Episcopius, Simon (Dutch, Bisschop), an eminent and learned Arminian theologian, was born in January 1583, at Amsterdam, where he received his school education. In 1600 he went to the University of Leyden, where he took his degree of M.A. in 1606. He thenceforward devoted himself to the study of theology. "Earnestly," says Curcellaeus (in his eulogy on Episcopius), "did he listen to the lectures of those very learned professors, Francis Gomarus, Luke Trelcatius, and James Arminius; and in the exercises of debates and harangues, which they commonly called theses, he left many of his equals far in the distance, and was highly esteemed as one worthy of being called to the ministry of the divine word. But when, especially after the death of Trelcatius, that terrible discussion on predestination, which afterwards agitated all Holland, finally arose, and was not only secretly carried on between the two professors, but also broke forth into open violence, our Episcopius became favorably inclined towards the Arminian doctrines. For this reason he received little favor from the pastors on the opposite side of the controversy, so that when the very illustrious councils of the state of Amsterdam, to whom the singular learning and piety of Episcopius had become known, would have invited him to become their preacher, these pastors, by causing delays, entirely frustrated the plans of the councils. Episcopius, disheartened at this affair, determined to leave the academy at Leyden, and in the year 1609 (in 'which' year Arminius died) he betook himself to the Franeker Academy, belonging to the Frisii, incited especially by the fame of that most illustrious man and learned professor of the sacred language, John Drusius. But there he displayed, as youths of a bold mind are wont, such a zeal in the theological discussions, that he gave not a little offense to Sibrandus Lubbertus, a professor of that academy. Accordingly, a few months after, he departed and came into France, where in a brief space of time he obtained so fair a mastery of the French language that he not only understood it, but could speak it with considerable ease and purity. Finally, in the year 1610, he returned to his native land, only to receive the same tokens of ill will." In that year he was ordained pastor of Bleyswick, a village near Rotterdam. In 1611 a colloquy was held at the Hague, by order of the States General, with a view to ending the agitating controversy between the Gomarists and Arminians, between six Remonstrant pastors and six Contra-Remonstrants. Episcopius, as one of the six Remonstrants, displayed so much learning and skill that his fame spread through all the country. In 1612 he was appointed professor of theology in the University of Leyden, as successor of Gomarus. Here his pre-eminent talents had full scope, and his reputation grew rapidly. The Gomarist controversy, however, waxed hotter and hotter; the orthodoxy of Episcopius was called in question by his theological opponents; and the rage of the Calvinistic party among the populace even went so far as to threaten violence. In 1614 he went to Amsterdam to attend a baptism, and the minister, Heyden, having stigmatized him as a heretic, he was saved from stoning only by the zeal of his friends. A blacksmith once ran after him with a hot iron with the cry, "Stop the Arminian disturber of the Church," and would probably have murdered him but for the interference of bystanders.
The Synod of Dort was held in 1618. SEE DORT. Episcopius was the chief spokesman of the Arminians. At the 23d session he delivered a discourse of great power, which is to be found in his Works, in Limborch's Vita Episcopii, and in Calder's Life of Episcopius (N.Y. 1837, chapter 10). The synod condemned the Arminians, and by the aid of the civil, government banished the Remonstrant ministers. Episcopius retired first to Antwerp, where he wrote his Responsio ad duas Petri Waddingii Jesuitae Epistolas (1621, on the Rule of Faith and on the Worship of Images); his celebrated Confessio Fidei Remonstrantium (Remonstrants' Confession of Faith, 1622; Opera, volume 3); Antidotum, sive genu. ina Declaratio sent. Synodi Dordracence (Opera, volume 2, Lond. 1678). When the war between Spain and the Netherlands was renewed, Episcopius took refuge in France, residing chiefly in Paris (1621-1626). Here he published Paraphrasis in cap. 8-11 Epist. ad Romanos (Paraphrase on Romans 8-11, Opera, volume 1); Bodecherus Ineptiens (Bodecherus the Simple; a defense of the Remonstrants against the charge of Socinianism; Examen thesium J. Capelli (on the Calvinistic and Arminian Controversy in Belgium); Tractatus de Libero Arbitrio (Opera, volume 1); Correspondence with Job. Cameron on Grace and Free Will (Opera, volume 1). On the death of Prince Maurice (1625) the persecution of the Remonstrants slackened, and it became safe for Episcopius to return to his country in 1626, when he became minister to the Remonstrants of Rotterdam. Here he published Apologiapro Confessione, etc. (Apology for the Confession of the Remonstrants), and other controversial tracts (Opera, volume 3). In 1634 he was made rector of the newly-established college of the Remonstrants at Amsterdam, where the rest of his life was spent in diligent and successful teaching, and in constant literary and pastoral activity. The fruits of his lectures appear in permanent form in his Institutiones Theologicae, lib. 4, which, however, was left unfinished, and published posthumously (Opera, volume 1); and also in Responsio ad Quaestiones Theologicas 54 (Answers to 64 questions in theology proposed by stu: dents). He died April 4, 1643.
