Arminius: On the Popish Mass

Sadly, the old Calvinistic canard of attempting to link Arminius and Arminianism to Rome remains even to this day, some four hundred years later. What is most plain regarding Arminius' scholastic theology is its antagonism to Roman Catholicism. All charges against Arminius affirming Roman Catholic dogma are to be dismissed as baseless, as will be obvious in this and the following post, and only serves to implicate the one(s) making the charge as ill-informed at best and unChristian at worst.


Arminius rightly argued that the liturgical "sacrifice" of the popish mass is "fasley ascribed to the institution of the Lord's Supper: For Christ did not institute a sacrifice but a sacrament."1 He continues: "To this sacrifice are opposed the nature, truth, and excellence of the sacrifice of Christ. For, as the sacrifice of Christ is single, expiatory, perfect, and of infinite value; and as Christ was once offered, and 'hath by that one oblation perfected for ever them who were once sanctified,' as the Scriptures testify [Heb. 10:14], undoubtedly no place has been left either for any other sacrifice, or for a repetition of this sacrifice of Christ. [Heb. 10:18]"2

Moreover, argues Arminius, it is "wrong to suppose that Christ can be or ought to be offered by men, or by any other person than by Himself: For He alone is both the Victim and the Priest, as being the Only One who is truly 'holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.'"3 Hence the popish mass is "impious" and "a piece of foolish ignorance" for supposing "either that the dead require some oblation; or that they can by it obtain remission of sins, who have not obtained pardon before death."4 (Arminius explicitly refuted the theory of Purgatory.) The greatest offense, however, is that "this very sacrifice is adored by him who offers it, and by those for whom it is offered, and is carried about in solemn pomp."5


A sacrament requires three necessary qualifications: "divine institution, an outward and visible sign, and a promise of the invisible grace which belongs to eternal salvation."6 These qualifications, then, render five of the seven Roman Catholic sacraments (the exemptions being baptism and the Lord's Supper, of course) as any other reality than a genuine sacrament.


With regard to the office of the Pope, Arminius did not sugar-coat his ill feelings, and agreed with the notion that anyone filling the office of the Pope (i.e., the Father of the Roman Catholic Church) is "the adulterer and pimp of the Church, the false prophet, the destroyer and subverter of the Church, the enemy of God and the Antichrist, the wicked and perverse servant, who neither discharges the duties of a [genuine] Bishop, nor is worthy to bear the name."7

The truth of Scripture, we believe, is that the "Spouse and Husband of the Church Universal is one by . . . a most particular unity, otherwise the church would be an adulteress."8 The "Head of the Church is but one; otherwise the church would be a monster."9 The "Foundation of the Church Universal is only one, because there is but one house of God and Christ."10 Finally, God's "Vicar-General . . . is one who administers all things in heaven and on earth in the name, at the command, and by the authority of God."11 Furthermore, this "Vicar of God is only Christ, to whom alone these properties belong: But the Roman Pontiff is not Christ: Therefore he is not God's Universal Vicar, not even in the church, because the same . . . considerations apply to her as to the whole universe."12

Since those who bestow on the Pope honorary titles, which should belong to Christ alone, and since therefore "the Roman Pontiff either attributes these most honourable titles of Christ to himself, or willingly suffers them to be ascribed to him; and since he evinces no horror at the blasphemy contained in these titles, and gives no tokens of his displeasure at this ascription of them; it follows that he puts himself in the place of Christ, and is supremely opposed to Him;"13 thus rendering all involved within this false Roman Catholic system as idolaters.  

The Pope is therefore rightly called the adulterer and pimp of the Church "because he calls the [Roman Catholic] Church his 'Spouse,' and she neither disowns the arrogance of this title nor is afraid of the envy [attached to such assumption]; and he is the Adulterer in reality: For he practices spiritual adultery with the church, and she in return with him."14 To the Pope, then, rightly belongs such titles as false prophet, since he suffers not only to be called God's Vicar, but also prophesies false doctrines; including but not limited to that
the bread in the Lord's Supper is transubstantiated, or changed in substance, into the body of Christ; that, in the Mass, Christ is daily offered by the Priest as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead; that man is justified before God, partly by faith, and partly by works; that there is a Purgatory, into which the souls of those enter who are not yet sufficiently purified, and that they are released from it by prayers . . . intercessions, watchings, alms-deeds, indulgences, &c.15
While these appropriate epithets belong to the Pope, argues Arminius, the "name of 'The Antichrist' belongs to him pre-eminently. . . . For he is both a rival to Christ and His adversary, when he boasts of himself as the spouse, the head, and the foundation of the church, endowed with plenitude of power; and yet he professes himself to be the vice-regent of Christ and to perform his functions on earth, for the sake of his own private advantage, but to the manifest injury of the church of Christ."16

Seeing for oneself how utterly ridiculous is the charge that Arminius and/or Arminianism has connections to Rome is of paramount significance. More than that, however, is how viewing this issue rightly exposes the malcontent of some Calvinists with regard to Arminius and Arminian theology. Arminius was no cryptic-Catholic or Roman sympathizer, and neither are Arminians today, whether considering classical Arminians or the vast majority of Wesleyan-Arminians.


1 Jacob Arminius, "Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation LXV. On the Popish Mass," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:443.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 2:443-44.

4 Ibid., 2:444.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., 2:265.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid., 2:266.

11 Ibid., 2:267.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., 269.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., 270-71.

16 Ibid., 2:272.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.