Arminius and Canterbury

Anglicanism's theological roots, those of the established Church of England, are grounded in Roman Catholic ideology in its initial stage. Roman Catholic site New Advent rightly states: "Before the breach with Rome under Henry VIII there was absolutely no doctrinal difference between the faith of Englishmen and the rest of Catholic Christendom, and 'Anglicanism,' as connoting a separate or independent religious system, was unknown." (link)

When Pope Clement VII., dependent upon the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V., Catherine of Aragon's nephew, refuses to grant Henry a divorce from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, who has failed to produce Henry with a male heir1 -- to say nothing of Henry's obsession with and desire to marry Anne Boleyn -- he sanctions The Act of Royal Supremacy in 1534, revived by Elizabeth I., as well as successive English reigns until 1833. By this act, Henry situates himself as Head of the Church of England, not the pope.

The Thirty-Nine Articles, written and enacted in 1563, the thirty-ninth Article added in 1571, are required of all bishops and clergy. During Elizabeth's reign, the tone of Anglicanism appears mildly or benignly Calvinistic, certainly not Dortian, and nothing possibly resembling what is witnessed during Arminius' Dutch context with the likes of supralapsarian Calvinist Francis Gomarus (1563-1641). In other words, when one reads the Articles, one need not assume a strict Calvinistic interpretation.

For example, Article XVII states: "Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour." Arminius himself affirms such a confession. Notice that this statement regarding predestination lacks unconditionality in nature. In other words, the predestination of God is not framed within an eternally unconditional decree to monergistically save some and not others. Though these Articles will not be amended, Calvinism in general is later abandoned by most Anglicans, as is demonstrated below.

The English Reformation, promoted by the likes of Cranmer, Hooper, Cox and Coverdale, is substantially affected by Protestant reformers Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Bucer. Arminius' influence in England cannot be overstated, however. Though even some Wesleyan ministers today, zealous for the life and thought of John and Charles Wesley, have never heard of nor have read Arminius, this fact still attests to the triumph of Arminianism. Geoffrey F. Nuttall, in his article "The Influence of Arminianism in England," writes:
In part, no doubt, this reflects the contented ignorance of theology common among Englishmen, but to a shrewd observer it may suggest the genuine triumph of Arminianism. In the last decades there has been a revival of Calvinism in Europe, but a revival of Arminianism is difficult to imagine. "Since Wesley, we are all Arminians" whether we know it or not, whether we have ever heard of Arminius or not. Arminius has triumphed much as, in a far shorter time, Sigmund Freud has triumphed; all of us think differently because of Freud, even those who have never heard of him.2
No doubt, theologically taken, without Arminius there are no Wesleys, much like without St Augustine, there is no Luther or Calvin. But Arminius' triumph among Anglican churches theologically is achieved in part by the opposition of Calvinistic and Presbyterian Puritans in England by their ecclesiological Episcopal detractors. Under Edward VI.'s reign (1547-1553), Henry VIII.'s sickly son and successor, liturgical changes are introduced into the Church's practice regarding the Eucharist, thanks in no small part to Archbishop Cranmer, as well as a new prayer book: the Book of Common Prayer. Then comes a devastating interruption for the Reformation in England.

Edward's successor, Mary, also known as "Bloody Mary," intends to restore England to her Roman Catholic roots. Her attempts arouse much opposition and ultimately fails. Upon her death in 1558, Elizabeth I., daughter of Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn, Mary's half-sister, reigns as queen (1558-1603). Under her reign, known as England's Golden Age, Protestantism and a benign sense of Calvinism flourishes -- benign in that the form of predestination adopted comports more with Arminius than with Beza or Calvin, and especially is this the case with the atonement, as well as the operation of grace.

Elizabeth I.'s successor, James VI., King of the Scots, becomes James I., King of England (1603-1625); he rules both kingdoms until his death. John R. Tyson notes: "The Anglican establishment, under the leadership of James I, began to veer away from the strict Calvinism of the sixteenth-century Reformation."3 The theological readjustment is due in part to a reaction from Arminian Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud (1573-1645) to the Puritans. Tyson explains:
After the fall of the Puritan government, the Anglican establishment worked out its revenge against them by repressing the Puritans and their theology. The thoroughgoing Calvinism of the Puritans was moderated and persecuted during the Restoration era. By the time of John and Charles Wesley [1703-1791, John outlived his brother Charles], many Anglicans were not strict Calvinists, and most "Dissenters" who stood outside the Church of England were.

