Religion, Politics and Toleration

Part of the European History in Perspective book series (EUROHIP)


The Dutch Republic was notorious among contemporaries for the wide variety of religious beliefs and practices which were permitted on its territory and, although this degree of toleration was generally taken as a sign of the moral degeneracy of Dutch society at the time, it has subsequently been regarded as one of its most admirable traits. It is far from obvious why the Dutch should have ceased — in practice at least — to give as high a priority to religious unity and purity as the rest of seventeenth-century Europe. Conventional wisdom predicted that such religious divisions would inevitably lead to the collapse of political order; the experience of the Dutch state in this century was in the end a practical refutation of this theory — although at the height of the conflict between remonstrants and contraremonstrants in the second decade of the century the opposite must have seemed to be the case. Practical necessity rather than idealism would seem to have been at the root of Dutch toleration at this time; certainly there were distinct limitations on this toleration, and these would seem to have been set equally firmly by the circumstances of the time. The Dutch civil authorities at all levels had only a limited freedom of action: on the one hand, the imposition of religious unity or uniformity was not a practical possibility; on the other, a greater degree of toleration with regard to radical beliefs or to catholic worship was generally regarded as neither desirable nor wise.


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Copyright information

© J. L. Price 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of HullUK

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