Catalogue


Disputation by decree : the public disputations between reformed ministers and Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert as instruments of religious policy during the Dutch Revolt (1577-1583) /
by Marianne Roobol.
imprint
Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2010.
description
xiv, 308 p.
ISBN
9789004186613 (hardback : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
A Look Inside
First Chapter
INTRODUCTION In the turbulent period of the Dutch Revolt the States of Holland regularly appointed ad hoc committees to draft or implement policy decisions. This had been customary even before 1572, but the uncertain years following on the First Free Assembly of the States (held in Dordrecht, July 1572) gave new stimulus to the committee system. Decision-making in the plenary assembly of the States was often difficult. Ad hoc committees could be called into being at short notice, increasing the flexibility and effectiveness of the States. They could improvise, as the terms of reference provided to the commissioners could easily be adapted to the needs of the moment. Central to the present study are two unusual ad hoc committees that have not previously been recognized as such. They were instituted to manage two remarkable religious disputations between the man of letters Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert (1522-1590) and a number of notable Reformed clergymen: Arent Cornelisz (1547-1605) , Reginaldus Donteclock (ca. 1545-after 1611), and Adrianus Saravia (ca. 1532-1613). These public debates took place in Leiden, on 14 and 15 April 1578, and in The Hague, from 27 October to 3 November and from 28 November to 1 December 1583. In one important respect, these committees charged with organising religious disputations were unlike other ad hoc committees of the States. They were concerned with religious affairs, while the general run of committees focused on matters of military, fiscal and administrative concern. It was a thing previously unheard of that the States should not only intervene directly in theological controversies but appoint an ad hoc committee to do so. The institution of the public disputations in Leiden and The Hague shows the political significance that theological debate had in this period. Although Coornhert and his contemporaries firmly distinguished between a ‘political’ and an ‘ecclesial’ sphere, they had no notion of the modern separation of church and state. In concerns for the unity of the country, political and religious affairs were inextricably linked. The government served the common good by advancing the preaching of the true Christian faith. The religious policy of the States has been little studied. In his overview of the development of this organ of government during the Revolt, J. W. Koopmans gives a number of examples of the work of the States at a religious level. The questions concerned were primarily of a practical nature, such as the division of church buildings and the payment of clergymen. The States were also responsible for maintaining oversight and functioning as supreme judge in disagreements. He makes no mention of the intervention of the States in religious controversies involving critics who were not members of the public church, such as the Coornhert affair. Because Reformed ministers were critical in their letters of the lack of support they were getting from the authorities, an unrosy picture has developed of the relationship between church and state in the early period of the Revolt. In 1579 the Amsterdam predikant Johannes Kuchlinus (1545-1606) lamented that the government took no action against a monster like Coornhert. His fellow minister Thomas Tilius (ca. 1534-1590) wrote in 1582, So far as church discipline is concerned, the States will draw no advantage from it. Should the general conclusion therefore be that the government gave the public church little support beyond the financial? The historian Andrew Pettegree has rejected any such interpretation of the clergy’s letters of complaint as superficial. Their dark reflections should not be taken too literally. The mutual ties between church and state deserve more attention. These ties were linked to the political and religious developments that are now grouped under the name Dutch Revolt. The radicalization of the Revolt against Philip II after April 1572, when the Sea Beggars seized Den Briel, drove rebels and Reformed preachers closer together. The anti-Catholic sentiments of the latter made them the loyal guardians of the revolt against a king who presented himself as the divinely appointed defender of Roman Catholic hegemony. From 1567 onwards, tightly organized ministers in exile had shown their reliability in supporting both the funds and the morale of William of Orange’s struggle. Their power base in Holland was, however, as yet very small; the vast majority of the population – including many who had some degree of sympathy for Protestant ideas – still regarded itself as Catholic and was in no hurry to change its religious allegiance. After 1572 the minority position of the Reformed Church was hard to reconcile with the need to mobilize broad support for the Revolt. The policy of freedom of religion decided on by Orange and the States at their first official gathering in Dordrecht, foundered on the prohibition of Catholic worship in Holland issued in 1573. Now that religious unity had been fractured, the question arose of how social cohesion could nevertheless be maintained in time of war. And particularly: what part should the Reformed Church play? As long as historians concentrate on a few private remarks by the clergy concerning the lack of decisive action by the States, for instance relating to the introduction of ecclesiastical disciplinary regulations (corpus disciplinae), the ultimate meaning and purpose of the Reformed Church as public church remains elusive. This status of being the official church, supported by the government, transcended any organizational issues. The present study will cast light on the religious policy of the States, based as it was on a special relationship between government and church. It was the public legitimization of the Reformed Church as the general, public church – a goal with both political and theological significance – that was at stake in the religious disputations in Leiden and The Hague. The disputations in Leiden and The Hague were spectacular affairs. The debates took place in public spaces and attracted a large audience. The public must, on both occasions, have looked forward eagerly to a debate in which the feared polemicist Coornhert would make an appearance. He