The Priority of the Intellect in the Soteriology of Jacob Arminius -- By: Richard A. Muller

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 55:1 (Spring 1993)
Article: The Priority of the Intellect in the Soteriology of Jacob Arminius
Author: Richard A. Muller


The Priority of the Intellect in the Soteriology of Jacob Arminius

Richard A. Muller

Arminius’ views on the salvation of human beings are rooted in the debates of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries over the relationship of divine grace and human ability and over the formulation of the doctrine of predestination. Arminius himself devoted a good deal of his intellectual energy to the discussion of predestination, and the controversy in which he and his followers became embroiled took predestination as its central point of contention.1 There is much more, however, to the story of Arminius’ theological development than the debate over the structure of the divine decree and its execution in time—and certainly much more to the story than an encounter of an early Reformation, Melanchthonian, and humanistic exegesis of biblical passages dealing with predestination and a late Reformation, high Calvinist view, that is, the Dutch Arminius against the Genevan Beza.2 The larger dimensions of Arminius’ debate with the Reformed scholasticism of his time and the scholastic elements of Arminius’ own thought begin to appear only when other aspects of Arminius’ theology are addressed in detail against the background of intellectual history, specifically, against the background of the revival of scholastic theology and philosophy that began in the second half of the sixteenth century.3

A key element of the complex of ideas contributing to Arminius’ doctrine of salvation was his view of human nature. As much as the debate over the order and structure of the divine decree says about God, it says still more about human ability—indeed, the divine capability in the work of salvation must be presented in such a way as to meet precisely the needs brought about by human inability. What is more, the nature of the

human predicament—the level and precise character of human inability—can only be identified when the inward workings of the human soul, understood in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as consisting in intellect, will, and the affections, have been spelled out in some theoretical detail. Calvin, for example, had argued that the priority of the intellect, with its knowledge of the good, had been lost in the fall, with the result that the will, no longer subject to the known good, fell under the sway of the baser affections.4

Early Reformed theology typically accepted the intellectualist premise that the intellect is the guide of the will but, in agreement with Cal...

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