- The Low Countries as a Crossroads of Religious Beliefs
In his contribution to this eclectic volume, Paul Arblaster describes Antwerp in the 1520s-40s not as a crossroads, where people and ideas "meet and converse," [End Page 205] but rather as a "roundabout with traffic lights, where traffic going in different directions was kept carefully separate" (11). The metaphor could aptly be applied to this book, which contains thirteen essays, only a minority of which focus clearly on the theme announced in the book's title. The others treat a wide variety of topics in the religious history of the Low Countries in the early modern era.
To call the Low Countries a "crossroads" of religious beliefs is to suggest that they were a point of intersection — a place where people of different beliefs encountered and interacted with one another. That they certainly were, both the southern and northern provinces in the sixteenth century, and the northern ones thereafter. It is also to suggest that people and religious influences from diverse parts of Europe flowed into and out of the Low Countries. Again, this is most emphatically true, a consequence of the Low Countries' geographic position, their function as central node of the early modern economy, and their many export industries, which notably included both art and books. Studying the circulation of religious art and books offers a particularly concrete way to trace these interactions and influences. It is an approach taken by several contributors to this volume.
Paul Arblaster examines Dutch Bibles published in Antwerp in the 1520s-40s. He shows that three separate traditions of vernacular Bible translation emerged quite early: an Erasmian, a Lutheran, and a conservative tradition in line with the Vulgate. Producing quite distinct texts, the three were aimed at different markets, suggesting that Netherlanders were already dividing into distinct religious traditions. Arblaster does acknowledge that the three influenced one another and that they often used the same or similar woodcuts as illustrations. The polysemous character of imagery is a central theme of essays by Ralph de Koninck and Agnès Guiderdoni-Bruslé, both of whom follow the publishing history of two emblem books. De Koninck examines two ostensibly very different books produced in Antwerp in the 1590s, one with text by the mystic Hendrik Jansen van Barrefelt, the other with text by the Jesuit Jerome Nadal. Emphasizing their similarities, he concludes somewhat hastily that they "shared a similar religious sensibility" (62). Guiderdoni-Bruslé examines two early seventeenth-century emblem books and the use a century later of images from them by the mystic Madame Guyon. Writing new poems to accompany the engravings, Mme. Guyon gave the images new meanings, creating a compilation that proved popular in Protestant as well as Catholic circles.
Mysticism is, of course, a mode of piety to be found in most Christian denominations, and it is hardly surprising that it should offer points of overlap and influence between them. Jason Harris is correct to argue that the mystical beliefs of Abraham Ortelius are not enough to conclude that the famous sixteenth-century geographer was a "member" of the spiritualist sect known as the Family of Love. Neither is Ortelius's irenicism or his Nicodemism. The same super- or interconfessional character can be ascribed to notions of martyrdom and of imitating Christ. Pieta van Beek makes the mistake of conflating these two completely in her essay exploring the reasons why the renowned female scholar Anna Maria van Schurman left the Reformed Church to join the sect of Jean de Labadie. [End Page 206]
Two essays in the volume concern the Dutch Enlightenment. Fred van Lieburg compares a 1697 English collection of "remarkable providences" to a Dutch translation that appeared forty years later. His essay offers a salutary reminder that in the eighteenth century there was in "elite" as well as popular circles a continuing belief that...