Augustine Vs. Calvinism

Hello all.
Now I know St Augustine held many beliefs that would shock the average reformed theologian (free will, the necessity of works for salvation, a literal real presence, the authority of the church to interpret scripture, etc.). I was wondering though, other than these examples, to what extent he could be considered a “proto-calvinist.” I cant seem to find much based on his soteriology, other than he May have believed in Perseverance of Saints. Could anyone share anything with me that compares and contrasts his beliefs with Calvin’s? I am particularly interested in Total Depravity, Limited Atonement, and Irresistable Grace

In Christ,

I do not have a source as described.

I think context is key here.

Although Augustine believed God’s grace strengthens us, and that God could save by extraordinary means, as does the RCC, it was not a Calvinist belief.

God can do anything He wants to do by extraordinary means, but God gave us the Church and the sacraments through the apostles of Christ and through divine revelation as part of the ordinary means to salvation. (described by Dr. David Anders).

This is very different than a baseline belief in Calvinism or nontraditional Calvinism.

Augustine was not a proto-Calvinist, and in fact the differences between Augustine and Reformed understandings of salvation was as different as night and day. For one, Reformed theology on salvation is Pelagian (they don’t believe God’s grace is needed for salvation), and so Augustine would have never tolerated that. This is where Augustine would not have accepted Total Depravity, because Augustine didn’t believe human nature could be depraved, it could only be stripped of grace and be weakened.

As for Augustine’s understanding of Perseverance of the Saints, he certainly believed that. Reformed soteriology (teaching on salvation) does not believe in Perseverance of the Saints, because “perseverance” implies one’s salvation is not yet secure. In other words, Augustine/Scripture/Catholicism teach that a person can get saved, but later on fall away from the faith, not end up repenting, from the faith and thus not make it to Heaven. But Calvinism teaches that the moment one accepts the Gospel, their salvation is complete/sealed forever. There is no “persevering” to be done.

When it comes to Limited Atonement, Augustine rejected this because he (as well as Scripture/Catholicism) taught a person could be justified but later lose their salvation. So Augustine didn’t believe Jesus died only for the elect.

Irresitible grace is somewhat hard to define. God can accomplish whatever He wants with grace. Sometimes men “resist” and sometimes God “persists” until they “accept”. This is a mystery, and depending on how things are understood, this isn’t really a Calvinist or Augustinian thing.

You’re half right. :wink:

St. Augustine would never have accepted total depravity and the inherent vice infecting human nature after the fall as the Calvinists and all other Protestants did who espouse a doctrine of Faith alone.

However, the reformers accused the Catholic Church of Pelagianism :eek: because of its insistence on the merit and necessity of works. This is of course a straw man argument by the Protestants, but like so much of what they teach it has the ring of truth, but is false. IOW, specious.

If the OP wants to read some excellent writings on the contrast between St. Augustine and the Calvinists, you can hardly do better than Thomas Stapleton. Unfortunately, he only wrote in Latin, and to my knowledge, his body of works have never been translated into English. (Some few were however.)

The Catholic Church would charge Protestantism with Pelagianism, because Protestantism rejects the necessity of grace for man to be saved. In the Protestant mind, grace is a band-aid to cover over what man was supposed to be able to do by his own human abilities. This is the core of Pelagianism: man doesn’t need grace. But the Catholic/Augustinian position was that grace builds on top of human nature, which raises nature to a super-natural state of life. It is grace that sanctifies us so that the Holy Trinity can dwell within us. Even Adam, before the fall, needed grace to be in the original relationship with God that he was created in. And Adam needed grace to persevere, even before the fall. Even the good angels needed grace when they chose to do the right thing. And Mary, even though born without original sin, needed grace to sustain Her righteous living every day. In other words, grace isn’t an optional accessory, it’s necessary even if man has no sin. Protestantism said grace only came in after the fall, while before that man didn’t need grace. Hence the Pelagianism.

Hmmmm… :hmmm:

I would hardly think Reformed theology is pelagian; the Reformers were all about the necessity of God’s grace

Ah, you’re right. But properly understood, it’s the exact opposite. I realize this can be hard to hear/accept, since we’ve been conditioned to think the Reformed emphasize grace. But it’s true.

