Getting Acquainted with Arminius, Part 5
John S. Knox
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2012. Volume 30.
Date Posted Jan., 2013
The Declaration of Sentiments contains ten chapters which Arminius compiled in his defense. Last issue covered Sections 5-7.
SECTION VIII - "THE DIVINITY OF THE SON OF GOD"
Section 8 is one of the most difficult passages to examine because of its sophisticated theological arguments. In it, Arminius seeks to defend himself against attacks that he is spreading unorthodox views about the deity of Christ. In this chapter, he also attempts to prove that his detractors are using an unfair standard against him.
According to Arminius, the whole matter revolves around the interpretation of the word, autotheon - a Greek word meaning "very God," "one who is truly God," or "one who is of God of himself." Arminius claims this word was used incorrectly by many of his fellow professors at Leyden and that it carries with it the possibility of "two mutually conflicting errors"-Tritheism and Sabellianism. Tritheism is the heretical teaching about the Trinity that denies the unity of substance in the Divine Persons. Sabellianism is an alternative name for the Modalist form of Monarchianism. Furthermore, his criticism of its usage is based on both Scripture, the works of the Church Fathers, and orthodox doctrine established long before his time.
Regarding the confusing nature of the term, he asserts, "Yet the proceeding of the origin of one person from another (that is, of the Son from the Father) is the only foundation that has ever been used for defending the Unity of the Divine Essence in the Trinity of Persons." According to Arminius, autotheon denotes something else than that. He adds,
For, these two things, to be the Son and to be God, are at perfect agreement with each other; but to derive his essence from the Father, and, at the same time, to derive it from no one, are evidently contradictory, and mutually destructive the one of the other.
The term suggests equality to the point that the different personages are either blurred or harshly separated-a concept condemned by him and even his opponents, when it suits their agenda. Arminius unveils this prejudiced approach of his critics when he comments,
No one endeavored to vindicate me from this calumny; while great exertion was employed to frame excuses for Trelcatius, by means of a qualified interpretation of his words, though it was utterly impossible to reconcile their palliative explanations with the plain signification of his unperverted expressions. Such are the effects which the partiality of favor and the fervor of zeal can produce!
The remainder of the chapter is devoted to dissecting the understanding of the essence of God and Christ more thoroughly. His goal is the transmission of his clear, traditional, orthodox understanding of the Trinity. He has been accused of limiting the divinity of Christ because he does not like the term autotheon. To Arminius, however, the term itself is unorthodox and unscriptural. As such, he states, "Therefore, in no way whatever can this phrase . . . be excused as a correct one, or as having been happily expressed." As with other doctrinal matters, if it is not in Scripture, it can only be considered conjecturally. Arminius finishes the section with a "kidney punch" of his own, insinuating that his opponents are truly hypocritical in their theological positions. In their use of autotheon they are the ones spreading dangerous extra-Trinitarian doctrine.
SECTION IX - "THE JUSTIFICATION OF MAN BEFORE GOD"
Arminius' chapter on justification serves two purposes. First, it demonstrates how affable Arminius was in this controversy. Second, it reinforces Arminius' keeping with Calvinist thought. Concerning the first point, Arminius discusses an ongoing debate between the French churches and various professors of theology.
I never durst mingle myself with the dispute, or undertake to decide it; for I thought it possible for the Professors of the same religion to hold different opinions on this point from others of their brethren, without any breach of Christian peace or the unity of faith. Similar peaceful thoughts appear to have been indulged by both the adverse parties in this dispute; for they exercised a friendly toleration towards each other, and did not make that a reason for mutually renouncing their fraternal concord.
Arminius saw this debate as an opportunity for theologians to graciously demonstrate their Christian charity in the midst of controversy--unlike his own experience with the Supralapsarians who he concludes are hostile gentlemen "of a different judgment." His subtle comparison effectively describes his version of the unloving and unwarranted attacks of his opponents. Arminius' words on Reformed thought and especially on John Calvin make this mistreatment appear even more inappropriate.
He begins this chapter with a statement of agreement. He declares,
I am not conscious to myself, of having taught or entertained any other sentiments concerning the justification of man before God, than those which are held unanimously by the Reformed and Protestant Churches, and which are in complete agreement with their expressed opinions.
Unlike some other issues of doctrine, Arminius sees little to disagree within his opponents' approach to this topic. Complementing this is a declaration concerning Calvin.
Yet, my opinion is not so widely different from his as to prevent me from employing the signature of my own hand in subscribing to those things which he has delivered on this subject, in the third book of his Institutes; this I am prepared to do at any time, and to give them my full approval.
His opponents have accused him of being an enemy of the Reformed faith and of Calvinism. Arminius words completely reject this notion and with these words, Arminius ends the formal part of his Declaration of Sentiments. He has provided the Assembly that which they have requested-a statement of doctrine on various issues. He states, "Most noble and potent Lords, these are the principal articles, respecting which I have judged it necessary to declare my opinion before this August meeting, in obedience to your commands." However, he also imparted perhaps more than they expected. He provided substantiating proof for both his Reformed views and a defense against the Supralapsarian. His Declaration is nearly over, except for one more contribution to the agenda of the Assembly.