What is meant by the terms Infra- and Supralapsarism? The
ordinary conception found in most dogmatic and historical textbooks is that the
disagreement lies in the distinct view of the order of the decrees of God;
namely, whether in God’s eternal Counsel, Predestination and Reprobation
precede, and the decree of Creation and Fall follows, or the reverse; and
consequently, whether God in His Predestination viewed man as creabilis et labilis, or creatus et lapsus.
This view can, however, have no claim to be correct. It does
indeed reflect the system subsequently worked out, but it does not penetrate
the original difference that lies at the root of both views. The positioning of
post and ante, infra and supra is based on a fundamental idea
from which all other is derived. That fundamental thought must now, first of
all, be traced along a dogmatic-historical line.
It must be noted beforehand that the name
already indicates that this question concerns the fall: or more clearly, the
relationship between predestination and the fall.
doctrine of predestination came to a sound development only through the
struggle over the freedom of man’s will. In principle it was about the
relationship between the action of man and divine providence; about the
question of how, with an absolute predestination of God, the freedom of man’s
actions and responsibility can be maintained.
Fundamentally the roots of this dispute can be found in this
struggle. As far as the good deeds of man are concerned, the adherents of the
orthodox doctrine were in agreement with each other. They acknowledged that man
in fact cannot thank himself for them, but that they are fruits of God’s grace
only; that faith, etc., did not spring up from within ourselves, but flowed to
us only out of the decree of God: fides
When, however, they got down to sin and the sinful deeds of
man, difficulties arose. In what kind of relation did sin stand to God’s
universal plan? As to the sins of Adam’s descendants they knew how to escape
this problem in part, because these sins could be explained as a result of the
first transgression, and they could assume that through hereditary pollution a
sinful habitus was present in all
men, giving rise to sinful deeds. But all of this was only a shifting of the
difficulties, for with the fall of Adam, from which all sin developed
genetically, they were confronted with the same problem. The entire question
was therefore concentrated on the lapsus
arise whether the providentia Dei touch the fall of man, whether the first sin
is also included in His eternal Counsel. Is there at the fall a
reference to predestination, or did God only foresee that lapsus by His
praescientia nuda? Is
there here also a necessitas rerum or is it possible, as far as the first sin
is concerned, to speak only of contingentia? And, what was the answer of
the Reformers to these questions?
It is necessary for us to go back to Augustine. He was
indeed the man, who fought the great battle with Pelagianism and who, over
against the doctrine of the free will, held fast to God’s eternal decree, which
controls all things. He rejected the view of Pelagius that God’s Counsel was
dependent on man’s actions; and he also opposed Pelagius, where he construed
the permission of the fall strictly negatively and passively. Augustine
maintained that sin does not take place praeter
voluntatem Dei, and that God does not permit sin nolens, but volens; he
refused to speak of a nuda praescientia
and included the fall in God’s decree. “Augustine does not really call the Fall
as merely foreseen, and therefore already with certainty to take place, but
also as willingly permitted by God; for
melius esse etiam de malis benefacere, quam mala esse non sinere. The world, with sin included, is
before God good and purposeful, whereas without the entrance of sin God’s
goodness, namely His mercy and justice could not have been proclaimed.”
Repeatedly expressions are found in Augustine’s writings, which, in later
times, adopted by the Reformers, arouse severe criticism of the Pelagian-minded
Roman Catholics and Remonstrants.
It is also noteworthy that Calvin relies on Augustine repeatedly, with full
agreement quoting his statements time and again. That is why Augustine, even
though this dogma is not found by him as fully developed, still can be called
the father of the dogma of the predestination of the fall. Precisely by
attempting to deliver a theodicy of the existence of evil, he necessarily
arrives at the necessitas of the
fall; and his thesis: voluntas Dei
necessitas rerum is not in the least valid in view of the first sin of man.
After having given this exposition of the various questions
that arise with this problem, as well as Augustine’s position, I am able to
proceed with examining how the Reformers have thought about this question. They
stood also, just like Augustine, opposed to the advocates of the teaching of
the liberum arbitrium, continually
taking great pains to point out to them the difficulties which arose in view of
the relationship between sin and God’s decree.
In this respect Luther had to wage battle with Erasmus, whom
he strongly opposed in his “de Servo
Arbitrio”. Erasmus classified those who were the most hostile to Pelagius
into three groups. The first group was, according to him, of the opinion that without
God’s grace we are unable to do any good; the second went a little further and
taught a harder line, namely that a free will has only the capability of
sinning, and grace alone works in us what is good, whereas the third group
proclaimed the hardest doctrine, namely that a free will did not have any power
with the angels, nor with Adam, but that God is the One Who works in us both
the evil and the good; all that happens, happens with absolute necessity.
It is certain that Luther must be reckoned as belonging to
this last group. He proceeds from the servum
arbitrium hominis and climbs from a complete dependency of man upon the
absolute sovereignty of God’s will. That will controls everything, and all
things depend on God. Not only did God foresee all things from eternity, but
everything also takes place through His eternal, infallible will,
which is unchangeable: si volens
praescit, aeterna est et immobilis (quia natura) voluntas, si praesciens vult,
aeterna est et immobilis (quia natura) scientia.
That is why everything we do, and all events, do take place,
even though what happens seems variable and contingent to us, necessario et immutabiliter. God’s will
is efficax, immutabilis et infallibilis,
quae nostrum voluntatem mutabilem gubernat.
That will of God also controls the sinful deeds of man as
well as the fall. With the teaching of the nuda
praevisio there is no way out; Luther did not want to know of a mere praescientia: all that God foreknows is
bound to happen: Si Deus non fallitur in
eo, quod praescit, necesse est ipsum praescitum fieri. With us it is just
the reverse. We know of things ahead of time, because they will certainly take
place; an eclipse of the sun, for example, does not happen, because we know of
it beforehand, but precisely because it is certain to happen we know ahead of
time that it will occur. Things, however, do happen, because God foreknows
them. Vult enim Deus eadem, quae praescit
to which the fall also belongs. Because God did foreknow and determine sin, it
takes place necessario. God willed to
show in that one man, in Adam, as an example for us all, that man could not
keep his commandments in his own strength; and furthermore: quid possit liberum arbitrium nostrum sibi
When someone might ask, why God permitted Adam to fall, the answer can be: “Deus est, cuius voluntatis nulla est causa
nec ratio quae illi ceu regula et mensura praescribatur, eum nihil sit illi
aequale aut superius, sed ipsa est regula omnium.
