Hoekstra, Bzn, Sytse (1822-1898)

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Sytse Hoekstra, Bzn, was professor at the Mennonite Seminary and the University of Amsterdam, one of the outstanding theologians of his day. He was born on 20 August 1822, the son of Benedictus Hoekstra and Aafje Pruit, at Wieringerwaard, where the parsonage of the Oudesluis congregation—now Noord-Zijpe—was located. To his mother (died 1855) Hoekstra owed much of his education. In 1840 he attended the Athenaeum at Amsterdam, studying with the Orientalist Taco Roorda, and at the same time finished the theological course at the Mennonite Seminary, becoming a ministerial candidate on 15 June 1845. He served the Akkrum congregation as pastor until 1852, and then the Rotterdam congregation until 1857.

On 26 November 1856, he was appointed by the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit to succeed Samuel Muller as professor in the seminary, at Muller's own suggestion, who had been his teacher. He received an honorary doctor's degree from the University of Leiden on 3 February 1857, and two weeks later he delivered his inaugural address, Oratio de summae veritatis cognoscendae ratione et via (Amsterdam, 1857), translated into Dutch by J. van Gilse, De weg der wetenschap op godgeleerd en wysgeerig gebied (same date and place). From 1877 on, when the Athenaeum was converted into a university, he lectured on Christian doctrine, ethics, and philosophy of religion, and also had charge of Biblical theology. At times he also lectured on logic. He retired in June 1892, and died at Ellecom on 12 June 1898. On 21 July 1873 he married Rebecca Anna van Geuns (died 1909). He was a member of the Association of Dutch Letters (1857), Teyler's Theological Association (1858), and the Royal Academy of Science (1865); in 1874 the king gave him the rank of knight of the Dutch Lion.

Hoekstra was characterized by Samuel Cramer as "probably the keenest thinker that Holland produced in his field in the 19th century." His spirit is best revealed in three of his works: Het geloof des hartens volgens het Evangelie (Amsterdam, 1856, 2d ed. 1857); Bronnen en grondslagen van het godsdienstig geloof (Amsterdam, 1864); and De Hoop der Onsterfelijkheid (Amsterdam, 1867). In the first of these Hoekstra was a supranaturalist, closely related to the ethicist Chantepie de la Saussaye (professor at the University of Groningen). He accepted the pre-existence, the miraculous birth and the miracles of Jesus, declaring, "Such a person as Jesus must do wonders, if He was not intentionally to conceal the divine life that was in Him." He gradually changed his views and became a theological liberal. He formulated a theory of faith in God, the immortality of the human spirit, and the supersensual character of the moral law. In opposition to the empiricism of Opzoomer he set his ethical idealism; in opposition to Scholten's theocentric theology and definite determinism he defended an anthropocentric theology and a psychological indeterminism. Hoekstra said, "All faith in a supersensual world is based on faith in the truth of our own inner being," so that we cannot base the understanding of our spiritual life alone on sensual perceptions, but especially on spiritual experience. "The ineradicable needs and strivings in man cannot deceive us concerning the deepest reality." In the area of religion, "faith in ourselves" is an infallible rule, and he endorses Pascal's statement, "Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connait pas." The needs of life awaken faith in a higher world order and faith finds in these needs also its justification. That religion and ethics are interrelated Hoekstra is firmly convinced. "The fear of God is, if not one of the components, at least a necessary condition or the basis of all higher ethics."

His book, De Hoop der Onsterfelijkheid, was called by van der Wyck, the professor of philosophy, "the most beautiful book that Hoekstra has written." Here too hope is rooted subjectively in faith, and is not based on scientific evidence. A healthy human soul must understand that spiritual development is its goal in life, and for the genuine life of the spirit, a belief in immortality is essential. This human life cannot be comprehended if this is the true life rather than the introduction to another life.

