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PredestinationThe American Career of a Contentious Doctrine$

Peter J. Thuesen

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195174274

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195174274.001.0001

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(p.219) Glossary of Theological Terms

(p.219) Glossary of Theological Terms

Oxford University Press

BECAUSE PREDESTINATION is entangled in such a complex web of related questions of Christian theology, debates over the doctrine have often involved a great deal of technical vocabulary. While this terminology is familiar to theologians, it can leave the average reader mystified. Moreover, even theologically trained scholars disagree on how to define certain key predestinarian concepts. I therefore provide the glossary below not only for nonspecialists but for anyone curious about how I use certain disputed terms in this volume. Most of the words below are also defined, at least briefly, within the chapters, but this glossary consolidates fuller explanations (along with a few additional endnote citations) in one place. In devising this tool, I have consulted several standard resources. The most useful and technically detailed one‐volume work is Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1985). For more general purposes, standard references include F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Richard P. McBrien et al., eds., The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1995); and Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1996).

  1. Anglican. The adjective used here to describe the transatlantic theological tradition that includes, among others, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church. Because of its gradual evolution as a “middle way” between (p.220) Protestant and Catholic extremes, Anglicanism has long encompassed both Calvinist and Arminian perspectives on predestination, with the latter predominating since the Restoration in 1660. To its New England Puritan opponents, Anglicanism was virtually synonymous with Arminianism.

  2. Arminianism. Calvinism's leading rival in American Protestant theology, often used as a synonym for belief in conditional election. Named for the Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius (1559–1609), Arminianism posits that God grants prevenient grace to all people, enabling them to choose or reject Christ, and elects persons conditionally, according to his foresight of their faith. In the United States, the Methodists were the most numerous Arminians and led the anti‐Calvinist charge in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Arminianism also influenced a wide variety of other groups, including many Baptists, Episcopalians, and Pentecostals.

  3. calling. Latin, vocatio. God's summons to his children through the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the gospel. Reformed scholastics taught that though the gospel is proclaimed to all people, only the elect are effectually called by God. The Reformed thus conceived of calling as one of the unbreakable links in the golden chain of salvation. In a more general sense, calling may also refer to any divine summons, e.g., to a particular career or vocation.

  4. Calvinism. In American Protestantism, the most influential system of belief in unconditional election; contrast with Arminianism. Named for the French‐born Reformed theologian John Calvin (1509–1564) but sometimes only loosely grounded in his own writings, Calvinism posits that God elects certain persons for salvation apart from any consideration of their future faith. Calvinists have typically been either infralapsarian or supralapsarian, though Calvin himself predated this technical distinction. In America, groups rooted in Calvinistic (or Calvinist; both forms are used as an adjective) theology include the New England Puritans, the Presbyterians, many Baptists, and various other Reformed denominations.

  5. conversion. From the Latin conversio (literally, a turning round), the Holy Spirit's inclining of a person's mind, will, and heart toward Christ through repentance and faith. In present‐day parlance, conversion often refers to switching from one religious tradition or denomination to another, but for the groups treated here, conversion means the initial transformation wrought in a person by God's grace. The New England Puritans required a conversion relation (often given as public testimony) for church membership; conversion, if judged to be genuine, thus became an indirect sign of election.

  6. creabilis et labilis. Latin, “creatable and fallible”: the human object of election in the supralapsarian view.

  7. (p.221)
  8. creatus et lapsus. Latin, “created and fallen”: the human object of election in the infralapsarian view.

  9. decree(s), eternal. Particularly in Reformed theology, God's willing and ordering of the plan of salvation; often synonymous with predestination. Though seventeenth‐century Reformed scholastics debated the order of the decrees of the creation, the Fall, and predestination (see infralapsarian and supralapsarian), this order was always understood as logical rather than temporal, since all knowledge and willing were regarded as simultaneous in the divine mind.

  10. decretum horribile. Latin, “dreadful (or terrifying) decree”: term from Calvin referring to the awe‐ or fear‐inspiring aspect of predestination, especially for unconverted persons. As Richard Muller has argued, it does not translate as “horrible decree” and “in no way implies that the eternal decree is somehow unjust.”1 Nevertheless, “the horrible decree” became a common nickname for unconditional predestination among Calvinism's opponents, including Charles Wesley, who wrote a polemical hymn by that title.

