Dynamics of Neo-Latin and the Vernacular

Breasting the waves: Grotius letters on church and state

Breasting the waves: Grotius letters on church and state

1. Introduction

Hugo Grotius was well aware that in religious matters both Scylla and Charybdis should be avoided: in his Ordinum Pietas of 1613 he compared the Greek ladies to the two extreme points of view on predestination: ascribing sin to God or salvation to man.[1] It would be hard to find any contemporary of Grotius who disagreed with this view. Indeed, the phrase was suggested to Grotius by his friend Walaeus, who was a moderate Calvinist.

Not all Grotius’ views on the church and religion were as uncontroversial as this one. In this paper I shall investigate how Grotius as a correspondent took position in the Dutch religious debate. This involves more than taking stock of his views as expressed in the letters: I will pay attention to the forms of the letters as well, and to the ways in which the epistolary mode itself determines content or ways of expression.[2]

2. Context: the religious troubles and Grotius’ writings

A very brief sketch of the Dutch religious troubles in the beginning of the 17th century and Grotius’ role as a politician and an author is in order. During the Twelve Year Truce in the Dutch war against Spain, between 1609 and 1621, deep-seated religious troubles came to the fore and disrupted Dutch society. Both theological and political points were at stake. The theological issues turned around God’s eternal plan with man: predestination, free will, grace and sin. On the political plane the problem lay in the relations between church and state: were they two parallel organisations, or was the one subordinate to the other. In principle these two issues, the theological and the political one, are unrelated. Those in power may well claim superiority over the churchmen, while inclining to either of the two views on predestination sketched above, to the Calvinist view just as well, as the Grand Pen­sionary Johan van Oldenbar­nevelt himself did. In practice, however, both parties mixed up political and religious arguments. In the background plays the question whether differences between religious views are to be emphasized, as Calvinists did, or agreement, as Remonstrants did, and Grotius most of all.

Grotius played an important role in the troubles, both as one of the most powerful politicians of Holland, and as the author of many incisive, extremely learned books and treatises on religious problems. In 1607 Grotius was appointed Judge Advocate of Holland, an important legal function, which he exchanged for that of Pensionary of Rotterdam in 1613, thus becoming one of the best paid and most influential civil servants of Holland. This function involved membership of the States of Holland; in 1617 he was appointed a member of its board.[3] Grotius had always been closely involved in problems of Church and State. He acted as a kind of governor of Leiden University, perhaps taking over the responsibilities of his father who fell out with the Leiden elite in 1600.[4] In this role he was involved in the appointment of Arminius as professor of theology, and right from the beginnings Grotius was well informed about the differences of opinion between Arminius and Gomarus concerning predestination, which marked the beginning of the religious troubles. By order of the States of Holland he made an in-depth study of the problems of “collaterality” already in 1610,[5] that is the existence of two separate orders, the political and the religious one, and since that date he never stopped writing books, pamphlets and letters about church, state and religion.

His Meletius of 1611-1612 was about religious peace and agreement, not just between Remonstrants and Counter Remonstrants, or even among Christians in general, but between all believers. The exchange of letters with his friend Walaeus about its draft resulted in Grotius’ decision to take back the book.[6] His Ordinum Pietas of 1613 is a fierce reaction to the acrimonious Calvinist Sibrandus Lubbertus, professor of Franeker, who had attacked the States of Holland. In it Grotius combined three subjects: the appointment of Conradus Vorstius as Arminius’ successor, predestination and grace, and the relations between church and state. According to many readers, with this book Grotius revealed himself as a through and through Remonstrant, and an aggressive one at that. In an interesting letter Gerardus Vossius recorded all kinds of negative reactions to Ordinum Pietas, which caused him pain but also made him laugh[7]. He quotes people who say that a few years ago, when negotiating on behalf of the States, Grotius had stood between the parties, but obviously that had been only pretending, for in this book he could not have been more hostile against preachers.[8] The learned books he composed after Ordinum Pietas all were attempts to undo the evil done by it, and they all failed. His De satisfactione of 1617 is a theological work, a discussion of Christ’s sacrifice from a legal point of view, in order to prove that Remonstrants were certainly not heretics, and that they abhorred Socinianism. His De imperio summarum potestatum circa sacra, ready in 1617 is an abstract political work on the church, its history and its relations with the highest powers.

3. Grotius’ letters during the religious troubles: general

During these years the religious and political conflict thundered to its unavoidable destination with increasing speed, the coup d’état by Maurice of Orange which included the arrest of Grotius and his patron Van Oldenbarnevelt. Grotius was one of the chief players as a politician and as an author. How did he react as a correspondent, and what do the letters tell us about Grotius position in the church? On behalf of this paper I studied the letters from October 19, 1609, the death of Arminius, to Grotius’ arrest on August 28, nine years later. They total 475.[9] The restriction in time is somewhat arbitrary: both before the death of Arminius and in his later life Grotius wrote letters which are relevant to his views on church and religion during the Truce. More importantly, the numbers and other data given below look much more exact and revealing than they actually are, for several reasons: first of all, it is obvious that we do not possess all letters written by and to Grotius, nor do we know how many of them, of which kind, written to or by whom, are lacking. Before 1635 Grotius kept no copies of letters which he sent, nor did he plan to publish (parts of) his correspondence. On the other hand, he evidently retained letters from some correspondents rather than from others. The archives of Grotius and of his correspondents were subject to disintegration, but not all in the same measure; that factor may partly explain the relatively great number of existing letters to Gerardus Vossius.[10] Secondly, many letters both by Grotius and others are available only in seventeenth century editions. Their editors were sometimes careless or unreliable, they may mangle names, standardize forms of address or omit parts of letters which they deem uninteresting or too personal.[11] Thirdly, the importance of letter-writing within the Republic of Letters can hardly be overestimated, the present book and many other recent publications testify to it; but functions and characteristics of letters greatly differ: maintaining a correspondence is a sign of familiarity, but received letters may also be used in printed pamphlets, as Grotius did. Letters are personal, but meant for sharing –with the right persons, of course. They may be an exchange of learning, but also a form of political or doctrinal propaganda.[12] However, scholars’ judgements of a particular letter’s sincerity or authenticity, or their more general assessments of its purpose, tone and characteristics, remain open to question. And, fourthly, the letters of seventeenth century scholars, or at least those of Grotius, are sparing of personal details.

