Francis Turretin and His Case for Infralapsarianism

Francis Turretin was born at Geneva in 1623, son of an Italian immigrant Turrettini, he received his theological education from Jean Diodati, Theodore Tronchin, and the elder F. Spanneim, the first two Geneva’s official representatives at the Synod of Dort. He became the pastor of the Italian church in Geneva. He declined the chair of philosophy, and in 1653 became professor of theology and one of the city pastors, holding both titles until his death in 1687. Turretin vigorously supported the scholastic orthodoxy, against all efforts for the modification of Canons of Dort. He also played an important role in the formulation of Helvetic Consensus Formula of 1675.[1] Francis Turretin is virtually synonymous with the term Protestant scholasticism. Muller comments: “Turretin’s work, the Institutio theologiae elencticae (1679-1685), stands at the apex of the development of scholastic theology in the post-Reformation era, prior to the decline of Protestant system under the impact of rationalism, pietism, and the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century.[2]

Turretin is known for his defense of Infralapsarianism against Supralapsarianism. Almost eighty years after the Synod of Dort, Francis Turretin wrote his treatise on the topic of lapsarianism in Institutes of Elenctic Theology under the title “The Object of Predestination: Whether the object of predestination was man creatable, or capable of falling; or whether as created and fallen. The former we deny; the latter we affirm.”[3] The Canons of Dort (1618) had taken the Infralapsarian view to be the standard position of the Reformed churches although the synod did not rule against supralapsarianism as a heresy. One of the main reasons why the Synod held up Infralapsarian view was due to the majority number of delegates were Infralapsarianists. Fesko noted, “The infralapsarians simply possessed more influence by virtue of superior numbers.”[4] Fesko also noted another reason would be that some prominent Supralapsarianists such as Gisbert Voetius, Johannes Bogerman, and Johannes Maccovius did not voice their view in the discussion over infra- and supra- lapsarianism.

The debate of Supra and Infra-lapsarianism focused on the issue of God’s decree of predestination (election and reprobation), namely, whether God’s decree of predestination preceded the decree of creation or fall (supra view) or his decree of predestination follows the decree of creation and fall. (Infra view). Muller explains: “Both views arise out of consideration of an eternal, logical ‘order of the things of the decree,’ or ordo rerum decretarum, in the mind of God.”[5] Put in the simplest forms, the logical order of God’s decree could be summarized as:

Infralapsarianism: Creation, Fall, Predestination.

Supralapsarianism: Predestination, Creation, Fall.

Muller adds: “The infralapsarian view…places the divine will to create human beings with free will and the decree to permit the fall prior to the election of some to salvation.”[6] On the other hand, Supralapsarianists teach that “the election and reprobation of individuals are logically prior to the divine decree of creation and the divine ordination to permit the fall.”[7] Moreover, it is important to note that the order of God’s decree is a logical order and not a chronological order. The entire order of creation, fall, predestination happened in God’s mind before the actual creation occurred in time. Muller explains. “ordo rerum decretarum refers to the arrangement (oro) of the entire causality of salvation under the divine decretum. [The term] arose out of the concern of the Reformed to construct an order of divine saving causality resting upon the logical priorities in the eternal decree as they arise out of the nature and purpose of God.”[8]

One of the points of contention between Supralapsarians and Infralapsarians is on the object of predestination, or to be exact, the status of the object of predestination. The Supralapsarianist claims that in the divine mind, the human object of predestination is “creabilis et labilis, creatable and fallible, i.e. as a possibility for creation and as capable of falling.”[9] On the other hand, the Infralapsarians view the object of predestination as “creatus et lapsus, created and fallen”, in the divine mind.[10]

The other point of contention is the end of man’s existence, namely, whether the end of man’s existence is for the displaying of God’s glory (as the Supralapsarians claimed) or the end was man’s salvation (as the Infralapsarians claimed). With different ends in view, the means to the ends also differ from one another. In Supralapsarian view, the means to the end are creation and fall, while in Infralapsarian view, the means to the end is predestination. Muller explains: “In [Supralapsarian] view, the prior purpose of God is the manifestation of his glory in the mercy of election and the justice of reprobation, while the creation itself and the decree to permit the fall are secondary purposes, or means to the end, of election and reprobation… In [Infralapsarian] view, the prior purpose of God is the creation of human beings for fellowship with himself, and the decree to elect some to salvation appears as a means to the end of that fellowship.”[11] The scope of this paper is to briefly examine the arguments Turretin presented in the chapter “The Object of Predestination” of his Institutes of Elenctic Theology and compare with arguments for Supralapsarianism, especially by William Twisse (being the champion of Supralapsarianism[12]).

