Free Will and Predestination in Catholicism

This is a topic I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on.

A lot of Catholics shy away from the term “predestination” as a “Protestant thing,” when in fact a non-Calvinist formulation of predestination is actually an article of the Catholic faith. It’s a hard one to wrap our human heads around though!

So far as I understand it, all the “good things” (sacraments, grace, mercy, good deeds, etc.) that move our souls towards salvation are free gifts from God, and while He gives us the choice whether to accept these things, the positive choice to accept them is in itself a gift from God. Our faith in God, the actual-grace which moves our souls towards sanctifying-grace, etc. are not things we willed into existence; God, who is not bound to our whims, gave them to us. In short, all good things (including our ability to choose the good) ultimately come from God, and so we call the good people who go to heaven the “elect.”

And yet, God does not positively predestine anyone to Hell (as some, but not all, non-Catholic Christians believe). Not everyone goes to Heaven, but Jesus died for everyone. Basically, the saints in heaven are positively predestined for Heaven (because all the graces which bring them there are free gifts from God), but the damned in Hell are not positively predestined for Hell (because Hell is the eternal choice not to accept the Grace of God).

If I’ve formulated this incorrectly, I’m sure someone will correct me, but this is the Catholic understanding of predestination so far as I have ever learned it. I would be curious to hear how people here reconcile this with free will (another Catholic teaching). Obviously, for God these things all make sense in his broad, divine plan, but we here on earth can only understand so much. Thoughts?

I would highly recommend that anyone who’s interested in this topic should listen to the following lecture:

Dr. Feingold is a Thomist, but he outlines his own position with regard to predestination as being most like that of the Jesuits.

As to my own thoughts on the matter: well, I’m a layperson with no formal training or qualifications to really offer any meaningful analyses.

Predestination is about those being sent to heaven while reprobation is about being sent to hell.

The Catholic Church has not decreed any particular theory on these. There are many Theories (at least 3), but these have to mesh with other doctrines of the Church and so the Theories entertained within the Church have to abide by the following:


Owing to the infallible decisions laid down by the Church, every orthodox theory on predestination and reprobation must keep within the limits marked out by the following theses: (a) At least in the order of execution in time (in ordine executionis) the meritorious works of the predestined are the partial cause of their eternal happiness; (b) hell cannot even in the order of intention (in ordine intentionis) have been positively decreed to the damned, even though it is inflicted on them in time as the just punishment of their misdeeds; © there is absolutely no predestination to sin as a means to eternal damnation.

Within the proper doctrines that cause these limits Catholics are free to believe and Catholic Theologians are free to explore what these mean.

A good general overview for the lay person and I’m most familiar with Jesuit teaching; so this sounds a very good general summary. Simple with only contrasts to Lutheran and Calvin thoughts on double predestination. I couldn’t tell you the nuances of the different theories within the church. It took 1 hr and 22 min, it would be fine if cut down to 45 mins.

Free will? Of course! 100%. The prodigal son is evidence of free will. If sinners are called to repentance, free will is demonstrated. Lacking free will, sinners could not repent. Those who lack free will cannot love, and we are called to be loving, a reflection of our maker.

The Church absolutely believes in predestination, as it is scriptural, thus also in the Sacred Tradition. She condemns “double predestination” as it is man-made and violates both the scriptures and Sacred Tradition. Saints Peter and Saint Paul wrote that God desires the repentance/salvation of all.

The Book of Wisdom (1:12-13) states:

“Do not invite death by the error of your life,
nor bring on destruction by the works of your hands;
because God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.”

There are two leading views on Predestination in Catholicism. They would be Thomism thought up by Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Molinism thought up by Luis de Molina. I align myself more with Thomas Aquinas’s view on predestination. You can read his thought in the Summa. He is highly influenced by Saint Augustine. Calvin was also influenced by Saint Augustine and that is why Thomism and Calvinism are often said to be similar. However, Thomism believes in free will which also keeps it inline with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

I thought that the Blood was shed for you and for many and not for you and for all.

pro multis in the Mass does not explicitly exclude certain people, but it also makes clear that “all” are not automatically saved just because Jesus died for all. Every person who has ever lived is still “many” people.

Trying to find the line between Catholic and Reformed understandings of predestination is one of my spare-time activities, so deal me in, please.

Most of the Reformed I know, including every pastor I have every discussed it with or heard it from, which is actually not very many, reject reprobation and hold to a single predestination. These Reformed also affirm free will as equally true as is predestination, including a prof at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, who got interrogated by me during a question and answer session at my church after his presentation on the same.

Usually people start with Ephesians 1 and Romans 9 when discussing predestination, at least where I am from. Here are some thoughts:

Is God free to deliberately make people for the praise of his glory to send them to hell? Yes. Does that mean he did, and if He did that is He then unjust? God does not do everything He is capable of, and everything He does is just and charitable. So somehow if He deliberately made some people in order to torture them forever, I can’t see the consistency with His love and mercy.

