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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 18 — History of Protestantism in the Netherlands

Chapter 7 — Retirement of Granvelle – Belgic confession of faith

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Tumults at Valenciennes – Rescue of Two Martyrs – Terrible Revenge – Rhetoric Clubs – The Cardinal Attacked in Plays, Farces, and Lampoons – A Caricature – A Meeting of the States Demanded and Refused – Orders from Spain for the more Vigorous Prosecution of the Edicts – Orange, Egmont, and Horn Retire from the Council – They Demand the Recall of Granvelle – Doublings of Philip II. – Granvelle under pretense of Visiting his Mother Leaves the Netherlands – First Belgic Confession of Faith – Letter of Flemish Protestants to Philip II. – Toleration.

The murmurs of the popular discontent grew louder every day. In that land the storm is heard long to mutter before the sky blackens and the tempest bursts; but now there came, not indeed the hurricane – that was deferred for a few years – but a premonitory burst like the sudden wave which, while all as yet is calm, the ocean sends as the herald of the storm. At Valenciennes were two ministers, Faveau and Mallart, whose preaching attracted large congregations. They were condemned in the autumn of 1561 to be burned. When the news spread in Valenciennes that their favourite preachers had been ordered for execution, the inhabitants turned out upon the street, now chanting Clement Marot's psalms, and now hurling menaces at the magistrates should they dare to touch their preachers. The citizens crowded round the prison, encouraging the ministers, and promising to rescue them should an attempt be made to put them to death.

These commotions were continued nightly for the space of six months. The magistrates were in a strait between the two evils – the anger of the cardinal, who was daily sending them peremptory orders to have the heretics burned, and the wrath of the people, which was expressed in furious menaces should they do as Granvelle ordered. At last they made up their minds to brave what they took to be the lesser evil, for they trusted that the people would not dare openly to resist the law. The magistrates brought forth Faveau and Mallart one Monday morning, before sunrise, led them to the market-place, where preparations had been made, tied them to the stake, and were about to light the fires and consume them. At that moment a woman in the crowd threw her shoe at the stake; it was the preconcerted signal. The mob tore down the barriers, scattered the faggots, and chased away the executioners. The guard, however, had adroitly carried off the prisoners to their dungeon. But the people were not to be baulked; they kept possession of the street; and when night came they broke open the prison, and brought forth the two ministers, who made their escape from the city. This was called "The Day of the Ill-burned," one of the ministers having been scorched by the partially kindled faggots before he was rescued. [1]

A terrible revenge was taken for the slur thus cast upon the Inquisition, and the affront offered to the authority of Granvelle. Troops were poured into the ill-fated city. The prisons were filled with men and women who had participated, or were suspected of having participated, in the riot. The magistrates who had trembled before were furious now. They beheaded and burned almost indiscriminately; the amount of blood spilt was truly frightful – to be remembered at a future day by the nation, and atonement demanded for it.

We return to the Council-board at Brussels, and the crafty tyrannical man who presided at it – the minion of a craftier and more tyrannical – and who, buried in the depths of his cabinet, edited his edicts of blood, and sent them forth to be executed by his agents. The bickerings still continued at the Council-table, much to the disgust of Granvelle. But besides the rough assaults of Egmont and Horn, and the delicate wit and ridicule of Orange, other assailants arose to embitter the cardinal's existence, and add to the difficulties of his position. The Duchess of Parma became alienated from him. As regent, she was nominal head of the government, but the cardinal had reduced her to the position of a puppet, by grasping the whole power of the States, and leaving to her only an empty title.

