“Did God Die For You?” (St. Paul and Unconditional Election)

That's the title of a tract I was handed on the street earlier this month. It's in the form of a series of questions and answers. One of the questions is, “How do I know if God has chosen me to be saved?” The answer begins (my emphasis added):
A. You may be one of God's chosen (elect) people or you may not -- only God knows those He intends to save; therefore we have to leave the question of “election” completely to the sovereign will of God.
And since Calvinists claim that, “Jesus died only for the elect,” the answer to the tract's title question seems to be, “We don't know.”  Christ may have died for you, He may not have -- there's no way to know for sure, and nothing you can do about it, anyways. That's the Good News?

But it gets worse. Arminians teach that God predestined those He knew would accept salvation. But Calvinists deny this. Instead, Article 9 of the first Chapter of the Canons of Dordt teaches:
This election was not founded upon foreseen faith, and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality of disposition in man, as the pre-requisite, cause or condition on which it depended; but men are chosen to faith and to the obedience of faith, holiness, etc., therefore election is the fountain of every saving good; from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects, according to that of the apostle: "He hath chosen us (not because we were) but that we should be holy, and without blame, before him in love," Ephesians 1:4.
(Note that the only support Dordt supplies for this doctrine is by adding some words to Ephesians 1:4.)  This is what Calvinists mean by unconditional election.  If God chose the good over the bad, that would be a condition.  If He chose the faithful over the faithless, that would be a condition.  If He chose some and not others for coherent reasons known only to Himself, that would still be a condition (just one we don't know).  Calvinists deny that He had any reason.  Instead, He looks across all of Creation, and arbitrarily chooses some to go to Heaven, and some to go to Hell.   He could just as easily have sent everyone to Heaven, but decided not to.

I'm not exaggerating.  GotQuestions?, in defending unconditional election, says as much:
God could have chosen to save all men (He certainly has the power and authority to do so), and He could have chosen to save no one (He is under no obligation to save anyone). He instead chose to save some and leave others to the consequences of their sin (Exodus 33:19; Deuteronomy 7:6-7; Romans 9:10-24; Acts 13:48; 1 Peter 2:8).
There are a lot of things wrong with this vision of salvation.  For starters, it renders both faith and works irrelevant. That is, they have no place to play in our salvation at all. We're saved because of God's election, not because of our faith. We then have faith because we're already saved.

But what's most ironic about it is that, in defending this scheme of salvation, Calvinists rely heavily upon the ninth chapter of St. Paul's epistle to the Romans. I say “ironic,” because in this letter, St. Paul is opposing those who believe that God arbitrarily divided the world into two groups: the Jews and the Gentiles (“Greeks”), only one of whom He'd save. Paul writes in response to this, in Romans 2:6-11,
For He will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.

There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
My reaction is simple: if St. Paul was a Calvinist, would he have written these words?  Could he have?  It would be more accurate, were he a Calvinist, to say that God does show partiality, and does divide the world into two arbitrary and unchanging groups for purposes of salvation, but that the two groups are elect/reprobate, rather than Jew/Greek.

What then, to make of Romans 9, where Paul does seem to say that God divides the world between the saved and damned before the dawn of time?  If he changing course?  Of course not.  Paul is quick to note that membership in these groups changes, as those who weren't God's children can become His children (see Romans 9:25-26).  And Paul summarizes his argument from Romans 9 this way (Romans 9:30-33):
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. 
Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Note his rhetorical question: why?  He doesn't say, “God arbitrarily decided it.”  He doesn't say “They lost the cosmic lottery before the dawn of time.”  He says,  instead, that they rejected Christ (the “Stumbling Stone”), and rejected faith, treating salvation as something that they could merit or earn through works of the Law.

So even here, St. Paul is quick to bring the question of salvation back to this: what do we believe, and how do we respond to that belief?  But if Paul believed in unconditional election, that question is irrelevant.  So St. Paul certainly doesn't appear to be a Calvinist.
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  1. I'm a former 7 point Calvinist, and what helped me was an article called A Tiptoe Through Tulip.

    For those with a Reformed background, it is essential.


