Protestantism In The Netherlands
The renunciation of the sceptre by Charles V., in 1555, brought the government of the Netherlands into the hands of his son Philip II. The Netherlands embraced at that time seventeen provinces, covering nearly the same territory which at present is included in Holland and Belgium. These provinces were anciently independent states. In the first half of the fifteenth century they were united under the Duke of Burgundy; and, toward the end of the same century, they passed under the sovereignty of the house of Austria. They continued, however, to enjoy considerable privileges of local self-rule, which they were disposed very zealously to maintain. They were densely populated. The country is said to have contained three hundred and fifty cities, and six thousand three hundred towns of smaller size. De Thou, Lib. XL. Brussels had seventy-five thousand inhabitants, and Antwerp one hundred thousand, at a time when London contained but one hundred and fifty thousand.
As respects industrial prosperity, the Netherlands constituted, at the middle of the sixteenth century, the richest and most thriving district of Europe. Agriculture and manufactures flourished, and a commerce rivalling that of Venice was developed. Learning found large patronage, and intelligence was uncommonly diffused through the different classes.
Among a people of such intelligence and broad commercial relations, the doctrines of the Reformation naturally found an early and an earnest canvassing. The land of Gerhard Groot, Thomas à Kempis, and Erasmus, could not be expected to remain blindly and stubbornly attached to Romish authority. As matter of fact, Lutheran teachings speedily won in the Netherlands a very considerable following. Charles V. found occasion to issue a severe edict against the new heresy as early as 1521. The fruits of martyrdom were not long delayed. Two Augustinian monks, Henry Boes and John Esch, were burned at the stake, in Brussels, in 1523. They met the ordeal in a manner eminently suitable to serve as an example to the long list of their brethren in the faith, who were to follow in the same pathway of fiery trial. 1 Gerard Brandt, History of the Reformation in the Low Countries, Book II. pp. 45, 46, in the old English translation. A hymn of Luther has justly celebrated their heroism, and the power of their martyrdom. One of the stanzas is as follows:--
"Quiet their ashes will not lie;
But scattered far and near,
Stream, dungeon, bolt, and grave defy,
Their foeman's shame and fear.
Those whom alive the tyrant's wrongs
To silence could subdue,
He must, when dead, let sing the songs
Which in all languages and tongues
Resound the wide world through."
In the Netherlands, Charles V. was much more free to use a policy of repression than in Germany. As, therefore, his first measures were unavailing, others and more severe followed. The edicts of 1529 and 1535 mere genuine specimens of Spanish despotism; and that of 1550, which in a manner summed up all the preceding, put the climax upon legislative barbarity. It required that all convicted of heresy should be burned alive, buried alive, or beheaded. All were to be counted liable to these penalties who had any thing to do with heretical books, who held or attended conventicles, who disputed on the Scriptures in public or in private, who preached or defended doctrines of reform. Informers were to be liberally rewarded from the confiscated estates of the condemned. No mitigation of the prescribed penalties was to be allowed, and friends who asked for any mitigation were to be counted as guilty of a penal offense. In the execution of these barbarous decrees, Charles expected much from the Inquisition, and no doubt that instrument of spiritual despotism did much of its characteristic work in the Netherlands; still the free spirit of the people compelled a limitation of its prerogatives, and prevented it from becoming such a formidable power as it was in Spain. As to the number sacrificed in the Netherlands under Charles V., no exact statement can be made. The estimates given, namely, from fifty to one hundred thousand, seem incredible, and provoke inquiry as to bow the people of the Netherlands could have been induced tamely to endure such horrible butchery. 1 Prescott concludes that fifty thousand is a grossly exaggerated estimate of the victims under Charles V. in the Netherlands( Philip II., i. 346-348). Motley, on the other hand, says, "The number ol Netherlanders who were burned, strangled, beheaded, or buried alive, in obedience to his edicts, and for the offenses of reading the Scriptures, of looking askance at a graven image, or of ridiculing the actual presence of the body and blood of Christ in a wafer, have been placed as high as one hundred thousand by distinguished authorities, and have never been put at a lower mark than fifty thousand. The Venetian envoy, Navigero, placed the number of victims in the provinces of Holland and Friesland alone, at thirty thousand; and this in 1546, ten years before the abdication, and five before the promulgation of the hideous edict of 1550" (Rise of the Dutch Republic, i. 114, 115).
