Catholic Predestination vs. Calvinist Predestination (and the Orthodox Adoption of Catholic Predestination)

Objection 1. It seems that God reprobates no man. For nobody reprobates what he loves. But God loves every man, according to (Wisdom 11:25): “Thou lovest all things that are, and Thou hatest none of the things Thou hast made.” Therefore God reprobates no man.

Objection 2. Further, if God reprobates any man, it would be necessary for reprobation to have the same relation to the reprobates as predestination has to the predestined. But predestination is the cause of the salvation of the predestined. Therefore reprobation will likewise be the cause of the loss of the reprobate. But this false. For it is said (Hosea 13:9): “Destruction is thy own, O Israel; Thy help is only in Me.” God does not, then, reprobate any man.

Objection 3. Further, to no one ought anything be imputed which he cannot avoid. But if God reprobates anyone, that one must perish. For it is said (Ecclesiastes 7:14): “Consider the works of God, that no man can correct whom He hath despised.” Therefore it could not be imputed to any man, were he to perish. But this is false. Therefore God does not reprobate anyone.

On the contrary, It is said (Malachi 1:2-3): “I have loved Jacob, but have hated Esau.”

I answer that, God does reprobate some. For it was said above (Article 1) that predestination is a part of providence. To providence, however, it belongs to permit certain defects in those things which are subject to providence, as was said above (Question 22, Article 2). Thus, as men are ordained to eternal life through the providence of God, it likewise is part of that providence to permit some to fall away from that end; this is called reprobation. Thus, as predestination is a part of providence, in regard to those ordained to eternal salvation, so reprobation is a part of providence in regard to those who turn aside from that end. Hence reprobation implies not only foreknowledge, but also something more, as does providence, as was said above (Question 22, Article 1). Therefore, as predestination includes the will to confer grace and glory; so also reprobation includes the will to permit a person to fall into sin, and to impose the punishment of damnation on account of that sin.

Reply to Objection 1. God loves all men and all creatures, inasmuch as He wishes them all some good; but He does not wish every good to them all. So far, therefore, as He does not wish this particular good–namely, eternal life–He is said to hate or reprobated them.

Reply to Objection 2. Reprobation differs in its causality from predestination. This latter is the cause both of what is expected in the future life by the predestined–namely, glory–and of what is received in this life–namely, grace. Reprobation, however, is not the cause of what is in the present–namely, sin; but it is the cause of abandonment by God. It is the cause, however, of what is assigned in the future–namely, eternal punishment. But guilt proceeds from the free-will of the person who is reprobated and deserted by grace. In this way, the word of the prophet is true–namely, “Destruction is thy own, O Israel.”

Reply to Objection 3. Reprobation by God does not take anything away from the power of the person reprobated. Hence, when it is said that the reprobated cannot obtain grace, this must not be understood as implying absolute impossibility: but only conditional impossibility: as was said above (Question 19, Article 3), that the predestined must necessarily be saved; yet a conditional necessity, which does not do away with the liberty of choice. Whence, although anyone reprobated by God cannot acquire grace, nevertheless that he falls into this or that particular sin comes from the use of his free-will. Hence it is rightly imputed to him as guilt. (Summa Theologica, Part 1, Q. 23, A. 3)

Note the distinctions in regard to the Thomistic doctrine of predestination: Reprobation is a result of the will. The power of the free will is not taken away from the person who is reprobated by God, rather he is said to have chosen reprobation. In Q. 23, A. 1, the Angelic Doctor argues:

I answer that, It is fitting that God should predestine men. For all things are subject to His providence, as was shown above (Question 22, Article 2). Now it belongs to providence to direct things towards their end, as was also said (22, 1, 2). The end towards which created things are directed by God is twofold; one which exceeds all proportion and faculty of created nature; and this end is life eternal, that consists in seeing God which is above the nature of every creature, as shown above (Question 12, Article 4). The other end, however, is proportionate to created nature, to which end created being can attain according to the power of its nature. Now if a thing cannot attain to something by the power of its nature, it must be directed thereto by another; thus, an arrow is directed by the archer towards a mark. Hence, properly speaking, a rational creature, capable of eternal life, is led towards it, directed, as it were, by God. The reason of that direction pre-exists in God; as in Him is the type of the order of all things towards an end, which we proved above to be providence. Now the type in the mind of the doer of something to be done, is a kind of pre-existence in him of the thing to be done. Hence the type of the aforesaid direction of a rational creature towards the end of life eternal is called predestination. For to destine, is to direct or send. Thus it is clear that predestination, as regards its objects, is a part of providence.

