Questions of Public Law (1737)

Cornelius van Bynkershoek

The Estates of Holland on March 13, 1663, Acted Within Their Full Rights in Authorizing in the Churches a New Form of Prayer in Behalf of Themselves and Other Officials

AFTER the discussion of the preceding chapter there will be little or no difficulty in explaining and answering a question which has for some years thoroughly disturbed both church and state in a most unexpected manner. On December 9, 1662, a new form of prayer was proposed to the Estates of Holland, according to which ministers of the church should offer prayers first in behalf of the Estates of Holland as being the sovereign power in Holland, then in behalf of the rest of the Estates of the United Provinces, then in behalf of the States-General and their counsellors, and finally in behalf of the counsellors of the Holland Estates and the higher and lower magistrates. This new form the Estates adopted on March 13, 1663, and ordered observed in a letter issued to the magistrates of Holland dated March 21, 1663; and when sufficient regard was not shown this order by the magistrates, another letter was sent to the same magistrates on April 27, 1663. If you raise the question whether the Estates of Holland have the legal right to draw up and impose such a form upon the magistrates, you will cease to doubt if you agree with me on the question of states’ rights. In my view the Estates of the several provinces have remained independent and sovereign in church matters as they were according to the Union of Utrecht, with the exception that the decree demanding the defence of Calvinism has been added, as I have shown above, and with this accordingly the decrees of the Synod of Dordrecht are also included. But one must bear in mind that in those decrees there is no stipulation as to what form or order shall be observed in praying for the Estates and the magistrates.

The subject itself does not require any fuller statement; but some writers have been so unprincipled or so ignorant in discussing it that we must treat the matter more fully. What the Estates of Holland and their counsellors have said in their own behalf, and what an anonymous author has written for the Estates in one compact volume, I shall not repeat. I am content to remind the reader that the whole controversy can be settled finally by that one argument which I mentioned above, and that other alleged proofs are not concerned with this question, or if they are they can be refuted by other reasons than have been employed.

Now, as soon as the new formula appeared, it met very many opponents. The ministers of Holland as a rule opposed it in secret, those outside of Holland opposed it openly. For instance, the Synod of Sneek on June 16, 1663, decreed to instruct its delegates (called correspondenten) to the synods of South Holland and of North Holland to exert themselves in every way at those synods in creating opposition to the new formula. They based this decree on the plea that a different formula had long been in usage and that the Synod of Dordrecht had approved of this older one. If the first plea is valid I fear the priests of the Pope, whose rites we rejected, despite the fact that they had been established by long usage. The second reason is manifestly false since, as I have said, that synod did not prescribe a formula of prayer in behalf of magistrates; and in fact that matter had nothing to do with the cause of Calvinism. Accordingly, when the Holland Estates heard of the decree of the elders, they decreed on July 17, 1663, that the Frisian delegates should not be admitted to the synods of Holland unless they first took an oath that they would make no proposal on the matter.

However, the Estates of Friesland also opposed this formula of Holland in a decree on May 23, 1663. In this document they offered the same reasons that the Synod of Sneek had done, adding some others as well. But I will pass over these since they were fully answered by the counsellors of the Holland Estates on June 27, 1663, and by the delegates of the Estates sent to the States-General. But I cannot pass over the fact that the Frisians, in their decree, not only appealed to the old formula of prayer though none had ever received the approval of either secular or ecclesiastical authority but also, curiously enough, derived this from the Union of Utrecht, although this Union left all religious questions to the sole arbitrament of the several provinces, as I have shown in the preceding chapter.

When the Frisians argue in their decree that in the new formula the first prayer is uttered for the Estates of Holland as being the supreme power in Holland, and the second for the States-General, despite the fact that the States-General have the right of precedence and possess the functions of the prince, or sovereign, I wish that the Frisians had never let the words be spoken. As if indeed any power were greater than or took precedence over the sovereign power within its domain! And that is the Assembly of Estates of each province. The States-General take precedence only in matters which, according to the Articles of the Union, concern the common welfare of the United Provinces, as for instance when there are dealings with foreign princes or their envoys. But they yield precedence to the Estates of the several provinces in those things which concern the individual provinces, as is the case with the question of form and order to be observed in praying for magistrates. But this doctrine slipped out not only in the decree of the Frisians, but also in those of other provinces, as you shall presently hear. If it had been uttered in former days perhaps a man of strong organs could have digested it; for there was a time when some would have it that the States-General stood next to Jove in all the provinces; there was a time when a man who defended the authority of the Estates of Holland was condemned for treason on this very count, as though he had committed lese majeste against the States-General. But such things happened in 1619, when the state was shattered with factional strife. However, the Estates of each of the provinces, not to say all individuals, presently regained their senses; in fact they changed their minds that very year. For they knew well that agents cannot be greater than their principals, and the States-General, with but few exceptions, act only at the mandate of the Estates which they represent. It was, therefore, with utter impudence that most of the provinces turned to an old discarded doctrine in 1663, when all men of any wisdom had already sloughed off the old folly. In Chapter XXV, section 8, I shall discuss the question of precedence in, the case where the States-General and the Estates of Holland meet to do honour to a foreign prince coming to Holland.

