A gift from England: William Ames and his polemical discourse against Dutch Arminianism
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Embargo end date10/07/2020
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This thesis examines a series of polemical writings in Latin which William Ames (1576-1633) produced against Arminianism during his life as an English exile in the Dutch Republic. Through these writings, Ames quickly established himself from being an obscure military chaplain to being a champion of Reformed orthodoxy who ‘with his sharp pen plucks out [Remonstrant teaching] from the root’ and ‘its filaments cuts to pieces’. This reputation led him to be appointed as a theological advisor to the president of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), and subsequently to be nominated for a newly established chair of practical theology at Leiden University. Indeed, Ames was perceived as ‘given by England’ as a precious gift, according to the Dutch Reformed theologian who compiled Ames’s Latin works. However, Ames’s significant Latin corpus remains largely unexplored by modern scholarship, which tends to rely only on his major work, The Marrow of Theology. This results both in lack of knowledge about where Ames’s specific contributions to the Arminian controversy lie, and in the misconception that Ames was somehow sympathetic toward Arminianism. Thus, this study seeks to uncover where Ames’s theological contributions are in each of the central theological issues of the Dutch Arminian controversy. It also seeks to provide correctives to current readings of Ames’s theology by highlighting links between his neglected polemical writings and relevant passages in his better-known work, The Marrow of Theology. Apart from the Introduction, the chapters of this thesis are structured according to the main theological issues: whether the act of divine predestination is absolute (Chapter 2); whether Christ’s work of redemption is particularly intended only for the elect (Chapter 3); whether the nature of grace is irresistible (Chapter 4); whether perseverance of the saints is total and final (Chapter 5). In the face of Remonstrant teaching which tended to compromise divine sovereignty at the cost of human freedom, Ames made serious efforts to maintain the supremacy of God in his works of predestination, redemption, conversion, and perseverance, while at the same time establishing human freedom. Through these efforts, Ames vigorously defended the Reformed tradition against common charges. To do this, he appropriated various medieval scholastic distinctions. Some of these distinctions were already established in the Reformed tradition: even when supremacy of divine will in God’s work of predestination is maintained, there is no contradiction within God as the conditional nature of the revealed will derives from his hidden will; God is not author of sin because he does not will it in the active sense but only in his permissive sense. The use of other distinctions, such as those used for explaining the compatibility between the irresistibility of grace and human freedom, appear to have been pioneered in Reformed thought by Ames. In his Latin polemical works against Arminianism, Ames not only defended his own tradition but also effectively attacked his opponents. This included offering both philosophical and theological critiques of the concept of middle knowledge, the philosophical basis of the Remonstrant teaching of predestination based on foreseen faith; and exposing a clear synergistic tendency hidden behind the often ambiguously articulated theological statements of his opponents. In all of this, Ames was not, as previous scholarship has argued, making a compromise or softening Reformed thought by finding a needed corrective in Arminianism, but rather steadfastly defended his own Reformed tradition against Arminianism without being blind to new philosophical and exegetical challenges. That was precisely why Ames could be regarded by contemporary admirers as ‘a gift from England’.