Lion-Hearted Arminius in a Fist Fight

Arminius' mild-mannered temperament is noted in the pages of history from both his friends as well as his foes:

  • The personal character of Arminius was irreproachable; and he attracted the esteem and applause of his very enemies by his amiable manners, his candid spirit, his diffidence and modesty, and his inflexible integrity. -- John Aikin (1799)1
  • Arminius, that servant of Christ, in order to approve himself before God, chose to endure the hatred and contradiction of all mankind rather than to violate his conscience. He held out to the whole Christian world the ensign of peace and concord, and he wished a commencement [toward full peace between Reformed ministers] to be made in the Reformed Churches. -- Simon Episcopius (1623)2
  • Arminius was a pious and godly man, prudent, candid, mild and placid, and most studious to preserve the peace of the Church. -- Philip Limborch (1715)3

Petrus Bertius (1565-1629) -- friend to Arminius and the Remonstrants prior to his defection from the Reformed church back into the arms of Rome, which the Remonstrants deplore and name "a great and horrible thing"4 -- in his Funeral Oration over Arminius, confesses just how much did Arminius disdain the pomp and circumstance of many funerals: "For he was aware that, however well conducted and worthy of those whose excellencies they were designed to celebrate, these solemn observances in former ages became the first steps in the adoration of saints."5 Arminius reserves worship for God alone, in and by the Son of God Jesus Christ, through inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

I think Arminius, however, is a quiet bear of a man -- the strong and silent type. Yet he is also quite the manly man. Those who listen to his sermons note that they are "masculine" and intellectual: whatever he utters breathes a theologian -- "not raw and commonplace, but superior, acute, cultivated, and replete with solid acquisitions both in human and in sacred literature."6 Though even-tempered and mild mannered, he has a breaking point, and breaking him is not a pleasant experience for the instigator.



For example, notable Arminius biographer Carl Bangs records an incident in which Arminius is embroiled in a public fist fight with a textile worker, Claes Janszoon, 1 August 1596. Claes, parishioner of Arminius and the elders of the Old Reformed Church in Amsterdam assumed drunk, is punished for fighting in public with no less than a clergyman. Bangs writes: "The record does not indicate who was the better fighter. It need not be assumed that" the winner of the fight is Claes Janszoon, for "one of the tales circulated about Arminius in the seventeenth century had to do with his courage and physical prowess. He was walking on the dike ... when shouts of the people made him aware that an escaped prisoner was fleeing near him. Arminius sprang after the man, tackled him, and held him until he could be returned to prison."7 The portraits we have mostly detail the frame of Arminius as a husky man without him being considered obese. In other words, his stature appears as such that he is more than apt at protecting himself as well as others in the physical arena. His stature and demeanor, however, are responsibly restrained.

Again, though mild-mannered in the field of rhetoric and debate, Arminius has moments where his skill and ability at rhetoric and his ferocity are on display. When he is being challenged by detractor Petrus Plancius (1552-1622) -- his fiercest opponent prior to Franciscus Gomarus (1563-1641) -- he demonstrates to his foes that he is more than capable to the answering of their charges.

Plancius and other elders of the Old Reformed Church hold a meeting, 22 April 1593, insisting that Arminius give an answer. Arminius, 6 May, learns of this meeting and longs to give his opinion on all the articles of faith to which the ministers subscribe. He asks for time, to make proper preparation, and does not want to answer hastily. At a meeting 20 May 1593 his enemies bring the matter up and Arminius comes up fighting:
He called out in a loud voice, challenging anyone to stand forth and produce anything from any of his sermons which might call for censure. No one accepted the challenge, but one person made the objection "that from the testimony of Martinists [Lutherans], Anabaptists [Mennonites], and even libertines [humanists of the style of Coornhert] themselves, who gloried in his discourses on the ninth chapter of the [book to the] Romans, it was not unwarrantable to infer that he had taught and maintained something different from that which was taught by his brother ministers and everywhere taught by Reformed divines [theologians]."

Arminius found it strange that no one present could cite an erroneous passage from his sermons [especially since they are all present to hear his sermons Sunday after Sunday]. One of the elders replied that Arminius had been on his guard, and that he [Arminius] had used ambiguous expressions. Arminius denied the allegation and demanded proof, but no one would attempt to produce any evidence.8
Even one week later, 27 May 1593, unrest among the elders is evident and so Arminius renews his challenge to them. Plancius, being the primary instigator of this unrest against Arminius, when silence regarding Arminius' challenge to the group of elders is evinced even from him, Johannes Cuchlinus (1546-1606) asks: "Where is Plancius now? Inasmuch as he had raised doubts about Arminius' preaching, he should now, in the presence of Arminius and of the [elders], speak his mind."9 So he finally speaks: Plancius complains about Arminius' teaching on original sin, predestination, and the mortality of angels. Arminius answers his complaints and the elders are content with those answers.10

Arminius is a pillar of strength for the Reformed community. "On several occasions the advice or help of Arminius was sought by those outside his own locus of responsibility." When problems arise in Utrecht, for example, Arminius is the one sought "as a pastor 'on loan,' for they believed that he could help them bring some 'wandering sheep' back to the fold."11 Arminius is a man in the classical sense of the word: a man's man gifted of the Lord for the service of God's kingdom. He knows and respects his place within the Reformed tradition, temperate yet bold when necessary, a man upon whom people can rely.

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1 The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 1:xxxvii.

2 Ibid., 1:xlvi.

3 Ibid., 1:liii.

4 Ibid., 1:268.

5 Ibid., 1:15.

6 Kaspar Brandt, The Life of James Arminius, D.D., ed. John Guthrie (London: Ward & Co., 1854), 31.

7 Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998), 154.

8 Ibid., 148-49.

9 Ibid., 149.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., 156.