{ahr - min' - ee - uhn - izm}

General Information

Arminianism, which takes its name from Jacobus Arminius (Jakob Harmensen), is a moderate theological revision of Calvinism that limits the significance of Predestination. Arminius (1560 - 1609) was a Dutch Reformed theologian who studied at Leiden and Geneva. He became a professor at Leiden in 1603 and spent the rest of his life defending against strict Calvinists his position that God's sovereignty and human free will are compatible. He sought without success revision of the Dutch Reformed (Belgic) Confession; nevertheless, he was very influential in Dutch Protestantism.

A Remonstrance in 1610 gave the name Remonstrants to the Arminian party. They were condemned by the Synod of Dort (1618 - 19), but later received toleration. English revisionist theology of the 17th century was called Arminian, although possibly without direct influence from Holland. John Wesley accepted the term for his theological position and published The Arminian Magazine. The tension between the Arminian and Calvinist positions in theology became quiescent until Karl Barth sparked its revival in the 20th century.

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C Bangs, Arminius (1985); C Pinnock, The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism (1988); N Tyacke, Anti - Calvinists: The Rise of English Arminianism (1987).


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Arminianism is the theological stance of James Arminius and the movement which stemmed from him. It views Christian doctrine much as the pre - Augustinian fathers did and as did the later John Wesley. In several basic ways it differs from the Augustinian fathers did and as did the later John Wesley. In several basic ways it differs from the Augustine - Luther - Calvin tradition.

This form of Protestanism arose in the United Netherlands shortly after the "alteration" from Roman Catholicism had occurred in that country. It stresses Scripture alone as the highest authority for doctrines. And it teaches that justification is by grace alone, there being no meritoriousness in our faith that occasions justification, since it is only through prevenient grace that fallen humanity can exercise that faith.

Arminianism is a distinct kind of Protestant theology for several reasons. One of its distinctions is its teaching on predestination. It teaches predestination, since the Scripture writers do, but it understands that this predecision on God's part is to save the ones who repent and believe. Thus its view is called conditional predestination, since the predetermination of the destiny of individuals is based on God's foreknowledge of the way in which they will either freely reject Christ or freely accept him.

Arminius defended his view most precisely in his commentary on Romans 9, Examination of Perkins' Pamphlet, and Declaration of Sentiments. He argued against supralapsarianism, popularized by John Calvin's son - in - law and Arminius's teacher at Geneva, Theodore Beza, and vigorously defended at the University of Leiden by Francis Gomarus, a colleague of Arminius. Their view was that before the fall, indeed before man's creation, God had already determined what the eternal destiny of each person was to be. Arminius also believed that the sublapsarian unconditional predestination view of Augustine and Martin Luther is unscriptural.

This is the view that Adam's sin was freely chosen but that, after Adam's fall, the eternal destiny of each person was determined by the absolutely sovereign God. In his Declaration of Sentiments (1608) Arminius gave twenty arguments against supralapsarianism, which he said (not quite correctly) applied also to sublapsarianism. These included such arguments as that the view is void of good news; repugnant to God's wise, just, and good nature, and to man's free nature; "highly dishonorable to Jesus Christ"; "hurtful to the salvation of men"; and that it "inverts the order of the gospel of Jesus Christ" (which is that we are justified after we believe, not prior to our believing). He said the arguments all boil down to one, actually: that unconditional predestination makes God "the author of sin."

Connected with Arminius's view of conditional predestination are other significant teachings of "the quiet Dutchman." One is his emphasis on human freedom. Here he was not Pelagian, as some have thought. He believed profoundly in original sin, understanding that the will of natural fallen man is not only maimed and wounded, but that it is entirely unable, apart from prevenient grace, to do any good thing. Another teaching is that Christ's atonement is unlimited in its benefits. He understood that such texts as "he died for all" (2 Cor. 5:15; cf. 2 Cor. 5:14; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2) mean what they say, while Puritans such as John Owen and other Calvinists have understood that the "all" means only all of those previously elected to be saved. A third view is that while God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; Matt. 18:14), saving grace is not irresistible, as in classical Calvinism. It can be rejected.

