The Synod of Dordt (5) The Meetings of the Synod

This blog submission is written by Prof. Douglas Kuiper. It is a republication of the article that appeared in The Standard Bearer December 15, 2018 (95.6.132).

Between November 13, 1618 and May 29, 1619, the Synod of Dordt met in 180 sessions. The interested reader can find a weekly summary of the Synod’s work at www.dordt400.org. In this article I will give only a broad overview of the sessions. (My main sources for this material are Herman J. Selderhuis, “Introduction to the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619)” in Donald Sinnema, Christian Moser and Herman J. Selderhuis, eds., Acta et Documenta Synodi Nationalis Dordrechtanae (1618-1619), vol. I: Acta of the Synod of Dordt (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015), XXV-XXX, and Hendrik Kaajan, De Pro-Acta Der Dordtsche Synode in 1618 (Rotterdam: T. DeVries, 1914), 42-56.

180 sessions
The Synod’s sessions included four phases: before the Arminians appeared (sessions 1-21, Nov. 13 to Dec. 5); the examination of the Arminians (sessions 22-57, Dec. 6 to Jan. 14); the deliberations regarding the Arminians and the drafting of the Canons of Dordt (sessions 58-154, Jan. 14-May 9); and after the foreign delegates left (sessions 155-180, May 13-29).

Synod almost always met from Monday through Friday, and it met many Saturday mornings. Its morning sessions usually began at 9:00, with afternoon sessions beginning at 4:00 or 6:00. Synod did not meet during the days when the committee to draft the Canons was working, or other times when smaller groups of men were working to bring advice. It also recessed from December 22-26 for the Christmas holiday.

The official language (both spoken and written) of the synod was Latin. Though the delegates all had different native tongues, they all understood Latin; at the time, it was the language of the academics and scholars.

Formulating decisions
Our synods generally formulate decisions by assigning a committee of pre-advice to draw up recommendations, which are then presented to the entire synod for discussion and voting. The Synod of Dordt used a different method. Each of the nineteen delegations (all the delegates from a provincial synod, or from a foreign country) met individually to discuss the matters the Synod was facing, and to present written advice. The judgment of each delegation was read aloud on the floor of the Synod, discussion followed, and the Synod’s officers would then formulate the final version of the decision. The final version was adopted either by vote or by common consent; when it was adopted by vote, each delegation (not each delegate) received one vote.

Perhaps the Synod used this method because the States General (the national government) used it. Regardless, many of the delegates found this process cumbersome. At one point the Synod faced whether to change the method, but decided to keep it, after which the president exhorted members not to complain.

Although we might have had the same impatience regarding the speed with which the Synod worked, the Reformed churches reap the benefit centuries later. Careful deliberation, careful expression of the truth, careful rebutting of error, takes time. Had the Synod rushed, it is possible it would not have left us with as valuable a document as it did.