Monday, January 6, 2014

Supralapsarianism - A Brief Historical Background, part 1

In the upcoming series of posts, I wish to look at the subject of Supralapsarianism. To do so course, we must first acknowledge that this is a strictly Reformed category, and distinguish it as well from the viewpoint called Infralapsarianism. The names were first introduced in the days of the Arminian disputes when pamphlets published spoke of a “high” and “low” doctrine concerning predestination. The terms were used at the Synod of Dort, yet the subject to which these terms are affixed has existed in the church since the days of old. The difference between these terms indicates the opinions among orthodox Reformed theologians concerning the order of decrees of God in relation to the eternal state of man. Supralapsarianism states that in the decree of election and rejection God did not consider man is already created and fallen, but that man was then represented as still to be created and still to fall.

Infralapsarianism, on the other hand, views man in predestination as having been created and having fallen. This is not to say that God elected and rejected man after he was created and after he had fallen, because Infralapsarianism also teaches election and reprobation from eternity. The distinction is that God elected Psalm out of fallen mankind as he saw them by virtue of his eternal foreknowledge.

We first become familiar with these 2 terms around the time of the Synod of Dort. But the concepts embodied by these 2 terms services much earlier and in similar circumstances. The Synod of Dort was handling the issue of Arminianism. But many centuries earlier Augustine, in his confrontations with the Fountainhead of Arminianism, Pelagius, drew up his argument along the lines of Supralapsarianism. Pelagius stated his position thus: God had –
1) decreed to create man,
2) decreed to send Christ to satisfy for all men for the foreseen, but not decreed fall, and
3) decreed to condemn and to save on the grounds of foreseen unbelief on the one hand and on the ground the foreseen faith and good works on the other hand.

It is true that generally speaking, Augustine did choose the viewpoint of Infralapsarianism. But in his confrontation with Pelagius, he clearly argued in a Supralapsarian way. Augustine opposed Pelagius by saying that God’s decree is the cause of all things, good and evil. God did not wait to see what man would do and then decree. On the contrary all the acts of man are the performance of God’s decree in which the permission is also determined. The permission to sin, therefore is not negative, positive. God’s decree precedes the fall. Whatever happens against God’s revealed will does not happen without he’s decreed will. God not only permits things knowingly, but willingly. Reprobation, therefore, is an act of God’s sovereignty, not of his justice.

Let’s pause for a second to distinguish, or delineate the two views, before we proceed with the short historical background.

The two views can be presented thus:

1. Predestination (Election and Reprobation)
2. Creation
3. The Fall
Notice that Predestination is above the fall logically considered, hence supra.

1. Creation
2. The Fall
3. Predestination (Election and Reprobation)
Notice that Predestination is placed below the Fall logically considered, hence infra.

The difference between the two views has nothing to do with the temporal order of the Divine decrees, since that is an oxymoron. God is not bound by our dimension of time. He is eternal in the truest sense of the word. Nothing is ever before or after to God. He views all things, as Boethius says, in an everlasting present. This means that the decrees of God are not to be viewed in a temporal way. What the two views are referring to is logical order.

The Supralaspsarian places predestination above the Fall, in logical order. He therefore teaches:
A. God has decreed to glorify Himself in angels and men, in both His righteousness and His mercy. Hence,
B. He decreed creation and the Fall.
Essentially, what this says is, Predestination, which includes Election and Reprobation, precedes creation and the Fall, also in God’s decree. They are the means of accomplishing predestination.

The Infralapsarian, on the other hand, says that God elected and rejected already viewed as created and fallen, i.e., predestined out of fallen humanity.

The Reformers Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Beza, Knox, Musculus, and Ramus were all Supralapsarians. Other notable Supralapsarians were Gottschalk of Orbais (808 – 867); William Ames (1576-1633), Johannes Bogerman (1576-1637) , Synod of Dort president, Giovanni Diodati (1576-1649), Francis Gomarus (1563-1641), Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), William Perkins (1558-1602), Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), Robert Traill (1642-1716), Augustus M. Toplady (1740–1778), Theodore Tronchin (1582-1687) Beza’s son-in-law, Benedict Turretin (1588-1631) Francis’ father , William Twisse, (1578-1646) Prolucutor of the Westminster Assembly; Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562), Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676), William Whitaker (1548-1595), and Jerome Zanchius (1516-1590).

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