The Autonomy of Reason Considered from the Viewpoint of the Roman, the Lutheran, and the Reformed Church Prof. Dr. P.J. Hoedemaker

René Descartes

Translated by Ruben Alvarado

(The fifth in a series of lectures on the subject of Cartesianism, given at the Free University, published in 1886)

That the confessions of the Lutheran Church and of the Reformed Churches do not correspond in everything is generally known. It is less well known, however, that the rights and limits of reason were also included among the questions of conflict which in olden days gave rise to a continual polemic between the theologians of the two churches. The Lutheran blamed the Reformed for putting reason above the Word of God, in other words, that in this area they were not free from the error of the Socinians, who were the rationalists of those days. The Reformed, on the other hand, made the accusation of the Lutherans that, while they did not make reason independent of God’s Word in the field of Bible commentary and theology, they did do so everywhere else; that they therefore were not pure in the doctrine of man’s misery, and consequently were Pelagians.

You may approve of the fact that this battle has ceased, and this point of controversy has fallen into oblivion. If so, then you are not alone.

In that case you have the great multitude of students and graduates, who are apt to qualify such questions as hair-splitting, on your side. As for me, however, I am of the opposite opinion. The question, in my view, is very important. It determines the entire position, i.e., not only the more familiar points of difference, e.g., the ones regarding the sacrament and the communication of qualities in the doctrine of the two natures of Christ, but also concerning the reformation of the church, the relationship between church and state, and that between theology and its sister sciences.

The fact that one has lost sight of this question is, beyond that, proof of how unprincipled one now goes to work in theology, how far the Cartesian principle has penetrated among us, how far we have deviated from the pure truth, how close we have approached to the Lutheran; yes, what is more, that we have actually been put on the road which with many twists and turns leads us back to Rome.

Judge for yourself, however, with what right I speak! The accusation which I ventured to make above is not taken from thin air, neither on the one side, nor on the other. For Luther there was reason from his point of view for saying of the Swiss Reformers, that they were wandering along the paths of rationalism. He challenged the right of reason to speak in matters of theology. They, on the other hand, regarded reason to be an indispensable instrument of human knowledge, including in the field of Scripture and of theology. As Luther put it, “Qui vult sapere in Christo, stultificetur in Aristotele.”[1]

None of the other Reformers would have repeated this after him. Reason for him was “die Bestie welche der Glaube den Hals umdrehet und erwürget [the beast that twists the neck of faith and strangles it].“ None of them would have admitted this. They did not believe, like he did, that reason was “stock star und gar blind [stiff as a stick and entirely blind],” that faith “alle Vernunft Sinne und Verstand mit Füsse muss treten [had to tread under foot reason, senses, and understanding]”; that the light we possess by nature is only “Blindheit und Finsternis [blindness and darkness],”[2] and even when they sought to humble man to the uttermost, they still, as Möhler, the advocate of the Roman Church, was forced to agree, expressed a more appreciative tone about the noblest gift that God has given us in the state of righteousness, than Luther was in the habit of doing. If you run by the quotations which Prof. Scholten in his Leer der Hervormde Kerk gathered from the writings of these men – not least from the Dutch divines – as far as they relate to the subject in question, and compare them with the statements of Luther and his followers on the same subject, you might even be tempted to agree with them as opposed to Calvin and the theologians of your own church.[3] The former seemingly establish the authority of God’s Word so much higher than the latter; they bow unconditionally to this Word, and they always enjoin reason to be silent.

I must warn you, however, not to rely exclusively on the quotations in question, but to consult them in the context in which they occur, and above all to note that with us, reason is not regarded as a source of knowledge, but as an instrument of truth. It is, as I have said before, the eye with which man reads both the book of nature and of Scripture, but it adds nothing to what is read, and certainly does not render reading itself superfluous.[4]

The difference between the two churches lay here: Luther adhered to the letter of Holy Scripture, even when by doing so he contradicted the verdict of reason, the testimony of his senses, and the laws of thought.