Turretin in his chapter on the Object of Predestination offers five arguments for Infralapsarianism: 1) A non-entity cannot be the object of predestination. 2) Man creatable is only one of the many possible creations; therefore they are not eligible for predestination. 3) Man creatable is not eligible for predestination or reprobation because they have not yet fallen. 4) Creation and fall are not means of predestination. (means and condition distinguished.) 5) Supralapsarianism would have had God reprobated men before they were reprobatable through sin.[13]

His first argument is: “A non-entity cannot be the object of predestination.”[14] He points out that predestination (salvation and destruction) are the ends of the existing subject, and it is illogical for the Supralapsarians to claim that there would be ends to the “creatable yet non-existent” object. He explains:

“that the salvation and destruction which are intended by predestination are the ends which are introduced into the subject (which moreover is supposed already to exist)…so the decree concerning the salvation or damnation of man ought to regard man as fallen (because redemption or destruction was destined for him). Moreover, every subject is conceived to be before its adjuncts.”[15]

This is a logical argument from Turretin, that God could not decree to predestine an object that has not been decreed to exist, and it is therefore illogical for Supralapsarians to claim that the object of predestination was “man creatable.” Beardslee comments Turretin’s argument: “Turretin argues largely within the framework of scholastic speculation, declaring that nothing can be decreed concerning a non ens.”[16]

Turretin emphasized that the end of man’s existence is predestination unto salvation. He assumes that the end of man’s existence is salvation without offering any arguments for it. In fact, Turretin’s argument of non ens would be valid if the end of man’s existence was indeed salvation (fellowship with God). It is logical that if an end is to exist for an entity, then that entity must first exist.

However, Supralapsarianists like Twisse does not think that salvation is the end of man’s existence, but rather the Glory of God. Twisse acknowledged that the end of man’s existence does indeed determine the order of God’s decree. He writes: “The ordering of God’s decrees of Creation, Permission of the fall of Adam, giving or denying Grace, salvation or damnation…the resolution whereof, depends upon the right definition of these decrees, in reference to the end, and the means tending to that end.[17] A different end will naturally alter the order of decrees and the means to the end.

Twisse contends that the Glory of God is the ultimate end of man’s existence, and thus predestination, creation, and fall are all means to that ultimate end.

“But if salvation and damnation be no ends intended by God, but means rather, as well as creation, and permission of all to sin in Adam, together with the raising of some therehence, and leaving some therein, tending to some farther end, namely, the manifestation of God’s glory in a certain kind, as the Scripture together with manifest reason doth justify. For God being the supreme efficient, must necessarily be the last end.”[18]

For Twisse, God is the Supreme Being who must necessarily be the final end of all. On the other hand, Turretin argued (under his fourth argument) that creation and fall is not the means for predestination. Twisse would agree with him on this, except he would argue that predestination itself is not an end but also a mean to an end. Twisses explains:

“So that if God be please to manifest his glorious beneficence on man in the highest degree, and that in the way of mercy mixed with justice; this end requires and bespeaks both creation (no glory at all being manifestable without this) and permission of sin (otherwise it could not be manifested in the way of mercy) and satisfaction for sin (otherwise this mercy could not be mixed with justice exactly) and faith and repentance (otherwise the good which God intends could not be bestowed by way of reward) and last of all salvation, under which we comprehend, the highest and most blessed condition that the nature of man, continuing a mere man, is capable of.”[19]

Thus he categorized all these decrees as means to the end, the glory of God. Furthermore, Twisse categorize all these decrees under one mean, and one decree, which he named “one formal decree” or “the decree of the means.”

