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“Get to Know Arminius” is the title of an editorial inThe Banner (Oct. 14, 1985, pp. 6, 7). One could not very well disagree with the admonition of Editor Kuyvenhoven in this title. Not only is it true in general that one should be acquainted with church history and with significant characters in church history; but one should be acquainted specifically with Reformed church history and its chief characters; and even more specifically, one should be acquainted with heretics and their heresies—in order, of course, to be able to discern and to defend the truth. 

In trying to become acquainted with Arminius, however, it makes a world of difference to which sources one turns. Editor Kuyvenhoven introduces Arminius to his readers by way of a book by Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation, and a favorable review of said book by the Rev. Leonard Verduin (a Banner review in January, 1973). He also refers to the three volumes of the writings of James Arminius, which, however, play little or no part in his introduction of James Arminius to Banner readers. The result is that a very pro-Arminius and totally inaccurate picture of Arminius is furnished. Carl Bangs is not a good source for two reasons: 1) He is himself pro-Arminius—a prejudiced source. 2) He is not a primary but a secondary source. To become acquainted with Arminius one should turn to primary sources as much as possible. One such primary source would be The Writings of James Arminius. Digest those writings, and you can never come to the favorable conclusion of Bangs, Verduin, and Kuyvenhoven. Another reliable source is the history of the Arminian controversy written only two years after the Synod of Dordrecht at synodical behest by the Delegates of the Province of South Holland. This amazing document (quite possibly penned by Festus Hommius, one of the clerks of the Synod) furnishes a detailed account, step by step, of the development of the Arminian controversy. It begins with Arminius in Amsterdam. A translation of this history can be found in my The Voice of Our Fathers, pp. 45, ff. Another reliable source (for those who can read Dutch) is L.H. Wagenaar’s Van Strijd en Overwinning, a book which could profitably be translated into English. In Reformed Fellowship’s publication, Crisis In The Reformed Churches, there is also valuable information, though this book varies greatly in quality because its chapters are written by various authors. 

Now one of the questions which we ought to consider in getting to know Arminius is this: what kind of man was Arminius? How did he conduct himself? And what, if anything, did his conduct show concerning his character? 

In this connection we may also consider Arminius’s Erastianism, to which the Rev. Kuyvenhoven refers in his editorial. Editor Kuyvenhoven writes as follows concerning this:

Although Arminius was a strong Erastian (that is, he taught that God had appointed the civil magistrate to punish evildoers [not especially Erastian, HCH] and that the church might only advise the state, having no right of censure, even in the church), he had more appreciation for the Anabaptists than did other leaders in the Reformed churches.

But the more important question is: how did Arminius’s Erastian view of church government, namely, that the government held the power of rule and discipline in ecclesiastical affairs, enter into the Arminian controversy? Did Arminius use his Erastian view in order to evade and escape and postpone ecclesiastical judgment of his views and discipline? Could it be, perhaps, that Arminius and his followers were Erastian as a matter of utility rather than of principle? 

In this connection, let’s take a look at the record. 

In the first place, historians are agreed that Arminius was popular especially with the aristocracy in Amsterdam, where he was one of the several ministers in that city’s congregation. He even married into the nobility. There is also rather general agreement that Arminius was a brilliant scholar, though lacking in depth and profundity. The Historical Foreword to the Acts of the Synod of Dordrecht says this about him: “He was indeed a man of keen understanding, but a man who never delighted in anything except that which recommended itself by an appearance of novelty—even so that he appeared to be nauseated by the greater portion of the doctrines accepted in the Reformed Churches, and for no other reason than that they were accepted by the churches.” Common characteristics of a heretic! Again, it is stated: “This man first prepared the way for his cause, openly and in secret, by belittling and blackening the name, fame, and authority of the most outstanding teachers of the Reformed Church—Calvin, Zanchius, Beza, Martyr, and others—aiming to achieve respect for himself at the expense of their good name.” Again, common tactics of a heretic! Just study the picture of false teachers which is drawn for us in various passages of the Epistles in the New Testament. 

