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Hugo Grotius
(Huig deGroot)

Annotations in Apocalypse (1644)

"Al is de Leughen snel, de Waarheydt achterhaaltse wel."
Though lies move fast, Truth catches up at last."

 Annotations on the New Testament, in nine volumes (1641-44) – Latin only… there is no known English translation.

Annotations on the New Testament: Compiled from the Best Critical Authorities (1829) | Preterist Eschatology in the Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries | The Truth of the Christian Religion | Life of Hugo Grotius  | The Life of the truly Eminent and Learned Hugo Grotius (1754 PDF) Containing a Copious and Circumstantial History of the Several Important and Honourable Negotiations in which he was employed ; Together with a Critical Account of his Works.

Huig de Groot was his Dutch name. “Hugo Grotius” is the Latin version

History of New Testament Research: Michaelis / Grotius

“Christ, if I am capable of discerning any thing, distinctly answers two distinct questions. – The coming of Christ many do not distinguish from the end of the world, being, I apprehend, deceived by the ambiguity of the word; for it is most certain, that the word parousia [or coming] has a diversity of acceptation. – I here interpret it, not of the Judgment, but of THE KINGDOM of the Messiah.”

“he considers that there are no grounds for expecting the Lord’s personal, visible presence on earth, but rather a presence of the Spirit and its power in his ordinances with his saints living on earth” James K. Cameron, Hugo Grotius, Theologian, p. 167


Richard Baxter: “I must in Gratitude Profess that I have learnt more from Grotius then from almost any Writer.. that ever I read.” (Calendar I, no. 234 n. I.)

Froom: “When Grotius’ authorship of the book was detected, it turned all orthodox theologians against him’, (‘The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers’, volume 2, page 510, 1954)

Henry Hammond: “all that this very learned man was guilty of in this matter, was but this, his passionate desire of the unity of the Church in the bands of peace and truth, and a full dislike of all uncharitable distempers, and impious doctrines” (Treatise On The Epistle of Ignatius, 1655)

Benjamin Marshall: “First, As to Grotius, What hath he said as to the accomplishment of this part of the Prophecy ? — Hath he referr’d it to the Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans only in a Secondary Sense? — So far from it, that he hath actually referred the Expressions taken by our blessed Saviour (In Matt. 24:15) from the Prophet Daniel immediately, and primarily to that Destruction. He hath (In Matt. 24:15 Jesus respects Daniel 9:27) positively told us that Christ had regard here to Daniel 9:27. In other places of Daniel, he saith, We grant to the Jews, (and we do so likewise to this Writer,) the Prophet treats of the times of Antioch Epiphanes, but no so here. — Grotius goes on to expose the great absurdity of the modern Jews, their referring this place of Daniel to the times of Antiochus : Whereas the ancient Jews, as he also tells us, understood it of the Destruction of Jerusalem. (vii,viii)”

  • 9/30/12: Henry More (1708) “A confutation of Grotius, his Interpretation, out of our Joint-Exposition” [Early critical analysis of Futurism (Ribera) and Preterism (Grotius)]

  • Viewed to Have Inspired Milton’s Paradise Lost Tiemen De Vries “it seems probable that, whatever else Milton may have read or known about the theme of Paradise Lost, he got from Hugo Grotius the deciding inspiration for the great theme, for the development of which the following years in Milton’s life became so exceedingly favorable. In England the idea that Milton got his first inspiration for Paradise Lost from Grotius, has been held from a very early date, for in the Life of Milton in the English Plutarch, published in 1762, the author says on p. 124: “Mr. Lauder, in his Essay on Milton’s Life and Imitation of the Moderns, has insinuated that Milton’s first hint of Paradise Lost was taken from a tragedy of the celebrated Grotius, called Adamus Exul, and that Milton has not thought it beneath him to transplant some of that author’s beauties into his noble work, as well as some other flowers culled from the gardens of inferior geniuses; but by an elegance of art, and force of nature peculiar to him, he has drawn the admiration of the world upon passages, which, in their original authors, stood neglected and undistinguished.”  (Holland’s influence on English language and literature, p. 301)

  • Jeffrey K. Jue: Heaven on Earth: Joseph Mede and the rise of millenarianism – Section 8 – Challenges from Preterists (2006) This book contributes to the ongoing revision of early modern British history by examining the apocalyptic tradition through the life and writings of Joseph Mede (1586-1638). The history of the British apocalyptic tradition has yet to undergo a thorough revision. Past studies followed a historiographical paradigm which associated millenarianism with a revolutionary agenda. A careful study of Joseph Mede, one of the key individuals responsible for the rebirth of millenarianism in England, suggests a different picture of seventeenth-century apocalypticism. The roots of Mede’s apocalyptic thought are not found in extreme activism, but in the detailed study of the Apocalypse with the aid of ancient Christian and Jewish sources. Mede’s legacy illustrates the geographical prevalence and long-term sustainability of his interpretations. This volume shows that the continual discussion of millenarian ideas reveals a vibrant tradition that cannot be reconstructed to fit within one simple historiographical narrative.

    ‎”The sixteenth century marked the increase of the historical-prophetic exegetical method, while the seventeenth century witnessed the dominance of this hermeneutic. Yet within this historicist tradition in England, two competing interpretations arose. The New England pastor, Increase Mather, expressed his opinion of the Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius and his most ardent English supporter Henry Hammond in one of his dissertations:

    • “As for Grotius, I look on my self as concerned to warn young Scholars to beware of him, lest they suck down Poison when they think they have found Honey.  He has by perverse Expositions and Interpretations in his Annotations on the Bible, corrupter many Texts of Scripture .. Dr. Hammond has borrowed most of his Nations from Grotius (especially his apocalyptical ones) whoever compares them will quickly discern.”

    “All millenarians in the same strand as Mede shared Mather’s scathing sentiments, because Grotius, Hammond and later the puritan pastor Richard Baxter provided the strongest and most sustained opposition against a millennarian eschatology.” (Heaven and earth, p. 150)

    “Katherine Firth describes their interpretation as a “New Way,” which solicited repeated responses from those who contained to follow Mede.”

    “Most shocking and revolting to nearly all seventeenth-century Protestants was Grotius’ denial in 1640 that the papacy was the Antichrist.”

Credited as being the first scholar to openly adopt the Preterist view

Preterist Commentaries By Modern Preterists

Dividing Line Between Destruction of Jerusalem and General Judgment – Matthew 24:36

(On Matthew 12:31)
“This form of speech is a common Hebraism: the Jews often said, this shall be, and that shall not be; not intending however to affirm absolutely that the first should be (and of course not affirming absolutely that the last should not be,) but merely to show that the last was much more unlikely or difficult, than the first. The sense is this: any crime which may be committed, even all calumnies, which hold the first rank among crimes, may be forgiven more readily than the calumny, against the Spirit of God. See a similar comparison, 1 Sam. ii. 25.” (Annot. in loc.)

(On Matthew 12:43)
“Christ appears to have had reference to the character of the Jewish people, at the two periods of their captivity in Babylon, and their destruction by Titus. Before their captivity, the people were exceedingly wicked, as may be seen in the Prophets ; during their exile many began to reform, and under a superintending Providence, returned to their native land. But in the days of the Asmonaeans, having again plunged into excessive wickedness, they added to their other crimes, a contempt of the Messiah, who came to them with a message of. mercy, and exercising miraculous power. Having done this, they were abandoned by God, and became the most wicked of all men, as Josephus has described them in his history of their last days.” (Annot. in loc.)

(On Matthew 24:6-7)
“Christ declares, that greater disturbances than those which happened under Caligula, should fall out in the latter times of Claudius, and in the reign of Nero. That of ‘nation against nation’ portended the divinations, insurrections, and mutual slaughter of the Jews and those of other nations, who dwelt in the same cities together; as particularly at Caesarea,”

(Indicat Christus majores quam sub Caio evenerant caedes imminere ultimis temporibus Claudianis, et Neronis principatu. Illud eqnoj epi eqnoj significat Judaeos et qui aliarum erant gentium iisdem in civitatibus morantes mutuis inter me caedibus collidendos : quod contigit Caesareae primum, [Translated in the text.] deinde Scythopoli, Ptolemaide, Tyri, Gadaris, rursum Alexandriae, deinde et Damasci. [Afterwards at Scythopolis, Ptolemais, Tyre, Gadara, and again at Alexandria.] Illud autem Baseileia epi Basileian significat tretrarcharum ant provinciarum aperta inter me bella — Huc referri debet Judaeorum in Peraea habitantium bellum adversus Philadelphenos ob finium controversiam, Cuspio Fado procuratore; Judaeorum et Galilaeorum bellum adversus Samaritas, procuratore Cumano; postremo bellum primum a sicariis quos vocabant, deinde, ab universa Judaeorum gente sumtum adversus Romanos et Agrippum aliosque Romani imperiiaocios, quod initium habuit Gessio Floro procuratore. [Translated in the text, p. 386.] – Quoted in Newton’s The Prophecy of Matthew 24, Dissertation XVIII)

(On Matthew 25:31)
“This parable of the pounds hath, for the general, the very same scope with that of the talents, Matt. xxv. That nobleman or king, that went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, is Christ in his gospel, going forth to call in the Gentiles to his obedience : returning, he cuts off the nation of the Jews, that would not have him to reign over them, ver. 27 ; and while they were now in expectation of the immediate revelation of the kingdom of heaven, and were dreaming many vain and senseless things concerning it, our Saviour, by his parable, warns and admonisheth them, that he must not look for any advantage by that kingdom, who cannot give a good account of those talents which God had committed to his trust and improvement.” (Heb. and Talm. Exerc. in Luke xix. 13.)

