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M.C. Smit Pages


Meijer Cornelis Smit (1911-1981) taught history and philosophy at the Free University in Amsterdam for a quarter century.  Influenced by the Reformational school of philosophy spearheaded by Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven, Smit may be regarded as the foremost thinker about history to come out of this intellectual milieu. Smit?s work centered on the theme of God and history, and this book reflects the central questions that he engaged: the question of the influence of faith and worldview on the practice and appreciation of history; the question of the meaning of history as an answer to the historical mindedness that distinguishes our culture. By seeking to comprehend historical reality within the framework of temporality and transcendental origin, Smit, for all the restlessness and hesitancy that characterizes his thought, found a basic conviction which he held to the end of his life: scholarship must be open to the active presence of the Origin of all things shimmering just beneath the surface of phenomena. The writings of Meyer Smit contain ideas and motifs that are of fundamental significance to anyone concerned with the problems of philosophy of history in our time. 

From the Foreword in Writings on God and History

Meijer Cornelius Smit (1911-1981) was born on a farm near Haastrecht, a modest village in the dairy heartland of central Holland. The home he grew up in was Calvinist in religion and Kuyperian in outlook, hence permeated with a biblical piety and a kind of cultural progressiveness; parents and grandparents, he fond- ly remembered, fostered an awareness of one's historical heritage and providential calling. Meijer learned to milk cows, handle the punt, stack hay, groom horses. However, his only real passion was books, so he was elated when given permission to continue his education. For six years he attended the City Gymnasium of Gouda, an hour's cycling away, while on Saturday afternoons the head- master of the local Christian school tutored him in church history, Reformed doctrine, and Neo-calvinist social and political thought. Toward the end of these years, an article in the Anti- Revolutionary daily De Standaard caught his attention and fired his imagination: it was written by Professor D.H.T. Vollenhoven of the Free University in Amsterdam and it argued that higher education was a challenging field for Christian service, not merely in the form of Christian theological studies but in terms of Christian scholarship tout court. Thus when Meijer Smit matriculated in 1932 his choice of university was clear, if not his area of study. With two other students he rented rooms in Amsterdam and enrolled in the Faculty of Theology. But the following year saw him registered in the Faculties of Law and Letters as well. Mornings were spent at- tending a wide variety of lecture series. On late afternoons, his roommates would regularly find him standing behind a tall desk near the window, working his way methodically through a volume of the Propykien Weligeschichte. The oratorical society A.G.O.R.A. greeted in him a shy and pensive yet congenial new member.

Certain professors in particular attracted him. There was A. Anema for constitutional law, A.A. van Schelven for the history of Calvinism, and A. Goslinga for modern history. He developed a distaste, however, for the dogmatics of Valentine Hepp, whose elaborate syllabi, full of the minutest distinctions, finally kept Smit from taking the examination for candidacy in theology. Much loved, by contrast, were the classes with Herman Dooyeweerd, who taught philosophy of law but allowed himself many excursions into general philosophy. Before long, Meijer was caught up in the young, vigorous movement for the development and dissemination of a distinctively Reformational school of philosophy; he participated in the summer camps at Lunteren and devoured the publications by Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven. Throughout these formative years he also made a habit of attending the Sunday worship services and Wednesday evening Bible classes led by Dominee S.G. de Graaf, the well-known preacher whose critical and radical expositions (reminiscent yet independent of Barth) carried a distinctively covenantal, theocentric thrust.

At the end of the 1930's, Meijer Smit passed the examinations for candidacy in Law and in Letters (the latter cum laude). The German occupation interrupted his formal education, but in 1946 he sat for the qualifying examination in History (again sustained cum laude), whereupon he accepted a position in The Hague as librarian with the Kuyper Institute, the historico-political research center of the Anti-Revolutionary Party.

