Nicole: What Happened To Amyraldianism?

France. As may be gathered from the above account, the influence of Amyraut was constantly on the increase between 1637 and 1659. At first, only a few provinces and the Church of Paris supported him, and there was resolute opposition in many quarters. With the passage of time, however, the number of those who had been trained under him at Saumur kept growing, while those who entertained misgivings either died or became convinced that there was no basic difference in doctrine but merely one of language and of method. The main opponents were writing from outside of France. (This is true even of Sedan, which was not under the king of France at that time.)

The orientation of the movement became more clearly manifest in one of the most gifted successors of Amyraut, Claude Pajon (1626–1685). His distinctive approach was to deny that there is any direct internal operation of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, for he held that the Spirit works purely in terms of the suasion that is effected by the presentation of the truth. This tended to relieve the clash between the Amyraldian conception of the universal design of the Father and of Christ in redemption and the particularistic activity of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. In Pajon’s scheme, the saving work on the Holy Spirit was also both universalized and rendered ineffective of itself. This was taking a big step toward outright Arminianism, in spite of Pajon’s efforts to retain some place for divine sovereignty in election and reprobation. Needless to say, this approach was in flat contradiction to the Canons of Dort (3d and 4th head, art. 10–12; rejection 7, 8), and it is not surprising that objections were soon raised against the authority of that statement of faith.

The doctrine of hypothetical universalism acted as a corrosive factor in the French Reformed Church. Tolerated at first because it was felt that an outright condemnation would lead to schism, it slowly undermined respect for the confessional standards and disrupted internal unity and cohesion. As far as can be seen, it did not in fact help to promote any basic union with the Lutherans, nor did it materially assist in preventing abjurations to the RC faith. On the other hand, it did provide a bridge toward Arminianism and perhaps toward the Semi-Pelagian tendencies of the Church of Rome. The advantages that Amyraut had envisioned failed to materialize, and the dangers against which his opponents had warned did in fact eventuate.

Switzerland showed great interest in the movement. Geneva and Zürich repeatedly protested against the ‘Salmurian innovations’. They sought to influence the decisions of the French synods; they maintained correspondence with some of the key figures; they sought to discourage any Swiss candidates for the ministry from attending Saumur; they examined with great care those who came from France as refugees, with a view to preventing the acceptance as ministers of those who may have been ‘tainted’.

In 1675, after lengthy efforts made by L. Gernler in Basel, J.R. Stücki and J. H. Heidegger in Zürich, F. Turrettini in Geneva, and others, a special statement of faith was drawn up to which subscription was required of ministers in many areas. This statement, the Formula Consensus Ecclesiarum Helveticarum …, was directly opposed to the novel views of Saumur, and 16 of its 26 articles were specifically directed against the doctrine of universal grace, as presented by Amyraut.

In spite of these efforts, the opponents of the old orthodoxy slowly gained ground. In Geneva, serious difficulties were experienced with Cl. Mussard, Alex Morus and Robert Chouet, who were in varying degrees influenced by Saumur. Louis Tronchin and Philippe Mestrezat, professors of theology in the Academy, were at first secret, and later open, sympathizers with the new views. In the course of the eighteenth century, the Formula Consensus was abrogated almost everywhere as a test of faith, principally through the efforts of S. Werenfels, J. F. Ostervald, and J. A. Turrettini, the son of Francis Turrettini, who had been one of its main promoters!

The Netherlands. The resistance seemed at first more successful, for the whole movement was viewed as an attack upon the Canons of Dort and as a dangerous compromise with Arminianism. It is in this country that many of the principal opponents of Amyraut resided; even P. du Moulin had for some time taught at Leiden (1592–1598). Because of the freedom of the press, it is here that many of the books relating to the controversy were published. As the Netherlands became one of the main havens of refuge for French Reformed people after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), a good many refugees imported their views. This may have paved the way for the relaxing influence of the Cartesian and Cocceian schools of theology in Holland. Venema, van Oosterzee, Doedes, etc., may be listed as more recent representatives of this trend.

Germany. It is difficult to trace the influence of Amyraut here, for views which have considerable similarity were held well before him in Bremen (Crocius, Martinius), Hesse and Nassau. H. Heppe and J. H. A. Ebrard are modern representatives of this trend.

Anglo-Saxon Lands. In England John Davenant (1570–1641) held views on the extent of the atonement which resemble Amyraut’s (cf. his Dissertationes Duae: Prima de Morte Christi …, Cambridge, 1650; Eng. trans. by J. Allport in the 2d vol. of Davenant’s Exposition of … Colossians, London, 1831, 1832). Richard Baxter openly avowed that he espoused Amyraldian views, and he listed other English divines who did so too (Preface to Disputations of the Right to the Sacraments, 1657). Amyraut dedicated one of his works to Bishop Cosin of Durham. We may mention also the names of E. Polhill, Ed. Calamy, Ed. Williams, George Payne, A. C. Clifford.
In Scotland similar views were held by James Fraser of Brea, Thomas Mair, the New Light Reformed Presbytery, James Morison and his group (although John Brown, his professor, probably stopped somewhat short of full Amyraldianism), and R. Wardlaw.

