Wednesday, May 15, 2002

More on Reprobation

Joel Garver and Tom Kreitzberg both offered some thoughts (Joel doing so in an email) in response to my own reflections on the mystery of Predestination and Reprobation. I'd like to offer a thought or two in lieu of their responses.

First, Tom states that my position is something like Molinism; while I can see how one might draw that conclusion from my initial post and certain imprecisions therein, I'd like to state "for the record" that I disagree with both Molina's take as well as Banez's (with Tom, I question whether or not the "Thomistic" position is that of St. Thomas). How so? Because unlike Molina -- and like St. Thomas -- I tend to see my free acts and originating in God. Molina seems to have separated the divine causality from the secondary; with Thomas and others, I would see the secondary causality within the divine and preeminent causality. So in effect, my own free acts are caused by God, but in such a (mysterious) way that they remain free and hence truly mine as well. A useful analogy here is that of the inspiration of Sacred Scripture: just as both the human and divine writers are both truly authors -- with the latter having preeminence -- so too is salvation a result of God's grace and human cooperation with that grace, with the latter seen as "enveloped" within the former, while retaining its distinction.

Tom refers to Question 23 of the First Part of Thomas' Summa, in which the Angelic Doctor discusses the question of predestination. After quoting from the third article, Tom goes on to say that "that God permits people to fall into sin and imposes damnation on that account seems clearly to be Catholic doctrine." Absolutely. My quarrel is with those (later) Thomists who seem to argue that God does not offer the grace necessary for salvation to all, i.e. that He does not do "everything He can" to save all of humanity.

Joel seeks to clarify my presentation of the Calvinist position. He points out that for Calvin, "While election finds its origin and cause wholly in the grace of God, reprobation finds its cause in the creature." I would certainly agree with this. He goes on to explain... "it is true that Calvin doesn't want to see reprobation in terms of a merely permissive will on God's part since God's will extends over every contingent state of affairs. Thus God's permitting S to remain condemned in his sins entails God's willing to permit this. Or, to put this another way, God's *not choosing* to save some entails his choosing *not to save* some. Still, this choosing not to save is not identical with God's positive willing to damn some."

This is where I begin to get a little uneasy. It seems to me that such a view -- again, correct me if I'm wrong -- seeks to assert God's sovereignty by denying that He would be "unable" to save someone, and so we must say instead that He wills not-to-save someone. As Joel says, Calvin does not see reprobation only in terms of a permissive will on God's part.

What I would like to do know is provide a (very) long quotation from Charles Cardinal Journet's The Meaning of Grace, a work which I would highly recommend to be read in its entirety. In this section, Fr. Journet argues for a position on this question with which I strongly agree:

1. On the basis of what has been said in the preceding pages we shall try to interpret a few passages of St Paul, principally on the subject of predestination.

These questions about grace are extremely mysterious and profound. If, in discussing them, we forget that God is a God of love, if we speak about them without steeping them in the atmosphere of divine goodness that knocks at men's hearts, we may well say what would seem theologically—or rather, verbally, literally—exact, but what would in fact be a deformation, misleading and false. Ultimately only the great saints, the great lovers of God, can speak of these matters without distorting them.

We must bear in mind, at the outset, that in the word predestination, as in prescience, the prefix 'pre' signifies an anteriority of dignity and excellence, not one of chronology which would suggest a scenario written beforehand. Predestination is a love-assignation made on high, a supreme divine destination in course of realization, a supreme 'prevenience' on the part of Love, a prevenience not refused, but accepted and finally brought to fulfilment.

2. The doctrine of predestination is a scriptural doctrine, a part of revelation, which we are to believe without doubting. But how is it to be understood? There is the Catholic interpretation, and the Lutheran and Calvinist one, to which we shall return later.

The word predestination we owe to St Paul. In the Epistle to the Ephesians (i. 4-5), he writes: 'God chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity. Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the purpose of his will.'

Further on (ii. 4), we read: 'God, who is rich in mercy, for his exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together in Christ, by whose grace you are saved, and hath raised us up together and hath made us sit together in the heavenly places through ChristJesus.' Here the Apostle sees in advance the elect gathered together in the heavens round Christ, saying: thanks to you, O God, for having predestined us by your love. You are he who enabled us to utter the supreme assent we gave to you. To you be the glory.

