Besides the national and the foreign delegates to the synod, there, was one more group of officials whom we may mention in passing, not because their presence was so important but because to us, who are accustomed to the separation of church and state, their presence is a bit of a curiosity. Although the relationship between church and state, as we remarked before, was not entirely free from politics at all times, yet it is no more than fair to add that there certainly was an element of lively spiritual interest in the affairs of the church on the part of many in high governmental places. This, of course, in our day, and especially in our land, is difficult to imagine; yet then it was very real. And while, on the one hand, it is true that the representatives of the government took no active part in the deliberations of the synod, on the other hand, we must not minimize their presence. A study of the proceedings reveals clearly that the delegates were very conscious of the presence and authority of these government watch dogs, and in several instances they recognized their authority by seeking and obtaining their approval before proceeding to final action.
This, then, was the constituency of the great synod.
We have already analyzed somewhat the nature of the synod. Concerning its membership we may make one more observation. It is this: we must not imagine that the delegates were all of the same caliber, either as to their attitude toward the indicted Arminians or as to their doctrinal conceptions. I suppose there has never yet been a synod of which this could be said; and the Synod of Dordt is no exception. As to the matter of attitudes, there were moderates and there were extremists; there were those,—and who can blame them, after the long history of obstructionism,—who had little patience, and there were those who were overly lenient toward the prophets of a false gospel. In fact, there was one of the foreign delegates, Martinus, who under the cloak of darkness had intercourse with the Arminians even after they were dismissed. Yea, even after more than two months of patient dealing with the Arminians on the floor of the synod, and after they had long been coaxed to bring their objections in the open, and when President
Bogerman dismissed them in strong language, there was no small measure of criticism by some because of the harshness of the dismissal.
And as to the matter of doctrine also, we need entertain no notion that the synod was a kind of clique of Reformed men, who were simply determined by all means to read out of their party another clique who threatened their power. For one thing, the whole procedure of the synod, careful and thorough, gives the lie to any such conception. But besides, there were all kinds of men on the synod. There were, of course, to begin with, the supralapsarians and the infralapsarians, the latter being of the greater influence and power at the synod. Here already there was a potential source of disruption and dissent, and there were times too when this difference of viewpoint flared up and threatened trouble. Nevertheless, the supras took an active part in the synod and in the formulation of the Canons, and rejoiced together with the infras in the condemnation of the Arminian heresy. And while it must be admitted that the Canons are definitely infralapsarian in content, it is too extreme merely to say that the synod tolerated the supralapsarians. For they had ample opportunity to condemn their view, and there were even requests to condemn some of their “extreme expressions.” But this never took place. The supras were recognized as Reformed, and room was left for them.
But there were other differences. There were those at the synod who, to put it mildly, were doctrinally sympathetic with the Arminians. The theologians from Bremen are notorious in this connection, and the name of Martinus stands out among them. The Arminians found protection at the synod from these men, and courted their favor. One who carefully studies the written opinions, especially on the second article of the Arminians, discovers that the Bremen theologians were in some cases as Arminian as the Remonstrants themselves. And although it is true that they finally signed the Canons also, yet it must be that they were simply swept along by the overwhelmingly Reformed tide of the synod. For their chief representative, Martinus, later expressed the opinion that there were “some divine, some human, and some devilish” elements in the work of the great synod. Besides, there were those at the synod who, though they certainly wanted to condemn the Arminian view, nevertheless wanted to maintain a conditional element also in the Reformed view. This too is evident from the written opinions which were submitted before the Canons were formulated. It is simply not true, as has sometimes been alleged, that the fathers at Dordt had no opportunity to adopt, in their formulation of the Reformed view, a certain concept of conditionality. The fact is that among their own membership,—and I am not now speaking merely of the Bremen theologians, whom I consider down-right Arminian,—there were those who, if they had had their way, would certainly have introduced into our Canons a conditional element. And I suppose that this, then, would have been a confessional formulation of “conditions-in-the-Reformed-sense,” whatever that may mean. But instead, the Canons steadfastly avoid using both the term and the idea, and, on the contrary, always place both term and idea in the mouths of the Arminians, in order then to condemn it.
Against this background of the make-up of the synod, our Canons take on an even stronger and sounder appearance. I would not hesitate to say that if one reads the Canons in connection with the many written opinions that were submitted concerning the five Arminian articles, and then beholds the varying and sometimes even conflicting views that were represented at the synod, and begins to understand a little what might have been introduced into our official Reformed view, but was not,—then one stands almost amazed at the clarity, the conciseness, the purity, and the soundness of this our Third Form. It has sometimes been alleged that in the Canons we find the weakest, the mildest, and most moderate expression of the Reformed truth. And I suppose that this is said sometimes because of the decidedly infra tendencies of our Canons. Nevertheless, I cannot agree with this allegation. In the light of their historical background, the Canons are a very strong and sound and clear-cut expression of the Reformed truth, than which it would be very difficult to find a stronger expression among all the Reformed symbols.
A few words must still be said about the method which the synod followed, for a proper understanding of this method, thorough and careful as it was, will certainly heighten our appreciation of the heritage which is ours in the Canons.
The official language of the synod was Latin, not Dutch. This is probably a surprise to many, but there were reasons for it. Latin at that time was still the universal language, especially in scholarly and scientific circles. Today, of course, the use of the Latin language, even among scholars, would be an almost insurmountable obstacle. Besides, the English language has become so well-known and so commonly used that it is fast developing into a sort of universal language. But in the old days Latin was used, as we said, especially in scholarly circles. The student who could not read and write and speak the Latin language was simply at sea. In the universities, to which students from all the nations of Europe flocked, instruction would have been impossible if there had not been a common language. And all intercourse, for that matter, between scholars of different nationalities was carried on in the Latin language. At the Synod of Dordt this was also necessary, especially because of the presence of the foreign delegates. Translation of all the speeches and all the proceedings and all the written opinions into the several languages of the nationalities represented at the synod would have been a tedious process and would have greatly hampered the work of the synod. For convenience sake,—contributing, perhaps, greatly to the inconvenience of many in our day,—the Latin language was used. And I mean that it was actually spoken too, when various of the renowned delegates delivered lectures and orations to the synod. Of course, the Canons themselves, as well as the Acts of the Synod of Dordt, were almost immediately translated into the Dutch language, for the benefit of the Dutch layman. And the Canons were also translated into several other languages, English included. But the original is in Latin. And this means that when any question arises as to what the synod intended to say, we must consult neither the English nor the Dutch editions, but the original Latin.