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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Synods

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though actually synonymous with COUNCILS, are in common historical parlance employed to designate minor ecclesiastical conventions. In virtue of this distinction councils have usually claimed for themselves the ample epithet of oecumenical or general, while synods have long been known only by the humbler term of local or provincial. In the apostolic age four local assemblies were held, which some have called councils and others synods. The first was convened for the election of a successor to Judas in the apostleship, Acts 1:26 . At the second, seven deacons were chosen, Acts 6:5 . The third, like the two which preceded it, was held at Jerusalem, according to some authors, A.D. 47, but, according to others, A.D. 51; that is, at the latest, eighteen years after Christ's ascension. It originated in the attempt made to oblige the Gentile converts at Antioch to submit to the rite of circumcision. St. Paul and Barnabas opposed this attempt; and after "no small dissension and disputation," it was determined, that the question should be referred to the judgment of the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem. Accordingly, some of the Apostles and several of the "elders came together" to deliberate on the propriety of dispensing with the ceremonial law. The result of their deliberations was, that the Mosaic ordinances, being too rigorous, should be abrogated; and that their decision should be communicated to "the brethren which were of the Gentiles,"

Acts 15:1-30 . The fourth apostolic synod was convened in reference to the toleration of legal rites, Acts 21:18 . With respect to all these, the fact is, that, instead of being councils or synods in any proper sense, they were mere meetings of the church at Jerusalem, and all of them ordinary meetings except the third, when they assembled upon the request of the deputies from Antioch who came to ask advice.

Dr. Neander, speaking of the origin, use, and abuse of synods, says,—As a closer bond of union was early formed between the churches of the same province, so also the Christian catholic spirit introduced the custom that, in all pressing matters, controversies on doctrinal points, things relating to the ecclesiastical life, and very commonly in those relating to church discipline, general deliberations should be held by deputies from these churches. Such assemblies become familiar to us in the controversies about the time of celebrating Easter, and in the transactions about the Montanistic prophecies, in the last half of the second century. But these provincial synods appear, for the first time, as a constant and regular institution, fixed to definite times, about the end of the second or the beginning of the third century; and it was in this case a peculiarity of one country, where particular local causes may have introduced such an arrangement earlier than in other regions. This country was, in fact, exactly Greece, where, from the time of the Achaic league, the system of confederation had maintained itself; and as Christianity is able to connect itself with all the peculiarities of a people, provided they contain nothing immoral, and, entering into them, to take itself a peculiar form resembling them, so, also, it might easily happen that here the civil federal spirit which already existed worked upon the ecclesiastical catholic spirit, and gave it earlier than in other regions a tolerably good form, so that out of the representative assemblies of the civil communities, the Amphictyonic councils, were formed the representative assemblies of the ecclesiastical communities, that is, the provincial synods. As the Christians, in the consciousness that they are nothing, and can do nothing, without the Spirit from above, were accustomed to begin all important business with prayer, they prepared themselves here, also, for their general deliberations by common prayer, at the opening of these assemblies, to Him who has promised that he will enlighten and guide, by his Spirit, those who believe in him, if they will give themselves up to him wholly, and that he will be among them, where they are gathered together in his name. It appears that this regular institution met at first with opposition as an innovation, so that Tertullian felt himself called upon to stand up in its defence. Nevertheless, the ruling spirit of the church decided for this institution; and, down to the middle of the third century, the annual provincial synods appear to have been generally in the church, as we may conclude, because we find them prevalent, at the same time, in parts of the church as far distant from each other as North Africa and Cappadocia.

These provincial synods might certainly become very useful for the churches; and, in many respects, they did become so. By means of a general deliberation, the views of individuals might mutually be enlarged and corrected; wants, abuses, and necessary reforms, might thus more easily be mutually communicated, and be deliberated on in many different points of view; and the experience of every individual, by being communicated, might be made useful to all. Certainly, men had every right to trust that Christ would be among them, according to his promise, and would lead those who were assembled in his name by his Spirit. Certainly it was neither enthusiasm nor hierarchical presumption, if the deputies, collected together to consult upon the affairs of their churches, and the pastors of these churches, hoped that a higher Spirit than that of man, by his illumination, would show them what they could never find by their own reason, whose insufficiency they felt deeply, if it were left to itself. It would far rather have been a proud self-confidence, had they been so little acquainted with the shallowness of their own heart, the poverty of human reason, and the self-deceits of human wisdom, as to expect that without the influence of that higher Spirit of holiness and truth they could provide sufficiently for the advantage of their churches. But this confidence, in itself just and salutary, took a false and destructive turn, when it was not constantly accompanied by the spirit of humility and self-watchfulness, with fear and trembling; when men were not constantly mindful of the important condition under which alone man could hope to share in the fulfilment of that promise, in that divine illumination and guidance,—the condition, that they were really assembled in the name of Christ, in lively faith in him, and honest devotion to him, and prepared to sacrifice their own wills; and when the people gave themselves up to the fancy, that such an assembly, whatever might be the hearts of those who were assembled, had unalienable claims to the illumination of the Holy Spirit; for then, in the confusion and the intermixture of human and divine, men were abandoned to every kind of self-delusion; and the formula, "Spiritu Sancto suggerente," "By the suggestion of the Holy Spirit," might become a pretence and sanction for all the suggestions of man's own will. And farther, the provincial synods would necessarily become prejudicial to the progress of the churches, if, instead of providing for the advantage of the churches according to the changing wants of each period, they wished to lay down unchanging laws in changeable things. Evil was it at last, that the participation of the churches was entirely excluded from these synods, that at length the bishops alone decided every thing in them, and that their power, by means of their connection with each other in these synods, was constantly on the increase. As the provincial synods were also accustomed to communicate their resolutions to distant bishops in weighty matters of general concernment, they were serviceable, at the same time, toward setting distant parts of the church in connection with each other, and maintaining that connection.

