I was wondering what the church’s teaching on predestination is, and how does it differ from the protestant understanding on predestination. I was unaware that the church actually taught predestination. I was watching EWTN and I heard a priest say that the church teaches predestination. I did not know how to understand this from a catholic perspective. I have some knowledge of the protestant doctrine, although they differ from denomination to denomination. Maybe someone out there understands the catholic doctrine of predestination? And maybe someone has some suggested online reading or something from the CCC. May God bless you all, thanks for your help.
I believe there are a number of acceptable positions within certain parameters.
Here are some sources:
Hope these help.
The Catholic Church teaches positive-but-not-negative predestination. The reason is simple: Original-Sin-tainted mankind won’t opt for salvation, ever, within any decision. Unassisted by grace, as to every moral decision we will always opt to walk away from God.
Therefore, God is always the “initiator” of the transaction, the “Offeror,” so to speak, and we are always the “Offereee.”
That’s positive predestination.
[quote=cristian84]I was wondering what the church’s teaching on predestination is, and how does it differ from the protestant understanding on predestination.
The Catholic Encyclopedia article is a good place to start.
Basically all Christians believe in predestination (except for those recent theologians who deny God’s foreknowledge; but that’s an unorthodox position, although I’ve heard a priest teach it in RCIA). Predestination means that people are saved because God has graciously chosen to direct their lives toward the goal of eternal life.
The question is whether predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge of our acts (i.e., that God sees that we will respond to grace, and chooses us because of that). This is probably the view held by most Christians today. But historically Western Christian theologians (the Orthodox really haven’t given it a whole lot of thought, as far as I can tell) have seen huge problems with this (ever since Augustine), because it makes God’s gracious predestination of us dependent on our (logically) prior works. (Logically prior means that on which something is based, even if it happens later. So if God foresees that I will respond to grace and persevere in it, and chooses me on that basis, then my actions were logically prior to God’s choice.)
So the vast majority of classic Western theologians–including the two greatest Western theologians, Augustine and Aquinas–have held that God’s choice to save certain people is logically prior to their actions. I respond to grace (the grace that is offered to all people) because God has chosen me, not the other way round. Aquinas’s way of putting it was that God’s knowledge is causative–God doesn’t know things happen because they happen, rather they happen because God knows them (this applies to everything; Augustine was more narrowly interested in the problem of human salvation).
This raises two serious problems. First, it’s generally agreed among Christians that some people, tragically, will reject God’s grace and be lost (though some recent Catholic theologians have suggested that we can hope that all will be saved, which would put a whole different light on this entire discussion). The view I’ve been describing (which is usually called the “Augustinian” view or “predestination ante praevisa merita”–predestination without regard to foreseen merits; I’ll refer to it as PAPM for short) leads inevitably to the conclusion that in some sense it’s also God’s choice that leads to those people being damned. The Catholic Church has made it very clear that this cannot be followed out to its logical conclusion. In some way theologians who teach PAPM must distinguish between the way God causes human beings to be saved and the way He allows (note the different verb) other human beings to be damned.
For theologians with broad philosophical interests, like Aquinas, this shades into the more general problem of evil. Note that Aquinas thought that all Divine knowledge is causative–things happen because God knows them. But it would seem to follow that evil things can’t happen, or if they can that God can’t know about them. Both Augustine and Aquinas held, like Plato, that evil is a privation of a good–it’s a sort of hole where a good ought to be rather than a thing itself. Aquinas could use this idea to argue that God does not cause or know evil because evil isn’t a thing. Rather, evil happens when a created thing falls short of the perfection for which it was made (this includes everything from a cow failing to give milk all the way to a serial killer on a rampage). As I understand him (and I got nailed for my discussion of Aquinas on evil on my preliminary exams five years ago, so I may still be all wet on this), Aquinas thought that God “causes” evil in the sense that He allows the created thing to fall short–he doesn’t move within it in such a way as to produce the good in question. God “causes” evil by inaction, which in Aquinas’s metaphysics isn’t causing it at all, since God is never obligated to act in creation (except of course where He has already promised to do so). Similarly, God “knows” evil by knowing that the corresponding good isn’t there. He doesn’t know Hitler’s hatred of Jews directly–He sees the (presumably rather few) good qualities in Hitler, and since there are so few He knows indirectly the vast gaping holes where the other virtues ought to be.
Wow, Contarini! Thanks for helping explain Aquinas’ thought on that. Even though you said you might be a little off on Aquinas, it made perfect sense to me from what I’ve read from him on evil. I had trouble figuring out what he meant, but your post helped clarify that. Thanks!