Reply to Objection 1. Damascene calls predestination an imposition of necessity, after the manner of natural things which are predetermined towards one end. This is clear from his adding: “He does not will malice, nor does He compel virtue.” Whence predestination is not excluded by Him.

This suggests that all men are predestined to the same end regardless. This makes a distinction between reprobation and predestination more clear. Reprobation follows a different cause. It is the cause of what is assigned in the future. The Angelic Doctor borrows from the Syriac father St. John of Damascus. According to John Calvin, predestination is defined as the following:

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death. (Institutes, 21.5)

On this grounds, Thomistic predestination is somewhat similar to Calvinist predestination.

Reply to Objection 3. The reason for the predestination of some, and reprobation of others, must be sought for in the goodness of God. Thus He is said to have made all things through His goodness, so that the divine goodness might be represented in things. Now it is necessary that God’s goodness, which in itself is one and undivided, should be manifested in many ways in His creation; because creatures in themselves cannot attain to the simplicity of God. Thus it is that for the completion of the universe there are required different grades of being; some of which hold a high and some a low place in the universe. That this multiformity of grades may be preserved in things, God allows some evils, lest many good things should never happen, as was said above (Question 22, Article 2). Let us then consider the whole of the human race, as we consider the whole universe. God wills to manifest His goodness in men; in respect to those whom He predestines, by means of His mercy, as sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of His justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others. To this the Apostle refers, saying (Romans 9:22-23): “What if God, willing to show His wrath [that is, the vengeance of His justice], and to make His power known, endured [that is, permitted] with much patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction; that He might show the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He hath prepared unto glory” and (2 Timothy 2:20): “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver; but also of wood and of earth; and some, indeed, unto honor, but some unto dishonor.” Yet why He chooses some for glory, and reprobates others, has no reason, except the divine will. Whence Augustine says (Tract. xxvi. in Joan.): “Why He draws one, and another He draws not, seek not to judge, if thou dost not wish to err.” Thus too, in the things of nature, a reason can be assigned, since primary matter is altogether uniform, why one part of it was fashioned by God from the beginning under the form of fire, another under the form of earth, that there might be a diversity of species in things of nature. Yet why this particular part of matter is under this particular form, and that under another, depends upon the simple will of God; as from the simple will of the artificer it depends that this stone is in part of the wall, and that in another; although the plan requires that some stones should be in this place, and some in that place. Neither on this account can there be said to be injustice in God, if He prepares unequal lots for not unequal things. This would be altogether contrary to the notion of justice, if the effect of predestination were granted as a debt, and not gratuitously. In things which are given gratuitously, a person can give more or less, just as he pleases (provided he deprives nobody of his due), without any infringement of justice. This is what the master of the house said: “Take what is thine, and go thy way. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will?” (Matthew 20:14-15). (Summa Theologica, Part 1, Q. 23, A. 5)

But, keep in mind, the Angelic Doctor is borrowing from St. John of Damascus here. The Syriac saint says that “while God knows all things beforehand, yet He does not predetermine all things” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, ch. 30). What lies in the distinction between Calvinist predestination and Thomistic predestination is that in contrast to Calvinist predestination, all beings are created equal. Further, reprobation is based not on what the Creator has already predetermined but on the creature’s free will. Thus, Calvinist doctrine of predestination is utterly non-Catholic.

According to official Catholic doctrine, “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”” (CCC 1037). This is both the teaching of the Council of Orange and the Council of Trent.

Some I know have asserted that while the Catholics are more like Calvinists and the Orthodox are more like Arminians, the truth is rather quite the opposite. I’ve already covered how Arminians are actually more closer to Calvinists. But alas, the Orthodox canons actually borrow from Catholic thought on predestination and the Catholic thought on predestination borrows from the Orthodox thought on predestination. For those who don’t buy this, I would highly suggest Fr. Sergius Bulgakov’s The Bride of the Lamb where he writes that “the East in the days of the Reformation and afterward was determined primarily by the necessity of defending itself against the attack of Lutheranism and especially Calvinism; and it was natural that in this defense the East relied–sometimes more than it ought to have–on doctrines of Catholic theology” (218).

So are Catholics Calvinists? What an egregiously false charge! Are the Orthodox Arminians? What an egregiously false charge! The Orthodox and the Catholics have far more agreement on their doctrines of free will and predestination than they have with Protestants. Read also the Orthodox criticism of Arminianism that can be found in this forum.

Up next in this series, I will cover Anglo-Catholic interpretations of the XXXIX Articles of Religion refuting interpretations commonly given to support total depravity.

About NE7

Melkite Greek Catholic. Watch out for ninjas and crazy church ladies. I know THE Crazy Church Lady is a ninja too.
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