In this respect we have to put him on the same line with Descartes, who pretended to bow to the verdict of the church as soon as it conflicted with his philosophy. The Reformed, on the other hand, wished to know nothing of this dualism, consulted with common sense in their scriptural investigation, and in the struggle with Rome, although appealing solely to the authority of God’s Word, they appealed to that Word as investigated and applied by reason.

Precisely because of this, it is so striking to hear Luther say about them that they granted reason too much authority, placed it alongside the Word of God, i.e., withdrew it from the discipline of that Word, and so were insufficiently aware of the realization that the whole man, thus also his understanding or his reason (at the moment we consider it unnecessary to draw the proper distinction between these two concepts, which, by the way, is completely neglected in everyday speech) was obscured, being incompetent for any good. No wonder. The same Luther who invited reason to sit behind the stove and roast pears but told it not to interfere in matters of “faith” because they were too high and too wonderful, entrusts the entire guidance of earthly life to it.

“Die Vernunft,” we hear him say, “ist unter alle Dingen dieses Lebens das Beste, etwas Göttliches [Among all the things of this life, reason is the best, something divine],” “Sie ist gleichsam ein Gott, der über die Regierung dieser Dingen in diesem Leben gesetzt ist [it is like a god set over the things of this life to rule].”[5] Daniel Hoffmann came to the conclusion from such statements, which could be multiplied, that the Reformer together with many medieval schoolmen accepted the existence of two truths, so that what was held to be true in theology was untrue in philosophy, and vice versa.[6]

But although we do not hold Luther responsible for this conclusion, the dualism between the field of faith and that of reason, between theology and philosophy, and consequently the secular sciences, is all too clear with him, and, by the way, entirely corresponds to the distinction between justitia civilis and justitia spiritualis – civil justice and the justice which applies to God – which he himself, as well as the church named after him, was wont to make. Man is spiritually dead, but in natural things he is only sick, i.e., in what relates only to earthly life, he is able to do and think well, that is to say, he is not incapable of any good.[7] This, after all, is the teaching of the Formula Concordiae of the Lutheran church. “For, as Doctor Luther says Ps. 90: ‘In worldly and external affairs, which pertain to the livelihood and maintenance of the body, man is cunning, intelligent, and quite active; but in spiritual and divine things, which pertain to the salvation of the soul, man is like a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, yea, like a log and a stone, like a lifeless statue.’”[8]

This, now, was what the Reformed always denied. They refused to declare reason entirely “dead” in spiritual things, to then put it on the throne in natural things. The unity of human life was hereby – so it was thought, and rightly so – broken. In the Acta of the Synod of Dort, you read as follows: “Although man after the fall has been left some light of nature, he is so far from being able to gain a blessed knowledge of God by this light, that he does not properly use this light in his natural and civil affairs; yes, much rather, in whichever application, he sullies it and keeps it in unrighteousness in many ways.”[9]

Their viewpoint is even clearer and more extensively reflected in the statement by the deputies of the South Holland Synod regarding the IIIrd and IVth Articles of the Remonstrants. “The mind of man,” we read there, “is so blinded that it cannot even learn or master the arts and the sciences without special help from God; nor can it, without this same help of God, rightly conduct itself regarding external, civil affairs and ecclesiastical affairs, and properly and sufficiently distinguish between the false and the true, the good and the evil, the right and the wrong, the fair and the unfair and shameful.”[10]

The light of reason – they believed – comes down from the “Father of lights,” but the rays of light pass through the medium of our sinful condition, so that they are bent and broken, as it were. In other words, the mind is “darkened.” But that is especially true of the use that the sinner makes of what in itself is a gift from God; and that applies to the activity of the intellect both in the field of philosophy, and that of theology.

