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Predestination (Lat. prœ, destinare), taken in its widest meaning, is every Divine decree by which God, owing to His infallible prescience of the future, has appointed and ordained from eternity all events occurring in time, especially those which directly proceed from, or at least are influenced by, man's free will. It includes all historical facts, as for instance the appearance of Napoleon or the foundation of the United States, and particularly the turning-points in the history of supernatural salvation, as the mission of Moses and the Prophets, or the election of Mary to the Divine Motherhood. Taken in this general sense, predestination clearly coincides with Divine Providence and with the government of the world, which do not fall within the scope of this article (see Divine Providence).

Salvation of the electEdit

Theology restricts the term to those Divine decrees which have reference to the supernatural end of rational beings, especially of man. Considering that not all men reach their supernatural end in heaven, but that many are eternally lost through their own fault, there must exist a twofold predestination: (a) one to heaven for all those who die in the state of grace; (b) one to the pains of hell for all those who depart in sin or under God's displeasure. However, according to present usages to which we shall adhere in the course of the article, it is better to call the latter decree the Divine "reprobation", so that the term predestination is reserved for the Divine decree of the happiness of the elect.

The notion of predestination comprises two essential elements: God's infallible foreknowledge (prœscientia), and His immutable decree (decretum) of eternal happiness. The theologian who, following in the footsteps of the Pelagians, would limit the Divine activity to the eternal foreknowledge and exclude the Divine will, would at once fall into Deism, which asserts that God, having created all things, leaves man and the universe to their fate and refrains from all active interference. Though the purely natural gifts of God, as descent from pious parents, good education, and the providential guidance of man's external career, may also be called effects of predestination, still, strictly speaking, the term implies only those blessings which lie in the supernatural sphere, as sanctifying grace, all actual graces, and among them in particular those which carry with them final perseverance and a happy death. Since in reality only those reach heaven who die in the state of justification or sanctifying grace, all these and only these are numbered among the predestined, strictly so called. From this it follows that we must reckon among them also all children who die in baptismal grace, as well as those adults who, after a life stained with sin, are converted on their death-beds. The same is true of the numerous predestined who, though outside the pale of the true Church of Christ, yet depart from this life in the state of grace as catechumens, Protestants in good faith, schismatics, Jews, Mahommedans, and pagans. Those fortunate Catholics who at the close of a long life are still clothed in their baptismal innocence, or who after many relapses into mortal sin persevere till the end, are not indeed predestined more firmly, but are more signally favoured than the last-named categories of persons.

But even when man's supernatural end alone is taken into consideration, the term predestination is not always used by theologians in an unequivocal sense. This need not astonish us, seeing that predestination may comprise wholly diverse things. If taken in its adequate meaning (prœdestinatio adœquata or completa), then predestination refers to both grace and glory as a whole, including not only the election to glory as the end, but also the election to grace as the means, the vocation to the faith, justification, and final perseverance, with which a happy death is inseparably connected. This is the meaning of St. Augustine's words (De dono persever., xxxv): "Prædestinatio nihil est aliud quam præscientia et præparatio beneficiorum, quibus certissime liberantur [i. e. salvantur], quicunque liberantur" (Predestination is nothing else than the foreknowledge and foreordaining of those gracious gifts which make certain the salvation of all who are saved). But the two concepts of grace and glory may be separated and each of them be made the object of a special predestination. The result is the so-called inadequate predestination (prœdestinatio inadœquata or incompleta), either to grace alone or to glory alone. Like St. Paul, Augustine, too, speaks of an election to grace apart from the celestial glory (loc. cit., xix): "Prædestinatio est gratiæ præparatio, gratia vero jam ipsa donatio." It is evident, however, that this (inadequate) predestination does not exclude the possibility that one chosen to grace, faith, and justification goes nevertheless to hell. Hence we may disregard it, since it is at bottom simply another term for the universality of God's salvific will and of the distribution of grace among all men (see GRACE). Similarly eternal election to glory alone, that is, without regard to the preceding merits through grace, must be designated as (inadequate) predestination. Though the possibility of the latter is at once clear to the reflecting mind, yet its actuality is strongly contested by the majority of theologians, as we shall see further on (under sect. III). From these explanations it is plain that the real dogma of eternal election is exclusively concerned with adequate predestination, which embraces both grace and glory and the essence of which St. Thomas (I, Q. xxiii, a. 2) defines as: "Præparatio gratiæ in præsenti et gloriæ in futuro" (the foreordination of grace in the present and of glory in the future).

