The Life of James Arminius
Chapter 10, Part 3 of 3 (p. 231-242).
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.
Still further material and occasion for these dissensions were famished by a little book published in the course of that year (1607) at Gouda, intended for the religious instruction of youth, and afterwards known under the name of the Gouda Catechism. This little work was composed by the pastors of the Church in Gouda for the purpose of testing whether it could be turned by the authorities to the use of the elementary schools, and substituted in the place of the Palatine Catechism, which, in their judgment, contained questions too difficult, and couched in ambiguous terms [Fusius de hoc libello Uitenb. in Hist. Eccles.].
No sooner had that composition seen the light than very diverse opinions began to be expressed in regard to it. Those who sided with Arminius praised the little work, partly because its authors, treading in the steps of the Palatine divines in respect to its general order, seemed to have advanced nothing whatever repugnant to the Christian doctrine; partly also, and on this account mainly, that the composition referred to, foreclosing all scope for the introduction of thorny and disputable points, and breathing the primeval simplicity of Christianity, embraced in few words, and these, too, deduced from the Sacred page, the things to be believed.
But immediately some arose from among the opposite ranks who publicly condemned and execrated the book, and declared that there scarcely ever was a monstrous opinion but what was veiled in terms as general as itself was horrid; that simplicity suited primitive times, when evils as yet unknown required no antidote, but that afterwards as errors increased forms of words had to be devised which might ferret out errorists from their lurking-places; that this little book either did away with, or omitted, the primary doctrines of the Christian faith; that a signal was thereby given to those desirous of innovation; and that Servetus himself would have cheerfully subscribed it [Grot. Annual, p. 555. in fol.—Vid. S. Lubberti Epist. ad Oldenbarneveld. inter Epist. Eccles. p. 215.].
Thus what the former called in harmony with heavenly truth, the latter called the lurking-place of heresies; what the former called liberty, the latter called disorder.
Nor was this all. Against this little book Reyner Donteklok took occasion to brandish his pen; and in a published treatise he not only addressed himself to the confutation of this small work of the Gouda divines, but also, at the instigation of certain malevolent parties, traduced with sufficient virulence those who had thought differently from others as to the mode of holding the Synod; and moreover, in no oblique terms, and all but pointing at him with his finger, he insinuated that Arminius had a hand in drawing up this catechism. But although to the publication of it Arminius had no great objection, and afterwards owned that the Gouda ministers had consulted him prior to issuing it, and that, after they had explained the reasons why they thought it should be published, he had expressed his concurrence; nevertheless, to that composition he never applied a hand, nor had any share in the drawing of it up. Nay more; so far as his choice, and that of some others, was concerned, this little book would have lain long enough unnoticed, had not the intemperate clamours of many magnified it into an importance greater than was due [Vid. Examen Catech. Goud. a R. Donteklok, Belgice conscript. 1607. pag. 3. 5. 8. 9.10—Arm. Epist. ad C. Vorst, Kal. April. 1609.].
Calumny, however, overstepping even these limits, and spurning all restraints of humanity, put in circulation, at this same time, a most foul report concerning Arminius and Uitenbogaert, namely — that the Roman Pontiff, in a most gracious letter which he wrote to them, and holding out the hope of a large emolument, had commended to them the advocacy of the Church of Rome [Ex Epist. Artopaei Uitenb. Histor. Eccles. inserta.]. How very far this was from even the semblance of truth, will yet more clearly appear from the subsequent thread of our narrative. But this magnificent lie was accompanied by another which was put in circulation about the same time, namely, that Arminius was in the habit of commending to his students, as of prime importance, the writings not only of Castellio and of Coornhert, but also of Suarez and other Jesuits, and of speaking in contemptuous terms of the works of Calvin, Beza, Martyr, Zanchius, Ursinus, and other eminent divines of the Reformed Church [Vid. praefat. Act. Synod. Dord.].
These, and many more calumnies of the same kind, which were scattered far and wide regarding him throughout Germany, France, England, and Savoy, Arminius received with no other emotion than that of pity for brethren who sinned so grievously against God and their neighbour. Nay, he thought as he himself testifies, that by this prodigious ado, and by the preposterous diligence of brethren, 'it would only turn out that he, a poor obscure man, who was not able by his own virtues to push himself into notice, and of whom otherwise scarcely any out of Holland would either know anything, or deign to speak, would day by day be rendered notable and renowned.' [Ex Epist. Arm. ad Drus.].
