The Life of James Arminius
Chapter 10, Part 1 of 3 (p. 212-220).
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.
CONVENTION AT THE HAGUE TO ARRANGE THE PRELIMINARIES OF A NATIONAL SYNOD; MISREPRESENTATION OF ARMINIUS AND HIS ADHERENTS FOR THE OPINIONS THEY THERE EXPRESSED; HIS LETTERS TO DRUSIUS AND HYPPOLITUS A COLLIBUS. A.D. 1607, 1608.
Having given these things some brief and incidental notice, let us now proceed to trace further the state of the agitated Church, and the progress of the hostile feeling of which Arminius was the object. Towards the close, then, of the month of February, the deputies of the Synods of South and North Holland had presented a petition to the States-General, in which they asked permission of them to hold an ecclesiastical convention for the purpose of paving the way to a National Synod. Leave was granted, and the 22nd day of May was appointed for this convention. Preintimation having been given by the States-General, to the States of the several provinces, these, each in their own name, summoned to the Hague certain pastors and doctors of more distinguished note, to obtain their opinions and advice as to the form and mode in which the Synod should be held.
Accordingly, on the day signified by the States General, the following presented themselves at the Hague. From Guelderland, John Leo and Fontanus; from Holland, Doctors Gomarus and Arminius, together with John Becius, Uitenbogaert, Helmichius and Hermann Gerhards; from Zealand, Hermann Faukelius and Henry Brandius; from the province of Utrecht, Everard Boot, and Henry Jansen the younger; from Friesland, Sybrandus Lubberti and John Bogermann, from Overyssel, Thomas Goswinus; and by and by, also, from the city of Groningen and from Amelandt, John Acronius and J. Nicasius. To these the illustrious States immediately submitted in writing eight questions relating to the proper order and mode in which the Synod should be held, with the request that after due consideration they would hand in their opinions, also in writing, and that too, if possible, with one consent; but that, failing this, each should draw out his own opinions apart. In the discussion and examination of these questions (which Uitenbogaert, in his Ecclesiastical History, has narrated at large) several days were consumed in the Presbytery Hall, at the Hague. After a variety of debates on one side and the other, it was at last unanimously agreed and declared, 'that, in regard to the time, it was necessary that the Synod should be convoked as nearly as possible at the beginning of the following summer, in the year 1608. With respect to the place, that the most convenient locality for holding the Synod would be the city of Utrecht. With respect to the mode, that the gravamina to be treated of in the Synod be reported by the several Provincial Synods to the National one; that for each particular Synod four pastors, with two elders, be deputed by vote; but that men distinguished for erudition, theological attainment, and piety, might be deputed in place of elders, although not invested with ecclesiastical office; that to this Synod there should be invited not only the churches in the United Provinces that speak the two languages, (Dutch and French,) but those also of the Dutch nation which are dispersed beyond the Dutch confines, or are congregated for themselves under the cross of persecution elsewhere; that their high mightinesses, the States-General, be humbly requested to send to the contemplated Synod delegates of their own, professing the Reformed religion, who might be willing, in their name, to take cognisance of its order; that professors of theology be also called to that Synod; and that in addition to those who are to be delegated by the churches, it be allowable for other ministers to be present at this Synod, in accordance with the usual practice in particular Synods.' [Via. praefat. Act. Dord. Synod—Uitenb. Hist. p. 349.].
But while on these and some other points there was unanimous consent, on certain other questions, on which the hinge of the matter turned, there was a conflict of opinion.
First, a debate was stirred respecting the judge of controversies on points of doctrine: that is to say, whether it should be the prerogative of the few ministers deputed by the churches to determine doctrinal controversies by a peremptory decision; or whether, prior to that decision by which all the ministers (if they wish to retain their office) should be bound to stand or fall, the deputing ministers also should not be informed, heard, and their votes, too, asked respecting the point in debate. For the former opinion, declared the greater part of the brethren; but for the latter, Arminius and Uitenbogaert, and with them the deputies from the province of Utrecht, — maintaining, as they did, that by the name Synod ought to be understood, not those delegated only, but also, and much more, the parties delegating [Via. Epist. Eccles. p. 193.].
A second point of difference concerned the rule according to which it was right that the determination should be made. This was occasioned by the sixth question, proposed by the States, viz., 'Whether it was not right that those to be delegated to the Synod should be bound to express their own opinion freely, and not be held to anything, save the Divine Word alone?' To this question, Arminius, and those who adhered to him, directly answered, it is right. But in this reply the other brethren by no means acquiesced. For although they did not venture to deny that the Divine Word was the test of doctrinal controversies, still, suspecting I know not what snake to lurk under that question of the States, before hazarding their own reply to it, they stirred a further question with Arminius and the others, namely, whether the arbiters of controversy should reckon themselves so bound to the Word of God as not to be at liberty to appeal, at the same time, to the Confession of the Belgic churches? To which, in name of his party, Arminius replied, 'that he, for his part, acknowledged and received the Confession as a formula of consent, but not as a rule of faith; so that if it, or any part or particle of it, should chance to come upon the anvil of discussion, no regard whatever ought to be had to it, while subjected to this trial, but the judgment respecting it, too, ought to be drawn from the Word of God alone. Nay more, judges of this description, that they may be able to pronounce sentence with the more freedom, ought to be released entirely, during that judicial process, from the subscription by which they had once bound themselves; — but with this express stipulation and caution, that meanwhile, throughout the course of such investigation and trial, it be allowable for no one in the Church or Academy to advance anything, in public or private, which may contravene the Confession.'
