The History of the Reformation Part II: Supralapsarian and Infralapsarian

Predestination is a term both biblical and philosophical that will cause waves in debates, forums, and conversations. Even to the layman who has not digested the fullness of what it contains, it sparks an uneasy feeling in most cases.

Today, we have arguments between the body of Christ on this topic of predestination that gives the impression that it is the essential reformation doctrine. In essence, as I've heard, if you do not hold to the theistic determination of predestination (that is to say, double predestination), you cannot be reformed. However, this is an egregious statement that is not only incorrect historically but also logically.

For a brief example, Arminius was a Dutch reformer who did not hold to a form of predestination that was considered to be "double predestination" or Supralapsarian (the decree to save some/not save some before creation) but instead held to another reformed view (i.e., the Westminster) of infralapsarian which states that because of the fall, some are elected and so forth, see figure 1 below (It should be noted that the website Monergism poorly demonstrates the views historically and does not rightly define the terminology).

Historically, it is estimated that less than 5% of all Calvinists have been Supralapsarian. Also, according to Loraine Boettner and Curt Daniel, no major Reformed theologian and very few modern Calvinists are Supralapsarian. The Infralapsarian view seems to be expressed in the Synod of Dort in 1618. In the Canons of Dort, First Point of Doctrine, Article 7, it states:

"Before the foundation of the world, by sheer grace, according to the free good pleasure of his will, [God] chose in Christ to salvation a definite number of particular people out of the entire human race which had fallen by its fault from its original innocence into sin and ruin."

The entire makes up of Dort was holders of Supralapsarian theologians, but they expressed a view that was widely known to be the prevailing framework. This is interesting considering the 5% of Theologians who held to Supralapsarian made up the council of Dort. That is a hugely missed factor when discussing Dort in our 21st-century framework. Imagine a council today that held ONE view and dictated that view upon the rest of the Reformed world and then some hundred years later we formed those points and asserted them to a theologian who was long dead before the council was even formed. Sounds ridiculous, because it is ridiculous, but it has happened. You'll hear many laymen speak on the 5 points of Calvinism. Calvin never addressed anyone with five points; in fact, he'd probably smack someone of the idea of narrowing down all of his work into five points. Instead, the five points come from Beza and group when they wanted to silence and rebuttal the wild group of Remonstrants. rightly so, because the Remonstrants took theology from a recently dead man and transformed it into what would later become Wesleyan theology.

Therefore, when someone addresses the issue of the 5 points of Calvinism as some threshold for Reformed theology, they are inherently and historically wrong. Dort was nearly all Supra-holding theologians who would later be written out. It was only the incorrect tagging of Calvin to dort that their views survive. Much like the Remonstrants and Arminius; Arminius was dead before the Remonstrant occurred and they used him as a scapegoat because, well, he was dead. Though, in another article, we've proven his innocence and his reformed views that hold up.

Now back to the topic,

The fact that Gomarus was heavily influenced by the theologian Beza, who was the first to articulate Supralapsarian framework (1), gives credence to the historical notion that Gomarus was "Gottschalkian" in a manner which leads to him to engage twice in personal disputation with Arminius in the assembly of the States of Holland in 1608, and was one of five Gomarists who met five Arminians or Remonstrants in the same meeting of 1609. On the death of Arminius shortly after this time, Konrad Vorstius, who sympathized with Arminius's views, was appointed to succeed him, in spite of the opposition of Gomarus and his friends. Gomarus took this defeat badly, resigned his post, and went to Middelburg in 1611, where he became a preacher at the Reformed church and taught theology and Hebrew in the newly founded Illustre Schul. Later, he would be criticized for harsh views on Jews, which would lead some of his works to cease being published.

We've mentioned Gottschalk of Orbais numerous times in various articles that have to do with the topic of Infra and Supra [hereby known as], and that is because Gottschalk is the very first of which who presented the view of the reprobate and the idea of double predestination. Gottschalk of Orbais was a Saxon theologian, monk, and poet who is best known for being an early advocate of the doctrine of two-fold predestination. This theologian may also be the source of the inherent nature of many Reformed holders abuse of the word "heresy." Historians who focused on Gottschalk tell us that he openly used the word amongst those who disagreed with him. He was eventually excommunicated for his beliefs on Limited Atonement and Heresy.

In his Longer Confession, after praying for the ability to exhibit the "truest, sincerest, and kindest love against the barking of heretics," Gottschalk preceded in the same sentence to also pray for the ability to

"beat back their teeth and biting falsity . . . whether they like it or not."