This said, we may draw some conclusions from an overview of the correspondence. Altogether there are around 7.725 letters to and from Grotius. Within our period there are 475 letters, 260 of them were written by Grotius.[13] In the appendix to this paper I give an overview of the addressees. This list too has its restrictions: it does not show, for instance, that we possess four times more letters from Grotius to Gerardus Vossius than vice versa. Vossius, who in this period supported Grotius with his vast knowledge of church history and theology,

is the privileged correspondent anyhow, with almost a third of the letters addressed to him.

We notice that Grotius exchanged no letters with strict Calvinists, with the exception of Gomarus. However, the one letter Grotius wrote him, is just an apology for a misunderstanding concerning Grotius’ funerary elegy for Arminius.[14] Other Calvinists among Grotius’ correspondents are moderate, learned ones, such as his friend Walaeus and the Leiden professor Polyander, or old friends like Daniel Heinsius and Janus Rutgers. It may be pointed out by the way that Grotius himself never uses the terms “Arminian” or “Gomarist”, for that would make the conflict much too personal. Roman Catholic correspondents are absent from my corpus as well. Letters addressed to ministers and preachers are very rare; almost all those correspondents who do preach are actually learned theologians, apart perhaps from Grotius’ mentor Johannes Wtenbogaert.[15] Another remarkable fact is the relative preponderance of foreign correspondents; they received around 25 percent of the letters. Isaac Casaubon, who died already in 1614, got most of them; as Grotius’ most popular correspondent in England he was succeeded by John Overall, Regius Professor of Divinity in Cambridge and Dean of Saint Paul’s, later bishop of Lichfield and Coventry. In Germany Grotius had only one real correspondent, Georg Lingelsheim, Counsellor to the Elector Palatine in Heidelberg, a warm supporter of Grotius’ books.[16] There is just one letter addressed to a woman, BW 213 which Grotius wrote to his wife Maria on August 27 of 1611 during a duty trip.

We shall now look at the ways in which Grotius addresses his correspondents and vice versa, as a first attempt to gauge the tone of these letters and the degree of intimacy between two correspondents. Of course this is slippery ground again: intimate friends may tacitly agree to certain formal opening words. Moreover, it is precisely these opening words which are subject to change by seventeenth-century editors. But some tendencies may be discerned: the default address used by Grotius is something like vir clarissime, or Heinsi doctissime.[17] Learned theologians and the like are addressed in terms such as reverende. Johannes Wtenbogaert gets the most reverent addresses: vir plurimis mihi nominibus reverende and the like.[18] Two other men get a special treatment: Casaubon and Vossius. Since the deaths of Lipsius and Scaliger Casaubon was considered the most learned man of Europe, and this is reflected in the way Grotius addresses him: no formula is flowery enough, for instance Casaubone, vir undequaque ut doctissime ita humanissime.[19] Gerardus Vossius, finally, is the only one whom Grotius designates as ‘friend’, amicus. In most letters by far he is called vir clarissime, or doctissime, but sometimes Vossius, and only Vossius, is addressed in terms of personal friendship, such as amicorum optime, summe amicorum, amicissime. This is underlined by one or two explicit sentences by Grotius: “I put my trust in your friendship and judgement, more than in that of all others”.[20] We might expect that these letters are the most honest or revealing ones, and that seems more or less true. Vossius, on the other hand, sometimes strikes a deferential tone to Grotius, when he says that he had written a certain letter “as a Roman would do, not someone from our age, when men in an inferior position do not write in this way to men of your rank and station”. Often Vossius rather formally calls Grotius Tua Altitudo (most other correspondents address Grotius as amplissimus), thus reminding us that Grotius was an aristocrat.[21] It is ironic that much later, when Grotius had become suspicious of everyone and demanded to be addressed as Excellency even by his closest friends, Vossius found it difficult to comply.[22] The Grotius of the Correspondence has been characterized as “formal, uncompromising, and close-mouthed”[23]. His formality does seem borne out by the above forms of address.

Glancing at the subjects of the 475 letters we conclude that most space is taken up by theological subjects. By far the longest letter is one from Vossius, 36 pages in print, a treatise on the right of the magistrate over the church, which aimed at exhorting Grotius to finish his De imperio.[24] In another epistolary treatise Grotius tried to refute the views of his former professor, the French divine Pierre Du Moulin, on free will, grace, the way in which churches could be united and the relationship between magistrate and church. This letter is addressed to the Dutch Ambassador in Paris, Gideon van den Boetzelaer, Lord of Langerak. The letter is part of a lost discussion with Du Moulin into which Grotius was dragged by Langerak, or so he claims. When Grotius sent drafts of his De satisfactione and De imperio to England and to the Palatinate, but not to France, this surely hangs together with his remark in this letter that the Anglican church is much closer to the ancient church than the French, both in its views on predestination and in its ecclesiastical hierarchy.[25]