“Herehence we conclude, that in case the end is such as hath been specified, and all these actions following, congruous means tending to that end, therefore the decree of manifesting God’s glory, as above specified, is first with God, and secondly the decree of the means; which means although they are many materially, yet they come all under one formal notion of means tending to a certain end, which according to the several parts thereof bespeaks them all, and consequently they are all to be considered, as making up the object of one formal decree, called the decree of the means: and the intention of none of them is before another, but all intended at once, as means tending to that end which is first intended.”[20]

The last sentence is the most fascinating part. He states that these orderings of decrees are not be a matter of contention, because they are all decreed at once and they all belong to one decree, namely, the decree of the means. Why should one argue endlessly on the ordering of these decrees when they all belong to one formal decree? He expounds:

“The means…required are, creation, permission of sin, and damnation unto punishment, and all three makes up the object of one formal decree, which is to be called the decree of the means. So that likes as God doth not intend the creatures creation, before he intends his damnation, in the same respect he cannot be said to intend his damnation, before he intends his creation, or the permission of his sin.”[21]

All these decrees are inter-dependent of each other. God cannot decree creation without predestination in mind, and God cannot decree predestination without creation in mind. Therefore, Turretin’s first argument of non-entity is not so much invalid, but it is irrelevant. For a Supralapsarianist like Twisse, the order of decrees is an irrelevant issue, but God’s glory being the end is the relevant issue.

Turretin’s second argument is: man creatable is one of the many possible creations; therefore they are not eligible for predestination. He explains: “there were innumerable possible men who never were to be created, and, consequently, neither to be saved, nor damned.”[22] He argued that if the decree of predestination precedes the decree of creation, then within that decree of predestination many creatable men would be predestined but yet never to be created. “It is absurdity”[23], declared Turretin. “For besides the absurdity of saying they were creatable (if they could not be created), no reason can be brought why as many as were creatable did not fall under the object of predestination.”[24]

Again Turretin offered quite a logical argument, if the order of decrees were linear in the order of predestination-creation-fall, then it would indeed be absurd for God to predestinate the creatable-yet-never-would-be-created men. However, if Twisse was correct in presenting Supralapsarianism, (that there is only one formal decree of means) then it would be perfectly logical for Supralapsarians to assert that man creatable and man-created-and-fallen are one and the same. They are not two different groups of men under two different decrees, but same group of people under the same decree. Twisse’s words are still relevant here: “So that likes as God doth not intend the creatures creation, before he intends his damnation, in the same respect he cannot be said to intend his damnation, before he intends his creation, or the permission of his sin.”[25] It is futile for Turretin to separate creatable and created man here and build an argument on it. Once again Turretin’s argument fell short.

Turretin’s third argument is: man-creatable is not eligible for predestination or reprobation because they have not yet fallen. He writes: “The object of the divine predestination ought to be either one eligible through mercy or reprobatable through justice. This cannot be said of man creatable and liable to fall, but only man as created and fallen.”[26] Here Turretin introduces the concept of mercy and justice into the discussion. Turretin argues that if Supralapsarians were right, then God would have to predestine man who are not yet fallen to destruction and man who are not yet fallen to salvation. Men who are not yet fallen cannot be justly destroyed and men who are not yet fallen do not need salvation through mercy. He develops the issue of justice and mercy fuller in the fifth argument, so we will look at this issue of justice and mercy in detail along with the fifth argument. It suffices to say that Turretin made a sound argument here that men who are not yet fallen are not eligible for just punishment or merciful salvation. A man who is not sick does not need a physician.

In Turretin’s fourth argument he readdressed the issue of means and the ends. He argued that Creation and fall are not the means of predestination, but they are the conditions under which predestination operates. He gives four reasons why creation and fall are not the means to the end of predestination.

  1. The Scripture never speaks of them as such.
  2. Means has connection with the end, but neither creation nor fall are necessary connected with election or reprobation.
  3. The means ought to have same order and dispensation. Creation and fall belongs to natural order of dispensation and providence, but election and damnation belongs to the supernatural order of predestination.
  4. If they were means, it is absurd for God to decree saving and destroying them before he had decreed anything about his futurition and fall.[27]

It is interesting for Turretin in (c.) to place creation and fall under the natural order (providence) and predestination under supernatural order. Whether these are the correct categories to place them under is beyond the scope of this paper, but there is nothing illogical to have the natural order to be the means of the supernatural end. God could have used anything to be the means of his supernatural ends. Jesus became flesh in the natural order to be the means of the supernatural end, that is, our salvation. However, since Turretin did not elaborate on this subject, but moved on quickly to distinguish means from conditions, so we will also move on to examine his differentiation between means and conditions.