In order to emphasize how mysterious and unapproachable is Divine election, the Council of Trent calls predestination "hidden mystery". That predestination is indeed a sublime mystery appears not only from the fact that the depths of the eternal counsel cannot be fathomed, it is even externally visible in the inequality of the Divine choice. The unequal standard by which baptismal grace is distributed among infants and efficacious graces among adults is hidden from our view by an impenetrable veil. Could we gain a glimpse at the reasons of this inequality, we should at once hold the key to the solution of the mystery itself. Why is it that this child is baptized, but not the child of the neighbour? Why is it that Peter the Apostle rose again after his fall and persevered till his death, while Judas Iscariot, his fellow-Apostle, hanged himself and thus frustrated his salvation? Though correct, the answer that Judas went to perdition of his own free will, while Peter faithfully co-operated with the grace of conversion offered him, does not clear up the enigma. For the question recurs: Why did not God give to Judas the same efficacious, infallibly successful grace of conversion as to St. Peter, whose blasphemous denial of the Lord was a sin no less grievous than that of the traitor Judas? To all these and similar questions the only reasonable reply is the word of St. Augustine (loc. cit., 21): "Inscrutabilia sunt judicia Dei" (the judgments of God are inscrutable).

Reprobation of the wickedEdit

The counterpart of the predestination of the good is the reprobation of the wicked, or the eternal decree of God to cast all men into hell of whom He foresaw that they would die in the state of sin as his enemies. This plan of Divine reprobation may be conceived either as absolute and unconditional or as hypothetical and conditional, according as we consider it as dependent on, or independent of, the infallible foreknowledge of sin, the real reason of reprobation. If we understand eternal condemnation to be an absolute unconditional decree of God, its theological possibility is affirmed or denied according as the question whether it involves a positive, or only a negative, reprobation is answered in the affirmative or in the negative. The conceptual difference between the two kinds of reprobation lies in this, that negative reprobation merely implies the absolute will not to grant the bliss of heaven while positive reprobation means the absolute will to condemn to hell. In other words, those who are reprobated merely negatively are numbered among the non-predestined from all eternity; those who are reprobated positively are directly predestined to hell from all eternity and have been created for this very purpose. It was Calvin who elaborated the repulsive doctrine that an absolute Divine decree from all eternity positively predestined part of mankind to hell and, in order to obtain this end effectually, also to sin. The Catholic advocates of an unconditional reprobation evade the charge of heresy only by imposing a twofold restriction on their hypothesis: (a) that the punishment of hell can, in time, be inflicted only on account of sin, and from all eternity can be decreed only on account of foreseen malice, while sin itself is not to be regarded as the sheer effect of the absolute Divine will, but only as the result of God's permission; (b) that the eternal plan of God can never intend a positive reprobation to hell, but only a negative reprobation, that is to say, an exclusion from heaven. These restrictions are evidently demanded by the formulation of the concept itself, since the attributes of Divine sanctity and justice must be kept inviolate (see GOD). Consequently, if we consider that God's sanctity will never allow Him to will sin positively even though He foresees it in His permissive decree with infallible certainty, and that His justice can foreordain, and in time actually inflict, hell as a punishment only by reason of the sin foreseen, we understand the definition of eternal reprobation given by Peter Lombard (I. Sent., dist. 40): "Est præscientia iniquitatis quorundam et præparatio damnationis eorundem" (it is the foreknowledge of the wickedness of some men and the foreordaining of their damnation). Cf. Scheeben, "Mysterien des Christentums" (2nd ed., Freiburg, 1898), 98—103.

Catholic DogmaEdit

Reserving the theological controversies for the next section, we deal here only with those articles of faith relating to predestination and reprobation, the denial of which would involve heresy.

The Predestination of the ElectEdit

He who would place the reason of predestination either in man alone or in God alone would inevitably be led into heretical conclusions about eternal election. In the one case the error concerns the last end, in the other the means to that end. Let it be noted that we do not speak of the "cause" of predestination, which would be either the efficient cause (God), or the instrumental cause (grace), or the final cause (God's honour), or the primary meritorious cause, but of the reason or motive which induced God from all eternity to elect certain definite individuals to grace and glory. The principal question then is: Does the natural merit of man exert perhaps some influence on the Divine election to grace and glory? If we recall the dogma of the absolute gratuity of Christian grace, our answer must be outright negative (see GRACE). To the further question whether Divine predestination does not at least take into account the supernatural good works, the Church answers with the doctrine that heaven is not given to the elect by a purely arbitrary act of God's will, but that it is also the reward of the personal merits of the justified (see MERIT). Those who, like the Pelagians, seek the reason for predestination only in man's naturally good works, evidently misjudge the nature of the Christian heaven which is an absolutely supernatural destiny. As Pelagianism puts the whole economy of salvation on a purely natural basis, so it regards predestination in particular not as a special grace, much less as the supreme grace, but only as a reward for natural merit.

