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American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente


16. Persecuted in New Amsterdam. -- In the first part of the seventeenth century the Lutheran Church was by law prohibited and oppressed in the United Netherlands. When the power of the papists had come to an end, Reformed tendencies gained the ascendency, and Calvinists reaped where Lutherans had sowed with tears. While claiming to be adherents of the Augsburg Confession, they persecuted the Lutherans, forbidding all Lutheran worship in public meeting-houses as well as in private dwellings. Nevertheless the Lutheran Church not only continued to exist, but even made some headway in Amsterdam, Antwerp, and other places. The greatest handicap, however, which also prevented the Dutch Lutherans from developing any missionary activity, was the lack of a native ministry thoroughly conversant with the language of the people. Conditions similar to those in Holland obtained in the American colonies. Like the mother country, New Amsterdam had a law prohibiting the exercise of any religion save that of the Reformed faith. Sanford H. Cobb, in his work The Rise of Religious Liberty in America, quotes the law as follows: |No other religion shall be publicly admitted in New Netherland except the Reformed, as it is at present preached and practised by public authority in the United Netherlands; and for this purpose the [Dutch West India] Company shall provide and maintain good and suitable preachers, schoolmasters, and comforters of the sick (Ziekentrooster).| (303, 321 f.) However, the report of the Jesuit Jogues, who sojourned in the colony in about 1642, shows that this law was not strictly enforced during the first part of the century. Also the Lutherans were permitted to conduct reading-services in their homes. But when the Dutch and German Lutherans (the former having arrived in New Amsterdam probably as early as 1624) had organized a congregation in 1648, and in 1653 requested the authorities to grant them permission to call a Lutheran pastor, they received a curt refusal at the hands of the governor, Peter Stuyvesant. The two Reformed domines, Megapolensis, who had arrived in 1649, and Drisius, who came in 1652 (the successors to Michaelius, who came over in 1623, and Bogardus, who followed him in 1632), proved to be the most bigoted and fanatical in the opposition to the request of the Lutherans. Instead of their petition being granted, the Lutherans were now forced to have their children baptized in the Reformed churches by Reformed pastors, and to promise to bring them up in the Confession of Dort; and private services in dwellings were made punishable with severe penalties. Peter Stuyvesant, who was also deacon of the Reformed Church, declared at the close of a session of the church council, that, if any one ever dared to appeal from his decision to the authorities in Holland, he would reduce his stature by the length of his head and send him back to the old country in pieces. But the Lutherans were not intimidated. When Stuyvesant denied their request for a Lutheran pastor, they appealed to the authorities overseas. The two Reformed domines also sent a letter to Holland, setting forth the dire consequences which were bound to follow in the wake of such religious toleration.

17. Moderation Advised. -- The authorities in Holland agreed with the intolerant domines and directed Stuyvesant to allow none but the Reformed religion. Yet, while denying the request of the Lutherans, they, at the same time, urged the governor to employ mildness and moderate means in dealing with them. Cobb gives the following translation of these instructions: |We have decided absolutely to deny the request made by some of our inhabitants, adherents of the Augsburg Confession, for a preacher and free exercise of their religion, pursuant to the custom hitherto observed by us and the West India Company, on account of the consequences arising therefrom; and we recommend to you also not to receive any similar petitions, but rather to turn them off in the most civil and least offensive way, and to employ all possible, but moderate means to induce them to listen and finally join the Reformed Church.| (313.) The letter was dated February 26, 1654. But notwithstanding this rebuff, the Lutherans persisted in their demand, and held religious services in their houses without a minister, declaring that |Heaven was above law.| This excited the wrath of the autocratic governor, who was not accustomed to brook opposition, nor knew how to employ mildness, wisdom, and |moderate means| in dealing with anybody, least of all with the Lutherans. Instead of persuasion he employed force; and instead of trying |the most civil and least offensive way,| he resorted to harsh and most offensive measures. On February 1, 1656, a stringent |Ordinance against Conventicles| was posted, which ran: |Some unqualified persons in such meetings assume the ministerial office, the expounding and explanation of the holy Word of God, without being called or appointed thereto by ecclesiastical or civil authority, which is in direct contravention and opposition to the general Civil and Ecclesiastical order of our Fatherland, besides that many dangerous heresies and schisms are to be apprehended. Therefore, the director-general and council . . . absolutely and expressly forbid all such conventicles and meetings, whether public or private, differing from the customary, and not only lawful, but scripturally founded and ordained meetings of the Reformed divine service, as this is observed . . . according to the Synod of Dordrecht.| The penalties imposed by the act were 100 Flemish Pounds for the preacher and 25 Pounds for every attendant at such services. (317.) A number of Lutherans were cast into prison. Realizing that such harsh measures would prove hurtful to their business interests, the authorities in Holland, in an order dated June 14, 1656, rebuked Stuyvesant for his high-handed procedure, saying: |We should have gladly seen that your Honor had not posted up the transmitted edict against the Lutherans, and had not punished them by imprisonment, . . . inasmuch as it has always been our intention to treat them with all peaceableness and quietness. Wherefore, your Honor shall not cause any more such or similar edicts to be published without our previous knowledge, but suffer the matter to pass in silence, and permit them their free worship in their houses.| (314.)

18. Johannes Ernestus Gutwasser. -- Evidently, to the Lutherans the time seemed favorable to renew their urgent requests for a pastor of their own. And in July, 1657, Johannes Ernestus Gutwasser (not Goetwater, or Gutwater, or Goetwasser), a German, sent by the Lutheran Consistory of Amsterdam, arrived on Manhattan Island. Great was the fury of the Reformed domines and vehement their clamor for his immediate return. They wrote a letter to the classis in Amsterdam in which, according to Cobb, |they relate that 'a Lutheran preacher, Goetwater, arrived to the great joy of the Lutherans and the especial discontent and disappointment of the congregation of this place, yea, of the whole land, even the English. We went to the Director-General,' who summoned Goetwater, and found that he had as credentials only a letter from a Lutheran consistory in Europe to the Lutheran Church in New Amsterdam. The governor ordered him not to preach, even in a private house. The domines lament, 'We already have the snake in our bosom,' and urge Stuyvesant to open the consistory's letter, which, oddly enough, he refused to do, but consented to the ministers' demand that Goetwater be sent back in the ship that brought him. [']Now this Lutheran parson,' the Dutch ministers conclude, 'is a man of a godless and scandalous life; a rolling, rollicking, unseemly carl, who is more inclined to look into the wine-can than to pore over the Bible, and would rather drink a can of brandy for two hours than preach one.'| (315.) But, though maligned and persecuted, Gutwasser did not suffer himself to be intimidated, and even begun to preach. So great and persistent, however, was the fury of the fanatics that he was finally compelled to yield and return to Holland, in 1659. The second Lutheran pastor to arrive on Manhattan Island while the Dutch were still in power was Abelius Zetskorn, whom Stuyvesant directed to the Dutch settlement of New Amstel (New Castle) on the Delaware. The tyranny of Stuyvesant, however, was abruptly ended when in 1664 the English fleet sailed into the harbor and compelled the surrender of New Amsterdam. In the Articles of Capitulation it was specifically agreed that |the Dutch here shall enjoy the liberty of their consciences in divine worship and church discipline.| And according to the proclamation of the Duke of York, also the Lutherans were granted religious liberty, |as long as His Royal Highness shall not order otherwise.|

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