Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
WALT, B.J.Van Der. The reformed-Scholastic view of the relationship between god and the human being in F. Gomarus (1563-1641) and J. Arminius (1560-1609): a historical-philosophical investigation. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2011, vol.51, n.3, pp. 269-288. ISSN 0041-4751.
The question about the relationship between God and the human being is as old as the history of humanity. This may also be regarded as a central issue at the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), as well as the decisions of the Synod formulated in the Canons of Dordt (1619). These Canons are today still accepted as one of the official confessions of Reformed Churches in different parts of the world. However, it gradually transpired that the Canons did not reach an altogether satisfactory solution. Reformed theologians from the previous and present century became aware of the fact that not everything in the Canons matched up. Some of them only wrote about unevenness or irregularities and attempted to solve the problem by means of a distinction between the form (wording), which could be incorrect, while the basic contents of the Canons may not be queried. Other theologians, however, did look a little closer and called attention to the use of an Aristotelian doctrine of causality, influencing basic arguments in the Canons. Such biblically-foreign ideas also distorted the Canons' view of the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. This contribution (continuing previous contributions elsewhere) takes as point of departure that merely rejecting Aristotelian causality is insufficient. A much broader and deeper look should be taken at the whole philosophy or view of reality behind the Canons. Apart from a philosophical analysis of the Canons themselves (to be published soon), it may also be helpful to analyse the theology and its philosophical presuppositions of two of the influential viewpoints at the Synod, viz. that of the Reformed theologian F. Gomarus (1563-1641) and his Arminian opponent, J. Arminius (1560-1609). The investigation develops through the following stages. As background a general philosophical characterization of Reformed Scholastic thinking is provided. From a normative (directional) perspective it is described as synthesis philosophy. It combined biblical revelation with extra-biblical ideas from Greek and Hellenistic philosophy. This synthesis was facilitated through two methods. Firstly through eisegesis-exegesis, according to which pre-Christian ideas were read into parts of Scripture (eisegesis) and afterwards - with the sanction of the Scriptures - explained from the Bible (exegesis). Secondly, synthesis was achieved by way of a nature-grace dualism, which in turn resulted in a distinction between reason and faith, philosophy and theology. Apart from its synthetic direction, Reformed Scholasticism's type of philosophy is also explained: its specific idea of law, purely cosmological thinking, ontological dualism, vertical partial universalism, anthropological dichotomy and semi-mysticism. This characterisation (according to the problem-historical method of philosophical historiography) simultaneously implies a foundational critique of Reformed Scholasticism. Against this background the second main section of the essay investigates and compares the theological and underlying philosophical viewpoints of Gomarus and Arminius.The surprising result of the investigation can be summarised as follows. From a philosophical perspective it becomes evident how little these two representatives of the clashing Reformed and Arminian viewpoints actually differed from each other. They both adhered to a purely cosmological, dualistic and vertical partial universalistic philosophy. However, they were proponents of different anthropologies: Gomarus was an intellectualist and Arminius an empiricist. Arminius' viewpoint was furthermore different from that of Pelagianism (a heresy ascribed to by the Remonstrant followers of Arminius), because he was not a consistent empiricist (like Pelagius), but advocated non-consistent empiricism. An added difference was that both Gomarus and Arminius accepted certain ideas of Aristotle, and can therefore be described as Aristotelians, but that Arminius was more Plato-oriented and therefore regarded the human will as of more importance than was the case with intellectualists like Gomarus. These philosophical anthropological differences resulted in different theological views on the relationship between God and mankind. The final result of the "mine sweeping" to detect unbiblical "land-mines" underneath the theological soil of Dordt is the following: The conflict between the Reformed and Arminian positions was not primarily a clash between what the Bible taught (the Reformed side) and unbiblical heresy (the Arminians), but a clash between two different forms of especially Aristotelian influenced philosophies which were superimposed onto the Scriptures. If the Synod of Dordt was aware of this, the sad history of ecclesiastical divisions - up to the present day - could have been avoided At the same time these results call for further reflection. Firstly, exactly how Aristotle's ideas of God and causality (which influenced Dordt) could be defined. Secondly, how should the relationship between God and mankind be viewed according to a philosophy based on Scripture instead of on Aristotle's ideas? Answers to these questions will be dealt with in a follow-up article in this journal.
Keywords : Synod of Dordt (1618-1619); Canons of the Synod of Dordt (1619); Reformed Scholasticism; F. Gomarus (1563-1641); J. Arminius (15601609); relationship God-humans; Aristotelian philosophy; synthesis philosophy; eisegesis-exegesis; purely cosmological thinking; ontological dualism; vertical partial universalism; anthropological dualism; semimysticism; empiricism; Pelagianism; Platonic philosophy; intellectualism.