The Life of James Arminius
Chapter 9, Part 3 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.
Meanwhile, and shortly before these things were (with very special reference to Arminius and his followers), determined upon by the Synod of Gorcum, the following circumstance furnished a handle for stirring fresh strife against him. It happened ill the course of a disputation held under his presidency, on the subject of the divinity of the Son, in which he had undertaken to defend what was at once the general and the orthodox opinion on this pre-eminently important doctrine of the Christian faith, that some one of the students urged, in opposition to the theses he had exposed to public scrutiny, that 'the Son of God was autotheos, and therefore had his essence from himself, and not from the Father.' Arminius replied that the word autotheos was not contained in the sacred volume; still, considering that it had been employed by Epiphanius and others, of the ancient as well as modern orthodox divines, it was not to be utterly rejected, provided only it were rightly understood. But according to its etymology it might be taken in a twofold sense, to denote either one who is truly God, or such a one as is God of himself. According to the former signification, it could be admitted; but taken in the latter sense, it stood opposed to the sacred volume, and to orthodox antiquity.
On the other hand, however, the student tenaciously held to his point; boldly asserting that according to the second signification pre-eminently the term in question was applicable to the Son of God; and that the essence of the Father could not, except improperly, be said to be communicated to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; but that rightly and properly could it be said that the essence of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit was common. This position, too, he maintained with the more confidence and spirit that he had as an authority for his opinion the celebrated Trelcatius; for in his Common-places, lately published, he had expounded to the same effect his sentiments respecting the Sacred Trinity. Wherefore, Arminius, deeming it his duty not to leave the truth unvindicated, by virtue of the authority of the office with which he had been invested, spiritedly rejoined, that 'The opinion thus advanced was one altogether new and unheard of in the ancient Greek as well as Latin Church. The ancients had always maintained that the Son had his deity from the Father by eternal generation. The opinion now advanced laboured under most serious difficulties. From it there followed not only Sabellianism [Sabellius, who lived about the middle of the third century, denied all distinction of persons in the Trinity, allowing only a distinction of modes and manifestations.—TR.], the Son being made to occupy the place of the Father, as having his essence from none; but it further followed that the way was thereby paved to Tritheism, and that there were just as many Gods held as there were collateral persons supposed. The Unity in Trinity of the Deity had been maintained by the ancient divines of the Church against anti-Trinitarians, solely on the ground of origin, and of order according to origin. On the contrary, to have deity from himself was repugnant to the definition of son; and that no relation could be involved in any thing which was contrary to the definition of that thing.' [Vide sis fusius de hoc negotio disserentem Armin. in declar. sua coram Ord. Item Arm. Resp. ad 31. Artic.]
Thus far reasoned Arminius, who, by the production of these and other arguments of the same kind, flattered himself that he was defending the Catholic opinion on this question, and consulting best for the glory both of the Father and of the Son. Nay, more; he had stirred this affair with the greater confidence that he had rather persuaded himself of the entire concurrence with him on this point of Gomarus, who, not long after the publication of the Common-places of Trelcatius, had, in a public disputation, impugned his forms of expression respecting the Sacred Trinity, and further refuted his opinion in his own private class. Nevertheless, this very disputation of Arminius furnished fresh occasion and material for the unjust suspicions which malevolent parties entertained concerning him; and the rumour everywhere spread that he entertained erroneous views respecting the Sacred Trinity and the Divinity of the Son. But this he accounted his peculiar infelicity; and he lamented that prejudice should prevail to such an extent that, if any discussion arose, forthwith the entire blame was heaped upon him, even when asserting the views most thoroughly received; while those, on the other hand, were excused and commended who had furnished occasion of strife by their novel and most extravagant modes of expression. To him this appeared nothing less than monstrous; nor did there seem to exist any ground on which, in consequence of the above-named disputation, he could justly and reasonably be suspected of hatching aught that was heretical. So far from this, he testifies (in one of his letters, dated 1st September, 1606) that he had taught nothing whatever on the doctrine in question but what rested on the authority of the Sacred Scriptures, and of the ancient as well as modern divines; and, moreover, that on this point there was nothing which he wished corrected in the opinion received by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. Nay more; in this matter he could adduce as on his side the guide and teacher of his youth, Beza; who, in his preface to the Dialogues of Athanasius concerning the Trinity, makes an excuse for Calvin for not having observed with sufficient accuracy the distinction between these two statements: the Son is by himself (per se) and the Son is from himself (a se).
