The Life of James Arminius
Chapter 11, Part 1 of 3 (p. 243-255).
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.
CONFERENCE AT THE HAGUE IN MAY 1608: ARMINIUS REPLIES TO THIRTY-ONE DEFAMATORY ARTICLES, FALSELY ASCRIBED TO HIM AND ADRIAN BORRIUS. —A.D. 1608.
Rightly judging, however, that private complaints, like the foregoing, among his confidential friends served no end of self-protection, and that unfavourable reports respecting him and Uitenbogaert were notoriously increasing every day; considering how little, moreover, he could calculate, as matters then stood, on obtaining satisfaction through the medium of the ordinary ecclesiastical assemblies; Arminius decided on pursuing another course. He and Uitenbogaert, accordingly, presented a petition to the States of Holland, in which 'they not only complained that by their discrepant judgments as to the holding of the Synod, they had incurred, without cause, the odium of many; but further declared, that though they regarded the judgments in question as being at once in strict harmony with reason and Scripture, and in the highest degree adapted to the present state of ecclesiastical affairs, they by no means wished to press them to the obstruction of a National Synod; nay, rather, they would cheerfully suffer that Synod — so long earnestly desired, and which they themselves, too, thought necessary — to be held in any other way, provided that in it due regard were had to the sacred Scriptures, and care taken that no one lord it over another's faith. For their part, they utterly disclaimed all desire to bring about a new state of things, and with God's help would adhere till their last breath to the Reformed Church and doctrine. Further, they humbly begged and implored the illustrious States that by their gracious influence with the States-General a National Synod might be at length convoked, and an end be put at once and for ever to these most grievous contentions.' [Vid. scriptum hoc supplic. integrum in Hist. Uitenbog. p. 425.].
But further, as he perceived that, owing to the public and grave deliberations of the States respecting the armistice, little attention was paid to this petition on its being presented and read; and as, in the meantime, his students were treated in a most rigorous manner, and the usual Academic certificates with which he furnished them were unfairly disparaged, Arminius felt constrained to draw up an additional petition, in his own individual name, most urgently praying these supreme rulers of his country that they would not refuse to institute a legal inquiry into his cause, and, with that wisdom by which they were distinguished, determine the method, either in the form of a conference, or of an ecclesiastical convention to be held under their auspices, by which, on the very first opportunity, the way might be opened to him to clear himself from so many injurious aspersions [Uitenb. Hist. Eccles. p. 435.]. Reverting to this petition, the Rulers of Holland and West Friesland, with the view of foreclosing a greater evil, determined that Gomarus and Arminius be summoned to the Hague — the four ministers who attended the last conference at the Hague, from South and North Holland, to be also present; and that they be heard before the Grand Council. The Honourable Councillors of the Supreme Court, moreover, were instructed to ascertain, by means of the conference on religious matters to be held between the two Professors, — due inquiry being instituted into the cause of each — 'whether the difference that subsisted between them could not be settled by friendly converse; and to report to the States in regard to the whole case.' [Trigland Hist. p. 413, 414.].
But to this decree the deputies of the churches opposed themselves with all their might; and pleading prescriptive authority, they, on the 14th May, besought the States that in place of this conference, appointed to be held before the Supreme Court, a provincial Synod be convened, in which this ecclesiastical cause should be investigated and decided by ecclesiastical men, and by those delegated by the churches with power to judge. The States replied that it was only an inquiry into the cause with which the Supreme Court was charged; but that judgment respecting it would be afterwards committed to a provincial or National Synod [Vid. Praefat. Act. Synod. Dordr.].