In this respect Luther declares himself to be in full
agreement with Augustine. Augustine …
meus totus est.
In that eternal will of God alone both electio and reprobatio
can rest. These do not happen because of our merits, but only by virtue of
God’s eternal decree. Pulchre scimus,
quod Deus non amat aut odit, quemadmodum nos, siquidem nos mutabiliter et
amamus et odimus, illa aeterna et immutabili natura amat et odit, sic non
cadunt in illum accidentia et affectus. That love and hatred of God is not
dependent on us; it is therefore also only His will that rejects some so that
they perish eternally.
Having this standpoint, which displays a deterministic
Luther does not shrink back from paradoxes which were challenged from different
sides later on. A great number of such phrases
duriores can be found with him. Because God knows beforehand that Judas
would become a traitor: necessario Judas
fiebat proditor, nec erat in manu Iudea aut ullius creaturae, aliter facere aut
Thus God hardens: volendo voluntate illa
which is why Pharaoh’s will alone, no matter how, it did not harden or move
itself: sed omnipotens actor cum illam
agat inevitabili motu ut reliquas creaturas, necesse est eam aliquid velle.
Still Luther does not let go of God’s holiness; we are
unable to fathom His inscrutable will and may not pursue searching out the secreta majestatis either: it is, to be
exact, summus gradus fidei, as we
believe: illum esse clemetem, qui tam
paucos salvat, tam multos damnat.³
When Erasmus says that he cannot understand, how God then
still can complain about the wrong in man, while He Himself works it in him,
Luther looks for a solution of this problem by distinguishing between the
hidden and the revealed will of God,
i.e. between the verbum Dei and God
Himself. Multa facit Deus, quae verbo suo
non ostendit nobis, multa quoque vult, quae verbo suo non ostendit sese velle.
Luther’s doctrine on predestination is no less severe than
that of the other Reformers: he was the first to bring both pointedly and
clearly to the fore that the decree of God also concerns the lapsus hominis.
That is why the idea, that this “hard” doctrine originated
with Calvin, or if need be Zwingli, is entirely wrong. The responsibility for
the “phrases duriores” was often shifted to Calvin and Beza; and it was
forgotten that it was Luther, and not they, who expressed such paradoxes. The
doctrine of the decretum horribile did not originate in Geneva. Although “those
Lutheran Symbols may avoid the strong consequence of Augustine, and acknowledge
a conditional decree, whereas the strong reformed view . . . makes the fall
into sin itself dependent on God’s predestination,”
Luther himself is in league with the other Reformers regarding this question.
We can even go beyond that and say that it was not Zwingli
or Calvin, but Luther that was the first to include the fall in the
predestination, making use of the ‘phrases duriores’, with which his followers
most vehemently reproached the Reformed.
In the beginning Melanchton did not refrain himself either
from such paradoxical expressions. The pronouncement,
which for the sake of argument he expressed when discussing Augustine’s point
of view, proves this. Agreeably he adopts Augustine’s words: Constat Deum omnia
facere non permissive sed potenter, ut sit eius proprius opus (Augustini verbis
utor) Judae proditio et Davidis adulterium sicut Pauli vocatio.
Zwingli started from a different position than Luther.
Luther’s starting-point was anthropological, whereas the principle of Zwingli’s
theology was more theological.
He reasons from above and does not draw conclusions from the servum arbitrium
to God’s sovereignty, but exactly vice versa, from the absolute will of God
proceeds to the complete dependency of man. He derives everything out of his
concept of God, namely that God is the summum bonum, the Bonitas. God is the
existence of all things and all that is, is God; for things exist, because God
exists. God does all in all. The creatures are merely organs of His works and
all human actions find in Him their cause.
Thus it becomes evident to us why he wants to know least of
all about a nuda praescientia lapsus; his dogma on predestination possesses
therefore an even more sharply defined character than Luther’s.
He places it, specifically in the foreground, that God also foreordained evil;
and it is impossible for him to accept a mere praevisio. Foreknowledge without
foreordination is unthinkable with God. That is why the fall was foreordained
by God from eternity; and Adam’s deed was only the execution of God’s eternal
How can this be squared with God’s wisdom, creating man, who must fall by
virtue of the eternal providentia Dei? Zwingli finds the solution in that man
reaches his destiny only by the fall and through salvation. This destiny is to
know God rightly, to love Him and to fear Him. But man can only know through
contrasts. Nam et bonum non cognoscitur quid sit ni malum sit, cuius
comparatione et aestimatione boni ratio surgat. In order that man and angel
might know what is justitia, utrique quod rectum et sanctum est praescripsit et
contra quod iniquum ac perfidum erat vetuit . . . . Transgreditur ergo,
uterque: quia primum transgressi sunt iustitiae faciem viderunt.
But for all this, it is out of the question to speak of sin
on the part of God. Zwingli tries to prove that in this way. Sin is
transgression of the law; it is impossible for that to take place with God
because He does not do what is contra legem. No law was laid down for God,
because He is just: and laws are decreed the unjust only. That is why one and
the same deed, for example, adulterium or homicidium, in so far as God is the
author of them, is not a crime; as for man to do them, it is. Quod enim dues
facit, libere facit, alienus ab omni adfectu noxio; igitur et absque peccato.
Even though God inclines the murderer to manslaughter, He
does not become guilty. Accordin g to Zwingli sin resides in the sinful
affections, which are not present with God. Whatever He does, His actions are
without sin: yes, even the deed, quod deo authore et impulsore fit, illi
honorificum est, at homini crimen ac nefas. David’s adultery, quod ad auctorem
deum pertinet, non magis deo sit peccatum, quam quum taurus totum armentum
inscendit et implet.