  11. double predestination. The idea that both election and reprobation are in some sense decreed by God. Sometimes equated with supralapsarianism, double predestination is really a separate issue. Calvin, for example, insisted that there could be no election without reprobation, but he never spelled out the precise order of God's decrees, as his later followers did in the supralapsarian‐infralapsarian debate.2 Yet reprobation always created a logical burden for theologians who were intent on preserving human culpability for sin. To place reprobation on the same plane with election (as equally decreed by God) seemed to many thinkers to foreclose all possibility of human responsibility or guilt. Some theologians therefore preferred to speak of single predestination (election only), referring to the reprobate as “foreknown” rather than decreed, as such, by God. Other theologians, especially the Reformed, spoke of double decrees of election and reprobation but disagreed on whether they were logically parallel. Infralapsarians typically spoke of reprobation as a negative, or passive, act whereby God simply left certain fallen humans in their sin. Supralapsarians taught “fully double predestination” whereby election and reprobation were “positive, coordinate decrees.”3

  12. election. The positive side of predestination: God's eternal choice, in Christ, of certain persons for salvation.

  13. eternal security. The term preferred by some Protestants, especially Southern Baptists, for the doctrine of perseverance.

  14. evangelical. A term with various meanings in U.S. history. Among some non‐Anglo groups such as Lutherans, evangelical was often simply synonymous with “Protestant.” In this volume, evangelical most often denotes (p.222) the transatlantic tradition of revivalistic Protestantism, which was rooted in the eighteenth‐century Great Awakening. It includes both Calvinist and Arminian factions and stresses the importance of a “new birth” conversion experience. Many nineteenth‐century Protestants who debated predestination were heirs of this broadly evangelical tradition, even as some developed liberal views (for example, of biblical interpretation).

  15. five points. See TULIP.

  16. foreknowledge. God's eternal knowledge of all things before they occur in human time. Predestinarian debates in the Christian tradition and in U.S. history have typically hinged on whether God elects persons unconditionally, i.e., apart from his foreknowledge of their faith (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin), or conditionally, i.e., because of (or, at least, in view of) their future faith (Molina, Arminius, some later Lutheran scholastics, Wesley). Though divine foreknowledge is logically distinct from foreordination, theologians, particularly those who taught conditional election, were always at pains to explain how God could infallibly know future human choices without in some sense determining them.4

  17. Glossary of Theological Terms

    Foxtrot by Bill Amend (2003). Universal Press Syndicate.

  18. fundamentalist. Adjective used here to denote an insistence on the inerrancy and divine inspiration of scripture—the idea that the Bible is the literal word of God, uncorrupted by error or human invention. Fundamentalism naturally exacerbates predestinarian conflicts because it promotes the assumption that the Bible contains just one, divinely inspired doctrine of election.

  19. godly. Nickname for the strongly Calvinist party in the Elizabethan Church of England, the people who would later be known as Puritans.

  20. golden chain. Name used by Reformed theologians for the unbreakable sequence of salvation spelled out by the apostle Paul in Romans 8:30— predestination, calling, justification, glorification. Reformed scholastics later amplified this ordo salutis (order of salvation) to include additional stages.

  21. (p.223)
  22. infralapsarian. Latin, “below the fall”; sometimes called sublapsarian.5 (Contrast with supralapsarian.) Among Reformed scholastics, the most common view of the order of God's eternal decrees, placing predestination after the Fall in the sequence of divine logic. Thus, God is said to have decreed unconditionally (1) to create humans in his image, (2) to permit the Fall (lapsus), and (3) to elect certain fallen people to salvation in Christ while passing over the rest and leaving them in their lapsed state to suffer eternal damnation. (Though most infralapsarians preferred the passive language of “passing over,” some spoke of reprobation as a “double” decree with election.)6 The objects of election in infralapsarianism are therefore future humans envisioned as already created and fallen (creatus et lapsus).

  23. intuitu fidei. Latin, “in view of faith”: the predestinarian formula favored by some Lutheran scholastics, including Aegidius Hunnius (1550–1603) and Johann Gerhard (1582–1637), that God elects persons in view of the faith that he himself grants to them. Because “in view of faith” rested both election and its condition in God, the formula was said by its supporters to avoid the alleged taint of synergism. But to its opponents, intuitu fidei appeared only a hair's breadth away from Arminianism. In American Lutheranism, the doctrine became the source of a major controversy between the Missouri Synod (whose leaders opposed it in favor of Luther's own unconditional election) and more liberal synods.

  24. justification. God's gracious act of making sinful persons righteous or, as Protestants came to define it, God's reckoning (or counting) sinful persons as righteous. The question of whether justification requires the cooperation of human free will (the Catholic view) or whether it is by grace alone through faith (the Protestant view) was one of the central doctrinal debates of the Reformation. Protestants' emphasis on grace alone (sola gratia) naturally led many to embrace an unconditional view of the closely related doctrine of predestination as a safeguard against any hint of synergism.

