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Jacob Arminius

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Title: Jacob Arminius  
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Subject: Synod of Dort, Predestination (Calvinism), List of founders of religious traditions, Eternal sin, Prevenient grace, Evangelical Church (ECNA), Willem Teellinck
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Jacob Arminius

For the first century AD German military chieftain, see Arminius.

Jacobus Arminius (October 10, 1560 – October 19, 1609), the Latinized name of the Dutch theologian Jakob Hermanszoon from the Protestant Reformation period, served from 1603 as professor in theology at the University of Leiden. He wrote many books and treatises on theology, and his views became the basis of Arminianism and the Dutch Remonstrant movement.

Following his death, his challenge to the Reformed standard, the Belgic Confession, provoked ample discussion at the Synod of Dort, which crafted the five points of Calvinism in response to Arminius's teaching.

Early life

Arminius, born at Oudewater, Utrecht, became an orphan while still young. His father Herman died, leaving his wife a widow with small children.[1] His mother was killed during the Spanish massacre at Oudewater in 1575.

The pastor Theodorus Aemilius adopted Jacobus and sent him to school at Utrecht, but died in 1574. Then Rudolph Snellius brought him to Marburg, and enabled Arminius to study theology at the University of Leiden.[2]

Theological studies and ministry

Arminius remained at Leiden from 1576 to 1582. His teachers in theology included Lambertus Danaeus, Johannes Drusius, Guillaume Feuguereius, and Johann Kolmann. Kolmann believed and taught that high Calvinism made God both a tyrant and an executioner. Under the influence of these men, Arminius studied with success and had seeds planted that would begin to develop into a theology that would later compete with the dominant Reformed theology of John Calvin. Arminius began studying under Theodore Beza at Geneva in 1582. He found himself in trouble after using Ramist techniques, familiar to him from his time at Marburg; and he then moved to Basel.[2]

He answered a call to pastor at Amsterdam and became ordained in 1588. He gained a reputation as a good preacher and faithful pastor. In 1590 he married Lijsbet Reael. At Amsterdam, Arminius through "a number of sermons on the Epistle of the Romans, he had gradually developed opinions on grace, predestination and free will that were inconsistent with the doctrine of the Reformed teachers Calvin and Beza".[3] In 1591, responding to Arminius' theological development his colleague Petrus Plancius began to openly dispute him. The Amsterdam burgomasters intervened, in an effort to keep the peace and tamp down divisions in the populace.[4]

Professor at Leiden

In 1603 he was called back to Leiden University to teach theology. This came about after almost simultaneous deaths in 1602 of two faculty members, Franciscus Junius and Lucas Trelcatius the elder, in an outbreak of plague. Lucas Trelcatius the younger and Arminius (despite Plancius' protest) were appointed, the decision resting largely with Franciscus Gomarus, the surviving faculty member.[5] While Gomarus cautiously approved Arminius, whose views were already suspected of unorthodoxy, his arrival opened a period of debate rather than closed it.[6] The appointment had also a political dimension, being backed by both Johannes Wtenbogaert at The Hague and Johan van Oldenbarnevelt.[7]

Escalating controversy with Gomarus

Gomarus, a Fleming who had been in Leyden since 1594, has been described as "a rather mediocre scholar" but "a forceful defender of the Calvinistic doctrine... a man of deep-rooted faith"[3] In contrast Arminius has been described as "a seeker, a doubter".[3] On the question of predestination Gomarus was a supralapsarian and it was in debate over this point that the conflict between the two began. Arminius advocated revising the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, but was not explicit, until much later when the debate became an open conflict.[3]

The dispute took a public turn on February 7, 1604, when Willem Bastingius in his disputation De divina praedestinatione defended a number of Arminius's theses, Arminius himself presiding. This event led Gomarus to have Samuel Gruterus argue an opposite position to these theses on October 14, 1604, but not on the official schedule. Gomarus ascribed the positions he disliked to Calvin's adversary Sebastian Castellio and his follower, Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert. While Arminius pointed to the Bible to defend his positions, the Calvinist views set forth by "the Genevan patriarchs gradually acquired the force of Res judicata, so that resistance against it was no longer tolerated."[3]

Opponents of Arminius outside the University gradually expanded the controversy. The classis in Dordrecht drew up a gravamen in which "some differences" that "were said to have arisen in the Church and University of Leiden on the doctrine of the Reformed Churches" was laid out.[3] In response the three Leiden professors of theology (Lucas Trelcatius Jr. joining Arminius and Gomarus) and the Regent of the State College, Johannes Cuchlinus, wrote an indignant letter, stating "that as far as was known to them there was no conflict between the professors on any fundamental doctrine whatsoever."[3]

Gomarus was incited to increase his opposition to Arminius by Leiden minister Festus Hommius and Petrus Plancius, Arminius's old opponent. An anonymous series of thirty-one articles was circulated, "in which all kinds of unorthodox opinions held by Arminius were exposed".[3] Sibrandus Lubbertus, Professor of Theology at the University of Franeker, began sending letters to foreign theologians attacking Arminius with charges of heresy; and one of these letters fell into Arminius's hands. Because his opponents remained anonymous or bypassed official prodecures, Arminius in April 1608 requested from the States of Holland permission to expound his views. On May 30, 1608, Arminius and Gomarus were allowed by the States to deliver speeches before the Supreme Court in The Hague. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Reinout van Brederode (Oldenbarnevelt's son-in-law) concluded that "the points of difference between the two professors, mostly relating to the subtle details of doctrine of predestination, were of minor importance and could co-exist... [and] enjoined both gentlemen to tolerate one another lovingly".[3]

In direct defiance of the Court, Gomarus then published the speech he had made before it, and Arminius followed suit by publishing his own speech. In response to the Court's opinion Gomarus declared that "he would not dare die holding Arminius' opinion, nor to appear with it before God's judgement seat."[3] Arminius then asked to defend his positions in public or for a national or provincial synod to be called to examine the matter. Seeking to avoid a synod, the States of Holland allowed Arminius to expound on his views to their assembly on October 30, 1608.

