6.4.1 The Canons of Dordt

In the case of the Canons of Dordt, modifications deriving from a substantial minority influence are exactly what we find.92 It might at first be thought out of place in an essay on diversity in the British Reformed tradition to trespass into a consideration of the position on this controversy taken by the Synod of Dordt. That would doubtless have been the case had it not been for the fact that a highly significant part of this minority influence at the Synod came from the British Delegation, and the most influential among its five delegates was none other than John Davenant.93 Like the Synod itself, the British Delegation was by no means unanimous on the extent of the atonement, and the influence of particular redemptionist impulses was felt, initially at least, from three delegates within the British ranks.94 Tales of the ‘conversion’ of British delegates from particularism to hypothetical universalism under the influence of Davenant and  the other convinced hypothetical universalist delegate Samuel Ward (1572-1643) are not implausible, but hard to verify. But certainly ground was conceded to Davenant and Ward either reluctantly and for tactical reasons, or otherwise.95 Due to the towering influence of Davenant and his close friend Ward, it was the position of English Hypothetical Universalism that was brought to bear powerfully upon the deliberations and final formulations of the Synod to the extent that the British Delegation were able to subscribe to the resulting Canons shortly before returning to England.96

In subscribing to the Canons, the British Delegation affirmed the following in Article 2.8: “voluit Deus, ut Christus per sanguinem crucis (quo novum foedus confirmavit) ex omni populo, tribu, gente, et lingua, eos omnes et solos, qui ab aetemo ad salutem electi, et a Patre ipsi dati sunt, efficaciter redimeret.”97 But how exactly could a theologian such as John Davenant subscribe to this? At first glance the terms efficaciter (‘effectually’ or ‘efficaciously’) and eos solos (‘those only’) appear to shut up the would-be subscriber to a particularist understanding of the death of Christ, as if Christ died to save “only” the elect. This explains why in the twentieth century this second Article of the Canons was to form the ‘L’ for ‘Limited Atonement’ in the popular ‘T.U.L.I.P.’ acronym for the so-called ‘Five Points of Calvinism’.98 But ironically it is the inclusion of the word efficaciter that gives the hypothetical universalist room for his position. Had this word been omitted, the Canons would be teaching that Christ’s redemptive work in all respects was “only” for the elect But as it stands, what the Canons teach here is that Christ’s effectual redemptive work was “only” for the elect. This leaves a door open–even if it is only a back door–for any subscriber to hold privately to an ineffectual redemptive work for the nonelect, or, to put it differently, Christ dying for the non-elect sufficiently but not efficiently–precisely what a hypothetical universalist usage of the Lombardian formula entailed.

In other words, this section subtly allowed the likes of Davenant to subscribe to the Canons, and, in terms of vindicating the rejection of Remonstrant errors (the official purpose of the Synod), it was still fit for purpose.99 According to the Synod, the Remonstrants maintained that Christ died in the same manner for all without exception, that is to say, that “God the Father ordained his Sonne unto the death of the crosse without any certaine & detenninate counsell of saving any particular man expressely” (sine certo ac definito consilio quemquam nominatem salvandi),100 Against this claim, both particular redemptionists and hypothetical universalists were united in maintaining that Christ died efficaciter for the elect. That Christ died efficaciously for the elect and “those only” (and therefore not efficaciously for all equally) was enough to put the Remonstrants well outside the bounds of Reformed Orthodoxy, while still allowing anti-Remonstrant hypothetical universalists to remain within the Reformed Orthodox fold.

With regard to Article 2.3, all the Dordt delegates needed to do was to demonstrate that their rejection of the Remonstrant formulation of a universal atonement in no way reduced their own ability to uphold the infinite sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. Accordingly, though internally divided on this issue, they forged a carefully crafted statement, binding any subscriber neither to the view that it was only an intrinsic sufficiency (derived from the hypostatic union), nor to the view that it was an ordained sufficiency (with a divine intention to benefit more than the elect in at least one respect). Article 2.3 simply reads “Haec mors Filii Dei est unica et perfectissima pro peccatis victima et satisfactio, infiniti valoris et pretii, abunde sufficiens ad totius mundi peccata expianda.”101 Thus it was that particular redemptionist Edward Reynolds could argue from the floor of the Westminster Assembly that the Synod of Dordt “intended noe more than” an intrinsic sufficiency, whereas, in the same debate, English Hypothetical Universalist Edmund Calamy could argue for an ordained sufficiency by announcing that he held to universal redemption “in the sence of our devines in the sinod of Dort; that Christ did pay a price for all.”102 Reynolds was conveniently closing down an interpretative option, just as Calamy was conveniently stating more than was explicitly required by Article 2.3. But reading a divine intentionality into this section is not itself proscribed by the Synod’s meticulously crafted wording, and Calamy’s was a fair summary of the British Delegation’s reading of the Canons, even as Reynolds’ position was also fully accommodated in Article 2.3.

Jonathan Moore, “The Extent of the Atonement: English Hypothetical Universalism versus Particular Redemption,” in Drawn into Controversie, ed. Michael A.G. Haykin and Mark Johns (Oakville, CT: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011), 144-148. [Footnotes and values original and italics original.]

[Note: The irony is the fact that exactly because Moore and Muller are correct on the point that Dort does not preclude hypothetical universalism, the claim that hypothetical universalism is “4-point Calvinism” is reduced to absurdity.]


92W. Robert Godfrey, “Tensions within Intemational Calvinism: The Debate on the Atonement

at the Synod of Dort, 161 8-1619” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University, 1974), 263-264.

