- Hugo Grotius as Apologist for the Christian Religion: A Study of His Work De veritate religionis christianae (1640), and: Grotius and the Stoa
Two very different, but complementary, books are reviewed here. The first is a dissertation defended in 1992 by a scholar who, inspired by study of Grotius, became a lawyer and hence had little time to prepare this work for publication. While Grotius as Apologist is a rather traditional historical-critical study of a text, it is very well done and deserves the attentions of a translator of the stature of J. C. Greyson and inclusion in the late Heiko Oberman's distinguished series. Heering puts De veritate in the context of Grotius's life and discusses the development of the text, its editions, contents, purpose and method, sources and the extensive notes providing additional historical material that Grotius later added to it.
Like Grotius and the Stoa, the other book reviewed here, Heering's book is as a window on the late humanistic era and its place in the construction of modernism. While De veritate has in itself little of import for today and could never have been considered a work of great originality (its six books are each based, to a great degree on one or another, of just three sources: Mornay, Socinus, and Vives), Heering's detailed analysis of the text and what Grotius was doing in it makes it valuable as a time capsule of his intellectual culture.
The justification for Heering's study is the claim, quoted from Huizinga, that Grotius was known in his own time not for De iure belli ac pacis but as the Christian apologist who wrote the famed De veritate. Heering offers statistical support for this claim; there have been a total of seventy-four editions and eighty-seven translations of De veritate and its Dutch original. The book was widely used as a tool against atheism and agnosticism well into the eighteenth century and as a missionary tract into the nineteenth century.
The issue, then, is what made the book so attractive? The answer arises from the way Grotius's mindset and Neo-Stoical humanism responded to the vicious ideological conflict to which he addressed his work. The Dutch version was written [End Page 690] while Grotius was imprisoned as an ally of Oldenbarneveldt and the Armenian Remonstrants in their conflicts with Prince Maurice and the Synod of Dorp. Other poetry he had written from prison having been well received, his friend Gerard Vossius urged him to produce a larger work that might aid efforts to have him released. This purpose became moot, however, when Grotius escaped prison, concealed, with his poem, in a box of books, in 1622. In De veritate, Grotius, refusing to debate theology with Counter-Remonstrants, is totally non-dogmatic, being unwilling even to argue for the divinity of Christ. He takes the position that dogmatics can be taken up only by those who already believe in the historical truth of the New Testament religion. More to the point, says Heering, Grotius takes the very Erasmian stance that religious truth is witnessed not by dogmatic purity but by peace and unity and it was to this end that he built his argument. It was this stance (especially since it defined peace and unity as among an "us," the Christians, who stand together in our basic truth, over against the false beliefs of "them," Jews and Muslims) that made De veritate so useful for later thinkers attempting to defend religion in Europe from a rationalized, often Neo-Stoic, latitudinarian, or "Arminian" position, or attempting to convert followers of other religions...