Life after Arminius: The Arminians and Dordt

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After the death of Arminius, anti-Arminian Calvinists become emboldened, which merely attests to the place of prominence granted Arminius within his own lifetime: with Arminius still alive, the anti-Arminians find lording their doctrines over the populace more difficult.1 Arminius boldly states that he is “in no respect bound to every private interpretation of the Reformed,” but, like Luther before him, is “plainly free and entitled to expound the heavenly oracles, and particular passages of the sacred volume, according to the dictates of conscience”2 — a courageous affirmation that threatens the Calvinists. One must wonder, both historically and at present, just how much Calvinists really believe in freedom of conscience, the priesthood of the believer, and soul competency.

We learn from historical documents the breadth and length some of the anti-Arminian Calvinists will stride in order to eradicate any doctrine which challenges either supra- or infralapsarian Calvinism. During Arminius’ own lifetime, numerous Calvinists either misrepresent, or overtly lie about his own teachings. Calvinist Petrus Plancius is caught several times lying about the teachings of Arminius, as well as Simon Episcopius, and even pleads guilty of “imprudence” regarding statements uttered by Arminian Remonstrant Johannes Uytenbogaert (1557-1644).3 That is a polite manner of admittance to lying.

The word remonstrance (rĭ-mŏn′strəns) refers to the act of remonstrating, or protesting, an “expression of protest, complaint, or reproof, especially a formal statement of grievances.” (link) The Remonstrants, for our context, refer to the Arminians who protest the dogmatism, fanaticism, and tyranny of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Calvinists. Peculiar, I think, how the Puritan Calvinists of England complain about and challenge the tyranny of the loyalists to the Church of England and her Monarch while the Calvinists of Holland persecute and tyrannize the Arminians and the Anabaptists. Where is the Puritan outcry of their own theological brothers wreaking havoc not too many miles away from their own province? The Calvinists can tolerate only their own doctrines.

Calvinist scholar Donald Sinnema, Professor of Theology at Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Illinois, contacts me via email in late August of this year, complaining of statements in my post regarding the Synod of Dordt: “What You Need to Know about the Synod of Dordt.” (See also “The Crowning Meaninglessness of the Synod of Dordt.”) In particular he takes umbrage with a comment I make about his alleged historical revisionism. Having further studied the matter, I feel more confident that my initial reaction is closer to the truth than I initially realized, even though I deleted the statement. In this post I intend to answer his complaints, while citing what life is like after the death of Arminius, and demonstrate why the Synod of Dordt is a complete and utter sham unworthy even of cage-stage Calvinists to laud and maintain — not necessarily the Canons of Dordt, since they merely contain Calvinistic dogma, but the Synod itself.

In his chapter, “The Canons of Dordt: From Judgment on Arminianism to Confessional Standard,” in the Brill-published book, Revisiting the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), I complain in my post of his incessant reminder of the Remonstrants not fully cooperating with the Synod. Sinnema challenges: “If you are suggesting by your criticism that the Remonstrants fully cooperated with the Synod of Dordt, you have not read any accounts of the session by session proceedings of the synod.” I have read many accounts of the Synod of Dordt and not once do I state in my initial post that the Remonstrants fully cooperate. As anyone can read from the post itself, I merely challenge the notion that, even if the Remonstrants “fully cooperate” with all that is being demanded by the Calvinists of Dordt, that would not in any sense whatsoever change the pretense4 of the Synod:

But it was the ardent wish of the Calvinists, only to have the company of those choice spirits of other countries that would readily coalesce with themselves in devising measures to crush Arminianism. To obtain the presence of a few thus enlightened and unanimous was the great object at which they aimed; and by this maneuver they endeavoured to impart to their National Synod the dignified and imposing appearance of a General [and thus impartial] Council. In this object, however, they would have been defeated, had not King James of England entered into their views, and given that party his overpowering assistance.5

The latter comment is a frustrating truth of history. Fickle and erratic is the nature of King James, who is “at one moment, won by the Remonstrants,” confessing that the theology of the Church of England accords with theirs, and the next moment appears “as their decided enemy.”6 James is noted as the Instigator and primary Promoter of the Synod of Dordrecht: He “not only gave his sanction to, but forwarded all the proceedings of the more rigid Calvinistic party, in bringing about the synod of Dort, by whose decisions the Remonstrant ministers were banished from their country, and their flocks exposed to the most cruel and unrelenting persecution.”7 But the Calvinists do not care that either King James or Prince Maurice bolster and affirm their kangaroo court proceedings for political gain.8 All that matters is that their theology be adjudged as sole orthodoxy.

