About the work of Dr. F. de Graaff (1918-1993)


Words are like money: both act as intermediate in the human traffic and both have their limitations. Money falls short because not everything can be bought with it, for example no Nobel prizes or friendship (political friendship maybe however) [1]. Words sometimes deficit to, for example, put natural beauty into words. Also religious experiences often cannot exactly be described as any Mystic in East and West knows.

Not everything can, but in addition not everything should be bought with money, such as children for adoption or human body organs. Similarly, some words, though crisp and unambiguous, in certain situations or certain persons are not considered decent: every culture has its taboos. That ' cannot and should not ' applies both on money as on words. Intermediate money and intermediate language fail because they have limitations and because we impose them restrictions. It follows that words sometimes can do more than literally read or heard. Here ends the analogy with the money. To money there is nothing secret. But in a text something unspoken can be hidden, something only the observant or experienced can notice immediately or gradually. It applies not only for words: 'das Wichtigste steht nicht in den Nuts', the composer Gustav Mahler already noticed.

What applies to words, can also apply to facts. Also facts are not always entirely clear. They need interpretation to be able to use them for assessment of events and situations. ‘Jede Tatsache, selbst einfachste, enthält eine bereits eine theorie’ Oswald Spengler wrote [2]. This may a Spengleriaanse exaggeration, but any statistician knows what is meant. Now one can call into question the probative value of facts (Cornelis Verhoeven's motto for his book on the wonder: 'it is a fact but it is so '.) Or one can accept a fact but only as an introduction to a problem statement: 'we have heard of the fact, we delve after the mystery'. [3] Then call on 'the facts' is not always the decisive end of a discussion.

Words and facts are sometimes invitations to further investigation, because one suspects a hidden meaning behind statements or behind events. Of course it has an advantage to be guided only by literal statements or by established facts - empiricists, positivists, behaviorists, etc. remain on the safe side: their views are easy to defend, because there is evidence available. Those who want to expose the world behind the statements or facts and want to draw attention to the hidden, commit a perilous path: their views will be considered speculative, as psychologists such as Freud and Jung, for example, have experienced. After all, the bullying is more at risk than the guardians.

An author who always asked attention for the hidden, for the mystery character of words and facts, was the religious scholar Frank de Graaff, reformed preacher and author of many books that all relate to Western Christian culture, to thinkers in that culture and to the Messiah from Israel. For him it was both about the hidden in textual sense and about the hidden in the metahistorical sense. Textually: what lies behind the dark or even inconsistent statements of philosophers like Nietzsche, Spinoza and Heidegger - some of the thinkers De Graaff wrote about. Metahistorical: what lies behind the world of facts and their development.

The lost God

Nietzsche borrowed his main problem to De Graaff: 'Gott ist tot'. Nietzsche was thus regarded as a blasphemer. In addition, Nietzsche launched the distinction between 'Herren-Moral' and 'Sklaven-Moral', where he seemed to take it up for the strong and the pity rejected: he would thus go with Thomas Carlyle's hero worship - not to mention to be of kinship with the Nazis. But 'Gott ist tot' must, according to De Graaff, not be interpreted atheistically. Nietzsche is the philosopher who experienced God's abandonment as a loss, which is evident in his vision "Der tolle Mensch". [4] Although he is going to protest against Christianity, De Graaff pointed out that it can not be inferred that Nietzsche rejects Jesus. On the contrary, Nietzsche's vision of the young shepherd, whom he encourages to bite the serpent's head [5], shows that he, without mentioning it, thinks in Biblical categories: in this case Genesis 3 and John 10.

