Jacobus Arminius

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ARMINIUS, JACOBUS (1559/601609), latinized name of Jacob Harmenszoon, Dutch Reformed theologian remembered chiefly for his criticisms of Calvinist views of predestination. Arminius taught that human salvation is due entirely to the grace of God in Christ, whereby fallen humankind is enabled to respond in freedom to the divine call. He proposed a universal "sufficient" grace in place of Calvin's limited "effective" grace. Further, he denied a predestination of particular persons to salvation on the basis of God's secret will, but he affirmed a particular predestination on the basis of God's foreknowledge of human free choices. For much that has come to be known as Arminianism, the central issue is "free will" versus "election."

Arminius was born to well-to-do parents in Oudewater, Holland. He lost his parents while young and was educated under the influence of Dutch biblical humanism. University studies at Marburg (1575) and Leiden (15761581) did not seem to have moved him to a strict Calvinism.

With support from Amsterdam merchants, he began theological studies in Geneva, where one of his teachers was Theodore Beza (15191605). Arminius and Beza clashed. Arminius studied for a time at Basel, but he returned to Geneva to finish his studies, after which he went to Amsterdam to become that city's first native Dutch clergyman (he was inducted into the Dutch Reformed ministry in 1588). At the time the question of predestination was raging, and Arminius came under fire for refusing to defend any of the Calvinist options and for interpreting Romans 7 and Romans 9 in a manner different from Calvin. He was sustained in his office and position by the Amsterdam merchant-oligarchy, to which he was allied by blood and marriage.

The same humanistic laity supported him in his call to be a professor of theology in Leiden (1603), where he soon incurred the enmity of his colleague Franciscus Gomarus (15631641) and other ardent Calvinists. Theological issues were intertwined with political issues, the Arminians siding with the civil official Johan van Oldenbarneveldt (15471619), who favored a truce with Spain, and the Calvinists with the military leader Maurice of Nassau (15671625), who wanted to press for war. Arminius died in the midst of the conflict, in 1609.

Arminius's cause was taken up by the Remonstrants, so called from their Remonstrance of 1610 that presented the Arminian doctrines of salvation, but power shifted to the Calvinists and Maurice. The Synod of Dort (16181619) deposed the Arminians, and Oldenbarneveldt was executed. By the 1630s, however, the Remonstrants had regrouped to form a new denomination, the Remonstrant Brotherhood, which maintained a scholarly, liberal, and progressive emphasis into the twentieth century. Hugo Grotius (15831645), Simon Episcopius (15831643), Philippus van Limborch (16331712), and C. P. Tiele (18301902) were among its noted adherents and scholars.

In England, under James I and Charles I, Anglican opponents of Calvinist Puritanism came to be known as Arminians, and Arminianism became allied with the religious and political doctrines of Archbishop William Laud (15731645) and was the main line of theology in the Church of England. Non-Anglican Arminianism appeared in the teachings of the General Baptists, often tending toward Unitarianism.

In the eighteenth century, however, John Wesley (17031791) and his brother Charles (17071788), by their preaching and hymnody, spread a new evangelical Arminianism throughout Britain. John Wesley, even when visiting Holland, made no common cause with the Remonstrants, who by this time were heavily influenced by the Enlight-enment.

Dissent from Calvinism in New England was called "Arminianism," but it did not get its impetus from Arminius. American Methodism did, however, and John Wesley's The Arminian Magazine (1778) was printed on both sides of the Atlantic, as were English editions of Arminius. Wesleyan evangelical Arminianism spread with Methodism across North America in the nineteenth century to the extent that American culture has been designated as "Arminian." There are links from this pervasive Arminian spirit to movements as diverse as frontier revivalism, communitarian perfectionism, the Holiness movement, political and theological individualism, and theological liberalism.


The most recent edition of Arminius's writings is The Works of James Arminius, 3 vols., translated by James Nichols and William R. Bagnall (1853; reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1956). For a modern treatment of Arminius, giving attention to political, economic, and social contexts of his life and thought, see my Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1985). For important interpretive essays on early Dutch Arminianism, see G. J. Hoenderdaal's "Arminius en Episcopius," Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis, n.s. 60 (1980): 203235; and John Platt's Reformed Thought and Scholasticism: The Arguments for the Existence of God in Dutch Theology, 15751650 (Leiden, 1982). A. W. Harrison's Arminianism (London, 1937) remains a useful survey of Arminianism in England.

Carl Bangs (1987)

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Jacobus Arminius



Youth in a Tempestuous Time.

