Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Calvin, Supralapsarianism, and God's Sovereignty

By Dave Armstrong

[originally compiled in 1996 / revised and expanded: 21 October 2001 / slightly revised again on 6-27-06]

The following observations are intended as an exploration of what are - in my humble opinion - difficulties within the system of Calvinism (i.e., classical Protestantism). I am open to correction, and fully realize that these are very deep theological and philosophical waters.

John Calvin's words will be in blue; cited scholars' words in green. Emphases throughout (bolding and CAPITALS) are added. Italics are in the original.

* * * * *


I. Introduction

II. Summary of Catholic (and Arminian) Critique

III. Supralapsarianism: Definition

IV. Double and Single Predestination: Definitions and Calvin's View

V. Supralapsarianism and Positive Reprobation in Calvin (Including Opinions of Several Reformed and Other Protestant Scholars)

VI. Secondary Cause

VII. The Catholic Solution

VIII. God as the Author of Evil in Supralapsarian Calvinism

IX. St. Thomas Aquinas and Predestination

X. Molinism: An Explanatory Slight Digression

I. Introduction

John Calvin wrote:

. . . whence does it happen that Adam's fall irremediably involved so many peoples, together with their infant offspring, in eternal death unless because it so pleased God? . . . The decree is dreadful indeed, I confess. Yet no one can deny that God foreknew what end man was to have before he created him, and consequently foreknew because HE SO ORDAINED BY HIS DECREE . . . God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his descendants, but also METED IT OUT IN ACCORDANCE WITH HIS OWN DECISION.

(Institutes of the Christian Religion, III, 23, 7, McNeill / Battles edition, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960, Vol. 2, 955-956)

It is held by many Calvinist scholars that at least some elements of Calvin's teachings suggest supralapsarianism (i.e., the belief that God predestined the Fall itself), though the majority of his followers must be classified as infralapsarians. Calvin's own thought, it should be noted, recognizes paradox and mystery, and is not expressed in the more technical, philosophical, "scholastic" terminology which has characterized many Calvinists in the next generation after Calvin and thereafter.

God - in the supralapsarian view - would appear to be the author of sin and of evil, since He decreed it from eternity. Luther and Zwingli also held similar views. But God need not be the author and cause of sin. Neither omnipotence nor the doctrine of creation require it. And God's omnibenevolence precludes it.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church states:

According to him [Calvin], before the Fall and even before creation, God, in his eternal counsels, predestined some of His creatures to salvation and others to damnation. This entails that God wills not only the reprobation of the damned but also the sin which leads to it, as he who wills the end must will the means. This doctrine was later, however, rejected by the more moderate Calvinists.

(edited by F.L. Cross, Oxford Univ. Press, revised edition, 1983, 224, "Calvinism")

Alister McGrath, who published a biography of Calvin in 1990, writes:

Predestination, for Augustine, refers only to the divine decision to redeem, not to the act of abandoning the remainder of fallen humanity.

For Calvin, logical rigour demands that God actively chooses to redeem or to damn. God cannot be thought of as doing something by default: he is active and sovereign in his actions. Therefore God actively wills the salvation of those who will be saved and the damnation of those who will not.

(Reformation Thought, 2nd edition., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993, 125)

Salvation thus lies outside the control of the individual, who is powerless to alter the situation.

(Ibid., 127)

Likewise, his description of Zwingli's belief seems to me to illustrate that he held to essentially the same idea:

Whether an individual is saved or condemned is totally a matter for God, who freely makes his decision from eternity.

(Ibid., 121)

II. Summary of Catholic (and Arminian) Critique

How is this not an "efficient source" of evil, seeing that God "actively wills" the damnation of the reprobate (assuming McGrath's correctness in his summary), and also seeing that - this being the case - the actuality of events cannot be otherwise?

My critique is not that Calvinism isn't logical or consistent; rather, that it is consistent to the detriment of God's goodness (especially in its supralapsarian variety). Its logic flows - unfortunately - consistently from its premises, by and large. It is primarily an issue of God's goodness and justice.

I deny the premises of Calvinism, and indeed I reject all five points of TULIP (although "U" and "I" are somewhat close calls, and I believe the Thomistic position would approximate those). Calvinists attempt to apply nuances and qualifications to this matter, but the fact remains that the "condemned" are utterly powerless to act or choose otherwise. The end result is the same, however God brings it about by His alleged decree to reprobation. It is the end result which is reprehensible, given Calvinist premises, not the means, whatever they are. Hell, it seems to me, can only be consistent with God's all-loving, all-merciful character if it is a place / condition / state which creatures freely choose of their own volition.

I say double predestination is unjust because it doesn't apply to all men equally. The only reply to that seems to always be (from my reading Luther and Calvin, and talking to Calvinists): "who are YOU to judge what God does or doesn't do?" To which I would reply: "Who are YOU to turn God into a capricious, unjust tyrant?" God cannot be in conflict with the laws of morality which He has revealed to us. God is love.

III. Supralapsarianism: Definition

According to this view, God in order to manifest His grace and justice selected from 'creatable' men (i.e., from merely possible men whom He had not yet purposed to create) a certain number to be vessels of mercy and certain others to be vessels of wrath. In the order of thought, election and reprobation precede the purposes to create and to permit the fall. Creation is a means to the end of redemption. God creates some to be saved and others to be lost.