Nietzsche's rejection of the slave morality must be seen as a protest against the usefulness philosophy of Jeremy Bentham et al., In which 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number' is considered ideal. That utilitarianism ultimately leads to nihilism, as Iwan Turgenev shows in his novel Fathers and Sons. Nietzsche thought that a distinguished, uplifting attitude of life offers more perspective than the weak to offer pity, for the main thing is "revelation sign of Divinity" [6] and the divine gives meaning and justification to things - says De Graaff's explanation of Nietzsche's plea for the grand. This does not mean that all 'high-ranking people' are necessarily distinguished: Nietzsche writes scornfully about the 'Überlegenheits-Glaube des Gelehrten' and about the 'Fabrikanten-Vulgarität'. There are others who can not count on Nietzsche's esteem, but sometimes abject statements of him masks to hide his deepest feelings. [7] It should be remembered that Nietzsche lived at the same time as Impressionist painters, the time also of Oscar Wilde and James Whistler. These artists are known to defy current opinions by debiting absurdities in the belief that civilians can not be discussed about essential things. And Nietzsche regarded himself as an artist - which he also was in literary and perhaps musical terms. (According to Albert Schweitzer Nietzsche's Jenseits von Gut und Böse is among the top of German literature.) But Nietzsche was more: a profound thinker and a keen observer of the situation of his time. It is precisely with Nietzsche that one can not escape looking for the provocative statements behind his provocative statements.

Also at Spinoza it makes sense to ask for the hidden. He was known as an atheist, pantheist and especially as a rationalist, as a result of which he is celebrated as the great pioneer of the Enlightenment. That he would be an atheist, Spinoza himself rejects in his letter to Oldenburg of October 1665. But his so-called pantheism and rationalism have backgrounds. De Graaff writes about this in his book on Spinoza, which limits itself, as the title says, to Spinoza and the crisis of Western culture (1977). This crisis of Western culture expresses in this that God seems to keep hiding itself more and more. De Graaff calls that condition exile. In that situation, where no revelation is taking place anymore, the ratio for Spinoza is the only means that is left. But the ratio is not driven by Spinoza by the 'Wille zur Macht', as Nietzsche would call it later, by the Faustic control urge that characterizes Western culture. On the contrary, the reason for Spinoza is the 'amor Dei intellectualis', the love for God. [8]  And love lacks the cool element that typifies the usual conception of reason. This does not negate the idea of ​​Spinoza as a stimulator of the Enlightenment, but rather nuanced.

De Graaff suspects that Spinoza was based on the Kabbalistic book Sohar that arose in the Judaism of Medieval Spain. In the spirit of that book, Spinoza's alleged pantheism is also conceived, in which God and nature are equated with each other. Evelyn Underhill also writes in her Mysticism [9] that according to the Sohar 'God is considered as immanent in all that has been created or emanated, and yet is transcendent to all' '. Spinoza understands, according to De Graaff, 'nature' God and the world that are connected to each other. (De Graaff points out that the concept of 'nature' was described differently in the 16th and 17th centuries.) Calvin also used 'nature' in the same sense as Spinoza.) De Graaff sees the concept of 'substance' as the Sohar mentioned in the Sohar. 'En-sof' - which literally means 'without end' and is an indication for the hidden God [10]. And Spinoza's concept of 'attributes' is strongly reminiscent of the 'Sephiroth' from the same writing. De Graaff is therefore looking for his Jewish / Iberian origins behind Spinoza's texts, as well as the Islamic environment in which his ancestors lived. Because of this, Spinoza must have felt the earthly situation as permanent exile in which no contact can be felt with the transcendent God. De Graaff also considers Spinoza's expression to be an expression of the then-crisis in Judaism related to the actions of Sabbatai Zwi, as noted by Gershom Scholem [11] and Martin Buber [12]. But De Graaff protests against Spinoza's position that the biblical notion of a future redemption must be released.

In his dissertation, De Graaff had already published his vision on Heidegger (1951). Heidegger's philosophy asks for Being. De Graaff states that Heidegger means with His God. Heidegger writes this nowhere, but De Graaff defends his view that Heidegger as he quotes a text from Herakleitos, in which 'gods' are called, which translates by 'Being'. In addition, Heidegger describes Being as "das transcendens schlechthin". [13] Again De Graaff is looking for a text that what an author really means, but does not write down. No one has followed De Graaff in this interpretation, until George Steiner [14] remarked that such an explanation makes Heidegger suddenly much more understandable. De Graaff, on the basis of his exegesis, even thinks that the post-Christian Heidegger, according to many, should still be seen as a follower of Christianity - albeit as a peripheral figure [15].

