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L’Anticléricalisme intra-protestant en Europe continentale (xviie-xviiie siècles)

Yves Krumenacker

Anticlericalism in the Netherlands: Some Preliminary Remarks

Joris Van Eijnatten

Texte intégral

  • 1 The only two articles concerned specifically with the subject are Heinz Schilling, « Afkeer van dom (...)

1Anticlericalism in the northern Netherlands has hardly been treated as a topic in its own right1. Yet the Dutch have produced their share of political theorists, jurists, philosophers, and a substantial flock of independent writers, who were more often than not virulently anticlerical, or who were at least opposed to the prevailing religious system, and emphasized, in particular, secular control over the clergy. In this paper, I shall attempt to provide a rough outline of anticlericalism in the northern Netherlands after about 1670 — a somewhat arbitrary date, perhaps, but one which may be said to signal the definite stabilization of the early-modern confessional state. In Germany, the Peace of Westphalia (1648) confirmed the provisions of the Peace of Augsburg (1555), and extended them to the Calvinist confessions; in England, the Clarendon Code of 1661-1665 disabled the nonconformists; in France, the state was powerful enough to revoke the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Likewise, in the northern Netherlands during the second half of the seventeenth century, the state was sufficiently powerful to both support the Reformed Church and enforce the toleration of other denominations. The established position of a religious institution based on written formularies was bound to elicit the criticism of those who objected both to the contents of the accepted confessions and to the political power game that had led to the dominance of this particular religious confession in the first place. It may offer a worthwhile insight into Dutch religious and intellectual culture to take a brief glance at some Dutch manifestations of anticlericalism.

2I shall first examine a major anticlerical author working in the Netherlands, the law scholar Jean Barbeyrac. Subsequently, I shall provide some early-eighteenth-century examples of Dutch anticlericalism, to show that the anticlerical streak in Jean Barbeyrac was hardly unique; or, to put it another way, that there was an intellecual market for his ideas. I shall then attempt to sketch the changing context in which manifestations of Dutch anticlericalism occurred; in the Epilogue this all-too-brief discussion will be extended to the nineteenth century. On the whole, this paper should be regarded as no more than a set of preliminary remarks to a little-studied topic.

1. Jean Barbeyrac : The Anticlericalism of a Refugee.

3Jean Barbeyrac was born at Béziers in the Languedoc on 15 March, 1674. He was the eldest son of Antoine Barbeyrac († 1690), a Huguenot minister of Provençal origin. In a period in which the position of French Protestants was becoming increasingly precarious, Jean was sent to Montpellier to be educated by his uncle Charles Barbeyrac, a physician of great repute. Following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Antoine Barbeyrac left France for Lausanne, leaving behind three of his four children, including Jean. A few months later, Jean Barbeyrac, now aged eleven, was able to escape to Switzerland via Lyon.

4After studying Greek, Hebrew, philosophy and theology at Lausanne and Frankfurt an der Oder, Barbeyrac eventually settled in Berlin. He had preached for several years in the Walloon community in and around Berlin when the Elector of Brandenburg, Frederick III, in 1697 appointed him at the Berlin Gymnasium as a teacher of ancient languages. Frustrated in his attempt to become a full minister of the French church—on account of his supposed Socinian leanings—he turned instead to the study of natural law. His 1706 translation of Samuel Pufendorf earned him a reputation as a law scholar of intellectual standing. In 1710, Barbeyrac returned to Lausanne to become professor of law and history. He received his doctorate in law only in 1717, when he exchanged the post in Lausanne for a professorship in public and private law at Groningen. He would teach law at Groningen University, whence he had been enticed by the offer of a substantial salary and a house in the middle of the town, for almost three decades.

5Barbeyrac’s anticlericalism should be interpreted in the light of his various experiences with religious intolerance, including (1) the oppression and persecution he underwent in France, (2) the hostility of his fellow Huguenots in Berlin, and, (3) in Lausanne, the demand of the reigning Swiss orthodoxy that clergymen and academics subscribe to the Formula Consensus (the Swiss ecclesiastical formularies of concord). Such experiences fuelled his interest in natural law and moral philosophy, his religious liberalism, his call for freedom of conscience, and his demand that church and clergy submit to secular political authority. Thus, his work on natural law was largely motivated by his desire to guarantee human liberty over and against arbitrary rule, and to denounce a clergy prejudiced in favour of political and spiritual tyranny.

  • 2 See Joris van Eijnatten, Mutua Christianorum tolerantia. Irenicism and toleration in the Netherland (...)

6Anticlerical themes may be found in the « Préface » in the 1712 edition of his translation of Samuel Pufendorf’s Le droit de la nature & des gens, which first appeared in two volumes in 1706 (original Latin version 1672). Barbeyrac’s Protestant anticlericalism is also evidenced in his translations of two academic orations by the Leiden law scholar Gerard Noodt, one of which was entitled Discours sur la liberté de conscience (French translation 1707). In the Traité de jeu (1709) he showed that, contrary to what orthodox divines asserted, games involving skill or chance were prohibited neither by Christian morality nor by natural law. His Discours sur l’utilité des lettres et des sciences, par rapport au bien de l’état, an oration held in Lausanne in 1714 at the end of his rectorate, lamented the tyranny that was the result of ignorance, especially ignorance in religious matters. Then there is the Traité de la morale des pères de l’Eglise (1728), a learned response to an equally erudite tome by Dom Remi Ceillier (1688-1761), a French Benedictine. Barbeyrac’s general point in the Traité de la morale was that the Church Fathers from Clement of Alexandria to Gregory the Great had little to offer in the way of moral philosophy. The twelfth chapter, on Jerome, which focused on the distinction between civil and ecclesiastical toleration, later embarked on a bibliographical and intellectual career of its own. Translated into Dutch, it would be included in influential anthologies of texts which also included Gerard Noodt’s Discours sur la liberté de conscience and John Locke’s Letter on Toleration2..

