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.
The 7725 letters of Hugo Grotius's correspondence of the years 1594 to 1645 reflect the highlights and drawbacks of an eventful career. Some important gradual developments and abiding features in the letters will be pointed out. In this way Grotius's political and scholarly activities can be analysed from the perspective of the correspondence.
In November 2010, the Library of the Peace Palace in The Hague acquired a copy of Hugo Grotius’s seminal study on the law of war, De iure belli ac pacis (Paris: Nicolas Buon, 1625). The purchase represents the very rare first state (issue or printing) of the first edition, item no. 565-I in the well-known bibliography of Grotius’s works by Jacob Ter Meulen and P.J.J. Diermanse. This article is an adapted version of a speech held in the Peace Palace on 21 February 2011, when the copy of De iure belli ac pacis was presented to the public. After a short survey of the genesis, printing history and early reception, the article goes into the differences between the three states of the first edition and their significance for the interpretation of Grotius’s work. A provisional checklist of copies in public libraries is added in an appendix.
This article goes into the intentions and motives behind De veritate (1627), famous apologetic work by the Dutch humanist and jurisconsult Hugo Grotius (1583-1645). De veritate will be compared with two other seminal works written by Grotius, De iure belli ac pacis (1625) and the Annotationes in Novum Testamentum (1641-1650). The focus will be on one particular aspect that comes to the fore in all three works: the way Grotius reduced the Christian faith to a minimal religion by singling out the essential tenets this faith had in common with other religions. The core of Grotius’s argumentation consists in the idea that believers and, in particular, civil authorities have to distinguish between a few essential religious tenets that could be made rationally acceptable, and a set of supernatural dogmas, derived from divine revelation, that did not pass a certain, albeit very high degree of probability. As far as the second category was concerned, civil tolerance was called for. As becomes clear from contemporary correspondences, Grotius did not develop these rather controversial ideas in an intellectual vacuum. During his exile in Paris, he fostered contacts with members of the circle that formed around the French monk Marin Mersenne (1588-1648). This circle functioned as a kind of hothouse for the development of a minimal Christian creed. Members of this group saw promotion of a minimal creed as a solution to current religious controversies and the ensuing political turmoil and (civil) war, which were abhorred for their detrimental effects on the advancement of learning in the first place. On the other hand, it is also apparent that overt adherence to such an ideal was considered to be dangerous, because it would at least evoke the embarrassing and even repressive attention of the authorities in Church and government. An additional problem was that by defending such a religious stance, members of Mersenne’s circle laid themselves open to accusations of endorsing ‘rational beliefs’ like Socinianism, generally considered to be the worst heresy among all Christian denominations.