Mid-afternoon Carla and Man are seated on bench before Atheneum bookshop on the Spui in Amsterdam near “Het Lieverdje” [1].
“Were we not too outspoken in our opinion on the Reformation and the schisms in the Reformed church in Netherlands during and after the second world war in our discussion this morning?”, asks Man to Carla.

“On our quest we have arrived at intensities and associations and at the Reformation of the Christian faith; This is not a gentle topic.

During the Reformation, a Eighty Years’ War of independence had raged in Holland with all the characteristics of a religious war. Every war is terrible – although I know least one author who is not averse to a good fight [3] – also a war of independence and a religious war. In the first half of the twentieth century a modus vivendi was established with the pilarisation [4] between the separate religious groups in the Netherlands. The schism in the Dutch Reformed Church of 1944 did not cause bloodshed, but the separation was no less painful and inevitable for those involved. There is Narrator”, says Carla.

“Shall we walk to the Begijnhof and continue with the iconoclasm there”, says Narrator.
“This afternoon during my rest hour I read the following paragraphs [5] on iconoclasm in “The prophets” by Abraham Joshua Heschel that I have borrowed from Man:

The prophet is an iconoclast, challenging the apparently holy, revered, and awesome. Beliefs cherished as certainties, institutions endowed with supreme sanctity, he exposes as scandalous pretentions.

The prophet knew that religion could distort what the One demanded of man, that priests themselves had committed perjury by bearing false witness, condoning violence, tolerating hatred, calling for ceremonies instead of bursting forth with wrath and indignation at cruelty, deceit, idolatry and violence.


To the people, religion was Temple, priesthood, incense. Such piety the prophet brands as fraud and illusion. [7]

These paragraphs are from the description “What manner of man is the prophet”. Next to a ”rebel” [8], the prophet is a man with a sensitivity for the evil that is expressed brightly and explosively – preferably an octave too high – in rigor and compassion; the prophet wants to change the apathy of the others into a pathos with a direct connection to the One – or God in our language.
I think the Protestants in Holland had studied the texts of the Old Testament on the prophets and they had derived therefrom an engagement to regaining the sense of a true faith from the early days of Christianity”, says Carla.

“I am certain that the Protestants knew the text regarding the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus from the Gospel of John:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found livestock traders and moneychangers. Jesus drove the livestock traders with their sheep and cattle out of the temple, he threw the money of the changers on the ground and overturned their tables and shouted: “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then responded to him: “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”. Jesus answered them: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied: “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”. But the temple Jesus had spoken of was his body. [10]

At the temple of his body, I think of “et incarnatus est [11]” from the Credo.
In the first half of the 16th century, the churches were places of devotion stuffed with devotional objects that each had its group of supporters in the local population. Some devotional objects were relics of saints whereupon the status and value of churches was based. For example, the St. Peter’s Basilica was built on the site where according to tradition the tomb of St. Peter – one of the twelve disciples of Jesus and for the Catholics the first pope – could be located. Between 1940 and 1949 excavations had been conducted under the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica uncovering a tomb with the presumed bones of Peter. This claim cannot be scientifically substantiated [12].

With the widespread use of literate information by the rise of the printing press, the always lingering doubts about the authenticity of the relics changed in a simmering uncertainty and sometimes in a proof of inauthenticity of the origin of these devotional objects located in devotion sites.

Within the Catholic Church the role of saints had many similarities with the position of former local Gods. Because the believers began to study the Bible themselves, the role of these saints – including their prominent place in the local churches – was questioned.
The forces against the iconoclasm were not only caused by the Catholic clergy, but also by the (wealthy) individuals and groups that had provided donations to the creation of statues of saints and to images of religious events in paintings on walls and ceilings and in the church windows.

In the course of the 16th century the people’s devotion to saints and devotional objects changed to an outright rejection of these forms of belief in some parts of Europe – mostly in areas just outside the border of the Roman Empire more than 1,000 years ago. In 1535, a iconoclasm took place in Geneva. After seditious sermons the altars in the church had been destroyed and the church windows smashed; later young people had taken the remaining devotional objects from the church [13]. Previously there had already occurred an iconoclasm in 1522 in Wittenberg, in 1523 in Zürich, in 1530 in Copenhagen, in 1534 in Münster; and later in 1537 in Augsburg, in 1559 in Scotland [14].

The iconoclastic in 1523 in Zürich had been initiated by Ulrich Zwingli – prophet, dictator and champion of purity of the church that in his opinion shall be traced to the Bible and partly based on the reason according to Erasmus – who almost simultaneously and in imitation of Luther in Germany had begun a Reformation in Zürich. Zwingli’s revolt was initiated by social injustice in Switzerland – including young men who had to perform military service as mercenary for foreign powers – and altered social relations with an emerging literate citizenry and a peasantry who wanted greater independence from the governors. In 1519 Zwingli opposed the indulgences in the Catholic Church, and from 1520 he left the Catholic Church. In 1522 he had married Anna Reinhard in secret – a young widow with three children – who was known for her beauty , faith and allegiance to the Reformation. On April 2, 1524 Zwingli had married her in a public service, whereupon they had received four children between 1526 and 1530. Zwingli’s radical followers took advantage of the situation in Zürich to remove the statues and icons from the church, to change the liturgy and to simplify the Mass. By the end of 1524, the monasteries in Zürich were abolished. By Zwingli the entire church doctrine and religious ceremonies in Zürich were brought in accordance with the bible. Zwingli had issued a ban on interest on loans and usury. Opponents of Zwingli could count on a relentless persecution. From 1526 to 1531 Zwingli ‘s translation of the Bible – the Froschauer Bible – was printed . On Thursday in Holy Week in 1525 the Eucharist was celebrated according to Zwingli’s new liturgy. For the first time the men and women sat on opposite sides in the church along a long table on which stood bread on wooden plates and wine in wooden cups. The difference with the Catholic Holy Mass was enormous. For Zwingli and his followers the bread and wine refers – even after the consecration – to the body and blood of Christ; communion is a confession of a symbolic union with Christ. Communion in the liturgy of Zwingli is a memorial celebration similar to the Jewish Passover [15]. Hereby Zwingli differs fundamentally from the Catholic Church wherein the bread and wine during the consecration through transubstantiation [16] change in the body and blood of Christ. Herewith Zwingli also differs fundamentally from Luther and Melanchthon who believed in a form of consubstantiation [17] in which Christ is present during the celebration of the communion by (or in addition to) the bread and wine.