From the above it has become clear that the preacher De Graaff often engages with philosophers who are regarded by many as atheists. It is also remarkable that he has a tendency to positively value these philosophers - Nietzsche, Spinoza and Heidegger - and to regard them as religious thinkers. Apparently he is of the opinion that great thinkers, even if they do not explicitly express their religious experience, are still dealing with the question of God. De Graaff obviously does not belong to those who demand that people explicitly express themselves first about their religious experience before their religiosity can be decided. There are hidden motives behind philosophies.

God, gods and saints

In his article '' Devoot Humanism '', written in honor of De Graaff, Prof. dr. dr J.H. van den Berg, how in the Greek tragedy human destiny is determined by the divine world, without this releasing man from his own responsibility [16]. It is a familiar theme that is also found in Homer. De Graaff involved that divine influence on cultures. He also found indications in the Bible, especially in Psalm 82 (on which his best-known book, "If gods die" (1969, 1970) is based), and in the book of Daniel. The gods, or folk angels, are vassals of the Most High and govern the nations. (It is strange that this thought of De Graaff has not been followed, because the question about the status of the Islamic God that concerns some Christians - Allah is the same as the God of the Bible and if not, who is he? - can be answered.) If these people are wrongly tolerated in their culture, they will eventually lead to death by the intervention of the highest God (Psalm 82). De Graaff tries in this way to understand the decline of cultures by assuming that hidden divine powers determine their destiny. As far as Western culture is concerned, in connection with Nietzsche he argues that the Western Christian God has indeed died, but that Christian God is not the God of the Bible, but a popular angel who is more reminiscent of Rome than of Israel. He seeks the decisive event for Western culture in the year 1000, when two enigmatic personalities occur: the youthful Emperor Otto III - in which De Graaff suspects the incarnation of the Western god - and Pope Silvester II - which marks the beginning of modern Western science. symbolizes [17]. De Graaff quotes chronicles from that time and discusses remarkable images from Ottoman culture that surprisingly support his vision for the year 1000. He sees the connection of God diminishes after the year 1000, creating the modern cosmos that eventually moves like a wedge between the divine and the human world. This has consequences for the nature of human knowledge: the natural sciences develop, with the supernatural the contact stagnates.

The hidden lies for De Graaff not only in the divine world. There is a hidden Johannes community on earth. These are the saints mentioned in the Matthaeus gospel when Jesus dies on the cross. De Graaff deems it unlikely that those who had risen from the graves and appeared to many, would then have died again. They have continued to live and form a community on earth that apparently assists the earthly believers. The leadership of that community rests with the apostle John who, according to an explanation of a text from the Gospel of John, does not die. This thought of the disciple-who-remains is not new. De Graaff suspects that the Johannes community is meant in Mozart's opera 'Die Zauberflöte'. [18] It is clear that De Graaff is not afraid to speak to his readers about their receptiveness to the unusual. Readers, who only want to take the usual knowledge, do not belong to his audience.

The strategum of Jacob

The hidden is a core theme of De Graaff. The hidden behind spoken and written words, the hidden behind everyday reality. But that secret can only be known in the long run. De Graaff calls this process, which is necessary to gain access to the hidden, 'initiation'. In this connection he often uses the terms 'exoteric' and 'esoteric'. Inauguration he considers necessary to appreciate great works of art, but is certainly required to understand something of the One who was supposed to be the center of Western Christian culture. The question is, however, whether that Western culture has had a correct image of Jesus. The two bulky books that he writes about Him are called Jesus the Hidden One (1987, 1989). Jesus is hidden to De Graaff's opinion by (at least) two causes: 1. Greek philosophy and Roman annexation of Christianity have largely stripped Jesus of his Jewish form; 2. Judaism has applied a so-called Jacobslist in order to make Jesus acceptable to the Gentiles, especially for the prevailing Roman culture. In both these books, De Graaff is particularly concerned with the second cause.

De Graaff was inspired by an old Jewish commentary on the opposition between the brothers Jacob and Esau and by a thought of Friedrich Nietzsche. Jacob, who will later be called Israel and Esau or Edom, who is equated to Rome in the Jewish tradition, is both the Roman empire of yesteryear and the Roman Catholic Church thereafter. Nietzsche, who probably did not realize this Jewish comment, now sees 'kein gröszeres Ereignis' as the battle 'Juda gegen Rom' [19]: Israel has forced Jesus as a savior, as it were, to Rome as generous revenge for the Roman domination, in which Israel has pretended to be convincing Jesus. The hidden here has a different cause than mentioned above. It was there because authors could not or did not want to find words to express it for them or because the hidden was not perceptible to the senses. This is based on a conscious decision to induce an occupying power to accept the values ​​of an oppressed people.