was known for his sharp tongue and his vicious pen. His criticism was unsettling for the ministers of the Reformed Church, who constantly had to reflect upon a fitting response. According to some of them, there was no point in arguing against the deluge of specious arguments that Coornhert poured out. Nevertheless, the minister Werner Helmichius (1551-1608) had to admit in 1584 that Coornhert’s lengthy speeches had adversely affected the people’s judgement in religious affairs. Little data is available concerning the reception of Coornhert’s countless publications. We know neither the print runs, nor the size and nature of the readership. The extent of the concerns of the Reformed clergy with regard to Coornhert’s behaviour justifies the general conclusion that his writings had wide resonance. Here, however, a circular argument lurks: Coornhert’s influence is demonstrated by, and explains, the concerns of the ministers. The religious disputations in Leiden and The Hague do show that the conflict between Coornhert and the clergy was also of interest to others. The States of Holland watched the development of the struggle closely. Their attempts to settle the difference of opinion were not regarded as unusual or unjust by either party. A quick glance at Coornhert’s oeuvre, collected after his death in three hefty folio volumes, makes it clear that he was a remarkable writer in a number of ways. There were few who dared proclaim on paper views that went against the policies of the States. Coornhert not only did this, but did so with regard to issues touching the foundations of the political-religious establishment. Was the Reformed Church the true church? Could it advance the common welfare? Formal aspects of his work also provide clues to Coornhert’s impact as a polemicist. He wrote in the vernacular, something that was still uncommon in his time when touching on learned topics. Coornhert also deployed a style of argumentation that combined clear reasoning with rhetorical force. He addressed his public directly, took his readers by the hand, and explained the issues at stake in a way that made them clear for the less well educated. His potential readership was certainly large. The young ministers Cornelisz and Donteclock, who stood against Coornhert in the Leiden disputation, were well-known figures. Cornelisz in particular played an important part in building up the Reformed ecclesial organization, earning him the nickname ‘the Pope of Delft’. In 1581 he took a key position as the president of the synod of Middelburg. At the religious disputation in The Hague, the duo from Delft gave way to the renowned theologian Saravia. In 1582, at the invitation of the Prince of Orange, he had accepted a lectureship at the University of Leiden, but remained an outsider among the Reformed clergy of Holland. The involvement in the disputation in The Hague of a variety of servants of power – representatives of the States, civic regents, and members of the Provincial Court of Holland and the Supreme Court – deprived the gathering of any hint of informality. The debate in Leiden was also chaired by leading jurists, who had earned their spurs in national administration. There was no way of misunderstanding that these religious disputations were indeed affairs of state. The States of Holland naturally linked the religious disputations to their desire to serve God’s honour, but they expressly added that the purpose of the debates was to safeguard peace and order, advance religious unity, and confirm the authority of the government. The ministers also thought to serve the common good (the commonwealth as they put it) by their performance in Leiden and The Hague. In 1583 they wished to defend their doctrine before the whole world, as government inaction threatened to let slide the advances that the true faith had made, advances sealed by the blood of martyrs during the Revolt. Coornhert, in a letter written in 1583 to Nicolaas van der Laan (ca. 1520-1584), a representative of the city of Haarlem in the assembly of the States, used the word landtsake (affair of state). He had recently voiced fierce criticism of the Heidelberg Catechism, which had come to take an important part in Reformed religious life. Coornhert regarded the debate about this Catechism as touching on the commonweal, for the eternal salvation or doom of many thousand souls was at issue. In Holland, the disputations in Leiden and The Hague were the only events of their kind. Early historians of the Dutch Revolt, such as Pieter Cornelisz. Bor (1559-1635), Pieter Cornelisz. Hooft (1581-1647) and Geeraert Brandt (1626-1685), already mentioned these remarkable gatherings. While at first sight exceptional, the debates seem less unique when seen in a comparative European perspective. Religious disputations and colloquys took place throughout Europe, from Poland to Poissy. They were rooted in the tradition of academic disputation, but exchanged the academic forum for the political. During the Reformation period, debates of this type became surprisingly common. In a world of religious discord and division, such gatherings held out the promise of a strictly ordered exchange of views that could provide a solution to religious controversies. The outcome of the discussions was often fixed beforehand, and the religious disputation simply provided a cloak of legitimacy for a change in religious policy. There were, however, also debates in which the parties sought a mutually acceptable settlement, so that a territory’s religious peace could be restored. Whoever presided over the debate could choose the specific formal structure of the exchanges, a choice that could be decisive for the debate’s outcome. In the disputations in Leiden and The Hague, the commissioners of the States of Holland held this directing position. Their actions accorded with the aim of the States to restore religious unity under the aegis of a strong, authoritative public church. As freedom of conscience remained untouched in Holland, it was possible – privately, at least – to hold beliefs contrary to those promoted by the authorities. There was, however, nothing like a ‘multiconfessional’ society. The Reformed Church did not dominate as first among equals, but claimed to be the catholic (in the sense of universal) church of God. It was protected as such by the States. It is against this background that we will examine the significance of the religious disputations in Leiden and The Hague, devoting one chapter to the background and one to the course of each of them. The controversy between Coornhert and the Reformed clergy sprang from modest beginnings early in 1577, with