This scheme is called supralapsarianism because it supposes that men before the fall were the objects of election to eternal life and foreordination to eternal death . . . [On the other hand,] those who adopt the Augustinian system are infralapsarians. That is, they hold that it was from the mass of fallen men that some were elected to eternal life and others, in just punishment for their sins, were foreordained to eternal death . . .

A further objection to the supralapsarian scheme is that it is not consistent with the Scriptural exhibition of the character of God. He is declared to be a God of mercy and justice. But it is not compatible with these divine attributes that men should be foreordained to misery and eternal death before they apostatized from God. If they are passed by and foreordained to death for their sins, it must be that in predestination they are contemplated as guilty and fallen creatures.

(Charles Hodge [5-Point Calvinist], Systematic Theology, adridged edition, Edward N. Gross, ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988, orig. 1873, 326, under heading, "Supralapsarianism")

We hold the Sublapsarian view, as distinguished from the Supralapsarianism of Beza and other hyper-Calvinists, which regarded the decree of individual salvation as preceding, in the order of thought, the decree to permit the Fall. In this latter scheme, the order of decrees is as follows: 1. the decree to save certain, and to reprobate others; 2. the decree to create both those who are to be saved and those who are to be reprobated; 3. the decree to permit both the former and the latter to fall; 4. the decree to provide salvation only for the former, that is, for the elect.

Richards, Theology, 302-307, shows that Calvin, while in his early work, the Institutes, he avoided definite statements of his position with regard to the extent of the atonement, yet in his latter works, the Commentaries, acceded to the theory of universal atonement [Strong cites, e.g., his commentary on 1 Jn 2:2]. Supralapsarianism is therefore hyper-Calvinistic, rather than Calvinistic. Sublapsarianism was adopted by the Synod of Dort (1618, 1619) . . .

(Augustus H. Strong [4-Point Calvinist, or Amyraldian], Systematic Theology, Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1907, 777)

IV. Double and Single Predestination: Definitions and Calvin's View

Single predestination refers to God's election to glory (for Calvinists, this election is unconditional) of those who will eschatologically be saved. Catholics (whether Thomist, Molinist, or Augustinian) have no objection to this view (Molinists take into account the place of foreseen merits or demerits in this election, in which God is still absolutely the primary Cause), so it need not detain us.

Double predestination involves an unconditional positive decree of reprobation and the resolve of God to punish these non-elect eternally in hell. Many Calvinists seem to think that this is a caricature of Calvin's position, but it was part and parcel of his theology, just as it was of Luther's and Zwingli's. Many Protestant and/or Calvinist sources corroborate this:

But to recognize that Calvin taught double predestination . . . is not to say that this must be taken to be the very centre of his teaching . . .

Calvin was never content with the statement that God, in his goodness, elected to salvation a certain number of men taken from the mass of sinners; he thought that those who had not been chosen had also been the object of a special decree, that of reprobation . . . on this particular point Calvin diverges from St. Augustine, for whom the elect alone are the object of a special decision which withdraws them from the 'massa perditionis,' while the reprobate are simply abandoned by God to the ruin they have incurred by their sins (De correptione et gratia, 7,12, M.L. xliv, 923).

(Francois Wendel, Calvin: The Origins and Development of His Religious Thought, tr. Philip Mairet, New York: Harper & Row, 1963, 264, 280)

Calvin advanced beyond Augustine in two ways. The great African theologian had represented God as active in election to life only. The lost were simply passed over and left to the deserved consequences of sin. To Calvin's thinking, election and reprobation are both alike manifestations of the divine activity. In Augustine's estimate, not all believers even are given the grace of perseverance . . . Calvin's severe logic, insistent that all salvation is independent of merit, led him to assert that damnation is equally antecedent to and independent of demerit . . . The sole cause of salvation or of loss is the divine choice.

(Williston Walker, John Calvin, New York: Schocken Books, 1969 [orig. 1906], 417)

Probably no one knew better than Calvin himself that the doctrine of double predestination is not popular . . .

Calvin emphatically contended that sinful works are not the cause or basis for God's eternal decree of reprobation . . .

What is the cause of God's decree of reprobation? Calvin's answer is, the sovereign good pleasure of God. No cause other than His sovereign will can be adduced . . .

For Calvin, then, God's sovereign will is the ultimate cause of Adam's fall and of reprobation, while human sin is the proximate cause.

(Fred H. Klooster, Calvin's Doctrine of Predestination, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977, 55, 61, 63, 70)

The dogma of a double predestination is the corner-stone of the Calvinistic system . . .

Predestination, therefore, implies a twofold decree - a decree of election unto holiness and salvation, and a decree of reprobation unto death on account of sin and guilt. Calvin deems them inseparable.

(Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 8, 3rd ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1910, 545, 551)

The Reformers of the 16th century all advocated the strictest doctrine of predestination . . . Calvin firmly maintained the Augustinian doctrine of an absolute double predestination.

(Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949, 110)

[Speaking of Calvin's view]: Reprobation to damnation by the eternal will of God was an ineluctable corollary of election to salvation by the same eternal will of God; it was not based on God's foreknowledge of human conduct any more than salvation was . . .

[Calvin argued] that the only possible doctrine of predestination was a doctrine of double predestination.

(Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, v. 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma {1300-1700}, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984, 222, 224)

Thomists hold to a negative, rather than absolute or positive reprobation (just as Augustine did, as described above). The question at hand isn't the existence of reprobation, but the nature of it.

V. Supralapsarianism and Positive Reprobation in Calvin (Including Opinions of Several Reformed and Other Protestant Scholars)

At least three of the five scholars cited below are prominent Calvinists, and the other two are evangelical Protestants of some sort, as far as I can tell (Philip Schaff being one). Thus far, I have taken my definition of supralapsarianism from prominent Presbyterian (Calvinist) theologian Charles Hodge, and have backed up my contention that the "Reformers" held to double predestination. Calvin himself shall be cited in in conclusion:

According to Dr. Dijk the two views under consideration were in their original form simply a difference of opinion respecting the question, whether the fall of man was also included in the divine decree. Was the first sin of man, constituting his fall, predestinated, or was this merely the object of divine foreknowledge? In their original form, Supralapsarianism held the former, and Infralapsarianism, the latter. In this sense of the word CALVIN WAS CLEARLY A SUPRALAPSARIAN.

(Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 4th rev. ed., 1949, 118)

Only in the later DEVELOPMENT of the doctrine of election the element of succession began to play an important part.

Originally it was a matter of different interpretations of the relationship between predestination and the fall. The question arose whether in the counsel of God the fall of man had been willed by Him. According to Dijk, two different answers were given: the answer of Luther, Zwingli and CALVIN, who all taught that the fall was comprised in the counsel of God, and the answer of Bullinger, who did not dare to go that far, but wanted to speak only of 'praescientia' . . .

According to the first view, rejection was ultimately based on the good pleasure of God, while according to the second view it was primarily connected with sin ('praevisio peccati'). 'And this,' says Dijk, 'is the fundamental difference between SUPRA and infra.' He calls the view according to which the problem is a matter of succession 'incomplete.' Bullinger, as a representative of the original INFRA position, saw rejection as an act of God's justice against sin, which therefore preceded the 'justitia,' and upon which the divine answer of the 'justitia' followed. This shows clearly that the relation between predestination and the fall is at stake . . .

Dijk writes: 'Although THE SUPRA PRESENTATION IS THE ONE OF THE REFORMATION, no one will maintain that the infra presentation is contrary to Calvin's teachings.

(Gerritt Berkouwer, Divine Election, tr. Hugo Bekker, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960, 257, 260-61)

Presbyterian Calvinism is best represented by the theological systems of Charles Hodge, W.G.T. Shedd, and Henry B. Smith . . . they DISSENT from Calvin's views by their INFRALAPSARIANISM . . . CALVIN was claimed by both schools. HE MUST BE CLASSED RATHER WITH THE SUPRALAPSARIANS, like Beza, Gomarus, Twysse, and Emmons. He saw the inconsistency of exempting from the divine foreordination the most important event in history, which involved the whole race in ruin. 'It is not absurd,' he says, 'to assert that God not only foresaw, but also foreordained the fall of Adam and the ruin of his posterity.' He expressly rejects the distinction between permission ('permissio') and volition ('voluntas') in God, who cannot permit what he does not will. 'What reason,' he asks, 'shall we assign for God's permitting the destruction of the impious, but because it is his will?' [Inst., III, 23, 7-8] . . .

In 'Inst.' III, ch. XXIV. 12, Calvin uses STRONG SUPRALAPSARIAN LANGUAGE [this will be cited below] . . . In the 'Consensus Genevensis' (Niemeyer, p.251), he says that the fall was ordained by the admirable counsel of God ('admirabili Dei consilio fuisse ordinatum'). BEZA UNDERSTOOD CALVIN CORRECTLY.

(Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 8, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 3rd rev. ed., 1910, 544, 553-554)


The reprobate like the elect [i.e., acc. to Calvin] are appointed to be so by the secret counsel of God's will and by nothing else (Instit, II. xxii. 11). Though their life justifies that will, their rejection is not determined originally because of their life. Rather the life is the outcome of the decree, the decree necessitating that the life should be such as justified it . . . .

Calvin . . . held that their fate was the direct immediate appointment of God, justified indeed by their life but not its necessary consequence . . . that doom was fixed from all eternity and nothing in them could transfer them to the contrary class any more than anything in the elect could result in their becoming reprobate . . .

Calvin was compelled to attribute this Fall also to the divine decree . . . It was not merely foreseen but deliberately foreordained . . .

Calvin himself, ever imbued with practical religious aims and dogmatic only when authorised by Scripture, seems to have given the question little definite thought. His position is certainly sufficiently undefined to allow of BOTH PARTIES claiming him as a sponsor for their view . . .

The Consensus Genevensis (1552) assumes the SUPRALAPSARIAN view, while the French Confession, of which Calvin was practically the author, is infralapsarian in affirming that God chose out of the universal corruption and damnation in which all men were submerged some to eternal life. Cunningham strongly asserts that the latter more truly represents the Reformer's real opinion, YET IT WAS SIGNIFICANT THAT BEZA, WHO SO LARGELY ECHOED CALVIN, WAS A SUPRALAPSARIAN . . .

