Vollenhoven – An Appreciation

In 1952 Dr. D.H. Th. Vollenhoven completed 25 years of teaching at the Free University of Amsterdam. In itself this is cause enough for rejoicing in praise of the mercies of God. The great cause for the rejoicing on the part of Prof. Vollenhoven’s associates was not merely the recognition of an anniversary, but rather that he by God’s grace had been used to contribute to the development of consistently Calvinistic philosophy.



On this occasion Vollenhoven’s students and disciples presented him with a memorial volume entitled Wetenschappelyke Bydragen door Leerlingen van Dr. D.H. Th. Vollengoven, Aangeboden ter Gelegenheid van Zign 25-jarig Hoogeleraarschap aan de Vrije Universiteit. To furnish a summary impression of the contents of this book, let us say that it opens with a chapter on the theory of the development of language. The bearing of the Wysbegeerte der Wetsidee (The Philosophy of the Idea of Law) on pedagogy, apologetics, and psychology (with special emphasis on the biblical concept of “heart”) is indicated. Highly scientific historical research concerning Heraclitus, Plato’s Philebus, Augustine’s argument contra Academicos is offered. The last four essays deal with contemporary philosophy with special attention paid to existentialism, as represented by such philosophers as Jasper, Marcel, and Heidegger.

Editor of this memorial volume was Prof. S.U. Zuidema, who also contributed the article on Heidegger. Dr. K.J. Popma wrote the dedication together with the article on Marcel under the title: “Apologetic Existentialism.” Among others such familiar names as Prof. Stoker of South Africa, Prof. Cornelius Van Til of Philadelphia, and Prof. H . Van Riessen of Amsterdam appear in the list of authors of this important contribution to Calvinistic learning.

I cannot resist attempting to translate some lines from Prof. Popma’s dedication. It will convey in some measure the spirit that animated the authors of this book. Says Popma:


It is fitting to introduce this modest collection of essays by so addressing you. This is not to tell you, in the first place, with what gifts in our opinion you have been adorned, and how efficiently you have made use of them. Rather, in offering you this book we are saying, Look, here is something we wanted to give you. It is much less than we had intended, but nevertheless we would like to offer you something fitting on this occasion. And if to do this we must say something about your person and your gifts well, for once adjust yourself to our demand. Most likely it will not be possible a second time.

The contributions in this collection are from the hand of a number of your disciples, who—naturally—are your friends. You have now labored as professor for 25 years. It has been necessary for you to hew a path for yourself through a primeval forest of difficulties. You have hewn out a passable way, and although you are still chopping away, nevertheless a road is now there.

Stop your work for a moment today and look back over the road; we shall try to look back with you.

What we render homage today you cannot take amiss since this is a festive day for the movement for a Calvinistic philosophy, and you are one of the two fathers of this movement.1 We do not know to which cf the two fathers belongs the greatest and most important share of the work. Your mutual disciples mayan occasion have a pleasant quarrel over that question.

We have wondered on occasion how it is that you have been able to captivate us so that we can no longer shake off your instruction. There is in the first place the tension between your artistic and your scientific talents. There is no need to be ashamed of that tension for you have it in common with no one less than Plato. \Ve are convinced that you are not a Plato, in fact, so much so that this fact does not interest us. But what does interest us is the fact that you have taught us how that very common people like yourself and ourselves may have the audacity to read Plato and remain ourselves in doing so. And that is no mean achievement : you have taught us to philosophize with the sword of the Spirit, and if we have so far accomplished little it is certainly not your fault.

Something has been accomplished in the 25 years of your pioneer labor in the field of Calvinistic philosophy. It is possible that we shall have to wait another 25 years before the recognition which is rightfully yours is forthcoming.

Well, that is not so bad. Even your students do not find that so terrible. For precisely they are the ones who know that this work does not depend upon recognition, that it cannot become greater though Fame become its herald. Nor call it be diminished by the oft so amusing underestimation of fellow believers who take a peculiar pleasure in neglecting their spiritual kinship.

We render Our homage, philosophiae calvilnianae pater2 on this anniversary. have been emptied of all desire to praise men. To be sure, you have labored diligently for twenty-five years; you know it just as well as we do. We might rightfully say that you have reaped an unbelievable success. But in that case we should be guilty of speaking after the manner of the world.

For what has happened ? Something has taken place in a small land, which after the recent war has made haste to reduce itself still more in every way. In that small land there is a Calvinistic segment, partly fallen into sleep, innerly divided, not highly regarded. That segment of the people, from the point of view of the world, has had the fool hardy com-age to engage in scientific work. And in that field of scientific labor, you have held with honor a regular professorship in philosophy. Certainly in that respect you are eminently qualified. It has been permitted you to assemble a group of disciples. To that I may add that your work has extended far beyond the borders of the university, with which you are connected and which is so dear to your heart; beyond the borders of our Calvinistic segment in our land, yea, beyond the borders of the fatherland itself.

What is the meaning of all this?

It is the Father’s good pleasure. It has pleased him, who makes history, to qualify a small group of people for the initial erection of a philosophy. A philosophy which for once does not reach out into the dark but quietly proceeds from strength to strength, working in the light, the only Light, that of God’s own Word. In this work the leadership has been committed to you, a commitment that you have assumed as a good and faithful servant.

Repeatedly, now here, now there, some individual or small group, sometimes on another continent proves to have been deeply moved by the character and spirit of just this undertaking. Thus the work has continued and is still continuing. However small, however weak often threatened, it lives on. Often we ourselves know not how, therefore we can say nothing but this one thing—it is the Father’s good pleasure, who apparently does not consider his creation, history, complete without this work.

