history/Dutch Reformed Church (1642–2010)

Successes and Pitfalls

One of the most successful Protestant Ministers was Phillippus Baldaeus,  who stayed in Jaffna from 1658 – 1665. He worked alone in an area previously attended by 40 Catholic priests. Baldaeus rightly thought is was much easier to learn Tamil than to expect the natives to learn Dutch. He was very successful. At the time of his departure there were large numbers of boys attending school, a total of 18,000 as well as 12,387 baptisms. The Church showed a healthy growth in later decennia.

In 1743 church membership was 53,219 for Colombo and, in 1758, 200,233 for Jaffna. Unfortunately, the Government and the Church could not agree on who was ultimately in charge of religious matters and education. Batavia, the centre of the VOC administration in Asia, made it clear that the Church should be subject to the Government and also serve as an instrument of political authority. The Predikants were Company employees. This continuing conflict would have a detrimental effect on the development of Calvinism in Ceylon.   

The reformed faith was, however, strongly propagated through the school system. Even in insignificant places churches were built and schools opened. The Predikants were assisted by Proponents, both Dutch and Ceylonese, these were men who had gone through a theological course and were licensed to teach the Reformed faith. The only other helpers the Ministers had were Ziekentroosters, or Comforters of the Sick, sent out from Holland, whose duty it was to visit hospitals, look after orphans and orphanages as well as hold day meetings in the Gebed Zaal (Prayer Hall).

The system worked reasonably well for a time, but there were never sufficient numbers of Ministers to make it successful. Predikants were appointed generally for five years, after which they either renewed their periods of service or went elsewhere. This period of time was proving too short for them to become proficient in the local languages. It is recorded that about 900 Ministers came out to the East Indies but not more than a third of these came to Ceylon.

When Galle fall to the Dutch in 1640, a Thanksgiving service was held by the Rev. Nicholas Molinaeus, then serving with the VOC as a fleet chaplain. The capture of Colombo was celebrated with a Thanksgiving Service on May 14, 1656 conducted by Rev. Franciscus Wijngaard. At Jaffna, the Service was conducted by the celebrated historian and writer, Rev. Philippus Baldaeus
on June 1st, 1658.

Besides those mentioned, other Predikants of repute were M. Wetzelius (1744), who supervised the casting of the first Tamil and Singhala types for  the printing of the Bible translated by Dutch and Ceylonese clergymen; Andriaan de Meij; Petrus Synjeu; Johannes Ruel; Conijn; Fybrandsz; and J. de Meijer, Rector of the Colombo Seminary, who was a Doctor of Theology of the University of Leiden.

Rev. Johannes Ruel was the second Rector of the Colombo Seminary besides his other Ministerial duties. He, together with Henricus Philippus Panditharatne, a Singhala Minister and Phillip de Melho, a Tamil Minister, were responsible for the translations of many books of the Old Testament, the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles.