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Thursday, June 24, 2010

TRAVEL DIARIES: HAARLEM 6-18-2010















Sint Bavo Kerk in Haarlem on the Grote Markt, today, and as represented by the painter Gerrit Berkheyde in 1674.


TRAVEL DIARIES

Haarlem

6-18-2010

The three great painters of the Dutch Golden Age succeed each other in such a way as to define the three periods of its history. Frans Hals (1583-1666), Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), and Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), each of them characterizes a unique phase in that Golden Age: the forthright rebelliousness of Hals, the classic monumentality of Rembrandt, and the soft and balanced maturity and refinement of Vermeer. But the proximity of their deaths, all within nine years of one another, is a symbolic foreshortening of the Golden Age, and an illustration of its relative brevity. That brief moment in the cultural history of the northern Netherlands, illuminated by its painters against the dark background of the religious war against Spanish Catholic hegemony, as well as against the dark background of its own Calvinistic faith, can be said to begin in the city of Haarlem because of the paintings of Frans Hals, its native son. Haarlem is the city of Frans Hals, and Hals is the painter of Haarlem. To visit Haarlem and know it, it is necessary to visit the Frans Hals museum in the Old Men's Asylum, the Oudemannenhuis (Old Men's Alms House) on the Groot Heiligland Street.













Frans Hans Museum in Haarlem

Hals is buried in the floor of the choir of the old Cathedral of Haarlem, known as the Sint Bavo Kerk. It was said that he had lived his old age, poor and forgotten, at the old men's asylum on the Heiligland street, but that has now been refuted. The point was made because of his two great paintings of the governors and governesses (the Regenten and Regentessen) of the Asylum, painted in 1664, both works of his old age. In these paintings, the sitters appear in a less than favorable light. There is a horrid spitefulness, a meanness and callousness in some of their features, that was seen traditionally as the representation of the brutal coldness of Calvinism in its treatment of the poor, the aged, the disadvantaged. The hands of the Regentessen in the far left and far right of their common portrait look like a hammer and sickle, the hand of the woman on the right seeming to fall relentlessly as a guillotine on her black skirt. The third governess from the left has a look of skeletal severity. And the Regents, they are more bland and incompetent than cruel, but equally indifferent to their mission.














It is impossible for us to say today whether these harsh judgments on the governors and governesses of the Asylum are at all justified. Nor is it really possible to judge whether the likenesses are exaggerated to make a point, or whether they are realistic representations of the sitters. Perhaps the portraits judge an entire age, an entire attitude towards its humanity. The provisions for the aged poor were precarious. The Old Men's Asylum was a home for elderly men which was founded in 1609. The residential rooms were situated around a courtyard, which is still there, and each of the thirty tiny little houses was inhabited by two men. To be eligible for living there the men had to be at least sixty years old, Haarlem residents with no criminal record, and single. They were required to bring their own household goods listed as a bed, a chair with a cushion, a tin chamberpot, three blankets, six good shirts and six nightcaps. They were locked in, each night, at eight o'clock in the summer and at seven in the winter. They had to make a weekly collection with a poor-box. A sculpture of such a man, holding this poor-box, can be seen in the entrance hall of the museum.

