Historical Forward to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht (6)

Voice of Our Fathers, The

The 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


On May 23, 1606, the States General called together theologians from every province, namely, Johannes Leo and Johannes Fontanus, from Gelderland; Franciscus Gomarus, Jacobus Arminius, Johannes Uytenbogaert, and Johannes Becius from South Holland; Werner Helmichius and Gerardus Hermannus from North Holland; Hermannus Faukelius and Henricus Brandius from Zeeland; Everardus Botius and Henricus Johannes from the Province of Utrecht; Sybrandus Lubbertus and Johannes Bogerman from Friesland; Thomas Goswynius from Overijsel; Johannes Acronius and Johannes Nicafius from the cities of Groningen and Ommelanden, to obtain their advice concerning the time, place, and convening of the national synod. The States General presented to them various items to be treated at this gathering. It was unanimously declared that it was necessary to convene the synod immediately at the beginning of the coming summer. They declared that the most suitable place to hold the synod would be in the city of Utrecht. They also declared that every provincial synod should bring to the national synod the objections to be treated at the synod; that four ministers and two elders should be delegated from every particular synod, by vote of the same; that in place of the elders they could also delegate men of singular learning, experienced in theological matters, and of pious testimony, even though they were not serving in any ecclesiastical office; that these delegates would be given power not only to deliberate, but also to make decisions and to give decrees in all matters treated at the synod; that the rule according to which judgment would be made in all differences concerning doctrine and morals would be only the word of God, the Holy Scriptures; that not only the churches in the United Netherlands—those of Dutch and of French languages, but also those of the Netherlands scattered outside of the Netherlands, whether under the cross or elsewhere—would be accredited to the national synod; that they should request the States General to send their commissioners, men making confession of the Reformed religion, to the synod; that these commissioners would preside over the order in the name of the States General; and that the professors of sacred theology should be called to the synod.

They agreed on all of these points, but not on certain others. Arminius, Uytenbogaert, and the two delegates from Utrecht, whom Arminius and Uytenbogaert had attracted to their side, pressed for three items in addition to the others. First, whatever was approved by the majority vote of those who were delegated to the synod, not what was decided by the votes of all delegated ministers, would count as a decision and judgment of the synod. The name synod would refer not only to the delegates, but also to all the delegating ones. Second, the delegates would be free as often as they pleased, and if they were aggrieved in any matter, they could freely leave for the purpose of asking advice. Third, the revision of the Confession and the Catechism was completely necessary, and on this account they saw no reason that the clause concerning revision of these documents should not be placed in the letters of authorization.

The other ministers and professors judged, first, that whatever was decided either by unanimous or majority vote of the delegates to the synod would be counted as a decided opinion of the synod. Further, that the name synod would refer only to those who were gathered together and lawfully delegated with power to decide. Second, to take time off to consult with one’s own people would be freely permitted, but the proceedings of synod were not to be disrupted; that when, how, and for what reasons one could be excused should not be according to the whim of every individual delegate, but according to the judgment of the whole synod. Third, the Confession and Catechism could be reviewed insofar as synod for proper reasons judged it necessary; that anyone would be free to present to synod whatever objections he had against these documents, so that synod could consider the same and pass judgment on them. Since placing the clause concerning revision in the letters of authorization would give to one an offense and to others too great a freedom to bring up all kinds of innovations, they judged that it was proper for the peace of the churches to request the States General to omit this clause in the letters of authorization. Instead of this clause these or similar words should be proposed, namely, that the synod is convened for the establishment, agreement, and furtherance of the pure and sound doctrine; for the preservation of peace and good order in the church; and for the provision of the true religion among the inhabitants of these lands.

Many among them showed that this was also their mandate from their churches and the States of their provinces. This division of judgment and advice constituted a new obstacle to the national synod. Those who up to this time had been against convening the synod eagerly grasped this opportunity and worked in every way to prevent the convening of the synod. In this gathering the other professors and ministers most earnestly pleaded with Arminius to reveal freely and fraternally to them, his fellow ministers, his objections against the doctrine expressed in the Confession and the Catechism. They promised him full satisfaction and that he could be reconciled with his colleagues under a honorable condition, and they pleaded for living peaceably from now on. They also promised that if reconciliation were achieved they would say nothing outside of this meeting of what he had revealed. He said that this was not advisable for him, and he claimed that he was not bound to do this, since this gathering was not called for that purpose.

(To be continued…)