Predestination and free-will

I recently learned that the Catholic Church believes in predestination. I found this on Wikipedia: “This means that while it is held that those whom God has elected to eternal life will infallibly attain it, and are therefore said to be predestined to salvation by God, those who perish are not predestined to damnation.”

Does this mean that everyone that goes to heaven was predestined for it or that some were predestined and some were not.

Because if everyone that goes to heaven was predestined to go there, doesn’t that make everyone else “predestined” to not? And thus double-predestination (something the Church condemns) is true.

Also, how can free will fit into predestination?

Thanks in advance!

(If this is in the wrong category, can someone let me know?)

For such a serious and difficult topic, it would be better to follow a good author than to ask for (and receive) a million opinions.

Garrigou-Lagrange gives an excellent (and very trustworthy) treatment of the topic in his commentary on grace in the Summa. It is available online here (search for the title “Grace”):

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Since posting I have found some more information on this. I found that because God already knows everything that we will do before we have done it, he can make a judgement before.

But I’m not completely sure that what is stated above is true/official.

Does his commentary say that you know what you are
predestined to do? If not, then why would it matter what you are predestined to do something or that God knows your predestination, if you don’t know what it

The key point with the Church’s take on predestination is that humans have agency. Both acceptance and rejection of grace is seen as synergistic, leaving room for human choice in the matter. A man cannot get to Heaven unless he is elected to grace, but man’s acceptance of that grace is active and not passive. So too with man’s rejection of grace, which the Church teaches all men have the opportunity to accept or reject. He rejects grace through his own agency and is not just passively moved to that choice or never given a choice. Double predestination is basically what Protestants would call a “monergistic” approach to both acceptance and rejection, that is man is passive in regards to whether he accepts grace and those who are damned never even have the opportunity for making a choice.

Edit: Or to to put it more simply, double predestination is the teaching that man has no choice in the matter. He has no choice in electing it, he is passively moved to it. He has no choice in rejecting it, because he’s never given the opportunity to do so.

Ignatius of Loyola recommended that this topic not be discussed with the average layman… it’s very complex and can lead to various serious errors and even complete despair. I will only recommend the resource above because of the initial inquiry… no more input from me here.


Eternal damnation or partial cause of their own salvation is due to free will.

Catholic Encyclopedia

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;
c) there is absolutely no predestination to sin as a means to eternal damnation.

The theory of predestination post prævisa merita

This hypothetical decree reads as follows: Just as in time eternal happiness depends on merit as a condition, so I intended heaven from all eternity only for foreseen merit. — It is only by reason of the infallible foreknowledge of these merits that the hypothetical decree is changed into an absolute: These and no others shall be saved.

Pohle, J. (1911). Predestination. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Try to write that in plain english.

That’s just it; you can’t.

Predestination is extremely advanced theology, and cannot be properly discussed without a very good understanding of the nature of God, eternity, and grace.

So much so that the Church,—while only affirming the reality of predestination, divine sovereignty, sufficient grace, free will, and the universal desire for salvation (denial of any of these is heresy)—has never officially defined how predestination and free will are reconciled, and allows multiple schools of thought within the set parameters.

I know that, so much of church writing just come across as gobbledygook. The Catholic in the pew isnt suppose to understand it just accept with questioning.

If you have two concepts that are diametrically opposed to each other and you try to reconcile them then what you invariably end up with is something dense and impenetrable. And which does absolutely nothing to clarify the position.

This question is perhaps the most important one that anyone could ask: Am I in charge of my own destiny. And to have it suggested that ‘It’s too complicated for you - don’t worry about it…just let the grown ups discuss it’ is not acceptable.

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No it’s not. The complexity arises from trying to reconcile the obvious contradiction.

Choice vs. Fate is a theme that predates Christianity and mirrors the predestination discussion.

If God created the universe and all points in time are either fully foreknown or he experiences them all as simultaneously present, then that God created literally everything that happens.

You’re trying to reconcile a supposedly loving God with one that unchangeably created the inevitably damned.

You want a God that is in absolute control, yet isn’t responsible for the souls in hell.

No dice.

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Why are some so quick to call topics they’re not educated on impenetrable? I see similar claims on all sides.

There are common errors I see in objections. We’re supposedly given two options. (A) God created the world to stand alone, or (B) God pulls the strings on everything. But those who present this option liken God to a human machine maker, which he is not. God does not act on things to make them do what he wants as a human must. He is the source and reason of their being and operation according to their natural principles, a type of cause that transcends (in an understandable way) any type of causal power a human has when that human “creates” things.

