Belgic Confession: Introduction

The Belgic Confession of Faith is the oldest of the Three Forms of Unity. In the sixteenth century, when the confession was first composed, “Belgic” designated the entirety of the Netherlands, both north and south, which today is divided into distinct countries: the Netherlands and Belgium. The confession’s chief author was Guido de Brès, a preacher of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands. During the sixteenth century, the churches in this country were exposed to terrible persecution by the Roman Catholic government. To protest against this cruel oppression, and to prove to the persecutors that the adherents of the Reformed faith were not rebels, as they were accused, but rather were law-abiding citizens who professed the true Christian doctrine according to the Holy Scriptures, de Brès prepared this confession in 1561. The following year a copy was sent to King Philip II, together with an address in which the petitioners declared that they were ready to obey the government in all lawful things, but that they would “offer their backs to the stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire,” rather than deny the truth expressed in this confession. Nearly every copy of de Brès’s confession was destroyed by official order (only two copies still exist). In 1567, Guido de Brès suffered the kind of martyr’s death he had described.

Although the immediate purpose of securing freedom from persecution was not attained, and many thousands sealed their faith with their lives, de Brès’s work endured. The political situation soon changed in the Netherlands, leading to the ascendency of the Reformed faith there, and the Belgic Confession became a doctrinal standard of the Dutch churches. In 1566, the text of this confession was revised and adopted at the local synod held at Antwerp, followed by Wessel (1568), Emden (1571), Dort (1574), and Middleburg (1581). Revisions to the text were made again at the Synod of Dort (1618–1619), and the revised text was adopted as one of the doctrinal standards to which all office-bearers in the Dutch Reformed churches were required to subscribe.

In its composition, the author availed himself to some extent of a confession of the Reformed churches in France, written chiefly by John Calvin, published two years earlier. The work of de Brès, however, is not a mere revision of Calvin’s work, but an independent composition.

The confession’s frequent use of Scripture is indicated with quotation marks in the text. The Scripture references in the footnotes, however, were not a part of the officially approved text of the confession as revised at the Synod of Dort. They are included here to assist the reader. Synod 2016 of the URCNA also revised Article 4 to modernize the names of the books of the Bible and to reflect the uncertain authorship of the letter to the Hebrews.

The English translation of the Belgic Confession found below is based upon the official French text approved by the Synod of Dort.1

1 The translation, with minor emendations, can be found in Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Valerie Hotchkiss (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), vol. 2. The French text, approved by the Synod of Dort, can be found in De Nederlandsche Belijdenisgeschriften: Vergelijkende teksten, edited by J. N. Bakhuizen van den Brink (Amsterdam: Uitgeversmaatschaapij Holland, 1940), Belgic Confession, pp. 48–141.