In this excerpt from Saving the Reformation, Dr. W. Robert Godfrey examines Jacob Arminius and the Calvinists who opposed his teaching.
On August 19, 1585, city leaders in Amsterdam wrote to Beza, presumably pondering further financial support for Arminius, with several questions that Bangs summarizes: “They wanted to know about his personal development. Is he stubborn and arrogant? Does he obstinately defend his own personal opinions? Is he making proper use of his education? The burgomasters were evidently nervous about the earlier episode of Arminius’ defense of Ramus.” Apparently, word had gotten back to Amsterdam about the problematic behavior of Arminius in Geneva, which is not surprising, since between 1559 and 1586 some 190 Dutch students studied in Geneva.
The letters of recommendation from Grynaeus and Beza were clearly intended to elicit continued financial support from the church of Amsterdam for Arminius’ theological studies. They present strong testimonies to Arminius’ brilliance, piety, and learning in 1583 and, perhaps, 1585. Grynaeus’ letter reflects much more personal familiarity with Arminius than does Beza’s. Financial aid for Arminius from Amsterdam continued for the whole time of his study in Switzerland. No clear evidence survives as to why Amsterdam provided financial support for Arminius, but it must surely have reflected earlier recommendations from Calvinists, perhaps from Danaeus, who had taught him in Leiden.
Certainly, Arminius’ time in Geneva was significant. According to Bertius, while in Geneva, Arminius heard Beza preaching on Paul’s letter to the Romans “to the great and deserved admiration of the multitudes who heard him.” It may have been Beza, ironically, who further encouraged Arminius’ interest in Romans, on which he began to lecture in Basel. (Perhaps this testimony of Bertius is further evidence of theological harmony between Arminius and Beza before 1590.)
Near the end of his time in Geneva, with the church in Amsterdam urging him to return, Arminius decided to travel to Italy. Such a decision is certainly understandable from the perspective of an eager student, but his seven months in Italy and then a few more months in Geneva before returning to the Netherlands certainly justify James Nichols’ comment that his decision represented “a degree of youthful rashness.” Arminius finally arrived back in Amsterdam no later than September 1587.
The reports of his friends indicate that while he was in Switzerland, Arminius was impetuous at times and had both caused trouble and been appreciated. Here is the pattern that we will see repeated in his life. The pattern is not an unobtrusive man who is attacked by mean Calvinists. Rather, we see a very bright and talented person who was willing to initiate confrontation with those with whom he disagreed and could be quite adamant in advancing his views. Rather than a moderate Arminius mistreated by mean Calvinists, we see an Arminius who could be impetuous and stubborn but who was treated with a great deal of kindness by Calvinists.
Pastor in Amsterdam (1588–1603)
In Amsterdam, he reported to the classis in October 1587 and to the consistory in November. Bangs cites the consistory minutes: “Jacobus Arminius, an alumnus of this city, having come from Geneva, appeared in the consistory and delivered his testimonial from the school in Geneva, which was signed by Beza.” This testimony, which we do not possess, was apparently another one from Beza on behalf of the whole faculty. In February 1588, Arminius was examined by classis, and he was ordained on August 27, 1588. It is not clear why there was a delay of almost seven months.