The Semipelagians, too, depreciated the gratuity and the strictly supernatural character of eternal happiness by ascribing at least the beginning of faith (initium fidei) and final perseverance (donum perseverantiœ) to the exertion of man's natural powers, and not to the initiative of preventing grace. This is one class of heresies which, slighting God and His grace, makes all salvation depend on man alone. But no less grave are the errors into which a second group falls by making God alone responsible for everything, and abolishing the free co-operation of the will in obtaining eternal happiness. This is done by the advocates of heretical Predestinarianism, embodied in its purest form in Calvinism and Jansenism. Those who seek the reason of predestination solely in the absolute Will of God are logically forced to admit an irresistibly efficacious grace (gratia irresistibilis), to deny the freedom of the will when influenced by grace and wholly to reject supernatural merits (as a secondary reason for eternal happiness). And since in this system eternal damnation, too, finds its only explanation in the Divine will, it further follows that concupiscence acts on the sinful will with an irresistible force, that there the will is not really free to sin, and that demerits cannot be the cause of eternal damnation.

Between these two extremes the Catholic dogma of predestination keeps the golden mean, because it regards eternal happiness primarily as the work of God and His grace, but secondarily as the fruit and reward of the meritorious actions of the predestined. The process of predestination consists of the following five steps: (a) the first grace of vocation, especially faith as the beginning, foundation, and root of justification; (b) a number of additional, actual graces for the successful accomplishment of justification; (c) justification itself as the beginning of the state of grace and love; (d) final perseverance or at least the grace of a happy death; (e) lastly, the admission to eternal bliss. If it is a truth of Revelation that there are many who, following this path, seek and find their eternal salvation with infallible certainty, then the existence of Divine predestination is proved (cf. Matt., xxv, 34; Apoc., xx, 15). St. Paul says quite explicitly (Rom., viii, 28 sq.): "we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints. For whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of his Son; that he might be the first born amongst many brethren. And whom he predestinated, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified. And whom he justified, them he also glorified." (Cf. Eph., i, 4—11.) Besides the eternal "foreknowledge" and foreordaining, the Apostle here mentions the various steps of predestination: "vocation", "justification", and "glorification". This belief has been faithfully preserved by Tradition through all the centuries, especially since the time of Augustine.

There are three other qualities of predestination which must be noticed, because they are important and interesting from the theological standpoint: its immutability, the definiteness of the number of the predestined, and its subjective uncertainty.


The first quality, the immutability of the Divine decree, is based both on the infallible foreknowledge of God that certain, quite determined individuals will leave this life in the state of grace, and on the immutable will of God to give precisely to these men and to no others eternal happiness as a reward for their supernatural merits. Consequently, the whole future membership of heaven, down to its minutest details, with all the different measures of grace and the various degrees of happiness, has been irrevocably fixed from all eternity. Nor could it be otherwise. For if it were possible that a predestined individual should after all be cast into hell or that one not predestined should in the end reach heaven, then God would have been mistaken in his foreknowledge of future events; He would no longer be omniscient. Hence the Good Shepherd says of his sheep (John, x, 28): "And I give them life everlasting; and they shalt not perish forever, and no man shall pluck them out of my hand." But we must beware of conceiving the immutability of predestination either as fatalistic in the sense of the Mahommedan kismet or as a convenient pretext for idle resignation to inexorable fate. God's infallible foreknowledge cannot force upon man unavoidable coercion, for the simple reason that it is at bottom nothing else than the eternal vision of the future historical actuality. God foresees the free activity of a man precisely as that individual is willing to shape it. Whatever may promote the work of our salvation, whether our own prayers and good works, or the prayers of others in our behalf, is eo ipso included in the infallible foreknowledge of God and consequently in the scope of predestination (cf. St. Thomas, I, Q. xxiii, a. 8). It is in such practical considerations that the ascetical maxim (falsely ascribed to St. Augustine) originated: "Si non es prædestinatus, fac ut prædestineris" (if you are not predestined, so act that you may be predestined). Strict theology, it is true, cannot approve this bold saying, except in so far as the original decree of predestination is conceived as at first a hypothetical decree, which is afterwards changed to an absolute and irrevocable decree by the prayers, good works, and perseverance of him who is predestined, according to the words of the Apostle (II Pet., i, 10): "Wherefore, brethren, labour the more, that by good works you may make sure your calling and election."