Before the assembly, Arminius finally explained his call to rewrite the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, saying that he did not feel obligated to explain his position before, for "as a professor, he considered himself subject only to the authority of the Leiden Curators and the States, not to the Church".[3] Arminius then gave an overview of all the various opinions existing on predestination. He claimed that supralapsarianism was contrary to the Confession and Catechism and that "supra- and infralapsarianism, basically amount to the same thing."[3] Arminius put forward his own view on predestination which he held was in concordance with the Confession and the Catechism. This was, and continues to be, puzzling for "it is not easy to see why precisely a supporter of the doctrine of predestination that, according to what he himself says, is in conformity with the Confession and the Catechism, should ask for their revision."[3]

Learning that Arminius had appeared before the States assembly, Gomarus requested permission to address it as well, which was granted. On December 12, 1608, Gomarus blasted Arminius, accusing "his colleague of being a supporter of Pelagianism and the Jesuits; he also attacked Johannes Wtenbogaert, whom he branded a 'courtly trumpeter.'"[3] The assembly took offence against this polemical tone, which contrasted with Arminius's eirenicism, and ordered the speeches made before them by both men to be banned from publication. Despite the ban the speeches soon appeared in print.

On July 25, 1609, Jacobus Bontebal defended the theses De vocatione hominis ad salutem under Arminius's presidency. A Roman Catholic priest (rumored to be a Jesuit) was in the audience and dared to oppose Arminius' positions. While an already seriously ill Arminius refuted the arguments, Gomarus "who was among the audience, became alternately flushing and deathly pale, and afterwards, while the Papist was within earshot, he insultingly remarked to his colleague that now the door to Papism had been widely opened."[3]

Final debate and last days

Arminius remained as a teacher at Leiden until his death, and was valued by his students.[8] Still, the conflict with Gomarus widened out into a large-scale split within Calvinism.[9] Of the local clergy, Adrianus Borrius supported Arminius, while Festus Hommius opposed him.[10] Close friends, students and supporters of Arminius included Johannes Drusius, Conrad Vorstius, Anthony Thysius, Johannes Halsbergius, Petrus Bertius, Johannes Arnoldi Corvinus, and the brothers Rembert and Simon Episcopius.[11] His successor at Leiden (again selected with the support of Wtenbogaert and Oldenbarnevelt) was Vorstius, a past influence on Arminius by his writings.[12]

Once again the States attempted to tamp down the growing controversy without calling a synod. Arminius was ordered to attend another conference with Gomarus in The Hague in 1609 on August 13 and 14. When the conference was to be extended and reconvene on the 18th, Arminius in failing health had to return to Leiden. The States suspended the conference and asked both men for a written reaction to their adversary's viewpoint.

Arminius on October 19, 1609, died at his house at the Pieterskerkhof. He was buried in the Pieterskerk at Leiden, where a memorial stone on his behalf was placed in 1934.[13]

Theology and legacy

In attempting to defend Calvinistic predestination against the teachings of Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert, Arminius began to doubt aspects of Calvinism and modified some parts of his own view.[14] He attempted to reform Calvinism, and lent his name to a movement—Arminianism—which resisted some of the Calvinist tenets (unconditional election, limited atonement). The early Dutch followers of his teaching became known as Remonstrants after they issued a document containing five points of disagreement with mainstream Calvinism, entitled Remonstrantiæ (1610).

Arminius taught of a "preventing" (or prevenient) grace that has been conferred upon all by the holy spirit and this grace is "sufficient for belief, in spite of our sinful corruption, and thus for salvation."[15] Arminius stated that "the grace sufficient for salvation is conferred on the Elect, and on the Non-elect; that, if they will, they may believe or not believe, may be saved or not be saved."[16] William Witt states that "Arminius has a very high theology of grace. He insists emphatically that grace is gratuitous because it is obtained through God's redemption in Christ, not through human effort."[17]

The theology of Arminianism did not become fully developed during Arminius' lifetime, but after his death (1609) the Five articles of the Remonstrants (1610) systematized and formalized the ideas. But the Calvinist Synod of Dort (1618–19), convening for the purpose of condemning Arminius' theology, declared it and its adherents anathemas, defined the five points of Calvinism, and persecuted Arminian pastors who remained in the Netherlands. But in spite of persecution, "the Remonstrants continued in Holland as a distinct church and again and again where Calvinism was taught Arminianism raised its head."[18]

Publishers in Leiden (1629) and at Frankfurt (1631 and 1635) issued the works of Arminius in Latin.

John Wesley (1703–91), the founder of the Methodist movement, embraced Arminian theology and became its most prominent champion.[19] Today, the majority of Methodists remain committed to Arminian theology, and Arminianism itself has become one of the dominant theological systems in the United States, thanks in large part to the influence of John and Charles Wesley.[20]


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