How inconsistent with truth that allegation was, as to his having recommended writers of questionable note (which was reported, as elsewhere, so in particular at Amsterdam,) I prefer to state in his own words rather than in mine. Mark these expressions of his which he penned to the chief magistrate of Amsterdam (Sebastian Egberts): 'The rumour about my advising the students to read the works of the Jesuits and of Coornhert, I can call by no other name than a lie; for never to any one, either by request or spontaneously, have I uttered a word on that subject. So far from this, after the reading of Scripture, which I strenuously inculcate, and more than any other (as the whole Academy, yea the conscience of my colleagues will testify,) I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read, whom I extol in higher terms than Helmichius himself, as he owned to me, ever did. For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable, and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed down to us in the Bibliotheca of the Fathers; so much so, that I concede to him a certain spirit of prophecy (interpretation) in which he stands distinguished above others, above most, yea above all. His Institutes, so far as respects Commonplaces, I give out to be read after the Catechism, as a more extended explanation. But here I add — with discrimination; as the writings of all men ought to be read. Of this my mode of advice I could produce innumerable witnesses: they cannot produce as much as one whom I advised to study Coornhert and the followers of Loyola. Let them produce one, and the lie will stand revealed. So that here from nothing springs a history, or rather a fiction. What other things are there done I know; aye, and what busy things have been done elsewhere I think you do not know. If you did know, you would be astonished at the perverse effrontery of men. As an antidote to all these I oppose integrity and patience, and sustain myself with the hope of a happy exit which the just Judge will grant unto me, who knows what I seek and what I do. I know that my earnest aims are pleasing to him, as being solely devoted to the establishment among Christians of truth, piety, and peace.' [Vid. Arm. Epist. ad Seb. Egb. inter Ep. Eccles. p. 185.].
With no less confidence of mind did he undertake, in the year following (1608) the vindication of his own cause in the presence of that most noble man, Hippolytus a Collibus, the ambassador to the States of the United Provinces of the illustrious Prince Palatine, Frederick the Fourth. Humours being already rife at Heidelberg that, on several articles of the Christian faith, Arminius dissented from the received opinion, this nobleman, thinking he ought not to rest in these, but hear the other side also, invited Arminius, in a very courteous manner, to visit him at the Hague. Admitted, accordingly, to an interview with him, Hippolytus, in a manner singularly courteous, stated the reasons for the sinister suspicions respecting him, and on what heads it was that Sybrandus Lubberti had impeached him by letter to the distinguished Paraeus; on all which Arminius candidly and ingenuously explained his own opinions, in particular, concerning the Divinity of the Son of God, concerning Providence and Divine Predestination, concerning Grace and Free Will, and also on the subject of Justification. So satisfactory to that nobleman was his explanation on these points, that he thought fit earnestly to solicit Arminius to give it to him in writing, in order that, on the one hand, after due consideration of these points, he might judge with more certainty and decisiveness respecting them, and on the other, be in a condition, in conferring with any on the subject, to confute the calumnies referred to, and to vindicate his innocence. Arminius accordingly drew up at the time, (on the 5th April 1608,) that most erudite and elaborate epistle to the ambassador of the Prince Palatine, which still exists among his published works, and comprises a succinct defence of his doctrine, as well as of his life. It is with pleasure we here subjoin the golden words with which he closes this epistle — words every way worthy of a noble-minded man:—
'Would to God,' he writes, 'that I could obtain this from my brethren by profession of the same religious fellowship with me in the Lord, that they would at least give me credit for some susceptibility of conscience towards God! — which, surely, the love of Christ ought readily to obtain from them, if indeed they would meditate on his spirit and mind. What profit can accrue to me from dissension undertaken from the mere lust of dissension, from stirring schism in the Church of Christ of which, by the grace of God and of Christ, I profess myself a member? If they imagine I am instigated to this by ambition or avarice, I declare sincerely in the Lord they do not know me. So free from avarice can I affirm myself to be, that it has never happened to allure me with its blandishments, although pretexts are not wanting by which I might palliate or excuse it. Ambition I have none, except the honourable ambition which impels me to this — to investigate divine truth from the sacred Scriptures with all my might — to hold it forth when found, calmly and without contention, so as not to dictate to any, or strive to extort assent, much less to seek to lord it over another's faith; and to hold it forth for this end, that I may gain more souls to Christ, and that I may be a good savour to him, and that mine may be an approved name in the church of the saints. This, after a long time's patience, I hope through grace