Salomon van Til (1643–1713)

His Appropriation of Cartesian Tenets in His Compendium of Natural Theology

in Church History and Religious Culture
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In recent decades theologians and intellectual historians have given considerable attention to the dissemination of Cartesianism in the seventeenth century Dutch Republic. Scholars have focused primarily on the initial reception of Descartes’s ideas, the early reactions from his major critics and the more radical expressions of Cartesianism later on. Only in recent years have scholars begun to realize the considerable impact that moderate second-generation Cartesian theologians exerted on the intellectual climate in the Netherlands of the eighteenth century. Salomon van Til (1643–1713) ranks high among these thinkers. Yet despite his international reputation at that time, Van Til has been almost completely neglected in current research. This article analyzes Van Til’s appropriation of Cartesian tenets within his Compendium of Natural Theology (1704). Paying close attention to his intellectual context, it argues that the substantial usage of central elements of the Cartesian outlook, clearly manifested both in the method and in the content of the Compendium, should be interpreted in light of Van Til’s apologetic goal: to defend the Christian faith against the perceived onslaught of unbelief.

Salomon van Til (1643–1713)

His Appropriation of Cartesian Tenets in His Compendium of Natural Theology

in Church History and Religious Culture




See Theo Verbeek‘From “Learned Ignorance” to Scepticism: Descartes and Calvinist Orthodoxy,’ in Scepticism and Irreligion in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuriesed. Richard H. Popkin and Arjo Vanderjagt (Leiden 1993) pp. 31–45.


See Ernestine van der Wall‘Cartesianism and Cocceianism: a Natural Alliance?’ in De l’Humanisme aux Lumières Bayle et le protestantismeed. Michelle Magdelaine et al. (Paris 1996) pp. 445–455; Van Asselt Federal theology (see above n. 9) pp. 81–86. The still debated question about the nature of this alliance lies beyond the scope of the present investigation but as far as Van Til is concerned Van der Wall’s suggestion seems plausible: Both Cartesianism and Cocceianism favor a clearer distinction between natural and revealed theology as opposed to the traditional scholastic approach.


Paul Dibon‘Der Cartesianismus in den Niederlanden,’ in Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie. Die Philosophie des 17. Jahrhunderts. Frankreich und Niederlandeed. Jean-Pierre Schobinger 2 vols. (Basel 1993) 1: 349–374 there 367 (The translation is my own).


See Jonathan Israel‘The Banning of Spinoza’s Works in the Dutch Republic (1670–1678),’ in Disguised and overt Spinozism around 1700ed. Wiep van Bunge and Wim Klever (Leiden 1996) pp. 3–14.


See ibid. p. 9 and cf. ibid. pp. 21–22.


See ibid. p. 8.


See Aza Goudriaan‘Die Rezeption des cartesianischen Gottesgedankens bei Abraham Heidanus,’ Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 38 (1996) 166–168.


See ibid. p. 13 and cf. ibid. CTN p. 156. On the scholarly debate concerning this very issue at the end of the seventeenth century see Jacob van Sluis Herman Alexander Röell (Leeuwarden 1988) pp. 59–79.


Ibid. p. 8.


Ibid. p. 7.


See Robert C. Miner‘The Dependence of Descartes’ Ontological Proof upon the Doctrine of Causa sui,’ Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 58 (2002) 873–886.


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