“I saw in the whole Christian world a license of fighting at which even barbarous nations might blush. Wars were begun on trifling pretexts or none at all, and carried on without any reference of law, Divine or human.” (Prolegomena)

“For God has given conscience a judicial power to be the sovereign guide of human actions, by despising whose admonitions the mind is stupefied into brutal hardness.”

(On John 8:21)
“The destruction of the city and people is indicated, which was a presage of the general judgment.” (Annot. in loc.)

(On Acts 3:19)
“Times of refreshing: as calamities are compared to heat, so deliverance from them is compared to refreshing breezes. The sense is this : repent, that ye may be exempted from the impending destruction of this nation.” (Annot. in loc.)

(On Acts 13:46)
“Beware lest that happen to you which your fathers experienced � your city and temple being destroyed, and yourselves carried into captivity, on account of your contemning the blessings of God.” (Annot. in loc)

(On Romans 6:21)
“Although what is here said may properly apply to the punishments of another life, yet God chooses more speedily to manifest, in a signal manner, his severity against the contumacious : against the Eomans, by subjecting them to the worst species of tyranny, and to bloody civil wars ; and against the Jews, by utterly casting them out from their native land, and abolishing their political and ecclesiastical privileges.” (Annot. in loc.)

(On Romans 9:22)
“Willing to show his severity and power against the impious Jews, in the judgments executed by the Romans ; for the apostle here intends the desolation predicted by Daniel and by Christ.” (Annot. in loc.)

(On 2 Thessalonians 2:3)
“The apostle means that Caius, as he was exceedingly wicked, was destined by the Lord to a signal destruction, than which nothing could be more true.” (Annot. in loc.)

(On 2 Peter 2:12)
“They shall perish in the same manner as those animals who, by nature, are destined to be taken and slain by men. He predicts the issue of the war excited by Barchocheba. Similar comparisons occur, Jer. x. 18 ; Ps. cxli. 10; Hab. i. 15. This is said to be their justly merited fate, because they reviled those things which they understood not; for they did not realize the utility of a government. In their own corruption : that is, .when the time of their destruction should come.” (Annot. in loc.)

(On Jude 14)
“Whatever Enoch said, or was able to say, on the approach of the deluge, might very fitly be referred, by Judo, to that almost universal slaughter which menaced the contumacious Jews.” (Annot. in loc.)

(On Revelation 14:9-11)
“Shall be tormented with fire and brimstone : these words may, indeed, very aptly signify torments after the resurrection. But as similar language occurs, chapter xix. 10, where no reference is had to that period, as is evident from what follows, it appears that an interpretation should here also be adopted, applicable to that people ; �that conscience should be understood as burning within them, in the presence of Christ and his angels : this would be somewhat like dwelling in gehenna. Thus have the poets represented the bosoms of men to be burned before the faces of the furies. ‘ And the smoke of their torment ascendeth, &c. : the memory of the afflictions they have suffered shall continually remain. Words often burst forth from the mpious, testifying the anguish of their minds; as from Tiberius, in his epistle, found ia Tacitus, and Suetonius.” (Annot. in loc.)

(On Revelation 17:8-11)
“Go into perdition: perdition here, as in John xvii. 12, and 2 Thess. ii. 3, signifies, not simply death, but a most grievous death ; such occurred in the case of Domitian, who was slain by the hands of his own servants, as may be seen in Suetonius and Philostratus.” (Annot. in loc.)

(On Revelation 21:18-19)
“Enter in through the gates into the city: such were they who lived in the days of Constantine, and afterwards; they were permitted to witness the splendor of the church, promised to the ancient fathers, and to be rulers in it. ‘ Without are dogs, &c.: such were those who were either not admitted to baptism, or, if formerly admitted, were afterwards excluded from the church.” (Annot. in loc.)


Richard Baxter (1615-1691)
“I must in Gratitude profess that I have learnt more from Grotius then from almost any Writer that ever I read.” (Calendar I, no. 234 n.1)

Alexander Brown (1814- 1896)
“Let us not forget that once in the Church’s history it was the common belief that John’s 1000 years were gone. Dorner bears witness that the Church up to Constantine understood by Antichrist chiefly the heathen state, and to some extent unbelieving Judaism (System iv.,390). Victorinus, a bishop martyred in 303, reckoned the 1000 years from the birth of Christ.

Augustine wrote his magnum opus ‘the City of God’ with a sort of dim perception of the identity of the Christian Church with the new Jerusalem. Indeed we know that the 1000 years were held to be running by the generations previous to that date, and so intense was their faith that the universal Church was in a ferment of excitement about and shortly after 1000 A.D. in expectation of the outbreak of Satanic influence. Wickliff, the reformer, believed that Satan bad been unbound at the end of the 1000 years, and was intensely active in his day. That this period in Church history is past, or now runs its course, has been the belief of a roll of eminent men too long to be chronicled on our pages of Augustine, Luther, Bossuet, Cocceius, Grotius, Hammond, Hengstenberg, Keil, Moses Stuart, Philippi, Maurice.” (Alexander Brown, Great Day of the Lord, p. 216.)

J.P. Dabney (1829)
Matthew 10 “23. Till the Son of man be come : Le Clerc supposes that this coming, in the present instance, can only well be referred to the destruction of the Jewish state and of Jerusalem ; and so also Whitby. Grotius would understand it of the full effusion of the Holy Spirit at the day of Pentecost ; while Priestley, less naturally and probably than either, applies it to Christ’s second coming, to raise the dead and judge the world. For this explication, he assigns no reasons.” (Annotations on the New Testament:compiled from the best critical authorities, p. 18)

Matthew 16: “28. Coming to his kingdom : so Wakefield. ” Or, � coming to reign, meaning probably till they shall see the Christian religion established in the world.” Mss. Notes. See Note on Ch. x. 7- This coming of Christ, however, is very variously understood. Hammond refers it to the great destruction of Jerusalem (as in Matt. xxiv. 3) ; Whitby, to the last day, from the similarity of the language used, to that of Matt. xxv. 31; 2 Thes. i. 7 ; Matt. xiii. 41. Grotius supposes it to signify the first manifestation of Christ’s power, by his resurrection, ascension, and sending the Holy Spirit, which our Lord declares would speedily take place. It is the common opinion of critics, that in the minds of the disciples, the destruction of the Jewish state and the final judgment were frequently conjoined, from the near resemblance in the language used by our Saviour, in respect to both. ” (ibid, p. 28)

Philip Doddridge
“Grotius has done more to illustrate the Scriptures, by what is generally called profane learning, than perhaps almost all the other commentators put together ; nevertheless, he too often gives up prophecies, which, in their original sense, relate to the Messiah  His notes on some texts are large and learned dissertations, which might have profitably been published by themselves.”  (Lectures on Preaching, 5th vol, p. 471)

John Gill
“that this is to be understood of his ascension into Heaven, may easily be collected from his coming with the clouds of Heaven, which was literally fulfilled in Jesus, whom when he was taken up from the earth, a cloud received out of sight from his being conducted by others to the Ancient of days, as Jesus was by angels into his Father�s presence: from that dominion, glory, and kingdom, which are said to be given him, in verse 14 which well agrees with the ascension of Jesus, who being exalted at God�s right hand, was made or declared to be both Lord and Christ, all which is certainly more agreeable to the literal sense of Daniel than what the author of The Scheme of Literal Prophecy advances, who, with Grotius by the son of man, understands the “Roman kingdom;” and by coming with the clouds of Heaven, “coming with a quick motion,” which is his literal sense of this prophecy.” (The Prophecies of the Old Testament, Respecting Messiah)

Henry Hammond
“This very learned, pious, judicious man hath of late among many fallen under a very unhappy fate, being most unjustly calumniated, sometimes as a Socinian, sometimes as a Papist, and as if he had learned to reconcile Contradictories, or the most distant extreams, all that this very learned man was guilty of in this matter, was but this, his passionate desire of the unity of the Church in the bands of peace and truth, and a full dislike of all uncharitable distempers, and impious doctrines.” (Treatise on the Epistle of Ignatius, 1655)

“And it has been matter of much satisfaction to me, that what hath upon sincere desire of finding out the truth, and making my addresses to God for his particular directions in this work of difficulty.. appeared to me to be the meaning of this prophecie, hath, for this main of it, in the same manner represented it self to several persons of great piety and learning (as since I have discerned) none taking it from the other, but all from the same light shining in the Prophecie it self.  Among which number I now also find the most learned Hugo Grotius, in those posthumous notes of his on the Apocalypse, lately publish’d.” (Paraphrase and Annotations, introduction to the Apocalypse)

“Dutch jurist, statesman, theologian, and historian who was born at Delft and educated at the University of Leiden. After practicing law for a time and holding public office, in 1613 he was appointed pensionary of the city of Rotterdam, a post that carried with it a seat in the States General of Holland and later in the States General of the United Netherlands. This position brought him into Dutch politics at a time of intense struggle between the Calvinists and the Arminians. As a leader of the Arminians when the Calvinist side won, he was sentenced to life imprisonment (1618). In 1621 he escaped from prison in a book chest and made his way to France. He returned to Holland briefly in 1631, but most of the remainder of his life was spent in Paris, where he served for a time (1634-45) as Swedish ambassador. Grotius was an ardent student of religion who wrote on theology, scriptural interpretations, and church government. One of his most popular books, On the Truth of the Christian Religion (1627), was intended as a missionary manual for those who had contact with pagans and Muslims. It presented the evidences for the Christian faith based on natural revelation. Another work, De Satisfactione Christi (1617), espoused the governmental theory of the atonement. This view regarded God as the ruler of the world who could in a sense relax the law that death followed sin and allow Christ to suffer as a penal example so that sin could be forgiven and yet the fundamental law of the universe be upheld.” (From EVANGELICAL DICTIONARY OF THEOLOGY edited by Walter Elwell � Copyright 1984, by Baker Book HouseCompany.)

