1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Thomasius, Christian

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4110231911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 26 — Thomasius, Christian

THOMASIUS, CHRISTIAN (1655–1728), German jurist and publicist, was born at Leipzig on the 1st of January 1655, and was educated by his father, Jakob Thomasius (1622–1684), at that time head master of the Thomasschule. Through his father’s lectures Christian came under the influence of the political philosophy of Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf, and continued the study of law at Frankfort-on-Oder. In 1684 he commenced the career of professor of natural law at Leipzig, and soon attracted attention by his abilities, but particularly by his daring attack upon traditional prejudices, in theology and jurisprudence. In 1687 he made the daring innovation of lecturing in German instead of Latin, and in the following year published a monthly periodical (Scherzhafte und ernsthafte, vernünftige und einfältige Gedanken über allerhand lustige und nützliche Bücher und Fragen) in which he ridiculed the pedantic weaknesses of the learned, taking the side of the Pietists in their controversy with the orthodox, and defending mixed marriages of Lutherans and Calvinists. In consequence of these and other views, he was denounced from the pulpits, forbidden to lecture or to write (May 10, 1690), and his arrest was ordered. The latter he escaped by flight to Berlin, and the elector Frederick III. offered him a refuge in Halle, with a salary of 500 talers and the permission to lecture. He took part in founding the university of Halle (1694), where he became second and then first professor of law and rector of the university. He was one of the most esteemed university teachers and influential writers of his day. He died, after a successful and honourable career, on the 23rd of September 1728.

Though not a profound and systematic philosophical thinker, Thomasius prepared the way for great reforms in philosophy, and, above all, in law, literature, social life and theology. It was his mission to introduce a rational, common-sense point of view, and to bring the high matters of divine and human sciences into close and living contact with the everyday world. He thus created an epoch in German literature, philosophy and law, and Spittler opens with him the modern period of ecclesiastical history. He made it one of the aims of his life to free politics and jurisprudence from the control of theology, and fought bravely and consistently for freedom of thought and speech on religious matters. He is often spoken of in German works as the author of the “territorial system,” or Erastian theory of ecclesiastical government. But he taught that the state may interfere with legal or public duties only, and not with moral or private ones. He would not have even atheists punished, though they should be expelled the country, and he came forward as an earnest opponent of the prosecution of witches and of the use of torture. In theology he was not a naturalist or a deist, but a believer in the necessity of revealed religion for salvation. He came strongly under the influence of the pietists, particularly of Spener, and there was a mystic vein in his thought; but other elements of his nature were too powerful to allow him to attach himself wholly to that party.

Thomasius’s most popular and influential German publications were his periodical already referred to (1688–1689); Einleitung zur Vernunftlehre (1691, 5th ed. 1719); Vernünftige Gedanken über allerhand auserlesene und juristische Handel (1720–1721); Historie der Weisheit und Torheit (3 vols., 1693); Kurze Lehrsätze von dem Laster der Zauberei mit dem Hexenprozess (1704); Weitere Erläuterungen der neueren Wissenschaft anderer Gedanken kennen zu lernen (1711).

See Luden, Christian Thomasius nach seinen Schicksalen und Schriften (1805); H. Dernburg, Thomasius und die Stiftung der Universität Halle (1865); B. A. Wagner, Thomasius, ein Beitrag zur Würdigung seiner Verdienste (1872); Nicoladoni, Christian Thomasius. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Aufklärung (Berlin, 1888); and E. Landsberg, Zur Biographie von Christian Thomasius (1894).