This dreary culture co-existed with great prosperity and affluence of the better-off citizens, among whom were the governors and governesses of the Asylum. The wealth of the city's bourgeoisie had bred a defiant attitude toward the foreign rule of the Habsburgs and toward the religion of Rome. Haarlem was besieged by the Spanish army in late 1572. The revolt had spread to the city precisely because it was a wealthy city, known for its production of finished textiles, lace and silk, and beer exports to the southern provinces, and its proud and independent bourgeois class, which the regents of the Asylum very properly represented, supported the Dutch revolution against the Spanish Habsburgs. When the city of Brielle was taken by the Watergeuzen, the Protestant Sea Beggars, or "pirates," as the Spanish authorities called them, the town of Haarlem supported them. The King of Spain, Philip II, sent his army north under the command of Don Federico de Alba, son of the Duke of Alba whose depredations throughout the provinces were already quite famous. The cruel treatement of the citizens of Zutphen and Naarden in November 1572, put the people of Haarlem on notice of the brutality of the Spanish "tercios." Then, on December 11, 1572, the Spaniards put Haarlem under siege. For two months the situation was one of attrition. The Spanish dug tunnels to reach the city walls and blow them up. Amsterdam, in a fawning attempt at deference to the King, refused to help the besieged city, and its fleet controlled the Haarlemmermeer, through which supplies had previously reached Haarlem from Sassenheim on the south-eastern shore. The blockade became effective on that huge lake, which constituted a sea between Haarlem and Leiden, and the city was isolated from the outside. As hunger and despair spread among the people, all hopes hung on the army of William of Orange, arraigned near Leiden, but the Spanish trapped him and defeated him at Manpad. After seven months of desperate siege, the city surrendered in July, 1573, and Don Federico celebrated a Te Deum in the great church of Saint Bavo. The Spanish triumph was short lived, however,and as the situation of Spain deteriorated in Holland, the city boldly asserted its independence and confiscated all the possessions and properties of the Catholic Church. The Spanish left in 1577 and under the so-called Convention of Veere, Protestants and Catholics were given equal rights, though in government the Protestants clearly had the upper hand and Catholic possessions once seized were never returned. To restore the economy and attract workers for the brewing and bleaching businesses, the Haarlem council decided to promote the pursuit of the arts and crafts, showing tolerance for diversity among religious beliefs. This attracted a large influx of Flemish and French immigrants (Catholics and Hugenots, both) who were fleeing the Spanish occupation of their own cities. This demographic and economic expansion that followed constitutes the background to the Golden Age of Haarlem's art and crafts.





Jacob van Ruisdael's famous painting of the environs of Haarlem, with the Church of Sint Bavo in the distance, was painted around 1670, long after the siege of Haarlem. It shows a prosperous farm in the foreground where linen lace is being put out to dry after its careful rinsing with the clean water of the dunes around the city. Ruisdael was a native of Haarlem, as Hals was before him, but his work is already both more conservative and more optimistic. The rigors of the Calvinist revolution had been left far behind.





TRAVEL DIARIES: DORDRECHT














Aelbert Cuyp, The Maas at Dordrecht



Dordrecht

6-16-10

I drove south towards the delta of the great rivers with the intention of going to Brielle. This is a small harbor on the island of Voorne-Putten, located on the river known as Nieuwe Maas (the new Maas), one of the two great branches of the river Meuse, (Maas), that winds its way through Belgium, through the city of Liege, and pours out into the North Sea. The importance of Brielle is based on the role of the little town during the Dutch revolt against the Spanish Hapsburgs, and the subsequent eighty years war against Spain. On April 1, 1572, the Protestant "pirates" known as Watergeuzen (Sea Beggars) captured the town in their flat-bottomed boats, thus securing a free port through which the islands of the province of Zeeland could be supplied from the North Sea. As the Protestants throughout the provinces of Holland and Zeeland realized the strategic nature of this victory, they began openly to support William of Orange and his rebel armies against the Spanish Duke of Alba, and the nature of the conflict changed, beginning to favor the rebels. The Dutch still celebrate this event every year on April 1st., and during the night before, known as "Kalknacht (chalk night)," deface the city with white chalk, and the students sing the famous rhyme: "Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril" which means, "On April 1st, Alva (Alvarez de Toledo, Third Duke of Alba) lost his glasses ('bril' means eye-glasses in Dutch)."

But I did not go to Brielle. Somewhere around the enormously complex ring of freeways that surround the great port of Rotterdam, the Rotterdamring, designed to steer all traffic around that enormous city, I lost my way, and decided then, opportunely, to visit the ancient city of Dordt, or Dordrecht instead, a felicitous choice.
























Views of Dordrecht: Aelbert Cuyp's painting of ca.1620, and photo of the Groote Kerk






Dordrecht is considered by the Dutch to be their oldest city. It is surrounded by the great rivers, the Rhine, the Maas, the Meerwede, and the confluence forms the famous Holland Diep, which was the point where the German occupiers of the Netherlands took their last stand at the very end of the second world war. Dordrecht was bombed, but the old cathedral still stands, with its leaning tower, a symbol of the Calvinist Reformed Church in the city that confirmed its orthodoxy. (See my entry of June 10, 2010, where I outline the significance of the Synod of Dordt, of 1618-19). In fact, it was the proceedings of the Synod of Dordt, the significance of the triumph of Calvinism in the United Provinces, that motivated my interest in the city. In the Cathedral, the Groote Kerk (Great Church) there is an exhibit on the Synod, and two miniature models of the proceedings of the Synod show the delegates from the various Protestant regions and cities of Europe (England, Switzerland, Geneva, Heidelberg, Hesse, Bremen, Krefeld) that attended, all dressed in their black suits and hats, and prominent white collars. There Arminianism was condemned, and strict Calvinism informed the period of the Dutch Empire's greatest age.

But when you travel, you always discover the unexpected. Next to the Government House (the Stadhuis) there is a large monument to the brothers De Witt. Jan and Cornelis De Witt, were prominent Dutch statesmen of the seventeenth century. In 1672, the nation experienced a series of foreign policy disasters that led to the weakening of De Witt's rule. During the so-called "rampjaar," which in Dutch means "year of disaster," France and England attacked the Republic in the course of the Franco-Dutch War, and the supporters of the family of Orange took power by force and deposed Jan de Witt. Recovering from an earlier attempt on his life, he was lynched by an organized mob after visiting his brother Cornelis de Witt in prison. He had been duped into this trap by a forged letter requesting the visit. After the arrival of Jan de Witt, the city guard was sent away on a pretext to stop farmers who were supposedly engaged in pilfering. Without any protection against the assembled mob the brothers were doomed. They were dragged out of the prison and killed next to a nearby scaffold. Immediately after their death the bodies were mutilated and fingers, toes, and other parts of their bodies were cut off. The heart of Cornelis de Witt was exhibited for many years next to his brother's by one of the ring-leaders of the mob. Some historians have theorized that his adversary and successor as leader of the government, the Stadtholder William of Orange, King William III of England, was involved in the conspiracy to kill the brothers De Witt.












Monument to Jan and Cornelis De Witt in the City of Dordrecht




































As was the case with another great Dutch statesman, of an earlier period, Jan van Oldenbarnevelt, there is a recurrent division in the nation's political history between the statesmen of the province of Holland, the most wealthy and powerful of the seven original provinces, and the family of Orange. William of Orange, known as William the Silent, was the leader, by default, of the revolt against Spain. He was the Stadholder of Holland, and the holding of this position by his family eventually became hereditary. His son, Prince Maurice of Orange, prevailed against Oldenbarnevelt, where the conflict took on the color of the dispute between the Remonstrants (Arminians) and the Calvinists, as a consequence of the Synod of Dordt. Oldenbarnevelt was decapitated. In the case of the brothers De Witt, another William of Orange, also Stadholder of Holland, appears to have conspired to eliminate the De Witt brothers and hence weaken the power of the province of Holland and enhance his own. This William became William III of England, as a consequence of his marriage to Mary Stuart, daughter of King James II of England. And again, two great secular statesmen, by instinct republican, representative of all the progressive forces in the nation, were butchered by the Dutch mob, their bodies left to be devoured by dogs, as common criminals. The House of Orange is still the royal family of the Netherlands.


















Jan de Baen, The bodies of the brothers De Witt







The city of Dordrecht is a port-city on the great rivers that constitute the delta of South Holland. Only four years into the Dutch revolt against Spain, in 1572, representatives of all the cities of Holland, with the notable exception of Amsterdam, but with the spirited participation of the "pirates" (Watergeuzen), gathered in Dordrecht to hold their First Assembly of Free States (Eerste Vrije Statenvergadering), known as the Union of Dordrecht. This secret meeting constituted a rebellious act against the monarchy, as only the King (now Phillip II) or his Stadholder (now the Duke of Alba) were legally permitted to call a meeting of the Estates. During the meeting, the organization and financing of the rebellion was debated, and William of Orange was elected Stadholder and leader of the revolt. As well, the Union published a manifesto of total freedom of religious worship and practice. It was an initial step towards total independence of the northern Netherlands from Spanish and Habsburg domination.


The Union of Dordrecht was held in an Augustinian monastery which has always been known as "het Hof" (the Court). Below is a photo of the Hof taken in 1935, before the bombardment of the city.
