“Protestant statesman and theologian, Hugo Grotius, had a Jesuit friend, named Petavius. Grotius said he wanted peace between Catholics and Protestants and he used his diplomacy to achieve this end. To do this he studied Jesuit Alcazar’s Preterist interpretation, and wrote his own anti-Protestant commentary on the Antichrist (1620) He bought into the Jesuit counter interpretation so strongly that he believed the pope was not mentioned in any of the prophecies.  Other Protestants were shocked at his writings and wrote to refute him, yet his works marked the beginning of others following his lead. ” (The Counter-Reformation)

Increase Mather (1709)
“As for Grotius, I look on my self as concerned to warn young Scholars to beware of him, lest they suck down poison when they thing they have found Honey. ” (A Dissertation Concerning the Future Conversion of the Jewish Nation. p. 8)

Rev. William Patton (1877)
Nation shall rise up against nation.”1- This, says Grotius, means “that the Jews and the people of other nations, dwelling in the same cities, should kill one another.” This was fulfilled at Caesarea, where the Jews and Syrians contended about the right of the city, and more than 20,000 Jews were slain, and the city entirely cleared of them.” (
The Judgment of Jerusalem (Chapter V)

(On His Revelation Views)
“The notion of Grotius, upon which his interpretation of the Apocalypse is founded, is this: That the seven kings or heads of the beast mentioned, Rev. 17:10, are not to be understood of seven several forms of government, but of seven particular emperors, viz., Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian and Titus, and that Domitian is the eighth, who was of the seventh; because, as he pretends, he governed during his father�s absence.

The foundation which he lays for the probation of this is, that John was banished into Patmos, in the reign of Claudius: but that though he saw his visions then, he did not write them till Vespasian�s time. For he must make this last supposition, as well as the first, else his notion would be condemned immediately, seeing, it is said, that five of these kings were fallen, Rev. 17:19; that is, says he and Hammond, when he wrote, not when he saw these visions.” (Robert Fleming, A postscript)

“The Commentary of Grotius is also worthy of comparison with that of Calvin. He is very precise and minute in shewing how the history of the East has borne out the truthfulness of the predictions; and is, perhaps, more accurate in details than his predecessor he differs, indeed, in a few points of importance, which will be separately noticed, but, on the whole, his remarks are correct and judicious. The Ten Kings of the seventh chapter (Daniel 7) he considers to be Syrian Monarchs, and enumerates them as Seleuci, Antioch, and Ptolemaei. Polanus and Junius, two Commentators who are constantly quoted by poole, in his Synopsis, treat. the passage in a similar way. The king to arise after them is still confined to the Jewish era, and “the Time, Times,” etc., are supposed to be literally three years and a, half. The 36th verse of chapter 11 (Daniel 11:36), Grotius interprets of Antiochus Epiphanes, and is supported by Junius, Polanus, Maldonatus, Willet, and Broughton. The “Days” of the twelfth chapter are taken literally by all the Commentators quoted by Poole from Calvin to Mede, and all sup — pose the period intended to be during the reign of the successors of Alexander. Mede was the well-known reviver of the Year-Day theory. Before his time it was a vague assertion, he first gave it shape, and form, and plausible consistency, and since his (lay it has been adopted by many intelligent Critics, among whom are Sir Isaac Newton, Bishop Newton, Faber, Frere, Keith, And Birks.” (AT CCEL)

Milton Terry
“Grotius, Wetstein, Whitby, and others, hold that this prophecy of the man of sin was fulfilled before the destruction of Jerusalem, which event they also regard as coincident with the parousia.” (Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 460)

Ernestine Van Der Wall
“The Key to the Apocalypse: The Prophecy about the Beast”  The key to the Book of Revelation is to be found in the correct interpretation of the prophecy about the beast. The Holy Spirit has devoted six chapters to the origin, reign, signs and downfall of the beast.   If we can determine the true meaning of the prophecy about the seven-headed beast, we will have the key  to the most important rooms of the whole prophecy. The appearance of the beast occurs in the days of the sixth trumpet. The marks of the beast are so various and remarkable that they cannot be applied to may kingdoms in the world. The king is expressly mentioned, Rome (Rev. 17:3). There are two ways of interpreting Revelation: 1) the beast is the pagan Roman empire; 2) the beast is anti-Christianity with Rome as its head. So it is a sure hypothesis that the beast is the Roman empire with its governors, whether pagan or Christian.

There are many expositors, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, who maintain that the seven-headed beast refers to the pagan, idolatrous Roman empire.  As a prominent representative of this opinion Vitringa mentions the Spanish Jesuit Luis de Alcazar.  He then proceeds to expound Grotius’ suggestion that both beasts refer to the time of Domition, its seven heads being Roman emperors before Domition.  The hypotheses of Alcazar and Grotius are in themselves not unfounded, Vitringa admits, since the pagan empire has been a cruel beast.   But it is possible to concord the marks of the beast as well as other circumstances of this prophecy with their view?   If so, the interpretation of the beast as pagan Rome, and not as Christian Rome, should be preferred.   It must be noted that Vitringa repeatedly says that he would rather side with Grotius and Bossuet than with the common Protestant interpretation.(Hugo Grotius, Teologian: Essays in Honour of G.H.M. Posthumus Meyjes, p. 212)



“Hugo Grotius2 was born in Delft in 1583, an exciting time of social, economic, religious and political transformation. The Netherlands had just declared their independence from Spain, and many skilled immigrants were moving from the Spanish-controlled southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium) and elsewhere, primarily for the religious tolerance of the north. The Netherlands were booming economically and demographically, and this was reflected in the flowering intellectual and cultural life.

Grotius� father Jan was a doctor of laws who became mayor of Delft and later curator of Leiden University, established as the first university in the Netherlands in 1575. Grotius commenced his university studies at Leiden when he was eleven, focussing on classical languages as well as Hebrew and Arabic in addition to mathematics and physics. At the university, Grotius befriended the famous scholar Scaliger, who helped him publish an edition of Martianus Capella�s Satyricon, a rare achievement for a boy not yet fourteen years old. Concluding his university studies, Grotius joined the 1598 embassy to the French court headed by prime minister Oldenbarnevelt. There, he was presented to King Henri IV, who hailed him as the “miracle d�Hollande.” Grotius remained in France for a few months after the conclusion of the embassy, earning the diploma of doctor from the Universit� d�Orl�ans. By April 1599, he was back in the Netherlands and, at sixteen years of age, ready to start a professional career. At the end of 1599 he took the oaths as advocate before the courts at The Hague.

The busy legal practice in no way dampened Grotius� literary activity, and he published a number of his own Latin poems as well as some translations. With a grant from the States of Holland and the States-General, Grotius wrote De Antiquitate Reipublic� Batavicae, a history of the origins of the Dutch Republic and, in the autumn of 1604, became historiographer of Holland.3 He was also busy with a comparative study of constitutions and, in 1607 (at the age of 24!) was appointed to be Advocate-Fiscal of Holland, a position which included the functions of Attorney-General, Public Prosecutor and Sheriff. Some time earlier, Grotius had also become employed by the Dutch East India Company as its advocate.4

The chief event on which Grotius was asked to justify the Company�s position was the seizure by one of the Company�s admirals, Jacob van Heemskerk, of the Portuguese ship �Catharina� in the straits of Malacca. He engrossed himself in the study of the matter of prize and, by 1606, had completed a book on the subject. The book was not published until the 19th century, however, though a single chapter of the book was distributed as the essay Mare Liberum, on the freedom of the seas.

In 1608, a few months after Grotius was named Advocate-Fiscal of Holland, he married nineteen-year-old Maria van Reigersberch, who came from a prominent Zeeland family. During the next few years, Grotius maintained his high level of activity, writing literary works as well as legal tracts and becoming ever more heavily involved in politics. In 1613, he was part of a mission to England which centred on discussions relating to freedom of navigation and commerce in the Indian seas. The English were claiming the same freedom from the Dutch as the Dutch had claimed a few years earlier from the Spanish and Portuguese. A second, more delicate, aim of the mission was for Grotius to apprise King James I of the ecclesiastical situation in the Netherlands and to encourage him to take a position favourable to the States of Holland.