However, the cardinal consoled himself by reflecting that if he had lost the favor of Margaret, he could very thoroughly rely on that of Philip, who, he knew, placed before every earthly consideration the execution of his edicts against heresy. But what gave more concern to Granvelle was a class of foes that now arose outside the Council-chamber to annoy and sting him. These were the members of the "Rhetoric Clubs." We find similar societies springing up in other countries of the Reformation, especially in France and Scotland, and they owed their existence to the same cause that is said to make wit flourish under a despotism. These clubs were composed of authors, poetasters, and comedians; they wrote plays, pamphlets, pasquils, in which they lashed the vices and superstitions, and attacked the despotisms of the age. They not only assailed error, but in many instances they were also largely instrumental in the diffusion of truth. They discharged the same service to that age which the newspaper and the platform fulfill in ours. The literature of these poems and plays was not high; the wit was not delicate, nor the satire polished – the wood-carving that befits the interior of a cathedral would not suit for the sculpture-work of its front – but the writers were in earnest; they went straight to the mark, they expressed the pent-up feeling of thousands, and they created and intensified the feeling which they expressed.

Such was the battery that was now opened upon the minion of Spanish and Papal tyranny in the Low Countries. The intelligent, clever, and witty artisans of Ghent, Bruges, and other towns chastised Granvelle in their plays and lampoons, ridiculed him in their farces, laughed at

him in their burlesques, and held him up to contempt and scorn in their caricatures.

The weapon was rough, but the wound it inflicted was rankling. These farces were acted in the street, where all could see them, and the poem and pasquil were posted on the walls where all could read them. The members of these clubs were individually insignificant, but collectively they were most formidable. Neither the sacredness of his own purple, nor the dread of Philip's authority, could afford the cardinal any protection. As numerous as a crowd of insects, the annoyances of his enemies were ceaseless as their stings were countless. As a sample of the broad humor and rude but truculent satire with which Philip's unfortunate manager in the Netherlands was assailed, we take the following caricature. In it the worthy cardinal was seen occupied in the maternal labor of hatching a brood of bishops. The ecclesiastical chickens were in all stages of development. Some were only chipping the shell; some had thrust out their heads and legs; others, fairly disencumbered from their original envelopments, were running about with mitres on their heads. Each of these fledglings bore a whimsical resemblance to one or other of the new bishops. But the coarsest and most cutting part of the caricature remains to be noticed. Over the cardinal was seen to hover a dark figure, with certain appendages other than appertain to the human form, and that personage was made to say, "This is my beloved son, hear ye him." [2]

Such continued for some years to be the unsatisfactory and eminently dangerous state of affairs in the Low Countries. The regent Margaret, humiliated by the ascendency of Granvelle, and trembling at the catastrophe to which his rigour was driving matters, proposed that the States should be summoned, in order to concert measures for restoring the tranquillity of the nation. Philip would on no account permit such an assembly to be convoked. Margaret had to yield, but she resorted to the next most likely expedient. She summoned a meeting of the Knights of the Golden Fleece and the Stadtholders of the Provinces. Viglius, one of the members of Council, but less obnoxious than Granvelle, was chosen to address the knights. He was a learned man, and discoursed, with much plausibility and in the purest Latin, on the disturbed state of the country, and the causes which had brought it into its present condition. But it was not eloquence, but the abolition of the edicts and the suppression of the Inquisition, that was needed, and this was the very thing which Philip was determined not to grant. In vain had the Knights of the Fleece and the Stadtholders assembled. Still some good came of the gathering, although the result was one which Margaret had neither contemplated nor desired.

The Prince of Orange called a meeting of the nobles at his own house, and the discussion that took place, although a stormy one, led to an understanding among them touching the course to be pursued in the future. The Lord of Montigny was sent as a deputy to Spain to lay the state of matters before Philip, and urge the necessity, if his principality of the Netherlands was to be saved, of stopping the persecution. Philip, who appeared to have devoted himself wholly to one object, the extirpation of heresy, was incapable of feeling the weight of the representations of Montigny. He said that he had never intended, and did not even now intend, establishing the Inquisition in the Low Countries in its Spanish form; and while he bade Montigny carry back this assurance – a poor one even had it been true – to those from whom he had come, he sent at the same time secret orders to Granvelle to carry out yet more rigorously the decrees against the heretics.