Our fathers did not speak of faith and reason, but of certain propositions and systems which had been taken by reason from nature or from Scripture, and had to be tested against this Scripture. They did not ask anxiously, what was below reason and what above it? Not everything was revealed to man, and not everything that was revealed could be understood by him immediately, i.e., either at a certain stage of his development, or at a given stage of revelation, or even on this side of the grave. But what the Holy Scriptures, and the church from the Scriptures, taught, was not therefore absurd. The testimony, the judgment of reason, had to be sought, and then once again placed under the judgment of the Holy Scriptures, and subjected to it.

“Do not split man in two” – they said – “with your distinction between the use of reason in theology and in philosophy! You could claim with just as much justice that the sinner could maintain the second, but not the first, table of the law, as that reason, which was blind in everything concerning faith, suddenly began to see in the field of earthly science.” In a word, the theologian in the Reformed church is informed by philosophy, if philosophy in turn is prepared to be taught by “the Word.” He accepts all true principles, demonstrable propositions, legitimate inferences, and therefore also the utterance of reason, if by this we mean everything that we have listed here, and nothing else. On that ground he disputes the transsubstantiation of the Roman and the consubstantiation of the Lutheran church. Luther exclaims: “Brod ist Brod, Wasser ist Wasser; wie kann Brod Christ Leib, oder Wasser ein Bad der Seele seyn? Aber wider solches alles was die Vernunft eingebet oder ermessen und ausforschen will, ja was alle Sinnen fühlen und begreifen, müssen wir lernen am Worte halten [Bread is bread, water is water; how can bread be Christ’s body or water a bath for the soul? But against every such thing that reason gives or wishes to measure and investigate, indeed everything that the senses feel and comprehend, we must learn to keep to the Word].” The Reformed church replies, “All this is only contradicted by reason because you impose on the words of Holy Scripture a meaning which they do not have and which in the end is as incredible as it is unreasonable!”


After this introduction it will also become clear to you why the Reformed combatted the fundamental principle of Descartes with more vehemence than did the Roman, or the Lutheran. They had more to fear from the new philosophy than did the latter, who had set aside a field for theology where philosophy for the present could not follow.

“All pupils of Descartes, not excluding the divines, do not hesitate to declare that in the field of philosophy evidence, i.e., clear insight, is the only criterion of truth. In philosophy, Bossuet recognizes the sovereignty of reason just as well as Voltaire. In theology one has, however, to bow to the authority of the church or of tradition. So there is a clear boundary that is accepted by Arnauld, Malebranche, Fenelon, Bossuet, and all Cartesians from the Roman church” says Boillier, inferring from this that Reformed theologians exhibited much more narrow-mindedness than those of his own church.[11]

It is true that the same principle is later also honored on the Reformed side. On 30th September 1656, the States of Holland and West Friesland, to give one example among many, issued a placard in which they found it appropriate to state: “All faculties, therefore also philosophy and theology, have their own fixed boundaries within which they must, in order to avoid all confusion, be conducted without stepping on one another…. On the one hand, matters and issues which are proper to theology and are only known by revelation from God’s Word, as distinctively separate from those issues which must be sought and known by nature through reason, are to be left to the theologians, without others, especially the philosophers, in any degree arrogating them to themselves in lessons and disputations; and, on the other hand, the issues and matters pertaining to philosophy, which can be known and resolved with the use of natural reason and the proper condition or application thereof, likewise are to be left to the philosophers, and not to be treated by the theologians in their affairs and disputations.”[12]

With this division of jurisdictions, the real Reformed were anything but charmed. “What does it profit us,” we hear Voetius exclaim, “if they (viz., the Cartesians) say that they will leave the questions and the mysteries of religion entirely to the treatment of the theologians, on the condition that the theologians leave them alone to philosophize…. Is this not the same as the demand of an enemy to be permitted to occupy all entrances of a city, because he promises not to abuse the power that is thusly put into his hands?”[13]

