May 8, 2009

Frans Pieter Van Stam on the Origin of the Pejorative Label "Les Hypothetiques"

Another sign of the hardening of the conflict is the rise, a half year after the national synod of Charenton, of a designation for the adherents of Saumur that was intended to be unfavorable. The expression in question is "les hypothetiques," the "hypotheticals." In the later history of dogma the theology of Saumur would be known as "hypothetical universalism,"[72] a phrase in which the pejorative element occurs as adjective. The Reformed in France adopted the concept "les hypothetiques" as a fixed designation for the theologians of Saumur while the Swiss Reformed before 1650 described them as "universalists."[73] The term "les hypothetiques" was a reference to the problem in Amyraut's theology that on the one hand it declared that God willed to save all and on the other hand it acknowledged that this is not realized in all. Amyraut's intent was to make plain that whoever believes may rest assured that God will save him or her and has in fact elected that person. But his opponents objected that he made God's will to save all people "frustratoire." It was a reduction to absurdity of a small part of Amyraut's total point of view and the expression "hypothetical universalism" is therefore ill-suited to serve as a summary of the core of Amyraut's theology.

The term "les hypothetiques" surfaced in the available documents for the first time in a letter written by Guillaume Rivet in July 1645. He wrote his brother that he had learned from Vincent that "our hypotheticals" were unhappy with the national synod's condemnation of De la Place's ideas.[74] A few weeks later he again used the expression.[75] It occurs in three more letters from Guillaume Rivet to his brother.[76] It is probable that Guillaume Rivet was the first to employ the term as a label for the theologians of Saumur. Four months after G. Rivet had begun to use the term in the documents left us it also occurred, in a somewhat altered form, in a letter from Vincent.[77] At the end of that year it also surfaced in the Dutch Republic. Anna Maria van Schurmann employed it in a letter to André Rivet.[78] In the case of André Rivet himself the expression first occurred in a letter to Spanheim dated in May, 1646.[79] Thus the term proves to have become popular among the opponents of Saumur, enabling them to show their aversion for certain fellow believers without having to argue their case any more.
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72. See for example A. Adam, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, II, Mittelalter und Reformation, Gütersloh 1968, p. 398 and R. Seeberg, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, IV, 2. Tl., Die Fortbildung der reformatorischen Lehre und die gegenrefomatorische Lehre, 5Leipzig 1959 (Nachdruck der 3. Auflage), pp. 704ff. Seeberg distances himself from this term: "fördert das Verständnis der Absicht Amyrauts nicht," p. 704.
73. In the next chapter this will become even more evident.
74. "Vincent m’escrit aussi du mescontentement de nos hypothetiques touchant l’article de l’imputation du peché d’ Adam," see his letter dated July 9, 1645, at Leyden UB, BPL 287, II, 84f.
75. "les hypothetiques," see his letter to A. Rivet dated July 23, 1645, ibid., 86.
76. See his letters to A. Rivet dated Aug. 6, Oct. 1, and Oct. 15, 1645, ibid., 87f., 91, 92. Later, too, the expression returns in his writing, see, e.g., his letter to A. Rivet dated July 9, 1646, ibid., 112.
77. "Nous attendons l’ouvrage de Monsieur Spanheim, qui tient fort nos Hypothesites," see his letter to A. Rivet dated Nov. 4, 1645, at Leyden UB, BPL 274, 35f.
78. "Quod autem scribis Gallicanas ecclesias inter se etiamnum digladiari, et Hypotheticos conari omnem in te invidiam derivare, hinc facile collingimus diabolum nihil adeo moliri quam ut nostros inter se committat," see her letter dated Dec. 25, 1645, to A. Rivet in The Hague, KB, 133 B8, n. 46. About A. M. van Schurman, see B. L. G. N. P., part 2, Kampen 1983, pp. 396-399.
79. "Monsieur Sarrau ne me dit un seul mot de nos hypothetiques," see his letter dated May 19, 1646, at Munich Bayer. Staatsbibl., lat. 10,383, 46.
Frans Pieter Van Stam, The Controversy Over the Theology of Saumur, 1635-1650 (APA-Holland:  University Press, 1988), 277–278.

Note: This is historically quite typical. The modern label "hypothetical universalism" is not one that the Saumur theologians adopted for themselves. Rather, it was a biased label that Amyraut's staunch opponents used to describe his views. It's yet another scarecrow. As Van Stam documents, Guillaume Rivet and André Rivet (brothers) were very hostile to Amyraut, and they were constantly at work behind the scenes attempting (unsuccessfully) to manipulate the decisions of the Synod of Alençon and the Synod of Charenton so as to condemn Saumur theology. One can clearly see from the letters that their behavior was despicable, and that their claims were inconsistent. Both of these national synods exonerated Amyraut.

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