  2. I'm not sure that the God causes us to sin claim is accurate. I believe that God might leave us with our sin, but actually causes man to sin??? Not sure about that claim. I do agree that Calvinism is determinism and completely takes away man from salvation.

  3. CWD Law,

    I added that sentence towards the end of writing this post, and against my better judgment. I think that it's true (particularly for supralapsarian Calvinism, which claims that God desired some men to be damned even before the Fall), but I didn't do the work to explain why it's true. I'll take it out, since it was a bit tangential anyway. Thanks for pointing that out!


    P.S. Daniel, you're not the first convert to point that article out to me as a great resource. I'll have to bear that in mind!

  4. That's a very superficial treatment of Calvin's thought. Many of our greatest saints would have little trouble with Calvin's strong sense of God's sovereignty.

    What do you think of Saint Augustine, who wrote in the Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love:

    "Furthermore, who would be so impiously foolish as to say that God cannot turn the evil wills of men—as he willeth, when he willeth, and where he willeth—toward the good? But, when he acteth, he acteth through mercy; when he doth not act, it is through justice. For, "he hath mercy on whom he willeth; and whom he willeth, he hardeneth." (Rom. 9:18)

    Now when the apostle said this, he was commending grace, of which he had just spoken in connection with the twin children in Rebecca's womb: "Before they had yet been born, or had done anything good or bad, in order that the electing purpose of God might continue—not through works but through the divine calling—it was said of them, 'The elder shall serve the younger.' " (Rom. 9:11, 12)

    Accordingly, he refers to another prophetic witness, where it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau have I hated." (Cf. Mal. 1:2, 3 and Rom. 9:13) Then, realizing how what he said could disturb those whose understanding could not penetrate to this depth of grace, he adds: "What therefore shall we say to this? Is there unrighteousness in God? God forbid!" (Rom. 9:14). Yet it does seem unfair that, without any merit derived from good works or bad, God should love the one and hate the other. Now, if the apostle had wished us to understand that there were future good deeds of the one, and evil deeds of the other—which God, of course, foreknew—he would never have said "not of good works" but rather "of future works." Thus he would have solved the difficulty; or, rather, he would have left no difficulty to be solved. As it is, however, when he went on to exclaim, "God forbid!"—that is, "God forbid that there should be unfairness in God"—he proceeds immediately to add (to prove that no unfairness in God is involved here), "For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will show pity to whom I will show pity.'" (Rom. 9:15)

    Now, who but a fool would think God unfair either when he imposes penal judgment on the deserving or when he shows mercy to the undeserving? Finally, the apostle concludes and says, "Therefore, it is not a question of him who wills nor of him who runs but of God's showing mercy." (Rom. 9:15)

    Thus, both the twins were "by nature children of wrath," (Eph. 2:3) not because of any works of their own, but because they were both bound in the fetters of damnation originally forged by Adam. But He who said, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," loved Jacob in unmerited mercy, yet hated Esau with merited justice. Since this judgment [of wrath] was due them both, the former learned from what happened to the other that the fact that he had not, with equal merit, incurred the same penalty gave him no ground to boast of his own distinctive merits—but, instead, that he should glory in the abundance of divine grace, because "it is not a question of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God's showing mercy." (Rom. 9:16)

    And, indeed, the whole visage of Scripture and, if I may speak so, the lineaments of its countenance, are found to exhibit a mystery, most profound and salutary, to admonish all who carefully look thereupon "that he who glories, should glory in the Lord."

    Philip Jude

  5. @Joe,

    Have you ever explored the molinist position on salvation? I find it quite intriguing, and attractive. There's a well-written wikipedia article on molinism. I'm just not sure whether it's compatible with Catholic theology?

  6. Phillip Jude,

    I think if you read the Eastern Fathers and the pre-Augustinian Western Fathers, you’ll see a pretty ringing renunciation of that view of predestination that Calvin would later hold. So if you’re really wanting a faith compatible with the earliest teachings of the Church, that’s not Calvinism.

