New Advent
 Home   Encyclopedia   Summa   Fathers   Bible   Library 
 A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 
New Advent
Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > B > Belgium


Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more — all for only $19.99...

The Napoleonic era

The victory of Fleurus, gained by the French army over the Austrian forces, 26 June, 1794, gave to revolutionary France all the territories which constitute Belgium of today: the Austrian Netherlands, the ecclesiastical principality of Liège, the little monastic principality of Stevelot-Malmedy, and the Duchy of Bouillon. The French, who professed to have entered the country to deliver the Belgians form the yoke of tyranny and to liberate them, in reality gave themselves up to such pillaging and extortion that, as a Brussels magistrate said, they left the inhabitants nothing but their eyes to weep with. After this, in alleged compliance with the express wish of the Belgians, who as a matter of fact had not been consulted, a decree of the Convention, dated 1 October, 1795, proclaimed the annexation of the Belgian provinces to France.

At the beginning of the French rule, which was to last twenty years (1794-1814), religious conditions were not identical in the annexed countries. Religion was deeply rooted in what had formerly been the Austrian Netherlands. They had revolted in 1789 against the reforms of Joseph II, which were inspired by the spirit of sophistry. Jansenism, Febronianism, and Josephinism had gained but few partisans there; the University of Louvain was a bulwark of Catholic orthodoxy; even the Vonckist party, which in 1789 had been clamouring for political reforms, showed great respect for religion and had taken as its motto Pro aris et focis. On the other hand, in the ancient principality of Liège, which, since the fourteenth century had shown the deepest sympathy with France, public sentiment was gallophile, revolutionary, and even somewhat Voltairean; the predominant desire was to throw off the yoke of the priests, and the principality had literally cast itself into the arms of France through hatred of the theocracy. But the French Government soon caused these local differences to be lost sight of in the common hatred of the foreign oppressor.

The Directory began by enforcing, one after another, the French revolutionary laws concerning monastic orders and public worship in Belgium. Religious houses, except those devoted to teaching or to the care of the sick, were suppressed; it was forbidden to wear an ecclesiastical garb; the clergy were forced to publish a declaration recognizing the people of France as the sovereign authority, and promising submission and obedience to the laws of the Republic; the communes were forbidden to contribute to the expenses of public worship and every external symbol of religion was prohibited. The Belgians stood firm, and the elections of the fifth year having shown an undeniable reaction of public opinion against the revolutionary spirit, the clergy appealed to the Five Hundred (Cinq Cents) to demand a suspension of the declaration until a papal decision should be received settling the question its licitness. In the meanwhile, the priests who had not made the declaration continued to exercise their priestly functions in the Belgian provinces, and the tribunal of La Dyle acquitted those who were brought before it. At this juncture, Camille Jordan made a favourable report to the Cinq Cents on the clergy's request, and thus the Belgians had the honour of changing the current of French legislation for the better.

The coup d'état of the fifth Fructidor, however, carried out by the revolutionary members of the Directory, destroyed all hope. The victorious conspirators dismissed many Belgians who had been elected, and the elections of the sixth year, conducted under the violent pressure of republican deputies, gave the Government the wished-for results. Then persecution began again. The observance of the decadi, or the last day of the republican decade (week of ten days), was made obligatory and the Sunday rest was forbidden; for the second time, the wearing of any ecclesiastical garb was prohibited; in the suppression of religious orders no exception was made for nursing and teaching orders; seminaries and secular chapters were likewise abolished. The University of Louvain was closed on the ground of not having "the kind of public instruction conformable to Republican principles". As if the "declaration" had not sufficiently overtaxed consciences, priests were compelled to take an oath of hatred for royalty. On the refusal of the great majority, they were banished en masse and a decree issued, closing all churches served by recalcitrant priests. The officials of many communes ignored this order, and in more than one respect, it became a source of trouble. The interdicted priests continued to exercise their functions in the woods, or in private houses which afforded them places of retreat; in many places the faithful, deprived of the clergy, assembled in churches or in barns, to celebrate "blind Masses" as they were called, viz. Masses without consecration, or any services at the altar. The French deputies daily devised new methods of persecution in revenge for the opposition of public opinion, all the more unconquerable by reason of its silence and its tranquillity.

Things did not rest here. The spark that started the conflagration was the enforcing (1798) in the Belgian provinces of the French conscription laws requiring the enlistment of young men in the armies of the Republic. Rather than shed their blood for masters whom they hated, they rose in revolt, first in Waesland and in Campine, then in Flanders and in German Luxemburg. The Walloon provinces took part in the movement, but with much less energy. This was "the peasants' war" called in Luxemburg, "the war of the cudgels" (Klöppelkrieg). There was no lack of courage and devotion among the combatants, and some among them afforded admirable examples of heroism. However, they were poorly armed, had inefficient commanders, and were totally lacking in discipline and military organization; they were deprived of the support of the nobility and of the middle class, who remained absolutely inactive, and they were abandoned even by the Austrian Government which had every reason to stir up a Belgian insurrection. Consequently they could offer no serious resistance to the French troops. They fell back every time they met the enemy in open field; those who did not die in battle were later shot.

After this rising had been quelled, the persecution of the clergy was resumed; 7,500 priests were illegally condemned to be deported. The great majority escaped, only four or five hundred being arrested. Of this number, the oldest and those who were ill were detained in Belgium and in France; about three hundred were sent to Rochefort with Guiana as their ultimate destination, and, in the interval, were held at the Ile de Re and the Ile d'Oleron where they had much to undergo from ill treatment. It was the darkest hour during the French domination, and was terminated by the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire, 1799. The new Government did not persecute on principle, but only in so far as it was believed necessary to enforce the revolutionary laws to maintain the interests of the party in power. A solution of difficulties was supposed to have been discovered when the clergy were required to take merely an oath of "fidelity to the Republic as resting on the sovereignty of the people". The Belgian bishops who were refugees in England condemned this oath because the doctrine of the sovereignty of the peopled seemed to them heretical. They also refused to sanction the promise of fidelity to the Constitution of the seventh year, which the Government exacted of the clergy before permitting them to exercise the duties of their ministry, because the Constitution rested on false bases and contained articles deserving of condemnation. The leader of this opposition was a priest named Corneille Stevens (1747-1828), who, appointed administrator of the Diocese of Namur (1799) by Cardinal Frankenberg, Archbishop of Mechlin, forbade the clergy to promise fidelity to the Constitution, and who, in a series of pamphlets appearing under the pseudonym of Lemaigre, continued to advocate resistance. Finally, the Concordat of 15 August, 1801, brought, if not final peace, at least a truce. At the pope's request, the four Belgian bishops who had survived the persecutions tendered their resignations and of the nine episcopal sees into which Belgium had been divided since 1559, five only were retained: Mechlin Tournai, Ghent, Namur, and Liège. The bishoprics of Antwerp, Bruges, Ypres, and Ruremonde were suppressed. This organization of 1801 is still effective with this difference, however, that the See of Bruges was re-established in 1834, and that of Ruremonde in 1840.

Great was the rejoicing in the Belgian provinces when, on Pentecost day, 1802 (6 June), Catholic worship was solemnly re-established throughout the country. For some years, the name of Bonaparte, the First Consul, was most popular, and it even seemed as if the "new Cyrus", by the great boon which he had granted Belgium, had gained the support of the Belgians for a foreign government. The bishops appointed by Napoleon fostered in the people sentiments of personal devotion to him, and to such an extent that today they cannot be acquitted of the charge of exceeding all bounds in the adulation and servility. There were, it is true, protests against the new regime. The "non-communicants", as they were styled, refused to recognize the Concordat, contending that it had been forced upon the pope, and they formed a schismatical group, termed the "little church" (la petite église), which, though continually falling off in numbers, has preserved its existence, until very recent times. The members have often been erroneously designated as Stevenists. Stevens did not oppose the Concordat. The champion of a rigorous and uncompromising orthodoxy, he recognized the authority of the bishops of the Concordat, but mercilessly condemned their cringing attitude towards the civil authorities, against whose religious policy he never ceased protesting. Form the recesses of his retreat he sent forth brochures, training his guns upon "Saint Napoleon", whose feast day had been fixed by the Government as the 15th of August. He also attacked bitterly the imperial catechism of 1806 already adopted by the great part of the French clergy, which contained a special chapter upon the duties of the faithful toward the emperor. This uninterrupted propaganda struck a responsive chord in the national consciousness and was doubtless responsible for the courage displayed by the Belgian episcopacy in refusing to accept the imperial catechism, which was adopted only in the Diocese of Mechlin. Stevens was perhaps the most unbending adversary Napoleon ever encountered, and their contest was extremely interesting. Although the emperor offered thirty thousand francs to anyone who would deliver Father Stevens into his hands, the priest was never seized; nor was he silenced as long as the Empire lasted. When Napoleon fell (1814) he came out of his retreat, entered the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Namur, and submitted all his writings to the judgment of the Holy See, which, however, never pronounced upon them.