The expression of the Reformed opinion in this matter is not to be found with Descartes, nor in the placard of Sept. 30th 1656, but with men such as Voetius, in the cited place, and M. Leijdekker, who among other things says: “unless you assert – which would be entirely contrary to the truth – that philosophical matters have nothing to do with those of theology, you must not allow the theologian to deny philosophy, nor can you permit the philosopher, if he is a Christian, to treat his theses as if Holy Scripture or theology had nothing to do with them. After all, in the same Scripture in which the theologian finds what lies in the field of natural science, the philosopher encounters much pertaining to the domain of natural theology, and is clearly disclosed therein. The light can never supplant the light, the truth cannot be contrary to the truth.”[14]

Once we have clearly seen this, it makes a strange impression on us when we hear what Opzoomer said in his speech on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the existence of Utrecht University, that “science was not only liberated by Descartes from the church, but its free spirit has penetrated into the church itself, and will not be expelled by any force in the world.”[15] In Sacred Scripture the “woe!” is pronounced on those who call light darkness and darkness light. It is thus possible to deviate so far from the truth that one salutes the lie as truth and rejects the truth as a lie. We see that this is possible in the speechmaker of the Utrecht Academy, who sees in Descartes, the man who has done more than any other missionary of Rome to bring the church of the Reformation back to the mother church, the pioneer of Protestantism; while regarding Voetius, the champion of this Protestantism, he dares to say in the same breath that “he would cut a pitiful figure in the Senate nowadays, if some zealots succeeded in getting him a chair at Utrecht University.”

True Protestantism attributes infallibility neither to the Pope, nor to the church, nor to the confession, but is consistent enough not to claim for philosophy what it has previously denied the church and theology. Such Protestantism we find in its purest form in the Reformed church. A Reformed man does not make theology and philosophy independent of each other; he considers them equally fallible, and on that ground subjects the verdicts of both to the infallible Word of God. But this is not the teaching of Opzoomer and of many others before and after him. Allow me to demonstrate and elucidate this.


“Can man guard himself from error?”

Descartes gives an affirmative answer to this question. “To this end,” he says, “one has only to discard all prejudices, and continue his investigation until one has come to certainty.”[16] Eureka! We have found it, exclaim all Descartes’ admirers. “Clear understanding, that something is true and why it is, is the only criterion of all truth,” as Bouiller puts it.[17] But in every century have we not taken things to be certain which were far from certain, and presumed we were in the possession of the truth, while afterward it appeared that we were misled by appearances? “Certainly,” replied Descartes, “but that was simply a consequence of the haste with which one came to a final decision, and of the prejudice by which one was blinded…. If we suspend our judgment until the idea that we refer to becomes clear enough to us, we will never fall into error.”[18] “A clear and distinct insight,” declared the most sedate advocate of Cartesianism, who retained his chair at Leyden University even after his colleague Heidanus was removed from the professorship because of his Cartesian sentiments, “is the touchstone of the truth, which does not need a new touchstone of its own. One cannot climb higher than this point. This insight is the very first and irrefutable, which must hold as the criterion of the truth.” And he adds, “Even if one had nothing else to thank Descartes for than this, that he discovered the origin of all error and of all certainty, one would have the right to call him a benefactor of his race.”[19]

And how was it possible to seek the criterion of truth with Descartes, not without, but within oneself, not in the conformity of the representation with reality, but in the clarity of the representation itself?