This interpretation of the history of salvation is completely at odds with the usual reading in which malicious, or insulted, Jewish leaders and an uncouth crowd of people who they play, insist on crucifixion of Jesus in an unwilling Roman governor. The Graaff's interpretation is indeed unusual, but unusual is not necessarily indescribable. For the usual reading will have to explain a) why the Jewish leadership had decisive objections against Jesus, b) why the Jewish leadership thought that Jesus should undergo a punishment customary to the Romans, c) why the Romans had to make that punishment, d) ) why the Jewish people, so impressed by Jesus' wonders, suddenly turned into his appreciation for their benefactor and e) why the Roman governor, who was not known for his scruples, now suddenly had so much trouble with the condemnation of a seemingly innocent. And De Graaff's interpretation must be subject to Coleridge's claim: when a doctrine was accepted for centuries by thinking people from all kinds of environments, not only must the new doctrine be made plausible, but at the same time the unanimous acceptance of the old doctrine must be accepted. explained [20]. It goes without saying that such a statement can not disregard anti-Semitism as a sustainable feature of Western culture.


De Graaff was convinced of the mystery character of reality. A mystery is not a problem that can be solved and can serve to change reality, but a mystery involves elements that lie behind the phenomena and sometimes only lend themselves to suspicions and speculations. The modern scientist, on the other hand, tries to come up with problems and values ​​his material according to the value of use, as an employer values ​​his employees primarily for the services they deliver. De Graaff often uses the term 'reduction' in this context. Reduction occurs when reality is presented as a recognizable and manageable object. Reduction also occurs in an absolutization of a part or an aspect of reality: a part or aspect is considered before, represented as, the total reality. (De Graaff also uses the term 'abstraction' in this context.) Things are then presented more simply than they are. Insofar as the hidden is created by human intervention, it is created by re, by reduction - either as an option or as impotence. Simplifying that can also relate to people. De Graaff, for example, judges Spinoza's view of Jesus as a reduction: Spinoza has great admiration for Jesus, but he only sees Him as the perfect way.

In  modern science reality is reduced. De Graaff sees the impetus for this with the Pope of the Year 1000, Silvester II. The scientific thinking, which seems to start with him, "de-deforms creation. In this way it removes the god from the world. "[21] It is what Max Weber would later call" the Entzauberung der Welt "[22] or, as Friedrich Schiller had described it more than a century earlier," die Entgötterung der Natur '[23]:

Wo jetzt nur, who sway unsere Weisen,

Seelenlos ein Feuerball sich dreht,

Lenkte damals signals Goldnen Wagen

Helios in quieter Majestät.

The tools used by that scientific thinking are called De Graaff reduction devices. He therefore understands the cardinal who refused to view the universe by Galileo's viewer, because a view through that viewer would tempt him to keep that image for the whole reality. No instrument is neutral, our knowledge of reality is not always enriched by an instrument, but it is bent in a certain direction. That is why perhaps the Brahmin, who, according to the story of Alfred lord Tennyson, after having observed a drop of water through a microscope, immediately destroyed that microscope. Goethe also did not want to use a microscope and, according to Eckermann, he even objected to someone approaching him with glasses. ('... as a sollte ich den Fremden zum Gegenstand genauer Untersuchung serve ...') [24]. And the German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who was given a hearing aid by the Siemens firm to remedy his increasing hardness, threw that instrument to the ground with anger: 'there was waving, or technically,', as technical hören '[25]. The nature of modern science entails working in a reducing subject-object relationship. Reducing: if only because a possible divine intervention does not occur as a variable in a scientific theory because such a possibility is not a scientific consideration. But there are also other institutions that can accommodate people and nature than the objectifiable attitude, as described by Martin Buber in his Ich and Du (1923).