  25. liberal. Adjective used here to denote the view that scripture and doctrinal tradition are conditioned by time and circumstance and are therefore neither infallible nor above reassessment.

  26. limited atonement. The Reformed doctrine that Christ died for the elect only. Reformed theologians insisted that though the atonement remained of infinite value, God decreed eternally that Christ's death would actually be effectual only for the elect.7 By contrast, Catholics, Arminians, and Lutherans regarded limited‐atonement language as an unwarranted restriction on the saving potential of Christ's death.

  27. modernist. Essentially a synonym here for liberal, though with the additional connotation of a Darwinian‐influenced, evolutionary view of Christian doctrinal development. Many nineteenth‐ and twentieth‐century liberal (p.224) Protestants (e.g., the Presbyterian advocates of confessional revision) argued that Christianity had evolved beyond the predestinarian formulas of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

  28. Molinism. Named for the Spanish Jesuit Luis de Molina (1535–1600), perhaps the most sophisticated attempt, at least since the Reformation, to theorize how God could unfailingly foreknow the contingent acts of his free creatures. Molina called this special type of divine foresight scientia media (middle knowledge): God's infallible awareness of what creatures would certainly do in a particular set of circumstances. Molina linked divine election to foreknowledge of human conduct; he spoke of election as being post praevisa merita (after foresight of merits). Both the Molinism of the Jesuits and the more conservative Thomism of the Dominicans were deemed acceptable by the Catholic Church when Pope Paul V declared a truce between the warring factions in 1607.

  29. original sin. The Western Christian (Catholic and Protestant) doctrine, originating with Augustine, that in Adam's disobedience humans fell from grace and human nature itself was tainted by an inherent sinfulness. Belief in original sin allows predestinarians to argue that unconditional election is merciful since all people are born corrupt and therefore (according to Augustinian logic) deserving of damnation.

  30. Pelagianism. The chief rival (declared heretical by the church in the fifth century) to the Augustinian doctrine of original sin. Pelagius (c. 350–c. 425) taught that Adam's sin tainted only Adam; humans by nature remain essentially good and able to choose a life of virtue. Pelagianism thus removes the absolute dependence on God's electing grace that is the cornerstone of Augustinian predestinarianism.

  31. predestinarian. Of or relating to the doctrine of predestination. When used as a noun in reference to persons, it denotes one strongly committed to a particular doctrine of predestination (often, unconditional election).

  32. predestination. Latin, praedestinatio. In Christian tradition, the eternal decree of God appointing humans to their ultimate ends, with the elect (the saved) manifesting divine mercy and the reprobate (the damned) manifesting divine justice. Though predestination (the divine foreordination of each person's eternal destiny) is to be distinguished from providence (God's more general ordering of all things), the distinction has often been blurred in popular understanding.

  33. preexistence. The doctrine, taught by a Christian minority from the early church father Origen (c. 185–c. 254) to the Mormons in the United States, that humans prior to their births existed spiritually in heaven with God and were endowed even then with the free will to choose Christ. In rebelling against the seeming determinism of Calvinism, the Mormons (Latter‐day (p.225) Saints) radically extended human free agency into both premortal and postmortal existence. Outside of the Latter‐day Saint tradition, the preexistence of souls is regarded as heretical, owing to the condemnation of the doctrine by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553).

  34. preterition. Latin, praeteritio: “a passing by.” Term favored by infralapsarians for God's passing over the non‐elect and leaving them in the fallen mass of humankind. Preterition, conceived as a negative, or passive, act of God's will (as opposed to his positive willing in election) was thought to remove the implication that God preemptively damned persons for no cause of their own.

  35. prevenient grace. Latin, gratia praeveniens: grace that “comes before” any human response to God; sometimes called “preventing grace” in older sources. It is associated especially with Arminianism, which taught that God gives prevenient grace to all people, enabling them to accept or reject Christ. To Calvinists, prevenient grace is simply the first in a series of graces given irresistibly to the elect.8

  36. providence. God's continual ordering of all things, or the divine direction of all things toward foreordained ends. It is related but not identical to predestination, which may be defined as the aspect of providence pertaining to the eternal destinies of individuals. Thoroughgoing predestinarians have often been the strongest advocates of God's providential superintendence of even life's smallest details.

