The eighteenth century saw the rise of two rulers that were set on expansionism and believed the best way to achieve this was through an absolute monarchy. Both the Russian Tsar Peter the Great and King Frederick II of Prussia were powerful rulers who were greatly influenced by the ideas of the enlightenment. Both rulers were also ruthless in the way they governed and both sought for national expansion but with differing goals. In this essay I will compare two major themes between the reign of Peter the Great and Frederick the Great. I will discuss their views on religion and their national religious tolerance. I will then discuss each nation’s rise in power and seek to answer the question; what was the goal of each ruler in the expansion of his state?
Russia, under Peter the Great, saw a vast change in religious policy in the beginning of the eighteenth century. It was marked by radical reforms in which Peter eliminated the traditional office of church leadership, which was held by the Patriarch of Moscow, and established a church council called the Holy Synod. This Holy Synod was supposed to determine the best route for the Russian Orthodox Church but instead remained obedient to the will of Peter the Great. He has a policy of semi-religious tolerance but his main focus was on the improvement of the Russian Orthodox Church. This was in great part due to the enlightenment idea of the individual and human reasoning towards progressivism. In the following quote from his 1702 Decree on the Invitation to Foreigners, we can see where he places the emphasis on religious tolerance,
“And as in our residence of Moscow, the free exercise of religion of all other sects, although not agreeing with our church, is already allowed” (Lualdi 84).
Meanwhile, when compared to the religious policy of Frederick the Great, we can see where they differ. This excerpt is taken from Frederick’s Political Testament of 1752,
“Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed, Jews, and other Christian sects live in this state, and live together in peace: if the sovereign, actuated by a mistaken zeal, declares himself for one religion or another, parties will spring up, [and] heated disputes ensue” (Lualdi 111).
Both of these statements address the religious policies of the two rulers but with careful inspection of the wording, we can see where they differ on tolerance. Peter the Great is open to the idea of religious tolerance as a way to encourage foreigners into the land but is more concerned with the state religion, the Russian Orthodox Church. Frederick on the other hand, makes no qualms but discussing his openness to the absolute freedom of religion that his state offers. Frederick made great advances in the history of religion tolerance and encouraged it throughout his land while Peter merely tolerated it. Both, but more so with Frederick, saw this as a movement toward the progressive ideals of the enlightenment.
The next thing I will discuss is the expansion of both nations...