Nicole On Phase Two: Opposition To Amyraut Builds

In 1641, Amyraut took the pen to defend Calvin’s view of reprobation, which had been severely criticized in an anonymous work. In this volume, titled Doctrinae J. Calvini de Absoluto Reprobationis Decreto Defensio, Amyraut took occasion to reassert covertly his main positions previously set forth. On the whole, however, this volume was written so as not to antagonize Amyraut’s earlier opponents, and it was framed as a defense of Calvin against the attacks and misrepresentations of a man of decided Arminian convictions. As such, Amyraut’s book received general commendation, notably by A. Rivet. An amplified translation into French, prepared by Amyraut himself, appeared in 1644. It may be of interest to note that both John Davenant (Animadversions … upon … God’s Love to Mankind, London, 1641) and William Twisse (The Riches of Gods Love …, Oxford, 1653) saw fit, as did Amyraut, to write extensively in refutation of this work, produced originally in English by S. Hoard under the title God’s Love to Mankind (1633).

In 1644, at the urgent request of a student, as he avers, Frederic Spanheim (1600–1649) prepared some theses against the view of universal grace, to be used in a public disputation at the University of Leyden. Amyraut, feeling that he was the target of this attack, replied the same year in two dissertations, one on universal grace and another on particular grace, which he set to print together with two other discussions (Dissertationes Quatuor, Saumur, 1645; 2d ed. with two additional dissertations, Saumur, 1660).

Spanheim decided to prepare a thoroughgoing reply and produced a work of some 2,600 pages, including a long historical preface (Exercitationes de Gratia Universali, Leiden, 1646, 3 vols.). In this he left no stone unturned in his efforts to refute Amyraut. Unfortunately, with a work of this size, there was a tendency to digress and to spend time on points of very peripheral importance, such as the type of vocabulary and Latin grammar used by Amyraut. The latter replied in kind and produced a heavy tome: A Sample of Remarks (Specimen Animadversionum in Exercitationes de Gratia Universali, Saumur, 1648). For a ‘sample’ this was ample for the book has some 960 quarto pages and almost equals in length Spanheim’s treatise. The tone was often quite haughty, sometimes virulent to the point of discourtesy. The work was prefaced by a lengthy historical account of the whole controversy addressed to the pastors of France (‘Apologetica Praefatio’).

Meanwhile, Amyraut had published two related works intended to evidence his orthodoxy: one is directed against Arminianism (Fidei M.Amyraldi circa Errores Arminianorum Declaratio, Saumur, 1646; in French 1646); the other deals with free will (Disputatio de Libero Arbitrio, Saumur, 1647). Mention might also be made of important, lengthy apologetic letters sent to A. Rivet and to Irminger of Zurich. The former is known to us only in part through a response to it prepared by Spanheim and published by Rivet; the latter is available in manuscript copies in Zurich, Geneva and Basel.

The ‘Apologetica Praefatio’ aroused objection and unleashed a veritable flurry of refutations. A. Rivet determined now to publish his critique addressed to the Synod of Alençon as mentioned above (Synopsis Doctrinae Mosis Amyraldi … de Natura et Gratia …, Amsterdam, 1649) as well as certain letters dealing with the events of the controversy (Epistolae Apologeticae, Amsterdam, 1648). Pierre du Moulin published a revised edition of his earlier work, previously pirated by de Courcelles (Esclaircissement des Controverses Salmuriennes, Leiden, 1648), and a special discussion of Amyraut’s new book (… de Mosis Amyraldi … Libro Judicium, Rotterdam, 1649), not to mention a very brief, but very damaging extract of statements drawn from Amyraut’s book (Articuli Fidei Amyraldianae, n. pl., 1649) and a letter to his nephew S. de Langle of Rouen in which he added to his previous grievances against the professor of Saumur that he was too lenient toward the Roman Catholics.

As for Spanheim, he indicated his reaction in a published letter of almost 200 pages to the French pastor M. Cottière (Epistola ad M. Cottierum …, Leiden, 1648). He meant, furthermore, to refute at length Amyraut’s whole work and was busily engaged in this project when death overtook him (1649). His son, Ezechiel, published posthumously what was ready, adding an essay of his own upon the Latin style of Amyraut (Vindiciae pro Exercitationibus, Leiden, 1649). To close the list we might yet mention the work of a layman, Georges Reveau, written under the pseudonym of Gregorius Velleius (… de Specimine … Judicium, Leiden, 1649) as well as some attacks from Philippe Vincent (Epistola Historica et Apologetica, n. pl., 1648) and Guillaume Rivet (Vindiciae Evangelicae de Justificatione …, Leiden, 1648). In 1649 Amyraut replied in print to Vincent and to a letter of G. Rivet: there was every appearance of a protracted controversy.

Acte de Thouars. At this point, Henri-Charles de la Tremoille, a Protestant prince, arranged for a private meeting in his domains between Amyraut, P. Vincent, G. Rivet, and a few others. At his solicitation, any personal animosity between the parties was buried, and a commitment was made to discontinue polemic pieces. This compact, known as the ‘Acte de Thouars’, was signed on October 16, 1649. André Rivet, at the request of the prince, subsequently joined in the agreement. Needless to say, there was in all this no resolution of the doctrinal differences, but merely an engagement to desist from polemics. Some years later (1655) even P. du Moulin and Amyraut effected a reconciliation on the personal plane by an exchange of friendly letters indicative of mutual affection. After this, Amyraut did not take any active part in the controversy, except perhaps in an indirect way, in some works mainly concerned with other topics or in the republication of earlier works, as noted above.

—Roger Nicole, “Brief Survey on the Controversy on Universal Grace (1634–1661)”

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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One comment

  1. Garry J Williams, “Punishment God Cannot Twice Inflict”, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, ed Gibson, Crossway, 2013, p 513—”The notion that the lost will be punished for the sin of unbelief and not for sin in general allows Lutherans and Arminians to hold that Jesus died for every general sin of every individual, and yet not all must be saved, because unbelievers may still be justly condemned for their unbelief since Christ did not die for it. This notion limits the sins for which Christ died.”

    Williams: “The Lutherans and Arminians have created a difficulty with biblical texts referring to the sins for which Christ died. Every affirmation that sins have been borne by Christ must now be understood to contain a tacit restriction—except the sin of unbelief….If a sinner believes and becomes a Christian at age forty, since the Lutherans teach that Christ did not die for the sin of unbelief, this means that Christ did not die for this man’s sin of unbelief committed over forty years

    p 507—“My argument stands against an unspecified penal satisfaction narrowed only by its application. The sacrifice for sin in Scripture is itself specific…If the penal substitution of Christ has no relation to one person’s sin, then it is not in itself God’s actual answer to any sin, and therefore not penal at all…An unspecified “No” is not an answer to anything; it is without meaning….I cannot see how anyone who excludes the identification of Christ’s satisfaction itself with the specific sins of specific individuals can avoid the logical outcome of denying its truly penal character.

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