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The Arminian Controversy

For a more extended discussion of this controversy, see the works listed in the
Selected Bibliography on Puritanism and also the Jonathan Edwards Center.
Definitions The beliefs of Jacobus Arminius (Jacob Harmanszoon, 1560-1609), a Dutch theologian, reflected dissatisfaction with the principal tenets of Calvinism. According to R. L Colie in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Arminius "came to doubt the deterministic doctrine of damnation, and believed that election, dependent in part on man's free will, was not arbitrary but arose from God's pity for fallen men" (I:164). As a professor of theology at Leiden from 1603 until his death, Arminius had a great influence on the doctrinal debates of his time, and Dutch Arminianism was closely linked to secular intellectual life.
Background The Great Remonstrance published in 1610 by the Arminian clergy codified Arminius's beliefs into five major points:
    1. Rejection of the doctrine of election
    2. Rejection of predestination
    3. Rejection of the belief that Christ died for the elect alone
    4. Rejection of the belief in irresistible grace
    5. Assertion of the belief that saints could fall from grace.
In 1618, at the Synod of Dort (Dordrecht), these tenets were declared heretical, and orthodox Calvinism was upheld. (See the "Five Points" of refutation.) Arminians (Remonstrants) were arrested on charges of treason and given the choice of recantation or exile, although some later returned to Holland.

As Perry Miller comments in The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century, "Arminianism was heresy [to the Puritans], not because it tried to make God just, but because it secured His justice at the expense of His essential power, forcing Him to solicit the help of man, holding Him powerless to change a man who chooses to be evil.  It was wrong to say that God expects anything from man in the sense of leaving any decree uncertain or dependent upon man's doing, as though God has to wait before He can tell whether the creature will fulfill the expectation, but it was correct to say that in the Covenant He expects a return from those whom he foreknows will give it" (404).

For a different view of Arminianism, read the argument of John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism. 

© 1997-2010. Donna M. Campbell. Some information adapted from Resisting Regionalism: Gender and Naturalism in American Fiction, 1885-1915 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997).
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Campbell, Donna M. "Arminian Controversy." Literary Movements. Dept. of English, Washington State University. Date of publication or most recent update (listed above as the "last modified" date; you don't need to indicate the time). Web. Date you accessed the page.


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