“…These stones shall be a memorial unto the children of Israel forever.”—Joshua 4:7c
The third phase of the Synod included sessions 58-154, lasting from January 14 to May 9, 1619. During this phase Synod deliberated regarding its response to the Remonstrant error and prepared the Canons of Dordt. In early May Synod also treated three cases of alleged false teaching: it condemned the four Remonstrant ministers from Kampen (see blog posts at dordt400.org); it condemned Conrad Vorstius; and it exonerated John Maccovius. This article will focus on the case of Vorstius, and the next one will focus on the case of Maccovius.
Vorstius and his teachings
When James Arminius died in 1610, Conrad Vorstius succeeded him as professor at Leiden. As professor, Vorstius wrote books in which he denied the orthodox doctrine regarding the Trinity and Christ’s deity (the heresy of Socinianism). Not only Dutch theologians, but also King James I of Great Britain, asked the States-General (the government of the United Provinces) to expel Vorstius. They did so in 1612, replacing him with Simon Episcopius, who at the Synod of Dordt would be the spokesman of the Remonstrants. Yet Vorstius’ teaching needed to be examined and the Synod did so in his absence.
That the Synod did not approve of Vorstius’ teachings became clear even before Synod took up his case at its 150th session (May 3). Already in March (at sessions 100 and 112), two delegates from Bremen explicitly opposed his teachings in their addresses to Synod. One of them was Martinius, notable for being one of the delegates most sympathetic to the Remonstrants. When Vorstius’ case was treated, delegates from Great Britain, Heidelberg, and Hesse also expressly opposed his views.
On May 4, at its 152nd session, Synod formally charged Vorstius with undermining or denying the doctrines of 1) the Trinity, 2) many of God’s attributes, 3) God’s works of creation and providence, 4) the union of the two natures in the person of Christ, 5) the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement, and 6) justification by faith alone.
Synod stated that his teachings should not be tolerated and that he should be deposed. However, neither Synod nor the churches could implement this. The States-General (national government) permitted men to enter the ministry and paid their salaries; the States-General had called the Synod and was paying its expenses; so the States-General had to implement his deposition. Accordingly, Synod asked the States-General to depose Vorstius.
The broad scope of Synod’s charges is one evidence that the false teachings of the Remonstrants were not limited to the five points regarding sovereign grace. Some Remonstrants explicitly opposed other points of Reformed doctrine as well; indeed, Arminianism was an entire system of theology that, if worked out to its logical conclusions, opposed other doctrines fundamental to the Reformed faith, and even the true Christian faith.
On June 27, 1619, the States of Holland and West- Friesland removed Vorstius from office. They resolved to pay his salary six more months, then leave him to support himself. He was also ordered to leave these provinces and never to return.
In late August the national government confirmed this action of the States of Holland and West-Friesland, and expanded it to require him to leave the United Provinces entirely. For a while he hid near Utrecht, then moved to the area of Holstein in northwest Germany.
Here was a clear-cut case. From the outset, the churches understood what had to be done with Vorstius. As we will see next time, the case of Maccovius was less clear, and its outcome different.