In the second century after the birth of Christ, eight local synods were held on church affairs, about which little information is now extant, except that they related to the heresy of Montanus, the rebaptizing of heretics, and the time for celebrating the festival of Easter. In the third century eighteen synods were held; the principal of which were, that of Alexandria, against Origen; that of Africa, against the schismatic Novatus; that of Antioch, against the heresy of Sabellius, and another in the same city against Paul of Samosata; that of Carthage, against such persons as fell away in time of persecution; and that of Rome, against Novatian and other schismatics. Prior to the assembling of the first general council at Nice, A.D. 325, three synods were held at Sinuessa, Cirtha, and Alexandria, the subjects discussed in which are unworthy of notice. Others were held, the discussions in which are so far interesting as they show how desirous the Ante-Nicene fathers were to regulate the doctrine and practice of the church according to the apostolic model. The fourth was that of Elvira, which rejected by its thirty-sixth canon any use whatever even of pictures. "We would not," say they, "have pictures placed in churches, that the object of our worship and adoration should not be painted on their walls." The synod at Carthage not having brought the rival pretensions of Caecilian and Majorinus to the episcopate of that city to a favourable issue, the Emperors Constantine appointed a commission (there being so few bishops present, it could not deserve any other title) to sit, first at Rome, and afterward at Arles, for the purpose of rehearing the matter. At Arles, it was decreed, that Easter should be celebrated on the same Sunday throughout the world; and that heretics, who had been baptized in the name of the Trinity, should not be rebaptized. The synods of Ancyra and Neo-Caesarea followed. The tenth canon, decreed by the latter, shows the sense of the fathers on the subject of celibacy; namely, "If deacons declare at the time of their ordination that they would marry, they should not be deprived of their function if they did marry." Rigid decrees were passed generally against such of the clergy as ate meats which had been sacrificed to idols. After the forementioned synods, two were convened at Alexandria, A.D. 322, against Arius. But their acts merge in the subsequent proceedings of the church. From the termination of the council of Nice to the next oecumenical council, A.D. 381, no fewer than forty-three synods, eastern and western, were convened. The professed object of these meetings was the tranquillity of the church; yet, from the unhappy divisions which prevailed in these assemblies, their deliberations were conducted with much of the violence of party feeling; and, according as the one party or the other prevailed, they severally hurled spiritual thunder-bolts against their doctrinal rivals, as if against the enemies of God himself. Of the synod of Sardica a separate and more particular account will be subsequently given, because on the authority of that unimportant assembly the church of Rome grounds the right of appeal to itself before any other church. In the whole, no fewer than eighty-one synods were assembled throughout the universal church in this century. The principal subjects which engaged their attention related to Arianism, which was generally rejected by the western church; but experienced various vicissitudes in the east, according to the view taken of it by the reigning power. Unfortunately for the peace of the church, this heresy gave birth to numerous others. Marcellus, Photinus, Macedonius, and Priscilian, were severally betrayed by their violence into systems no less revolting to reason and common sense than the Arian impieties. Of sixty synods which were convened to regulate the affairs of the church between the second and third general councils, A.D. 381-431, more than half of that number were assembled in Africa:—no inconsiderable proof of the vigilance exercised by the local bishops over the interests of that portion of the church universal committed to their care. In the latter part of the fifth century many synods were held, some eastern and others western, but none of them possessed peculiar interest. In the commencement of this century, Zosimus, bishop of Rome, absolved the heresiarchs, Pelagius and Caelestius, and by this act confirmed their errors. On the latter appealing to him for support, Zosimus sent the Sardican canon to a council held at the time in Carthage, as if that canon had been decreed by the council of Nice; because it allowed the right of appeal to the see of Rome. The African council rejected it with disdain, having found, on reference to the eastern patriarchs, that no such canons belonged to the Nicene council, or were ever before heard of. Thus was the reputed infallible head of an equally infallible church detected in a gross act of imposition; so gross as to compel our good Bishop Jewel to call Zosimus "a forger and falsifier of councils." The same pope pronounced his unerring judgment in the dispute between the bishops of Arles and Vincennes; while Boniface, his successor, under the influence of the same inerrant principle and in the plenitude of the same apostolic power, reversed that judgment.

In the year 498, Symmachus and Laurentius were elected to the pontificate on the same day by different parties; and while they maintained the validity of their respective elections, they reciprocally denounced each other. Where, then, did infallibility reside before Theodoric, king of the Goths, gave it a supposed habitation in the person of Symmathus? Theodoric, an Arian, and consequently a heretic in the eyes of the Romish church, awarded the keys of St. Peter to Symmachus; a circumstance which must have vitiated the boasted apostolic succession in the bishops of Rome, and therefore have destroyed their title to infallibility! Cabals and intrigues for being elected to the popedom disgraced the commencement of the sixth century. Their prevention in future, however, was decreed; and certain rules, having in view the peace and order of the western church, were laid down by two synods convened at Rome about the same time. From this period to the middle of the century, upward of twenty local meetings of the clergy were held in different parts of Europe, fifteen in Asia, and only four in Africa. The directions for the married clergy, which occasionally present themselves to view in the proceedings of these synods, prove that celibacy was not at this period a general regulation; while communion in both kinds appears to have been an established usage. The synods which were held during the remainder of the sixth century were confined to France and Spain. They amount in number to twenty-six; and, like the rest of the minor class which preceded them, canons are interspersed among their acts which have in view the security of church property, and the rights, privileges, and powers of the different ranks of the clergy. The remaining, canons relate to discipline, with the exception of the few which were at different times ordained for the suppression of heretical opinions, for the regulation of both the married and celibate clergy, and of the fees to which they should be entitled on the performance of certain duties. In none of them is to be found the least authority for the distinguishing tenets of the modern church of Rome; so that, to the very close of the sixth century, she may be considered as being orthodox, pure, and uncorrupt. Whatever deference she might claim as an elder branch of the church of Christ, she raised no pretensions to a lordly preeminence over the rights and privileges of other churches. Her jurisdiction was circumscribed within her own diocesan boundaries; and, beyond them, none was demanded. After the commencement of the seventh century, however, a complete change took place in this respect, so that if a comparison be instituted between the tenets which the church of Rome held in the first ages, and those which she subsequently professed, the precise period at which the novelties commenced which now distinguish her from her former self might easily be ascertained. The order of St. Benedict, which served as a model for the other monastic fraternities that were subsequently instituted, was founded in the early part of this century.

