Calvinism and Limited Atonement

Why did John Calvin teach that God would call only a certain few (elect) to salvation? Does not the christian faith teach that Jesus died so that all could be given the possibility of salvation?

I have had many a protestant friends and acquaintances who have spoken to me and told me that it is possible for anyone to be saved so long as they accept Jesus.

How does the Catholic church respond to this?

Christ died for all. We have the freedom to accept or reject Him. Calvinists take a hyper-literal approach to certain passages of the bible which seem to point to election/predestination of some to heaven, and the reprobate to hell, focusing exclusively on them. They deny the role of man’s will in his justification and salvation.

Well, Calvin’s paradigm necessitated a belief in limited atonement because of the first two letters of T.U.L.I.P (total depravity and unconditional election). It was Calvin’s understanding that because every person [aside from Christ] is spiritually dead, nobody is capable of choosing to accept God’s gift of salvation. From this, it led him to believe that if anyone is to be saved, it must be solely by grace and solely by faith-- no works can contribute to anyone’s salvation.

So if the only way one can be saved is if God does all the work for you, by assuring your salvation the moment you’re converted, it either leads to universalism or limited atonement. He either chooses to save some or everyone. If Christ’s death on the cross was for the reprobate, it was a failure because a reprobate is predestined to not believe.

It’s confusing, I know. :whacky:

The only way you can believe in limited atonement is if you first believe in total depravity and unconditional election.

Hi guys, have a look at this website. It’ll help you a lot in understanding.
My personal understanding has come from simply reading the Scriptures, which has led me to a Calvinistic view of God/theology.

Disclosure: I’m not a scholar and the following are the conclusions of my amateur reading.

Calvin was (appropriately) transfixed by the immensity of God. He was so in awe of God’s power, majesty and sovereignty that he became convinced that God was the cause of every event, every occurrence in history. It was inconceivable to him that God would will a particular person to be saved and have that result NOT come to be. Much of his theology is based on the above. Calvin observed significant numbers of demonstrably unrepentant men in the world (including those stubborn papists that refused to convert!). The only way he could reconcile his observations with his beliefs was to conclude that God did NOT will all to be saved, but only the elect. Therefore, the atonement was only offered for them.

There must have been something in the water in Geneva, because I can’t figure out how such wacky ideas took such strong hold of people!

Calvin failed to understand the true nature of God; Gods primary awesomeness and glory is in the immensity of His goodness and love, rather than in His sheer power which produces fear more than reciprocal trust and love along with an understanding of His beneficent will for all mankind. But it’s an understandable failure; time is required to grow in such knowledge and Calvin lacked what no individual-but only the Church’s magisterium- is guaranteed: infallible teaching on faith and morals. In this way even as we hopefully grow in the knowledge of God as individuals, the Church’s teachings remain correct behind it all, keeping us from such errors as those that private interpretations cannot be free of.

It is correct that you mention universalism as being essentially the flipside of this line of thought. I am inclined to agree that the God of Calvin and Augustine is sovereignly capable of bringing all things to their proper ends. The error made by Calvin and Augustine is that they thought this would occur only on behalf of some of humanity rather than all. Limited atonement is therefore the greatest anthropomorphism.

He was raised and educated as a Catholic, though. He knew what the Magisterium taught. He had received the Church’s teaching on faith. Then rejected it.

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Yes, once he divorced himself from the Church’s authority he was open to any and all errors. We all, even as we physically remain members of the Church, are at varying levels of understanding, and therfore at varying levels of faith/trust in her doctrines. We’re all moving from imperfection to, hopefully, perfection, from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge. Calvin took a step backwards, obviously thinking otherwise.

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And the divorce from Church authority would be the first error, though… right? So I wonder how he made the error of leaving it before he left it…:hmmm:

He leaned on his own understanding. His mistrust of the Church wasn’t at all out of line though considering the abuses of some of the leadership. His mistake was in rejecting Church doctrines rather than rejecting the failures of man to live up to them.

There is a pretty complex interaction between sin and error that is hard to philosophically pin down. On the one hand, good theology is a poor substitute for one’s relationship with Christ. On the other hand, it is hard to have a relationship with Christ if one fundamentally misunderstands who He IS.

For Calvin, for Luther, for Judas, for ME, boths sins and heretical ideas result from our human imperfections. We’re good, but fallen and that fallenness is made manifest both in our intellects and in our wills. Humanity since the fall is prone to both honest blunders and malicious sinfulness. The combination of the two makes for quite a mess. This is why a mere book as the sole rule of faith is patently inadequate.

But remember, he began life as a Catholic, and a highly educated one at that, so he had not just the Good Book, but Sacred Tradition and Magisterial teaching as well, all in his spiritual/intellectual arsenal. And still, he left.

Yes, people can leave the faith, this was happening already back in NT times, even those with more than knowledge but who’d actually received the Spirit and tasted of His goodness. And today eminent, well-credentialed, well-intentioned scholars, disagree on the meaning of scripture and, to a much lesser extent, the teachings of the Church. But authority must lie outside of ourselves, and cannot lie in the written Word, which is easily subject to misinterpretation.

I’m curious, do you think the unwritten word is less subject to misinterpretation?

By the written Word I was referring to the bible. But the bible was never meant to explain itself or serve as a theological handbook or catechism. A catechism, OTOH, has the purpose of explaining, interpreting, defining the faith, based on magisterial interpretations of both scripture and tradition.

I know :slight_smile:

I understand (btw, I’ve read the CCC – good book in a lot of ways). But to bring it back to Calvin and Limitied Atonement, the other poster (I don’t remember who now) seemed to be implying that if only Calvin had had the Magisterium and Sacred Trad. along with his bible, he would’ve been safe from error. I just pointed out that he did indeed have those things, since he was raised Catholic, and an educated one at that.

The point being, whether one’s referring to the written Word of the Bible, or to the unwritten words of tradition, different interpretation is always a possible occurence.

Yes, unless God has guaranteed someone or some entity infallibility on the main things: faith and morals.

Like He guaranteed it to the Catholic Church (is what you’re aiming at)… But even then you get educated Catholics like Calvin (raised Catholic) who come up with a variable interpretation and end up “going rogue” with Limited Atonement regardless of everything they were taught by that infallible authority. These things happen. :shrug:

Well, yes. Which itself means Calvin was wrong; he had free will after all! :slight_smile: But that’s the point isn’t it? We begin with ignorance and there’s no guarantee that we’ll come into the light, or fully into the light. And truth be known our own personal theologies or understanding of Gods nature and will are all imperfect to one degree another. But, IMO, like it or not the farther we stray from the Church God established the farther removed we are from the correct understanding of the gospel.

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