John Calvin: Supralapsarian

John Calvin: Supralapsarian September 10, 2016


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, Michigan: 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, New Jersey: 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, Michigan: 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, Michigan: 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, Michigan: 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.

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