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INTRODUCTION On November 13, 1618, the first session of the Synod of Dort was called to order. It would result in an indelible codification of Calvinistic soteriology that is still wildly popular some four centuries later. However, the chief purpose of the synod was not to produce a systematic soteriology, but rather to end a theological and historical controversy that had nearly brought Holland to the brink of religious civil war. This paper will attempt to sketch out a brief account of both the theological and political backgrounds to the historic synod, and thereby attain a better understanding of all the subtle nuances that influenced its convening and its outcome.

THEOLOGICAL BACKGROUND Since the primary concern of the Synod of Dort was the legitimacy or illegitimacy of Arminian theology, it is fitting to begin with mention of Arminius himself. The theological assault on Calvinistic thinking arose not from outside the walls of Calvinism, but from within. Jacobus Arminius served as a reformed pastor in Amsterdam from 1588 to 1603. Then in 1603 he was called away from the pastorate to teach theology at the University of Leiden, at which post he remained until his death in 1609.1 During his most formative scholastic years, Arminius

Carl Bangs, “Arminius, Jacobus,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation , vol. 3 (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1996), 73.


263. Arminius rethought his entire theological structure and became convinced of the doctrines of universal grace and the fundamental freedom of the human will. Immediately there was conflict within the ranks of the Leiden University faculty. A History of Christian Thought. Ibid. and in the process of doing so found that he could not defeat his opponent’s arguments. First Edition. “The Perseverance of the Saints: A History of the Doctrine. 1999).. USA. Roger E. 1967).7 The controversy would get worse before it got better. Olson. 456. no.6 After this.4 Arminius first began to question his own Calvinistic theological system when confronted with the writings of Dirck Coornhert. Heick. 7 6 Heick. T. 65. 4 3 2 Otto W. opposing Arminius vociferously. a loyal Calvinist and fellow professor of theology.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 34. 2 (June 1991): 221. 65.3 This is somewhat ironic given that the supralapsarian schema of soteriology was the immediate (though not the sole) cause of the Calvinist-Arminian conflict. who had written forcefully against the high Calvinism espoused by theologians like Beza. (IVP Academic.had studied at Geneva as a strict adherent to Calvinism and a disciple of Theodore Beza. 2 . with Francis Gomarus. Arminius’ departure from Calvinistic orthodoxy ignited a firestorm of controversy. The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform .2 who is widely regarded to have first formulated supralapsarianism. vol. a liberal thinker and proponent of religious tolerance. his J. After Arminius’ death in 1609. McNeill. 64. 1966).5 Arminius was asked to defend Calvinism against Coornhert’s onslaught. 5 John Jefferson Davis. 2 (Philadephia: Fortress Press. The History and Character of Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press. A History of Christian Thought.

1950). “Episcopius (Bisschop). This put in motion events that would result in a shattering of the previously warm relationship between Uytenbogaert and Prince Maurice. Anderson. 159. David R. Remonstrance. On the last of the five articles.8 Immediately. both of which reflected a highly Calvinistic form of theology. (5) Perseverance is granted through the assistance of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 18 (Autumn 2005): 72. “Another Tale of Two Cities. vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.” in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. 9 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. the five articles of Remonstrance may be summarized as follows:12 (1) God has decreed Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of men and decreed to save all who believe on Him. H. forty-three leading Remonstrants came together on January 14. a supremely important Dutch statesman and moderate Calvinist (Oldenbarnevelt was himself a member of the Heidelberg community). Gilmore. (2) Christ died for all but only believers enjoy forgiveness of sins. 10 9 8 Ibid. it is worth noting that Arminius’ own position as well as Geo Geo W. Episcopius and likeminded followers of Arminius. Rogge.10 The principal framer of this document. petitioned the states of Holland requesting a reevaluation of the Netherland Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. Briefly. was John Uytenbogaert. (4) Grace is not irresistible. vol. (3) Man must be regenerated by the Spirit. Simon Episcopius.9 At the invitation of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. 1950). calling themselves Remonstrants. a Dutch preacher and chaplain to Prince Maurice de Nassau. “Remonstrants.11 This document outlined five articles which all forty-three Remonstrant representatives signed in July 1610. to formulate a written consensus of Remonstrant theology for official submission. 481. Simon. 12 11 3 . 1610. C.theology was taken up and expanded by his disciple and friend.” in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. but whether one can fall away from life in Christ is left open.

