Who was Jacob Arminius?

Jacob Arminius was a Christian theologian and philosophy professor who is best known for his teachings, commonly called Arminianism, which are often discussed as an alternative to Calvinism, which is the traditional articulation of the theology of John Calvin.

Arminius was born October 10, 1560 and died on October 19, 1609.

Some mistakenly image that Calvin and Arminius engaged in heated theological debates, like sometimes their followers do today. Yet this is not true. Arminus and Calvin did not know each other; Arminius was four-years-old when Calvin died.

After his father's early death, Arminius lived with Rudolphus Snellius, a professor in Marburg. In 1576 he returned home and studied theology at Leyden under Lambertus Danmus. He eventually continued his studies at Geneva and Basel under Theodore Beza and Grynmus. There Arminius lectured on the philosophy of Petrus Ramus and the Epistle to the Romans.

Recalled by the government of Amsterdam, in 1588 Arminius was appointed preacher of the Reformed congregation. During the fifteen years which he spent here, he gained general respect, but his views underwent a change. His exposition of Rom. vii. and ix., and his utterances on election and reprobation gave offense. His learned but hot-headed colleague, Petrus Plancius, in particular opposed him. Disputes arose in the consistory, which for the time being were stopped by the burgomasters.

Arminius' Teachings about Christ

Arminius was suspected of heresy because he regarded the subscription to the symbolical books as not binding and was ready to grant to the State more power in ecclesiastical matters than the strict Calvinists would admit.

When two of the professors of the University of Leyden, Junius and Trelcatius, died (1602), the curators called Arminius; and Franciscus Gomarus (q.v.), the only surviving theological professor, protested, but he became reconciled after an interview with Arminius. The latter entered upon his duties in 1603 with an address on the high-priestly office of Christ, and was made doctor of theology.

But the dogmatic disputes were renewed when Arminius undertook public lectures on predestination. Gomarus opposed him and published other theses. A great excitement ensued in the university and the students were divided into two parties. The ministers in Leyden and other places took part in the controversy, which became general. The Calvinists wanted the matter settled by a general synod, but the States General would not have it.

Oldenbarneveldt, the Dutch liberal statesman, in 1608 gave both opponents opportunity to defend their views before the supreme court, and a verdict was pronounced that since the controversy had no bearing upon the main points pertaining to salvation, each should bear with the other.

But Gomarus would not yield. Even the States of Holland tried to bring about a reconciliation between the two, and in August 1609 both professors and four ministers for each were invited to undertake new negotiations. The deliberations were first held orally, afterward continued in writing, but were terminated in October by the death of Arminius.

Works and Thought of Jacob Arminius

In his Disputationes, which were partly published during his lifetime, partly after his death, and which included the entire department of theology, as well as in some discourses and other writings, Arminius had clearly and pointedly defined his position and expressed his conviction. On the whole these writings are a fine testimony to his learning and acumen. The doctrine of predestination belonged to the fundamental teachings of the Reformed Church; but the conception of it asserted by Calvin and his adherents Arminius could not make his own. He would not follow a doctrinal development which made God the author of sin and of the condemnation of men.

Arminius taught conditional predestination and attached more importance to faith. He denied neither God's omnipotence nor his free grace, but Arminius thought it his duty to save the honor of God, and to emphasize, on the basis of the clear expressions of the Bible, the free will of man as well as the truth of the doctrine of sin. In these things he was more on the side of Martin Luther than of Calvin and Beza, but it cannot be denied that he expressed other opinions which were violently controverted as departures from the confession and catechism. His followers expressed their convictions in the famous five articles which they laid before the States as their justification. Called Remonstrants from this Remonstrance, they always refused to be called Arminians.


Arminianism in its later development has entered widely into the thought of the Church, both on the Continent, in Great Britain, and in America. It was welcomed in the Lutheran Church as a relief from the teachings of Augustine and the Reformed Churches. In Holland it became allied with the more liberal tendencies,--Socinian, rationalistic, universalistic, thus withdrawing itself from the traditional interpretation of Christianity.

The number of its professed adherents in that country (most of them in Amsterdam) is not large. In England also it developed a strong affinity with Socinianism in its doctrine of God and the person of Christ, and with Pelagianism in its conception of human nature. About the time of the Restoration, according to Hallam (Literary History of Europe, ii., London, 1855, p.131), the Arminians were called Latitude-men or Latitudinarians and were addicted to Greek philosophy and natural religion.

During the eighteenth century Arminianism was advocated by many of the leading writers of Great Britain, Tillotson, Jeremy Taylor, Chillingworth, Burnet; by Hoadly, a Socinian; and by Whitby, John Taylor; and Samuel Clarke, Arians. With many others it was rather a repudiation of Calvinism than a definitely formed theory.

In America, Arminianism showed itself now as an advocacy of freedom of thought and thus of toleration; now as emphasis on natural human duties rather than on speculative theology; now as silent, now as outspoken protest against the tenets of Calvinism. Owing to the writings of Whitby, John Taylor, and Samuel Clarke, its influence greatly increased in the eighteenth century. To Jonathan Edwards its menace formed the motive for his greatest work, The Freedom of the Will.

The name itself was made to cover many things for which Arminianism proper was not responsible-rationalistic tendencies of thought, depreciation of the serious nature of sin, indifference to vital piety, and laxity of morals. Arminianism became more a condition than a theory. In spite of opposition, however, in part on account of its later profound spirit through John Wesley, and in part by virtue of its essential truth, it has thoroughly leavened the Christian thought of America. A sign of the times is that theological schools confessedly Arminian educate young men for churches that are traditionally Calvinistic, and ministers holding Arminian views are received by such churches as thoroughly orthodox.


        - New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. I.
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