Revisiting the Synod of Dordt

Goudriaan

A review of Aza Goudriaan & Fred van Lieburg (eds.), Revisiting the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619).

Revisiting the Synod of Dordt is an expensive academic symposium of 16 chapters, covering the background to the Synod, the theology of Arminianism, the sources for our knowledge of the Synod’s inner workings, the influence of key theologians upon it, and various aspects of the Canons of Dordt, their drafting, teaching, and pedagogy. It is an extremely useful, much needed book for scholars of the period and of this crucial event.

The highlights of the volume for me include a superb analysis of the “distorting mirror” of the Hales-Balcanquahall letters, by Anthony Milton. These letters form a contemporary English account of the inner workings of the Synod, but they must be handled with care because of the inherent biases within them and certain important omissions, as well as the anti-Calvinist agenda behind their original publication. Still, Milton does a great job of showing how these important documents can provide us with fascinating information about the angry exchanges on the floor of the Synod, about which the official accounts are unsurprisingly silent. The deep engagement of the British delegation at the Synod is also brought out nicely, and there is a chapter on James Ussher’s background influence.

There is also a brilliant exposition (alone worth the effort of getting the book out of a library) by Robert Godfrey on the mode of teaching adopted in the Canons of Dordt, where he shows how they were deliberately written in a popular, accessible style rather than with a scholastic accent. One article within each of the Heads of Doctrine seems to have been written as a summary Reformed answer to the Arminians, but as a whole they tend to move from unexceptionable, “catholic” truth, by stages into a more thorough Reformed account of each doctrine, in a pastorally-sensitive way. “Reformed distinctives are the proper development of catholic theology,” was the impression this intended to make.

Donald Sinnema also provides a magisterial study of how the Canons were drafted, though we eagerly await the full publication over the next few years of the definitive critical edition of all the documents and papers of the Synod. In the meantime, this volume is the essential go-to guide for all things Dortian.

This review first appeared in Churchman 128/3 (2014).

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