There must have been so many struggles endured

A practical, undogmatic piety made the work of the poet Dirck Camphuysen popular among broad sections of the population of the Netherlands

There must have been so many struggles endured


There must have been so many struggles endured,

many burdens having been born

and much grief having been suffered.

There must be holy ethics,

a narrow road having been trod

as long as we’re down here,

so shall it be in peace hereafter.

From: Dirck Camphuysen Stichtelijke Rymen (1624)

These famous lines from the Dutch literature of the seventeenth century are derived from the collection Stichtelijke Rymen (Devotional Rhymes) by Dirck Rafaëlszoon Camphuysen (1586-1627). In our time we can hardly imagine that this poem and the collection in which it was published, had to be put on the market anonymously because the author was seen as a representative of the ‘coornhertist’ [1] ideas.

This formed an important part of Remonstrant thinking, which had to be harshly removed from the collective memory after the Synod of Dordrecht (1619). With more than fifty reprints, the booklet quickly became the most widely read collection of poetry in Dutch literature!

Even from these six lines something of Camphuysen’s Remonstrant ideas can be deduced. Against the counter-Remonstrant idea that people could not be good by themselves and were predestined to be completely dependent on God’s grace, the Remonstrants argued that believers were free to take their own responsibility. With them the human will was decisive. That is why it is significant that the poet here emphasizes the things that people can and should do for themselves: to wage an inner struggle, to observe Christian morals, to lead a conscientious life and to pray.

The verse must have appealed to the Leene brothers and their companion Cor Damme during the construction period of the spiritual school, because in 1933 they included it in the periodical ‘The Rosycross’. And later it ended up in the standard literature of the school: The Fire Glow of the Ascension [2].

The poem sometimes resonates in the bold statements that especially Z.W. Leene made during his discourses, statements in those days with which he battled the delusions and mystifications that lived among his listeners. The always fiery Z.W. Leene was able to strongly attract people in a short time, but also violently repel them:

Think for yourself! That’s a hero’s journey. That means being denied by family and friends, that is going through a chilled and spiritually impoverished world, lonely and forgotten. Who dares to do so, fighting this heroic battle and dares to venture with God himself, oh, I would like to tell you: you will not have an easy life. God does not ask for the easy man. But God loves the daring, the best, the stormers and especially the upright. Those who dare to think honestly and do not, for fear of punishment, repeat what they cannot understand to its deepest essence.

Leene drastically robs his audience of the illusion of being anything at all.

No one means anything that is not something – and who has not become something. We can only become someone when we have full knowledge. When are we ready to learn about the eternal unchanging laws of God? When we come to understand that we are serious about our lives—following Christ’s example and pursuing His steps—not just Sundays, but all week. And… if you want to strive upward, you will have to work and study.

It is remarkable that the great philosopher Baruch Spinoza must have recognized the qualities of Camphuysen, who, like Spinoza, spent a while in the circles of the Collegiants [3] in Rijnsburg. If you visit the beautiful old Spinoza house in Rijnsburg [4], where Spinoza lived for a few years, you can read the following verse by Camphuysen above the entrance, also the last verse of his poem ‘Maysche Morghen-stondt’ ( ‘Early morning hours in May’), from which our title verse is also derived:

Ah! Were all people wise

and thereby wanted to!

The Earth where a Paradise

is now most Hell to her.

Spinoza’s life motto

do good and be merry

(bene agere et laetari)

is also derived from a well-known poem by Camphuysen, who in turn is indebted to Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert for this. He writes in his ethic Zedekunst dat is wellevenskunste (Moral style is the art of well living)(1586):

For all who allow evil to die out in themselves, becoming good is not a delusion but a truth that they experience. This gives a true and lasting joy, is nothing but doing good and being merry, that is the very best for all people. Whoever can do this, in deeds and not just in small talk, has verily the art of living.

While Camphuysen’s verses already appealed to a large readership, the eventful life of the poet, who has been treated only sparingly in literary history, perhaps appeals even more to the imagination. Camphuysen was the son of a respected and widely loved surgeon of noble descent in his native city of Gorinchem. His mother was a woman “of special [that is, exceptional] godliness,” we read in his biography.

It is also mentioned that therein she resembled her father, a certain Hans van Maseyck, ‘a merchant who had himself desecrated for the confessions of faith.’ This martyrdom of grandfather undoubtedly had an influence on the sensitive grandson. Dirck was an orphan at an early age, was trained as a painter, but eventually became a home teacher and secretary at Mr van Boetzelaer at Loevesteijn Castle, shortly before Hugo de Groot managed to escape from there, hidden in his famous bookcase. 

He also managed to smuggle in his beloved Anna Alendorp as a governess. The pair were soon sent away; Camphuysen moving to Utrecht to become a teacher and to study theology at the same time. In Utrecht he became aware of the vanity of the things of this world and came to the realization that only one choice can be the right one: that of the

narrow path back to the heavenly homeland.

He was a minister in Vleuten for several years. During his speeches, the church invariably filled to capacity, even with believers from Utrecht. But he was deposed by the Synod of Dordrecht. He had to flee the country, led a wandering life for a long time, eventually finding asylum in the German Norden (East Friesland), thirty kilometers north of Emden, where Coornhert had a shelter a few years earlier. In Norden he developed a deep aversion to the visible church. The visible is the worldly, the unredeemed, the unspiritual. The church as an institution knows only the letter and not the spirit. This vision was decisive for him in his decision never to preach again. 

What remained for him was to address people’s hearts through his poetry in order to imbue them with the only thing that matters, the reality of God. In his poems he shows a practical, undogmatic piety, which makes his work so popular among broad sections of the population of the Netherlands. Not the letter, but the spirit; not a barren intellectual knowledge, but knowledge that comes from real experience.

After his exile, the dissident Camphuysen was allowed to return to the Republic via the island Ameland. He ended up in Dokkum. Provided he was only concerned with selling flax, he was tolerated. On July 19, 1627, exhausted and ill, he laid his weary head there for good.



[1] Follower of Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert (1522 – 1590) 

[2]  Peter Huijs, De vuurgloed van de ontstijging [The Fire Glow of the Ascension], page 30 , Rozekruis Pers,  Haarlem 2012

[3] Collegiants: In the seventeenth century, the Collegiants formed a liberal movement that advocated universal Christianity. The true faith did not exclude any believer from whichever direction he or she came. The Collegiants were averse to dogmas and theology. With them the emphasis was on the experience, on the direct contact with God. They didn’t want to be a church community. Their members came from the enlightened Christian circles of Mennonites and Remonstrants. In their monthly learning meetings, the so-called ‘lectures’, everyone could speak freely. The first meetings of Collegiants took place in Warmond, but soon (1621) Rijnsburg became the center of attention. The most famous Rijnsburg collegiant was Spinoza. It is also known that the painter Rembrandt had sympathy for the Collegiants. The well-known writer Aagje Deken was raised in a Collegiate orphanage. The spiritual song culture of the Collegiants was at a high level, partly thanks to the frequently used song collections by Dirck Camphuysen.

The Collegiants were for tolerance, rejected all exclusivity of the churches, sought the restoration of Christianity in its purest form because they considered the Reformation a failure. All kinds of theologies and philosophies (such as Spinozism and Cartesianism) could be freely discussed. In this way the Collegiants provided a stage for the undogmatic intelligentsia. That is why they are sometimes seen as the forerunners of the enlightenment.

[4] See the painting by Anton L. Koster (1859-1937) of the Spinoza house in Rijnsburg at the top of this article

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Date: December 8, 2021
Author: Dick van Niekerk (Netherlands)
Photo: Anton L. Koster 1859-1937

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