Predestination or Election is described by Zwingli as
follows: libera divinae voluntatis de beandis constitutio; this constitutio is
completely free: citra omnem respectum bene aut male factorum.
He rejects therefore the position of Thomas that God would allow Himself to be
limited by what He saw: quails homo futurus sit. God’s will is not dependent on
anything, but serves to extol His virtues.
That is how God directs man through the fall to his destiny:
that fall does not minimize God’s wisdom, but establishes it: it is an
indispensable link in the eternal plan of God. In this way Zwingli built up a
strict Supralapsarian system, of which ordination is the solid foundation.
For both of them, this arrival at their
Supralapsarianism was to a greater extent based on philosophical premises; but
Calvin came to this standpoint based more on religious-ethical grounds.
The basic principle of Augustine: Voluntas Dei necessitas
rerum was not only accepted by Luther and Zwingli, but was adopted also by
His system is naturally more rounded than Luther’s or Zwingli’s. He came after
them, and could avoid their errors. We must not forget, however, that he also
penetrated the fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion much deeper than
In the first edition of Calvin’s Institutes his system of
the doctrine of Predestination is not presented to us directly. In that regard
he also experienced a process of development. In the first edition of 1536, he
treats, just like our Catechism, the dogma of Election in the article of the
church, and there expounds to the effect that Election is the last ground for
our salvation. God calls, justifies and glorifies those who are His, and does
accordingly, nihil aliud quam aeternam suam electionem declara(t) qua huc eos
destinaverat, antequam nascerentur.
Calvin says very little about the relation between
providentia and sin. He does say, when treating the first article, that God’s
government covers all things and everything definitely comes to us from His
fatherly hand: excepto dumtaxat peccato quod nequitiae nostrae imputa convenit.
Only in the standard-edition of 1559 is Calvin’s doctrine of
Predestination clearly revealed. Mainly the section, originally written as
Libellus de Praedestinatione in opposition to Bolsec,
and now appearing in the Institutes as Lib. III cap. 21ff., makes us familiar
with his sentiments. At the same time, however, the other books of the
Institutes should not be lost sight of.
Calvin, no less than Zwingli, definitely rejects the idea
that, regarding sin and fall, there could be any mention of a nuda
praescientia; and he is in in total disagreement with those who teach: Dei
tantum permissione, non etiam voluntate hoc fieri. The Scriptures demolish this
“effugium” of theirs. Quod autem nihil efficient homines nisi arcano Dei nutu,
nec quidquam deliberando agitent nisi quod ipse iam apud se decreverit, et
arcane sua directione constituat, innumeris et claris testimonies probatur.
From God’s Word it is evident (Calvin puts forward many
examples) that a mere permission explains nothing to us; that’s why they are in
error, qui in locum providentiae Dei nudam permissionem substiterunt, the
question that, if God saw evil beforehand why did He, being able to prevent it,
The fall also has its place in the Counsel of God. The
distinction between permission and will is not sound: man fell quia Dominus ita
That is why Calvin goes far beyond the dogma of foreknowledge. With His will
God ordains all things, sin as well, which He willed in order to execute His
Counsel and to realize the decrees of Election and Reprobation. That is why
Election and Reprobation are not dependent on us; and Reprobation should not be
thought of as a deed of God’s justice only. The most fundamental ground of
Reprobation lies in His Sovereign will. While mercy and hardening can only be
explained out of God’s good pleasure, His will and good pleasure remain the
last foundation, and we should not search beyond that.
Everything has its last and deepest causa in the reconditum Dei consilium,
which precedes everything and to which everything must be brought back; in
which also Election and Reprobation can only rest.
Still God is not the author of sin: with Him there can be no
mention of guilt. A distinction must be made between what God does and what man
does, but not in the sense Luther and Zwingli viewed this. Calvin does not want
to recognize a God who stands above morality, nor venture into the paradoxes
they had expressed.
He points out that the purpose of all God’s work and His way of working is
entirely different than the sinner’s. Take, for example, the testing of Job:
Domini consilium est servi sui patientiam calamitate exercere; Satan molitur
eum ad desperationem adigere. God’s purpose is holy and just, since He does not
do anything that might violate His essence. Also the way God works differs from
the way Satan and man try to accomplish their goals. That varietas in fine et
modo facit, ut illic inculpate Dei justitia reluceat, Satanae hominisque
nequitiae cum suo opprobrio se prodat.
Man is and remains guilty, even though he falls by the will
of God, which remains hidden from us: cadit igitur homo, Dei providentia sic
ordinante, sed suo vitio cadit.
Therefore it is mere calumny, when Bolsec reproaches him of
having written that God makes it a necessity that man sins. Calvin protests
against this, and says that, in the first place, he never made use of such
words as “necessity;” that is not his language.
Subsequently it is also untrue that I, he says, have ever applied this word sin
to God, nor to His will. It is true that the will of God, as causa suprema, is
the necessity of all things; but he immediately adds: “I have declared time and
again that God disposes according to Himself and moderates everything He does
with such equity and justice that the most wicked are constrained to glorify
Him and acknowledge that His will is not tyranny, nor a pleasure without
reason, but rather the true rule of all good.”
Calvin always emphasized that men are not compelled to do
good or evil. Those doing good, do it by the renewed will which God gave them
by His Holy Spirit; and those who do evil, do it with their natural will, which
is evil and corrupted.
That is why man cannot be absolved from guilt in any
respect. It is true that Calvin maintains that through the ordaining and
directing of sin God is glorified, but God condemns according to justice and in
us He hates nothing but our sinfulness.
Man fell into sin sua sponte and he is to be blamed himself for his judgment
But for the sake of avoiding all appearances of still ending
up at the old praescientia-dogma and of making reprobation dependent on the
fall of man, Calvin adds immediately that there is a secret ground for God to
permit the fall.
And, in that secret will, is also hidden the reason why there is a distinction
among men in their eternal destiny: that does not lie in man himself, but in
the reconditum Dei consilium.
