Boreel, Adam (1602-1665)

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Adam Boreel was born in Middelburg, Zeeland on 2 November 1602. He was a Dutch scholar from a patrician family and one of the founders of the Amsterdam College, which many Mennonites belonging to the Lamist Mennonite Church of Amsterdam attended over the years. Boreel’s parents were Jacob (or Jakob) Boreel (1552–1636), lord of Duinbeke, and Maria Gremminck. Adam Boreel never married and had no children. He died in Amsterdam around 20 June 1665 and was buried in the graveyard of Petruskerk in Sloterdijk in the grave owned by his close friend Galenus Abrahamsz (1622–1706).

There is little information about Boreel’s early years. He enrolled two times at Leiden University, in 1619 and 1628, where he studied classical and oriental languages, theology, and philosophy, but there is no evidence proving that he finished his studies. In 1625–26, Boreel spent two years in England, where he attended courses at Oxford University and became a follower of the alleged Rosicrucian prophet Philip Ziegler. When Ziegler was jailed in London, Boreel went back to the Dutch Republic. During the 1630s, Boreel strengthened his position as a theologian and learned Hebraist. Boreel’s circle of friends and acquaintances included renown scholars, such as Samuel Hartlib (c.1600–1662), John Dury (c.1600–1680), the rabbis Jacob Judah Leon (1602–c.1675) and Menasseh ben Israel (1604–1657), Marin Mersenne (1588–1648), Petrus Serrarius (1600–1669), Herny Oldenburg (c.1619–1677), Robert Boyle (1627–1691), Katherine Jones, Viscountess Ranelagh (1615–1691), and likely John Milton (1608–1674). Boreel became a member of the Hartlib circle, the network of scholars and scientists established by Hartlib and Dury, one of Boreel’s lifelong friends. Members of the Hartlib circles were particularly interested in Boreel’s expertise in Hebrew and Jewish traditions. In the early 1640s, Boreel published a vocalized edition of the Mishnah together with Judah Leon and Menasseh ben Israel. Because of this, Hartlib and Dury intended to employ Boreel in their plans for the advancement of Jewish studies and they often asked Boreel about news in the Jewish community of Amsterdam. Urged by members of the Hartlib circles, Boreel also worked on a Spanish and Latin translation of the same text together with Judah Leon and Jacob (1630–1695) and Isaac Abendana (c. 1650–c.1710). However, these translations, if ever completed, were never published.

In 1645, Boreel published his most famous Ad legem et ad testimonium. In this work, he criticized contemporary churches and ministers, and advocated for egalitarianism, freedom of prophesying, and religious toleration. Boreel also conceived of a new kind of Christian congregation devoid of official ministers that would reform existing churches and reunite all Christians. Following these ideas and the practices of the Collegiant movement, Boreel established the Amsterdam College at the beginning of 1646, together with Daniel de Breen and the Mennonite deacon Cornelis Moorman (1600–1660). The College consisted of meetings where Boreel and his fellow thinkers met to read and discuss the Bible freely. Meetings would begin with choosing and reading passages from the Bible, after which all participants could freely express their opinions about these passages. All men and women were accepted, regardless of differences in social, cultural, and religious background, and all participants enjoyed freedom of prophesying and religious toleration. Christians with widely differing opinions joined the Amsterdam College, but most of the participants belonged to the Lamist Mennonite Church of Amsterdam. The fact that their deacon Cornelis Moorman was one of the first members of the Collegiant group and made his house available for Collegiant meetings favored Mennonite membership in the Amsterdam College. Already in 1648, Amsterdam civil authorities spoke of the College as an assembly of Mennonites. When the young Mennonite preacher Galenus Abrahamsz began attending the meetings of the Collegiants around 1649 or 1650, the numbers of Mennonite in the Amsterdam College further increased.

The Reformed Church strongly opposed the meetings of the Collegiants in Amsterdam, regarding them as Socinian assemblies. When Dutch authorities enacted a decree against Socinianism in 1653, to participate in Collegiant meetings became dangerous. This was one of the likely reasons that pushed Boreel to move to London in 1654. In London, Boreel began writing a major treatise to prove the truth and reasonableness of Christian religion, entitled Jesus Nazarenus Legislator. However, he never completed this treatise. When Boreel went back to Amsterdam in the late 1658, Collegiants and Mennonites were living a period of turmoil. During Boreel’s absence, Galenus had gradually become one of the spokespersons among the Collegiants and orthodox Mennonites had begun opposing him because of his involvement with the Amsterdam College, his friendship with Boreel, and his religious opinions, which had been certainly influenced by Boreel’s ideas, but were also the result of Galenus’s own Spiritualism. Despite these struggles among the Mennonites, which would eventually lead to a schism between Lamists and Zonists, and the opposition of the Reformed Church, the meetings of the Collegiants kept going during the 1660s. In 1664, Boreel rented a house on the Rokin as a new meeting place for the Collegiants. They were soon discovered by Reformed ministers who managed to stop them, but Galenus and other Collegiants were able to rent the meeting place on the Rokin again in May 1665. Boreel died a few weeks later, but his legacy was carried on by his fellow Collegiants, who would continue their meetings in Amsterdam until the late 18th century.


