Conrad Vorstius

Conrad Vorstius (German: Konrad von der Vorst; Latin: Conradus Vorstius; 19 July 1569 – 29 September 1622) was a German-Dutch heterodox Remonstrant theologian, and successor to Jacobus Arminius in the theology chair at Leiden University.

Conrad Vorstius
Conrad Vorstius (1569-1622).jpg
Conrad Vorstius, 1616 engraving
Born19 July 1569
Died29 September 1622 (aged 53)
Other namesKonrad von der Vorst, Conradus Vorstius
Alma materUniversity of Heidelberg
Scientific career
Academic advisorsJohannes Piscator
Doctoral studentsFranciscus Sylvius

Early lifeEdit

The Hohe Schule in Burgsteinfurt [de], where Vorstius was a professor before he moved to Leiden

Vorstius was born at Cologne on 19 July 1569. His parents were Roman Catholic but he converted to the Reformed Christianity.[when?] He studied at Düsseldorf from 1583 to 1587, he also studied at Aix-la-Chapelle and then entered the college of St. Lawrence in Cologne; he next studied for two years to prepare for business but in 1589 again altered his intention and studied at the Herborn Academy from 1589 until 1593, he entered further schooling at Heidelberg on 12 April 1593, focusing on theology on 12 April 1594. There he studied under Johannes Piscator and received a theological doctorate on 4 July 1594.

In December 1595 he went to Basel and Geneva, where he attended Lectures by Theodore Beza. It was also here where his disputations De sacramentis (Basel, 1595) and De causis salutis (1595) gained him the offer of a position as teacher (with the approval of Beza and Johann Jakob Grynaeus). Instead, he went to Burgsteinfurt in 1596, in the County of Bentheim. There, thanks to a recommendation from Beza and David Pareus, he taught at Graf von Bentheim's Hohe Schule for fifteen years. In Burgsteinfurt Vorstius defended the Reformed religion against the Catholic theologian Robert Bellarmine. He also received offers for teaching positions at Saumur and Marburg. It was in Burgsteinfurt that his De praedestinatione (Burgsteinfurt, 1597), De sancta Trinitate (1597), and De persona et officio Christi (1597) brought on him a suspicion of Socinianism; but in 1599 he successfully defended his orthodoxy before the theological faculty of Heidelberg. He was promoted in Burgsteinfurt, in 1605 receiving the additional appointments of preacher and assessor to the consistory.[citation needed]

At LeidenEdit

After the death of Arminius, he accepted, in 1610, a call to Leiden. He was "praised enthusiastically by indisputably orthodox divines at Heidelberg and Arnhem as worthy of the post".[1] He was nominated for the divinity chair there by moderate members of the Remonstrant party who approved of his support of public freedom of opinion ("having defended the toleration of diverse opinions in his book against Bellarmine"[1]) and thought that due to his orthodox background he would also be acceptable to some of the Contra-Remonstrants.

In 1610 he reprinted Disputationes decem de natura et attributis Dei (Steinfurt, 1602) as Tractatus theologicus de Deo sive de natura et attributis Dei. That same year he also published Anti-Bellarminus (1610). His statements in the Tractatus on God, the divine attributes, predestination, and Christ led the Counter-Remonstrants to accuse him of Socinianism and heterodoxy. The Heidelberg theologians condemned the book; Vorstius replied in his Protestatio epistolica contra theologorum Heidelbergensium (The Hague, 1610). In 1611 he damaged his reputation by re-editing a work of Socinus; De auctoritate sanctae scripturae, with a preface of his own. The authorities in Heidelberg refused to publish it and he later claimed to have been ignorant of its authorship.

