Friday, May 26, 2006


Once upon a time, I thought the doctrine of predestination was merely the domain of Calvinist Christians.

And then, sitting in Catholic Theological Traditions class one day, we read some of St. Augustine, who clearly articulated a notion of predestination.

Wait a sec. Augustine wasn't a Calvinist!

Okay, so it turns out that the Catholic Church does teach the doctrine of predestination. Sure enough, you can even look it up in the index of the Catechism. We just understand it differently than the average Calvinist.

The Calvinist position assumes that, in order to retain the truth of the predestination of the elect, one must also conclude the predestination of the damned, thus in effect denying our free will and saying that God wills for some people to go to hell. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, affirms the predestination of the elect and free will and maintains that there is no contradiction between the two.

The best synopsis that I've been able to find on this topic is actually on the dust jacket of a book by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange (faculty advisor to John Paul II's graduate thesis) called simply Predestination. The following sums up, concisely, the Church's position:
God wills all men to be saved; yet some are not saved. Efficacious grace always effects the good which God intends; yet man's will remains free. Only those are saved who are predestined by God to eternal life; yet those who are lost have only themselves to blame. God's knowledge of our deliberate choice is infallible; yet the freedom of our will is not at all lessened.
If at first it seems there may be inherent contradictions in there, rest assured, they are only apparent contradictions. But this is surely one of those doctrines which retains an element of mystery. For as the same dust jacket concludes:
In the problem of predestination, we reach a point beyond which the human mind cannot penetrate, we reach a realm of mystery which our understanding, even at its best, is unable to comprehend until we attain to the beatific vision. Father Garrigou-Lagrange clearly marks this boundary and explains why the mystery is beyond our grasp.
It's a long book, so the topic is definitely a complex one. It's also fraught with danger, as it is all too easy to get caught up in the minutiae and get led down an incorrect train of thought. This was demonstrated over an hour-long class lecture where we progressively became more and more confused, some of us beginning to worry that the Catholic Church was, unbeknownst to us, actually Calvinist! It's a good thing I ran across that book, and was able to share it with the class. There were many sighs of relief that day.

It was later on that we then stumbled across the words of Ignatius of Loyola, who said:
We should not make predestination an habitual subject of conversation. If it is sometimes mentioned we must speak in such a way that no person will fall into error, as happens on occasion when one will say, "It has already been determined whether I will be saved or lost, and in spite of all the good or evil that I do, this will not be changed." As a result, they become apathetic and neglect the works that are conducive to their salvation and to the spiritual growth of their souls.
Boy, isn't that the truth!


At 5/28/2006 10:08 AM, Blogger Steve said...

Really excellent commentary Dan. You nailed it.

At 6/01/2006 11:44 AM, Blogger Ray from MN said...

Also guaranteed to cause much pain and confusion in the frontal lobes.


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