TO those of us living in Holland who remembef our English history, developments within the Dutch Church today bear striking resemblances to the English Reformation under Henry VIII.
As I recall, Henry broke with Rome in 1534 over the question of his divorce and re marriage to Ann Boleyn an action Which Pope Clement VII would not sanction.
By this act Henry rejected the authority and right of the papacy to interfere in matters which affeeed not only his own conscience, but more important, the future of the Tudor dynasty.
This victory for princely over papal supremacy was part of the long-drawn-out struggle between Church and State which ended in a victory for the temporal powers over the spiritual. From then on, the rights of the monarch in both spiritual and secular matters went unquestioned even by princes of the Church.
"1 have offended my good Lord," said Cardinal Wolsey after his dismissal, "and therefore am I justly condemned to die."
But the inevitable consequence of this position was the gradual dilution of Catholic faith and liturgy in accordance with the current and secular considerations of each independent state.
It does not seem to me to be too far-fetched to say that a similar process is taking place here in Holland. 1 he parallel between Henry's insistence on the right to remarry and the Dutch controversy over clerical celibacy have at their roots, not the wish for conjugal bliss, but opposition to the authority of the Pope.
Only this time the idea that independent states should determine doctrinal and religious matters instead of the Pope, has begun to be replaced by the idea that each individual within that state has the same right.
The struggle between the spiritual and temporal powers seems to have reached its logical conclusion. The individual has won for himself, m the name of democracy, the same supremacy which Henry VIII won for the state. For the Church, the consequences are even more extreme.
Henry's Reformation was part of the general disintegration of a Christendom unified under Rome. But outward unity of faith was richly maintained by those states remaininly loyal to the papacy.
The Dutch "reformation" it seems to me, is more extreme in the sense that it is leading to a disintegration of Catholicism—and perhaps all forms of organised religion — within society itself.
This is not surprising if each individual is the keeper of the public conscience. The need for a teaching Church simply disappears in these circumstances — a fact that the Dutch hierarchy has been slower than others to realise.
Their dilemma is really the same as Wolsey's. Just as that unfortunate Cardinal dared not offend his prince, so Alfrink and the Dutch hierarchy dare not offend individual — and mostly clerical. — extremists, lest they appear champions of an anti-democratic and authoritarian Rome.
The policy of not rocking the boat and keeping their mitres down while the doctrinal bullets fly, has much the same consequences for them as Wolsey's prevarications. They have condemned themselves to he ignored.
On the other hand such men as Bishop Gijzelaar and Bishop Simonis who have attempted to preserve unity of faith within their dioceses are certainly not ignored. but they could suffer the same fate as Fisher. More and others who tried to resist Henry. Today, resignation has replaced the block as the modern form of martyrdom.
The tide of individualism here is too strong for them, in my view. Nonetheless. they are at the moment a focal point of resistance for those who fear that Catholicism may not survive here. here is a possibility that this could happen for much the same reasons that Catholicism disappeared for so long in Eng land.
To survive. the Church needs a strong clergy. This is as true today as it was four centuries ago in England. Bui the Dutch clergy is not only divided; it is even in danger of losing its identity.
Dressed in suits and ties, !lie clergy. like camouflaged soldiers, have tried to identify themselves with the laity in just the same way as the English clergy became increasingly identified with the state front the 16th century onwards.
in an age of democracy, any distinction, whether social or clerical, is to be avoided. So the vocation of the priesthood becomes little more than a profession to he discontinued when it ceases to satisfy.
It is small wonder that so few candidates are stepping forward to fill a role which may seem pointless when so many priestly functions have been taken over by the laity. This tends to lead to disillusionment among the older clergy. and in some instances laxity among the religious orders.
Of course, as in the 16th century England, fine priests stilt exist here -men and women who are true to their vocations.
It must also be pointed out that some of the more rebellious progressives are also men of integrity and idealism, just as Latimer and Cranmer were during the Reformation. The Dutch progressives want an end to what they consider to he the old legalistic, formalistic and --especially in Holland — unecumenical Preconciliar Church.
They have a point. For many years Catholic life here was narrow in outlook. and remained in isolation from the other 51 per cent of equally rigid Protestant Holland — a situation not unlike Northern Ireland.
The Dutch progressives want to change this. They are men of the pluralistic age, but in a different sense from Cardinal Suenens. Unlike their progressive bretheren in Belgium, the Dutch have in some instances crossed the delicate boundary between liturgical and doctrinal reform. There is a world of difference between a jazz Mass and smoking a cigar in the sanctuary to emphasise that the Dutch concept of the Real Presente is different from Rome's.
The laity here — perhaps because of its Calvinistic roots — is less spiritual and more practical than in other countries. Not for them the wayside sanctuaries and crucifixes which are a feature of Southern European countries.
They are much more interested in social questions. So it is not surprising that its priesthood begins to see itself more as social rather than spiritual workers. This to some extent explains why the Dutch clergy is more vocal than others in protesting against papal condemnations of the pill. Holland, after all, is the most densely populated country in the world after Japan.
Hie laity, the individual, now pays the priestly piper, not Pope or prince, and if the laity believes—perhaps rightly — that the way to Christ lies not through the portals of the Church and prayer, but through all sorts of social works, often in under-developed lands, then the clergy must indeed adopt the role of social worker.
But despite the dangers to orthodox Catholicism inherent in these trends, there is a positive side. Since the laity are determining the role of the Church here, they can also see that the pendulum does not swing to far. They are beginning to vote with their feet, and the more extreme parish churches are losing their congregations.
A more middle-of-the-road Catholicism is appearing which is beginning to satisfy all but the extremists on both sides. '-here lies the big difference between the Dutch reformation and Henry's. since the laity here have it in their power to change the situation — something that certainly cannot be said of the laity in 16th century England.