In the following sentences, Gottschalk then warned his enemies that if they became angry with him for his theological position and labeled him a heretic, he would not hesitate to return the insult. He justified his counter-attack on his ecclesiastical opponents who charged him with heresy by identifying them as the real heretics, those who denied the predestination of the reprobate. Among his attacks on his opponents, he referred to them as liars, unbelievers, and stubborn resistors of the truth. Also, after providing an excellent defense of his beliefs based upon a single patristic citation, he asserted that anyone who did not uphold the same theory of predestination as he did was undoubtedly "blind."

In his treatise On Predestination, Gottschalk termed those who did not believe him as "enemies of the truth," and thus heretics. In a role reversal, Gottschalk countered his opponents' accusation of heresy by instead implying that only those who did not agree with his teachings were the real heretics, the "stubborn unbelievers" and "enemies of the truth."

Gottschalk may have been zealous in the wrong areas, but he did follow much of what Augustine eluded to in his writing. He also furthered the cause of infralapsarian position, arguing that God's decree to elect came after His decree to permit the fall, rather than before (supralapsarianism). Interestingly enough, According to Gottschalk, reprobation was not a specific decree, as in supralapsarianism, but a subject of foreknowledge, as he says here (this is notable, it relates forward to Arminius' view of the topic):

"I believe and confess that God foreknew and foreordained the holy angels and elect men to unmerited eternal life, but that He equally foreordained the devil with his host and with all reprobate men, on account of their foreseen future evil deeds, by a just judgment, to merited eternal death."

So, while he was eccentric and even held to some question theology, he did understand various nuanced theology that would later awaken in the Reformation. Though it is hard to paint such a man in a positive light, as Steven Lawson daringly attempts, we can thank Gottschalk for many things.

Thus, we step back into the Reformation period and are struck with Zwingli, who we know disagreed with Calvin and Luther on various topics like the Lord's Supper. He was not just a nationalist at war, but he held to strong views of predestination that would rival Beza himself. Zwingli is rarely painted in a reasonable light, and that may be due to the nature of how he conducted arguments and his writings. He was a passionate man that while making a defense of infant baptism drew upon election to refute nearby Anabaptist (3). In a public disputation at Zurich, 1522, Zwingli outlined his reforming doctrine in the shape of Sixty-Seven Theses. The council found in favor of Zwingli, and the consequence was that the tempo of reform was increased. He taught that Christ offered Himself, and abolished the idea of the mass as a sacrifice. Celibacy was abandoned, and the worship of images and the use of Latin in public services fell into disuse, the baptismal office was translated. Relics, too, as well as religious houses, lost their significance. Eventually, Zwingli himself married (1524) and in 1525 the Lord's Supper was celebrated and administered to the people in both kinds. By this time, Eck (Luther's redoubtable opponent) had shown his hand, but Zwingli was now the recognized ecclesiastical and theological leader. Ultimately, Zwingli would be another force in the Reformation that would aid in the furthering of the Doctrine of Predestination. However, within his treatment, we can find an error that must be noticed by studying theologians. During the Conference in Marburg (1529), he declared the doctrine of double predestination, thereby extending his original views into what Beza had been pronouncing. This may not seem like a large issue, but one audience member found a problem with it, that would be Luther. Luther, like the majority of Reformers, did not hold to double predestination but would later denounce it in writing, preaching and confession. Thus, still retaining all anthropological doctrines found in all of Calvin, Beza, Arminius and other Reformed essays.

As of recently, I took a nonchalant poll in a group of over 10,000 Reformed believers on the matter of Supra v Infra theology. The shocking tale resides in the ideology put out today by many Reformed ministries that God's sovereignty means "meticulous control" "predetermined behavior" and so forth. This is not the Reformed way, nor is it the way of the Early Church Fathers who so boldly proclaimed the sovereignty of God. Nearly 7/10 voters of the 400+ voters held to Supra but upon follow up, did not understand what Supra was. In fact, after conversations with 30 voters, they seemingly changed to Infra. This confusing epidemic is taking hold of our Reformed theology and dividing the church within. Somehow, laymen, are beliving in a theology that is detrimental to confessions like WCF, 1689, and so forth which are written with Infra in place.

Calvin never articulated such a theology, it was not until Beza, as previously mentioned, and the help of Zanchius that this theology was poured into the ears of theologians. So what does this mean for people today?

