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§ 64. The Belgic Confession. A.D. 1561.
I. Editions of the Confession.
La Confession de Foi des églises réformées Wallonnes et Flamandes (Apoc. ii. 10, 1 Pierre iii. 15). Reimprimée par décision de la Société Évangélique Belge. Bruxelles, 1850 (Librairie Chrétienne Évangélique, Rue de l’Impératrice, 33). The authentic French text, as revised by the Synod of Dort, with a brief historical and critical introduction.
The Latin text is found in different recensions, in the Corpus et Syntagma (1612 and 1654): in the Acts, of the Synod of Dort; the Oxford Sylloge; Augusti's Collect. (the text of Dort); Niemeyer's Collect. (the translation of Hommius, 1518, with various readings).
English translations, likewise differing in minor details, in the Harmony of Prot. Conf.; in the Constitution of the Reformed (Dutch) Church in America (very good); and a new one made in 1862 by Owen Jones: Church of the Living God, London, 1865, pp. 203–237 (incomplete and inaccurate).
German translation in Beck (Vol. I. pp. 293 sqq.), and Böckel (pp. 480 sqq.).
A Greek translation by Jac. Revius (Pastor of the Church at Deventer): Ἐκκλησιῶν τῆς Βελγικῆς ἐξομολόγησις, Ultrajecti, 1660; earlier eds. in 1623 and 1653.
Comp. Herzog: art. Belgische Confession, in his Real-Encyklop. 2d ed. Vol. II. p. 238; M. Goebel: art. Guido de Brès, ibid. Vol. V. p. 465.
H. Grotius: Annales et Hist. de rebus Belgicis (1556–1609). Amstel. 1658.
H. Venema: Institutiones historiæ ecclesiæ V. et N.T. Tom. VII. p. 252 (ad ann. 1563).
J. le Long: Kort historisch Verhaal van den oorsprong der Nederlandschen Gereformeerden Kerken ondert Kruys, beneffens alle derselver Leeren Dienst-Boeken. Amst. 1741.
Gerh. Brandt (Arminian): Historie der Reformatie in en omtrent de Nederlanden. Amst. 1671–74, 4 vols. (Also in French: Histoire de la Réformation des Pays-Bas, 1726, and in English by Chamberlayne, London, 1720–23, 4 vols.).
Ypey en Dermout: Geschiedenissen der Nederlandsche Hervormde Kerk. Breda, 1819–27, 4 vols.
Van der Kemp: De Eere der Nederlandsche Hervormde Kerk. Rotterd. 1830.
Gachard: Correspondance de Guillaume le Taciturne, Prince d’Orange, 1847–58, 6 vols.
Groen van Prinsterer: Archives ou Correspondance inédite de la maison d’Orange-Nassau (1552–84), 1857–61, 10 vols.; second series (1584–1688), 6 vols. 1857–61.
Wm. H. Prescott: History of the Reign of Philip II., King of Spain. New York, 1855–58, 3 vols.
A. Henne: Hist. du règne de Charles V. en Belgique. Brux. 1858 sqq. 10 Tom.
J. L. Motley: The Rise of the Dutch Republic, London and New York, 1856, 3 vols. By the same: History of the United Netherlands, New York, 1861, 4 vols.
M. Koch: Untersuch. über die Empörung der Niederlande. Leipz. 1860.
F. Holzwarth: Abfall der Niederlande. Schaffhausen, 1865–72, 3 vols.
THE REFORMATION IN THE NETHERLANDS.