As the history of synods after the sixth century dwindles down into a meagre narrative of the unjust incroachments and corrupt innovations of the church of Rome, and of the ineffectual struggles of Christian churches in various parts of Europe to resist his usurpation, we shall close this article with an account of the popish synod of Sardica and of the Protestant synod of Dort. After a long night of darkness, the glimmerings of a bright day were perceived at a distance, when, in the fourteenth century, our celebrated countryman, the immortal Wickliffe, appeared as the precursor of the reformation from popery. The light increased during the succeeding century, when those brave witnesses for the truth, John Huss and Jerome of Prague, suffered martyrdom; and the sixteenth century was favoured with the full blaze of day when Luther and Melancthon were encouraged and supported in their benevolent and arduous undertaking, and succeeded in putting down the shadowy forms of superstition and idolatry. Soon was the greatest part of irradiated Europe called upon to rejoice in this light; and to some of the best patriots in those countries that slighted such an opportunity, their own culpable supineness or neglect has been a source of deep national regret from one generation to another.

THE SYNOD OF SARDICA was held A.D. 347. The Emperors Constans and Constantius, being anxious to restore that peace to the church of which it was deprived by the continuance of Arius's heresy, agreed to convene an ecclesiastical assembly in Sardica, a city of Moesia on the verge of their respective empires. About a hundred western and seventy eastern bishops attended; but altercation, and not debate, ensued. The smaller party, apprehensive for their personal safety, withdrew to a town in Thrace; a circumstance that disclosed the first symptoms of discord and schism between the Greek and Latin churches. Before this period the right of appeal from all other churches to the see of Rome had not been claimed; but from it we date the first aspirations of Roman pontiffs to lordly preeminence, and they bent their restless energies to establish a spiritual tyranny over all the nations of the earth. Ecclesiastics, excommunicated by the oriental or African churches, fled to Rome for refuge, one after another; and as the bishop of that city afforded them his protection, gratified as he was at every occasion which made it necessary, they, in order to testify their gratitude, unwittingly compromised the rights of the clergy, when, to the extent of their individual sanction, they invested him with the appellant jurisdiction. Among the refugees at Rome was the celebrated bishop of Alexandria. Athanasius, persecuted by the Arian party in the east, knelt as a suppliant on the threshold of the Vatican. Julius gladly espoused his cause, and declared him to have been illegally condemned; a declaration that seemed to come with authority, but which the eastern bishops opposed as an usurpation of undue power. They went so far as even to excommunicate Hosius, Gaudentius, Julius the bishop of Rome, and others, on the alleged assumption of authority. They maintained the principle laid down in the canons, that the judgment passed on any individual, either by an eastern or western synod, ought to be confirmed by the other. And while they complained that the bishops of the west should disturb the whole church, on account of one or two troublesome fellows, they accused them of arrogantly attempting to establish a new law for the purpose of empowering themselves to reexamine what had been already determined. Chrysostom, too, in his distress, implored, at a subsequent period, the interference of Innocent, the then occupant of the papal chair, with the emperor of the east, for the purpose of procuring a reversal of the sentence of deposition pronounced against him by an obscure synod in the suburbs of Chalcedon. But that father never once supposed that the Roman pontiff had any right to hear his cause. His appeal lay to the supreme tribunal of a free and general council, from a packed assembly which the empress Eudoxia had been instrumental in calling together, in order to effect his ruin. As these two cases of Athanasias and Chrysostom are pleaded by Romish writers in support of the appellant authority with which they invest the bishop of Rome, it is a matter of importance to examine the stability of this ground-work, on which is laid the immense structure of papal supremacy. Hosius, who presided in the Sardican synod, as he did at every council where he happened to be present, is reported to have proposed that an appeal should be made to Rome out of respect to the chair of St. Peter, and not, as was ruled at the council of Nice, to the bishops of the neighbouring province, when any decision had been come to in a provincial synod. But what is the language of the proposition made by Hosius? "If it be a favourite object with you, let us honour the memory of Peter, so that a letter may be addressed to Julius, bishop of Rome, by those who decided on the matter; that, if necessary, the judgment may be reviewed by the bishops in his neighbourhood, and that he may appoint some to hear the cause." Here neither canon nor Scripture is referred to; while it is left optional with the assembly whether deference was or was not to be paid to Julius, who is simply styled συνεπισκοπος , "a fellow bishop." The fourth canon of this synod ordains, "that an archbishop, &c, deposed by a provincial synod, must not be expelled, until the bishop of Rome shall determine whether the cause shall be reexamined;" and the fifth canon decrees, "that the bishop of Rome, if he deem it proper, shall order a rehearing of the matter; that, if convenient, he shall send deputies for the purpose; if not, that he should leave the decision of the case to the synod itself." From the third and fourth canons it appears that a novelty in discipline is established, and made obligatory on the churches of both empires, but only by a handful of bishops belonging to one of them; and from the fifth, that the bishop of Rome, if he deemed a judgment erroneous, might convene a new council and send deputies to it, for the purpose of reconsidering the matter. These canons, no doubt, were very flattering to the ambition of the Roman pontiff, and, accordingly, they are pleaded in behalf of his supremacy; but how preposterous is it to ascribe that to a human law, which, it is asserted, belongs to him by the law of God! There are other canons regulating the intercourse between bishops and the imperial court; after such a manner, however, as to make the bishop of Rome the judge of the propriety of the petitions which they intended to prefer. Notwithstanding all this, they can never be rescued from the imputation of being forgeries. For,

1. They were never received by either the eastern or African church as general laws. At the sixth council of Carthage, Austin strenuously denied the right of appeal to the Roman see, although a letter has been forged in his name, strenuously contending for it, which is now deposited among the pious frauds of the Vatican. It happened, also, in the early part of the fifth century, that Appiarius, who had been excommunicated by the African bishops, applied to Zosimus, bishop of Rome. This pontiff forthwith sent them the Sardican canon, which conferred on him the right of appeal. This they indignantly rejected, inasmuch as their predecessors, who attended the council of Sardica, left no record of it; and because the eastern patriarchs, whom they consulted on the occasion, not only disclaimed all knowledge of any such canon being in existence, but furnished their brethren with an exact copy of the Nicene canons, among which the Sardican one was not to be found.