The Westminster Confession attempts a compromise on this as on so many points, assigning the Fall of Adam to a permissive decree, but nevertheless including it in the eternal purpose of God who ordered it for his own glory. It is highly probable that Calvin himself would have objected to such phraseology. He declined to accept the distinction between the permission of God and His volition, on the ground that God cannot permit what He does not will; to permit is for Him synonymous with willing.

Later scholastic Calvinists . . . tried to eliminate from the doctrine what was repulsive by stating it in a negative way, characterising God's act as of the nature of a 'praeteritio' (passing over) or an 'indebitae gratiae negatio' (the denial of unmerited grace) in contradistinction from 'praedamnatio' or 'debitae poenae destinatio' (appointment to merited punishment) . . . This is the term adopted by the Westminster Confession . . . Calvin would again have declined to see any real distinction. To pass by the reprobate was equivalent to permitting them to suffer the merited penalty of their sins, and with God permission amounts to volition.

(A. Mitchell Hunter [New College, Edinburgh], The Teaching of Calvin, Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 2nd rev. ed., 1950, 108-110, 119, 127-128)

Calvin goes beyond Augustine in his explicit assertion of double predestination, in which the reprobation of those not elected is a specific determination of God's inscrutable will . . . He feels under obligation to close the door to the notion that anything happens otherwise than under the control of the divine will . . .

He is not content to confine the function of God's will to his having 'passed by' the nonelect in bestowing his saving grace: the action of his will is not 'preterition' but 'reprobation' . . .

This passage briefly shows Calvin as FAVORING THE SUPRALAPSARIAN as opposed to the infralapsarian view of the decrees of God. The issue became controversial in the Netherlands shortly after Calvin's death.

(John T. McNeill, editor of Calvin's Institutes, from his own edition, tr. Ford Lewis Battles, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960, Vol. 1, lviii-lix, 469)

The Calvin "passage" to which McNeill refers above is the following (II, 12, 5, v.1, p. 469):

Here, surely, the fall of Adam is not presupposed as preceding God's decree in time; but it is what God determined before all ages that is shown, when he willed to heal the misery of mankind.

Other Calvin utterances which in my opinion lend themselves strongly to a supralapsarian interpretation include the following, from the same edition of the Institutes:

If, then, we cannot determine a reason why he vouchsafes mercy to his own, except that it so pleases him, neither shall we have any reason for rejecting others, other than his will. For when it is said that God hardens or shows mercy to whom he wills, men are warned by this to seek no cause outside his will . . .

Those whom God passes over, he condemns; and this he does for no other reason than that he wills to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines for his own children . . .

we have by now been taught that hardening is in God's hand and will, just as much as mercy is [Rom 9:14 ff.] . . . This plainly means that all those whom the Heavenly Father has not deigned to plant as sacred trees in his field are marked and intended for destruction . . . "God aroused Pharaoh [Rom 9:17]; then, 'he hardens whom he pleases' [Rom 9:18]. From this it follows that God's secret plan is the cause of the hardening . . .

(III, 22, 11 / III, 23, 1, Vol. 2, 947-949)

It is not in itself likely that man brought destruction upon himself through himself, by God's mere permission and without any ordaining. As if God did not establish the condition in which he wills the chief of his creatures to be! . . . Besides, their perdition depends upon the predestination of God in such a way that the cause and occasion of it are found in themselves . . .

Man falls according as God's providence ordains, but he falls by his own fault.

(III, 23, 8, Vol. 2, 956-957)

In order to attain logical harmony, Calvin must adopt some notion of God's permissive will. But Schaff, Hunter, and McNeill alike state above that Calvin declines to accept such a distinction. So he is left with a seeming severe inconsistency. Thus, infralapsarians have softened this very position by retreating somewhat to a "permissive" / preterition stance hardly different from the Catholic Thomistic and Tridentine understanding.

As God by the effectual working of his call to the elect perfects the salvation to which by his eternal plan he has destined them, so he has his judgments against the reprobate, by which he executes his plan for them. What of those, then, whom he created for dishonor in life and destruction in death, to become the instruments of his wrath and examples of his severity? . . .

The supreme Judge, then, makes way for his predestination when he leaves in blindness those whom he has once condemned and deprived of participation in his light.

(III, 24, 12, Vol. 2, 978-979)

Dr P.N. Archbald: the Minister of the Reformed Church of Masterton, who has recently completed his PhD thesis on Beza through the Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia:

Mind you, there are places where Calvin sounds rather supralapsarian himself. The whole debate is difficult and complex. It is clear from Beza's letter to Calvin that he raised questions that went further than Calvin down the supralapsarian road. What is not entirely clear to me is where Beza ended up. His published statements are rather ambiguous, in my opinion. But even if Beza did end up a fully-fledged supralapsarian, let us keep in mind that this view has always been considered acceptable in Reformed circles, even if it is not the majority opinion.

Herman Bavinck, History of the Doctrine of the Decree of Predestination:

The three Reformers: Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, arrived at the supralapsarian view: election and reprobation are deeds of God's sovereignty, logically preceding God's decree concerning the fall. Nevertheless, Calvin often follows the infralapsarian reasoning . . .

