In a comment on another question on this site, a user says that the Remonstrants thought they more faithfully represented Calvin and Augustine's teaching than did those who eventually convened the Synod of Dort. So, according to their own words, did Arminius or Episcopius or other Remonstrants believe they agreed with Calvin's teachings on soteriology, or did they concede that they disagreed with him?
Arminius on the Church Fathers, and Orthodox Doctrine
Jacob Arminius did in fact believe that his doctrines were in line with the ancient church fathers. In Arminius' Dissertation Of The Seventh Chapter of Romans, we find the following quotation:
If, lastly, I shall prove that the other opinion [regeneration] as it is in these days explained by most divines, cannot, without the greatest difficulty, be reconciled to many of the plainest passages of Scripture, that it is in no small degree injurious to the grace of the indwelling Spirit, that it has a hurtful effect on good morals, and that it [regeneration] was never approved by any of the ancient fathers of the church, but, on the contrary, disapproved by some of them, and even to St. Augustine himself; then may I be permitted by a most deserved right to admonish the defenders of that other sentiment [regeneration], that they reflect frequently and seriously, whether they be wishful to excite the wrath of God against themselves by an unjust condemnation of this better opinion [prevenient grace] and of those who are its defenders.
Arminius here is mainly concerned with the end of chapter 7, starting around verse 14 or 15. In particular, he is arguing against a doctrine which today would be called "regeneration by irresistible grace."
While he is not arguing against the school of Calvin in general, his opinions about irresistible grace give us some insight:
- He believed that regeneration (by irresistible grace) is not compatible with orthodox teaching
- He believed that the church fathers even disapproved of this doctrine
- He lists Augustine as one who disapproved
- He believes that he is a defender of a "better opinion"
He doesn't just appeal to Augustine. Here is a list of just some of the theologians that Arminius appeals to, in order to establish his doctrine as orthodox:
- Clement of Alexandria
- Basil the Great
- Macarius the Egyptian
Arminius on Calvin, and His Institutes
Let's all start on the same page - John Calvin and Jacob Arminius were not contemporaries. Arminius came on the scene when Calvin's movement had become the dominant stance in reformed theology. The name "Calvin" was now representative of a movement, and not just a person.
It should be pretty obvious that Arminius did not think his opinions were in agreement with the Calvinist movement. Under I. "ON PREDESTINATION" from The Works of James Arminius, Vol. 1, we find the following statement:
Commencing with this article, I will first explain what is taught concerning it, both in discourses and writings, by certain persons in our Churches, and in the University of Leyden. I will afterwards declare my own views and thoughts on the same subject, while I shew my opinion on what they advance. On this article there is no uniform and simple opinion among the teachers of our Churches; but there is some variation in certain parts of it in which they differ from each other.
Arminius acknowledges that opinions on predestination are very diverse and at odds with each other - particularly, among those in the school of Cavlin, and those sympathetic to Arminius and Kolmann.
Arminius goes into more detail in his correspondence with Junius (DISCUSSION BETWEEN ARMINIUS AND JUNIUS, TOPIC: PREDESTINATION), where he outlines the differing beliefs of his contemporaries:
I see, then, most renowned sir, that there are three views in reference to that subject, [predestination] which have their defenders among the doctors of our church. The first is that of Calvin to Beza; the second that of Thomas Aquinas and his followers; the third that of Augustine and those who agree with him.
He writes of the first doctrine the following:
I am not pleased with the first theory [Calvin's view of predestination] because God could not, in his purpose of illustrating his glory by mercy and punitive justice, have reference to man as not yet made, nor indeed to man as made, and considered in his natural condition. In which sentiment I think that I have yourself as my precedent, for, in discussing predestination, you no where make mention of mercy, but every where of grace, which transcends mercy, as exercised towards creatures, continuing in their original, natural state, while it coincides with mercy in being occupied with the sinner, but when you treat of the passed by and the reprobate, you mention justice, and only in the case of such. Besides, according to that opinion, God is, by necessary consequence, made the author of the fall of Adam and of sin, from which imputation he is not freed by the distinctions of the act and the evil in the act, of necessity and coaction, of the decree and its execution, of efficacious and permissive decree, as the latter is explained by the authors of this view, in harmony with it, nor a different relation of the divine decree and of human nature, nor by the addition of the proposed end, namely that the whole might redound to the divine glory, etc.