Some are snatched out of the fire are all otherwise destined for due to their innate sinfulness. Does that mean that if God chooses this one and not that one, then He has deliberately passed over the second one? No. That passing over is a passive -pardon the pun- action, not a choice, and there is a point here where human logic fails and we are not given to understand past a certain point. I am not sure where that point is, but if you find yourself in the position of saying something about God that is untrue, you need to turn back.

We really Do have free will ergo free choices. Just because God knows in advance what we will choose and do, does it mean He influenced us or made us choose or do what’s wrong.

Predestined for Freedom
Are You Predestined?
Truth and Consequences
Was St. Augustine a Proto-Protestant? , 3 min video
Mortal Sin

I actually don’t side with Thomas Aquinas on this issue, there is someone else than Luis de Molina that I side with but his name slips my mind right now but I do remember what the difference is between their view points I’ll quickly describe what they are and why I disagree with Aquinas view on the Matter.

First Thomas believes that God predestines both those to heaven and to hell. (I don’t know where exactly he says this but he does.) What makes him different from Calvin is that even though we are predestined to heaven or hell we still have the freedom to choose heaven or hell. God those predestines those not taking into consideration our free choices.

Now there is another Saint of the Church maybe even a doctor of the church who holds a theory different than Thomas and I side with it. Basically he argues this that God does predestine those to heaven or hell but unlike Thomas he does this taking into consideration the free choices we make in life. So God knows what free choices we will make and based on that he predestines us to heaven or hell. This is done before we make those choices.

The reason I side with the later is it does a better job maintaining free will. While Thomas does posit free will he just simply says we have it, while the other side argues why we have it.

Note: I found the saint who argued for it St. Francis De Sales.

You have hit the root of my question though. When we make a choice to do good, isn’t that choice in and of itself God’s gift? The grace that moves our souls to do good comes from God. I’m not saying this impedes free will, but it does make it a lot more difficult to understand.

God has always given us choices to make freely.

DT 30: **19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live,"

One might ask, who would choose curses and death? But that is a choice and it wouldn’t be mentioned as a choice if it wasn’t a possibility to choose that freely, AND to avoid choosing curses and death freely.

God knows in advance what we will choose.

Did He not give Adam and Eve a choice?

Gen 2:**16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; **17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.

There is the choice. Choices have consequences. God did NOT force Adam to choose wrong, nor does God tempt anyone to do wrong. But He knows in advance what a person will choose.

I don’t know if you have watched the show lost? (what I’m about to say does contain spoilers but it proves my point.) If you have you may remember the heart of the island where the cave was and what the mother of Jacob gave him to protect. Only those chosen can see the cave and find the cave, no-one can find it on their own. But just because you know how to get there doesn’t mean that you will actually go there. I would argue that this is the same in Christianity and grace, God gives us what we need to live a good moral life but we still have to choose to live it, but if he doesn’t give us anything we can’t do it ourselves.

Hopefully this helps.

Basically it is this, we can’t do anything good (in terms of salvation) without God’s grace, but just because God gives us the grace doesn’t mean that we will act good.

:slight_smile: :thumbsup: :slight_smile:

Here is your answer OP.

My understanding is the same. I would say that God has pre-destined you for salvation. However, there is spiritual warfare going on and you can lose it by your free will turning against God, or not aligning with him. But God does not pre-destined anyone for damnation.Your ability to chose to be against God is a consequence of you having Free Will and being subjected to the spiritual warfare from evil forces at work around you.

God has apparently deemed that the possibility of damnation is worth it given the possibility of your salvation which he makes as accessible as possible.

There is beautiful imagery of a Father and his son that God has revealed to us. The Father wants the son to succeed in life and be happy and gives him every possible chance to do so, and unconditional love, and all the things that he needs. But the son always has the a free will to go down the wrong path to his own demise. Does the possibility of a son’s demise mean that we should never have children?

Please guide me toward a sound Catholic understanding between free will, “pre-destination”, salvation and God’s purpose for creation.

God created people to have loving relationship with them. To ensure that this loving relationship is genuine and true, God gave people a gift of free will. As a result, people are free to choose their thoughts and actions, and ultimately are responsible for the consequences. God also knows in advance what people will think and will do. In the end, many will accept God, while many will reject God. God also wants people to be in heaven with Him. Salvation will ultimately be decided by God based on people’s thoughts and actions, and through God’s infinite mercy and love.

My question is: If God created people knowing in advance that many would reject Him. For these people, knowing that salvation would not be granted to them, why did God create them?

Thank you in advance for your thoughts…

I hope this helps

Here’s from the CCC

**Free Will **:

**predestination **:



7 min video

Why would God create someone knowing they will go to hell?

Thank you. The links to CCC work fine. But I could not get the video to play.

Is there free will in heaven?

I don’t know what the official teaching of the Church is on this issue. My humble speculation is that it is no longer necessary or relevant. If the Church teaches otherwise, I will correct my error.

Free will was given to us so that we can freely choose our thoughts and actions while we are living on earth. In the end, we either choose God or reject God. Being in heaven means that, through our own free will, we had already chosen God, and God, through His mercy and love, had accepted us, and allowed us into heaven. Free will was fulfilled.

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