Faith on the Margins: Catholics and Catholicism in the Dutch Golden Age

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In the wake of the 1572 revolt against Spain, the new Dutch Republic outlawed Catholic worship and secularized all church property. Calvinism prevailed as the public faith, yet Catholicism experienced a resurgence in the first half of the seventeenth century, with membership rivaling that of the Calvinist church. In a wide-ranging analysis of a marginalized yet vibrant religious minority, Charles Parker examines this remarkable revival.

It had little to do with the traditional Dutch reputation for tolerance. A keen sense of persecution, combined with a vigorous program of reform, shaped a movement that imparted meaning to Catholics in a Protestant republic. A pastoral organization known as the Holland Mission emerged to establish a vigorous Catholic presence. A chronic shortage of priests enabled laymen and women to exercise an exceptional degree of leadership in local congregations. Increased interaction between clergy and laity reveals a picture that differs sharply from the standard account of the Counter-Reformation's clerical dominance and imposition of church reform on a reluctant populace.

There were few places in early modern Europe where a proscribed religious minority was so successful in remaining a permanent fixture of society. Faith on the Margins casts light on the relationship between religious minorities and hostile environments.

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Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement

[A] meticulously researched and persuasively engaging study of seventeenth-century Dutch Catholicism...This is an important study that ought to be read by all with an interest in the dynamics of Catholic Reformation.
— Peter Marshall

Brad S. Gregory
A valuable contribution to the literature on religion in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic and, more broadly, on early modern European Catholicism. Parker makes clear how different conceptions of the status of the Catholic Church in the Dutch Republic underlay the conflicts between the priests of the Holland Mission and the members of religious orders, especially the Jesuits. He helps to correct long-standing assumptions about the character of toleration in the Dutch Republic, revising our picture of its rosy, de facto toleration of religious minorities. There is nothing like this synthesis in Dutch or English.
Willem Frijhoff
A well-written book with an original argument. Parker shows convincingly that he has not fallen victim to the Calvinist myth that pervades many works on the Dutch Golden Age by reestablishing the Dutch Catholic population as an autonomous social and cultural group. He is the first to analyze in such detail and with such precision the role of the Dutch Catholic laity, and offers a sensitive account of Catholic life as well as a strong portrait of social relations in early modern society.
Raymond A. Mentzer
A wonderfully lucid and deeply informed account of Dutch Catholics during the Golden Age. Parker's portrait of the Catholic laity, in particular, is thoughtful and compelling. The reader discovers much about religious choice and confessional coexistence as Parker carefully delineates the challenges faced by Catholics. What was the character of their faith? How did they construct a community of believers? What, in short, did it mean to be Catholic in the remarkably pluralistic albeit officially Protestant Dutch Republic?
Barbara Diefendorf
Revising traditional images of the Dutch Republic as an inherently tolerant and inclusive state, Parker shows how the liberty of conscience accorded Catholics was experienced as persecution because, to believing Catholics, denying access to the sacraments meant denying the means to salvation. The perception of themselves as a persecuted minority prompted Dutch Catholics to develop the sense of community ultimately essential to the faith's survival and growth. Placing Dutch Catholicism squarely within the broader European context of the Catholic Reformation, this book is essential reading for students of early modern religion and society.
Henk Van Nierop
Faith on the Margins is the first study of Catholic identity in an officially Protestant state, the Dutch Republic. Deeply researched and sophisticated in its presentation, it throws new light on the complex problem of religious choice and toleration in early modern Europe.
Times Literary Supplement - Peter Marshall
[A] meticulously researched and persuasively engaging study of seventeenth-century Dutch Catholicism...This is an important study that ought to be read by all with an interest in the dynamics of Catholic Reformation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674026629
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 2/15/2008
  • Pages: 346
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles H. Parker is Associate Professor of History at Saint Louis University.
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Table of Contents




1. Caught between Reformations: Catholics in the Holland Mission

2. Training the Laborers: Formation of the Dutch Clergy

3. Laboring in the Vineyard: Priests and Pastoral Care

4. Restoring a Catholic Presence: Lay Attitudes and Initiatives

5. Paying the Priest, Feeding the Poor: Patronage and Poor Relief


Appendix: Endowments to Collegium Pulcheria from the Liber Fundationum





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