In the United States this type of view has been influential in New England Theology (S. Hopkins, E. Griffin, L. Woods), in New School Presbyterianism (J. Richards), among certain Baptists, otherwise Calvinistically inclined (E. Dodge, A. Hovey, Pepper, A. H. Strong), and many others (L. S. Chafer).

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


  1. Not to dismiss all differences between different versions of Amyraldian hypothetical universalism, but I think the most dangerous influence has come from Jonathan Edwards and the baptist Andrew Fuller.

    Nathan Finn-“Chun agrees with scholars who emphasize greater continuity than discontinuity between Edwards’s understanding of the atonement and the moral government view of the New Divinity theologians. Andrew Fuller embraced governmental language and was actually much closer to Edwards, who also allowed for a governmental aspect . Both men combined a universal sufficiency with a particular efficacy, the limitation being in God’s covenantal design rather than in the nature of propitiation itself.”

    Andrew Fuller (Reply to Philanthropos, Complete Works,II, p 499) comments: “There would be no propriety in saying of Christ that He is set forth to be an expiatory sacrifice THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD, because He was a sacrifice for sin prior to the consideration of our believing in Him. The text does not express what Christ WAS as laying down His life , but what He IS in consequence of it.”

    Andrew Fuller made a distinction between “covenantal intent” and “the nature of the atonement itself”. We need to examine Andrew Fuller’s controversy with Abraham Booth, and take sides with Abraham Booth.

    This is NOT a question about the duty of the non-elect to have faith in the gospel, and the related question of “two kinds of ability” (as argued by Edwards and Fuller) This is not even a question about the optimism of the post-millennial fantasies of Edwards and Andrew Fuller. It’s a question about the justice of God in Christ dying for the sins of all those God loves.. If the sins of all those God loves are not “really” justly imputed to Christ, then the death of Christ itself is not that which “really” makes God both just and the justifier of those God loves..

    Carl Truman—“Socinius says if Trueman’s sin have been punished on the cross, it is not mercy for God to forgive Trueman but justice. But Grotius says, if the punishment on the cross is merely an equivalent of Trueman’s sins, then it is still possible to build mercy into the equation…If Trueman’s sins are not imputed to Christ, then it’s possible that Christ’s righteousness is not imputed to Trueman. That fits well with an Arminian view of justification, but I can assure you that Trueman has a problem with it.” Precious Blood: The Atoning Work of Christ, “Post-Reformation Developments in the Doctrine of the Atonement.”, p 196

  2. The baptist Bruce Ware thinks all the debate about the nature of the atonement is nothing but “second-order doctrine”. In his blurb for the recently published Perspectives on the Extent book, he wrote—“the contributors to this volume agree that the question of the extent of the atonement falls short of being placed in the top tier of doctrines central and non-negotiable to the Christian faith…the dire predictions of what lies at the bottom of the slippery slopes situated on either side of this debate are rarely realized.”

    Brian Armstrong’s dissertation, “The Calvinism of Moïse Amyraut: The Warfare of Protestant Scholasticism and French Humanism” (ThD diss., Princeton University, 1967), available in a more popular format as Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seventeenth-Century France (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969). This view gained considerable popularity in 1979 with the publication of R. T. Kendall’s dissertation, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979). Among other works sympathetic to this thesis, two stand out as key sequels to these earlier treatments: Alan C. Clifford, Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology 1640–1790—An Evaluation (London: Oxford University Press, 1990); and G. Michael Thomas’s The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus (Carlisle, England: Paternoster, 2002). Most recently, Kevin D. Kennedy has furthered this theory by condensing salient portions of an earlier Peter Lang publication as “Was Calvin a Calvinist? John Calvin on the Extent of the Atonement,” in Allen and Lemke, Whosoever Will, 191–212.

    Amyraldism, which is properly a minority variation of Calvinism, early on adopted Peter Lombard’s understanding that Christ’s death was “offered . . . for all with regard to the sufficiency of the price, but only for the elect with regard to its efficacy, because he brought about salvation only for the predestined.”46 The connotative elasticity of the phrase “sufficient for all but efficient for the elect” proved useful as a vehicle of mediation at Dordt, where in 1618–19 a mixed body of both “high” Calvinists and Amyraldians crafted a united response to the threat of the Arminian Remonstrance

    For Mr Ware, any dogmatic antithesis against Amyraldianism would be inherently uncharitable. It’s not clear to me if Ware thinks you can understand the nature of the atonement without being correct about its extent, or if he thinks you can understand the gospel without understanding the nature of the atonement.

  3. “We may mention also the names of … A. C. Clifford”, in “Brief Survey on the Controversy on Universal Grace (1634–1661)”.
    I have spoken personally to the said self-proclaimed Amyraldian, A C Clifford on several occasions, and I assure you I did not have to attend a seance or ride a time machine to do so.

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