7Most revealing, perhaps, is the remarkable address Barbeyrac held in 1721, four years after his arrival in Groningen: De magistratu, forte peccante, e pulpitis sacris non traducendo. The address questioned the lawfulness of denouncing magistrates from the pulpit. Barbeyrac’s message was unmistakable. No clergyman, he claimed, has the right to publicly criticize the magistracy for any reason whatsoever. A minister of the church has the same obligation as any other citizen. Public criticism of the magistracy leads to chaos and rebellion, all the more so when the critics are clergymen, who usually have a profound spiritual influence on the common people. Above all, Barbeyrac’s address amounted to a critique of what he considered the clergy’s tendency to unlawfully establish their own independent jurisdiction. His address was a refutation of traditional Calvinist as well as Roman Catholic claims that the church, even if it was the « public » or « dominant » church, should be substantially independent of secular government.

8Barbeyrac’s address contains no less than 36 extensive references to a variety of authors ranging from Aristotle and Socrates (Scholasticus, the Church historian) to Pierre Bayle and Jean Le Clerc (in the later Latin, French and Dutch editions sixteen additional footnotes were appended and many of the existing ones expanded). The footnotes may be classified into eight different groups: (1) the Bible (mostly from the New Testament: only 3 out of 48 citations refer the reader to the Old Testament); (2) early Christianity, above all the history of the later fourth and early fifth centuries (Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret) ; (3) Pierre Bayle, especially the Dictionnaire ; (4) Hugo Grotius (with seven citations in all, De imperio summarum potestatum circa sacra (1647) is the most frequently quoted study); (5) other legal scholars (Justus Henning Boehmer, Henning Arnisaeus, Samuel von Cocceji, Samuel Pufendorf, Christian Thomasius) ; (6) a broad Christian tradition concerning toleration (including writers such as Thomas Erastus, Marco Antonio de Dominis, David Blondel, Jean Daillé, and Gerard Brandt); (7) contemporary « latitudinarian » writers (Michel de la Roche, Benjamin Hoadly, Jean Le Clerc; perhaps Matthew Tindal might also be included in this group, given the reference to his The rights of the Christian Church asserted of 1706) ; (8) Martin Schoock, a seventeenth-century professor of logic and physics at Groningen.

9Barbeyrac’s address of 1721 immediately attracted attention. It soon appeared independently in Latin (1721), Dutch (1722, 1724), and German (1722), while Latin, French, and Dutch editions with supplementary footnotes were later reissued in conjunction with other writings by Barbeyrac. It would probably not be far off the mark to claim that most Dutch law students—many of whom would later follow a career as a magistrate—were quite familiar with the contents of Barbeyrac’s anticlerical address. Moreover, in the course of the eighteenth century references to the address surfaced time and again, in poems, in moral weeklies, in sermons, and so on. Throughout the century, those who criticized what they considered to be authoritarian clericalism generally expressed great interest in Barbeyrac’s text.

10Barbeyrac’s address probably owed much of its popularity to the fact that it was the expression of a long-lived Protestant anticlerical tradition, which surfaced in almost every country where orthodox clergies supervised « dominant » Protestant churches. The contents of such texts were essentially the same. Grotius and Schoock and Bayle in the Republic, Thomasius in Prussia, Tindal and De la Roche in England, and Barbeyrac in Lausanne and Groningen: they all basically argued that the clergy should not be permitted to establish a jurisdiction separate from that of the state. They pointed out that the clergy should act and behave as all other subjects of the commonwealth were expected to act and behave. In the more extreme anticlerical theories, the clerical estate as such was deprived of its theological and juridical privileges, and the clergy reduced to merely a species of civil servant, with the emphatic duty to obey the government. Such anticlerical texts opposed ecclesiastical « hierarchies », as they were usually called, regardless of whether the church organisation in question was episcopal or presbyterian or anything in between. Autonomous sources of spiritual authority, these authors believed, were bound to influence government policy unfavourably, in the sense that they would lead to restrictions regarding the extent of civil toleration. In his anticlerical address De magistratu, Barbeyrac recapitulated an intellectual tradition that was relatively well-known at the time. His significance lies in the fact that he called attention to it as an influential academic law professor.

2. Contesting the Church’s Authority

11Thus, for Barbeyrac and the cloud of scholarly witnesses legitimating his claims, anticlericalism was not an attack on the clergy as such, but a critique of the relatively independent status of the public church (or of its attempts to procure such autonomy). Terms such as geestelijken (best translated simply as « clergy ») and the somewhat more derogatory kerkelijken (related to the French ecclésiastiques) and hierarchie were commonly used in Dutch toleration debates. Critics of clerical autonomy, whether in England, Germany or the United Provinces, feared the establishment of an independent ecclesiastical hierarchy. Did hierarchical authority in the church not go hand in hand with despotism in politics?

  • 3 On this period, see Schilling, « Afkeer van domineesheerschappij ».

12Such anticlericalism had become particularly prominent in the Netherlands in the second half of the seventeenth century. Around 1650, a substantial part of the Dutch Reformed Church had chosen the side of the Stadtholder in his struggle with the States of Holland. This evoked strong, politically-motivated anticlerical currents3, often aggravated by the radical Spinozism of the period. Dutch anticlericalism of the later seventeenth-century was typically concerned to break the hold of the traditional Church on the government’s religious policy, and to put a more tolerant institution with an obedient clergy in its place. Witness the following excerpt from a single breathless sentence in a treatise by the political writer Pieter de la Court (1618-1685), published in 1669:

  • 4 [Pieter de la Court], Aanwysing der heilsame politike gronden en maximen van de republike van Holla (...)

