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Pleading for Diversity: The Church Caspar Coolhaes Wanted

Linda Stuckrath Gottschalk defended her thesis on 6 April 2016.

Linda Stuckratt Gottschalk
06 April 2016
Leiden University Repository


Prof.dr. Ernestine van der Wall
Co-supervisor: Dr. Jan Wim Buisman

This dissertation focuses on the ecclesiology of Caspar Janszoon Coolhaes (c. 1534-1615). Caspar Coolhaes was a Reformed preacher, a critic of the churches of his day, and an advocate of religious diversity. He opposed much of the building up of the organization of the Reformed Church in the Northern Netherlands and Dutch Republic in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries – the “Reformed polity” which the Calvinist clergy was pursuing with vigor - but he was also critical of all other major confessions.

The struggle between Coolhaes and the Leiden magistrates, on one side, and the Leiden consistory and fellow-preacher Pieter Cornelisz on the other, encapsulated questions of authority in relation to ‘church and state’.  Coolhaes’ theology, especially his Spiritualistic understanding of the sacraments, and his views on free will, the latter of which leading him later to be labeled “the forerunner of Arminius and the Remonstrants,” made him suspicious to his Reformed colleagues. All this eventually led to his defrocking at the synod of Middelburg (1581), and, soon after, to excommunication from the Reformed Church. The question this dissertation poses, therefore, is this: What sort of church would the critic Coolhaes himself have wanted to design for the new Republic?

The first part of this dissertation gives a new biographical sketch, since fresh information, sources, and un-examined works by Coolhaes himself have been uncovered since H. C. Rogge’s  classic nineteenth-century biography of him. Then, in the second part of the work, the ecclesiology of Coolhaes takes center stage. Coolhaes is argued to have been a Reformed Spiritualist who stressed the importance of the invisible church while also affirming the inevitability and even usefulness of the visible. His ideal visible church would have been Erastian in government, which means that, as far as ecclesiastical matters are concerned, the state would be superior to the church.

Coolhaes stressed that his ideal church would contain church servants who were truly called, both by the civil government and by God - loving shepherds, rather than power-hungry, quarreling leaders, such as he saw about him. Above all, the church he envisaged would be both diverse and tolerant. Diversity of religious confessions in the same society would stabilize this church; diversity of views even within a confession would not harm it. To sum up, diversity, love, and tolerance would mark the ideal church in all its forms, and these turn out to be the essence of Coolhaes’ ecclesiology.

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