The Enlightenment thinker, who influenced the American revolutionaries, was not previously known for tolerance of Catholics.
English philosopher John Locke is known for, among other things, a work called “A Letter Concerning Toleration.” The letter influenced James Madison’s thinking on the issue of separation of church and state in his work on the U.S. Constitution.
But Locke was famously known for not tolerating one religion in particular—the Roman Catholic one.
He lived from 1632 to 1704, a time period that included the reign of the Catholic King James II and struggles over religious tolerance.
Now, however, an early Locke manuscript has been unearthed that is leading to a rethinking of the man and his attitude toward Catholicism. The manuscript’s very title, “Reasons for tolerateing Papists equally with others,” is turning heads.
Dated 1667-1668, the manuscript had been owned by the descendants of one of Locke’s friends. In the 1920s, it was sold at auction to a book dealer, the Guardian reported. “From there, it went into private collections until it was donated to St John’s College, Annapolis, in the latter half of the 20th century. It lay unstudied in archives until Locke scholar J.C. Walmsley noticed a reference to it in a 1928 book dealer’s catalogue, and raised an eyebrow,” the paper said.