Jakob Harmenszoon (Jacobus Arminius)

Jakob Harmenszoon, born 10 October, 1560 in Oudewater, Utrecht, was one of three children of Harmen, a cutler, and Angelica Jacobson of Dort (Dordrecht); his father died while he was still an infant and a priest, Theodorus Aemilius, who had left the Roman Catholic Church and had lived in Paris, Louvain and Köln before settling in Utrecht, adopted him, educated him and taught him the rudiments of Latin and Greek.

When he died in 1575, Jakob was taken up by Rudolph Snel van Royen (1546–1613), also from Oudewater, who, after studying in Köln and Heidelberg, had obtained a post at the University of Marburg in Hesse. He happened to be in Utrecht and he took Jakob to Marburg from where, in August shortly after they had arrived, they heard about the Spanish slaughter at Oudewater in which Jakob’s mother had died. (In 1578 Rudolf returned to Oudewater and accepted the post of Professor of Hebrew and Mathematics at Leiden University.)

Jakob returned home to find his family home in ruins but, shortly after his return to Marburg, he heard about the founding of Leiden University and decided to go to Rotterdam where refugees from Oudewater and Amsterdam had gathered. There he met Pieter Michielszoon Bardt (Petrus Bertius Sr), the elder and pastor of the Church of Christ in Rotterdam, and John Taffinus, chaplain to the Prince of Orange.

Petrus Bertius Sr was impressed with Jakob’s learning and sent for his own son, Pieter de Bert (Petrus Bertius Jr; 1565–1629) who was studying in London, to join Jakob at the recently established University of Leiden where he studied under Lambert Danaeus, Johannes van den Driesche (1550–1616), Professor of Oriental Languages, William Feuguereius, the first Professor of Divinity, and Johann Kolmann, a high Calvinist, and became the star pupil in all subjects, including poetry, mathematics and philosophy.

In 1582 the Senate of Amsterdam sponsored him to study at Geneva University under Theodore Beza (1519–1605), Calvin’s successor. In 1583, after falling out with some people in Geneva over his interest in the ideas of Pierre de la Ramée (Petrus Ramus; 1515–1572), he moved briefly to Basle where he made a great impression. He returned to Geneva the same year, receiving a testimonial from Johann Jakob Grynaeus (1540–1617), Professor of Old Testament Exegesis, but declined the offer of a doctorate from Basle on account of his youth.

In 1587, he visited Padua with his friend, Achates (possibly a pseudonym), to listen to Jacopo Zabarella (1533–1589), Professor of Philosophy, and Rome and learned about the corruption in the Catholic Church. This trip put him under suspicion among some of his fellow-countrymen, who alleged he had turned Roman Catholic, an accusation that was to follow him for many years, and, a few months after his return to Geneva, he was recalled, bringing a testimonial from Beza.

Shortly after his return the church in Delft circulated a pamphlet critical of the stance of Beza and Calvin on Romans 9. As a former pupil of Beza, he was asked to refute it and, though he disagreed with the arguments in the pamphlet, this incident prompted him to move away from the high Calvinist position espoused by Beza, as indeed some others had done, including John Holmanus Secundus, the first Professor of Divinity at Leiden.

In 1588 he was passed for ordination and became pastor of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam where he gained a good reputation as a pastor. On 16 September 1590 he married Lijsbet Reael, daughter of Laurens Jacobson Reael, a judge and senator of Amsterdam, and their first child was born in 1592/3. Six of their surviving children were born in Amsterdam before he moved to Leiden University.

In 1591 he began to deliver a series of sermons on Romans 7 in which his interpretation of Romans 7:14 was viewed by some as bordering on Pelagianism, a charge which he tried to refute when he published the sermons as a dissertation in 1599 but which was to follow him for the rest of his life. In 1592, he had to involve John Uytenbogard, minister of the Church at The Hague, and Taffinus, his erstwhile sponsor, in mediating his position.

In 1593 he began an exposition on Romans 9 to which a number of people objected. The Senate of Amsterdam met to discuss these objections but decided to do nothing unless the General Synod pronounced differently on the subject.

In 1594 he became inspector of schools for Amsterdam and in 1597 met François du Jon (1545–1602) at his aunt’s wedding to Revd J. Kuchlinus, a Professor at Leiden. François du Jon had been a diplomat, nearly lost his faith, studied under Calvin and Beza and been part of the University of Heidelberg both in exile and following its re-establishment before being invited to become Professor of Theology at Leiden University in 1592. This led to the Friendly discussion which was supposed to be confidential but some of François du Jon’s students read some of the letters.

In 1602 François du Jon and Lucas Trelcatius Sr died in the plague and, much to his surprise, Jakob was offered the post of Professor at Leiden University alongside Lucas Trelcatius Jr. Though the church in Amsterdam said they could not lose him, they eventually agreed to release him, under pressure from John Uytenbogard and others, and the board which had approved his ordination gave him a testimonial as did the church. However, his appointment was opposed by his uncle by marriage, Revd J. Kuchlinus, because of his anti-Calvinism.

He was examined by François Gomaer (1563–1641), the head of the University, and granted the first DD. François Gomaer had studied at the University of Heidelberg in exile, Oxford and Cambridge, where he graduated in 1584, before returning to teach at the re-established University of Heidelberg. After serving as pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church in Frankfurt from 1587 to 1593, he had received the degree of DD from Heidelburg before being invited to become Professor of Theology at Leiden in 1594.

On 11 July 1603, Jakob received his DD and became Professor of Theology at the University. He sought to focus the teaching of his students on the Bible rather than on the pros and cons of particular theological disagreements and he rejected the forcible means being used by both Catholics and Protestants to promote their views, arguing that there should be ‘holy conversation’ instead. Three of his surviving children were born in Leiden.

On 30 June 1605 Francis Lansbergius, Libertus Fraxinus and Daniel Dolegius, ministers of the churches at Rotterdam, the Hague and Delft, John Bogardus, minister of the Church at Haerlem, and James Rolandus of the Church at Amsterdam visited Jakob to request him to take part in a conference about his views as expounded by his students; he declined but proposed instead a disputation.

On 28 July the Leiden Church made a similar request and he gave a similar answer. On 9 November Francis Lansbergius, Festus Hommius, minister of Leiden Church, and others sought to make a complaint but the university authorities refused them; Jakob was unaware of the joint statement by the University authorities made at the time.

During 1605–06 he served as Rector Magnificus of the University, ending his period of office with Oration 5 ‘On reconciling religious dissensions among Christians.’

In 1607 John Bernards, minister of the Church at Delft, Festus Hommius and Dibbetius of Dort were deputed by the Synod to inquire what progress he had made in the refutation of the Anabaptists and also to request him to talk about his opinions and there were many private requests to do so as well.

In June a Preparatory Convention at the Hague received five articles on Predestination, the Fall of Adam, Free-will, Original Sin and the Eternal Salvation of Infants purporting to be written by him but in fact put together by another, allegedly on the basis of his students’ views. He confronted the author and pointed out their inaccuracy and was then asked by others present to say which he agreed with and which not which he declined to do for fear of being misquoted. (N.B. Jakob explained in the preface to the Declaration of Sentiments that he objected to being effectively ‘put on trial’ outside any formal process.)

On 7 February 1609 he was diagnosed as possibly having stomach cancer; on 25 July 1609 he participated in the disputation ‘On the calling of men to salvation’ before going to Oudewater to convalesce; he died on 19 October 1609. Following his funeral service on 22 October, Pieter de Bert, Regent of the State College of Divinity, delivered an Oration in the Great Hall of the University in the presence of Rudolph Snel van Royen. François Gomaer responded with a ‘remonstrance’ against him. This prompted his widow and brothers to publish the Declaration of Sentiments. The University invited Konrad von dem Vorst (1569–1622) who, having studied with Beza, was considered orthodox but also supported freedom of opinion to take his post and in 1611 François Gomaer left Leiden for Middelburg.