The answer to this question lies in his system, enough of which I by way of anticipation will communicate to clarify the matter in question. Thought, according to Descartes, is the essence of Spirit. It exists, he said, in two forms, namely capacity for thought, or understanding, and capacity for choice, or will. The understanding is passive. It is the capacity to imagine, whereby one neither affirms nor denies things, neither chooses nor rejects, but simply understands. After all, one has an understanding of many things that one would wish did not exist, e.g., of a judicial sentence to our disadvantage that one would like to think away, if this were only possible.[20]

The will, however, adds something to this representation, passes judgement over it, and judges it to be true or false, good or bad.[21] Now then, according to the Cartesians, it follows from this that error is not in the mind but in the will. As long as we do not judge, we do not err, for error is a judgment, and, since judging is an activity of the will, we are free to avoid error.[22] “If one wishes to guard against error, one need only take care not to make a hasty judgment.”[23] “The cause of our errors lies in the unlawful use of our freedom…. The intellect does not force the will, does not mislead it, does not tempt it to embrace the falsehood that presents itself to us as truth. We are able to avoid error, as we are able to shun sin; which is to say, error is always voluntary.”[24]

The supposition from which the Cartesians proceeded, as if the representation carries on outside the will, is itself incorrect. We say, I think, I see, I feel, and acknowledge thereby the activity which is indicated in these words, thus also those of the understanding, to be ours.

It is under our influence. The mind not only senses, not only perceives, but forms representations, derives concepts from them, unites these concepts into a judgment, and draws conclusions by comparing two or more judgments or propositions, but is consequently continually under the influence of the will, of man, of sin.

The key to this view, however, is not to be found in Descartes’ psychology but in his theology, in the Pelagianism of the Roman church, of which he was an obedient son.[25] Perhaps we should go even further, and seek the deepest ground of this error in Pantheism, which he did not first express, but Spinoza did, without hesitation.[26] But this is not necessary for our purpose, and rather a consequence of the principles of Descartes than their starting point. It is Pelagianism to declare philosophy, and its source, reason, to be sovereign, albeit in a limited area of ​​the field of sciences. Sin has affected the whole man, weakened his natural faculties, obscured his mind, given a wrong direction to his thinking, feeling, and willing. He does not guard from error; not because the senses are unfaithful, not because thought does not run according to fixed laws, but because the whole process of thought is under the influence of sinful principles and wrong intentions. To say that man can guard himself from error is to claim that he can free himself from sin. In all sin, after all, the element of error, of ignorance, is contained, Ps. 19: 13; Heb. 9: 13. This conclusion, by the way, is drawn by the Cartesians themselves. Velthuijzen tells us: “cavere possumus ne erremus, quemadmodum cavere possumus ne peccemus; hoc est, error semper voluntarius est [we can take care not to err, just as we can take care not to sin, which is to say, error is always voluntary].”

More in accordance with both Holy Scripture and experience, is the fine saying of Maresius. “The corruption of sin in reasonable creatures first of all manifests itself in their understanding. In this respect they are like fish, which first begin to rot in the head and round the eyes.”[27] We do not now speak in the first place of man’s blindness in spiritual matters. On the contrary, we oppose the proposition that one must be “converted,” that one must be “born again,” to understand the truth. Among other things, this is dangerous and unscriptural. A converted man receives no new organs. The truth is reasonable. If it is said of the natural “man” that he “does not understand the things which are of the Spirit of God,”[28] then this also applies to the born again, in so far as they are “fleshly.”[29] Whereas, conversely, the sinner, under the effect of common grace, can also consent to the truth according to the Scriptures, and is even capable of explaining it with great acumen, James 2: 19, Mark 12: 34.

The word “without Me, you can do nothing” is also true in natural life. Science and philosophy likewise receive in Christ the key of truth, and need the light of the Holy Spirit. Loose, incoherent truths, isolated subject studies, correct data and logical inferences, do not yet guarantee pure knowledge. It could be asserted with just as much right that the sun could be taken away from our planetary system without causing any confusion, as that it were possible to conduct science in the right way without regard to Holy Scripture, or while one is unbelieving and hostile to the Christ of God. Individual truths stand in such a connection to the truth that only in that connection do they form one harmonious and coherent whole.

The principle from which we proceed, the goal for which we aim, and the spirit which inspires us, all exert a powerful influence on the construction of our science. The Reformed view seeks to remain free both from the Lutheran error and from the Pelagianism of Descartes, which has remained the assumption of newer science.