The Low Countries, conquered from the sea by indomitable energy—the land of Erasmus, of free cities, of inventions, and flourishing commerce —was flooded, through merchants, soldiers, and books, with Protestant ideas from Germany and France, as with waters from the Rhine and the Meuse. Already in 1521 Charles V., who afterwards regretted that he had not burned Luther at Worms, issued from that city an edict for the suppression of heresy in this the most valuable of his inherited dominions. To Belgium belongs the honor of having furnished the first martyrs of evangelical Protestanism in Henry Voes and John Esch, two Augustinian monks, who were burned at the stake in Brussels, July 1, 1523, reciting the Apostles' Creed and singing the Te Deum, and who were celebrated by Luther in a stirring hymn.960960 See a part of it, in English and German, quoted by Gieseler, Vol. IV. p. 311 (Am. ed.). This was the fiery signal of a fearful persecution, which reached its height under Philip II. of Spain, and the executor of his bloody designs, the Duke of Alva, but resulted at last in the establishment of national independdence and of the Reformed Church in a large part of the Netherlands. The number of her martyrs exceeds that of any other Protestant Church during the sixteenth century, and perhaps that of the whole primitive Church under the Roman empire.961961 Grotius estimates the number of Protestant martyrs in Holland, under one reign, at one hundred thousand. Gibbon (History of the Decline, etc., at the close of Ch. XVI.) confidently asserts that 'the number of Protestants who were executed by the Spaniards in a single province and a single reign, far exceeded that of the primitive martyrs in the space of three centuries, and of the Roman empire.' And Motley (History of the Rise of the Dutch Republic, Vol. II. p. 504) says of the terrible reign of Alva: 'The barbarities committed amid the sack and ruin of those blazing and starving cities are almost beyond belief; unborn infants were torn from the living bodies of their mothers; women and children were violated by the thousands, and whole populations burned and hacked to pieces by soldiers in every mode which cruelty in its wanton ingenuity could devise.' During the ever-memorable conflict under William of Orange, who was assassinated by a fanatical papist in 1584, and his second son Maurice—an able military commander and strict Calvinist (d. 1625)—the Bible, with the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism, was the spiritual guide and comforter of the Protestants, and fortified them against the assaults of the enemy. Calvinism, which fears God and no body else, inspired that heroic courage which triumphed over the political and religious despotism of Spain, and raised Holland to an extraordinary degree of commercial and literary eminence.962962 It is strange that Motley, in his great works on the Rise, and the History of the Dutch Republic, ignores the Belgic Confession, and barely mentions the name of Guido de Brès.
GUIDO DE BRÈS.
The chief author of the Belgic Confession is Guido (or Guy, Wido) de Brès, a noble evangelist and martyr of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. He was born about 1523 at Mons, in Hennegau, educated in the Roman Church, and by diligent reading of the Scriptures converted to the evangelical faith. Expelled from his country, he sought refuge in London under Edward VI., where he joined the Belgic fugitives, and prepared himself for the ministry. Afterwards he studied at Lausanne, and became a traveling evangelist in Southwestern Belgium and Northern France—from Dieppe to Sedan, from Valenciennes to Antwerp. After the conquest of French Flanders he was, together with a younger missionary from Geneva, Peregrin de la Grange, taken prisoner, put in chains, and hanged on the last day of May, 1567, for disobedience to the commands of the court at Brussels, and especially for the distribution of the holy communion in the Reformed congregations. From prison the youthful martyr wrote letters of comfort to his brethren, his old mother, his wife, and his children, and met his death as if it were a marriage-feast.963963 See, on Guy de Brès, the enlarged edition of Crespin's Histoire des Martyrs, Genève, 1617, pp. 731–750, and the Brussels edition of the Conf. de foi, p. 19. In his proper home Protestantism was completely suppressed, but in the neighboring countries of Holland and the Lower Rhine it spread and flourished.
THE BELGIC CONFESSION.
The Belgic Confession was prepared in 1561 by Guido de Brès, with the aid of Adrien de Saravia (professor of theology in Leyden, afterwards at Cambridge, where he died, 1613), H. Modetus (for some time chaplain of William of Orange), and G. Wingen, in the French language, to prove the Reformed faith from the Word of God.964964 Saravia, in a letter to Uytenbogardus (Apr. 13, 1612), quoted by Niemeyer (Proleg. p. lii.) and Gieseler (Ch. Hist. Vol. IV. p. 314, Am. ed.), says: 'Ego me illius confessionis ex primis unum fuisse auctoribus profiteor, sicut et Hermannus Modetus: nescio an plures sint superstites. Illa primo fuit conscripta Gallico sermone a Christi servo et martyre Guidone de Brès, sed antequam ederetur ministris verbi Dei, quos potuit nancisci, illam communicavit: et emendandum si quid displiceret, addendum, detrahendum proposuit, ut unius opus censeri non debeat. Sed nemo eorum, qui manum apposuerunt, umquam cogitavit fidei canonem edere, verum ex canonicis scriptis fidem suam probare.' It was revised by Francis Junius, of Bourges (1545–1602)—a student of Calvin, pastor of a Walloon congregation at Antwerp, and afterwards professor of theology at Leyden—who abridged the sixteenth article, and sent a copy to Geneva and other churches for approval. It was probably printed in 1562, or at all events in 1566, and afterwards translated into Dutch, German, and Latin. It was presented to the bigoted Philip II., 1562, in the vain hope of securing toleration, and with an address which breathes the genuine spirit of martyrdom. The petitioners protest against the charge of being rebels, and declare that notwithstanding they number more than a hundred thousand, and are exposed to the most cruel oppression, they obey the Government in all lawful things; but that rather than deny Christ before men they would 'offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire, well knowing that those who follow Christ must take his cross and deny themselves.'965965 The address is given in full by Böckel, 1.c. pp. 480–484.