The Belgian bishops were wearied with the exactions of the Government, which went so far as to require every year special pastoral letters impressing upon the people their military duty on the occasion of each call for conscripts, and they, as well as the body of the people, had already lost confidence in Napoleon, when, in 1809, he made the tremendous mistake of suppressing the temporal power of the pope and of annexing the States of the Church to the Empire. From that day, he was regarded by the Belgians as a persecutor. Count de Morode-Westerloo, a Belgian, and Prince Corsini, an Italian, alone dared to express publicly in the Senate their disapproval of this usurpation, and thus prevent it from receiving a unanimous ratification. The more anti-religious the policy of the emperor, the more energetic became the resistance of the Belgians, and the more spirited the conduct of their bishops, who discarded the language of the courtier for that of the pastor. While the bishops of Mechlin and Liège, recently appointed by the emperor, denounced their own clergy, at Ghent, Tournai, and Namur, Bishops de Broglie, Hirn, and Pisani de la Gaude, respectively gave examples of noble firmness. Named Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, Bishop de Broglie declined on the plea of being unable in conscience to take the oath to maintain the territorial integrity of the Empire which thenceforth would comprise the States of the Church. "Your conscience is a fool", said the Emperor, turning his back. At the famous council of 1811, convoked by Napoleon without the authorization of the imprisoned pope, the attitude of de Broglie and of Hirn was no less courageous; they, together with the Bishop of Troyes, succeeded in inducing the council to defeat the imperial decree limiting the pope's right of institution. The very next day, the council was dissolved by imperial command, and the three bishops were arrested and thrown into prison, not to be released until they had been forced to tender their resignations. Their successors appointed by Napoleon were not recognized in their respective diocese, in which the clergy and the faithful were a unit in their resistance. More and more incensed, the emperor fell to striking blindly; numbers of priests were imprisoned, and all the seminarists of Ghent were drafted into the army and dispatched to Wesel on the Rhine, where forty-nine of them succumbed to contagious diseases (1813). Such was the end of a regime which had been acclaimed by the Belgians with universal joy. The fall of Napoleon was greeted with no less satisfaction, and many Belgian volunteers took up arms against him in the campaigns of 1814 and 1815. In this nation of loyal Catholics, it was Napoleon's blundering religious policy which alienated his subjects.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands (1814-30)

Soon after the victory of the Allied Powers, who became masters of Belgium, they established there a provisional government under the Duke of Beaufort (11 June, 1814). The new governing powers promptly proclaimed to the Belgians that, in conformity with the intentions of the Allied Powers, "they would maintain inviolable the spiritual and the civil authority in their respective spheres, as determined by the canonical laws of the Church and by the old constitutional laws of the country". These declarations roused hopes which, however, were destined to be disappointed; for by the secret treaty of Chaumont (1 March, 1814), confirmed by Article 6 of the Treaty of Paris (30 May, 1814), it had even then been decided that Holland should receive an addition of territory, and that this addition should be Belgium. The secret Treaty of London (23 June, 1814) furthermore provided that 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 constitution already established in Holland, which would be modified by mutual consent to accord with new conditions". The new State took the name of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and was placed under the sovereignty of William I of Orange-Nassau.

The object of the Powers in creating the Kingdom of the Netherlands was to give France on her northern frontier a neighbour strong enough to serve as a barrier against her, and with this aim in view they disposed of the Belgian provinces without consulting them. The State resulting form this union seemed to offer numerous guarantees of prosperity from the standpoint of economics. Unfortunately, however, the two peoples, after being separated for more than two centuries, had conflicting temperaments; the Dutch were Calvinists, the Belgians Catholics, and the former, although greatly in the minority, 2,000,000 as against 3,500,000 Belgians, expected to rule the Belgians and to treat them as subjects. These differences 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 intolerant Calvinist, he surrounded himself almost exclusively with Dutchmen, who were totally ignorant of Catholic matters and of the Belgian character. In addition, he was imbued with the principles of "enlightened despotism" which made him regard his absolutism as the form of government best suited to the needs of his kingdom, and thus he was unequal to his tasks from the very outset. While still Prince of Fulda, he had persecuted his Catholic subjects until the Diet was forced to check him. As King of the Netherlands, he showed that he had learned nothing by experience, and imagined that he could effect the fusion of the two peoples by transforming Belgium into Holland as far as possible.

On the other hand, the Belgians, passionately attached 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 upheaval of Western Europe they were convinced that past conditions 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 Netherlands they were under an international obligation which could not be put aside. They calmly demanded, first of the Allied 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 "Fundamental Law of Holland", with some modifications. Leaving out of the question the initial injustice in granting each country the same numerical representation in the States-General, despite the fact that the population of Belgium was almost twice that of Holland, it entirely overthrew the old order of things, suppressed the clergy as an order, abolished the privileges of the Catholic Church, and guaranteed the enjoyment of the same civil and political rights to every subject of the king, and equal protection to every religious creed. The Belgian bishops promptly made respectful appeals to the king. William having disregarded these, they issued a "Pastoral Instruction" for the use of the prominent Belgians summoned to present their views on the revised Fundamental Law. This condemned the Law as contrary to religion and forbade its acceptance. The high-handed course taken by the Government to hinder the effectiveness of these measures proved unavailing; of the 1,603 prominent Belgians consulted, 280 did not vote, 796 voted against the Fundamental Law, and only 527 declared themselves in favour of it. The Fundamental Law was therefore rejected by the nation; for, adding to the 527 favourable votes the 100 unanimous votes of the States of Holland, there was a total of only 637 votes. Nevertheless, the king declared the Fundamental Law adopted, because, according to him, those who did not vote were to be regarded as favouring it, while of the 796 who opposed it, 126 did so only because they misunderstood its meaning. Owing to this "Dutch arithmetic", as King William's computations were termed, Belgium found itself under a constitution which it had legally repudiated, a constitution too which proved to the Kingdom of the Netherlands 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 condemned it (1815). In consequence, many Catholics in obedience to their religious superiours, refused to take the oath, resigned their offices and their seats in the legislature. On the other hand, the Prince de Méan, former Prince-Bishop of Liège, took the required 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 investiture 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 allegiance to the Fundamental Law, sending a Brief of commendation to the bishops, and refusing investiture to the Prince de Méan until he should have publicly declared that his oath had not bound him to anything "contrary to the dogmas and laws of the Catholic Church, and that in swearing to protect all religious communions, he understood this protection only in its civil sense". The condescension of the Holy See in this matter, instead of winning the king to moderation, seemed to make him bolder. Reviving the obsolete claims of the old Gallican and Josephinist governments, and determined to overcome the opposition of the Bishop of Ghent, he had the bishop prosecuted for having published the "Doctrinal Decision"; for having corresponded with Rome without authorization; and for having published the papal Bulls without approbation. The Brussels Court of Assizes condemned the bishop to be deported for contumacy (1817), and the Government, carrying the sentence even farther, had the bishop's name written on the pillory, between two professional thieves sentenced to be pilloried and branded. The clergy of the Diocese of Ghent who remained faithful to the bishop were also persecuted by the State. The conflict would have continued indefinitely had not the prelate died in exile, in 1821, after having had twice confessed the Faith in the face of persecution. After his death, the Government conceded that the oath should be binding only from the civil point of view, which set at rest the Catholic conscience and ended the difficulties which had beset the first six years of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

If there had been any real desire on the part of King William to respect the conscience of Catholics, who constituted the greater part of the nation, he would now have inaugurated a policy, which would have set aside religious differences, and started the kingdom along lines leading to the frank and cordial fusion of the two peoples. This was not done. On the contrary, in his obstinate determination to treat the sovereign pontiff as an outsider, and to bring the Catholic Church under the omnipotence of the State, William in his blind fury continued his policy of oppression. Before the above-mentioned conflict, the king had created a State commission for Catholic affairs and had declared in the decree that "no church ordinance coming from a foreign authority — [i.e. the pope] could be published without the approval of the Government". This was equivalent to re-establishing in the full dawn of the nineteenth century the placet of the despotic governments of the former regime. Going farther, he instructed this commission "to be on their guard in maintaining the liberties of the Belgian Church", an extravagant formula borrowed from defunct Gallicanism, implying that the commission should take care to withdraw the Belgian Church from the legitimate authority of the pope. The men he had chosen to help him pushed their distrust and hatred of the Catholic hierarchy farther than he did. Baron Goubau, the head of the board of Catholic worship, and his superior, Van Maanen the minister of justice, by a system of petty persecutions soon made their names the most hated in Belgium, and largely increased the unpopularity of the Government.

