history/Dutch Reformed Church (1642–2010)

State Religion

The natural enthusiasm of the Dutch clergy to spread their faith by means
of conversions was held in reasonable restraint by the civil authorities.
The Reformed Faith was the State religion under the accepted rule of that time: ’Cuius regio, eius religio’. Non-Christians, however, were not forbidden to exercise their own religion, but only Christians were forbidden to take part in these and punished when detected. It was an accepted policy not to force older people against their will. There was official disapproval of persecutions and punishments and harsh measures on religious grounds.

At the request of the King of Kandy, Dutch ships on several times transported Buddhist priests from Siam to Ceylon. Although they did not employ open force, the Dutch adopted more subtle measures. For instance there was a regulation (Plakaat), ‘that no native could be raised to the rank of Modelyar (high Government official) or admitted to any employment under the Government, without subscribing to the Helvetic Confession and also professing to be a member of the Dutch Reformed Church’.

Despite the weakness caused to the Church by nominal Christianity, many Ceylonese were convinced of the truth of the message of the Gospel and supported the personal and social Evangelism of the Christian religion whether the Government of the day was favourable to them or not. They formed the nucleus of Protestantism in Ceylon and it was chiefly through them that the Dutch Reformed Church was able to keep the flame of faith burning until today.

‘Mestice woman going to Church
in state’ Handcolouredengraving,
from Haafner,
1808. Two servants accompany herto the church.
The first carries the parasol to protect her from the
sun and the other, very finely dressed, follows
with a betelboxunder her arm holding
in the one hand the spittoon and in theother the Bible.