Pietism in the Netherlands: piety and orthodoxy

In addition to its focus on individual piety, (Protestant) pietism is also characterized by a pursuit of sanctification of life, with which world avoidance and puritanism are related. Pietists also like to gather in small groups (conventicles) where lay preachers (practitioners) often lead. They generally consider (academic) education, church organization and liturgy to be of less importance. In the 16th and 18th centuries, this piety also gained support in the Netherlands. The Utrecht professor of theology G. Voetius linked it with orthodox Calvinism.


In search of the origins of Pietism, we end up in Queen Elizabeth’s England, second half of the sixteenth century. At that time, a strong Calvinist opposition had grown there against the Anglican state church. This opposition sought to purify the church of Romantic elements and, more generally, of personal and public life from immorality; its followers are therefore called Puritans.

When Elizabeth began to persecute the Puritans in 1571, they secretly met in prophesyings, where the Scriptures were explained. In those circles there was also a lot of attention for the inner-religious life, practical Christianity and inner world asceticism were insisted on, and discipline was strictly practiced. So there was a pietism in which puritanism played an important role.

William Perkins

William Perkins (1558-1602) was the first to systematize this pietism and represent it on the academic chair (in Cambridge). He understood theology as the science of living blessedly forever . And he believed that only he who possesses that blessed life himself can be a good divine. He also campaigned for strict discipline, for example with regard to Sunday observance. However, according to him, a true Christian must above all have knowledge (higher, spiritual knowledge; knowledge of the heart) of the crucified Jesus. To this end, his own life must be a picture of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Then the Christian comes to mystical union with his Lord. But this conjunction is incomprehensible to many reason and therefore we must rather labor to feel it by experience in the heart, then to conceive in in the braine , according to Perkins (quoted in H. Heppe, Geschichte des Pietismus und der Mystiek in der Reformierte Kirche , namentlich der Niederlande (Leiden, 1879))

Further Reformation

Perkins wrote a whole series of practical-theological treatises that were translated into many languages, so that the Perkings der Same des Pietismus are fuller hand weit ├╝ber alle lande ausstreut bestreut, according to Heppe on p. 27 of his History. His books were also read in the Netherlands, as were those of other English Pietists, and were well received there. In the Netherlands, the (Calvinist) doctrine had been purified with the condemnation of Arminianism at the Synod of Dordrecht, but many demanded a continued reform of religious and public life, in which personal sanctification and pious living were considered of the utmost importance. This movement of Further Reformation therefore had many similarities with Puritan pietism in England, and was also influenced by it. And not only through writings, but also through personal contacts.

Willem Teellinck

Willem Teellinck (1579-1629) had personally met the pious Puritans in England. Back in the Netherlands he propagated their ideas in word and writing.

We read a typical example of the pietistic practice of godliness in his Soliloquim ofte Betrachtinge eens sondaers , which he had in the fear of his rebirth (1647). He tells how a woman came to the pursuit of rebirth. This woman had understood from Jesus’ words that few of His people will be saved. What certainty did she have that she belonged there? So she was stimulated by the deer . And through God’s gracious working, she was assured of participating in His grace. May God, says Teellinck, give the hope of salvation to all who live untroubled.


And so there are more lines from English Pietism to the Further Reformation. Via Guilelmus Amesius (1576-1633), for example. This Englishman, trained by Perkins in Cambridge, had been the personal secretary of chairman Johannes Bogerman at the Synod of Dordrecht and subsequently became professor of theology at the university in Franeker.

The most important and influential representative of the Further Reformation was Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676), who became professor of theology in Utrecht in 1634. In his inaugural lecture he argued that science should be linked to piety. ( Oratio de Pietate cum scienta coniungenda ). Later he wrote exercises in piety , because he wanted a preacher to be able to testify to his own faith. In this he agreed with Perkins.

Dutch pietism was therefore strongly influenced by the English type with its puritan slant. Mainly thanks to Voetius (see photo), it also received its own characteristic that made it unique within international, multifarious pietism: Voetius connected it with orthodox Calvinism and with the institution of the church. Although the latter could not prevent many followers from eventually moving further and further away from the official, national church, and eventually seceding from it (see the Secession of 1834).


Well-known and influential pietists were also the preachers Jodocus van Lodenstein (1620-1677) and Jacobus Koelman (1632-1695). Both had a lot of support among the population. Not least because their writings were eagerly read and discussed in the meetings of the pious people. These conventicles, related to the profhesyings (see above), had their roots in the social life that had long existed in the Reformed Church. JC Rullmann writes about this in his book about the Secession (Amsterdam, 1922):

In addition to normal preaching, the Convent of Wezel in 1568 and the Emden Synod of 1571 already had the so-called prophecy. These were congregational meetings in which someone who, according to 1 Corinthians 14, was deemed to have the gift of prophecy, explained and applied a Scripture passage, after which each in turn could add an edifying word.

The Dordrecht Synod of 1618-19 had something similar in public catechism, which served as a domestic religious exercise with family, neighbors and friends to build each other up in the faith, under the leadership of a preacher, elder or parishioner. .

Pietistic revival

While these meetings were clearly tied to the Reformed Church, that changed in the second half of the seventeenth century. At that time, despite all attempts at Further Reformation, that church was increasingly characterized by dead orthodoxy and flattening; in other words, it met less and less the needs of the pious people who desired an orthodox, pietistic sermon. That section of churchgoers then increasingly sought the desired foundation in the companies, which therefore came to stand next to and sometimes opposite the official church, and in that function are usually called conventicles


The conventicles, often led by private individuals (the practitioners), thus came under a bad reputation among the church authorities and the government. And many regulations were issued against it in the course of the seventeenth century. But the flow could no longer be reversed. And especially in the eighteenth century, when rationalism took hold of many preachers, as Rullman put it in his book on the Secession – the orthodox part of the population in many cases preferred to hear the experimental word of an illiterate practitioner rather than the dry sermons of the ordained pastor. This then took such forms that we can speak of a pietistic revival, according to Professor J. Lindeboom, who wrote an article about it in the Groningen Volksalmanak 1945 (p. 53-79).

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  • Mennonites and Pietism

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