In 1821 the Government began to be chiefly occupied with the suppression of liberty in the matter of education. Since the foundation, in 1817, of the three State universities, Liège, Ghent, and Louvain, higher education had been entirely under the control of the State, which now assumed control of middle inferior education (20 May, 1821) by a ministerial ordinance which allowed no free school to exist without the express consent of the Government. Lastly, a decree of 14 June, 1825, suppressed free middle superior instruction by determining that no college could exist without being expressly authorized, and that no one could teach the children of more than one family without an official diploma. A second decree of the same date declared anyone who made his studies abroad ineligible for any public office in the kingdom. The State having monopolized all lay education, there still remained the training of the clergy, which by the general canons of the Church, and those of the Council of Trent, in particular, belonged exclusively to the bishops. By a third decree, 14 June, 1825, said to be a revival of that of Joseph II, establishing the General Seminary, a State institution was erected under the name of Philosophical College (College philosophique), in which every aspirant for the priesthood was obliged to make a course of at least two years before he could be admitted to a grand séminaire.

On this occasion, the Archbishop of Mechlin, whose servility toward the king had till then known no limit, did not hesitate to make some respectful remonstrances to the Government, declaring that he could not in conscience accept these decrees. Goubau, in answering, repeated in substance Napoleon's gibe to the Prince de Broglie, "Your conscience will be regarded as a mere pretext and for good reasons". The other bishops, however, the capitular vicars of vacant sees, and the rest of the clergy, unanimously took sides with the Archbishop of Mechlin and joined in his protest. The Catholic Belgian deputies to the States-General protested; the Holy See protested in its turn. Nothing availed; the Government closed the free colleges one after another, thereby ruining a flourishing educational system in which Belgian families had absolute confidence; the Philosophical College was opened with great pomp, with a corps of instructors little thought of, either from a scientific or a moral point of view; students were drawn thither by bursaries or scholarships, and by exemption from military service. The Government becoming more radical than ever, then undertook to create schism in the Belgian Church by elaborating a plan, whereby the authority of the Holy See would be abolished and the bishops placed immediately under the Government.

But all these measures only increased the discontent of the Belgians and their passive resistance. To get the mastery, the Government conceived the idea of having recourse a second time to the sovereign pontiff, and broaching again the project of a Concordat, which had failed in 1823, on account of the king's inadmissible claims. The king counted, on the one hand, on wresting as many concessions as possible from the Holy See, and on the other, on gaining popularity among the Belgians through the arrangement he would make with the pope. These calculations failed, and once more the superiority of papal diplomacy was made manifest in the difficult negotiations which finally resulted in the Concordat of 1827. The Philosophical College ceased to be obligatory for clerics and became a matter of choice; in place of having the right of designating the bishops, the king was obliged to content himself with that of vetoing the choice made by the Chapters. The Concordat, which filled the Catholics with joy, excited the ire of the Calvinists and the Liberals, and the Government tried hard to quiet the latter by showing the worst possible will in the application of the treaty which it had just concluded with the Vatican. The Philosophical College was not declared optional until 20 June, 1829; vacant episcopal sees were provided with titulars elected according to the conditions laid down in the Concordat, but a royal decree rendered the recruiting of the clergy almost impossible save from the ranks of the old pupils of the Philosophical College. The Catholic opposition, headed by Bishop Van Bommel, the new Bishop of Liège, was so vigorous, and political complications so grave, that the king at last consented to permit the bishops to reorganize their seminaries as they wished (20 October, 1829). Then, as the crisis became more serious, he went farther, and on 9 June, 1830, entirely suppressed the Philosophical College, which had been deserted form the time attendance had become optional. On 27 May of the same year, the king even revoked his decrees regarding freedom in education; he thanked Goubau and committed to Catholic zeal the direction of matters concerning Catholic worship, and would have left no ground for grievance on the part of Catholics had he not, at the last moment, seen fit, in the negotiations with the Holy See, to demand the right of approving appointments to canonries. But all the king's concessions, which were really extorted from him by force of circumstances, and despite his dogged reluctance, came too late, and the negotiations in regard to the question of canons were still in progress when the Belgian Revolution broke out.

As to the causes of an event so decisive for the future of the Belgian people, it is highly improbable that if King William had given them grounds for complaint only in religious matters, the public discontent would have culminated in a revolution. The Catholics, faithful to the teachings of the Church and to the counsels of their pastors, had no wish to exceed what was lawful and knew that they should confine themselves to peaceful protests. But the Government had injured many other interests to which a great number were more sensitive than they were to the oppression of the Catholic Church, at which they would have been wholly indifferent if, indeed, they would not have rejoiced. It will suffice to recall the principal grievances. Although Holland's population was less than Belgium by almost half, each nation was allowed the same number of deputies in the States-General. Acquaintance with the Dutch language was at once made obligatory for all officials. The greater number of institutions of the central Government were located in Holland, and the majority of the offices were reserved for the Dutch. Taxes on corn and on slaughtering weighed most heavily on the southern provinces. The press was under the arbitrary control of the Government and the courts, and they vigorously prohibited any criticism of the Government and its deputies. The Government stubbornly opposed the introduction of the jury system, the verdicts of which, inspired by a saner appreciation of public feeling, would often have calmed opinion instead of inflaming it. Lastly, as if wishing to fill the measure of its blunders, the Government shamelessly hired an infamous forger condemned by the French tribunals, a certain Libri-Bagnano, whose journal, the "National", never ceased insulting and taunting every Belgian who had the misfortune of incurring the displeasure of the Government. There came a time when the Liberals, who, as late as 1825, had applauded the Government in its persecution of the Church, found themselves attacked in their turn, and began to protest with more violence than the Catholics had ever done.

Then the inevitable happened. Equally oppressed, the two parties forgot their differences, and joined forces. The fiery anti-clerical Louis de Potter, author of various historical works extremely irreligious in tone, was one of the first to advocate, from prison in which he was confined for some violation of laws concerning the press, the union of the Catholics and the Liberals. This union was made the more easy because the greater part of the Catholics, under the influence of the teachings of Lamennais and the pressure of events, had abandoned their stand of 1815 and had rallied to the doctrine of "liberty in all and for all". Once effected, the union of Catholics and Liberals soon bore fruit. Their first step, proposed by the Catholics who wished to employ lawful means only, was the presentation of petitions by every class of society in turn. Hundreds of petitions piled up in the offices of the States-General, demanding liberty of education, freedom of the press, and the righting of other wrongs. While these petitions were being circulated the perfect order that was maintained deceived the king. On a tour which he made through the southern provinces, to convince himself personally as to the state of the public mind, he received such demonstrations of loyalty that he persuaded himself that the petition was a factitious movement, and went so far as to declare, at Liège, that the conduct of the petitioners was infamous (1829).

This false step was his undoing. In the face of his refusal to initiate any reforms, the country became incensed, and the direction of the national movement passed from the hands of the peaceful Catholics into those of the impatient Liberals. The resistance soon took on a revolutionary character. The ecclesiastical authorities had foreseen this, and had for a long time opposed both the "Union", and the petitions which were its first manifestation. The Bishops of Ghent and Liège had come forward to remind the faithful of their duties to the sovereign; the Archbishop of Mechlin had assured the Government of the neutrality of the clergy; the nuncio had shown his disapproval of the "Union", and the Cardinal-Secretary of State had stigmatized it as monstrous. But the religious authorities soon found themselves powerless to control the movement. The Catholics, imitating the Liberals, had recourse to violent language; their most important periodical refused to print the conciliatory letter of the Bishop of Liège, which one of the Liberal leaders styled an episcopal-ministerial document; the lower clergy, in turn, allowed itself to be drawn into the current; the Government, wilfully blind, continued wantonly, in its imprudence, to pile up the materials for a great conflagration; at last nothing was lacking but a fuse. This came from France. The revolution of July, 1830, lasting from the 27th to the 29th, overthrew the government of Charles X; on 25 August, of the same year, a riot broke out in Brussels and brought on the revolution which culminated in the conflicts between (24-26 September) the Dutch troops and the people of Brussels assisted by re-enforcements of volunteers from the provinces. The whole country rose up; at the end of some weeks the Dutch army had evacuated the soil of the southern provinces, and Belgium was free.

