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Flung to the Heedless Winds

The martyrdom of Jan van Essen and Hendrik Voes. Image: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

BELGIUM – July 1, 2023 marks the 500th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jan van Essen and Hendrik Voes (Vos) in Antwerp, Belgium—the first Lutheran martyrs of the Reformation. In the following article, President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België – ELKB) reflects on how the Reformation came to Antwerp and the events surrounding the death of Essen and Voes.


July 1, 1523: 500 years since the first martyrs of the Reformation

by Gijsbertus van Hattem

The Reformation in Antwerp

On September 2, 1566—almost 50 years after the start of the Reformation on October 31, 1517, the day Martin Luther (1483–1546) nailed his theses on and against indulgences to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg—the first Lutheran Church was officially organized in Antwerp.

This does not mean that there were no Protestants or, more specifically, no Lutherans in Antwerp during these 50 years. Antwerp was a thriving city and, at the time, after Paris the largest European metropolis north of the Alps, with around one hundred thousand inhabitants. Also, because of its contacts with the Hanseatic League (a trade organization of cities in north and north-west Europe), merchants of many nationalities lived in Antwerp.

Almost immediately after the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, his ideas were circulating in Antwerp among the brothers of his own Augustinian order, whose monastery was located where today the St. Andrew’s Church stands (successor of the former monastery church). This monastery was founded in 1513, on grounds given by the Antwerp citizens Joost Hoens and Marcus Mussche, and had strong ties with Wittenberg. Jacob Praepositus, the prior, had been a student of Luther’s before he returned to Antwerp in 1521. Other well-known names are those of Hendrik van Zutphen, who also studied at Wittenberg, Hendrik Voes (or Vos), and Jan van Essen, and several others. They openly advocated the Reformation ideas and spoke against false doctrines and practices in the Catholic Church. Many citizens accepted the new teachings. And then of course there were the influential German merchants who controlled a large share of the trade in Antwerp and played an important role in bringing the Reformation to the Low Countries. This all contributed to the presence of a fairly large community of Lutherans in the early 1520s. The reaction of the government came without delay, and soon the first heretics would be burned at the stake.

The so-called Low Countries or the Netherlands were part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation of Charles V (1500–1558). Antwerp belonged, like Brussels, to Brabant. Charles V was not in favor of the new ideas which were being disseminated throughout his empire. In April 1521, at the Diet in Worms, Luther was outlawed. Throughout the entire empire, actions against the Reformation were also being undertaken, with the emperor issuing laws against the heretics—the so-called ketterplakkaten (edicts against the heretic)—and fostering the Inquisition.

Luther’s song “Ein neues Lied wir heben an.”

The consequences were soon also felt in Antwerp. The monastery of the Augustinians was demolished in October 1522. That same year, Praepositus was imprisoned, but recanted, changed his mind again, and managed then to flee the city to become a pastor in Bremen. The same happened to Van Zutphen, the new prior, who also escaped. However, Hendrik Voes and Jan van Essen were imprisoned, refused to recant, and on July 1, 1523 were burned at the stake at the Grote Markt in Brussels. They are considered the first two Lutheran martyrs. When Luther heard about the executions, he wrote a comforting “Letter to the Christians in the Low Countries” and composed the hymn “Ein neues Lied wir heben an” (“A New Song Be By Us Begun”).

A paraphrase of a small portion of the song is known in English as “Flung to the Heedless Winds” (TLH 259). The first verse of that paraphrase reads:

Flung to the heedless winds
Or on the waters cast,
The martyrs’ ashes, watched,
Shall gathered be at last.
And from that scattered dust,
Around us and abroad,
Shall spring a plenteous seed
Of witnesses for God.


Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem is President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium. The article above is selected and adapted from his 2018 book 450 Jaar Lutheran Church in Antwerp, which recounts the history of the Reformation in Antwerp in both English and Dutch (Flemish).

ILC World Conference draws to a close, issues statement on ecumenism

LCSA Bishop Modise Maragelo preaches during matins.

BELGIUM – The final day of the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2018 World Conference opened with a service of matins in Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Antwerp. Bishop Modise Maragelo of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa preached for the service, looking forward to the commemoration of St. Michael and all Angels on September 30. Rev. Timothy Quill served as liturgist.

