The Life of James Arminius
Chapter 9, Part 2 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.
Amid all this excitement Arminius prosecuted his Academic prelections with unabated activity; and having brought to a close the exposition of Jonah, he entered upon a course of lectures on Malachi about the commencement of the year ensuing, 1606.
On the 8th of February, he resigned his Rectorate according to the [Ex. Epist. Arm.] usual order; on which occasion he delivered that celebrated oration on 'Religious Dissension,' in which he unfolds its nature and effects, causes and remedies, with such freedom of speech as the weight of the subject itself, and the agitated circumstances of the church seemed to require; In particular, as the remedy commonly considered to be the most efficacious for allaying theological dissensions was a convention of the parties at variance, (which the Greeks call a synod, the Latins, a council,) he unfolded, on that same occasion, fully and piously, the principle on which a council of the kind referred to, ought to be constituted, so as to warrant the just and rational expectation that it will issue in results of the most salutary character.
Nor could he charge himself, by any means, with having causelessly selected this as the theme of his oration; for he had long been aware that with the great majority of the clergy, and at this very time, nothing was more an object of desire than that the States-General should permit to be again summoned a National Synod, which, in former times, was wont to be convened once every three years, but had now for a very considerable time been suspended. For (to trace this matter a little further back) it was already turned twenty years since the Earl of Leceister, despising, and all but trampling under foot, the authority of the fathers of our country, had ordered a council of this description to be convoked at the Hague. On that occasion, when the great body of the clergy had lent their most zealous aid to those who were hatching revolutionary schemes, and aiming a deadly blow at the liberty of the Dutch Republic, they had, not without reason, been rebuked and admonished by the public voice of the States, 'that, content with having lost Flanders, by traducing and calumniating the administration of the rulers, under the deceptive show of religion, and throwing a cloak over perfidy, they should abstain from bringing about the loss of Holland in the same way.' [Vid. Em. Meterani Hist. Belgice conscript. et Hoofdii Hist.]. It was the recollection, indeed, of that calamitous period, and the apprehension lest, perchance, certain turbulent zealots, under pretext of religion, should attempt anything anew that might detract from public authority, which long restrained the illustrious and mighty States from afterwards giving their assent to the renewed petition of the ecclesiastics for a National Synod. About the year 1597, however, when controversies had arisen in various places, particularly at Gouda, Hoorn, and Medenblick, not only respecting Divine Predestination, but also concerning the authority of the Belgic Confession, and Palatine Catechism, and the right and orthodox interpretation of certain phrases, the States of the province of Holland at length took the lead in granting the pastors under their jurisdiction permission to hold a synod;—for this end, in particular, 'that the Belgic Confession of Faith should be revised, and that it should be carefully considered in what way, most fitly, according to the word of God, the true doctrine and concord of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands, might be vindicated, preserved, and promoted, and the dissensions that had arisen be allayed.'
But although, so many years before the name of Arminius had begun to acquire celebrity in the Leyden Academy, the rulers of Holland had consented to the synod, still the States of the other provinces resisted the project — those of Utrecht being the stoutest and the longest to hold out. But seeing that the Dutch professors and pastors who differed at this time on the subject of predestination sought some support, each for his own opinion, in the words of the Confession and Catechism; and that these same formularies of consent did not define with sufficient clearness the questions agitated on either side; and that this present exigency of the Reformed cause seemed, in consequence, to require a more formal convention of the churches, by the effort and intervention of the men of greatest influence (including the name of Uitenbogaert, as he himself cheerfully owns) it was brought about that these rulers of Utrecht also subscribed to the wish so generally entertained. Leave, accordingly, was at length obtained (on the 15th March) from the States-General to convoke a National Synod on the selfsame terms as those on which, eight years previously, the rulers of Holland and Westfriesland had given their sanction to its being held. But here is the very decree, in express terms:—
'The States-General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, having considered and carefully weighed the reasons proposed and exhibited in their assembly both orally and in writing, in name of the Christian Reformed churches of the Netherlands, in order that permission should be granted to them for convening a National Synod of the said churches on the grounds set forth in the written petition referred to, after mature deliberation, have granted permission that it should be held, and by this same instrument they hereby grant permission. Wherefore, also, it hath pleased them that said National Synod be convoked in name of their illustrious Lords, as being the lawful magistrates — the protectors and defenders in these realms of the Christian Reformed religion — and to whom, in consequence, that right belongs; and that, as soon as said illustrious Lords, with the pastors of churches (whom it has been resolved to summon for this object on the very first opportunity) shall have communicated among themselves, and deliberated respecting the mode of holding the synod, and concerning the fit place and time, the said National Synod, with the revision of the Confession and Catechism of said churches, and of the ecclesiastical constitution heretofore in use among them shall (as has been wont every time to be done in such assemblies) be so instituted and conducted, in the name and fear of the Lord, that the fruit thence to be expected — namely, the confirmation of true piety among the inhabitants of these realms — may be abundantly realised. And all these things according to the rule and pattern of God's Sacred Word, to His glory, and for the safety of the Republic and the Church.'