93For a detailed examination of the options on offer at the Synod of Dordt, including an examination of the views of the continental hypothetical universalist delegates, see G. Michael Thomas. The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus, 1st edn, Paternoster biblical & theological Monographs (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1997), 128-159.

94Hales, Golden Remains, 2: 101 , 179-186.

95Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism, 213; W. Brown Patterson, King James VI and I and the Reunion 0f Christendom, 1st ed n, Cambridge Studies in Early Modem British History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 272-274; Peter White, Predestination, Policy and Polemic: Conflict and Consensus in the English Church ./rom the Reformation to the Civil War, 1st edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 187-192.

96The Canons themselves conclude with the claim that they were unanimi omnium et singulorum totius Synodi membrorllm consensu firmata (“confirmed by the unanimous consent of all and each of the members of the whole Synod”) (Philip Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes, edited by David S. Schaff, [ t931) 6th Revised reprint edn, 3 vol. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 3:577,596). For further documentation on the British Delegation subscribing to the Canons, see Hales, Golden Remains, 2: 152- 156; Gerard Brandt, The History of the Reformation and other Ecclesiastical Transactions in and about the Low-Countries, from the Beginning of the Eighth Century, down to the famous Synod of Dort, inclusive. In which all the Revolutions that happen’d in Church and State on Account of the Divisions between the Protestants and Papists, the Arminians and Calvinists, are fairly and fully represented, [1677-1704) I st English edn, 4 vol. (London: T. Wood for Timothy Childe, John Childe & John Nicks. 1720-1723), 3:282; James Ussher, The whole Works 0f the most Rev. James Ussher, D.D., Lord Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of all Ireland. With the life a/the Author, and an Account 0/

his Writings, edited by Charles R. Elrington, 17 vol. (Dublin: Hodges and Smith, 1847- 1864), t5:144-t45. For more detail and key source documents on the theology and influence of the British Delegation, see Milton, ed., British Delegation.

97Schaff, ed., Creeds, 3:562. This forms just part of Article 2,8. The English translation of this portion published in 1619 reads, “God willed, that Christ by the blood of his crosse (whereby hee was to establish a new covenant) should effectually redeeme out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all them, and them onely, who from eternity were elected unto salvation, and given to him of the Father” (The Synod of Dordt, the Judgement of the Synode holden at Dort, concerning the Five Articles: As also their Sentence touching Conradus Vorstius, [1619] Another edn [London: John l3ill, 1619],20. This translation is, as Milton notes, not the most accurate but the most contemporary [Milton, cd., British Delegation, 297]). It is with these words that the Synod explains its immediately preceding statement that God’s intention (intentio) was that the saving efficacy (salvifica efficacia) of Christ’s death should exert itself (sese exereret) in all the elect, in order to give them alone (eos solos) justifying faith, and lead them infallibly (infallibiliter) to salvation (Schaff, ed., Creeds, 3:562).

98The ‘T.U.L.I.P.’ acronym appears to have originated no earlier than a 1905 lecture in New Jersey by Dr. Cleland Boyd McAfee (1866-1944), a leading Presbyterian minister in Brooklyn, New York (William H. Vail, “The Five Points of Calvinism historically considered,” The Outlook 104, May-August [1913]: 394). For the first influential popularisation of this acronym, still in print to this day, see Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 3rd edn (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1932),59-60,150-161.

99It is important to take into account at this point that the Synod’s intention was never to produce a positive confessional standard, and that requiring the delegates or others to subscribe to the final document was not initially envisaged. The Synod’s original intention was simply to produce a negative document that judged and definitively rejected Remonstrant theology. Therefore the ‘Rejection of Errors’ sections of the final document are actually primary, despite the fact that they eventually took second place and are even sometimes omitted all modem editions of the Canons. Indeed, the original drafting committee used the term ‘Canons’ to refer only to the Rejectio Errorum, in distinction from the positive articles. The positive articles were eventually folded into the final document in order to vindicate the rejections and demonstrate how an orthodox biblical alternative was available. Although the Rejectio Errorum gradually faded from view once the final synodical judgement began to function increasingly as a confessional standard, it follows that the positive articles can still only be responsibly interpreted with the ‘Rejection of Errors’ as an interpretive backdrop (Donald W. Sinnema, “The Canons of Dordt: From Judgment on Arminianism to Confessional Standard,” in Revisiting the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), ed. Aza Goudriaan and Fred A. van Lieburg [Leidcn: Brill, 20 II]. 313-333). I am very grateful to Professor Sinnema for sharing and clarifying with me the above findings from his extensive research into the drafting of the Canons of Dordt.

100Synod of Dordt, Judgement, 21; Schaff, ed., Creeds, 3:563.

101Schaff, cd., Creeds, 3:561. “The death of the sonne of God is the onely, and most perfit sacrifice, and satisfaction for sinnes, of infinite price, and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sinnes of the whole world” (Synod of Dordt, Judgement, 18-19).

102Session 522, 22 October, 1645. “Minutes of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, from 4th September, 1643 to 25th March, 1652 in three Volumes,” Dr Williams Library, London, MS. 35.1-3,3.104r, I 04v. Cf. Alexander F. Mitchell and John Struthers, ed., Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines while engaged ill preparing their Directory for Church Government, Confession of Faith; and Catechisms (November 1644 to March 1649) from Transcripts of the Originals produced by a Committee of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1st edn (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1874), 152, 153. The Westminster Assembly Minutes are fully reproduced in Chad B. Van Dixhoom, “Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1652” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2004), 7 vol, and are shortly to be published by Oxford University Press.

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