And so we too, as you yourself once said in a dark hour, when the work was threatened and deliverance nevertheless appeared. We, too, can end in the spirit of the apostle: “He thanked God and took courage.” May it remain so also in the future.

From this rather lengthy quotation the sentiments of Vollenhoven’s disciples become evident and the undersigned wished publicly to identify himself with those grateful disciples at this time.

Nothing has as yet been said about the practical labors of Prof. VoIlenhoven for the realization of his dream.

Very early in his career, VoIlenhoven organized The Society for Calvinistic Philosophy, which has chapter in various cities of The Netherlands and members in many foreign lands. According to the most recent list there are approximately 500 members living all the way from Amsterdam to Edmonton, from Dokkum, Friesland to Timor, India; . from Vienna to Indianapolis, from Zurich to Bloemfontein, from London to Tasmania, from Paramaribo, Suriname to Philadelphia. Indeed, this organization has a cosmopolitan complexion. It holds an annual meeting in the American Hotel in Amsterdam. For the discussions at the regional and annual meetings many scholarly articles are written, which are published in the various publications of the Society, which are sent to all memhers Chief among these publications is Philasaphia Reformata a quarterly that first appeared in 1935, which publishes learned articles in four languages and has an editorial staff embracing men on three continents. As I page some of the old issues the following names appear: Dr. J. Bohatec, Vienna, “Authoritat und Freiheit in der Gedankenwelt Calvins;” Prof. H . Dooyeweerd, “Het Tijdsprobleem in de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee;” H.J. Straus of South Africa, “Die Economie begrip bei Othmar Spann;” Dr. Jacob Hoogstra of the United States, “Humanism in America;” Dr. G. K. Schoep of Amsterdam, “Neurose en Religie,” and others. These are representative and give some perspective of the scope of the magazine.3 The other publications of the Society are Conespandentie-Bladen and Mededeelingen in which the results of current scientific research by members is made available to all the membership. In the November issue for 1952 an index indicates that articles have appeared under such varied rubrics as: Biblical interpretation, practical Christianity, philosophy (general and special) where such titles as these appear: “Aesthetic Aspects of Time,” “The Problem of Time,” “Das Problem der Kausalitat in der Modernen Quantenphysik,” “Introduction to the Philosophy of Mathematics,” etc.; biology, history, economics, aesthetics, Philosophy of Law, philosophy of faith, pedagogy. One could go on in this fashion, but perhaps this will suffice to give a birds-eye view of the scope of the work. One more matter to be mentioned with regard to Prof. Vollenhoven. The first volume of his larger life’s work recently appeared. It is a history of philosophy, reconstructed from the Calvinistic point of view, to consist of nine volumes. This first volume deals with Greek philosophy prior to Plato and is a very detailed study in which the continuity of philosophic thought is carefully traced. Due to the bias with which the work is written, namely, the Calvinistic presupposition of the absolute authority of the Word of God, some reviewers have been very unkind in their critical evaluation.

Dr. K.J. Popma came into the fray, however, to write a brilliant article on the crucial problem of historical method and historical continuity (it is entitled: “Historische Methode en Historische Continuiteit”).4 In this contribution Popma vigorously and successfully defends Vollenhoven against his critics, so successfully, in fact, that Popma has been the recipient of congratulations and honors from various individuals and groups.

One thing is certain, no responsible scholar can afford longer to ignore this work of the Lord that has appeared in the last twenty five years. And it will not do to shrug off the importance of this new movement by scornfully accusing our brethren in The Netherlands of setting themselves up as having delivered a finally definitive system. People who talk that way indicate their own ignorance of me matter and have not even read through the preface of Prof. Dooyeweerd’s first volume. At any rate they have had no contact with me great spirit and scholarly methods of Prof. Vollenhoven, whom we here acclaim and joyously greet as a consecrated servant of the Lord, who is seeking to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (II Cor. 10:5).

I cannot bring mis resume of Vollenhoven’s activity to a close without adding my personal testimony, since I sat at the feet of this prophet-poet. Vollenhoven is a genius at scholarly and historical research, but at the same time a humble child of God who bows before the Word and brings that Word into the classroom. He is filled with nervous energy yet works tranquilly at his God-given task. Like Calvin he is overcome with the consciousness of his calling and he labors accordingly before the face of God, plucking each day, redeeming the time while the days have been evil (depression and war, hunger and schism in me church).

We greet you Dr. Vollenhoven, because in the providence of God and by his grace you have been instrumental in creating and establishing a Calvinistic culture in the field of philosophy. We congratulate you, though tardily, upon the fact that you have taken seriously the revelation that in Jesus Christ all the creatures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden and that in Christ all things (philosophy included) are reconciled unto God. We praise our God for giving you the genius of insight and the energy of spirit and mind to achieve this great work for our God. We bless the Name which is above every name, for the fact that from you we have learned that the Savior has redeemed the whole man and that you have effectively illustrated in your daily walk that the fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of wisdom.

(1) The author refers to Prof. H. Dooyeweerd, brother-in-law and colleague of Prof. Vollenhoven, who with him is co-author of this movement. A tribute to Dooyeweerd’s work is forthcoming since he also has now completed 25 years at the Free University.

(2) “Father of Calvinistic Philosophy”

(3) Philosophia Reformata may be ordered from the publishing house of J.R. Kok, Kampen, the Netherlands.

(4) Cf. Phiosophia Reformata, vol. xvii. Third Quarter, 1952.