Dirck Volkertszoon Coornheert

1522-1590. Dutch humanist and evangelical. Born in Amsterdam, he settled in Haarlem as a skilled engraver. In his twenties he read widely on religious matters, in Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Menno, Franck, and others, and settled on a sort of humanistic evangelicalism, stressing the role of the Bible as ethical teacher. Expert in Latin, he became town secretary, and during his forties became involved with William of Orange and the growing opposition to Spanish rule. In 1566 he helped draw up William's manifesto against Spanish misrule, and in 1568, as the revolt broke out, he went over the border to Cleves; there he worked as Orange's agent. A brief return to Haarlem (1572) brought controversy with militant Calvinists there, and he went back to his work in Cleves; a second return (1577) brought more of the same, and in his sixties he moved to Emden (1585) and finally to Gouda.

Coornheert wrote extensively on religious matters, and his views led him into controversies with Catholics, Mennonites, with Calvin (on original sin; Calvin replied briefly in 1562) and Beza, and many others. For Coornheert, man has free will and can choose for Christ, who is divine but whose role is to lead men to moral worthiness. Neither church nor state should interfere with the exercise of this free will. His views influenced Arminius (who, appointed to refute Coornheert, instead came to agreement with many of his positions). His main religious work (1568) is Zedekunst: dat is Wellevenskunst. Coornheert was also a figure of some importance in literature; he translated from Latin (Seneca and Boethius and part of a Latin version of the Odyssey) and French (a French version of the Decameron) and wrote a series of allegorical “comedies” on biblical themes.

See B. Bicker, Bronnen tot de kennis van het leven en de werken van Dirck V. Coornheert (1928); and G. Güldner, Das Toleranz-Problem in den Niederlanden in Ausgang des 16. Jahrhunderts (1968).