The word predestination was already used in the Epistle to the Romans: 'Whom he predestinated, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified. And whom he justified, them he also glorified' (viii. 30). Here again the apostle sees in advance the elect gathered in the heavens, and reflects on how they have been led there by God. God first called them; he went to meet them with graces which they did not frustrate though they could have done so. If they assented to them, it was by a divine movement in them, for our assent always comes from God: 'thy salvation comes from me, O Israel, thy destruction from thee'. Since they did not refuse this first call, they went on to justification through a new divine movement; and those whom he has justified God finally brings to heaven. That is the supreme prevenience by which God enables us to die in his love.

3. When you reread these passages, they will give you no difficulty if you see tkem in the context I have indicated. You will remember that, if anyone is not predestined, itis because he refuses the call, and not once only, like the fallen angels, for again and again divine grace returns to, and even importunes, the human heart. How often? The apostles asked Jesus, 'Should we forgive seven times?'; and the answer was, 'Seventy times seven times' (Mt. xviii. 21-22). That is what Jesus expects of men, who yet are miserable creatures and loath to show mercy. Elsewhere he said, 'If your child asks of you a fish, will you give him a serpent? If he asks for an egg, will you give him a scorpion? If he asks you for bread, will you give him a stone? If then you who are evil, give good things to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father!' (cf. Luke xi. 11-13; Mt. viii. 9-11). So then he, too, will forgive me seventy times seven. He will return to knock again at the door of my soul. None the less, if I wish to refuse him, I can; I have the terrible power of saying no to God, of making a definitive refusal that will fix my lot for eternity. I can say to him: I do not want your love, I want to be myself, to be myself not in you, but against you, to be for ever like a thorn in your heart. This is the frightful refusal of hell.

What might possibly lead to a misconception on this point is the very moving parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke xvi. 19), where we see Dives beseeching Abraham to let Lazarus go and warn his brothers to change their way of life. Abraham, however, answers, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. If they do not hear them, neither will they hear if one is raised from the dead.' As you see, the purpose of the parable is to show that we have to hear now, while there is time; afterwards, it will be too late. But it would be a mistake to suppose that, in hell, the damned have the sentiments of charity attributed to the rich man. If one of the damned could say: Lord, allow me to tell others what thy love is so that they may not be damned like me, he would bring charity into hell, and hell would be blown to pieces. (We must always regard the intention of the parable—and the evangelist shows what this intention is—otherwise, its character would be altered, and we might be led astray. Consider the parable of the unjust steward, which scandalizes so many Christians through their misunderstanding of it.)

So, if anyone is not among the predestined, it is in consequence of a refusal for which he bears and always will bear the responsibility. He will persist in his refusal, in his hate—that, in fact, will be his torment—but he will never retract his original choice. St Thomas gives us a comparison. Take a man who hates his enemy. He wants to kill him. He thinks: If I meet him, I shall kill him. But he is prevented; perhaps he is in prison. Ah, he thinks, once I am out of prison! He lives by, feeds on his hatred. He may be told: 'Don't you see that the cause of your misery is your hatred? 'I do,' he replies, 'but that's the way it is; I want to have my revenge.' In any case, we know quite well that we can cling to feelings which torment us. This example is no more than an image of the perpetual refusal of the damned, the refusal because of which they are not among the predestined. Such is the Catholic doctrine.

What we have said earlier on the divine prescience serves to clarify this doctrine completely. We do not say, 'God does not predestine, God abandons and reproves those who he knows in advance will refuse his prevenient grace'. We say, 'God does not predestine; God abandons and rejects those who, as he sees, from all eternity, themselves take the first initiative in the final refusal of his prevenient grace.' From eternity, he takes account of their free refusal in the establishment of his immutable and eternal plan.

4. The erroneous doctrine put forward by Luther, and by Calvin in his Institutes is that, just as some are predestined to heaven, so are others to hell; God himself therefore drives them to hell, and they cannot escape it. This is the thesis of double predestination: one to heaven, which is just, provided that it is not understood in the sense of Luther and Calvin, for whom, as we have seen, the good act comes solely from God, and not from God through man; the other to hell. As you see, there is a twofold error here: predestination to heaven is misconceived and the idea of predestination to hell is introduced—a still worse aberration. For that matter, Protestants today no longer defend Calvin on this point; Karl Barth declares frankly that he cannot find this idea of predestination to hell anywhere in St Paul. (Yet, from the doctrinal point of view, some critics see, in the thesis of double predestination, the cornerstone of the Institutes.)

With that, I'll end this post and await any thoughts....

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