Current Research in Arminius Studies

On this day, 19 October 1609, Jacob Arminius breathed his last breath on this earth, his spirit returning to God, who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7), in whose presence he bowed in worship. "[Arminius'] historical significance neither a sympathizer nor an opponent can misunderstand" is the opening century-old quote in Keith D. Stanglin's article, "Arminius and Arminianism: An Overview of Current Research," in the Leiden book and from the conference, Arminius, Arminianism, and Europe: Jacobus Arminius (1559/60-1609).

Calvinist historian and theologian Richard A. Muller writes a similar statement: "The theology of Jacob Arminius has been neglected both by his admirers and by his detractors."1 When a Calvinist of Muller's caliber makes such an acknowledgement, especially about a theologian with whom he significantly disagrees theologically, one ought to pay very close attention. Dr. Stanglin writes the following regarding the current research of Arminius studies.

__________

Reflecting now [upon the opening quote] . . . we can repeat this sentiment only with great qualification, for historians, theologians, and ministers too often continue to misunderstand and underestimate Arminius's significance. In view of the enormous international impact of the school of thought that bears his name, and compared with the scholarly research devoted to other Reformers of less prominence, study of the "historical Arminius" still has some catching up to do.

In addition, among those who acknowledge his historical and theological significance, there is no consensus on the precise nature of his contribution or its significance. Is Arminius the harbinger of the future course of Remonstrantism, or a proponent of old Dutch Protestantism? Is he an irenic Reformed theologian or a dogmatic Protestant scholastic? Perhaps he is a combination of all of these things, and more. . . .

Arminius possessed large quantities of ancient philosophers and Church fathers, represented most by Aristotle, Cicero, John Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustine. His sixteenth-century Reformed predecessors -- especially Calvin, Beza, and Junius -- are also widely represented. The presence of these sources should come as no surprise to readers of Arminius, but as a corroboration of the influence one sees in his works. In addition to these Reformed figures, it further illuminates Arminius to find a substantial amount of Erasmus and Melanchthon in his library.

Moreover, the influence of some of these authors on Arminius is still debated. For example, the fact that Arminius owned the second edition of Luis de Molina's Concordia (1595) ought to be relevant to the question of whether Arminius was a "Molinist."2 . . . 

There have been a number of investigations of Arminius's thought in recent decades. . . . [Richard A.] Muller deals with issues related to Arminius's theological prolegomena [i.e., preparatory remarks or observations] and theology proper [in one section of his book on Arminius' theology]. He notes that, for Arminius, theology is primarily a practical, not a speculative, discipline. That is, theology leads toward a goal beyond itself, namely, salvation and the enjoyment of God (62-66).

Muller also claims that Arminius is probably a philosophical intellectualist, which, in the typical medieval model, did not comport with a practical view of theology (78). This unusual combination of intellectualism and a practical end to theology is evidence of Arminius's eclectic scholasticism, reflected again when he employs Thomistic proofs for the existence of God, but with a healthy dose of Scotist and nominalist critique (99, 109). . . .


For Arminius, since God wills the creature's good, God's act of creation is also intended for the creature's good. This claim, of course, rules out supralapsarianism [and rightly so!], where creation is a means to destruction. As the Reformed stressed divine omnipotence in God's relationship with creation, Arminius emphasized God's self-limitation and the integrity of the created order and freedom of the creature. God's providential concurrence with creation is more removed than it is for Arminius's Reformed contemporaries, bringing causal distance between God and sinful actions.

In sum, God's voluntary self-limitation in creation opens the door to reciprocity in this relationship. Muller concludes that if the Reformed system can be called a theology of grace, Arminius's system can be called a theology of creation (268). . . . 

This [briefly edited] survey [indeed, the conference and resultant book, have] been necessarily limited to discussing only the most important contributions of recent decades. It has focused on the advances in the study of Arminius's life, works, and theology. As a result, the labor of previous generations on whose shoulders we stand has mostly gone unmentioned, but not unappreciated or forgotten.

At a milestone like this, we must acknowledge that we are not the first, nor will we be the last, to reflect on the life and meaning of Arminius. We can only hope that, in light of [the opening quote], our efforts will contribute to greater understanding of the historical significance of the one we are here to commemorate.3

__________

1 Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 269.

2 Arminian scholar William Witt, among most others, believes Arminius not to be a Molinist, while Eef Dekker, and a minority of others, is convinced otherwise. See Keith D. Stanglin, "Arminius and Arminianism: An Overview of Current Research," in Arminius, Arminianism, and Europe: Jacobus Arminius (1559/60-1609), eds. Th. Marius van Leeuwen, Keith D. Stanglin and Marijke Tolsma (Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2010), 14.

3 Ibid., 3-24.