On Anna Maria van Schurman’s ‘Right Choice’

  • Erica Scheenstra
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire Des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 146)


In her book Eukleria, Anna Maria van Schurman writes that she has chosen the better part.1 Upon closer consideration we find that this choice relates to the ordering of her life as a consequence of her religious convictions. In this article I shall be examining the question of the role that faith played in Van Schurman’s life, and what her religious convictions were when she joined Jean de Labadie’s community. I also look at any influence Labadism may have had — through Van Schurman — on Pietism in Frankfurt2 and I compare a number of the theological views held by Van Schurman and her Frankfurt contemporary Eleanora von Merlau. The two women kept up a correspondence for a number of years.


Religious Conviction Christian Community True Believer Official Church Retire Life 
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  1. 1.
    The original Latin edition Eukleria seu Melioris Partis Electio dates from 1673. The Dutch translation Eucleria,of Uitkiezing van Het Beste Deel (1684; facsimile edition 1978) was used for this article. On the Eukleria see also the chapters by Mirjam de Baar and Angela Roothaan in this book.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cf. Saxby, Quest for the New Jerusalem (1987) p. 225: ‘Throughout Germany and the United Provinces, Eukleria was read and approved. Leibnitz and his circle praised it; many leading Pietists, both of the Frankfurt and Halle Schools, drew inspiration from it, particularly Eleonore von Merlau and Johann Jakob Schütz.’Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See among others Eucleria (1684/1978) p. 82; De Baar, ‘En onder ‘t hennerot’ (1987) pp. 20–24.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Douma, Anna Maria van Schurman (1924) p. 35.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Rivet was appointed to the university of Leiden in 1620. The academy was purged of Arminianism after the Synod of Dordrecht (1618–19). Rivet’s appointment also served to perpetuate Dordt’s Contra-remonstrant victory there. From 1632 onwards Rivet was tutor at the stadholder’s court. See among others Honders, Andreas Rivet (1930).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Douma, Anna Maria van Schurman (1924) pp. 49–50.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See De Groot, ‘Gisbertus Voetius’ (1982) pp. 149–162.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Eucleria (1684/1978) pp. 219, 220.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See De Baar, ‘En onder ‘t hennerot’ (1987) p. 18.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Eucleria (1684/1978) p. 223.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See Van Lieburg, ‘Johan Godschalk van Schurman’ (1993) pp. 55–68.Google Scholar
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    On De Labadie see Saxby, Quest for the New Jerusalem (1987) pp. 135–192.Google Scholar
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    See De Baar, ‘En onder ‘t hennerot’ (1987) pp. 20, 24, 42–43.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Eucleria (1684/1978) p. 328.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    See also De Baar, ‘En onder ‘t hennerot’ (1987) p. 20.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Wallmann, ‘Labadismus und Pietismus’ (1978) p. 164.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    More on this in Wallmann, Philipp Jakob Spener (1986) pp. 277–298.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Ibid., pp. 144–147.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Cor. 14, 31: ‘For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.’Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    At the same time Schütz was also corresponding with Pierre Yvon, Jean de Labadie’s successor, see Wallmann, Philipp Jakob Spener (1986) p. 310.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Ibid., pp. 290–306.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Johannes Tauler (Strasbourg, c. 1300–1361). He made a distinction between three stages in man’s journey to mystical union with God, namely the initial, the growing and the perfect man. The background to this basic structure lies in Neoplatonic, scholastic, mystic ontology, which teaches that all that is created goes back to God. On this see among others Grünewald, Studien zur Johannes Tauler’s Frömmigkeit (1930) and Clark, The Great German Mystics (1949).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Wallmann, Philipp Jakob Spener (1986) pp. 318–322.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    In his Geschichte der deutschen Autobiographie (1977) Niggl makes a distinction between different styles of autobiography, in which the authors justify the choice of their religious surroundings. He sees one design in the circle that surrounded Spener in Frankfurt and another in the Pietism of Halle, which was led by August Hermann Francke. In Francke’s circle it was customary to place a great deal of importance on the breakthrough of faith and the accompanying confession of guilt. Von Merlau’s work is constructed according to the Spenerian model where a short previous history, in which a growing aversion for the world is manifest, is followed by an undramatic turning to God. It is only then that the real struggle with the world begins and she is exposed to derision and scorn. For the Eukleria, see the chapter by Mirjam de Baar in this book.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    See Gespräche des Hertzens mit Gott (1689) (Von Merlau published this work under her married name of Petersen) and Leben Frauen Joh. Eleonora Petersen (1719).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    On the Imitation of Christ is the title of the widely-read book by Thomas à Kempis (1427). Imitation (or following) meant the desire to live as Christ had lived, to which He had called believers in His preaching as it is reported in the Gospels. Van Schurman had also read and agreed with this book, see Eucleria (1684/ 1978) p. 31. She linked this concept of following with suffering for Christ (Eucleria pp. 245, 247); the calumny to which she and De Labadie were subjected comes under this heading (Eucleria pp. 1, 222, 245).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Spener’s letters to Von Merlau are to be found in Spener, Theologisches Bedencken III (1692) pp. 96–99.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Wallmann, Philipp Jakob Spener (1986) p. 310.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Dechent, Kirchengeschichte I (1913) p. 80.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    In her theological work The Wonders of God’s Creation Manifested in the Variety of Eight Worlds (London 1695), she argues among other things that sin and punishment commenced in time and therefore cannot be eternal. A predetermined period of punishment or purgatory is followed by redemption, when all will be made whole, see Thune, The Behmenists and the Philadelphians (1948), pp. 96, 114116, 118–126,133.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Written for her German friends and published in Amsterdam in 1696.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Cf. the chapter by Mirjam de Baar in this book.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    See the chapter by A. Agnes Sneller in this book.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Graafland, ‘De Nadere Reformatie en het Labadisme’ (1989) p. 316.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    On radical Pietism see among others Schneider, Der radikale Pietismus’ (1982) pp. 15–42 and (1983) pp. 117–151.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Acts 4, 32: ‘And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Duker, ‘Briefwisseling tusschen den Utrechtsen kerkeraad’ (1887), letter dated 5 August 1670.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Van der Linde, ‘Anna Maria van Schurman’ (1978) p. 128.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Eucleria (1684/1978) p. 123.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Taken from Douma, Anna Maria van Schurman (1924) p. 37. The letter to Spanheim is published in the Opuscula, p. 108 ff. (9 Kal. Oct. 1644).Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Eucleria (1684/1978) pp. 233, 105, 190, 131, 114.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    The Anabaptists of Münster, who believed that the coming of the Kingdom of God was at hand, wanted to speed its coming with violent action. This was an extreme happening which put chiliasm in a very bad light.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Petersen [-Von Merlau], Anleitung (1696).Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Ibid., p. 344.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Eucleria (1684/1978) p. 67. Saxby, Quest for the New Jerusalem (1987) p. 155.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Eucleria (1684/1978) p. 87.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Ibid., pp. 90–91.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Ibid., p. 93.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Ibid., pp. 114–116, 140–141.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Ibid., pp. 100, 101 (Joh. 13: 34).Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Ibid., p. 111.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Ibid., p. 114.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Ibid., p. 107.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    See among others Van der Linde, ‘De betekenis van de heilige Geest’ (1964) pp. 151–179.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Cf. Acts 2.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Eucleria (1684/1978) p. 132.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Ibid. (Calvin) pp. 97, 114; (Augustine) pp. 121, 147.Google Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

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  • Erica Scheenstra

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