Even if we leave aside those two letters which are, in fact, short treatises, church and religion are the main dish of the letters in this period, and take up far more than half of the letters. Often Grotius’ own writings are the starting point of these discussions as in the correspondence with the Calvinist Walaeus about Meletius and De satisfactione.[26] Church history is also a prominent theme. Walaeus, Vossius and Casaubon receive many pages concerning the teachings of Pelagius and his followers versus Augustine on free will and grace. Another important subject concerns religious tenets that are essential and common to all reformed, or even Christian, believers, and those that are ‘indifferent’, that is of only relative importance. Grotius attached great value to sticking only to essentials, claiming to follow Erasmus, but even enlightened Calvinists such as Walaeus could not agree with him.[27] Tolerance is a related subject, and by “tolerance” Grotius as a politician and the States of Holland referred to social behaviour rather than to an ethical quality; it is remarkable that in the so-called Tolerance Resolution, the Decretum pro Pace Ecclesiarum of January 1614 the word tolerare and its cognates do not occur, but concordia does. While Grotius held that nothing should be enforced in religious matters –cogendo dissidia enim crescunt: force will only aggravate disputes–, he was unable to understand that most believers also rejected enforced tolerance of different religious convictions.[28]

What strikes perhaps most is that points of view are discussed again and again in the letters, but that contemporary events get hardly any attention at all. The second most important issue seems to be literature and philology; as far as letters received by Grotius are concerned this is perhaps the main issue. Grotius speaks of his own poetry, of his edition of Lucan, but the letters are virtually silent on all his missions on behalf of the States of Holland, on his work for the city of Rotterdam, on riots in Amsterdam and the Hague.[29] To mention just a few examples: the edicts against the separation of Rotterdam Calvinists who went to church in two nearby hamlets caused much turmoil. However, the main subject of his letters around this time is the appearance of Grotius’ poetry, and on the day of the second edict Grotius writes to Overall that, fortunately, the troubles within the church are calming down, most people by far agree that this kind of controversy is not worth a schism[30]. These edicts were important enough for Grotius to be severely interrogated about during his imprisonment. In May 1617 the States decided that Grotius was to visit the city of Oudewater where trouble between ministers had arisen. There is nothing about it in the correspondence, to the point that it is even uncertain whether Grotius did actually go there.[31] In the letters there is no indication at all that Grotius expected the impending coup d’état of Maurice of Orange and his own arrest on August 28. The only echo of Maurice’s overt support of the Calvinists since 1617 is a veiled remark to Lingelsheim about “the schism which now finds support in great promoters and accordingly makes great progress”[32].

So far we may conclude that these letters are about ideas much more than about (political) facts, let alone about Grotius’ daily life. They do not seem to be written with an eye on publication, and they are not much concerned with self-fashioning. Some letters are certainly well-written, but form does not seem to be the first concern. Many of hem are peppered with Greek words, a sign that they are meant for learned and / or intimate correspondents.[33] Epigrammatic phrases and elegance are there, but Vossius, Casaubon and most of all Baudius equal or outdo Grotius. The overall impression is that these are letters about religion and politics..

4. Grotius’ letters during the religious troubles: content and character

One of the most important general characteristics of Grotius’ letters is that they are unsurprising, certainly at first sight: in them Grotius voices exactly the same opinions on religion and politics as in his published works. In this respect he differs from his friend Vossius, for example, who, in the first letter to Grotius that we have of him, asked, characteristically, not to mention this letter or Vossius’ real feelings.[34] Grotius on the other hand, is a man of character, straightforward and uncompromising. His views are consistent: there should be unity in the public church, to be reached by insisting on essentials and leaving aside details, and those essentials are found in the early Christian church. The States of each province are sovereign in matters of religion, and should have absolute supremacy over the church in all matters except belief, which is left to the individual. Remonstrants do not at all subscribe to Pelagius’ heresy, let alone to Roman Catholic views on good works or to even worse heresies such as Socinian anti Trinitarianism.

In his letters Grotius not only puts forward the same views as in his books, he does so frequently in the same words, in both cases stuffed with learned quotations taken from works by others, mainly Lutherans and Anglicans.[35] The only difference is, perhaps, that in his letters he is even less prepared to mince words. Thus he does never use the negative word papista for the Roman Catholics in his published works of this period, but in the letters the term occurs a few times.[36] In them Grotius also gives free rein to his contempt for the plebs, and especially vents his rage on preachers and theologians.[37] In a letter to Polyander he uses strong words about ministers who from the pulpit vomit abuse on the magistrates, yet cry out that their kind may not be touched,[38] and in another letter to Vossius he gives a very sarcastic description of a meeting of reconciliation where the Calvinist delegation demands for an equal number of Remonstrants and Counter Remonstrants to be present, “which greatly contributed to peace, for in this way they did not have to share the Lord’s Supper”.[39] In his works Grotius does also criticize ministers and theologians, but less severely.[40] Thus his letters give a better picture of his anticlericalism, something which he shared with, or perhaps learned from, his patron Oldenbarnevelt.

Both in the letters and in his books Grotius claims ignorance of theological questions, and both letters and books refute this claim: in his letter to Gomarus already, Grotius claimed that he did not at all understand the questions over which Arminius and Gomarus disagreed, and he repeated this in a letter to his friend Janus Rutgers.[41] After his arrest, nine years later, Grotius still maintained that he “was not a theologian”, and in the letters to Vossius especially, Grotius asked for theological advice time and again. On the other hand, his long letters on the early councils which condemned Pelagianism and especially his books De satisfactione and De imperio prove that Grotius did possess an extensive knowledge of theology. He submitted his long letter to Du Moulin first to Vossius, who could find nothing in it to criticize, and praised Grotius for his theological knowledge, not for the first time.[42] As the letters show, Grotius prepared his books by reading up church history and borrowing literature from Vossius.[43] Perhaps he was somewhat less at ease with dogmatic theology, although he seems to have a good understanding of that as well, as Vossius implies.