In the Reformed mind, Adam was created without sin and was able to keep the commandments by his own human abilities. To get into heaven, the Reformed teach that Adam had to keep God’s commandments perfectly, by his own human ability. But since Adam sinned, the Reformed teach this “sinful record” made it impossible for Adam to get a 100% score on his commandment-keeping test. This is where Jesus comes in.

In the Reformed mind, Jesus came down not only to take the punishment Adam and we deserve (which they call Penal-Substitution, i.e. Jesus damned eternally to hellfire in our place), but they also teach that Jesus had to keep the commandments perfectly in our place as well. When the person believes, the Reformed says the “Righteousness of Christ” is imputed to them, meaning that Christ’s perfect commandment keeping is credited to the individual, so that when God looks at the believer, He credits the believer as if the believer lived a lifetime of perfectly keeping the commandments.

So in reality, there is no grace here. The Reformed teach that works alone save. Works being perfect commandment keeping. The only catch is that they believe Jesus kept the law in our place, but God still judges us based on these works. There’s no faith or grace here at all. The only sense “grace” is used is that Jesus kept the law in your place. But that’s not “grace” in the Augustinian/Pelagian sense.

Grace in the Augustinian/Pelagian sense is God’s divine power that comes upon us and transforms us. Grace enables us to live a super-natural (i.e. above natural) lifestyle, including the Indwelling of the Trinity in our souls. Grace makes our natural human love become elevated into super-natural love of God. Adam originally had sanctifying grace on top of his mere humanity, making him ‘super-human’ in a sense. When Adam fell, this grace was stripped from him, leaving him merely human. This is the essence of original sin, we are born merely human without the grace added on top of our humanity.

That’s a very unique perspective! So I guess it’s that the Reformed position does not understand grace the same way. After all, members of this viewpoint would not say we work our way to heaven; they would still say God’s grace saves us – though perhaps not the Catholic sense of the word.

:DThanks for the clarification.

Yes, and not just a “unique” perspective, but their actual teaching. Whenever a Protestant asks you “Do you think you’re good enough to get into Heaven?” what they are really saying is that works alone save us but that we can’t do good enough work to score 100% before God.

John Calvin did NOT teach that works save; thats the point behind his theory of total depravity, that not even good works please God; according to him, there is absolutely nothing you can do to impact your salvation except hope that you’re one of the elect.

I agree. This is a very slippery topic with Catholics and Protestants alike and definition of terms is absolutely essential, or else we are talking past one another as usual.

Catholics and Protestants have an entirely different meaning for:

Therefore, it is pointless (and worse) for us to put words in their mouths, or visa versa as to our “actual” teachings.

But the historical facts are that the reformers accused the Roman Church of Pelagianism and not visa versa. In fact Calvinism particularly is the exact opposite extreme of Pelagianism. The Council of Trent established how Justification works to define for all Catholics (and Protestants alike) what is the true teaching of the Church.

The Council of Trent worked diligently to counter the Protestant accusation of Pelagianism while condemning the Protestant view of imputed Justification.

He and all Protestants teach that works save IF the person is without sin, namely Adam before he fell.

And in their mind, a lifetime of good works without ever sinning is still what justifies us, but since we cannot accomplish this ourselves we need Jesus to step in. That’s what “Imputation” is all about, adding that lack of good works to our account.

It’s much more than that. Justification (in their eyes) is forensic and external. God will “pretend” we are as pleasing (or justified) as Jesus Christ, by the imputation of His Justice by Faith in Him. Works do not enter into the equation per se. Our depraved human nature (due to original sin, and thus our own inability to do anything else but sin,) is odious and damnable in God’s eyes whether we do good or bad works. This is the nexus of their difficulty.

Catholics on the other hand believe in INTERNAL, TRANSFORMATIVE justification, by the Grace won for us by Jesus Christ and His redemption AND by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This new life can be gained through baptism, and lost again through personal sin. In the Christian dispensation, our works, our sufferings, and our labors, are all Sanctified by the Redemption of Jesus, and are now worthy sources of merit. We can grow in this Divine Life which Jesus shares with us and progress from Grace to Grace, just like the Virgin Mary, the Apostles and all the Saints.