Cornelis van Slee, Jacob. De Rijnsburger Collegianten. Met inleading van Dr. S. B. J. Zilverberg. Utrecht: H&S Publishers, 1980.

Fix, Andrew. Prophecy and Reason: The Dutch Collegiants in the Early Enlightenment. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Iliffe, Rob. ""Jesus Nazarenus Legislator:' Adam Boreel’s Defence of Christianity." In Heterodoxy, Spinozism, and Free Thought in Early-Eighteenth-Century Europe, edited by Silvia Berti, Françoise Charles-Daubert, and Richard Popkin. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1996: 375-396.

Meihuizen, H. W. Galenus Abrahamsz 1622–1706. Strijder voor een onbeperkte verdraagzaamheid em verdediger van het Doperse Spiritualisme. Haarlem: H. D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon, 1954.

Quatrini, Francesco. "Adam Boreel (1602-1665) en John Dury (1600-1680): Nederlands-Engelse pogingen om kerkelijke eenheid te bereiken." Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 44 (2018): 57-82.

Quatrini, Francesco. "Adam Boreel: His Life and Thought." PhD Dissertation, University of Macerata, 2017.

Quatrini, Francesco. "Adam Boreel and Galenus Abrahamsz. against Constraint of Consciences: Seventeenth-Century Dissenters in Favor of Religious Toleration." History of European Ideas (2018), DOI: 10.1080/01916599.2018.1509224.

Quatrini, Francesco. "'Haec refero ut videas, quid sublatus inter nos ordo pariat, et quid illimitata inter omnes prophetandi libertas producat tandem:' Adam Boreel on Collegiant Freedom of Speech." Journal of the History of Ideas (forthcoming).

Quatrini, Francesco. "Jesus Nazarenus Legislator: Adam Boreel and the Rationality of Christian Religion against the 'De tribus impostoribus.'" Church History and Religious Culture 97, no. 1 (2017): 53-70.

Original Mennonite Encyclopedia Article

By Christian Neff. Copied by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 389. All rights reserved.

Adam Boreel, Heer van Duynbeke, born 2 November 1603 at Middelburg in the Dutch province of Zeeland, died 1667. He was learned and skilled in Hebrew. His idea of the nature of the Christian church, viz., that it should be an invisible church without organization or sacraments, was refuted by the Calvinist professors Maresius and Hoornbeek. His tract, Onderhandeling noopende den broederlijcken Godtsdienst aangevangen in presentie der vrienden in Amsterdam, and several manuscripts were preserved by Galenus Abrahamsz de Haan. Bock, in his book, Historia Antitrinitarioram, considers him a Socinian, following Sand's verdict.

In Amsterdam Boreel, together with Daniel van Breen and Michiel Coomans, led the Collegiant movement. There he also met Galenus Abrahamsz de Haan, whom he influenced; to that extent Boreel was significant in Mennonite history. Galenus' idea that the true church could be found nowhere on earth was certainly nurtured by the anti-church views of Boreel.

Bibliography of Original Article

Benthem, Heinrich Ludolf. Holländischer Kirch- und Schulen-Staat. Franckfurt und Leipzig : Gottschick, 1698.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 246.

Hylkema, C. B. Reformateurs. Haarlem : H. D. Tjeenk Willink & zoon, 1900-1902: v. I-II.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Het Socinianisme in Nederland. Leiden: Sijthoff, 1912.

Molhuysen, P. C. and P. J. Blok. Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek, 10 vols. Leiden, 1911-1937: v. VI, 163-165. Available online at .

Author(s) Francesco Quatrini
Date Published November 2018

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Quatrini, Francesco. "Boreel, Adam (1602-1665)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. November 2018. Web. 29 Jul 2021.,_Adam_(1602-1665)&oldid=162495.

APA style

Quatrini, Francesco. (November 2018). Boreel, Adam (1602-1665). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 July 2021, from,_Adam_(1602-1665)&oldid=162495.

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