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  • Faith on the Margins: Catholics and Catholicism in the Dutch Golden Age
  • Craig Harline
Charles H. Parker . Faith on the Margins: Catholics and Catholicism in the Dutch Golden Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008. xiv + 332 pp. index. append. map. bibl. $49.95. ISBN: 978-0-674-02662-9.

Those who imagine that the famously tolerant Dutch Republic was an oasis of religious peace would do well to read this informative and thoughtful study. Charles Parker shows that while Catholics in the republic were not outlawed, their religion was, and this resulted in some creative yet always inconvenient if not humiliating arrangements. [End Page 1302]

The book makes two important contributions, one at the level of Netherlandish religious history, and the other in regard to wider trends in European Catholicism after the Reformation. Regarding the first, Parker shows convincingly and carefully how Catholicism revived in the republic after its demise in the 1570s —and this despite its outlawed priests, the confiscation of much of its property, and the semi-underground nature of its operations. Although many recent books on the republic treat the place of Catholics there, few are as systematic and focused as this. Parker himself admits that his study too is far from comprehensive, as it ranges over some 130 years in six chapters, pays most attention to the "collaboration between the laity and the secular clergy" so that the regular religious are incidental players, and is limited to the "Holland Mission," an area which excluded the far south, home to the densest population of Catholics in all the republic. Still, the picture that emerges is a full and fascinating one.

It was the very suppression of Catholicism in the republic that made its revival there so interesting, at least compared to states where Catholicism was long established. In chapters treating the ambiguous status of Catholics in the republic, the formation of the (outlawed) clergy, the clergy's labors, the initiatives of laypeople, and patronage and poor relief, Parker unravels this often befuddling revival. A frequent and not surprising theme is the rash of disputes experienced by Catholics, both with the Reformed Church, and with each other: clergy versus laity, the regulars vs. the seculars, some of the laity and some of the clergy vs. some of the rest of the laity and clergy, and still more configurations. These could certainly harm the church, but Parker stresses that these disputes also reflected how much Catholics cared. This underlies another theme: precisely because of the church's official dismantling within Dutch society, all parties had more opportunity than usual to shape the faith as they thought best.

Here is where Parker's second major contribution comes into play: the revival of Dutch Catholicism did not follow patterns elsewhere in Europe, and certainly not the pattern suggested by "confessionalization" and its strong state church. With the usual system of land-based benefices destroyed, Dutch Catholics had to raise their own funds to pay priests and build new places of worship. Laypeople were obviously the main source of these funds, and because of this they played a stronger role than usual in creating popular devotions, and even in helping to shape the clergy. L. J. Rogier's classic study emphasized the importance of an active clergy in preserving Dutch Catholicism, but Parker stresses that the laity played as much of a role —partly in how it insisted on competent and efficient priests. Parker shows that Dutch women too played an unusually prominent role in this revitalization, often as the agents or supporters of clergy. Finally, also unique about the Dutch church was the control exerted by the higher clergy over the lower: with the old, established systems of patronage vanished, the clergy over the Dutch church had a freer hand than elsewhere to implement the decrees of Trent. Thus a good number of decrees took root more quickly in the Republic than in neighboring, more established Catholic lands, and revitalization occurred more quickly than one might have expected. [End Page 1303]

By 1642, 500 (illegal) priests labored in the Holland mission, ministering to an impossible 450,000 Catholics, one-third the population of the entire republic. But this...


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Archived 2009
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