Tuesday, May 14, 2002


One of the most mysterious of Christian doctrines is Predestination, which affirms God's sovereignty regarding our salvation: it is only because God -- in his infinite love & mercy -- has offered us salvation that we have it. This Catholic teaching was formulated by Ludwig Ott in the following way: "God, by His eternal resolve of will, has predetermined certain men to eternal blessedness".

Having said that, things get tricky when the question of those who are damned (if there are any) comes up; if God positively wills the salvation of the elect, does he positively will the damnation of the damned?

If my understanding of Reformed theology is accurate -- please correct me if it isn't -- then the answer to this question would be: yes, God does positively will the damnation of some souls. Such a view is rejected by Catholicism, but that doesn't mean things are hunky-dory among Catholic theologians on this question....

Many Thomists (and other Catholic theologians as well) assert that while God does not positively will the reprobation (damnation) of anyone, He does not predestine all to Heaven; in other words, of the entire human race, some are predestined to Heaven, and some are not. While this view avoids the Reformed position mentioned above -- and can be held by Catholics -- it still seems problematic to me. One of the major themes -- if not the theme -- of Scripture (and Tradition) is God's love for humanity, indeed for all of creation ("For God so loved the world..."). We also know that God desires the salvation of all.

Having said that, how (and why) would someone posit that God reprobates some -- either actively (Calvin) or passively (various thomists)? It does nothing to infringe on God's sovereignty to say that -- of our own free choice to accept the gift of salvation, or to sin -- some humans will be saved and others damned.

I suspect that such a view as a mistaken understanding of God's eternality. It's far too easy for us to imagine that God set forth His plan "before" creation, that He predestines us "before" He creates us. But this is to anthropomorphize God's existence vis. time.

In trying to understand how God's eternality relates to predestination, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 600, is very helpful:

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.

As this paragraph states, God's plan of predestination already incorporates our response to His grace; contrary to the (alleged) Calvinist position -- and the position argued for by some Thomists -- the elect are chosen and the damned are reprobated not "before" their response to God's grace, but in view of them.

So there ;-)

Seriously, if anyone has any comments -- positive or critical -- please email me. As I noted above, the "thomistic" position is one that a Catholic is free to hold, and -- from my understanding -- is similar to the one held by many Reformed and other Protestants.

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