« (…) because of these bad and domineering maxims of the Clergy, we see that in almost all countries those who dissent or do not acknowledge the public sentiments of the aforementioned Preachers are expelled from the Political State, and that these Inhabitants are persecuted, not only by excluding them from Government, Magistracy, Offices, and Benefits (which would be tolerable for the private Inhabitant, and harmonizes well with the good maxims of Government, since it is apparent that, for the sake of the common peace, in any Land one Religion should prevail above all others, and consequently be authorized, protected, favoured, and fostered by the State; in such a way, however, that in the meantime the exercise of other Religions is not outlawed but to some extent tolerated publicly), but also by harassing them in such a way that many good and useful Inhabitants, in order to avoid the large fines, banishments, or corporal punishments, to which they would otherwise be subject for attending forbidden Religious Meetings, leave their sweet Fatherland (…).»4

Ostensibly opposing French or German clergies, De la Court was, of course, anxious to ensure that the vigorously orthodox Calvinist currents in the Holland of his day — in particular the followers of the Utrecht theologian Gisbert Voet, the so-called Voetians — would not set the political agenda.

  • 5 [Anon.], Vrymoedige bedenkingen over de vryheid, Amsterdam 1738.
  • 6 [Anon.], Vrymoedige bedenkingen over de vryheid, « Voorbericht » and p. 15-27.
  • 7 [Anon.], Vrymoedige bedenkingen over de vryheid, p. 67-104.

13Anticlericalism of an anti-authoritarian, Protestant brand remained a characteristic element of Dutch toleration debates until well into the eighteenth century. An anonymous treatise published in 1738 may serve to illustrate the kind of anticlericalism that surfaced repeatedly among political theorists and legal scholars. The Open-hearted considerations on freedom5 appeared anonymously, and probably not without good reason. That the author should argue in favour of States-oriented or staatsgezinde government (that is, a government lacking the semi-princely function of the Stadtholder) was not in itself unusual. It was, however, rather uncommon that he should do so by outlining a moral philosophy based on theological considerations regarding original sin, rather than using classical republican arguments. All men are dependent, for only God is independent, claimed the author; freedom can be realized only in dependence, for man is free only when he acts according to the end for which he has been created6. In his supreme wisdom God has decided to restore man to his pristine liberty gradually, step by step, by prescribing forms of society that correspond to man’s condition, and prevent him from following his own desires and prejudices. Old Testament theocracy was one form of society suited to the advancement of man’s well-being and the restoration of his freedom. As such, it prefigured the universal dominion of Christ, whose laws are nothing but « Love and Friendliness ». How is it possible to ensure that present-day governments also aspire to the common good? Is there any power higher than theirs? Certainly not that of the clergy—the clergy is and should be wholly subordinate to the civil authorities. The authorities have the duty to maintain and protect the well-being of the church, since religious worship is an essential aspect of the well-being of society, and they consequently have the right to enforce the cloth to do what it is supposed to do. The clergy have no call to criticize the authorities for making decisions that do not accord with the demands of the church; and the magistracy have every right to silence those who are guilty of such unbridled behaviour. The author ultimately finds a solution to his problem in contract theory. In a free society, in which the common good is fostered through benevolent and gentle means, and in which true freedom reigns, excellent citizens are elected to represent the body of subjects as a whole. Such a society can be found in the Dutch Republic7.

  • 8 Simon van Slingelandt, « Korte aanwijsing van het regt der onderdanen en van de magt en pligt der H (...)

14If such theological approaches were comparatively rare, manifestations of anticlericalism as such were common enough in the first half of the eighteenth century. For instance, one of the most powerful political figures of the period, the Grand Pensionary Simon van Slingelandt (1664-1736) made out a radical case for toleration by disputing the very legitimacy of the public church. In a manuscript not published before 1980, Van Slingelandt contended that the ius circa sacra should not be accorded to the government: a magistracy must not prevail over the church. He adduced eight principles from which the nature of the rights and duties relating to religion could be deduced8 : (1) The primary duty of every human being is to prepare himself for eternal salvation by believing and doing what he is supposed to believe and do. (2) What we must believe and do can easily be derived from our relationship with God and our fellow-men, and has been clearly revealed in Scripture. (3) Nobody has an excuse not to know this, since all can make use of the reason given to them for this purpose by God. (4) Nobody is allowed to misuse his ability to reason by following the judgement of another, by taking it upon himself to dominate the beliefs of another, or by forcing another to accept beliefs against his conscience. (5) Everyone has the duty to show his neighbour the way to salvation, insofar as he deems this necessary. (6) Teachers may be elected and gatherings convened at specific times and places. (7) It is a contradiction of reason to give the government control over matters that concern only the relationship between man and God. (8) The government has no authority over the property of any private religious society.

  • 9 Van Slingelandt, « Korte aanwijsing », p. 190-193.
  • 10 Van Slingelandt, « Korte aanwijsing », p. 193-196.

15These principles are either so clear and self-evident that they need no proof, or have been amply demonstrated to be true by various writers, such as Samuel Pufendorf, Gerard Noodt, John Locke, Matthew Tindal, and Benjamin Hoadly9. Van Slingelandt concludes, first, that every subject has the right to believe, publicly confess, exercise, and pass on anything he believes to be necessary to salvation, as long as the foundations of civil society are not undermined. Secondly, subjects have the right to convene, worship together, establish rules and determine a financial arrangement for their society, and oblige all members to abide by the accepted rules, on condition that a member can leave a particular society whenever he so deems fit. Once a society has been established, the members have the right to appoint a number of persons to supervise the maintenance of the rules, and to penalize disobedience with excommunication. The rules that are valid within a private religious society are to be regarded as stipulations in a contract between private individuals; they may not infringe on the right of all subjects to benefit from the general aim of civil society (protection from violence, dispensation of impartial justice, and so on). Thirdly, all members of civil society have the right—regardless of their religious views—to participate in the political administration or to hold office in the judiciary, as long as the person in question has the required talents, birth, and wealth. Excluded from participation—and this reveals the anticlericalism in Van Slingelandt’s essay—are those who maintain that political or public office requires a personal badge of orthodoxy. The refusal to allow dissenting believers to participate in public administration is but one step removed from coercion of conscience. By contrast, to throw open public administration to all capable individuals, and thus to make earnest with the claim that religion has nothing to do with material benefits, is a certain way of safeguarding the eventual prevalence of the true faith10.

