The Synod of Dordt (6) The Expulsion of the Remonstrants

This blog submission is written by Prof. Douglas Kuiper. It is a republication of the article that appeared in The Standard Bearer, January 15, 2019 (95.8.182).

The Synod was growing frustrated with the Remonstrants. The Acts helps us understand why (see the category “400 Years Ago” in this blogsite): the Remonstrants would not directly answer questions put to them; they tried to divert the discussion to other matters; and they repeatedly referred to the Synod as a conference, viewing themselves as equals with the delegates. They would not submit to the Synod or cooperate with its investigation into their views.

At the momentous 57th session, on January 14, 1619, the matter came to a head: President Johannes Bogerman expelled the Remonstrants from the Synod.

Bogerman’s Speech
His expulsion speech is not recorded in the official Acts, but several eyewitness accounts exist. He told them (I quote from Gerard Brandt, The History of the Reformation and other Ecclesiastical Transactions in and about the Low-Countries [London: T. Wood, 1722], 3:151-152):

“The Synod has treated you with all gentleness, mildness, friendliness, patience, forbearance, and long-suffering, plainly, sincerely, honestly, and kindly; but all the returns made by you have been nothing but base artifices, cheats, and lies. . . . All your actions have ever been full of tricks, deceits, and equivocations. . . . [S]ince your obstinacy has been very great and complicated, and has discovered itself even in opposition to the Resolutions of the Synod, and of the supreme Powers, care will be taken to inform all Christendom of it, and you shall find that the Church wants [lacks] no spiritual weapons for punishing you. . . . I therefore dismiss you in the name of the Lords Commissioners, and of this Synod: Be gone.”

Evaluating This Dismissal
From that day to the present, many have rued the dismissal of the Remonstrants and the way in which President Bogerman spoke. I speak in his defense.

First, while broader assemblies are to investigate matters carefully, they may conduct their investigation based entirely on one’s writings. That a synod hear the person verbally is not absolutely necessary. Our own classes and synods judge on the basis of written appeals, protests, and overtures. Even when an assembly permits the one bringing an issue to address it, that person may not bring any new material or arguments; the assemblies judge on the basis of the written documents. Dordt was not out of line to judge the Remonstrants on the basis of their writings.

Second, the expulsion of the Remonstrants is regrettable not because of the words Bogerman spoke, but because their own conduct made it necessary. They had been obstructing the progress of the Synod.

Third, President Bogerman was not acting according to his own whim. On December 29 the Synod had come to a consensus that the Remonstrants must be dismissed and judged from their writings, if they did not begin soon to cooperate. This consensus grew at the sessions on January 4 and 10, and a final decision to that effect was made on January 11.

Fourth, the States General and some of the foreign delegations had previously recommended that the Remonstrants be dismissed if they did not change their tactics. Bogerman was not speaking his own personal wish; he was indeed speaking “in the name of the Lords Commissioners, and of this Synod.”

With the Remonstrants gone, the Synod could make progress in judging the issue at hand.