Both missions seem to have been generally unsuccessful. Before leaving for England, however, Grotius had already accepted the office of Pensionary of the city of Rotterdam, and he applied himself to this new challenge. Nominally the servant of the town council, the Pensionary often actually directed its policy. Since Rotterdam was the second-most influential city in the Netherlands, the thirty-year-old Grotius� new office guaranteed him a prominent role in Dutch politics. The position included a place in the executive council of the Province and in the States-General, and the holder of the office could not fail to play an active part in the controversies which were dividing state and nation.

The controversies concerned, on the surface, a difference of opinion between conservative and liberal Calvinists about predestination. Rotterdam was the only city in the Netherlands in which the liberals had a majority and, during the course of the summer of 1613, Grotius published Ordinum pietas, defending the leadership of the province of Holland against the aspersions of conservative preacher Sibrandus Lubbertus. Lubbertus responded with a pointed attack entitled Responsio ad Pietatem Hugonis Grotii, which the liberals condemned as a scandalous libel. The province of Holland favoured moderation and, early in 1614, passed a resolution (drafted by Grotius) calling for greater liberty of discussion in the universities, while conceding that the clergy were to avoid teaching anything outside the prescribed limits. The resolution, which attempted to find common ground between the two positions, reflected Grotius� earlier attempts to bring together Gomar (leader of the conservatives) and Arminius (leader of the liberals).

The resolution had little effect, however, and the conflict rapidly evolved into much more than a simple difference of opinion about an obscure theological point. It became intertwined with the political question of the relative power of the provinces and the States-General within the Dutch federation. The “controversy between Arminius and Gomar, spreading from the university to the pulpit, and from the pulpit to the street and the tavern convulsed the United Provinces with a fury of contending animosities. The political issue and the religious issue became inextricably mixed, and the pivotal point of each was the Province of Holland.”5 Holland was the most powerful province in the federation, and also the only one in which the liberals were in the majority. Prince Maurits, with his strong centralising aspirations, saw in the religious issue a chance to focus the anger felt over Holland�s predominance towards his political gain. Thus the ecclesiastical dispute fed and was in turn subsumed by the political struggle between the smaller provinces and Holland.

Something akin to a �civil cold war� started around July 1617 when the conservative Calvinists, excluded by decree from using State churches, invaded the Cloister Church in The Hague and established themselves in possession. Prince Maurits attended their service two weeks later, sending a clear signal. Caught up in his dispassionate legal analysis, however, Grotius failed to see the political reality of the situation. Towards the end of June 1618, against the protestations of the province of Holland, the States-General issued a summons to the various provinces to attend a national synod to decide the religious question. A flurry of negotiations followed (Grotius, characteristically, was right in the middle of things), culminating in a secret resolution of the States-General (clearly illegal, as far as Grotius� dispassionate legal analysis went) authorising Prince Maurits and others “to take any measures which they might judge necessary in the public interest. This was followed one day later [on August 29, 1618] by another secret resolution ordering the arrest of Oldenbarnevelt, Grotius and Hogerbeets, the Pensionary of Leiden.”6 Oldenbarnevelt was executed, while Grotius and Hogerbeets were imprisoned.

Thus, at the age of 36, Grotius was arrested and imprisoned in the castle of Loevestein on no substantive charge other than being on the losing political side. His meteoric rise to fame and glory was over. Having much free time, and reading books sent by his friends from Leiden, he produced a large number of new literary works including Annotations on the Gospels, part of his Commentary on the New Testament. In Dutch, he produced Bewys van den Waren Godtsdienst, a Proof of the True Religion designed primarily as a handbook for Dutch seafarers travelling in non-Christian countries. He also composed a legal tome, the Inleiding tot de Hollandsche Rechtsgeleertheyd (Introduction to the Jurisprudence of Holland), which became the foundation of Dutch law until replaced by Napoleonic code in 1809. 7

Two years after his imprisonment Grotius succeeded in a fabled escape planned by his wife, in which he was placed in a chest which was purportedly filled with books. Via Antwerp, he fled to Paris with his brother Willem, where he was joined after five months by his wife and elder children. From 1621 to 1631, Grotius fostered the hope of an honourable return to the Netherlands. In 1623, he began writing De Jure Belli ac Pacis. As the years went on, Grotius devoted more and more of his time to the study of theology. In 1631, he returned to Holland for a few months, but was forced to flee to Hamburg, returning to Paris in 1635 as ambassador of the young Queen Christina of Sweden. As ambassador, Grotius’ time was filled with negotiations and visits. In 1637, he entertained the young John Milton, who was passing through Paris. Grotius maintained his ambassadorial post in Paris until a few months before his death ten years later.” (British Academy’s Annual Lecture on a Master Mind: R.W. Lee. Hugo Grotius (London: Proceedings of the British Academy, 1930).

Grotius Believed in the First-Century Return Of Christ

One of the pioneering natural rights theorists of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Grotius defined natural law as a perceptive judgement in which things are good or bad by their own nature. This was a break from Calvinist ideals, in that God was no longer the only source of ethical qualities. These things that are by themselves good are associated with the nature of man. Grotius, of the humanist school of thought, battled Calvinism all of his life. Within his struggle, he dealt with the international laws of war and issues of peace and justice. Although most famous for his theories of natural law, Grotius was also considered to be a great theologian. While occasionally writing about Christianity and religion, his intention for law was to write of it as independant of religious opinions.

Grotius’ conception of the nature of natural law is set forth in his works De Jure Praedae (Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty) and De Jure Belli ac Pacis (On the Law of War and Peace). On the Law of War and Peace, which was published in 1625, is a seemingly expanded version of On the Law of Prize and Booty, which was written in the late months of 1604 and the early months of 1605. On the Law of Prize and Booty was not published until 1868 when it was discovered at a book sale by several professors from the University of Leyden. Although this manuscript was not found until the late 19th century, Chapter Twelve of the book was published separately in 1609 as Mare Liberum (The Freedom of the Seas). Mare Liberum talks about the rights of England, Spain, and Portugal to rule over the sea. Grotius argued that the liberty of the sea was a key aspect in the communications amongst people and nations. No one country can monopolize control over the ocean because of its immensity and lack of stability and fixed limits.

Shortly after his arguments for the liberty of the sea, Grotius became involved in disputes with the Calvinists. Grotius sided against predestination and Calvinism and took up the Arminian cause of free will. He publicly claimed that Calvinist beliefs could have political and religious dangers to Protestantism. Grotius tried to devise a formula for peace that did not go against Calvinism. His attempts failed and ultimately led to his imprisonment. Grotius is partially known for his great escape from the castle of Loevestein in March of 1621.

Grotius talks of similar topics and ideals in both the Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty and in On the Law of War and Peace. The major themes in each of these books are of war, peace, law, and of God. According to Grotius, all law, should be divided into what is divine and what is human. He distinguishes between primary laws of nature and secondary laws of nature. Primary laws of nature are laws that are completely expressed by the will of God. On the contrary, secondary laws of nature are rules and laws that lie within reason. Grotius discusses war as being a mode of protecting rights and punishing wrongs. It is a mode of judicial procedures. Although war was considered a “necessary evil,” it needed to be regulated. The “just war,” in the eyes of Grotius, is a war to obtain a right.

Grotius discusses three methods of which for settling a dispute peacefully. The first is conference and negotiation amongst two rivals or contestants. The second method is called compromise, which is a settlement in which each side gives up some demands or makes concessions. The third is that of single combat or choosing by lot. Grotius believed that it is sometimes better to renounce rights than to try and enforce them. When it comes to bargaining and mediation he highlights that it is of extreme importance to select a judge with character and decency for any of these methods. Grotius discusses these methods of achieving piece to ultimately obtain some form of justice. He says, “For justice brings peace of conscience, while injustice causes torment and anguish… in the breasts tyrants. Justice is approved, and injustice condemned, by the common agreement of good men.” (Prolegomena)

Grotius intended moral laws to apply to both the individual and the state equally. Although Grotius was somewhat conservative in his views, his ideas on war, conquest, and the law of nature continued to be revered and expanded by more liberal philosophers like John Locke in his Two Treatises on Civil Government (1689). Locke agrees with Grotius in using the analytical device that a state of nature exists before civil government and in the general claim that might does not make right as well as the claim that just wars aim to preserve rights.

A child prodigy and remarkable international law theorist, Grotius helped form a concept of international society. International society is a community that is joined together by the notion that states and rulers have rules that apply to other states and rulers. This law of nations is subject to all men and all nations and is held together by written agreement in states of instituted customs. The applications of international relations and political implications of the international society (possibly called “world” or “global” community in more contemporary times) can presently be seen in governments like that of the United States and much of Europe. As coined by King Henry IV in 1598, Grotius (who was only 15 at the time) truly was “the miracle of Holland.”

