Rev. Woudenberg is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.
In recent articles we have considered various biblical texts dealing with predestination from two different points of view, those appearing to fit the pattern of what is called Infralapsarianism, and others that of Supralapsarianism. The problem is that, even while both are found in Scripture, they are usually looked upon as mutually exclusive; one can believe only one, to the exclusion of the other.
In actuality the terms themselves have a suspicious origin, having been coined by the Remonstrants, the followers and defenders of James Arminius, the man whose name stands in history as the ultimate opponent of what is Reformed. These terms were first used by them in their Declaratio Sententiae, as recorded in the Acta of the Synod, where they spoke, rather mockingly of the “Supralapsarii” and the “Sublapsarii” (or “lnfraIapsarii”). Clearly, what they had in mind was the distinction with which, Arminius had sought to divide and discredit the historical views of predestination, so as to make room for his own. In this latter end he failed; but the distinction he made lived on, and has divided Reformed theology ever since.
It all began amid the festivities of a wedding celebration. In 1597 Arminius’ aunt married Johannes Cuchlinus, regent of the states college at Leiden. While visiting his aunt’s home during the week that followed, as was the custom of that day, Arminius met and found opportunity to engage in an extended conversation with another guest, the hero of the Dutch revolution and respected professor of theology at Leiden, Francis Junius. Soon they were engaged in deep discussion concerning a book Junius had recently written entitled, The First Sin of Adam, in which he had delved into the problems which arise in relating the fall of man to the sovereignty of God. This was a subject with which Arminius had become increasingly involved during his early years in the ministry, making this exchange of particular interest to him, and especially so when it appeared that Junius might share some of his own misgivings concerning the views of John Calvin and Theodore Beza on these matters. It was not surprising, therefore, that before leaving the festivities he made arrangements to continue their discussion by correspondence.
Arminius opened his presentation of the matter like this, “On the whole there are three opinions about this article [predestination] which have their supporters amongst the Doctors of our Church. One is that which is called Calvin’s and Beza’s; the second, is that of Thomas [Aquinas] and his followers; the third, that of Augustine and those who imitate him.” The second of these three groups, that identified with Aquinas, in time fell by the way, but the first and the third were those which the Remonstrants identified as supralapsarian and infralapsarian, by which they are known to this day.
In a sense the first of these was the more important; for it was this that Arminius had been taught by Beza during his schooling in Geneva; and, as much as he had admired Beza as a theologian, a preacher, and a leader, this doctrine had never set well with him and his humanist convictions, so that in time his resentment of it grew and became the central focus of his life. His goal was to undermine and destroy it more than anything else; and he began his formal effort to do so in this correspondence, which soon became a debate, with Junius.
It was in this second proposition that he went on to describe these positions. The first, that of Calvin and Beza, he described very briefly in this .way, “God when electing and predestinating, also when passing by and reprobating . . . (considered) men not yet created, but to be created.” The reference here was to the order of the decrees in the counsel of God, according to which he saw them as teaching that the first act of the divine counsel was to elect some and reprobate others with the intent that He might demonstrate His mercy on the elect, and His justice in the rest. To Arminius this made God utterly tyrannical and harsh, as well as the author of sin.
Nor was Arminius alone in this resentment. From the very first days of the Reformation, when the famous Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus turned to attack Martin Luther, there had been those who had stood in opposition to this doctrine, making Arminius and his followers to feel quite justified in taking up this cause as the central focus of their lives.
In its own way, however, the other view, that now known as Infralapsarianism, was also important. Arminius thus went on to describe it as that which “presents them (men, looked at generally) as fallen in Adam, and lying in the mass of corruption and perdition, to Him (God) both when electing and predestinating, and when passing by and reprobating.” Although he claimed to be able to identify this view already with Augustine, as though to provide it with a historical justification, it was essentially a new viewpoint which was just beginning to burst forth upon the scene., For a time, it had seemed, he actually considered taking it as his own, but eventually concluded it could not escape the conclusion that God ordained the fall either, and so he rejected it as well. Behind this view, however, there was a. significant new mentality which:was beginning to take hold in European theology, leaving its impression on Arminius and many others.
In the Netherlands, not insignificant was: the influence of Dirck Volchertsz Coornhert. A leading figure in the Dutch revolution, he served as Secretary of the States General under William of Orange. Being a dedicated admirer of Erasmus, he became at the same time a leading defender of the old Dutch humanism. As such he developed a strong revulsion for the Calvinistic preachers who, having come from Geneva, were beginning to dominate the pulpits and religious life of their land. The result was that Coornhert took to going about to debate these Calvinists whenever and wherever he could.
