Publications

Journal Articles

“Salomon van Til (1643–1713): His Appropriation of Cartesian Tenets in His Compendium of Natural Theology.” Church History and Religious Culture 94, no. 3 (2014): 337-57.
Abstract: In recent decades theologians and intellectual historians have given considerable attention to the dissemination of Cartesianism in the seventeenth century Dutch Republic. Scholars have focused primarily on the initial reception of Descartes’s ideas, the early reactions from his major critics and the more radical expressions of Carte- sianism later on. Only in recent years have scholars begun to realize the considerable impact that moderate second-generation Cartesian theologians exerted on the intellec- tual climate in the Netherlands of the eighteenth century. Salomon van Til (1643–1713) ranks high among these thinkers. Yet despite his international reputation at that time, Van Til has been almost completely neglected in current research. This article analyzes Van Til’s appropriation of Cartesian tenets within his Compendium of Natural Theology (1704). Paying close attention to his intellectual context, it argues that the substan- tial usage of central elements of the Cartesian outlook, clearly manifested both in the method and in the content of the Compendium, should be interpreted in light of Van Til’s apologetic goal: to defend the Christian faith against the perceived onslaught of unbelief.

Keywords: Reformed Orthodoxy; Early Enlightenment; Cartesianism; Cocceianism

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“New Perspectives on Reformed Scholasticism in France: A Few Remarks on a Recent Monograph exploring the Life and Work of the Huguenot Theologian Claude Pajon (1626–1685)” Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie 64, no. 1 (2017): 233–244.

Contributions to Edited Volumes

Henk van den Belt (ed.) et al. Synopsis Purioris Theologiae / Synopsis of a Purer Theology: Latin Text and English Translation. Vol. 2, Disputations 24-42. Translated by Riemer A Faber. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions 204; Text and Sources, 8. Leiden: Brill, 2016.
Abstract: This bilingual edition of the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (1625) provides English readers access to an influential textbook of Reformed Orthodoxy. Composed by four professors at the University of Leiden (Johannes Polyander, Andreas Rivetus, Antonius Walaeus, and Anthonius Thysius), it offers a presentation of Reformed theology as it was conceived in the first decades of the seventeenth century. From a decidedly Reformed perspective, the Christian doctrine is defined in contrast with alternative or diverging views, such as those of Roman Catholics, Arminians, and Socinians. The Synopsis responds to challenges coming from the immediate theological, social, and philosophical contexts. The disputations of this second volume cover topics such as Predestination, Christology, Faith and Repentance, Justification and Sanctification, and Ecclesiology.

Scholarships and Awards

Advanced Theological Studies Fellowship at the TU Kampen in June/July 2014.
Fellow at the Meeter Center for Calvin Studies (Calvin College – Grand Rapids, MI) in July/August 2016
Regard Fellow at the Institut d’histoire de la Réformation (University of Geneva) in June/July 2017
Prof. dr. S. van der Linde-Award for the best Master's thesis in the field of the History of Reformed Protestantism, 22 December 2017

 


Unpublished works

Paper Presentations (in preparation for publication)