  • 11 [Anon.], Voorbereiding tot den waaren godsdienst, vry van gewetensdwang, Leiden 1739.
  • 12 Pieter Leuter, De kruiskerk, of spiegel van gewetensdwang, Dordrecht 1776.
  • 13 See Joris van Eijnatten, « Lodestars of latitude. Gerard Brandt’s Peacable Christian (c. 1664), ire (...)

16A long didactic poem published anonymously in 1739, called the Preparation for true worship, free from coercion of conscience, offered a similar message11. In profusely annotated alexandrines, the poet (whom we know to have been trained as a legal scholar) defended freedom of thought, reduced the fundamentals to simple faith in Christ the Messiah, passionately rejected subscription, opposed clerical authority, and praised religious liberty and moderate government as aspects of « true freedom ». Yet another instance of anticlericalism in rhyme is a poem called The church under the cross, or a mirror of coercion of conscience (1757, but published in 1776), by Pieter Leuter, an energetic member of several poetry societies whose poetic talents were not, however, proportional to his enthusiasm12. The poem is a rather repetitive account in which descriptions of concord are alternated by images of dissension, and the clergy are continuously rebuked for their clericalism and their intolerance. The author had evidently read a seventeenth-century poem in similar anticlerical vein, the Peaceable Christian by the Arminian preacher and historian Gerard Brandt13. Poetry, especially when lavishly annotated, was considered an excellent medium through which to express republican ideals combining notions of « true freedom » with anticlerical pleas for religious liberty.

  • 14 [Daniel van Alphen], Het recht der overheden omtrent kerkelyke bedieningen, Leiden 1756.
  • 15 [Van Alphen], Het recht der overheden, « Voorreeden »; Jean Le Clerc, Epistolae criticae, et eccles (...)

17As the century progressed, anticlerical writers took less and less trouble to conceal their identities. Daniel van Alphen (1713-1797) was the offspring of a ranking patrician family, the clerk of the bench of aldermen at Leiden, a jurist by training, a creditable historian, and a well-known writer of neo-Latin poetry. In 1756 he published an essay comprising some 370 pages in octavo—under a thinly disguised pseudonym— as The right of magistrates with regard to ecclesiastical offices.14 The anticlerical tenor of the treatise is pronounced; Van Alphen’s account is interspersed with comments on the despicable lusting after power of ecclesiastics who cause strife and discord and who are no better than the Papist hierarchy. God forbid that this land be ruined by religious dissension and the domineering posture of the church, and that we be bound as slaves to synodal decrees! Van Alphen intended to affirm the legal rights of the magistracy and ensure the obedience of the church and its leaders. He claimed to have no grudge against ecclesiastics, but rejected their habit of wildly slandering their opponents as Socinians, libertines, Machiavellists, and naturalists. His disdain for the clergy is evident from his recommendation that readers examine Jean Le Clerc’s « Dissertatione ethica, in qua solvitur hoc problema, an semper respondendum sit calumnis theologorum? »15

  • 16 For other writings concerned with the magistrates authority circa sacra, see Joris van Eijnatten, L (...)
  • 17 J. Lindeboom, Frederik Adolf van der Marck. Een achttiende-eeuwsch leeraar van het natuurrecht, ’s- (...)
  • 18 F.A. van der Marck, Lectionum Academicarum tomus secundus, quo praecipua juris ecclesiastici protes (...)

18Van Alphen’s amicable relations with the controversial law professor Van der Marck demonstrate the longevity of an anticlerical tradition stemming from the seventeenth century16. Frederik Adolf van der Marck (1719-1800) was already known as a flagellum theologorum before he was appointed professor of constitutional, natural and international law at Groningen in 175817. After a conflict with repercussions throughout the Netherlands, Van der Marck was dismissed by the Senate of the same university where Barbeyrac had been allowed to work unhampered for so many years. The second volume of Van der Marck’s Lectiones Academicae, published in three parts at Groningen in 1772 and at Lingen in 1775 and 177618, contained a detailed scrutiny of the church and its relations to the state. Van der Marck was so bold as to contend that the universal church is a natural society deriving from the order of the universe, and therefore subject to natural law, although its aim, which is the perfection of the universe, requires the intervention of grace. The general drift of his treatise was that the universal church is a natural society, and therefore subject only to the law of nature, which has been put forward most clearly by Jesus Christ; that the imposition of formularies is tantamount to mutiny in Christ’s Kingdom; that to enforce confessions of faith in religion is as absurd as implementing them in nature; that natural law and Revelation are the two pillars of Christendom, and that differences among Christians are as insignificant as differences between law scholars; that no one is orthodox unless he be truly pious, but that formularies prevent such piety; that formularies are the result of a majority vote and are only subscribed to by memorizing certain clerical opinions; and that all formularies contain errors, so that sincere subscription is impossible.

  • 19 Lectiones Academicae II-i, 89.

19Christians, moreover, possess the natural freedom to prophesy, while household fathers have the natural right to administer sacraments. The contemporary distinction between clergy and laity actually applies only to apostolic times, when religious leaders were divinely inspired. Nowadays clerical privileges are solely the result of a voluntary transfer of human authority. Nor did the early church have any need for distinctive clerical epithets or for the professional clothing worn by the clergy. These are monkish inventions, and the result of ambition and superstition. The church should be unilaterally governed by the state. The secular authority of the ruler includes the power to enforce the external rights of the church by coercion, and to foster the internal rights of the church by persuasive means (such as founding public schools for proper religious education and paying salaries to suitable teachers and pastors). Who, questioned Van der Marck, decides on the contents of ecclesiastical doctrine? If a decision has to be made at all (and this is necessary only when society threatens to be upset), the prince is the one who must decide to publicly maintain the one or the other doctrine. The orthodoxy thus instituted is purely civil, and neither theological nor ecclesiastical. The gist, then, of Van der Marck’s views on church law was the contention that theocracy must be rejected; that the clergy can lay claim to no rights in excess of the ones they have received from the church, which is not divinely instituted but a society like any other; that only God possesses the imperium religionis ; that the state must tolerate all religions (deists, Muslims and heathens, « et quos non? »)19 ; and that the government determines which religion is dominant, and establishes its organization, rules, and doctrine.

