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17 Nov

Toleration in 18th century Ireland

Allegoric statue of "Tolerance", depicted as a seated woman with a torch in her right hand, and a shield on her left with the words "Concordia religionum" (harmony in religions).

This year, World Philosophy Day (17th November 2016) is celebrated immediately after International Day for Tolerance (16th November every year). The theme for World Philosophy Day 2016, therefore, is Tolerance.

In her message on World Philosophy Day 2016, Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova has this to say on tolerance and philosophy1:

Philosophy does not offer any ready-to-use solutions, but a perpetual quest to question the world and try to find a place in it. Along this road, tolerance is both a moral virtue and a practical tool for dialogue. It has nothing to do with the naive relativism that claims everything is equally valid; it is an individual imperative to listen, all the more striking because it is founded on a resolute commitment to defend the universal principles of dignity and freedom.

While an accurate description of the ideal of tolerance, it should be remembered that tolerance was not obviously a virtue in the past. It had to be argued for, and the acceptance of toleration waxed and waned over time. 

In the religious wars of 16th and 17th century Europe, toleration was generally a term of insult. The Thirty-Year War and the Eighty-Year War sought to establish right religion within Europe. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 saw all countries recognise the 1555 Peace of Augsburg in which each ruler would have the right to determine the religion of his own state while allowing other Christians to worship privately and (limitedly) in public. This had some strange ramifications in Ireland.
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19 Oct

A Brief Account of John Abernathy

John Abernethy Wikimedia, Public Domain

John Abernethy
Wikimedia, Public Domain

Recent biographies concur that John Abernathy was probably born in Bligh (near Cookstown), Co. Tyrone on 19th October 1680. His father, also John, was a Presbyterian minister there. In 1698 John Abernathy senior went to London with Patrick Adair to communicate Irish Presbyterian support for William III. His mother took refuge in Derry; John’s siblings died in the siege of Derry. The son John had gone to relatives in Ballymena who then brought him to Scotland where he was educated. In 1692 he returned to his parents in Coleraine. He went to Glasgow University aged 13, graduated MA in 1696, studied divinity in Edinburgh and returned to Ireland to be made a minister in 1701/2.

He was ordained in 1703 and became minister in Antrim. He married Susannah Jordan (d. 1712), with whom he had one son and three daughters.

Abernathy had a lead role in the Irish Presbyterian debate over whether ministers should be obliged to sign up to the Westminister Profession of Faith, an obligation only introduced in the Irish Presbyterian Church in 1705. The debate raged from 1719 until 1726, when the non-subscribing ministers, including John Abernathy, were sequestered in the Presbytery of Antrim.
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