To give however, a more accurate idea of what, at this time, were the state and aspect of the Leyden Academy, we will here present to the reader the letter (if the eminent Peter Bertius, Regent of the Theological College, written, on occasion of the appointment of this conference, to that Honourable Senator of the Supreme Court, and most upright man — Rombout Hoogerbeets:
'Illustrious Sir, and Honoured Lord: I understand that a conference is to be held shortly, on some controverted heads of doctrine, between Doctor Gomarus and Doctor Arminius; and that, for the settlement of that affair, besides the ministers already appointed, there are to be present most of the senators of your Superior Court. I hope the matter will be brought to a happy and successful issue, for the restoration of Ecclesiastical concord; and I sincerely pray and supplicate God, the author of peace, that such will be the result. For hitherto a diversity of conflicting sentiments, besides distracting the minds of some, has also made my office, sufficiently difficult in itself, to be one of much more difficult fulfilment. For at first, instructions were given us that my students should listen to either professor indifferently, and without distinction. I also, by virtue of my office, am instant and urgent to this effect; nor do I suffer any one to neglect any prelection with impunity. I also rehearse the prelections of either, without prejudice in regard to any; and partiality, according to the measure in which I execrate it, do I also banish it from the college. By this it happens, that of my students some embrace the sentiments of Doctor Gomarus, some again, those of Doctor Arminius — though modestly, in the latter case, on account of the authority of the Synod, and the hazard of being kept back from the ministry. But I find from the statements of certain parties, that all those who attend Doctor Arminius are found fault with, and held as suspected, and are judged unfit either for churches or schools. For which reason, the illustrious States will lose their cost, and myself, the students, and Arminius, will lose our pains; and it will turn out that what they have learned from him they must unlearn, and recant the sentiments they received with open minds. If this is to take place, it were better either that the students had never dipped into learning, or that Doctor Arminius had never been seen here, where he advances things that cannot be brought to the public, except under the infamous brand of heresy. But I, willingly obedient to the mandates of my Lords, and desirous of promoting the interests of my students, could wish the toil of Arminius, not less than of Doctor Gomarus, to be useful to the churches. I am hedged up, therefore, with difficulty on either hand, and hang in doubt as to what, in the circumstances, ought to be done. And having in the college, at present, several young men ripe for the church, I very much wish, both for their sake, and for the sake of those who come after, and for my own sake also, and, more than all, for the sake of the public peace, that whatever difference there is, may be authoritatively settled and set at rest; for that all the controversies should subside, and either party succumb to the opinion of the other, I suppose is matter of a too moderate desire to be realised in men of that profession. Such being the state of affairs, I could wish that, to me also, in that transaction at the Hague, some place were allowed in the back benches, as a listener and spectator. Not that I desire to pry curiously into other people's affairs, or to address myself to business which it devolves on others to perform (for I have enough, and more than enough, to do at home,) but that, for the reason mentioned, I reckon that affair one which very much concerns me. For on me mainly, as presiding over the youth engaged in the study of theology, will it devolve to carry into effect what may there be decreed; and I shall be in a condition, after hearing parties, to discharge more prudently the functions of my calling and superintendence, and to consult accordingly for the interests of my students. I shall have the course indicated at last which I myself may venture openly to pursue. For I perceive that the eyes of many are turned on me, and that from my procedure, judgments are formed respecting my young men; and that, too, so keenly, that even now I am asked whether there are not some in the college who are attached to the opinion and party of Arminius; which students, unless they recant, these persons (you know their hot-headed zeal) would gladly see cashiered and turned out forthwith. There are some also who urge that they ought to be severally scrutinized and examined by some deputed for that purpose; and if, during that process, any one should express aught that savours of the sentiments of Arminius, — if they do not answer in all things according to the opinions of their inquisitors, — the only alternative for my young men will be, either to bring themselves to a recantation, or to betake themselves to another mode of life. Thus, so long as we are miserably split up into parties, we are in course of being reduced, by little and little, to desolation; and our body which, by the concord and equanimity of the professors, was in a condition to stand firm and increase, is sensibly dissolving and wasting away, — the very parties inflicting the evil who ought to apply a balm to the grievous wound. I beseech you, therefore, illustrious sir, that you would use your influence with the noble Barneveldt, to procure me admission into that conference, to act merely a silent part, and get to know of the things that would make for the advantage and safety of the college. I will see you, God-willing, in the course of two days, and ascertain from yourself personally either what you have done in this matter, or what you think respecting it. — Farewell. Given at Leyden in Holland, 14th May, 1608. Thine, Peter Bertius.' [Ex ipso Bertii autographo.].
Thus writes Bertius. Whether or not he got his wish, or what sort of answer he received from the honourable Hoogerbeets, I have never ascertained.
Meanwhile the two professors, with the deputies of the churches, presented themselves, on the day appointed, before the august body of Senators at the Hague; when the honourable president of the assembly, after some preliminary refereace to the mandate of the States, and the object contemplated by this transaction, called on Gomarus to declare, without evasion and reserve, whether there was any difference between him and his colleague, and if so, what was its nature. Gomarus urged by way of objection, 'that he was sincerely devoted to the service of the illustrious States, and acknowledged that this present College of the Supreme Court was composed of distinguished and prudent men; but that it was their province to pronounce judgment not concerning sacred things, but only concerning things civil and secular. That the matter belonged not to their tribunal, but to that of the churches; and that no investigation of it could be instituted in this place without prejudice to his cause, and that of the churches. That they ought to render unto God the things that are God's, but unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and that they ought to obey God rather than man.'
The Council replied, 'that no doubt the cause of religion was here treated of, and that they by no means wished to arrogate to themselves the authority to decide in regard to it, — an inquiry into it being the only province intrusted to them. Again, accordingly, they importuned Gomarus that he would not refuse to communicate to them freely his own account of the matter.'