As one reads of the merciless policy sanctioned by the father, he is inclined to a measure of charity toward the son who received such an inheritance. Indeed, Philip did little more than to execute what his father had outlined. In theory, Charles V. was well-nigh as extreme as Philip II. The chief difference was that Charles had more heart, and more leaning to political expediency, to deter him from steady and remorseless persecution. In his last days, however, these checks mere enfeebled. The counsels which issued from his retreat in the convent of Yuste were such as Inquisitor Valdés or Pope Plus V. might have applauded. 1 For the tenor of his instructions to Philip, see Sepulveda, De Rebus Gestis Caroli V., vol. iii., Lib. XXX., cap, xli.-xliii.
Philip II., on his accession, made it very evident that the people of the Netherlands could not expect any leniency or increase of privileges in any direction at his hands. His management tended to alienate Roman Catholics as well as Protestants. Margaret of Parma, an illegitimate daughter of Charles V., was made regent. Margaret, though not the choice of the nobles, was not decidedly obnoxious; but the Bishop of Arras, the artful, talented, and ambitious Granvelle, in his position of chief counselor of the Regent, caused much suspicion and uneasiness. The slow and unwilling abandonment of an attempt to quarter Spanish troops upon the country increased the discontent. A like result attended the provision for the erection of a large number of new bishoprics; the measure being regarded by the native nobility as prejudicial to their dignity, and by the Protestants as a means for more rigorous persecution. Still further, the national spirit, apart from religious preferences, was averse to the tyrannical measures of the Inquisition, which the government seemed determined to employ in the true Spanish fashion.
Among the more distinguished representatives of the national spirit were William, Prince of Orange, and the Counts Egmont and Horn. All of these, in the early part of Philip's reign, were adherents of the Roman Catholic Church: but the Prince of Orange cherished no ardent attachment to that Church; his natural disposition, as well as the memory of his Protestant parents, made it impossible for him to be a bigot. Egmont and Horn were much more zealous for the Romish religion. Both of them were men of high spirit, patriotic impulses, and martial reputation. Egmont, in particular, was distinguished by his brilliant achievements, popular gifts, and aspiring temper. But in real ability and power of insight, the Prince of Orange claimed by far the precedence. This was early perceived by Granvelle. In a letter to Philip he described Egmont as firm in the faith, loyally disposed, and easy to be won by flatteries and favors. The Prince of Orange, on the other hand, he portrayed as a man of profound views, dangerous ability, and tenacious purpose, whom it was difficult or impossible to control.
William of Orange was not altogether superior to the vices of his age. A trace of Machiavellian tactics may here and there be observed in his dealings with his opponents. His resort to such arts, however, indicates not so much that they were agreeable to his mind, as that he did not know how else to foil the serpentine policy and deadly aims of the Spanish despot. Noble and heroic qualities had the chief place in his character. He was willing to endure any sacrifice in behalf of the liberties of his country. No amount of adverse fortune could check his determination and efforts in this holy work. As respects religious tolerance, he was broad-minded and consistent almost beyond example in that age. In prosperity as well as adversity he advocated, and, as far as was feasible, enforced, the claims of religious freedom; provoking on this account, in more than one instance, the criticism of his patriotic allies. In his intercourse with men, he was far from, an appearance of moroseness or cold reserve. The name of "The Silent," which he bore, indicates not so much a general habit of taciturnity as the unapproachable secrecy with which he kept, even from those in close relations with himself, such counsels as it was impolitic to divulge. "But, while masking his own designs, no man was more sagacious in penetrating those of others. He carried on an extensive correspondence in foreign countries, and employed every means for getting information. Thus, while he had it in his power to outwit others, it was very rare that he became their dupe. Though on ordinary occasions frugal of words, when he did speak it was with effect. His eloquence was of the most persuasive kind; and as toward his inferiors he was affable, and exceedingly considerate of their feelings, he acquired an unbounded ascendency over his countrymen." 1 Prescott, Philip II., i. 449.
