Thursday, December 27, 2007

Does Catholicism teach predestination or free will?

Non-Catholic assertion: "Calvinist Predestination or Arminian Free Will? Calvinism finds much of its human roots in Augustinian thought [yet] the [Catholic] church later took a semipelagian position in opposition to Augustine's doctrine."
Catholics are neither Calvinists, nor Arminians. Although Calvin quotes from Augustine, his doctrines contradict Augustine. When Protestants claim that Catholics are in "opposition to Augustine's doctrine," they show that they have little understanding of what Augustine actually taught.

Some years back, a young Calvinist and I were having a conversation about the difference between Augustine's teaching and Calvin's. After he realized that Calvin was wrong about his interpretation of Augustine, he began to doubt Calvin's interpretation of Scripture too (go figure).

For a comparison of Calvin in contrast to Augustine, see here:

Did Augustine teach eternal security?

With regard to predestination and free will, Catholicism teaches both, as did Augustine.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, human beings are "endowed with a spiritual soul, with intellect and with free will." (CCC 1711). "
Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude." (CCC 1731).

Does this mean that man can, apart from God's grace, attain justification before God? No. Catholicism also teaches that we need the help of God to be justified. That help is called grace, and it is gratuitous. Catholicism affirms:
"not only the Gentiles by the force of nature, but not even the Jews by the very letter of the law of Moses, were able to be liberated or to rise therefrom" (Council of Trent, Decree on Justification, ch. 1)

"But though [Christ] died for all [see 2 Cor. 5:15], yet all do not receive the benefit of His death, but those only to whom the merit of His passion is if they were not born again in Christ, they would never be justified, since in that new birth there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace by which they are made just." (Ibid., ch. 3)

"we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God [Heb 11:6] and to come to the fellowship of His sons; and we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification. For, if by grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the Apostle says, grace is no more grace. [Rom 11:6] (Ibid., ch. 8)
So, what about predestination?

Dr. Ludwig Ott, in his text Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma affirms the following are infallible dogmas of Catholicism:

1. God, by his Eternal Resolve of Will, has predetermined certain men to eternal blessedness.

2. God, by an Eternal Resolve of His Will, predestines certain men, on account of their foreseen sins, to eternal rejection.

The Catholic Church has described this doctrine of predestination in the manner promulgated by the Council of Valence III, AD 855:
"... faithfully we confess the predestination of the elect to life, and the predestination of the impious to death; in the election, moreover, of those who are to be saved, the mercy of God precedes the merited good. In the condemnation, however, of those who are to be lost, the evil which they have deserved precedes the just judgment of God. In predestination, however, (we believe) that God has determined only those things which He Himself either in His gratuitous mercy or in His just judgment would do... in regard to evil men, however, we believe that God foreknew their malice, because it is from them, but that He did not predestine it, because it is not from Him. (We believe) that God, who sees all things, foreknew and predestined that their evil deserved the punishment which followed, because He is just, in whom as Saint Augustine says, there is concerning all things everywhere so fixed a decree as a certain predestination. " (Denzinger 322)
The Catholic Church, therefore, continues to hold in agreement with St. Augustine:
"God will, therefore, certainly recompense both evil for evil, because He is just; and good for evil, because He is good; and good for good, because He is good and just; only, evil for good He will never recompense, because He is not unjust. He will, therefore, recompense evil for evil—punishment for unrighteousness; and He will recompense good for evil—grace for unrighteousness; and He will recompense good for good--grace for grace." (On Grace and Freewill, ch. 45).
When therefore [God] establishes his eternal plan of "predestination", he includes in it each person's free response to his grace" (CCC 600).

For a comprehensive description of Catholic teaching of grace, predestination, and free will, see the following works by Fr. John Hardon, S.J.:

Course on Grace: Contents and Introduction
Grace is one of the most complex, ramifying and difficult of subjects, yet one most fruitful to mind and soul. We like to characterize the world of grace as a hidden world, within the world that we know rather well. Our most real life is lived within. Hidden from the measuring instruments of physical science, unknown to most non-Catholics, too little realized by many Catholics, there lies an invisible world of light and beauty and power, a world of creatures throbbing with a life that is “divine”, a world that is of vital importance to every human being. What is it? The world of grace, where Christ is King.

Course on Grace: Part I - Grace Considered Extensively
Why do we have sacraments? To give us grace. But is grace the ultimate, the “end of the line?” Is it an end in itself, a gift of God which we are simply to have, a treasure just to be hoarded? No, grace is not just an ornament. It is that, but more; it is a marvelous reality that points and inclines us to something. To what? To the Beatific Vision, Love, Enjoyment (or Fruition – a word St. Thomas might prefer) of the Divine Essence and Persons. The end of grace is a sharing in the activity and happiness of God, in the Beatific Vision of the Divine Essence. In this almost incredible Vision, there will be no species, idea, thought between God and this inmost “me,” nothing created will intervene; the Divine Essence itself will be united to my mind as the quasi-species and the term of this vision.

Course on Grace: Part IIA - Grace Considered Intensively
Sanctifying grace. St. Thomas, following St. Augustine, declares that “the justification of the ungodly…is greater than the creation of heaven and earth” (l-2qll3a9). Since the former is a supernatural work of the highest order and the other only natural, more glory is given to God in justification than by all perfections of nature. Is justification, then, the greatest supernatural work? No, the Incarnation of the Word and the beatification of the just in heaven are greater.

Course on Grace: Part IIB - Grace Considered Intensively
In considering sanctifying grace we have been considering created grace. But there is another grace, greater than sanctifying grace: Gods gift of Himself to us. In heaven God will give Himself to us in the Beatific Vision, but even here below He gives Himself to the just in a very real, if mysterious way, to help them to the Beatific Vision. God, the Triune God comes to dwell in our souls and there produces a supernatural organism which “deifies” our souls and enables them to perform deiform acts.

Course on Grace: Part III - Teaching of the Church
The following pages are a composite of all the principal declarations of the Church on the subject of divine grace. Arranged in chronological order, these documents give us not only a purview of Catholic theology on the subject but place into our hands a synopsis of the Church’s authentic teaching, on which speculative theology builds and to which every theory should conform.

What is the Role of Freedom in the Pursuit of Holiness?
We might begin by observing that there are so many elements in the pursuit of sanctity that we are liable to overlook the most important one on our side. The most important element on God’s side is obviously His grace. The most important on our side is our liberty. My purpose in this class is to look at certain aspect of the subject and while saying just a few words about each aspect to gradually pull things together in such a way that we will have at least a broad overview and an appreciation of the importance of our freedom in the pursuit of holiness.

God bless,