There exists an arcanum Dei consilium which precedes the creation and fall; and
in that decree God determined man’s eternal lot. It is also incongruous that
man should have been created by God ambiguo fine.
No enim pari conditione creatur omnes; sed aliis vita aeterna, aliis damnation
The disposition of all things, therefore, is in the hand and the decree of God:
consilio nutuque suo ita ordinat, ut inter homines nascantur, ab utero certae
morti devoti, qui suo exito ipsius nomen glorificent.
Everything then, eternal glory and eternal damnation, rests in the secret
decretum Dei: Adam fell and his fall brings death to thousands for no other
reason: nisi quia Deo ita visum est.
That arcanum Dei consilium may be a decretum horribile:
infitiari tamen nemo poterit, quin praesciverit Deus, quem exitum esset
habiturus homo, antequam ipsum conderet, et ideo praesciverit, quia decreto suo
This is how everything is focused on Supralapsarianism
The vasa irae et misericordiae of Rom. 9:22 are also taken
in this sense. It is not because of a corruption of the lump that some are made
into a vasa irae and others into vasa misericordiae, but only because of the
altius Dei consilium which precedes the fall.
That arcanum Dei consilium also deals with the fall. This
can be seen especially from Calvin’s answer to an objection of Pighius. He
asserted, referring to Proverbs 16:4: Quod si Deum respexisse dicimus, quid
cuique futurum esset, simul necesse erit fateri discretionem inter electos ac
reprobos priorem fuisse hominis lapsu in mente divina.
Unde sequetur non damnari reprobos quia perditi fuerint in Adam, sed quia ante
lapsum Adae iam exitio devoti errant.
Calvin, even though he consented to the first, could not
agree with the second conclusion. He says that Pighius confounds the causae
propinque et remotae; the proxima causa lies in man himself; Adam fell of his
own free will;
and sin has in him her origo. This does not alter the fact that there is an
arcanum Dei consilium, quo praeordinatus fuerat hominis lapsus.
When Pighius then asserts that Calvin’s sentiment is in
conflict with itself: quod sicut Deus ante conditum Adam apud se decreverit,
quidnam illi et posteris futurum esset, iam peccato imputari reproborum
interitus non debeat: quia absurdum est, effectum facere sua causa priorem;
against this Calvin argues: Ego autem utrumque istorum, quae oppugnat Pighius,
verum esse affirmo. There is no contradiction between these two. God foreseeing
the fall, did He not volens permit Adam to fall?
It is true that damnation presuppose the fall: by God’s just judgment the
reprobi perish: (tradimus) quia in Adam sumus ad unum omnes perditi, justo Dei
iudicio perire, qui pereunt. But Calvin adds immediately: simul tamen fatemur,
quidquid Adae accidit, divinitus fuisse ordinatum.
The fall is therefore not praescitus, as Pighius desired, but ordinatus.
This shows, that Calvin indeed accepted the premise of
Pighius’ assertion: simul necesse etc, but rejected the conclusion.
According to him election and reprobation have then their
final and most fundamental ground in God’s good pleasure. Ante conditum Adam
(Deus) apud se decreverit quidnam illi et posteris futurum esset,
but the reason why He did that remains hidden from us. Neither Pighius, nor
anyone else, however, has then the right to say, that the reprobi do not perish
iure. Calvin has continually emphasized that they iure pereunt, because by
nature they are irae filii, for man fell sua sponte; but (and it is as if every
time Calvin makes haste to do justice to God’s sovereignty and to cut off
everything that would make Him dependent on us) sciente atque ita ordinante Deo
cecidit Adam, seque et posteros perdidit. This does not throw the guilt on God
either: not His arcanum consilium, sed aperta hominis voluntas is causa
Time and again Calvin holds on fast with all firmness to
God’s sovereignty and man’s guilt. On the one hand all emphasis falls on God’s
good pleasure; on the other hand the sinner is not absolved, but all guilt is
reckoned to him and he himself is named the immediate cause for his own
damnation. Besides the doctrine of the secret decree, on which election and
reprobation rest, Calvin also says that it is of God’s mercy, which elects
some, “quibus succerrere Dei misericordiam, and His justice, which rejects
Calvin esteems the discussion of the predestination of greater importance for
faith, than the consideration of the question why Adam fell. After having dealt
at great length with the fall of Adam and maintained repeatedly that this was
foreordained by God, he ultimately concludes that this is a mystery, concealed
in the most inner holiness of God, in which we may not penetrate.
After that he passes on to the exposition of the second part
of the decree of God, namely the predestination and says: Altera autem pars,
quod ex damnata Adae sobole Deus quos visum est eligit, quos vult reprobate,
sicuti ad fidem exercendum longe aptior est, ita maiore fructus tractatur. In
hac doctrina, quae humanae naturae et corruptionem et rectum in se continent
libentius insisto: sicuti no solum ad pietatem proprius conducit, sed magus
mihi vidatur theological (more suitable for Christianity and also for
Now it seems at times that Calvin also adopts the
infralapsarian view by using expressions, such as these, that God elected man
massa perdita; however, Calvin thus speaking does not abandon his point of
view: in those cases he pays more attention to the executio decreti, to the
reality, as we perceive it, than to the decree itself.
Calvin’s view of predestination always ends up at the altius consilium. Every
time that he, to counter the reproach that with his teaching the responsibility
of man is taken away, puts emphasis on man’s sin and guilt. He immediately
switches to the other side and fully maintains the sovereignty of God. He does
not want to recognize a permissio quiescentis Dei:
that does not satisfy and does not provide a solution. That is why he rises up
above the fall to the altius magisque reconditum arcanum consilium.
Thus we found that, with Luther and with Zwingli and also
with Calvin, al three of them include the fall in the Counsel of God; reject
the nuda praescientia and teach a praedestinatio lapsus. Neither election, nor
reprobation (and this should be especially observed) happen because of anything
in man, but they rest only in the good pleasure of God in His secret Counsel, which
A remark must be added here. Already a moment ago I had the
opportunity to observe that Calvin was averse to all paradoxical expressions,
which Luther and Zwingli used. An expression such as this one, that God compels
men to sin, cannot be found with Calvin. He
says this word … is not my language at all, but a slang, employed by
priests, but which I have never used. That
is why he can also write to Bullinger that Zwingli’s paradoxes differ quite a
bit from the measured expressions always used by him. Zwinglii enim libellus,
ut familiariter inter nos loquamur. Tam duris paradoxis refertus est, ut
longissime, ab ea quam adhibui moderatione, distet.
