Remonstrant-Counter-Remonstrant Debates: Crafting a Principled Defense of Toleration after the Synod of Dordrecht (1619-1650)


History and Philosophy

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The debate about toleration occasioned by the condemnation, exile and later return of the Remonstrant leaders during and after the Truce in the Dutch Revolt has often been noted but not examined in detail. Based on the plethora of pamphlets and tracts for and against toleration that these years produced, this article analyzes the arguments and motivations for religious coexistence and freedom of conscience formulated by Simon Episcopius, Johannes Uytenbogaert, and other Remonstrants, in constant polemic interaction with their Contra-Remonstrant opponents. In the course of the debate the Erastian role of the magistrate was hollowed out and the importance of religious inclusion emphasized, but with the understanding that absent a reconciliation with their Gomarist counterparts, the pluriform reality existing within the Dutch Republic should be maintained and safeguarded. Accused of a sectarianism incongruent with their former position, the Remonstrant protagonists were compelled to develop a principled defense of their request for the free practice of their faith as well as of their refusal to tolerate the intolerant. Accused of licentiousness, they reluctantly formulated their own restrictive creedal formula. They presented the unmolested presence in the Republic of various sects as an enriching rather than a nefarious situation, rejected dogmatism and the monopolizing of truth, and argued plausibly that the freedom of conscience guaranteed by the 1579 Union of Utrecht is meaningless unless it include the freedom to practice one's faith.