    Now, it’s true that Augustine flirted with a similar reading of Romans 9 to the one that I rejected in the post. But he himself made clear that it was just exegesis, not something handed on. And a couple centuries earlier, St. Justin Martyr explained the Apostolic Tradition concerning double predestination and Fate. I’ve addressed that here.  Augustine admits to being unsure on this area, and he gets it wrong at points.

    In any case, despite his exegesis of Romans 9, and his theory of the massa damnata, Augustine was no Calvinist.  After all, he wrote an entire treatise, On Grace and Free Will, that shows him quite at odds with Calvin and Calvinism.  Taking a few isolated quotes from him and separating them from the context of his larger works is faithless to Augustine as a writer.

    But in the end, your entire comment seems to sort of sidestep what I raised in the post.  Namely, that if St. Paul were a Calvinist, he would have written very differently than he did; since he didn't, we can reasonably conclude that he wasn't a Calvinist.  If that's true, and I believe that there's good reason to say that it is, then the matter is settled, even if great Saints have come out on both sides of the question.



    P.S.   For both Phillip Jude and Georg: Fr. William Most's Grace, Predestination, and the Salvific Will of God does a good job of handling St. Augustine's views on predestination and election, as well as Molinism.  Molinism was formulated by a Jesuit theologian, so it was a Catholic theology before it was ever a Protestant theology.  It's one acceptable school of thought on the issue, but Fr. Most criticizes certain aspects of the modern articulation of the theology.  In any case, in 1733, Pope Clement XII declared something of a ceasefire in what has been called the “De Auxiliis controversy. So it's an acceptable theory, but not necessarily correct.

  7. The whole concept of "the elect" is really unsettling to me. Hell, all the ideas that Calvin pulled out of thin air, and never existed in the previous 15 centuries before he came on the scene are just down-right disturbing to me.

    Why do Calvinists go to Church if they believe in predestination?

    Hell, why should they or I do pretty much anything, if I'm already predestined for heaven or hell? Why go to church and worship God? What good will that do for you? Why help the poor? Why go to work? Why eat food? THE Ultimate decision has already been made for you, so there's absolutely nothing I can do about it, and it's totally out of my hands.

    And don't get me started on the idea of "Once saved, always saved" that John Calvin/Calvinists preach. One can demolish that in about 5 seconds...

    Here's a incredibly crazy, never-going-to-actually-attempt, thought-experiment that I've had in the past that takes "Once saved always saved" to its logical conclusion:

    If one tells you that they have accepted Jesus into their hearts, and that they're now "Once saved always saved", put a fully loaded and chambered Glock on the table in front of them, and tell them to put up or shut up, and blow their brains out. Why in the world are they still down here with us if they're now "...saved"?

    They should get their butts into heaven! Just think of the Beatific Vision that awaits them! Think of the paradise! It's guaranteed! John Calvin says so! It doesn't matter that suicide is a sin, you're "...always saved!" You can ignore those pesky things like Revelation 3:5 about persevering, or 2 Timothy 4:5, 7 about being vigilant, and running the race. There's also Jesus (God Almighty himself -- Not exactly the person you want to go against -- just sayin'...) talking about actually doing something in Matthew 12:50.

    I suspect that they'll suddenly start sounding very Roman Catholic in their appreciation for their God-given body and life.

    At the end of the day, my Loyalty is to Christ and the Church he founded, and not John Calvin.

  8. @Rob, scary experiment but good point. I can still handle Luther, but Calvin, of all the Reformers, freak me out the most.

    @Joe, thanks. Bookmarked the Fr. Most link. Will read it when I'm done with my current reading list.

  9. I used to loathe Calvin and Luther. Then I read their work.

  10. Rob,

    Have you actually bothered to read any intelligent Reformed theologians, be they modern or classical? They scorn "cheap grace" and readily admit that doctrines like eternal security are misconstrued on the popular level.