Much about the same time the subject of our memoir was subjected to a calumny not unlike the one we have just narrated. It arose from the following circumstance:— In a public disputation On the person of the Son, in the course of which he very learnedly showed how the economy of our salvation was administered by the Father through the Son and the Holy Spirit, Arminius made the admonitory remark that strict regard ought to be paid to that order which is everywhere observed in the Holy Scriptures; and that it ought to be distinctly considered what proper parts in that economy are ascribed to the Father, what to the Son, and what to the Holy Ghost. The spirit of detraction, besides, had gathered boldness from the fact that several passages of the Old and New Testaments usually cited in support of the consubstantial or co-essential Trinity had more than once been explained by him as having another reference. But he trusted that it would be no difficult matter to persuade all who were capable of forming a candid judgment, that from such data nothing could with any semblance of truth be inferred that was really at variance with the Christian faith. For in regard to the first of these occasions of calumniating him [Vid. epist. Arm. ad Hyppol. a Collib.], he deemed it a vain handle, seeing that to all who had learned from the Sacred Word that the Father had in the Son reconciled the world to himself, and was administering through the Holy Spirit the word of reconciliation, it could not fail to be super-abundantly evident that, in the scheme of human salvation, an order must be discerned among the persons of the Trinity, and care taken not to confound the parts severally attributed to them, — unless any one chooses to step into the heresy of the Patripassionists [Those who denied all distinction between the persons of the Trinity, were called Patripassiptoi (Patripassionists) in the west, and Sabilliatoi (Sabellians) in the east.' Hagenbach's Hist. Doct. Vol. I. p. 245—Edinb. 1846.—TR.]. Nor, on the other hand, did he think that greater pains were called for in refutation of what was objected to him about explaining somewhat differently a few passages of Holy Writ. For even if in this respect he had sinned, there stood convicted of the same crime Calvin himself, who, in this direction, had used great freedom, if ever man had, and yet had been defended by the celebrated Paraeus against the treatise of Hunnius entitled Calvin a Judaizer. But what the opinion of Arminius was on the sacred Trinity, and how unfairly some accused him about that period of Arianism, Socinianism, and other crimes of the same description, the candid reader may judge for himself from his very scholarly theses on this article of the Christian Faith. The aim and method, moreover, which, in the treatment of this subject, he proposed to himself, he (in his reply to the 31 articles) declares in the following terms:— 'Of those who know me, the most part know with how great fear and how anxious a. conscience I handle that sublime doctrine of a Trinity of Persons. How little, in explaining this article, I delight, either in inventing for myself, or in adopting as already invented by others, novel modes of expression, unknown to Scripture and orthodox antiquity, my entire method of teaching demonstrates. How cheerfully I even bear with those who speak differently, provided the meaning they intend be just, my hearers are prepared to testify.' Still further, with the view of dissipating entirely all suspicion of Socinianism, he openly declared in the course of that period (in s letter dated 1st September 1606), that 'so far was he from being obnoxious to this charge, that he rather cherished the hope, if the Synod would only lend him a willing ear, of being able to contribute certain arguments which made for the more effectual confutation of the Samosetans [Or Anti Trinitarians. Paul of Samoseta held views similar to those of Sabellius, and lived about the same period.—TR.], or at least for the more easy liquidation of their objections and reasonings.' Nay more, Arminius, as his disciple John Narsius testifies, subjected, not long after, certain of the leading and most celebrated doctrines of Socinus, but particularly his book concerning the Saviour, to public and formal 'refutation, and that so vigorously, so elaborately, so solidly, that probably no one before or after him, ever did so with more effect [Vid. Narsii Epist. ad J. Sandium x. sept. 1612 script. inter Epist. Eccles. p. 327.].