But the problem went deeper than that. Far more influential all through Europe was the Spanish philosopher monk Luis de Molina. Being a Romanist, he was forced to honor the theology of Thomas Aquinas with its acceptance of divine sovereignty, but at the same time, as a Jesuit, he was committed to defending the papacy against the growing influences of Calvinism. And so it was that he set forth to steer between these by proposing his original and highly influential concept ‘of the media scientia, or “middle- knowledge.” In this he proposed that between God’s knowledge of the cause and effect relations which He had implanted in the universe, and that of divine freedom whereby He remains free at any time to do what He wills, there is an area of middleknowledge which God provides for man in which man is granted freedom to do whatever he chooses without outside necessity or predetermination of any kind. This undoubtedly had strong influences on Arminius in the development of his views, but it also seemed to open a window of opportunity for those within the Reformed churches who were uncomfortable with what they considered to be the overly harsh views of Calvin and Beza.
Among those, for example, were two Dutch pastors in the village of Delft, Arrent Cornelizsoon and Reynier Donteklok. They had at one point taken on Dirck Coornhert in a public debate, and had been badly bested, with the result that they sought to find a Reformed alternative to the view of Calvin and Beza which would be more generally acceptable. Thus they, along with others, turned to what appeared to be a mild adaptation of middle-knowledge to the Reformed faith. Election, as it is experienced by sinful man, was seen to be projected backward into the counsel of God as a substitute for the view of Calvin. It saw as God’s first decree His determination to create a world, after which He decided for some unexplained reason that it should fall into sin. It was only then that predestination entered in as an expression of mercy on some, while others are left in their sin. Somehow, it seemed, this left man more responsible for his sin; and it was this view that Arminius presented as his third alternative, along with his claim that it had historical origins in the views of St. Augustine.
Against this division, however, Junius reacted emphatically. To him it was complete nonsense. Such a division, he insisted, had never existed among those who taught election. Rather, in spite of individual differences in presentation, there had always been complete agreement as to the first decree in the counsel of God, which he explained in these words:
Eternal life is not here primarily and of itself the work of that Divine predestination, but rather secondarily and by consequence the result of adoption, . . . shown by the Apostle, Eph. i.5: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” . . . Predestination, if you regard its proper differentia (distinguishing mark), .Scripture being-witness, is “to the adoption of children,” to filiation (so to speak) our filial adoption, of which the effect and consequent is eternal life. Thus it is true that we are predestinated to life, but the proper expression is that we are predestinated to “the adoption of children” by the special grace of our heavenly Father.
As far as Junius was concerned, predestination had its different& or distinguishing mark, in that it was unto the adoption of children. This was the first decree of the counsel and the first intent of God; and all other things were decreed by God, including also the fall, to serve as means to bring this about. The great doctors of theology had always agreed on this; so that, even when they spoke of election among fallen men, this was understood to be behind it all. Both ways of speaking have their place; but, when correctly understood, they are one in the end.
Although the thoughts of Junius in this regard have not been generally remembered, there are those who have seen it that way – as the great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck, when he wrote, “Whether predestination is made a part of the doctrine of God (the II priori order) or is treated as the beginning or in the middle of the doctrine of salvation (the a posteriori order) does not necessarily imply an essential difference in principle.” And this, it would seem, was taken up! and enlarged upon by Klaas Dijk. in his work on the supra/infra controversy when he wrote,
With all of the effort to reconcile these two positions, no one can escape the fact, that there is no contradiction between infra- and supralapsarianism. Everyone assumes one or the other of the two considerations without rejecting the other, or without recognizing the worth of, the other, which is to say, there is no supralapsarian that does not recognize the usefulness of infralapsarian terms; and there is no infralapsarian who does not finally return to the supralapsarian presentation.
It was, however, Theodore Beza who saw it most clearly, already well before the controversy was begun or its terms born, when he wrote,
In his epistles the Apostle Paul sets down two ways of doing this: the synthetic and the analytic. Here we call “synthetic” the method that is a priori, or that descends from the causes to effects, which the Apostle Paul uses in the. epistle to the Ephesians. Having explained to us there the ground of the spiritual blessings that we receive from. God through Christ, he treats election and its causes before he comes down to its fruits or effects. These effects are the external callings by the Gospel, internal drawing by the Spirit of adoption, and justification, sanctification, and other similar evidences that confirm our election in us. Furthermore, we call “analytic” the method that is a posteriori, or that ascends from effects to causes, which the same apostle uses in the epistle to the Romans. He discourses at length and extensively on yustification by faith, on hope, and its fruits, and then ascends finally to predestination itself, which comprehends in itself the supreme principles of our hope and our justification by faith. From all these things it is apparent that the chief end of the former method (the “synthetic”) is knowledge; but the chief end of the latter (the “analytic”) is confirmation of faith, hope, patience, and the rest of the Christian virtues.
His terminology of course was different; “supralapsarian” and “infralapsarian” were still decades away. But, clearly, what he saw were those very same concepts, and within their proper biblical contexts, designating the one as a priori (before) or “analytic,” and the other as a posteriori (following) or “synthetic.” And both he saw to be not only valid, but having their own particular value and application. The former, our supralapsarianism, has its value in teaching and explaining the ways of God to His people; while the latter, our infralapsarianism, serves best pastorally for their comfort and encouragement. And so each has its place and its value in bringing to us what “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (I Cor. 2:9).