1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Arminius, Jacobus
ARMINIUS, JACOBUS (1560-1609), Dutch theologian, author of the modified reformed theology that receives its name of Arminian from him, was born at Oudewater, South Holland, on the 10th of October 1560. Arminius is a Latinized form of his patronymic Hermanns or Hermansen. His father, Hermann Jakobs, a cutler, died while he was an infant, leaving a widow and three children. Theodorus Aemilius, a priest, who had turned Protestant, adopting Jakob, sent him to school at Utrecht, but died when his charge was in his fifteenth year. Rudolf Snellius (Snel van Roijen, 1546-1613), the mathematician, a native of Oudewater, then a professor at Marburg, happening at the time to visit his early home, met the boy, saw promise in him and undertook his maintenance and education. But hardly was he settled at Marburg when the news came that the Spaniards had besieged and taken Oudewater, and murdered its inhabitants almost without exception. Arminius hurried home, but only to find all his relatives slain. In February the same year (1575), the university of Leiden had been founded, and thither, by the kindness of friends, Arminius was sent to study theology. The six years he remained at Leiden (1576-1582) were years of active and innovating thought in Holland. The War of Independence had started conflicting tendencies in men’s minds. To some it seemed to illustrate the necessity of the state tolerating only one religion, but to others the necessity of the state tolerating all. Dirck Coornhert argued, in private conferences and public disputations, that it was wrong to punish heretics, and his great opponents were, as a rule, the ministers, who maintained that there was no room for more than one religion in a state. Caspar Koolhaes, the heroic minister of Leiden—its first lecturer, too, in divinity—pleaded against a too rigid uniformity, for such an agreement on “fundamentals” as had allowed Reformed, Lutherans and Anabaptists to unite. Leiden had been happy, too, in its first professors. There taught in theology Guillaume Feuguières or Feuguereius (d. 1613), a mild divine, who had written a treatise on persuasion in religion, urging that as to it “men could be led, not driven”; Lambert Danaeus, who deserves remembrance as the first to discuss Christian ethics scientifically, apart from dogmatics; Johannes Drusius, the Orientalist, one of the most enlightened and advanced scholars of his day, settled later at Franeker; Johann Kolmann the younger, best known by his saying that high Calvinism made God “both a tyrant and an executioner.” Snellius, Arminius’s old patron, now removed to Leiden, expounded the Ramist philosophy, and did his best to start his students on the search after truth, unimpeded by the authority of Aristotle. Under these men and influences, Arminius studied with signal success; and the promise he gave induced the merchants’ gild of Amsterdam to bear the further expenses of his education. In 1582 he went to Geneva, studied there awhile under Theodore Beza, but had soon, owing to his active advocacy of the Ramist philosophy, to remove to Basel. After a short but brilliant career there he turned to Geneva, studied for three years, travelled, in 1586, in Italy, heard Giacomo Zarabella (1533-1589) lecture on philosophy in Padua, visited Rome, and, open-minded enough to see its good as well as its evil, was suspected by the stern Dutch Calvinists of “popish” leanings. Next year he was called to Amsterdam, and there, in 1588, was ordained. He soon acquired the reputation of being a good preacher and faithful pastor. He was commissioned to organize the educational system of the city, and is said to have done it well. He greatly distinguished himself by fidelity to duty during a plague that devastated Amsterdam in 1602. In 1603 he was called, in succession to Franz Junius, to a theological professorship at Leiden, which he held till his death on the 19th of October 1609.
Arminius is best known as the founder of the anti-Calvinistic school in Reformed theology, which created the Remonstrant Church in Holland (see Remonstrants), and contributed to form the Arminian tendency or party in England. He was a man of mild and liberal spirit, broadened by varied culture, constitutionally averse from narrow views and enforced uniformity. He lived in a period of severe systematizing. The Reformed strengthened itself against the Roman Catholic theology by working itself, on the one hand, into vigorous logical consistency, and supporting itself, on the other, on the supreme authority of the Scriptures. Calvin’s first principle, the absolute sovereignty of God, had been so applied as to make the divine decree determine alike the acts and the destinies of men; and his formal principle had been so construed as to invest his system with the authority of the source whence it professed to have been drawn. Calvinism had become, towards the close of the 16th century, supreme in Holland, but the very rigour of the uniformity it exacted provoked a reaction. Coornhert could not plead for the toleration of heretics without assailing the dominant Calvinism, and so he opposed a conditional to its unconditional predestination. The two ministers of Delft, who had debated the point with him, had, the better to turn his arguments, descended from the supralapsarian to the infralapsarian position, i.e. made the divine decree, instead of precede and determine, succeed the Fall. This seemed to the high Calvinists of Holland a grave heresy. Arminius, fresh from Geneva, familiar with the dialectics of Beza, appeared to many the man able to speak the needed word, and so, in 1589, he was simultaneously invited by the ecclesiastical court of Amsterdam to refute Coornhert, and by Martin Lydius, professor at Franeker, to combat the two infralapsarian ministers of Delft. Thus led to confront the questions of necessity and free will, his own views became unsettled, and the further he pursued his inquiries the more he was inclined to assert the freedom of man and limit the range of the unconditional decrees of God. This change became gradually more apparent in his preaching and in his conferences with his clerical associates, and occasioned much controversy in the ecclesiastical courts where, however, he successfully defended his position. The controversy was embittered and the differences sharpened by his appointment to the professorship at Leiden. He had as colleague Franz Gomarus, a strong supralapsarian, perfervid, irrepressible; and their collisions, personal, official, political, tended to develop and define their respective positions.
Arminius died, worn out by uncongenial controversy and ecclesiastical persecution, before his system had been elaborated into the logical consistency it attained in the hands of his celebrated successor, Simon Episcopius; but though inchoate in detail, it was in its principles clear and coherent enough. These may be thus stated:
1. The decree of God is, when it concerns His own actions, absolute, but when it concerns man’s, conditional, i.e. the decree relative to the Saviour to be appointed and the salvation to be provided is absolute, but the decree relative to the persons saved or condemned is made to depend on the acts—belief and repentance in the one case, unbelief and impenitence in the other—of the persons themselves.
2. The providence or government of God, while sovereign, is exercised in harmony with the nature of the creatures governed, i.e. the sovereignty of God is so exercised as to be compatible with the freedom of man.
3. Man is by original nature, through the assistance of divine grace, free, able to will and perform the right; but is in his fallen state, of and by himself, unable to do so; he needs to be regenerated in all his powers before he can do what is good and pleasing to God.
4. Divine grace originates, maintains and perfects all the good in man, so much so that he cannot, though regenerate, conceive, will or do any good thing without it.
5. The saints possess, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, sufficient strength to persevere to the end in spite of sin and the flesh, but may so decline from sound doctrine as to cause divine grace to be ineffectual.
6. Every believer may be assured of his own salvation.
7. It is possible for a regenerate man to live without sin.
Arminius’s works are mostly occasional treatises drawn from him by controversial emergencies, but they everywhere exhibit a calm, well-furnished, undogmatic and progressive mind. He was essentially an amiable man, who hated the zeal for an impossible orthodoxy that constrained “the church to institute a search after crimes which have not betrayed an existence, yea, and to drag into open contentions those who are meditating no evil.” His friend Peter Bertius, who pronounced his funeral oration, closed it with these words: “There lived a man whom it was not possible for those who knew him sufficiently to esteem; those who entertained no esteem for him are such as never knew him well enough to appreciate his merits.”