Orange, Egmont, and Horn, now utterly disgusted and enraged, retired from the Council-table. They wrote a joint letter to the king, stating the fact of their withdrawal, with the reasons which had led to it, and demanding the dismissal of the cardinal as the only condition on which they could resume their place at the Board. They also plainly avowed their belief that should Granvelle be continued in the administration, the Netherlands would be lost to Philip. The answer returned to this letter was meant simply to gain time. While Philip was musing on the steps to be taken, the fire was spreading. The three seigniors wrote again to the monarch. They begged to say, if the statement had any interest for him, that the country was on the road to ruin. The regent Margaret about the same time wrote also to her brother, the king. As she now heartily hated Granvelle, her representations confirmed those of Orange, although, reared as she had been in the school of Loyola, she still maintained the semblance of confidence in and affection for the cardinal. The king now began to deliberate in earnest. Pending the arrival of Philip's answer, the Flemish grandees, at a great feast where they all met, came to the resolution of adopting a livery avowedly in ridicule of the grand dresses and showy equipages of the cardinal. Accordingly, in a few days, all their retainers appeared in worsted hose, and doublets of coarse grey, with hanging sleeves, but with no ornament whatever, except a fool's cap and bells embroidered upon each sleeve. The jest was understood, but the cardinal affected to laugh at it. In a little while the device was changed. The fool's cap and bells disappeared, and a sheaf of arrows came in the room of the former symbol. [3] The sheaf of arrows, Granvelle, in writing to Philip, interpreted to mean "conspiracy." Meanwhile the king had made up his mind as to the course to be taken. He dispatched two sets of instructions to Brussels, one open and the other secret. According to the first, the Duchess Margaret was commanded to

prosecute the heretics with more rigour than ever; the three lords were ordered to return to their posts at the Council-table; and the cardinal was told that the king, who was still deliberating, would make his resolution known through the regent. But by the secret letter, written at the same time, but sent off from Madrid so as to arrive behind the others, Philip wrote to the cardinal, saying that it appeared to him that it might be well he should leave the Provinces for some days, in order to visit his mother, and bidding him ask permission to depart from the regent, whom he had secretly instructed to give such permission, without allowing it to be seen that these orders had come from the king.

The plan mystified all parties at the time, save Orange, who guessed how the matter really stood; but the examination of Philip's correspondence has since permitted this somewhat complicated affair to be unravelled. The king had, in fact, yielded to the storm and recalled Granvelle. All were delighted at the cardinal's new-sprung affection for his mother, and trusted that it would not cool as suddenly as it had arisen; [4] in short, that "the red fellow," as they termed him, had taken a final leave of the country. Nor, indeed, did Granvelle ever return.

It is time that we should speak of the summary of doctrines, or Confession of Faith, which was put forth by these early Protestants of the Netherlands. About the year 1561, Guido de Bres, with the assistance of Adrian Saravia, and three other ministers, published a little treatise in French under the title of "A, Confession of the Faith generally and unanimously maintained by the Believers dispersed throughout the Low Countries, who desire to live according to the purity of the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." [5] This treatise was afterwards translated into Dutch. Saravia, who assisted De Bres in the compilation of it, states in a letter which the historian Brandt says he had seen, that "Guido de Bres communicated this Confession to such ministers as he could find, desiring them to correct what they thought amiss in it, so that it was not to be considered as one man's work, but that none who were concerned in it ever designed it for a rule of faith to others, but only as a scriptural proof of what they themselves believed." In the year 1563, this Confession was published both in high and low Dutch. It consists of thirty-seven articles.

