It is the 22nd of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1621
In 2006 Dos Equis began airing a series of beer commercials hailing the "Most Interesting Man in the World." The man would look into the camera and claim something such as, "Once a rattlesnake bit me, after five days of excruciating pain, the snake finally died." Since these ads began, I have often thought when reading about some such characters throughout history that they perhaps deserve this title. And when it comes to Hugo Grotius, I will propose today, on the anniversary of a momentous occasion in his life, we will tell his story and suggest that he was, in fact, the Most Interesting Man in the 17th century.
Let's do some background.
Hugo Grotius is actually Hugh De Groot. He was Dutch. Born on Easter Sunday in Holland in 1583, he entered the University of Leiden at 11 and had his doctorate at 16. He was hailed as the "second Erasmus," and the French King called him "the miracle of Holland." He died as an exile in 1645 due to a shipwreck off the coast of Sweden, but in his 63 years, he produced work that would have him hold positions the equivalent of a mayor and attorney general. On account of his writing, he was also hailed as the "father of international law" and the "father of modern apologetics." Above the Judge's mahogany bench at the United States Supreme Court, there are marble friezes carved into the wall. Represented in these friezes are characters such as Moses, Caesar Augustus, Charlemagne, and Hugo Grotius.
Let's put him in context. Living between 1583 and 1645, he saw the rise of the so-called "Second Reformation" of the Calvinists across Europe. He would have been intimately aware of the Spanish and Dutch wars that raged intermittently. He would live in the context of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and later the 30 Years War. His contemporaries would include William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, and Rene Descartes.
He was first and foremost a legal scholar, but this did not disconnect him from the world of theology. To drastically simplify the argument tying theology and law: essentially, good law and good theology should be discoverable, knowable, and falsifiable. Good lawyers work with that premise, and it has often been that some of the better legal Christian minds also worked in the field of apologetics. His two most significant works were 1625's "The Law of War and Peace" and his 1627 "On the Truth of the Christian Religion." The Law of War and Peace was a favorite of Gustavus Adolphus, who is said to have carried the book in his saddlebag at all times. Grotius would become the Swedish Ambassador to France as the Thirty Year's War was coming to a close. It is also worth noting that after the devastation of World War 1 Grotius became a popular name again as nations sought a universal "natural" law for warfare.
But all of this almost didn't happen. One part of Grotius' life that is overlooked was his theological defense of Jacobus Arminius. Grotius held to the 5 points of the Remonstrants. Have you ever heard of the "5 Points of Calvinism"? Those were just the five refutations of Grotius and the Arminians' theology. The Calvinist Prince Maurice of Nassau staged a coup and, in doing so, had many Remonstrants arrested, one of whom was Hugo Grotius. Of the five arrested, one was beheaded, another died by suicide, and Grotius was amongst those sentenced to life in prison. Imprisoned at the Loevestein Castle, he was an ideal prisoner and was allowed to have books delivered to him. As the guards became lax with what was brought in and out of the cell, Grotius' wife and the housemaid came up with a plan to free Hugo. They brought him books in a large chest repeatedly until they needed to haul some of them back home. On the 22nd of March in 1621, Hugo Grotius snuck into the book chest, was hurried out, and then disguised as a mason for his escape to France. His friends would be imprisoned for life or killed, but on account of this, Hugo would live a productive literary and legal life away from his home country.
Today we remember the daring escape of the man who would go on to be called the father of international law and apologetics- the 17th Century's Most Interesting Man- Hugo Grotius.
The reading for today is for my dear Calvinist friends who might start itching at the mention of Remonstrants. I'll give the final word to that other JC… John Calvin. This is from his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew
"It is a promise which eminently deserves our observation that all who are united to Christ and acknowledge Him to be Christ and Mediator will remain to the end safe from all danger, for what is said of the body of the Church belongs to each of its members since they are one in Christ."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who is currently wearing wooden shoes. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who is reading this with a tulip in his hair. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.