16 One account is even told of a Calvinist blacksmith chasing Episcopius down the street 13 John J. public rioting began. 1996). the followers of Gomarus issued a Counter-Remonstrance. The History and Character of Calvinism. the conflict manifested itself in both scholarly and common circles.” 221-22. McNeill. Johan van. vol. repudiating the five articles of the Remonstrants. Since both groups were diametrically opposed theologically and desired different outcomes (the Remonstrants were primarily concerned to secure tolerance whereas the Gomarists desired conformity). and the backlash was considerable. Their contention was not that Christians definitely can fall from grace and apostatize.” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. the conference was a failure. 16 15 J. 264. and so Oldenbarnevelt arranged for a formal conference between the two groups in 1612. 172. Oldenbarnevelt had mistakenly assumed that the interest in this issue was mostly limited to the academic elite in their ivory towers. Oldenbarnevelt simply commanded both groups to be tolerant of one another.13 Almost immediately. Davis. 14 S. Groenveld. 3 (New York: Oxford University Press. Quite to the contrary.that of the Remonstrants has been widely misunderstood. T.14 The Gomarists demanded a resolution to the conflict.15 This outcome was viewed by the Gomarists not as a compromise but as a victory for the Remonstrants. “The Perseverance of the Saints. When Gomarist ministers were stripped of their posts by magistrates favoring the Remonstrants. “Oldenbarnevelt. 264. 4 . but only that the Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints was illegitimately dogmatic and that the issue warranted further Scriptural examination before such a conclusive ruling should be reached. McNeill. Frustrated.

21 Oldenbarnevelt’s attempts to forestall the Synod of Dort had failed.” 173. T. The Gomarists had expressed desire to resolve the situation by means of a national synod. “Oldenbarnevelt. but both Oldenbarnevelt and the magistrates had refused. USA. and the prospect of outright civil war loomed on the horizon. S. to settle the matter. The Remonstrants would have to submit to a national synod for evaluation and judgment. Groenveld. probably not because of any strong theological convictions. McNeill.19 he decided in 1617 to favor the Gomarists for primarily political reasons. 20 19 18 J. 421-426.with a red-hot iron. Jonathan Israel. Prince of Orange. knowing full well that such a synod would likely favor the Gomarists and see the Remonstrants (toward whom Oldenbarnevelt and the magistrates were sympathetic) charged as heretics. 1998). One is reminded of Emperor Constantine who called the Council of Nicaea and moved for theological solidarity primarily for political reasons. The Dutch Republic: Its Rise. Although Maurice had no theological stake in the controversy (indeed.17 Things quickly spiraled out of control.20 Using his command of the army as leverage. the conflict found itself in a vice-like gridlock. and Fall 1477-1806 (New York: Oxford University Press. seeking physically to brand him a heretic. Prince of Orange (1533-1584) had been by 17 Ibid. William I. Johan van. 21 5 . Greatness. he once confessed that he “did not know whether predestination [was] blue or green).18 And so it fell to Maurice de Nassau. The History and Character of Calvinism. he insisted that the magistrates permit the convening of a national synod which would resolve matters decisively. 264-65. POLITICAL BACKGROUND The events leading up to the Synod of Dort must be seen against the backdrop of the Dutch War of Independence (1568-1648).