In preparation for an academic career, he now began to work on his doctoral dissertation. The choice of topic had come about in- directly. During the war years, when he had lived at home again, he had renewed his acquaintance with the principal of a local preparatory seminary, a Franciscan father with whom he had many amicable discussions especially about a growing body of Roman Catholic literature on the nature of history and historical study. One day it flashed in upon him that this new and exciting intellectual current was the very thing he had been looking for as a subject for his dissertation since it would not only engage his interest in the problems of Christian faith as applied to learning but at the same time offer him a splendid opportunity, for purposes of comparison and critique, to try his hand at articulating a Reformational view of history. Charting both frontiers, the dissertation, entitled The Relation between Christianity and History in the Present-day Roman Catholic Conception of History, was completed and successfully defended on February 17, 1950. The work instantly established Dr. Smit's academic credentials, but it was to be some years before a coveted chair at his alma mater became vacant. September 27, 1955 was a memorable day in the life of the 43-year old scholar, when he inaugurated his teaching career at the Free University with a bold oration on "the divine mystery in history." The stirring address was also a programmatic statement. Eagerly he set to work. Medieval History and Theory of History comprised his dual teaching assignment. The first year set the pat- tern for the next quarter century: the lectures in history centered on topics rich in metahistorical implications; the lectures in theory drew heavily on current debates among practicing historians. Invariably they would be based on a rapidly mushrooming personal filing system for which he methodically gleaned and processed scores of professional journals in history, philosophy, theology and archeology, published in Dutch, German, English, French, and Italian.' While thus appearing obsessed with breadth, he also in- sisted on depth and imposed upon himself the highest demands of original reflection. A perfectionist by temperament, he ended by publishing little. As he once explained, he preferred to "work through his students."' Smit never married. He made his home in Aerdenhout, a quiet town near Haarlem, close to the train station, from where he com- muted to Amsterdam, always working as he travelled. For recreation he cycled through the dunes, daily except Sundays. There was a restlessness about him; he walked with rapid steps and seemed to be forever going somewhere. Yet he could also ignore the clock and be a gracious, relaxed host. He was genuinely interested in the people he met, in their lives, their experiences, their joys and sorrows. Though an informed observer of national politics and international affairs, the everyday concerns of the local community held an almost equal fascination for him. A man of books, he never owned a radio or television set, preferring to "read all about it" in the dailies. His students remember him as a friendly and gentle man, unassum- ing, given to formality yet not aloof, a teacher who surprised them with personalized reading lists and many helpful suggestions. They were impressed by his erudition, his universal outlook and interests, and his pre-occupation with the mystery of history. The private seminars held in his study on Friday evenings were the favorite of many and were talked about for years afterwards.

The rest may be summed up in dates. In 1963 Professor Smit was cross-appointed in the Central Interfaculty or philosophy department, which he joined full-time in 1970, when his teaching load was expanded with philosophical propaedeutics for all incoming students in both history and art history. His illness manifested itself in the fall of 1980 and after months of hospitalization he fell asleep in Christ on July 16, 1981.


Writings on God and History
Edited by Harry Van Dyke Translated by Herbert Donald Morton
Volume One: Selected Studies (1951-1980)
Wedge Publishing, 1987

Foreword by the M. C. Smit Committee
The Crisis in Current Roman Catholic Thought [1951]
Calvinism and Catholicism on Church and State [1951]
Nationalism and Catholicism [1955]
The Divine Mystery in History [1955]
The Character of the Middle Ages [1958]
Culture and Salvation [1959]
The Sacred Dwelling Place [1960]
A Turnabout in Historical Science? [1962]
The Meaning of History [1963]
New Perspectives for the Christian View of History? [1965]
The Value of History [1966]    223 The Time of History [1968]
Philosophical and Theoretical Approaches to the Reformation [1970]
Reflections on History and the Time of History [1970]
On Knowledge [excerpt from a paper of 1980] 
Epilogue by J. A. Aertsen
     In Memoriam M.C. Smit: Philosopher of Integral Meaning


Toward a Christian Conception of History

edited and translated by H. Donald Morton and Harry Van Dyke

University Press of America, 2002.

ISBN 9780761821403


Part One: Catholic Conceptions of History
I. Nature and the supernatural
II. Fall and redemption
III. Christianity and history.
IV. Dualism and connection
V. World History and progress
VI. The problem of Christian philosophy
VII. The problem of Christian historical science

Part Two: Toward a Reformed Conception of History

1. Protestant conceptions of history
2. The current crisis in Catholic thought
3. Calvinism and Catholicism on church and state
4. Nationalism and Catholicism
5. The divine mystery in history
6. The character of the Middle Ages
7. Salvation and culture
8. The sacred dwelling place
9. A turnabout in historical science?
10. The meaning of history
11. New perspectives for a Christian conception of history?

12. The value of history
13. The time of history
14. Approaches to the Reformation
15. The first and the second history
16. Towards a reordering of knowledge


The Divine Mystery in History.
Kampen, J. H. Kok, 1955
Inaugural address delivered on assuming the office of professor of medieval history and of the theory of history in the Free University at Amsterdam on Tuesday, 27 Sept, 1955