The times have passed in which it was necessary seriously to combat the Cartesian dogma of infallibility. Other systems have replaced it, in this as well. We therefore need not explain why the concept must be tested against reality and not reality against the concept; nor why the conditions Descartes sets – namely, that one has purified his mind from all prejudice and obtained a sufficient degree of clarity – render his rule of assurance illusory. Locke, Kant, Hume, not to mention Condillac and the Materialists, taught later generations to be modest and even skeptical, so much so that metaphysics is in as bad a state as theology, and agnosticism has raised its head. But the new philosophy has not transcended Pelagianism. Like the younger brother in the parable, it has consumed the inheritance, let itself be enslaved by natural science, but although it “began to suffer want” and by the mouth of Jacobi among others, has bitterly lamented its state and position, its decision remains, which we present in the words of the same Jacobi: “I do not know better than to continue to philosophize with redoubled zeal. Either this, or to turn Romish – I do not see a third way.” As if saying this did not already betray the influence of Rome’s principle of life. In this way, philosophy continues to be saddled with the Cartesian error.

This will also remain so, as long as philosophy does not count on the fact of man’s deep fall. Separate it from God’s Word, leave it to itself, without the illumination of that Word, and you give it nothing but a false security, a seeming wisdom and a seeming blossoming. But even this freedom and this bloom has been acquired at the expense of theology.

A modest little spot in which his philosophy could pitch its tent, is all Descartes desired. How soon were the relations reversed. Theology, first interned in its own domain, has practically been cast out of the field of sciences. However, it still lives with a considerable annual allowance in our academies, but it is housed there as “the prisoner” lives in the Vatican; it no longer rules, and with that it has given up its right, and lost its character. It is the logical consequence of the Cartesian system and the application of the suum cuique. It is not Reformed but Lutheran, and what’s more, it is thoroughly Romish.

[1] To be wise in the sense of Christ is to become foolish in the eyes of Aristotle.

[2] Cf. Scholten, Leer der Hervormde Kerk [Doctrine of the Reformed Church], 3rd ed., p. 311.

[3] Cf. also Köstlin, Luther’s Theologie, 1863, §287ff.

[4] [On the basis of these lectures, Scheers summarizes Hoedemaker’s view of reason: “A ‘usus organicus’ is to be attributed to reason. The knowledge of things outside of or above us is not derived from reason as source, not drawn from man outside of the object of knowledge, but is obtained by reason as instrument. The criterion of truth lies in the agreement of the representation with reality. Reason also has its place and task in matters of faith. It is the instrument through which it becomes possible for us to perceive and explain the voice of God in Holy Scripture…. In this manner we avoid underestimating reason in the sphere of revelation: there are remnants of the image of God in fallen man; and overestimating reason in the sphere of nature: reason is not infallible there, but requires the counselling both of the Word and the Spirit of God.” Dr. G. Ph. Scheers, Philippus Jacobus Hoedemaker (Wageningen: H. Veenman & Zonen, 1939), pp. 70–71.]

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Luther correctly combatted De Sorbonne’s opinion, ‘idem esse verum in Philosophia et in Theologia [truth is the same in philosophy and theology].’” Cf. Herzog, Real. Encycl., VI, §185ff.

[7] R. Hofmann, Symboliek (Godgel. Bibl. Kemink & Zoon, 1861), p. 325.

[8] “Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord,” Book II. Free Will, or Human Powers, sec. 20. In the Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church: German-Latin-English (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), p. 889.

[9] Chs. III and IV, Regarding the doctrine of human depravity and conversion to God, Thesis IV.

[10] Acta of the National Synod of Dort, 1621, III, p. 237.

[11] F. Bouillier, Hist. de la Phil. Cartes. I. 656.