As opposed to Scholten's determinism, Hoekstra wrote Vrijheid in verband met zelfbewustzijn en zonde (Amsterdam, 1857). The freedom of the will is for him the deciding "factor of dawning morality." In the period of the formation of the moral character man has the capacity to choose between motives that act upon him. Not even the most powerful motives must of necessity control him; he can choose one and discard the other. The heroes of history he did not consider as products of their time, but as personalities from whom a decisive influence has emanated upon humanity. At the end of his life he published Zedenleer (3 volumes, Amsterdam, 1894); then Wijsgeerige godsdienstleer (2 volumes, Amsterdam, 1894 f.); Geschiedenis der Zedenleer (2 volumes, Amsterdam, 1896); and De Christelyke Geloofsleer (2 volumes, Amsterdam, 1898). These books, actually theological lectures, are inferior to his earlier works; while he was working on them he was already struggling with physical ailment.

Hoekstra always remained a Christian philosopher, who did not detach faith from historical Christianity and from Jesus, but he did not want to present a rounded system of the concepts of faith. He illuminates a question from all sides, but does not find it necessary to come to a conclusion. Paradoxes, such as God's foreknowledge and the freedom of our will, God's foreknowledge and answer to prayer he leaves side by side. He did not found a theological school, for he did not want to be a leader of a wing; he was rather a pure scholar, not popular, not even with his students, with whom he associated little. 

Nevertheless his influence was profound in circles of many kinds; his clear sermons made a deep impression, his catechetical booklet was widely used for mature students. His first writings, such as Geloof en leven des Christens (Sneek, 1852, republished 1855 and 1862); Levensvragen over den weg des heils in Christus (Sneek, 1853, reprinted); De leer des Evangelies, voor beschaafde en nadenkende christenen ontwikkeld (2 volumes, Sneek, 1854 f., reprinted 1858); Het Evangelie der genade in de gelijkenis van den Verloren Zoon (Sneek, 1854, reprinted 1860); Het geloof des harten and Bronnen en grondslagen van het godsdienstig geloof, gave a clearer insight into the Bible, not only to theologians, but to a wide circle of readers. His students also carried his views into many Mennonite congregations. Even the theologians of our day have recognized the high worth of his views. Eerdmans observed that it would not have been to the disadvantage of modern theology if it had moved more in the direction given it by Hoekstra; and Professor Roessingh laments that the Dutch theologians did not more basically seek to solve the problems of theology along the lines that Hoekstra pointed out.

Even though Hoekstra became known as a philosophical thinker, he was in fact a universal scholar; in every field of theological scholarship he was more or less at home. Born of a genuinely Mennonite family, he was excellently versed in the history and teaching of the fathers, as is shown in his book, Beginselen en leer der oude Doopsgezinden, vergeleken met die van de overige Protestanten (Amsterdam, 1863). He contested their Waldensian origin, considering them rather as the original and faithful representatives of the Reformation of the 16th century in the Netherlands. Their fundamental principle was the building of a spotless church of God, and their other characteristics were accordingly more essential or more accidental. Among the relatively accidental characteristics he counts baptism upon confession of faith, which is by many considered the principal tenet. Their importance he also sees in their tendency to the practical, but they have thereby presented only "one side of the Christian spirit and that only imperfectly." The church can fulfill its task best when it keeps itself free of an exclusive community spirit.

Hoekstra was a good man, sincere, willing to help, and very benevolent. Spiritual pride was foreign to him, sharp criticism did not wound him, he could not hold a grudge. Nor was he calculating, and therefore he frequently uttered all too heedlessly what his sense of humor dictated, and the tone in which he said it at times caused offense. Nor was he a master of language, and was therefore unable to clothe his developing ideas concretely.