Time Line

1583 April 10, born Easter Day in Delft, Holland. Son of Jan de Groot, a Curator at the University of Leyden.
1591 Started composing Latin verse (age 8).
1594 August 3, begins studying at the University of Leyden (age 11).
1598 May 5, receives his Doctorate at the University of Orleans while accompanying Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (Lawyer & Prime Minister of the United Netherlands) on a diplomatic mission to France. Grotius was greeted by King Henry IV as “the miracle of Holland.”
1599 December 13, admitted to the bar in Holland. Practiced law at The Hague.
1601 1601 Becomes Latin histographer of Holland. Practices law with the Dutch East India Merchants and Johan van Oldenbarnevelt.
1604 Becomes legal council for Prince Mauritus van Nassau. Wrote De Jure Praedae (On the Law of Prize) in the last months of 1604 and the first months of 1605.
1607 Appointed Attorney General and First Public Comptroller for the courts of Holland, Zealand, and West Friesland.
1608 July 17, marries Maire van Reigersberch (eventually has four sons and three daughters).
1613 March 4, promoted to Governor of Rotterdam. This carried with it a seat in the States Attorney General of Holland and the States General of the United Netherlands.
1617 Becomes a member of the Committee of Counselors under the Arminian Party.
August 3, conflict arises with the “Sharp Revolution” (Scherpe Resolutie; signed by van Oldenbarnevel) between the States General (Arminians) and Holland (soon to be Calvinist).
1618 August 29, unexpected Calvinist coup d’etat. Grotius, van Oldenbarnevelt, and Rombout Hoogerbeets (Pensionary of Leyden) are arrested on behalf of the new States General.
1619 May 13, special Tribunal of 24 judges meet to try the three political prisoners.
Van Oldenbarnevelt is sentenced to death.
May 18, Grotius and Hoogerbeets are sentenced to life in prison at the castle of Loevestein. At this point the has been no declaration of charges.
June 6, Grotius begins serving his prison sentence at Loevestein.
1620 June 6, supplemental judgement declares the charges of Grotius to be treason (laesa majestas).
1621 March 22, with the help of his wife, Grotius escapes to Antwerp and later to Paris.
1625 De Jure Belli Ac Pacis (On the Law of War and Peace) is published in Paris. This later distinguishes him as the “Father of International Law”.
1631 After remaining in exile in Paris, Grotius returns to Holland in defiance of his status. He practices law in Amsterdam and is offered the Governor Generalship of the Dutch East Indies Company in Asia.
1632 March, a 2000 guilder price is put on the head of Grotius.
April 17, flees Holland for Hamburg, Germany. He spends three years in Germany.
1634 Appointed Ambassador of Sweden to France in Paris by Count Axel Oxenstierna.
1635 Begins his diplomatic duties in Paris. Helps negotiate a treaty for ending the Thirty Years War.
1644 December 30, Grotius is relieved form the position of Ambassador in Paris. He received a letter of recall from Queen Christina.
1645 March, takes family and leaves for Stockholm, Sweden to take on another position.
He gets shipwrecked after sailing across the Baltic Sea. August 13, sails for Lubeck but has to land eight days later because of severe storms.
August 28, dies in Rostock, Germany from exhaustion. The final words of Grotius were,
“By understanding many things, I have accomplished nothing.”


Works by Grotius (ordered by date published):

  • Prolegomena to the Law of War and Peace Original publishing: 1625 English Translation: Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1975. De Jure Belli ac Pacis (On the Law of War and Peace) Original Publishing: 1625; English Translation: Cambridge: John W. Parker, 1853.
  • True Religion Explained and Defended against the Archenemies Thereof in the Times (The Truth of the Christian Religion) Original Publishing: 1632; English Translation: New York: DaCapo, 1971.
  • De Jure Praedae (Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty) Original Publishing: 1868 (actually written in the end of 1604 and the beginning of 1605); English Translation: Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950

"The Miracle of Holland"

Hugo Grotius: Naturalist, Eclectic, or Theonomist?

by William Greene, Ph.D.

"Al is de Leughen snel,
de Waarheydt achterhaaltse wel."

"Though lies move fast,
Truth catches up at last."
–Old Dutch proverb,
used in the Preface to Grotius’
Defense of the Lawful Government of Holland
quoted in Dumbauld (p. 89)

Hugo de Groot of Holland, better known by his Latin name Hugo Grotius, is an almost legendary figure today in several respects. Born in Delft in 1583 on Easter Day, he was a child prodigy, and joined the University of Leyden at the age of twelve, earning his doctorate by the age of fifteen. 1 By the year 1607, he had been appointed "Advocate-Fiscal" of Holland, an office which could be said to have functioned as Attorney-General, Public Prosecutor, and Sheriff. 2 Dutch children still remember him, due to his daring escape from prison in a trunk after being arrested for being on the wrong side of a politico-religious controversy. He fled to France, where the king hailed him as "the miracle of Holland." 3
He is best known today, however, as one of the pioneering figures in the field of modern international law (called by many "the father of modern international law"); he was one of the first modern theorists to systematically propose the existence of norm s in the conduct of relations between states. His major work, On the Law of War and Peace , specifically addressed the questions of jus ad bellum and jus in bellum. Grotius considered war a "necessary evil," and he discussed problems related to war in order for the conduct of war to be regulated. Due to the "unstableness of human nature," he did not think it likely that the society of man could achieve "perfect uni ty and harmony," but he did set up an ideal to aim for. 4 Bull (1990) states that De Jure Belli ac Pacis is a work

1 R.W. Lee, Hugo Grotius (London: Oxford University, 1930), pp. 3-4.
2 Lee, p. 8.
3 Lee, p. 6.
4 William Vasilio Sotirovich, Grotius’ Universe: Divine Law and a Quest for Harmony (New York: Vantage, 1978), p. 33.

which is necessary for understanding international relations today, both in Europe and elsewhere, because it puts forth the concept of "international society: the notion that states and rulers of states are bound by rules and form a society or community w ith one another, of however rudimentary a kind." 1
While the works of Grotius which deal primarily with international law are best known in international relations literature today, the works which had the greatest political implications in his time were his theological (and, to a lesser extent, historica l) writings. 2 In fact, his expectation for the "community of mankind" was to reach an "approximation to the ideal which Christ set up as the goal." 3 According to University of Florida Germanic philologist Gellinek (1984), until recent times, "Grotius’ authority as an epochal biblical scholar was freely acknowledged." Today, however, this scholarship seems to have been forgotten. 4 As Sotirovich (1978) notes, though, evaluating Grotius’ international theory "remains one-sided if the ethical precepts guiding that theory are ignored." 5 This paper intends to analyze those precepts, in order to ascertain whether Grotius, a premier theorist in international law, can be said to have subscribed to one of the three

1 Hedley Bull, "The Importance of Grotius in the Study of International Relations," in Bull, et al., Hugo Grotius and International Relations .
2 Benedict Kingsbury and Adam Roberts, "Introduction: Grotian Thought in International Relations," in Bull, et al.
3 Sotirovich, p. 33.
4 Christian J. Gellinek, "Hugo Grotius: 1583-1983 and Beyond," in Maastricht Hugo Grotius Colloquim , p. 20.
5 Sotirovich, p. 84.

major schools of thought concerning its sources: 1 the naturalist school of thought, the positivist school, or the eclectic school, or whether in fact he falls within an entirely separate category, the theonomist school. A short overview of the major schools of thought would therefore be in order for this analysis.
Those within the "naturalist" school of thought adhered to the belief, essentially stemming from the medieval period, that all law is derived from and rests on principles of natural law. Some of the more prominent writers in this tradition include Pufendorf, Vitoria, Suarez, and Lorimer. 2 These writers all accepted the notion that "international obligations are derived from a higher law."
"Positivists," including such scholars as Bynkershoek, Gentili, Zouche, Moser, and Austin, believed that international law, rather than resting on a "higher law," is instead derived only from agreement among the actors involved. They separated law from a ny normative concepts and focused on studying such positive sources of law as customs and treaties. As Grieves (1977) observes, the positivists were fairly skeptical about the vague and abstract nature of the "higher principles" claimed to exist by the na turalists. They preferred instead as the source of law "concrete and positive human action," believing that "what nations actually did provided more relevant norms for the conduct of international relations." Austin (b. 1790) went so far as to argue that international law was not really law at all, since "true" law can only be derived from a sovereign authority,

1 Onuma Yasuaki, "Conclusion: Law Dancing to the Accompaniment of Love and Calculation," in Onuma Yasuaki, ed., A Normative Approach to War .
2 Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (London: Columbia University, 1977), pp. 28-31.

and there was no such authority on a global scale. 1 The rise of the "eclectic" school of thought was designed to present a middle ground in reaction to the extremes of the former schools. The eclectics argued that, while natural law is one (ultimate) source of law, positive law is another source, being an interpretation of the higher law. Since this interpretation by man is fallible, it is therefore not immutable, but can be adapted to situations as the actors involved see fit. One of the most prominent thinkers from this school was Vattel in his Law of the Nations (1758).
It must be noted, for the purposes of this enquiry, that there exists today a division of opinion among academics over the definition of natural law: specifically, the division lies over what "higher law" is being adhered to as a source of "man-made" law . Harding (1954) explains that

while the terminology of Natural Law has been virtually unchanged through the centuries, the connotations and sometimes even the denotations of the words have been subject to change. So in Justinians’s Digest we find that sometimes Natural Law means the magnificent Stoic concept of order as reflected by Cicero, and at other times means merely the jus gentium, the common jural experience of divers peoples in divers environments. In other hands Natural Law means simply the command of a living God. 2

