42. Following the Surrender of Antwerp,
Philip van Marnix advocates the `Method of Peace', 24 October 1585
Philip van Marnix van Sint Aldegonde to Adolf van Meetkercke, Antwerp 24 October 1585
Monsieur my Cousin, I believe that you have already been informed about the circumstances of the surrender of the city of Antwerp, and how since that event my enemies, seeking by false calumnies to blame me and to disparage my honour, have gained so much credit with their Lordships of the States-General, that they have written openly to me, saying that they will no longer suffer my presence in the United Provinces....
In order to preserve my reputation and my honour, at least in the eyes of good and discreet persons, I have found it necessary to draw up a written account ... of the situation as it was in Antwerp ... so that everyone may decide for himself how I conducted matters, and to see whether I merit praise or blame...
If you conclude that I have acquitted myself dutifully and well (for I can assure you of the truthfulness of the account) perhaps you may be so good as to speak up in protection of my honour and reputation. I assure you that adversity will not change me, and will never deprive me of my assurance in my God and Father and in Jesus Christ his Son.
At the present time it seems indeed as though our malady has reached a certain crisis point ... We need to use all the nerve and all the intelligence we can. I wish that their Lordships would profit from the example of the city of Antwerp and from the other cities which have been precipitated into such extremities, and which have been left with no option except to rest their hope in the discretion and the clemency of the conqueror ...
For if the truth be said, we are in every respect weaker than our enemies: their authority is well-grounded and stable, resting on the title of the great and puissant King, whereas our authority is not only floating on the waves of the populace, it is also almost completely ineffective. There is a difference between our military commanders and theirs, our resources are not on a par with theirs, and there is no comparison between us and them when it comes to the number of our soldiers, or their training or their quality or their experience in the field. It is true that we have the advantage of the terrain, but experience in the Duke of Alva's day showed us clearly enough that this advantage is not sufficient, even in the depths of winter.
We on our side used to have a leader of great authority, singular wisdom, admirable humanity, extreme patience and incomparable dexterity, whether it was in guiding the people, calming the soldiers, winning the hearts of captains, promoting worthy men, and discerning the advantages and disadvantages of places and situations, and even then some found fault with him. Among the populace one used to find a fierce loathing for former ways, discontent with the present, hope for the future, a great zeal for liberty, strong love and affection for their former Governor, and with all this the populace was joyously innocent of war: nowadays it is all the contrary.
On our side, I do not know whether we have a commander at all, or whether some shadow of authority remains with the governors, whether the soldiers and the men-at-arms have preserved some notion of obedience, or whether the people have kept some vestige of zeal either for religion or for liberty. War is horror to them, peace is what they long for above all, trade and private profit is their aim, and their hope lies in a change of government; consequently, no-one among them will put his shoulder to the preservation of the present state.
We have only one source of strength, which serves us like a sacred anchor. It is the fact that God will preserve his Churches from every tempest which can pound against them. I do believe this, but what means will he use? Does he intend to subject them to the yoke of servitude and persecution Perhaps he intends to preserve them through the actions of some Cyrus, some Artaxerxes, some Alexander? Perhaps he wants to scatter them to the four corners of the earth and to wrest away from them the candle holder which they have shown themselves unworthy to bear. We know that the Church of God is not tied down to particular places or seats: it is Catholic, that is to say Universal, not Alexandrian, nor Roman, nor Belgic.
... We should not refer to ourselves by such terms as `the Church of the Lord', or `the children of Abraham' or `the family of Israel': for God can create children of Abraham out of stones; and only the children of promise are counted as seed. I take the view, therefore, that we should humble ourselves under the hand of the Lord, that we should listen to the words of his mouth, that we should pay attention to what he says, that we should consider carefully the means he offers us, and above all, that we should refrain from tempting him...it is not reasonable that he should be prevailed upon, for our pleasure, to perform miracles. We do not approve when our enemies try to draw him to do this, when it is a question of doctrine, which we derive directly from his mouth, but we try to do the same thing ourselves in matters of politics, which he has himself, by an admirable sapience, chained up to secondary causes...
I put this forward in debating style, because the proposition could be put to me, on the other side, that war is necessary and unavoidable when it is purely defensive, and that one cannot abandon it without betraying the cause and the honour of God, which is enjoined upon us above all else in the world, and which ought to efface all other considerations, especially since we see with our own eyes the extreme bitterness of the adversaries of the Word, burning with desire to annihilate it, locking their eyes and ears up against all reason, and seeking with all their strength to make the oracles of the Almighty submit to human traditions and decrees: that is why (it is said) it is necessary to continue the war with all perseverance, awaiting its final outcome, which shall be as God pleases, neither the choice nor the disposition being within our power. Truly, this is a great consideration, which has always weighed with me and which I have always acknowledged in my heart, but if we look more deeply into the matter, sounding it out to its depth, we may see that there is something to be said on the other side.
