Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Access Restrictions


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Mentzer, Raymond A

First Committee Member

Cates, Diana F

Second Committee Member

Dilley, Paul

Third Committee Member

Hochstrasser, Julie

Fourth Committee Member

Nabhan-Warren, Kristy


My dissertation research project focuses on the doctrinal and practical importance of Sunday observance, also known as Sabbath observance, in the sixteenth-and-seventeenth-century Reformed communities in the Low Countries. My project investigates the theological import of the Sabbath and its practical applications. In tracing the development of the Sabbath in the Dutch Reformation, the first step is to focus on how Dutch Reformed theologians conceived of the Sabbath. When studying theologians important for the Dutch Reformed tradition the importance of the Sabbath cannot be ignored, but it is also evident that the theological issues regarding the Sabbath were complex and hotly contested. The theology of the Sabbath, I will argue, moves over time from an emphasis on spiritual rest to participating in the ministries of the church to a strict rest from all work and recreation.

Having examined the theological understanding of the Sabbath in the Dutch Reformed tradition, the next step is to explore congregants’ actual Sunday practices. By attending to church governance records at the national, regional, and local levels the importance of proper Sabbath observance quickly becomes clear. The provicinal synod records, classes’ records, and consistory records indicate that church authorities in the Dutch Republic were adamant that church members faithfully attend sermon and catechism services, refrain from sinful practices, and abstain from recreational activities. Equally as telling as the observance demanded of church members is how church authorities responded. The church records portray the church authorities as fretting over the disordered and unregulated nature of improper Sabbath observance. Furthermore, the church authorities frequently place the issue of Sabbath observance in the context of difficulties with other confessional groups.

Having established the importance of the Sabbath in Dutch Reformed theology and lived piety, I argue the emphasis on Sunday observance is best understood as resulting from two main factors. First, the emphasis on the Sabbath took place within a religiously plural situation where the Dutch Reformed Church was seeking to distinguish itself from Catholics, Anabaptists, and Remonstrants. In other words, my thesis is that emphasis on proper Sunday observance is a result of the Reformed church authorities attempting to maintain the pious reputation of the Reformed faith and establish the identity of the Reformed Church in the midst of multiple other confessional identities. Second, proper observance of the Sabbath was important because it was a way to ensure order within the church and society more broadly. Sunday observance was part of the religious authorities’ desire to maintain religious and moral order within the church and broader society.

My project leads to several conclusions. First, the theological issues regarding the Sabbath were not straight-forward in the Dutch Reformed tradition and received nuanced and varied treatment from different theologians. Second, strict Sabbath observance in the Dutch Reformed churches was not primarily the result of the influence of the English Purtians. Instead, the strict demands for Sunday observance were inherent within the Dutch Reformation. Finally, the interplay between church authorities and lay members regarding Sunday observance was complicated and contested. Lay members were quite willing to attend morning sermon services and, generally, abstain from work. However, they were much less willing to refrain from recreational activities, attend afternoon catechism services, and cease questionable, if not sinful, behaviors. The Dutch Reformation, then, was not simply handed down from above but was negotiated between church authorities and institutions and the lay members of the churches and the broader society.

Public Abstract

Properly observing Sundays, also known as Sabbath observance, has a long history in the Christian tradition. The Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century continued to place a heavy emphasis on proper Sabbath observance. However, scholars have paid little attention to the importance of Sabbath observance within the Low Countries, roughly equivalent to presentday Belgium and the Netherlands. My dissertation addresses how the Calvinist Protestants in the Low Countries, known as Reformed, conceived of the Sabbath theologically and how church members were to observe and practice the Sabbath. In doing so, my research sheds light on how religious groups navigate the interplay between theology and piety. Furthermore, my dissertation raises questions on how and why issues of work, rest, and Sunday observance continue to be relevant in so many places in the contemporary world.

My project argues that the Sabbath was a theologically complicated issue for Dutch Reformed theologians and an important aspect of Dutch Reformed piety in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The importance of proper Sunday observance was significant for Dutch Reformed church authorities, I argue, because it helped maintain order within their churches and Dutch society as a whole. In addition, ensuring Reformed Christians properly adhered to the Sabbath helped establish the Reformed identity and distinguish their confession group in a religious situation that had numerous religious options, including Catholics, Lutherans, and Anabaptists. My conclusions demonstrate that the Sabbath was more important in the Reformed tradition of the Low Countries both theologically and practically than has previously been supposed.


xi, 334 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 309-334).


Copyright © 2017 Kyle James Dieleman

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Religion Commons