Turretin stressed that creation and fall are not means to the end of predestination, but they are only the conditions that are necessary for men to receive salvation and punishment. He writes:

“For although sin and creation are required antecedently to the illustration of mercy and justice, it does not follow that they were means, but only the requisite conditions…thus existence and ductility are supposed in clay as the condition for making vessels for honor or for dishonor, but it is not the mean. Disease in the sick is the previous condition without which he is not cured, but it is not the mean by which he is cured.”[28]

Here Turretin made a strong argument against the Supralapsarianists. According to Twisse, creation, fall (sin), and predestination are all means to the ultimate end—God’s glory. Turretin argues here that creation and fall are not means to anything, but they are the necessary conditions for predestination to operate. Like a disease is the condition on which healing can be done, so creation and fall are just the condition on which salvation and reprobation can be done. However, a question which Turretin does not anticipate must be raised here: is predestination contingent upon the fall and therefore is necessitated by the fall? If creation is the necessary condition for the fall, and the fall the necessary condition for predestination, then predestination is indeed a contingent event that is necessitated by the fall. If the fall had not happen, then predestination would not have happened either. If the salvation of man is indeed the end according to Turretin, is that end dependent on a contingency?

Twisse addressed this question from a slightly different angle. His question for Infralapsarianists was: is sin the cause of predestination? Or more to be precise: is sin the cause of reprobation? Although causes and conditions are not exactly identical terms, but Turretin does argue that God cannot decree salvation unless man falls first. Man’s action of sin must be logically prior to God’s action of election and reprobation. God cannot reprobate a sinner unless the sinner commits sins first. Man’s action (or condition) of sin becomes the efficient cause of God’s reprobation; God’s decree is held back by the free will of man and until man acts first God cannot act at all. Twisse thinks it is mad for any man to claim that the fall is the cause of reprobation. “Now as touching the act of predestination never any man (saith Aquinas) was so mad as to say that the merits of man are the cause of predestination.”[29] Twisse builds an argument for his claim.

  1. That the moving cause of reprobation, is the alone will of God, and not the sin of man original or actual.
  2. This is true in proportion to election, that lie as no good work of man is the moving cause of election, but only the will of God; so no sin or evil work of man is the cause of reprobation, but only the will of God.[30]

Twisse first states that man’s sin cannot be the moving cause of God’s act of predestination. God did not predestinate man because man had sinned; God predestined man according to His will and His pleasure. (Eph. 1:5) This is the fundamental concern of the whole debate, because God’s predestination of the elect is never based on the actions of the elect. No Infralapsarianists would ever agree that God’s election of man is based on the foreseen faith, and Twisse argues here that it is equally absurd to claim that God reprobates man on the condition of foreseen unbelief (sin). For this is the position of the semi-Palegians which Turretin vehemently speak against.[31] In other words, Twisse is essentially saying that God with His absolute will did not need man-fallen to be the condition of predestination. God decreed creation, fall, and predestination, and actualized them in time for His own Glory. There were no conditions or moving causes for God to create, to decree the fall, and to decree election/reprobation.

Twisse cites Romans 9 to further supplement his argument: “And proveth thus, before Esau and Jacob were born, or had done good or evil, it was said, the elder shall serve the younger; therefore election is not of works (that is of good works) but of him that calleth.”

Here on this point Turretin asserts that the twin brothers Esau and Jacob are already in the fallen condition: “The mass of which Paul speaks (Rom. 9:21) is the …corrupt mass.” However, whether Paul speaks of a corrupt mass or not is irrelevant here, because the condition of the mass is not the moving cause of God’s election and reprobation. Esau was reprobated (or passed-on as Turretin would say) not because he was corrupt (for Jacob was equally corrupt), and Jacob was chosen not because he was in anyway better than Esau. God’s election of Jacob and reprobation of Esau is entirely based on His eternal will. Twisse is simply arguing that God does not need man to be a corrupt mass to reprobate them and elect them. Twisse concludes: “therefore reprobation stands not of works, (that is of evil works) but of the mere pleasure of God… as the Apostle afterwards professeth, He hath mercy on whom he will.[32]

The fifth argument Turretin used was: Supralapsarianism would have had God reprobated men before they were reprobatable through sin. He writes:

“This opinion is easily misrepresented (eudiabletos), as if God reprobated men before they were reprobatable through sin, and destined the innocent to punishment before any criminality was foreseen in them. It would mean not that he willed to damn them because they were sinners, but that he permitted them to become sinners in order that they might be punished. And it would imply he determined to create that he might destroy them.”[33]