2. The Sardican canons were not inserted in the code of canons approved of by the council of Chalcedon.

3. The council which passed them is not reckoned, even by the church of Rome, as one of the eighteen general councils, whose authority it acknowledges; nor does Bellarmine himself say that it is one of those councils which his church receives in part and rejects in part.

4. When the western bishops entreated the Emperor Theodosius to summon a council, A.D. 407, so far were they from making any allusion to the doctrine of an appeal to the Roman see; that they distinctly disclaimed the thought of such a prerogative, and only sought the fellowship of a common arbitration.

5. Lastly, if, as the historian Sozomen says, the Sardican synod wrote to Julius, bishop of Rome, to apprize him of what they had done, and of their decrees being drawn up in the spirit of the council of Nice, the purport of the letter was not so strong as that which they addressed to the church of Alexandria, in which they pray it to give its suffrage to the determination of the council, additional suspicions are created. From all these circumstances taken together, it is evident that no value is to be attached to the decrees of this obscure council; and that, although due respect was paid to St. Peter's chair, it was no acknowledgment of the superiority of its possessor as to ecclesiastical authority or jurisdiction.

THE SYNOD OF DORT. The Dutch churches forsook the communion of the corrupt church of Rome soon after the church of England had cast off the papal yoke: and they were generously aided in their endeavours to recover their civil and religious liberties by our good Queen Elizabeth and her wise counsellors. The first Christian teachers among them were Lutherans; but in process of time, the celebrity of Geneva as a place of public instruction for ministers of religion induced the majority of the candidates for the ministry to repair to that university; and, as might naturally be expected, they imported into the Low Countries the peculiar views of Calvin and Beza on the subject of predestination. It is justly observed by Le Vassor, "Some learned Hollanders had boldly defended this doctrine, before Arminius became a minister at Amsterdam and a professor at Leyden, and likewise before Gomarus had risen up against him. Their writings are still extant; although it is true that certain ministers, who were too hasty, exerted themselves to bring those authors and their productions into disrepute; but the states of Holland uniformly checked this impetuous zeal. The professors of Leyden were allowed a perfect liberty of teaching conformably to the sentiments of Melancthon; and when Arminius was called to that university, his opinions were generally known; for he had declared them in the church of Amsterdam, from the consistory of which he received very honourable testimonials. Gomarus, and many others of the same opinion, having entered into conversation with Arminius, made no scruple of acknowledging immediately that the difference of sentiments which existed between them did not at all concern the foundations of the Reformation. True it is, that Gomarus did not remain long on good terms with Arminius. Whether he had taken umbrage at the reputation of his new colleague, or the enemies of Arminius had found means to provoke the anger of Gomarus by some artful insinuation or other; he violently set his face against a man whom, some time before, he looked upon as orthodox." The struggles of the party of Arminius in Holland, after the death of that great man, to obtain a toleration for their opinions, are matters of history. The political circumstances of that country and of Europe in general were at that period very peculiar, and exercised great influence in the convening and conducting of that famous ecclesiastical assembly, the synod of Dort; but in a sketch like this, they can only be briefly mentioned. Frederic, the elector Palatine, married Elizabeth, the only daughter of our King James the First; he was nephew to Maurice the prince of Orange: and he sent his Heidelberg divines to the synod to assist his uncle in the condemnation of the Remonstrant party, as the Arminians were generally called, and to gratify his polemical father-in-law in the overthrow of the heretical Vorstius. In return, he naturally expected both of his relations to aid him in his grand enterprise of seizing on the crown of Bohemia; in which, soon after the banishment of the Remonstrants, he completely succeeded,— though he subsequently lost that crown and all his hereditary possessions, and embroiled nearly the whole of Protestant Europe in the famous thirty years' war.

The Remonstrants, according to Nichols, in the ample notes to his translation of the "Works of Arminius," had long wished to have their "Five Points" of doctrine brought for adjudication either before a provincial synod, to prepare matters for a national one; or to have them brought at once before a general council of Protestant divines. But the Calvinists would listen to neither of these equitable proposals. If a provincial synod were convened, especially in that province (Holland) which most needed such a remedy, these men well knew, from trial, how difficult it would be to combat and refute the strong and popular arguments of the Remonstrants, when both parties were placed nearly on an equality in the same assembly; and if a general council of Protestants was summoned together, they were certain that the principles of Arminius would, without demur, be recognized as integral parts of Scripture verity, and consequently entitled not only to toleration, (which was all that the Remonstrants had desired,) but to the especial patronage of the civil authorities. The latter result was anticipated, from the immense preponderance which the Lutheran divines, from all the small states of Germany, and from other parts of the north of Europe, would have had in such a council. Numerous state papers on this subject were written by the public functionaries of the different provinces in the year 1617; among which those of the composition of the learned Grotius, who conducted the arguments in favour of a general council, are very conspicuous for the superior ability which they display. A national synod was therefore the sole remedy which the wisdom, or rather the worldly prudence, of the Calvinists could discover for removing the maladies under which the churches of Holland were at that time labouring. In showing cause for their preference, they were placed in an awkward dilemma; for they perceived, that the strongest reasons to be adduced for the adoption of this measure would extend too far, and might, in the hands of their able antagonists, be made to apply with greater cogency to the convening of a general council.

