Misunderstanding Arminius and Rome

I am disappointed in reading James E. Bradley and Richard A. Muller's Church History: An Introduction to Research, Reference Works, and Methods with regard to an aspect of Arminius' historical confession concerning his library of Roman Catholic resources. Bradley and Muller implicate Arminius to having lied about possessing and reading Roman Catholic books in his library, which is a very serious charge. What surprises and disappoints me most about the allegation is Dr. Muller's particular involvement, since he is more than scarcely familiar with Arminius and his Works, having written God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius, and, more recently, his article "Arminius and the Reformed Tradition," in which he repeats the following error.

Our authors Drs. Bradley and Muller explain how the critical historian "must recognize that documents can and sometimes will intentionally or unintentionally stand in the way of a clear understanding of their author's mind."1 Remember, they suggest we need clarity. They continue:
For example, Arminius's negative comments about scholastic theology as antithetical to true and apostolic Christianity and his statements that he never recommended [emphasis added; and this is crucial when seeking clarity] works by the Jesuits but consistently encouraged students to read Calvin's Institutes and Scripture commentaries mask his significant appreciation and use of the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Francis Suárez, and Louis Molina -- all scholastics, and the latter two, Jesuits."2
What is actually true in this comment by Bradley and Muller is that Arminius does not recommend Jesuit sources to his students, as is demonstrated below, and he does, in fact, extol John Calvin's writings. Though Arminius makes negative comments about scholastic theology, must we conclude, then, that he is not permitted to have a respect or an appreciation for the writings of Aquinas, Suárez or Molina?

Though I consistently make negative comments regarding supralapsarian Calvinism, I, nonetheless, appreciate some particular works of Theodore Beza, a supralapsarian. Am I being inconsistent? Is Arminius being inconsistent? But this charge pales in comparison to what follows.

While remarking about objectivity in historical studies, the authors argue that the student  should not ask whether or not Arminius
is ultimately doctrinally right or wrong. Rather, the question is, "Why does he say what he says?" One can find out a lot about why he says what he says by comparing his thinking to the Reformed thinking of his day, and then asking the objectivizing questions, "What is the reason that he moves in one particular direction as opposed to another? What is going on in his mind that leads him in this other direction?"3
I think these are excellent questions, and that they move the student as well as "the critical historian" in the correct direction regarding the thought processes of anyone in Church history, Arminius in particular. The authors, partly quoted here, continue:
These questions raise the further question of what is fact and what is interpretation. Several elements of the written record are data and fact. We have (1) Arminius's own comments about his own theology, what it is and what it is not, including his comment that he did not read [note the word "read" used by our authors] Roman Catholic authors and that he admired John Calvin as much as anybody else. We have (2) the printed catalogue of his library as auctioned off by his widow after his death. In his library we find a wide selection of Roman Catholic books, by the very authors that he said he did not read and did not recommend to his students: Aquinas, Bellarmine, Suárez, and Molina.4 (emphases added)
But are Bradley and Muller being honest here? They claim that Arminius himself admits "he did not read Roman Catholic authors." They give the source of this alleged confession from his Works, Volume One, pp. 295-301. As anyone would expect, I read those seven pages in their entirety and found that Bradley and Muller are not being honest whatsoever with regard to Arminius' own confession. One can only speculate as to why.

In the reference given by the authors, from The Works of Arminius, we find the following evidence from the pen of Arminius himself:
Another rumour, nearly allied to this splendid falsehood, was one which at the same time was circulated among the populace: Arminius, it was said, usually recommended to the students under his care, not only the productions of Castellio and Koornhert [anti-Calvinists], but likewise and principally those of Suárez and other Jesuits; and he spoke contemptuously of the writings of Calvin, Beza, Martyr, Zanchius, Ursinus, and other eminent divines of the Reformed Church. ...

The following is an extract from a letter which he addressed, May 3, 1607, to Sebastian Egberts, the principal Senator in the government of Amsterdam: "I can bestow no other title than that of 'Falsehood' on the report which is in circulation, that I persuade the students to read the books of the Jesuits and of Koornhert: For none of them have interrogated me on this point, and I never of my own accord uttered a word on the subject.

"But, after the Holy Scriptures (the perusal of which I earnestly inculcate more than any other person, as the whole University as well as the consciences of my colleagues will testify), I exhort them to read the Commentaries of Calvin, on whom I bestow higher praise than Helmichius [a Dutch theologian] ever did, as he confessed to me himself. For I tell them that he is incomparable in the interpretation of Scripture; and that his Commentaries ought to be held in greater estimation than all that is delivered to us in the writings of the Ancient Christian Fathers: So that, in a certain eminent Spirit of Prophecy, I give the pre-eminence to him beyond most others, indeed beyond them all. I add, that, with regard to what belongs to [Melanchthon's] Common Places, his Institutes must be read after the [Heidelberg] Catechism, as a more ample interpretation. But to all this I subjoin the remark that they must be perused with cautious choice like all other human compositions.

"I could produce innumerable witnesses of this my advice; while they cannot produce one, whom I have advised to read Koornhert or the followers of Ignatius Loyola. Let them bring forward a single witness, and the falsehood will immediately be manifest: So that, on this point, a history, or rather a fable, arises out of nothing."5 (emphases added)
Not once does Arminius confess to not having read Roman Catholic authors, as Muller and Bradley falsely insist, not once. Many times he quotes Roman Catholic authors in an effort to refute their errors. How can Arminius quote Roman Catholics, in an effort to refute them, if he does not read them? Here Bradley and Muller are guilty of siding with those who seek nothing more than to calumniate Arminius' stellar reputation among the Reformed theologians, and to implicate him of lying about his library and not having read Roman Catholic authors, when he never confesses to not having read the authors, but only to not having recommended them to his students. This is unacceptable in scholarship.

When people read a Church History textbook, they should be able to read it as a source of objective fact, at least as objective as humanly possible. Such is not the case with Bradley and Muller's Church History where Arminius is concerned. They imply that Arminius is lying, when he clearly is not lying, and are found to be lying themselves regarding Arminius' own words (or lack thereof). How do Bradley and Muller conclude that Arminius confesses that he had not read Roman Catholic authors from his statement that he had not recommended those authors to his students? The two are not synonymous. This is yet another example as to why many Calvinists cannot be trusted with many accounts in Church history, and especially where Arminius, the Remonstrants, and Arminianism are concerned. Bradley and Muller need to print a retraction.


1 James E. Bradley and Richard A. Muller, Church History: An Introduction to Research, Reference Works, and Methods (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 36.

2 Ibid., 36-37.

3 Ibid., 50.

4 Ibid.

5 The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 1:295-96.


My photo

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.