  • 20 For the context of Van der Marck’s comments, see John Stroup, The struggle for identity in the cler (...)

20Van der Marck’s views on church law were undoubtedly much indebted to Thomasius. His wholesale rejection of the prince’s so-called episcopal rights reflects Thomasius’ attack on Lutheran « collegialist » theory, of which Mosheim was a major recent proponent, and which sought to define an area of relative independence for the church. Thomasius himself defended the « territorialist » view, according to which the prince’s rights over the church were derived unilaterally from the ius maiestaticum20. Van der Marck must have looked upon himself as a second Thomasius, who, too, had been evicted from a university by overweening clerics, and had subsequently travelled the road to academic glory under the patronage of a Prussian king. The significance of this outspoken anticlerical critic lies in the fact that he dared to go public.

  • 21 On Spinoza and the Spinozism see Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment. Philosophy and the Maki (...)

21Going public as an anticlerical writer was not dangerous in itself; it was certainly unwise, especially for those wielding political authority, for those belonging to religious minorities, or for those whose anticlericalism derived from philosophical positions that could not stand the light of day. Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677) is a case in point21. He is generally regarded as one of the first theorists to flesh out a fully secular justification of, not just religious liberty, but freedom of thought. The Tractatus theologico-politicus was, if anything, a manifesto for freethinking and anticlericalism. Spinoza made a point of emphasizing that large congregations of any sect should be forbidden so that they would not compete with the impressive and magnificent temples belonging to the state religion. The official religion was not Christian, but an universalist one. Its rites were performed not by a specific clergy but by the political rulers of the republic. All other churches and especially their clergies were to be kept on a short leash by the magistracy, in order to prevent the development of an independent power within the state to which the common multitudes were bound to pledge their loyalty. Spinoza’s attempt to prohibit the formation of powerful ecclesiastical structures and institutions was characteristic of much republican discourse in the Netherlands.

22State control over religion also figures in the Free thoughts on religion, the church, and national happiness (1720) by the Dutch-English physician Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733)—evidently a product of what seems like a boom in libertarian writings during the 1720s and 1730s. Mandeville’s Free thoughts (soon translated into French, Dutch, and German) are manifestly anticlerical ( « priestcraft » is a recurring theme) and universalist, if not supremely indifferent to, and critical of, religion altogether. Mandeville was intent on attacking « the Priest-ridden superstitious Bigot, who shuts his Eyes to common Sense, and stupidly imagines, that he can believe plain Contradictions. » He condemned the vulgar crowd for its veneration of the institutional church and ascribes no « less Fondness for Power and Dominion » to Protestant clergymen as to Roman priests. He accused the clergy in general of breeding ignorance and superstition and performing other acts of « Priestcraft, pious Frauds, Calumnies and downright Falsities. »

  • 22 Wiep van Bunge, « Eric Walten (1663-1697): An early Enlightenment radical in the Dutch Republic », (...)

23Mandeville’s view that differences of opinion could do no harm as long as the clergy was held firmly in check was shared by Dutch Spinozists. Happiness is attainable only when the yoke of the theologians has been shattered, claimed « Spinozistic » authors of whom it is far from certain that they had actually read Spinoza at all. Nonetheless, these minor philosophers and theologians were perceived as a significant threat to the established religious order in the Netherlands. Rabid anticlericalism surfaced in the writings of Eric Walten (1663-1697), an obscure pamphleteer with a record of trespasses ranging from vagabondage to sacrilege, the latter leading to his death in prison while awaiting trial. Around 1690 he not only defended popular sovereignty and electoral monarchy, but also strongly supported the rights of the civil authorities over the church. Walten, having already perpetrated the unforgivable crime of appealing to the Spinozist doctrine of accommodation, added fuel to the flames of orthodox inquisition by denouncing the Reformed synod which dismissed Balthasar Bekker in August 1692 as a madhouse, and, even worse, slandering the clergy as a Satanist sect. He was incarcerated in 1694 and possibly committed suicide in his cell a few years later22.

  • 23 On the Hebrews, see Michiel R. Wielema, Ketters en verlichters. De invloed van het spinozisme en wo (...)
  • 24 Wielema, Ketters en verlichters, p. 24.

24Apart from political theorists, legal scholars, poets, and subversive radicals, anticlericalism manifested itself within pietist movements in the margins of the public church. The « Hebrews », for instance, emanated from conventicles within the Reformed Church23. These laymen claimed to be the true Reformed, to be more authentically Calvinist than the clergy. The Hebrews deemed one doctrine central to Christendom: the satisfaction of Christ. This doctrine they avowed to teach their neighbours, whom they also sought to instruct in Hebrew so that each could read the original text of the Bible for himself, and, frequently, herself. The Hebrews were known also as Schoristen, after Jacob Verschoor (1648-1700), the lay preacher who is generally regarded as the founder of the movement. They not only aspired to free the original biblical text from the claims laid upon it by official clergy. They also believed that women should be at liberty to prophesy and preach. And as if this was not subversive enough, they showed a disregard for the doctrinal system accepted by the public church. What was the use of learning a series of abstruse dogmas without insight into the true marrow of divinity? The Hebrews charged the clergy with Papism, since ministers, as mouthpieces of an orderly society, emphasized the law at the cost of justification by faith. Of course, the clergy recoiled from such antinomian views and tried to silence the Hebrews. Theologians wrote books against antinomianism, church councils issued warnings, and the civil authorities, albeit grudgingly, published rescripts. The anticlericalism of the Hebrews was pronounced. They refuted the clergy’s status, stating that their spiritual power was a matter not of divine institution but merely a question of church order, and even that independent clerical authority contradicted the constitution of the free Netherlands24.

3. In Praise of Moderation

  • 25 See also Joris van Eijnatten, « From Modesty to Mediocrity. Regulating Public Dispute, 1670- 1840: (...)

