Doctrines held by a party formed in the early days of the seventeenth century among the Calvinists of the Netherlands
Arminianism, the popular designation of the doctrines held by a party formed in the early days of the seventeenth century among the Calvinists of the Netherlands. The tendency of the human reason to revolt against Calvin’s decretum horribile of predestination absolute and salvation and damnation meted out without regard to merit or demerit had aroused opposition in thinking minds from the first promulgation of the dogma; but whilst the fanatical wars of religion engrossed the attention of the masses, thinking minds were few and uninfluential. Calvin’s reckless tenets had banished charity and mercy from the breasts of his followers and had everywhere aroused a fierce spirit of strife and bloodshed. It throve on paradoxes. This unnatural spirit could not survive a period of calm deliberation; a leader was sure to rise from the Calvinistic ranks who should point out the baneful corollaries of the Genevan creed, and be listened to. Such a leader was Jacobus Arminius (Jakob Hermanzoon), professor at the University of Leyden. He was born at Oudewater, South Holland, in 1560. While still an infant he lost his father, a cutler by trade, but through the generosity of strangers he was enabled to perfect his education at various universities at home and in foreign parts. In his twenty-second year the brilliant youth, whose talents were universally acknowledged, was sent to Geneva at the expense of the merchants’ guild of Amsterdam, in order to imbibe genuine Calvinism at the feet of Beza. In 1586 he made a prolonged trip to Italy, which served to widen his mental horizon. Rumors beginning to spread that he had fallen under the influence of the Jesuits, Suarez and Bellarmin, he was recalled to Amsterdam, was pronounced orthodox, and appointed preacher of the reformed congregation. This office he filled with ever increasing renown for fifteen years. He had all the qualifications of a great pulpit orator—a sonorous voice, a magnificent presence, and a thorough knowledge of Scripture, which he expounded in a clear and pleasing manner, dwelling with predilection on its ethical features and avoiding the polemical asperities characteristic of his age and sect. Yet his later years were fated to be embittered by polemical strife. The revolt against predestination absolute was taking shape. A professor at Leyden had already pronounced Calvin’s God “a tyrant and an executioner”. The learned layman Koornhert, in spite of ecclesiastical censures, continued to inveigh successfully against the dominant religion of Holland; and he had converted two ministers of Delft who had been chosen to argue him into submission, from the supralapsarian to the infralapsarian position. (See Calvinism.) The task of confounding the “heretic” was now entrusted to the disciple of Beza. Arminius addressed himself to the work; but he soon began to feel that Calvinism was repugnant to all the instincts of his soul. More and more clearly, as time went on, his writings and sermons taught the doctrines since associated with his name and after his death embodied by his disciples in the famous five propositions of the “Remonstrants”. For the sake of reference we give the substance of the “Remonstrantie” as condensed by Professor Blok in his “History of the People of the Netherlands” (III, ch. xiv).
“They (the Remonstrants) declared themselves opposed to the following doctrines: (I) Predestination in its defined form; as if God by an eternal and irrevocable decision had destined men, some to eternal bliss, others to eternal damnation, without any other law than His own pleasure. On the contrary, they thought that God by the same resolution wished to make all believers in Christ who persisted in their belief to the end blessed in Christ, and for His sake would only condemn the unconverted and unbelieving. (2) The doctrine of election according to which the chosen were counted as necessarily and unavoidably blessed and the outcasts necessarily and unavoidably lost. They urged the milder doctrine that Christ had died for all men, and that believers were only chosen in so far as they enjoyed the forgiveness of sins. (3) The doctrine that Christ died for the elect alone to make them blessed and no one else, ordained as mediator; on the contrary, they urged the possibility of salvation for others not elect. (4) The doctrine that the grace of God affects the elect only, while the reprobates cannot participate in this through their conversion, but only through their own strength. On the other hand, they, the `Remonstrants’, a name they received later from this, their `Remonstrance’, hold that man `has no saving belief in himself, nor out of the force of his free-will’, if he lives in sin, but that it is necessary that `he be born again from God in Christ by means of His Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding and affection, or will and all strength’, since without grace man cannot resist sin, although he cannot be counted as irresistible to grace. (5) The doctrine that he who had once attained true saving grace can never lose it and be wholly debased. They held, on the contrary, that whoever had received Christ’s quickening spirit had thereby a strong weapon against Satan, sin, the world, and his on flesh, although they would not decide at the time without further investigation—later they adopted this too—whether he could not lose this power `forsaking the beginning of his being, Christ.'”
The ultra-Calvinists responded by drafting a “Contra-Remonstrantie” in the following seven articles: (I) God had, after Adam‘s fall, reserved a certain number of human beings from destruction, and, in His eternal and unchangeable counsel, destined them to salvation through Christ, leaving the others alone in accordance with His righteous judgment. (2) The elect are not only the good Christians who are adult, but also the “children of the covenant as long as they do not prove the contrary by their action”. (3) In this election God does not consider belief or conversion, but acts simply according to His pleasure. (4) God sent His Son, Christ, for the salvation of the elect, and of them alone. (5) The Holy Ghost in the Scriptures and in preaching speaks to them alone, to instruct and to convert them. (6) The elect can never lose the true belief, but they obtain power of resistance through the Holy Ghost active in them. (7) This would not lead them to follow the dictates of the flesh carelessly, but, on the contrary, they would go God‘s way, considering that thereby alone could they be saved.
The defection of the popular and gifted divine was a severe blow to the rigid Calvinists and started a quarrel which eventually threatened the existence of the United Netherlands. His reputation was greatly enhanced by his heroic fidelity to pastoral duty during the plague of 1602, and the following year, through the influence of admirers like Grotius, he was, notwithstanding fierce opposition, appointed professor of theology at the University of Leyden. His life as professor was an unintermittent quarrel with his stern Calvinistic colleague, Francis Gomarus, which divided the university and the country into two hostile camps. Arminius did not live to see the ultimate results of the controversy, as he died of consumption in his forty-ninth year, October, 1609. Although the principles of Arminius were solemnly condemned in the great Calvinist Synod held at Dordrecht, or Dort, in 1618-19, and the “Remonstrant heresy” was rigorously suppressed during the lifetime of Maurice of Orange, nevertheless the Leyden professor had given to ultra-Calvinism a blow from which it never recovered.
The controversy was soon transplanted to England where it roused the same dissensions as in Holland. In the following century it divided the early Methodists into two parties, the followers of John Wesley adhering to the Arminian view, those of George Whitefield professing the strict Calvinistic tenets.
JAMES F. LOUGHLIN