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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’.

Affiliations: 1: Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton,


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