The Hof in Dordrecht, 1935







Despite the great historical significance of this city, it does not wear its history well today. It is totally off the beaten tourist trail, which runs along a North/South axis from Amsterdam to The Hague. It is considered here as a large industrial city, almost a part of the great urban region of Rotterdam. There are many Moroccan immigrants, which is also a characteristic of industrial Rotterdam, and in general the city appears poorly and sidetracked by the development of the modern age. Nevertheless, to look at the old church from beyond the distance of the old harbor and the canals of the shoreline is a reminder of what the paintings of its native son, Aelbert Cuyp, have made famous. What is totally forgotten is its turbulent religious history and its crucial role in the triumph of Dutch Calvinism.



TRAVEL DIARIES: FLIGHT TO EUROPE

SAN DIEGO-MINNEAPOLIS-AMSTERDAM

6-14-10

My uncle in Holland has the collected diaries of Thomas Mann, and I am bemused by the fact that Mann would report daily on the weather and on his accomplishments of each day. There are other commentaries, references and memoranda that he includes in his diary entries, but the weather report and the record of his achievements in his writing and research are almost always there.

Well, the weather here in Noordwijk has been extremely variable since my arrival. It was initially very hot, then cold and windy, overcast and rainy weather followed, and now it is again sunny and hot. The dark overcast day, the wind and rain from the North Sea, I find conducive to the study and appreciation of Dutch culture, and I welcomed that gloom of rainy weather in my early wandering in Dutch cities.

But it all started last week in San Diego, on June 14, at Lindbergh field, where I went through the many motions of boarding the plane, clearing security, checking the luggage, and preparing psychologically for the thirteen hour trip. As I surveyed my environment, I was struck by the affluence of the people who were traveling alongside me, a radiance in their countenance, elegant clothing and luggage, polite children. The class divisions in America are increasingly evident and can be sought out in different locales where the identification becomes easy.











Minneapolis

As the plane descended over Minneapolis I began to see the green that would accompany me to Holland and beyond. The green started there. I saw the Mississippi, unexpectedly narrow in those latitudes, winding its way through the city, and surrounded by trees on all sides. It was cool weather upon arrival, a contrast with the boiling hot and dry San Diego, and there was little to do at the airport for an hour. A class of young girls, about ten or eleven-year-olds, boarded the plane there. They were loud and boisterous, and ran about in the aisles. But it wasn't their rambunctiousness that struck me, rather their narcissism and arrogance, strange at their age. I had them all about me, behind me and to the side, and so I could overhear their conversation for several hours. Everything they said was self-referential, and they acted contemptuously towards the services provided, arrogantly dismissed the quality of the food, as if they were entitled to gourmet fare. They were modestly attired, which made me think it was probably a religious institution they hailed from, and they were all wearing the same colors. The plane inched its way over the desolate regions of Eastern Canada, a bumpy ride. A short night followed after we began to fly over the Atlantic. As the dawn began to clear ahead, I saw Dublin all lit up. I thought of my previous flights to Europe, the past of England and Ireland, and began to feel the emotional pull of the old world. The slow descent to Amsterdam began when we were still over Nottingham. It is remarkable to me how close England and Holland are, historically, culturally, and geographically in space and time. In no time at all, we were aiming at Amsterdam. The clouds parted over the North Sea just in time to see the dunes of South Holland, and then came the green again, a clearer green, the green of the polders and the waterways that determined the history of the Dutch. Early in this Dutch morning, I arrived at Schiphol airport.











Shiphol Airport, Amsterdam

Monday, June 14, 2010

Petrarch contemplating Laura













Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374)


Petrarch contemplating Laura
(No information on this picture is available)

Canzoniere (Rerum vulgarium fragmenta) VII

Rime In vita di Madonna Laura
[Spanish and English translation below. From Wikisource]

"La gola e 'l sonno et l'otïose piume
ànno del mondo ogni vertú sbandita,
ond'è dal corso suo quasi smarrita
nostra natura vinta dal costume;

et è sí spento ogni benigno lume
del ciel, per cui s'informa humana vita,
che per cosa mirabile s'addita
chi vòl far d'Elicona nascer fiume.

Qual vaghezza di lauro, qual di mirto?
Povera et nuda vai philosophia,
dice la turba al vil guadagno intesa.