“Salomon van Til (1643-1713) and the Reception of Spinoza among Late Seventeenth-Century Dutch Aristocrats,” Meeting Spinoza: Books, Letters, Networks, Personal Encounters, Utrecht (NL), 5-6 October 2017.
Abstract: At least since the publication of Freudenthal’s Lebensgeschichte in 1899, the name of the Dutch minister and theology professor Salomon van Til (1643–1713) has been consistently mentioned in modern studies on Spinoza’s life and work, albeit often only in passing or in a footnote. Most notably, Van Til’s remark about an unpublished Spanish tract, which Spinoza allegedly wrote in the 1650s as an Apology for his defection from Judaism, has given rise to many discussions and speculations. Today, scholars are still divided as to whether Van Til’s account should be rejected as a mere “fable” (H. Krop, 2014) or taken seriously as a historical fact, which can be backed up with additional evidence (M. van Buuren, 2016). While this specific historical question is certainly of interest when it comes to the genesis of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Van Til’s work deserves attention for more than an isolated historical detail. As a minister and theology professor in Dordrecht, he was instrumental in setting up a “learned society” (collegium eruditum) for educated upper-class citizens, which met on a weekly basis to discuss the intellectual issues of the day. Not surprisingly, Spinoza and his philosophy was on the agenda of this society. Based on the discussions in this society, Van Til published a two-part treatise containing his engagement with Spinoza’s thought: The Forecourt of the Gentiles (1694; Continuation of the Forecourt, 1696). Dealing with various controversial aspects of Spinoza’s thought, the Forecourt provides a good example of how Spinoza’s thought was received among the aristocratic elite of an important Dutch city in the final decade of the seventeenth century. It is significant for several reasons. First, there are indications that Van Til had in his disposition a unique collection of unpublished historical sources on Spinoza’s life and thought when he wrote the Forecourt. Second, leading intellectuals of the time deemed this treatise worthy of review in their journals (Boekzaal van Europe, Histoire des ouvrages des sçavans, Acta Eruditorum), through which it gained attention in the wider intellectual community even outside the Dutch Republic. Third, the Forecourt served as an important source for Pierre Bayle, when he composed the highly influential lemma on Spinoza for his Dictionaire historique et critique (1697). Thus, there are plenty of reasons for a fresh investigation into this neglected work of an equally neglected theologian. This paper will provide a historical analysis of Van Til’s engagement with Spinoza in the Forecourt with a view to ascertaining its role in the Cartesian-Spinozan debates of the late-seventeenth century.
“Friendship, Covenant, and Law: The Doctrine of the Covenant of Works in Johannes Braun (1628-1708),” BEST Conference, Apeldoorn (NL), 30-31st March 2017.
Abstract: The doctrine of the Covenant of Works (foedus operum) formed an integral element of classical federal theology as it is was developed by Reformed thinkers in the the seventeenth century. In the so-called Westminster Standards (1647–48) it was even elevated to confessional status. However, in the twentieth century the traditional form of this doctrine was subject to sharp criticism by neo-Calvinist as well as neo-Orthodox theologians (most notably Karl Barth). According to these critics, this doctrine was a harbinger of Enlightenment theology as it allegedly entailed a Pelagianizing view of mankind in its original relationship with its creator. The present paper consists in a fresh investigation into the work of one of the foremost representatives of classical federalism in the Netherlands of the (late) seventeenth century (namely Johannes Braun, 1628-1708) with a view to re-assessing the doctrine of the foedus operum in light of the twentieth-century criticisms.
“'Status ergo hominis fuit beatissimus': The Doctrine of the Original State of Man in the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (1625),” Sixteenth Century Society and Conference, Bruges (BE), 18-20th August 2016.
Abstract: According to Christiaan Sepp, the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (SPT, 1625) dominated the dogmatic discourse in the Netherlands for more than thirty years and exerted a formative influence on the shape and content of early modern Reformed thought. This paper analyses the SPT’s teaching on the so-called status integritatis (i.e. the original state of man before the fall) against the background of the developments in Reformed theology. Drawing on ideas developed in the late-sixteenth century, Reformed theologians in the seventeenth century increasingly came to interpret the original state of Adam and his relationship with God in covenantal terms (foedus operum). In this covenantal interpretation, some scholars have argued, a particularly Reformed (as opposed to Lutheran / Roman-Catholic) notion regarding the status integritatis comes to full expression – namely, the notion of perfectibility. In light of this claim, it is interesting to note that covenantal language is almost completely absent from the various sections in the SPT, where the original state is treated. Moreover, a case can be made that the authors of the SPT did not endorse the notion of the perfectibility of man in statu integritatis. Instead, they strongly emphasized Adam’s highest perfection as created in the imago Dei. Thus, the SPT seems to fall outside the mainstream of Reformed thought in the seventeenth century regarding its doctrine of the original state of man before the fall.
“Beyond the Era of Purer Theology: A Survey of the Abiding Impact of the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (1625) in the Second Half of the Seventeenth Century,” Sixth RefoRC Conference, Copenhagen (DK), 26-28th May 2016.
Abstract: In the introduction to the first volume of the new bilingual edition of the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (Leiden: Brill, 2015), this early modern theological handbook is labeled a „seminal treatise of Reformed Scholasticism.“ This assessment can easily be backed up with references to the available (albeit rather scarce) secondary literature. In the late-nineteenth century, the Dutch church historian C. Sepp argued that the SPT dominated the dogmatic discourse in the Netherlands for more than three decades during what he labeled the „era of the theologia purior“ (1625-58). Later, this claim was further substantiated by C.P. van Itterzon (1930) and C.A. Tukker (1975). Thus there is little doubt as to the importance of the SPT for theological education in the Dutch Republic up until the 1650s. Apart from that, however, the reception history of the SPT still remains to be written. Little is known about its impact in its home country after the era of the theologia purior, and even less about its international reception – be it within the Reformed community or beyond the confessional boundaries. This paper seeks to make a modest contribution towards filling this gap by focusing on three specific contexts. Firstly, the role of the SPT in the intra-mural debates within the Dutch Reformed Church in the latter part of the seventeenth century will be analyzed. Secondly, a brief survey will be given regarding the usage of the SPT in orthodox Lutheran dogmatics. Finally, attention is given to the reception of the SPT outside of the Protestant realm, particularly among Roman-Catholic theologians in France. Based on this threefold analysis, it is argued that the SPT had an abiding international impact even after the „era of Purer Theology“ when it was no longer used as the standard textbook in Dutch Universities.
