Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Thomasius, Christian
THOMASIUS, Christian (1655-1728), German jurist and publicist, was born at Leipsic January 1, 1655, and educated by his father Jacob Thomasius, professor of philosophy and eloquence, a learned man, and friend of Spener. Through his father's lectures Christian came under the influence of the political philosophy of Grotius and Pufendorf, and continued the study of law under Stryck at Frankfurt on the Oder. In 1681 he commenced the career of professor of law at Leipsic, and soon attracted attention by his abilities, but particularly by his daring attack upon all ancient prejudices. His views on matters of law were heretical; he made the daring innovation of lecturing in German instead of Latin; he published a monthly periodical in which he ridiculed with vast wit and humour the pedantic weaknesses of the learned; he took valiantly the side of the Pietists in their controversy with the orthodox, and defended mixed marriages of Lutherans and Calvinists. In consequence of these and other sins, he was preached against from the pulpits, forbidden to lecture or to write (May 10, 1690), and his arrest was soon commanded. He escaped the latter by flight to Berlin, and the elector Frederick III. offered him a refuge in Halle, with a salary of 500 thalers and the right to lecture there. He took part in founding the university of Halle (1694), where he became second and then first professor of law and director of the university. He was one of the most esteemed university teachers and influential writers of his day. He died, after a singularly successful and honourable career, in his 74th year, September 23, 1728.
Though not a profound and systematic philosophical thinker, but rather a clever eclectic of the common-sense school, Thomasius prepared the way for great reforms in philosophy, and, above all, in law, literature, social life, and theology. It was his mission to bring all the high matters of divine and human sciences into close and living contact with the everyday world. He made learning, law, philosophy, and theology look at everything from a rational common-sense point of view, and speak of everything in vigorous German. He thus created an epoch in German literature, philosophy, and law, and Spittler opens with him the modern period of ecclesiastical history. Tholuck pronounces him "the personified spirit of illuminism." He made it one of the aims of his life to free politics and jurisprudence from the control of theology. He 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 introduced a new definition of heresy, and pronounced it a bug bear of the theologians. He would not have even atheists punished, though they should be expelled the country. 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 felt strongly the influence of the Pietists at times, 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 finally to that party. Thomasius's most popular and influential German publications were his periodical Monatsgespräche, vornehmlich über neue Bücher (1688); Einleitung zur Vernunftlehre (1691, 5th ed. 1719); Vernünftige Gedanken über allerhand auserleserne, gemischte, philosophische, und juristische Händel (1723–26); Geschichte der Weisheit und Thorheit (3 vols., 1693); Kurze Lehrsätze von dem Laster der Zauberei mit dem Hexenprocess (1704); Weitere Erläuterungen der neueren Wissenschaft Anderer Gedanken kennen zu lernen (1711).
See Heinrich Luden's Christian Thomasius nach seinen Schicksalen und Schriften, 1805; Zeller's Geschichte der Philosophie in Deutschland, 2d ed., 1875, pp. 162–171; Gass, Geschichte der Protestantischen Dogmatik, ii. 484 sq.; the histories of German literature, especially Hettner's Geschichte der deutschen Lit. im 18ten Jahrh.; Tholuck's article in Herzog's Real-Encyklop.