As the controversy grew "His appointment became a symbolic cause in the struggle between the two parties [Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants] in church and state. Oldenbarnevelt and Uyttenbogaert, the leaders of the Remonstrants, were committed to the appointment of Vorstius, which would ensure that an exponent of the Arminian-Remonstrant point of view would continue to be heard at Leiden."[1] They were joined by Hugo Grotius who defended the right of the civil authorities to appoint whomever they wished to university faculty. Vorstius's opponents, led by Sibrandus Lubbertus, lodged official protests with the states of Holland and West-Friesland, and attempted to bring the Anglicans over to their side by communicating with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other English divines, as well as the King, James I of England.[1]

Opposition from King James I of EnglandEdit

In the pamphlet[2] published in 1612 concerning the denunciation of Vorstius, King James briefly traced the events that led up to the beginning of his opposition:

"In Autumne last [1611], about the end of August, ... there came to our hands two bookes of the said Vorstius, the one intituled Tractatus Theologicus de Deo, dedicated to the Lantgraue of Hessen, imprinted in the yeere 1610, the other his Exegesis Apologetica vpon that booke, dedicated to the States, and printed in the yeere 1611. Which books, as soone as we had receiued, ... we stayed not one houre, but dispatched a letter presently to our Ambassadour resident with the States"[2]

James, through his ambassador, swiftly urged the States-General to expel Vorstius, giving the following explanation for why he involved himself in this controversy:

"If the subject of Vorstius' Heresies had not been grounded vpon Questions of a higher qualitie than the number and nature of the Sacraments, or the points of Iustification, of Merits, of Purgatorie, of the visible head of the Church, or any such matters, as are in controversie at this day betwixt the Papists and vs; Nay more, if he had medled onely with the nature and works of GOD ad extra, (as the Schoolemen speake,) If hee had soared no higher pitch; we doe freely professe, that in that case we should never haue troubled ourselues with the businesse in such fashion, and with that fervencie as hitherto we haue done. But this Vorstius, ... confounding infinitie, (one of the proper attributes of God,) and immensitie, (sometime applied to creatures,) the essence and substance, with the hypostasis, disputing of a first and second creation, immediate and mediate, making God to be quale and quantum, changing eternitie, into euiternitie, teaching eternitie to consist of a number of aages, and in the head as a sworne enemie not onely to Divinitie, but even to all Philosophie, both humane and naturall, denying God to be Actus purus, and void of qualities," etc.

Let the world then iudge whether we had not occasion herevpon, to be moued, ... as a Christian at large; yea, euen as a Theist, or a man that acknowledgeth a GOD, or as a Platonique Philosopher at the least.[2]

James argues here that his objections were to the passages that touched upon the basic aspects of religion (such as the substance and infinity of God), and not upon topics then current in the debates among Christians ('the number and nature of the Sacraments, the points of Justification', etc.). Which, if they were those, England 'should never have troubled ourselves with the business in this fashion, and with that fervency'. This and other messages formed a series of dispatches that were exchanged between the James and the States General, whose response[2] to him amounted to little action, and discomfort about foreign nations being involved in Dutch religious affairs, in light of the bloody persecutions inflicted by the Roman Catholics during the Dutch War of Independence. Attempting to persuade the States one more time, in 1612 James submitted a letter where he outlined[2] the concrete passages out of Vorstius that he found objectionable:

Out Of His Annotations.

  • "But there is nothing forbids vs to say, that God hath a Body, so as we take a body in the largest signification."
  • "They therefore doe not speake circumspectly enough, who say, that God is altogether as vnchangeable in his will, as he is in his essence."
  • "We finde it no where written, That the substance of God is simply immense; nay, there are many places, which seeme to cary a contrary meaning."
  • "No Magnitude is actually infinite, and therefore God is not actually infinite."
  • "And surely, if all and euery euent of things were precisely set downe, and from eternitie, there needed not then that continuall inspection and procuration, which neuerthelesse is euery where attributed vnto God."
  • "They therefore, who teach that there is in God a certaine vniuersall knowledge in genere, doe seeme to answere more fully; but so as they doe confesse likewise that there bee more causes of certaintie in the vision of things present, then in the vision of things future contingent."
  • "All things which God hath once decreed, and precisely determined, uno modo & actu, he doth after such his determination exactly know them: But this cannot be affirmed of all and euery other thing, which are, or come to passe, being considered seuerally and by themselues, because they haue their existence, not onely successiuely in time, but also contingently, and oftentimes conditionally."[2]

Out Of His Apologie.