Possessing, as he did, a profound insight into the nature of Philip, the Prince of Orange saw from the outset that a crisis was being prepared for his country. Moreover, he was forewarned in good season, by the inconsiderate avowal of Henry II. of France, that he and the Spanish King were preparing for the complete extirpation of heresy in their respective dominions. But he determined to proceed with moderation and caution. The watchword which he adopted, sœvis tranquillus in undis, is a good index both of his policy and his disposition.
The efforts of the discontented nobles effected the resignation of Granvelle in 1564. But his departure did not materially improve the condition of the country. The Inquisition continued its odious work. In 1566, a league was formed whose express object was to rid the country of the Inquisition. The league soon numbered several hundred nobles besides many burghers; the most distinguished of the nobility, however, such as Orange, Egmont, and Horn, stood aloof. The appellation Gueux or beggars, originally applied in sarcasm to the members of the league, was voluntarily adopted with corresponding ensigns. This was not a Protestant, but rather a political or national league. Indeed, the terms of its agreement distinctly affirmed that nothing was intended against the Roman Catholic Church. The extent of the combination gave the matter a serious aspect, and led Philip to profess himself willing to make certain concessions. However, there is good evidence that his professions were dictated by the most treacherous designs. Preserved documents show that he had no serious intention to exempt the country from the rigors of the Inquisition, or to grant the smallest indulgence to a single heretic.
The league was by no means a perfect instrument for the accomplishment of its patriotic designs. While it embraced clear-headed men, such as Sainte Aldegonde and Count Louis of Nassau, it numbered too many of those rude and disorderly spirits which are apt to be cast up in times of revolution. What it might have achieved, however, under fair conditions, was not to be known. One of those violent outbursts, which in several instances prejudiced the cause of the Reformation, put an end to all negotiations with Philip. About the middle of August, 1566, a mob destroyed the images in several churches in the province of Flanders. This became the signal for a general storm of iconoclasm. Churches, chapels, and convents were everywhere despoiled. It was horrible and inexcusable vandalism. Still the motive was not of the worst order. Mere wantonness may have been the ruling impulse with some; but a majority of the frenzied image-breakers considered that they were wreaking deserved vengeance upon contaminating idols. Moreover, the deeds of the iconoclasts were the deeds of a mob from the dregs of the people; a paltry contingent, whose violent doings were discountenanced generally by the Protestant clergy and the greater part of those who looked to them as their teachers. 1 Brandt, Book VII., pp. 191-194. "A hundred persons, belonging to the lowest order of society, sufficed for the desecration of the Antwerp churches. It was, said Orange, 'a mere handful of rabble,' who did the deed." 2 Motley, i. 569, 570. The disturbance might easily have been quelled, only that Protestants and Romanists alike seemed to be paralyzed by the suddenness of the outburst. One feature of relief should be noticed. The iconoclasts, with all their fury and fanaticism, confined their violence to the images. They shed no blood, and made it plain, for the most part, that their aim was not plunder.
Though order was soon restored, the iconoclastic outbreak was a sufficient occasion in the eyes of Philip for the most unsparing vengeance. Indeed, the preceding agitation in behalf of the liberties of the provinces was offense enough, in his view, to call for the exterminating sword. That sword was now unsheathed. In 1567 the Duke of Alva was sent into the Netherlands at the head of an army, and with a commission which virtually superseded the Regent Margaret, and compelled her, in self-respect, to resign. Both in military ability and in temper, Alva was a fit instrument for the work to be done. His appearance and character are thus described: "A long, thin, bony figure, with a high and brazen forehead, black bristling hair, and flowing beard; hollow, dull voice; stubborn, revengeful, and cruel, recognizing no virtue except Blind obedience, no means but terror, no merit but his own or that of his subordinates; as thoroughly a Spaniard as Publicola and Brutus were Romans; as pliant toward great minds as he was oppressive and cruel towards inferior ones." 1 Hormayr, quoted by William Bradford, Correspondence of Charles V. and his Ambassadors, p. 410. "He did not combine," says Motley, "a great variety of vices; but those which he had were colossal, and he possessed no virtues. He was neither lustful nor intemperate; but his professed eulogists admitted his enormous avarice, while the world has agreed that such an amount of stealth and ferocity, of patient vindictiveness and universal bloodthirstiness, were never found in a savage beast of the forest, and but rarely in a human bosom." 1 Rise of the Dutch Republic, ii. 107. By principle and disposition, Alva was a merciless persecutor. He believed that it was useless to reason either with rebels or heretics, that with such the edge of the sword is the most effective argument. In this he was a man after Philip's own heart; and the most that can be said in exculpation of his atrocities is, that he in no wise exceeded the orders or the wishes of his royal master.