The dichotomy in existence today is between the "traditional" and the "modern" definitions of natural law. The traditional definition originally held that the norms of natural law are established by God; this may be

1 Forest L. Grieves, Conflict and Order: An Introduction to International Relations (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), pp. 248-249.
2 Arthur L. Harding, "The Ghost of Herbert Spencer: A Darwinian Concept of Law," in Harding, ed. Origins of the Natural Law Tradition (Port Washington NY: Kennikat, 1954), p. 70.

called the "theonomist" position (theonomy = "God’s law"). 1 One of the earliest examples of this attempt to equate natural law with revealed or divine law can be found in seventh-century churchman Isodore of Seville’s writings; 2 another canonist in twelfth century Bologna, Gratian, was typical of the "high medieval period clerics in their tendency to fuse natural and divine law." He made an effort to not only associate natural law with both Old and New Testament Scripture, but a lso to equate natural law with the "Golden Rule" of Jesus ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"). 3
It was Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologioe (1274), who established a foothold for debate as to the belief that there could be a source of norms for relations between nations apart from God’s law; that source was reason. He states that

the plan by which God, as ruler of the universe, governs all things, is a law in the true sense. And since it is not a plan conceived in time we call it the eternal law … Reasoning creatures follow God’s plan in a more profound way, themselves sharing the planning … This distinctive sharing in the eternal law we call the natural law, the law we have in us by nature. For the light of natural reason by which we tell good from evil (the law that is in us by nature) is itself an imprint of God’s light in us. 4

1 Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), p. 361. "‘Theonomists’ preach and promote biblical law’s authority and wisdom, praying that citizens will be persuaded willingly to adopt God’s standards as the law of the land." Bahnsen, p. 322.
2 Charles S. Edwards, Hugo Grotius: The Miracle of Holland (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1981), p. 37.
3 Edwards, pp. 37-38.
4 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologioe (Westminster MD: Christian Classics, 1989 [1274]), p. 281.

Edwards (1981) notes that Aquinas’ formulation was of great import, due to the fact that "he, a Scholastic churchman, had legitimized a basic source for all of the precepts of a law of nations, and that source was independent of God’s revelation through divine law. " 1
Suarez later built on this tradition and defined divine law as "that which was directly promulgated by God," what he called "positive divine law" (terminology adapted later by Grotius). He conceived natural law as discernible to men through natural reaso n, though its principles were unchangeable. In addition, Suarez acknowledged his belief that "human positive law" finds validity and confirmation " solely in the actual customs of nations." 2
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the traditional definition of natural law is the modern definition, that objective ethics and norms are established through reason, with no connection to God or theology. 3 Gordis (1961) gives an essential definition:

1 Edwards, pp. 80-81.
2 Edwards, p. 88.
3 Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty (Atlantic Heights NJ: Humanities, 1983), p. 3.

Natural law declares that only that law is legitimate and has a claim upon men’s loyalty which is in harmony with human nature. Second, it believes that human nature is constant through time, not necessarily unchanging, but with sufficient continuity to make possible generalizations regarding its basic traits, its needs and desires, its limitations and potentialities. Third, it regards human nature as being universal in space, modified to be sure by environmental factors, but still sufficiently stable to permit a generalized theory. Finally, it regards human nature not as known, but as knowable, through the canons of scientific investigation and rational thought. There is nothing in natural law that negates the exploration of the dimensions of human nature as an ongoing and probably unending enterprise. 1

The enlightenment philosophe David Hume in the eighteenth century was a proponent of a similar line of thought (in addition to advocating what he called "natural" religion, based solely on reason). In the late twentieth century, libertarian philosopher Murray Rothbard has become its leading proponent.
While most scholars have been able to agree on the placement of many writers into one of the three schools of thought (Pufendorf as a naturalist, Bynkershoek as a positivist, Vattel as an eclectic, etc.), there is disagreement over the placement of Grotius. In fact, one biographer (Lee, 1930) notes that writiers who have "lit their torches at the flame which Grotius kindled" have been called all three. 2 A fairly common practice is to classify him as an eclectic, arguing that both natural law and positive rules were sources of law. 3 Edwards (1981) claims that, for Grotius, both revealed law and natural law were "not sufficient for regulating the mutual relations among nations," 4 and that he did not hold the position either that "all law had to emanate directly from the will of God" or that "natural precepts" were "wholly adequate for the validity of law." 5 Even Bull (1990) argued that "Grotius’ method is in fact an eclectic one," as evidenced by the fact that "naturalists and positivist both claim that Grotius belongs to their ancestry." 6 Oppenheim and Lauterpacht even call the eclectics "Grotians;" Yasuaki (1993) admits that this may seem

1 Robert Gordis, "Natural Law and Religion," in Natural Law and Modern Society , p. 244.
2 Lee, p. 58.
3 For example, see Grieves, p. 249.
4 Edwards, p. 104.
5 Edwards, pp. 64-65.
6 Bull, "The Importance of Grotius," p. 79.

reasonable upon first examination, but "further analysis at least qualifies this view." 1
Indeed, Yasuaki is simply the latest of many to challenge the notion that Grotius was an eclectic, and was instead closer to the naturalist views of theorists such as Pufendorf. 2 Even Bull admitted that Grotius emphasized natural law as "the basis of the rules affecting international relations, for the rules of natural law were rules for all men equally." 3 This law is seen as "a body of moral rules known to all rational beings, against which the mere will or practice of states can be measured;" this natural law, says Bull, "is placed at the centre [sic] of his exposition of international law." 4 Another biographer, Edwards, believed that Grotius based the laws of war entirely on reason-based natural law. 5 He writes of Grotius’ belief that, while God was the "efficient cause of social organization" since He had "willed all traits in man," including social existence, 6 he wished to separate natural law from its "traditional medieval association with Christian claims of revelation," instead formulating his theory of "rational natural law" on the "naturalistic side of religion." 7
Others, such as Elders (1984), agree that Grotius’ legal works are characterized by doctrine based on reasonable argument, common to

1 Yasuaki, "Conclusion," p. 363.
2 Yasuaki, "Conclusion," p. 364.
3 Bull, "The Importance of Grotius," p. 80.
4 Bull, "The Importance of Grotius," p. 78.
5 Edwards, ch. 5 (pp. 115-138).
6 Edwards, pp. 60-61.
7 Edwards, p. 139.

everybody, while consistently excluding religious motives. 1 Lee also states that God’s revealed law is not invoked as an "independent source" for international law, but merely to confirm the law of nature, and to inculcate a desirable ideal. 2 Rothbard goes so far as to state that Grotius elaborated an independent natural law in "a purely secular context," since his interests were not "primarily theological." 3 Yasuaki follows the same line, insisting that the key to Grotius’ "normative approach" was a "secularized" natural law. 4
According to commentators such as those above, the reason Christian ethics appear to be the basis of Grotian norms is that his contemporaries in Europe were still heavily directed and influenced by Christian-based societal norms. Since natural law therefore came to embrace many aspects of these ethics, "Grotius’ concept of natural law was substantiated not only by rules of law but also by moral, ethical, and religious values shared by contemporary Europeans." 5 Some note that Grotius quoted extensively from many authors, and he simply added force to his arguments with Biblical texts (along with classical Greek and Roman texts). 6 White (1925) even claims that Grotius had to make concessions to his age by paying "every respect to the Old Testament authorities," lest his book be

1 J.L.M. Elders, "Good Faith and Equity in the Doctrine of Grotius and its Implementation in the New Civil Code of the Netherlands," in Maastricht Hugo Grotius Colloquium , p. 32.
2 Lee, p. 54.
3 Rothbard, p. 5.
4 Yasuaki, "Conclusion," p. 338.
5 Yasuaki, "Conclusion," p. 339.
6 Barbara Kwiatkowska, "Hugo Grotius and the Freedom of the Seas," in Maastricht Hugo Grotius Colloquium , p. 26.

suppressed "as blasphemous." 1
It is the contention of this paper that, while many of these authors are correct in their rebuttal of claims of Grotius’ eclecticism, they are likely mistaken in their arguments that his system of norms was purely secular and reason-based. A probable cause of these errors is the failure to read Grotius’ works in context. This could be done fairly easily, if only certain passages are selected from his various writings.
For example, Grotius writes that divine or revealed law – "contrary to the practice of most men – I have distinguished from the law of nature, considering it as certain that in that most holy law a greater degree of moral perfection is enjoined upon us than the law of nature, alone and by itself, would require." 2 He also states that "Natural Law is the Dictate of Right Reason, indicating that any act … is forbidden or commanded by God, the author of nature … Natural law is so immutable that it cannot be changed by God himself." 3 He goes on to discuss how, while all laws originate with God, human laws are created by man (and are temporary) and approved by God; Divine laws (which are eternal) are created directly by God: 4 "This law proceeds from God… it is approved by the common consent of all mankind … the mutual agreement and the will of individuals … ‘the

1 Andrew Dickson White, "Grotius’ ‘De Jure Belli Ac Pacis,’" in Lysen, Hugo Grotius , pp. 55-56.
2 Hugo Grotius, Prolegomena to the Law of War and Peace (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1975 [1625]), p. 31 (#50).
3 Hugo Grotius, On the Law of War and Peace , vol. 1 (Cambridge: John W. Parker, 1853 [1625]), pp. 10-12.
4 Sotirovich, p. 15.