Following matins, Rev. Milton Huatuco, outgoing President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Peru, presented a study on Latin American Lutheranism and ecumenism. His report highlighted how local context affect the ecumenical efforts. In Latin America, for example, he noted that Lutherans make up only 0.15 percent of the Latin American population, making Lutherans a small player on the ecumenical scene. Likewise, historic persecution of Protestants make some groups skeptical of rapprochement with Roman Catholics, the major Christian church in Latin America. Intra-Lutheran discussions, however, have been a fruitful ecumenical project, especially in Brazil and Argentina.

Outgoing President Milton Huatuco of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Peru leads a study on Lutheran ecumenism in Latin America.

The morning session saw greetings to the ILC from Bishop Mark Lieschke, on behalf of Bishop John Henderson and the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA). The LCA is preparing for its triennial convention, which is scheduled for the coming week. ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt thanked Bishop Lieschke for his remarks, and offered his prayers that God would bless the LCA and send His Holy Spirit to guide them during their forthcoming convention.

Bishop Torkild Masvie of the Lutheran Church of Norway (LKN) reported on Concordia Israel, a recent project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) undertaken in partnership with the LKN. Concordia Israel provides Lutheran education for the evangelical Lutheran church in Israel, including support for pilgrim trips and study tours to Israel; Lutheran education to congregations and congregation members in Israel; and online theological university training.

Later in the day, the convention voted to receive the invitation from the ELCIR and LKN to host the 2021 World Conference of the ILC in Israel, directing the Executive Committee to explore the feasibility of the proposal. In the event the location proves too difficult to arrange, the Executive Committee was authorized to select another location for the 2021 World Conference.

Ecumenism in the Confessions, Ecumenism in Practice

A highlight of the final day’s session was a report on the International Lutheran Council’s informal international dialogue with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). Rev. Dr. Werner Klän, who serves as the Lutheran co-chairman of the dialogue, addressed the convention on the work accomplished over the past several years. He noted that the initial idea for dialogue came from the Roman Catholic side, leading eventually to discussions in Rome in 2013, a preperatory meeting in 2014, and finally the official beginning of the dialogue group in 2015.

The most recent round in the ILC-PCPCU’s informal international dialogue took place September 17-21 in Bleckmar, Germany. A report on those discussions will be published online by the ILC soon. The concluding meeting of the current round of discussions is scheduled for 2019, at which time the dialogue group will present a final report summarizing their findings and making recommendations to the ILC and the PCPCU about future possibilities for continued dialogue.

Professors Roa and Klän answer questions on their respective presentations to the ILC World Conference.

Following Dr. Klän’s report, Rev. Wilando Roa presented the convention’s final lecture on its theme of ecumenism and ecclesiology. In his talk, Rev. Roa explored the Lutheran Confessions as the basis for faithful dialogue with other Christians. The conclusion of his lecture provided a roadmap for future ecumenical opportunities, noting that “those closest to us in the household of faith… deserve our first attention.” To that end, he encouraged member churches of the ILC to initially focus their ecumenical efforts inwards—working with those estranged in our own denominations—before moving outward: first by seeking greater dialogue with partner churches; then dialoguing with church bodies no longer in fellowship with us; then looking to other Lutheran churches; and finally looking out to groups outside the Lutheran tradition.

Later in the day, the convention distilled some of the week’s discussions of ecumenism and adopted a brief statement on “Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Responsibility.” Read the full statement here.

Putting that ecumenical concern into practice, the convention also adopted a resolution on ILC relations with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), noting that “the ILC Executive Committee remains open to conversation with the LWF Council to help clarify points of confusion and to facilitate an ongoing exchange of information.” The full resolution is available to download here. The 2018 resolution reaffirms the position on dual membership in the ILC and LWF first taken at the 2007 World Conference in Accra, Ghana (see the 2007 resolution here).

Closing Service and the Installation of the Executive Committee

LCC President Timothy Teuscher preaches the final sermon of the 2018 World Conference.

The convention concluded with a final service of evening prayer, with President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium serving as lector and Rev. Timothy Quill as liturgist. Serving as cantor and organist this day, as every day of the conference, was Matthew Machemer.