  37. purgatory. From the Latin verb purgo, “to clean (or cleanse)”: in Catholic doctrine, the intermediate state (between heaven and hell) of purification for persons insufficiently cleansed of venial sins at their deaths. Though persons in purgatory are presumed to be already elect, the practical effect of the doctrine is to temper predestination's absoluteness by involving the living church in praying for the swift release of the suffering souls. Purgatory thus reinforces a sacramental and intercessory, rather than a purely predestinarian, view of salvation. Protestants rejected purgatory and with it the Apocrypha (or deuterocanonical books), the source of the doctrine's principal proof text (2 Maccabees 12:46).9

  38. Puritan. Of or related to the zealously Calvinist faction, also nicknamed the godly, that originated in the Elizabethan Church of England. Puritans—British historians often lowercase the term—were so called because of their desire to purify the church of the alleged impurities (both doctrinal and ritual) left over from Catholicism. Puritan theologians such as William Perkins (1558–1602) were among the most thoroughgoing predestinarians in Anglo Protestantism and contributed, along with Dutch and German Calvinists, to the tradition of Reformed scholasticism. Though Puritanism as a political force in England was routed at the Restoration in 1660, the transatlantic (p.226) tradition of Puritan theology extended in America through the career of Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758).

  39. Reformed. The Protestant theological tradition often called “Calvinist” but predating Calvin to include the first‐generation reformer Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531). In the last half of the sixteenth century, two major traditions of Protestant scholasticism emerged: Reformed and Lutheran. Both theorized predestination in considerable technical detail, but the Reformed tradition (which included Puritanism) came to be more popularly associated with predestinarianism, owing in part to the minority supralapsarians, who devised the most absolute version of the doctrine.

  40. Remonstrants. The Arminian (anti‐Calvinist) party in the Netherlands, whose Remonstrance (1610) was confuted by the Synod of Dort (1618–1619), which enshrined five‐point Calvinism (see TULIP) as Reformed orthodoxy.

  41. renate. From the Latin renatus, “born again”: an obsolete term occasionally used (as by the American Puritan poet Michael Wigglesworth) to refer to the elect.

  42. reprobation. The negative side of predestination: God's eternal choice of certain persons for damnation. Whereas all Catholic and Protestant theologians spoke of election, many were uncomfortable with talk of reprobation, preferring instead to speak of preterition, or God's merely “passing over” the non‐elect.

  43. scholasticism. Originally the term for the school‐based (university) theology of Aquinas and other medieval theologians who systematized Christian doctrine using the logic of Aristotle and other classical thinkers. Scholasticism also refers to the traditions of Protestant orthodoxy developed by Reformed and Lutheran dogmaticians between the latter half of the sixteenth century and the early eighteenth century. American Puritans such as Samuel Willard (1640–1707) and Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) were conversant in the writings of continental Protestant scholastics thanks to the movement's lingua franca, Latin. Both medieval Catholic and early modern Protestant scholasticism theorized predestination with considerable technical sophistication.

  44. scientia media. Latin, “middle knowledge”: the Molinist theory of God's infallible foreknowledge of individuals' merit (or, as Arminian Protestants would have it, faith). Middle knowledge was in between God's natural (or necessary) knowledge of all possibilities and causal relations and his free knowledge of things he actually willed to be. Scientia media thus stood between God's knowledge of the merely possible and his knowledge of the actual—an elusive middle ground that many critics doubted really existed.

  45. semi‐Pelagianism. The doctrine, often associated with John Cassian (c. 360–c. 435), that, while not denying original sin (as in full‐blown (p.227)

    Glossary of Theological Terms

    Frazz by Jef Mallett (2005). United Feature Syndicate.

    Pelagianism), taught that the human will's ability to cooperate with God was injured but not destroyed by Adam's sin. Humans thus retain enough God‐given natural ability to take the initial step toward Christ. After the Council of Orange (529) condemned this notion, semi‐Pelagian became a favorite term of abuse among strict Augustinians (and, later, Calvinists) for any theology hinting of synergism.

  46. supralapsarian. Latin, “above the fall”; sometimes called prelapsarian.10 (Contrast with infralapsarian.) Among the Reformed scholastics, the minority view of the order of God's eternal decrees, placing predestination before the Fall in the sequence of divine logic. Thus, God was said to have decreed unconditionally (1) to elect certain individuals and reprobate others, (2) to create humans in his image, and (3) to permit the Fall (lapsus). The objects of election in supralapsarianism were therefore future humans envisioned as creatable and capable of falling (creabilis et labilis). To its proponents, such as the American Puritan Samuel Willard (1640–1707), supralapsarianism best safeguarded the absolutely unconditional nature of predestination. God's primal purpose was to glorify himself, manifesting his mercy in election and his justice in reprobation. Even the creation was merely a means to this end. To its infralapsarian opponents, however, supralapsarianism was logically nonsensical because it seemed to make a nonentity (the not yet created person) the object of election.11 To many later American theologians, supralapsarianism came to symbolize the alleged rigidity and absoluteness of Calvinism.

