Historical Forward to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht (5)

Voice of Our Fathers, TheThe following is an excerpt from “The Voices of Our Fathers: An Exposition of the Canons of Dordrecht” and is used by permission from the Reformed Free Publishing Association


The States General declared on November 26 that the States of all the provinces had consented to the convening of a national synod, but that some among them had added to their letters of consent the condition that at the synod the Confession and the Catechism should be revised. On this account the States General declared that the authorization of the national synod could not be made without prejudice to the States of such a province unless this condition was added to the decree.

Since it was well-known who had for some years advised and pressed the States of Holland to add this condition, since it was feared that if this condition were stated in the letters convening the synod those who sought change in the doctrine would misuse it for their own purpose, and since it would cause great offense to the churches (especially in the present situation), as though the States or the churches had doubts concerning the truth of the doctrine contained in the Confession and Catechism, on November 30 the deputies of the churches requested that the convening of the synod be authorized and proclaimed in general terms according to the old custom. Further, the deputies pointed out that this clause did not appear to be necessary, since in all national synods anyone who had an objection against any article of the creeds could present the same freely and according to proper order.

In reply the States General declared that this clause must not be understood as if they wanted to change the doctrine of these churches, since review does not always bring about change, but it can imply establishment of the doctrine. Even so, they declared that the clause could not be left out without the preceding judgment of the province that had expressly added it. Accordingly, on March 15, 1606, they gave to the deputies of the churches letters of consent that included this clause. The deputies sent these letters to the churches of the respective provinces and also informed them how diligently they had attempted to have this additional clause omitted.

Having received these letters, the Netherlands churches were indeed happy that after so many years of waiting consent had finally been won for the convening of a national synod, but they were greatly offended by the added clause. The problem was not a lack of willingness to revise the Confession and the Catechism at the national synod in the ordinary and proper manner, but they feared that those who were attempting to get changes in doctrine would thereby be emboldened, just as by this clause the public authority of the States had allowed them to upset and to change everything as they pleased, and just as the disputes and differences had arisen not out of curiosity, but out of a desire to fulfill the States’ will. The States General also let it be known in these letters that they wanted to call some learned and peaceable theologians from every province to take counsel with them concerning the time, place, and convening of the national synod.

The annual synod of the Holland churches was held at Gorinchem in August 1606. At this synod, after the deputies of the churches had reported what they had done in the matter of the national synod and what the States had decided, the synod instructed the deputies diligently to seek the convening of a national synod. Although the synod judged that the Confession and the Catechism could be reviewed in the national synod according to normal procedure, they wanted those whom the States of Holland would call from South Holland to the meeting—at which they would decide the time, place, and convening of the national synod—to be instructed to seek from the States General, in the name of these churches, the omission of the aforementioned clause from the letters of authorization, for the reasons already cited, and the addition of softer and less offensive words.

Since Arminius and the ministers siding with him frequently boasted that they had many reservations, suspicions and insights regarding the doctrine of the Confession and the Catechism, synod demanded all ministers of the South Holland churches and all professors of sacred theology at the Academy of Leiden immediately to make known these objections, each minister in his own classis and the professors to the deputies of the churches. The purpose was to bring these objections lawfully to the national synod, insofar as they could not be dealt with in the classis.

When this was placed before the ministers who adhered to Arminius, they refused to present their reservations to the classis, claiming they were not ready and promising to do so in the right place and at the proper time. Arminius, whom the deputies of the churches also admonished about this, replied that he was unable at that time to do so in an edifying manner, but that he would reveal his reservations in full at the national synod.

(To be continued…)