Almost every one of these articles is formally and antithetically set over against some one dogma of Romanism. With the great stream of Reformation theology as set forth in the Confessions of the Protestant Churches, the Belgic Confession is in beautiful harmony. It differs from the Augsburg Confession under the head of the Lord's Supper, inasmuch as it repudiates the idea of consubstantiation, and teaches that the bread and wine are only symbols of Christ's presence, and signs and seals of the blessing. In respect of the true catholicity of the Church, the doctrine of human merit and good works, and the justification of sinners by faith alone, on the righteousness of Christ, and, in short, in all the fundamental doctrines of the Scriptures, the Belgic Confession is in agreement with the Augustine Creed, and very specially with the Confession of Helvetia, France, Bohemia, England, and Scotland. The Reformation, as we have seen, entered the Low Countries by the gate of Wittemberg, rather than by the gate of Geneva: nevertheless, the Belgic Confession has a closer resemblance to the theology of those countries termed Reformed than to that of those usually styled Lutheran. The proximity of Flanders to France, the asylum sought on the soil of the Low Countries by so many of the Huguenots, and the numbers of English merchants trading with the Netherlanders, or resident in their cities, naturally led to the greater prominence in the Belgic Confession of those doctrines which have been usually held to be peculiar to Calvinism; although we cannot help saying that a very general misapprehension prevails upon this point. With the one exception stated above, the difference on the Lord's Supper namely, the theology of Luther and the theology of Calvin set forth the same views of Divine truth, and as respects that class of questions confessedly in their full conception and reconcilement beyond the reach of the human faculties, God's sovereignty and man's free agency, the two great chiefs, whatever differences may have come to exist between their respective followers, were at one in their theology. Luther was quite as Calvinistic as Calvin himself.

The Belgic Creed is notable in another respect. It first saw the light, not in any synod or Church assembly, for as yet the Church of the Low Countries as an organised body did not exist; it had its beginning with a few private believers and preachers in the Netherlands. This is a very natural and very beautiful genesis of a creed, and it admirably illustrates the real object and end of the Reformers in framing their Confessions.

They compiled them, as we see these few Flemish teachers doing, to be a help to themselves and to their fellow-believers in understanding the Scriptures, and to show the world what they believed to be the truth as set forth in the Bible. It did not enter into their minds that they were forging a yoke for the conscience, or a fetter for the understanding, and that they were setting up a barrier beyond which men were not to adventure in the inquiry after truth. Nothing was further from the thoughts of the Reformers than this; they claimed no lordship over the consciences of men. The documents which they compiled and presented to the world they styled not a decree, or a rise, much less a creation, but a Confession, and they issued their Confessions under this reservation, that the Bible alone possessed inherent authority,

that it alone was complete and perfect, and that their confession was only an approximation, to be reviewed, altered, amended, enlarged, or abbreviated according as believers advanced in the more precise, full, and accurate understanding of the meaning of the Spirit speaking in the Word. We have nowhere found the views of the Reformers on this point so admirably set forth as in the celebrated John a Lasco's preface to his book on the Sacraments; and as this is a matter on which great misapprehension has been spread abroad, we shall here give his words. Speaking of the union of the Churches of Zurich and Geneva on the doctrine of the Lord's Supper, he says: "Our union is not so to be understood as if we designed to exclude the endeavours of all such as shall attempt to introduce a greater purity of doctrine. We perceive, indeed, that many things are now taught much better than formerly, and that many old ways of speaking, long before used in the Church, are now altered. In like manner it may hereafter happen, that some of our forms of speaking being changed, many things may be better explained. The Holy Ghost will doubtless be present with others, in the Church of Christ after us, as he has vouchsafed to be with us and our ancestors; for he proceeds gradually, or by steps, and gives an insensible increase to his gifts. And since we find that all things tend to farther perfection, I do not know, I own, whether it becomes us to endeavor to confine the gradual increase of his gifts within the compass of our forms of speaking, as within certain palisades and entrenchments; as if that same Spirit were not at liberty, like the wind, to blow how, and when, and where he listeth. I do not pretend to give a loose to the sowing of all kinds of new-fangled doctrines, but I contend for the liberty of adorning and explaining the foundations when once laid, and with design to show that the Spirit of God does not cease from daily imparting to us more and more light." How truly catholic! and how happily the mean is here struck between those who say that Confessions ought to be abolished because they tyrannically forbid process, and those who hold that they are to be changed in not one iota, because they are already perfect!

