Historical Forward to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht (8)

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

Click here to start at the beginning of the series. 

As the churches persisted in trying to resolve matters through lawful ecclesiastical judgment, Arminius tried to escape this trap. Through requests to the States on April 30, 1608, he managed to get his case treated by the counselors [politicians in distinction from ecclesiastics] in the High Council. On May 14 Gomarus was ordered to appear before the counselors in conference with Arminius in the presence of the ministers from South and North Holland who recently had been in a preparatory gathering.

The deputies of the churches, having understood this, again requested the States of Holland and West Friesland to authorize the provincial synod instead of this conference before the High Council, so the synod could understand this ecclesiastical matter and pass judgment concerning it. Their reason was that ecclesiastical persons, experienced in these things and lawfully delegated by the churches and empowered to pass judgment, should deal with this matter. The States answered that to take cognizance of such a matter was enjoined upon the High Council and that judgment concerning it would thereafter be left to the provincial or national synod.

At this conference they first debated at length concerning the order of treatment. Arminius asserted that Gomarus must assume the position of accuser and that he [Arminius] was responsible only to defend himself. Gomarus thought that such a procedure was unfair and improper, especially in an ecclesiastical matter before political judges. Further, he said that he was indeed ready to show before a lawful synod that Arminius had proposed doctrines that conflicted with God’s word and the Confession and the Catechism, but that this showing could not be done without prejudgment of the case. Rather than conducting the conference by mutual accusations, Gomarus believed each of them should clearly present and express his views concerning every item of doctrine. According to him this was the best way to bring out clearly on what points they agreed or disagreed and this procedure would adhere to the purpose of the States. He stated that he would not refuse to declare fully and forthrightly his views concerning all matters of doctrine, as much as might be desired of anyone. He also said that if he wanted to present himself as a faithful teacher, Arminius was obligated to declare his views in the same way and no longer to use alibis.

“He [Gomarus] also said that if he wanted to present himself as a faithful teacher, Arminius was obligated to declare his views in the same way and no longer to use alibis.”

In spite of this Arminius stuck to his original intention, so that he finally cried out that he was amazed—considering the various rumors of his false teachings flying through all the churches, and considering that they said that the fire he had kindled was bursting out above the roofs of the churches—that until now no one had been found who dared to present any accusation against him.

To counteract Arminius’ boldness Gomarus proved that Arminius taught one of the chief articles of the Reformed faith—the justification of man before God—in such a way that his doctrine conflicted with God’s word and the Netherlands Confession. For proof he adduced Arminius’ words from a document written in his own hand, in which he had asserted that in man’s justification before God the righteousness of Christ is not reckoned for righteousness, but that faith itself, or the act of faith, through God’s gracious acceptance is by him held and accounted for righteousness whereby man is justified before God.

When Arminius saw that he was trapped and that because of the clear proof he could not deny this accusation, he proposed a different procedure, namely, everyone should put in writing and sign his opinions concerning the chief items of doctrine about which he believed there was disagreement, should comprehend these views in certain articles, and thereafter everyone would signify his objections from the opposite side.

This conference being ended, the counselors of the High Council gave a report of it to the States, saying that they judged that insofar as they had been able to gather from the conference, the differences between the two professors were not of such great importance and consisted chiefly of some cunning disputes concerning predestination that through the exercise of mutual forbearance could be overlooked. But Gomarus insisted that the difference in their views were so important that with the views of Arminius he would not dare appear in the judgment of God.

“Gomarus insisted that the differences in their views were so important that with the views of Arminius he would not dare appear in the judgment of God. “

Moreover, he warned that unless in due time they would remedy matters, in a short time one province would rise against the other, one church against the other, one city against the other, and the citizens against one another. 

The States wanted the documents signed by both sides in this conference to be kept in the High Council until the national synod and the contents imparted to no one.

(To be continued…)

Historical Forward to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht (7)

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

Click here to start at the beginning of the series.