One of the important questions we might ask a Calvinist is why, if works are unimportant, will there be a Last Judgement? Jesus illustrated the core of this judgement NOT as having Faith alone, but in charitable works.

Calvin was a lot of things (mostly not so good), but we must give the devil his due–he was also an astute and arduous student of St. Augustine’s writings. He cited St. Augustine often, and based much of his [concocted] theology on St. Augustine’s writings. This is what caused a great deal of confusion with the Catholic position on pre-destination. In order to clarify and distinguish the Catholic teaching of pre-destination from Calvin’s, much of the Church’s teachings have sounded almost Palegianesque, in order to juxtapose the Cat. position from the Calvinist position (which is why the Protestants harbor the fallacy that Catholics believe in salvation by one’s own merit). And of course Protestantism being a more recent heresy than Palegianism, the snap back has been more visible.

So there’s just a bit of background/context. Now, in order to attempt to summarize a loaded inquiry into a palatable, digestible, Message Board sized post, here is my un-expert, layman’s brief synopsis:

  1. Catholicism actually teaches Predestination of ‘the Elect’. This is often the shocking thing to Catholics, since it is difficult to reconcile the notion of ‘pre-destination’ with ‘free will’;

  2. St. Augustine taught Predestination of the Elect (because the Church taught it–not vice versa);

  3. Where St. Augustine and Jean Calvin diverge, is wrt to ‘double predestination’–which basically holds that those who are not of the Elect, were essentially therefore predestined for hell (and the Calvinists will inevitably start spittling in your face “…for Esau I have always hated…”, as their proof positive, case closed, end of story, end all/be all blah blah blah…pardon…I digress…). St. Augustine, like the Church, believed that double pre-destination denied free will.

  4. St. Augustine reconciled the apparent conflict/tension between Pre-D and Free Will, essentially by concluding that yes, our fate is ‘pre determined’…and yes, we have free will; the reconciliation occurs in that God is not bound by time, but we are. So, as we live…we have free will; we are free to sin, or not; to believe in God, or not; to dedicate ourselves to Christ, or not…to persevere in faith, or not. God, not being bound by time at all…knows how that plays out–or played out–or whatever tense you care to use, since ‘tense’ is meaningless to the Omnipotent Triune God, not only not bound by time, but creator, master and Lord over time itself.

IOW, the predetermination/Elect thing is certainly taught–but since it is only known and knowable by God alone, it is not emphasized. It’s simply not ours to know–and, it’s a dangerous thought to harbor, to essentially believe that you know what is only knowable by God.

  1. The Calvinists for whatever reason, have latched on to the Pre-determination thing, and made that their niche within Protestantism. Their ‘faith’ seemingly can’t bear the responsibility of us, actually having free will–so they put everything on God. This leads to a false sense of security. Every Calvinist will quote you “…the sheep know the Sheppard’s voice”, implying of course, that they are sheep…and that they know the ‘shepherds’ voice’ (which is really just a regular guy they call ‘pastor’; but…to them, it’s the ‘shepherd’s voice’…therefore, they are sheep…Jesus won’t lose any of His sheep…and therefore, they are sav***ed*** (past tense–as if they too, are not bound by time, and they too are omniscient, and they too, know their own destination, as “pre-destined”).

…that last bit–the inherent arrogance, and pretending to know what only God could possibly know–is why the Church down plays the doctrine of Pre-destination.

But in doing so, and in hammering the doctrine of free will, sometimes the Church’s teachings come off sounding a hair Pelagian–or perhaps, ‘Ariminian’, if you’re Protestant, or grew up in Protestantism (Arminianism teaches ‘conditional election’–much greater emphasis on free will, with almost a denial of pre-destination).

  1. WRT–‘Total depravity’ and ‘Irresistible grace’–both are essentially fruits of double predestination, and denial of the notion of free will.