On the one hand the letters are frank and explicit: in the exchange of letters with his friend Walaeus –who held different religious convictions– the tone is intimate: Grotius is explicit about the stupidity of the people and outspoken against popery; he is grateful for Walaeus’ personal letter (amicissimae litterae) and glad that they agree, although they express it differently; sometimes he candidly states that, with all respect, he cannot concur with Walaeus view on divine justice.[44] In a letter to Frederic Sandius, a burgomaster of Arnhem, Grotius seems to present himself more or less openly as a follower of the Remonstrants.[45] Perhaps the most telling letters are those to his friend Casaubon. The two men had exchanged over twenty five letters before they first met, in London in 1613, where Casaubon had moved from France in 1610, after the murder of Henri IV. This was really a close friendship, which

Grotius fondly remembered after twenty-five years as one of the best things that ever happened to him[46]. Even before they met, Grotius wrote at length about religious policy and the unity of the church: ‘unity of the churches is the final goal. This could be reached if James I/VI would be prepared to convoke and preside over an international synod of all protestant churches, held in England. All princes, and the States of the Dutch Republic as well, would surely answer the Royal Theologian’s call. The Roman Catholics would best be kept aside for the moment, but the Eastern churches might perhaps be invited, if Casaubon thinks this is a good idea’. But then Grotius reins himself in: “excuse me, I am writing too freely, and let myself be carried away.[47] Casaubon replied that the King was overjoyed with Grotius’ letter and applauded Grotius’ views on reconciliation. Only, this idea of convoking a synod asked for some more consideration.[48] In a later letter, Casaubon added that James wished to be a member of the church rather than its head.[49] But Grotius did not give up. A few weeks later he suggested that learned men such as Casaubon and many many others in England ‘should take all the protestant confessions, recently collected in a useful book, and remove all controversial articles; the remainder could form the basis for a unified church. However, if Casaubon did not like the idea, he should forget all about this letter, which was written in confidence’.[50] In this case it is evident, and it has been remarked by several scholars, that these letters are anything but spontaneous: Grotius knew very well that Casaubon showed these letters to King James, and most of the ideas contained in them came from Grotius’ master Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Grotius himself says as much: although in his first letter he had said that he wrote liberius (too freely) and impetu (was carried away), in the next one he stated that what he had suggested about a protestant synod was not written rashly or just of his own accord, but after due consideration by several men of experience in religion and politics. Now, with James young and strong, the time is ripe for resistance against Socinian ideas and for revision of the confession.[51] The choice of these two subjects, neither of which was relevant to English church policy, but both of which were topical in the Dutch Republic, proves again that these letters to Casaubon are not at all spontaneous or straightforward.[52] In fact, they were an attempt to involve King James into the Dutch troubles and influence him in favour of the Remonstrants, just as Van Oldenbarnevelt and the States in March 1613 managed to make James sign a letter in favour of the authority of the States and against a national synod.[53] The letters to Casaubon show most clearly what is true for all these letters about religion, church and state: if they do resemble the books so much, and if most of them are sent to foreigners, like his books, they are meant as political propaganda, for winning over England and the Palatinate to the views of the States of Holland. And then they are perhaps not quite the straightforward, personal communications they seem to be.

In other, less evident, ways as well Grotius was not as candid as one would like to think: why is he using the term papista to Walaeus, also to Lingelsheim, but not to others? Perhaps in order to please his correspondents, for these men were more anti-catholic than Grotius himself and used the term themselves, generally in very negative contexts, or at least the theologians of the Palatinate to whom Lingelsheim was to show Grotius’ letters and books did.[54] In Grotius’ correspondence with Lingelsheim on the other hand, he is often very critical of Lutherans. They disturbed the ecclesiastical peace in several German States, and it is good that the Landesherren stopped up their mouth, for they depart much more from the ancient church than Remonstrants do.[55] But surely the Lutherans belonged to the same protestant churches which Grotius had wanted James to convoke to England for a synod. Only, it was more expedient to criticise them to his Palatinate connections. Even Grotius’ apparent ‘confession’ that he leans to the Remonstrant side in his letter to Sandius is not quite what it seems: Grotius says, and he emphasizes his candour by using (again) the word liber, that in his eyes the views of the Remonstrants are more modest and less dangerous, not, I think, because these views are more true, but because the Remonstrants are more peaceful than their opponents.[56] That should persuade his friend the burgomaster that Remonstrants are best.

We see Grotius being somewhat less than honest in other areas as well: he explains to his friend Vossius that a certain letter received by Vossius from a minister aims at eliciting indiscretions from him, and spells out to him the vague and noncommittal answers he must give –enough to make us wary in interpreting Grotius’ own letters.[57] Grotius’ friend Petrus Bertius helped him in collecting passages from ancient theologians, and in his turn asked Grotius for advice about a book against the German theologian Piscator, which Grotius gave, “in a friendly and open fashion”, as he says himself. But then he immediately wrote a long letter to Wtenbogaert in order to criticise everything Bertius had said. In fact the letter requested Wtenbogaert to assist in impeding publication of Bertius’ book, successfully as it turned out[58]. On the other hand, when Grotius was working on De imperio Vossius and Grotius decided not to let Wtenbogaert in on this, in spite of persistent enquiries by this old friend of Grotius, who had written a Dutch book on the subject in which exactly the same views were expressed. Their reluctance is apparent in the letters the two exchange, but no reason is given. I suppose that it is King James’ negative view of Wtenbogaert: the king had become more and more disenchanted with Wtenbogaert and his books and it would perhaps be undesirable for Grotius and his new book, meant for an international public, to be associated with him.[59]