Sinnema writes: “The synod … condemned certain Remonstrant views in the ‘rejection of errors’ sections of the Canons, not because of their lack of cooperation with the synod,” a statement to which I make no allusion, “but because after thorough examination of these views the synod, in its judgment, determined that these views themselves were not biblical.” I could wax eloquent here about the Calvinists’ historic and present naïve realism — meaning that what Calvinists deem to be “biblical” forever settles the matter not merely for themselves but for everyone else as well — but I am satisfied only to mention this fact and choose not to dwell on the issue. Just because Calvinists deem their views “biblical” does not ipso facto indicate that their views are biblical. He continues:

Because of their lack of full cooperation with the synod over the course of six weeks of procedural wrangling while the Remonstrants were present at the synod, they were expelled first of all due to a resolution of the Dutch government (States General) on 1 Jan. 1619, which stated that, if the Remonstrants “persevered in their disobedience,” their views should be examined from their writings apart from their presence. After two more weeks of lack of full cooperation, President Bogerman, following the advice of a committee and of the foreign theologians, implemented the States General resolution and expelled the Remonstrants from the synod on 14 January. Though there was no excuse for the vitriolic nature of Bogerman’s speech to expel them, the expulsion was not simply an act of anger on his part.

What Sinnema neglects to mention is the occasion for the banishment — the “last straw” of the Arminians “not cooperating.” What offends the Arminians more than unconditional election is the Calvinist view of unconditional reprobation. The Arminians want to address this concept before addressing election. Having already made the confession that they “do not own or account the present Synod, or the majority of it, for a lawful judge of our controversies, and that its decisions will possess no weight with us or our churches,”9 a statement that rings true nearly four centuries later, they ask to address the issue of reprobation first.10 The request is noted as being “unreasonable for the Remonstrants to disturb the consciences of the Elect on account of God’s judgments against the Reprobated … and that for these reasons the Synod neither could nor ought to grant the Remonstrant brethren any further liberty, unless the members designed … to expose the orthodox doctrineof [unconditional election] to be openly ridiculed.”11 (emphasis original)

The consequence of this request, noted by the Calvinists as the “disobedience” of the Arminians, and their “not being cooperative” with those about to condemn them as heretics, a right they did not possess, the Remonstrants propose that, since they are forbidden to explain “or defend their sentiments viva voce, ‘to [orally] explain their doctrines in writing, beginning with the article of Election, and proceeding to that of Reprobation; to defend their doctrines and to refute the contrary opinions of the Contra-Remonstrants [i.e., the Calvinists] and of those whom they consider orthodox,'” which they are not permitted to do, then they will answer in writing what they are forbidden to do by oral communication. This motion is rejected and the Arminians are then dismissed from the Synod.12 All of the hue and cry from Sinnema and other Calvinists about the Remonstrants “not being fully cooperative” makes a bit more sense when viewed in its historical context. Indeed, Dr. Ellis (noted below) is right, and the Calvinists truly are, in a proverbial sense, complaining that the Remonstrants are not lying still and silent at their own crucifixion.

Before I continue, understand that neither Sinnema nor myself are objective parties on this issue, and pure objectivity belongs to God alone; yet, this inescapable fact does not detract from Sinnema’s excellent work in his chapter, nor is it an admission that I am incapable of collecting opposing views from reading his chapter when compared to other works. For example, Calvinist scholar Dr. Mark A. Ellis correctly, in my opinion, notes, “The common criticism of Dortian Calvinists, that the Remonstrants were ‘uncooperative,’ sounds like censuring someone for not lying still at their own crucifixion.”13 The truth of the matter regarding the Synod of Dordt is summed up quite adequately by Dr. Ellis: The Calvinists “engineered a synod guaranteed to fulfill their purposes.”14 Sinnema remarks that he looks forward to me providing evidence that the Synod of Dordt is a sham. Here is the evidence.