Pochi compagni avrai per l'altra via:
tanto ti prego piú, gentile spirto,
non lassar la magnanima tua impresa."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Gula, modorra y edredón ocioso
tal la virtud del mundo han desterrado,
que ya su natural casi ha olvidado
el hombre uncido al hábito vicioso;

y tan oscuro está todo astro hermoso,
por el que el ser humano es informado,
que se tiene por caso celebrado
quien vierte en Helicón caudal precioso.

Y mirto y laurel ya, ¿quién los desea?
«Pobre y desnuda vas, filosofía»
dice la turba por el lucro obsesa.

Pocos contigo irán por la otra vía;
¡oh espíritu gentil, jamás te vea
dejar tu noble y generosa empresa!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Greed and sleep and slothful beds
have banished every virtue from the world,
so that, overcome by habit,
our nature has almost lost its way.

And all the benign lights of heaven,
that inform human life, are so spent,
that he who wishes to bring down a stream
from Helicon is pointed out as a wonder.

Such desire for laurel, and for myrtle?
'Poor and naked goes philosophy',
say the crowd intent on base profit.

You'll have poor company on that other road:
So much the more I beg you, gentle spirit,
not to turn from your great undertaking.





















Laura de Noves (1310 - 1348)
Possibly, the woman who inspired Petrarch's Canzoniere

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Egmont, martyr of the Dutch Revolt

























Lamoral, Count of Egmont, Prince of Gavere
(1522-1568) On 4 June, 1568, the Count of Egmont was condemned to death by the Spanish army under the command of the Duque de Alva, and lodged that night in the maison du roi in Brussels. On June 5, 1568, aged only 46, he was beheaded by the Spaniards at the Grande Place in Brussels. Egmont became a hero of the Dutch revolt, and has been famously commemorated, among others, by Goethe and by Beethoven in his Overture, opus 84, of 1810. His death led to public protests throughout the Netherlands, and contributed to the resistance against the Spaniards.

The high-flying, flourishing and triumphant finale of Beethoven's Egmont Overture illustrates the conception of a later Romantic of the significance of Egmont's death as the harbinger and foreshadowing of the freedom of worship and thought in Europe, - a result, as it was then conceived, of the victorious struggle against Catholicism in the Netherlands.

Dutch Landscapes





















Jacob van Ruysdael, View of Haarlem, 1665


"Water and windmills, greenness, Islets green;—
Willows whose Trunks beside the shadows stood
Of their own higher half, and willowy swamp:—
Farmhouses that at anchor seem'd—in the inland sky
The fog-transfixing Spires—
Water, wide water, greenness and green banks,
And water seen—"

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Fragment 9: The Netherlands

What lies beneath the greenness, the willowy swamps, the wide waters of the Netherlands, which Coleridge describes in so Romantic a fashion? Is there anything there to disturb this idyllic landscape? Bloody struggles over Theology, maybe? Disputes over Soteriology that would end in a respected seventy-one year old statesman losing his head over it? Does this lie beneath the beautiful landscape, in Holland’s gory history?

As I prepare to fly over to Holland this week, I formulate these interrogatories so as to give myself something to look for as I walk around in Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Leiden. One of these fascinating interrogatories is the following: what went down at the Synod of Dordrecht?

The Synod of Dordrecht, or Dordt, which took place in 1618-1619, was summoned in order to resolve a very disquieting development occurring within the Dutch Reformed Church: the challenge of Arminianism to the foundational theology of Calvinism that informed it. Jacobus Arminius, whose theology was the source of the problem, did not attend the Synod he had repeatedly called for. He had died in 1609. Arminianism was not given much of a hearing, and was eventually roundly condemned. One of the most prominent of the Arminians, or Remonstrants as they came to be known, was Jan van Oldenbarnevelt, who was at the time Holland’s most prominent statesman. He was arrested during the sitting of the Synod, and eventually beheaded in 1619. His followers, among them Hugo Grotius, were persecuted, arrested or exiled.


























Synod of Dordt, 1619

If you are interested in what the fuss was all about, read on, and bear in mind that we are all Arminians now.