Jacob Harmenszoon, who later became known as the theologian Jacobus Arminius, was born in the town of Oudewater, near Leiden in the Netherlands. His father worked in the metal trades, either as a blacksmith or a forger of armor, but he died when Jacob was still a child. Throughout the child's youth the Netherlands were plagued with civil and religious wars, a result of the Dutch movement for independence from Spain. Following Jacob's father's death, a family friend, Jacob Aemilius, took the young boy under his wing and paid for his primary and secondary education. When Aemilius died around the time Jacob Harmenszoon was fifteen, a Dutch-born professor at the University of Marburg in Germany, Rudolf Snellius, assumed the responsibility for Harmenszoon's education. Snellius paid Jacob Harmenszoon's fees at the University of Leiden, and in 1576, when the young student entered, he began to use the name "Arminius." After completing his studies there, Arminius won the support of the city of Amsterdam to study in Geneva, then the center of Calvinist theological education in Europe. Although usually temperate and mild-mannered, Arminius attracted controversy shortly after he arrived in Geneva when he defended the French mathematician, rhetorician, and Calvinist convert Peter Ramus, a figure he had admired since his school days in Leiden. During the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacres of 1572, Ramus was martyred, and in the decades that followed his works were widely reprinted and his fame spread throughout Europe. Ramus's Calvinist ideas were feared by some because he argued for a complete reorganization of universities and the elimination of Aristotelianism from the curriculum. At Geneva, Arminius's defense of Ramus seems to have ruffled some feathers, and in 1583, the young theologian left town to study in Basel. After some success there, he returned to Geneva where he seems to have ingratiated himself with Theodore Beza, then the leading theologian and successor of John Calvin in the city. In 1586, Arminius completed his studies in Geneva. He made a short trip to Italy and then returned to his native Netherlands, where he took a position as a minister in one of the churches of Amsterdam. He married and served for a time on the town council before being called in 1603 to a professorship at his alma mater, the University of Leiden.


For most of his life Arminius seems to have lived the life of a quiet parson. But in his final years as a professor, the scholar became a lightning rod for controversy. Although he had originally believed in the Calvinist concept of predestination, he came to have doubts, and when he expressed them he became embroiled in a theological dispute that eventually erupted into a major controversy throughout the Dutch Calvinist church. Arminius rejected the teaching of "double predestination" that Calvin and other Genevan theologians had propounded. In this view, God not only had fore-knowledge of who would and would not accept or reject his offer of salvation, he actively elected or chose those to receive his grace. Arminius rejected such a view and taught instead that God may have had foreknowledge of whether one was to be saved, but this knowledge did not determine a human being's choice. One was free to accept God's offer of salvation or to reject it. In this way, Arminius's theology championed free will, a concept roundly rejected by Calvinist theologians of the day. At Leiden, Arminius's colleague Franciscus Gomarus led the charge against his views, developing a counter-party to the Arminians that became known as the Gomarists. Although he died only six years after accepting the post as professor of theology at Leiden, he attracted a significant following, and in the years following Arminius's death his concept of free will was taken up by a significant portion of the university's faculty and students, and was even embraced by Hugo Grotius, the greatest legal mind of the early seventeenth century. One year following his death, they issued the Remonstrances, a work that systematically defended his teachings and argued that they should be accepted by the Calvinist church in the Netherlands. From this time, the Arminian party in the Netherlands became known as Remonstrants. During the 1610s, the controversy continued to brew over Arminius's free-will theology, but in 1618, the Synod of Dordt, a meeting of the Dutch church's ministers and theologians roundly condemned his views as heretical. While a splinter group survived that adhered to his teachings, Dutch Calvinist orthodoxy continued to follow the vein of thinking on predestination that had first been set down by John Calvin in the sixteenth century. Arminius's views survived, however, and became even more significant in the eighteenth century, when they were adopted by John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church.


Jacobus Arminius, The Works of James Arminius. Trans. William and James Nichols (1853; Reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1986).

Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971).

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Jacobus Arminius

The Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) criticized the orthodox Calvinist position on the doctrine of predestination. The result was a split in the Dutch Reformed Church, and followers of his position came to be known as Arminians.

Jacobus Arminius was born on Oct. 10, 1560, in Oudewater, Holland. After his early education in Utrecht, he studied at the universities of Leiden, Basel, and Geneva. At Geneva he trained under the French theologian Theodore Beza and won distinction in his studies. In 1588 Arminius was ordained in Amsterdam and eventually achieved the reputation of being a devoted pastor. In 1603 he became professor of theology at the University of Leiden and remained there until his death.

While at Leiden, Arminius became involved in a heated struggle over the teachings of the Dutch Reformed Church. The most important source of controversy was the doctrine of predestination. Dutch Calvinists had divided into two schools of thought: the supralapsarians, who held the orthodox position and taught that God had decreed who would be saved and damned before man's fall in the sin of Adam, and the infralapsarians, who maintained that God did not decree who should be saved and damned until after the fall of man. In either case, human decision was irrelevant to the process of salvation. The supralapsarian position was held by the Reformed Church, and Arminius was asked to refute a man who was preaching infralapsarianism. But Arminius eventually rejected both positions on predestination. Although he did not deny predestination, he held that God did not decree particular individuals to be either saved or damned. He stated that salvation was by faith alone and Christ died for all men. Thus, those who believe will be saved and those who reject God's grace will be damned.