For when I cast my eye over the infinite range of means which God has at his disposal for the preservation of his Church, even in the heart of Babylon, and when I remark that he holds the hearts of Kings in his hands and can twist and mould them like wax, to any shape that pleases him: then I wonder why in our actions and our enterprises we show ourselves almost to defy that supreme power and virtue which, as we see, he always employs for the salvation of his own ... Certainly God is powerful enough to infuse the hearts of Princes with mercy toward their subjects, and to make them act in ways other than the ways they had decided to act before ... I ask you, by what device or miracle did the Israelites escape from Nebuchadnezzar, and later from the Kings of Persia, from King Alexander and finally from Pompey and the Romans? Was it by arms? On the contrary, persistence in arms always reduced them to servitude and misery, and was the cause of the ruin of Jerusalem from top to bottom, when the memory of the sanctuary was blotted out and the people were dispersed like dusk to all the corners of the earth.
It is for the same reason that the Prophets so often exhort us to wait in silence and in hope, and to let the scourge of God pass over us without disturbing our household.
Do I then condemn arms entirely? That would not be pleasing to God, for I believe that arms can be made sacred and agreeable to God by legitimate calling, by the justice of the cause, and by the necessity of conserving that which God himself has entrusted to us. This would be true even if the war did not have a happy issue.
However, does not experience show us that we can derive greater benefit from attempting the way of accord and hoping that God will make relent those whose hearts at this time are hardened and bent upon our ruin? You will say to me that the way of accord has already been tried, using various approaches, and always in vain. I freely admit this...
On the other hand, I have also noticed that arms have often been resorted to in vain, and that the longer wars have lasted the fainter has become true piety and familiarity with the Lord... And yet again and again people are tempted anew to gamble upon arms and to hope against hope and against all likelihood.
Why then not be tempted anew to gamble upon the success of a common accord, and to hope against hope that God will soften hearts, and act in ways in which he has not acted hitherto? Truly, after having tried arms in vain a thousand times we could well afford four or five times to try the method of peace, which who knows might be in vain, or which might bear great fruit. And even if it did not have the effect we sought, perhaps God would produce from it some other effect which we had not even hoped to see.
If our attempt at peace-making was refused, we would have a greater justification than before for going to war, and our cause would be more just and favourable, and perhaps God would move the hearts of certain Princes, who would have pity on us, and who would, by war or by intercession, take our cause in hand.
Ever since the beginning of the world, wars have come to an end, either when one or other of the combatants was defeated, or by an accord. It is to be feared that victory will not come our way, for the Lamb, our Leader is a good warrior through the power of the Holy Spirit or by the sword of the Word, but hardly ever secures a victory with the arms of this world. On the contrary, the Beast, who makes war upon the Lamb and upon the Saints, does achieve victory using the arms of this world and grows drunk upon the blood of martyrs.
If by arms one can hope to obtain victory, to preserve liberty and the laws of one's native land, to maintain religion, to secure the Churches against oppression and ruin, then in the name of God, let us resort to war...
If, on the other hand, our military strength is declining, so that war will inflict a foreign yoke upon our native land, driving out law, and all traditional order, scattering the Churches of God, extinguishing all piety and religion, and effacing all memory of the Word of God, and bringing all of us, in the end... into the power of our enemies, why should we not take account of what it is we want to save?
It is obvious that when one is at the end of one's tether, one cannot hope to negotiate favourable terms. Conquerors are in a position to lay down the law, whereas those who are still engaged in combat have something to fear from the unknown and may therefore be prepared to come to a settlement. One can see therefore that the time to negotiate is when both parties are still combatants. When one side has been beaten the time for negotiation is past, and the time for humiliation has come. I have always reckoned that when governments and those who are in charge of affairs keep a tight rein, forbidding ordinary members of the public to talk about peace, reserving the authority to do so strictly to themselves, they have the means to retain control over the ship of state, instead of letting it drift in the waves of popular feeling. This is why in Antwerp I took the view that one had to prosecute persons who spoke of negotiating, and to make certain that no one dared talk about it in his individual capacity, while at the same time I maintained that it was the duty of the Magistracy and the Council to discuss the matter and to behave with the utmost prudence. And in Antwerp it did work in this way: the Magistracy was the first to speak out on the matter, seeing how low were our supplies of food and of other necessities, after the defeat on the dyke at Cauwensteyn. This initiated a heated debate in the Council, which continued for a month or more, before the question was more widely discussed. This order of proceeding was advantageous in that it did produce a consensus among us, but the trouble was that the whole matter would not have been raised at all had our supplies of food and other necessities been so low that we would have been forced to accept almost any conditions the enemy had offered us. If we had negotiated before essaying our fortune in combat perhaps we would have obtained better terms or a happier outcome.
This is why I believe that our example may prove to be instructive... It is not my intention to give you advice, for that would show presumption and temerity... I simply want to put both sides of the argument before you, pro and contra, just as they have often presented themselves to me in my own mind.
My desire has always been to serve my native land, with counsel or with actions, in war or in peace. But since my misfortune no longer permits this, it has been a relief to me to be able to pour out my thoughts privately to one of my friends, a man whom I believe to be prudent and discreet, zealous for the true religion and for the safety of his fatherland. If you find anything in what I say to be worthy of further consideration you can make use of it and communicate it to other discreet friends. If not, throw my letter in the fire, our conversation will be at an end....
I recommend myself to your good graces, Monsieur my Cousin, praying that God will keep you in his holy safeguard and protection.
At Antwerp, 24 October 1585...
Source: J.J. van Toorenenbergen, Philips van Marnix van St. Aldegonde. Godsdienstige en kerkelijke geschriften III (The Hague,
1878) 61-74. Translated by Dr. Gillian Lewis and used here with her permission.