Introduction to Arminius’ disputations

The most famous theological controversy in Leiden originated in 1603, the year that Jacobus Arminius (1559-1609) was appointed by the university as Professor Ordinarius of theology. Although Arminius’ first few years on the faculty were relatively quiet, the controversies increased as the decade advanced. Of these controversies, the disagreement between Arminius and Franciscus Gomarus concerning the doctrine of salvation took center stage. Despite the immediate effects of the Arminian and Remonstrant controversies and their significance in the subsequent history of doctrine, little comparative work has been done on the “Leiden theology” of this time.

One reason for this gap in research is the limited availability of the relevant documents. A principal means for discovering the contours of a certain professor’s theology at a particular time is to study the disputations that he authored. Along with lectures, disputations were the most common pedagogical method of the late medieval and early modern period, with a student publicly responding to theses written up, in this case, by the professors. Given the importance of these disputations for revealing the roots of the Arminian controversy, we cannot claim to know the full story until these disputations have been examined. But there are at least 35 known disputations by Arminius that do not appear in his Opera Theologica. In addition, the disputations appearing in Gomarus’ Opera Theologica Omnia do not correspond to his own Leiden disputations.

Three previously unavailable disputations, carried out under the presiding of Arminius in his first year as professor, provide examples of how these topics that consider the doctrine of salvation were covered. Although most of the theses proposed would be agreeable to the other members of the faculty, the disputations reveal the context in which disagreements would take place in this scholastic form of teaching, namely, the context of definitions, causes, and effects.

Keith D. Stanglin