to attain; although at present I am a reproach to my brethren; an offscouring and outcast to those who, in the same faith with me, worship and invoke the one God, the Father, the one Lord Jesus Christ, in the one Spirit, and who cherish the one hope with me, of obtaining the heavenly inheritance through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord will grant me, I hope, (and O! that the light of that holy and happy day may smile upon me!) that we may peacefully, in the name of the Lord, meet among ourselves, and institute a Christian conference on things pertaining to religion: in which I promise through the grace of God to exhibit that moderation of spirit, and love for the truth and peace, which may fairly be exacted and expected of the servant of Christ. Meanwhile, let my brethren be quiet and allow me to be quiet; — as quiet indeed I am, giving no trouble or molestation to them. If they think otherwise of me, let them institute proceedings; I will not shrink from the authority of any competent tribunal; I will not fail to appear. If they are of opinion that the minds of those who listen to me are artfully pre-occupied as from a distance, and the affair managed with such policy that they neither deem it advisable to face me in judgment, nor think it sufficiently safe that studious youth should be intrusted to me; and that therefore a black mark, as what I have deserved, ought to be daubed upon my name in order that these same youth may be scared away — otherwise certain risk would be incurred from the delay of the conference; lo, here I present myself, that along with them I may address, solicit, and supplicate those whose prerogative it is to call, or grant, conventions of this kind, that they would not suffer us any longer to be agitated by such vexation and disquietude of spirit, but either themselves apply a very speedy remedy, or permit it to be applied — but still, by their decree, and under their direction. I will not refuse to appear before any convention, whether of all the ministers of our United Netherlands or of some of them, to be summoned from the several provinces; or even of all the ministers of Holland and Westfriesland, (to which province our Leyden Academy belongs) or of some to be nominated from their number, provided the whole affair be transacted under the cognizance of our rightful rulers; nay further, I neither shrink from, nor dread the presence of learned men to be summoned from other places, provided they take part in the conference on equitable terms, and subject to the same rules to which I myself shall have to submit. Permit me to say, in one word, let a convention be held, be it of many or of few, if it only present some glimmering hope of success — such a hope as I shall not be able, on solid grounds, to prove deceptive — here I am, prepared and ready at this very day, at this very hour; for it teases and vexes me to be daubed every day with fresh calumnious aspersions, and to have the annoying necessity imposed upon me of wiping them away. In this respect, surely, I little resemble heretics, who either shrink from ecclesiastical conventions, or shape matters so, that they can trust to the number of their adherents, and calculate on certain victory.'
On the day following that on which Arminius drew up this epistle — or rather epistolary dissertation on religious affairs — to the Palatine ambassador, he gave forth the same indications of an intrepid and upright spirit in a letter to that man of consummate integrity, already knit to him for many years, at once by the bonds of close intimacy and of high esteem — John Drusius. After some preliminary reference to the very shameful acts of calumny of which he was the victim, and to the calmness of spirit by which he eluded them, he goes on to address that most attached friend in the following terms:— 'This very peace of conscience makes me judge that even the advices of my friends, by which they urge me to refute these calumnies, need not be acted on by me with precipitate haste. Nor do I apprehend that the minds either of the rulers, or of learned men, will be so far preoccupied with prejudice against me as not to be easily disabused even by the mere explanation of my sentiments and aims. Nay verily, such mighty and over-hasty plotting on the part of my brethren against me, is to me a most certain sign that they are distrustful of their own cause. For he that trusteth doth not make haste, confiding in Jehovah, in whom alone is all his help; and mine truly lies in his Word only, for the truth, perfection, and perspicuity of which alone I will not cease to contend against the traditions of all men, of what rank soever they be, as long as the benignant God thinks fit to lengthen out my life; nor will I ever suffer to be imposed on the Church of Christ, whether under the name of secondary, or under any other name, any authoritative rule whatsoever other than that one only Rule which is contained in the books of the Old and New Testament. And there is a necessity, I perceive, for a strenuous agitation of the subject, even among us who not go long ago were foremost to urge this first principle in opposition to Papists; but now, as if fleeing from court, we do not blush to prescribe to the churches and to their ministers, as traditions by the standard of which the Scriptures are to be explained, even Confessions and Catechisms, because, forsooth, they were drawn up by learned men, sanctioned by various decisions, confirmed by length of time (for they are beginning to plead a prescription of forty years), and sealed with the blood of martyrs!'
5 years ago