2004). Otte. Geoff Berridge and Thomas G. Maurice’s older legitimate half-brother. After William’s death. and beginning with an army of 30. In 1566. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers. as Maurice’s career progressed.27 However. The awful end of Prince William the Silent: the first assassination of a head of state with a handgun (London: HarperCollins. 2005).24 From 1582-1584. In fact. Wiltshire: Palgrave Macmillan.23 Three years later. the Dutch people took William as their leader. vol. 50. 189. the States General of Holland signed and issued their Declaration of Independence from Spain. he was of no real use to Holland. Maurice harbored deep-seated resentment against the Spanish. Thatcher. Maurice’s mentor.22 In July 1581. 1856). 2001). toward the end of William’s career. Diplomatic theory from Machiavelli to Kissinger (Chippenham. and Oldenbarnevelt wished to see peaceful diplomatic relations forged between Spain and Holland. Maurice de Nassau. This was due in no small part to the wise tutelage and counsel of Oldenbarnevelt. William was assassinated. all of them sanctioned and commissioned by Spain. 25 The sixth would be the last. The Rise of the Dutch Republic. 25 24 John Lothrop Motley. and under his leadership the Dutch independence for which William had striven finally became a reality. on July 10 1584.000 he proceeded to win decisive victories over the Spanish. 597. Oldenbarnevelt in his political station as Landsadvocaat had signed the Twelve Years’ Truce with Spain in 1609.26 Maurice proved to be very capable. his power and influence passed to his second legitimate son.. since he was imprisoned in Spain at this time. his relationship with Oldenbarnevelt became strained. which Oliver J. The Library of Original Sources: Volume V (9th to 16th Century) (Milwaukee: The Minerva Group. Philip. was still alive at this time. 190-97. 23 22 Ibid.. 27 26 6 . However. 46. there had been no fewer than five separate assassination attempts on William’s life.all accounts the preeminent Dutch hero of the war. Inc. Lisa Jardine.

and Maurice began to resent Oldenbarnevelt for acting contrary to his wishes. And so. so too Maurice turned on his mentor Oldenbarnevelt. and when it came time to declare either for the Remonstrants or the Gomarists. 30 7 . When Oldenbarnevelt threw his support behind the Remonstrants.30 Jozef T. the old prejudices came rising to the surface. Although one might at first blush envision independent Holland as monolithic and united. Maurice and Oldenbarnevelt were not the only two rivals in Holland at this point in her history. 431.29 Thus. 29 28 Jonathan Israel. The Dutch Republic. and emerged more out of convenience than conviction. What union between the disparate factions did exist had been forged by a long and costly war. Amsterdam appears to have declared for the Gomarists solely because of the longstanding rivalry between the two cities. which is precisely what Oldenbarnevelt had secured. 3 (New York: Abingdon Press. It became immediately apparent that the two politicians’ governing philosophies were incompatible. Maurice could use the cloak of religious solidarity to secure a victory over Oldenbarnevelt and consolidate his own political power over Holland. By siding with the Calvinists. Devreese and Guido Vanden Berghe. 1975). just as Jacobus Arminius had turned on his mentor Beza years earlier. the Calvinists openly declared their support for Maurice. 258. Many cities and provinces held long and bitter rivalries with other cities and provinces. Of course. When Rotterdam came out in support of the Remonstrants. 'Magic Is No Magic': The Wonderful World of Simon Stevin (Ashurst. vol. an unholy symbiosis of political and religious conflict emerged. Gonzalez. this simply was not the case. A History of Christian Thought. 48.Maurice vehemently opposed. 2008).28 Maurice had not been prepared to countenance any peaceful relationship with Spain. Justo L. Southampton: WIT Press.