Independent Belgium (1830-1905)

As has been shown, not only was the revolution the work of two parties but the chief role in it had been played by the Liberals, and for a long time, although a minority in the nation, their ranks supplied the principal leaders in national life. The Catholics did not close their eyes to this state of things. Sincerely attached to the Union of 1828, they wanted a unionist policy without laying too much stress on party names. The provisional government which assumed the direction of affairs after the revolution had but one Catholic among its ten members, and had as head and inspiration, Charles Rogier, who, in September, 1830, had come, at the head of the Liège volunteers, to lend a strong helping hand to the combatants in Brussels. The constituent Congress, convoked by the provisional government, was in great majority composed of Catholics; partisans of liberty "in all and for all", in conformity with the teachings of Lamennais. The Liberal minority was split into two groups; the stronger professed the same ideas of liberty as the Catholics; the other was made up of a small number of sectarians and of State idolaters who had dreams of bringing the Catholic Church into subjection to the civil power. The leaders of the Catholic group were Count Félix de Mérode, a member of the provisional government, and Baron de Gerlache, President of the Congress; the most prominent among the Liberals were Charles Rogier, Joseph Lebeau, Paul Devaux, J.B. Nothomb, and Sylvan Van de Weyer; the group of sectarians followed the orders of Eugene Defacqz. The Constitution which resulted from the deliberations of the Congress reflected the dispositions of the great majority of the assembly and showed at the same time a reaction against the tyrannical regime of King William. It proclaimed the absolute freedom of worship and of the press, which the Liberals put first, and also freedom of education and association, two things especially dear to the Catholics; concessions were even made to the prejudices of some, by rendering obligatory the priority of civil marriage over the religious ceremony and commanding that no one should be forced to observe the religious holidays of any denomination. The Congress showed the same broad-mindedness in the choice of a sovereign. The first selection fell on the Duke de Nemours, son of Louis Philippe, but the French king, fearing the jealousy of the European powers, dared not accept the throne for his son. Then, after having given the regency for some months to Baron Surlet de Chokier, the Congress declared in favour of Prince Leopold de Saxe-Coburg Gotha, widower of the Princess Charlotte, heir presumptive to the Crown of England. Though a Protestant prince, Leopold I (1831-65) showed himself worthy of the confidence of a Catholic people; during his entire reign he maintained an even balance between the two parties, and never lost his solicitude for the moral and religious interests of the nation. Owing largely to Leopold's wise policy, Belgium successfully inaugurated free institutions, and showed the world that a Catholic people is capable of progress in every field.

During the early years of the new kingdom both sides remained faithful to the union of 1828, the administration being divided between the Catholics and Liberals. The dominant thought was to defend against Holland the patrimony of independence and of liberty won by the revolution, patriotism inspiring unanimous opposition to the foreigner. The tendency towards mutual conciliation was evident in the organic laws perfected during these early years, especially in that of 1842 on primary education which was passed unanimously by the Chamber, save for three blank votes, and received the unanimous vote of the senate. This law, the work of J.B. Nothomb, the minister, made religious teaching obligatory, but dispensed dissidents from attendance. King Leopold expressed his gratification on signing it. For thirty-seven years this remained the fundamental charter of public education. At this time, everyone of whatever party was convinced of the necessity of religion in the education of the people. The clergy readily rallied to the support of the bill and even suffered a great number of the 2,284 private schools which they had opened to be closed that they might co-operate in the establishment of the public schools.

The law of 1842 was, in a way, the last product of Unionist principles. Since the treaty of 1839 had definitely regulated Belgium's position in regard to Holland, the fear of an outside enemy had been removed, and the Liberal party was convinced that there was no longer anything to hinder its political doctrines from prevailing in the national government. This attitude was partly justified by the state of affairs. The Catholics were weak, without organization, without a press, without consciousness of their own strength; they had no relish for partisan contests, and they counted on Unionism to maintain public life along the lines of 1830. In contrast to the Catholic masses who lacked cohesion, and consciousness of their strength, the Liberals formed a young, spirited, united party, gaining recruits form the bourgeoisie and the learned classes alike, commanding much sympathetic support from official circles, in possession of a press with twenty times the influence of the Catholic press, in a word, master of the Belgium Government since 1830. Paul Devaux, one of the most remarkable men of this party and one of the organizers of the Union in 1828, became the apostle of Liberalism in its later development, which implied the abolition of the Union and the victory of a policy exclusively Liberal in character. The articles which, beginning with 1839, he published in the "National Review", founded by him, exerted an enormous influence upon his party and even gradually won over to his ideas a large number of moderate Liberals.

While the Union of 1828 was being dissolved and some of its promoters were seeking to give a partisan predominance to mixed ministries, the dissenters, who cherished an implacable hatred for the Catholic Church, wished to profit by the new turn of affairs in Liberal ranks to avenge the defeat they had met with at the hands of the constituent Congress. The Masonic lodges entered on the scene with the avowed intention of forming the "conscience" of the Liberal party and of outlining its programme. They established a large society called "The Alliance", which soon numbered 1,000 members, and which was to serve as their agent and go-between with that part of the people in which Freemasonry awakened distrustfulness. In 1846, the Alliance called together a Liberal Congress, presided over by Eugene Defacqz, the dissenter of 1830, now Grand Master of Belgian Freemasonry. The same secrecy was preserved in the deliberations of the Congress as in the Lodges, from which it originated, and the only knowledge its proceedings was to be gained from the programme which it published. In this document, side by side with political reforms, appeared "the real independence of the civil power", a mere formula signifying systematic war on the Church, and "the organization of public instruction under the exclusive direction of civil authority, which should be granted legal means to maintain a competition with private establishments, without the interference of the clergy, on the ground of authority. At the time that this programme was being drawn up, the Congress made plans for a general confederation of Liberalism in Belgium, which with the Alliance as centre and type, was to establish in each district an association of free Liberal electors, bound in honour to vote for the candidates chosen by the Congress. There were also be electoral division in every one of the cantons to extend the influence of the association. General reunions were to be held periodically to enable the alliance to reach the members of the associations and imbue them with the Masonic spirit. The Liberal Congress of 1846 brought the session to a close with "a resolution favouring the liberation of the lower clergy", whom they hoped to incite against the bishops by suggesting possibilities of bettering their condition. This resolution brought out strongly the true character of the Congress, as a reactionary movement against the work of the National Congress of 1830. It stands to reason that the strong impulse stirred up by the Congress in the ranks of the Liberal party, and the ardent hopes based on it reacted on the legislative elections, while the Catholics remained buried in their dream of Unionism, then merely an anachronism. The elections of 1847 placed the Liberals in power.

The new Government brought together in the same ministry Charles Rogier, member of the Congress of 1830, and Frere-Orban, one of the promoters of the Congress of 1846. Under the influence of the latter, a man of great talent but extremely arbitrary, whose imperious will got the better of the unionist scruples of his colleague, the Cabinet declared that it would inaugurate a "new policy" taking as its principle the "independence of the civil power". And as a matter of fact, from this time forth, war was made on religious influence with a bitterness destined to divide the Belgian nation into two hostile camps. De Haussy, the Minister of Justice, set about applying to charitable foundations the most unheard-of principles. According to him, only charitable (State) bureaux could receive charitable bequests, and all endowments were to be turned over to them, even though the testator had made the selection of an administrator for the endowment an indispensable condition. On the other hand, the law of 1850 on middle-superior education was inspired by a spirit diametrically opposite to that of the law concerning primary education; it showed the Government's intention of using the taxpayers' money to start competition with free education, and if, as a matter of policy, the clergy were invited to give religious instruction in public institutions, conditions were such as to make their co-operation lack both dignity and effectiveness.

The Belgian nation was not yet ripe for the adoption of a policy so out of harmony with the spirit of its national traditions, and after five years, the cabinet was overthrown. A more moderate Liberal cabinet modified the law of 1850 by adopting the "agreement of Antwerp" made between the communal administration of that city and the bishops, giving to the clergy the guarantees required for their admission to the public institutions of secondary education. The support given to this agreement, by the chamber, the vote being 86 to 7, showed that the necessity of religious instruction was still understood by a large number of Liberals. The elections of 1855, which returned a Catholic majority, resulted in a cabinet presided over by P. de Decker, who may be called the last of the Unionists. This cabinet, which its friends might have reproached with excessive moderation, was destined to be overthrown as reactionary. One of its members, A. Nothomb, drafted a law concerning charitable bequests intended to protect the interest of testators and repair the unfortunate effects of De Haussy's legislation. Testators were authorized to appoint special administrators for their bequests, but the powers of the latter were circumscribed and their exercise placed under the strict supervision of the State (1857). Under the leadership of Frere-Orban, who under the pseudonym of Jean Van Damme had just written a sensational pamphlet, the Liberals pretended to find in this scheme a roundabout restoration of the monastic main-morte; they called it the law of the convents, and when the plan was brought up for discussion, they organized riots which intimidated the head of the cabinet. He took advantage of the communal elections, which had been favourable to the Liberal party, to tender the resignation of the cabinet. This pusillanimous conduct delivered the Government again into the hands of the Liberals, who held power for thirteen years (1857-70).

