A New Way to Settle Political (Or Maybe Theological) Differences?

7 May 2012 by Wes Bredenhof

They’ve called it “The Thrilla on the Hilla.”  Conservative senator Patrick Brazeau and Liberal MP Justin Trudeau went head-to-head in a boxing match on March 31.  Brazeau was the odds-on favourite going in, but Trudeau surprised everyone with a third-round TKO.  The match was all for a good cause, raising over $200,000 for cancer research.  Following the bout, Brazeau kept his word, trimmed his trademark locks and wore a Liberal jersey on Parliament hill for a week.

Leaving aside the ethics of boxing or even boxing for charity, the story reminds one of the long history of duelling in western society.  Two men would go at one another with a sword or pistol to resolve their differences.  Many know the story of how astronomer Tyco Brahe ended up with a metallic nose implant because of a duel that didn’t go his way.  But did you know there is a story involving two Reformed theologians and a duel?

The story happened at the great Synod of Dort in 1619.  It was January, not exactly the season for warm and happy moods in northern climes like the Netherlands.  The Synod was wrestling with the question of the extent of Christ’s atonement.  The Arminians had argued that Christ died to make salvation possible for all.  Reformed theologians maintained that Christ died only for the elect.  However, there were some theologians who tried to moderate between these two positions.  One of those was Matthias Martinius, a German delegate from the Reformed church in Bremen.

Franciscus Gomarus was a Dutch professor delegated to the Synod.  He would have nothing of moderation on this point.  Gomarus was getting angrier with Martinius.  Finally, towards the end of the day, Gomarus literally threw down his glove at the Synod and challenged Martinius to a duel.  Gomarus wanted to go at it with Martinius right there in front of the Synod!  Martinius had a cooler head and refused.  The Synod president stepped in and called it a day, finishing with Bible reading and prayer, hoping that these devotions would defuse the potential violence.  No sooner had the president said “Amen,” then Gomarus went after Martinius again and challenged him to armed combat.  To his credit, Martinius walked away and the two never did get into the proposed duel.  Thankfully, Reformed synods no longer feature such antics.  But will we see more of it in Canadian politics?

The above originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Reformed Perspective.