God's unerring foreknowledge and foreordaining is designated in the Bible by the beautiful figure of the "Book of Life" (liber vitœ, to biblion tes zoes). This book of life is a list which contains the names of all the elect and admits neither additions nor erasures. From the Old Testament (cf. Ex., xxxii, 32; Ps. lxviii, 29) this symbol was taken over into the New by Christ and His Apostle Paul (cf. Luke, x, 20; Heb., xii, 23), and enlarged upon by the Evangelist John in his Apocalypse [cf. Apoc., xxi, 27: "There shall not enter into it anything defiled ... but they that are written in the book of life of the Lamb" (cf. Apoc., xiii, 8; xx, 15)]. The correct explanation of this symbolic book is given by St. Augustine (De civ. Dei, XX, xiii): "Præscientia Dei quæ non potest falli, liber vitæ est" (the foreknowledge of God, which cannot err, is the book of life). However, as intimated by the Bible, there exists a second, more voluminous book, in which are entered not only the names of the elect, but also the names of all the faithful on earth. Such a metaphorical book is supposed wherever the possibility is hinted at that a name, though entered, might again be stricken out [cf. Apoc., iii, 5: "and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life" (cf. Ex., xxxii, 33)]. The name will be mercilessly cancelled when a Christian sinks into infidelity or godlessness and dies in his sin. Finally there is a third class of books, wherein the wicked deeds and the crimes of individual sinners are written, and by which the reprobate will be judged on the last day to be cast into hell (cf. Apoc., xx, 12): "and the books were opened; ... and the dead were judged by those things which were written in the books according to their works". It was this grand symbolism of Divine omniscience and justice that inspired the soul-stirring verse of the Dies irœ according to which we shall all be judged out of a book: "Liber scriptus proferetur: in quo totum continetur". Regarding the book of life, cf. St. Thomas, I, Q. xxiv, a. 1—3, and Heinrich-Gutberlet, "Dogmat. Theologie", VIII (Mainz, 1897), section 453.

Definite numberEdit

The second quality of predestination, the definiteness of the number of the elect, follows naturally from the first. For if the eternal counsel of God regarding the predestined is unchangeable, then the number of the predestined must likewise be unchangeable and definite, subject neither to additions nor to cancellations. Anything indefinite in the number would eo ipso imply a lack of certitude in God's knowledge and would destroy His omniscience. Furthermore, the very nature of omniscience demands that not only the abstract number of the elect, but also the individuals with their names and their entire career on earth, should be present before the Divine mind from all eternity. Naturally, human curiosity is eager for definite information about the absolute as well as the relative number of the elect. How high should the absolute number be estimated? But it would be idle and useless to undertake calculations and to guess at so and so many millions or billions of predestined. St. Thomas (I, Q. xxiii, a. 7) mentions the opinion of some theologians that as many men will be saved as there are fallen angels, while others held that the number of predestined will equal the number of the faithful angels.

Lastly, there were optimists who, combining these two opinions into a third, made the total of men saved equal to the unnumbered myriads of berated spirits. But even granted that the principle of our calculation is correct, no mathematician would be able to figure out the absolute number on a basis so vague, since the number of angels and demons is an unknown quantity to us. Hence, "the best answer", rightly remarks St. Thomas, "is to say: God alone knows the number of his elect". By relative number is meant the numerical relation between the predestined and the reprobate. Will the majority of the human race be saved or will they be damned? Will one-half be damned the other half saved? In this question the opinion of the rigorists is opposed to the milder view of the optimists. Pointing to several texts of the Bible (Matt., vii, 14; xxii, 14) and to sayings of great spiritual doctors, the rigorists defend as probable the thesis that not only most Christians but also most Catholics are doomed to eternal damnation. Almost repulsive in its tone is Massillon's sermon on the small number of the elect. Yet even St. Thomas (loc. cit., a. 7) asserted: "Pauciores sunt qui salvantur" (only the smaller number of men are saved). And a few years ago, when the Jesuit P. Castelein ("Le rigorisme, le nombre des élus et la doctrine du salut", 2nd ed., Brussels, 1899) impugned this theory with weighty arguments, he was sharply opposed by the Redemptorist P. Godts ("De paucitate salvandorum quid docuerunt sancti", 3rd ed., Brussels, 1899). That the number of the elect cannot be so very small is evident from the Apocalypse (vii, 9). When one hears the rigorists, one is tempted to repeat Dieringer's bitter remark: "Can it be that the Church actually exists in order to people hell?" The truth is that neither the one nor the other can be proved from Scripture or Tradition (cf. Heinrich-Gutberlet, "Dogmat. Theologie", Mainz, 1897, VIII, 363 sq.). But supplementing these two sources by arguments drawn from reason we may safely defend as probable the opinion that the majority of Christians, especially of Catholics, will be saved. If we add to this relative number the overwhelming majority of non-Christians (Jews, Mahommedans, heathens), then Gener ("Theol. dogmat. scholast.", Rome, 1767, II, 242 sq.) is probably right when he assumes the salvation of half of the human race, lest "it should be said to the shame and offence of the Divine majesty and clemency that the [future] Kingdom of Satan is larger than the Kingdom of Christ" (cf. W. Schneider, "Das andere Leben", 9th ed., Paderborn, 1908, 476 sq.).

