Johannes Bogerman and His Powdering Speech

Johannes Bogerman and His Powdering Speech

            “Dimittimini exiteI” (“You are dismissed, get out!”) With these imperious words, Johannes Bogerman (1576-1637), president of the Synod of Dordt, expressed what many of the delegates were had been painfully thinking. The Remonstrants had to leave.

Bogerman and the Synod

            This decision had come after weeks of discussions. The Synod had opened on November 13, 1618, called by the States General (governing body) of the Dutch Republic. Johannes Bogerman, then pastor of Leeuwarden, Friesland (now in northern Holland), was chosen as president.

            The appointment came as a confirmation of his reputation. Son of a converted Roman Catholic priest, Bogerman had studied in the main European universities of his time (including Franeker, Heidelberg, Geneva, Zurich, Lausanne, Oxford and Cambridge), particularly excelling in the study of Hebrew.

            He had been a pastor since 1599, serving in various cities of Holland and Friesland, his homeland. There, he defended the teachings of the Reformation against the views of Anabaptists, Socinians, Jesuits, and Remonstrants who tried to influence his congregations. The Remonstrants, who had taken the emphasis of Jacob Arminius on human free will to a whole new level, were particularly active in the Netherlands at that time, and were the main reason for the convocation of the Synod.

            The delegates at Synod were mostly from the Netherlands. Some came from other European countries, such as Switzerland, Germany, and the British Isles. A French delegation had been invited, but King Louis XIII prevented them from attending, so they had to communicate with the synod by mail.

            Inviting some Remonstrants was an afterthought. Bogerman and others thought it would be best to hear from them in person. After a while, it became clear this it was not a workable solution.

            The thirteen attending Remonstrants resented the fact that they had been called to defend their views. They wanted to be called as delegates, on equal standing with the others, and wanted their teachings to be considered as viable interpretations of the Bible. The Reformed pastors, on the other hand, were not ready to depart from the teachings of the Reformation, as were clearly explained in the Reformed confessions.

            Convinced of the impossibility of a debate, the Remonstrants stated their refusal to consider the Synod a rightful judge in ecclesiastical matters. Instead of answering the delegates’ questions, they tried to delay the proceedings and to veer the discussion toward minor issues on which the delegates didn’t see eye-to-eye.

            Finally, after a series of discussions, the delegates took the States General’s suggestion to judge the Remonstrants on the basis of their writings. On January 14, 1619, Bogerman delivered the dismissal speech with the legendary passion which is typically attributed to Frisians.

            “I will dismiss you,” he said, “with no other elogy than what one of the foreigners gave you: with a lie you made your entrance into the Synod; with a lie you take your leave of it. […] Your actions have been full of fraud, equivocations, and deceit. […] But I assure you the synod shall make known your pertinacity to the world; and know that the Belgic churches want not arma spiritualia, with which in time convenient, they will proceed against you.”[1]

            While the other delegates agreed with the decision, some were surprised by Bogerman’s tone. The British representative Walter Balcanqual (the only Scotsman at Dordt), reported to Sir Dudley Carlton, British ambassador at the Hague, that the Remonstrants had been “called in and dismissed with such a powdering speech as I doubt not but your Lordship hath heard with grief enough.”

            Balcanqual felt “much afflicted” by the event, mainly because it gave the Remonstrants a new reason to complain about their treatment. At the same time, he recognized they had until then displayed “incredible obstinacy.”[2]

            After the departure of the Remonstrants, the meeting proceeding more smoothly. Their written statements were prayerfully considered and answered in a document known as Canons of Dordt. Bogerman supervised the drafting of this document, and was the main author of Article One.

Bogerman’s Bible Translation

            The Remonstrance was not the only subject of the Synod. Other matters were discussed, particularly in the early weeks before the Remonstrants arrived. One of these was the need for a complete Dutch translation of the Bible – a project that had been delayed due to the persecution inflicted by Catholic Spain.

            Due to his proficiency in the Hebrew language, Bogerman was chosen as one of the translators of the Old Testament. The translators first met in his home in 1626. The full translation was completed six years later. The complete Bible, the Statenvertaling (States’ Translation) was printed in 1637, after the necessary revisions.

            The Statenvertaling continued to be the main Dutch Bible until the early 21th century, when new versions took its place. Recognizing the excellence of the Statenvertaling, the modern translators kept it as their starting point.

            In December 1636, Bogerman became professor in the University of Franeker. The university had already requested his services as early as 1614, but at that time his church had refused to let him go. He died in September 1637.

            His importance is widely recognized in the Netherlands, where a college and several schools are named after him.

[1] The Contemporary Review, vol. 5, London: Alexander Strahan, 1867, p. 204.

[2] John Hales, Golden remains of the ever memorable Mr. John Hales of Eton College, London : Printed for Tim. Garthwait, 1659, p. 61.


Simonetta Carr