Minimal Faith and Irenic Ideals in Seventeenth-Century Scholarly Circles

Hugo Grotius as a Guardian of Isaac Casaubon’s Legacy

in Church History and Religious Culture
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This article shows how the Dutch humanist Hugo Grotius (1583–1645), inspired by his friend Isaac Casaubon, sought to introduce a procedure for mitigating strife in the Christian church. He proclaimed a division between a set of self-evident, universally accepted key tenets, to be endorsed by all believers, and a larger number of secondary, not completely certain articles of faith, which were to be left open for friendly debate. The doctrine of the Trinity belonged to the second category; it should be treated in a careful, detached way, in words that did not go beyond the terminology of the Bible. However, defenders of this irenic stance laid themselves open to severe criticism: the example of the conservative Lutheran theologian Abraham Calovius illustrates how they were censured for giving up divinely inspired truth for a chimerical unionist ideal which cajoled them into reintroducing the early Christian heresy of Arianism, now called Socinianism.

Church History and Religious Culture

Formerly: Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis




Vincent of Lérins, Commonitorium 1.2. Cf. Isaaci Casauboni ad epistolam illustr. et reverendiss. Cardinalis Perronii Responsio (London, 1612), pp. 39–42.


Douglas Powell, ‘Arkandisziplin,’ in Theologische Realenzyklopädie (see above, n. 2), 4: 1–8, and Jonathan Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine. On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity (Chicago, 1990), pp. 55–62.


Plinius, Naturalis Historia 35.84–85.


D.A. Pailin, ‘Herbert von Cherbury,’ in Die Philosophie des 17. Jahrhunderts, 4 vols., eds. Jean-Pierre Schobinger and Helmut Holzhey [Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie] (Basel, 1988–2001), 3 (England): 224–239, and D.A. Pailin, ‘Edward Herbert, First Baron Herbert of Cherbury and First Baron Herbert of Castle Island (1582?-1648), Diplomat and Philosopher,’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 26 (Oxford, 2004), pp. 663–669. See for the following also Henk Nellen, ‘Minimal Religion, Deism and Socinianism: on Grotius’ Motives for Writing De veritate,’ Grotiana, New series 33 (2012), 25–57.


Henk Nellen, ‘Bible Commentaries as a Platform for Polemical Debate: Abraham Calovius versus Hugo Grotius,’ in Neo-Latin Commentaries and the Management of Knowledge in the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period (1400–1700), eds. Karl Enenkel and Henk Nellen [Suppl. Humanistica Lovaniensia 33] (Leuven, 2013), pp. 445–471.


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