Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Today on the Christian History Almanac podcast, we remember a Walloon, a Reformer, and an important 16th c. Confession of Faith.

It is the 31st of May 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Let’s jump back to the 16th century today- we’ve got a story about a Walloon reformer (more on that in a second) and his martyrdom, Confession of Faith, and a word about 16th-century confessions and their enduring legacy amongst many Protestants today.

It is the anniversary of the death of Guido De Bres- he was hanged on this, the 31st of May in 1567, at the age of 47. Note: a picture was “hung,” a person put to death by rope was “hanged” (according to custom).

He was born in Mons- a Walloon village in modern Belgium. These were then the Spanish Netherlands- then encompassing Belgium. The Dutch-speaking Belgians were “Flemish,” while the French-speaking Belgians were “Walloons.” Many of the French speakers were Catholic, as were we, the family of Guido De Bres. But he fell under the influence of the Reformed contingency.

The Spanish Netherlands at the time then under the rule of the Spanish king and Holy Roman Emperor Charles. It was in the year of De Bres' birth, 1522, that the Inquisition began in the Netherlands and would necessitate his flight to England in 1548. He had learned of the so-called “strangers churches” and the religious tolerance of the new English King- Henry VIII’s son Edward VI from English friends who were later arrested by the Inquisition. Here he met other refugees from the Continent and, from these connections, would eventually make his way through Germany and into Geneva, where he studied under Theodore Beza, the right-hand man to John Calvin.

He returned in 1552, left for the continent again, and then came back home for the last time in 1559. By now, he was a well-regarded pastor and theologian- he had authored the “Belgic Confession” after John Calvin’s “Gallic (or French) Confession” more on these in a minute. De Bres would travel under an assumed name encouraging bands of Reformed Christians and serving them communion. While he worked in secret and a pseudonym many of his followers decided to make a public statement of their faith and demonstrate in the street (and to ransack Catholic Churches and destroy many religious objects therein- they weren’t completely peaceful). This enraged the new Emperor Phillip II, who sent troops to suppress the movement. Guido’s pseudonym was discovered- he got out, but his books and letters from the likes of John Calvin were found, and he was burned in effigy.

De Bres moved to Valenciennes and became a preacher at the Church of the Eagle. Known as the author of the Belgic Confession, which, among other things, condemned Roman Catholicism, was targeted by Philip. He was arrested in May of 1567. He went to the gallows on this, the 31st of May, in 1567. According to his followers, his body was left to hang the entire day, he was buried in a shallow grave, and wild animals dug him up and consumed him (these shocking details are common in the stories of martyrs).

De Bres Belgic Confession is what he is best known for- originally, it was intended to be a regional confession of faith. The 16th century saw the rebirth of the so-called “symbols” or “confessions of faith- like the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. These were meant to teach the faith and also respond to what was considered modern heresies by some. The first of these confessions, the Augsburg Confession of 1530, was followed by dozens more- some meant to be regionally binding or to add to others. De Bres community- the French-speaking Protestants of the low countries would alter it at numerous times- it would be translated into Dutch, German, and Latin. It was sent to Geneva for approval (as Geneva would become the center of non-Lutheran Protestantism in the flavor of John Calvin- these would become the “Calvinists” or “Reformed.”) The confession became a favorite of many across the continent for its clear exposition of the faith in 37 articles. Famed Church Historian Phillip Schaff wrote that it was “the best symbolic statement of the Calvinistic system of doctrine, with the exception of the Westminster Confession” It would become one of the “Three Forms of Unity” along with the Canons of Dort and Heidelberg Confession. These were the standard documents for the Reformed Church in America- the Dutch immigrants to America and cousins to the Scottish Presbyterians.

The story of early American Christianity is the importation of ethnic churches and their confessions- the Dutch, Flemish, Walloon, and Belgic- all those from the “low countries” that today are the Netherlands, and Belgium owe their theological cohesion to that martyr and author of the original (one might say, unaltered) Belgic Confession- Guido De Bres who was martyred on this day in 1547.


The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary from John 7- another good Pentecost/Holy Spirit text:

37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’ 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 31st of May 2023, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Guido’s include De Bres, the micro raptor from the Land Before Time, Guido Anchovy from Samurai Pizza Cats, but first and foremost, the chain-smoking Father Guido Sarducci- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who knows Guido is French for Guy, like Guy LaFleur or Guy Carbonneau- captain of the 93 Canadiens, still the last team from Canada to win the Stanley Cup- c’mon guys! Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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