“Arminius Avant La Lettre”: Peter Baro, Jacob Arminius, and the Bond Of Predestinarian Polemic -- By: Keith D. Stanglin
WTJ 67:1 (Spring 2005) p. 51
“Arminius Avant La Lettre”:
Peter Baro, Jacob Arminius, and the
Bond Of Predestinarian Polemic
Keith Stanglin is a Ph.D. student in Historical Theology at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich.
I. State of the Question
In the last third of the sixteenth century, the Reformed doctrine of predestination became the object of much debate because of its controversial nature. A significant figure in the dispute over the doctrine of predestination during this period was Peter Baro (1534–1599) of Cambridge, who stumbled into controversy with his doctrine of conditional predestination. The Cambridge controversy of the 1590s was paradigmatic of the debate between so-called Calvinists and anti-Calvinists in lands dominated by the Reformed church, and foreshadowed the more well-known controversy which revolved around Jacob Arminius (1559–1609) a decade later in the Low Countries.
In light of the significance of the debate that centered on the teaching of Peter Baro, the almost complete scholarly neglect of Baro’s life and theology is remarkable. Not so much as a dissertation or scholarly essay has been completely devoted to Baro, and that is not due to a lack of importance or of primary material. Baro has received momentary attention in monographs and essays of varying quality, but none of them seriously engages his thought.1 Some studies horribly misconstrue his historical setting and significance, or simply display ignorance of this important figure. For example, Howard Slaatte writes that “even while Arminius still lived, Peter Baro began advocating Arminian doctrine at Cambridge University as early as 1595.”2 The truth is that Baro, who was 25 years Arminius’s senior, never heard of Arminius, as far
WTJ 67:1 (Spring 2005) p. 52
as we know. Furthermore, whatever doctrine Baro taught was not “Arminian” per se, and he certainly taught it long before 1595.3
James Nichols has done a great service by including his translation of Baro’s thoughts on predestination with his translation of Arminius, thus allowing the English-reading world to recognize the affinity between Baro and Arminius. Many have followed H. C. Porter in expressing this bond by describing Baro as an Arminius “avant la lettre”;4 however, no one has bothered to actually investigate what this relationship involves.5 After offering some necessary historical background based lar...
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