8. T he Reformed Community at Ghent petitions the Magistrates for Freedom of Worship, 1 May 1565

Explanatory Comment : This remarkable petition reflects the growing self-confidence of the Reformed burghers of Ghent in 1565. Although intensity of the religious represssion had subsided in the north by the late 1550s, the persecution in Flanders, Brabant and the Walloon towns had been renewed with greater ferocity after c. 1557. But the growing demands from the political elites for a religious policy in keeping with the commercial needs of the country brought about a change of heart on the part of those in government after 1562.

Here the Reformed ask the magistrates to be permitted to preach the ‘gospel’ openly and to enter into disputations with the Romanists. The plea for toleration of the Anabaptists comes of something of a surprise. Usually there was no love lost between the Calvinists and the Anabaptists and those who spoke up on behalf of the other party were liable to incur their church’s wrath. Adriaen van Haemstede fell foul of the leadership of the Reformed churches in London and Emden when he showed an inclination to treat these Anabaptists as ‘brethren’.

Text :
Know, rulers of the town of Ghent, that the Christians of this town ask you that they may be allowed to live here in peace. We will pray for you, and obey you in all things, as St. Paul teaches us. Truly we will pray to the Lord that you, with His grace, protect His church and His congregation, for you be very constant members of the Body of Christ, this is the Church. We, burghers of this town of Ghent, pray that you would agree to grant us a church or a house, where we may be allowed openly to preach the gospel and administer the two sacraments according to Christ’s commandment. And if you will not guarantee us public preaching, we ask you that the Christians may be allowed to rebuke the Papists when these set forth teachings which are at variance with the gospel, and that they may be allowed openly to dispute with the said Papists in a church in the presence of the people so that every workman and lay burgher may be able to hear and to judge which party has and follows the truth, for St. Augustine often disputed in public with the Donatist heretics and with the Arians. The true Christians are prepared to dispute not only with the Papists, but also with the unworthy Anabaptists, who err in four or five points [of doctrine]. They will also dispute with all other sectaries, if the magistrate were to grant the freedom for which they ask. If you will not, however, grant us the freedom which we desire, then we entreat you not to punish the said Anabaptists any more than we Christians, for although the Anabaptists err in certain points, yet they are good and peace-loving people, who lead a holy and exemplary life. The Turks allow the Christians, who are nevertheless enemies of their laws, to live in their towns, provided that they pay the taxes demanded of them. On the same grounds we pray that you allow us, who are Christians, to live in your towns, because we pay the taxes which you require of us. And there are other reasons, which cannot be summarised here.

Father in heaven, we pray to you for our King Philip and for all his nobles and counsellors. May you bring light to their dark spirits and instruct them so that they recognise that they persist in the sin of unbelief. We pray to you, heavenly Father, for all ministers of justice, who through the authority of King Philip have been called to high office.

Source : J. Decavele, Het eind van een rebelse droom (Ghent, 1984) 20. Translated by Dr. A. Pettegree.