Something for Arminius Geeks

Something for Arminius Geeks

Our number is few and I’m not even sure I’m one. Here I use the word “geek” in a non-pejorative way—as someone peculiarly (to others) interested in a very technical subject. If having read all of Arminius’ writings that exist in English translation makes me an “Arminius geek,” then I’m one. However, I happen to be more interested in Arminianism than in Arminius. So call me an Arminianism geek. But that interest has driven me back to read everything I can get my hands on about Arminius himself. I’ve read Bangs’ magisterial intellectual biography of the Dutch theologian and numerous other books and articles about him. But I’m not sure I would have liked him very much or his scholastic approach to theology.

Still, anyone very interested in the meaning of being an Arminian (such as members of the Society of Evangelical Arminians [SEA]) might find this new book interesting—even if they, like I, am not all that fascinated by Arminius himself.

A couple years ago a Danish theologian began writing to me about his research into Lutheran influences on Arminius’ theology. He was especially interested in promoting greater interest in and recognition of Danish Lutheran theologian Niels Hemmingsen’s influence on Arminius. The book (which the author calls a “Memorial Pamphlet”) is Hemmingius in the Same World as Perkinsius and Arminius: Niels Hemmingsen 1513-2013 and its author is Henrik Frandsen of Copenhagen.

Of special interest to current discussions of Arminius’ theology is Frandsen’s argument that Danish Lutheran theologian Hemmingsen’s doctrine of election/predestination was of greater influence on Arminius’ own theology than was Catholic theologian Luis de Molina’s. In recent years some Arminius scholars have argued that Arminius adopted Molina’s theory of God’s “middle knowledge” to explain God’s foreknowledge and providence.

The title of the book uses the Latinized forms of three contemporaneous theologians’ names: Niels Hemmingsen, William Perkins, and Jacob Arminius. All three were especially concerned with God’s providence and predestination. Hemmingsen is the least known among English-speaking people because few, if any, of his works have been translated into that language. (Frandsen mentions one work of the Danish theologian that was translated into English, but it appears [from a comment on p. 8] that he translated it and it appeared only on his own website from 2005 to 2012. That is Hemmingsen’s A Summary of the Doctrine of God’s Eternal Election published around 1600.)

Hemmingsen was born in Denmark in 1513. He became a professor at the University of Copenhagen and eventually Vice-Chancellor of the University. He was embroiled in controversies with other Lutheran theologians over communion and other topics of Lutheran theology. He met with kings to discuss theology—including James VI of Scotland (who eventually became James I of England). Hemmingsen died in 1600 and is buried under the floor of the cathedral in Roskilde on the island of Zealand.

Hemmingsen was by all accounts the most influential Danish theologian of the Reformation era—during the kingdom’s transition from Catholicism to Lutheranism.

According to Frandsen, Arminius scholars have tended to overlook the Danish theologian’s influence on Arminius. He ends a three pages long series of quotations from various contemporaries of Arminius by concluding that “This external evidence thus clearly demonstrates…that Hemmingsen was regarded as the most important theological authority to Arminius in the question of predestination.” (p. 23)

In particular, Frandsen argues that Arminius took his distinction between God’s antecedent will and God’s consequent will from Hemmingsen. This is just one example; Frendsen cites many more parallels between Hemmingsen’s theology and Arminius’.

Unfortunately for the case Frandsen attempts to make, Arminius only quoted Hemmingsen in his Declaration of Sentiments. Still, he owned Hemmingsen’s books and his own followers declared, after his death, that Arminius was influenced by Hemmingsen.

All of that is of interest and import to those scholars especially interested in tracing influences on theologians—especially influences on Arminius. I came away from reading Frandsen’s book convinced that Hemmingsen’s influence on Arminius has probably been largely overlooked.

But the most important point Frandsen makes, for the current controversy among Arminius scholars, is that Hemmingsen’s rejection of divine middle knowledge in favor of simple foreknowledge influenced Arminius’ later theology which lacks any reliance on middle knowledge. Frandsen notes that some Arminius scholars who believe Arminius relied on divine middle knowledge point to some theses in a treatise entitled On God’s Nature. However, Frandsen argues that Arminius was not the author of the theses. (pp. 25-26)

Frandsen first wrote to me about these matters—especially Arminius’ alleged reliance on middle knowledge—two years ago. He reported to me that he had written about this matter in an article he submitted to a British evangelical theological journal but that it had been turned down. He was clearly upset and wanted my support to get the article published. At the time I was unable to help in that. I assume the book under review here is an expansion of that article.

Frandsen wishes to disprove the thesis that Arminius believed in or relied on middle knowledge to explain God’s foreknowledge of the elect. His alternative to Molina’s alleged influence is Hemmingsen’s. I come away from reading articles and book supporting the former and articles and books denying it (including Frandsen’s) concluding, tentatively, that Arminius may have flirted with middle knowledge and then given it up—seeing that it led to conclusions conflicting with some of his most basic impulses (e.g., God’s love and justice).

For anyone interested, Hemmingius in the Same World as Perkinsius and Arminius can be purchased from Danish publisher Grafik Werk Praestoe, Fjordvej 9, 4720 Praestoe, DK-Denmark. The price is $37 plush mailing. E-mail the publisher about the total cost at carit.etlar@hotmail.com.


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