Alva, like the inquisitors of the era, placed a high estimate upon blows against persons of eminence, as a means of terrorism. His first care, therefore, was to seize the most distinguished nobles who in any degree had made themselves obnoxious by opposition to the policy of the King. Egmont and Horn were treacherously decoyed into the snare which had been laid, and were cast into prison. The Prince of Orange had the discretion to keep aloof. Granvelle understood sufficiently the character of Orange to know how to weigh the importance of this escape. As he heard in Rome of the imprisonment of the two counts, he asked, "Have they the Silent one?" A negative answer being returned, "Then," said Granvelle, "if he is not in the net, the Duke has caught nothing." 2 Strada, De Bello Belgico, Decad. I., Lib. VI.
This bold beginning, on the part of Alva, naturally increased the tide of emigration, which dread of the Spanish dictator had already set in motion. Twenty thousand are said to have left the country in the course of a few weeks. 1 Brandt, Book IX., p. 260. Alva, seemingly unwilling that the number of his victims should be lessened by flight, issued an order threatening death and confiscation of property against those who should attempt to escape from the country. Meanwhile, the work of blood began. A special tribunal consisting of twelve men, named the Council of Tumults, but known in history as the Council of Blood, was constituted. The authority of this tribunal was based upon no royal charter, upon no written constitution or decree from any source: it was based simply upon the verbal fiat of Alva. But in spite of this flimsy sanction, it assumed to supersede every other tribunal in the country. "It defined and it punished the crime of treason. The definitions, coached in eighteen articles, declared it to be treason to have delivered or signed any petition against the new bishops, the Inquisition, or the edicts; to have omitted resistance to image-breaking, to the field preaching, or to the presentation of the request by the nobles, and, 'either through sympathy or surprise,' to have asserted that the King did not possess the right to deprive all the provinces of their liberties, or to have maintained that this present tribunal was bound to respect in any manner any laws or any charters." 2 Motley, ii. 136. Under such definitions, there could be no difficulty in finding victims. The only trouble for Alva's tribunal was to carry through the mock trials and to pass sentence with sufficient speed. Some of the twelve councilors had the decency to retire in disgust. Two or three carried forward the bloody work with a zeal only equalled by that of Alva. Hessels and Juan de Vargas made themselves especially notorious. It is said of Hessels, that he frequently fell asleep during the trial of a prisoner; but his verdict was so much at his tongue's end, that, on being waked up, he uniformly cried out, half asleep, and rubbing his eyes, "Ad patibulum! Ad patibulum!" "To the gallows! To the gallows!" 1 Brandt, Book IX. p. 277. Vargas was a man who had made himself a criminal in Spain before he became a butcher in the Netherlands. "He executed Alva's bloody work with an industry which was almost superhuman, and with a merriment that would have shamed a demon." 2 Motley, ii. 140. On one occasion, making light of the scruples of a fellow-councilor, who was troubled because a certain innocent person was rescued from execution only by the merest accident, he exclaimed, "Why do you worry yourself? It is all the better for the soul of the person sentenced to death, if he is only innocent." 3 Brandt, Book IX., p. 277. Every day witnessed the repetition of judicial murders. In a few months, eighteen hundred persons were sent to the scaffold, some of them on the most frivolous charges. 4 Ibid., ix. 261.
