From the outset, any reflection on religion and the state in the early modern Netherlands is confronted with some major conceptual problems. In the perception of many seventeenth-century Netherlanders, the state was multiform, and at times vanishing. Similarly, the historical concept of state religion is inappropriate for that country and period. Besides, more perhaps than in most other European countries, there is reason to distinguish for the United Provinces, at least analytically, between religion, church, and belief.
It might be useful to propose some working definitions. Religion is meant here as the whole field of more or less intuitive forms of symbolic agency and interpretation of natural and human reality, prior to intellectual reflection and to “rational” organization (whatever rationality that may be), but from the intimate conviction that there is something beyond visible reality. Forms of magic may pertain to religion, just like the recourse to healing saints, and other elements of what currently is called “popular religion.” Belief is the intellectual legitimation and/or the emotional motivation of religion, centered around a personal or a joint encounter with God, as the ultimate reason of being. The social organization of religion refers to church (or its equivalents): the church is the sociocultural framework that enables belief to be organized in socially meaningful ways of thinking, ritual expressions, and norms and values for group behavior. Whereas religion stands for symbolics and ritual acting, church stands for its streamlining and legitimation into liturgy.