Subjective uncertaintyEdit

The third quality of predestination, its subjective uncertainty, is intimately connected with its objective immutability. We know not whether we are reckoned among the predestined or not. All we can say is: God alone knows it. When the Reformers, confounding predestination with the absolute certainty of salvation, demanded of the Christian an unshaken faith in his own predestination if be wished to be saved, the Council of Trent opposed to this presumptuous belief the canon (Sess. VI, can. xv): "S. q. d., hominem renatum et justificatum teneri ex fide ad credendum, se certo esse in numero prædestinatorum, anathema sit" (if any one shall say that the regenerated and justified man is bound as a matter of faith to believe that he is surely of the number of the predestined, let him be anathema). In truth, such a presumption is not only irrational, but also unscriptural (cf. I Cor., iv, 4; ix, 27; x, 12; Phil., ii, 12). Only a private revelation, such as was vouchsafed to the penitent thief on the cross, could give us the certainty of faith: hence the Tridentine Council insists (loc. cit., cap. xii): "Nam nisi ex speciali revelatione sciri non potest, quos Deus sibi elegerit" (for apart from a special revelation, it cannot be known whom God has chosen). However, the Church condemns only that blasphemous presumption which boasts of a faithlike certainty in matters of predestination. To say that there exist probable signs of predestination which exclude all excessive anxiety is not against her teaching. The following are some of the criteria set down by the theologians: purity of heart, pleasure in prayer, patience in suffering, frequent reception of the sacraments, love of Christ and His Church, devotion to the Mother of God, etc.

The Reprobation of the DamnedEdit

An unconditional and positive predestination of the reprobate not only to hell, but also to sin, was taught especially by Calvin (Instit., III, c. xxi, xxiii, xxiv). His followers in Holland split into two sects, the Supralapsarians and the Infralapsarians, the latter of whom regarded original sin as the motive of positive condemnation, while the former (with Calvin) disregarded this factor and derived the Divine decree of reprobation from God's inscrutable will alone. Infralapsarianism was also held by Jansenius (De gratia Christi, l. X, c. ii, xi sq.), who taught that God had preordained from the massa damnata of mankind one part to eternal bliss, the other to eternal pain, decreeing at the same time to deny to those positively damned the necessary graces by which they might be converted and keep the commandments; for this reason, he said, Christ died only for the predestined (cf. Denzinger, "Enchiridion", n. 1092-6). Against such blasphemous teachings the Second Synod of Orange in 529 and again the Council of Trent had pronounced the ecclesiastical anathema (cf. Denzinger, nn. 200, 827). This condemnation was perfectly justified, because the heresy of Predestinarianism, in direct opposition to the clearest texts of Scripture, denied the universality of God's salvific will as well as of redemption through Christ (cf. Wis., xi, 24 sq.; I Tim., ii, 1 sq.), nullified God's mercy towards the hardened sinner (Ezech., xxxiii, 11; Rom., ii, 4; II Pet., iii, 9), did away with the freedom of the will to do good or evil, and hence with the merit of good actions and the guilt of the bad, and finally destroyed the Divine attributes of wisdom, justice, veracity, goodness, and sanctity. The very spirit of the Bible should have sufficed to deter Calvin from a false explanation of Rom., ix, and his successor Beza from the exegetical maltreatment of I Pet., ii, 7—8. After weighing all the Biblical texts bearing on eternal reprobation, a modern Protestant exegete arrives at the conclusion: "There is no election to hell parallel to the election to grace: on the contrary, the judgment pronounced on the impenitent supposes human guilt .... It is only after Christ's salvation has been rejected that reprobation follows" ("Realencyk. für prot. Theol.", XV, 586, Leipzig, 1904). As regards the Fathers of the Church, there is only St. Augustine who might seem to cause difficulties in the proof from Tradition. As a matter of fact he has been claimed by both Calvin and Jansenius as favouring their view of the question. This is not the place to enter into an examination of his doctrine on reprobation; but that his works contain expressions which, to say the least, might be interpreted in the sense of a negative reprobation, cannot be doubted. Probably toning down the sharper words of the master, his "best pupil", St. Prosper, in his apology against Vincent of Lerin (Resp. ad 12 obj. Vincent.), thus explained the spirit of Augustine: "Voluntate exierunt, voluntate ceciderunt, et quia præsciti sunt casuri, non sunt prædestinati; essent autem prædestinati, si essent reversuri et in sanctitate remansuri, ac per hoc prædestinatio Dei multis est causa standi, nemini est causa labendi" (of their own will they went out; of their own will they fell, and because their fall was foreknown, they were not predestined; they would however be predestined if they were going to return and persevere in holiness; hence, God's predestination is for many the cause of perseverance, for none the cause of falling away). Regarding Tradition cf. Petavius, "De Deo", X, 7 sq.; Jacquin in "Revue de l'histoire ecclésiastique", 1904, 266 sq.; 1906, 269 sq.; 725 sq.

