In Christian theology, the Collegiants (Latin: Collegiani; Dutch: Collegianten), also called Collegians, were an eclectic religious sect, formed in 1619 among the Arminians and Anabaptists in Holland. They were so called because of their colleges (meetings) held the first Sunday of each month, at which everyone had the same liberty of expounding the scripture, praying, etc.
The practice first originated in 1619 when, after the Synod of Dort forced the States of Holland to dismiss clerics for encouraging refuge to individuals being persecuted for religious beliefs, three brothers of Warmond by the name of van der Kodde (or Codde)—Gijsbert, Jan Jacobsz, and Adriaen—decided to hold religious services of their own. The sect began as a refuge from the perceived bitterness of the Calvinist and Arminian controversies of the day. Their name is derived from the custom which they had of calling their communities "Colleges", which they were followed by Spener and the Pietists of Germany.
The Collegiants' first place of meeting was at the village of Warmond, at the residence of one of the brothers, but they shortly established their headquarters at Rijnsburg, a village 2.5 miles (4.0 km) northwest from Leiden, and were hence called the Rijnsburgers (Dutch: Rijnsburger Collegianten).
There were also large communities of Collegiants in other places, for instance in Amsterdam and Hoorn. In Amsterdam, the Collegiants ran an orphanage, 'De Oranje Appel', where the Dutch writer, Aagje Deken, was raised. In Rijnsburg The Collegiants had a guest-quarter in the present-day alleyway of Kwakelsteeg called the Grote Huis (Large House).
Their principle from the beginning had been to admit all individuals to their society who were willing to acknowledge their belief in the Bible as inspired scripture, and to take it as a guide for Christian life; but no confession of faith was used, and the widest diversity of opinion was permitted. Their form of worship consisted of prayer meetings held on Sundays and Wednesdays, at which any men of the community might pray and expound the scripture, but there was no regular organization of a ministry among them. They recognized the necessity of baptism, which they administered by immersion, and twice a year they had a sacramental meeting extending over several days, similar to those of the Scottish Presbyterians.
Benedict Spinoza joined the study groups of the Collegiants while living near Leiden from 1660 to 1663. It was during this period that he began working on his major book, The Ethics. At the end of the 17th century, the opinions of Spinoza had obtained a strong hold upon the Collegiants, and caused a temporary division of their members into two parties, with separate places of meeting. The leader of the Spinozist party was John Bredenburg, a merchant of Rotterdam, and he was opposed by a bookseller from Amsterdam, named Francis Couper, who attained some eminence by a work which he wrote against Bredenburg under the title Arcana Atheismi detecta ("The Secrets of Atheism Revealed"); he was also the publisher of the Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum seu Unitariorum. The two parties were reunited on the death of these two controversialists, and attracted many to their society from other sects during the 18th century. Even in the late 19th century, they still formed a considerable body in Holland and in the state of Hanover. Their influence can still been seen in modern Rijnsburg, where the street Collegiantenstraat (Collegian Street) is named after them.
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