[12] N. Wiltens, Kerkelijk Placaatboek (Book of Ecclesiastical Placards), Part 1, 1722, p. 308.

[13] G. Voetius, Disp. Sel, pars I. p. 188.

[14] M. Leijdekker, Fax Veritatis, 1677, p. 25.

[15] Mr. C. W. Opzoomer. Cartesius. Eene redevoering te Utrecht uitgesproken [Descartes. A Lecture given in Utrecht] (Amsterdam: J. B. Gebhard & Co, 1861).

[16] Discourse on method, 4th Meditation. “After this I inquired in general into what is essential to the truth and certainty of a proposition; for since I had discovered one which I knew to be true, I thought that I must likewise be able to discover the ground of this certitude. And as I observed that in the words I think, therefore I am, there is nothing at all which gives me assurance of their truth beyond this, that I see very clearly that in order to think it is necessary to exist, I concluded that I might take, as a general rule, the principle, that all the things which we very clearly and distinctly conceive are true, only observing, however, that there is some difficulty in rightly determining the objects which we distinctly conceive.”

[17] Boullier, p. 81. “L’evidence est donc bien le dernier terme de toute satisfaction pour l’esprit et le criterium suprême de toute verite” [Evidence is therefore the final end of all satisfaction of the spirit and the supreme criterion of all truth].

[18] Descartes, Discourse on Method, notes and clarifications.

[19] Wittichius, Christophorus. 1683. Christophori Wittichii Theologia pacificia, in qua varia problemata theologica inter reformatos theologos agitari solita ventilantur (Lugduni Batavorum: Cornelius Boutesteyn, 1683), ch. 3, §34. Descartes says, “Considering the understanding thus precisely, it can be said that there is never any error in it.”

[20] Descartes, Discourse on Method, 4th Meditation. Cf. J. Braunius, Leer der Verbonden [Doctrine of the Covenants] (Amsterdam, 1723), I. II. XIV. §3 and §4 (also categorized under “Verhandeling VII”).

[21] Fr. Burman, Syn. Theol. Lib. II. cap. VI. §XVIII. “A judgement cannot take place without choosing the true and good, or rejecting the evil and false. But all selection takes place freely. Therefore, it must be derived from the will.”

[22] Ibid. “We also allow sin to be in the will, for as long as one does not render a judgement, he cannot err.”

[23] “The will extends further than the understanding and therefore is subject to error.”

Descartes asks in the 4th meditation of the Discourse on Method, “From what source then do my errors spring?” His answer: “From the single fact that although the will’s scope is wider and more extended than the understanding, I do not restrain it within the same limits, but I extend it as well to topics I do not understand; and since the will is itself indifferent about them, it goes astray readily and chooses evil for good, and error for truth.”

Burman, op. cit., II. ch. XI §5. “The will passes judgement before the understanding has seen through the matter.”

[24] Velthuijzen, De initiis primae Philosophiae opera. Pars II. p. 924. “We can guard ourselves from error, like we can guard ourselves from sin. Error is always voluntary.” B. Spinoza, Ethics, part II, note to prop. XLIII. “Our mind, in so far as it perceives things truly, is part of the infinite intellect of God; therefore, the clear and distinct ideas of the mind are as necessarily true as the ideas of God.”

[25] In his earlier period, Johannes van der Waaijen wrote, “I doubt whether the Pelagians went so far as to ascribe to the understanding the capacity to keep itself free from error. Descartes and Pelagius go together. If there is a distinction, it is to the disadvantage of Descartes.” Cited in Jacobus Koelman, Het vergift van de Cartesiaansche Philosophie grondig ontdekt [The poison of the Cartesian philosophy thoroughly revealed], Amsterdam 1692, p. 327.

[26] See n. 23 above.

[27] Maresius, De abusu Phil. Cart. 1670, p. 17.

[28] 1 Corinthians 12: 14.

[29] 1 Corinthians 3: 1–3, Mark 8: 33.