1902 Encyclopedia > James Arminius (Jacobus Arminius)

James Arminius
(also known as: Jacobus Arminius; Jakob Harmenszoon)
Dutch theologian
(1560-1609)




JAMES ARMINIUS, a distinguished Dutch theologian, author of the modified Reformed theology that receives from him its name, was born at Oudewater, South Holland, 1560. Arminius is a Latinised form of his family name Hermanns or Hermannson. His father, a cutler, died while he was an infant, leaving a widow and three children. Theo-dore iEmilius, a priest, who had turned Protestant, adopting James, removed with him to Utrecht, but died when his charge was in his fifteenth year. Rudolph Snellius, the mathematician, a native of Oudewater, then a professor at Marburg, happening at the time to visit his early home, met Arminius, saw promise in him, and undertook his maintenance and education. But hardly was he settled at Marburg when the news came that the Spaniards had besieged and taken Oudewater, and mur-dered men, women, and children, sparing only certain matrons and maids, " who had been sold by auction to the soldiers at two or three dollars each." Arminius hurried home, but only to find all his relatives slain. In February the same year (1575), the university of Leyden had been founded, and was becoming a rallying point and nursery for the nascent literary genius, theological activity, and scholarship of the country. Arminius seized the oppor-tunity thus afforded of pursuing his studies at home. The six years he remained at Leyden (1576-82) were years of active and innovating thought in Holland. The War of Independence had started conflicting tendencies in men's minds. To some it seemed to illustrate the necessity of the State tolerating only one religion, but to others the necessity of the State tolerating alL Richard Koornhert argued, in private conferences and public disputations, that it was wrong to punish heretics, and his great opponents were, as a rule, the ministers, who maintained that there was no room for more than one religion in a State. Caspei Koolhaes, the heroic minister of Leyden—its first lecturer, too, in divinity—pleaded against a too rigid uniformity, for such an agreement on " fundamentals" as had allowed Reformed, Lutherans, and Anabaptists to unite. Leyden had been happy, too, in its first professors. There taught in theology William Feugueraeus, a mild divine, who had written a treatise on persuasion in religion, urging that as to it " men could be led, not driven; " Lambert Danseus, who deserves remembrance as the first to discuss Christian ethics scientifically, apart from dogmatics; John Drusius, the Orientalist, one of the most enlightened and advanced scholars of his day, settled later at Franeker; John Kolmann the younger, best known by his saying that high Calvinism made God " both a tyrant and an executioner." Snellius, Arminius's old patron, now removed to Leyden, expounded the Ramist philosophy, and did his best to start his students on the search after truth, unimpeded by the authority of Aristotle. Under these men and influ-ences, Arminius studied with signal success; and the pro-mise he gave induced the merchants' guild of Amsterdam to bear the further expenses of his education. In 1582 he went to Geneva, studied there awhile under Theodore Beza, but had soon, owing to his active advocacy of the Ramist philosophy, to remove to Basle. After a short but brilliant career there he returned to Geneva, studied for three years, travelled, in 1586, in Italy, heard Zarabella lecture on philosophy in Padua, visited Rome, and, open-minded enough to see its good as well as its evil, was suspected by the stern Dutch Calvinists of Popish leanings. Next year he was called to Amsterdam, and there, in 1688, was ordained to the ministry. He soon acquired the reputation of being an elegant preacher and faithful