According to some of the most eminent historians of the time, the authorities in Spain took pains to provide the Council of Blood with an ample basis for their barbarous proceedings. In the early part of the year l568, as De Thou 5 Lib. XLIII. and Meteren 6 Historien der Nederlanden, fol. 49. report, the Inquisition at Madrid passed a sentence which involved, with insignificant exceptions, the whole population of the Netherlands in the crime of treason against God and the King. A few days later Philip II. added his sanction to the decree of the Inquisition, and forwarded it to the Duke of Alva as a rule for his administration. 1 The Dutch historians, Bor and Hooft, younger contemporaries of De Thou and Meteren, also make mention of the Sentence (Brandt, Book IX. p. 266).
To speak of mercy under this regime was counted a crime, as appeared when the magistrates of Antwerp asked that some who had offended only lightly might be released. Alva replied, "that he was amazed that there should still be any magistrates of their city, that could be so bold and so impudent as to dare to speak in favor of heretics; that they had best take care how they did so for the future, otherwise he would hang them all for an example to others; and that his Majesty had rather see all his territories deserted and uncultivated, than to suffer one heretic or Lutheran to remain in them." 2 Brandt, Book IX, p. 265.
Meanwhile, the Prince of Orange, who had taken refuge in Germany, did not content himself with securing his personal safety, but used his utmost endeavor to assemble an army for the relief of his oppressed country. Hitherto he had remained in the Romish Church, but he began now to show open preference for the Protestant faith. Alva, finding it necessary to meet the forces of Orange in person, hurried through the execution of Egmont and Horn, and took the field. He was in general victorious, and inflicted terrible vengeance on the cities which fell into his hands.
Notwithstanding confiscations and enormous exactions, Alva by no means realized his expectations in obtaining a great revenue. The golden stream which he had promised did not flow into Spain. He found that subordinates engaged in the plundering trade were likely to enrich themselves at the expense of the public chest. The fundamental principle of economics, that an exorbitant tax on repressed and ruined industries is less productive than a low tax on industries highly flourishing, was abundantly illustrated. Moreover, Alva could not escape the consciousness, that by his exactions and cruelties he had made himself universally hated. At length he became weary of his task, and asked and received a recall (1573). He left, boasting that during his six years administration, he had caused upwards of eighteen thousand men to be executed; "a number," remarks Raumer, "too large if one speaks of executions proper, too small if all who were destroyed or made outcasts are reckoned." Geschichte Europas, iii. 101. The number of executions is evidently no proper measure of the sufferings that were caused. Destruction of business by fines and confiscations, and the devastations of armies, spread misery through all ranks of society. Add to this the fear and insecurity which were everywhere felt. The savage wish expressed by Alva, that every man as lie lay down at night, or as he rose in the morning, "might feel that his house, at any hour, might fall and crush him," was not far from being realized.
The task which surpassed the abilities of Alva was not to be lightly accomplished by his successors, three of whom, Requescens, Don John of Austria, and Alexander of Parma, followed before the death of the Prince of Orange. The outraged provinces were in no haste to make terms with the perfidious despotism of Spain. A number of the cities, notably that of Leyden, signalized themselves by the most heroic resistance. Adequate means, however, were wanting for the attainment of a complete emancipation of the Netherlands. During the course of the war, the southern provinces were disengaged from their allies. The untimely fall of the great leader in the revolt prevented any successful effort for their recovery. These provinces, accordingly, were reconciled to Spain; the Jesuits were plentifully introduced, and means were taken to make a territory, which was no unfavorable soil for the Reformation, one of the most Romish districts in Europe. On the other hand, the seven northern provinces,--of which Holland was by far the largest,--fought out for themselves an independent status. A bond of federation was supplied to these provinces by the Union of Utrecht in 1579; and in 1581 they forswore all allegiance to Philip. The Prince of Orange had been for years the real sovereign of this territory, and might now have taken the title. But he considered that the country must have powerful allies for its defence, and, to insure connection with France, urged the acknowledgment of the Duke of Anjou as sovereign. The Duke was installed over some of the provinces. He appeared, however, only as a passing figure, and played a beggarly part in the affairs of the Netherlands. Holland and Zealand insisted upon the personal headship of William; and in 1582 he was vested with the sovereignty in perpetuity, though the formality for its transference was never fully consummated. Two years before this, PhilipII. had declared him an enemy of the human race, and had offered the most liberal rewards for his assassination. Various attempts upon the life of the great patriot followed. At length, in 1584, the fanatic Gerard accomplished the infernal deed. William of Orange fell, uttering as his last words, "God have compassion on me and on this poor people!" The murder was hailed in the circles of Romish bigotry with an applause second only to the insane chorus which celebrated the assassination of Henry III. The Jesuits, with whose foreknowledge the deed had taken place, reckoned Gerard among the holy martyrs of the Church; and Philip II. bestowed estates and patents of nobility upon his family.