common pact of the state.’" 1 Standing apart from the rest of his writings, such quotations could be misconstrued in the direction of secularization. However, such a direction was not Grotius’ intention at all.
Grotius’ works must be taken in context, as a whole, in order to fully grasp his normative orientations. For many, this task is not simple; Bull admits that Grotius’ writings are "difficult to read, even in English translation, encumbered as they are with the biblical and classical learning with which in Grotius’ generation it was thought helpful to buttress theoretical arguments." 2 There are more important reasons, though, as Dumbauld (1969) notes:

Biblical writers are drawn on copiously … His erudition seems somewhat excessive and distracting to a modern reader. But Grotius desired to be complete and comprehensive, esteeming lack of historical documentation (from which alone the rules of the law of nations can be proved) to be the chief fault of previous writers. 3

A reading of the primary source material suggests that man-made (positive) laws, even when "deduced" from natural law’s ethical concepts, were not always valid. 4 Grotius believed in a "primary law of nations" which was applicable to all men and nations, and in a "secondary law" which was defined in written pacts and agreements between states and in

1 Hugo Grotius, Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950 [1868]), p. 23 (in Sotirovich, p. 52).
2 Bull, "The Importance of Grotius," p. 65.
3 Edward Dumbauld, The Life and Legal Works of Hugo Grotius (Norman OK: University of Oklahoma, 1969), p. 76.
4 Sotirovich, p. 3.

the established custom among those states. 1 The key lies in Grotius’ interpretation of the "law of mankind: first, the human reading of that law in nature; second, Christ’s definition of that law as derived from Divine law. The function of the law of Christ is, therefore, to lead man from the fi rst to the second stage." 2 Lee agrees that Grotius believed that natural law is the law of God, "for God is the author of nature," and that God’s will is declared in the Bible, which is a source for law. 3 For Grotius, God was not just "Nature’s God" (as Thomas Jefferson believed), or the "Supreme Being" of the French Revolution, but was the "Omnipotent Christian God." 4 When he uses the term "natural law," it may be taken to mean the same concept as Aquinas’ "eternal law," not as something "derived from" revealed law. 5 Grotius writes:

the law of nature of which we have spoken, comprising alike that which relates to the social life of man and that which is so called in a larger sense, proceeding as it does from the essential traits implemented in man, can nevertheless rightly be attr ibuted to God because of his having willed that such traits exist in us. 6

God wills that we should protect ourselves, retain our hold on the necessities of life, obtain that which is our due, punish transgressors, and at the same time defend our state. 7

1 Sotirovich, p. 88.
2 Sotirovich, p. 41.
3 Lee, pp. 53-54.
4 Sotirovich, p. 9.
5 Sotirovich, p. 4.
6 Grotius, Prolegomena , p. 11 (#12).
7 Grotius, Commentary , p. 31 (in Sotirovich, p. 22).

There are some who urge that the Old Testament sets forth the law of nature. Without doubt they are in error… 1

What is Divine Law is sufficiently apparent from the term itself; namely, that which has its origin from the Divine Will; by which character it is distinguished from Natural Law … To the human race, the Law has thrice been given by God; at the Creation ; immediately after the Deluge, and at the coming of Christ. These three sets of Laws oblige all men, as soon as they acquire a sufficient knowledge of them. 2

Grotius was obviously not proposing a new "universal religion"; the rules necessary for the law of mankind and for the maintenance of peace in the society of nations were sufficiently provided by Christianity. 3 All rulers of all states are "bound" to observe God’s law, 4 and when rulers establish laws that contradict God’s laws, Grotius says that subjects "have the right to disobey such laws, and they are encouraged to terminate the rule of a sovereign who is a tyrant" (an argument earlier supported by Aquinas): 5

It is beyond controversy among all good men, that if the persons in authority command any thing contrary to Natural Law or the Divine Precepts, it is not to be done. For the Apostles, in saying that we must obey God rather than men, appealed to an undoubted rule, written in the minds of all. 6

"Natural" religion was certainly seen by Grotius as inadequate for explaining revealed law, since reason and nature could not fully reveal the

1 Grotius, Prolegomena , p. 30 (#48).
2 Grotius, On the Law of War and Peace , pp. 20-21.
3 Sotirovich, p. 60.
4 Grotius, On the Law of War and Peace , p. 140.
5 Sotirovich, p. 55.
6 Grotius, On the Law of War and Peace , p. 165.

truth about God; only "the supernatural revelation of God in Christ" could accomplish this, since in his "Divine positive law, Christ defined the Will of God." 1 Grotius would also have rejected the atheism of modern naturalists such as Rothbard; he "would never have conceded that a system of law could exist without God, especially if the expectation of men was that such a system be good." 2
In his works on law and on government, Eidsmoe (1987) notes, Grotius was attempting to apply principles of Christianity to politics, both national and international, believing as he did in the superiority of God’s laws to human laws. The basis of his principles of international law was his belief that "God’s law transcends the laws of individual states and nations. It provides a basis by which both men and nations are to be judged." 3 Sotirovich explains that "Grotius used the ethical precepts of the New Testament … combined this with the moral code of the Old Testament and with the classical theory of natural law, thus producing a Christian interpretation of law." 4
In Grotius’ eyes, the law of God had not been superceded, even by the New Testament: "the law of Christ took away only the law of Moses in so far as it separated the Gentiles from the Jews: Ephes. ii. 14." 5 By "virtue of origin," revealed law prevails over man-made law; 6 in all instances,

1 Sotirovich, p. 27.
2 Sotirovich, p. 10.
3 John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of our Founding Fathers (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Book House, 1987), pp. 63-64.
4 Sotirovich, p. 31.
5 Grotius, On the Law of War and Peace , p. 60.
6 Dumbauld, p. 37.

God’s laws are superior to human laws. 1 In this respect, Grotius writes:

Thus what happens is, and how to be secured, men may make some conjectures; but if there be anything concerning it revealed from God, that ought to be esteemed most true and most certain. 2

What God has shown to be his will that is law. 3

As can be seen, while Grotius does not deny the existence of man-made (positive) law, or the existence of natural law (as defined by him), it is revealed law which possesses primacy. This is best summed up by Sotirovich:

According to Grotius, the ontological origin and source of all law is in God. Men create laws; they are a secondary source of law. But, if these laws are to be just, their true source must always be in God. Grotius separates the two sources only for the sake of making a clear, systematic classification, but, in the final analysis, the reference is always to ‘the unerring mind of God.’" 4

In answer to charges that Grotius incorporated Biblical references as a possible "post facto" rationalization of secular ideas, in the manner of writers such as Thomas Hobbes, it must be emphasized that Grotius did not write merely in the field of law, but also (at the same time) as a theologian. While he intended to treat law as "a science independent of contemporary religious opinions," his basic presuppositions nevertheless

1 Sotirovich, p. 51.
2 Hugo Grotius, True Religion Explained, and Defended against the Archenemies Thereof in These Times The Truth of the Christian Religion ) (New York: Da Capo, 1971 [1632]), pp. 59-60 (in Sotirovich, p. 27).
3 Grotius, Commentary , p. 13 (in Sotirovich, p. 46).
4 Sotirovich, p. 23.

rested on his Christian beliefs. 1 He published many theological writings; some of the more noteworthy include De Satisfatione Christi in 1617, De Coenae Administratione in 1638, Via ad Pacen Ecclesiasticam in 1642, and Votum pro Pace Ecclesiastica in 1642. 2 His most famous and well-published theological work was The Truth of the Christian Religion in 1632, written for Dutch seamen to enable them to spread the Gospel to "the Turke, the Jewe, and the Pagan" during their travels. 3
For Grotius, the Christian religion was not merely a useful tool for proving his ideas; it was "the final revelation of God to mankind … the turning point of history. Its significance consisted in the fact that God finally revealed Himself to the individ ual, the nations and the whole community of mankind. 4 The Bible was essential in establishing the foundations of international law. An example is Grotius’ defence of the concept of just war as opposed to pacifism: he spends thirteen pages to prove "that war is not made unlawful by the law of Christ," and another eighteen pages to disprove (again from the Bible) the opposing viewpoint. 5 Later, he asserts that

1 Sotirovich, Introduction.
2 Dumbauld, p. 14.
3 Grotius, True Religion .
4 Sotirovich, pp. 27-28.
5 Grotius, On the Law of War and Peace , pp. 49-78.
6 Sotirovich, p. 60.
7 Sotirovich, p. 60.

religion is even more useful in that larger society [of states] 6 than in civil society [of a single state] 7 … in that wider community, the execution of law is very different … these [laws] too have their sanction mainly from the fear of the divine power: and hence, they who transgress the Laws of Nations, are everywhere said to violate the divine laws. And hence the Emperors have rightly said that the infraction of religion is a wrong against all. 1

Considerably better and more dependable is the method chosen by those who prefer to have such questions decided on the basis of the Holy Writ… 2

The Bible was to be the basis for settling disputes among nations, so that justice (and its resultant "peace, freedom, and equity") could be preserved. It is God’s "Divine Positive law" which should serve as "the guide for breaking any deadlocks in inter national affairs." 3 Rewards for its observance were not limited to the afterlife, either; instead, Grotius believed that the implementation of laws based on revealed law would "transform man and human society on earth," because the citizens of the states and their rulers would realize that their individual commonwealths benefit from promoting the good of mankind. 4 On this concept, Grotius wrote:

Nevertheless law, even though without a sanction, is not entirely void of effect. For justice brings peace of conscience, while injustice causes torment and anguish … in the breasts of tyrants. Justice is approved, and injustice condemned, by the common agreement of good men. But, most important of all, in God injustice finds an enemy, justice a protector. He reserves his judgements for the life after this, yet in such a way that he often causes their effects to become manifest even in this life , as history teaches by numerous examples. 5

1 Grotius, On the Law of War and Peace , vol. 2, pp. 318-319.
2 Grotius, On the Law of War and Peace , vol. 1, p. ii.23.34 (in Sotirovich, p. 58).
3 Sotirovich, p. 58.
4 Sotirovich, p. 33.
5 Grotius, Prolegomena , p. 15 (#20).