To return to the point, the discussion about the new form of prayer was carried on between the Hollanders and Zealanders, but whether it actually came to blows I cannot learn from the decrees of the Holland Estates dated August 3 and September 20, 1663. That they took to arms on both sides I find reliably confirmed by the records of the Zealand Estates dated September 22, November 3, and 13, 1663. From these records I also learn that the Zealanders, like the Frisians, were especially angered by the fact that the first place in the new formula was given to the Estates of Holland, not to the States-General. And this was also the reason why Gelderland, Utrecht, Overyssel, and Groningen opposed the new formula. However, the Estates of Holland answered these provinces as they did Friesland in an extended epistle dated October 4, 1663, which apparently broke the opposition of all the provinces.

But church officials, both those of Holland and of the other provinces, were not yet able to settle into tranquillity. Those of Holland, having too little to do, quibbled and argued that the new formula was but a prelude to a change of the decree passed at the Synod of Dordrecht. And though they were not able to prove this by any logical argument, since the Synod had not discussed any form of prayer, yet the Estates of Holland, in a decree dated September 18, 1663, and in the above-mentioned letter of October 4, 1663, solemnly affirmed that they had never for a moment considered a change of matters of creed; that in fact they were prepared to employ the state’s power in the defence of Calvinism as it was established at the Synod of Dordrecht, and as received into usage from that time. But the pledge of the Estates was apparently not sufficient to quell the disturbances which continued to create dread both in Holland and in the other provinces. Accordingly, on March 14, 1664, the Estates of Holland issued another decree by which inspectors (commissarissen politico) were sent in the name of the Estates to the synods of South Holland and of North Holland, to make careful inquiry whether there were any Hollanders or any delegates from any other province who intended to offer any proposals against that formula or against any other decree of the Holland Estates. If any man was suspected of such intentions, the inspectors were instructed to keep him away from the synods unless he gave a pledge that he would not make such a proposal; and in general the inspectors were to take care that no proposals were made in the synods against the formula or any other decree of the Estates of Holland.

Not even then did the matter rest. Very many were angry because no mention was made of William of Orange in the new formula, though he was a mere child and of private station in Holland, but since, as others have shown, there was no legal right for complaint on this score, they merely grumbled in private, not daring to come out in the open. At any rate, this argument did not find expression in the public records and decrees either of the state or of the church. However, as things are prone to strike the deeper roots the more they are concealed, this silence on the part of the Estates and disregard of the House of Orange ‘rankled deep in the soul’, especially of the ministers of the church, many of whom favoured Orange more than did the Estates. And though, as the Estates rightly observed, in the decree of July 17, 1663, it was the duties of the ministers, according to the canons of the Synod of Dordrecht, to teach the subjects the reverence and obedience due the magistrates, and to set an example in this matter to the rest, such was the stubbornness of some of them that, even after the public men had long ceased to criticize, these continued for three full years to oppose the Estates of Holland. This fact is apparent from the decree of the Estates dated October 7, 1666, which provided that any minister who did not employ the new formula should have his name reported to the Estates by the magistrates of the district in question, so that his stipend might be withheld as long as the Estates should see fit. In this way finally, the ministers, who are no less concerned with their larder and no less dependent upon money than other mortals, all adopted a better course. When not much later William of Orange, the third of the name, secured the reins of government, the formula was somewhat changed, but after his death it was restored to its old form, and is now being used without any objection by the ministers in Holland. At any rate they do not maliciously disregard it so far as I know. However, when pressed for time or through negligence, they often omitted it in their service after the Lord’s prayer, and this was noticed by the counsellors of the Estates of Holland, and I, who was then an elder in the church at The Hague, was consulted about the matter by the secretary of the counsellors. I reminded the ministers of The Hague of their duty in a friendly manner. They gave me abundant assurance that they had not neglected the prayer wilfully, nor would they, since no course was left them but to win the good name of obedient servants; in the future they would take care not to forget the formula, as in fact they even now seldom omit it.