« Belgic Confession Belgium Belial »


BELGIUM: A kingdom of northwestern Europe; area, 11,373 square miles; population, 6,800,000. After a revolt from Holland in 1830, Belgium was recognized with its present boundaries by the Powers in 1839, when it was declared to be neutral territory. The population belongs to two nationalities, the northern portion, which is the larger, being Flemish (Low German), and the southern Walloon (French); the vernacular of forty-one per cent is French. The boundary between these two components may be defined as running from Maestricht west to the French department Nord.


The prevailing religion is Roman Catholic, since the Dutch Protestants, who were numerous from 1815 to 1830 have, for the most part, emigrated. (The Protestants constitute less than one-half of one per cent of the entire population.) The Evangelical confessions are represented in many cities, however, by immigrants from Germany in recent decades, as well as by Anglicans and Methodists and converts to Protestantism. The most numerous of these Protestant communions is the Union des Églises Évangéliques Protestantes de la Belgique, which was founded in 1839 and consists of French, Dutch, and German congregations, being represented in Liége, Verviers, Seraing, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, La Bouverie, Dour, Paturages, Jolimont, and Tournai. The permanent bond of the Union is a board of directors, chosen at the annual synod of the congregations interested. Recognition by the State as a legal ecclesiastical body assures state aid to its clergy, the usual salary being 2,220 francs, although it occasionally runs as high as 4,000 and 6,000. An "evangelization committee" of the Union cares for scattered members, and especially for the religious education of children by "evangelists" where Protestant schools do not exist. The Union has between 16,000 and 18,000 members. The Société Évangélique or Église Chrétienne Missionnaire Belge is a free church consisting of converts from Roman Catholicism or their children. It is strongest in the Walloon districts and has numerous places of worship, united into three districts, whose representatives (Conseils Sectionnaires) meet four times annually. Over these three councils, to which each congregation sends a pastor and a layman, 33is the synod, of which the permanent executive body is the Comité Administrateur. The clergy are trained chiefly in Switzerland and are subordinate to the synod. This Church possesses few schools of its own, but in public schools of one class with twenty Protestant children and in those of several classes with forty children it is entitled to give religious instruction through its own clergy. It has now about 11,000 members. There are English churches at Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, and Ostend, and at Antwerp and Brussels there are Presbyterian congregations; in the first-named city an agent of the American Seamen's Friend Society is also active. The Dutch Reformed and the Swedish Lutherans have small congregations in Brussels and Antwerp respectively.

Roman Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Church of Belgium was organized in 1561, when the authority of the foreign bishops was abrogated, and in 1839 the system was readjusted to harmonize with the new boundaries. The most of the clergy receive their training at the episcopal seminaries and a small proportion at the University of Louvain. The State has no control over the appointment of priests, who are subject only to their bishops. The Roman Catholic Church, however, receives from the State an annual stipend of more than 4,800,000 francs, although it does not enjoy any ecclesiastical prerogative. Its influence on the life of the people is exerted chiefly through the monasteries, of which there are more than 220 for monks, with some 5,000 members, and about 1,500 nunneries, with over 27,000 sisters. The members are employed in large numbers in the public schools, the right being given the communities by the law of 1884 to "adopt" private schools, or schools conducted by the religious organizations. A number of intermediate schools are also under ecclesiastical control, as well as the University of Louvain. Academic training is also provided for by the state universities of Ghent and Liége, and by the free university of Brussels.

Diocesan Organization.

In its hierarchic organization, Belgium constitutes the province of Mechlin, and its dioceses are divided according to the political boundaries of the country. The archdiocese of Mechlin on the Dyle was created by a papal enactment of 1559, which first came into full operation in 1561. It contains fifty-five parishes and over 600 chapels of ease in the provinces of Brabant and Antwerp. The suffragan bishoprics are those of Bruges, Ghent, Liége, Namur, and Tournai (Doornik). Bruges, founded in 1559, has forty parishes and 245 chapels of ease; Ghent, established in the same year, also has forty parishes and 310 chapels of ease; Liége, dating from the fourth century, has an equal number of parishes and 570 chapels of ease; Namur, created in 1559 (1561), has the same number of parishes and 700 chapels of ease; and Doornik, the seat of a bishop since 1146, controls thirty-three parishes and 445 chapels of ease, its see comprising the Hennegau, with the exception of five parishes belonging to the French diocese of Cambrai.

The Jews of Belgium, who number about 5,000, are divided into twelve rabbinical districts.

Wilhelm Goetz.

Bibliography: Balan, Histoire contemporaine de la Belgique, Lyons, 1891; Archives Belges, revue critique d’historiographie nationale, Lüttich, 1899 sqq.; La Belgique et le Vatican, Documents et travaux législatifs, 3 vols., Brussels, 1880–81; G. Verspeyen, Le Parti catholique belge, Ghent, 1893; J. Hoyois, La Politique catholique en Belgique depuis 1814, Louvain, 1895; O. Coppin, L’Union sacerdotale, son histoire, son esprit et ses constitutions, Namur, 1896; U. Berlière, Monasticon belge, vol. i, Paris, 1897; La Belge ecclésiastique (an annual).

« Belgic Confession Belgium Belial »
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