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Minimal Religion, Deism and Socinianism: On Grotius’s Motives for Writing De Veritate

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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.

Affiliations: 1: Huygens Institute, The Hague, Email:, URL:


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