. . . many Thomists, Alvarez, the Salmanticenses, Estius, Sylvius. etc., taught that negative reprobation precedes the fall and that it is purely an act of God's sovereignty and good pleasure. Nevertheless, this supralapsarian reprobation was viewed as wholly negative, i.e., as God's purpose not to elect certain individuals, to permit them to fall, and afterward to ordain them to everlasting punishment (positive reprobation). Essentially, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and all supralapsarian Reformed theologians never went beyond this point. They neither taught a "predestination unto sins" nor did they represent God as the author of sin, as is falsely charged by Roman Catholics, . . .

. . . all three Reformers arrived at the so-called supralapsarian view of the doctrine of predestination, according to which both election and reprobation are to be viewed as acts of God's sovereignty, logically preceding God's decree concerning the fall, sin, and redemption through Christ. But it is especially Calvin who often purposely refuses to go beyond the secondary causes of salvation and perdition, and therefore often reasons in an infralapsarian manner . . .

. . . when Pighius answers Calvin by objecting that according to the latter's view there would have been in the divine mind a "distinction between elect and reprobate previous to the fall of man," Calvin indeed answers that Pighius fails to distinguish between "proximate and remote causes," that every reprobate must consider his own sin to be the direct cause of his perdition, and that the opposite view is handicapped with the same objections, he does not deny the validity of the conclusion drawn by Pighius: there is a "secret divine decree" anteceding the fall, The final and deepest cause of reprobation as well as of election is the will of God. Hence, with Calvin the supralansarian and infralapsarian representation alternates. This is also true of most of the later theologians who embraced supralapsarianism. They regard the supralapsarian view to be admissible they do not think of condemning infralapsarianism or of demanding that their view be embodied in the official confession of the church as the only standard of truth. They do not ask that their own view he substituted for the infralapsarian representation but they plead for actual recognition of both views . . .

. . . the Synod [of Dort] purposely refused to condemn supralapsarianism; for, various theologians, among whom were Calvin, Beza, Piscator, Perkins, Hommins, Bogerman, etc., had at times used strong expression; e.g., "that some men are created in order that they may be damned; that men viewed as innocent are reprobated or damned; that God hates men irrespective of sin; that men were predestinated unto sin; that God has need of man as a sinner; that God willed and brought about the fact that men sinned; that God acted insincerely in the calling of certain persons," etc. At the conference held in the Hague the Remonstrants had made ready use of these expressions and of the difference between infra- and supralapsarianism; consequently, the members of the synod were intent on avoiding such "phrases that were too harsh." But when the delegates from England, Bremen, and Hesse insisted that these expressions be condemned, the Synod refused to grant this request. In defence of this refusal Synod stated that Scripture also uses very strong expressions at times, that such phrases may have a much milder meaning when examined in their context than they appear to have when considered apart from their context, and that the responsibility for them rests with the respective authors.

12. "John Gill and the Charge of Hyper-Calvinism," Baptist Quarterly, October 1995.

Hoad links Hyper-Calvinism closely with Supralapsarianism and seems to suggest that the one is a definition of the other. Whether Gill was a Superlapsarian or not, however, is irrelevant to the question of whether he was a Hyper-Calvinist or not. This is especially the case as many writers look upon Calvin as a Supralapsarian himself! Schaff dismisses the relevancy of such theory-building, nevertheless, he argues guardedly that because Calvin taught that the Fall cannot be excluded from God`s decrees and that it is futile to distinguish between what God wills and what God permits, Calvin "must be classed rather with the Supralapsarians ."

Louis Berkoff, in his standard work Systematic Theology, agrees fully with Schaff about the speculative nature of both terms. Berkoff, however, is prepared to state dogmatically that "Calvin was clearly a Supralapsarian ." He says this because of Calvin's teaching that the Fall was included in the divine decrees. Thus rather than being "more Calvinistic than Calvin", to use Naylor`s definition culled from Fuller, in the point of Supralapsarianism, if Gill were a Supralapsarian he would be quite "as Calvinistic as Calvin" and because of this could hardly be called a Hyper-Calvinist or even High-Calvinist.

13. Michael Sudduth; Reformed philosopher:

That Calvin actually held to the supralapsarian position of later Calvinists is difficult to determine (since that debate made many conceptual distinctions that Calvin did not explicitly make). Nevertheless, his treatment of the potter-clay analogy of St. Paul, his numerous references which suggest a special decree of reprobation, and his refusal to speak of God permitting the fall as something conceptually distinct from God's willing the fall (see III, xxii, 8) provide good grounds for the later assertion that Calvin himself was supralapsarian in his predestination doctrine.

(From: "John Calvin's Doctrine of Predestination," McGrath Tutorial, Paper 5, February 16, 1993)

Michael Sudduth again:

Moreover, Calvin is quite aware that man of his contemporaries (such as Pighius) wanted to make predestination conditioned by foreseen actions (free actions) of men, such as foreseen faith or merits. Calvin stresses that there can be no cause outside God which determines the divine decree. God predestines neither on the grounds of what he foresees men will do in themselves or even on the grounds of what He will do in them. Hence, neither foreseen merit nor foreseen grace (given by God) is the ground of election to life. And it is highly probable that the freedom of God thus conceived leads Calvin to double predestination. If non-election is strictly parallel, then both must be unconditionally. Consequently, God predestines to life or to death without reference to merits or demerits. The allowance of sin in the picture has been suggested by some (Beza, Zanchius, and Gomarus) to indicate supralapsarian--God predestines men considered as unfallen, out of the pure mass of mankind, so that the decree of election and reprobation logically precede the decree of the fall. In this scheme sin is a means (instrumental cause) to the one end of God's glory. In other terms, Calvin's double predestination may well be a solid basis for viewing his conception of the logical order of the divine decrees as supralapsarian in structure.