The Confession was publicly adopted by a Synod at Antwerp (1566), then at Wesel (1568), more formally by a Synod at Emden (1571)966966 The Brussels ed. (p. viii.) says: 'Le 8 Octobre, en 1571, il fût statué par le premier synode national des Églises wallonnes et flamandes ténu à Embden, que cette Confession serait signée par tous les membres présents au dit synode et par tous ceux qui seraient admis au saint ministère.' by a national Synod at Dort (1574), another at Middelburg (1581), and again by the great Synod of Dort, April 29, 1619. But inasmuch as the Arminians had demanded partial changes, and the text had become confused, the Synod of Dort submitted the French, Latin, and Dutch texts to a careful revision. Since that time the Belgic Confession, together with the Heidelberg Catechism, has been the recognized symbol of the Reformed Churches in Holland and Belgium.967967 The Société évangélique or Église Chrétienne missionnaire belge requires from its ministers a qualified subscription to the Belgic Confession with 'une réserve préalable en repoussant ce qui dans la Confession belge regarde l’exercise du pouvoir civil en matière de foi.' It is also the doctrinal standard of the Reformed (Dutch) Church in America, which holds to it even more tenaciously than the mother Church in the Netherlands.968968 The following formula of subscription is required from ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church in America: 'We, the underwritten, Ministers of the Word of God, residing within the bounds of the Classis of N. N., do hereby sincerely, and in good conscience before the Lord, declare by this our subscription, that we heartily believe, and are persuaded, that all the articles and points of doctrine contained in the [Belgic] Confession and [Heidelberg] Catechism of the Reformed [Dutch] Church, together with the explanation of some points of the aforesaid doctrine made in the National Synod held at Dordrecht, in the year 1619, do fully agree with the Word of God. We promise, therefore, diligently to teach, and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine, without either directly or indirectly contradicting the same by our public preaching or writings. We declare, moreover, that we not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine, and particularly those which are condemned in the above-mentioned Synod, but that we are disposed to refute and contradict them, and to exert ourselves in keeping the Church pure from such errors. And if hereafter any difficulties or different sentiments respecting the aforesaid doctrine should arise in our minds, we promise that we will neither publicly nor privately propose, teach, or defend the same, either by preaching or by writing, until we have first revealed such sentiment to the Consistory, Classis, or Synod, that the same may be there examined,' etc.
The Belgic Confession contains thirty-seven Articles, and follows the order of the Gallican Confession, but is less polemical and more full and elaborate, especially on the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Church, and the Sacraments.969969 Ebrard (Handbuch der Kirchen- und Dogmengesch. Vol. III. p. 319) says that besides the Gallican Confession as the basis, use was made also of the Friesian Confession of Utenhoven, which the English exiles brought with them to Emden, and of the Catechism of Laski. It is, upon the whole, the best symbolical statement of the Calvinistic system of doctrine, with the exception of the Westminster Confession.
The text has undergone several modifications as regards the wording and length, but not as regards the doctrine.