pastor. He was commissioned to organise the educational system of the city, and is said to have done it well. He greatly distinguished himself by fidelity to duty during a plague that devastated Amsterdam in 1602. In 1603 he was called to a theological professorship at Leyden, which he held till his death in 1609.
Arminius is best known as the founder of the anti-Calvin-istic school in Reformed theology, which created the Remon-strant Church in Holland (see REMONSTRANTS), and con-tributed to form the Arminian tendency or party in England. He was a man of mild and liberal spirit, broadened by varied culture, constitutionally averse to narrow views and enforced uniformity. He lived in a period of severe systematising. The Reformed strengthened itself against the Roman Catholic theology by working itself, on the one hand, into vigorous logical consistency, and supporting itself, on the other, on the supreme authority of the Scrip-tures. Calvin's first principle, the absolute sovereignty of God, had been so applied as to make the divine decree determine alike the acts and the destinies of men; and his formal principle had been so construed as to invest his system with the authority of the source whence it professed to have been drawn. Calvinism had become, towards the close of the 16th century, supreme in Holland, but the very rigour of the uniformity it exacted provoked a reaction. Richard Koornhert could not plead for the toleration of heretics without assailing the dominant Calvinism, and so he opposed a conditional to its unconditional predestina-tion. The two ministers of Delft, who had debated the point with him, had, the better to turn his arguments, descended from the supralapsarian to the infralapsarian position, i.e., made the divine decree, instead of precede and determine, succeed the fall. This seemed to the high Calvinists of Holland a grave heresy. Arminius, fresh from Geneva, familiar with the dialectics of Beza, appeared to manythe man able to speak the needed word, and so,in 1589, he was simultaneously invited by the ecclesiastical court of Amsterdam to refute Koornhert, and by Martin Lydius, professor at Franeker, to combat the two infralapsarian ministers of Delft. Thus led to confront the questions of necessity and free will, his own mind became unsettled, with the result, that the further he pursued his inquiries the more he was inclined to assert the freedom of man and limit the range of the unconditional decrees of God. This change in doctrinal belief became gradually more apparent in his preaching and in his private conferences with his clerical associates, and occasioned much controversy in the ecclesiastical courts. The controversy was greatly embit-tered, and the differences correspondingly sharpened, by his appointment to the professorship at Leyden. He had as colleague Francis Gomarus, a strong supralapsarian, perfervid, irrepressible; and their collisions, personal, official, political, tended to develop and define their respec-tive positions. Arminius died, worn out by uncongenial controversy, before his system had been elaborated into the logical consistency it attained in the hands of his celebrated successor, Simon Episcopus, but though inchoate in detail, it was in its principles clear and coherent enough. These may be thus stated :—
1. The decree of God is, when it concerns His own actions, absolute, but when it concerns man's, conditional, i.e., the decree relative to the Saviour to be appointed and the salvation to be provided is absolute, but the decree relative to the persons saved or condemned is made to depend on the acts—belief and repentance in the one case, unbelief and impenitence in the other—of the persons themselves.
2. The providence or government of God while sovereign, is exercised in harmony with the nature of the creatures governed, i.e., the sovereignty of God is so exercised as to be compatible with the freedom of man.

3. Man is by original nature, through the assistance of divine grace, free, able to will and perform the right; but is in his fallen state, of and by himself, unable to do so; needs to be regenerated in all his powers before he can do what is good and pleasing to God. . <
4. Divine grace originates, maintains, and perfects all the good in man, so much so that he cannot, though rege-nerate, conceive, will, or do any good thing without it.
5. The saints possess, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, sufficient strength to persevere to the end in spite of sin and the flesh, but may so decline from sound doctrine as to cause divine grace to be ineffectual.
6. Every believer may be certain or assured of his own salvation.
7. It is possible for a regenerate man to live without sin.
Arminius's works are mostly occasional treatises drawn from him by controversial emergencies, but they everywhere exhibit a calm, well-furnished, undogmatic, and progressive mind. Characteristic are such sayings as these in letters to his friend, Uitenbogaert:—"Truth, even theological truth, has been sunk in a deep well, whence it cannot be drawn forth without much effort." " I should be foolish were I to concede to any one so much of right in me, as that he should be able to disturb me as often as he had a mind. Be this my brazen wall, a conscience void of offence. Forward let me still go in my search after truth, and therein let me die with the good God on my side, even if I must needs incur the hatred and ill-will of the whole world." He was essentially an amiable man, who hated the zeal for an impossible orthodoxy that constrained "the church to institute a search after crimes which have not betrayed an existence, yea, and to drag into open conten-tions those who are meditating no evil." His friend Peter Bertius, who pronounced his funeral oration, closed it with these words,—"There lived a man whom it was not pos-sible for those who knew him sufficiently to esteem ; those who entertained no esteem for him are such as never knew him well enough to appreciate his merits."
The works of Arminius (in Latin) were published in a single quarto volume in 1631. The first volume of an English translation, with copious notes, by James Nichols, was published in 1825, the second in 1828, but the third and concluding volume is still due. A life was written by Gasper Brandt, son of Gerard Brandt, the historian of the Dutch Beformation, and published in 1724 ; republished and annotated by the historian Mosheim in 1725 ; translated into English by the Kev. John Guthrie, and published in 1854.
(A. M. F.)








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