25After about 1760, a profound change occurred in the context in which anticlerical assertions were vented. The intricate networks of the old regime, characterized by particularism, patronage and privilege, were subject to increasing criticism. A new public sphere developed, one based on participation rather than patronization. One need think only of the unprecedented flood of periodicals and other means of publication in this period, the rise of an articulate publishing caste which sought and obtained a public forum for proposals concerning economic, scientific, educational, religious, and literary reform, the development of « enlightened » sociability, and the growth of a sense of national unity and a new political consciousness. The basis for social and political stability was no longer sought in the maintenance of order through privilege and repression, as in the confessional public sphere, but through the formation, by inner « civilization » or beschaving (or what would be called Bildung in German), of a nation-wide, « polite » community of citizens. In this polite public sphere, inwardly civilized citizens would be expected to respond to an ethic of freedom, reason, sincerity, and moderation. This ethic was believed to reflect the true essence of Christianity, as opposed to the dogmatic traditionalism of old regime theologians. Hence the supporters of « politeness » began to invest heavily in the production of writings in which Christianity was associated not with the values of the confessional elite who guarded public doctrine, but with the values of a free citizenry, inwardly convinced of the truth of the Christian faith. If a minister of the church was to achieve anything in enlightening the people, he must spread the simple Word, with all due prudence and moderation25.

  • 26 Wilhelm Crichton, Verhandeling over ’t menschelyk geloov in vier boeken verdeeld. Waar agter nog ge (...)

26That the new, widely appreciated emphasis on politeness and moderation did not mean that virulent anticlericalism was out of fashion, may be illustrated by a treatise on fundamental doctrines translated from the German. The treatise had been written by a Reformed professor of theology at Franfkurt an der Oder, Wilhelm Crichton (1732-1805). His main point was that the « most necessary article » of the Christian religion is « that Jesus is the Christ »26 Other (second-rate) doctrines may be found in the Apostles’ Creed, but Crichton observed that neither the denial of doctrines nor the adherence to errors necessarily implies exclusion from salvation. Denying certain doctrines may lead to exclusion from a particular church, but it never leads to excommunication from the universal church. Crichton delighted in pointing out the doubtful, blameworthy, contradictory, useless and dangerous consequences of the supposedly blind attachment to human authorities (Church Fathers, councils, synods, formularies, and confessions). To make matters worse, the anonymous Dutch translator supported these contentions. In a bitter, anticlerical preface, he lashed out against the established clergy, insisting that they tried to set themselves up as an independent estate to force their own peculiar views on others. He found it incomprehensible that sovereign rulers still gave free reign to pretentious ecclesiastics.

  • 27 Petrus van Woensel, Staat der geleerdheid in Turkijen (1791), Meike Broecheler ed., Leiden 1995.
  • 28 [Van Woensel], Staat der geleerdheid in Turkijen, p. 8-12, 34-37.

27Bitter invectives may also be found in Petrus van Woensel (1747-1808), a well-travelled writer who had worked in the service of the Dutch navy. His concise and readable Annotations made during a journey through Turkey, Anatolia, Crimea and Russia appeared anonymously in two volumes in 1792 and 179527. Van Woensel’s travel account, which contained authentic descriptions of the Ottoman Empire and Russia, contained pungent religious criticism. Van Woensel, who claimed to be better acquainted with Don Quixote than the Bible, suggested that organized religion was merely the external dressing of an underlying universal deism. Hence, the differences between Islam and Christendom were in reality very slight. Theology in the Turkish realm went hand in hand with law, observed the traveller, since the Koran was a book of both religion and law. Turkish ministers proclaimed religious and civil law in their mosques, a teaching of much greater utility than the theologia polemica and abstruse Hebrew and Greek etymologies taught in Christian pulpits. In a number of annotations, Van Woensel added anticlerical insult to anti-Christian injury. He noted that in Europe church services were attended only by the ignorant lower classes. He advised that the magistracy inspect and censor clerical goods, including sermons, just as they sampled food products and medicine28.

  • 29 See the introduction by P.J. Buijnsters to J.A. Schasz, Reize door het apenland, Zutphen s.a.
  • 30 Schasz, Reize door het apenland, p. 63.
  • 31 J.A. Schasz, Het land der willekeurigen, of de verdeedigers van Abimelech, s.l. 1789, p. 135- 153.
  • 32 Het land der willekeurigen, p. 25-28.

28Alternatively, take the mysterious storyteller known as « J.A. Schasz, medical doctor ». A very probable candidate for Dr. Schasz is Gerrit Paape (1752-1803), a political activist obliged to leave the Republic for France after the Prussian intervention of 178729. Paape/Schasz wrote libertine plays and stories replete with erotic sensualism and anticlericalism. In the Journey through Ape Land (1788), for example, Schasz’s opinion regarding ministers is made abundantly clear when a simple villager is asked to verify his story about the debauched hero being carried away by seven fire-breathing dragons. « The Reverend says so », says the villager, « He’ll preach about it this evening. » « O! » replies the inquirer, « Then it must be true. »30 The sequel to the Journey through Ape Land was appropriately called The land of arbitrary rule, or the defenders of Abimelech (1789). The champion of Abimelech (the son of Gideon in Judges 9, who murdered his brothers to become king) is a village minister who holds protracted sermons in praise of despotism. After all kinds of intrigues the hero is obliged to take the place of the minister, but wonders whether the public will find his sermon acceptable. He is told that congregations are invariably happy with any sermon as long as they are happy with the minister. It is simply a question of donning the appropriate disguise and using the correct facial expressions. Accordingly, the hero is able to heartily condemn Abimelech and all he stands for in a sermon on the same biblical verse used by his predecessor31. Schasz clearly regarded orthodox clericalism as an immediate support for despotic political rule, and orthodoxy as naturally related to the use of physical force. The hero reports that he is used to getting his way, and that one of the methods he still sometimes employs was taught to him in his youth by his catechizer, who, after a ridiculous theological discussion on the question whether Adam and Eve were made of glass, whacked his pupil on the head with the Bible32. Such parallels between political despotism and ecclesiastical tyranny were popular.

