(Jacobus Arminius) 1560 – 1609.
Who was Jacob Arminius (JA)? Some say he was a Roman Catholic, even a Jesuit, sent to counter the reformation! Others say he was a Palagian and a heretic! The average Calvinist will chant these sorts of accusations frequently, but if you were to ask them “When did he live”? Or “where did he live”? “What did he teach”? “Have you ever read his works?” “Can you quote him?” The average Calvinist would have no reply! The truth is the majority of Calvinists zealously oppose Jacob Arminius and his theology but they don’t even know who he was or what he believed. There is almost total ignorance amongst Calvinists concerning this great Protestant Theologian and his theological beliefs!
Philippe de Mornay, Lord of Plessis (1549-1623), one of the leading reformers in France referred to Jacob Arminius in a letter:
As for Doctor Arminius, I have certainly heard men the most notable and honoured pronounce his praise in the highest and most cordinal terms.
So who was Jacobus (Jacob) Arminius? Where did he live? When did he live? What did he believe? Was he a Roman Catholic Jesuit?
Jacob Arminius was an esteemed Protestant professor at the University of Leyden in the United Provinces of the Netherlands, a stronghold of Protestantism. He played a vital role in reforming Calvinist Theology which eventually flourished in The Church of England during the times of the great revivalist John Wesley. Indeed John Wesley himself and The Methodist Church adopted and defended JA's theology, which was also embraced by other great men such as William Booth, D.L. Moody, A.W. Tozer, Leonard Ravenhill and many more.
JA was born in 1560 AD in The United Provinces and grew up in a time when the Netherlands had rebelled against Spain and established a Protestant Land free from Roman Catholicism. He was born and raised in Oudewater a well known town in Holland. It was sacked and its people massacred by Spain’s Roman Catholic armies in 1575, when JA , one year into his studies in Leyden Academy, anxiously returned to his hometown at the tender age of 15, to cast his eyes upon the corpses of his mother, brother and sister along with all the townsfolk and clergy he knew as a child in the city. Thereafter family friends raised him and as a man he studied theology in Geneva, under Calvin’s handpicked successor Theodore Besa in 1582. He later studied in Basel before returning to study in Geneva. He was a staunch Calvinist who strongly resisted Romanish (Aristotelian) doctrine which was spreading in Geneva and elsewhere.
He gained a highly esteemed reputation in the Universities of Geneva and Basel. During his studies he took the Latin name Arminius after the first century Germanic leader Arminius who was known for his fierce resistance against the Romans (his original name was Jacobus Hermansz). JA received high commendations from his universities in Basel and in Geneva.
Theodore Beza (TB), John Calvin’s successor esteemed him highly and issued a letter of commendation to the ecclesiastical court in the Netherlands. He was admitted as a preacher in the church of Amsterdam and was eventually granted the sacred ministry of that church.
In time The Ecclesiastical Court of Amsterdam called Jacob Arminius to defend Theodore Beza’s doctrine of Predestination against attacks by Theodore Coornhert. Theodore Beza believed that, before the foundation of the world, God decreed that Adam and the human race would fall into sin and that He, God made this decree so that He could show mercy to some and divine justice and wrath to others. Coornhert opposed this heresy and argued that this would make God responsible for sin. Arminius grappled with this and eventually rejected Beza’s doctrine, and came to the conclusion that man alone is responsible for sin, not God, and it was never God’s intention for man to fall. Arminius never completed any response to Coornhert in defence of Theodore Beza’s doctrine of Predestination.
In his studies Jacob Arminius also began to reject other doctrines of Calvinism such as Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Unconditional Election. However he accepted the doctrine of Total Depravity and did not take a position on the Perseverance of the Faith. He staunchly defended the fact that the atonement was for mankind generally, although not all men avail themselves of its benefits, and that saving grace is resistible and election is conditional upon faith, which is a gift of God.
JA sought to defend himself and engage his opponents only in the ecclesiastical courts, which exonerated him of all accusations of pelagianism or semi-pelagianism. He was such a mighty theologian that eventually no-one dared to oppose him in his presence but rather they spread vicious rumours attacking his character.
The curators of Leyden Theological Academy were so impressed with his theological skill and ability that they tenaciously sought to acquire him as a Professor of Theology for the university. However Professor Franciscus Gomarus of the academy opposed Arminius based on the accusation which arose from the clergy of Amsterdam and falsely accused him of pelagianism. A conference was held to settle the dispute. The curators sent a letter to The Church of Amsterdamrespectfully requesting that representatives be sent to inform the curators of any concerns they had about Jacob Arminius. At the hearing professor Gomarus was shocked that none of Jacob Arminius’s opponents from Amsterdam were present. There Jacob Arminius exposited Romans 7 and presented his position concerning prevenient grace and regeneration.
After much debating and discussion professor Gomarus withdrew his objections and gave JA the right hand of fraternal love. He was further examined, privately, by professor Gomarus and given the title of “Doctor” and made a professor in the academy.
Arminius continued to teach as a professor until his untimely death on October 19, 1609 at the age of forty nine. His influence was vast and many were swayed by his powerful arguments. However his professorship was not without controversy, particularly concerning the issue of predestination as advanced by Theodore Beza.
It is necessary at this point to summarise the teaching of Theodore Beza concerning “predestination”.
TB taught that before the foundation of the world God made certain mysterious decrees:
- First He decreed to elect and reprobate;
- Second he decreed to create human beings;
- Third he decreed the fall of mankind; and
- Fourth he decreed the unconditional salvation of the elect and the eternal damnation of the reprobate.
All decrees subsequent to the first were to bring about the first decree. Arminius opposed this doctrine in Leyden Theological Academy while professor Gomarus supported it.
Prior to being admitted as professor, JA had made his position on “predestination” known to the Curators and that he also disagreed with the Geneva professors on the subject. During the normal course of theological disputation the lot fell to JA to defend his position on “predestination” and to publish a thesis for public discussion. Not long after this, with the same freedom of discussion, Arminius further submitted theses on The Church, and on The Sin of our First Parents.
He (JA) took the occasion to confute the necessity of the fall and instead established the contingency of the fall. In response some of Arminius colleagues stirred up much strife and Gomarus gave a series of public lectures which included public insults and accusations against Arminius.
Disputes on various topics increased and much controversy spread throughout the United Provinces. In particular an anonymous series of thirty one articles was circulated accusing Arminius of teaching heretical doctrines. Because those circulating the articles remained anonymous The Supreme Court at the Hague allowed Arminius to expound his views. The hearing convened in May 1608 when Arminius delivered his Declaration of Sentiments plainly and powerfully. Gomarus was granted leave to respond which he did. The Supreme Court Chief Justice ruled, in conclusion:
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.
Controversy persisted between Arminius and Gomarus so another hearing was held in 1609 in an attempt to resolve the dispute without calling a National Synod. However before the matter could be resolved Arminius died of ill health on October 19, 1609, and so Jacobus Arminius went to be with his Lord in Glory, where all those who love Christ will see him one day.
NEXT – ARMINIANISM AND THE TULIP DOCTRINE OF CALVINISM
About the Author
Caleb Corneloup is an elder at Street Church, Adelaide, well known for its engagement in street evangelism and legal controversy over the right to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in public streets. Caleb has recently argued in The High Court of Australia in Canberra for the right for Christians to "street-preach" throughout the nation. Although the laws in question were upheld The High Court of Australia made a clear ruling that City Council's must grant permits to Christian preachers unless, and only unless, they would cause an unreasonable obstruction to the public in a given location. On December 29, 2012 Caleb married Jasmin in Adelaide.