The designs which Prince Maurice had long cherished against the ancient liberties and internal jurisdiction of the states, (each of which possessed by the act of union the complete management of its own affairs,) were then in a course of execution. By the forcible and illegal removal of the old burgomasters and governors, and the appointment of new ones; by the preponderance which these newly elected individuals gave to their own party in their election of persons to fill the higher offices of state in the various towns which had been ill-affected toward Calvinism and arbitrary power; and by the untrue and scandalous reports which were invented and industriously propagated respecting the alleged secret intentions of Barnevelt and the Arminians to deliver up their country to the Spaniards; the prince was enabled to succeed in his ambitious enterprises. To the party, therefore, that had forwarded his views he willingly gave all the weight of his influence, and that of the States General, the majority of whom, in virtue of the late unlawful changes effected in the provinces, were favourable, not only to Calvinism, but to any measure which the prince might think fit to propose. It was in allusion to the revolution, thus craftily completed, that Bogerman, as president of the synod of Dort, told Episcopius, in a sarcastic style, as Hales tells us, "You may remember what you told the foreign divines in your letter to them, that there had of late been a great metamorphosis in the state; you are no longer judges and men in power, but persons under citation." In such a state of affairs, an ordinance of government was easily obtained for convening a national synod, which was to consist of native divines appointed by the different classes and presbyteries, of civil deputies chosen out of each province by the states, and of foreign divines deputed by such churches as had adopted both the platform and the doctrine of Geneva. The temper and intolerant conduct of the various ecclesiastical meetings with whom rested the inland appointments, had been but too apparent; and time had not mollified their intolerant principles; for, under the new order of things, and with the sanction of the fresh race of magistrates, they were emboldened to effect a schism in many of the chief towns, and forcibly to exclude the Arminian ministers from the churches which they occupied. In other towns, in which these bold practices could not be attempted with any probability of success, they employed the ecclesiastical arms of the classes, provincial synods, and other packed vestry-meetings, the members of which (consisting generally of Calvinists) summoned before them all the chief Arminian pastors in the various districts, accused them of holding heterodox opinions on the subject of predestination, and suspended or expelled them from the ministry. This work of expulsion and suspension was carried on by the dominant party even during the time in which the fate of Arminianism was in a course of determination by the synod of Dort: so that, had that far- famed and reverend assembly decided in favour of a toleration of the Arminian doctrines, the minor church meetings had left few ministers of that persecuted denomination to profit from such a decision. The Calvinistic account of this summary and iniquitous process is thus given, in the preface to the acts of the National Synod: "And since there were several pastors in that province, [Guelderland,] some of whom had been suspected of many other errors beside the Five Points of the Remonstrants, others of them had illegally intruded into the office of the ministry, while others were men of profligate habits; certain persons of this description being cited before the [provincial] synod [of Guelderland and Zutphen, held at Arnheim, in July, 1618,] were suspended from the ministry for some of the before-mentioned reasons, and by no means on account of the opinion contained in the Five Points of the Remonstrants, which was reserved for the cognizance of the national synod. The trial of the rest of these men being dismissed in the name of the synod, was committed to a deputation from their body, to whom the states added certain of their own delegates. When they had fully investigated the cases of these men in their classes, they suspended some of them from the ministry, and entirely removed others." In the very able memorial which the Remonstrants, on their arrival at the synod, presented to the foreign members, it is justly observed, respecting those who were accused of having taught, beside the Five Points, those doctrines which were contrary to the fundamentals of faith: "Such particular cases do not in any manner affect the common cause of the Remonstrants, but concern those alone who may be found guilty of them. Nor are we adverse to the issuing of ecclesiastical censures against such persons, provided they be lawfully put upon their trials, and fairly heard in defence of themselves against such charges." Because the members of these Calvinistic provincial synods could not be long absent from their respective congregations, such galloping commissions as these, endowed with ample powers, were appointed to traverse every province in which Arminianism had been planted; and they soon showed to the world the most compendious method of rooting out reputed heresies. Their track through the land resembled that of the angel of destruction; it was marked by anguish, mourning, and desolation. After this detail, established by the synodical documents themselves, few words will suffice to point out the purely Calvinistic constitution of the synod of Dort. When very few Remonstrant ministers remained in the land, except such as were ejected from the church or under suspension, it was no difficult matter to procure an assemblage of men that were of one heart respecting the main object that was then sought to be accomplished.

In the original order for holding the synod, and in the list appended to it, as they were both passed by the States General, no mention was made of inviting any other churches, except those of England, France, the Palatinate, Hesse, and Switzerland, and it was a matter postponed for farther deliberation, whether any invitation should be transmitted to the churches of Bremen, Brandenburgh, Geneva, and Nassau. The clergy of the principality of Anhalt were not invited to the synod, because their opinions were understood to be similar to those of the Remonstrants, the ancient confession adopted by their churches being decided on the subject of conditional predestination. The divines of Bremen were viewed as men inclined too much to moderate counsels, and on that account improper representatives in an assembly that intended to carry every proposition with the unanimity of force. The divines of Brandenburgh were the last of those invited. Indeed no invitation was transmitted to them till the state and temper of their churches had been ascertained with tolerable accuracy; and when it was generally thought that the deputies from that electorate were tractable and would follow in the train of the Contra-Remonstrants, it was determined to summon them to the synod. It was for some time a matter of doubt with the leading men of Holland, whether they ought to invite the divines of Geneva and Nassau, two of the greatest nurseries of Calvinism, to be present at the synod. The cause of this demur was, to avoid the appearance of partiality, which they justly thought all the world would have imputed to them had they convened an assembly consisting only of Calvinistic doctors. To keep up this semblance of moderation, the synodical summons was not transmitted to those divines when they were sent to the churches of other states and countries. But when Prince Maurice's schemes of secular aggrandizement and political power had succeeded beyond his utmost wishes, they no longer studied to "avoid the appearance of evil," but boldly summoned all those divines about whose presence at the synod they had formerly hesitated. This was a most notable and certain method of procuring a strict Calvinian uniformity in the members. On this topic, Hales, in his letters from Dort, to the English ambassador at the Hague, says, "For a general confession of faith, at least so far as those churches stretch who have delegates here in the synod, I think his project very possible, there being no point of faith in which they differ." Great interest was made at the court of France, to procure the attendance of deputies from the reformed churches of that country; but the king of France prohibited the Protestant clergy within his dominions from becoming members of the synod, or assisting at its deliberations.

