Why Does the Catholic Church Teach Free Will?

Hello, Protestant here. I’ve been reading up on catholicism and I am especially curious about why catholics believe in free will. From what I understand, the official position is this:

We have free will to accept or reject God’s grace. God only predestines people to glory, not to hell, and he takes their will into account, seeing/being present at all points in time.

Now, my question is why do catholics believe it? How does it synthesise with Jesus saying that only those who are called by the Father can come to Him? Is there any historical record that early Christians were taught this by the apostles?

Hello! Many Protestants believe in free will as well, btw. I think on of the most clear Bible passages on free will is 2 Peter 3:9- “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (RSV). Why would God purposely predestined people to hell if he wishes to see everybody reach repentance (and therefore, heaven)?

Here’s a longer article from Catholic answers that goes in depth and explains it better than I ever could:


This may help:

Catechism of the Catholic Church

in the upper right corner, there is a search box, type “free will” and then the passages which cover free will appear on the left. Click on each of them and it will tell you exactly what Catholics believe in regards to free will.

Here is another article on free will from Catholic Answers that you may not have read.

You may want to clarify why you feel being drawn by the Father is somehow contrary to free will.

Gladly. The verses seems to imply that only those drawn to the father can come to Christ, further implying that some are not. Is the Catholic position that all are drawn to Him, thus all are given the opportunity to respond?

Turn around and face the other way. Why did no Christian Church on earth ever teach against free will until 1500s Europe? The spark, Luther, who publicly demonstrated a terrible lack of self-control, and extreme, paralyzing fear of sin and justification, chose to compartmentalize it neatly into God’s responsibility.

Of course, we rely 100% on God’s grace, but the16th century rebellion turned Christian theology upside down and introduced numerous man-made novelties.

And, the reform targeted only Catholic theology. The 95+% identical Orthodox the reformers left untouched. Why was that? I thought truth was truth?

You might like these articles:

List of Bible passages about free will

Church Fathers on Free Will

Being drawn by the Father implies that one cannot have supernatural faith without it being preceded by grace. Frankly, I’m not aware of how passages like those in John 6 could be understood to imply that some are not drawn by the Father. Being given by the Father to the Son does imply predestination, but we have to understand what predestination means while bearing in mind the limitations of revelation and our human understanding. We can’t philosophize our way into the center of this mystery, which itself would be unknown if it hadn’t been revealed to us by God. Yet God has not revealed everything about it, and we have to be mindful of that fact.

For a really great summary of what the Church approves regarding speculation on Predestination—because Catholics believe much of our “understanding” is really just speculation—I would recommend you listen to Dr. Larry Feingold.

Here are some undergrad-level talks on relevant topics:

Freedom of the Will

God’s Universal Salvific Will
The Mystery of Grace
Actual Grace and Our Cooperation
Sufficient and Efficacious Grace

Dr. Feingold is a Thomistic philosopher who basically accepts the soteriological position of the Jesuits/Molina on the subject of Predestination, and he is therefore biased in that direction while giving a very fair overview of the topic from all acceptable angles.

Again, the Church permits various forms of speculation, while bearing in mind that there is simply much that we have not been permitted to know on this complicated subject. Many Protestants, of course, disagree, as does their exegesis of various prooftexts. But that should come as no surprise.

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mjhudson. You mentioned what you thought the Catholic beliefs are on free will.

To help better answer your question I’d like to know what you see the Catholic belief on predestination is.

And I would also like to know what your understanding of “mystery” is.

*]Free Will


God bless.


I don’t believe the implication you suggest exists. It is true no one can come to the Father lest God draw him - the text eliminates the notion that a man can, of his own accord apart from grace, go to the Father. Elsewhere we know that grace can be received “in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1), so that would be an example of God drawing someone, yet they fail on their part in some sense. Of course, God so loved the “world” (i.e. everyone) that He gave His only son, etc… Yet we see that even one for whom Christ died can incur “ruin.” (Rom. 14:15).

This is a very good point. I’m beginning to think that, if I accept Catholicism as true, I may just have to admit my lack of understanding and take God at his word. Thank you for this point.

