Tuesday, 21 November 2006

How to settle a theological debate

The Synod of Dort (1618-19) is well known for its confessional formulation of Calvinist soteriology against the theology of the Dutch Arminians. At the Synod, there was extensive debate within the Calvinist party over the question whether predestination is an “infralapsarian” or a “supralapsarian” decree (i.e. whether or not the decree of election logically precedes the decree to permit the fall).

This debate became so heated that on two occasions Francis Gomarus (a high Calvinist) challenged Matthias Martinius (a moderate Calvinist) to a duel.

I suppose that’s a fairly definite way of settling a theological debate – in any case, this sort of thing would certainly add a bit of liveliness to some of our religious studies conferences...

30 Comments:

kim fabricius said...

That's hilarious: Bibles at fifty paces!

Question: Did Martinius accept?
Second question: Did he have a choice?!

Point: It's a good thing that Barth and Brunner didn't carry pieces!

Jim said...

what an excellent idea!

byron said...

Of course, both would be convinced that the outcome of the duel would reveal God's will. The problem, however, is that what it might reveal is: don't use duels to settle theological disputes!

And this isn't entirely removed from Augustine's advocacy of imperial suppression of the Donatists.

Chris Tilling said...

Amen to that. I've long said we need to Chinese Burn our way through theological debate. The one who can hold on longest is orthodox.

andrewE said...

Although it might not be so good if you were a pacifist!

dan said...

Perhaps this is the way to settle the debate about Christian nonviolence? I suspect that the problem will be in agreeing ahead of time on what constitutes a win!

Anonymous said...

Great idea, Dan! I can picture it now: Yoder and O'Donovan with pistols at 10 paces...

Looney said...

What if one of the theologians cheats!

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Umm, anonymous? John Howard Yoder died on the last week of December, 1997. I was at his funeral in Goshen, IN. So, even if John would put aside his nonviolence long enough for a duel (something I don't accept), he'd have to do it from beyond the grave. Now, I believe in resurrection, but not for Valhalla type post-death duels. O'Donovan will have to settle for dueling with someone else. :-)

Kevin Davis said...

This reminds me of a question I had. Are not Arminians part of the larger Reformed family; at least, is this not the way it is seen in Continental Europe? Of course, here in the U.S., "Reformed" is considered by many (e.g., R.C. Sproul) to be simply TULIP Calvinism (hence, Sproul's book, What is Reformed Theology?, is answered with five point Calvinism).

kim fabricius said...

Anyone for "Just Duel Theory"?

Anonymous said...

Kim,

Come and have a go if you think you're fast enough! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Duel is an excellent idea, it is a better than accusing your opponent as heretic and burn him at the stake. Incidentally over at my blog, I think I offer something better and more realistic.:-)

kim fabricius said...

Exiled Preacher,

To kill a Welshman would violate one of Just Duel Theory's crucial criteria: it would demonsrate a total lack of discrimination! :)

Anonymous said...

I agree that killing a Welsman would be a serious violation of the JDT, but you are not Welsh! So, are you feeling lucky, punk?

Ben Myers said...

A belated response to Kevin's query: yes, you're right -- Arminianism definitely originated as a specific form of Reformed (or Calvinist) theology. And of course the Arminian soteriology is only comprehensible as a variation of Calvinist soteriology -- the whole conceptual framework is the same.

Interestingly, though, "Arminianism" tends to be thought of simply as a distinctive approach to predestination and soteriology -- but in fact Arminius' own most interesting innovations lay much deeper, especially in the doctrines of God, creation and providence, and in his view of the relation between God and creatures. Richard Muller has explored all this in detail in his magisterial study, God, Creation and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius (Baker, 1991).

Anonymous said...

Well, Michael, I realize that Yoder is deceased, but there's no need to split hairs: there's really just as much chance that he'll appear from beyond the grave as there is that he'll take part in a duel! :-)

Hoover said...

Of course, we are joyfully assuming that the challenge of duel was associated with deciding the theological question itself. I wonder, though, if perhaps the challenge to duel stemmed from ad hominem debate, blasts against the character of the interlocutor. That is to say, the duel was called for as a point of personal honor, not the theological point itself.

Does anyone have more information on this juicy tidbit of Dort?

And by the way, anonymous, this blog is great for practicing one's dueling skills. Most of us can split a hair from 20 paces! ;o)

Ben Myers said...

Excellent point, Hoover. I don't know exactly what part of the debate gave rise to the challenge -- but by all accounts Gomarus was well known for being very "passionate".

According to one first-hand report I've read, Gomarus had it in for Martinius right from the start of the Synod. Although Martinius had been invited to participate in the discussion, whenever he spoke, Gomarus made a point of scoffing and ridiculing him. Martinius, for his part, was apparently quite mild and well-mannered. So my guess is that the challenge didn't arise from any ad hominem remarks against Gomarus, but only from Gomarus' own hot temper!

On a related note, I've also heard that some angry beard-pulling took place during the Westminster Assembly of Divines -- but that's another story for another day....

kim fabricius said...

Ben, you should pass on that last bit of information to Rowan Williams (who, by the way, is the first bearded Archbishop of Canterbury for donkey's years).

michael jensen said...

hmm. Cranmer actually grew his beard IN OFFICE. And, according to the pictures, it was a mighty effort.

Peter Aschoff said...

It might be different in Dutch (and in English?) but in German the term "Satisfaktion" is used both in Soteriology and in duels. So when you are unhappy about the discussion it sort of prompts the idea all by itself ;-)

PresterJosh said...

Hmm. I'd quite enjoy seeing a duel between Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict tomorrow. Alas, I doubt it will happen. :-)

Kyle said...

Everyone knows that I would love to duel with a calvinist...

John said...

If you want a pacifist who might be inclined to accept a challenge to duel, may I suggest Stanley Hauerwas?

Marty Foord said...

The "duel" you speak of was most likely not one of those with real swords, but was a way of saying lets have a debate (duel) over the decrees.

Furthermore, Richard Muller has shown in his latest lectures at MARS, that the categories of supra and infralapsarianism are 19th century inventions imposed on the 17th century. The words weren't used back then.

Alas, Protestant Orthodoxy is a greatly misunderstood era. The truth is slowly coming to light ...

Kevin Davis said...

This reminds me of a question I had. Are not Arminians part of the larger Reformed family; at least, is this not the way it is seen in Continental Europe? Of course, here in the U.S., "Reformed" is considered by many (e.g., R.C. Sproul) to be simply TULIP Calvinism (hence, Sproul's book, What is Reformed Theology?, is answered with five point Calvinism).

Marty Foord said...

The "duel" you speak of was most likely not one of those with real swords, but was a way of saying lets have a debate (duel) over the decrees.

Furthermore, Richard Muller has shown in his latest lectures at MARS, that the categories of supra and infralapsarianism are 19th century inventions imposed on the 17th century. The words weren't used back then.

Alas, Protestant Orthodoxy is a greatly misunderstood era. The truth is slowly coming to light ...

Hoover said...

Of course, we are joyfully assuming that the challenge of duel was associated with deciding the theological question itself. I wonder, though, if perhaps the challenge to duel stemmed from ad hominem debate, blasts against the character of the interlocutor. That is to say, the duel was called for as a point of personal honor, not the theological point itself.

Does anyone have more information on this juicy tidbit of Dort?

And by the way, anonymous, this blog is great for practicing one's dueling skills. Most of us can split a hair from 20 paces! ;o)

michael jensen said...

hmm. Cranmer actually grew his beard IN OFFICE. And, according to the pictures, it was a mighty effort.

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