The following summer, when the annual synod of the South Holland churches met in Delft, Uytenbogaert was admonished to give account to synod of the reasons he had sided with Arminius and had differed with the other ministers in giving advice concerning the manner in which the national synod would be convened. The intention was that synod would consider these reasons and pass judgment on them. Uytenbogaert answered that he was accountable only to the States and not to the synod. Having been requested to state what he had against the doctrine of the Confession and the Catechism, he answered that he was not prepared to do this and it did not appear advisable to do this in that gathering.

At this synod inquiry was also made whether according to the decision of the preceding synod any objections or comments concerning the Confession and the Catechism were handed to the classes. The delegates of each classis answered that almost all of the ministers in the classes had testified that they had no objections against the adopted doctrine and that those who had some objections had not been willing to make them known, either because they said they were not yet ready or they did not deem it advisable. On this account the synod again decided to order anew that without any excuses, refusals, and postponements they immediately reveal all their objections against the adopted doctrine, each in his own classis. It also became clear that among the people, to the great damage and disturbance of the churches, various disputes and arguments concerning the doctrine were heard. Yea, the beginnings of schisms were noticed.

It also became clear that among the people, to the great damage and disturbance of the churches, various disputes and arguments concerning the doctrine were heard. Yea, the beginnings of schisms were noticed.

Further, it became known that the ministers who sided with Arminius often held secret meetings in which they laid plans concerning the advancements of their doctrinal views. And it became plain that the people everywhere were becoming more and more divided. On this account the synod—judging that the remedy for this evil should no longer be postponed and that the hope of gaining a national synod was very uncertain on account of the divergence of advice and judgments—decided upon the advice of the delegates to request of the States of Holland and West Friesland that from the two South and North Holland synods a provincial synod be authorized at the first opportunity for the quieting and removal of these difficulties (as had been done before in similar difficulties). The deputies of both synods showed thoroughly these daily increasing difficulties to the States and requested the immediate convening of a provincial synod for their removal. Although on September 14 they had been given great hope, they were unable to obtain a provincial synod, because the States were busy with very important matters of the Republic, including negotiations for a truce with the enemy, they were unable to consider these ecclesiastical matters

(To be continued…)

Historical Forward to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht (3)

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

At first he [Jacobus Arminius] sought to free himself from all suspicion of strange doctrine by defending the doctrine of the Reformed churches concerning the satisfaction of Christ, justifying faith, justification through faith, the perseverance of true believers, the certainty of salvation, the imperfection of men in this life, and other chief points of doctrine, all of which he later contradicted and which his disciples oppose today in public disputations, contrary to his own views (as Johannes Arnoldi Corvenus openly admitted in a certain German document).

After serving in his office [at the University of Leiden] for a year or two, Arminius openly and secretly slandered many doctrines accepted in the Reformed churches and created suspicion among his pupils. He sought to render impotent the chief proofs by which these doctrines had been established from God’s word, using the same exceptions and subterfuges that the Jesuits, Socinians, and other enemies of the Reformed church had attempted to use, and Arminius exalted the proofs of the opposite doctrines. Moreover, to his students he secretly distributed his handwritten tracts in which he had incorporated his views. Besides, he recommended the writings of Castalio, Cornhert, Suarez, and such like writers to his pupils and spoke deprecatingly of the writings of Calvin, Beza, Martyr, Zanchius, Ursinus, and other outstanding teachers of the Reformed churches. Yea, he also openly testified that he had many insights and suspicions against the adopted doctrine that he would reveal in his own time.

Some preachers who associated with Arminius boasted that he had an entirely new theology. When his students came home from the academy or departed to other academies, they brazenly took doctrinal positions against the Reformed churches and disputed, contradicted, and criticized the Reformed doctrine. Noting these and other things and being rightly concerned that the orthodoxy of the Reformed doctrine was thus weakened, and that the youth, who were being trained in this “greenhouse” for the hope of the churches, were taken in by strange doctrines, and that this matter would ultimately burst forth to the great harm, disturbance, and detriment of the churches, the Holland churches deemed it necessary through their delegates (to whom the common care of the churches was entrusted) to take more careful note of this entire matter, so that at the next synod provisions could be made to prevent damage to the church. For this reason the South and North Holland church deputies went to Arminius and confronted him regarding rumors about him and his doctrine. They told him how much all the churches were concerned and in a friendly manner begged him uprightly to inform the brethren if he had anything to say concerning these adopted doctrines, in order that either he could be satisfied through a friendly conference or the whole matter could be brought to a lawful synod.

