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The perpetual dictatorship at Geneva, if it may be so called; ceased with the life of Calvin; a parity between the ministers was introduced, though Theodore Beza appears eminent among his successors.
THE EFFECTS OF THE REFORMATION IN BELGIUM, OR THE
The early impression made on these countries, then subject to the sceptre of Charles V., by the doctrines of the reformation, is marked by a placard, which was published in the name of that Monarch, by Margaret of Austria, Governess of the Netherlands, in the year 1521. Luther is there described as a " devil in the shape of a man, and in the habit of a monk, that he may more easily occasion the eternal death and destruction of mankind." All those books which contained any allusion to the Scriptures, or its doctrines, were prohibited, without the approbation of the ordinary and the faculty of divinity in the nearest university. In the following year, the emperor commissioned Francis Vander Hulst, his chancellor in Brabant, to make strict inquiry into the religious opinions of the people of the Low Countries, and with his colleague Van Egmont, he proceeded with the most furious zeal to execute his orders, on the mere suspicion of heresy, throwing numbers into prison. The first of these inquisitors, Erasmus designated as a "great enemy to learning; " the latter, as "a madman, in whose hands they had put a sword.”
Cornelius Grapheus, secretary to the city of Antwerp, a friend of Erasmus, was an early object of their persecution; and though he recanted on a public scaffold, he was nearly ruined in his property. It was discovered that the Austin Friars of the same city read and approved the works of Luther. Many of them were therefore imprisoned. Their prior Henry of Zutphen, of whose subsequent martyrdom in the north of Germany, notice has already been taken in the account of Luther, made his escape out of prison. Three of the monks were degraded and condemned to the flames, 1523. Two of them, Henry Voes and John Esch, were executed together. While the fire was being lighted, they repeated the creed, and then sang together the Te Deum, in alternate verses, until the force of the flames silenced their chant. The third friar, for some cause or other, was taken back to prison and privately put to death.
These were the protomartyrs of the reformation in Belgium. Their deaths but ill effected the purpose which their persecutors designed. Erasmus has remarked that the city of Brussels, where they were executed, "had been perfectly free from heretics, till this event; but many of the inhabitants immediately after began to favour Lutheranism." Notwithstanding this example, it appears that the Augustine Friars of Antwerp were not cured of their heresy. A man of the name of Nicolas, in the following year, for addressing the people where one of these friars was expected, but could not appear, because a price was set upon his head, was, by order of the magistrates, put into a sack and thrown into the river.
The Lutherans still continued to hold their assemblies without the walls of Antwerp. The inhabitants of Holland, Zealand, and Flanders, very generally embraced the doctrines of Luther. The correspondence of Erasmus marks the progress of these opinions. "The nuns in my country," Holland, "run away from their convents, trusting the providence of God." Dorpius, professor of divinity at Louvain, and Philip de Lens, secretary to the emperor in the court of Brabant, were reported to be favourable to these opinions; and Deleen, a learned professor of Embden, declared himself of the same mind. Persons of eminence, both among the clergy and the laity, in several parts of the country, ventured to espouse the same cause. But martyrdom was still the lot of many. John Van Backer, a young man in holy orders, is particularly mentioned; in 1525 he was strangled and burnt. As he passed the prison where many were in confinement for the confession of the truth, he exhorted them to constancy, and was answered by their shouts and the clapping of their hands; and till the martyr had expired-for it seems the place of execution was within hearing they encouraged him by singing the Te Deum and the hymns of the church. It is said, that the constancy of Backer, at that time, preserved the lives of some others, as the judges became softened. But about the middle of the year 1526, the emperor published another placard against the Lutherans; another followed in 1528, and another in 1529. The relapsed were, without distinction, to be burnt. On the first conviction, the men were to suffer by the sword, and the women to be buried alive. The better to find out heretics, one half of their estates, not exceeding the sum of a hundred Flemish livres, was promised as a reward to the informers. The apprehension and death of many followed.
In 1531, Margaret of Austria died. The emperor committed
the care of the province to his sister Mary. At this time a printer was executed for being concerned in making an impression of the Bible; and a cruel edict was published against all writers and printers of new books. In 1532, six persons of one family were burnt at Limburg.
But before this period, the Anabaptists, the bane of the reformation, had followed it into the Low Countries, and proved a far more destructive enemy to its cause than the persecuting governments themselves. If any thing indeed could have stopped its progress, and made mankind, from the fear of greater evils, content to live still in papal darkness and tyranny, the diabolical spirit which now actuated these fanatics would have been sufficient to have done it. To the same zeal which the reformers shewed against the papacy, they added the principle, and acted upon it, that all wicked governors and priests were to be massacred, that they the saints of God might take the kingdom. To their cruelty they added the most infamous and savage treatment of the female sex, that is perhaps recorded in the history of civilised nations.
The Low Countries were much overrun by these fanatics, about the same time that Munster was seized by a party of them in Germany. In Holland they committed great disorders. In 1535, thirty or forty of them resolved to set the city of Leyden on fire; but not being joined, as they expected, by the mob, fifteen men and five women were seized and executed by the magistrates.