We may now briefly summarize the whole Catholic doctrine, which is in harmony with our reason as well as our moral sentiments. According to the doctrinal decisions of general and particular synods, God infallibly foresees and immutably preordains from eternity all future events (cf. Denzinger, n. 1784), all fatalistic necessity, however, being barred and human liberty remaining intact (Denz., n. 607). Consequently man is free whether he accepts grace and does good or whether he rejects it and does evil (Denz., n. 797). Just as it is God's true and sincere will that all men, no one excepted, shall obtain eternal happiness, so, too, Christ has died for all (Denz., n. 794), not only for the predestined (Denz., n. 1096), or for the faithful (Denz., n. 1294), though it is true that in reality not all avail themselves of the benefits of redemption (Denz., n. 795). Though God preordained both eternal happiness and the good works of the elect (Denz., n. 322), yet, on the other hand, He predestined no one positively to hell, much less to sin (Denz., nn. 200, 816). Consequently, just as no one is saved against his will (Denz., n. 1363), so the reprobate perish solely on account of their wickedness (Denz., nn. 318, 321). God foresaw the everlasting pains of the impious from all eternity, and preordained this punishment on account of their sins (Denz., n. 322), though He does not fail therefore to hold out the grace of conversion to sinners (Denz., n. 807), or pass over those who are not predestined (Denz., n. 827). As long as the reprobate live on earth, they may be accounted true Christians and members of the Church, just as on the other hand the predestined may be outside the pale of Christianity and of the Church (Denz., nn. 628, 631). Without special revelation no one can know with certainty that he belongs to the number of the elect (Denz., nn. 805 sq., 825 sq.).

Theological ControversyEdit

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. Guided by these principles, we shall briefly sketch and examine three theories put forward by Catholic theologians.

The Theory of Predestination ante prœvisa meritaEdit

This theory, championed by all Thomists and a few Molinists (as Bellarmine, Suarez, Francis de Lugo), asserts that God, by an absolute decree and without regard to any future supernatural merits, predestined from all eternity certain men to the glory of heaven, and then, in consequence of this decree, decided to give them all the graces necessary for its accomplishment. In the order of time, however, the Divine decree is carried out in the reverse order, the predestined receiving first the graces preappointed to them, and lastly the glory of heaven as the reward of their good works. Two qualities, therefore, characterize this theory: first, the absoluteness of the eternal decree, and second, the reversing of the relation of grace and glory in the two different orders of eternal intention (ordo intentionis) and execution in time (ordo executionis). For while grace (and merit), in the order of eternal intention, is nothing else than the result or effect of glory absolutely decreed, yet, in the order of execution, it becomes the reason and partial cause of eternal happiness, as is required by the dogma of the meritoriousness of good works (see MERIT). Again, celestial glory is the thing willed first in the order of eternal intention and then is made the reason or motive for the graces offered, while in the order of execution it must be conceived as the result or effect of supernatural merits. This concession is important, since without it the theory would be intrinsically impossible and theologically untenable.

