The Calvinist community at Antwerp took the lead in the Low Countries to break completely with the Roman Church and to set a self-contained
church.1 The members foreswore the mass and took the sacraments according to the Reformed rite. This letter reveals the difficulties which this inner core of devout Calvinists encountered and the inexperience and sense of inadequacy of their lay-preacher. The church at Emden in East Friesland functions as the 'mother church' to whom these Antwerp Calvinists turned for theological guidance, practical help and religious literature.
Grace and peace from God our Father and His Son Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
Dearest brothers in Our Lord Jesus Christ. I greet you all with respect from the bottom of my heart in the brotherly unity of the faith and of the Spirit so that I cannot forbear to write to you concerning my situation and that of our brethren, namely that we have begun in Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit to gather a small tender bride or congregation (as I have told you in other letters to the brethren). Likewise, I have also written concerning our ordinances, how we come together here every Sunday evening, further how the place of the meeting is only declared and made known to everyone on the day itself (by those charged with this task) so that everything is done with resolution and calculation, just as Christ commands us to use the cunning of serpents. For this reason and since ignorance is still very rampant in many people and moreover sects and heresies are so numerous, I have thought it good and profitable to require from each a confession of his faith so that consciences may be strengthened, all false teaching refuted and excluded and the Scriptures searched. Everyone has agreed and this [confession] therefore also follows. Firstly, concerning the will of God according to the Law, the power of the same and our own insufficiency. Secondly, concerning the grace and mercy of God in the gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and our freedom through our trust in Him. Then everyone makes a brief and apt confession of each individual commandment in particular, likewise also of the articles of faith and of the [Lord's] Prayer as well as of the sacraments, as I hope you now understand. And when that is done (for it is taking a long time since there is so much discussion on every commandment and article of faith as a result of the attacks of the sects, because almost everyone is at a loss), we will then, with God's grace, start on the Catechism and the Acts of the Apostles. May He always urge us forward by the power of His Spirit, for the acquisition of which we desire the communion of your prayers, hoping also for our advancement with your good advice, for the little flock increases daily and would do so still more if we kept company with those who yet sometimes partake of the Roman abominations and superstitions, such as the baptism of children, marriages, burials and so on.
You will know, my brothers, that my Master Jan à Lasco, unaware that I was at Antwerp, has summoned me by letters and other messengers to come to him. I have now considered this and informed the brethren here, who do not readily consent to my going, as they fear that they will again be scattered. There are many zealous men here, and some Anabaptists have been converted to the true faith. Thus I am assailed from two sides, as I wish neither to leave this little flock nor to stay with the congregation. For if I remain with them the burden, on top of my work, is more than I can bear, for every day they give me so much to do that I would eventually not be able to gain my livelihood, and that would also force me to depart. Besides I would learn much from my Master [Jan à Lasco], which is my heart's desire, except that my Lord wanted me as his domestic servant, which will hardly profit and advance my craft. If he wanted me to do something else, such as reading, writing and so forth, I do not know what I would make of it, since I do not have the gift of Latin. Please give me your brotherly advice in this matter. If I were to leave, our brothers cannot manage without a leader, therefore I also want you to come to their assistance so that they are not again dispersed. They have come to me with a proposal and asked me whether I would take on the burden of the ministry, giving up my work entirely, and that they would maintain me. I find it difficult to refuse them this and also difficult to accept, for you know how great is the burden of those who speak against all the nations. So I have replied telling them to write to you and Jan à Lasco for someone better suited than myself and to choose the best for this purpose since you are better acquainted with the mysteries of the faith than they. Even supposing that they desired no one other than myself, as they say, I will neither act myself, nor will I accept their election, but only yours so that we do not resemble the false prophets, who go about [preaching] of their own accord before they have been properly charged. In this matter, most dear brothers in Christ Jesus, consult diligently and faithfully with one another for the upbuilding of the congregation in conformity with God's Word and beseech this also from the Lord God the Lord by praying in the name of Christ and He will certainly not withhold from us His Holy Spirit, who may guide us in all truth, and write presently in reply to all things.
Further, I beg my brother Gerard tho Camp to send me the summary and epitome concerning alms on which our brother Hermannus [Brassius] had begun to preach, while I was with you, namely on what possessions people should [base their] giving, in what way they should give and to whom and so forth. Secondly, a copy of the arguments concerning the objections of the Anabaptists, the reasons why children should not be baptised in the Christian congregation, which I think Hermannus read aloud in Latin before my departure. Not that I have any doubts in these matters, but I desire your help against our opponents, as I should in still other matters, if I remained with the brethren here in Antwerp. Thirdly, write to me also concerning the distinction of the right hand of God, where Christ sits, for the Lutherans take this to mean God's Omnipotence... [Caspar van der Heyden proceeds to list the theological arguments employed by the Lutherans in support of their doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ's body and asks the ministers at Emden how he should refute these.] ... and still less can I persuade [the Lutherans] of the unity of Christ's body, ... which according to all the Scriptures can only be in one place and so forth. If they [the Lutherans] should ask me, I can give no clear answer to such questions without you.
You should know that I cannot trace the apprentice Joos for I do not think that he is in the town, but I have looked to see whether I could nevertheless speak with him. You should also know that the man who was in Emden about six weeks ago and there came to a knowledge of God, has visited me and he was filled with joy. I have visited his wife; I hope the Lord will also open her eyes in His time so that we may all serve Him in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life. Amen. Tell my beloved brother Jacob Michiels that I cannot yet send him the account for the books which he charged to sell, but I know nevertheless that I have sold more than what he has received from me, for I still sell one or two from time to time and I have already paid out the money ... but I hope soon to settle accounts with him. I also occasionally sell one of my Master Utenhove's
Psalters2 and I would also certainly sell more if they were not so expensive for there are those who would sometimes take a dozen copies together if they could have them for three daalders in order to make some profit. Some of the brethren will only pay two stivers a copy and reckon that for the number of the pages they are too dear: that is the reason why they have not sold.
I commend myself heartily to you and to all our dear brethren, especially to the ministers of the Word Gellius, Hermannus and Arnoldus,3 and to Jacob Michiels, Joos de Rose, Anthonius Asch, Gellis Van der Erven, Hermanus Spormaker, Gerardus Mortaigne4 and all who sincerely seek Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Written from Antwerp, 17 December 1555, by me
Gaspar vander Heyden, brother to you all in Our Lord.
Tell Martin Micronius that I have forwarded his letter, which he wrote from Frankfurt, to London.
Source: E. Meiners, Oostvrieschlandts kerkelyke geschiedenisse (2 vol., Groningen,
1738-1739) I, pp. 365-370. Comparison with the original letter in Emden, Archiv der evangelische reformierten Gemeinde, Repertorium 320-A. 49 shows that Meiners modernised the spelling and occasionally modified the sense of the original.
1 Strictly the Anabaptist congregations which sprang up in Holland in the early
1530s were the first to establish independent churches.
2 Probably Vyf-en-twintig Psalmen ende andere Ghesangen (1551).
3 Gellius Faber de Bouma, Hermannus Brassius, Arnoldus Veltman.
4 Elders and deacons at Emden. Gillis van der Erve(n) was a noted Emden printer, on whom see Pettegree, Emden and the Dutch