Did Arminius Deny the Deity of Jesus Christ?

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Calvinist Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), no doubt taking his cue from Arminius’s fierce supralapsarian opponent, Franciscus Gomarus1, writes: “The view of Socinus, and of Arminius who followed him closely, is totally different. It is a well-known fact that the Socinians denied the Godhead of Christ, who, as they taught, was born a mere man. But . . . they acknowledged that He had become God. Hence after His Resurrection He could be worshiped as God.”2

Arminians, though quite used to Calvinists like Kuyper (as well as Franciscus Gomarus, John Owen, Augustus Toplady et al.) who misrepresent Arminius and Arminianism, remain nevertheless grieved and frustrated presently that such misrepresentations are still being promoted by Christian publications. Though Kuyper’s work was originally published in 1900 it is still in print today by Cosimo Publications as well as AMG Publishers without the least note of correction by way of footnote or any other annotation (AMG has been contacted about this via e-mail and is investigating how to handle the matter).

What should Arminians do – remain idle and silent without exposing such errors? No. Much effort must be made to correct these errors, for no other reason than to defend truth itself.

First: Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) and Socinianism held, among other errors, that Jesus Christ did not exist until He was born of His mother, Mary, contrary to Scripture and orthodox Christian teaching. John wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2 NRSV). Noting that in the beginning “was” the Word John explicitly states that the Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:14), already existed prior to His incarnation. In our third point we will discover that Arminius espoused the truth of Scripture on this point.

Second: Calvinist Richard A. Muller in his book, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius, defends Arminius against such claims as that made by Abraham Kuyper: “The reference to Socinus may reflect a suspicion that Arminius’ doctrines of Christ and the Trinity were not quite in accord with the views of his Reformed [i.e. Calvinistic] colleagues – although this one element of the accusation has no real basis in Arminius’ teaching. His doctrines of Christ and the Trinity did differ with Reformed theology, but they were not at all in sympathy with Socinian doctrine.”3

Arminians are more than grateful to Calvinists such as Muller who, while disagreeing sharply with the theology of Arminius, objectively evaluates his teachings in light of his historical and theological (to say nothing of scholastic) context. Roger Olson, quoted at length here, states:

      Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) was a radical reformer from Italy who lived in Poland. He founded the first unitarian churhces in Europe and is often considered the true reformer by modern Unitarians. Socinus denied the ontological deity of Jesus Christ, reducing him to a man elevated to a special relationship with God; he also denied the ontological Trinity, the substitutionary atonement and original sin as inherited total depravity. He was the arch-heretic of Protestant Europe in the sixteenth century.

Arminius’s opponents in the United Provinces (Netherlands) and elsewhere tried to identify him with Socinianism, but they were never able to make the charge stick. And Arminius adamantly denied it, going to great lengths to prove his orthodoxy on these points of doctrine.

Some later Remonstrants departed from authentic Arminian theology and became, for all intents and purposes, unitarians and universalists. So did some Reformed Protestants! And classical Arminians, like John Wesley, who remained faithful to Arminius’s own theology, remained firmly orthodox in spite of continuing false charges of heresy by their Calvinist counterparts.

The only thing that classical Arminians have in common with Socinians and unitarians is belief in freedom of the will. If orthodoxy is arbitrarily defined as necessarily including belief in monergism and excluding every form of synergism, then Arminianism is not orthodox. But that would also make all of the early Greek church fathers, most of the medieval Catholic theologians, all Anabaptists and many Lutherans (including Melanchthon [Luther’s successor]) heretics! Arminianism would then be in very good company.4

Third: The following highlight from Arminius’s Works will expose Kuyper’s error in equating Arminius’s doctrine of Christ with that of Socinus, whom, Kuyper mistakenly reported, was “followed closely” by Arminius. The following is an example of who Arminius believed Jesus Christ to be:

We say that this person is the Son of God and the Son of man; consisting of two natures, the divine and the human, inseparably united without mixture or confusion, not only according to habitude or [inhabitatio] indwelling, but likewise by that union which the ancients have correctly denominated hypostatical [the union of Jesus’ human and divine natures]. He has the same nature with the Father, by internal and eternal communication.5

If that paragraph was all we had of Arminius’s views on the person of Jesus Christ, that alone would be sufficient evidence to clear him from the calumny of the likes of Calvinists Gomarus and Abraham Kuyper. For in it we find that Jesus existed as both Son of God and Son of man, consisting of both a divine nature and a human nature – His divine nature being eternal, just as that of God the Father.

Arminius’s successors, the Remonstrants, wrote the following in their Confession (penned by Simon Episcopius):

      Therefore, the Son and the Holy Spirit, although both are divine with respect to their hypostasis, manner, and order, are truly distinct from the Father; yet they are truly partakers with the Father of the same deity or divine essence and nature absolutely and commonly considered, just as is certainly proved from the divine names [John 1:1-2; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:2; Rev. 1-4] or titles [Isa. 11:1; 63:10; Matt. 12:31-32; Acts 5:4; 13:2; 20:28; 1 Cor. 2:10; 3:16; 6:19-20; 12:4, 11], likewise from the divine properties and operations which are clearly attributed to them both throughout the Sacred Scriptures, among other things.6

Calvinist Michael Horton claims: “Wherever Arminianism was adopted, Unitarianism followed, leading on to the bland liberalism of present mainline denominations.” However, Horton neglected to inform his readers that many “Presbyterian congregations in England during the eighteenth century became Unitarian.”7 Horton’s claim is completely without merit. No doubt he, as do many other Calvinists, assumes that Calvinism is the bastion of orthodoxy which stands as a safeguard against heresy. Historically, however, that notion is simply not accurate.

The type of misrepresentation that we have witnessed here against Arminius, his followers, or Arminianism concerning such an essential part of orthodox Christian faith (that of the deity of Jesus Christ, and the Trinity) is tantamount to a person suggesting that John Calvin derived his view of God from pagan Greek philosophers who promoted fatalism proper, or that wherever Calvinism was adopted, Unitarianism followed – or even that wherever Calvinism flourished, hyper-Calvinism resulted inevitably. These statements have no historical verity – and neither does the statement made by Abraham Kuyper (or Gomarus for that matter) concerning Arminius, the Remonstrants, and Arminianism on the eternal, divine Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1999), 462.

2 Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (New York: Cosimo Publications, 2007), 228.

3 Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 29-30.

4 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 80.

5 James Arminius, “Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XXXIV. On the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” in The Works of Arminius, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:379.

6 The Arminian Confession of 1621, trans. and ed. Mark A. Ellis (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2005), 52.

7 Laurence M. Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism (Pensacola: Vance Publications, 1999), 139. See also J. L. Neve, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. II (Philadelphia: The Muhlenberg Press, 1946), 31.