Arminius answered these deputies that he had never given just cause for such rumors and he did not deem it advisable to go into conference with them as deputies (if they would make a report of this to the synod). If they would put aside their capacity as deputies, he would not refuse to confer with them as private preachers concerning the doctrine, with the condition that if they did not agree they would not report that to the synod.

Since the deputies judged this to be improper and since such a conference would not free the churches of their concern, they parted ways with the matter unresolved. Nevertheless, the deputies understood from other professors of theology that among the students of theology various disputes and questions concerning predestination, free will, preservation of the saints, and other chief points of doctrine were being conducted with great seriousness, such as had not taken place among them prior to Arminius’s arrival.

On July 26, 1604 Arminius was also admonished by the church of Leiden, where he was a member. Two elders of that church—the honorable Phaedo van Brouckeroven, mayor of Leiden, and Paulus Merula, professor of history—admonished him to come to a friendly conference with his colleagues or fellow professors in the presence of the consistory of the church of Leiden to make known his disagreements with the adopted doctrine. The purpose of the conference was to bring out whether he would agree or not agree with his colleagues and other preachers and to specify the points of doctrine on which there was agreement or disagreement. Arminius answered the elders that he could not do such a thing without the consent of the honorable curators and that he did not see what profit the church would gain from such a conference.

Historical Forward to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht (2)

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

The great unity during the preceding century among the congregations of the United Netherlands churches in all points of the pure doctrine and the good order and decency that were always maintained in the government of those churches are so well known in Christendom that it is hardly necessary to recount them at length.

Some men sought to disturb this peace and unity, which is lovely in the sight of God and pleasing to all the godly. These men, not fully purged of the leaven of the papacy, forsook the papacy, came to our churches, and were admitted to the ministry during the early period when there was a scarcity of preachers. These men, characterized by unbridled audacity, were Casper Coolhaas of Leiden, Hermannus Herbertz at Dordrecht and at Gouda, and Cornelius Wiggers at Hoorn. However, they did have great success. In the aforementioned places they gained some followers who were not too well versed in the Reformed religion. Nevertheless, the wicked audacity of these men was suppressed in due time by the authority of the government, the carefulness of other ministers, and appropriate censures of the churches. Coolhaas was dealt with in the national Synod of Middelburg; Herbertz in the Synod of South Holland; and Wiggers in the Synod of North Holland.

Thereafter Jacobus Arminius, preacher in the famous church of Amsterdam, boldly attempted the same thing. He had a keen understanding, but he delighted in novelty and seemed to be nauseated by the greater portion of the doctrines accepted in the Reformed churches, for no other reason than the churches’ acceptance of them. Arminius first openly and secretly prepared the way for his cause by belittling and blackening the name, fame, and authority of the most outstanding teachers of the Reformed church—Calvin, Zanchius, Beza, Martyr, and others—aiming to achieve respect for himself at the expense of their good names.

Thereafter he openly proposed and spread abroad various strange views that had great fellowship with the errors of the old Pelagians, especially his explanation of the epistle to the Romans. Through the carefulness and authority of the honorable consistory of the church of Amsterdam, his intention was partially frustrated and he could not bring about such upheavals in the churches as he apparently had intended.

He did not cease promulgating his opinions in every manner possible among the preachers in his own church and various other preachers, namely, Johannes Uytenbogaert, Adrianus van den Borre, and others, whose friendship and favor he had enjoyed as a fellow student. He even called into conference with regard to his views Franciscus Junius, the renowned professor of sacred theology at the college at Leiden.