“The Bible and the 'New Science': The Copernican Hypothesis and Dutch Cartesian Hermeneutics in the Late 17th Century,” Darkness and Illumination: the Pursuit of Knowledge in the Medieval and Early Modern World, Durham (EN), 13-17th July 2015.
Abstract: While its immediate impact in the sixteenth century seems to have been rather small, the Copernican hypothesis of a heliocentric universe became a much contested notion in the seventeenth century. In the early modern Dutch Republic, this issue was fought out in the context of the broader debate on Cartesianism, which took its course in the 1640s and continued well into the early eighteenth century. The adversaries of Descartes generally took exception to the Copernican worldview as an implication of Cartesian natural philosophy. They considered the heliocentric worldview to be in conflict with the plain teaching of the bible, even if they acknowledged its merits as an astronomical hypothesis. Dutch Cartesians on the other hand, went out of their way to argue for the compatibility of heliocentrism with Scripture leading to heated controversies in the late 1650s. In order to succeed in this argument, these ‘Cartesian Copernicans’ like Christoph Wittich (1625-1687) not only had to make a convincing case for revising the traditional understanding of the relationship between theology and (natural) philosophy. They also had to develop a hermeneutical theory that could account for the geocentric language in the scriptural proof-texts adduced by their opponents. The present paper traces the popular repercussions of these academic controversies in the late seventeenth century by investigating relevant sections of the apologetical and exegetical work of Salomon van Til (1643-1713), an influential yet often neglected figure. From this contextual analysis it appears that a moderate form of the ‘Cartesian hermeneutics’ developed in the 1650s survived the ongoing anti-Cartesian polemics and became increasingly popular both within and outside of the academic realm. Thus, even before the advent of Newtonian physics in the early eighteenth century, heliocentrism had a considerable pedigree as a theologically tenable worldview.
“Lux et testimonium Dei in hominis mente: The concept of conscience and its formative role in the Cartesian epistemology of Johannes Braun (1628-1708),” The Tree of Knowledge: Theories of Sciences and Arts in Central Europe, 1400−1700, Warsaw (PL), 29 May 2015.
Abstract: Although recent decades have seen a considerable resurgence of interest in the Early Dutch Enlightenment, Scholars have given only little attention to the so-called „Cartesio-Cocceian movement“ among theologians in the Netherlands the latter seventeenth century. According to notable intellectual historians (J. Israel; W. Mijnhardt), however, it was this „movement“ or „school“ that exerted a formative influence on the intellectual developments in the eighteenth century Dutch Republic. Thus, in order to address this hiatus, the present paper focuses on the Groningen theologian and philosopher Johannes Braun (1628-1708), who ranks high among Cocceius’ pupils and did not make bones of his sympathies for Descartes’s philosophy. More particularly, this paper will present an analysis of Braun’s concept of conscientia against the background of the debates between the so-called ‚Voetians’ and the ‚Cartesio-Cocceians‘. While the former group adhered to the traditional approach and terminology, the latter not only abandoned established scholastic distinctions , but also transformed the concept of conscientia into a central anthropological category. In his popular magnum opus Doctrina foederum (1st edition 1688, five prints until 1711; Dutch translation 1694, four prints until 1737) Braun discusses the human conscience in the context of the doctrine of God and in relation to the truthfulness of God. In line with Descartes’s epistemological theory, he argues that man can attain indubitable knowledge by means of „clear and distinct perception.“ Unlike Descartes, however, he attributes this perception to human conscience, which is viewed as an infallible inner judge not only in matters pertaining to morals but also in questions concerning truth. Moreover, Braun applies a lot of effort to give his Cartesian epistemology a decidedly theological interpretation, to clarify misconceptions and to defend it against the various charges coming from his anti-Cartesian opponents. As it turns out, Braun’s concept of conscience provides a fine example of the way in which Dutch theologians sought to accommodate Descartes’s epistemological insights within their theological outlook and use them for their purposes. Moreover, it might also provide some new insights into the intricate question concerning the nature of the „Cartesio-Cocceian alliance.“
“The 'Tree of Life': Developing Sacramental Interpretations in Reformed Orthodoxy,” NOSTER Spring PhD Conference, Soesterberg (NL), 13 April 2015.
Abstract: This paper consists in a historical inquiry into a neglected aspect of early modern Reformed dogmatics, namely the role of the ‘tree of life’ in the pre-fall state of mankind. Having sketched the medieval and Reformation background of this issue, attention will be given to key discussions and developments in the course of the seventeenth century, particularly concerning the sacramental interpretation of this tree in the context of a pre-lapsarian covenant between God and man.
“'Fighting against the 'Attacker of the Faith': The Anti-Spinozan Polemics of Salomon van Til (1643-1713),” Advanced Theological Studies Fellowship at TU Kampen (NL), 2 July 2014.
Abstract: Salomon van Til (1643-1713) was a Reformed pastor and theologian who lived and worked in the Dutch Republic during a critical time of theological and philosophical upheaval. This presentation focuses on Van Til’s reaction to the highly controversial Philosophy of Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677). While his first engagement with “Spinozism” dates back as far as the late 1670s, his major contributions to the debate on the more popular level were published in the 1690s. In Het Voor-Hof der Heydenen (Forecourt of the Gentiles, 1694) and the Vervolg op’t Voor-Hof (Continuation of the Forecourt, 1696) he set out to defend traditional doctrines of Christian Orthodoxy against the innovative ideas of Spinoza mainly in the field of Bible interpretation (higher critical theories concerning the Pentateuch) and metaphysics (substance monism). In doing so, he drew on both traditional apologetic arguments and the rationalistic philosophy of Descartes and his Dutch followers. Although it is rather difficult to assess the actual impact of Van Til’s work, it is argued that it played a significant role in preventing Radical Enlightenment thought to spread and to pave the way for the moderate Dutch Enlightenment of the eighteenth century.