The letters of the States General, inviting the foreign divines to the national synod, were issued on the 25th of June, 1618; and the members were summoned to meet together in the city of Dort, on the first day of November in the same year. The letters of invitation to the divines of the united provinces were dated Sept. 20th, and the synod of Dort was formally opened Nov. 13th. Whosoever casts his eye over the list of the foreign divines that composed this last of Protestant councils, will find scarcely one man who had not distinguished himself by his decided opposition to the doctrine of conditional predestination, and who was not consequently disqualified from acting the part of an impartial judge of the existing religious differences, or that of a peace-maker. This caused the famous Daniel Tilenus to observe, that "no persons were summoned to Dort who were not well known to be zealous promoters of Calvin's predestination. In former ages, men were accustomed, first to go to the councils, and then to declare their sentiments: just the reverse of this is the practice in our days; for no one could be admitted into the synod of Dort unless he had previously manifested the bearing of his opinions."

It will be perceived from the preceding statement, by what kind of ecclesiastical management the Remonstrants had been excluded from having any deputies in the synod of Dort. So completely had the Calvinistic plan of exclusion succeeded, that three of the members from Utrecht were the only Remonstrants in that synod. The reason of their being there at all, was, because that province was almost equally divided between Remonstrant and Calvinist churches, and it had been agreed that three of each denomination should be summoned. But so obnoxious were the persons as well as the doctrines of the Remonstrants to their adversaries, that they would not allow even those three individuals to have a place in the seat of judgment. In the twenty-fourth session, it was unanimously declared, that they could only be reputed as cited persons; however, as the Acts express it, "that this synod might not be exposed to calumnies, as if they wished to exclude them, it was allowed them to sit among the judges" on five conditions, the chief of which were, "that while the affairs of the Remonstrants were under discussion, they should not disturb the proceedings of the synod by unseasonable interruptions, and not acquaint their party with any thing done or said in the synod, which concerned their cause." Two of them, after a day's deliberation, united themselves with their suffering brethren; and the third, who was a layman, had seen enough of the partial conduct of that venerable assembly to induce him to absent himself from their farther deliberations. As the Remonstrants formed no part of the members convened, it was debated, in the fourth session, how they ought to be summoned. It was proposed and resolved, that a letter should be composed and sent to the whole body, that they might depute three out of each province as deputies to the synod. The president Bogerman then inquired, if all the Remonstrants were to be admitted; the president of the lay commissioners answered, that the ecclesiastical president and the secretaries should receive a private explanation from him respecting their numbers. In the interview which the two presidents and the secretaries had together, they concerted matters so well, that next day the preceding resolution for writing to the whole body was withdrawn for amendment; and it was finally agreed, that it should be left to the determination of the lay commissioners, what persons, and how many, should be convened. These gentlemen selected thirteen of the Remonstrants, to each of whom they addressed a letter of citation, commanding them to appear before the synod, "within fourteen days after the receipt of it, without any tergiversation, excuse, or exception, that in it they might freely propose, explain, and defend the before-mentioned five points as far as they were able and should deem to be necessary." In the mean time the Remonstrants, without knowing the resolution of the synod, had deputed three of their body from Leyden, to obtain leave for their appearance at the synod, in a competent number and under safe conduct to defend their cause. On making their request known to the lay commissioners, they were informed of the resolution which had passed the synod only the preceding day. To which they replied, that it was unreasonable to cite those to justify themselves who were both ready and willing to come of their own accord; and that if they persisted in proceeding with their plan of citation, they would by that act furnish just cause, not only to them, but to all good men, to entertain strange notions and suspicions of the synodical proceedings. Not being permitted to choose those men from their own body whom they deemed the best qualified to state and defend their cause, they accounted it an additional hardship, that their enemies should assume that unlawful authority to themselves. But neither at that time nor afterward, when they wished to add two of the most accomplished of the brethren to their number, were their representations of the least avail. On the sixth of December these valiant defenders of the truth arrived, and requested, by a deputation, to be allowed a few days to unpack their books, arrange their papers, &c. But they were commanded immediately to appear in a body before the synod, and to prefer their own request. They were introduced by their brethren of Utrecht, and ordered to sit down at a long table placed in the middle of the hall. Episcopius then, with the permission of the president, addressed an apostolic greeting to the synod; and, having repeated the request previously made, he said, that the cited Remonstrants appeared there to defend their good and righteous cause before that venerable assembly, by reasons and arguments drawn from the word of God,—or else to be confuted and better informed from the same word. In reference to the favour which they had asked, they left it to the discretion of the commissioners of the States General, being ready on their parts, immediately, and without delay, to engage in a conference, if that should be required." Then were they desired to withdraw into a chamber prepared for them adjoining the hall of the synod. After some time spent in deliberation, they were recalled, and informed by the president, that they would be expected at the synod next morning at nine o'clock. He added, according to Hales, "that they came not to conference, neither did the synod profess themselves an adverse party against them. Conferences had been heretofore held to no purpose. They ought to have heeded the words of the letters by which they were cited. They were called, not to conference, but to propose their opinions with their reasons, and leave it with the synod to judge of them." Episcopius replied, that it was not necessary so nicely to criticise the word conference, and that they had come there with no other view than to treat about the doctrines which were controverted, according to the summons which they had received. The next day, December 7th, the Remonstrants were called in, when after Episcopius had desired and obtained leave to speak, he uttered an oration, the delivery of which occupied nearly two hours, and which, on account of the noble sentiments contained in it, deserves to be recorded in letters of gold. The gracefulness, force, and energy with which it was spoken, made such an impression on the auditory as drew tears from several of them, and even from some of the states' deputies. This effect gave mighty umbrage, to the choleric Bogerman, who, as president, according to Mr. Hales's account, "signified unto Episcopius, that, because there were in his speech many things considerable, he was therefore, to deliver the copy of it. Episcopius replied, that he had none handsomely written: if the synod would have patience, he would cause a fair transcript to be drawn for them. But this excuse would not serve; fair or foul, deliver it up he must, and so he did." In the session, December 10, after the president had ceased to speak, he desired the Remonstrants to proceed with their explanation and defence of the five points. They requested leave to have a paper read by Episcopius.