The young republic could ill afford the loss of its illustrious head. But it still found means to maintain its independence. Maurice, the son of the fallen prince, possessed great military talents, and sustained the fortunes of the commonwealth.
It would seem from the preceding narrative that the people of the Netherlands had had a sufficient lesson respecting the woeful consequences of intolerance. But the case was otherwise. As charity is the divinest of gifts, so it is the last to be enthroned in human hearts. Egoism, impatient of contradiction, is ever ready to seize the weapons of brute force, instead of trusting to reason and holy living. Hence those who have suffered grievously for their faith have often been found willing to make others suffer for their honest convictions. That the Protestants of the Netherlands were not superior to this weakness and vice, was signally illustrated shortly after the death of William of Orange. The maxim was indeed very fairly established among them, that no inquisition should be made into private belief so long as it was treated simply and strictly as a private matter. But that a large proportion of them were not ready to allow any sort of public advocacy, even of a moderate and rational dissent from the current creed,was unmistakably shown in the Arminian controversy.
James Arminius, who gave name to the most fruitful re-action against the rigors of Calvinism, was born in 1560. Having enjoyed excellent opportunities for education in Leyden, Basle, and Geneva, and won high distinction as a preacher at Amsterdam, he was called in 1603 to the chair of theology in the university of Leyden. Some years before this, as a result of personal investigation, he had become convinced that the Calvinian dogmas of unconditional election and irresistible grace are untenable. As occasion required, he gave expression to his views, in fulfillment of the duties of his department of instruction. His creed was moderate. He made no further departure from the Calvinian system than was necessarily involved in his rejection of the ultra-tenets just mentioned. He was far from exhibiting any affinity with Pelagianism, except on a definition of that term, which would convict all the Church fathers before Augustine, without a single exception, of having been Pelagians. His manner of advocating his views was also characterized by moderation. He was a man of exemplary spirit, and did not forget the claims of Christian courtesy in the heat of discussion. By principle as well as by disposition, he stood above the rage and vindictiveness of intolerant dogmatism. We find him writing in 1605: "There does not appear any greater evil in the disputes concerning matters of religion, than the persuading ourselves that our salvation or God's glory are lost or impaired by every little difference. As for me, I exhort my scholars, not only to distinguish between the true and the false according to Scripture, but also between the more and less necessary articles, by the same Scripture. 1 Brandt, Book XVIII. p. 37. "In a like vein he addressed the States of Holland three years later, declaring that a creed designed for general use ought to be brief, confined to the most necessary articles, and expressed as nearly as possible in Scriptural language. 2 Works, vol. i. pp. 269, 272.
There were those in the Netherlands who appreciated the liberal sentiments of Arminius, as there were those who had been inclined, even before his public appearance, to the theological views which he advocated. But the majority of the clergy were as far from fellowship with his spirit, as from acceptance of his tenets. While some of them did not follow his most conspicuous antagonist, Gomarus, in the extreme doctrine, that even the decree for creation was subordinate to the decree for eternal damnation, they were disposed to repel any criticism of unconditional predestination as a profane assault upon the ark of the covenant.