If Grotius was not always quite straightforward perhaps, one reason is that he was a lawyer, used to special pleading. More important, however, seems his complete certainty that he knew what was best for country and church which it was his duty to accomplish, by all possible means. This sometimes blinded him to reality. On the one hand Grotius was a shrewd judge of men: from the letter which he wrote to Oldenbarnevelt during his mission to England, it is evident that he did realize that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the English Ambassador in the Dutch Republic were his enemies.[60] And there is some truth in his penetrating remark that both James and the Archbishop were Puritans at heart without fully realising it –this is vintage Grotius, especially when he adds that they will easily be cured by his explanations.[61] On the other hand he misjudged bishop Andrewes, that cool politician who turned his back on Grotius.[62] Altogether I think that Grotius simply could not imagine people not giving in to his arguments, since his own views were so undisputably right.

5. Correspondents and misunderstandings

Why did Grotius fundamentally misunderstand his foreign correspondents? For he seems to have thought that Bishops Overall and Andrewes, King James and the German Princes, first of all the Elector Palatine, would come to the rescue of the Remonstrants. Instead Oldenbarnevelt was executed, Grotius imprisoned, and the foreigners came to attend the Synod of Dordt, where the Remonstrants were humilated and sent away. One factor in Grotius’ failure to understand may be that he did not always understand what his foreign correspondents tried to say –more important factors are, of course, the national and international political constellation, and also Grotius’ own stubbornness, optimism and naivety. A closer study is needed than I have undertaken as yet, but I give some impressions. Broadly speaking, in both the English and the German letters the structure matters. In the former case English understatement may have misled Grotius and in the latter case German enthusiasm.

Both Grotius and Casaubon begin their letters with many laudatory remarks and expressions of admiration for the other.[63] Grotius himself then comes up with suggestions for action such as we have seen. Casaubon repeatedly supplements his own compliments by all the positive remarks James had made about Grotius’ plans. In the second, shorter part of such letters from Casaubon we read what is, in my eyes, a clear No from the King. Yet it seems as if Grotius did not hear this. There is no letter from this period which shows us Grotius understanding that James disagreed with his politics in every respect. One reason may be that James’ rejection mainly concerned things on which Grotius had no influence, such as the pro French attitude of Oldenbarnevelt, also irrelevant points, such as the appointment of Vorstius as Arminius’ successor, or Grotius’ cocksureness, rather than Grotius’ views on Church and State. However, both Casaubon, and also John Overall after 1614, do perhaps understate what James, or the successive Archbishops of Canterbury, really thought. In Casaubon’s letters James’ No to practical requests comes generally as a kind of afterthought and wrapped in excuses. Overall stated that there were only “a few things” (pauca) in Grotius’ De imperio with which bishop Andrewes and other learned men would disagree. Both before and after this statement, however, Overall mentioned some criticisms which touched upon the heart of the book. Grotius replied that he would, of course, listen to their arguments, but that Casaubon and Grotius himself had explained why it was otherwise.[64]

His German friend Lingelsheim, on the other hand, praised all Grotius’ books into the sky, and wished him to publish everything he had written.[65] Grotius saw that it was inexpedient to publish his Meletius and his Annales, but Lingelsheim kept pestering him especially for the last one. This should have made Grotius more wary, but he apparently decided to ignore all the negative feedback Lingelsheim gave him: the agent of the States General, Pieter van Brederode, criticised Grotius’ De imperio, but Lingelsheim told Grotius how stubborn and narrow-minded Van Brederode was. Lingelsheim sent Grotius an unfavourable review of De imperio by Paraeus, the most respected theologian of the Palatinate, but Grotius concluded (correctly) that Paraeus had not really read it, and (incorrectly) that therefore his views were unimportant. Then Lingelsheim wrote that Paraeus declined writing something to calm down the Counter Remonstrants, but added optimistic words about interventions of Frederick IV in the Palatinate as an example for the States. In two letters Lingelsheim combined the highest praise for Grotius’ new books with unwelcome news: that Professor Scultetus was no more convinced by Grotius’ books than Paraeus, and that the theologians in the Palatinate had already chosen sides against the Remonstrants.[66] Yet everybody loves Grotius’ books and they should all be published, including the Annales. It seems to me that, in distinction to Casaubon, Lingelsheim tends to begin his letters with the bad news, ending on extensive, enthusiastic praise. Perhaps this confused Grotius, just as it was easy to misunderstand English understatement. Is his claim to Lingelsheim on receiving Overall’s letters, that English bishops and scholars had applauded his book when the reverse is true the result of such misunderstanding? Or is it just a way of keeping up appearances? Or unfounded optimism?

It is time for a few concluding words on Grotius as a correspondent in the years 1610-1618. I may have suggested that all the letters about Church and State are no more than political propaganda, where the end justifies the means. Is Grotius really just a messenger of the States of Holland? Is all this arguing to his fellow regents, and to foreigners and their sovereigns, that ministers must obey magistrates, be tolerant of their colleagues with different views, or convoke a general synod, really nothing but politics and pressure? That would be a very narrow view of letter-writing, and of human relations in  general. Moreover, there is also another side to the question, that of Grotius the scholar and theologian. When Grotius and Casaubon finally met in London, they were both overjoyed. But already before they met Grotius obviously took pride and pleasure in the theological arguments in his letters, and, in doing theological and historical research. To Grotius church history and the interpretation of Scripture counted for more than means to an end, and his later life bears this out.