  47. synergism. From the Latin synergismus: “a working together.” Term used for theologies, such as Arminianism and the Lutheranism of Philipp Melanchthon, that posited some form of cooperation between the human will and divine grace in the process of salvation. Opponents often equated (p.228) Arminian and Melanchthonian synergism with semi‐Pelagianism, but their “evangelical synergism,” according to one contemporary Arminian theologian, insisted that prevenient grace must still precede any human move toward Christ.12

  48. tentatio praedestinationis. Latin, “predestinarian temptation or trial.” A term used in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), written by Zwingli's successor Heinrich Bullinger, for excessive anxiety about one's eternal election. The New England Puritans sometimes spoke of this as predestinarian “melancholy.”

  49. Thomism. The theology of Thomas Aquinas and his later disciples; the dominant school among Catholic theologians through much of U.S. history. Unlike Molinism, which long prevailed among the Jesuits, the more conservative Thomism of the Dominicans taught that God elects persons apart from any foreseen merit. Consequently, in the controversy between the two sides that began in the late sixteenth century, the Jesuits sometimes accused the Dominicans of being “Calvinists.” Pope Paul V in 1607 forbade further fighting between the two sides, in effect declaring the teaching of each to be acceptable.

  50. TULIP. Acronym popular among Calvinists for the five‐point Reformed orthodoxy based loosely on the Canons of Dort (1618–1619): total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. The five points taught that (1) humans in their natural state are dead in sin, incapable of any saving good; (2) election is based on nothing foreseen in humans; (3) Christ's atoning death, though infinite in value, is efficacious only for the elect in God's eternal plan; (4) Christ's saving purpose for the elect cannot be thwarted; and (5) the elect cannot fall away but will be preserved in saving grace unto the end. The same five points correspond loosely to the teaching of the Westminster Confession and thus became the reigning orthodoxy of the New England Puritans. In the twenty‐first century, TULIP has become a rallying cry for groups seeking to reinvigorate Calvinism in various traditions (e.g., in the Southern Baptist Convention).

  51. universalism. The doctrine, taught in early Christianity by Origen (c. 185–c. 254) and in America by the Universalist Church (later merged into the Unitarian Universalist Association), that God intends to save all people in the end. American Universalists disagreed over whether a period of hell punishment for the wicked would precede universal salvation. Calvinists, meanwhile, sometimes falsely accused Methodists of teaching universalism, even though the Methodist doctrine of prevenient grace posited only that all people could be saved if they believed.


(1.) Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1985), 88.

(2.) In defending double predestination, Calvin lamented that many people, “as if they wished to avert a reproach from God, accept election in such terms as to deny that anyone is condemned. But they do this very ignorantly and childishly, since election itself could not stand except as set over against reprobation.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill and trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), III.23.1, p. 947.

(3.) Muller, Dictionary, 235. Some advocates of the fully double position, such as Cornelius Van Til (1895–1987), a longtime professor at Westminster Seminary, call it “equal ultimacy.” Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1955), 413–16, as discussed in G. C. Berkouwer, Divine Election, trans. Hugo Bekker (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1960), 177n8, 189n31.

(4.) A good survey by a group of evangelical scholars is James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001).

(5.) See, e.g., Samuel Willard, A Compleat Body of Divinity in Two Hundred and Fifty Expository Lectures on the Assembly's Shorter Catechism (Boston, 1726), 263.

(6.) See, e.g., Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger and ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., 3 vols. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1992), 1:332–33, who points out that scripture uses “equivalent phrases” in speaking of the saved and the damned.

(7.) See, e.g., the explanation by the conservative Presbyterian Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1951), 150–53.

(8.) Muller, Dictionary, 129–30, 132.

(9.) Numbered as part of 2 Maccabees 12:45 in some translations.

(10.) See, e.g., Willard, Compleat Body of Divinity, 263.

(11.) See the explanation in Muller, Dictionary, 292, and the lengthier discussion of the infra‐supra debate in Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 2, pt. 2, The Doctrine (p.288) of God, trans. G. W. Bromiley et al. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1957), 127–45. Barth noted that supralapsarianism's advantage is that it puts the free grace of God “so consistently and definitely at the head of all Christian knowledge and understanding” (135). Various Reformed scholastic perspectives on infra‐supra are also discussed and excerpted in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics: Set Out and Illustrated from the Sources, trans. G. T. Thomson and ed. Ernst Bizer (1950; reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1978), 150–89.

(12.) Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2006), 17–18; see the opposing view in Muller, Dictionary, 294.