vol. and the Reformed ministers had no desire to see the spiritual purity of their churches polluted by the great Roman beast. the merchant class proved sympathetic to the moderate Remonstrants under the leadership of Oldenbarnevelt. 1st ed. while the commoners and clergy favored the Counter-Remonstrants under the leadership of the hardliner Gomarus. the Netherlands were at this time witnessing a growing divide between the merchant class on one side and the clergy and commoners on the other. 31 Justo L. since many goods could then be imported from Spain. First. Such a relationship would have been tremendously beneficial to the merchant class. not a Dutch civil war. The clergy on the other hand were staunchly opposed to any peaceful relationship with Spain. When the Calvinist-Arminian conflict reared its ugly head. and so the Remonstrant defeat would have to be swift and decisive.31 Under these circumstances. many of the merchants desired a peaceful relationship between Holland and Spain. Most of the commoners sided with the clergy: they possessed a strong sense of nationalism since Holland’s independence was still such a recent phenomenon.Additionally. The commoners resented the merchants for their wealth and power. The Story of Christianity: Reformation to the Present Day . Gonzalez. and commensurate with that. given its deeply entrenched Roman Catholicism. and that flew in the face of Prince Maurice’s authority. it was inevitable that Prince Maurice would strongly favor the Gomarists. If Maurice was going to have a war it would be a war with Spain. Like Oldenbarnevelt. a strong loyalty to Calvinism too. 2. 1985). and a national synod seemed the most straightforward way of securing a slamdunk victory for them. 8 . To make matters worse. and Maurice begrudged them their growing influence. 180-81. the merchants had in many cities become a virtual oligarchy all of their own. (San Francisco: Harper & Row. Any such relationship would necessarily include a measure of mutual religious tolerance.

Grace. vol.32 Next. Synod of. The downfall of Gomarus’ theological opponents and Maurice’s political opponents was now only a matter of time. 14-16. 34 9 .” in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge.33 When the Synod of Dort convened. 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1950). “Dort. Maurice forcibly removed pro-Remonstrant magistrates from their offices and replaced them with magistrates who favored the Calvinists. Free Will (Nashville: Randall House Publications. An invitation had been extended to the French Huguenots. Faith. five theology professors from Dutch universities. the deck had already been stacked in the Gomarists’ favor. C. There were thirty-five Dutch clergymen accompanied by Dutch elders. McNeill. T. and so non-Dutch delegates also took part in the synod. 2002). 494. THE SYNOD OF DORT The time had come for the matter to be decided. Picirilli. At the same time. The History and Character of Calvinism. the theological implications would have geographically far-reaching ramifications.Maurice arrested Oldenbarnavelt along with Hugo Grotius. but they were forbidden from attending 32 J. The States-General called for a Synod to meet at Dortrecht. six deputies representing the States-General. 265.34 The most powerful and influential foreign delegates were the five representatives of England. Some one-hundred delegates met for the synod. and twenty-seven delegates from foreign countries. Robert E. 33 H. The synod could be categorized a national synod in that the synod’s decision would apply specifically to the situation in Holland. Rogge. another influential Remonstrant supporter. it is equally valid to consider the Synod of Dort an international synod. That being the case.

40 39 38 Curt Daniel. the synod’s president. 38. 55. on the other hand. It is important to keep in mind. three Remonstrants from Utrecht managed to gain appointment as delegates. The Story of Christianity v. the Remonstrants were dealt an incredibly unplayable hand. but not as official delegates. Faith. but had no real power to influence the synod’s decision.: Scholarly Reprints. Free Will. Simon. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press. 15-16. They were granted admission. vol. It is easy to understand why they would have found a synod completely stacked against them to be frustrating and disheartening. The History and Theology of Calvinism. (n.”38 The clashes between the Remonstrant representatives and the other delegates became more and more vehement.37 They would be permitted to speak in their own King Louis XIII. On the twenty-third session. 1996). that the Calvinist delegates did not constitute an entirely united front. and the subject of the extent of the atonement generated much heated debate between the 35 Justo L. Gonzalez. Robert E. 181. and the Remonstrants came to be viewed as disorderly obstructionists. but they were immediately rejected from consideration and replaced with Gomarist appointees. Picirilli. angrily dismissed the Remonstrants from the synod. Calvinist theology was by no means monolithic at this point in time. The History and Theology of Calvinism.2. Grace.40 The synod continued without any Remonstrant representation at all.36 Sixteen Remonstrant clergymen in addition to Episcopius were sent to the synod to defend Remonstrant theology. USA.39 Eventually. Johannes Bogermannus. 1st ed. 1993). To be fair.” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation . Episcopius delivered a rousing speech that was “praised for its power (but criticized for its length). and they knew it. 10 . The Remonstrants spoke boldly and passionately in defense of their views. 39. 36 37 Carl Bangs.35 Initially. “Episcopius.p. Curt Daniel.

