been brokered originally by Philipp Melanchthon (14971560). But Thomasius broke decisively with this intellectual orthodoxy when appointed as a young Privatdozent at Leipzig in the 1680s: he was the first academic to regularly give lectures in German as opposed to Latin, a practice he later carried through into his published writings. He was required to leave Leipzig in 1690 and sought employment in Prussia at the newly founded University of Halle, where he went on to hold senior chairs in philosophy and law. During this transitional period he developed his "practical philosophy" and initial proposals for reform of the traditional university curriculum. In a series of works, notably Institutiones Jurisprudentiae Divinae (1688; Institutes of divine jurisprudence) and Introductio ad Philosophiam Aulicam (1688; Introduction to court or civil philosophy) he transformed the innovative epistemological insights of Samuel Pufendorf's De Jure Naturae et Gentium (1672; On the law of nature and of nations) into a radical separation of moral philosophy from theology.

What drove this program was not a commitment to "Enlightenment rationality," as has been argued anachronistically by some historians, but a perception that the mingling of theology and moral and political sciences within the framework of metaphysics had produced a fundamental form of institutionalized corruption that was damaging both to true religion and to healthy philosophy. Only by separating theology and ethics could religion be saved from mere dogmatism, and a useful preparatory curriculum devised that would produce the jurists, administrators, and pastors appropriate for a coherently governed and properly ordered absolutist state. Educational reform, stemming from a revision of the traditional responsibilities of the faculties of philosophy, law, and theology, would thus usher in substantial changes for ecclesiology, political responsibility, and confessional coexistence. On this account Thomasius offered a powerful program for completing the desacralization of state forms, a process left incomplete in the political and philosophical debates that had followed the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Yet this was undertaken not on behalf of the cause of secularization but rather so that Protestant Christianity could acquire once more a purified spiritual identity free from the accretions of "priestcraft." True religion was to be a matter of promoting the inward relationship of the individual with Christ in the manner of the early church. At first, these convictions naturally drew Thomasius close to the contemporary doctrines of the Pietists. However, he and his followers drew back from this assimilation once it became clear that Pietism would not accept his radical reduction of the state's right to intervene in religious affairs to the minimal level of threats to civil safety. In this respect too, Thomasius went well beyond the more conservative positions of Pufendorf.

Thomasius was considered as a thinker of weight and significance for much of the eighteenth century, and until the 1750s his views were propounded at German universities against the doctrines of Christian Wolff (16791754), Leibniz's most distinguished follower. However, the restriction of the publication of many of his works to German limited his intellectual influence beyond German borders, as was not the case with Pufendorf's Latin texts. Moreover, the antisystematic, practical, and problem-solving bias of his work left it more vulnerable to supercession once the debates of his own day had faded from the forefront of political and intellectual discussion. In sum, Thomasius can be considered as one of the first writers in Germany to place the individual at the heart of moral and legal theory, although he did not draw the same liberal consequences for political theory as were extracted elsewhere by John Locke (16321704) and other contemporary philosophers. In this respect, together with other thinkers in the German Enlightenment, he did not substantially shift his account of sovereignty far from that of Thomas Hobbes (15881679), a balance that emphasizes his transitional status between the thought-world of the baroque and the fully mature Enlightenment.

See also Enlightenment ; Melanchthon, Philipp ; Pietism ; Universities .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hochstrasser, T. J. Natural Law Theories in the Early Enlightenment. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2000.

Hunter, Ian. Rival Enlightenments: Civil and Metaphysical Philosophy in Early Modern Germany. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2001.

Schröder, Peter. Christian Thomasius zur Einführung. Hamburg, 1999.

Timothy Hochstrasser

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Thomasius

Thomasius

The German philosopher and jurist Christian Thomasius (1655-1728) was one of the most respected and influential university teachers of his day. He was instrumental in the popularization of the Enlightenment in Germany.

Christian Thomasius was born in Leipzig on Jan. 1, 1655. He received his early education there from his father, a schoolteacher. He pursued the study of law at Frankfurt and began teaching at the University of Leipzig in 1684. In his lectures Thomasius was a bold advocate of the teachings on natural law of the jurist Samuel von Pufendorf. He attracted even more attention, however, when he began to severely criticize the prejudices, pedantry, and intolerance of the scholars and theologians at Leipzig. In 1687 he became the first German university professor to lecture in German instead of Latin. The following year he began to publish a monthly periodical which he used as his chief instrument in further attacks on the stupidities of scholars and theologians. His outspoken views, however, brought reaction, and in 1690 he was forbidden to lecture or publish. He moved to Berlin, where Elector Frederick III of Brandenburg-Prussia allowed him to lecture. In 1694 Thomasius helped lay the foundation for the University of Halle, where he became second and then first (1710) professor of jurisprudence. He remained in Halle until his death on Sept. 23, 1728.

A renowned professor, Thomasius gave expression to many enlightened ideas and programs. Although he was not a profound thinker, his commonsense reasoning enabled him to put forth many practical reforms in the areas of philosophy, law, theology, and social customs. As a teacher, Thomasius believed not only in a solid academic training but also in developing character and comprehension of practical affairs. In religious matters he believed in the necessity for freedom of thought and speech and thoroughly condemned theologians who were always searching for heretics. He also attempted to free the study of jurisprudence from the control of theology. In his own theological beliefs, he considered that revealed religion was necessary for salvation.

Although he was influenced by the Pietists at Halle, especially Philipp Spener, Thomasius agreed primarily only with their opposition to established theological systems and their practical piety and not with their central emphasis on sin and grace. On matters of Church law, he emphasized that, since the Church was an institution within the domain of the state, the power of the state was supreme over the Church although not necessarily over the moral lives of individual Church members. He expressed himself powerfully against trial for witchcraft and the use of torture. In all of these ideas, Thomasius demonstrated his fundamental belief in the enlightened ideas of the 18th century.

Further Reading

There is no adequate biography of Thomasius. He is discussed in an excellent one-volume survey of the course of German philosophy to 1800 by Lewis White Beck, Early German Philosophy: Kant and His Predecessors (1969). □

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Thomasius, Christian

Christian Thomasius (krĬs´tyän tōmä´zyŏŏs), 1655–1728, German jurist and philosopher. A lawyer, he lectured on natural law at Leipzig; he broke with the traditional custom of lecturing in Latin and from 1687 taught in German. This and other liberal stands forced him to move to Halle in 1690, where he helped establish (1694) the Univ. of Halle, in which he became a professor. In the practical philosophy of Thomasius every question was considered without prejudice and submitted to the judgment of common sense. He was a reformer who sought to liberate politics from religious domination, and within religion he strove for freedom and toleration. He was influential in pointing the way to the philosophy of the Enlightenment. His chief work is Institutionum jurisprudentiae divinae (1688).

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