The controversy, instead of subsiding after the death of Arminius, in 1609, proceeded with increased virulence. A fresh incentive was supplied by the action of the class of Alkmaar in insisting upon strict subscription, depriving five ministers who refused thus to sign, and resisting the requirement of the States of Holland, that the deposed ministers should be allowed to continue in their places while their appeal was pending. Emboldened by their example, the upholders of rigid orthodoxy in other quarters began to press the demand for unqualified subscription, and the pulpits resounded with invectives against the disciples of Arminius. The latter, in explanation of their position, issued in 1610 a declaration under the title of Remonstrance. This document, which was of the nature of a temperate protest against unconditional predestination, limited atonement and irresistible grace, and spoke of the doctrine of certain perseverance as open to inquiry, fastened the name of Remonstrants upon the party.
With the progress of the agitation, political complications became conspicuous. The magistrates of the provinces, including the foremost statesmen, were largely on the side of the Remonstrants, and favored a settlement on the basis of mutual tolerance. This being the general attitude of the civil power, the Remonstrants naturally regarded it as breakwater against the uncompromising zeal of the Calvinistic clergy, and so gave prominence to its prerogatives in ecclesiastical affairs. The Calvinistic or contra-Remonstrant party, on the other hand, placed a relative emphasis upon the independent authority of the Church; though, as the sequel proved, when the civil power espoused their cause, they were very willing that it should go to any length in suppressing their opponents, and accused them of treasonable insubordination for any refusal of conformity to its decrees.
The change in the attitude of the civil power was brought about by a revolutionary stroke on the part of Maurice, who held the position of Stadtholder. Being a man of great military aptitudes, Maurice found his chance of distinction much abridged by the truce with Spain, which, counter to his wish, was established in 1609. The truce itself was, to some extent, an occasion of a grudge against a prime agent in its adoption, the statesman Barneveldt, 1 So the name is commonly written in English, though Oldenbarneveldt is the proper form. who, in the official position of Advocate of Holland, had exercised a commanding and salutary guidance of the affairs of the Netherlands. The grudge of the soldier was much increased by observing, that, in actual influence, be was hardly a rival of the statesman. It was also sharpened by the consideration, that Barneveldt, interpreting the rights of the provinces, not as a theorist, but as a constitutional lawyer mindful of the legal facts in the case, found little place for the centralized authority which Maurice was ambitious to possess. The Stadtholder, therefore, had begun to look upon the Advocate as an enemy, when the theological controversy supplied an effectual weapon against him. At first Maurice took a neutral position; indeed, he continued in attendance upon the ministry of Uytenbogart, who drew up the Remonstrance, to within a year or two of the final crisis. But, at length, seeing a means of ascendency in the zeal of the clergy, and the greater part of the common people, he deposed the magistrates in the several provinces, and replaced them with men of his own party. Every thing was now at his command. Barneveldt, the patriot and statesman, who had served his country in a degree second only to that of William of Orange, was loaded with such slanderous accusations as the combined industry of political and theological hate could devise, imprisoned, subjected to a mock trial, and beheaded. Hugo Grotius, the associate of Barneveldt, and the sharer of his views, the most gifted scholar of his age, -- poet, historian, apologist, exegete, theologian, and jurist, --was sentenced to life-long imprisonment, from which, however, after two years of durance, a happy device secured his escape. The arrest of the statesmen occurred in 1618, just before the assembling of the synod of Dort; and sentence was executed against them directly after its close, as a general synod. For the political side of the Arminian controversy, see Motley's Life and Death of John of Barneveld. A mass of details relating to the ecclesiastical side of the movement may be found in Brandt's Reformation in the Low Countries, vols. ii.-iv. For a brief and lucid account, see C. M. Davies' History of Holland and the Dutch Nation, vol. ii.