Thesis

“In via ad Iustitiam et Beatitudinem: Salomon van Til (1643-1713) über Gottes Bund mit dem ersten Menschen,” MA Thesis, ETF Leuven, 2013.
Abstract: This study deals with an aspect of the Covenant Theology of the late orthodox Reformed theologian Salomon van Til (1643–1713), namely his doctrine of the Covenant of Works (foedus operum). The aim is to give an accurate analysis of the content, function, and significance of this doctrine as it is presented in Van Til’s systematic magnum opus Theologiæ utriusque Compendium cum naturalis tum revelatæ, which was first published in 1704. In order to achieve this goal, Van Til and his work are first placed within their particular political, cultural, philosophical and – most importantly – theological context of the late Dutch Republic. Here, as well as in the short analysis of the Compendium it will become obvious that Van Til was a follower of the famous, yet controversial Leiden theologian Johannes Cocceius and had affinities with the philosophy of René Descartes. It will be argued that his doctrine of the Covenant of Works stands in basic continuity with the Reformed federal tradition, which itself modified the received Augustinian notion on the prelapsarian state of Adam by means of late-medieval Franciscan concepts and Reformational insights. Moreover, it will be suggested that it can be read as an expression of his twofold concern to maintain the unity of the church by upholding basic beliefs about the original state of Adam and defend those revealed truths against the rising opposition of ‚Atheists‘, Spinozists and Libertines.

Workshops

“Internet Resources & Software for PhD Research,” Doctoral Colloquium, ETF Leuven, 4 September 2015.

CHRC

SPT2