But what about the positive proof? The theory can find decisive evidence in Scripture only on the supposition that predestination to heavenly glory is unequivocally mentioned in the Bible as the Divine motive for the special graces granted to the elect. Now, although there are several texts (e. g. Matt., xxiv, 22 sq.; Acts, xiii, 48, and others) which might without straining be interpreted in this sense, yet these passages lose their imagined force in view of the fact that other explanations, of which there is no lack, are either possible or even more probable. The ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans in particular is claimed by the advocates of absolute predestination as that "classical" passage wherein St. Paul seems to represent the eternal happiness of the elect not only as the work of God's purest mercy, but as an act of the most arbitrary will, so that grace, faith, justification must be regarded as sheer effects of an absolute, Divine decree (cf. Rom., ix, 18: "Therefore he hath mercy on whom he will; and whom he will, he hardeneth"). Now, it is rather daring to quote one of the most difficult and obscure passages of the Bible as a "classical text" and then to base on it an argument for bold speculation. To be more specific, it is impossible to draw the details of the picture in which the Apostle compares God to the potter who hath "power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour" (Rom., ix, 21), without falling into the Calvinistic blasphemy that God predestined some men to hell and sin just as positively as he pre-elected others to eternal life. It is not even admissible to read into the Apostle's thought a negative reprobation of certain men. For the primary intention of the Epistle to the Romans is to insist on the gratuity of the vocation to Christianity and to reject the Jewish presumption that the possession of the Mosaic Law and the carnal descent from Abraham gave to the Jews an essential preference over the heathens. But the Epistle has nothing to do with the speculative question whether or not the free vocation to grace must be considered as the necessary result of eternal predestination to celestial glory [cf. Franzelin, "De Deo uno", thes. lxv (Rome, 1883)].

It is just as difficult to find in the writings of the Fathers a solid argument for an absolute predestination. The only one who might be cited with some semblance of truth is St. Augustine, who stands, however, almost alone among his predecessors and successors. Not even his most faithful pupils, Prosper and Fulgentius, followed their master in all his exaggerations. But a problem so deep and mysterious, which does not belong to the substance of Faith and which, to use the expression of Pope Celestine I (d. 432), is concerned with profundiores difficilioresque partes incurrentium quœstionum (cf. Denz., n. 142), cannot be decided on the sole authority of Augustine. Moreover, the true opinion of the African doctor is a matter of dispute even among the best authorities, so that all parties claim him for their conflicting views [cf. O. Rottmanner, "Der Augustinismus" (Munich, 1892); Pfülf, "Zur Prädestinationslehre des hl. Augustinus" in "Innsbrucker Zeitschrift für kath. Theologie", 1893, 483 sq.]. As to the unsuccessful attempt made by Gonet and Billuart to prove absolute predestination ante prœvisa merita "by an argument from reason", see Pohle, "Dogmatik", II, 4th ed., Paderborn, 1909, 443 sq.

The Theory of the Negative Reprobation of the DamnedEdit

What deters us most strongly from embracing the theory just discussed is not the fact that it cannot be dogmatically proved from Scripture or Tradition, but the logical necessity to which it binds us, of associating an absolute predestination to glory, with a reprobation just as absolute, even though it be but negative. The well-meant efforts of some theologians (e. g. Billot) to make a distinction between the two concepts, and so to escape the evil consequences of negative reprobation, cannot conceal from closer inspection the helplessness of such logical artifices. Hence the earlier partisans of absolute predestination never denied that their theory compelled them to assume for the wicked a parallel, negative reprobation — that is, to assume that, though not positively predestined to hell, yet they are absolutely predestined not to go to heaven (cf. above, I, B). While it was easy for the Thomists to bring this view into logical harmony with their prœmotio physica, the few Molinists were put to straits to harmonize negative reprobation with their scientia media. In order to disguise the harshness and cruelty of such a Divine decree, the theologians invented more or less palliative expressions, saying that negative reprobation is the absolute will of God to "pass over" a priori those not predestined, to "overlook" them, "not to elect" them, "by no means to admit" them into heaven. Only Gonet had the courage to call the thing by its right name: "exclusion from heaven" (exclusio a gloria).

In another respect, too, the adherents of negative reprobation do not agree among themselves, namely, as to what is the motive of Divine reprobation. The rigorists (as Alvarez, Estius, Sylvius) regard as the motive the sovereign will of God who, without taking into account possible sins and demerits, determined a priori to keep those not predestined out of heaven, though He did not create them for hell.