Bogerman would not consent to this; but the lay president ordered another of the Remonstrants, Bernard Dwinglo, to read it. This very convincing document was addressed to the synod, and consisted of two parts. It may be seen at full length in the acts, and is in every respect worthy of the great men whose holy cause it defended. The first part declared, that the Remonstrants did not own the members of the synod for lawful judges, because the great majority of them, with the exception of the foreign divines, were their professed enemies; and that most of the inland divines then assembled, as well as those whose representatives they were, had been guilty of the unhappy schism which was made in the churches of Holland. The second part contained the twelve qualifications, of which the Remonstrants thought a well constituted synod should consist. The observance of the stipulations proposed in it, they would gladly have obtained from the synod, averring that they were exceedingly equitable, and that the Protestants had offered similar conditions for the guidance of the Papists, and the Calvinists for the direction of the Lutherans. The production of such a mass of evidence from writers of the Calvinistic persuasion, in favour of a toleration and moderate measures, and against the principle of interested parties usurping the place of judges,—gave dreadful offence to that powerful body in the synod, and especially when they were charged with being at once plaintiff, judge, and jury. No one can form an adequate conception of the scene which followed the reading of this document. Bogerman, the Remonstrants, the lay president, and the commissioners, were warm interlocutors during that session and the succeeding one which was held in the afternoon of the same day.

Bogerman laboured hard to show, that, by denying the competency and impartial constitution of the tribunal before which they were summoned, they in reality were guilty of disaffection to the higher powers, who had appointed and convened the synod; and that, by charging the majority of the members with being the authors of the schism, they had in effect accused the prince of Orange and the States General, because those great personages had frequented the separate meetings. In reference to the latter circumstances, which exceedingly galled him and the inland divines, he said, "The proper time has not yet arrived for discussing it. But when it shall have been proved to the synod, what kind of doctrine is sanctioned by the church, those who have departed from it, and who are consequently guilty of the schism, will appear in their true colours." Charles Niellius, one of the Walloon ministers, answered in behalf of the Remonstrants, that though they acknowledged the authority of the states, and held the synod in due estimation, yet it was as lawful for them to challenge this synod, as for several of the Christian fathers who challenged some of the ancient councils, and their ancestors that of Trent. The laws themselves allowed men for certain reasons to challenge even sworn judges. But it was never known, that any law allowed parties to be judges. Nor was it equitable, that those who had previously separated from the Remonstrants should sit in the synod to try them, after they had by such separation prejudged their doctrine and entered into mutual engagements to procure its condemnation. Episcopius then said, "Mr. President, if you were in our places and we in yours, would you submit to our judgment?" Bogerman replied, "If it had so happened, we must have endured it; and since government has ordered matters in a different way, it becomes you to bear it with patience." Episcopius rejoined, "It is one thing to acknowledge a person for a judge, and it is another to bear with patience the sentence which he may impose. We also will endure it; but our consciences cannot be persuaded to acknowledge you for the judges of our doctrines, since you are our sworn adversaries, and have churches totally separated from ours."

On the morning of the next day, the Remonstrants, being called in, were urged by the synod to present their objections in writing against the Confession and Catechism. Before they proceeded to do that, they craved permission to read another document: after some demur, leave was granted, when Dwinglo read a paper which commenced thus: "The celebrated Paraeus, in his Irenicum, prudently observes, that he would advise no man to approach any council in which the same persons had to appear in the character of both adversaries and judges." The rest of the paper was occupied in wiping off the aspersions which had been cast upon them in the four preceding sessions, and particularly the foul charge of their want of respect for the constituted authorities of their country. They declared, that in case men of peaceable dispositions had been deputed to the synod, as the States General had intended, and such men as had never been concerned in making or promoting these unhappy divisions, they would have had little reason to offer exceptions against such a synod. This document concluded with a protest. After the delivery of this protest, the synod invented various methods to vex the cited Remonstrants and to impede the prosecution of their cause. Among those methods one of the most artful was, to ask them questions singly, and not in a body, with an evident design to entrap them in their answers. They had with the greatest injustice chosen those Remonstrants whom they thought proper, to be cited as guilty persons at the bar of the synod, without the least regard to the useful or splendid qualifications of the individuals thus selected. Of the six prudent and accomplished men who had represented the Remonstrant party at the celebrated Hague Conference in 1611, only three were summoned to the present synod; and though those who appeared on this occasion were generally men of good natural talents and sound understandings, and well versed in the matters under discussion, yet they were not all endowed with the gift of rendering a ready and extempore reply in Latin to every question that might be suddenly asked; and if they had possessed such a gift in an eminent degree, it would still have been necessary that they should have had time for reflection, and for each to compare his own views and reasons with those of his brethren. This request, however, which cannot be viewed as a favour but as an act of justice, was almost without exception refused. Having presented to the synod their opinions relative to the Five Points and their remarks on the Catechism and Confession, the Remonstrants wished to enter on the "proposing, explanation, and defence of them, as far as they were able or should think necessary," according to the very terms of the letters by which they had been cited; but the synod, in opposition to the plain and obvious meaning which those expressions conveyed, decided that it was a privilege belonging to themselves alone to judge how far the Remonstrants might be permitted to enter into the explanation and defence of their doctrines. This was accounted an act of great injustice by the Remonstrants, who also alleged, that "they did not feel many scruples about the doctrine of election, but that it was reprobation in which the chief difficulty lay." They were very desirous, therefore, of having reprobation discussed in the first instance: but the Calvinists of those days wished to keep unconditional reprobation enshrined in the dark penetralia of their temples, only to be produced, as opportunity might serve, for their own private purposes, either to terrify the careless among their hearers, or to quicken the occasionally sluggish current of congregational benevolence. It was not to be expected, therefore, that the Calvinists of the synod would allow the Remonstrants to give reprobation that prominence in their discussions to which it was justly entitled. In one of the debates which these two questions produced, Bogerman again took advantage of the disingenuous trickery which we have just exposed, and asked Pynakker, one of the cited ministers, "Do you imagine the synod will suffer the Remonstrants to examine the doctrine of reprobation?" Pynakker replied, "Yes, I do:

because, as this is the chief source of the troubles of the church, it ought to be first discussed." Perceiving either that his meaning was not correctly understood, or that he had expressed it in an imperfect manner, Pynakker immediately explained himself by adding, that by first he meant chiefly, (both of which significations the Latin word conveys,) and by acknowledging that election ought to have the precedence of discussion. When relating this occurrence, Poppius remarks, "This, being received in a wrong sense, was imputed to all of us, as though we were unanimously of opinion, that the discussion of the doctrine of reprobation ought to precede that of election. Upon this question the foreign divines and others were desired by the president to deliver their sentiments. However, the expression imputed to us was employed by none of us, much less by all.