To return to Grotius’ Calvinist friend Walaeus, in his Opera Omnia there is a curious poem on Grotius swimming in the sea. While he is breasting the waves the Nereids, coveting him, try to drag Grotius down, but Phoebus saves the submerged scholar.[67] The poem suggests to us the image of Grotius confidently cleaving the sea, aiming straight for his goal, but sometimes swimming under water.

Harm-Jan van Dam, Vrije Universiteit GLTC,

De Boelelaan 1081 HV Amsterdam,


Appendix: Letters from Grotius 21.X.1609 – 17.VIII.1618

Correspondent Number of letters
Vossius 80
Casaubon 22
Heinsius 21
Willem de Groot 20
Lingelsheim 16
Wtenbogaert 12
Bertius 10
Meursius 9
Du Maurier 8
Overall 5
Rutgers 5
States of Zeeland 5
Court of Holland 4
Oldenbarnevelt 4
Walaeus 4
Boetzelaer (Langerak) 3
Hotman, J. 3
Thou, J.A. de 3
Cunaeus 2
Elmenhorst 2
Hooft, P.C. 2
Polyander 2
Colterman, D. 1
De Dominis 1
Episcopius 1
Board of the States of Holland 1
Gevartius 1
Gomarus 1
Huygens, C. 1
Maria van Reigersberch 1
Myle, A. v.d 1
Pontanus 1
Raphelengius 1
Sande, F. van de 1
Schotte, A. 1
Scriverius 1
States General 1
States of Holland 1
Winwood 1
Witte, B. de 1

[1] ‘vitanda esse duo praecipitia, prius ne peccandi causas Deo … adscri­bamus, posterius ne boni salutaris originem ad vires referamus deprava­tae naturae … Et haec quidem Scylla est sane metuenda; neque vero minus periculosa est ex adverso latere Charybdis, Pelagianismus scilicet aut Semipelagianismus …’ (two extremes are to be avoided, the first is ascribing the causes of sin to God, the other is thinking that the strength of our sinful nature is the source of our salvation. Although we certainly have cause to fear this Scylla, Charybdis across from her is just as dangerous, that is to say Pelagianism or Semipelagianism): Ordinum Pietas, ed. Edwin Rabbie (Leiden 1995) §§ 35-37, cf. Walaeus in Grotius Briefwisseling (Correspondence, hereafter quoted as BW) 216, 01.XII.1612 ‘… vitentur duo scopuli …’ (two rocks must be avoided) and Rabbie ad loc. for similar expressions in other writings of Grotius e.g BW 312, 27.I.1614 to Sandius.

[2] Between the oral presentation of my paper and the writing of this article Henk Nellen published his masterful biography of Grotius based on the correspondence (Hugo de Groot. Een leven in strijd om de vrede 1583-1645, Amsterdam, Balans, 2007). This book has only one drawback: it is difficult to add anything to it.

[3] For the above outline, see Edwin Rabbie’s introduction to his edition of Ordinum Pietas (Leiden 1995) esp. 29 ff., the introduction to my edition of Grotius’ De imperio summarum potestatum circa sacra (Leiden 2001), 1-30, especially Nellen Hugo de Groot, chapters 4-7, and the literature mentioned there.

[4] Nellen Hugo de Groot 76-7.

[5] J. den Tex Oldenbarnevelt (Haarlem-Groningen 1960-1972, 5 vols) 3.109-10, Van Dam De imperio 14.

[6] Nellen Hugo de Groot 120-5. On Walaeus, see ibid. 123, G.H.M. Posthumus Meyjes (ed.) Meletius (Leiden 1988), 46-57.

[7] BW 299, 02.XI.1613: haec ego uti cum dolore aliquo ita nec absque risu scribo (p. 275).

[8] P. 276 Tantum tam cito sis mutatus ab illo (How changed you are, and how swiftly, from that former self), a reference to Vergil’s Aeneid (2.274) which Vossius puts in the mouth of Grotius’opponents, fittingly, for further on he explicitly states that they quote an adaptation of Aeneid 1.475 against him. On amazed reactions to Grotius’ “new” convictions, see also Rabbie Ordinum Pietas 61-2, 65.

[9] This includes the letters published in the supplement volume, BW, XVII, most of which are official or semi-official letters about technical legal or political questions.

[10] See Nellen Hugo de Groot 16-17.

[11] See my edition of De imperio 79-82, where it is shown that important information pertaining to the first edition of this book is found only in the manuscript letters of Sarrau and Saumaise, for it is omitted in the 1654 published version of Sarrau’s correspondence. On mangled names in Grotius’ 1687 Epistulae quotquot, see Nellen 388.

[12] On these functions, see Nellen 15-6, 118, 123, 130, 143, 163, 209.

[13] BW 176 – 581 + 70 letters in the supplement volume = 475, 671 pages altogether.

[14] On this (in)famous poem, see Nellen 116-7. In BW 137, early June 1608, to Nic. van Reigersberch, Grotius claimed that Gomarus repeatedly expressed the wish to have a conversation with him.

[15] On their relationship, see Nellen 69-73, also Nellen in H.J.M. Nellen – J. Trapman (eds.), De Hollandse jaren van Hugo de Groot (1583-1621) (Hilversum 1996), 161-77.

[16] On Casaubon, see below, on Overall, see Van Dam De imperio. 37 n. 2 and 39 ff., on Lingelsheim, see A.E. Walter, Späthumanismus und Konfessionspolitik: die europäische Gelehrtenrepublik um 1600 im Spiegel der Korrespondenz Georg Michael Lingelsheims, Tübingen 2004.

