Christianity penetrated the territory now known as the Netherlands in Roman times, but its effective conversion was delayed until the end of the 7th cent.; St Willibrord and St Boniface were chiefly responsible for its evangelization. The whole country came under the dominating influence of the see of Utrecht. In the 14th cent. the Netherlands saw the rise of the movement known as ‘Devotio Moderna’, which stressed both mystical piety and education.
At the Reformation Lutherans and Anabaptists initially gained followers, but the adherence of William the Silent to Calvinism in 1573 underlined the role of that creed in the revolt against Spanish rule. By 1609 the Netherlands was virtually independent. The Reformed religion held sway, but there were controversies within its ranks, e.g. that surrounding J. Arminius, whose followers were condemned at the Synod of Dort (1618–19). Other disputes led to the Secession of 1834 when some of the stricter Calvinists set up the ‘Christian Reformed Churches’, and to a further secession led by A. Kuyper in 1886. These two groups joined in 1892. In 2004 they and the main body, the Netherlands (or Dutch) Reformed Church, united with the small Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Netherlands to form the Protestant Church of the Netherlands.
The RC Church was subject to severe penal restrictions from 1583 to 1795. From 1580 to 1853 it was without territorial bishops. In 1697 accusations of Jansenism were made against the RCs of the Netherlands; after the censure in 1702 of Petrus Codde, the Vicar General, a schism developed, his followers being known as ‘Old Catholics’ (q.v.). In the modern Netherlands RCs form a vigorous body, comprising c.31 per cent of the population (of which c.21 per cent are Protestant). In recent years there has been advanced thinking among Dutch RCs, leading near to conflict with the Papacy.