  2. The bottom line however, is this–God made Man in His image. God endowed Man with Free Will. Man, through Adam, using his free will, sinned against God, and as such, earned (merited) his own eternal damnation–including all of his offspring. Our natural state–our natural destiny–the ‘default rule’ if you will–therefore, is damnation. ‘God saves whom he will’; He doesn’t ‘damn’ whom He will. Man already damned himself.

That’s not quite ‘total depravity’–rather, it’s tainted in/by sin (Original Sin)–hence the need for Baptism.


Here is St. Augustine in his own words:

*Predestination and the Justice of God

  1. Furthermore, who would be so impiously foolish as to say that God cannot turn the evil wills of men–as he willeth, when he willeth, and where he willeth–toward the good? But, when he acteth, he acteth through mercy; when he doth not act, it is through justice. For, "he hath mercy on whom he willeth; and whom he willeth, he hardeneth."205

Now when the apostle said this, he was commending grace, of which he had just spoken in connection with the twin children in Rebecca’s womb: "Before they had yet been born, or had done anything good or bad, in order that the electing purpose of God might continue–not through works but through the divine calling–it was said of them, ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’ "206 Accordingly, he refers to another prophetic witness, where it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau have I hated."207 Then, realizing how what he said could disturb those whose understanding could not penetrate to this depth of grace, he adds: "What therefore shall we say to this? Is there unrighteousness in God? God forbid!"208 Yet it does seem unfair that, without any merit derived from good works or bad, God should love the one and hate the other. Now, if the apostle had wished us to understand that there were future good deeds of the one, and evil deeds of the other–which God, of course, foreknew–he would never have said “not of good works” but rather “of future works.” Thus he would have solved the difficulty; or, rather, he would have left no difficulty to be solved. As it is, however, when he went on to exclaim, “God forbid!”–that is, “God forbid that there should be unfairness in God”–he proceeds immediately to add (to prove that no unfairness in God is involved here), "For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will show pity to whom I will show pity.’"209 Now, who but a fool would think God unfair either when he imposes penal judgment on the deserving or when he shows mercy to the undeserving? Finally, the apostle concludes and says, "Therefore, it is not a question of him who wills nor of him who runs but of God’s showing mercy."210

Thus, both the twins were "by nature children of wrath,"211 not because of any works of their own, but because they were both bound in the fetters of damnation originally forged by Adam. But He who said, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,” loved Jacob in unmerited mercy, yet hated Esau with merited justice. Since this judgment of wrath was due them both, the former learned from what happened to the other that the fact that he had not, with equal merit, incurred the same penalty gave him no ground to boast of his own distinctive merits–but, instead, that he should glory in the abundance of divine grace, because "it is not a question of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God’s showing mercy."212 And, indeed, the whole visage of Scripture and, if I may speak so, the lineaments of its countenance, are found to exhibit a mystery, most profound and salutary, to admonish all who carefully look thereupon "that he who glories, should glory in the Lord."213

  1. Now, after the apostle had commended God’s mercy in saying, “So then, there is no question of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God’s showing mercy,” next in order he intends to speak also of his judgment–for where his mercy is not shown, it is not unfairness but justice. For with God there is no injustice. Thus, he immediately added, "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I raised you up, that I may show through you my power, and that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth."214 Then, having said this, he draws a conclusion that looks both ways, that is, toward mercy and toward judgment: “Therefore,” he says, “he hath mercy on whom he willeth, and whom he willeth he hardeneth.” He showeth mercy out of his great goodness; he hardeneth out of no unfairness at all. In this way, neither does he who is saved have a basis for glorying in any merit of his own; nor does the man who is damned have a basis for complaining of anything except what he has fully merited. For grace alone separates the redeemed from the lost, all having been mingled together in the one mass of perdition, arising from a common cause which leads back to their common origin. But if any man hears this in such a way as to say: "Why then does he find fault? For who resists his will?"215 --as if to make it seem that man should not therefore be blamed for being evil because God “hath mercy on whom he willeth and whom he willeth he hardeneth”–God forbid that we should be ashamed to give the same reply as we see the apostle giving: "O man, who are you to reply to God? Does the molded object say to the molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Or is not the potter master of his clay, to make from the same mass one vessel for honorable, another for ignoble, use?"216

There are some stupid men who think that in this part of the argument the apostle had no answer to give; and, for lack of a reasonable rejoinder, simply rebuked the audacity of his gainsayer. But what he said–“O man, who are you?”–has actually great weight and in an argument like this recalls man, in a single word, to consider the limits of his capacity and, at the same time, supplies an important explanation.