As with matins earlier, the service of evening prayer f focused on biblical texts surrounding the ministry of angels, with President Timothy Teuscher of Lutheran Church–Canada preaching. The passage under discussion focused on the angels’ conflict with the devil. Because that ancient serpent is the father of lies, President Teuscher noted, one of the most important weapons of the angels is the Sword of Truth, the Word of God—and this is a weapon that we too are called to wield against the devil’s lies. It is natural that angels should adopt such a weapon, President Teuscher explained, since the very meaning of their name—“angel”—is “messenger.” And the message they proclaim is Christ, God incarnate and Saviour of the world.

The service concluded with the rite of installation for the newly elected and appointed members of the International Lutheran Council’s Executive Committee.

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, ILC Executive Secretary, installs the officers of the new triennium’s Executive Committee. (Photo: S. van Hattem).


Antwerp marks Reformation 500, inaugurates Martin Luther Place

German Ambassador Rüdiger Lüdeking and Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever unveil the nameplate of Martin Luther Place in Antwerp, Belgium

BELGIUM – On October 31, 2017, “Martin Luther Place” (Maarten Lutherplein) in Antwerp, Belgium, was inaugurated by the city’s Mayor, Bart De Wever, and Germany’s ambassador to Belgium, Rüdiger Lüdeking.

The inauguration was part of Antwerp’s celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Antwerp played an important role in the early years of the Reformation. The Augustinian monastery there had several monks who studied with Luther in Wittenberg, and brought his ideas to Antwerp. Two of them—Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes—became the two first martyrs of the Reformation, executed in Brussels on July 1, 1523.

President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België, EKLB), directed the ceremony, as the local Lutheran church initiated efforts to name a place after Luther.

The ELKB is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. President van Hattem also serves as Secretary of the ILC’s Executive Council.

Antwerp, Belgium will be the venue of the International Lutheran Council’s next world conference in September 2018.

President van Hattem’s inauguration speech for “Martin Luther Place” follows:


ELKB Gijsbertus van Hattem leads the ceremony to unveil Martin Luther Place in Antwerp.

We warmly welcome you to this festive inauguration of Martin Luther Place.

In particular, Mr. Bart de Wever, mayor of Antwerp, and Mr. Rüdiger Lüdeking, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany. Herzlich Wilkommen!

Today marks exactly 500 years since the monk and university professor Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis about and against indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Church doors acted as message boards at that time.

Throughout the world, October 31, 1517, is seen as the symbolic date for the start of the Reformation, a movement that has had a major impact on our Western culture and society.

Since Antwerp came into contact with the Reformation early in the 16th century, and Protestantism played a major role in the city, Antwerp might have remained a Protestant city—if it did not had been brought back under the Spanish crown in 1585. For these reasons, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation may certainly be celebrated in Antwerp.

This has already happened and is happening through many activities throughout the year, not least through the exhibition at St. Andrew Church, with its focus on the early years of the Reformation in this city.

What was missing was a visible reminder of the Reformation in the Antwerp cityscape. It is for this reason that the Lutheran church, with the support of the Antwerp Council of Churches, applied to City Council to name a street or place after the Reformer, which made the city council decide to call this place “Martin Luther Place.”

We now invite the Mayor and the Ambassador to proceed to the official inauguration of the Martin Luther Place by revealing one of the nameplates. (The mayor and ambassador revealed the nameplate.)

ELKB President van Hattem presents Ambassador Lüdeking and Mayor De Wever each with a Martin Luther figure from Playmobil.

With this the square is inaugurated. As a souvenir at this moment and this day, we would like to present you with a figure of the Reformer. (The mayor and ambassador both received a Playmobil Luther figure.)

We thank everyone for their presence and ask you to join us in St. Andrew church nearby for a few speeches alternated with music, after which will follow a reception by the District of Antwerp with Lutherbier provided by the German Embassy.


European Lutheran Conference meets in Belgium, celebrates 450th anniversary of first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp

Delegates to the 2016 meeting of the European Lutheran Conference.

Delegates to the 2016 meeting of the European Lutheran Conference.

BELGIUM – From June 1-5, 2016 Lutherans from several European Lutheran churches assembled in Antwerp, Belgium, for the 24th European Lutheran Conference (ELC), under the theme ‘Reformation then … and now.’

The conference was attended by ELC member churches representatives from Belgium, Denmark, England, France, and Germany, as well as by guests from the Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States of America.

A keynote address on the conference’s theme was delivered by Dr. Werner Klän of Germany. An opening service, morning devotions with Bible studies, and evening prayers shaped the spiritual frame of the conference. Several of the guest churches in attendance have expressed their intention to apply for membership in the coming years.