Charles Wesley seems to have come by his Arminian perspective on salvation through the Anglican tradition and his own forays into the Scriptures, as well as his parents' influence. The same could be said of John Wesley, but Charles also had his elder brother Samuel's influence, and he too was a staunch Anglican and Arminian. When John was preparing to receive "holy orders" in the Church of England, his father recommended that he study the Dutch Arminian Hugo Grotius's [an Anglican advocate] commentary on the Old Testament.4
Arminius' doctrinal influence on the Church of England is also verified by the Rev. Tobias Conyers (1628-1687), who writes, "It is well known, my Lord, what countenance the scriptures carry with the doctrine of GENERAL ATONEMENT, and how much it looks like the doctrine of the Church of England (so we call it), and that the major part of the Bishops and Doctors, during the Episcopal Hierarchy, were deeply baptized thereinto, and the late king [Charles the First] himself. ..."5 (emphasis added) The author of the footnote here informs the reader that this is "a very important testimony in favour of the genuine Arminian complexion of the doctrine of the Church of England."6 (emphasis added) Already, Arminianism is an assumed theological position within the Church of England, not Calvinism.

Even more telling, with reference to Arminius' influence on the Church of England, is a commentary from the Rev. John Fletcher and its attached footnote regarding the era of the Synod of Dordt -- thereafter Arminian ministers are exiled from Holland for opposing Calvinism's errors. Fletcher writes: "Archbishop Laud, in the days of King James and Charles the first, caused in the gospel-scales the turn, which then began to take place in our church in favour of the doctrines of justice. He [Laud] was the chief instrument, which, like Moses's rod, began to part the boisterous sea of rigid Calvinism. He received his light from Arminius ..."7 Note the nod toward Arminius and not the Remonstrants, such as Episcopius, Grotius, or Uytenbogaert.

Regarding the "doctrines of justice," mentioned above, the footnote, written by Jortin's Disser, informs the reader:
In England, at the time of the Synod of Dort, we also were much divided in our opinions concerning the controverted articles [the Five Articles of Remonstrance]; but our divines having taken the liberty to think and judge for themselves, and the civil government not interposing, it hath come to pass that, from that time to this, almost all persons here of any note for learning and abilities have bid adieu to Calvinism, have sided with the Remonstrants [the followers and successors of Arminius], and have left the Fatalists to follow their own opinions, and to rejoice (since they can rejoice) in a religious system, consisting of human creatures without liberty, doctrines without sense, faith without reason, and a God without mercy.8
From Robert Bruce Mullin we learn that the older English High Church tradition maintains two distinct aspects: "In the sphere of theology" it favors "an elevated view of episcopacy (usually buttressed by the idea of apostolic succession)," which is an Anglican distinctive, a "strong emphasis on baptism and the ordinary workings of grace (in contrast to both enthusiasm [i.e., high-pitch emotional revivalism] and latitudinarianism)," which is typical for most Anglican congregations even today, and "a dislike for Calvinism in general and Puritanism in particular."9 This tradition is carried across the sea to the New World. Mullin notes two basic principles as the foundation for the Anglican theological scene:
The first was a rejection of Calvinism. However little they might have had in common, John Tillotson, the great Latitudinarian, and Charles Leslie, the great Nonjuror, both would have gladly danced on the grave of John Calvin. Until the rekindling of interest in Calvinism that accompanied the midcentury Evangelical revival [of Jonathan Edwards], major Anglican religious figures were largely united in their defense of the freedom of the will and their opposition to the five points to which Calvinism had been reduced. They criticized Calvinism for its tendency toward fanaticism, for its undermining of the moral nature, and for its susceptibility to metaphysics and speculation.10
The English and American Anglicans are not merely united in their disdain for Calvinism; they are also united in their broadly Arminian tradition regarding depravity, election and predestination, the atonement, the working of the grace of God in the Person of the Holy Spirit, yet while remaining divided on the notion of necessary perseverance. This is not to confess that all Anglicans are Arminian, either, since the likes of Calvinist evangelist George Whitefield and others are stalwarts of the faith.

This historical fact is, however, suggesting that Calvinism is largely cast aside by the majority Anglican party and has yet to experience a notable resurgence since the early-to-mid eighteenth century. The triumph of Arminius within the halls of Canterbury is unmistakable. Whereas Dordt, through political means, wins the battle in Holland, Arminius and the Remonstrants win the war in England, and throughout the New World.


1 Jackson J. Spielvogel, Western Civilization: Brief Discovery Edition, third edition (Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006), 240.

2 Geoffrey F. Nuttall, "The Influence of Arminianism in England," in Man's Faith and Freedom: The Theological Influence of Jacobus Arminius, ed. Gerald O. McCulloh (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1962), 46-47.

3 John R. Tyson, Assist Me to Proclaim: The Life and Hymns of Charles Wesley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 99.

4 Ibid., 99-100.

5 The Works of Arminius, three volumes, "Testimonies from Various Authors," trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 1:xli.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., xlix.

8 Ibid.

9 Robert Bruce Mullin, Episcopal Vision/American Reality: High Church Theology and Social Thought in Evangelical America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), xiii-xiv.

10 Ibid., 15.


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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.