  • 33 Joost Roosendaal, « Geloof en Revolutie. De Nederlandse katholieken en het oecumenisch christen-rad (...)
  • 34 J.Th. de Visser, Kerk en staat, 3 vols., Leiden [1926], vol. III, p. 18.
  • 35 For an overview, see Roosendaal, « Geloof en Revolutie ».

29For the political radicals among the anticlerical writers, the Batavian Revolution—initiated by French armies putting an end to the Dutch Republic in 1795—was an opportunity publicly to let off anticlerical steam. One lawyer defended the abolition of church bells, processions, bands and gowns, crosses, monk’s cowls and other outward religious trappings33. His Mennonite colleague spoke in no uncertain terms of the « so-called God’s anointed, mitred and banded hypocrites » who had helped enchain humanity in the name of religion. A Reformed ex-preacher qualified the Heidelberg Catechism as an « indecent and stupid remnant of the old Church dominion, giving rise to religious hatred and distrust. »34 A small contingent of radical revolutionaries was Roman Catholic. They combined ideals of Christian concord based on theist notions (and often not much else) with republicanism and natural law, were often involved in Jansenism and freemasonry, called for a single academic course in theology for all denominations, and proposed national festivities as a replacement for church services35. In the end, of course, church and state were separated, and the dominance of the « public church » came to an end.

30Anticlericalism of the angry, anti-establishment variety was, however, becoming relatively rare. More common, in any event, was the plea for clerical moderation. The disseminators of what in hindsight has been called the « Dutch Enlightenment » wished, above all, to provide a religiously sound and intellectually satisfying basis for an alternative religious public. They tried, first, to promote a moderate scepticism that left the core of religious faith untouched and, secondly, to establish an accessible theology. What they did, in result, was advance the fundamentals of faith to a status they had never before possessed in Christian society. Whatever was necessary to salvation had to be able to withstand biblical or philosophical criticism, they believed; whatever was necessary was also capable of being understood by the common people. Anticlerical tirades against ecclesiastical power politics and abstruse dogmatics continued to appear now and then. More important, however, was that a viable alternative to the old confessional order was now being put into practice, an alternative in which much emphasis was put on biblical simplicity, moral practice, candour, reasonableness, accessibility. It was a highly successful alternative, which catered to the needs of a broad and, ultimately, nation-wide public, and obviated the need for anticlericalism of the old regime variety.

4. Epilogue: Quarelling over the National Ethic

31Barbeyrac was anticlerical only insofar as he countered the authority of state-supported, confessional orthodoxies, with an aim to creating a less restrictive institutional church based on as limited a number of fundamental articles as possible. This « old regime anticlericalism » was characteristic of many critical thinkers in the early eighteenth-century Netherlands, ranging from political theorists and legal scholars to radical Spinozists and religious dissenters. After about 1760, with the development of a polite public, old regime anticlericalism, though by no means disappearing, gradually became superfluous. A broadly accepted (that is, among the larger part of the educated middle class) civil ethic of politeness, predicated on notions of reason, liberty, sincerity, and moderation, made it unnecessary to oppose a set of ideas that was rapidly becoming obsolete. Once the public or dominant church was deprived of its official position in society, anticlericalism of the older variety vanished.

32The Protestant anticlerical tradition, as it surfaced in the eighteenth-century Netherlands, may be contrasted to later forms of anticlericalism. Modern Dutch anticlericalism was concerned, not with the creation of a lenient or latitudinarian institutional church, but with what was regarded as the deleterious influence of institutional clergies on the national spirit. The people constituted the nation; they required an ethic reflecting the dignity of the nation. The ethic of politeness and moderation was expanded into a truly national ethic, based on freedom and toleration. It thus became imperative—to those not inclined to adhere to any traditional orthodoxy — to develop « progressive » alternatives to traditional Christianity, and in the process to frustrate the activities of institutional clergies. Nineteenth-century proponents of anticlericalism in the Netherlands were affiliated with freemasonry, left-wing Hegelianism, Spinozism, liberalism, Darwinism, or simply intellectual progressivism; they could be found among followers of Socialism and Humanism, or among freethinkers in general. Such writers were often more or less opposed to Christianity as such. This is not to say that there have not been other currents in Dutch history that were far from anti-Christian and may yet be classified as anticlerical. For instance, in 1853 the broad Protestant opposition to the re-introduction into the northern Netherlands of the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy led to a wholesale revival of anticlericalism. A low Church movement initiated towards the end of the nineteenth century by the Calvinist politician Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) took issue with the power of the social and political elite governing the Reformed church.

33The Dutch « case » outlined in this paper suggests, then, that nineteenth-century anticlericalism may be seen as an offshoot of the modern nation state. The development of the idea of a nation of free individuals in the decades around 1800 raised questions concerning the values to be instilled in future citizens. Modern anticlericalism thus resulted from the clash of spiritual and/or ideological values; it was based on the idea that individual religious freedom is a sine qua non of society, and was bound up with a struggle for control over the schools, the popular press, and the parliament. Early modern anticlericalism was, by contrast, not primarily an effort to influence the moral and spiritual values of the nation by developing an alternative ideology. It was mainly concerned to break the grip of the orthodox institutional Church on society and the state, and integrate the Church into a « latitudinarian » politico-religious order.


1 The only two articles concerned specifically with the subject are Heinz Schilling, « Afkeer van domineesheerschappij: Ein neuzeitlicher Typus des Antiklerikalismus », in: P.A. Dykema, H.A. Oberman eds., Anticlericalism in late medieval and early modern Europe, Leiden etc. 1993, p. 655-668; and Joris van Eijnatten, « Swiss Anticlericalism in the United Provinces. Jean Barbeyrac’s Oratio de Magistratu, Forte Peccante, e Pulpitis Sacris non Traducendo (1721) », in: Henri Méchoulan, Richard H. Popkin, Giuseppe Ricuperati, Luisa Simonutti eds., La formazione storica della alterità. Studi di storia della tolleranza nell’età moderna offerti a Antonio Rotondò, 3 vols., Florence, 2001, III, pp. 861-886.

