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Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Theologians > Jacob Arminius

Jacob Arminius
Irenic anti-Calvinist
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

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Jacob Arminius

"That teacher obtains my highest approbation who ascribes as much as possible to divine grace. …"

The year Jacob Arminius was born (in Oudewater, Holland), John Calvin was busy establishing the Genevan Academy to propagate his ideas of predestination. About that same time, Guido de Brès wrote the first edition of the Belgic Confession, which became one of the basic doctrinal standards of Dutch Calvinism. As Arminius grew up, arguments over Calvin's teachings interrupted those over Spanish rule. By the time Arminius was 14, William the Silent, Holland's king, was a Calvinist.

But by the time Arminius died, the theological landscape was shifting again, and Arminius's anti-Calvinist theology was spreading rapidly across Europe.



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Irenic reformer

Arminius began to question Calvinism (especially its view of grace and predestination) in his early 20s, but rather than fight for his views at the Geneva Academy, where he had studied under Calvin's successor, Theodore Beza, he left quietly. When Genevan authorities became angry at Arminius's defense of French humanist Peter Ramus, Arminius left for Basel. He was offered a doctorate there but turned it down on the grounds that his youth (he was only 24 or 25) would bring dishonor to the title.

It was his study of the Epistle to the Romans as an Amsterdam minister that set Jacob Arminius firmly against Calvinism. Faith, he believed, was the cause of election: "It is an eternal and gracious decree of God in Christ, by which he determines to justify and adopt believers, and to endow them with eternal life but to condemn unbelievers, and impenitent persons."

Though he was accused of Pelagianism (an overemphasis on free will) and other heresies, his critics brought no proof of the charges.

"That teacher obtains my highest approbation who ascribes as much as possible to divine grace," he assured them, "provided he so pleads the cause of grace, as not to inflict an injury on the justice of God, and not to take away the free will of that which is evil."

In 1606, while professor of theology at Leiden, Arminius delivered an address titled "On Reconciling Religious Dissensions among Christians":

"Religious dissension is the worst kind of disagreement," he wrote, "for it strikes the very altar itself. It engulfs everyone; each must take sides or else make a third party of himself."

Still, he continued to be disturbed by the determinism of Calvinism, and he called for a national synod to resolve the conflicts and to look critically at two crucial Calvinist documents, the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. The synod finally met but not until nine years after Arminius died (in good standing with the Dutch Reformed Church), and eight years after the Remonstrance was issued, which developed and articulated the key themes of what is today called Arminian theology: Christ died for all (not just the elect) and individuals can resist grace and even lose salvation. Arminianism since has influenced key figures in church history, such as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

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