The Synod of Dort (also known as the Synod of Dordt or the Synod of Dordrecht) was a National Synod held in Dordrecht in 1618-1619, by the Dutch Reformed Church, in order to settle a serious controversy in the Dutch churches initiated by the rise of Arminianism. The first meeting was on November 13, 1618, and the final meeting, the 154th, was on May 9, 1619. Voting representatives from the Reformed churches in eight foreign countries were also invited. Dort was a contemporary colloquial English term for the town of Dordrecht and it still is the local colloquial pronunciation of the name.
The purpose of the Synod held in Dordrecht was to settle a controversy that had arisen in the Dutch churches following the spread of Arminianism. After the death of Jacob Arminius his followers presented objections to the Belgic Confession and the teaching of John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and their followers. These objections were published in a document called The Remonstrance of 1610, and his proponents were therefore also known as Remonstrants. The opposing Calvinists, led by professor Franciscus Gomarus of the University of Leiden, became known as the Contra-Remonstrants.
In The Remonstrance and in some later writings, the Arminians published an alternative to the Calvinist doctrine of the Belgic Confession on several points of difference. They taught election on the basis of foreseen faith, a universal atonement, resistible grace, and the possibility of lapse from grace. Simon Episcopius (1583–1643) was spokesman of the 13 representatives of the Remonstrants who were summoned before the Synod in 1618.
"Episcopius was their chief speaker; and with great art and address did he manage their cause. He insisted on being permitted to begin with a refutation of the Calvinistic doctrines, especially that of reprobation, hoping that, by placing his objections to this doctrine in front of all the rest, he might excite such prejudice against the other articles of the system, as to secure the popular voice in his favor. The Synod, however, very properly, reminded him, that they had not convened for the purpose of trying the Confession of Faith of the Belgic Churches, which had been long established and well known; but that, as the Remonstrants were accused of departing from the Reformed faith, they were bound first to justify themselves, by giving Scriptural proof in support of their opinions. The Arminians would not submit to this plan of procedure because it destroyed their whole scheme of argument. However, the Synod firmly refused to make any concessions on this point of order. Day after day they were reasoned with and urged to come and scripturally defend their published doctrines. . . The Arminians would not submit to this course and were thus compelled to withdraw. Upon their departure, the Synod proceeded without them."
Conclusion and the Canons of Dort
The Synod concluded with a rejection of these views, and set forth the Reformed doctrine on each point, namely: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible (or irrevocable) grace, and the perseverance of the saints. These are sometimes referred to as the Five points of Calvinism and remembered by many using the mnemonic "TULIP".
The Decision of the Synod of Dort on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands, popularly known as the Canons of Dort, is the explanation of the judicial decision of the Synod. In the original preface, the Decision is called a
judgment, in which both, the true view agreeing with God's word concerning the aforesaid five points of doctrine is explained and, the false view disagreeing with God's Word is rejected.
The Canons are not intended to be a comprehensive explanation of Reformed doctrine, but only an exposition on the five points of doctrine in dispute.
Consequences for Dutch protestantism
This synod, inspired by the publication of the King James Bible, also initiated an official Dutch Bible translation (the Statenvertaling) from the original languages that would be completed in 1637 and have a lasting impact on the standard Dutch language, which was just beginning to gain wide acceptance and developing a literary tradition. It would remain the standard translation in Protestant churches for more than three centuries and in some sister churches of the Netherlands Reformed Congregations and similar, smaller denominations, it still is.
The acts of the Synod were tied to political intrigues that arose during the twelve-year truce in the Dutch war with Spain. The Synod condemned the religious doctrine of Arminianism as heresy, which anticipated the political condemnation of the very highly respected and influential statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt who had been the protector of the Arminian Remonstrants. For the crime of general perturbation in the state of the nation, both in Church and State (treason), he was beheaded on 13 May 1619, only four days after the final meeting of the Synod. He is considered, also by the Calvinists, to be one of the greatest men in the history of the Netherlands. Also lost to the nation as a consequence of the Arminian defeat, was the brilliant jurist Hugo Grotius, who was a supporter of the Remonstrants' rights leading up to the Synod. Grotius was given a life sentence in prison, but escaped with the help of his wife. Both Van Oldenbarnevelt and Grotius had been imprisoned since 29 August 1618. Arminian theology later received official toleration by the State and has since continued in various forms within Protestantism.
The Synod also decided to have the Bible translated into Dutch, straight from the original Hebrew and Greek texts. Translators were appointed, and the States-General were asked to fund the project. After the translation was first published in 1637, it became known as the Translation of the States or Statenvertaling.
- Gisbertus Voetius
- From Great Britain: George Carleton (1559–1628), Joseph Hall (1574–1657), Thomas Goad (1576–1638), John Davenant (1576–1641), Walter Balcanqual (1586–1645), Samuel Ward (1572-1643).
- From Heidelberg: Abraham Scultetus (1566–1624), Paul Tossanus (1572–1634), Hendrik Alting (1583–1644).
- From Hessen: Georg Cruciger (1575–1637), Paul Stein (1585–1643), Rudolph Goclenius (1547–1628), Daniel Anglocrator (1569–1635).
- From Switzerland: Johann Jakob Breitinger (1575–1645), Wolfgang Mayer (1577–1653), Sebastian Beck (1583–1654), Mark Rütimeyer (1580–1647), Hans Conrad Koch (1564–1643).
- From Krefeld: Herman op den Graeff (1585-1642)
- From Geneva: Giovanni Diodati (1576–1649), Theodore Trochin (1582–1657)
- From Bremen: Ludwig Crocius (1586–1653), Matthiuas Martinius (1572–1630), Heinrich Isselburg (1577–1628).
- From Nassau-Wetteravië: Johann Heinrich Alsted (1588–1638), John Bisterfeld (died in 1619), Georg Fabricius.
- From Emden: Ritzius Lucas Grimersheim (1568–1631), Daniël Bernard Eilshemius (1555–1622).
- From France: None because the French government prohibited their attendance. A set of empty chairs was set up in the assembly in honor of the absent French Huguenots.
- Thomas Scott, The Articles of the Synod of Dort, Sprinkle Publ., 1993 reprint, p.5.