In Arminius's view believers may lose their salvation and be eternally lost. Quoting as support of this position such passages as 1 Pet. 1:10, "Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall," Arminians still seek to nourish and encourage believers so that they might remain in a saved state. While Arminians feel that they have been rather successful in disinclining many Calvinists from such views as unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace, they realize that they have not widely succeeded in the area of eternal security. R T Shank's Life in the Son and H O Wiley's 3 - volume Christian Theology make a good scriptural case against eternal security from within the Arminian tradition, but the position has been unconvincing to Calvinists generally.

A spillover from Calvinism into Arminianism has occurred in recent decades. Thus many Arminians whose theology is not very precise say that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Yet such a view is foreign to Arminianism, which teaches instead that Christ suffered for us. Arminians teach that what Christ did he did for every person; therefore what he did could not have been to pay the penalty, since no one would then ever go into eternal perdition. Arminianism teaches that Christ suffered for everyone so that the Father could forgive the ones who repent and believe; his death is such that all will see that forgiveness is costly and will strive to cease from anarchy in the world God governs. This view is called the governmental theory of the atonement.

Its germinal teachings are in Arminius, but his student, the lawyer - theologian Hugo Grotius, delineated the view. Methodism's John Miley best explicated the theory in his The Atonement in Christ (1879). Arminians who know their theology have problems in such cooperative ministries with Calvinists as the Billy Graham campaigns because the workers are often taught to counsel people that Christ paid the penalty for their sins. But it is an important aspect of the Arminian tradition, from Arminius himself, through John Wesley, to the present, to be of tolerant spirit; so they often cooperate in these ministries without mentioning the matter to the leadership. Arminians feel that the reason Scripture always states that Christ suffered (e.g., Acts 17:3; 26:23; 2 Cor. 1:5; Phil. 3:10; Heb. 2:9 - 10; 13:12; 1 Pet. 1:11; 2:21: 3:18; 4:1, 13), and never that he was punished, is because the Christ who was crucified was guiltless because he was sinless. They also feel that God the Father would not be forgiving us at all if his justice was satisfied by the real thing that justice needs: punishment.

They understand that there can be only punishment or forgiveness, not both, realizing, e.g., that a child is either punished or forgiven, not forgiven after the punishment has been meted out.

A spillover into Arminianism from Baptistic Calvinism is an opposition to infant baptism. Until recently the long Arminian tradition has customarily emphasized infant baptism, as did Arminius and Wesley (Luther and Calvin too, for that matter). It has been considered as the sacrament which helps prevenient grace to be implemented, restraining the child until such time as he becomes evangelically converted. Arminians believe that the several household baptisms mentioned in Acts 16 - 17 and 1 Cor. 1 imply that infants were baptized, and that this act is the NT counterpart of OT circumcision. But the untutored often feel that they should not baptize infants, because so many Baptist - type evangelicals do not.

Biblical inerrancy is another spillover. The Arminian tradition has been a part of the long Protestant tradition which Fuller Seminary's Jack Rogers discusses in his Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical. It is interested in the Bible's authority and infallibility, and expresses confidence that Scripture is inerrant on matters of faith and practice, while remaining open on possible mathematical, historical, or geographical errors. Its scholars in general do not believe that Harold Lindsell correctly interprets the long Christian tradition on Scripture in such works as The Battle for the Bible, when he says that until about 150 years ago Christians in general believed in the total inerrancy of Scripture.

Another spillover is in eschatological matters. Arminianism is not dispensationalist as such, has not committed itself to a given millennial view, and has little interest in specific prophecies (believing God would have us concentrate on what is clear in Scripture: Christ's redemption and a holy life). But many lay Arminians have succumbed to such popular prophetic books as those of Hal Lindsey, which teach unequivocally that present political events and trends fulfill specific biblical prophecies.

A considerable problem to Arminians is that they have often been misrepresented. Some scholars have said that Arminianism is Pelagian, is a form of theological liberalism, and is syncretistic. It is true that one wing of Arminianism picked up Arminius's stress on human freedom and tolerance toward differing theologies, becoming latitudinarian and liberal. Indeed the two denominations in Holland that issued from Arminius are largely such today. But Arminians who promote Arminius's actual teachings and those of the great Arminian John Wesley, whose view and movement have sometimes been called "Arminianism of fire," have disclaimed all those theologically left associations. Such Arminians largely comprise the eight million or so Christians who today constitute the Christian Holiness Association (the Salvation Army, the Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan Church, etc.).

