6.3

Gable stone with a flute

Gable stone with a fluyt

The Church of the Middle Ages had been organized along hierarchical lines. In the same way that the Emperor had vassals, who in turn had their own vassals, the Pope appointed bishops and these had priests under them. The reformers, on the other hand, believed that church congregations could be autonomous and that the consultation body at district level, the Council of a congregation, could appoint ministers. The umbrella organization was the National Synod, but a congregation could opt out, if it thought that a decision by the Synod ran contrary to the Word of God. Via the Church Council, the ordinary faithful had a genuine say in how their congregation was run. The structuring of the Reformed Church in the Low Countries turned out to be a dress rehearsal for the structuring of the developing Dutch state.

A third factor that helps to explain the success of Calvinism in Holland is the economic reversal in the sixteenth century. Around the year 1450, the population of Europe had again risen to what it had been before the Black Death. Although this had put pressure on profits from commerce and industry, the economy in Europe had not fallen to its pre-1349 level. This was because the navigation of seaworthy ships had been simplified, and the search for new trade routes had continued. Increased demand from new foreign markets compensated the shrinking demand from local markets.

In the sixteenth century trade expanded as far as the Americas. All sorts of new products were introduced into the European market, such as maize and the plants that the Aztecs called tomatl, choclatl, and potatl. The Spanish fleet brought back huge cargos of silver and other precious metals from the Americas, while inflation, which was already quite high because of the growth in population, began to soar. Leaving aside all these disadvantages, a very positive development ensued from this situation: economies became completely cash-based and this fact furthered the rise of the modern state.

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