Sublapsarians, or Infralapsarians

Sublapsarians, or Infralapsarians is the name given by the orthodox Reformed theologians to those who consider the divine decree of election as dependent upon that which permitted the introduction of evil. The supralapsarians, on the contrary, consider the decree of election, or of predestination to eternal salvation or damnation, as the original decree upon which all others, including that permitting the introduction of evil, depend. The question consequently refers to the order in which these two decrees were promulgated, or, which amounts to the same, to a nearer appreciation of the object of predestination, i.e. whether God in issuing his decree of election considered mani (and the angels) as fallen, or simply as subjects whose eternal fate was to be decided apart from the consideration of sin, although, of course, knowing what would be their conduct. Both opinions have been permitted to exist side by side in the Church even in times of the greatest intolerance, as, in reality, the question does in no way affect the dogma of predestination. Both systems hold to the fundamental principles that election is absolute, not motivated by any cause outside of God's will, unchangeably settled; since the beginning of the world, and infallible in its action. Yet the Synod of Dort, in 1618-19, endorsed the sublapsarian theory, Gomarus alone upholding supralapsarianism, without, however, ceasing to be considered orthodox. The synod had recognized that both systems preserved the same fundamental doctrine, and only preferred sublapsarianism as presenting that doctrine in a form less objectionable to other churches. This question had no connection whatever with Arminianism, for not even the slightest appearance of a concession to those views would have been tolerated. In 1675, at the drawing-up of the Formula Consensus, the Swiss refused expressly to endorse sublapsarianism fir fear of appearing thereby to cast blame on the supralapsarians. The most eminent theologians, such as Beza, Piscator, Voetius, Gomrarus, etc., upheld the stricter system. It is only in modern times that sublapsarianism has come to be considered as a real diminishing (of the difficulties of the orthodox Reformed doctrines; but the ancients, who appreciated it more correctly, did not look upon it as such, and consequently did not oppose it. The general principles of the system were as follows: The world, and man at first, answered exactly to the divine plan: man was created in primitive purity, fell by his own voluntary act, and thus became subject to retribution, and this infallibly; and although all are bad alike, yet some are redeemed by grace and made blessed, but the others remain unredeemed, and as all, even those who are saved, deserve- are damned. All this happens exactly as it was originally decided in the organization of the world, and because it was thus decided. The decrees were all equally promulgated by God from all eternity without one having precedence over the other. Yet we are obliged to distinguish the different decrees according to their relation to each other, as the final decree includes unnecessarily the means by which its object is to be attained; and these decrees concerning, the means even precede the decree on the final result, yet only in causality, not in time, since there is no time with God. The supralapsarian system, on the other hand, holds that the final object of creation, independent from any other, is the revelation, the self manifestation of God, and that in his two great attributes of mercy and justice-mercy on those he saves, justice on those he leaves to the punishment they deserve. All other decrees serve but as means for this great object of the creation; in this view God created men, then permitted the introduction of sin, thus making them 'objects of his salvation or of his condemnation, which were decided beforehand. In consequence of these views, that school asserts that in issuing the decree of election God looked on man merely as man, not as man fallen; hence, also, Gomarus names as objects of the decree of predestination the "creature rationabiles, servabiles, damnabiles, creabiles, labiles, et reparabiles," i.e. creatures considered yet as without any determined properties. The sublapsarians arranged the plan of creation in such a manner that God, from motives of his own, decreed to create man, and to allow him to sin knowing that he would infallibly do so; and from these decrees they make the other decree depend whereby some are saved, though no better than the others, and the others damned, though no worse; and this manifestation of mercy to some and of justice to others constitutes the justification of the whole. This is their whole difference. The two methods uphold the same doctrine of absolute predestination, only the supralapsarians present it in a stricter, more imperious manner, without, however, lessening the guilt of man or making God the originator of evil; the sublapsarian method is more cautious in its expression, although it upholds predestination as firmly, and the guilt of man in the Fall; for what God allowed in his plan is not permitted because God foresees what will happen, but only because he wills it. The supralapsarians, indeed, say that the Fall itself was predestined, but mean only that it was infallibly to come; while, on the other side, the sublapsarians do not in any: way mean that the Fall might not have happened, that it could only be considered in the plan of creation as having occurred, or even that the entrance of sin into the world might have occurred in a different manner than in that which God freely appointed in his scheme of creation. See Hagenbach, Dogmengesch. 3rd ed. p. 589; Schweizer, Ref Dogmatik, 2, 123 sq.; the same, Gesch. d. ref Central Dogmeng, 2, 43,55. 181.

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