During this long period the new ministry, which was merely the outcome of a riot, did nothing but emphasize the anti-religious character of its policy. The real head was Frere-Orban, who in the end forced his colleague, Rogier, to retire (1868), and carried out successively the principal features in his programme of secularization. More prominent than ever was the alleged aim of protecting civil society against the "encroachments of the clergy". The law of 1859 on charitable endowments was the counterpart of that of 1857 and the despoiling policy inaugurated in 1847 by de Haussy. A law of 1869, of the same animus, confiscated all the bursaries for free scholarships, nine-tenths of which had been established to advance the Christian education of the young, annulling the formal provision of the testators. A law of 1870 confined exemption from military service to students of the grands séminaires, refusing it to novices of religious orders. In actual practice, the Government was sectarian and intolerant towards religion and the clergy. It countenanced the efforts prompted by the Masonic lodges to secularize cemeteries, notwithstanding the decree of Prairial, twelfth year, that there should be a cemetery for each denomination, which left Catholic cemeteries under the Church's jurisdiction. Appointments to public offices, especially to the magistracy, were noticeably partisan. An example of the petty prejudice of the Government was its suppression of the annual subsidy which the Bollandists had hitherto received for the continuation of their magnificent work, the "Acta Sanctorum".

It seemed as if the rule of the Liberal party would continue indefinitely, and that Catholics were permanently excluded from power, which their adversaries declared they were incapable of exercising. However, the Catholics made use of their long exclusion from a share in governmental affairs in at last seriously attempting to organize their forces. Jules Malou devoted himself most energetically to this task, and for the first time, the broad outlines of organization were visible, an organization such as the Liberal party had long possessed. At the same time, in imitation of the German Catholics, they held important Congresses at Mechlin, in 1863, 1864, and 1867, which awakened Catholic enthusiasm and gave courage to the pessimists. In this way, Catholics found themselves able to resume the struggle with new vigour. Dissensions in the Liberal party, the strenuous opposition to the Liberals, or Doctrinaires, of the Government, on the part of men of advanced ideas, who claimed the double title of Progressists, and of Radicals, combined to help the Catholics and in 1870, they finally succeeded in overthrowing the Liberal Government.

The Liberals then had recourse to the means which had contributed to their success in 1857. The ministry had appointed as Governor of Limburg P. de Decker, who had been the head of the ministry of 1855, and whose name had been connected with the failure of a financial association. The Liberals affected to be greatly scandalized and organized riots which so frightened Leopold II that he dismissed his ministry (1871). He replaced it, it is true, by another Catholic ministry, of which Jules Malou was president. Though formed during the disturbances of a popular outbreak in defiance of the wishes of the large cities, which were all Liberal in their sympathies, and secretly impugned before the king by Jules Van Praet, the royal secretary, who was nicknamed the "Seventh Ministry", this ministry managed to hold out until 1878 only by dint of being as unobtrusive as possible. None of the anti-religious laws made by the Liberals were revised, not even the one concerning bursaries, which had been passed by a bare majority. There was no restoration of the balance of power in public offices, which continued to be held by the Liberals. In 1875, the Burgomaster of Liège having forbidden the Jubilee processions in that city, in defiance of the Constitution, the Government dared not annul his illegal order and had the humiliation of seeing the 1,500 Liberals tender him a complimentary banquet. Catholic rule seemed in very truth what its adversaries called it, an "empty parenthesis", and, towards the end of his administration, Jules Malou in a Catholic meeting, summed it up in these words: "we have existed" — Nous avons vécu.

When a turn in the elections brought the Liberals back into power, after the Catholic administration had dragged out a precarious existence of eight years, they were able to continue their anti-Catholic policy from the point where they had left it. While out of office they had become more irreligious owing to the growing influence of Masonry. Not only the clergy, but the Church, and religion itself, became the objects of their attack. They encouraged writers who, like Professor Laurent of the University of Ghent, denied the necessity of granting liberty to the Church, or who, like Professor de Laveleye of the University of Liège, asserted the superiority of Protestantism. Their Antwerp associations flooded the country with copies of a pamphlet written by the latter in this vein. Besides this, the Liberals sought to make the country Protestant by supporting de Laveleye and Goblet d'Alviella, who, taking advantage of a quarrel between the villagers of Sart-Dame-Aveline and the parish priest, introduced Protestant worship there and tried to proselytize the inhabitants. They adopted the name Gueux (beggars) which they found in the story of the religious troubles of the sixteenth century. Their presses daily waged war on the Catholic religion; their carnival pageants were vulgar parodies which exposed the most sacred things to popular derision. Lastly, the leaders of the movement agreed upon a revision of the law of 1842 dealing with primary instruction. Once more in power they set about their work of uprooting Christianity without delay, and framed the famous school law of 1879, which the Catholics called the "Law of Misfortune" (Loi de malheur), a name it still retains.

The work of drafting this law was placed in charge of Van Humbeck, the Minister of Public Instruction, a Freemason who some years before had declared in his lodge that "Catholicism was a corpse that barred the way of progress and would have to be thrown into the grave". The law did him justice, being in every respect the reverse of the law of 1842; it excluded from the schools all religious instruction, and barred from the ranks of teachers all graduates of free normal, i.e. religious schools. But for once, Freemasonry had counted too much on the apathy and good nature of the Catholic masses. The resistance was unanimous. At the call of the bishops Catholics rose in a body and entered on a campaign of petitions; committees for resistance were everywhere formed; public prayers were offered in all the churches for delivery from "teachers without faith", and "godless schools". In the Chambers, the Catholics after emphatic protests refused to take any part in the discussion of the law even of its amendment, which forced the Liberals to do their worst and to shoulder the entire responsibility. It was carried without formal opposition. The President of the Senate, Prince de Ligne, a Liberal, resigned his post, deploring the division of the nation in to Guelphs and Ghibellines. The Catholics, co-operating with the bishops and the clergy, achieved wonders. In one year they erected three or four thousand Catholic schools; the rule that there should be one to each commune was obeyed with few exceptions. More than 2,000 teachers of both sexes resigned their position, the great number to take part in free education often at a very small salary. At the end of a year, the State schools had lost fifty-five per cent of their pupils, and retained only thirty-eight per cent of the entire body of school children, while the Catholic schools had sixty-one per cent. Many of the State schools were entirely deserted, and others had a ridiculously small attendance. Dumbfounded and enraged at such unexpected resistance, the Government tried every resource, however contemptible or absurd. Negotiations were begun with the Vatican, and a breach of diplomatic relations threatened, in the hope of forcing Leo XIII to condemn the action of the Belgian bishops. Nothing came of this, and in consequence the Belgian ambassador to the Holy See was recalled. To intimidate the clergy and the Catholics, a decree was passed ordering an inquiry as to the execution of the school law, and the investigators journeyed through the country like real judges, and cited people before their tribunal at random, exposing the most respectable people to the insults of the mob. This tour of investigation was scarcely finished, when the Freemasons, carrying their blindness to the limit, proposed to the Chamber another inquiry concerning the main-morte measure that is to say, a campaign against convents. This time, the nearness of elections dictated a more prudent policy and the motion was lost by a majority of two votes.

The country was roused to great excitement. In the face of open persecution, the Catholics showed unexpected energy. Foreseeing their triumph, they established the "Union for the Redress of Grievances", to compel their candidates in the event of their election to adopt a vigorous policy. On 10 June, 1884, the country was called on to pronounce judgment. The result was overwhelming. Half the members of the Chamber had been candidates for re-election. Only two Liberal deputies were returned, the others being defeated in the whirlwind which uprooted Liberalism. Amid great national rejoicing, the Catholics resumed the reins of power, which they have held uninterruptedly for twenty-three years. "We shall surprise the world by our moderation" said one of their leaders; and in this moderation which is not devoid of energy, lies their strength. The school law of 1879 was repealed without delay, the first time in the history of Belgium that a Catholic Government had courage to repeal a law made by the Liberals. The legislators of 1884, however, did not revive the law of 1842. Taking into consideration the change of times, they took the primary schools from State control and placed them under the communes, leaving each commune to decide whether or not religious instruction should be given; the State subsidized these schools, on condition that they would accept the State programme and would submit to State inspection; all laws subversive of liberty were repealed, and, needless to say, relations with the Vatican were resumed.

The Liberals, counting on the support of the cities, thought that by violence they could bring about a reaction against the decision of the electoral body, as they had done in 1857 and 1871. With the connivance of the Burgomaster of Brussels, they assailed and scattered a peaceful procession of 80,000 Catholics who had come to the capital to make a demonstration in favour of the Government, and, as in 1857, appealed to false statistics of the communal elections of 1884, to prove that the voters had changed their minds. In this way, they obtained from King Leopold II the dismissal of Charles Woeste and Victor Jacobs, the two ministers whom they held in special aversion. Jules Malou, the head of the Cabinet, protested, and followed his colleagues into retirement. But the Catholic party remained in power and M. Beernaert, who succeeded Malou, inaugurated the era of prosperity which has placed Belgium in the front rank among nations.