[17] vir (or name) clarissime (e.g. Cunaeus, Heinsius, Lingelsheim, Hotman, Polyander), doctissime (Heinsius, Meursius, Rutgers), eruditissime (Bertius, Casaubon), amplissime domine (Casaubon, Lingelsheim, Schotte),

[18] reverende: Overall, Polyander, Vossius, Walaeus, Wtenbogaert, reverendissime: De Dominis, Overall. To Wtenbogaert: vir mihi merito semper venerande (BW 285), vir mihi maxime venerande (BW 287), vir plurimis mihi nominibus reverende (288).

[19] BW 224, cf. 329 vir citra comparationem doctissime. On Casaubon, see M. Pattison, Isaac Casusbon (1559-1614), Oxford 19822, G.H.M. Posthumus Meyjes, ‘Twee vrienden, Isaaac Casaubon en Hugo de Groot …’, in Opstellen aangeboden aan E.J. Kuiper (Groningen 1993), 37-56.

[20] Vir Clarissime atque amicorum optime (BW 498: Dear sir, best of friends), Vir clarissime atque optime (505), Vir clarissime, summe amicorum (530, 555: Dear sir, first among friends), Vir clarissime atque amicissime (532, 552: Dear sir, dearest friend). In BW 434, of 27.XI.1615 Grotius states Non alium habeo cuius aut amicitiae aut iudicio plus confidam.

[21] BW 459, 23.VI.1616… more Romano, non seculi nostri, quo inferiores non sic ad tui ordinis ac dignitatis viros scribere solent. Vossius addresses Grotius as “amplissime”, “magnifice” or “amplissime et magnifice”.

[22] Nellen 537-9, see especially BW 5039 (02.II.1641, to Willem de Groot), 5066 (18.II.1641, from Willem de Groot), and 5348 (02.IX.1641, from Vossius).

[23] “een vormelijke, rechtlijnige en gesloten man”, Nellen 1996, 174 (see note 15), repeated in Nellen Hugo de Groot 573.

[24] BW 447, 10.II.1616. The larger part of it, with more explanatory notes than in BW, is published in my edition of De imperio, 896-937.

[25] See BW 438, December 1615. The remark is on p. 431. See also Van Dam De imperio 18-9 with note 1. Casaubon agreed with Grotius: BW 223, 06.II.1612.

[26] On Meletius and Walaeus, see n. 6 above, on De satisfactione (ed. Rabbie, Assen 1990), see BW 410, 411, 412, cf. 417A, 428, 457 and 475 to and from Sandius, 482 and 488 to and from Polyander, and 497 in which Vossius gives Episcopius’ judgement of De satisfactione.

[27] On this central tenet of Grotius (at least until the 1640’s), see Ordinum Pietas § 90 (with Erasmus), J. Trapman Erasmus in de Gouden eeuw … (Rotterdam 2006), 17, BW 551, 14.XII.1617 to Lingelsheim, E. Rabbie, “Het irenisme van Hugo de Groot”, Jaarboek Maatschappij Nederl. Letterk. 1992-93 (Leiden 1994), 56-72, Nellen Hugo de Groot 123-4, n. 53 on p. 640, also Bona Fides Lubberti (ed. Rabbie in Ordinum Pietas Appendix 9) §§ 41, 51-3.

[28] BW 170, 18.IX.1609 (p. 150), to P. Jeannin.

[29] Letters to and from Heinsius, Rutgers, Cunaeus, Meursius, and some of the correspondence with Willem de Groot and Vossius, are dedicated to these philological themes; on Grotius’activities at this time, see also Nellen 229, on Lucan 157-8, on the poetry 179-80.

[30] BW 460, 26.VI.1616 Apud nos ecclesiae status paulatim ad quietem redit … certe non esse ob tales controversias scindendam Ecclesiam fere inter omnes convenit, (p. 516), cf. BW 458, 23.VI.1616 to Vossius, on poetry.

[31] Nellen Hugo de Groot 190-8.

[32] BW 551, 14.XII.1617: … scissura quae nunc magnis subnixa fautoribus magnos fecit gradus.

[33] Cf. E. Rummel, ‘The Use of Greek in Erasmus’ Letters’, Humanistica Lovaniensia 30 (1981), 55-92.

[34] BW 299, 02.XI.1613, p. 276: Velim … apud neminem de literis aut iudicio meo facias mentionem (Please, do not mention this letter or my views to anyone).

[35] See for instance the many parallels between letters and books in the commentaries by Rabbie and myself on Ordinum Pietas, De satisfactione and De imperio (via the indices of references to Grotius’ own works).

[36] BW 215, 11.XI.1611, 221, and 11.I.1612, both to Walaeus, 529, 08.IX.1617, to Lingelsheim. In Ordinum Pietas § 94 the term is used in a quotation from Lubbertus.

[37] On plebs: BW 215, 11.XI.1611, to Walaeus: apud indoctam plebem (in the presence of the uneducated masses), 470, 13.VIII.1616, to Du Maurier: plebs horrendum et exitiale spectaculum praebuit (the mob offered a horrible, destructive spectacle), 514, 17.VI.1617 to Vossius: non plebi sed eruditis (not for the mob but for educated men). On theologians and preachers: BW 224, 07.II.1612, to Casaubon: (odia) quae nisi maneant, theologorum praecipui regnum se suum tenere non posse arbitrantur ((hatred) the chief theologians are of the opinion that they will lose their power unless it persists), 278, 05.IX.1613, to Lingelsheim :utinam tandem discant theologi concordiam mentium retinere … aut saltem plebem a suis certaminibus immunem et quietam pati… Sed ego in theologis perparum spei video (if only the theologians could learn to remain of one mind, or at least to leave the common man alone and free from their disputes … But I have almost no hopes of theologians).