When Doctor Junius was taken away from the Academy of Leiden by death on August 22, 1602, to the great sorrow of the Netherlands churches, Uytenbogaert, who already then supported the views of Arminius, diligently and earnestly recommended him to the honorable curators of the Academy of Leiden to replace Junius in the office of sacred theology. When the deputies of the churches understood this, they feared that calling a person so strongly suspected of strange doctrines would readily become the cause of confusion and schism in the churches, and they pleaded with the honorable curators not thoughtlessly to subject the churches to this danger. They would much prefer that the curators accept another capable person who was free from suspicion. They also admonished Uytenbogaert to withdraw his recommendation. Despising these admonitions, Uytenbogaert continued to promote this call until he gained his purpose.

When the call was issued, the consistory of Amsterdam did not approve the dismissal of Arminius chiefly because the most prudent among them considered that such a skittish and inquisitive mind would function with great danger in the academy that instructed the youth who had been accepted for the service of the churches. For in the academy there is more freedom of teaching than in the local churches, where that freedom is suppressed and held in check through the diligent oversight and authority of the consistory. Through repeated and numerous requests of the curators, Uytenbogaert, and Arminius himself, his dismissal was finally gained, with the condition that he would have a conference with Franciscus Gomarus concerning the chief points of doctrine. He was also required to clear himself of all suspicion of strange views by a forthright declaration of his views and firmly to promise that if he had a peculiar view not to spread it abroad.

This conference was conducted in the presence of the honorable curators and the deputies of the synod on May 6 and 7, 1603. In that conference Arminius testified that he expressly rejected the Pelagians’ chief points of doctrine concerning natural grace, the powers of the free will, original sin, the perfection of man in this life, predestination, and others. He testified also that he agreed with all that Augustine and other fathers had written against the Pelagians, yea, that he judged the Pelagian errors to have been rightly refuted and rejected by the fathers. Moreover, he promised to teach nothing that conflicted with the adopted doctrine of the churches. Thereafter he was admitted to the office of theology.

Historical Forward to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht (1)

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

This historical foreword furnishes a firsthand and detailed account of the involved events of the years preceding the Synod of Dordrecht. It also furnishes an insight into the ecclesiastical and political maneuverings of the Remonstrants prior to the synod. The foreword was prefixed to the published Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht. It is to be distinguished from the much briefer foreword adopted by the synod and prefixed to the Canons, which is not included in the common English versions of the Canons. For those interested in the church history leading up to the great synod, this foreword can be classified as a primary source.[1]

The author of the foreword is unknown, but it is evident that he had firsthand knowledge of the history, was probably a participant in many of the events, and had access to the records and documents. An educated guess would be that the author was Festus Hommius, one of the clerks of the synod.

Historical foreword addressed to the Reformed churches of Christ (in which the origin and progress of the differences in the Netherlands, for the removal of which this synod was chiefly convened, are briefly and faithfully recounted).

Two summers ago there was published in canons, or articles, the opinion of the honorable Synod of Dordrecht concerning some main points of doctrine about which, until the synod, there was disagreement that greatly disturbed the Netherlands churches. When the States General, the supreme authority of the United Provinces, convened the most illustrious synod, mainly for the purpose of removing these religious differences, the States at first thought it sufficient to publish only the judgment of the synod concerning the doctrinal differences. However, later when it was discovered that many had failed to learn from the synodical proceedings themselves what had taken place, besides the adoption of the canons, especially how the synod had dealt with the ministers called Remonstrants. Since the Remonstrants, to hide their stiff-neckedness, would surely not publish anything trustworthy concerning these matters, the States General for the benefit of the churches printed the acts and proceedings of the synod, faithfully reproduced from the public documents.

Among these acts and proceedings are many items belonging to the history of the Netherlands churches that cannot be understood by those who are unacquainted with that history. For this reason the national synod (as is evident in various sessions) appointed the delegates of the South Holland churches to write a brief account of what was done with the Remonstrants. Hence at the beginning of this foreword is an account of certain public events in order for the churches, especially the foreign churches, to understand the origin and the progress of these differences and the occasion and the reasons that at such great expense the States General convened this very excellent synod. This is especially necessary because the Remonstrants claimed in their writings many things that did not harmonize with the truth of the events.

[1] Donner and Van den Hoorn, Acta of Handelingen der Nationale Synode, v–xxxviii.