Arminianism

A theological system named after Jacobus Arminius (Jakob Hermandszoon), a Dutch theologian (1560-1609) who was educated at Leyden, Basle, and Geneva. After studying under Beza he went to Amsterdam to serve as minister of the Reformed congregation (1588). Holland had become a center of Calvinism during the sixteenth century, but during his fifteen years as pastor Arminius came to question some of the teachings of Calvinism. Disputes arose, and he left the pastorate and became professor of theology at the University of Leyden. Here he gave a series of lectures on the doctrine of predestination* which led to a violent controversy with his colleague, Francis Gomar.* This conflict continued until it divided the student body as well as the ministers of the Reformed Church. The Gomarists or Strict Calvinists wished to have the matter settled by a national synod, but Jan van Oldenbarneveldt, a liberal Dutch politician then in control of the government, did not wish such a meeting. The protagonists even debated their ideas before the States General of the Dutch Provinces, but still no agreement could be reached.

After the death of Arminius, his followers issued the Remonstrance of 1610 which outlines the system known as Arminianism. The major points of departure from strict Calvinism are that (1) the decree of salvation applies to all who believe on Christ and who persevere in obedience and faith; (2) Christ died for all men; (3) the Holy Spirit must help men to do things that are truly good (such as having faith in Christ for salvation); (4) God's saving grace is not irresistible; (5) it is possible for those who are Christians to fall from grace.

In an attempt to stop this teaching, the Calvinist party made an alliance with Maurice of Nassau, son of William the Silent. Their desires for a synod coincided with Maurice's policy of centralizing the United Provinces and transforming them into a monarchy. For eight years after the Remonstrance, the political forces of Oldenbarneveldt and Maurice struggled for supremacy. Finally Maurice won and his opponent was accused of treason and beheaded (1619). This cleared the way for Maurice to try to use religious ideology to centralize the state. Consequently the Synod of Dort,* one of the most famous meetings in the history of the Reformed Church, met (1618-19). The synod passed a point-by- point refutation of the Remonstrance. The Belgic Confession* and the Heidelberg Catechism* were confirmed as standards of orthodoxy, and the Arminians were condemned.

Following the synod, many of the disciples of Arminius, among them such able men as Hugo Grotius,* were imprisoned or banished. By 1625 there was a reaction against this severity, and a limited toleration was extended to the Arminian Remonstrants. Although the Arminians were not numerous in Holland, their teaching has exercised considerable influence in other lands. In seventeenth- century England, the Laudian anti-Calvinist movement was influenced by the Arminians. John Wesley also followed this belief, and so it has left its mark on the Methodist Church. Among groups with a Calvinist heritage the debate over the points that Arminius raised still continues.

A.W. Harrison, The Beginnings of Arminianism to the Synod of Dort (1926); idem, Arminianism (1937); C. Bangs, Arminius, A Study in the Dutch Reformation (1971).