The situation confronting the Government bore no resemblance to that of former years. Since 1830, the inner national energy had been absorbed by the struggle between the Catholics and the Liberals, both representing bourgeois voters, who were divided as to the amount of influence to be allowed to Catholicism in public affairs. By 1886 a change had come about. A third party had come into existence known as the "Workingman's Party", which, recruited entirely from the labouring classes, presented a dangerous platform, comprehending not reforms but economic and social revolutionary measures. This Socialist party had been secretly taking shape since 1867, and continued in Belgium the traditions of the "Internationale", created by Karl Marx. It proclaimed to the workingmen that they were slaves, promised to give them liberty and prosperity and, as the first means towards the necessary reforms, to secure for them the right of suffrage. In this way the great mass of the people were won over and organized while the two older parties were wholly occupied with their traditional quarrel. Not that eminent Catholics, such as Edouard Ducpetiaux, to mention one of the highest rank, had not sought for a long time a way of bettering the condition of the working classes, or that many zealous men had not made disinterested attempts to bring about such a result; but the body of the nation had not realized the political role soon to be played by the dense ranks of the organized proletariat, and hence had not tried to find legislative means of satisfying their demands. Moreover, the administrative classes, Liberals as well as Catholics, were under the influence of the Manchester school. The policy of non-interference was accepted as the guiding principle, and particularly when there was any question of labour legislation, the words on every tongue were: "most liberty, least government".

When, therefore, in 1886, serious uprisings, plainly revolutionary in character, took place, first at Liège (18 March), and soon afterwards in the industrial districts of Hainaut, the whole country was thrown into a state of consternation and alarm. The labour party came forward and put the social question before the country in the form of incendiarism and riots. The most enlightened Catholics grasped the significance of these events and saw that the time had come for turning their attention towards labour reform. Under the presidency of Bishop Doutreloux of Liège, three Congresses of Social Works were held at Liège, in 1886, 1887, and 1890, in which the most vital question were studied and exhaustively discussed. Groups were formed, especially among the younger men, to introduce the most urgent reforms into the Catholic platform; Canon Pottier, professor of moral theology in the grand séminaire of Liège, became the apostle of the reform movement; the Catholic friends of reform established a Democratic Christian League, which, encouraged by the bishops and keeping within the bounds of the strictest orthodoxy, bent all its energies on reform. The Bishop of Liège formed among the secular priests a new order, "The Almoners of Labour", whose zeal and devotion were entirely directed to bettering the lot of the working people.

As for the Government, it proved equal to its task, new and unforeseen as it was. A through investigation of the labour question gave an understanding of the nature and extent of the principal grievances of the working classes, after which the necessary reforms were energetically entered upon. For several years, the entire legislative activity devoted itself to the redress of the most crying evils. Councils of Industry and of Labour were formed; legislation was passed on the following subjects: workingmen's dwellings, wages, the abolition of the truck system, the illegality of attaching or assigning wages, labour inspection, child-labour, and the labour of women. Strong encouragement was given to mutual benefit societies which had been hitherto in anything but a flourishing condition. To these important laws was added the commendable law of conditional condemnation and liberation, the work of M. Lejeune, the minister of justice; it has since been imitated by many larger countries.

This work, which extended over ten years, culminated in a revision of the Constitution, which the advanced members of the Liberal party had been demanding for a long time, and which the Socialists were now insisting on. This revision had become imperative. Belgium was a country which had very few voters; out of a population of more than six millions there never were more than 150,000, and during the last years of the Liberal Government no less than six laws had been passed to diminish this number still further by excluding entire classes of Catholic voters. In spite of this, and though it was clear to all that the Catholics would be the first to profit by a revision, through a spirit of conservatism, they shrank from taking the initiative in this matter. One of the their leaders, M. Woeste, was its declared adversary. The Liberals, observing this hesitation on the part of their opponents, joined the Socialists in demanding the revision, hoping for its refusal. Under these circumstances, and with a full appreciation of the necessities of the situation, M. Beernaert proposed the revision of the Constitution, and succeeded, after many difficulties, in having the revision adopted by the party of the Right. The revision was as broad as possible: the motion for universal suffrage was passed without opposition — a suffrage, however, modified by plural voting as proposed by M. Nyssens, a deputy of the Right. Each Belgian was to have one vote; a married man who could prove his title to some property had two; a man able to give certain proofs of education had three. The electoral body was increased tenfold, and henceforth only the worthless and the incompetent were excluded form the administration of public affairs in Belgium (1893).

In this way the Belgian Government, by exercising prudence as well as courage, succeeded in a few years in carrying out a splendid reform programme, and deserved the admirable eulogy of Fernand Payen, a French jurisconsult: "We have before us the most complete body of legislation which the history of this century can show in any country." A former liberal minister praised hardly less emphatically the wise policy of the Catholic Government, by declaring that it was difficult to combat it because if offered no grounds for complaint. For the first time in the history of Belgium Catholics showed their ability to govern, that is to say, their ability to comprehend at a glance the needs of the times and to meet them satisfactorily. Even the king, hitherto distrustful of Catholics, gradually gave up his prejudices, and at every election the voters confirmed their tenure of power. The party of the Right showed their ingratitude towards M. Beernaert, by declining, partly through motives of personal interest, to vote for the proportional representation of parties, and this the head of the Cabinet demanded as an indispensable item in the revision of the Constitution. On this refusal, M. Beernaert resigned his position at the head of the Cabinet, in 1894, depriving Belgium of her greatest statesman.

Results proved M. Beernaert's wisdom. From the time of the revision, the Liberal party, which had its exclusive support in the bourgeoisie of the cities, had been entirely shut out of Parliament, where its place had been taken by a strong group of Socialists. This group, destitute, for the most part of culture and parliamentary training, introduced coarse and violent methods of discussion into the Chamber, seriously compromising the dignity of parliamentary debate. On the other hand, the total suppression of Liberal representation was both an injustice, since this party still retained the sympathies of the middle class in the large cities, and a danger for the true parliamentary spirit was violated by the exclusion from public life of views which had lately been all powerful and were still very much alive. Proportional representation seemed to be the only way of restoring parliamentary balance, and it came about that those who had caused M. Beernaert's loss of power to avoid this very thing were won over to his views. Proportional representation was therefore proposed and carried, making electoral legislation in Belgium the most complete in the world. The Liberals returned to the Chambers, the Catholics sacrificing their overwhelming majority in their desire for the representation of every shade of opinion to be found in the electoral body, thus substituting the three parties for the two which had divided the power previous to 1893.

The Catholics, nevertheless, retained a permanent majority. The successors of M. Beernaert continued to conduct the Government along his lines, even if with less prestige and authority. From time to time the administration was affected by reactionary influences, occasionally compromised by mistakes in policy, but the current of social legislation has not changed its course. In 1895, a special department of Labour was created, and M. Nyssens, the first minister, filled the position with great distinction. Laws were passed regulating workshops, trade unions, pensions for workmen, insurance against accidents while working, and providing for rest on Sundays. The number and importance of these legislative enactments was such that a Socialist deputy codified and published them in a collection, rendering thereby tacit but significant homage to the Government responsible for them.

But the very stability of the Government, which each successive election retained in power, was the despair of its enemies who saw the impossibility of overthrowing it by legal methods. The Socialists decided that their success would be greater if they obtained by threats, or, if necessary, by violence, a new revision of the Constitution, suppressing the plural vote and replacing it by universal suffrage, pure and simple: "One man, one vote." Failing to bring about this reform by intimidating the Chamber, they sent revolutionary bands into the streets. "I have always tried to dissuade you from violence", said Vandervelde, their leader, to his audience of workingmen; "but today, I say to you: The pear is ripe, and must be plucked." Another leader, Grimard, the Socialist senator, and a millionaire, even went to far as to declare that he would turn over his whole fortune to the workingmen and would start again at nothing. Intoxicated by these words, the workingmen of many large cities and industrial districts abandoned themselves to excesses, and blood was shed in several places, notably at Louvain. The energy with which the Government applied repressive measures, however, soon put an end to these attempts. Then the General Council of the workingmen's party declared a general strike, the last weapon of the revolutionary party. This failed after a few days, and the General Council was forced to advise the workmen to return to work. The prestige of the Socialists with the popular masses was greatly impaired by the failure of so great an effort and the Catholic Government came out of the crisis stronger than ever (1902).

There remained but one way of overcoming the Government: the alliance of the two opposition parties, the Socialists and the Liberals. This was effected at the time of the general elections of 1906. Although from the economic point of view the two parties were antipodal, they were united in their anticlerical sympathies, and there was reason to fear that their success would mean the downfall of religion. In their certainty of success they circulated the names of their future ministers, and open preparation were made for the festivities attendant on their victory. But their alliance met with a crushing defeat in the elections of 1906, which left the Catholic Government as strong as ever. The fetes, commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of national independence, had been celebrated throughout the country with unrestrained enthusiasm, under the patronage of the Catholic Government, which, in 1909, will celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of its own existence. In the history of Belgium no government has held power so long, and the Catholic party has come to be more and more of a national party, or, to speak more correctly, the nation itself.

