How dangerous is the faith of the other?

Faith persecution, polarization and tolerance in Antwerp 1500-1700

historical lecture (in Dutch) by Judith Pollmann on Tuesday 9 May 2023

In the sixteenth century, Christians in Europe, and thus also in Antwerp, wrestled with the question: ‘what to do with dissenters from their own circles?’ Was it a matter of eradicating ‘heresy’ through criminal law and on the battlefield? Or did the ‘conscience’ not allow itself to be forced, but only to be convinced? Shouldn’t city administrators be managing things better to ‘keep it all together’? And wouldn’t it be better to look for a form of tolerance and ‘forbearance’ – an emergency solution to the division, waiting for the moment when theologians would agree again?

In the Netherlands, this discussion led to a revolt against Habsburg authority and a civil war that divided the Dutch to the core. It led to the permanent schism between the regions, and the departure of tens of thousands of Antwerp citizens from their city, often to the new Protestant Republic. After 1585, the city then became a testing ground for a whole new baroque and militant Catholicism. Especially under the leadership of the Jesuits, people experimented with new ways of arming the faithful against heretical ideas and mobilizing them to fight the Protestant enemy. But behind the scenes it sometimes proved more practical to tolerate than to persecute, and Antwerp’s reality resembled that of its Protestant neighbors much more than it appeared at first sight. 

Judith Pollmann

About Judith Pollmann

Judith Pollmann is professor of early modern Dutch history at Leiden University. She has published widely on religion, violence and politics in the early modern Low Countries, most recently with Raymond Fagel, 1572. Civil War in the Netherlands (2022) and with Marnix Beyen and Henk te Velde, The Low Countries. A History for Today (2021). She is a foreign member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and Arts.

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