A second milder opinion (e. g. de Lemos, Gotti, Gonet), appealing to the Augustinian doctrine of the massa damnata, finds the ultimate reason for the exclusion from heaven in original sin, in which God could, without being unjust, leave as many as He saw fit. The third and mildest opinion (as Goudin, Graveson, Billuart) derives reprobation not from a direct exclusion from heaven, but from the omission of an "effectual election to heaven"; they represent God as having decreed ante prœvisa merita to leave those not predestined in their sinful weakness, without denying them the necessary sufficient graces; thus they would perish infallibility (cf. "Innsbrucker Zeitschrift für kath. Theologie", 1879, 203 sq.).

Whatever view one may take regarding the internal probability of negative reprobation, it cannot be harmonized with the dogmatically certain universality and sincerity of God's salvific will. For the absolute predestination of the blessed is at the same time the absolute will of God "not to elect" a priori the rest of mankind (Suarez), or which comes to the same, "to exclude them from heaven" (Gonet), in other words, not to save them. While certain Thomists (as Bañez, Alvarez, Gonet) accept this conclusion so far as to degrade the "voluntas salvifica" to an ineffectual "velleitas", which conflicts with evident doctrines of revelation, Suarez labours in the sweat of his brow to safeguard the sincerity of God's salvific will, even towards those who are reprobated negatively. But in vain. How can that will to save be called serious and sincere which has decreed from all eternity the metaphysical impossibility of salvation? He who has been reprobated negatively, may exhaust all his efforts to attain salvation: it avail's him nothing. Moreover, in order to realize infallibly his decree, God is compelled to frustrate the eternal welfare of all excluded a priori from heaven, and to take care that they die in their sins. Is this the language in which Holy Writ speaks to us? No; there we meet an anxious, loving father, who wills not "that any should perish, but that all should return to penance" (II Pet., iii, 9). Lessius rightly says that it would be indifferent to him whether he was numbered among those reprobated positively or negatively; for, in either case, his eternal damnation would be certain. The reason for this is that in the present economy exclusion from heaven means for adults practically the same thing as damnation. A middle state, a merely natural happiness, does not exist.

The Theory of Predestination post prœvisa meritaEdit

This theory defended by the earlier Scholastics (Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus), as well as by the majority of the Molinists, and warmly recommended by St. Francis de Sales "as the truer and more attractive opinion", has this as its chief distinction, that it is free from the logical necessity of upholding negative reprobation. It differs from predestination ante prœvisa merita in two points: first, it rejects the absolute decree and assumes a hypothetical predestination to glory; secondly, it does not reverse the succession of grace and glory in the two orders of eternal intention and of execution in time, but makes glory depend on merit in eternity as well as in the order of time. 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.

This view not only safeguards the universality and sincerity of God's salvific will, but coincides admirably with the teachings of St. Paul (cf. II Tim., iv, 8), who knows that there "is laid up" (reposita est, apokeitai) in heaven "a crown of justice", which "the just judge will render" (reddet, apodosei) to him on the day of judgment. Clearer still is the inference drawn from the sentence of the universal Judge (Matt., xxv, 34 sq.): "Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat" etc. As the "possessing" of the Kingdom of Heaven in time is here linked to the works of mercy as a condition, so the "preparation" of the Kingdom of Heaven in eternity, that is, predestination to glory is conceived as dependent on the foreknowledge that good works will be performed. The same conclusion follows from the parallel sentence of condemnation (Matt., xxv, 41 sq.): "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat" etc. For it is evident that the "everlasting fire of hell" can only have been intended from all eternity for sin and demerit, that is, for neglect of Christian charity, in the same sense in which it is inflicted in time. Concluding a pari, we must say the same of eternal bliss. This explanation is splendidly confirmed by the Greek Fathers. Generally speaking, the Greeks are the chief authorities for conditional predestination dependent on foreseen merits. The Latins, too, are so unanimous on this question that St. Augustine is practically the only adversary in the Occident. St. Hilary (In Ps. lxiv, n. 5) expressly describes eternal election as proceeding from "the choice of merit" (ex meriti delectu), and St. Ambrose teaches in his paraphrase of Rom., viii, 29 (De fide, V, vi, 83): "Non enim ante prædestinavit quam præscivit, sed quorum merita præscivit, eorum præmia prædestinavit" (He did not predestine before He foreknew, but for those whose merits He foresaw, He predestined the reward). To conclude: no one can accuse us of boldness if we assert that the theory here presented has a firmer basis in Scripture and Tradition than the opposite opinion.

PD-icon.svg.png This article incorporates text from the public domain Catholic Encyclopedia, available online.

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