As a devout Christian, Grotius cherished a "burning desire" for the promulgation of Christendom. 1 He "expected that the community of mankind would enjoy order and harmony if each individual commonwealth were ruled by a prince who accepted God as his Supreme Sovereign," 2 and he believed that the Biblical predictions and promises could be realized. 3 According to his eschatology, then, "order and harmony" in the world would come when the majority of people became Christians and followed Biblical law (an impossibility by human efforts alone; it required God’s grace and immanence in the world): 4

"and [they] shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah, II.4.). But this prophesy, as many others, may be taken in a conditional sense. With such an interpretation undoubtedly we are to understand that such will be the state of affairs if all people receive and fulfil the law of Christ; to this end God will not suffer that there be any lack of assistance on His part. It is moreover certain that if all men were Christians, and were living the Christian life, there would be no wars. 5

In assessing Grotius’ works taken as a whole, then, it can be concluded that this premier theorist in modern international law was most certainly not an eclectic, nor was he a naturalist in the modern sense of the word. He could possible be characterized as a "traditional" naturalist, but with the preponderance of evidence that he subscribed to the ascendancy of revealed law over all other sources, it is more likely that he comes closest

1 Dumbauld, p. 14.
2 Sotirovich, p. 7.
3 Sotirovich, p. 33.
4 Sotirovich, pp. 83-84.
5 Grotius, On the Law of War and Peace , pp. 61-62.

to the theonomist school of thought.
The question may legitimately be asked, then, whether Grotius’ teachings and opinions have any significance for today. R�ling (1990) believes they no longer do, for three reasons: technological development, the "process of democratization within the nation-state," and the "process of democratization in the world at large, that is, in the expansion of the number of states forming the legal community in which international law plays it role." 1 In other words, we are more advanced than people in Grotius’ time, we are more secularized, and there are more countries than the few that Grotius needed to contend with. Therefore, Grotius is fairly irrelevant today.
Others disagree. Sotirovich, for example, contends that

the influence of Grotius on human thought has been of a lasting value. His basic propositions remain the necessary requirements for the international order. With his law of peace, he presented to the world the ideal conception of a family of nations, united under the Sovereignty of God, in a comonwealth of mankind. Thus, Grotius must be regarded as one of the chief expounders of the basic ideals that are contained in documents like the League of Nations Covenant, the United Nations Charter, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. 2

Perhaps the most important contribution Grotius made is also among the most rejected in today’s positivist (and realist) approach to international law: the belief that a state is always "a composite of individuals," and not "an abstract entity with a personality of its

1 B.V.A. R�ling, "Are Grotius’ Ideas Obsolete in an Expanded World?" In Bull, et al.
2 Sotirovich, p. 85.

own." 1 To many modern writers, international law is "a law between states creating rights and duties for states, not for individuals. This involves the dangerous consequence that individual morality is one thing, state morality (if such there be) another. But this is not what Grotius intends." 2 His whole system has the underlying assumption that moral laws apply to the individual and the state equally, with "a potential dynamism in both for the preservation of peace and for the promotion of the common good." 3 It is this idea that has come into greater prominence of late, and it is one aspect of that "ideal" towards which Grotius saw international society inevitably moving.

And now if anything has here been said by me inconsistent with piety, with good morals, with Holy Writ, with the concord of the Christian Church, or with any aspect of truth, let it be as if unsaid. 4

1 Edwards, p. 210.
2 Lee, p. 55.
3 Sotirovich, pp. 74-75.
4 Grotius, Prolegomena , p. 36.


  • Title Page, Dedication
  • Prolegomena


  • Chap.   1: What is War? What is Law?
  • Chap.   2: Whether It Is Ever Lawful to Wage War
  • Chap.   3: Distinction Between Public & Private War; Sovereignty Explained
  • Chap.   4: War of Subjects Against Superiors
  • Chap.   5: Who May Lawfully Wage War


  • Chap.   1: The Causes of War; First, Defense of Self and Property
  • Chap.   2: Of Things Which Belong to Men in Common
  • Chap.   3: Of Original Acquisition of Things, With Reference to Sea and Rivers
  • Chap.   4: On Assumed Abandonment of Ownership and Occupation
  • Chap.   5: On the Original Acquisition of Rights Over Persons
  • Chap.   6: On Secondary Acquisition of Property by The Act of Man
  • Chap.   7: On Derivative Acquisition of Property in Accordance With Law
  • Chap.   8: On Acquisitions Commonly Said to Be by the Law of Nations
  • Chap.   9: When Sovereignty or Ownership Ceases
  • Chap. 10: On the Obligation Which Arises from Ownership
  • Chap. 11: On Promises
  • Chap. 12: On Contracts
  • Chap. 13: On Oaths
  • Chap. 14: On Promises, Contracts & Oaths of Those Holding Sovereign Power
  • Chap. 15: On Treaties and Sponsions
  • Chap. 16: On Interpretation
  • Chap. 17: On Damage Caused Through Injury, and the Obligation Arising
  • Chap. 18: On The Right of Legation
  • Chap. 19: On The Right of Sepulchre
  • Chap. 20: On Punishments
  • Chap. 21: On The Sharing of Punishments
  • Chap. 22: On the Unjust Causes of War
  • Chap. 23: On Doubtful Causes of War
  • Chap. 24: Warnings Not to Undertake War Rashly, Even for Just Causes
  • Chap. 25: On The Causes of Undertaking War on Behalf of Others
  • Chap. 26: On Just Causes for War Waged by Those Under Another’s Rule


  • Chap.   1: The Law of Nature Regarding What Is Permissible in War
  • Chap.   2: How Goods of Subjects May Be Held for Debts of Their Rulers
  • Chap.   3: On War That Is Lawful or Public According to the Law of Nations
  • Chap.   4: On The Right of Killing Enemies in a Public War & Other Violence
  • Chap.   5: On Devastation And Pillage
  • Chap.   6: On The Right of Acquiring Things Taken in War
  • Chap.   7: On The Right Over Prisoners of War
  • Chap.   8: On the Right to Rule over the Conquered
  • Chap.   9: On Postliminy
  • Chap. 10: Cautions in Regard to Things Which Are Done in an Unlawful War
  • Chap. 11: Moderation with Respect to the Right of Killing in a Lawful War
  • Chap. 12: Moderation in Laying Waste and Similar Things
  • Chap. 13: Moderation in Regard to Captured Property
  • Chap. 14: Moderation in Regard to Prisoners of War
  • Chap. 15: Moderation in the Acquisition of Sovereignty
  • Chap. 16: Moderation in Regard to Things Having No Right of Postliminy
  • Chap. 17: On Those Who Are of Neither Side in War
  • Chap. 18: On Acts Done by Individuals in a Public War
  • Chap. 19: On Good Faith Between Enemies
  • Chap. 20: On The Good Faith of States to End War; Also Peace Treaties
  • Chap. 21: On Good Faith During War; Also Truces, Safe-conduct & Ransom
  • Chap. 22: On the Good Faith of Subordinate Powers in War
  • Chap. 23: On Good Faith of Private Persons in War
  • Chap. 24: On Implied Good Faith
  • Chap. 25: Conclusion, with Admonitions on Behalf of Good Faith and Peace

    Lucanus, Marcus Annaeus [Lucan].  Pharsalia, sive de bello civili Caesaris et Pompeii lib. X…. Hugonis Grotii notae…. Amsterodami: Apud Ioannem Blaeu, 1643. 12mo (13.3 cm, 5.5″). A�O12; 330 pp., [3] ff.

      • �  This 1643 Blaeu edition has notes by Hugo Grotius and an engaging engraved title-page.

    �  Schweiger, Handbuch der classischen Bibliographie, II, 563�64. On Lucan, see: Oxford Companion to Classical Literature 328�29. Vellum over paste boards; spine with inked title: lightly soiled with a few small spots. A pair of inkspots on title-page, touching top of engraving; otherwise scattered light spotting and traces of soiling only. Bookplate on front pastedown. Inked ownership inscriptions of “C[?]. Fabricius,” “M.G. Boettneri,” and “KT” on front free endpaper, and another (more difficult to decipher) in bottom margin of title-page. Inked notations on rear pastedown and front free endpaper. All edges speckled blue and red.


    The endpapers of this copy are interesting as being leaves from a Latin text.