Franciscus Gomarus:

Arminius' Adamant Adversary

John S. Knox
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2016. Volume 34.
Date Posted June, 2016

Many historical, political, and theological factors surrounded Jacobus Arminius and his Declaration of Sentiments. Arminius lived during a period of social complexity that clearly influenced both the motivation and transmission of his theological presentations. Yet, just as a drama or play is more than the props or the stage setup, so, too, is the situation concerning Arminius greater than mere historical or cultural matters alone.

Thus, a proper investigation of Arminius and his theological assertions should include a review of the persons involved in Arminius' life and times (both positively and negatively) in order to aid in a deeper analysis of Arminius and his work - people that Arminius alluded to or specifically named in the Declaration who either supported his position or whom he claimed had an incorrect understanding of doctrine and Calvinism.

It would be impossible, of course, to investigate every influential individual in Arminius' life, but one can highlight the people with a vested, personal interest in the Declaration in order to show the defining factors between Arminius and the Supralapsarians. One such person was Dutch Reformed pastor and Calvinist professor at Leiden, Franciscus Gomarus.

Franciscus Gomarus: Life and Mission

Born in Bruges, Flanders, one year before Jean Calvin's death (1563), Franciscus Gomarus and his siblings grew up with parents that followed Reformed thought. A precocious lad, Franciscus pursued a classical education wherein he began his studies of theology, philosophy, rhetoric, and the law.

Like many other Protestants of the time, in 1577, the Gomarus family was forced to flee eastward to Germany because of extremist Catholic and Lutheran oppression. In Strasbourg, Germany, Franciscus began his classical studies under staunch Calvinists like Johann Sturm, German educator and advisor (1507-1589).

When more religious persecution and oppressive measures were instituted, Franciscus moved again to Neustadt, where he received tutelage from Supralapsarian professors Zach-arias Ursinus (formerly at the University of Heidelberg) and Hieronymus Zanchius (at the Casmirianum Academy). In 1582, he traveled to England, taking some courses at Oxford University, but he finally graduated in 1584 from the University of Cambridge. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1594.

Based on available historical evidence, it is safe to say that Franciscus Gomarus was Armin-ius' chief theological rival. From the moment Arminius considered joining the faculty at the University of Leyden, Gomarus seemed to make it his responsibility to prevent Arminius from teaching there and from spreading his brand of theology. He felt Arminius should not be in that position of influence in the theological sphere because his theology was "too Pelagian." In no uncertain terms, Gomarus let the governors know he did not want Arminius appointed; however, after Arminius had been hired over the objections of Gomarus, the latter then doggedly criticized, confronted, and debated with Arminius every chance that he could. He became essentially what church historian Carl O. Bangs calls an "agent of hostility to Arminius." Observing the active aggression of Gomarus, it is easy to conclude that he was simply a bitter man; however, many would disagree with this hasty conclusion.

In Portraits of Faithful Saints, Herman Han-ko sees Gomarus as a man who was a "staunch defender of the faith" and one who "stood for the truth"; however, many thought Gomarus to be "obnoxious at times and barely tolerable." Either way, Arminius avoided the conflict when he could; but eight years later, he finally stood against Gomarus in front of the Assembly to determine if his Declaration or Gomarus' position was correct.

Just as Arminius had provided a full and detailed explanation of the realities and biblical foundation of predestination and freedom of human will, Gomarus presented a thirty-two-part treatise on proper Reformed doctrine entitled, "Of God's Predestination." Perhaps he hoped to sway his audience with a tidal wave of evidence to refute a substantial foe. As Hanko states, "His opponent, Jacobus Arminius, popular with students and ministers, gracious, kind, tolerant, filled with concern for friend and foe alike, presents quite a contrast. But Arminius was the heretic, and Gomarus stood for the truth."

In his response to Arminius' defense of his theology, Gomarus clearly states in Chapter XIII,

Therefore, also, the object of predestination to its own ends - to speak accurately and without prolepsis (which, when used in this argument, begets obscurity) - are rational creatures, not as actually about to be saved or lost, to be created, about to fall or stand fast, or about to be restored; but, so far as remote and indefinite ability goes, savable, damnable, creable [creatable], liable to fall, restorable. And that is proved, beyond controversy, by the nature and order of the object and of the cause both efficient and final. For the object, in the order of nature, precedes the operation of the power attached to it and occupied about it, and therefore also the object of predestination precedes predestination itself; nay, and exceeds it in extent also, as we have shown (in Thesis X): but being about to be saved, to be created, to fall, to be restored, does not exceed nor precede predestination, but follows it: Therefore it is not the object of it. For, as the creable depends on the indeterminate and absolute omnipotence of God, so what is to be created depends on that omnipotence determined to creation by predestination of the will; and therefore cannot come before predestination, which is its efficient cause.

The end result was not what Gomarus had hoped to occur. He wanted Arminius and his theology to be rejected once and for all. Instead, Arminius found an audience willing to listen to his courteous and soft-spoken interpretation of doctrine. Gomarus' attack had backfired. As indicated by Bangs, the Assembly members were "offended by Gomarus' speech" and "could not believe [Arminius] to be the two-faced person Gomarus pictured him to be."

Despite this setback, Gomarus immediately re-challenged Arminius to another debate sometime during the next year. However, it was never to occur because Arminius died soon thereafter in 1609. Due to the violence that followed because of riots in several Dutch cities over the Remonstrants, Gomarus and the other Supralapsarians found the Synod of 1618 more easily swayed in denouncing Arminius'teachings as depicted in the Remonstrants'five points.

According to church historian Roger Olsen, with the support of Prince Maurice of Nassau, the Synod "concluded by condemning as heretics the Remonstrant leaders." This resulted in hundreds of ministers, teachers, and theologians in support of the Arminian party being removed from their respective positions and subsequently sent into exile or imprisoned.

Franciscus Gomarus had finally conquered Arminius and his theology—at least for the moment. However, Arminianism arose to become an important theological movement in Europe and the West, but no such large movement of "Gomarians" sprung forth from his efforts to extinguish the dangerous theology of his most dangerous opponent -Jacobus Arminius