Calvinism and Arminianism: History of the Debate History of Jacob Arminius

History of Jacob Arminius and Arminanism

Jacob Arminius was a very well educated young man. Arminius went to Leiden from 1576 to 1582. Many of his teachers especially Kolmann believed and taught that high Calvinism made God both a tyrant and an executioner. Arminius wanted both sides of the debate so he went to Calvin’s academy in Geneva. Theodore Beza, Calvin’s hand-picked successor and son-in-law, was the chairman of theology at the university. Admiration flowed both directions in Beza’s friendship with Arminius. Arminius learned from the Calvinists. He learned so much from the Calvinists that he was able to debate and even refute them. Jacob Arminius refuted Theodore’s supralapsarianism and his high view of unconditional election, which went beyond what Calvin himself taught in the area of unconditional election. Summarizing and debating high Calvinism. Arminius not only refuted Beze but also against the majority position of most theologians at the time. The theology of the reformers was still hot and taught by the scholars of the time.[1]

Jacob Arminius received his doctorate and professorship of theology at Leiden in 1603. Unfortunately for Arminius, Franciscus Gomarus was a strict Calvinist professor at Leiden at the time. Upon hearing about Arminius’s professorship, Gomarus publicly began opposing Arminius and his teachings (even during Arminius’s own classes!) Long story short, Gomarus and Arminius did not have a good friendship like Beza had with Arminius. Worse, from 1603 till 1609, Arminius spent most of his time debating and recovering from lost legal and theological battles. The issues were so stressful for Arminuis that he died in 1609.[2]

For the most part, Arminius wanted to stay Biblical. His doctrines against some of the strict and high Calvinists were simply getting radical teachings grounded and more Biblical. Gomarus taught that God knows since eternity, since the beginning of time, who will be among the saved and the damned and supralapsarian predestination and i nfralapsarianism (also know as absolute predestination or double predestination.)[3] This was not originally what John Calvin taught.[4] Arminius wanted to ground this teaching and get back to the Biblical balance between the sovereignty of God in all things and also allow for a measure of free will to be tangibly expressed and performed by human creatures. And while human beings must be enabled to believe in Jesus Christ such does not validate any theory of “effectual grace”, according to Arminius.

Unfortunately due to his untimely death and the regrettable debate just before his death, Arminius was accused of saying that high Calvinism makes God the author of evil but he was also accused of errors on the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, original sin, and works salvation — all charges which Arminius not only denied, but cited agreement with both Calvinism and Scripture.[5] He died young at forty-nine years of age and his followers (the Remonstrants) published his works after his death: Remonstrantiœ and Five articles of the Remonstrants.

Arminius stated that “the grace sufficient for salvation is conferred on the Elect, and on the Non-elect; that, if they will, they may believe or not believe, may be saved or not be saved.[6] William Witt states that “Arminius has a very high theology of grace. He insists emphatically that grace is gratuitous because it is obtained through God’s redemption in Christ, not through human effort.[7]” Arminius himself agreed that God’s grace saved man. He agreed that it was God’s effort that saved man! He agreed more with that actual teachings of John Calvin than he was against Calvin. What Arminius could not stand for was high Calvinism and double predestination. John Calvin probably would not have stood for it either.

Arminius never meat Calvin. He was not directly against Calvin’s basic teachings, but against the excessive teachings of Calvin’s followers. The theology of Arminianism did not become fully developed during Arminius’ lifetime, similar to how Calvinism was more a creation of Calvin’s followers. Similarly also the followers of Arminius take Arminius’ teachings to a new level and use it against all of Calvin’s followers. So we are left with an artificial debate between two men who never intended on debating each other where for the most part these two men agreed with each other theologically more than they disagreed.[8]. Besides all the the debate is no longer representing the actual teachings of these two men!

Arminius himself did not even devise the T.U.L.I.P. acronym. It was the Remonstrants lead by Hugo Grotius who created a five points synthesis or theological grid. Their five points were: 1. God chooses to save those who place their faith in Christ. 2. Christ is the Savior of all men/world, General Atonement. 3. New Birth is a moral necessity. Man is depraved.
4. Grace of God can be resisted. 5. Victory in Salvation is secured for people who continue to seek the help of God however may lose salvation if at any time if he stops actively seeking help of God. [9]

Right after the Five articles of the Remonstrants was published, there was a Calvinistic response, the Synod of Dort in 1618 and 1619. It was here that the Five Points of Calvinism was issued. These ever famous five points are shortened to the mnemonic acronym or acrostic of “T.U.L.I.P.” Initially Gomarus stayed on with the Calvinistic opposition group the contra-remonstrants. Gomarus resigned from his post and went to Middleburg in 1611, where he became preacher at a Reformed church. It is speculated that the controversy around Arminius is the reason why he resigned. It is possible that either he took Arminius’ death and defeat so ill that he chose to resign or that it was the politically correct thing to do or someone forced him to resign. This was the peak of Calvinism and high Calvinism and one of the lowest points of Arminianism.


[1] RICHARD A. MÜLLER “HISTORICAL AND THEOLOGICAL STUDIES ARMINIUS AND THE REFORMED TRADITION” (WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL WTJ 70, 2008), 25

[2] Robert Godfrey “Who Was Arminius?” (Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 9, Number 7, February 11 to February 17, 2007), 1.

[3] RICHARD A. MÜLLER “HISTORICAL AND THEOLOGICAL STUDIES ARMINIUS AND THE REFORMED TRADITION”, 27.

[4] Ibid, 28.

[5] Ibid, 26.

[7] William Witt, Creation, Redemption and Grace in the Theology of Jacob Arminius, ( University of Notre Dame, 1993), pp. 259-60.

[8] RICHARD A. MÜLLER “HISTORICAL AND THEOLOGICAL STUDIES ARMINIUS AND THE REFORMED TRADITION,” 28

[9] David Steele, Romans: Interpretive Outline. P&R Publishing, 1989.

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