Thirdly, and finally, with reference to the question which the States had couched in these general terms, 'What further may it be expedient to do in regard to the convocation of a National Synod, that the most salutary results may thence accrue to the Church?' The most of the brethren were of opinion that the Belgic Confession and Catechism might be revised, indeed, in the Synod, if the Synod itself, for just reasons, deemed this necessary; but that the States be requested to strike out of their circular of citation, for the sake of the tranquillity of the churches, that clause concerning revision, which seemed to give offence to some, and a license of innovating to others; and that these, or some such words, be substituted in its place: That a Synod be convened for the confirmation, harmonious reception, and propagation of the pure and orthodox doctrine; for preserving and establishing the peace and good order of the Church; and, in fine, for promoting true piety among the inhabitants of these realms.
In defence of this opinion many reasons were advanced which, when others tried to repel, adducing several arguments to the contrary, on the ground of which it appeared to them that no alteration whatever ought to be made in the circular referred to, by and by the question began to be mooted and discussed concerning the necessity of revision itself; — Arminius, Uitenbogaert, and the two Utrecht ministers maintaining the affirmative, while the rest thought that this should be left for the Synod itself to determine. The greater part exclaimed, 'that the doctrine of the Reformed Church, sanctioned by the support of so many most weighty men, and sealed with the blood of so many thousands of martyrs, would, by an investigation of this sort, be called in doubt, and that this would give rise, not only to tumults, and stumblings, yea, and shipwreck of consciences, within the Church, but also to calumnies and reproaches beyond its pale.' To these reasons, moreover, they added certain offensive eulogiums of the books, the revision of which they were discussing, which came little short of a superseding of the Sacred Scripture. Gomarus declared 'that he received the Word of God, indeed, as the primary rule of faith, but the Confession and Catechism for the secondary rule.' In this statement, J. Bogermann, minister of the church at Leeuwarden, also expressed his concurrence, and did not hesitate, on the same occasion, repeatedly to declare 'that the Sacred Scriptures ought to be interpreted according to the Confession and Catechism.' [Vid. lib. cuititulus, Orig. et Progress. Ecclesiastic. Dissid. in Belg. Belgice script. p. 19.]. How completely these words (to be attributed to undue heat of debate, and not approved of by all his own party) tore up the basis of the entire Reformation, aud ran foul of the seventh article of the Belgic Confession itself, was enough, and more than enough, demonstrated by Arminius and his friends. They further strenuously contended for the revisal decided upon by the States; urging on a variety of grounds how accordant this was to reason, and how necessary, moreover, as matters then stood.
Arminius, in particular, maintained this position, and vigorously defended it against the objections of brethren. 'For as to what was advanced about the danger of doctrine being called into doubt, this,' he contended, 'was in the highest degree offensive; seeing that the thing to be discussed was not the Sacred text, but a human composition, which contained errors, and might therefore justly and properly be tried by the touch-stone of heavenly truth. It was to no purpose to obtrude the authority of divines and martyrs. For, besides that it was possible for even them also to have erred, a distinction must be maintained between the different things which the Confession of the Belgic churches contains. For some things are to be referred to the foundation of faith and of salvation, but other things are reared on that foundation, and therefore, of themselves, are not indispensably necessary to eternal life. The former, it is true, had been approved by the unanimous consent of all the Reformers, and confirmed by the martyrs' blood; but not by any means the latter: nay, in regard to these controversies, at present in agitation, no one of the martyrs probably was ever asked his opinion. The fear, too, that disturbances would perhaps arise from the revisal referred to, was one to which divines truly Reformed ought to attach no great importance. For, this reason admitted, it was then with the best right that the Papists formerly left no stone unturned with the view of preventing the doctrine received in the Church for so many centuries back, from being called into doubt, and subjected to fresh examination. Nay more, if Luther, Zwingle, and the other leaders of the Reformed Church, had attributed so much weight to considerations like these, they would never have addressed themselves to a work of such great difficulty, and so full of danger, as the Reformation, and to the serious investigation of the Popish doctrine.' [Vide sis has rationes fusius postea ab Arminio deductas in Declar. sua coram Ord.]
The matter having thus been fully argued on both sides, the great majority of the Convention persisted not the less in harping every now and then on that one string, namely, the offence which they declared there was reason to apprehend from the insertion of the fore-named clause in the letters of citation, till at last Arminius, and those who adhered to him, desirous of gratifying the rest, and more solicitous about the thing itself, than the formality, as they called it, gave their consent to the omission of the clause, only that this should be done without implying the omission of the revisal itself.
These deliberations being ended, and all results collected, a document was drawn up, and signed by the hands of all, embodying both the opinions in which they agreed, and the opinions in which they differed, which was presented on the first of June to the assembly of the States: appended was a declaration, on the part of all, that they were ready at the will and command of their High Mightinesses to explain more at large their opinions briefly exhibited in that document, and to fortify them with the reasons on which they respectively depended.
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