This kind of Arminianism strongly defends Christ's virgin birth, miracles, bodily resurrection, and substitutionary atonement (his suffering for the punishment believers would have received); the dynamic inspiration and infallibility of Scripture; justification by grace alone through faith alone; and the final destinies of heaven and hell. It is therefore evangelical, but an evangelicalism which is at certain important points different from evangelical Calvinism.

J K Grider

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

The Works of James Arminius(1853 ed.); J K Grider, W B E , I, 143 - 48; A W Harrison, Arminianism and The Beginnings of Arminianism; G O McCullough, ed., Man's Faith and Freedom; C Pinnock, Grace Unlimited.


Catholic Information

The popular designation of the doctrines held by a party formed in the early days of the seventeenth century among the Calvinists of the Netherlands. The tendency of the human reason to revolt against Calvin's decretum horrible of predestination absolute and salvation and damnation meted out without regard to merit or demerit had aroused opposition in thinking minds from the first promulgation of the dogma; but whilst the fanatical wars of religion engrossed the attention of the masses, thinking minds were few and uninfluential. Calvin's reckless tenets had banished charity and mercy from the breasts of his followers and had everywhere aroused a fierce spirit of strife and bloodshed. It throve on paradoxes. This unnatural spirit could not survive a period of calm deliberation; a leader was sure to rise from the Calvinistic ranks who should point out the baneful corollaries of the Genevan creed, and be listened to. Such a leader was Jacobus Arminius (Jakob Hermanzoon), professor at the University of Leyden. He was born at Oudewater, South Holland, in 1560. While still an infant he lost his father, a cutler by trade, but through the generosity of strangers he was enabled to perfect his education at various universities at home and in foreign parts. In his twenty-second year the brilliant youth, whose talents were universally acknowledged, was sent to Geneva at the expense of the merchants' guild of Amsterdam, in order to imbibe genuine Calvinism at the feet of Beza. In 1586 he made a prolonged trip to Italy, which served to widen his mental horizon. Rumours beginning to spread that he had fallen under the influence of the Jesuits, Francisco Suárez and Bellarmin, he was recalled to Amsterdam, was pronounced orthodox, and appointed preacher of the reformed congregation. This office he filled with ever increasing renown for fifteen years. He had all the qualifications of a great pulpit orator -- a sonorous voice, a magnificent presence, and a thorough knowledge of Scripture, which he expounded in a clear and pleasing manner, dwelling with predilection on its ethical features and avoiding the polemical asperities characteristic of his age and sect. Yet his later years were fated to be embittered by polemical strife. The revolt against predestination absolute was taking shape. A professor at Leyden had already pronounced Calvin's God "a tyrant and an executioner". The learned layman Koornhert, in spite of ecclesiastical censures, continued to inveigh successfully against the dominant religion of Holland; and he had converted two ministers of Delft who had been chosen to argue him into submission, from the supralapsarian the infralapsarian position (see CALVINISM). The task of confounding the "heretic" was now entrusted to the disciple of Beza. Arminius addressed himself to the work; but he soon began to feel that Calvinism was repugnant to all the instincts of his soul. More and more clearly, as time went on, his writings and sermons taught the doctrines since associated with his name and after his death embodied by his disciples in the famous five propositions of the "Remonstrants". For the sake of reference we give the substance of the "Remonstrantie" as condensed by Professor Blok in his "History of the People of the Netherlands" (III, ch. xiv).

"They (the Remonstrants) declared themselves opposed to the following doctrines: (1) Predestination in its defined form; as if God by an eternal and irrevocable decision had destined men, some to eternal bliss, others to eternal damnation, without any other law than His own pleasure. On the contrary, they thought that God by the same resolution wished to make all believers in Christ who persisted in their belief to the end blessed in Christ, and for His sake would only condemn the unconverted and unbelieving. (2) The doctrine of election according to which the chosen were counted as necessarily and unavoidably blessed and the outcasts necessarily and unavoidably lost. They urged the milder doctrine that Christ had died for all men, and that believers were only chosen in so far as they enjoyed he forgiveness of sins.