The French text must be considered as the original.970970 It is entitled, 'Confession de Foy faicte d’un commun accord pour les fidèles qui conversent ès Pays-Bas, lesquels désirent vivre selon la pureté de l’Évangile de nostre Seigneur Jésus-Christ.' This title is followed by two mottoes—the one from Apoc. ii. 10: 'Sois fidèle jusques à la mort et je te donneray la couronne de vie;' the other from 1 Pet. iii. 15: 'Soyez tousjours appareillez à respondre à chacun qui vous demande raison de l’espérance qui est en vous.' On the second leaf there is over the head of the first article the brief title, 'Confession vrayement Chrétienne contenant le sommaire de la doctrine de Dieu et salut éternel de l’âme.' Of the first edition of 1561 or 1562 no copies are known. The Synod of Antwerp, in Sept., 1580, ordered a precise parchment copy of the revised text (of Junius) to be made for its archives, which copy had to be signed by every new minister. This manuscript has always been regarded in the Belgic churches as the authentic document.971971 The Brussels ed. says (p. 39): 'C’est probablement d’après la copie de Junius que cette Confession a été imprimée dans le livre des Martyrs de Crespin. Le text de Crespin ne diffère pas de celui du manuscrit authentique.' The Synod of Dort ordered a new revision, with a view to bring the Latin, French, and Dutch texts into harmony on the basis of the manuscript copy of 1580. The Leyden edition of 1669 gives in two parallel columns the original text and the revised text of Dort. A Rotterdam edition of the Psalter, 1787, carefully reprints the original text in the old spelling from the manuscript, with the changes of Dort in notes. The Brussels edition of 1850 presents the ancient text of 1580, as revised at Dort, in modern French.972972 This careful edition, issued by the Evangelical Society of Belgium, is reproduced in the third volume of this work, together with the English version now used by the Dutch Reformed Church in America. Both agree, sentence for sentence.
Next in authority is the Latin text, but of this there are likewise several recensions, a shorter and a larger. The first Latin translation was made from the revised French copy of Francis Janius, probably by Beza, or under his direction, for the Harmonia Confessionum, Geneva, 1581 (distributed under different heads, with the other Confessions).973973 See Note critique at the close of the Brussels edition, p. 39: 'Junius envoya une copie de cette révision à Genève. Theodore de Beza la fit imprimer [in French?]. C'est lui, sans doute, qui la traduisit en latin, comme elle se trouve dans "l’Harmonia Confessionum," Genevæ, 1581.' That this was the first Latin translation is stated in the Harmonia, p. 3: 'Belgica, Gallice omnium Belgicarum Ecclesiarum nomine anno 1566 edita, ac demum anno 1579 [1571?] in publica Belgii Synodo repetita et confirmata, Belgiceque versa. Nunc denique a nobis etiam Latine expressa.' The same passed into the first edition of the Corpus et Syntagma Confessionum, Geneva, 1612. Another translation was prepared, 1618, for the use of the Synod of Dort, by Festus Hommius, pastor in Leyden, and one of the scribes of that Synod.974974 'Confessio ecclesiarum reformatarum in Belgio. . . . in usum futuræ synodi nationalis latine edidit et collegit Festus Hommius.' Ludg. Batav. 1618. Niemeyer (pp. 360 sqq.) gives this translation, which more nearly agrees with the older version, and he adds some readings from the first edition of the Corpus et Syntagma. This text was revised in the following year by that Synod, and thus approved and incorporated with its acts in the 146th session.975975 See the extracts from the Acts of the 144th Session, April 29, 1619, in Niemeyer, p. lv. The revision of Dort was reproduced in the second edition of the Corpus et Syntagma Conf., 1654.976976 Under the title Ecclesiarum Belgicarum Christiana atque Orthodoxa Confessio, summam doctrinæ de Deo et æterna animarum salute complectens, prout in Synodo Dortrechtana fuit recognita et approbata. The articles are numbered, but have no titles. The difference between this and the first Latin translation may be judged from the following specimen: Harmonia Confessionum, 1581 (p. 36). Corpus et Syntagma Confessionum, ed. II., 1654 (p. 129). Art. I. Corde credimus, et ore confitemur, unicam esse et simplicem essentiam spiritualem, quam Deum vocamus, æternum, incomprehensibilem, inconspicuum, immutabilem, infinitum, qui totus est sapiens, fonsque omnium bonorum uberrimus. Art. I. Corde credimus, et ore confitemur omnes, unicam esse et simplicem essentiam spiritualem, quam Deum vocamus, eumque æternum, incomprehensibilem, invisibilem, infinitum, omnipotentem, summe sapientem, justum et bonum, omniumque bonorum fontem uberrimum. The excellent English version in use in the Reformed Dutch Church of America is made from the Latin text of the Synod of Dort.
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