The Life of James Arminius
Chapter 9, Part 1 of 3.
This biography of James Arminius was written in Latin by Caspar Brandt, published by Gerard Brandt in 1724, and translated to English by John Guthrie in 1854.
ECCLESIASTICAL EXCITEMENT, AND PROCEEDINGS WITH A VIEW TO A NATIONAL SYNOD; FRESH CALUMNIES AGAINST ARMINIUS. A.D 1605-1607.
A few weeks after the curators of the University had, by convening the professors of theology, succeeded in maintaining Academic peace, the Synod of South Holland, which met at Rotterdam on the 30th August, 1605, proceeded to agitate measures in connexion with this business, of a much more impetuous description. After the delegates from the Classis of Dort had put them in possession of the grounds on which the above-named gravamen had been transmitted, and the deputies of the Synod had in like manner made them aware of the state of the Leyden Academy, and of their interview with Arminius and the rest of the professors, they decided, after mature deliberation, that a timely check ought to be opposed to this growing evil, and that the appropriate remedy ought not to be delayed under the uncertain hope of a National Synod. It was accordingly concluded to institute, by means of their deputies, a very strict inquiry into what articles in particular furnished matter of debate among the theological students in the Leyden Academy; and to request the honourable curators to make it imperative on the professors of theology to declare openly and sincerely their own opinions respecting the same [Vid. prefat. Act. Synod. Dord.].
In fulfilment of this decree, the synodical deputies, Francis Lansbergius, Festus Hommius, and their associates, set out for Leyden, and on the 2nd November handed in nine questions to the curators respecting the points which, as they understood, constituted at this time the main subjects of discussion. They at the same time requested that, in virtue of their authority, the curators would render it imperative on the professors of theology fully to unfold their own opinion on these points. But the honourable curators looked upon this demand as preposterous, inasmuch as the professors themselves had informed them in writing, not long before, of the state and weight of the controversies referred to. They therefore openly declared 'that to this mode of procedure they could by no means lend their sanction;' and added 'that there was no small ground for the hope that a National Synod would be obtained; on which account they judged it to be more advisable to reserve these questions to it, than by further investigation of them to furnish occasion for strife.' [Vid. Declar. Arm. coram, Ord.]. On receiving this answer the deputies further insisted, that by the kind permission of the curators they might be at liberty to put these questions to the professors concerned, in order to discover what answers each of them would voluntarily and spontaneously give; but here they encountered the same repulse.
All these transactions, however, were managed with such secrecy, as respects Arminius, that he was for some time ignorant of the arrival of these deputies in the city, and was only subsequently made aware of it through his friends. By the diligence of these friends he also succeeded in laying his hands upon the very questions which the deputies of the churches had handed in to the curators; and thence snatched occasion to draw up, for the benefit of his disciples, brief answers to these, and to array in opposition to them as many questions in return [Vide sis has quaestiones et Arminii responsa in ejus Eperibus.].
Circumstanced as he was at such a conjuncture, he could not suppress his feelings, but gave vent to them in the following complaint in regard to his position, which occurs in a letter to Uitenbogaert, dated 27th October, 1605:— 'How difficult is it in these inauspicious times, when such vehemence of spirit prevails, to be thoroughly devoted at once to truth and to peace! Were it not that the consciousness of integrity, the favourable judgments of some good men, yea, and the palpable and manifest fruits which I see arising from my labours, reanimate my spirits, I should scarcely at times be able to bear myself erect. But thanks be to God who imparts strength and constancy to my spirit, and makes me comparatively easy whatever may be the issue.' [Arm. Epist. ad J. Uitenb. 27 Octob. 1605.]
Notwithstanding these annoyances, Arminius [Via Ep. Eccles. p. 149.] strenuously discharged the duties of his office; and endeavoured, above all, to propagate increasingly the truth, as far as known by him, without noise or contention, to the utmost of his power. For this end he made it his study, on all occasions, to keep himself within the terms of the Confession and Catechism — at least not to advance anything which might be confuted by these standards, nay which was not fairly and plainly reconcilable therewith. For although in these formularies of consent he had probably observed some things which at times appeared to favour the sentiments opposed to those he had embraced, and which he could have wished to find expressed in terms more closely harmonising with his own opinion, he yet thought he could continue within these terms; and that, under the privilege of a mild interpretation, he ought to soften the harshness of certain phrases, and wait until a fuller interpretation and revision should be applied to them by a National Synod. For he thought that he could act thus in the exercise of the same right as that by which all those followers of Calvin who were subjects of the Emperor of Germany judged that they could lawfully, and with a good conscience, subscribe to the entire Confession of Augsburg, and to all and sundry of the articles it contained [Vid. Epiat. Examen contra Capel. in Oper. ejus i. Tom. 2. part. p. 168.]. This, however, without the aid of a liberal interpretation was more than they could well do; for between the Augsburg and other Confessions there was so great an air of contradiction that the Genevan divines did not think it advisable to publish them without the antidote of their own interpretations and cautions. Treading in their foot-prints, and rejoicing in the same right, he felt that he was doing nothing whatever unworthy of a Reformed divine if, for the confirmation of his own opinion on Divine predestination, and other heads of the Christian faith, he should call to his aid not only the Sacred Oracles, but also the above-named formularies of consent. It was for this reason that, when about to hold a disputation at one time in his own regular class on the subject of predestination, he ordered the student who was to undertake the part of respondent to shape his theses on this subject in the very words of the Confession [Ex Declar. Arm. coram Ord.].
