October 10, 1960, marks the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of James Arminius (1560–1609), the Dutch theologian whose name has been given to the Protestant theological tradition of Arminianism. It is appropriate that attention be given again to this late voice of the Reformation whose influence has been so great and about whom so little study has been done. Noteworthy is the fact that in the persistent “Arminian-Calvinist” controversy of the intervening centuries, neither side has had much to say about Arminius himself. He seems to stand somewhat aloof from the later battle, and those who have gone to his writings commonly report that they do not find what they expected to find; that is, they often come to the conclusion “he isn’t really an Arminian.” Some suggest that he was in transition, not completely liberated (or backslidden, as the case may be) from his early Calvinism. Others have held that he was a clever dissembler whose published works were scripturally based and orthodox enough but whose “beliefs were worse than his writings” or who taught many grievous errors in private.

Who was this enigmatic figure? Born in South Holland of simple people, orphaned at an early age, and raised by pious Reformed guardians, he was educated at Marburg, Leiden, Basel, and Geneva, his teacher at Geneva being Theodore Beza, the celebrated successor of Calvin. He was a brilliant student and later distinguished himself as pastor for 15 years of the Reformed churches of Amsterdam. He spent the final six years of his life as professor of theology at Leiden. During his pastoral and professorial years he became engaged in the controversy which gave rise to Arminianism.

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