Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/455

This page needs to be proofread.


BSLGIUM


397


BELGIUM


imprisoned, and all the seminarists of Ghent irere flrafted into the army and dispatched to Wesel on the Rhine, where forty-nine of them succumbed to contagious diseases (lS13i. Such was the end of a legime which had been acclaimed by the Belgians with universal joy. The fall of Xapoleon was greeted with no less satisfaction, and many Belgian Tolunteeis took up arms against him in the camjjaigns of 1S14 and 1815. In this nation of loyal Catholics, it was Xapcdeon's Uand«ing religious policy which alienated his subjects.

n. The Kingdom or the Xetherlaxds (1S14- 30). — Soon after the victory of the .VUied Powers, who became masters of Belgium, they established there a provisional government under the Duke of Beaufort (11 June, 1814 1. The new governing powers promptly proclaimed to the Belgians that, in conformity with the intentions of the Allied Powers, they would nmJTitaiii inviolable the spiritual and the civil au- thority in their respective spheres, as determined by the canonical laws of the Church and by the old con- stitutional laws of the country". These declarations roused hop^ which, towever. were destined to be dis- ai^xnnted; for by the secret treaty of Chaumont (1 Harch. 1814). confirmed by Article 6 of the Treaty of Paris (30 May. 1814*. it had even then been decide*! that Holland diould receive an addition of territory, and that this addition should be Belgium. The se- cret Treatv of London (23 Jtme. 1814 : furthermore provided ttat the union of the two countries was to be internal and thorough, so that they "would form one and the same State governed by the constitu- tion already established in Holland, which would be modified by mutual consent to accord with new conditions". The new State took the name of the Sogdom of the Netherlands, and was placed under the sovereignty of William I of Orange-Xassau.

The object of the Powers in creating the Kingdom erf the Xetheilands was to give France on her north- em frontier a neighbour strong enough to sen'e as a barrier against her. and with this aim in view they di^tosed of the Belgian pro^Tnoes withof.t constilting than. The State resulting from this union seemed to oB^ ntmjerous guarantees oi prosperity from the standpoint of economics. Unforttmately. however. the two peojJ^, after being separated for more than two centuri^. had conflicting temperaments: the Dutch were Cy^^nists. the Belgian- Catholics, and the former, although greatly in the minority. 2.000.000 as against 3,500.000 Belgians, expected to rule the Bd^ans and to treat them as subjects. These dif- ferojces could have been lessened by a sovereign who would take the duty on himself; they were, however, aggravated by the policy adopted by William I. .Arbitrary, narrow-minded, obstinate, and moreover an inttJeraal Cal^•inist . he surrounded himself almost exdtisivdy with Dutchmen, who were totally ig- norant of Catholic matters and of the Belgian char- acter. In addition, he was imbued with the principles of "'enlightened despotism" which made hiin regard his abeojfutism as the form of government best suited to the needs of his kingdom, and thus he was im- equal to his task from the very outset. While still Prince of Fulda. he had persecuted his Catholic sub- jects tmtH the Diet was forced to check him. .-Vs King of the Xetherlands. he showed that he had learned nothing by experience, and imagined that he could effect the fiiaon of the two peopJes bv trans- forming Bdgium into Holland as far as possible.

On the other hand, the Belgians, jjassionately at- tached to their national traditions, and even more to their religious unity, did not take sufficiently into account the profound changes which had taken place in the conditions of the two peoples. Forgetful of the French Revolution and the consequent uphea-»-al of Western Europe they wer*- convinced that past con- ditions could be restored even in the midst of a society


that had outgrown them; nor did they grasp the fact that as the Treaty of London established freedom of worship in the Kingdom of the Xetherlands they were under an international obUgation which could not be put aside. They calmly demanded, first of the AUied Sovereigns, then of the Congress of Vienna, not only the restoration of the former rights of the Church, but the re-establishment of their old constitution in its entirety. Their disappointment was great when their sovereign, obeying the provisions of the Treaty of London, submitted for their acceptance the Fun- damental Law of Holland", with some modifications. Leaving out of the question the initial injustice in granting each country the same nimaerieal represen- tation in the States-General, despite the fact that the population of Belgium was almost twice that of Hol- land, it entirely overthrew the old order of things, suppressed the clergy as an order, abolished the priv- ilege of the Catholic (Thurch. and gixaranteed the enjoyment of the same chU and political rights to every subject of the king, and equal protection to every religious creed. The Belgian bishops promptly made respectful appteals to the king. William ha^Tng disregarded these, they issued a "Pastoral Instruc- tion" for the use of the prominent Belgians sum- moned to present their ^iews on the revised Funda- mental Law. This condemned the Law as contrary to religion and forbade its acceptance. The high-handed course taken by the Government to hinder the ef- fectiveness of these measin^s proved unavailing; of the 1.603 prominent Belgians consulted. 280 did not vote, 796 voted against tlie Fundamental Law. and only 527 declared themselves in favour of it. The Funda- mental Law was therefore rejected by the nation; for, adding to the 527 favourable votes the 110 unanimous votes of the States of Holland, there was a total of only 637 votes. Xevertheless. the king declared the Fundamental Law adopted, because, according to him, those who did not vote were to be regarded as favour- ing it. while of the 796 who opposed it. 126 did so only because they misunderstood its meaning. Ow- ing to this "Dutch arithmetic", as King William "s computations were termed. Belgium found itself un- der a constitution which it had legally repudiated, a constitution loo which proved to the Kingdom of the Xetherlands a heavy burden during its brief, stormy existence.

The adoption of the Fundamental Law. by the king's decision, did not end the conflict between the civil authority and the Belgian conscience. Besieged with questions as to whether it was permissible to take the oath of fidelity to the Fundamental Law, the bishops published their "Doctrinal Decision"', which con- demned it (1815). In consequence, many Catholics in obedience to their religious superiors, refused to take the oath, resigned their offices and their seats in the legislature. On the other hand, the Prince de Mean, former Prince-Bishop of Liege, took the re- quired oath, and the king immediately appointed him to the archiepiscopal See of Mechlin, then vacant. The king next had attempted to gain the Holy See for his side in his struggle with the Belgian episcopacy, by practically demanding of it Bulls of canonical inves- titure for his candidate as well as a formal censure of the "Doctrinal Decision'". The pope replied gently but firmly, condemning the words of the oath of al- legiance to the Fundamental Law. sending a Brief of commendation to the bishops, and refusing investi- ture to the F^nce de Mean until he should have publicly declared that his oath had not bound him to anything "contrary to the dogmas and laws of the Cathohc (Thurch. and that in swearing to protect all reUgious communions, he understood this protection only in its ci^^l sense". The condescension of the Hoiy See in this matter, instead of winning the king to moderation, seemed to make him bolder. Reviv- ing the obsolete claims of the old Galilean and Jo-