Still he defended Luther over against Pighius in this
respect. When Pighius reproaches him: quod non exsecremur (Calvin himself says
this) Lutherum tam horrendae blasphemiae autorem, then he answers him: De
Luthero non est quid dubiam coniecturam sumat: quando nunc quoque, sicut
hactenus, non dissimulanter testamur, eum nos habere pro insigni Christi
apostolo, cuius maxime opera et ministerio restituta hoc tempore fuerit
The conception of the Reformers met with objections already
in their day, and it seemed too hard and too severe for some. Especially
Bullinger was not agreeable to this view and the dogma of the: “non pari
conditione creatos esse” and the predestination of the fall appeared
objectionable to him.
In connection with the process with Bolsec, Calvin had, on
behalf of the preachers of Geneva, also written a letter to the preachers in
Zürich, informing them of the facts of the case and asking them for a judicum.
Included with this epistle was a letter of the Magistrate, as well as the
official acts of the proceedings. The preachers of Zürich gave a lengthy
answer, whereas Bullinger himself wrote to Calvin in private regarding this
In it he advised him to moderate himself and to publish separately a treatise
showing the he (namely Calvin) did not teach that God is the author of sin.
Bullinger found this necessary because many were offended by several
pronouncements in the Institutes, and from it deduced the above-mentioned
In a reply to Bullinger Calvin wrote about it, which letter
I mentioned a moment ago,
and in which Calvin shows what he thought of the paradoxes of Zwingli. Calvin
utterly repudiates the accusation that he taught that God is an author mali; in
the pamphlet Contra Libertinos he sufficiently showed how much those blasphemia
are repugnant to him.
was that there was much in Calvin’s teaching that appeared hard to him. Deum
non tantum praevidisse sed praedestinasse et dispensasse lapsum Adami,
huiusmodi esse videtur ex quo origo mali causaque peccati in ipsum possit
reflecti Deum autorem. Durum mihi esse videtur, asserere Deum eos quos in
mortis creavit exitium, ut in finem suum perveniant audiendi verbi sua
facultate privare, adeoque et per praedicationem excaecare etc. Also in his
letter: De Providentia Dei eiusdemque praedestinatione electione ac
reprobatione, deque libero arbitrio et quod Deus not sit auctor peccati
(written to the Englishman Barthol. Traberonus in a correspondence concerning
Predestination, March 3, 1553),
develops this sentiment. In it he says also: Quod idem (Calvin) suis alicubi
inserit, Deum non modo primi hominis casum et in eo posterorum ruinam
praevidisse, sed Arbitrio quoque suo dispensasse: item, quos in exitium creavit
ut irae suae organa fierent, eos ut in finem suum perveniant nunc audiendi
verbi sui facultate privare, nunc eius praedicatione magis excaecare et
obstupefacere etc. quis non videat ea eo modo esse proposita ut veteres ea
minime agnovissent? Ego certe sic loqui non ausim, utpote qui existimem gratiae
divinae sinceritatem defendi posse, utcunque non dicamus Deum hominem creare in
exitium et in illum finem ipsum deducere aut impellere indurando aut
He does teach that sins cannot be the cause of reprobation, but they are the
cause of damnatio; it is true that he became later more defined and sharper in
his views, especially under the influence of Martyr, but in one respect he is
definitely opposed to Calvin: he avoids the Predestination of the fall and
remains standing at the Praescientia.
What can we now conclude in view of the foregoing?
This, that in earlier times there were two opinions regarding the relationship
of the Counsel of God and the fall. The first was the opinion of Luther,
Zwingli and Calvin, who included the fall in the decree of God and who spoke of
predestination; the other sentiment was that of Bullinger, who did not dare to
do this, and only wanted to know of a praescientia of sin. One presentation
climbed up to an arcanum consilium, which preceded creation and the fall,
tracing it back to both predestination and rejection, allowing Reprobation to rest
solely in God’s good pleasure; the other, while excluding everything that is in
man and rejecting a fides praevisa, yet grounded Reprobation on the praevisio
peccati. The difference therefore touches two questions, which, however, are
1. Is the fall predestined by God, or can there only be
mention of a praescientia Dei?
2. Is Reprobation an act of God’s sovereignty or of
Well then, this is fundamentally the dispute between Supra-
and Infralapsarism. The supralapsarian sentiment, as advocated by the three
greatest Reformers, professes the predestination of the fall; while the
infralapsarian view remains standing at the praevisio as Bullinger leads us to
see. The general idea, that the dispute between both opinions is in a
dissimilar view of the order of the decrees as well as in the object of
predestination, is therefore incomplete as it does not go back to the original
thought lying at the root of both sentiments.
Now I must consider how both sentiments continued to develop.
For that purpose I discuss the supralapsarian view first and shall try to set
forth this system based on Beza and Gomarus.
The supralapsarian system was first “developed with
awareness” by Beza.
He worked out what had not as yet come to a full development with Calvin; and
with him we find for the first time a complete scheme of the order of the
decrees, “Calvin’s Supralapsarism was introduced into Dogmatics only by Beza’s
Beza also proceeds from the principle that the fall is included
in the counsel of God. Adam did not fall sine decreto Dei.
It will not do to remain standing only at the praescientia. That may seem to
satisfy, but in reality it does not present a solution. With an “otiose”
looking of God at the fall of man, God is guilty just as well, since He solo
nutu cadentem fulcire potuit. Adam fell, non modo praesciente sed etiam iuste
ordinante ac decernente Dei.
The fall did not take place by a nuda et otiose permissio, but by God’s decree,
because God, who established the purpose for this world Himself, also ordained
the causes leading to that purpose; the fall belongs also among those media.