(3) The doctrine that Christ died for the elect alone to make them blessed and no one else, ordained as mediator; on the contrary, they urged the possibility of salvation for others not elect. (4) The doctrine that the grace of God affects the elect only, while the reprobates cannot participate in this through their conversion, but only through their own strength. On the other hand, they, the 'Remonstrants', a name they received later from this, their 'Remonstrance', hold that man 'has no saving belief in himself, nor out of the force of his free-will', if he lives in sin, but that it is necessary that 'he be born again from God in Christ by means of His Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding and affection, or will and all strength', since without grace man cannot resist sin, although he cannot be counted as irresistible to grace.

(5) The doctrine that he who had once attained true saving grace can never lose it and be wholly debased. They held, on the contrary, that whoever had received Christ's quickening spirit had thereby a strong weapon against Satan, sin, the world, and his own flesh, although they would not decide at the time without further investigation -- later they adopted this too -- whether he could not lose this power 'forsaking the beginning of his being, Christ.'"

The ultra-Calvinists responded by drafting a "Contra-Remonstrantie" in the following seven articles: (1) God had, after Adam's fall, reserved a certain number of human beings from destruction, and, in His eternal and unchangeable counsel, destined them to salvation through Christ, leaving the others alone in accordance with His righteous judgement. (2) The elect are not only the good Christians who are adult, but also the "children of the covenant as long as they do not prove the contrary by their action". (3) In this election God does not consider belief or conversion, but acts simply according to His pleasure. (4) God sent His Son, Christ, for the salvation of the elect, and of them alone. (5) The Holy Ghost in the Scriptures and in preaching speaks to them alone, to instruct and to convert them. (6) The elect can never lose the true belief, but they obtain power of resistance through the Holy Ghost active in them. (7) This would not lead them to follow the dictates of the flesh carelessly, but, on the contrary, they would go God's way, considering that thereby alone could they be saved.

The defection of the popular and gifted divine was a severe blow to the rigid Calvinists and started a quarrel which eventually threatened the existence of the United Netherlands. His reputation was greatly enhanced by his heroic fidelity to pastoral duty during the plague of 1602, and the following year, through the influence of admirers like Grotius, he was, notwithstanding fierce opposition, appointed professor of theology at the University of Leyden. His life as professor was an unintermittent quarrel with his stern Calvinistic colleague, Francis Gomarus, which divided the university and the country into two hostile camps.

Arminius did not live to see the ultimate results of the controversy, as he died of consumption in his forty-ninth Year, October, 1609. Although the principles of Arminius were solemnly condemned in the great Calvinist Synod held at Dordrecht, or Dort, in 1618-19, and the "Remonstrant heresy" was rigorously suppressed during the lifetime of Maurice of Orange, nevertheless the Leyden professor had given to ultra-Calvinism a blow from which it never recovered. The controversy was soon transplanted to England where it roused the same dissensions as in Holland. In the following century it divided the early Methodists into two parties, the followers of John Wesley adhering to the Arminian view, those of George Whitefield professing the strict Calvinistic tenets.

Publication information Written by James F. Loughlin. Transcribed by Robert H. Sarkissian. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


Brant, Historia Vitae Arminii (Amsterdam, 1724); revised and enlarged by Mosheim (Brunswick, 1725); Nichols, Life of Arminius (London, 1843); Arminii opera theologica (incomplete-Frankfurt, 1635) tr. Nichols (London, 1825-28, Buffalo, 1853); Blok, History of the People of the Netherlands; Cambridge Modern History, III, xix; Rogge in Realencyclop die für protestantische Theologie und Kirche; Grube in Kirchenlex.; Brandt, Historia reformationis Belgicae (La Haye, 1726); Graf, Beitrag zur Gesch. der Syn. von Dortrecht (Basle, 1825).

Also, see:
Canons of Dort
Belgic Confession


Soteriological Ordering. Various Attitudes

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