This summary would be incomplete if the history of the struggles in defence of religion and of social order were not supplemented by the internal history of the Catholic people of Belgium, i.e. the development of popular opinion during a quarter of a century. Generally, in the face of adversaries who attacked their most precious possession, the religion of their fathers, Catholics had proclaimed themselves "conservatives"; their political association were thus designated and it was the name which the leaders of the party were fond of applying to themselves in Parliament. But the appearance of the workingmen on the political scene and the programme of their claims in pointed opposition to the conservatives (1886), brought home to enlightened Catholics the danger of this name. Hence the name "Conservative" was repudiated not only by the advanced members of the party, who called themselves "Democratic Christians", but even by the Catholics opposed to reforms, who really aimed at preserving the economic regime which had caused all the grievances of the working class. The latter, rejecting the term "Conservative" as a wrong done them, desire to be called simply "Catholics". Of the two groups, that of the Democratic Christians is at present numerically inferior, although more influential by reason of its enthusiasm, its activity, its faculty for taking the initiative, and its propaganda. To understand this it must be recalled that before the revision of the Constitution the Catholic, like the Liberal, party was exclusively a bourgeois party, as its members had to pay a large poll tax for the privilege of suffrage. Its leaders for the most part were drawn from the upper bourgeoisie, and those whose ability and energy called them to a share in the direction of affairs had no other ideals, or interests, than those of the bourgeoisie. When the revision heavily recruited their ranks, the new voters, though large in number, played the part of mere privates and had no active part in the management of the parties. Those of the newcomers, who were conscious of possessing the requisite ability and courage in order to carry out their ideas and programme were obliged to organize new groups, which were looked at askance by the former leaders, often even regarded with suspicion, and accused of socialistic tendencies.

In a large number of arrondissements, the rivalry of conservative and democratic tendencies among Belgian Catholics resulted in the establishment of two distinct political groups, and the Belgian bishops, and the most farsighted leaders, found it a hard task to prevent an open rupture. At Ghent, where the Democratic Christians assumed the harmless name of Anti-Socialists, there was never any real danger of a break in the ranks. At Liège, which was a centre of opposition to democratic ideas, Catholic circles being under the control of employers and financiers inimical to reform principles, a rupture was barely averted. At Alost, where the break was beyond control, the Abbé Daens organized an independent and radical body, which, taking the name of "Christene Volksparty" (Christian people's party), abandoned by the Anti-Socialists, opposed the Catholics more bitterly than the Socialists. It made common cause with the latter in carrying on a campaign against the Government in the elections of 1906. But, apart from the Daensists, a group, very small at most, which in its best days was unable to send more than two or three representatives to the Chamber, the Democratic Christians, in all their electoral battles, have always marched to the polls side by side with the conservative Catholics. They hold the controlling vote indispensable for any victory, and their leaders in Parliament have been in the front ranks in advocating the labour legislation which has produced the social laws. After opposing them for a long time, the Conservatives have gradually become accustomed to regard them as an essential factor of the Catholic army. In the meantime, the birth and progress of this group clearly marked the evolution which is taking place in the Catholic party in the direction of a new social ideal, an evolution too slow for some, and too rapid for others, but in any case, evident and undeniable.


This politico-religious history of Belgium, covering over a hundred years, contains more than one lesson. In the first place, it clearly establishes the fact that in every generation the Belgian nation has fought with vigour against every regime that was inimical to its faith. It struggled against the French Republic, against Napoleon I, against William I, against the Liberal Government, against the coalition of the Liberals and the Socialists, and has come forth victorious. In the second place it must be remarked that the war on the religion of the people has daily assumed a more threatening aspect. At the close of the eighteenth century, Belgium had no enemies except its foreign oppressors, abetted by a few handfuls of traitors. Under the Dutch Government, it was evident that the generation which developed under the French domination had been partly won over to revolutionary doctrines, and that among the bourgeoisie of the cities there was a body which no longer recognized the authority of religion in social matters. After 1846, it was manifest that this faction was under the control of the Masonic lodges, and had positively declared itself for war upon religion and the Church. In 1886, it was evident that, in the bourgeois class, the great mass of workingmen had been won over to the cause of irreligion and that the population of the industrial districts had been seriously affected. In addition to this, the four larger cities of Belgium, Brussels, Antwerp, Liège, and Ghent, and most of the cities of the Walloon provinces, had gone over to the Anti-Catholic party. The defenders of religion and its oppressors tended to become numerically equal, a state of things that would be apparent to all, were it not masked in a way by the system of plural voting. In the votes cast at the general elections there is always a Catholic majority, but it is a question whether the majority of voters are Catholics. If it is asked whether the Catholics, namely, the Belgians who submit to the teachings of the Church, still constitute the majority of the nation, the answer would be more or less doubtful. This leads to a third remark. The resistance to the enemies of religion has not been as effective as the duration and intensity of the contest might lead one to believe. Whenever the Catholics were successful, they have been satisfied with keeping the power in their hands; they have not exercised it to carry out their programme. No Catholic wrongs have been redressed; every law made by the Liberals against the church and the clergy has remained unrepealed, and it was only in 1884 that the Government, supported by the entire nation, felt strong enough to inaugurate a bolder policy. But the revision of the School Law of 1879 is the solitary instance of this progress, and will probably continue to be so for some time to come.

The social condition of the Catholic religion in Belgium, while doubtless favourable, is not, therefore, free from danger. The School Law of 1884, amended in 1895, is inadequate to guarantee the Christian education of the people. It is evaded by the municipal government of the capital, which manages by trickery to exempt the majority of the children from religious instruction, and even in the Liberal communes, where the pupils receive religious instruction, it is neutralized by the lessons given them by their freethinking teachers. Many of the public schools are now developing generations of unbelievers. This is a matter that needs attention. It is also imperative to re-enforce the Catholic army by drawing recruits from the only source open to it, namely, the people. To do this the Government must accentuate the character of its social legislation, which is too often compromised by provisions which deprive it of a large part of its effectiveness. The law on trade unions deprives them of the means most likely to make them prosper, which is to make trade. The law on labour accidents would be excellent, if insurance against accidents was made obligatory. The law enjoining the Sunday rest, carried with the co-operation of the Socialists, contains such a large number of exceptions and is enforced with such want of earnestness that it is almost a dead letter. The Socialists declare, often with a semblance of truth, that the laws passed to benefit the workingmen are mere blinds, and it is not always easy to convince them of the contrary. The continuation of the Catholic regime in Belgium seems to be contingent on a radical reform of school legislation, on provision for the division of State subventions among all the communal or private schools in proportion to the services that they render, and greater boldness in the solution of the labour questions. Religion has in Belgium so strong a support in popular loyalty and devotion that by judiciously taking advantage of them at the proper time, an indefinite tenure of power will be ensured.


According to the census of 31 December, 1905, the population of Belgium is 7,160,547. The great majority of the inhabitants are Catholic, but the lack of religious statistics makes it difficult to give the exact number of non-Catholics. There are about 30,000 Protestants, 3,000 to 4,000 Jews and several thousand persons who, not having been baptized, do not belong to any faith. The kingdom is divided into six dioceses, namely: The Archdiocese of Mechlin and the suffragan Dioceses of Bruges, Ghent, Liège, Namur, and Tournai. Each diocese has a seminary and one or several preparatory schools for the training of the clergy; there are, in addition, the Belgian College at Rome, a seminary to which all the Belgian bishops send the best of their pupils, and the College of the Saint-Esprit at Louvain, where a superior theological course is pursued. The secular clergy number 5,419; the regular clergy, 6,237; these latter are distributed in 293 houses. The religious orders in Belgium have 29,303 members living in 2,207 houses; the members of the orders, both male and female, devote their time chiefly to teaching and nursing the sick; the male orders also aid the secular clergy in parochial work.

Under the guidance of this large body of labourers for the Church, the religious life in Belgium is intense, and the works of piety and charity are very numerous. Statistics of these charities are given in Madame Charles Vloebergh's "La Belgique charitable", in the preface to which M. Beernaert states that no country has their equal. Belgium also takes a share out of all proportion to the size of its territory in international works of piety and in foreign missions. It is at the head of the work of the Eucharistic Congress, two of its bishops, Monseigneur Doutreloux, of Liège, and Monseigneur Heylen, of Namur, having been the first two presidents of the association. Five sessions of this congress have been held in Belgium; at Liège (1883), Antwerp, Brussels, Namur, and Tournai. Equally distinguished are the services of Belgium in the sphere of Catholic missions. The congregation of secular priests of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, founded at Scheutveld near Brussels in 1862, labour for the evangelization of Mongolia and the Congo; several of their members have suffered martyrdom in these countries. The Belgian Jesuits have for their mission-field Calcutta and Western Bengal. Their missionaries are trained in the Apostolic school established at Turnhout. The American seminary at Louvain (1857) aids in recruiting the secular clergy of the United States. Other religious orders also labour for the evangelization of foreign regions. The toils and heroism of a number of the Belgian missionaries have given them a world-wide renown; such are, Father Charles de Smedt, the apostle to the Indians of the Rocky Mountains, and Father Damien de Veuster, who devoted himself to the lepers of Molokai.