Still spinning out delays, Gomarus here contended, in the first place, 'that it was unjust that he should undertake the part of prosecutor of Arminius, with whom he had hitherto lived on familiar terms; being, moreover, ignorant of the things which his colleague had written or had delivered, whether in public prelections or in his private class. But since Arminius had sometimes made mention of certain scruples he had, it was better that he should produce them himself. He, for his part, did not call in question any heads whatsoever of Christian doctrine as they were comprised and explained in the Confession and Catechism; nor did he wish to stir any strife respecting them.' At last when the Council insisted on a more express reply, he was reduced to the alternative of confessing 'that between himself and Arminius there did lurk some dissension; but that, in his view, it was highly inexpedient and prejudicial to the liberty of the churches to explain the nature of it at this time and in this place.'
At this point, however, Arminius, who had thus far maintained silence, expressed 'his astonishment, considering that various rumours about his heterodoxy had by this time run the round of all the churches, and the conflagration he had kindled was said to have surmounted the topmost pile of the Church, that such prodigious difficulty should nevertheless be here pretended to declare of what sort that difference might be, or what he himself had taught in opposition to the formularies of consent. It was iniquitous to demand this declaration from him, and thus fish matter of accusation out of his own mouth. What he had taught privately or publicly in contrariety to the Confession and Catechism, no one would ever produce. And as to the doubts he might cherish, it was not fair that he should produce them, except in terms of a decree of the supreme Magistracy, who had determined that the Confession and Catechism should be revised in a National Synod.' [Praefat. Act. Synod. Dordr.].
On this, Gomarus undertook to prove, that in regard to that primary article of the Christian faith, the justification of man before God, Arminius had taught such an opinion as was repugnant to the sacred Volume and to the Confession of the Belgic Churches. In proof of this he produced the very words of Arminius, extracted both from his theses on justification, and from a certain letter to a friend, in which he had asserted, 'that in the justification of man before God the righteousness of Christ is not imputed for righteousness, but faith itself; or the act of believing constitutes, through God's gracious act of acquittance, that righteousness of ours by which we are justified.' After Gomarus had asked that these statements might be inserted among the records of that conference, Arminius, on the other hand, dictated the following statement for insertion in the same records:— 'In order to declare how utterly abhorent my soul is from all desire of unnecessary contention or disputation, I profess that I hold as true, pious, and sacred, that doctrine of justification before God effected through faith to faith, or of the imputation of faith for righteousness, which is contained in the Harmony of Confessions by all the Churches, and that I approve of it, and have always approved of it, and thoroughly acquiesce in it. But that a still clearer testimony may remain of this my desire for the general peace of the Reformed and Protestant Churches, I solemnly affirm that should occasion require me to commit to writing my opinion on this matter, both as respects the point itself, and as respects the phraseology and more accurate mode of treatment (which opinion I am prepared to defend by solid arguments, against all objections), I will cheerfully submit that writing to the verdict of all these Churches, to this extent, namely — that if, after the cause has been investigated in due form, according to the decree of my supreme Lords, these Churches shall think that said opinion and its maintainers are not to be tolerated, I will either desist from that opinion, in the event of being better instructed, or resign my office.' [Vid. lib. cui titulus Origo et progress, dissidiorum Eccles. in Belgio, Belg. conscript. p. 21, 22.].
In these statements of Arminius Gomarus still refused to acquiesce; nor could he be brought to acknowledge that, on the point in question, the opinion of Arminius was exactly coincident with that of the Reformed Church; on which the latter, with the view of testifying still further the pacific sentiments that inspired him, and of avoiding superfluous disputation, exclaimed, 'Here is my confession on this point, couched in the express terms of the Palatine Catechism.' Then, reciting the very words of the Catechism, he went on to say: 'I believe in my heart, and confess with my mouth, that I shall pass as righteous in the sight of God, only by faith in Jesus Christ, so that, although my conscience may accuse me of having grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and not kept any of them, and of having till now, besides, been inclined to all evil, nevertheless, provided I embrace these benefits with true confidence of mind, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ will, without any merit on my part, of the mere mercy of God, be imputed to, and bestowed upon me, the same as if I had committed no sin, and as if no taint adhered to me — nay more, as if I myself had perfectly performed that obedience which Christ has performed on my behalf. Not that I please God by the worth of my faith, but that the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ constitute my righteousness in the sight of God. Only, I cannot embrace it, and apply it to myself, in any other way than by faith.' [Vid. resp. ad quest. LX. et LXI. Catech. Palatinae.].
But not even this confession would satisfy Gomarus. Nay he repeatedly rated Arminius for making faith the object or matter of justification, but the righteousness of Christ the meritorious cause of justification. In this he thought he had effected something of great moment; but in the estimation of most of the Council it was little else than a logomachy, since it was evident between them both that it was not the value of our works, but the grace of God, that effected our being justified by faith [Vid. Grot. Epist. ad Reigersb.]. When, moreover, Gomarus insisted on hearing the opinion of Arminius on certain other questions also, it seemed good to the Council to enjoin first on him, and then on Arminius, to deliver each his own opinion respecting certain primary articles on which some question had been raised between them, comprised in a series of propositions, and drawn up in writing, and that each, in turn, should append his own animadversions and strictures on the written statement of the other.
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