(From: "Theology in Western Europe From Gabriel Biel to John Calvin": University of Oxford, M.Phil. Exam in Philosophical Theology, History of Christian Doctrine).

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, PART III. Soteriology / CHAPTER I. The Plan of Salvation / 2. Supralapsarianism:

The position of Calvin himself as to this point has been disputed. As it was not in his day a special matter of discussion, certain passages may be quoted from his writings which favour the supralapsarian and other passages which favour the infralapsarian view. In the Consensus Genevensis, written by him, there is an explicit assertion of the infralapsarian doctrine.

VI. Secondary Cause

I maintain that supralapsarianism (whether or not one thinks Calvin himself espoused it, in kernel, or primitive form) amounts to the proposition that God is the author of evil and sin. Infralapsarianism escapes this inherent difficulty. Supralapsarianism seems to me to be a more logically coherent but morally objectionable Calvinism, and damaging to the true doctrine of God.

Calvin taught concepts of various types of Aristotelian causation. In Inst. 2.17.2 Calvin accepts formal, secondary, proximate, causation. In 1.16.2 he cites formal, material, intrumental and principal causes. In 1.17.1 he has intermediaries, which are essentially second causes. Indeed, in 1.17.6, he discusses principal and secondary causes, and in 3.14.21, he notes efficient, material and instrumental causes.

But then, what does Calvin mean, when he says (I.17.1; Vol. 1, 210): "God's providence . . . is the DETERMINATIVE principle of all things . . .?" The mere existence of secondary causes doesn't necessarily resolve the difficulties inherent in supralapsarianism, vis-a-vis God's character. Does such a position, then, mean that Calvin acknowledges a "permissive will" in God, contrary to various Protestant scholars cited above? If not, Calvinists need to explain the logical distinction between "permissive will" and these nuances presently under consideration. The problem comes when Calvin delves into positive reprobation, not positive election, which is Thomistic and Catholic indeed. Does Calvin apply the same reasoning to reprobation that he does to election in this section?:

These do not prevent the Lord from embracing works as inferior causes. But how does this come about? Those whom the Lord has DESTINED by his mercy for the inheritance of eternal life he leads into possession of it . . .

In other words, nuances and causal complexities notwithstanding, God still "destined" (not just foreknew) certain ends. This is no problem with regard to the elect, as it involves no injustice or violation of God's goodness, but when it comes to reprobation, if this "destiny" doesn't flow from God's permissive will only, the logical conclusion would seem to entail a blasphemous notion of God as the author and active agent of sin, as condemned at the Council of Trent, in its Canon 6 on Justification:

If anyone says that it is not in man's power to make his ways evil, but that the works that are evil God works as well as those that are good, not permissibly only, but properly and of Himself, in such wise that the treason of Judas is no less His own proper work than the vocation of Paul; let him be anathema.
It appears quite difficult to deny that this is the supralapsarian view. What Catholics object to is God actively "willing" and "causing" sin, in any sense. He can permit it, but He need not (and must not) will it in the sense of a predetermined, predestined, preordained decree wholly independent of man's demerits, will, and actions. In Inst. III, 22, 11 and III, 23, 1-2, Calvin strongly asserts that there is no cause for reprobation other than God's "will," a reprobation which is "solely by his decision," etc. God either takes into account man's demerits and sinful actions (as in the Catholic and Arminian views) or He doesn't.

VII. The Catholic Solution

There exists another option, which is the Catholic (Molinist or Congruist) one: God knows beforehand how men will respond to His grace and decrees accordingly. If they will to be disobedient and spurn His grace and righteousness (e.g., Satan, the Chaldeans, Pharaoh, Judas), He will indeed actively use them for his purposes, but this doesn't entail His being the cause of their sin; rather, He uses it to achieve His ends by virtue of His Providence and foreknowledge. The supralapsarian view, to the contrary, reduces to God predetermining sin, whether or not the person committing it is said to be "free" in a voluntaristic sense.

A fish born in a ten-gallon aquarium believes itself to be quite "free," but it doesn't really know "freedom" until it gets freed out into a lake. Merely acting out what I must do "voluntarily" according to nature doesn't make me any more "free" than the fish in the tank. "Freedom" is thus by nature a relativistic term. God is big enough to include our freedom of will and action in His eternal Providence. It poses no problem for Him, only for man-made systems such as supralapsarianism.

Merely removing the efficent cause from God (as many Calvinists attempt to do) does not overcome the ethical and logical objection, if the person could not in any reasonable sense have done otherwise, and was predetermined by God's "secret" decree and alleged active "will" to do what he did. No one is denying God's Providence and Superintendence of all things. That is not at issue between Catholics and Calvinists (much as the latter falsely imply that free will is somehow contrary to God's sovereignty).

God doesn't will evil or harm upon His creatures any more than I would will such a thing for my own children. That He allows it is clear, so then He can "will to allow" things, rather than "be pleased to allow evil by His will." Surely all can agree that God takes no pleasure in allowing (or predetermining?) evil.

