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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/835

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NETHERLANDS


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NETHERLANDS


country was now to exist was that of an absolute mon- archy, which by continued encroachments on the traditional privileges of the people, drove them at length to rebellion. It was not merely its absolutism, it was the anti-religious atmosphere of the Govern- ment which really aroused the people. The actuating principle of the Government in its dealings with the Catholic Church was that the civil power was supreme and could make rules for the Church, even in purely religious matters. This policy, which is known as Josephinism, from Joseph II, its most thorougligoing exponent, had prevailed at the Austrian Court from the beginning. It found a theorist of great authority in the famous canonist Van E.spen (1646-1728), a

Erofessor at the University of Louvain, who justified eforehand all attacks on the liberty of the Church. The opposition between the tendencies of the Govern- ment, which threatened alike the national liberties and the rights of the Church, and the aspirations of the Belgian people, devoted alike to religion and liberty, gave rise during the Austrian occupation of the country to endless misunderstandings and un- rest. The situation was not, however, uniformly the same. It varied under different reigns, each of which had its own peculiar characteristics.

Under the reign of Charles VI (1713-1740) Belgium quickly learned that she had gained nothing by the changing of her rulers. One of the clauses of the Peace of Utrecht obliged Austria to sign a treaty with the United Provinces, called the Treaty de la Barriere (the Frontier Treaty) entitling the United Provinces to garrison a number of Belgian towns on the French frontier as a protection against attacks from that quarter. This was a humiliation for the Belgians, and it was aggravated by the fact that these garrison troops, who were all Protestants and enjoyed the free exercise of their religion, had many religious quarrels with the Catholic people. Moreover, the United Prov- inces, controlling the estuary of the Scheldt, had closed the sea against the port of Antwerp since 1.5S5; so that this port which had at one time been the foremost commercial city of the north was now depleted of its trade. This was a fresh injustice to the Catholic Low Countries. To all this must lie added the oppressive and ill-advised policy of the Marquess de Pri^, deputy for the absent governor-general. Prince Eugene of Savoy. Pri^, like another Alva, treated the country with the utmost severity. When the labour guilds of Brussels protested vigorously against the government taxes and tried to assert their ancient privileges, Pri6 caused the aged Francois Anneessens, syndic or chair- man of one of these guilds, to be arrested and put to death (1719). The citizens of Brussels have never for- gotten to venerate the memory of their fellow-towns- man as a martyr for public liberty. The Government compensated the nation by founding the East and West Indian Trading Company of Ostend in 1722. This company, which was enthusiastically hailed by the puljlic, was of immense benefit in the beginning, and promised an era of commercial prosperity. Un- fortunately the jealousy of England and of the United Provinces sealed its fate. To win the consent of these two powers to his Pragmatic Sanction, by which he hoped to secure the undisputed succession of liis daugh- ter Maria Theresa, the emperor agreed to suppress the Ostend company and once more to close the sea against Belgian trade. His cowardly concessions were of no avail, and at his death in 1740 his'daughter was obliged to undertake a long and costly war to maintain her in- heritance and Belgium, invaded and conquered by France in 1745, was not restored to the empress till the Peace of .Aachen in 1748.

Under the reign of Maria Theresa (1740-80) the Government was in a position to occupy itself peace- fully with the organization of the Belgian provinces. On the whole it fostered the material interests of the country, but the principles underlying its religious


policy revealed themselves in measures more and more hostile to the Church. The empress herself was of the opinion that the Church ought to be subject to the State even in religious matters. "The authority of the priesthood ", she wrote, " is by no means arbitrary and independent in matters of dogma, worship, and ecclesiastical discipline". The statesmen in her ser- vice, imbued as they were with the Voltairean spirit, were zealous in applying those principles. The more famous among them were the Prince of Kaunitz, the Count of Cobenzl, and Mac Neny. On the slightest pretext they constantly stirred up petty and at times ridiculous conflicts with the ecclesiastical authorities, such as forbidding assemblies of the bishops; trying to insist on the relaxing of the Lenten Fast; claiming censorship over breviaries and missals, and going so far as to mutilate copies of them containing the Office of St. Gregory VII ; calling in question the jurisdiction of the Church in matrimonial affairs; hindering and interfering in every conceivable way with the work of the religious orders, even busying themselves with the dress worn by the clerics; in a word pursuing a most irritating and malicious policy wherever the Church was concerned. If in spite of all this the name of Maria Theresa is of kindly memory in Belgium, it is be- cause her subjects knew the sincerity of her piety, and her undoubted good-will. They were grateful for this, and believing that for the most part she was unaware of most of the actions of her representatives, they did not place the blame at her door. Moreover the Gover- nor-General of the Austrian Low Countries, Prince Charles of Lorraine, brother-in-law of the empress, was a man of infinite tact, who knew how to moderate what was unpopular in the action of the Government, and even cause it to be forgotten. It was personal esteem for these two royal personages which caused the policy of the Government to be tolerated as long as they lived.

But there came a great change as soon as Joseph II mounted the throne (1780). He was the son of Maria Theresa, a pupil of the philosophers, and, inspired by their teachings, was ever ready to defy and disregard the Church. As was not unusual in his day he held the opinion that the State was the source of all authority, and the source of all civilizing progress. He set him- self without delay to apply his poUcy of " enlightened despotism". Forgetful of his coronation oath to ob- serve the constitutions of the several Belgian prov- inces he began a career of reform which ended by overturning the existing state of affairs. His first act was to publish in 1781 an edict of toleration, by which Protestants were freed from all civil disabilities, a just measure in itself, and one that might well be praise- worthy, if it were not that, in the light of his subse- quent actions it betrayed the dominant idea of his whole reign, namely, hostiUty to the Catholic Church. The C'luirch, he thought, ought to be a creature of the State, sul)ject to the Control and supervision of the civil power. He underlook to realize this ideal by substituting for the Catholic Churcli go\-(<nied liy the pope a national Church subject to tlie Stale, along the lines laid down by Febronius, who had met- with many supporters even within the ranks of the clergy. The measures he atlopted to enslave the Churcli were end- less. He forbade religious orders to correspond with superiors outside the country; he for!)ado the bishops to ask Rome for dispensations in matrimonial cases. He tried to gain control of the education of I lie clergy by erecting a central seminary to whicli he endeav- oured to force the bishops to send their future priests. He interfered with the professors and the teacliing of the University of Louvain because he considered them too orthodox. He suppressed as useless all convents of contemplative orders and all pious confraternities, ■and re]ii:iccd lliciii iiy otip of his own invention which he graii(iilcn(ueiilly called "The Confraternity of the Active Love of our Neighbour". He prohibited all