Zwingli succeeded in letting Zurich declare war to the Roman Catholic cantons in Switzerland hoping to spread the Reformation throughout Switzerland; he dreamed of a Swiss / German alliance against the Habsburg Holy Roman Catholic Empire. In October 1531 the Catholic cantons committed a joint attack on Zürich. Due to the suddenness of the attack, the Protestants were hardly ready to defend themselves. Zwingli had led the way with sword and helmet in the Protestant army. In Kappel the army of Zurich was finally defeated and the Peace of Kappel was signed. Zwingli himself was slain in battle, his body quartered, burned and his ashes mixed with manure [19].

The iconoclasm that had raged over North France and the Western Netherlands in the late summer until October 1566, began on August 10, 1566 in Steenvoorde (today’s Northern France) where the images in a monastery were destroyed [21]. In these three months many churches were violated and the interior destroyed. The intensification of contradictions that amongst others became visible through this iconoclastic, indirectly led to the outbreak of the Eighty Years’ War and the emergence of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.

In Zeeland in the Netherland, the route of the iconoclastic can be followed to some extent. On August 22 in 1566 the first church buildings were destroyed in Middelburg. The citizens of Middelbug went to Buttinge, Poppendamme, Arnemuiden, to the monastery in Aagtekerke near Serooskerke, to the monastery Sint-Jan ten Heere under Domburg. From Veere and Vlissingen iconoclasts were on their way to the rural communities and the rural churches of Walcheren were destroyed. The citizen of Vlissingen performed demolitions in Oost Souburg, West Souburg Koudekerke Biggekerk, Zoutelande and Oud-Vlissingen. [23].

This iconoclasm in the western part of the Netherlands was an expression of dissatisfaction with the obsolete social relationship in society and religion. At the same time the iconoclasm was the start of the Eighty Years’ War [24] – a terrible and inevitable revolt against the then Spanish king of the Western Netherlands – and the beginning of the first modern Republic”, says Narrator.

“Shall we visit the Begijnhof tomorrow?“, asks Carla.

“Good idea. Tomorrow we may continue with the iconoclasm. I would like to highlight a iconoclasm of 2000 years earlier in Jewish history. I think that iconoclasm also influenced the emergence of Protestantism. Shall we have a drink in the pub across the street”, says Man.

[1] At “Het Lieverdje” in Amsterdam started the Provo movement in the 1960s. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provo_(movement)

[2] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spui_(Amsterdam)

[3] See Introduction in: Creveld, Martin van, The Culture of War. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008

[4] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verzuiling

[5] See: Heschel, Abraham Joshua, De Profeten, Vught: Skandalon, 2013, p. 38

[6] Image of Isaiah – a painting by Marc Chagall – on the cover of the Dutch edition of “The Prophets” by Abraham Joshua Heschel. Source image: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/marc-chagall/prophet-isaiah-1968 (see “fair use” on this website)

[7] See also: Jeremia 7:4

[8] See also: Camus, Albert, The Rebel.

[9] Painting by Benjamin West Isaiah’s Lips Anointed with Fire. Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prophet

[10] Free rendering of: John’s Gospel 2:13-21

[11] Strophe from: “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto (en hij is vlees geworden uit de Heilige Geest)

[12] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vatican_Necropolis

[13] Source: Fernández – Armesto, Felipe & Wilson, Derek, Reformatie – Christendom en de wereld 1500 – 2000, Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Anthos, 1997, p.122, 123

[14] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beeldenstorm

[15] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover

[16] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transubstantiation

[17] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consubstantiation

[18] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consubstantiation

[19] Sources: Fernández – Armesto, Felipe & Wilson, Derek, Reformatie – Christendom en de wereld 1500 – 2000, Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Anthos, 1997, p. 131, Vries, Theun de, Ketters – Veertien eeuwen ketterij, volksbeweging en kettergericht. Amsterdam: Querido, 1987, p. 575 – 582 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huldrych_Zwingli

[20] See banner with image of Maria. Source image: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huldrych_Zwingli

[21] Source: Noordzij, Huib, Handboek van de Reformatie – De Nederlandse kerkhervorming in de 16e en de 17e eeuw. Utrecht: Uitgeverij Kok, 2012, p. 414

[22] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beeldenstorm

[23] See also: http://www.regiocanons.nl/zeeland/vensters-op-zeeuws-erfgoed/tachtigjarige-oorlog

[24] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eighty_Years%27_War


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