    The famous Calvinist A.W. Pink (1886 - 1952) wrote:

    "[Eternal security] is perverted by those who fail to insist upon credible evidences of regeneration, as is the case with the above examples. The burden of proof always rests upon the one who affirms. When a person avers that he is a Christian that averment does not make him one, and if he be mistaken it certainly is not kindness on my part to confirm him in a delusion. A church is weakened spiritually in proportion to the number of its unregenerate members. Regeneration is a supernatural work of grace and therefore it is a great insult to the Holy Spirit to imagine that there is not a radical difference between one who has been miraculously quickened by Him and one who is dead in trespasses and sins, between one who is indwelt by Him and one in whom Satan is working (Eph. 2:2). Not until we see clear evidence that a supernatural work of grace has been wrought in a soul are we justified in regarding him as a brother in Christ. The tree is known by the fruits it bears: good fruit must be manifested on its branches ere we can identify it as a good tree."

    You read all of his excellent work "Eternal Security" here: http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Security/security.htm

    Look, he has a whole chapter devoted to "Perversions" of this beautiful Christian doctrine, which is really just the plain proclamation of benevolent and indefatigable Providence.

    Pink and Spurgeon are excellent doors into the fine, if zany, world of Calvinism. If you want to get a little more modern, try J.I. Packer.

    Philip Jude

  11. "Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one."

  12. Philip Jude,

    Yeah, the sheep are those who hear and follow Christ. That's what we believe, too. You can't refuse to listen to Christ (rejecting faith) or refuse to follow Christ, and still hope to be saved.

    But that doesn't remotely teach unconditional election. In fact, it suggests that what matters is (to quote from my original post), "what do we believe, and how do we respond to that belief?"

    Christ, in the passage you quoted from John 10, just gets more specific about what we should believe (His words), and how we should respond (by following). But that suggests that belief and actions are important.

    In any case, we Catholics affirm the Council of Orange, so proof-texts about the importance of predestination, or about God making the first move in salvation get a hearty "Amen" here. But again, none of those passages show that God arbitrarily divided the world into two groups.

    But let's get back to the original topic. Namely, my argument is that if St. Paul were a Calvinist, he would have written very differently than he did; since he didn't, we can reasonably conclude that he wasn't a Calvinist.

    And if St. Paul wasn't a Calvinist, we can both agree that Christ didn't teach Calvinism either, right?



  13. Aquinas:

    "God wills to manifest his goodness in men: in respect to those whom he predestines, by means of his mercy, in sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of his justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others.... Yet why he chooses some for glory and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will. Hence Augustine says, 'Why he draws one, and another he draws not, seek not to judge, if thou dost not wish to err.'"

  14. I agree that Paul was not a Calvinist. Of course, given your definition of "Calvinist," I must say that John Calvin himself was not a Calvinist!

    There is nothing "arbitrary" about God's sovereign will, which is grounded in all wisdom and knowledge, goodness and love, justice and mercy, and is therefore incapable of caprice or whimsy, as you imply with images like that of the "cosmic lottery."

    Daniel's quote speaks to Catholicism's traditional respect for the Divine Providence, which is rapidly eroding in the face of a rising tide of Pelagianism.

    Anyway, I will let Saint Augustine answer you:

    "'Many hear the word of truth; but some believe, while others contradict. Therefore, the former will to believe; the latter do not will.' Who does not know this ? Who can deny this ? But since in some the win is prepared by the Lord, in others it is not prepared, we must assuredly be able to distinguish what comes from God's mercy, and what from His judgment. "What Israel sought for," says the apostle, "he hath not obtained, but the election hath obtained it; and the rest were blinded, as it is written, God gave to them the spirit of compunction,--eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, even to this day. And David said, Let their table be made a snare, a retribution, and a stumblingblock to them; let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see; and bow down their back always." Here is mercy and judgment,--mercy towards the election which has obtained the righteousness of God, but judgment to the rest which have been blinded. And yet the former, because they willed, believed; the latter, because they did not will believed not. Therefore mercy and judgment were manifested in the very wills themselves. Certainly such an election is of grace, not at all of merits. For he had before said, "So, therefore, even at this present time, the remnant has been saved by the election of grace. And if by grace, now it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace." Therefore the election obtained what it obtained gratuitously; there preceded none of those things which they might first give, and it should be given to them again. He saved them for nothing. But to the rest who were blinded, as is there plainly declared, it was done in recompense. "All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth." But His ways are unsearchable. Therefore the mercy by which He freely delivers, and the truth by which He righteously judges, are equally unsearchable."

