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Religion, Politics and Toleration

  • J. L. Price
Chapter
Part of the European History in Perspective book series (EUROHIP)

Abstract

The Dutch Republic was notorious among contemporaries for the wide variety of religious beliefs and practices which were permitted on its territory and, although this degree of toleration was generally taken as a sign of the moral degeneracy of Dutch society at the time, it has subsequently been regarded as one of its most admirable traits. It is far from obvious why the Dutch should have ceased — in practice at least — to give as high a priority to religious unity and purity as the rest of seventeenth-century Europe. Conventional wisdom predicted that such religious divisions would inevitably lead to the collapse of political order; the experience of the Dutch state in this century was in the end a practical refutation of this theory — although at the height of the conflict between remonstrants and contraremonstrants in the second decade of the century the opposite must have seemed to be the case. Practical necessity rather than idealism would seem to have been at the root of Dutch toleration at this time; certainly there were distinct limitations on this toleration, and these would seem to have been set equally firmly by the circumstances of the time. The Dutch civil authorities at all levels had only a limited freedom of action: on the one hand, the imposition of religious unity or uniformity was not a practical possibility; on the other, a greater degree of toleration with regard to radical beliefs or to catholic worship was generally regarded as neither desirable nor wise.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    J. Spaans, Haarlem na de Reformatie. Stedelijke cultuur en kerkelijk leven,1577–1620 (The Hague, 1989 ), p. 104.Google Scholar
  2. For a general introduction to the question, see R. Po-Chia Hsia, Social Discipline in the Reformation. Central Europe 1550–1750 (London, 1989).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    A.C. Duke, Reformation and Revolt in the Low Countries (London, 1990), pp. 291–3.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Cf. the arguments of P. Geyl in History of the Low Countries: Episodes and Problems (London, 1964), pp. 32–42.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    H. Roodenburg, Onder censuur. De kerkelijke tucht in de gereformeerde gemeente van Amsterdam,1578–1700 (Amsterdam, 1990 ).Google Scholar
  6. Cf. the suggestive study of Utrecht in this period, B. J. Kaplan: Calvinists and Libertines. Confession and Community in Utrecht 1578–1620 (Oxford, 1995).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. For the providential interpretation of Dutch history see C. Huisman, Neerlands Israel. Het natiebesef der traditioneel-gereformeerden in de achttiende eeuw (Dordrecht, 1983).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    R. Dekker, Holland in Beroering. Oproeren in de I7de en 18de eeuw (Baarn, 1982), p. 39. There were a number in the eighteenth century, however.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    For a rather less sanguine view, see Anton van de Sande, ‘Roomse buitenbeentjes in een protestantse natie? Tolerantie en antipapisme in Nederland in de zeventiende, achttiende en negentiende eeuw’, Marijke Gijwijt-Hofstra (ed.), Een schijn van verdraagzaamheid (Hilversum, 1989 ), pp. 85–106.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    For a useful account in English, see Andrew C. Fix, Prophecy and Reason. The Dutch Collegiants in the Early Enlightenment (Princeton, NJ, 1991 ).Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Cf. L. Kolakowski, Chrétiens sans Eglise (Paris, 1969 ), pp. 166–77.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    R.G. Fuks-Mansfeld, De Sefardim in Amsterdam tot 1795 (Hilversum, 1989), pp. 45, 52–3.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Florike Egmond, Underworlds. Organized Crime in the Netherlands 1650–1800 (Cambridge, 1993), ch. 6.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Quoted in K.L. Sprunger, The Learned Doctor William Ames ( Urbana, IL, 1972 ), p. 58.Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    Robin Briggs, Witches and Neighbours. The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft (London, 1996), e.g. p. 186, in my view underestimates the significance of the very early ending of prosecutions in Holland and thus overlooks the latter’s originality.Google Scholar
  16. See, for example, W. de Blécourt, Termen van toverij. De veranderende betekenis van toverij in Noord-Oost Nederland tussen de 16de en 20ste eeuw (Nijmegen, 1990).Google Scholar
  17. 24.
    For example, the links between political and religious factionalism in Zeeland in the later part of the century related in M. van der Bijl, Idee en Interest. Voorgeschiedenis, verloop en achtergronden van de politieke twisten in Zeeland en vooral in Middelburg tussen 1702 en 1715 (Groningen, 1981).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© J. L. Price 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. L. Price
    • 1
  1. 1.University of HullUK

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