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Fix on Dutch Collegiants


Prophecy and Reason: The Dutch Collegiants in the Early Enlightenment. Andrew C. Fix. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991. 277 pp. N.P.

Fix has provided us with an exciting and engaging intellectual history of one of the most significant Dutch movements of the seventeenth century. He vividly illustrates the transition from a providential, theocentric worldview to a secular, rationalistic worldview. The Collegiants began the century indebted to the spiritualism of the Radical Reformation and closed the century on the verge of embracing Spinoza's full-blown rationalism. This is particularly portrayed in their vision of prophecy. While in the beginning "prophesying" was viewed as the leading of the Spirit, at mid-century they reacted strongly to Quakers missionaries. Under the influence of Socinianism, they came to understand "prophesying" as based upon the inner light of natural reason.

Fix approaches his subject in the broader context of seventeenth-century religion. The Collegiants began as part of the Second Reformation. While the moderate wing found expression in English Puritanism and the Dutch Precisionism, its more radical forms were the Quakers and the Collegiants. The Collegiants themselves were indebted theologically to the early Arminians (toleration and anti-Calvinism) and the Mennonites (particularly, adult baptism, pacifism and millenarianism). Their approach to "free prophecy" made them a tolerant society and strongly opposed to creedalism and clericalism. By mid-century, they had experienced disappointment with their expectant millenarianism. Consequently, they were open to the influences of the growing Enlightenment.

The flux of Quakers and Socinians arriving in the Netherlands provided the occasion for transition among the Collegiants. They rejected the spiritual inner light of the Quakers and embraced the rational inner light of Socinianism. Their belief that special gifts of the Spirit belong to the past (due to the influence of the Galenus Abrahamsz.) and their adherence to the authority of Scripture led the Collegiants to embrace a rational religion under the influence of Cartesianism and Socinianism. Natural reason, then, became the method of interpreting Scripture rather and the spiritualism of prophesying. Natural reason eventually came to be a source of truth itself even to the point that a double theory of truth was proposed by Jan Bredenburg. The fundamental Collegiant principle was that of individual conscience which was capable of either a spiritualistic or rationalistic interpretation. Fix illustrates how this principle was transformed from the divine inspiration of the soul to the operation of natural human reason.

Fix provides the philosophical community a service by placing Spinoza in the context of this development. Spinoza himself was an active participant in the colleges.

The study of seventeenth century Dutch religion and theology is more important than the attention it has been given in English scholarship. Fix's work encourages further investigation of Socinianism's role in the development of Arminian theology from Arminius (representing a broad Reformation theology) to Van Limborch (representing Remonstrant rational religion). The relationship between the colleges and the English Enlightenment needs thorough investigation (given, for example, the debt that Locke owed to Remonstrantism and the colleges). Further, while Fix provides for us an intellectual history of the Collegiants, a detailed social and political history in English is still needed.

Scholars are indebted to Fix for providing a readable and ably argued picture of the Collegiants. This is the only major work in English on the Collegiants. He has provided the English reader with access to many Dutch writers who would have otherwise remained in obscurity. However, the significance of Fix's work is not simply that of a Collegiant history, but rather an insight in the dynamic forces of intellectual change in a movement who began in spiritualism only to pass through a stage of rational religion and finally to embrace a philosophical rationalism. The study is an exemplary study and may serve as a model for other studies of intellectual development.

First appeared in Sixteenth Century Journal 23.3 (Fall 1992), 576-578.




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