    If God rescues us unto salvation, His goodness is working in mercy. If He judges us unto damnation, His goodness is working in justice. Either way, His goodness prevails, according to His wisdom.

  15. As I, a novice, understand it, Calvinists and Catholics by definition believe salvation is by grace alone and therefore cannot be Pelagians at all, irrespective of being a Thomist or Molinist on the Catholic side, or belief or nonbelief of double predestination on the Calvinist side.

  16. How does this differ from what Aquinas taught? I.e.:

    "God wills to manifest his goodness in men: in respect to those whom he predestines, by means of his mercy, in sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of his justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others.... Yet why he chooses some for glory and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will. Hence Augustine says, 'Why he draws one, and another he draws not, seek not to judge, if thou dost not wish to err.'" ST I:23:5, citing Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John 26:2.

  17. Philip Jude and Daniel,

    So, in my earlier comment, I said:

    "I think if you read the Eastern Fathers and the pre-Augustinian Western Fathers, you’ll see a pretty ringing renunciation of that view of predestination that Calvin would later hold. So if you’re really wanting a faith compatible with the earliest teachings of the Church, that’s not Calvinism.

    Now, it’s true that Augustine flirted with a similar reading of Romans 9 to the one that I rejected in the post. But he himself made clear that it was just exegesis, not something handed on. And a couple centuries earlier, St. Justin Martyr explained the Apostolic Tradition concerning double predestination and Fate. I’ve addressed that here. Augustine admits to being unsure on this area, and he gets it wrong at points."

    In response, Philip, you quoted Augustine's exegesis of Romans 9, and Daniel, you quoted Aquinas, quoting Augustine. Surely, you both must realize that this only reinforces my point.



    P.S.  To be clear, I agree that Augustine created the theory of massa damnata, in an attempt to understand Romans 9. You can keep the quotations coming, if you'd like, but they're only repeating what  I've acknowledged.  What I said in response (and what I haven't seen responded to) is that Augustine seems to be the origin of this view, as there aren't Fathers before him (to my knowledge) holding it, and the East soundly rejected it.  Quoting him, and quoting those quoting him, only provides more evidence that he's the father of this theory.

    Given that, and given that Augustine admitted that he wasn't sure he was reading Romans 9 correctly, and given that he contradicts earlier Fathers, and given that St. Paul didn't seem to believe in unconditional election, then I don't see how more Augustinian quotations are going to prove anything in favor of unconditional election.

    P.P.S. Philip, you wrote, "I agree that Paul was not a Calvinist. Of course, given your definition of 'Calvinist,' I must say that John Calvin himself was not a Calvinist!"  If you think I'm misrepresenting Calvinism, let me know.  If you're just saying that Calvin may not have liked the Synod of Dordt, I

    P.P.P.S. Philip, your use of "Pelagianism" is rather misinformed. Conditional election has nothing to do with Pelagianism. The world isn't divided into Calvinist / Pelagian. As I said before: "In any case, we Catholics affirm the Council of Orange, so proof-texts about the importance of predestination, or about God making the first move in salvation get a hearty 'Amen' here. But again, none of those passages show that God arbitrarily divided the world into two groups."

    Read the Council of Orange, and you'll see it clearly denouces both Pelagianism and elements of what we'd later call Calvinism.

  18. HocCogitat,

    You just quoted the same thing Daniel sent, of Aquinas quoting Augustine. See the above comments.

    The whole point of the original post is that St. Paul wasn't teaching unconditional election in his epistle to the Romans. Whether Augustine thought he did or not is a complicated question (I'd still say no), but not really the point.

  19. Oh. Sorry. Just read the post and asked.

  20. That's okay! I was just too lazy to copy/paste the earlier conversation.

  21. So tell me, if you will, if I understand correctly: you acknowledge that Aquinas held the position you're criticizing in the post and just think he got it wrong?

