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Richard Muller on Amyraut

October 4, 2007

1) On the one hand, the hypothetical universalism of the prior decree is juxtaposed with the particularity of the absolute covenant with the elect, emphasizing the full sufficiency of Christ’s satisfaction but adumbrating its limited efficacy; on the other hand, the hypothetical universalism of the covenant is juxtaposed with the particularity of the subsequent decree, emphasizing the universality of the call of the gospel but also indicating the divine purpose underlying limited human response.

This pattern has major implications for understanding the Salmurian soteriology. It indicates a covenantal or federal continuity with Reformed predestinarianism that has been left unexamined in discussions of hypothetical universalism. Against Moltmann’s assessment, it offers an element of the Salmurian theology that presses it away from rather than toward Arminianism; and against Armstrong’s thesis, it demonstrates the point, recognized even by seventeenth-century opponents of Amyraldianism like Francis Turretin, namely, that views of Cameron and his Salmurian successors were not heresy and, like it or not, where consciously framed to stand within the confessionalism of Dort. In the specific case of Cameron’s covenantal thought, it ought to be understood not as a protest against various developments in Reformed theology but rather as an integral part of the rather fluid and variegated history of early Reformed covenantal thought. Richard Muller, “Divine Covenanters, Absolute and Conditional: John Cameron and the Early Orthodox Development of Reformed Covenant Theology,” MJT 17 (2006), 36-37.

2) “There were also bitter battles among the Reformed – over Cocceian theology, over the espousal of Cartesian principles, and over the various teachings of the Academy of Saumur, over the soteriology of Richard Baxter, and over various responses to the Socinian denial of an essential or ad intra divine attribute of punitive justice. On none of these issues, however, did the Reformed churches rupture into separate confessional bodies or identify a particular theologically defined group as beyond the bounds of the confessions, as had been the case at the Synod of Dort. Amyraut was, after all, exonerated by several national synods in France, and the debate over his “hypothetical universalism” did not lead to the charge of heterodoxy against others, like Davenant, Martinius, and Alsted, who had, both at Dort and afterward, maintained similar lines of argument concerning the extent of Christ’s satisfaction.104 The Westminster Confession was in fact written with this diversity in view, encompassing confessionally the variant Reformed views on the nature of the limitation of Christ’s satisfaction to the elect, just as it was written to be inclusive of the infra- and the supralapsarian views on predestination.105 Amyraut, moreover, arguably stood in agreement with the intraconfessional adversaries like Turretin on such issues as the fundamental articles of faith.106

Even when it was censured in the Formula Consensus Helvetica, the Salmurian theology was not identified as a heresy but as a problematic teaching that troubled the confessional orthodoxy of the church: the preface to the Formula specifically indentifies the faculty of Saumur as “respected foreign brethren,” who stand on the same “foundation of faith” but whose recent teachings have become a matter of grave dispute. The Formula consciously refrained from any reference to Cocceian theology, despite the desire of a few theologians to censure this variety of Reformed thought as well.107 Nor, indeed, did the adoption of a modified Cartesian philosophy by thinkers like Heidanus, Burman, or Tronchin take them beyond the pale of orthodoxy. This is not to diminish the controversies or to claim that Cocceian federalism, the Salmurian theology, and the rise of Cartesian tendencies among the Reformed did not place enormous strains on orthodoxy – nor does it ignore the fact that the critical techniques of Cappel and the adoption of Cartesian principles by various Reformed thinkers pointed toward the beginning of a new era in which confessional orthodoxy would fade.” [Source: Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 1:76-77.]

3) 1″Whereas, therefore, some distinction can be made between various lines of development within Reformed orthodoxy, such as between the Swiss orthodoxy of the line of Turretin and Heidegger and the Academy of Saumur, between the northern German Reformed of Bremen or the Herborn Academy and the rather different approach of Franecker theologians in the tradition of Ames, between the Cocceian or federalist line and the Voetian approach, between the British Reformed theology of Owen and that of Baxter, or between the British variety of Reformed theology in general and the several types of Reformed teaching found on the continent, there is no justification for identifying any one of these strains of Reformed thought as outside the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy or as not evidencing the characteristics of Reformed scholasticism. Voetius and Cocceius obliged the same confessions — and Voetius could identify several lines of Reformed thought on, for example, the work of Christ, including that of Crocius and the Saumur theologians. He disagreed with these thinkers but did not set them outside of the Reformed Confessions.114 Turretin, similarly, indicates his disagreement with the Saumur theologians on various issues, but consistently identifies them as Reformed and as “our ministers.”115[115] Owen and Baxter acknowledged each other’s theologies as belonging to the same confessional tradition. Owen, moreover, thought highly of Cameron and Amyraut on such issues as the divine justice and the doctrine of the Trinity — at the same time that he abhorred elements of the teaching of Twisse and Rutherford, both of whom stood closer to him than to the Salmurians on the issues addressed in the Formula consensus Helvetica. All of these branches of the Reformed tradition stood within the boundaries established by the major national confessions and catechisms of the Reformed churches.” [Source: Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 1: 79-80.]

