The Collegiants, a Protestant association of the 17th century in Holland, called its meetings for religious services collegia. Its members were also called Rijnsburgers, since their main center was in Rijnsburg near Leiden. In the religious life of the Netherlands during the 17th and 18th centuries they played an important part. Their influence on the Mennonites was also marked.
The rise of the Collegiants was caused by the national synod of the Reformed Church which met at Dordrecht in 1618-1619 and removed from office the Remonstrant preachers—about 300 of them. This fate also struck Chr. Sopingius, a preacher at Warmond near Leiden. In his absence Gijsbert van der Kodde proposed that they meet occasionally without a preacher, to read several chapters from the Bible, to pray, and to have a devotional address if anyone felt called to speak. This was done. A small circle, which was joined by Gijsbert's brothers, Jan and Orie van der Kodde, who lived in the adjacent Rijnsburg, soon met regularly. Such exercitia or colloquia prophetica, says van Slee, were in the days of the Reformation a common occurrence; they took place in Zürich, in London, and also in the Netherlands.
The movement soon spread beyond the immediate community. Men like Dirk Raphaelsz Camphuysen, Jan Geesteranus, and Jan Montanus, former preachers, joined it. Later the movement could even count statesmen like Conrad van Beuningen and Adrian Paats, and the historiographer Jan Wagenaar among its adherents.
The most outstanding principles of this spiritual movement were the conviction that all churches had forsaken the principles and practices of the apostolic church, and that none of the existing churches could lay claim to be the true church of Jesus Christ. This negative opinion of the Christian churches makes it clear why they hoped for and aimed at an evangelical renewal both in religious practices and principles, without actually establishing a new church and without assuming ecclesiastical practices and traditions. The Collegiants did not want church buildings nor pastors; they formed an anti-ecclesiastical and purely lay movement, and though many pastors of the churches were active in the collegia, they did so as private persons and not as church leaders; some Collegiants were members of a church (Reformed, Remonstrant, Mennonite) and remained so; others were members of no church.
In Rijnsburg the meetings were held in the home of one of the members, which was later bought and remodeled. This Groote Huis was adequate to provide lodgings for the steadily growing number of participants, who met at first always at Rijnsburg for devotions after the manner of the founders.
After 1640, when the collegia had been established throughout the country, Rijnsburg became the great center where conferences were held twice a year, at Pentecost and in the latter part of August, to observe communion together and to baptize by immersion those who wished it. Immersion of adults was performed usually on Saturday morning before the large assembly. The baptismal candidate chose the one who was to baptize him. The chosen one then, after a song and prayer, preached a short sermon. Then the candidate made a confession of his faith, which the baptizer then analyzed. The latter reminded the audience that he held no particular office in virtue of which he should perform the ceremony; that the baptism did not signify membership in any particular group and that one could be a good Rijnsburger without being baptized. After prayer the ceremony was performed outdoors and the service concluded with singing and prayer.
Besides the general meetings held twice a year at Rijnsburg, the Collegiants met regularly in their local collegia. Such collegia were found in Rotterdam, Leiden, Amsterdam, and other cities of Holland, in many towns in North Holland and Friesland, and in the city of Groningen. The most important were those of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, existing until 1791 and 1787 respectively. In these collegia a meeting was usually held on Sunday afternoon; the program was composed of prayer, singing of hymns, and reading of the Scriptures, which were explained, and sometimes too an address on a religious theme. Nowhere did they have a special preacher or minister though ministers were allowed to speak in the meetings; each of those who were present had the right to address the meeting; for this reason the collegia were mostly called "Vrij-spreeck colleges." Only with one exception (Groningen), baptism and communion services were never held in the local collegia. The Collegiants had an orphanage in Amsterdam, called De Oranjeappel.
The Collegiants had very close connections with the Dutch Mennonites, the result of some mutually shared ideas. Both believed in the priesthood of all believers. They also agreed on adult baptism, rejection of military service, simplicity in life and dress which prevented their pursuit of high office, and in the practical application of the Gospel in benevolence and provision for widows and orphans.
The contacts between the Collegiants and the Mennonites led now and then to quarrels. In Rotterdam, soon after 1640, a collegium was held in the anteroom of the Flemish Mennonite church, which was attended by the preachers of this congregation. This caused trouble. Elders of other churches called in to aid (among them van Braght, the author of the Martyrs' Mirror), deposed the ministers, most of whom then joined the Waterlander Church (1654). Then the Collegiants tried to make contacts with the Waterlander group in Rotterdam. Their ideas permeated so deeply into the Waterlander congregation, that an attempt was made to form a union with the Remonstrants in Rotterdam (1658). But a strong resistance asserted itself. The outward occasion for the tension was apparently the general invitation to communion given by Elder Jacob Osten and the fact that he had baptized persons who later joined the Remonstrants. The direct connections between the Collegiants and the Mennonites seem now to have been severed. An outstanding Collegiant was the Mennonite Jan Dyonisus Verbürg. In Amsterdam and other places relations were similar to those in Rotterdam.
In almost all the Waterlander groups, the Collegiants had great influence. But nowhere—if this was their intention at all—did they succeed in making the Mennonite church turn Rijnsburger. Under the influence of Collegiantism the Waterlander congregation of Leeuwarden in 1715 put in their church a stone tub for baptism by immersion, which was removed in 1720 because it had given rise to discord in the congregation. Not only in the Waterlander, but also in many Flemish Mennonite congregations both advocates and opponents of the free-speaking practice were found. The more conservative Mennonites, such as the later Zonists, rejected this; they had a stricter idea of their church as a closed communion, fenced with baptism and confession and discipline, and abhorred "unlimited toleration" (onbepaelde verdraegsaemheyt), which through the influence of Collegiantism penetrated into many congregations, where all who so desired could take part in the holy communion even if they were members of other Protestant churches, and even if they were not baptized at all (see Communion Call).
As more and more members spread Collegiant ideas in the congregations, the fires of division flared up with great violence. Evidence of this is the Lammerenkrijgh (see Galenus Abrahamsz de Haan and Amsterdam).
The more liberal Lamist churches maintained cordial relations with the Collegiants. They were perhaps rarely as fraternal as in Harlingen, where after the withdrawal of the more conservative part of the congregation the others agreed to arrange their worship on the Rijnsburg pattern (1718). From the middle of the 18th century on, many Collegiants were received into the Mennonite churches. Toward the end of the 18th century the collegia disappeared. Their last meeting was held in Amsterdam in 1791. But their ideas had borne fruit, not only among the Mennonites, but also among other church groups.
Burrage, Chr. "The Collegiants or Reynsburgers of Holland." The Review and Expositor VII (Louisville, 1910).
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Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 639-640. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: van der Zijpp, Nanne. "Collegiants." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 20 June 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/collegiants.
APA style: van der Zijpp, Nanne. (1956). Collegiants. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/collegiants.