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The Current State of Arminius Research

12 October 2012

For my first foray into the world of academia is an abstract I am writing in response to a call for papers for a graduate student conference. Due to my existing familiarity with the field and the proximity of the topic to my current front-and-center research interests I have elected to prepare a piece on the question of whether Jacobus Arminius was ‘a Molinist.’ Some may recall that I have previously expounded on some length on this question and come to a guarded but affirmative response. In rereading my own work, however, I have observed that my own conclusions, like those of the authors on whose work my own relied, based primarily upon  the apparent similarity of Arminius’ theology of prevenient grace to Molina’s theory of middle knowledge, coupled with a reasonable assumption that the former was familiar with the latter’s work. Feeling that an investigation that looked more closely at the texts themselves themselves was in order, I propose to engage in a close analysis of the language, logic, and intent of the principle documentary sources for the respective theories, Arminius’ Declaration of Sentiments and Molina’s Concordia.

Embarking on what I feared would be the somewhat unmanageably large task of reviewing the recent literature (which period I pegged at the past  50 years or so) I was surprised to find that what I had always taken to by a merely passing familiarity was, in fact, a command of the majority of the research. Not only was my fear that I was proposing to retread well-trod ground unwarranted but it seems that the entire question has only been examined by three authors in published works, Richard Mueller, Eef Dekker, and William Gene Witt, with their two votes for Molinist (Mueller and Dekker) and one against (Witt) leading to the current scholarly consensus. Pleased as I am that this leaves the field wide open for my proposal, I cannot but be dismayed at how under-published on is Arminius for such an important figure in Western intellectual and religious history. As Keith Stanglin points out in his review of recent literature on Arminius in the first chapter of the recent Arminius, Arminianism, and Europe: Jacobus Arminius (1559/60-1609), [1] the disparity between publication and resources on Arminius and those on comparatively minor figures is disproportionate and great. So important a figure deserves to be thoroughly studied outside the often either hagiographical or polemical modes in which most writing on him seems to take place, so that the real nature of his thought and it’s relation to the theologies that came to bear his name can be understood on its own terms, in its proper context.

So let me here add my voice to the rallying cry for an intensification of research into Jacobus Arminius, an extremely important figure in Western intellectual history. Richard Mueller and Keith Stanglin, in the final chapter of Arminius, Arminianism, and Europe, have already made the initial, foundational contribution to the advancement of Arminius research with their Bibliograhia Arminiana, a comprehensive, annotated, chronologically numbered list of all of Arminius’ writings, including his poetry and unpublished disputations and correspondences. This provides the invaluable resource of a comprehensive list of Arminius’ work for would-be scholars, as well as information on where the individual works can be found and potentially universal system for readily identifying and distinguishing his various writings. [2] From here needs to follow printed editions of these works, in their original languages (Latin and Dutch) and in translation, not merely to update the venerable English translation in The Works of James Arminius but to make Arminius major and minor works available in other languages. Then can, at last, follow a flourishing of interest and research in Arminius and Arminianism as his works become more accessible to young scholars during their undergraduate and postgraduate educations. Obviously this is a process of some years, likely decades, but the end result, a better and more thorough understanding of this important thinker, would be well worth the work and well worth the wait.

Notes and Bibliography

[1] Theodoor Marius van Leeuwen et al, Brill’s Series in Church History, Volume 39: Arminius, Arminianism, and Europe: Jacobus Arminius (1559/60-1609), Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2009. See here pp 263-290.

[2] Perhaps they ought to be known as Stanglin-Mueller numbers.

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