Grotius and the Rise of Christian ‘Radical Enlightenment’

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Grotius has often been cited as a crucial link between the ‘Erasmian tradition’ of the Renaissance and Reformation era and the Enlightenment. But there is perhaps a case for identifying him more specifically with the roots of the ‘Radical Enlightenment’. This was partly because of his widely-suspected and commented on tendency towards Socinianism. But it was also due to the uses to which he put his highly sophisticated humanist philology. During the eighteenth century, Grotius’s Bible criticism was seen by some as the root of some of the most subversive criticism of the era. The German deist Reimarus, for instance, author of one of the most vitriolic attacks on Christian revelation of the age, more frequently mentions Grotius’s revisions in his footnotes than he does the criticism of Hobbes, Spinoza, Collins or Toland. This article surveys the aspects of Grotius that significantly contributed to shaping what developed into the ‘Radical Enlightenment’.


A Journal published under the auspices of the Grotiana Foundation



Kühler, Het Socinianisme, 82–3; Leszek Kolakowski, Chrétiens sans Église. La Conscience religieuse et le lien confesssionnel au XVIIe siècle (1965; new edn., Paris, 1987), pp. 252–3; Taylor, A Secular Age, p. 126; and especially Hans W. Blom, ‘Grotius and Socinianism’, in Sociniamism and Arminianism. Antitrinitarians, Calvinists and Cultural Exchange in seventeenth-century Europe , ed. by M. Mulsow and Jan Rohls (Leiden, 2005), pp. 122, 124, 132–4, 145–6.


Schröder, Ursprünge des Atheismus, 96; David Sorkin, The Religious Enlightenment. Protestants, Jews and Catholics from London to Vienna (Princeton, 2008), p. 50.


Blom, ‘Grotius’, p. 131; Sarah Mortimer, ‘Human and Divine Justice in the Works of Grotius and the Socinians’, in: Mortimer and Robertson (eds.) Intellectual Consequences, pp. 75–94, here pp. 84–92.


Blom, ‘Grotius’, 137; Schroder, Ursprünge des Atheismus, pp. 179, 203; Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration came to the West (Princeton, 2003), pp. 174–5.


Kolakowski, Chrétiens sans Église, 208–17, 220–25; Wiep (Louis) van Bunge, Johannes Bredenburg (1643–1691). Een Rotterdamse Collegiant in de ban van Spinoza (Rotterdam, 1990), pp. 151, 184, 188; Graeme Hunter, Radical Protestantism in Spinoza’s Thought (Aldershot, 2005), pp. 44–5.


Kolakowski, Chrétiens sans Église, pp. 261–5, 271–2; Van Bunge, Johannes Bredenburg, pp. 87–98, 192–6.


Chénier, Pétition, p. 3; Ingo Hermann, Knigge. Die Biografie (Berlin, 2007), p. 148.


Chénier, Pétition, pp. 3–4.


Jonathan Israel, ‘Spinoza and the Religious Radical Enlightenment’ in Intellectual Consequences, ed. by Mortimer and Robertson, pp. 181–203, here pp. 191–3.


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