The year was 1618, just over a century after Martin Luther nailed his famous theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, and the established Dutch churches feared his teachings in their country were about to be overturned. The Netherlands (which initially included what is today Belgium, Luxemburg, and portions of northern France) had been one of the first areas to receive the message of the Reformation, and the first to produce Protestant martyrs. Over time, the number of Dutch martyrs exceeded those of any other European nation.
The worst persecution took place under Phillip II of Spain, who ruled over the Netherlands from 1555 to his death. Popular protests included raids upon Roman Catholic churches and destruction of images. Philip’s armed intervention started a full-scale war, with William the Silent, Prince of Orange, leading the northern provinces into independence from Spain. These provinces, known as the Dutch Republic, adopted Protestant worship, while the southern ones remained under Spanish (Roman Catholic) rule.
The Father of Arminianism
Jacob Arminius (1559–1609) was one of the many orphans of this Eighty Years’ War, as his father died fighting against Spain. Raised by cousins of his mother, Arminius received a large grant from the Protestant merchants’ guild in Amsterdam, which allowed him to study theology in various European cities. He returned to Amsterdam in 1587 with a recommendation by Theodore Beza, John Calvin’s successor, and was ordained and installed as pastor.
Arminius’s sermons didn’t raise many questions until 1591, when Petrus Plancius, a well-known pastor, professor, and cartographer, noticed some unconventional interpretations of the book of Romans, particularly …