We have thought it proper to introduce into our narrative this, the express form of the public decree, in order that the origin of the contentions with Arminius and his followers that arose respecting it, and the main reason why this convention of the churches was deferred, may be the more readily discerned. For the deputies of the churches took it very much amiss, that in the missive containing the public decree of the illustrious States special mention should be made of a contemplated revision of the Confession, Catechism, and ecclesiastical canons. Nay, more; even prior to its publication, and towards the close of the preceding year (30th November, 1605) they had begged, in a written petition, that the convocation of this synod should be instituted in the manner sanctioned by former usage and in general terms. They affirmed 'that by that single clause the entire doctrine comprehended in these summaries was called in question; that by this edict injury was done to these sacred canons of the Reformed faith, which were formerly received with so great applause; that the term revision was forensic, nor was the act of revision ever insisted on unless when the authorised sentiment was not acquiesced in, but rather a demand made for its being retracted or changed; that by the insertion of the clause referred to there was reason to fear that those who were striving after a change of doctrine would be rendered more daring, and would conclude that power was conceded to them by public authority to press innovation to any extent.' [Vid praefat. Act. Synod Dord.].
But a variety of reasons, on the other hand, and these of the gravest character, were advanced by not a few in vindication of the decree of the States. Thus it was contended, 'that it was idle to dispute about the word revision, since, taken not in its forensic but in its more general acceptation, it denoted any kind of re-examination. But taking the word in this stricter sense, it was not the case that the once authorised opinion was always changed by revision, but, on the contrary, it was sometimes thereby confirmed. The illustrious States of Holland had inserted in their decree, passed eight years before, the word resumption. In most acts of synods, even prior to the public decree of the year 1597, mention was made of a repetition. Nay, more; that distinguished defender of the Reformed doctrine, Caspar Heidanus, was not afraid to put on the title of that Catechism which he published at Antwerp in the year 15—, the words correction and emendation. At all events, the thing itself denoted by this word was of right and with good reason demanded by the fathers of their country and the supreme patrons of the Church. The sacred Scripture alone was placed beyond the liability of revision; nor was it right to arrogate this privilege to human writings. This, Beza, Zanchius, Olevianus, and other leaders of the Reformed religion — yea, and the very authors, too, of the Belgic Confession — openly professed. Even now there were extant, and could easily be produced, letters of the distinguished Saravia, celebrated among the original compilers of the Confession, who testifies that of those who applied their hand to this work it never came into the mind of one to make of it a rule of faith. In all the synods held in France a commencement was made by re-reading the Confession and soliciting expressions of opinion upon it [Press. Declar. p. 41. 42.—Vid Grot. Piet. Ord. p. 52]. The Augustan, yea and the Anglican and Helvetic Confessions, had been changed; and much more reasonable were it to try whether nothing could be amended in that Confession which was originally composed by no Synod whatever, but had been put together by some pious men, at a pre-eminently troublous time, in great haste, and for this end only, that it should serve the purpose of an apology to a hostile king. The same remark applied to the Catechism, inasmuch as the very leaders themselves of the Belgic Church had not drawn it up, but (as is wont to be done in cases of sudden necessity) had borrowed it from others. None otherwise did the famous Piscator judge; for certain strictures and animadversions of his on several questions of the Palatine Catechism were still extant [Vid. has stricturas inter Epist. Eccles. p. 166.]. Even granting that after the scrutiny of forty years and more, nothing could be detected in the writings above-named which was either deficient or redundant, and which admitted of being expressed if not more truly, at least more fitly, and in a way better adapted to promote ecclesiastical peace; still the lawful examination of them would be attended with this benefit, that it would be evident to the world that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands had not slid into that form of doctrine which they followed by accident or fashion, but in the exercise of reason and discrimination. At the name time they would, by an illustrious testimony, give publicity to the fact that these formularies were estimated by them at their true value, and not more; and what was of prime importance, the liberty thug admitted in its own place and time, and restrained within the limits of order, would interpose an obstacle to the license of private contradiction.'