It is true that it was not declared in the Holy Scriptures
expressis verbis that Adam fell non sine Dei decreto, but this truth is implied
by them. Paul teaches the same when he uses the image of the potter and the
clay. This clay is symbolic of the human race; not of the lump condita, but of
the lump condenda; non modo quod Deus nondum reipsa condidisset sed etiam quod
non consideraret sive prospiceret ut conditum nedum ut corruptum. When the
apostle spoke of the lump condita, aut secundum Dei praescientiam hanc
similitudinem vellet intelligi, then he must not say: Deum facere vasa irae,
but: ea quae suapte natura praesciret fore, vel quae iam essent irae vasa, in
miserabili statu relinquere. Then there would not be a reason either for the
exclamation: O homo, tu quis es? And while some assert, that Paul does not deal
here with the question, why some are cast off, but cur hi potius quam illi
reprobentur … quid enim et his et illis praeter iustam poenam debebutur, si (ut
vos vultis) praevisa illorum corruptio decretum Dei antegreditur?
Somewhere else Beza disputes this opinion. The Reprobatio
cannot rest on the praevisio of sin, but only in God’s good pleasure; otherwise
the secret will of God would not be the last ground.
Still he put all emphasis on the fact that man fell sua sponte and that sine
ulla culpa Dei.
That is why Beza also makes a distinction between the
propositum Reprobandi and Reprobation itself, namely the execution of the
The cause of the first is solely the will of God, but the
latter takes place on account of sin of men.
In order for God to show His mercy and His justice He included all under sin,
to be merciful to one and to another just.
Therefore, (and this clearly shows that Beza was a student of Calvin) even
though man is not in the least absolved and bears all guilt,
he does not fall absque ordinatione Dei. God makes vasa irae et misericordiae.
He ordains the ultimate goal, but also the causae necessariae unto that finis
and among these causae is the fall also. God ordained that fall juste, so that He
cannot be accused at all of being the fons malorum.
That is how Beza arrives at his scheme of the decrees and
The goal is the Gloria Dei in the
manifestation of His virtues; namely those of mercy and justice. The media to
attain this finis are: a. common for both: Creatio and Permissio Lapsus and b.
for both in particular:
1. for electio: vocatio, gratia, fides, etc.
reprobatio: dereliction, induratio, damnatio, etc.
He presents this in the following schematic:
With him then corruption does not come before the decree,
but flows forth out of the decree. Only: the dereliction justa does not work
more efficiently, but more deficiently. In order to make this clearer Beza uses
the picture of a setting sun. That sunset is not the causa efficiens of the
night, sed potius umbra terrae, et tamen nisi sol occideret, umbra terrae nulla
As we have shown earlier, not everyone can agree with his
view. There are those who, as far as the doctrine of Election is concerned, go
along with him, ruling out a praevisio fidei aut operum; but who at the section
of Reprobation cannot let go of the teaching of the corruption praevisa. Their
sentiment is: Deum apud se ab aeterno capientem aliquos eligendi et aliquos
reprobandi consilium sibi prposuisse genus humanum ut coruptum ac proinde ut
To this Beza raises his objections: Sed ex hac opinione
praesupponitur quod in Deum cadere non posttest, ispsum videlicet tum demum
cepisse de hominem fine et exitu consilium, quum Illos ut iam corruptos
consideraret, quandoquidem corruptionis praevisionem volunt in mente Dei
causarum ordine decretum illud antegredi.
But in his plan a wise builder will determine first the purpose to which he
desires to lead the work. Quinam igitur corruptionis praenotio, quae certe
integritatem naturae ut priorem (privation videlicet habitum) praesupponit, in
mente Dei praecesserit de hominem exitu deliberationem et causam sive
occasionem de humani generis fine statuendi Deo praeburit? The decree of God de
Gloria sua et in nonnullis quos ipso visum esset per misericordiam servandis,
et in nonnullis iusto iudicio perdendis patefacienda, ordine causarum precedes
the decree of creation and fall, because God establishes first His ultimate
goal and does not devise a work ambiguo fine. As media these are subordinated
to God’s finis.
The miseria and gratuita misericordia
do indeed come between the decree of election and its execution and likewise
between the propositum Reprobandi and de exequutio Reprobationis de Induratio,
but God’s decrees themselves are absque ullo qualitatum respectu. Paul also
teaches this in Romans 9. There the lump is ex qua figulus vasa conficit the
image of the genus humanum, not as conditum, but as condendum. Ex quo
consequitur recte et vere dici omnes reprobos factos esse in Adamo simul
eodemque momento, sicut Deus ab aeterno constituerit, not tantum vasa id est
homines; sed etiam vasa irae, id est homines iustae per medias quidem
contingenter sequuturae, ex decreto Dei autem prorsus necessario eventurae
Gomarus was the second who, after Beza, presented a worked
out system. Where his sentiments are in complete agreement with Beza, he can be
Gomarus affirms in his Explicatio
op Romans VIII the Predestination can be viewed in two ways.
1. Generatim pro decreto Dei de rebus omnibus futuris.
2. Speciatim pro decreto de creaturis ratione praeditis ad
finem suum ultimum et ad media eo pertinentia dirigendis.
Predestination has duas partes: Electio and Rejectio.
God, however, does not execute His decree in an absolute manner, sine mediis
causis, but per justa media which are subordinated to that decree, the
subordinate permissione peccatorum also, quae peccata non efficit, sed fieri
permittit, tolerat et regit, ac tandem justo judicio punit. The purpose of God
is duplex. In both cases the manifestatio gloriae, but in reprobos: declaratio
irae suae et potentiae; in electis: declaratio bonitatis et gratiae Dei.
With him also sin appears before him as included in the
decree of God, even as a means to the goal: God glorifies Himself in His mercy
and justice by means of the creation and the fall: election and reprobation
come therefore ordine causarum before creation and lapsus and rest in the
secret will of God.
