Petrus Plancius – Theologian and Geographer

Plancius became known as the main representative of the Reformed position against Arminius.

Plancius was born Pieter Platevoet (literally “Peter Flatfoot”) in 1552, in a town in West Flanders called Dranouter (now in the Flanders region of Belgium). His father, a fairly wealthy man and recent convert to Protestantism, sent him to Germany and England to achieve a good education. Peter’s studies focused on theology but included astronomy and cartography. In 1576, Peter was ordained as a pastor and returned to his homeland, where he preached to a Reformed congregation.

 

Facing the opposition of a government that equated religious syncretism with peace, Peter Plancius persisted in pointing out the doctrinal errors of fellow pastor Jacob Arminius. It was not, as some historians think, a needless fastidiousness. Arminius’s teachings implied a different view of the Christian life and were dangerously regressing from the Reformation’s rediscovery of the Gospel.

Eventually, Plancius became known as the main representative of the Reformed position against Arminius. His battle for orthodoxy was long and assiduous but didn’t consume all of his time. Between sermons and meetings, he drew maps and organized daring expeditions in order to open merchant routes from Holland to the East.

Student and Pastor

Plancius was born Pieter Platevoet (literally “Peter Flatfoot”) in 1552, in a town in West Flanders called Dranouter (now in the Flanders region of Belgium). His father, a fairly wealthy man and recent convert to Protestantism, sent him to Germany and England to achieve a good education. Peter’s studies focused on theology but included astronomy and cartography. In 1576, Peter was ordained as a pastor and returned to his homeland, where he preached to a Reformed congregation.

His activities became increasingly difficult as Roman Catholic Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma and Governor General of the Netherlands, placed heavy pressures on the Reformed churches. They were dangerous times, and Plancius experienced a few narrow escapes from death.

When the Spanish troops occupied Brussels in 1585, Plancius was forced to flee north to Amsterdam, where he served as minister for nearly forty years. It was there, in 1587, that he first met Arminius, a 27-year old who had studied under Beza and had come to pastor a church in Amsterdam. Plancius, seven years his elder, was part of an examining committee of five ministers. Eventually, Arminius passed the examination and was installed as pastor.

Denunciation of Arminius’s Preaching

Things progressed fairly well, even though Arminius began to progressively move away from some of the doctrines he had learned in Geneva. This shift came to the surface in 1591. He had been preaching from the book of Romans, and he had just arrived at Romans 7, Paul’s account of his inner contradiction between a love of God’s law and a wearisome propensity to sin. On the surface, there was also a contradiction with the previous chapter. The same Apostle Paul who, in chapter six, says we have been “set free from sin” (v. 22), calls himself “sold under sin” in chapter seven (v. 14).

What happened? Was Paul talking about someone else? If he talked about himself, was it before or after he met Christ? Traditionally, Reformed exegetes gave a straightforward interpretation: Paul was talking about himself at the time he was writing the Letter to the Romans, as an Apostle appointed by Christ after his radical conversion on the way to Damascus. Arminius found it unconvincing. How can a regenerate person describe himself a “sold under sin”?

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