But these and other reasons of the like kind by no means availed to prevent the great mass of the adversaries of Arminius from vehemently assailing, on every opportunity, the above form of convening the Synod. Nay, the ecclesiastical deputies transmitted a copy of it, with an accompanying letter (dated 19th April), to the churches of each several province, in which they signified how strenuously they had exerted themselves to get the above-named clause omitted [Via. Praefat. Act. Synod. Dord.]. From that time, it began to be carped at, and to be criticised by the churches with more acrimony than was meet. Foremost, however, in zeal to take up this business was the Synod of South Holland, held three months after, in the month of August, at Gorcum. For when the deputies of the churches had reported to it what steps they had taken in the matter of the National Synod, and what had been determined by the illustrious States, it seemed good to this assembly to enjoin on these deputies, 'that, duly weighing the heads of the public decree respecting the Synod, they should not only see to it that justice be done to the decision of the illustrious States, but should also take care that nothing be done to the prejudice of the churches.' The Synod moreover declared, 'that even if it were judged proper to revise the Confession and Catechism in the way and mode hitherto in use in a National Synod, they nevertheless wished that those who were to be summoned to that meeting at which the place and manner of holding the National Synod would necessarily fall to be considered, should be instructed to ask of the States-general, in name of the churches, that, for reasons above specified, the forementioned clause be struck out of the circulars of convocation, and that other words of milder import, and less likely to beget offence, might be substituted in its place.
This same Synod besides resolved, that injunction be laid on all the pastors of the churches of South Holland, nay also, on the professors of sacred literature in the Academy of Leyden, to peruse and examine with all diligence the Confession and Catechism hitherto in use in those realms. It was further matter of deliberation whether it would be expedient that the strictures of the ministers on the above named books should be brought up, in the first instance, before this particular Synod and its deputies, or whether these had better be reserved to the National Synod [Act. Synod. Gorcom. Art. 4.]. Sufficient reasons were not wanting to have induced the persuasion that such anticipatory judgments of particular synods were altogether vain, and would not be free of hazard; and Uitenbogaert himself, in a very earnest discussion on that subject into which he entered with the president of this assembly, John Becius, showed, in many ways, under how great difficulties that ill-timed investigation which many were urging did labour, and how much it militated against the express decree and intention of the States [Vid. Resp. ad Epist. Minist. Walach. p. 16.—Epist. Eccles. p. 170.]. Notwithstanding all this, it was decreed in the same Synod, that, 'if, in these writings of the Confession and Catechism, any one had observed aught worthy of remark, he should signify the same, and set it forth in good and solid reasons and arguments, as speedily as practicable; and that if possible, before the next meeting of the classis.' This decision, in spite of the objections of those who thought it wrong that the fulfilment of that ecclesiastical decree should be circumscribed within so small a portion of time, remained fixed and valid. By and by, too, this same Synod resolved to advise, by letter, the other particular churches and synods of the United Provinces, to watch with all diligence over this business, the care of which it had itself undertaken, and to urge every one of the ministers of their respective classes to the serious and thorough examination of the Confession and Catechism [Vid. Epist. Eccles.]. And finally, the province of communicating on this subject with the professors of sacred literature, and the regents of the theological college, was, in name of this Synod, consigned to John Uitenbogaert, William Coddaeus, Nathaniel Marlandus, and Egbert AEmilius.
5 years ago