B. “Another Tale of Two Cities.43 (Presumably. 1688). and that this decree is not based upon foreseen faith. These are the five points of the common acronym TULIP.41 The debate became so heated that on two separate occasions Gomarus (who held to the limited atonement vie) challenged Martinius (who favored unlimited atonement). the proceedings of Dort nevertheless manifested the seeds that would shortly thereafter blossom into Amyraldianism. W. (4) Grace is irresistible. (2) Christ died for the elect only.” Westminster Theological Journal 37. and John Pearson. by the States-General). 577-78.reformed delegates. Davenant at one point proclaimed that he would rather have “his right hand cut off” than embrace a limited atonement view. (5) The elect will surely persevere in faith to the end. 470. 2. including compensation for the delegates. 1 (1974): 133. 581. (3) Men by nature are unable to seek God apart from the Spirit.” 72. Synod of. John Hales (London: Printed by T. The History and Theology of Calvinism. 1996). 2 (New York: Oxford University Press. for G. Anderson. Robert Godfrey.44 the synod condemned the Remonstrants as heterodox and unanimously signed the Canons of Dort. “Reformed Thought on the Extent of the Atonement to 1618. David R. of the ever memorable Mr. USA. vol. to a duel. Gomarus would have been happy to oblige him!) Although the synod did finally decide in favor of a limited atonement. 43 42 41 Ibid. 46 11 . 45 44 Curt Daniel.” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. Cornelus Augustijn. After 180 sessions in 128 days (all of which was paid for. framed in express contradistinction to the five articles of Remonstrance. “Dordrecht. 39. may be summarized as follows:46 (1) God’s eternal decree of predestination is the cause of election and reprobation. 577.. Pawlet.42 Two important unlimited atonement advocates were English delegates John Davenant and Samuel Ward. Peter Gunning. John Hales. Golden remains.45 The Canons. no.

16.although they were not originally framed in that order. and there formed the Remonstrant Reformed Brotherhood. 48 The state commissioned spies to hunt down any Remonstrants suspected of sneaking back into Holland. 48 49 Marcus P. It is worth mentioning that the Remontrants’ understanding of total depravity has frequently been misunderstood. C.50 As for 47 Just L. but shortly thereafter managed to escape in a chest ostensibly filled with books thanks to the cunning resourcefulness of his wife. The only fundamental difference between the two theological schemas on that point was that the Remonstrants refused to establish a link between total depravity and irresistible grace. In fact. M.47 To espouse that either Arminius or the Remonstrants embraced a form of Pelagianism would be entirely erroneous. vol. Hugo. Picirilli. USA. The Remonstrants and their allies were given an option: either recant. Vink. Rogge. Gonzalez. 1996). Robert E.49 Grotius was sentenced to life imprisonment.” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. 198. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press.” 482. H. Free Will. 50 12 . THE AFTERMATH The Synod of Dort concluded on May 9. both they and the Calvinists held that humans are totally depraved. 259-60. Grace. whereas the synod established such a link as the primary means whereby a person is drawn to the gospel. The five points of Calvinism had been codified and the followers of Arminius had been univocally condemned. A History of Christian Thought v. and so over 200 Remonstrant teachers and preachers were banished. 1619.3. The immediate ramifications of these decisions were harsh and decidedly uncharitable. or submit to imprisonment or exile. “Grotius. “Remonstrants. Faith. Very few were willing to recant. Many of them gathered in Antwerp.