[38]BW 369, 14.IX.1614 to Polyander At isti homines qui in magistratus convicia vomunt e plaustro politicum ordinem crudeliter proscindunt; si quid in ipsos pari iure dicitur, clamant ordinem et, quod plus est, ecclesia laedi. In BW 380, 23.X.1614, to Lingelsheim Grotius compares Sibrandus Lubbertus to a mad dog, states that wise men know that is is almost impossible to cure full-grown vices, especially in the case of theologians, and says that audacia theologorum quorundam, the impudence of certain theologians, insulted the elite.

[39] BW 429, 07.XI.1615, cf. 380, 23.X.1614, to Lingelsheim: eccelesiastici quidam … contemptores magistratuum sub ecclesiae nomine ferociunt (some ministers, scorners of the magistrates, are raving under the colours of the church), 470, 13.VIII.1616, to Du Maurier: (mala) recrudescunt eorum flabellis quos omnibus pacis suasores esse oportuit. Hi sunt qui … per Ecclesiae rupturam impetum in rempublicam faciunt (they fan the flames, the troubles break out again by the doing of men who should urge peace upon everyone. These are the men who break up the Church and thereby invade the State).

[40] E.g. Bona Fides 1 Ecclesiis putat (Grotius) melius fore consultum, si pastores quidam essent magistratuum reverentiores (Grotius thinks that it would be more helpful to the churches if some preachers showed more respect to the magistrates). The most vehement passage in De imperio is 9.20 (pastores) Qui clavium nomen tribuniciis contentionibus obtendunt magistratibus et … traducunt palam idque apud plebem (preachers, who use the word ‘keys’ as a pretext for their demagogic sermons, publicly exposing the magistrates before the common people), see my edition p. 794.

[41] BW 181, 24.XII.1609 to Gomarus: Caeterum, quae Arminio tecum et cum bonis multis disconvenere, ea nec satis scio nec si sciam me temere interponam … 182, 24.XII.1609 to Janus Rutgers (controversiae) quarum magnam parten me non intelligere ingenue profiteor (questions the better part of which I am unable to understand, to tell the truth).

[42] See BW 434, 27.XI.1615 and Vossius’ reply 437, 30.XI.1615. In BW 299, 02.XI.1613 already (see note 7) Vossius stated that Grotius’ opponents could not stand the idea that someone who was not a theologian was so much at home with the subject.

[43] BW I 359, 10.VIII.1614 to Vossius on reading church history. On borrowing books, e.g. De imperio (van Dam) pp. 38-9, BW I 44923.II.1616.

[44] BW 214, 215, 216, 221 (with the quotation).

[45] BW 312, 27.I.1614 … Addam et illud libere mihi Remon<stran>tium sententiam non quatenus cum altera pugnat sed quatenus minus … [some letters missing] et modestiorem et tutiorem videri. I will add candidly that the view of the Remonstrants seems more modest and safer to me, not because it is more in conflict with the other view, but because it is less …  . See also below.

[46] BW 4096, 07.V.1639, to Gronovius.

[47] BW 219, 07.I.1612, pp. 192-3.

[48] BW 223, 06-.II.1612.

[49] BW 226, 22.II.1612 p. 198.

[50] BW 229, 05.III.1612.

[51] BW 224, 07.II.1617 addo … neque temere me neque meo solius consilio scripsisse, sed re prius diligenter et mecum et cum aliquot viris tum religione tum prudentia eximiis in omnem parten examinata … muniet consensus ille communis Ecclesias singulas ab Arii et Samosateni veneno.

[52] On the letters to Casaubon and Grotius’ agenda, see now Nellen Hugo de Groot 122-3, 130. 134-5.

[53] See De imperio (Van Dam) 20-1 and 27 with notes.

[54] David Paraeus uses the term papista more than once in his judgement of Grotius’ De imperio, see my De imperio pp. 952-5, also 39-40.

[55] Cf BW 477, 24.IX.1616, to Lingelsheim. De imperio (Van Dam) 750-1.

[56] See note 45 above. The missing word(s) are less important here (perhaps vult or poscit?).

[57] BW 429, 07.XI.1615.

[58] BW 358, 03.VIII.1614. Wtenbogaert noted on the back of the letter: ‘important criticism of Bertius’ book by Grotius’ (Grotius … de Bertii historia Pelagiana censura notabilis). On this book by Bertius and also on other hazardous actions by him, see Nellen, Hugo de Groot, 166-9.

[59] Cf. De imperio (Van Dam) 962 n. 3.

[60] BW 263, 18.V.1613.

[61] BW 259, 19.IV.1613 to Oldenbarnevelt.

[62] De imperio (Van Dam) 41 ff., Nellen Hugo de Groot 136-7.

[63] Posthumus Meyjes, 1993 (see n. 19) 41.

[64] BW 539, 05.X.1617, and 543, (around 30.X.)1617. See De imperio (Van Dam) 41-4.

[65] E.g. BW I 561, 14.I.1618 (p. 606).

[66] BW 538, 08.XI.1617 and 561, 14.I.1618.

[67] A. Walaeus, Opera Omnia, Lugd. Batavorum 1647-48, vol. II p. 507. Grotius himself composed a poem in 1607 on what was perhaps the same occasion, when his (then future) brother in law Johan saved him from drowning, see Dichtwerken 1 2a/b 4, 451-3 (Ed. Rabbie), also Nellen Hugo de Groot 35 with n. 64, and, for the same metaphor from swimming, 316.