The work of the synod of Dort was the ecclesiastical counterpart to the doings of Maurice in the state. For though it contained some representatives from England, and from several Continental states, in respect of sentiment it was a synod of contra-Remonstrants pure and simple. The relation of the Remonstrants to it was none other than that of prisoners at the bar. The partial hearing which was accorded to Episcopius and the other cited theologians was only a form, a decent preliminary to the sentence which was predetermined by the composition of the assembly. The Remonstrants were condemned in terms which bear a singular resemblance to the language of pontifical bulls and Romish synods against heretics. As an effectual bulwark against the five points of the Arminians, a creed, sufficiently detailed in its specifications, was subscribed. This creed is not an unworthy specimen of Calvinistic workmanship. It shows a very fair degree of skill in the wording. Still, it fails to cover up the infinite dissonance between responsibility and opportunity, which characterizes all high Calvinism, and leaves no escape from the conclusion, that a portion of the race are condemned to eternal perdition, on the score of a probation which was accomplished, and the issue of which was irretrievably determined, before they were born. This is an unavoidable inference from the teachings of the Dort canons, that no one can extricate himself from the state of nature without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit; and that this grace, bringing a salvation which is never forfeited, is given only to the elect. On this basis the non-elect must be regarded as having had in Adam all the probation that they have at all, so far as the alternatives of eternal life and eternal death are concerned. Whether the views held by the theologians of Dort, respecting the divine decree which extended over the fall of Adam, would not involve a still further narrowing of probation, it is hardly worth while to consider here. A man who is born under sentence of damnation, could not be consoled much by the conclusion that the sentence was not most strictly and absolutely from eternity.
For refusing to subscribe to this creed, some two hundred ministers were deprived of their positions, and about eighty were banished from the country. Several, as continuing their ministrations after the decree of banishment, were sentenced to life-long imprisonment. Heavy fines were imposed for attendance upon Remonstrant conventicles. In numerous cases the forbidden assemblies were exposed to gross abuse at the hands of the troops, and in some instances were subjected to murderous violence. Subscription to the canons of Dort was exacted from schoolmasters as well as from ministers. In some districts the requisition was extended even to the organists, one of whom, offering to compromise the matter, said that he would readily play the Calvinistic formulas if any one would set them to music.
A sad chapter, surely, in the history of the Netherlands, is this which records the crusade against the Arminians! The statesman who was unexcelled by any man of his generation, who, perhaps more than any other, was alive to the crisis which was being prepared for European Protestantism, and was already stealing upon it,--the horrors of the Thirty Years' War,--is arrested in the midst of his efforts to provide against the advancing storm, and is sent to the scaffold. At a time when the people of the newly founded republic ought to have arrayed their whole strength against the common foe, they appear with disunited ranks, one party proscribing, banishing, and repressing the other, in behalf of the supremacy of articles which are no part of Catholic Christianity. With the mutterings of war already in the air, in face of the fact that lack of unison between the Lutherans and the Reformed was perilous to the very life of Protestantism, a teaching which essentially agreed with Lutheranism is formally denounced, and its upholders declared utterly beyond the pale of toleration. 1 The interpretation which Lutherans might, and did, put upon the action of the contra-Remonstrants, is seen in a publication issued by the Wittenberg professors in l621. Referring to offers of fraternity from the side of the Reformed, the authors remark: "What good there is to be expected from such brethren, may easily be gathered from the synod of Dort and their proceedings. The Calvinists had several disputes with the Armenians, particularly about the article of grace, or election, in which the latter defended our opinion, and the former that of Calvin. In this controversy the Calvinists at length showed so much heat, that, by a hasty decree of that synod, they condemned the Arminians and their doctrines, without allowing them to make any defence, depriving them of the exercise of their religion, and banishing their most eminent ministers from their country forever. Was not that a very brotherly proceeding? If they thus treated such who differed from them in little more than one article, namely, that of predestination, what must we expect who differ from them in so many?" (Brandt, Book LVI. p. 330.) This is not forced reasoning, and it is difficult to see how the Calvinistic doctors in the Netherlands could have answered it, unless they were willing to allow that partisan malice had more to do with the proscription of the Arminians than any doctrinal interest. To be sure, there was a measure of provocation. In the early stages of the agitation several intemperate Calvinists who refused communion with the Arminians, or assailed them in scurrilous terms, were treated rather severely by the magistrates. But the provocation was of small account compared with the sweeping prosecution which followed against the Arminians.
To the credit of the people of the Netherlands, the era of infatuated intolerance was not of long continuance. After the death of Maurice, in 1625, persecution against the Remonstrants began to subside; and by 1631 they were allowed to establish congregations in the country. As respects subsequent fortunes, the Arminian movement, if it did not fully realize in the Netherlands the promise of its earlier years, was crowned with an abundant harvest in other and much broader fields.