Monday, June 25, 2007

Catholic Predestination?

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30

Many Catholics today are surprised when they find out that the Church teaches the doctrine of predestination. I’m guessing it has a lot to do with so many people connecting the term “predestination” with the teachings of John Calvin.

The Catholic and Calvinist view of predestination share a lot in common, but differ in some very important ways. I don’t want to go into great detail on the different Catholic theological schools of thought on the subject (I’ll include some links at the end), but I would like to point out what we are required as Catholics to believe and how it differs with the Calvinist view.

John Calvin said,

“We call predestination God's eternal decree, by which he determined with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or death.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has something a little different to say about predestination:

“To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of "predestination," he includes in it each person's free response to his grace: "In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.” (CCC 600)
In the two paragraphs above, we see the biggest difference between the Catholic and Calvinist understanding.

Calvin believed that God decided who would receive salvation (the elect) and who would receive damnation (the reprobate) without reference to the individual’s cooperation with grace. The Catholic teaching however does include the individual’s free response to grace.

Another difference would be God’s desire for all mankind. The Calvinist view would hold that God desires the salvation of the elect, and damnation for the rest. The Catholic teaching would hold that God desires that all be saved, but He allows each to respond to His grace freely. Along this line the Calvinist would say that Jesus’s death was only for the elect and not the reprobate (those destined for hell). The Catholic Church teaches that Christ died for all.

The idea that God predestines individuals (the “elect”) to heaven is agreed upon by Calvinists and Catholics alike. But, the idea that God wills that individuals be damned to hell is an idea that is not acceptable for any Catholic to hold. It may seem a little like splitting hairs, but no one is destined for hell without the ability to repent and accept the grace God give freely to all.

“… As I live, says the Lord GOD, I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man's conversion, that he may live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! …” (Ezekiel 33:11)
The “perseverance of the saints” is a term used by some Calvinists and has the same meaning as “once saved, always saved”. It’s the idea that if a person is predestined for heaven or hell, then his actions will reflect it. It’s not so much that the person’s free will is unable to fight the urge to act righteously or sinfully, it’s that God has predestined them and therefore “wired” them that way.

The Council of Trent teaches something very different:

“805 No one moreover, so long as he lives in this mortal state, ought so far to presume concerning the secret mystery of divine predestination, as to decide for certain that he is assuredly in the number of the predestined [can. 15], as if it were true that he who is justified either cannot sin any more [can. 23], or if he shall have sinned, that he ought to promise himself an assured reformation. For except by special revelation, it cannot be known whom God has chosen for Himself [can. 16].” Ecumenical XIX (Contra Novatores 16 cent.) SESSION III (Feb.4, 1546)
The Church teaches that we must cooperate freely with His grace until the end of this life in order to enjoy the next with Him. When we mess up and fall into a state of mortal sin, we have been given the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to enter back into a right relation with Him.

Here are all the Dogmatic teachings of the Church (Must be believed) that deal with the Catholic idea of Predestination:
-God is not the author of evil
-It is within man’s power to do evil
-God does not predestine man to eternal damnation
-Good works have merit

Well I promised a few links that go into a greater detail involving the Catholic Theological schools of predestination. These are not all of the differing (and acceptable) views on the subject from within the Church, but I think they are the most important.

Thomism (Most like Calvinism)
-Not based on merit
-Proof: Rom 8:29
-Problem: 1 Tim 2:4

-Based on foresight of merits
-Proof: Rom 2:5-10
-Problem: 1 cor 4:7

Interesting fact: In 1597 the Pope at the time, Clement VIII, called the Molonists and Thomists together to hash out and debate their differences. The Pope consulted with St. Frances DeSalles who recommended that neither school of thought be condemned, and that neither be approved. In 1950, Fr. William Most put forth his theory:

Fr. William Most’s view (my personal favorite)
-God wills all men be saved
-God looks to see who resists His grace gravely and persistently
-All others not discarded in step two are positively predestined to eternal life.

1 comment:

swissmiss said...

Oh, how this idea used to confound me when I was younger! My poor father used to try to explain this to me, but I could never wrap my brain around it. Thanks for a great explanation and wonderful review of what Catholics believe.