"Anyone Who Can Read May Be a Preacher": Sixteenth-Century Roots of the Collegiants


History and Philosophy

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Collegiantism arose in Dutch Remonstrant circles after the Synod of Dordt outlawed the Remonstrants (1619) and their leaders had been sent into exile. It offered a "church" for all, "run" by laymen without a clergy and hailed the freedom to "prophesy." Collegiantism was intended, paradoxically, to give concrete form to a "non-church," an "invisible church" of all "unpartisan" believers, one that brought believers together without binding them or passing judgment. The structural roots of Collegiantism lead to Sebastian Franck's anti-sacerdotalism and his definition of the true church as a "free, non-sectarian, party-less Christianity"; to Sebastian Castellio's rationalism, his deconstruction of the notion of heresy, and his dogmatic minimalism; to Jacob Acontius's advocacy of free prophecy in church for congregants and his insistence that possession of a monopoly of truth renders a church spiritually lazy; and to Dirck Coornhert. The latter's championship of free investigation, ideas on fairness and struggle against the ruling orthodoxy, and especially his draft for a non-partisan church, all came to fruition in the early Collegiants, who thus crafted a "confessional identity" that was not dogmatically defined but that would fill itself, due to its very nature, with radical content.