It appears by the archives of Amsterdam, that about fifty men and women of these sectaries, in this same year, were apprehended for running naked through the streets of that town, crying "Wo to Babylon!" As the ancient Gnostics had done, they imitated, to the utmost, the constancy of the dying martyrs of Christ, and being every where the victims of the same persecution and industriously confounded with them by the Papists, the records of martyrology, without great discrimination, will no longer mark the conflicts of the truth with papal darkness in the Low Countries.
Many of the disciples of Luther perished under the imputation of crimes and sentiments which they abhorred. The number of sufferers in the Low Countries, of all sorts, was prodigious. The presence of the emperor in 1540, increased the violence of the persecution. To the different parties of the Anabaptists, who kept increasing with the real reformation, is to be added the
sect of the Libertines.
This sect abounded much in France and the Netherlands. They may be classed with the Antinomian. Gnostics of the first century. They made little account of public worship, or of the ministry of the word. All religious professions seemed indifferent to them. They held themselves to conform to any, or to none, as happened to be most for their convenience. Calvin complains of these Libertines, that when he exhorted the reformed in France to leave their country, to preserve a good conscience, they jestingly answered: "Can't a man go to Heaven without passing through Geneva?" He says of them in another place: "These closet-philosophers, who live under the Papacy, say, 'Is it not a fine thing that a man should not be a Christian unless he trots to Geneva, to have his ears stuffed with sermons, and use the ceremonies that are observed there? Cannot a man read and pray by himself? must he go into a temple in order to be instructed, when every body has the Scriptures in his own house?""
In the year 1555, Charles V. resigned Spain and the Low Countries to his son Philip, who proved to be the most bigoted and cruel of all the persecuting princes of the age. This prince resided chiefly in these provinces, till the year 1559, and employed his utmost power to root out all sects hostile to the church of Rome, without any distinction or discrimination. The blame of all was indeed chiefly charged on Luther and the friends of the reformation. Notwithstanding every opposition, however, and every hinderance from the sectaries, true protestantism kept increasing.
Brandt observes, that "the constancy of the martyrs raised so great a compassion in the minds of the people, that many persons did not scruple to comfort them when they were going to the place of execution, and to sing psalms with them. At last, whole communities of Protestants undertook, in several places, to carry away the confessors, when they were at the point of being put to death." In so many ways was the public opinion shewn, that Philip II. was obliged, by an edict, to order that all "farces, plays, songs, and ballads, in which the affairs of the church and religion were mentioned, should be prohibited." When Philip departed into Spain, he gave the government of the country to Margaret, duchess of Parma, his natural sister, and left strict orders with her and the privy-council, to extirpate heresy.
The states of the Low Countries met at Ghent, in 1559, where the bishop of Arras, in the king's name, recommended to them the same subject, the extirpation of heresy. Many of the
members could not forbear to express their uneasiness at the design of setting up the Inquisition. "The Low Countries," they said, "were not used to such a yoke; the bare name of Inquisition made them tremble; heresy was an evil which might be cured by milder remedies than fire or sword," &c. These remonstrances had little effect on the bigoted mind of Philip. When the danger of his losing, by his severity, some of these provinces, was suggested by his ministers, he declared, “He had rather be deprived of all his dominions, than hold them embued with heresy!" On his embarkation at Flushing, he ordered the prince of Orange to put to death some persons of note, who were suspected of heresy. The prince, however, gave the parties private notice, in order that they might effect their escape.
The persecution still continued. In 1563, the reformed, or Calvinists of the Low Countries, published a Confession of Faith, agreeing almost entirely with that of the reformed churches in France. A new edition of this Confession was published in 1565, inscribed to the king of Spain. About this time, the reformed were so increased in number, that they began to meet publicly in most provinces. The first assembly of that nature was held in July 1566, in a field near the city of Horn, where, such was the earnestness of the people to hear the word of God, that the ministers preached to them for four hours together. At length, the nobility of the Low Countries began to enter into a confederacy, to suppress the Inquisition and shelter the Protestants from persecution. The people, in different parts of the country, began to rise, and great excesses were committed by the mob in Antwerp and Flanders. Above four hundred churches were plundered in three days. Many of the Monks were ill-used. Both the reformed and the Lutherans drew up remonstrances to Philip on this occasion, and while they condemned these violent proceedings, they petitioned for the public exercise of their religion, in which they were resolved to live and die." The prince of Orange also drew up a petition to the king, in which he acquainted him with the state of religious feeling in the Low Countries. Many attempts were made, but with little effect, to unite the Lutherans and the reformed. In prospect of a league, count Lewis of Nassau, brother of the prince of Orange, together with other deputies of the nobility, were sent to Amsterdam, Antwerp, Tournay, and Valenciennes, for this purpose; but the disagreement about the Sacrament of the Lord's supper was still the chief obstacle.
This want of agreement proved almost the ruin of the Pro