One cannot design and comprise a synod of like-minded individuals to assess the viable weltanschauung of another party, with the sole intent, nonetheless, to condemn the same, and expect others to deem such a synod in any sense respectable. To expect others to appreciate this sort of shenanigans is to admit insanity. By “viable weltanschauung” I am referring to theological positions that are deemed by the Church as orthodox, such as the Church-historical position that election is conditioned upon faith in Christ (1 Cor. 1:21;Eph. 1:4), that Christ died for the sin of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2), or that the grace of God upon the soul can be resisted (Acts 7:51). The doctrines of unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace are not the positions of the early Church.15 The Synod of Dordt is a sham, a kangaroo court, and only matters to those who grant the assembly credibility — i.e., Calvinists.

After the death of Arminius the Arminians continue to petition the States General for a hearing: they ask not only for protection from Calvinists but also for the freedom to hold their theological views. The Remonstrants, however, are not Lutherans, Anabaptists or Roman Catholics, holding views contrary to the “Reformed”: they are within the Reformed tradition yet maintain theological positions counter to those received by the majority. In short, this is why we have denominations today, for we, due no doubt to our depravity, cannot seem to abide the opinions of others which conflict with our own. We must, for the perceived sake of our alleged orthodoxy, compartmentalize the Body of Christ.

I will admit, however, to sympathizing with the Calvinists on this point. Sinnema writes to me: “The Remonstrant case at the Synod of Dordt was, technically, a case of ecclesiatical discipline relating to perceived doctrinal error. Therefore certain Remonstrant leaders were cited to appear before the synod to have some of their views ‘examined’ and ‘judged.'” The word “examined” seems less tenable than “judged,” according to the Calvinists’ own confession. Still, I sympathize. I would not at all appreciate Roman Catholic, Unitarian, or Quaker advocates vying to infiltrate, challenge, or change the Arminian tradition to which I belong. Yet, while Calvinists have every right to properly outline and define the Calvinist tradition, they do not have the right to properly outline and define the Christian tradition. God has not granted them the right.

But then Sinnema writes: “At least since 1581 Dutch Reformed synods and church orders maintained the right of ecclesiastical assemblies to call office-bearers to give account of their views and, if necessary, discipline them for ‘false teaching.’ So what Dordt did was according to standard Reformed church polity.” I find this entirely misleading. Sinnema would have us believe that the Dutch Calvinists were ever so innocently attempting to “assess” or “examine” the teachings of the Arminians: au contraire, friends, they already knew the teachings of Arminius and the early Arminians on election, the atonement, and grace. Before the initial proceedings of Dordt, the Calvinists seek to “call upon all the other Reformed Churches to devise the best means of extinguishing, and sending back to hell, these cursed heresies that have newly broken forth.”16

He continues: “In a discipline case, the Remonstrants were entitled to a fair hearing. Hence the synod cited them to appear before the synod in person, so that they would not be judged unheard (indicta causa).” A fair hearing, meaning, the Remonstrants can defend their positions and afterwards be accused of heresy. That is a redefining of fairness! “For as neither of them was assembled till the sword was drawn, the terror whereof was able to effect more than all other arguments: So neither of them was concerned to confute but to condemn their opposites.”17 Moreover, if this synod is merely an ecclesiastical one, then why the beheading of Johan van Oldenbarneveldt (1547-1619) days after the conclusion of Dordt? Why, also, the imprisonment of Grotius and Remonstrant Hogerbeets? There is nothing fair about the Synod of Dordt: it is a witch-hunt telling of its time, no doubt, but fair is a deceiving nomenclature. Even the Lutherans, whom many Calvinists falsely assume are on their Reformed side of the Arminian controversy, reject the Synod of Dordt.18

Let us consider further the alleged fairness of this Synod. The Dortians choose very carefully who should attend this kangaroo court, doubting for some time whether or not to invite those divines from Geneva and Nassau, given their obvious Calvinistic fanaticism. The Dortians waver thusly in order to give the public appearance of impartiality. Later, however, “they no longer studied to ‘avoid the appearance of evil,’ but boldly summoned all those Divines about whose presence at the Synod they had formerly hesitated. This was a most notable and certain method of procuring a strict Calvinian unifmority in the members.”19 Incidentally, the Dortians neglect to summon the Duchy of Anhalt in Germany, since their views resemble those of the Arminians.20 The Lutherans are also conveniently excluded.21 The theologians of Bremen in Germany are not invited for the same reason as that of Anhalt. As a matter of fact:

In the original order for holding the Synod, and in the list appended to it, as they were both passed by the States General, no mention was made of inviting any other Churches, except those of England [and only the Calvinistic divines appointed by King James], France [which declined the invitation by order of the King of France22], the Palatinate, Hesse and Switzerland; and it was a matter postponed for further deliberation, whether any invitation should be transmitted to the Churches of Bremen [none were], Brandenburgh [in Germany], Geneva and Nassau.23

The Arminians are summoned to the Synod of Dordt but granted no deputies. Sinnema grants the impression that the Arminians are present at Dordt merely for an adequate defense of their theology. Is this historically true? “So completely had the Calvinistic plan of exclusion succeeded that three of the members from Utrecht were the only Remonstrants in that Synod. The reason of their being there at all was because that province was almost equally divided between Remonstrant and Calvinistic Churches, and it had been agreed that three of each denomination should be summoned.”24 I trust that I will be forgiven by Sinnema and other Calvinists if I refuse to buy into their softened version of the details of Dordt. Hence the charge of historical revisionism of Sinnema. The three chosen from Utrecht are not given “a place in the seat of judgment” at Dordt.25 Because, I assume, this is a fair assembly. Finally, at the twenty-forth session, they are permitted, upon five conditions, to be seated among the judges, but only “reputed as cited persons.”26

As for the Remonstrants, thirteen are summoned to appear at the Synod, and they are not allowed to choose their own representatives: “Not being permitted to choose those men from their own body whom they deemed the best qualified to state and defend their cause, they accounted it an additional hardship, that their enemies should assume that unlawful authority to themselves.”27 But Sinnema wants us to believe that this is a fair synod. There is so much more information on this ungodly assembly that is not yet posted — which I intend to post shortly — including the following. The pre-selected Remonstrants chosen by the Synod of Calvinists to defend Arminian views are questioned singly:

If one of us, in the name of all [of the Arminians], said anything that proved advantageous to the rest, the President [Bogerman] seemed to be much displeased at our unanimity [the goal was to catch the Arminians in inconsistencies]: Then we were told that we were cited singly and personally, and that we did not compose a society or corporation. But when any of us happened to employ a word that was capable of being wrested [twisted, decontextualized] to our common injury and misconstrued, then what was said by one was certain to be imputed to all.28 (emphases original)

The Synod of Dordt is an exercise in insanity, catch 22, a “condemned if you do, condemned if you don’t” scenario. The Calvinists so construct this entire event so as to render the Arminians without even the slightest advantage or genuine privilege. But we are encouraged by Sinnema and other Calvinists to believe that this Synod is fair. Right. The Synod of Dordt is about as fair as the Gustapo. The evidence follows.

Sinnema writes to me: “The case was not a hasty mock trial.” I have never stated that it was. “After fully six weeks of debate about procedure, toward the end of which the cited Remonstrants submitted their brief Statements (Sententiae) on each of the Five Articles, the Remonstrants, even after their expulsion from the synod, were still given opportunity to ‘explain’ and ‘defend’ their views in writing on each of their Five Articles.” Sinnema must be reading strictly from Calvinist accounts. Consider the following:

Anyone who attentively reads the Acts of the Synod, and compares them with the private accounts both of Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants, will find that this had also been the intention of the President from the very commencement, and that all his shifting schemes and boisterous conduct was intended to irritate the Remonstrants, who possessed more patience than he had contemplated, and who were therefore to be removed from the Synod by a greater exercise of art and with greater difficulty.