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This does seem more coherent… Thank you for the interpretation.

To everyone on this thread, thank you for sharing your time with me. I will continue to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church (I’m not quite ready to start asking for the intercession of the saints yet), but I can say that I have seen more coherent and intelligent discussion of Scripture here than anywhere else.


I know you mentioned the topic of predestination in regards to Catholicism in your original post, but I want you to elaborate on the topic.

Or if that is “all” you know regarding Catholic teaching, I think we can go from there too.

I’ll see what you have to say and proceed as indicated.

As the topic of Predestination goes, my statement is what I understand the official stance of the Catholic church to be on the issue.

“We have free will to accept or reject God’s grace. God only predestines people to glory, not to hell, and he takes their will into account, seeing/being present at all points in time.”

I’ve read a few theories of how that all works out (Augustine, Aquinas, etc) but I wanted to see how exactly the Catholic church rooted the belief that free will was given by God. I accept that I find the Catholic position more coherent than most Protestant positions, but I haven’t seen anyone address how Jesus statements about people being called is taken into account. I’m also unaware of early church tradition on the subject, at least by direct reference.

My current understanding is that Catholics seem to view Jesus referring to people being called to him as synthesizing with the references to God wanting all people to be saved, and view Predestination in a different light.

I hope that was more clear.

if human beings have no free will, Jesus’ sacrifice is meaningless, God intervening in human history is pointless, there is no such thing as sin and there is no need of repentance. in fact, if there is no free will there is no eternal life because it is the intellect and the free will of human beings that allow them to become one with God.

is that the protestant belief the OP embraces or has been taught?

if so, i will be first in line to reject such a faith because i believe Jesus’ sacrifice has meaning and that God intervened in human history for a reason and that the sin i see around me every day really is sin.

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Free will is not the RIGHT to choose good or evil. Free will is the ABILITY to choose good or evil. Also keep in mind free will was originally free from evil prior to lucifer’s sin. Free will is simply having conscious awareness of all things that are possible (after lucifer now evil is created and known and possible to choose) but always choosing the highest good which is God Himself.

So God calls all to Himself however one can run from God or follow God. So those who follow Him can be said were called by Him. Only those who the Father calls to Him can come to Him. If one hands himself over satan, God cannot call him if he knowingly is rejecting God. To that person they are accepting the call of satan rather than the call of God. God will hand him over to what he wants. At that point it will be even harder for that person to unharden their heart.

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Free-will pre-supposes a total consecration.

While we are called to humility in all things, the Church also invites the faithful to think on the various mysteries of God and try to express them; this is what we call development of doctrine.

Free will and predestination are part of these mysteries and while the Church allows certain schools of thought, she has not ruled definitively on the issue. Essentially, we are required to hold some principles and develop thought within these principles. These principles include:

*]God gives sufficient grace to every human being for his salvaton.
*]God gives each human being the free will to accept or reject that grace.
*]God ordains, from an eternal resolve of his will to predestine certain people to eternal blessedness (predestination to glory; a note on this one: the Church does not rule on whether this is in light of foreseen merits or without consideration of forseen merits)
*]God ordains, in light of foreseen demerits, certain people to eternal damnation (unlike the Calvinists, the Church holds that God does not predestine people to hell without consideraton of foreseen demerits; this is condemned as heretical and unscriptural).
*] The number of both the predestined and the reprobate are both unknown and immutable.

Because Scripture repeatedly exhorts people to come to God, as well as warns against turning away, there is clearly an expectation of free response there. But it’s just as clear that no one can turn to God without God’s initial movement; this is grace. So it is correct that no one can come to the Father unless he draw him, but that is not an opposition to free will. Rather, we believe that yes, unless the Father draws a man (i.e. be offered grace), he cannot respond. And the Father will draw men, but not all will respond. So the two are not mutually exclusive.

Christ calls everyone to Himself. We have the free will to answer “yes” or “no”.

I have trouble with the Protestant view point that God would deliberately create someone predestined to go to Hell.

Catholics are taught that this is our choice. We are called to the Father just like the Prodigal Son. The Father waits until his children decide to come home. He doesn’t force us.

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