In contrast to other regions of Europe, the Protestant Reformation in the Netherlands originates in a variety of popular movements. What begins as a struggle for freedom of worship against the Inquisition, evolves into a struggle for political independence from Spain. The monarchy there, is an alien monarchy, foreign to the people. When the crown of the Empire passes from the Flemish Charles V to his son Philip II, who spoke only Spanish, the crown becomes alienated from the people of the Netherlands. In this brooding environment, the Dutch revolt and the subsequent wars of religion that would last for eighty years, fashions the religion of the Dutch as half Calvinism and half struggle for emancipation from the Spanish Habsburg dominion. The background of the Dutch faith is an unadulterated version of Calvinism, as expounded by Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza. Beza was left the burden of clarifying and defending Calvinism.




















John Calvin (1509-1564)

"God pre-ordained . . . a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation." John Calvin (1509-1564).

Calvinism was affirmed in the Dutch Reformed Church by the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619). Its principles are often summarized as 'The Five Points of Calvinism,' and taught by way of the acrostic “TULIP,” which is used as a mnemonic devise, in the following manner:

T: is used to stand for “Total depravity:” Due to the Fall of Man, sin pervades all aspects of man’s life, including his thought, his emotions and his will. Accordingly, humans are helpless, and God must intercede in the form of the Holy Spirit for their salvation.
Romans 5:12: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned."
Mark 4:11: "And he said unto them, ‘Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables’."

U: is used to denote the concept of “Unconditional Election.” God divided humanity into two groups, the “elect” whom God has chosen to save by making Himself known to them, and those who shall remain ignorant of God, and who are damned without hope or extenuation. God made this selection before the universe was created. Neither faith nor good works on the part of the individual will help overcome predestination. The true Calvinist believes that the individual has no responsibility for his or her own salvation, as the matter is entirely up to God.
Romans 9:15: "For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
Romans 9:21: "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?"

L: is used to stand for the notion of “Limited Atonement,” to wit, the belief that Jesus did not die to save all humans, but only for the sake of specific sins of those sinners who are already pre-determined to be saved.
Matthew 26:28: "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
Ephesians 5:25: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it."

I: stands for the notion of “Irresistible Grace,” or the belief that every human being whom God has elected for salvation will inevitably come to knowledge of God’s grace, which the elect cannot resist.
John 6:44: "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day."
Romans 8:14: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God."
1 Peter 5:10: "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you."

P: stands for the notion of the “Perseverance of the Saints,” the belief that one saved is always saved, for no one that has been saved can become otherwise. It is impossible for the elect to lose their salvation.
Philippians 1:6: "That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ."
Romans 8:28-39: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified....Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
John 6:39: "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day."

Arminianism

Jacobus Arminius was born at Oudewater, in the province of Utrecht, where he was brought up as an orphan. His mother died a violent death during the Spanish massacre at Oudewater in 1575, a victim of the wars of religion. Meanwhile Arminius studied Theology at the University of Leiden, where he lived until 1582. Steeped in Calvinism, he began to develop a theology that would eventually compete with it, soften it, perhaps moderate it. In 1582, he began studying under Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor in Geneva, and in 1588 was ordained pastor at Amsterdam. He died in 1609 and was buried in Leiden.














Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609)

Arminius preached a theology of salvation that was meant to moderate the determinism of Calvin. Whereas, for Calvin, only the elect were saved, and faith was a sign of election, Arminius preached a theology where the individual could act towards his own salvation, and faith in God was its precondition. According to Arminius, man is not spiritually helpless, but has free will and may choose to be saved. Insofar as God has made an election, it is based on His foreknowledge of who will respond and be saved, a foreknowledge of faith. Where the Calvinists preached that the Incarnation served only to benefit those who would in any event be saved, the Arminians preached that Jesus had died so that everyone had a chance to be saved, and not only the elect. But man must choose to accept God’s grace, and therefore his or her own salvation. Man has free will, and can thus accept God’s grace and be saved in faith, or else resist the call of God and be damned.

Today Arminianism is very much a part of the broad Protestant consensus. It is difficult therefore to put oneself back in the days of the seventeenth century, when the harshness of Calvinism characterized the faith that men fought for to the death in the battlefields and in the narrow towns of northern Europe, amidst that lovely landscape of tulips and the watery canals of Holland.

Aelbert Cuyp, View of Dordrecht

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