  • "It is to be vnderstood that the Father hath a certaine peculiar being, or as it were a limitted and bounded essence."
  • "From whence it is easily prooued, that there are really certaine internall accidents in God, that is to say, (if it be lawfull to vse such a word) in the very fore-electing minde and will of God."
  • In the 16 Chapter, he doeth dangerously dissent from the receiued opinion of Diuines, concerning the Vbiquitie of Gods presence.
  • In the 19 Chapter, pag. 99 he doth attribute vnto God, Magnitude and Quantitie.

Finally, this correspondence between the two nations was made public to the world in 1612, when James published a pamphlet entitled A Declaration Concerning the Proceedings with the States Generall, of the United Provinces of the Low Covntreys, In the cause of D. Conradvs Vorstivs, subsequently republished in his collected Workes of 1616.[2]

He also recruited the ex-Catholic Richard Sheldon, and the Catholic juror William Warmington, to write against him.[3] In 1613, Sir Dudley Carleton asked Paolo Sarpi to assess the views of Vorstius. What Sarpi delivered was at very least double-edged, hitting at all reformers, and with criticism hardly veiled of James's interventions and mixing of religious and political strands.[4]

Opposed and exiledEdit

Vorstius responded in his Christiana ac modesta responsio ad articulos quosdam nuper ex Anglia transmissos (Leiden, 1611), but the States-General felt obliged to dismiss him, though continuing his salary, in 1612.[5] He settled as an exile in Gouda, about May 1612. Attacks on Vorstius continued, and he pleaded his own cause in a series of polemics.[6]

James caused Vorstius's book to be burned in London, Oxford, and Cambridge, and informed the States-General, through his ambassador Ralph Winwood, that he would consider them his enemies if they tolerated the presence of such a heretic. Winwood made a long speech entirely based on the Contra-Remonstrant tenet that the appointment of Vorstius was not just a political matter but one of religion as well. He stated that since some cities, such as Holland, were against the appointment to move forward on it threatened the unity of the Provinces. Oldenbarneveldt thanked the ambassador for the king's "princely affection" and promised the proposal would be considered. In a letter to Cecil, Winwood cast the contest as between those "who sincerely do affectionate, the profession of the one only true religion" and those who hold "that the strength of their state, chiefly does consist, in maintaining Religion to be professed in a certain Latitude, the bounds whereof they enlarge, and restrain, at the humor and appetite of every particular man's fantasy".[1] While James was tolerant for his time, it was only toleration in private; no public preaching or opposition to his religious policies was allowed.

Despite the Remonstrants having the same position of supremacy of the state over the Church, their open toleration was seen as a danger to the peace. While Vorstius called for toleration of various religious opinions, his English opponents held that this could only lead to the disruption of the state and lose the blessing of Jesus. They held that the only reason the United Provinces had not been annihilated by Spain was through the service of God and the advancement of true religion. Finally, in 1619, Vorstius was condemned as a heretic by the Synod of Dort and banished.[7]

Later lifeEdit

He left Gouda and remained in hiding, mostly in the area of Utrecht. In 1622 Frederick III, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp offered him a refuge. Shortly before his death he is reported to have drawn up a confession of faith in which he openly professed Socinianism. He died at Tönning on 29 September 1622.[8]

Vorstian theologyEdit

While the Calvinists had opposed Arminius' ideas, he was still viewed as Christian and Protestant, and it was difficult to oppose him without appearing to oppose the political powers that had appointed him chair at Leiden University. But upon the appointment of Vorstius the Calvinists had "a golden opportunity to present their intervention in politics as a defence, quite simply, of the Christian religion."[9] To them Vorstius "was an academic of the most troubling kind, who pushed the framework of scholastic theology to its limits."[9] The historian Sarah Mortimer lists elements of his theology, saying "He began to argue that God was not infinite in essence, that his knowledge of the future was limited and that he could not be wholly present in every part of the universe. Though, Vorstius noted, he could not be sure of any of these claims - it was said that he began every theological proposition with the phrase 'it seems that'. Not only did Vorstius appear heterodox but also deeply skeptical, and many of his hearers and readers were convinced that his beliefs and arguments went beyond Christianity, even beyond theism."[9]