2 See Joris van Eijnatten, Mutua Christianorum tolerantia. Irenicism and toleration in the Netherlands: The Stinstra affair 1740-1745 (Studi e testi per la storia della tolleranza in Europa nei secoli XVI-XVIII 2), Florence 1998 ; and « Gerard Noodt’s standing in the eighteenth-century Dutch debate on religious freedom », in: Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis / Dutch Review of Church History 79/1 (1999) p. 74-98.

3 On this period, see Schilling, « Afkeer van domineesheerschappij ».

4 [Pieter de la Court], Aanwysing der heilsame politike gronden en maximen van de republike van Holland en West-Vriesland, Leiden, Rotterdam, 1671 [1st ed 1669], p. 60-63.

5 [Anon.], Vrymoedige bedenkingen over de vryheid, Amsterdam 1738.

6 [Anon.], Vrymoedige bedenkingen over de vryheid, « Voorbericht » and p. 15-27.

7 [Anon.], Vrymoedige bedenkingen over de vryheid, p. 67-104.

8 Simon van Slingelandt, « Korte aanwijsing van het regt der onderdanen en van de magt en pligt der Hooge Overheid ontrent het stuk van de godsdienst of gelijk men gemeenlijk segt, ontrent kerkelijke saken » (W.A. van Rappard ed.), in: Nederlandse Historische Bronnen II, The Hague 1980, p. 184-202, at p. 189-190.

9 Van Slingelandt, « Korte aanwijsing », p. 190-193.

10 Van Slingelandt, « Korte aanwijsing », p. 193-196.

11 [Anon.], Voorbereiding tot den waaren godsdienst, vry van gewetensdwang, Leiden 1739.

12 Pieter Leuter, De kruiskerk, of spiegel van gewetensdwang, Dordrecht 1776.

13 See Joris van Eijnatten, « Lodestars of latitude. Gerard Brandt’s Peacable Christian (c. 1664), irenicism, and religious dissent », in: Lias. Sources and Documents Relating to the Early Modern History of Ideas 26 (1999), p. 57-75.

14 [Daniel van Alphen], Het recht der overheden omtrent kerkelyke bedieningen, Leiden 1756.

15 [Van Alphen], Het recht der overheden, « Voorreeden »; Jean Le Clerc, Epistolae criticae, et ecclesiasticae, Amsterdam 1730 (1st ed. 1700), p. 297-344.

16 For other writings concerned with the magistrates authority circa sacra, see Joris van Eijnatten, Liberty and Concord in the United Provinces. Religious Toleration and the Public in the Eighteenth-Century Netherlands (Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History), Leiden 2002 (à paraître).

17 J. Lindeboom, Frederik Adolf van der Marck. Een achttiende-eeuwsch leeraar van het natuurrecht, ’s-Gravenhage 1947.

18 F.A. van der Marck, Lectionum Academicarum tomus secundus, quo praecipua juris ecclesiastici protestantium universalis capita pertractantur, Groningen 1772 (II-i) and Lingen 1775-1776 (II-ii, II-iii) [= Lectiones Academicae].

19 Lectiones Academicae II-i, 89.

20 For the context of Van der Marck’s comments, see John Stroup, The struggle for identity in the clerical estate. Northwest German Protestant opposition to absolutist policy in the eighteenth century, Leiden, 1984, p. 43-82.

21 On Spinoza and the Spinozism see Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment. Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750, Oxford, 2001.

22 Wiep van Bunge, « Eric Walten (1663-1697): An early Enlightenment radical in the Dutch Republic », in: Wiep van Bunge and W. Klever eds., Disguised and overt Spinozism around 1700, Leiden etc. 1996, p. 41-54.

23 On the Hebrews, see Michiel R. Wielema, Ketters en verlichters. De invloed van het spinozisme en wolffianisme op de Verlichting in gereformeerd Nederland, unpubl. PhD thesis, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam 1999, p. 17-35.

24 Wielema, Ketters en verlichters, p. 24.

25 See also Joris van Eijnatten, « From Modesty to Mediocrity. Regulating Public Dispute, 1670- 1840: The Case of Dutch Divines », in Common Knowledge 8 (2002) (Peace and Mind. Seriatim Symposium on Dispute, Conflict, and Enmity part 2), p. 310-332.

26 Wilhelm Crichton, Verhandeling over ’t menschelyk geloov in vier boeken verdeeld. Waar agter nog gevoegd is een byzondere verhandeling, over de voornaamste hoofdstukken der Kristelyke leer, Amsterdam 1774, p. 221; Joris van Eijnatten, « The debate on religious unity in the eighteenth-century Netherlands: The German connection », in: Heinz Duchhardt and Gerhard May eds., Union — Konversion — Toleranz. Dimensionen der Annäherung zwischen den christlichen Konfessionen im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert (Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Europäische Geschichte Mainz, Beiheft 50), Mainz 2000, p. 325-348.

27 Petrus van Woensel, Staat der geleerdheid in Turkijen (1791), Meike Broecheler ed., Leiden 1995.

28 [Van Woensel], Staat der geleerdheid in Turkijen, p. 8-12, 34-37.

29 See the introduction by P.J. Buijnsters to J.A. Schasz, Reize door het apenland, Zutphen s.a.

30 Schasz, Reize door het apenland, p. 63.

31 J.A. Schasz, Het land der willekeurigen, of de verdeedigers van Abimelech, s.l. 1789, p. 135- 153.

32 Het land der willekeurigen, p. 25-28.

33 Joost Roosendaal, « Geloof en Revolutie. De Nederlandse katholieken en het oecumenisch christen-radicalisme », in: Marit Monteiro et al eds., De dynamiek van religie en cultuur. Geschiedenis van het Nederlands katholicisme, Kampen 1993, p. 261-281, at p. 270.

34 J.Th. de Visser, Kerk en staat, 3 vols., Leiden [1926], vol. III, p. 18.

35 For an overview, see Roosendaal, « Geloof en Revolutie ».

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