About that same period he held a very learned disputation on the comparison between the law and the gospel, and on the agreement and difference between the Old Testament and the New; the part of respondent, under his presidency, having fallen on that highly-cultivated youth, and distinguished ornament at an after period to the Leyden Academy and to literature — Peter Cunaeus. Towards the close of this disputation some one happened to object 'that man could not but transgress the law, seeing that the decree of God, which determined that he should transgress, could not be resisted.' Although Arminius was under the necessity of replying to this objection, yet he made it imperative that in future no such statement should be advanced without this or the like protestation: Let no blasphemy be supposed! So offensive, moreover, was that audacious proposition of this student of divinity to some who had been present at the disputation, that one of them, a man of no small authority, shortly after expressed his loathing of it in the presence of Arminius; and gave it as his counsel that things of that sort ought to be checked, and authority interposed against such disgraceful objections. Arminius, however, somewhat excused the deed, declaring that the objector had been so instructed by certain divines; and that authoritative interference was scarcely practicable, on account of the vehemence of some who were of a different, mind [Ex Epist. Arm.].
Meanwhile he was inspired with a greatly increased measure of firmness and confidence by the very large number of auditors whom the singular grace of his style, both of speaking and teaching, and his lucid interpretation of the Sacred Writings, daily attracted to his public lectures. His private class, moreover, flourished at this time to such a degree, that one class would not have sufficed but for the fear which had taken possession of many, that too much familiarity with him might turn out, at some future period, to be prejudicial to their interests. Hence, as envy is proverbially the evil genius, for the most part, not only of virtue but also of genuine erudition, it can hardly appear surprising to any one if Arminius, by reason of his daily increasing renown for learning, was obliged, in his turn, to encounter this hydra. The extent, at all events, to which, in that particular, Gomarus shared in the infirmity of our common nature, may be inferred from this circumstance: accosting Arminius one day as he was passing out of the academic hall, he threw this in his teeth with abundant bitterness and bile — 'They say you are more learned than Junius.'
About the same time, Peter Plancius, pastor of the church in Amsterdam, inveighed from the pulpit in the most virulent strain against Arminius and his friends and followers, running them down under the name of Coornhertians, Neo-Pelagians, and as far worse than Pelagius himself. So effervescent was he, that he appeared, even to vulgar minds, to have excited himself into extravagance, so as to connect things together which bore to each other no just relation of sequence or coherence. Others, too, after his example, either incensed by an inveterate hatred against Arminius, or impelled by the sort of pious solicitude with which they embraced the received doctrine, began to agitate before the people, in the vernacular tongue, those questions which had furnished themes of more subtle disputation in the benches of the Academy: and this they did with egregious departures from the truth, and with minds as little as possible attuned to the work of meekly edifying the Christian people [Ex Epist. Arm.—Vid. Respons. ad Epist. Minist. Walachriens. p. 9.]. Some assiduously impressed it upon the promiscuous multitude that the doctrine of the Belgic Confession, sealed with the blood of many martyrs, was being called in question; others that a motley religion was in the course of being drawn up, and that it was in contemplation to introduce a system of libertinism. On the other hand, Arminius, finding himself under the imperative necessity of vindicating his own innocence, both publicly and privately, pleaded his cause at this conjuncture, in a remarkably calm and placid spirit; for (to use his own words) he 'reckoned this to be by far the noblest kind of revenge, to bring it about, by means of well-doing, that they should have the worse who spurned at proffered friendship and fraternity.' Moreover, in order to possess the minds of the students with the genuine love of peace, he judged that nothing ought more to be impressed upon them than that they should endeavour to distinguish, according to the standard of the Sacred Word, not only between truth and falsehood, but also between the greater and less degrees in which different articles of religion are to be held as essential [Ex. Epist. Arm.].
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