a letter (almost unremarked since) from Coornhert to Thomas Tilius. This three-page missive set off an extensive polemic concerning the nature of the true church, finally issuing in the religious disputation in Leiden. After this debate, Coornhert and the ministers continued their paper war. In 1582 Coornhert again caused uproar with his writing, this time a printed treatise in which he rejected the Heidelberg Catechism as unscriptural. This pamphlet was the basis for discussions during the disputation in The Hague. Those writing about Coornhert have asked themselves few questions about how the disputations in Leiden and The Hague came about. The debates are taken as a given. Their work almost seems to imply that these debates were in some way the unavoidable outcome of Coornhert’s decision to vent his critique of the public church. There is, further, agreement that these debates should be regarded as a visible expression of Coornhert’s much praised desire for tolerance, as opposed to the supposedly repressive approach favoured by the Reformed Church. The essentially ‘tolerant’ nature of the debates is held to explain why a dissident figure such as Coornhert was nevertheless given the opportunity to make public declarations about matters of faith in Leiden and The Hague. The second chapter of the present work will provide a historiographical analysis, indicating and explaining the shortcomings of this view. This study will present an alternative interpretation of the disputations under scrutiny, in line with the findings of a number of German historians regarding comparable disputations elsewhere. Central to the disputations in Leiden and The Hague was not the Coornhertian ideal of tolerance, but the more prosaic interests of the States of Holland and of the public church. The States and the ministers jointly planned the debates in Leiden and in The Hague, but their plans were not always easy to put into practice. It was only with difficulty that Coornhert could be got to agree to the format of the debates. There was no prescripted way of organizing a formal public debate, and all sorts of variants were imaginable. The formulation of the subjects for debate (the status quaestionis) and the division of roles between the parties, both decisions to be taken before the debate could begin, were of decisive importance to the outcome. Accordingly, neither party showed any inclination to make concessions in the preliminary discussions. The cautious position of the States was also a complicating factor in the run-up to the debates. The government had principled reservations towards religious disputation. This guardedness was due to fear; the States regarded religious controversy as a threat to public order. As the controversy with Coornhert escalated, however, the view gained ground that there might be more to gain than to lose in having the issues thrashed out in public. The States wanted to bring closure to the conflict between Coornhert and the ministers. A r
Reviews
Review Quotes
impressive […] I hope that Roobol's study will not only cause a revolution in Coornhert-research, but will also stimulate a re-evaluation of other supposed forerunners of liberal theology in their historical context.Kees de Wildt, VU University Amsterdam. In: Church History and Religious Culture, Vol. 92, Nos. 2-3 (2012), pp. 390-394.
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Summaries
Description for Reader
All those interested in the intellectual history of the Dutch Revolt and the history of the Reformation
Long Description
Prevailing scholarly analysis of the public disputations between D.V. Coornhert (1522-1590) and Dutch Reformed ministers is firmly rooted in a principled view of early modern tolerance. This study proposes a new point of departure, which involves breaking away from a Coornhert-centred reading of the debates in Leiden and the Hague, while focusing on the formal status of these disputations instead. Government support of the Reformed Church proved the backbone of these illuminating 'disputations by decree'. The public legitimization of the Reformed Church a goal with both political and theological significance was at stake. As a micro-history of two very unique occasions in Dutch history, this study sheds new light on the complex development of political and religious argument in the early phase of the Dutch Revolt.
Main Description
Coornhert, Dutch Reformed Church, Dutch Revolt, Calvinism, Reformation, Leiden, The Hague, Religious disputation, States of Holland, Prince of Orange, tolerance, sixteenth century, early modern printing, book history
Main Description
Prevailing scholarly analysis of the public disputations between D.V. Coornhert (1522-1590) and Dutch Reformed ministers is firmly rooted in a principled view of early modern tolerance. This study proposes a new point of departure, which involves breaking away from a Coornhert-centred reading of the debates in Leiden and the Hague, while focusing on the formal status of these disputations instead. Government support of the Reformed Church proved the backbone of these illuminating disputations by decree . The public legitimization of the Reformed Church a goal with both political and theological significance was at stake. As a micro-history of two very unique occasions in Dutch history, this study sheds new light on the complex development of political and religious argument in the early phase of the Dutch Revolt.
Main Description
Providing a detailed account of the emergence and development of the public disputations between D.V. Coornhert (1522-1590) and Reformed ministers, this book explores the religious and political dimensions of a controversy that reflects issues and arguments at the core of the Dutch Revolt.
Unpaid Annotation
Summary: Prevailing scholarly analysis of the public disputations between D.V. Coornhert (1522-1590) and Dutch Reformed ministers is firmly rooted in a principled view of early modern tolerance. This study proposes a new point of departure, which involves breaking away from a Coornhert-centred reading of the debates in Leiden and the Hague, while focusing on the formal status of these disputations instead. Government support of the Reformed Church proved the backbone of these illuminating 'disputations by decree'. The public legitimization of the Reformed Church - a goal with both political and theological significance - was at stake. As a micro-history of two very unique occasions in Dutch history, this study sheds new light on the complex development of political and religious argument in the early phase of the Dutch Revolt.

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