These are deep waters indeed. I certainly don't have all the answers as to the excruciating dilemmas that evil creates for the Christian of any stripe. I've long regarded it as the most troublesome objection the non-believer can offer to theism, and I look forward to finally understanding this in the next life, where we will no longer "see through the glass darkly." The difficulty is readily seen in the proposition that this is the best of all possible worlds, because the all-Good, all-Powerful God created it, yet the "best of all possible worlds" would seem to be one in which no sin and evil were present at all.

In light of that, it would appear that God highly valued human freedom indeed, and must have thought it worthwhile enough to allow evil, even to an extent incomprehensible to the human mind. If human freedom of will is in actuality that important to God, then it is foolish for Calvinism to take great pains to diminish and qualify it - almost define it out of existence in certain senses. Catholics assert that God working in men, and men therefore working in cooperation with God, is no contradiction, but rather a biblical mandate and a necessity.

VIII. God as the Author of Evil in Supralapsarian Calvinism

The Supralapsarians, more logically, include the fall itself in the efficient and positive decree; yet they deny as fully as the Infralapsarians, THOUGH LESS LOGICALLY, that God is the author of sin . . .

But while his [Calvin's] inexorable logic pointed to this abyss, his moral and religious sense shrunk from the last logical inference of making God the author of sin; for this would be blasphemous, and involve the absurdity that God abhors and justly punishes what he himself decreed. He attributes to Adam the freedom of choice, by which he might have obtained eternal life, but he wilfully disobeyed. Hence his significant phrase: 'Man falls, God's providence so ordaining it; yet he falls by his own guilt' [Inst., III, 23, 8]. Here we have supralapsarian logic combined with ethical logic . . .

Here is, notwithstanding this wholesome caution, the crucial point where the rigorous logic of Calvin and Augustine breaks down, or where the moral logic triumphs over intellectual logic . . . The most rigorous predestinarian is driven to the alternative of choosing between logic and morality.

(Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 8, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 3rd rev. ed., 1910, 553-555)

Notwithstanding its seeming pretensions, it [supralapsarianism] does not give a solution to the problem of sin. It would do this, if it dared to say that God decreed to bring sin into the world by His own direct efficiency. Some Supralapsarians, it is true, do represent the decree as the efficient cause of sin, but yet do not want this to be interpreted in such a way that God becomes the author of sin. The majority of them do not care to go beyond the statement that God willed to permit sin. Now this is no objection to the Supralapsarian in distinction from the Infralapsarian, FOR NEITHER OF THEM SOLVES THE PROBLEM. The only difference is that the former makes greater pretensions in this respect than the latter . . .

Infralapsarianism really wants to explain reprobation as an act of God's justice. It is inclined to deny either explicitly or implicitly that it is an act of the mere good pleasure of God. This really makes the decree of reprobation a conditional decree and leads into the Arminian fold.

(Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 4th rev. ed., 1949, 121, 123)

Abraham Kuyper, too, has reflected on the difference between supra and infra. His criticism of supra is sharp: it is a theory which is open to severe criticism, especially because thus the fall into sin is not only deduced from man, but forms a link in the divine decree; moreover, it evokes the idea of a divine creating in order to destroy. Kuyper speaks of this as a horrible thought, in flagrant opposition to the concept of God's inscrutable mercies.

But that does not mean that Kuyper therefore chooses the infra presentation. For, says Kuyper, the infra presentation entails almost equal objections, because it seeks the solution in the 'praescientia,' the foreseen fall. Neither in supra nor in infra does he see a solution, and he further mentions the unyielding fact 'that the connection between God's eternal decree and the fall is inscrutable to us.' . . . "According to Kuyper, we must conclude with the acknowledgement that the connection between God's sovereignty and man's sin 'is not revealed to us.'

(Gerritt Berkouwer, Divine Election, tr. Hugo Bekker, Eerdmans, 1960, 262)

Earlier, I noted that Charles Hodge had criticized supralapsarianism on grounds that "it is not consistent with the Scriptural exhibition of the character of God," who is "declared to be a God of mercy and justice." (Systematic Theology, abridged ed., 326)

Calvin deals with related issues in Institutes, III, 23, 2,4,5 and III, 24, 14 (Battles / McNeill ed.):

. . . devote to DESTRUCTION whomever he PLEASES . . . they are PREDESTINED to eternal DEATH SOLELY by his decision, APART from their own MERIT . . .

(III, 23, 2, Vol. 2, 949)

For when it is said that God hardens or shows mercy to whom he wills, MEN ARE WARNED BY THIS TO SEEK NO CAUSE OUTSIDE HIS WILL.

(III, 22, 11, Vol. 2, 947)

Those whom God passes over, he CONDEMNS; and this he does FOR NO OTHER REASON THAN THAT HE WILLS TO EXCLUDE THEM . . .

(III, 23, 1, Vol. 2, 947)

. . . we must always at last return to theSOLE DECISION of God's will, the cause of which is hidden in him.

(III, 23, 4, Vol. 2, 951)

With Augustine I say: the Lord has created those whom he unquestionably foreknew would go to destruction. This has happened BECAUSE HE SO WILLED IT. But WHY he so willed, it is not for our reason to inquire, for we cannot comprehend it.