This Confession of Faith, being revised by a synod that met in Antwerp in May, 1566, was in that year reprinted and published. [6] Following the example of Calvin in his celebrated letter to the King of France, which accompanied his Institutes, the Reformed in the Netherlands prefaced their Confession of Faith with a letter to the King of Spain. Their Confession was their defense against the charges of heresy and disloyalty which had been preferred against them; it was their "protestation before God and his angels" that what they sought was "to enjoy the liberty of a pure conscience in serving God, and reforming themselves according to his Word and Holy Commandments;" and it was their appeal to be freed from "the excommunications, imprisonments, banishments, racks and tortures, and other numberless oppressions which they had undergone." They remind the king that it was not their weakness which prompted this appeal to his compassion; and that if they did not resist, it was not because they were few in number – "there being," say they, "above one hundred thousand souls in these Provinces who profess the same religion, of which they presented him the Confession" – but to prevent his "stretching out his hand to embue and embathe it in the blood of so many poor innocent men," and thereby bringing calamity upon his kingdom and throne.

They appended to their Confession a "Representation to the magistrates and higher powers throughout the Low Countries. In this Representation we see these Flemish Protestants taking their stand at the very threshold of the modern religious liberties. Nay, they so state the functions of the magistrate, and so define his jurisdiction, that fairly interpreted their words approximate very nearly, if not altogether, to our own idea of toleration. They indeed condemn those who taught that it is "unlawful for the magistrate to speak of the Scripture, or to judge of doctrines and matters of religion." But these words in their mouths have a very different meaning from that which they would have in ours. The Church of Rome said to the magistrates, You are not to speak of Scripture, nor to judge of doctrines; that belongs exclusively to us: you are to believe that whatever we call heresy, is heresy, and, without farther inquiry, are to punish it with the sword. On the contrary, the Flemish Protestants vindicated the rights of princes and magistrates in this matter. They were not to be the blind tools of the Church in putting to death all whom she may choose to condemn as heretical. They must, for their own guidance, though not for the coercion of others, judge of doctrines and matters of religion. "They are not for going so far," they say, "as those good old fathers who say that our consciences are not to be molested, much less constrained or forced to believe, by any powers on earth, to whom the sword is only entrusted for the punishment of robbers, murderers, and the like disturbers of civil government." "We acknowledge," they add, "that the magistrate may take cognisance of heresies." But let us mark what sort of heresies they are of which the magistrate may take cognisance. They are heresies which involve "sedition and uproars against the government." [7]

Thus again, when they explain themselves they come back to their grand idea of the freedom of conscience, as respects all human authority, in matters appertaining to God and his worship. Toleration had its birth in the same hour with Protestantism; and, like the twins of classic story, the two powers

have flourished together and advanced by equal stages. Luther exhibited toleration in act; Calvin, ten years before the time of which we write, began to formulate it, when he took heresy, strictly so called, out of the jurisdiction of the magistrate, and left him to deal with blasphemy, "which unsettled the foundation of civil order;" and now we behold the Protestants of the Low Countries treading in the steps of the Reformer of Geneva, and permitting the magistrate to take cognisance of heresy only when it shows itself in disturbances and uproars. It is important to bear in mind that the Reformers had to fight two battles at once. They had to contend for the emancipation of the magistrate, and they had to contend for the emancipation of the conscience. When they challenged for the magistrate exemption from the authority of Rome, they had to be careful not to appear to exempt him from the authority of the law of God. The Papists were ever ready to accuse them of this, and to say that the Reformation had assigned an atheistic position to princes. If at times they appear to deny the toleration which at other times they teach, much, if not all, of this is owing to the double battle which the times imposed upon them – the emancipation of the magistrate from the enslavement of the Church, and the emancipation of the conscience from the enslavement of both the magistrate and the Church.

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