S. Groenveld. regardless of the potential political backlash. “The Extent of the Ateonement and the Synod of Dort.Oldenbarnevelt.” 173. 52 53 54 Harm Stevens.56 The Remonstrants returned to Holland en masse. however. planted 51 J. McNeill. Shades of Orange: a history of the royal house of the Netherlands (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. 365. 56 55 13 . Dort’s decision rendered matters rather bleak for the Remonstrants. introducers of novelties. In the long-term. “Oldenbarnevelt. 673ff.51 This was done amid public outcry and manifold pleas for Maurice to issue Oldenbarnevelt a pardon. 1619. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was beheaded on May 13. They had been condemned for being “preachers of error. 265. Frederick preferred a light-handed approach to religious dissention and extended to the Remonstrants the religious tolerance they had long sought. Oldenbarnevelt: 1606-1619 (New York: CUP Archive. and creators of schisms. for the latter had overwhelming public popularity. 1973).” Westminster Theological Journal 51 (1989): 21. as the entire Protestant Reformation had been roundly condemned by Rome for precisely the same reasons. 1835). he was determined to do away with his political rival once and for all. Den Tex.55 his brother Frederick Henry took the throne. T. Dort’s implications were far less determinative than the Gomarists would have preferred.52 Maurice would have none of it. Frederick Calder. Memoirs of Simon Episcopius (London: Simpkin and Marshall. After Maurice died of liver failure on April 23. Stephen Strehle. 1625 (he had been a relentless drinker). While Calvinism continued to enjoy recognition as the official religion of the Netherlands.”54 It is ironic that children of the Reformation could be so quick to judge one another on this basis. 10.53 In the short-term. J. The History and Character of Calvinism. Maurice arranged for him to be convicted on a trumped-up charge of treason and executed. 2001). Johan van.

it too would soon blossom under the teaching and theologizing of Moyse Amyraut. History of the Christian Church. 60 61 62 63 14 .61 Out of the Saumur Academy arose an attempt on the part of Amyraut and likeminded professors of theology to “tone down the rigorous Calvinism of the Synod of Dort. although the Canons of Dort did not have the far-reaching and conclusive results that the synod no doubt desired. J. the synod’s decision proved fairly ineffectual on the international scene. “The Extent of the Atonement and the Synod of Dort. Ward. McNeill.Remonstrant congregations. 314.”62 The unlimited atonement theology of Amyraldianism was born. and Martinius.63 And yet. The History and Character of Calvinism. having returned to its homeland. In England. and began to gain prominence in the 1630’s. 266. This quinquarticular formulation of Calvinistic soteriology continues to 57 J. nevertheless the theological importance of Calvinism’s five points cannot be denied. gradually gained increasing support in the Reformed church. 1985). It would enter the Church of England under the Stuarts. King James I. Louis Berkhof.. T.57 Moreover. 59 58 Stephen Strehle. The British Delegation and the Synod of Dort (1618-19) (New York: Boydell Press.60 As for the moderate Calvinism of Davenant. 2005). 92-94. Anthony Milton. Stephen Strehle. 1910). 8 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. who had initially supported the Synod of Dort and personally appointed the English delegates. T. forbade the public preaching of Dortian theology. for political reasons. 815.” 23. and then gain international prominence with the eventual rise of Methodism under John Wesley.58 later withdrew his support from the synod’s decision and. Philip Schaff. and freely taught Arminian theology. “The Extent of the Atonement and the Synod of Dort. vol. McNeill. The History and Character of Calvinism.59 Arminianism. 190. History of Christian Doctrines (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust.” 21-22.

dominate theological discussions and debates to this day. and reflects the logically deductive and internally coherent schema to which loyal Calvinists subscribe the world over. No doubt many today would decry the synod’s harsh and unchristian judgment on its opponents. questioned. and defended four centuries later. admired. but the Canons continue to be read. 15 .

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” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. Marcus P. 2:197198. “Grotius. New York: Oxford University Press. USA. 1996. M. Hugo. 18 .Vink.