We’re also typically presented with the notion that it must be libertarian free will or nothing. That’s another false dichotomy rejected by the majority of Catholic theologians. God is the cause of our being. He does not just pull our strings, but imbues us with operations that properly belong to us by nature. This includes the ability to use our wills towards some good end based upon our knowledge. Determinism or predictability are of little consequence to the position. The choice is ours, and that is the key point. We choose voluntarily, by nature, and this is an operation enabled by God as a thing we do and not just something that happens to us. As I’ve written elsewhere, if I didn’t hypothetically always make the same choice given the same exact circumstances and the same exact knowledge, that’d make me doubt my own agency, not support a belief in it, for if there is some other factor besides my own appetites and knowledge involved in a choice that would suggest something not-of-me affecting the decision.

It’s no surprise that those committed to a naturalist view of nature tend to reject free will altogether. Their framework and strictly mechanistic view of nature doesn’t allow for it.

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This is a misunderstanding of a misunderstanding.

God is not pulling the strings forcing us to act in one way or another. We are making decisions. I don’t think anyone could argue otherwise. But making a decision does not equate to free will if it is the only decision we could make. And it is. If God is omniscient then He knows how I will finish this post. I don’t yet. I haven’t decided. But there is only one way it can be completed.

If that’s your idea of free will then we disagree on the very definition.

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Surely you have that backwards. If you did make the same choices given the same conditions then that would make you doubt your own agency. Was that a typo?

And it’s not that those who don’t support free find the arguments for predestination impenetrable. It’s those who support it and tend to brush off arguments by insinuating that ‘one needs a deep understanding of theology - you won’t be able to follow it’. I call bs on that.

Respectfully, you have absolutely zero information about the level of formal education of virtually everyone posting.

I, for instance, was a devout Calvinist in another life. I went to a seminary where election and predestination were cryptic requirements for graduation.

Free will and predestination are, as Freddy correctly stated, diametrically opposed.

I only believed they weren’t because I wanted to. Not because I could actually make a defensible top-to-bottom argument for it. Same goes for Luther, Calvin and a host of others.

I think that the only dogmatic teaching on this is that we cannot know with certainty whether we are part of the predestined or not and that God does not predestine some people to damnation (sometimes called “double predestination”).

This is from the Council of Trent. Specifically Canon XV and XVII.

Youre correct, it is the same thing as “can god create a bolder so large that he can not pick it up”.

All men without exception are predestined to grace, since Jesus died for all.

Those who remain faithful—at least to the natural law of the Good—are predestined to glory. Thus at the end of the ages, each one who has lived as a just man, will have his reward.

God knows from eternity those who are destined for glory before they are born into life—that is, “predestined”. Pay attention, then, for here is the point for understanding with justice the justice of God.

There are those who are predestined, certainly. And God knows them before time [even] exists for them. But they are not predestined because God, with evident injustice, gives them every means to become glorious, and by every means prevents any traps for them of the demon, of the world, and of the flesh. No. God gives them what He gives to all. But they use the gifts of God with justice, and hence they win the future and eternal glory by their [own] free will.

God knows that they will reach this eternal glory. But they do not know it, nor does God tell them in any way. Extraordinary gifts are not—of themselves—a sure sign of glory: they are a more severe means than others to test the spirit of a man in his will, virtue, and fidelity to God and to His Law. God knows. He rejoices in anticipation to know that this creature will reach glory; just as He suffers in anticipation to know that this other creature will, voluntarily, reach damnation.

But in no way does He intervene to force the free choice of any creature so that it may arrive where God wants all to arrive: in Heaven.

Certainly the creature’s correspondence with Divine help increases its capacity to will. Because God all the more pours Himself out, as a man loves Him in truth: that is, with a charity of actions, and not [just] of words.

And again: certainly, the more a man lives as a just man, the more God also communicates with and manifests Himself to him: an anticipation of that knowledge of God which is the bliss of the saints in Heaven; and from this knowledge comes an increase of the capacity to want [will] to be perfect. But again and always, man is free with his will, and, if after having already reached perfection, one disavows the good he has practiced up till then, and sells himself to the Evil One: God would leave him free to do it. There would be no merit if there were coercion.

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To conclude: God knows—from eternity—those who are the future eternal inhabitants of Heaven. But man, with his free will, must want [will] to reach Heaven by using well the supernatural helps which the Eternal Father gives to each of His creatures. And this [must he do] even to his last breath—whatever the extraordinary gifts he has received, and [whatever] the degrees of perfection he has reached.

Remember: no one has ever truly arrived, until his “walk” is finished. That is, no one is sure of having merited glory, until his time has ended, and immortality has begun.

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