Francis Gomarus, a colleague of Arminius at Leiden, was a strong supralapsarian and vehemently opposed his teachings. At Arminius's death on Oct. 19, 1609, the dispute had not been settled, and his followers, known as Arminians or Remonstrants, continued the strife, although they did not always adhere strictly to his ideas. The position of Arminius against the Calvinist doctrine of predestination was condemned by the national synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1618-1619. This step did not, however, end the Arminian movement, and it continued to play a role not only in the Netherlands but also in England.

In addition to his ideas on predestination, Arminius demonstrated a great interest in the reconciliation of all Christian Churches. He believed that conferences, and specifically a general church council, might help to bring Christians together.

Further Reading

James and William Nichols selected and translated The Works of James Arminius (3 vols., 1825-1875). The standard biography is still Caspar Brandt, The Life of James Arminius (1724; trans. 1857). See also A. W. Harrison, The Beginnings of Arminianism, to the Synod of Dort (1926), and Gerald O. McCulloh, ed., Man's Faith and Freedom: The TheologicalInfluence of Jacobus Arminius (1962), which contains an extensive bibliography.

Additional Sources

Bangs, Carl, Arminius: a study in the Dutch Reformation, Grand Rapids, Mich.: F. Asbury Press, 1985.

Slaatte, Howard Alexander., The Arminian arm of theology: the theologies of John Fletcher, first Methodist theologian, and his precursor, James Arminius, Washington: University Press of America, 1977. □

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Called also Jakob Hermandszoon, Dutch Reformed theologian; b. Oudewater, South Holland, Oct. 10, 1560; d. Leiden, Oct. 19, 1609. Aided by friends, Arminius, after his father's death, studied at Utrecht and at Marburg (only briefly, since he was called home when most of his family was slain during the Spanish siege of Oudewater); he later attended the University of Leiden to study theology

(157682). He went to Geneva, at that time under Theodore Beza, where he studied for three years (interrupted by a brief stay in Basel); he then went to the University of Padua, made a short visit to Rome, and spent a few more months in Geneva. In 1587 he was called to Amsterdam and in the following year became a minister. For 15 years he served as a kind and devoted pastor, showing his love for his people especially at the time that the plague struck so devastatingly (1602). He was a gifted preacher who possessed a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. A few years after his arrival in Amsterdam he married and became the father of nine children. In 1603 he was invited to become professor of theology at the University of Leiden, where he remained until his death. By nature a peace-loving man, Arminius nevertheless became involved in many disputes over the Calvinist teaching of unconditional predestination, since his studies in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans had led him to doubt so harsh a doctrine and inspired him to promote the milder form of a conditional predestination. The disputes continued until the time of his death.

Bibliography: Opera theologica (Leiden 1629); Eng. ed. and tr. J. and w. nichols, 3 v. (London 182575). c. brandt, The Life of James Arminius, tr. j. guthrie (Glasgow 1854). n. bangs, Life of James Arminius, ed. j. nichols (New York 1843). j. h. maronier, Jacobus Arminius (Amsterdam 1905). a. h. w. harrison, The Beginnings of Arminianism to the Synod of Dort (London 1926); Arminianism (London 1937). w. f. dankbaar, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 3 1:622.

[l. f. ruskowski]

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Arminius, Jacobus (1560–1609). Dutch theologian who gave his name to the system of theology known as Arminianism. He became professor at Leiden, where there were arguments over predestination, leading to severe divisions. Arminius held that God willed that all people should be saved, and that it is only because God foresaw the belief or unbelief of individuals that he can be said to have predestined some to salvation, others to damnation. After his death, his followers issued the Remonstrance of 1610, from which the major differences from strict Calvinism can be discerned: (i) Christ died for all; (ii) God's saving grace can be resisted; (iii) Christians can fall from grace; (iv) the Holy Spirit is necessary to help the achievement of what is good; (v) salvation is for those who believe in Christ and who persist in holiness, obedience, and faith. Arminius and Arminianism had a wide (though always contested) influence, including such figures as Grotius and John Wesley.

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Arminius, Jacobus (1560–1609) Dutch theologian whose system of beliefs, especially concerning salvation, became widespread and was later known as Arminianism. He rejected the notion of predestination developed by John Calvin, in favour of a more liberal concept of conditional election and universal redemption. Arminius believed that God will elect to everlasting life those who are prepared to respond in faith to the offer of divine salvation. Arminianism, though at first bitterly rejected, finally achieved official recognition in the Netherlands in 1795. It was a major influence on Methodism.