Why is De Graaff so interested in hidden motives in human thought and in human culture? Bertolt Brecht's suspicious vision of life 'Die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht' is not an answer here. Also the preference for the night and the mysterious that was cherished by the Romantics does not fit here. The beginning of an answer is obvious. After all, every religious person knows that non-observable forces control or adjust human trade and walking. And every adult person knows from experience that human statements are often motivated by not directly clear, hidden motives. This realization applies even more to a minister who studies, interacts with people and reflects on the situation of his time. But perhaps De Graaff's attention to the hidden is best conceived as apprehension as not to recognize the divine as happened to Pentheus. [26]

The twentieth century is like the tenth: an iron age. Many have expressed their gloom about the events they saw and based their expectations for the future: Karl Jaspers' The Geistige Situation of Zeit, José Ortega y Gassets La rebelión de las masas and Johan Huizinga's In the shadows of tomorrow. They are not the only ones, but in the twentieth century they are all led by Oswald Spenglers Der Untergang des Abendlandes. Frank de Graaff was born in 1918, in the same summer that Spenglers bestseller was published. To what extent does he fit in that Spengler tradition? He does not fit. Although he also describes a culture in decline, he shows himself in the first place a religious thinker who attributed that decline of Western Christian culture to what Martin Buber would later call (1952), 'Gottesfinsternis'. In that state where, according to the word of Nietzsche, the Christian God is dead and in which the Christian values ​​in Western Europe fade, it is also experienced that the highest God, the God of Israel, is hiding.

De Graaff did not write as the authors of the Spengler tradition in the doom-predictive interwar period, but in the years after the Second World War when for many a new, prosperous period had begun. In this prosperity, comments on technological and economic progress were found to be inappropriate by some. De Graaff was not a pessimist, certainly not by nature, but he wished to take Western European secularization seriously and to search for its causes. Now that Christianity is threatening to leave Western Europe, it is not superfluous to pay attention to an author who already knew how to prepare the signs of it at an early stage.

[1] Michael Sandel, What money can not buy, 2012

[2] Der Untergang des Abendlandes I, 6. Kapitel

[3] Augustine, quoted by P.Hendrix, The theological and cultic meaning of the icons. 1960

[4] Die fröhliche Wissenschaft nr 125

[5] Also spoke Zarathustra: Vom Gesicht und Rätsel

[6] F. de Graaff, Nietzsche. 1979. Chapter 4

[7] Jenseits von Gut und Böse nr 40

[8] Compare Stuart Hampshire, Spinoza. 1978 Penguin Books, p.171: It was Spinoza's intention to prove that to be rational is necessary to love God, and that to love God is to be rational ...

[9] 2004, p.10

[10] Gershom Scholem, Über einge Grundbegriffe des Judentums. 1970. p. 21 ff.

[11] Gershom Scholem, Judaica. 1963. p. 123

[12] Spinoza, Sabbatai Zwi and der Baalschem, 1927. Werke III, p. 742 e, v,

[13] F. de Graaff, The problem of guilt in the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger. 1951. p. 49

[14] Truth has a future. 1991. p. 176

[15] F. de Graaff, Edge figures. Church and theology 3rd volume 1952. p. 4-18

[16] J.H. Van den Berg, Devoot Humanism. In: A. van der Ploeg et al., Judiciously seeing: drafting commissioned to Dr F. de Graaff, 1993

[17] Anno Domini 1000 Anno Domini 2000. Kok Kampen 1977

[18] F. de Graaff, The opera 'Die Zauberflöte' by Mozart. Kok Kampen 1990

[19] F. Nietzsche, Zur Genealogy of the Moral, erste Abhandlung, nr 16

[20] John Stuart Mill, Coleridge. 1840. In Mill & Bentham, Utilitarianism and other essays. Penguin Books 1987

[21] F. de Graaff, AD 1000 AD 2000, p. 84

[22] Wissenschaft as Beruf, 1919

[23] Friedrich Schiller, Die Götter Griechenland

[24] Gespräche mit Goethe. 1976. p. 745

[25] Joachim Kaiser, Who ich sie sah ... und wie sie were. Paul List Verlag, Munich 1985. p. 75

[26] Euripides, The bacchen

[27] The author thanks Dr L. Engelfriet and Dr L.F.de Graaff for their critical reading of a previous version of this article.






The hidden, dr. M.H.J. Dullaart