104Cf., e.g., John Davenant, A Dissertation on the Death of Christ, as to the Extent of its Benefits, trans., Josiah Allport (London: Hamilton, Adams and Co., 1832); also note Davenant’s On the Controversy among the French Divines of the Reformed Church, concerning the Gracious and Saving Will of God toward Men, in ibid., pp. 561-569, where Davenant indicates his differences with Cameron.

105 See Benjamin B. Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and its Work (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), p. 56.

106Moyse Amyraut, De mysterio trinitatis, deque vocibus ac Phrasibus quibus tam Scriptura quam apud Patres explicatur, Dissertatio, septem partibus absoluta (Saumur: Isaac Desbordes, 1661), pars I (pp.3-5); see below, 9.1 (A.2; B.2) and see the description of the treatise in PRRD IV, 2.2 (D.2). Also note Amyraut, A Treatise Concerning Religions, in Refutation of the Opinion which accounts all Indifferent. Wherein is also evinc’d the Necessity of a particular Revelation and the Verity and preeminence of the Christian Religion (London: M. Simons, 1660).

107Formula Consensus Helvetica, praefatio, in Niemeyer, Collectio confessionum, II, p. 730. Also see Martin I. Klauber, “The Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675): An Introduction and Translation,” in Trinity Journal, 11 (Spring 1990), pp. 103-123 (a useful history which, unfortunately omits the preface of the Formula from its translation); and note the remarks of Schaff in Creeds of Christendom, I, p. 486.

114On Voetius’ and Cocceius’ confessionality, see in particular the approbatie of both the Utrecht and Leiden faculties in Zacharias Ursinus Schat-Boeck der Verklarigen over den Nederlandtschen Catechismus, uyt de Latijnshe Lessen van Dr. Zacharias Ursinus, op-gemaecht van Dr. David Paraeus, vertaelt, ende met Tafelen, &c. Verlicht, door Dr. Festus Hommius, nu van nieuws oversein … door Johannes Spiljardus, 2 parts (Amsterdam: Johannes van Revensteyn, 1664), fol. A4, r.-v.; and on Voetius approach to Crocius and Saumur, see his Problematum de merito Christi, pars secunda, in Sel. Disp., II, p. 252.

115Turretin, Inst. theol. elencticae, IV.xvii.4;; XIV.xiv.6.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2008 4:19 am

    It is always interesting and refreshing to read about the greats of the reformed religion, and not least about Calvin’s most faithful interpretor, Moise Amyraut (1596-1664), professor of theology at Saumur Academy (Protestant) in 17th century France. His balanced biblicism reflected that of Calvin, and separated him from those who developed Calvin’s thought in a direction that the reformer would not have recognised or accepted.

    Now with the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth in 2009, celebrations will be held throughout Europe and wherever the reformed faith was established to mark this important date. I trust that the reformer from Geneva will be remembered accurately next year, and that the churches, and the world, will see the attractiveness of Calvin’s theology, perhaps in a new light, and come to embrace the “Saviour of the human race.”

  2. November 19, 2008 1:10 am

    Hey there,

    You should check out the new blog. The information there makes what is left here pale.


  3. February 25, 2009 1:20 pm

    Such a helpful post. Thank you for it. I’ve spent a lot of time studying Cameron and Amyraut, with the intention of finding, if any, a connection between some of the idiosyncracies of Saumur and one John Milton. Milton betrays not only in his epic poem but in his theological treatise a kind of moderated—if not waffling—soteriology.

  4. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    February 26, 2009 7:44 am

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for stopping by. The thing is, the basic ideas of unlimited expiation and redemption date way back. That classic Augustinian soteriology blends into early English Reformist thought (such as Cranmer, Ridley, et al). This then, itself, unfolds and fans out into various English developments, any or all of which may have no historical connection with Saumur, Amyraut or Cameron. Folk like Usher, Preston, and others, considered themselves to be part of an ancient tradition, and so no espousing novel ideas.

    Thanks and take care,

  5. February 26, 2009 10:04 am

    Thanks, David, for the welcome.

    Indeed, the point about Augustinian soteriology blending into early English Reformist thought is spot on. The title of Milton’s theological treatise, de doctrina Christiana, ought to give us a clear sense as to whose shoulders on which he thought he was standing.

    The influence of Augustine’s thought on Milton has been well documented, so my work on Cameron, et al., is simply an attempt to explore new ground in Milton studies, if possible. Like Usher and the others, Milton also deems his thought on soteriology to be part of an ancient tradition (now, his views on the Trinity are another matter entirely).

  6. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    February 26, 2009 10:27 am

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for the clarification. I think I was reacting to the almost endless attempt to connect any sort of deviating (from the now received orthodox) Augustinianism with Amyraut and Cameron. What this does is a severe injustice to early Reformation history, its complexity and diversity.

    What we don’t appreciate is that for a lot of people in that time period were very eclectic and fluid in their thinking and sources. The sort of uniformity we have now was actually not the norm for most of the heavy thinkers in the 16th and 17th centuries.

    Reading the primary sources in-depth and systematically has been an eye-opener for me. And what’s really cool is seeing their own stated sources and how they are so eclectically cross-linking ideas and theologians.

    Thanks and take care,


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