If you continue reading, Arminius chooses to sympathize with the third view, namely, that of Augustine. He considers this the "better option" because it does not require God to have been the author of sin, and it does not require God's unconditional damnation or reprobation of individuals to hell.
Here is what we can conclude, based on Arminius' own writings:
- Arminius considers himself to be in line with the school of Augustine.
- Arminius disagrees with the ideas of double predestination, irresistible grace, etc.
- Arminius claims that Calvin supports double predestination, irresistible grace, etc.
- Based on 2. and 3., Arminius does not consider himself to be in agreement with Calvin.
I thank everyone for their patience with me. I think I've got it this time.
Based solely on the words of Jacobus Arminius, It appears that he believed that he was in agreement with John Calvin, and greatly admired his work!
The 19th century theologian John Scott concludes his 1832 publication, Calvin and the Swiss Reformation, with the following quotes attributed to Jacob Arminius:
After the holy scriptures, I exhort the students to read the Commentaries of Calvin:…for I tell them that he is incomparable in the interpretation of scripture; and that his Commentaries ought to be held in greater estimation than all that is delivered to us in the writings of the ancient Christian fathers: so that, in a certain eminent spirit of prophecy, I give the preeminence to him beyond most others, indeed beyond them all. I add, that, with regard to what belongs to common places, his Institutes must be read after the Catechism, as a more ample interpretation. But to all this I subjoin the remark, that they must be perused with cautious choice, like all other human compositions.
My opinion is that of Calvin, to whose third book of the Institutes, on this subject, I am ready to subscribe.
But Scott provides no reference for the former quote, and only a weak reference for the latter quote, namely, "'Declaration of Arminius,' see Christian Observer for 1807, p. 179."
I tracked this down (Christian Observer. Jan, 1807. No-61. Vol-6. Pg. 179.) and discovered that the quote was actually from The Leading Features of the Gospel Delineated: In an Attempt to Expose Some Unscriptural Errors; Particularly the Absurd Tenet, That Mistakes in Religion are of Trifling Consequence by Rev. Nicholas Sloan, Minister of Dornock, Dumfriesshire. Unfortunately, Google has yet to add this to their online library. Fortunately, AbeBooks .com has one used copy available, but it's $239. Thus, we're left with plausible deniability regarding the authenticity of this quote. Dead end. Moving on.
Regarding the first quote, after reading through hours of google documents that directly and indirectly referred to this quote as Arminius' praise of Calvin, but always citing John Scott's aforementioned work that doesn't provide an original source, I finally found something substantial thanks to the heroic investigative efforts of Joshua Woo Sze Zeng.
Everything that follows is pulled directly from his research HERE so check it out (He does more than cite sources, he offers the photo of the original document).
Sze Zeng's experience was similar to mine - everything led back to weak citations of 19th century editions of The Christian Observer, until he felt prompted to search google for "arminius two years before death calvin".
That connected the dots (Praise the Lord).
I don't have the right to reveal the details of Sze Zeng's hard work. We definitely owe him a huge thanks for making the truth behind this important quote of Arminius regarding Calvin available and clearly articulated.
For the sake of finishing the answer (and increasing it's availability), the first block quote I provided above says a great deal more than what follows, and isn't translated from the Latin with 100% accuracy, but clearly originates from Arminius' words below. The quote Sze Zeng provides from the translated Latin source he found reads as follows:
But after the reading of Scripture, which I vehemently inculcate more than anything else, which the entire academy can testify and of which my colleagues are conscious, I encourage the reading of the commentaries of Calvin, which I extol with the greatest praise.... For I say that he is incomparable in the interpretation of Scripture, and his comments are better than anything which the Fathers give us.
Again, the original source for this quote can be found at Joshua Woo Sze Zeng's website.
I find this statement to be a clear demonstration of Jacob Arminius' belief, expressed in his own words, that he was in agreement with John Calvin's interpretation of Scripture.
I yield the issue of whether or not the Remonstrants believed they were in agreement with John Calvin to someone else. Enjoy the journey!