But one of the greatest injuries of which the Remonstrants had to complain was that the book from which their supposed opinions were chiefly collected was the production of a declared enemy, who wrote a highly coloured account of a Conference respecting the Five Points, in which he pretended that the Calvinists had obtained a complete victory … But misrepresentation, and not truth, was the grand object of the President and his inland associates.29

The footnote here is worth a read, further demonstrating the fair nature of this Synod, and that is to be read sarcastically. What Sinnema fails to report is that the Remonstrants, upon their expulsion, remain under detention at Dordt during the Calvinist deliberation. Neither the death of a relative nor the baptism of a man’s newborn is reason for granting leave to the Arminians. They are locked in a room, guarded, and watched carefully like criminals.30 I suppose we can wear Sinnema’s rose-colored glasses, and view the Calvinists of Dordt as God-fearing Generals in defense of Christianity, but in doing so we betray history, truth, and the deplorable and reprehensible actions of the Dortian Calvinists.


1 “If the Calvinistic clergy of Holland had been desirous of ‘abiding by the divinely-inspired scriptures,’ a National Synod would have been held in the year 1608, and Arminianism would in that case have acquired a complete triumph. But the Calvinists, aware of the weakness of their cause on scriptural grounds, especially when opposed by such an adversary as Arminius, refused to be deprived of the aid afforded to them by some expressions in the Confession and Catechism, and would neither suffer those formularies to be subjected to the proposed revision, nor have the existing differences adjusted by the word of God alone.” “Account of the Proceedings of the Synod of Dort,” in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 1:486.

2 Kaspar Brandt, The Life of James Arminius, D.D., trans. John Guthrie (Charleston: BiblioLife, 2009), 42.

3 Ibid., 50. Cf. also Frederick Calder, Memoirs of Simon Episcopius (Charleston: BiblioLife, 2009), 132, 133, 134, 153, 154.

4 Donald Sinnema, “The Canons of Dordt: From Judgment on Arminianism to Confessional Standard,” in Revisiting the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619) (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 314. “In the assembly the well-known Five Articles [of the Remonstrants] in controversy and the difficulties that have arisen from them shall first and foremost be treated, in order earnestly to see how these may be removed from the churches with the least trouble and in the most proper manner, so that the peace of the church (but especially the purity of doctrine) may be preserved.” (emphasis added) Also, he writes, “The Palatine delegation also suggested that a positive writing be prepared: After the heterodox doctrine has been rejected and condemned in this way, thought should be given to firmly establishing orthodox doctrine.” (316) (emphasis added) In other words, the Remonstrants did not stand a chance.

5 The Works of Arminius, 1:475.

6 Calder, 145. King James himself holds to the doctrine of conditional election, and the Church of England ministers hold also to general atonement. See The Works of Arminius, 1:481.

7 Ibid., 148.

8 Pieter Geyl, The Netherlands in the 17th Century: Part One: 1609-1648 (New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1966), 75, 76.

9 The Works of Arminius, 1:494.

10 Ibid., 1:495.

11 Ibid., 1:495-96.

12 Ibid., 1:496.

13 Mark A. Ellis, Simon Episcopius’ Doctrine of Original Sin (New York: Peter Lang, 2008), 35.

14 Ibid.

15 “What is called Arminianism was nearly the universal view of the early church fathers and has always been the position of Greek Orthodoxy.” See Kenneth D. Keathley, “The Work of God: Salvation,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 703.

16 The Works of Arminius, 1:475.

17 Ibid., 1:480.

18 Ibid., 1:484.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid., 1:483.

21 Ibid., 1:480.

22 “Great interest was made at the court of France, to procure the attendance of Deputies from the Reformed Churches of that country; but the king of France prohibited the Protestant clergy within his dominions from becoming members of the Synod, or assisting at its deliberations.” The reason granted is because the King of France desires to promote theological tolerance and freedom of conscience, both of which the Calvinists of Dordt have no vested interest. Ibid., 4:484-85.

23 Ibid., 4:483.

24 Ibid., 4:487.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid., 1:495.

29 Ibid., 1:496. “The noisy scenes which we have described generally occurred when the Remonstrants were present and were excited and kept up by the President [Bogerman], one or two of the States’ Commissioners, and Hensius; the latter of whom, though only secretary to the Lay Commission, was an adept at thumping the tables with both his fists, while he vociferated, with all the force of lungs which he possessed, against one or other of the Remonstrants, whose arguments vexed him, and whom he wished to silence.” (1:497)

30 Ibid., 1:497.