Friday, June 4, 2010

Are We Predestined By God?

Q - I have a quick question regarding predestination that maybe you could possibly help me out with. If someone asks me, "Why would/does God choose to infallibly direct certain people to salvation but not others?," what would be a proper response? I've looked a lot on your blog and and many others and I don't quite know how to respond to the question other than by possibly saying that we simply do not know, that we just have to trust in His goodness.

Is the question misleading or stated wrongly? Is the best response simply to speak about God's foreknowledge of those whom would say "yes" to His grace?

A -
Thanks for the question. Predestination is a topic that doesn't enter into the consciousness of most Catholics today, so I am not surprised that you are struggling to find an answer. Let me see if I can help.

What most Catholics don't realize is that the Catholic Church teaches the doctrine of predestination, but does so in a different way than those in Calvin's Reformed tradition.

Here is what the Catholic Church teaches:
  • Man has free will. That is, we are completely free to choose good or bad, sin or virtue, salvation or damnation.
  • Grace is a free gift given and a free gift received. Man must say yes to the grace and live it out. Grace is not forced on us to make us do something.
  • Jesus wills that "all be saved" 2 Timothy 2:4. But, he allows for someone to choose to say yes or no to his offer.
  • God predestines nobody to hell. They choose it themselves.
  • God is completely sovereign.
When you try and balance all of these, there seems to be contradictions, but there aren't.
God wants us all to be saved and yet some choose not to accept this invitation. Ultimately, there are several different theological answers that have arisen in order to try and figure it all out.

The Catholic Church allows for several answers, because we ultimately don't know for sure.

Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma answers this question best. Here is a snip from his book:

[ De fide = "of faith" - dogmas are absolutely binding on all Catholics]

This doctrine is proposed by the Ordinary and General Teaching of the Church as a truth of Revelation. The doctrinal definitions of the Council of Trent presuppose it . . . The reality of Predestination is clearly attested to in Rom 8:29 et seq: . . . cf. Mt 25:34, Jn 10:27 et seq., Acts 13:48, Eph 1:4 et seq. . . . Predestination is a part of the Eternal Divine Plan of Providence.


a) The Problem

The main difficulty . . . lies in the question whether God's eternal resolve of Predestination has been taken with or without consideration of the merits of the man (postorante praevisa merita).

Only incomplete Predestination to grace is independent of every merit (ante praevisa merita), as the first grace cannot be merited. In the same way, complete Predestination to grace and glory conjointly is independent of every merit, as the first grace cannot be merited, and the consequent graces, as well as the merits acquired with these graces and their reward, depend like the links of a chain, on the first grace . . .

b) Attempts at Solution

The Thomists, the Augustinians, the majority of the Scotists and also individual older Molinists (Suarez, St. Bellarmine) teach an absolute Predestination (ad gloriam tantum), therefore ante praevisa merita. According to them, God freely resolves from all Eternity, without consideration of the merits of man's grace, to call certain men to beatification and therefore to bestow on them graces which will infallibly secure the execution of the Divine Decree (ordo intentionis). In time God first gives to the predestined effective graces and then eternal bliss as a reward for the merits which flow from their free cooperation with grace (ordo executionis). The ordo intentionis and the ordo executionis are in inverse relation to each other (glory-grace; grace-glory).

Most of the Molinists, and also St. Francis de Sales (+1622), teach a conditioned Predestination (ad gloriam tantum), that is, postand propter praevisa merita. According to them, God by His scientia media, sees beforehand how men would freely react to various orders of grace. In the light of this knowledge He chooses, according to His free pleasure a fixed and definite order of grace. Now by His scientia visionis, He knows infallibly in advance what use the individual man will make of the grace bestowed on him. He elects for eternal bliss those who by virtue of their foreseen merits perseveringly cooperate with grace, while He determines for eternal punishment of hell, those who, on account of their foreseen demerits, deny their cooperation. The ordo intentionis and the ordo executionis coincide (grace-glory; grace-glory).

Both attempts at explanation are ecclesiastically permissible. The scriptural proofs are not decisive for either side. The Thomists quote above all passages from the Letter to the Romans, in which the Divine factor in salvation is brought strongly to the foreground (Rom 8:29; 9:11-13, 9:20 et seq.) . . . The Molinists invoke the passages which attest the universality of the Divine desire for salvation, especially 1 Tim 2:4, as well as the sentence to be pronounced by the Judge of the World (Mt 25:34-36), in which the works of mercy are given as ground for the acceptance into the Heavenly Kingdom. But that these are also the basis for the 'preparation' for the Kingdom, that is, for the eternal resolve of Predestination, cannot be definitely proved from them . . .

While the pre-Augustinian tradition is in favour of the Molinistic explanation, St. Augustine, at least in his later writings, is more in favour of the Thomistic explanation. The Thomist view emphasizes God's universal causality while the other view stresses the universality of the Divine salvific will, man's freedom and his cooperation in his salvation. The difficulties remaining on both sides prove that Predestination even for reason enlightened by faith, is an unfathomable mystery (Rom 11:33 ff.).
Dave Armstrong has a bit more from the book, but if you want to know all of the basis of this teaching, Ott does a good job with it, so I recommend you get it.

I hope this helps.

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