But, dismissing these things, let us now revert to the delegates of the Gorcum Synod, and to the part they played with Arminius and his colleagues. Uitenbogaert, then, having returned from the camp at Wesel, the four men appointed to this business proceeded to Leyden in the month of December, and having read in due form the Synodal decree to each of the professors, they courteously asked them to comply with the petition of the Church. Gomarus was the first on whom they waited: he expressed his thanks for the pains expended on this business, and lavished the highest laudations on the Synod for having consulted for the tranquillity of the churches and for the maintenance of pure doctrine. But he declared that he felt reluctant to give any full or definite reply to the principal head of the Synod's demand, until he had taken counsel on this business with his colleagues; and therefore it seemed to him advisable that through their Dean (Arminius) the Theological Faculty ought to be convened. The answer of Trelcatius was to the same effect. On the other hand, the delegates rejoined, that to summon the Faculty just named appeared to them, to be altogether unnecessary; and pressed them for a further reply. At length, having given them time for deliberation, they next waited on Arminius, who, after hearing their petition, with great confidence replied, that he 'gave thanks to the eternal God for having suggested to the assembled brethren a decree of this description, — so thoroughly salutary and Christian. He had for his part hitherto given himself, and would still give himself, with all diligence, to the investigation of the Confession and Catechism of the Belgic churches, as to a duty to which he acknowledged himself bound not only in the name of God, but also, at this time more particularly, by the requirement of this illustrious assembly. Further, as to handing in animadversions, if he had any such, he would at the fit time deliberate and do what the occasion and the state of affairs would permit.' [Uitenb. Hist.]. On receiving this answer, the delegates next told Arminius the suggestion of Gomarus about convening the Theological Faculty, and asked his mind on this matter. Arminius then inquired 'if the Synod wished them to examine the above-named documents together, and at once, in full college assembled, and to signify to the Synod their opinion respecting them in name of the entire Faculty; or if, on the other hand, they wished each of the Professors to submit his opinion and observations singly and apart?' To this the delegates replied, that their impression was that the latter and not the former was the wish of the Synod; on which Arminius straightway rejoined 'that there was no propriety in calling the entire Faculty together about a business the charge of expediting which had been committed by the Synod to each of them apart.' Accordingly, the others, his colleagues, not deeming it expedient to give further trouble, at length intimated, both of them, 'that they would not fail to pay all respect to the petition of their brethren, and would subject to a renewed examination those formularies of consent, — not as if they cherished any doubt concerning any article contained in them, but solely on the principle of complying with the mandate of the Synod.' At last they began to treat with the regents also of both colleges— Peter Bertius, and Daniel Colonius [Bertius was the Regent of the Dutch, and Colonius of the Walloon (or French) College.—TR.]. The former briefly replied 'that he would yield compliance with the Synod's decree to the best of his ability.' The other, however, declared, 'that he would follow the decision decreed — or yet to be decreed — by the Walloon Synod.'
In the meantime the rumour of these growing contentions in the Netherlands reached the ears also of foreigners, including men of great name. Nor were there wanting those in France, England, and other countries, who expressed their solicitude for the peace of the Church in Holland. Deserving of special mention on this account is that illustrious light of France and champion of the Reformed cause, Philip De Mornay, Lord of Plessis, a man most zealous, if ever man was, for the interests of Christianity and the promotion of peace. This shows itself in a brief letter written by that most distinguished man to the very learned Tilenus, on the first of January, 1607, into which, also, he introduces a reference to Arminius himself in the following terms, which we translate from the French:— 'As for Doctor Arminius, I have certainly heard men the most noble and honoured pronounce his praise in the highest and most cordial terms. Doctor Buzenvallius has promised to furnish me with that treatise a compend of which you have presented in your letter. Would to God that each of us may contain himself within the bounds of Scripture, and not travel beyond it, that we may be able with combined energy to assault the idolatry, superstition, and tyranny of Rome. Let us, at all events, bear with one another in these profound mysteries, in which there is always room to learn, and doubtless also to take exception, expound them with as scrupulous circumspection as you may. Opinions of this sort, accordingly, I maintain with moderation and sobriety; and I hold that those who propound them, if they only proceed in their investigation of them according to the rule of our religion, ought to be treated with prudence and lenity.' [Vid. Epist. Eccles. p. 179. Ep. xcvii.]. Thus far writes the most noble Lord of Plessis. Had his counsels, so singularly pacific, been only complied with at that time, it would certainly have fared better at a subsequent period with the Church and Academy of Holland.
But at this critical conjuncture, when most of all Arminius stood in need of the counsel of friends, he sustained, early in the spring, a severe calamity in the much lamented and premature decease of John Halsberg, one of the ministers of Amsterdam, whom for many years he had loved most ardently, and as if he had been a brother. How heavily at the time this trial pressed upon his spirits, the following words will show:— 'I had previously, indeed (writes Arminius, 3d May, 1607), received intelligence of the illness of John Halsberg, that most eminent brother in Christ, and faithful friend; but the vigour of his nature, and the season of the year, led me to cherish the hope of his recovery, which made me the less anxious on his account; If, however, I could on any ground have foreboded that he was so suddenly to depart from this life, I should not have omitted to render him the last personal offices of Christian regard. But this God has not granted me, — a circumstance which, over and above the grief I justly feel for the death of that most affectionate man, affects my mind in no small degree. But justly do you remark that he has gone before: we shall every one of us follow, each in his own order, — the thought of which is constantly impressed upon my mind by a catarrh which now assails me at no rare intervals, affecting sometimes the chest, and sometimes other internal parts. He who is ready to administer final judgment on all mortals has sent this as a warning; and thereby he orders me to moderate the grief I feel for the decease of my friend, whom, perhaps, after not many years I shall follow.' [Ex Epist. Arm. ad Seb. Egb. 3 Maii. 1607. script.].
These words of Arminius we the more readily introduce as containing not only a testimony of his singular affection for Halsberg, and of a friendship never interrupted by a single difference; but also a sort of prophecy, or rather presentiment, of his own death, which happened in the course of two years after.
6 years ago