For if one does not understand these matters, who is he to talk back to God? And if one does understand, he finds no better ground even then for talking back. For if he understands, he sees that the whole human race was condemned in its apostate head by a divine judgment so just that not even if a single member of the race were ever saved from it, no one could rail against God’s justice. And he also sees that those who are saved had to be saved on such terms that it would show–by contrast with the greater number of those not saved but simply abandoned to their wholly just damnation–what the whole mass deserved and to what end God’s merited judgment would have brought them, had not his undeserved mercy interposed. Thus every mouth of those disposed to glory in their own merits should be stopped, so that "he that glories may glory in the Lord."217

Thats very informative, thanks. Now do you have similar quotes of his pertaining to “limited atonement” even though he probably didnt use the term?

Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness is entirely about works: it’s about Christ living a life of good works, keeping all the commandments, and imputing to the believer this perfect obedience, so that when God looks at the believer, God “sees” a believer who has perfectly kept the law.

Our depraved human nature (due to original sin, and thus our own inability to do anything else but sin,) is odious and damnable in God’s eyes whether we do good or bad works. This is the nexus of their difficulty.

True, but that ties into what I’m saying.

Catholics on the other hand believe in INTERNAL, TRANSFORMATIVE justification, by the Grace won for us by Jesus Christ and His redemption AND by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This new life can be gained through baptism, and lost again through personal sin. In the Christian dispensation, our works, our sufferings, and our labors, are all Sanctified by the Redemption of Jesus, and are now worthy sources of merit. We can grow in this Divine Life which Jesus shares with us and progress from Grace to Grace, just like the Virgin Mary, the Apostles and all the Saints.


One of the important questions we might ask a Calvinist is why, if works are unimportant, will there be a Last Judgement? Jesus illustrated the core of this judgement NOT as having Faith alone, but in charitable works.

This is a difficulty they cannot adequately address.

I’m sure I could produce quotes supporting both/either position (as I’m sure, could you).

The notion of ‘ltd. atonement’, imho, is nothing more than reverse engineering–interpreted through the limitation of time (then imputing that limitation to God).

IOW, since we know that not all souls will be saved, and if we accept Pre-destination, then the apparent result, according to reverse engineering, is that God intended only to save a few.

Romove the temporal limitation, factor in for free will, and you get a reconciliation between ‘ltd. atonement’, and ‘universal salvation’.

God intended His son’s redemption for all; alas, not all (in fact the majority), according to their own free will, will not respond to the universal, open invitation in faith, and/or will not persevere in faith.

It is perhaps difficult to speak of ‘the Elect’, without at least implying ‘ltd. atonement’–but that is not mutually exclusive to the call or desire for, ‘universal atonement’, or salvation, because it simply does not follow that the free will is nullified by Pre-destination. That logical sequence is an interpretation based on time (or temporal limitation). It is a non-sequitor, if you remove the temporal element (limitation), because that temporal limitation does not exist with God–only us.

The bottom line however, is that we are not a puppet show. This life is not a puppet show. But if one seeks to emphasize the doctrine of Predestinaiton, the net result would be that many would inevitably conclude or believe that we essentially are living a puppet show–where most of the puppets were designed and destined to wind up in hell.

Somehow, from the God who created us in His image…and who gave us His Son, for our redemption…the puppet show theory just doesn’t quite gel, with the greater salvation narrative.


It has been my observation that Calvinism has two parallel paths. If you question one path, they will cite the other. If you question that path they cite the first. One can therefore never entrap a Calvinist, because they have another path to take.

I have found that with Luther adherents too. Question A produce B. Question B produce A.

Catholic is the first time in my life I have had one path. Did Augustine have two paths?

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