Episcopius was acknowledged, even by his enemies, to be a man of very rare abilities, as well as of great learning. Heidanus (one of his opponents) says he was endowed with "great learning, penetration, eloquence, and skill." His friend Uitenbogaert declared that he had never met a theologian "to be compared with Episcopius for his knowledge of the Scriptures and of divine subjects." Mabillon recommends his Institutes as of great value to students of divinity, except the parts in which he speaks against Romanist doctrines. Bull (in his Judgment of the Catholic Church) speaks of him as the "very learned Episcopius." His talent for controversy was of a very high order; but his Institutes shows that he also possessed the power of clear and luminous statement to a rare degree. The theology of Episcopius is, in substance, that of Arminius. He has been charged with Socinianism, but his writings, controversial and other, sufficiently refute that charge as brought not only against him, but against the early Remonstrants in general. The charge was in part due to the fact that he held the ethical side of Christianity to be the test of communion rather than the doctrinal; holding that Christianity is not so much a doctrine as a life, and that it has its doctrines only with a view to its life. The two great champions of the doctrine of the Trinity in England, Waterland and Bull, both wrote against Episcopius. Waterland (Importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity, Works, Oxford, 1853, 3:440 sq.) states that Episcopius holds "the doctrine of the Trinity, as to the main substance of it, to be certain and clear, but yet not necessary to be believed in order to salvation," and adds that the doctrine is "taught in full and strong terms in the 'Confession of the Remonstrants,' and in other places in the works of Episcopius." He then goes on, and successfully, to show the error and danger of the unguarded statement of Episcopius as to its importance. Bull's Judgment of the Catholic Church on the necessity of believing that our Lord Jesus Christ is very God (Works on the Trinity, Oxford, 1854, volume 3), was written expressly to refute the statement of Episcopius (Institutes, book 4, chapter 34, § 2), that "in the primitive churches, during at least three centuries, the belief and profession of the special divine sonship of Christ was not judged necessary to salvation." It is hardly necessary to say that Bull makes out his case. He does not, however, charge Episcopius with doctrinal error, but with too great and even dangerous liberality. He states also that, "although Episcopius was a man of unquestionably great ability, and in many respects possessed learning of no ordinary kind, yet he but little consulted or regarded, nay, he actually despised the writings of the ancient fathers and doctors." But on this see Limborch (cited by Calder, Life of Episcopius, N.Y. ed. page 433). After the death of Episcopius, Jurieu charged him with Socinianism, which gave rise to a sharp letter from Clericus (Le Clerc) refuting the charge (see Bayle, s.v. Episcopius).
The writings of Episcopius were collected by Curcellaeus, who published volume 1, Amst. 1650, with a sketch of the author's life; volume 2, edited by Poelenburg, appeared in 1665. A second edition was published under the title S. Episcopii opera omnia theologica, cum autographo collata, et a mendis aliquot gravioribus repurgata (Lond. 1678, 2 volumes, fol.). His life was also written by Philip Limborch, first in Dutch, and afterwards enlarged in Latin (Hist. Vitc S. Episcopii, etc., Amst. 1701). There is an English version of his Labyrinthus Pontificius under the title Popish Labyrinth, or a Treatise on Infallibility (Lond. 1763). See also Calder, Memoirs of Simon Episcopius (New York, 1837, 12mo); Heppe, in Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 4:100; a translation of Curcellseus's sketch, in the Methodist Quarterly Review, October 1863, page 612; Nichols, Calvinism and A rminianism compared (Lond. 1824. 2 volumes, 8vo); Morison, On the ninth of Romans, page 40 (Kilmarnock, 1849, 8vo); Schrdckh, Kirchengeschichte seit d. Reformation, 5:239-296; and the articles SEE ARMINIANISM; SEE DORT; SEE REMONSTRANTS.