Defining Supralapsarian View (Dort)

Supralapsarianism (also called antelapsarianism, pre-lapsarian or prelapsarian) is the view that God's decrees of election and reprobation logically preceded the decree of the fall. Thus God had decided who will and who will not enter heaven before the fall and any foreknowledge — concluding that God decided upon the fall to happen, for His own goodwill, before the creation of man without any use of foreknowledge. Supralapsarianism, by logic of its belief that God creates the elect and reprobate,follows that God is the author of sin (because He creates sinners to condemnation).

Defining Infralapsarianism View (WCF, 1689, Belgic, etc)

Infralapsarianism teaches that all men are sinful by nature (due to The Fall), are thereby condemned through our own sin (freewill), and that God had foreknowledge of whom He would rescue from condemnation.

The infralapsarian view follows Ephesians 1:4-6, "... even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved" (ESV). That is, some are chosen to be elect (foreknowledge) but not created elect.

Now, plenty of Calvinists reject both lapsarian views for different reasons. Herman Bavinck rejected both because he sees the entire system of God's plan of salvation as organic with each part mutually dependent and determinative, rather than some parts "causing" others.[5] Other Calvinists (and many non-Calvinists) reject the lapsarian views because they perceive any particular ordering of the decrees as unnecessary and presumptive speculation. Critics of lapsarianism often argue that it is impossible to conceive of a temporal process by which God, in eternity, issued decrees, and it is impossible to know the mind of God without direct, scriptural documentation.

This topic is merky, at best. It's covered in historical theology that takes time and dedication to research, understand, translate and acquire. However, this issue is an important one when it comes down to the Gospel, understanding historical theology, and the accusations covering those in todays debates.

Firstly, it is a gospel issue for many because the Supra view dictates that God is the author sin and evil (by His own good will) and that is not only not digestable for many but holds Scriptural issues. Cited below is a defense of the position, which lays out many arguments for it. However, in my own research over the last ten years, I cannot say that theologically (when pressured under the hermeneutics of analytic theology) it stands to reason. I believe it is an error in the Reformation and the theology within.

Second, our understanding of Historical Theology is jeopardized because we often hear that Dort is the five points of Calvinism. That's historically and inherently false. Dort presented views that had not been preached until Beza and Gomarus. Dort was also comprised of nearly all Supra-holding theologians who wanted to cease Remonstrant chaos. Our other article should be noted here; Remonstrants were NOT adherent to Arminius. The difference between Beza and Arminius was simply Supra-Infra, nothing less and nothing more.

Lastly, the accusations that lie within the Reformed community today. Plenty of people get into arguments about God's decree and sovereignty, which is why these articles are being written, in hopes of saving myself from future anger within debates (repented of..) and hopefully saving you the trouble as well. These debates are whether or not Calvinism makes God to be the author of sin and evil, this debate is not a debate between NON-Reformed folk and Reformed folk, this is a matter of the Reformation. We so quickly equate Calvinism as the sole proprietor of the Reformation theology when, in fact, that's inaccurate and not historical fair. Beza disagrees with Calvin, yet Beza is why we have Calvinism today. The irony is thick within today's Reformed culture.

Terminology matters and unfortunately we've lumped things together which not only confuse people of their own theological heritage but may even hinder them from coming to Reformed Theology as a whole. I'll leave you with these few thoughts:

(1) If you're Reformed, please do the diligence of understanding and reading and researching what you believe and why you believe it. Read Calvin's institutes, read Beza, and the read incredible Reformers others like Luther, Arminius, Zwingli and many more.

(2) Remember that Reformed theology is not a set of beliefs that cannot be veered from, and you lose the title of Reformed. Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Beza, Zwingli, and so forth all disagreed on various matters but were ALL Reformed.

(3) Be willing to be taught something you didn't know before.

-- Citations and References --

Bray, John (December 1972), "Theodore Beza's Doctrine of Predestination," Church History, Cambridge University Press, 41 (4): 529, ISSN 0009-6407, JSTOR 3163884

Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Gomarus, Franz." Encyclopædia Britannica. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 228.

He argued that «baptism is not at all to be denied infants on account of God's election

or reprobation, for neither to Esau nor any other who was rejected was circumcision

denied». Z VIA 184, 2-4; The Selected Works of Huldrych Zwingli, ed. by Samuel Macauley Jackson, Philadelphia 1901, reprinted 1972, p. 247 [abbr.: Selected Works].

Review of Edwin Chr. van Driel, Incarnation Anyway: Arguments for Supralapsarian Christology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), xi + 194 pp.

Bavinck, Herman, Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism, retrieved 2012-12-07