Canons Of Dort (3): Synod Approaches

In the Remonstrants' narrative, Arminius was just a godly Reformed pastor who was unjustly singled out for his preaching and teaching and they were unjustly persecuted along with him.

As the theological controversy heated up in the Netherlands, across Europe, and in the British Isles, the polarization between the Arminians and Calvinists threatened to break out into open warfare. Prince Maurice (Maurits; 1567–1625) and the de facto Prime Minister of the United Provinces, Jan van Oldenbarnevelt (1547–1619), were estranged. The latter supported the Arminians and Maurice sided with the orthodox.

 

Part 2

We live now in a “victim culture.” The best example of this is so-called “intersectionality.” This is a reference to the different ways in which one has been victimized. They intersect in the victim. It is like a game, the one with the great number of claims to victim status wins. Heather MacDonald explains: “‘Intersectionality’ refers to the increased oppression allegedly experienced by individuals who can check off several categories of victimhood—being female, black, and trans, say.”

In our time, this approach to identity politics and identity formation is the result of the various Marxist analyses of history wherein history is the story of oppressors, victims, and political/economic/social liberation (often through violent revolution& dash;see the 20th century in which Marxists ideology resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people in Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba, N. Korea, and Cambodia to name but a few). Long before Karl Marx (1818–83), however, the Remonstrants adopted a victim identity. In their narrative, Arminius was just a godly Reformed pastor who was unjustly singled out for his preaching and teaching and they were unjustly persecuted along with him. In fact, concern over Arminius’ teaching arose almost immediate but the final resolution took nearly 30 years.

Further, concern about what Arminius and his followers were teaching was widespread across Europe and in the British Isles. It was perceived immediately as a fundamental attack on the basic Augustinian theology and the material doctrines of the Protestant Reformation (salvation sola gratiasola fide). In Herborn, Johannes Piscator (1546–1625) wrote against the Arminians. Pierre DuMoulin (1568–1658) wrote The Anatomy of Arminianism (1618), still perhaps the greatest critique of Arminianism. For some years before Arminius, Peter Baro (1534–99) had been teaching something like what Arminius would teach in the Amsterdam and Leiden. Archbishop Whitgift (c. 1530–1604) responded in 1595 with the Lambeth Articles reaffirming the Augustinian view of sin, grace, and election. After Synod, William Ames (1576–33) would publish his Animadversions against the Remonstrants in 1629.

As the theological controversy heated up in the Netherlands, across Europe, and in the British Isles, the polarization between the Arminians and Calvinists threatened to break out into open warfare. Prince Maurice (Maurits; 1567–1625) and the de facto Prime Minister of the United Provinces, Jan van Oldenbarnevelt (1547–1619), were estranged. The latter supported the Arminians and Maurice sided with the orthodox. England, who had become deeply involved in the Netherlands, sided with Maurice against Spain. After the lines of disagreement had become clear, in light of the Conference at The Hague (1611), pressure mounted on Maurice to support the orthodox against the Remonstrants, to bring the matter to a resolution despite his misgivings about what that would mean for national unity (such as it was) against the Spanish. The Remonstrants had favored a synod but only to revise the church order in to give the (typically latitudinarian) magistrates more control over the church (the position advocated by William of Ockham in the 14th century against the papacy and by the sixteenth-century physician and lay theologian Thomas Erastus) and to revise the Belgic Confession to allow the Remonstrant view of conditional election.

There was some popular support for the orthodox in the Netherlands. Where the Remonstrants gained control of churches they had forbidden the Reformed to leave in order to start new, confessional congregations. This heavy-handed approach backfired. There was popular support in the churches for the confessional doctrine of salvation, for the contra-Remonstrant position as articulated in The Hague in 1611. In 1617 riots by the Contras broke out. Four provinces urged the States General to call a national synod to resolve the crisis.

The Province of Holland, dominated politically by Oldenbarnevelt and supporters of the Remonstrants, resisted the call for a synod. They sensed that things might go against them. Now the survival of the United Provinces was at stake. Oldenbarnevelt even sought to persuade members of the army to take an oath of allegiance to Holland against the United Provinces. In November the States General voted to call a national synod. Holland objected but when Prince Maurice and his battle-hardened troops met Oldenbarvenelt’s troops in Utrecht (situated between North and South Holland) Oldenbarnevelt’s troops gave way. In August, Oldenbarnevelt, Hugo Grotius (1583–1645), and others were arrested. The Remonstrant leader Johannes Uytenbogaert (1557–1644) fled the country. Oldenbarnevelt was condemned for high treason and would be beheaded at The Hague on May 14, 1619, after Synod. His son retaliated by attempting to assassinate Prince Maurice, whose father had been murdered in 1584.

Synod was called for November 13, 1618. The Reformed knew that the controversy with the Remonstrants represented more than a parochial theological dispute. The future of the nation and the Reformation was at stake. They believed that the Remonstrants were leading the nation backward toward the heresy of Pelagianism and thence to Socinianism. Their fears had some foundation. The theologian appointed to succeed Arminius in Leiden, Conrad Vorstius (1569–1622) was suspected of Socinianism as was Simon Episcopius (1583–1644), now the leading Remonstrant theologian. The orthodox were not the only ones to suspect Episcopius. In recent decades both John Platt and Sarah Mortimer have seen connections between Episcopius and Socinianism.

The Synod finally convened in the Kloveniersdoelen (a military armory) in Dordtrecht on 13 November 1618. Consisting of 84 members and 18 secular commissioners, of which 58 were from the Netherlands (designated interni in the minutes ), the rest foreigners (externi). In attendance as delegates and observers were some of the most outstanding Reformed theologians from across the Netherlands, Europe, and Britain in the early 17th century. There were three different types of delegations, political, foreign, and provincial. The political delegates represented the States General and officially convened the Synod. Foreign delegates represented the Reformed churches of England, the German duchies and the Swiss city-states. The French Reformed delegation, to be led by Pierre duMoulin was forbidden by Louis XIII from attending. Their absence was marked by an empty bench at Synod.

Read More