In the second place, let us follow the history of the controversy as Arminius was involved in it until the time of his death in October, 1609. It is a history of deception, evasion, procrastination, and hiding behind the skirts of the government, a government which constantly frustrated every attempt of the proper authorities in the churches to stem the tide of false doctrine which threatened to overwhelm the churches. The record is too long to cite it in detail, though it is worth reading. Permit me to summarize it:

1. The views of Arminius made known in his sermons on Romans were called in question by the Consistory of Amsterdam. Even so, he continued to promote his opinions among the preachers of Amsterdam and among preachers of other churches. One of the latter was Uitenbogaard, the court preacher. 

2. When he was appointed to a professorship at Leiden in 1602-1603, the Consistory of Amsterdam at first refused to dismiss him because “they feared that the calling of a person so strongly suspected of strange doctrines would readily become the cause of confusion and schism in the churches; and they pleaded with the honorable Curators that they would not thoughtlessly subject the churches to this danger.” Bear in mind that Leiden was under governmentcontrol and that the Curators were agents of the civil government. Uitenbogaard, who had recommended Arminius, and the Curators insisted—and won. 

3. There was a condition attached to his appointment, however: Arminius had to have a conference with Dr. Gomarus concerning the chief points of doctrine, and he had to clear himself of all suspicion of strange views and to promise firmly that he would never spread abroad his views if he possibly had any peculiar view. Fair enough! He cleared himself by expressly rejecting the chief points of doctrine of the Pelagians, and he promised that he would teach nothing in conflict with the adopted doctrine of the churches. Then he was appointed Doctor of Theology. 

4. All went well for about two years. Arminius even defended the doctrine of the Reformed Churches concerning the satisfaction of Christ, concerning justifying faith, concerning justification by faith, concerning the perseverance of the saints and the certainty of salvation, and concerning the imperfection of men in this life (the Romans 7 issue). But after he had gained everyone’s confidence, he began to slander many doctrines accepted in the Reformed Churches, both openly and in secret, and to speak deprecatingly of the writings of Calvin, Beza, Martyr, Zanchius, Ursinus, and others. 

5. The churches became concerned, and the Deputies of the churches of North and South Holland sought a conference with Arminius. Arminius denied any guilt, but he refused to confer with the deputies if they would make an official report to the Synod. End of conference! 

6. Next, the Consistory of Leiden admonished him to come to a conference with his fellow professors in the presence of the Consistory to specify the points of doctrine on which there was agreement or disagreement. Arminius’s answer? He could not do this without the consent of the Honorable Curators (government officials); besides, he saw no profit in such a conference. 

7. From 1606 to 1609 there were various conferences of the opposing parties before the States- General and the High Council and the States of Holland. There were promises of the government to call a National Synod or a Provincial Synod, but always were excuses made for postponement. Arminius would never say anything about his views before an ecclesiastical assembly. At least twice during this period he revealed his views in conferences called by the government. But to the end of his life—even when he had made promises to put his objections to the Reformed position and the Reformed confessions in writing—he steadfastly refused to do so. Once he promised to put his views in writing on condition that the document would be kept by the government until the National Synod was convened—a National Synod which he and his party, with the cooperation of the government, prevented from being convened. And thus Arminius died, finally, in 1609 without ever having presented his views in writing to the churches, to be judged by them. 

All of the above are incontrovertible facts of history. 

Now you judge as to the honesty of Arminius before the churches. 

For my part, I can only conclude that Arminius engaged in the evasive and deceptive tactics which have been characteristic of many a heretic in church history. If indeed Arminius was genuinely an Erastian, he was dead wrong. But apart from this, it is plain that his Erastian views stood him in good stead in gaining the protection of the pro- Arminian government and in avoiding the rightful judgment of consistory, classis, provincial synod, or national synod. 

And Editor Kuyvenhoven does his readers a disservice by painting a favorable picture of Arminius.

Was Arminius a heretic? This question will have to wait until our December 15 issue.

—HCH