That is why he cannot agree with those who regard the homo
conditus and lapsus as objects of Predestination and thus have the decree of
creation and fall preceding the decree of Election and Reprobation. Nec enim
Deus primus decrevit creare mundum et homines temere fine nullo praestituto,
quasi post decretam creationem tum demum praepostere in quem finem Dei a
diametro adversatur: utpote qui nihil frustra faciat.
That is how he also develops in his disputatio de Aeterno
Dei Decreto, that purpose of predestination is the gloria Dei; means are:
creation and permissio lapsus,
while he regards the homo creabilis et labilis as object.
This historical process can also be observed with different
theologians who also share the supralapsarian view: “non pauci theology
praestantissimi orbis Christiani.”
The earlier ones, such as Petrus Martyr,
Am. Polanus à Polansdorf, Zach. Ursinus, L.
stand, some more, others less on the standpoint of the old Reformers; and their
supralapsarian sentiment comes out more in their doctrine of the predestination
of the fall over against the doctrine of the praevisio and praescientia nuda,
than in a worked-out scheme of the order of the decrees, (although they also
speak of the object of the predestination). By the later one, however, the
emphasis is put more or less on the question of how God viewed man in His
predestination; or a developed system of the decrees is offered in the sense of
Gomarus, among others by Dan. Tossanus,
D. Joh. Kuchlinus,
and others. With Maccovius
we find that the praedestinatio lapsus is placed more in the foreground.
With the foregoing I believe to have named the most
important supralapsarians; and it will not be necessary to discuss each of them
separately. Later on we shall have again sufficient opportunity to refer to
most of them.
Even though one side may be emphasized by one and the other
side by another, still everyone’s idea comes finally down to this that sin is a
necessary link in the eternal plan of God, because He so desired it to be
according to His eternal good pleasure. His eternal purpose is therefore the
revelation of His mercy and justice in the salvation of some and in damnation
of others, namely by electing the one and reprobating the other. God attains
that end by creating man and permitting the fall. Nevertheless they cast the
accusation far from them that they would then make God the author of sin, the
cadit igitur homo, Dei providentia sic ordinante sed suo vitio cadit, remains
for them the valid rule; on the one hand they hold fast to the responsibility
and the guilt of man, on the other hand they ultimately rest in the altius Dei
consilium, which also precedes the fall, and unto which both Election and
Reprobation must be redirected.
Now we have come to the exposition of the infraplapasarian
view. This sentiment was found with Bullinger in its originally purest form: No
praedestinatio but preaevisio and praescientia lapsus; Reprobation is not a
deed of God’s Sovereignty, but of His justice. Has this standpoint been purely
preserved, or has it been subject to changes? Has Infralapsarism been able to
strictly maintain the praescientia lapsus, at the same time insisting that
reprobation was only an actus justitiae Dei? This question must now be
Of the later theologians Maresius is regarded as the purest
representative of Infralapsarism. He circumscribes Predestination in this way: Praedestinatio est aeternam, certum, efficax
et immutabile Decretum, quo Deus juxta merum suum beneplacitum, ex toto humano
genere, per Adamum lapso et exitium aeternam promerito, alios per Christum
servare decrevit, alios in miseria sua relinquere, aeternam tandem propter
peccata sua puniendos, ad laudem gloriae suae, per Misericordiae et Iustitiae
patefactionem illustrandae. Thus the object is the homo lapsus (that
is, man regarded a posteriori and not a priori, as homo creabilis; only the homo lapsus and miser can be the
object of the misericordia and justitia, not the homo creabilis. Nor can
creation and lapsus be viewed, instar medii ad Praedestinationis finem, but
must be regarded as conditiones in obiecto, just as the existentia et
ductilitas in luto. As the potter finds those characteristics in the clay, so
God knows that there are these conitiones in the object; in other words not of
a praedestinatio but of a praevisio and a praescientia lapsus must be spoken. The purpose why God decided to permit the
fall was not directly the Manifestatio Justitiae et Misericordiae suae ex
Praedestinationis decreto, quod ordine naturae et in signo rationis est eo
posterius, sed partim ut constaret homini quid posset liberum arbitrium sibi
relictum, partim ut in communi gloriam suam ex illius lapsu illustraret; unde
lapsu iam facto, vel ut existente considerato placuit Deo distincte in
hominibus lapsis suam Misericordiam et Justitiam commendare.
That is how sin always comes before Predestination and thus
he regards election and reprobation merely as deeds of God’s mercy and justice.
Still it does not appear to be that way with his teaching on Reprobation, in
which he makes a distinction 1. an actus
negativus and 2. an actus affirmatives. Affirmativa reprobatio debet tribui
hominis reprobati peccatis quibuslibet, tum originali, tum actualibus. Negativa
vero potest considerari vel absolute, vel comparate. Si absolute expendatur,
est adscribenda corruptioni hominem nativae quae eas effecit juste
reprobabilis; si comparate solius Dei beneplacito albo vitae inscribentis quos
voluerit et ita caeteros pro libitu praetereuntis. Cur igitur hunc potius
reprobaverit quam illium, cum essent aeque reprobabiles, non magis ratio redid
potest quam cur hunc potius quam illium elegerit; cum hic illo eligibilior, aut
dignior qui assumeretur, non fuerit.
Here it looks as if in the end he leads Reprobation back to
God’s sovereignty, but that is no more than show. This only concerns the
question of why one is reprobated and another not. That only depends on God.
But the objects of reprobation and election are both reprobabiles, because the corruption hominum nativa made them thus juste:
sin is presupposed and even the reprobatio
negativa occurs because of man’s sin: it is sin, the peccatum quod eam
(creaturam) reprobabilem fecit.
Reprobation is only a deed of God’s justice.
He arrives therefore at following order of decrees:
1. Deus decrevit hominem condere ad imaginem suam sed
2. Voluit permittere eius lapsum. 3. Ut in hominibus lapsis
et miseris ostenderet Misericordiam et Justitiam suam, quosdam eligit ad
salutem, aliis relictis in natura sua miseria et corruptione. 4. Ne miseretur
Electorum cum praeiudicii suae Iustitiae, destinavit ipsis Christum etc. 5. Eos
quos elegerat decrevit vocare etc.
