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Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609.

doi: l0.1017/S0009640708001765

Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609. By Keith D. Stanglin. Brill's Series in Church History 27. Leiden: Brill, 2007. xviii + 287 pp. $129.00 cloth.

Jacobus Arminius (1559 1609) became the focus of controversy, which is still ongoing. Typically identified with the topic of predestination, caricatures of Arminius's thought have served as banners flying above later battles--either to be shot at or defended by polemicists frequently unfamiliar with the structure and content of the theology expressed in his writings. Keith Stanglin remedies this by shifting the question away from predestination to a related problem, providing the first thorough monograph on Arminius's doctrine of assurance of salvation. He relies heavily on the academic "disputations" Arminius wrote and presided over while professor at the University of Leiden.

A disputation was a formal debate in which theses (printed in advance) were propounded by a professor, then defended by a student and answered by one or two selected opponents, with further discussion in the presence of an audience that might also briefly participate in the comments. Comparison with the writings of Arminius's colleagues in the theology faculty allows Stanglin to be precise about the points of doctrinal and structural agreement and difference that characterized the early stages of the debate that split the Dutch Reformed Church just a few years later. What will surprise many readers is the great amount of congruence. The differences have previously been emphasized. Stanglin is descriptive without overtly desiring to adjudge orthodoxy, displaying an expert and precise ability to define complex scholastic forms of argument customary in academic discourse.

The book has three parts: the background formed by Arminius's academic context; Arminius's views on the ontology of salvation in comparison with those of his colleagues and some near contemporaries; and the epistemology of salvation, similarly considered.

Two topics in the first section establish the basis for the rest of the discussion. First, the faculty together agreed on the topics covered in the disputations, and these topics formed a sequence that covered a broad range over a period of a couple of years. Arminius and his colleagues Franciscus Gomarus and Lucas Trelcatius, Jr., completed the fourth sequence at Leiden between December 1604 and January 1607. Topics were assigned by rotation, not personal preference. This sequence was published together in 1615, and thus represents "a sort of Leiden system of theology" (43). Despite this systematic presupposition of a great deal of collegial agreement, Stanglin indicates that "the disputations of Arminius provide a fundamental window into his thought" (44). The second point of importance in this section is Stanglin's convincing argument that Arminius was indeed the author of the disputations that bear his name but that also include on the title pages the names of the various students assigned to defend the theses. Not too long ago, scholars at Leiden doubted the professorial authorship of these disputations.

The book's second section contains Stanglin's discussion of Arminius's views on predestination and the ordo salutis, while the third is divided into "the undermining of assurance" and "the grounding of assurance." Stanglin expands his contextual discussion beyond the Leiden faculty to include William Perkins (because Arminius explicitly wrote against him). Stanglin also examines the shifting connotations since the early church of the word securitas (conceived as an unwarranted extreme whose opposite was desperatio). Arminius maintained a traditionally negative view of securitas as carelessness, but his voice was isolated in the face of predestinarians willing to suppose that assurance could be latent or unconscious. Stanglin says that "Arminius is serious about despair and security being not aberrations, but the fair implications of Reformed soteriology; and if these are validly inferred, then there is something wrong with the theology itself' (191). What was wrong with it, according to Arminius, is revealed within the complications of proper scholastic reasoning exemplified by the disputations.

Two objections may be raised. First, Stanglin is overconfident in asserting that the material in the disputations and the topic of Anninius's doctrine of assurance have been hitherto ignored. "Proof that Arminius's doctrine of assurance has been almost completely ignored as an underlying reason for his doctrine of predestination can be seen in C. Bangs's following comments," writes Stanglin, quoting from Carl Bangs, Arminius, A Study in the Dutch Reformation (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1971 [350]), but overlooking the section called "Assurance" on 347-348 of that volume. Bangs owned copies of every known disputation. Evert Dekker also is familiar with and has written about them all. Stanglin's assertion that the doctrine of assurance is an underlying reason, rather than a consequence, of Arminius's doctrine of predestination requires further comparison with Dekker's work, not yet available in English (Dekker, Rijker dan Midas, Vrijheid, Genade en Predestinatie in de Theologie van Jacobus Arminius [1559-1609] [Zoetermeer: Uitgeverij Boekencentrum, 1993]).

A second objection is that for convenience Stanglin constantly describes Arminius as in contrast with "the Reformed." According to Stanglin, "A simple answer cannot be given to whether Arminius was Reformed" (242). On the contrary, this is a matter of observing the complexity of the historical moment without anachronistic judgment of hindsight. A simple answer can be given: Anninius and Gomarus were both within the Reformed Church, and their theological differences, described with excellent nuance by Stanglin, could still find a mutual home within that church, until Gomams and his followers succeeded in narrowing the definitions of what could be discussed and tolerated. "This usage of 'Reformed' is not intended," he writes, "as a denial of the fact that Arminius and the Remonstrants before the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) considered themselves to be Reformed. It is clear that Arminius taught and died in good standing with the Reformed Church. However, given that the Dutch Reformed Church expelled the Arminians, and that the Arminians in turn quickly distanced themselves from the Reformed, it still seems appropriate (or at least less complicated) to use 'Reformed' to represent the theological opponents most closely associated with Arminius" (13-14, 237-243). Should we parse the phrase "considered themselves?" Where does this tendentious definition of "the Dutch Reformed Church" that did the expelling come from? Following Stanglin's example in investigating Arminius's academic context, I suppose one should observe that his book arose from dissertation work under Richard Muller at Calvin Theological Seminary, who employs the same dogmatic anachronism (see Carl Bangs, Review of Richard Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius, Church History 66:1 [March 1997]: 118-120).

Stanglin writes well and the topic is worthy. His book should be used in Reformation studies in general and in courses that examine the developments of seventeenth-century Reformed theology in particular.

Jeremy D. Bangs

Leiden American Pilgrim Museum
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Author:Bangs, Jeremy D.
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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