But this was their manner: if one of us, in the name of all, said any thing that proved advantageous to the rest, the president seemed much displeased at our unanimity: then we were told that we were cited singly and personally, and that we did not compose a society or corporation. But when any of us happened to employ a word that was capable of being wrested to our common injury and misconstrued, then what was said by one was certain to be imputed to all!" After gaining a favourable opportunity like this Bogerman always hastily dismissed the cited persons; and on this occasion he dwelt largely, in their absence, on Pynakker's expression, and persuaded the foreign divines that the proposal of the Remonstrants, to treat of reprobation before election, was a sine qua non, and that without it was granted to them they would not proceed. This alarmed all the Calvinistic brotherhood, who rose vi et armis, delivered seriatim their objections to such a bold proceeding, and thought, with the professor of Heidelberg, "that it was unreasonable for the Remonstrants to disturb the consciences of the elect on account of God's judgments against the reprobated, and to plead the cause of the latter, as though they had been hired to undertake the defence of those who had by the just judgment of God been rejected; and that for these reasons the synod neither could nor ought to grant the Remonstrant brethren any farther liberty, unless the members designed to expose the orthodox doctrine of predestination to be openly ridiculed." Finding this great aversion in the synod to the precedence of reprobation, the Remonstrants proposed, since they were forbidden to explain or defend their sentiments viva voce, "to explain their doctrines in writing, beginning with the article of election, and proceeding to that of reprobation; to defend their doctrines, and to refute the contrary opinions of the Contra-Remonstrants and of those whom they consider orthodox: but that, in case this explanation or defence seems to be defective, they would answer in writing the questions which the president might think proper to propose to them, or in oral communications by those of their body whom they might judge best qualified for that purpose. And that the liberty which they desired might not appear unlimited, they bound themselves to proceed in such a manner as should not savour in the least of an insolent licentiousness: and that their discussions might not be extended too far, the lay commissioners were empowered to curtail them at pleasure." But these very equitable terms, which were much worse than those which the unsophisticated and grammatical sense of the citatory letters held out to them, were rejected by the synod, at the instigation and by the management of the president, who, after having had recourse to his old trick of propounding questions to each of the cited persons, and after procuring against them three or four synodical censures, had them at length, (Jan. 14th,) dismissed from the synod, with every mark of contumely and scorn which he could invent. Bogerman had previously busied himself in extracting the opinions of the Remonstrants from such writings of theirs as had been published long before, and in forming them into articles, to be separately discussed by the synod. This passing of judgment on the Remonstrants from the testimony of their own writings, was an employment which Deodatus and his colleague from Geneva had at one of the earliest sessions mentioned as very desirable, and in which they appeared eager to engage. Any one who attentively reads the Acts of the synod, and compares them with the private accounts both of Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants will find, that this had also been the intention of the president from the very commencement, and that all his shifting schemes and boisterous conduct was intended to irritate the Remonstrants, who possessed more patience than he had contemplated, and who were therefore to be removed from the synod by a greater exercise of art and with greater difficulty. But one of the greatest injuries of which the Remonstrants had to complain, was, that the book from which their supposed opinions were chiefly collected, was the production of a declared enemy, who wrote a highly coloured account of a conference respecting the Five Points, in which he pretended that the Calvinists had obtained a complete victory. A Remonstrant author had also written an able statement of the same conference, and had claimed a triumph for his party. The latter would therefore have certainly been the most proper authority from which to extract the real options of his body.

But though dismissed from their farther attendance on the synod, the Remonstrants were not permitted to depart from Dort; the states' commissioners having charged them not to quit the town, without their special permission. The president, in his speech dismissory, had said, that they would receive an intimation when the synod had any farther occasion for them. When a Remonstrant deputy, by leave of the acting burgomaster of Dort, who was one of the commissioners, had hastily gone to Utrecht, to visit one of his children that was expected soon to die, he was on his return called to an account for his conduct, and the former order repeated. In the course of their detention at Dort during eight months, they were as strictly watched as if they had been condemned malefactors. One of them whose sister lay on her death-bed and earnestly desired to see him, could not obtain permission to visit her while she lived; and after her decease he was not allowed to attend her funeral. Another, whose wife was near the time of her accouchment, wished, like a good family man, to be at home for a few days at that critical period; but his request was refused. When the uncle of another of them was at the point of death, he longed for the presence of his nephew, to receive his dying commands, and to benefit him by his counsels and prayers; but the wishes of the good old man could not be gratified. After his death, the nephew was not allowed to look after the pressing concerns of his orphan cousins, although his uncle had appointed him their legal guardian. None of these favours, though reasonable and asked with much humility, could be obtained from the high bigots, in whose hands, at that time, was vested the personal liberty of the persecuted and cited Remonstrants. Toward the close of February, the magistrates of different towns deposed from the ministry three of the cited Remonstrant ministers who were present at the synod, and sent regular notices to their families, speedily to quit the parsonage houses which they severally occupied. These three good men, being heartily tired of the strict durance in which they had been held since their arrival at Dort, represented to the states' commissioners, that, as they were not now in the ministry, they could no longer be considered amenable to the jurisdiction


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Synods'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/s/synods.html. 1831-2.

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