Even as to the Praedestinatio
Angelorum, (who by no means could have been saved e miseria) he refuses to recognize a supralapsarian order. He
asserts that they err, qui putant
Praedestinationem Angelicam praecurrere lapsui Angelorum et istius lapsus
permissionem pertinere ad executionem Reprobationis eorum qui lapsi sunt.
Neither the permissio lapsus Adami,
nor the permissio lapsus Angelorum
pertinet ad executionem Reprobationis.
From this it actually follows that the Reprobation and Election of angels does
not have its ground in the good pleasure of God, but in the deed of the angels.
This shows us at the same time to see to what dangerous consequences
Infralapsarism can lead.
Turretinus opines similarly on the predestination of angels.
He asserts that the difference between the Praedestinatio
hominem and angelorum consists herein that men are equal before God, in
eadem corruptionis massa et ut peccatores
et lapsi, whereas the angels appear dispares. Nam qui electii sunt ex ipsis are regarded ut stantes, the reprobi,
however, ut lapsi. The object of Reprobation is therefore the angelus lapsus; of Election: the angelus nondum lapsus;
or, in other words, reprobation takes place propter
praevisum lapsum and not propter beneplacitum
From the foregoing, Turretinus’ original infralapsarian
standpoint shows up just for a moment. But elsewhere it becomes evident that
this sentiment takes on a modified form. He also teaches that the fall comes
under the decree of God, saying that one may reproach Infralapsarism of denying
this no more than accusing Supralapsarism of not teaching damnatio propter peccata.
Still, even though he has forsaken the original sentiment of Bullinger, he
espouses a different view of the predestination of the fall than Supralapsarism
does. Both include sin in the decree of God, but Supralapsarism does so as a
means to an end, and preceding election and reprobation; whereas Infralapsarism
does not do that. With Supralapsarism sin is also considered with damnatio, but
more consequently (it follows out of the decree), whereas Infralapsarism views
it more antecedently (quoad esse
praevisum ita ut homo non observetur, nisi ut lapsus Deo praedestinanti).
Both also teach that sin is not the causa
impulsiva of Predestination, but still Infralapsarism declares: sin has
indeed rationem qualitatis conditionis
praecedaneae in objecto requisitae.
Turretinus calls therefore the essential difference between
both sentiments this: An Deo praedestinanti homo observatus sit, non modo
creabilis, vel conditus at non lapsus, sed etiam ut lapsus; non quoad esse
reale, sed quoad esse cognitum et intentionale ut licet lapsus non fuerit
causa, fuerit tamen conditio et qualitas in objecto praerequisita?
Supralapsarism answers with a no, Infralapsarism with a yes!
As far as the permission of the fall is concerned we find
with him the following view: The mutability of Adam was causa sine qua non, therefore antecedens lapsus, not a causa per se.
However, a distinction must be made between the mutabilitatis ipsa (as God created them) and the actus mutabilitatis istius (quo homo ad
mutationem inclinavit). That inclination was fons omnis peccati
and therefore man is the guilty one.
The lapsus hominis
can fall under the Providentia Dei in
1. vel ratione praescientiae quia illum praescivit
2. vel ratione decreti, quia decrevit eius futuritionem immutabiliter.
3. vel ratione permissionis actualis in tempore, quia
permisit fieri liberrime et decrevit sapientissime.
Not one of these three representations ascribe sin to God.
Neither the first, for the praescientia
is not causa rerum. Nor second, quia decrevit permittere, non efficere.
Nor the third, quia nec voluntatem
tentandi diabolo inspiravit nec illum ad id impulit.
Turretinus also has to acknowledge: cum permissione
accessisse negationem gratiae et auxilii efficacies quo actu staret. Nam si tale
auxilium didesset Adamus, lapsus no fuisset. And furthermore: Deus gratiam
istam homini adhuc immerenti denegare voluit, sine qua praevidebat eum lapsum
vitare non posse.
We must only rest in the liberrimum Dei beneplacitum;
neither the negative permissio nor the praescientia can satisfy.
It is evident here how much Infralapsarism changed. What
Turretinus acknowledges here was certainly not taught by Bullinger, but lies in
the Calvinistic line. Nonetheless, once in a while the original standpoint also
with him comes to the surface. He also speaks of a praevisio peccati: Praescientia Dei infallibilis non infert Deum esse
causam peccatorum, quia Deaus praescit peccata ut certo eventura non tamquam a
se efficienda qua peccata, sed ut permittenda.
Here again it is clear that, even though Turretinus wants to
include man’s fall into the decree of God, he is not able to disengage himself
from the teaching the praevisio and
in a proper sense does not dare to speak of a praedestinatio lapsus. That’s how we find in him a type of
Infralapsarism that has returned to Supralapsarism; and we see that the
fundamental view of Bullinger was not retained in its pure form.
We find this phenomenon with almost all of the later
Infralapsarians, even when a few like Maresius represent the original type to a
greater extent. The assertion, that not a single Infralapsarian will exclude
the fall of man from the Counsel of God, is indeed true for the later adherents
of this system, but it confirms at the same time how far they have deviated
from Bullinger’s original standpoint.
Among the Infralapsarians can be reckoned: A. Rivet,
J. H. Heidegger,
P. à Mastricht,
Joh. à Marck,
B. de Moor,
and among the more recent Ch. Hodge,
W. G. T. Shedd,
A. H. Strong
The limited scope of this section does not allow for a
detailed discussion of the objections that were raised by both sides. To
consider all of them, however, would go beyond the purpose of this chapter, as
it consisted in this that we wanted to discover the original difference between
both sentiments, and having found them, to set forth these two views more
clearly. In their argumentation they appeal to different pronouncements of the
Holy Scriptures. Especially Romans 9 is applied for this purpose and the
question of how in verse 11 the lump should be viewed, as corrupta or incorrupta,
is characteristic for both points of view. The main objection of the
Supralapsarians against the Infralapsarians is that God cannot decide to create
without first determining the goal unto which He desires to lead created man:
Election and Reprobation must therefore precede