This argument is essentially the extension of the fourth argument of condition, (although it also involves the third argument’s mercy and justice issue.) Turretin argues that according to the Supralapsarianists, God would have reprobated man before they were in the reprobatable condition and in doing so God is essentially creating man so that he could destroy them. However, Turretin seemed to overlook the fact the same thing can spoken of the Infralapsarianism here. God’s decree of fall is a decree to have man to become creatus et lapsus, created and fallen. The fall of man is in the eternal decree of God; no matter whether you were a Supralapsarianist or an Infralapsarianist, you would have to deal with the fact that God willed (or decreed) man to fall. Infralapsarianists would still have to answer the question: why would God decree man to fall and then bypass them by not electing them to salvation? Turretin the would argue that it is just for God to pass over the reprobate. But the question still remain, is it just for God to decree the fall of man in the first place? If God did not decree the fall then He would not have to “justly” pass over the reprobates. The issue Turretin raised here in his fifth argument certainly is not the issue only the Supralapsarianists had to deal with. The semi-Palegians would definitely have an answer for it, but both the Infralapsarianists and Supralapsarianists would condemn such an answer.

Twisse’s point on the cause of God’s predestination is still relevant here. God did not reprobate some people according to the foreseen crimes, and men do not have to be in the reprobatable condition for God to reprobate them. God’s act of election and reprobation is not caused by man’s actions, and God’s will alone is the moving cause for his act of predestination. Twisse adds more reasons for his point and I will only quote two which are relevant here.

  1. Predestination and reprobation are eternal, but good works and evil works of the creature are temporal; but impossible it is, that a thing temporal, can be the cause of that which is eternal. 2. The act of predestination and reprobation is the act of God’s will, and the act of God’s will, like as the act of his knowledge, is the very essence of God even God himself; and therefore to introduce a cause of God’s will, is to bring in a cause of God himself.[34]

The two reasons can be summarized as: 1. Temporal things cannot be the cause of eternal act. 2. God’s will is the essence of God, and since God cannot be caused then His will cannot be caused either. Turretin had created a scenario in which God’s eternal will and justice are questioned and his Infralapsarianism cannot solve the problem either.

In conclusion, the debate between Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism should be re-focused on the end of man’s existence. Is man created to be elected or is man created to glorify God and enjoy him forever? The focus of the debate should shift away from the order of decrees to the topic of means and ends. The endless debates on the order of decrees will only bring exhaustion, but finding out the chief end of man and the means to the end is edifying. The Westminster Larger Catechism addresses this issue as the first and foremost issue.

Infralapsarianism and Supralapsarianism have co-existed within the Reformed tradition for many centuries. Although the Synod of Dort took a deceive Infralapsarian view, it did not rule out Supralapsarianism as a heresy. Very able men like Turretin and Twisse have argued for their cases very well. Although Turretin’s argument seemed inadequate at times, Infralapsarianism is in no wise an error. The church catholic will continue to have debates on this important subject, but the close examination of both Turretin and Twisse indeed helped us to understand the core issues here. I hope that investigations in this paper offers a context on which both the Infralapsarianists and Supralapsarianists can humbly continue the discussion that brings unity and exaltation of God’s glory.

[1] See John Walter Beardslee, Theological Development At Geneva Under Francis Turretin, (Ph.D.

diss., Yale University, 1956), 1-4.

[2] Richard A. Muller, “Scholasticism Protestant and Catholic: Francis Turretin on the Object and Principles of Theology” in Church History, Vol. 55, No. 2 (Jun., 1986), Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Society of Church History pp. 193.

[3] Francis Turretin, Trans. George Musgrave Giger. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1992, IV, ix.

[4] J. V. Fesko, Diversity within the reformed tradition : supra- and infralapsarianism in Calvin, Dort, and Westminster, (Ph.D diss., University of Aberdeen, 1999), 243.

[5] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek theological terms : Drawn principally from Protestant scholastic theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985, 292.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 215

[9] Ibid., 292.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] See William Young, “The Life and Work of William Twisse” PRC Magazine, Spring, 1993.

[13] Turretin, 343-44.

[14] Ibid., 343.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Beardslee, 404.

[17] William Twisse, “The riches of God’s love unto the vessells of mercy, consistent with his absolute hatred or reprobation of the vessells of wrath…” Early English Books Online – EEBO., pp. 10.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., 11.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Turretin, 343.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Twisse, 11.

[26] Turretin, 343.

[27] Ibid. 344

[28] Ibid.

[29] Twisse, 36.

[30] Ibid., 35

[31] Turretin, 342.

[32] Twisse, 36

[33] Turretin, 344.

[34] Twisse, 36.