Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

The Reformation of Community: Social Welfare and Calvinist Charity in Holland, 1572-1620

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

The Reformation of Community: Social Welfare and Calvinist Charity in Holland, 1572-1620

Article excerpt

C. H. Parker, The Reformation of Community: Social Welfare and Calvinist Charity in Holland, 1572-1620, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998, pp. xv + 221, hb. £35 ($59.95), ISBN: 0521623057

Central to this work is the concept of community, and the challenge posed to the traditional understanding of community in the six main towns of Holland - Amsterdam, Leiden, Haarlem, Dordrecht, Delft and Gouda - by the charitable work of the Reformed diaconate in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth century. The urban patriciates of these towns had a highly evolved concept of community which had emerged over three centuries in response to the political and economic challenges of the late middle ages. To the economic and political frameworks which accorded urban life its social order was added the cultural framework which gave it its social cohesion. In the medieval period, this cultural framework was the Roman Catholic faith. Expressions of Christian piety - whether through the support of the poor in charitable foundations or the endowment of churches at the parish level - provided a means through which disparate members of a community could be visibly and emotionally bound together under the oversight of the municipal authorities. According to such a concept, religious and civic identity were inseparable.

This comparative study of the Reformed diaconate and of the magisterial reaction to their initiatives in the six towns demonstrates that such a view of community could not be accommodated to the full functioning of a Reformed church. Fundamental to Parker's argument is that, as Calvinism in Holland was not the official state religion, the development of its relationship with the civil authorities in the Dutch towns and its role in urban society cannot be analysed in terms of a process of confessionalisation. Rather, the Calvinist view of an invisible church of the elect and of a eurcharistic community which transcended the traditional boundaries through which the magistrates had safeguarded the political and social autonomy of their towns, consciously excluded those citizens who did not accept their faith and conform to their discipline. …

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