Vorstian theology did not find any defenders, "even those who had backed his appointment dissociated themselves from his opinions."[9] The opponents of the Calvinists focused instead on the ecclesiological point, "arguing that it was for the civil magistrate and not the clergy to decide who would instruct students at Leiden University." Hugo Grotius, wishing to detach the issue from both Arminian and Vorstian theology, argued that the states of Holland had the right to appoint the university professors they deemed fit. Vorstius' theology was seen as so heterodox that it became difficult for people to separate it from the question of the rights of the States. Holding his works up as blasphemy and irreligious, the Calvinists derided the political authority of Holland for appointing him to teach the youth. Vorstius did not help his cause as his work began to be influenced by Socinianism (another theological system which questioned the concept of a Trinitarian and infinite god; which was also opposed by the Calvinists). Vorstius began meeting with Socinians and giving their books to his students. He even printed his own edition of one of Socinus's works.[9]

Sibrandus Lubbertus championed the Calvinist side, insisting that while they had no intent to encroach on the magistrates' territory, they couldn't sit by while true religion was being molested. He warned that religious divisions were bad for the States and blamed the magistrates for perputating them. Grotius, on the other side, argued that the States could not be judged on religious grounds, and their rights were independent of religious learning or beliefs. The truce with Spain that had allowed the debate was coming to a close in 1621 so there was an urge to have the matter settled before then.[citation needed]


Conrad's son Adolph Vorstius (Delft, 1597 – Leiden, 1663) was to become professor in medicine at the Leiden University in 1636. His son Willem Hendrijk Vorstius (d. 1 October 1652), who studied rabbinical literature, was Remonstrant preacher at Leiden after 1642, and was also suspected of Socinianism. Another son, Guernerus (died March 1682), was also a Remonstrant preacher at Dokkum in 1632, but was banished for five years in 1634. In the following year he returned, only to be arrested and rebanished again, after which he was a preacher at Hoorn (1641), Leiden (1653), and Rotterdam (1658), where he became pastor emeritus in 1680. Guernerus edited his father's Doodsteek der Calvinistische prasdestinate. Descendants of Vorstius were preachers in Dutch Remonstrant churches for a century.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d e Frederick Shriver (July 1970). "The English Historical Review, Orthodoxy and Diplomacy: James I and the Vorstius Affair". Oxford University Press: 449–474. JSTOR 563191. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g King James I (1616). The Workes of the most High and Mighty Prince Iames [James], By the grace of God Kinge of Great Brittaine, France & Ireland, Defendo of ye Faith &c. published by James Bishop of Winston, & Dean of Chapel Royal. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  3. ^ "Sheldon, Richard" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  4. ^ David Wootton (4 April 2002). Paolo Sarpi: Between Renaissance and Enlightenment. Cambridge University Press. pp. 90–2. ISBN 978-0-521-89234-6. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
  5. ^ W. B. Patterson, King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom (1997), p. 263.
  6. ^ Catalogua errorum sive hallucinationum D. Sibr. Lubberti (Steinfurt, 1611); Prodromus plenioris responsi suo tempore secuturi ad declarationem Sibrandi Lubberti et ministrorum Leovardenaium iteratam cautionem (Leyden, 1612); Responsum plenius ad scripta quaedam eristica (1612); and Paraenesis ad Sibrandum Lubbertum (Gouda, 1613).
  7. ^ The Decree of the LL. the Estates of Holland and West-Friesland concerning Conrad Vorstius, 1619. London: John Bill, 1619.
  8. ^ Strong, James; McClintock, John. "Vorstius (Voorst), Conrad". The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Haper and Brothers: New York, 1880. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e Sarah Mortimer (2010). Reason and religion in the English revolution: the challenge of Socinianism. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Further readingEdit

  • Frederick Shriver, Orthodoxy and Diplomacy: James I and the Vorstius Affair, The English Historical Review, Vol. 85, No. 336 (Jul., 1970), pp. 449–74

External linksEdit

  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainJackson, Samuel Macauley, ed. (1914). "Vorst, Konrad". New Schaff–Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (third ed.). London and New York: Funk and Wagnalls.

Academic offices
Preceded by
Jacobus Arminius
Chair of theology at the University of Leiden
Succeeded by
Simon Episcopius