A special focus of this year’s conference was the commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp, which was founded in 1566. From June 2-3, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB) hosted an international conference highlighting this event, organized by ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem in cooperation with the University of Antwerp, and held at the Rubenianum.

Participants in the International Conference recognizing the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp.

Participants in the International Conference recognizing the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp.

The conference was opened with two keynote lectures: “The International Dimensions of the Wittenberg Reformation” by Dr. Robert Kolb (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri), and “Reformation Movements and the Wonderyear: the Antwerp Context” by Dr. Guido Marnef (University of Antwerp). The second day of the conference featured six additional lectures:  “The Role of Antwerp’s Reformed Augustinians in the Early Reformation” by Dr. Robert Christman (Luther College, Decorah, Iowa);  “Humanists on the Move: The Transfer of Ideas Between Wittenberg and Antwerp” by Dr. Victoria Christman (Luther College, Decorah, Iowa); “The First Lutheran Congregation 1566–1585 and Beyond” by Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem (Lutheran Church of Antwerp, Belgium); “Polemics, Church Order and Confession: Matthias Flacius Illyricus in Antwerp during the ‘Wonderjaar’ 1566/67” by Dr.  Luka Ilic (Leibniz Institute, Mainz, Germany); “Christopher Plantin, Printing for the Reformation” by  Dirk Imhof (Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp, Belgium); and “The Image Debates in the Low Countries: an Art Historical Review” by Dr.  Koenraad Jonckheere (Ghent University, Belgium).

President Leif Jensen (left) preached for the ELC's closing service while ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem served as liturgist.

President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark (left) preached for the ELC’s closing service while ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem served as liturgist.

The conference concluded with a walking tour through 16th Century Antwerp, ending with a reception at the Town Hall, where Antwerp’s mayor Bart De Wever welcomed the participants.

The European Lutheran Conference concluded with Divine Service on June 5. ELKB President and local pastor Gijsbertus van Hattem led the liturgy, while President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark preached.

The next conference of the European Lutheran Conference will be held in England in 2018.

All of the member churches of the ELC are also member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.



Belgian Lutherans celebrate 75th anniversary


President Emeritus Jean Thiébaut Haessig preaches at the celebration service in Antwerp.

BELGIUM – The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB) celebrated its 75th anniversary in late June in conjunction with a 50th anniversary celebration of the Lutheran Church building in Antwerp.

On June 20, the church held a Jubilee Concert, featuring chorals and Bach’s Fantasia, with organ music provided by Masako Honda. These pieces were interspersed with the Aria Schlümmert Ein from Bach’s Cantata 82, sung by Simon Schmidt, and the Aria If God Be For Us from Handel’s Messiah, sung by Nicola Mills. A Minuet of Bach’s was also performed by Sofia van Hattem. The concert ended with the singing of “Dankt, dankt nu allen God” (Now thank we all our God). Halfway through the program, an album on the history of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium was presented. By means of many photographs, the book tells the story of the church in Belgium. The book has a retail price of 25 euros.

The church building in Antwerp.

The church building in Antwerp.

On June 22, an Anniversary Service was held at the church in Antwerp, which was full for the occasion. The liturgy was held by President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the ELKB, and the sermon was given by President Emeritus Jean Thiébaut Haessig of the Evangelical Lutheran Church — Synod of France. President Emeritus Haessig also served as President of the European Lutheran Council until stepping down earlier this year. President van Hattem also serves on the Executive Committee of the International Lutheran Council as Secretary.

The bible

The 1748 Bible given to the congregation in Antwerp by Dutch Lutherans in Zierikzee.

The worship service featured a choir as well as guest musicians from Alsace. A celebration banquet followed the service, with a full hall. But before the meal began, the Antwerp church was presented with a special gift from the Lutheran church in Zierikzee, the Netherlands: a 1748 edition of the Bible in the Dutch translation of Adolph Visscher. The Bible was originally used in the Lutheran Church of Middelburg in Zeeland, the Netherlands.

In addition to oral greetings from the Evangelical Lutheran Church — Synod of France, the celebration service received special greetings from churches in Germany, Denmark, England, the Netherlands, Portugal, Japan, South Africa, Canada, Brazil, and Paraguay. Festivities concluded with a service of Evening Prayer/Vespers.


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