Hoekstra wrote an unusual amount, and many articles he wrote for periodicals are well worth reading. He published them in Theologisch Tijdschrift; Licht, Liefde, Leven; Doopsgezinde Lectuur, of which he was for a time an editor; Verslagen en Mededeelingen van de Koninklijke Academie van Wetenschapen; De Gids; Godgeleerde Bijdragen; Nederland; Christelijk Album; De Referent; Christelijke Huisvriend; Evangelisch Tijdschrift; and Taal des Geloofs. Besides these works already mentioned he published the following: with M. A. Amshoff et al., De feestvierende Christen (Amsterdam, 1855); De triumph der liefde in alle beproeving, bezongen in het Lied der liederen (Utrecht, 1856); Inhoud en doel der Evangelieprediking, Leerrede over Titus 3:8 en 9 (Amsterdam, 1857); Waarheid in liefde. Afscheidsrede over 2. Joh. 3 (Rotterdam, 1857); De twee getuigenissen van den lijdenden Jesus aangaande zichzelven. Leerredenen (Amsterdam, 1860); Wedergeboorte. Leerrede over Joh. 3:1-9 (Amsterdam, 1858, reprinted); De weg tot Evangeliekennis. Leerrede over Gal. 1:11 en 12 (Amsterdam, 1859); Grondslag, wezen en openbaring van het godsdienstig geloof volgens de H. Schrift (Rotterdam, 1861); with J. Tideman et al., Zestal leerredenen (Amsterdam, 1861); De Zoon des menschen, de Heiland der wereld (Amsterdam, 1861); De ontwikkeling der zedelijke idee in de geschiedenis with the supplement, De zondeloosheid of volmaakte rechtvaardigheid van Jesus (Amsterdam, 1862); De benaming "de Zoon des menschen," historisch-kritisch onderzocht (Amsterdam, 1866); Des Christens godsvrucht naar de eigne leer van Jesus (Amsterdam, 1866); with van Bell et al., Voorlezingen over bijbelsche berichten aangaande het leven van Jesus (Amsterdam, 1866); De vervloeking van de vijgenboom (Haarlem, 1871); De tegenstelling van Optimisme en Pessimisme. Academische redevoering op 21. Sept. 1880 (Amsterdam, 1880); Het jaarcijfer 81 als getuige van de beteekenis des geloofs (Amsterdam, 1881).


Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1898): 150-62; (1901): 27.

Doopsgezind Jaarboekje (1903): 25-34 (with portrait); (1943): 61-67.  

Golterman, Willem Frederik. De godsdienstwijsbegeerte van S. Hoekstra Bz.: Proefschrift. Te Assen : bij Van Gorcum & Comp. (G.A. Hak & H.J. Prakke), 1942.

Gorter, S. H. N. Doopsgezind Lectuur 3 (1858): 13 f., 33.  

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff.  Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: II, 323-325.

Herzog, J. J. and Albert Hauck, Realencyclopedie für Protestantische Theologie and Kirche. 3. ed. Leipzig: J. H. Hinrichs, 1896-1913: VIII, 195 ff. 

Molenaar, J. "Professor Hoekstra," in Mannen van Beteekenis, 1897; Theologisch Tijdschrift, 1898: 448-454.

Molhuysen, P. C. and  P. J. Blok. Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek. Leiden, 1911-1937: I, 1122-1126.  

Roessingh, Karel Hendrik. De moderne theologie in Nederland: hare voorbereiding en eerste periode. Groningen: Erven B. van der Kamp, 1914. 166-182.

van der Wyck, H. J. "Levensbericht van S. Hoekstra," in Jaarboek der Koninkl. Academie van Wetenschappen, 1901.

Visscher, H. and L. A. van Langeraad. Het protestantsche vaderland: biographisch woordenboek van protestantsche godgeleerden in Nederland, 8 vols. Utrecht, 1903-1918: IV, 79-87.

Author(s) Jacob Loosjes
Date Published 1956

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MLA style

Loosjes, Jacob. "Hoekstra, Bzn, Sytse (1822-1898)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 12 Aug 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hoekstra,_Bzn,_Sytse_(1822-1898)&oldid=118298.

APA style

Loosjes, Jacob. (1956). Hoekstra, Bzn, Sytse (1822-1898). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 12 August 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hoekstra,_Bzn,_Sytse_(1822-1898)&oldid=118298.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 773-775. All rights reserved.

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