I find Aquinas’s account of evil extremely inadequate. But then, as I said, maybe I still haven’t grasped what he’s saying.
The other problem is human free will. How can God cause everything that happens without violating human free will? For Aquinas it doesn’t really seem to be much of an issue. God works in all creatures according to their nature; humans are created as free beings; so God works in humans so as to cause them to choose freely what He has willed them to choose (this applies, of course, only to good choices, as I’ve discussed above).
But later theologians in the sixteenth century found this difficult indeed. They were working against the backdrop of the Protestant Reformation, and of course most of the Protestant Reformers had taken Augustine’s teachings about predestination in quite a radical direction. Most of the Reformers held to a very uncompromising form of PAPM, with some of them holding unflinchingly to “double predestination” (that God chooses who will be saved and who will be damned). Furthermore, the two most famous and influential Reformers (Luther and Calvin) both denied human free will. This can be misleading–Luther was only interested in the question of sinful human beings’ capability to choose salvation, and Calvin explicitly says that humans do have a kind of free will, but he doesn’t see the point of calling it free will. In other words, some of it was a matter of terminology. But they certainly weren’t interested in the delicate dance Aquinas had done. (Others, like Martin Bucer, did see free will as compatible with their view of predestination–and in Bucer’s case this was a strong version of double predestination. But it’s not clear to me if Bucer’s difference from Calvin was more than one of terminology.)
In the face of Protestantism, Catholic theologians had to clarify just how human beings could have free will without denying PAPM (some late medieval theologians had denied PAPM, but it doesn’t seem as if many of these late sixteenth-century folks followed in their footsteps–feel free to contradict me, anyone out there who knows more about this).
Two schools of thought developed: Molinists and Thomists. The Molinists taught that God knows how human beings will respond to certain circumstances, and He places them in those circumstances in which He knows they will respond in a certain way. They claimed that this was still not contradicting Aquinas’s insistence on God’s knowledge being causative, because God’s decree to save someone was prior to His choice (on the basis of his “middle knowledge” of potential human responses) to put them in certain circumstances.
The other school of thought, which claimed to be more faithful to Aquinas (hence the term “Thomist,” though the Molinists were inspired by Aquinas as well), argued that this still made God’s choice dependent on human beings. They favored a distinction between “sufficient grace,” which God offered to everyone and which theoretically enabled all human beings to respond, and “efficient grace,” which actually caused human beings to respond to grace without violating their free will. Myself, I can’t see that this is a meaningful distinction. But go read the CE article–it explains it better than I can.
Both of these schools of thought called the other one heretical. The quarrel threatened to tear the world of Catholic theology apart (and of course Catholics couldn’t afford to give Protestants occasion for propaganda). So the Pope intervened (around 1600) and basically shut the argument down, forbidding either side from calling the other one heretical. And there the question has remained for 400 years, sizzling.
But not really, because meanwhile the climate of religious opinion in general became much gentler, and PAPM became less and less palatable (for both Catholics and Protestants). From the beginning, Molinists and been divided about PAPM: Bellarmine upheld it, while Suarez denied it (at least that’s what I understand from the CE). Furthermore, even Molinists who deny PAPM still, as far as I can tell, traditionally held that final perseverance is a gift God might choose to grant or not to grant. That might be based on things like someone’s previous merits, or the prayers of Christians (in heaven or on earth), but it was ultimately God’s decision. Thus, in the traditional view God allows the elect (whatever considerations went into His choosing them) to die in a state of grace, while allowing the reprobate to die in a state or mortal sin (even though He could quite easily have chosen to let them die in a state of grace.) In contrast, modern “Molinists” generally seem to believe that God puts everyone in the circumstances in which they are most likely to accept grace and be saved.
I had a third part to this post, but I lost it. I won’t try to reproduce it, though it was fun (to write, at least; it involved four drunk young people in a car crash . . . . )
Why must I always be so sorry but… I think of it this way Catholic thought is God choose you to chose Him, and as such you can refuse or accept. God is not taught and revealed to all in the OT and NT text, some can only infer God from creation and seek good. Protestant depending on the strain may have different levels, if you will, (no pun) of predestisnation. As I said before I grew up with people who would say It’s God’s will —he was killed by that tree…my dog died by run over by the garbage truck… i got sick by eating that moldy food. Now do you wish to discuss SUPRA VS. IFRA LAPSARIANISM (FOR THE NONELECT (( OR THE REPROBATE)) - AT WHICH POINT DID PREDESTINATION OCCUR BEFORE OR AFTER THE FALL) (And now I’ll have to put my dutch calvinist thinking cap on…this may take a while)… oH and now I must prepare to teach CCD YEH