The Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) criticized the orthodox Calvinist position on the doctrine of predestination. The result was a split in the Dutch Reformed Church, and followers of his position came to be known as Arminians.
Jacobus Arminius was born on Oct. 10, 1560, in Oudewater, Holland. After his early education in Utrecht, he studied at the universities of Leiden, Basel, and Geneva. At Geneva he trained under the French theologian Theodore Beza and won distinction in his studies. In 1588 Arminius was ordained in Amsterdam and eventually achieved the reputation of being a devoted pastor. In 1603 he became professor of theology at the University of Leiden and remained there until his death.
While at Leiden, Arminius became involved in a heated struggle over the teachings of the Dutch Reformed Church. The most important source of controversy was the doctrine of predestination. Dutch Calvinists had divided into two schools of thought: the supralapsarians, who held the orthodox position and taught that God had decreed who would be saved and damned before man's fall in the sin of Adam, and the infralapsarians, who maintained that God did not decree who should be saved and damned until after the fall of man. In either case, human decision was irrelevant to the process of salvation. The supralapsarian position was held by the Reformed Church, and Arminius was asked to refute a man who was preaching infralapsarianism. But Arminius eventually rejected both positions on predestination. Although he did not deny predestination, he held that God did not decree particular individuals to be either saved or damned. He stated that salvation was by faith alone and Christ died for all men. Thus, those who believe will be saved and those who reject God's grace will be damned.
Francis Gomarus, a colleague of Arminius at Leiden, was a strong supralapsarian and vehemently opposed his teachings. At Arminius's death on Oct. 19, 1609, the dispute had not been settled, and his followers, known as Arminians or Remonstrants, continued the strife, although they did not always adhere strictly to his ideas. The position of Arminius against the Calvinist doctrine of predestination was condemned by the national synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1618-1619. This step did not, however, end the Arminian movement, and it continued to play a role not only in the Netherlands but also in England.
In addition to his ideas on predestination, Arminius demonstrated a great interest in the reconciliation of all Christian Churches. He believed that conferences, and specifically a general church council, might help to bring Christians together.
Further Reading on Jacobus Arminius
James and William Nichols selected and translated The Works of James Arminius (3 vols., 1825-1875). The standard biography is still Caspar Brandt, The Life of James Arminius (1724; trans. 1857). See also A. W. Harrison, The Beginnings of Arminianism, to the Synod of Dort (1926), and Gerald O. McCulloh, ed., Man's Faith and Freedom: The Theological Influence of Jacobus Arminius (1962), which contains an extensive bibliography.
Additional Biography Sources
Bangs, Carl, Arminius: a study in the Dutch Reformation, Grand Rapids, Mich.: F. Asbury Press, 1985.
Slaatte, Howard Alexander., The Arminian arm of theology: the theologies of John Fletcher, first Methodist theologian, and his precursor, James Arminius, Washington: University Press of America, 1977.