February 18, 2006

Prosper’s Use of “All without Exception”

In Book II, chapter 2 of The Call of All Nations, Prosper (a defender of Augustinianism) says the following with respect to God’s will that all men be saved:
“We must not profane with our human dialectics the texts quoted from the divine scriptures to explain what grace is; that would be to drag so many clear and concordant statements into the uncertainty of a misleading interpretation. In the same way, no argumentation to the contrary must defile what we find in the same body of Scripture about the salvation of all men. Rather, the more difficult is its understanding the more praiseworthy will the faith be that believes. That assent is indeed very strong whose motive is derived from authority as a sufficient proof of truth, even though the why of things remain hidden.

Let us, then, carefully examine the behest which our Lord makes to the preachers of the gospel. According to Matthew, He says: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. According to Mark, He speaks thus to the same Apostles: Go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature, and he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned.

Does this command make a difference between any peoples or any individuals? No, He welcomed no one for his merits, singled out no one for his birth, made no distinction with anyone because of his social state. The gospel of the Cross of Christ was extended to all men without exception. And that no one should consider the ministry of the preachers as but a merely human enterprise, He said, Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. That is, when you will go like sheep in the midst of wolves, do not be afraid on account of your weakness; have confidence in my power, for I shall not forsake you in this great mission till the end of the world. Not that you will have nothing to suffer; but what is much greater, I shall give you strength that you may not be overcome by any cruelty of savage tyrants. For you will preach with my power; and through me it will come about that from among your opponents and persecutors sons of Abraham will be raised up from the very stones.”
St. Prosper of Aquitaine, The Call of All Nations (Newman Press, 1952), 90-91.

In the above quote, I wanted to provide the context in which he uses the expression “all men without exception.” What does this phrase mean in the context? Consider the possible senses of all men without exception:

1) All human beings that will ever exist.

2) All human beings now existing on earth.

3) All human beings now existing on earth that hear the external call of the gospel.

Does Prosper use the expression “all men without exception” in either the first or second sense above? Of course not. He knows that all men do not hear the external gospel call. Prosper, who lived in the 5th century, knew that there were nations who were not aware of gospel truth. Given Prosper’s citation of scripture concerning the indiscriminate gospel call, he obviously means sense #3 above. He’s saying that “all men without exception” who hear the external call of the gospel are commanded to believe it, no matter their social status, their genealogy (“birth”) or merits. God makes “no distinction” in the indiscriminate gospel call.

Once Prosper’s sense of all men without exception is understood contextually, one can see that all without exception includes the sense or idea of all without distinction. All without exception is not antithetical to all without distinction.

However, what do most High Calvinists mean when they put “all without exception” in antithesis to “all without distinction”? What they have in mind is all of the elect, whether Jew or gentile. “All without distinction” really means “some of all without distinction,” i.e. the elect. One can also distinguish between the elect as elect (not yet believing) and the elect as believing. High Calvinists are not always clear on what sense of “elect” they have in mind, and that causes equivocation fallacies in many of their arguments. Does “all without distinction” mean all of the elect, whether born or not yet born? Or does it mean all of the elect, whether believing or not yet believing? Or does it mean all of the elect that are believing? Some of them are reluctant to answer this question, even though they want to associate the “all without exception” position as meaning all humanity that will ever exist, whether born or not yet born.

The common either/or dilemma put to us by them is the following:

1) Either “all without exception” in the sense of all humans that will ever exist


2) “All without distinction,” in the sense of all the elect from the nations

Is this a fair either/or dilemma? Or are there other real alternatives left out? Should the automatic jump from the sense of “all without distinction” to the sense of “all the elect without distinction” go unquestioned? Is it fair to associate the “all without exception” position with sense #1 rather than with sense #2 or #3? If so, then why not associate the “all without distinction” position with all the elect who will ever exist? Why is more care taken among the High Calvinists to make “all without distinction” mean all the elect presently existing on earth? Or all the elect presently living on earth who believe? They are not so careful to accurately represent their opponents position as they are with their own. This allows their false either/or dilemma to appear more plausible.

I would argue that all without exception may include all without distinction in scripture, if properly (or Prosperly) understood. All without exception may have a narrower connotation than sense #1 or sense #2 in some passages of scripture, but it doesn’t follow that it therefore must have an "all the elect without distinction" sense. Sense #3 is perfectly compatible with some usages of the word "all" in certain contexts. "All" may mean all human beings presently alive at any given point in time who hear the gospel call, without distinction between rich and poor, young and old, male or female, Jew or gentile, or elect and non-elect. When all has this usage, all without exception includes all without distinction.

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