Arminius: Not To Be Reckoned With

Derek Ouellette —  October 9, 2010

I’m going to share with you a story of Jacob Arminius (1559 – 1609), the likes of which you are probably unaware. Arminius was a man not to be reckoned with. If you’re going to bring a charge against him, if you’re going to muster the troops, rally your cohorts, and plot with your cronies – as the extreme Calvinist Plancius had done, you best prepare yourself. Plancius is described as “a bearded, hunchbacked, fighting Calvinist who wore a tight skull cap. He was forceful, and many were to feel his force.” The proper description of a villain.

But this time the weasel Plancius would cross swords with the wrong saint. The story is told, with my commentary, like this:

Arminius’ enemies would not let the matter rest, and a meeting of the consistory [church court] was held on April 22 without his knowledge. It was decided that Arminius should be called upon to “declare distinctly and without any circumlocution his opinion on all the articles of faith.

This was the way things were done. If you didn’t like someone, conspire behind his back; get others to agree with your one-sided story; and make him “explain himself” meaning “repent or perish”. These types of kangaroo courts were common in this era (Synod of Dort for example) and many children of God were slaughtered by other so-called “Christians” in this way.

Arminius learned of this on May 6, and he decided that he should not reply at once but should petition for a reasonable time for preparation.

Arminius would explain himself, but only after he was properly prepared to do so since giving his opinion on the articles of faith is no small matter. He would not be forced into his enemies net, intended to catch him off balance. But he would, when pushed, turn the tables on them.

At the meeting of the consistory on May 20, his enemies brought the matter up, and Arminius came out fighting. He called out in a loud voice, challenging anyone to stand forth and produce anything from any of his sermons which might call for censure. No one accepted the challenge.

No one expected this. “Whoever has a problem with anything I have said, lets deal with it right here, right now. Where are my accusers? Show your faces.” No one would. Finally someone sheepishly piped up, “well the Lutherans like to listen to him, as do the Mennonites and even some of the humanists, so there must be something wrong with his expose of Romans 9.” Really? That’s all you’ve got? Really?

Arminius found it strange that no one present could cite an erroneous passage from his sermons. One of the elders replied that Arminius had been on his guard, and that he had used ambiguous expressions. Arminius denied the allegations and demanded proof. But no one would attempt to produce any evidence.

Unrest was still apparent a week later, on May 27, and Arminius renewed his challenge. It is evident that Plancius had been the chief instigator of accusations, because when silence prevailed, Cuchilinus asked, “Where is Plancius now? Inasmuch as he had raised doubts about Arminius’ preaching, he should now, in the presence of Arminius and of the consistory, speak his mind.”

Plancius is the one speaking all the lies. Questioning of all Arminius’ beliefs and causing all of the trouble. Why has silence prevailed? That is Cuchilinus’ question, and ours.

Plancius was finally forced to bring his charges. They boiled down to three. First, Arminius, in preaching on Romans 9, had taught that “no one is condemned except on account of sin.” Which amounted to excluding infants from condemnation.

On the sorrow. Arminius did not believe that every infant born would be stream-lined to hell.

Second, Arminius had taught that too much could not be ascribed to good works, nor could they be sufficiently commended, provided no merits were attributed to them. Third, Arminius had taught that “angels are not immortal.

To the first accusation Arminius replied that Plancius was overlooking original sin. It was an answer well designed to discomfit Plancius.

In a stroke Arminius humiliated (“discomfit”) Plancius and his major complaint.

As for the charge concerning good works, Arminius had nothing to recant; he would stand by his statement.

If someone had a problem with this, they better be ready to explain themselves. Are you, Plancius, up to the task? But the final complaint, the one concerning the immortality of angels, we see Plancius willing to stoop to manure low levels.

As for angels, Arminius pointed out that he never mentioned the matter in public but only in private, in Plancius’ home in fact, and that his point was that God alone possesses immortality of himself and that the immortality of the angels is not by nature but by sustenance of God.

So Plancius betrayed trust by twisting a private conversation about a non-essential doctrine, something of which Arminius never said.

The consistory found Arminius’ statement acceptable and declared the matter closed… Arminius was recurrently the target of accusations, but never again did his preaching become a matter to be discussed in the consistory [church court].

And that is how it is done.

Story told by Carl Bangs in his biography of Arminius – pg. 148-149

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • A.M. Mallett

    Great post … I have Bang’s biography on my short buy list.

  • Derek Ouellette

    A.M…. I’m surprised you have not already read it. I am about 20 pages from the end and can say with a surety that this is perhaps the best book I’ve read in 2010! A must read for all Arminians and, frankly, everyone else interested in the Calvin/Arminian debate.

    Someone recommended it to me, I began to read it and basically it had me at hello. I used to say I was an “Arminian” because my theology opposed Calvinism. But now, being an “Arminian”, following in the tradition of Jacob Arminius, is something I am proud of.

    Get it. Read it. Review it.

  • A.M. Mallett

    I had started to read it at a library but never finished and now I cannot find it locally. Aside from that, it comes highly recommended. I read The Life of James Arminius by Kaspar Brandt years ago and found it fascinating.