(III, 23, 5, Vol. 2, 952)


(III, 24, 12, Vol. 2, 978)

. . . his immutable decree had once for all DESTINED THEM TO DESTRUCTION.

(III, 24, 14, Vol. 2, 981)

. . . the fall of Adam is not presupposed as preceding God's decree in time, but IT IS WHAT GOD DETERMINED BEFORE ALL AGES . . .

(II, 12, 5, Vol. 1, 469)

There is much we can't comprehend in this area, as all parties readily admit, and much fine-tuning and nuance in Calvinist thought, yet we aren't forced to make positive pronouncements that God is acting with regard to the reprobate in a way which makes Him the active, "sole" cause of their damnation, and thus the author of sin, whether or not such logical implications are acknowledged or not. For all Catholics, Arminians, Wesleyans, and other non-Calvinist Christians, this belief is utterly unacceptable.

IX. St. Thomas Aquinas and Predestination

Fr. William Most has shown how Aquinas' view was not a Calvinist-type one, but a synthesis or paradoxical view, which incorporated different elements, in tension:

Thomas' attempt at a synthesis of the two points:

1) In his Commentary on Romans, Chapter 8, lessons 1,2,3 we find
indications of both tendencies:

a) Tendency to the massa damnata view: "Since all men because
of the sin of the first parents are born exposed to damnation,
those whom God frees through His grace, He frees out of mercy
alone. And so He is merciful to certain ones whom He delivers; but
to certain ones He is just, whom He does not deliver."

b) Tendency to the opposite view:"...foresight of sins can be
some reason for reprobation... inasmuch as God proposes to punish
the wicked for sins which they have of themselves, not from God, but
He proposes to reward the just because of merits, which they do not
have of themselves. Osee, 13:9:' Your ruin is from yourself, Israel;
only in me is your help.' ... Those whom He hardens, earn that they
be hardened by Him."

2) In Contra gentiles 3.159,161,163:

a) Universal salvific will in general: CG 159: "They alone
are deprived of grace who set up in themselves an impediment to
grace, just as when the sun shines on the world, he deserves blame
who shuts his eyes, if any evil comes thereby even though he could
not see without having the light of the sun."

COMMENT: A broad statement: God offers help to all; only they do not get it who shut themselves off from it.

b) Massa damnata: CG 163: "...some by the divine working are
directed to their ultimate end, being helped by grace, but others,
deserted by the help of grace, fail to reach the ultimate end.
Because all things that God does are provided and ordained from
eternity by His wisdom, it is necessary that the difference of men
mentioned be ordained by God from eternity....Those whom He planned
from eternity that He would not give grace, He is said to have
reprobated or to have hated, according to what is said in Malachi
1:2,3: 'I have loved Jacob, but hated Esau.'"

COMMENT: Here the difference in men is not that they voluntarily close or do not close their eyes: it is something God planned for from eternity. He hated some as He hated Esau.

X. Molinism / Congruism: An Explanatory Slight Digression

Molinism (my own view) is not Semi-Pelagian. It is only regarded as such (like the similar view Arminianism) because the Calvinist tendency is to falsely and unbiblically dichotomize any human participation or free will whatsoever as inexorably opposed to God's sovereignty. This is clearly false. God is quite capable of remaining sovereign and allowing human free will so that man can cooperate with his entirely free, unmerited grace. The biblical view requires mystery and paradox. It doesn't exist in a neat little logical circle or system. Molinism does not undermine God's sovereignty. Let me give an illustration:

Suppose God utilizes his foreknowledge, specifically what is called Middle Knowledge, or scientia media, to determine which tree would withstand hurricane winds and save a servant of His from being killed by falling branches. God knows not only everything that does happen, but everything that could or would have happened in any number of possible situations or potential outcomes.

So God "predestined" "strong tree #2" to save His servant, rather than "weak tree #1." He does this by knowing how each tree will react to hurricane winds. He chooses tree #2 because in fact it did not get blown over by the winds; He didn't "directly cause" it to not fall. That was determined by particular instances (the tree's "free will," so to speak) of natural laws of biological development or nutrition, where, for whatever reason, tree #1 was weaker.

Yet the natural laws themselves were caused and created by God (sovereignty). At the appointed time, then, the servant was under the strong tree (by his own free will, yet mysteriously under the overriding sovereignty of God), so that his life was saved.

It works the same with people, in Molinism. God looks at how people will react to His absolutely free grace. He sees X rejecting it (in X's future, but God's constant "now"). And He sees Y accepting His grace, and partially on that basis, "predestines" and elects Y to salvation. God gives the very ability to both to accept His grace, yet He won't force them, because they have free will.

When X rejects the grace, he is rightly damned, but it is of his own accord, not by some unalterable divine decree. On the other hand, when Y accepts the grace, it is entirely due to God's enabling grace. He simply cooperates with the grace, and doesn't reject it. That is no credit to him; nor does it detract in the slightest from God's ultimate causative agency, because it was only because of God's grace that Y could so choose in the first place.

And that's why neither Arminianism nor Molinism are Semi-Pelagian, rightly understood. That conclusion derives from the mistaken and illogical assumption that man's free will and God's sovereignty and free grace are mutually exclusive. They are not. They exist in paradox, but there is no inherent logical contradiction, as Calvin and Calvinists seem to so easily assume.

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