John Durie

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John Durie - Protestant evangelist and unifier

John Durie, grandson of the first Protestant reformer of the same name (see here) and son of Robert Durie, was a persistent advocate of Protestant union. Born in Edinburgh in 1596, he died at Cassel on September 26, 1689 and accomplished a great deal in between.

His father, Robert, left Scotland because of his opposition to the policy of King James VI, and John, having completed his studies in Oxford, accepted the position of minister of the English settlers at Elbing just after Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden captured the city. There he became acquainted with Swedish Lutherans and was thus led in 1628 to a careful study of the differences between the Lutherans and the other Reformed churches with a view to effecting a reconciliation between them. About that time Elbing was visited by the English ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe, who became interested in Durie's plan. In 1630 Roe sent Durie to England with an endorsement of his project to the moderates among the bishops. In Germany the Lutherans and the Reformed were drawing closer together - a conference in Leipzig in 1631 between German Lutherans and Calvinists called for the purpose of securing united action to prevent the execution of the Edict of Restitutio. It seemed a favorable moment to send Durie to the Continent in the interest of ecclesiastical peace, and he thus began an activity of almost fifty years an an itinerant advocate of union between the Reformed and the Lutherans.

Until the end of 1633 John Durie travelled through Germany with letters of recommendation from Sir Thomas Roe, as well as from Archbishop Abbot of Canterbury and other bishops and theologians. Gustavus Adolphus received him at Wurzburg and promised him a letter of recommendation to the Protestant princes of Germany. In 1633 Durie was recalled to England by the death of Archbishop Abbot, whose successor, Archbishop Laud, supported him only after he had joined and been ordained in the Anglican Church . Aided by the recommendation of Laud and by English ambassadors, Durie again worked in Germany and Holland. In 1638 he was expelled from Sweden and in 1639 he had an unfriendly reception in Denmark. The following year he returned to Germany, associating chiefly with the dukes Augustus and George of Brunswick.

The troubles in England called him home. From 1641 to 1644 he was an Anglican clergyman in The Hague, but in 1645, when Laud fell, he rejoined the Presbyterians, taking part in the drafting of the Westminster Confession and the Westminster Catechism, but refusing to vote in favour of the king's death. During Cromwell's protectorate, Durie was a staunch supporter, joined the Independents, and was again sent to the Continent by Cromwell in 1654, though the plan of union was now restricted to the Reformed Churches. He visited Reformed theologians and statesmen in Switzerland, Germany and Holland, and returned to England in 1657.

Cromwell's death in 1658 and the restoration of 1660 interrupted all his efforts. With no more hope of governmental support of his plans for union, he could continue his work only in private and at his own risk. Despite his advanced age, he left England in 1661 and returned to his task of uniting the Protestant churches and of reconciling the Reformed and the Lutherans. He gained the sympathy of the Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg and of the Landgrave William VI. of Hesse-Cassel, and whose early death his widow, Hedwig Sophia, who ruled almost alone at Cassel from 1663 to 1683, remained Durie's patroness throughout the remainder of his life.

John Durie is often credited with the famous slogan 'In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity' but it wasn't his. It was too early for these principles to meet with any general acceptance, and the majority of Lutheran theologians rejected Durie's plane for reunion, especially as they were not clearly defined. This earnest advocate of Christian union died in 1680 without seeing his hopes realized and his life-work ended in apparent failure. In the dedication of a work on the Apocalypse of John (written in French and published at Frankfurt, 1874) to his patroness, the Landgravine of Hesse, he wrote: "The chief fruit of my labours is that I see that the misery of the Christians in far greater than the wretchedness of the heathen and other nations; I see the cause of the misery; I see the lack of remedy, and I see the cause of that lack. For myself, I see that I have no other profit than the witness of my conscience." However, Bishop Hurst said that "John Durie was the greatest peacemaker of the seventeenth century."

Among Durie's numerous works were the influential The Reformed School (1649?) and The Reformed Library Keeper (1660), often listed under the latinised version of his name, Johannes Dueaeus. A friend of Milton, Bacon and Samuel Hartlibb, he had beren Librarian to King Charles, and helped establish what became The Royal Society of London
his daughter married its first Secretary, Henry Oldenburg.

 

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