The great success of Catholicism in Belgium is largely explained by the freedom it enjoys under the Constitution. "The freedom of religions and their public exercise, as well as the right to the expression of opinions on all subjects are guaranteed, with the exception of misdemeanours committed in exercising this liberty" (art. 14). The sole restriction to this liberty is contained in article 16 of the Constitution which says that a civil marriage must always precede the religious ceremony, with such exceptions as may be established by law. The priest who, in fulfilling his duty, blesses a marriage in extremis under this article is in danger of prosecution and condemnation; the law which the Constitution provided for, and which would have protected such cases, has never been passed. With the exception of this and the law authorizing divorce, to which, however, recourse is seldom had, it may be said that the legislation of Belgium conforms to the Catholic standard of morality. Although the Church is independent in Belgium, and the country has no State religion, it does not follow that the governmental and the religious authorities have no connection with each other. Tradition and custom have produced numerous points of contact and relation of courtesy between Church and State. The latter pays the stipends of the Catholic clergy as well as of the clergy of the Protestant and Jewish religions, very moderate salaries which have been slightly increased by a law passed in 1900. The State also assists in the expense of erecting buildings for religious purposes and of keeping them in repair. The parishes have been granted a civil existence and can hold property; each parish has a board of administration, of which the major of the town is a member by law, for the aid of the clergy in the management of the finances of the Church. The Liberal party, it is true, has tried a number of times to get control of the church property, but the law of 1870 (a compromise law), concerning the temporalities of the different religions, only requires the supervision of the public authorities over expenses concerning which the intervention of these authorities is requested. Students at the theological seminaries, who are to be parish priests, are exempted from military duty. Finally, the civil authorities are officially present at the "Te Deum" which is sung on the national anniversaries; and except during the period of 1880-84 (see above) the Government has maintained diplomatic relations with the Holy See.


The most successful work of the Belgian Church as been done in the field of education, in spite of most violent opposition on the part of the Liberal party. Article 17 of the Constitution, says, concerning instruction: "Teaching is free; all preventive measures are forbidden; the repression of offences is reserved to the law. Public instruction given by the State is equally regulated by law." The Constitution, therefore, supposed at the same time a free instruction and an instruction by the State; it guarantees complete liberty to the first and subordinates the latter to the enactments of the law. The Catholics alone have made use of this article of the Constitution to establish a flourishing series of schools and colleges leading up to a university. The Liberals have contented themselves with founding a university (subsidized by the city of Brussels and the province of Brabant) and an insignificant number of schools, and are generally satisfied with State instruction for their children; this instruction they endeavour to make as neutral, that is, as irreligious as possible. They also favour in every way State instruction to the detriment of the free teaching. There are two State universities, Ghent and Liège, which have, respectively, 1000 and 2000 students. There are also 20 State athenaeums with 6000 students, besides 7 communal colleges having about 1000 pupils; these institutions are for secondary education in its upper classes. The lower classes are taught in 112 intermediate schools, 78 of which are for boys and 34 for girls, with a total of 20,000 pupils. There are also 11 intermediate schools opened by the communes, 5 for boys and 6 for girls, with a total of 4000 pupils. The law of 1895 makes the communes responsible for primary instruction; each commune is obliged to have at least one school, but it may be relieved of this responsibility if it is shown that private initiative has made sufficient provision for instruction. The State intervenes also in primary instruction by means of its normal schools for male and female teachers, by employing school inspectors whose business it is to see whether all the legal requirements are observed, and by the subsidies granted to communes which carry out the law.

Compared with these State institutions the schools established for free education are equal and in several respects superior. The Catholic University of Louvain, founded by the bishops, has 2200 students; it is surrounded by several institutes, one of the most famous of which is the "Institut philosophique", of which Monseigneur Mercier, now Cardinal Archbishop of Mechlin, was the founder and first president (until 1906). The Episcopal Institute of St. Louis at Brussels and the Jesuit College of Notre-Dame at Namur prepare pupils for the degrees of philosophy and letters. There are 90 free colleges for intermediate instruction, most of them diocesan, other carried on by the different religious orders, among whom the Jesuits take the lead with 12 colleges, having 5500 pupils. The free colleges have a total of 18,000 pupils, which is more than three times that of corresponding State schools. The situation is the intermediate classes of the lower grade is not so satisfactory for Catholics and may be called the dark page of their school statistics.

Since 1879 the subject of primary education has been the real battle-field; during this struggle the Catholics almost attained the ideal, having at least one school in almost every commune. But this was done at the cost of great sacrifices, so that since the suppression of the "Law of Misfortune" (Loi de malheur) of 1879, which had taken the Christian character from the primary schools, Catholics have accepted the communal schools in their renewed Christian form and have given up those which they had founded. The State, moreover, subsidizes the free schools when they give the guarantees necessary from a pedagogical point of view, and it authorizes the communes to adopt them as communal schools. Notwithstanding this, the legislation concerning primary teaching is far from being absolutely satisfactory; the large communes evade or even openly disregard the law, and it is only at long intervals that the Government interferes to check the most scandalous abuses. The law puts the State instruction and the free teaching on an absolute equality, and this equality is maintained by the Government; the diplomas granted by the free universities open the way to government positions just as do those granted by the State universities; the certificates given by the free institutes are equal to those of the State schools.


It is only by the greatest exertions that the Catholics of Belgium have saved the Catholic schools. In regard to the question of cemeteries they have shown less vigour. The decree of Prairial of the year XII (1804), by which the cemeteries of Belgium were regulated, stipulated that, in localities where several religions exist, each form of faith should have its own cemetery, and that where there was but one cemetery it should be divided into as many sections as there were different denominations. The Catholic cemeteries, in conformity with the Ritual, had separate sections for those who had died in communion with Church, for infants dying without baptism, for those to whom the Church had refused religious burial, and for free-thinkers who died outside of the Catholic communion. There was no conflict until 1862 when, obedient to the order of the Freemason lodges, the Liberals declared the law of 1804 to be unconstitutional. The Government, then carried on by the Liberals, left it to the communal authorities to apply the law of 1804 or not, and for some fifteen years the law was disregarded or observed at the pleasure of the mayors of the town. With the lapse of time the enforcement of the law declined, and a further step was taken; in 1879, the year of the Loi de malheur, the Court of Cassation suddenly changed its traditional method and began to convict those mayors who enforced the law of 1804. From this date the enforcement of the law became a misdemeanour, and many adverse sentences fell on the authorities who believed themselves bound in conscience to maintain this decree. Owing to the inactivity of the Catholics, there has been, since that time, no freedom with regard to cemeteries in Belgium.


Claessens, La Belgique chretienne depuis la conquete francaise jusqu'a nos jours, 1794-1880 (Brussels, 1883); De Lanzac de Laborie, La domination francaise en Belgique, 1795-1814 (Paris, 1895); Van Caenghem, La guerre de paysans (Grammont, 1900); De Gerlache, Histoire du royaume des Pays-Bas (Brussels, 1875); Terlinden, Guillaume I, roi des Pays-Bas, et l'Église catholique en Belgique, 1814-1830 (Brussels, 1906); Juste, La revolution belge de 1830 (Brussels, 1872); Colenbrander, De Belgische omwenteling (The Hague, 1905); Thonissen, La Belgique sous le regne de Leopold I (Liège, 1855-1858); Balau, Soixante-dix ans d'histoire contemporaine de Belgique, 1815-1884 (Brussels, 1889); Discailles, Charles Rogier (Brussels, 1883-95); Hymans, Frere-Orban (Brussels, 1905); Nyssens, Eudore Pirmez (Brussels, 1893); De Trannoy, Jules Malou (Brussels, 1983); Verhaegen, La lutte scolaire en Belgique (Ghent, 1905); Van Hoorebeke, Histoire de la politique contemporaine en Belgique depuis 1830 (Brussels, 1905); Bertrand, Histoire de la democratie et du socialisme en Belgique depuis 1830 (Brussels, 1905); MacDonnel, King Leopold II: His Rule in Belgium and the Congo (London, 1905); Blok, Geschiedenis van het nederlandsche volk (Leyden, 1905), Statistics of Belgium in the Census of 31 December, 1900; Annuaire de statistique (1906); Annuaire de clerge belge (1906); Vloeberghs, La Belgique charitable (Brussels, 1904).

About this page

APA citation. Kurth, G. (1907). Belgium. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Kurth, Godefroid. "Belgium." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Susan Birkenseer. Dedicated to Sr. Mary John, 1910-1999, S.H.C.J.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.

Copyright © 2023 by New Advent LLC. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.