  22. Personally, yes. But I'm arguing contra Aquinas only on the narrow question of unconditional election.

    And I should note, as Jimmy Akin does in the article, that a Catholic can hold to a theory of unconditional election, but not double predestination.

    Still, I think that unconditional election is problematic, since it runs into immediate problems with the salvific will of God described in Scripture. And the lack of good Scriptural support, and the lack of pre-Augustinian Patristics makes me think that we're just suffering from a mistake Augustine made.



  23. Interesting. If you had to take a stand--and I understand that you do not have to in order to be an orthodox Catholic--how would you resolve the "omnipotence paradox"? I ask since this would seem to undercut the Thomist solution.

  24. Sorry, not the omnipotence paradox, the Free Will/Foreknowledge problem.

    Went too fast there.

  25. I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

    How can God want all people to be saved if He has willed that some are not to be saved?

  26. One more clarification. How is Vatican 2's saying that "God offers to every man the possibility of [salvation]" not a rejection of the Thomist position. Must not you be "elect" in order to have that possibility? I'm confused how Jimmy Akin can say in the article that a Catholic can hold to a theory of unconditional election.

  27. How can God actively decree someone's damnation and remain just? Didn't God mete out justice at Calvary, undoing the sin of Adam? Wouldn't it therefore detract from the glory displayed at Calvary to say God decrees damnation?

  28. Bob,

    Exactly. That's why even Catholics who believe in unconditional election have to reject double predestination. It's clearly contrary to Scripture.

    There are far too many places where God expresses His wish that the damned would turn away from their damnation. But these passages would also seem to refuse the massa damnata theory.

  29. HocCogitat,

    You mean the question of how we can have free will if God has perfect foreknowledge? If so, I'm glad you asked, because it might help clarify what I'm actually arguing for.

    1) Let's say that you’re an omniscient and all-loving teacher, with a classroom of thirty students you're taking on a field trip, and you need to stop for lunch. You know that three of the kids love burgers and hate Chinese food, while the other twenty-seven hate burgers and love Chinese food.

    As their omniscient teacher, you’ll probably choose the Chinese food place. This is the best of all possible worlds, even though three kids end up unhappy (kids who would have been happy had you gotten burgers, instead).

    You don’t choose the Chinese food place out of hatred of those three kids: you love them and wish that they would enjoy the food, even though (a) you know that they won’t, and (b) you could create a separate world in which they had food that they enjoyed [by taking the class to the burger joint instead]. The fact that these three kids choose to have a miserable time at the Chinese restaurant isn’t your will, but the result of their own decisions.

    2) The implications of that analogy are obvious. The different restaurants represent the different possible worlds, while the loving or hating of the meal represents salvation and damnation, respectively.

    My point is that God has created the best of all possible worlds, but it's still one in which people sin and go to Hell.

    This makes sense, but only if those who go to Hell do so by their own volition: they choose to have a miserable meal. The fact that God knew that they would hate their meal, and that He could have created a separate world in which they were saved (but in which others were damned instead) doesn't mean He desires their salvation, merely that He permits it.

    3) The analogy is necessarily over-simplified. Were it to be totally accurate, there would all sorts of vexing contingencies: Ryan won’t be happy if Susie is happy, and all that. So the best of all possible worlds may not actually be the one in which the fewest people end up in Hell.

    4) All of this points back to the problem of free will. I’d put it this way: if free will is only illusory, then God’s permissive will is the same as His active will. That is, if I let go of a bird, I am permitting it to fly or fall. If I let go of a rock, I’m not just permitting it to fly or fall: I’m causing it to fall through my letting go of it.

    5) If you deny that any free will exists, you almost necessarily end up with double predestination, and the idea that God not only desires damnation, but desires sin. This is where the bizarre problem of supralapsarianism comes in: the idea that God had a long list of people He wanted in Hell prior to (and without regard to) the Fall. That’s dangerous, because it risks turning God into some kind of devil Who is pleased with the introduction of sin, so that He could start sending people to Hell. Not that all Calvinists are supralapsarians, or that all supralapsarians are guilty of this: just that it’s a risk.



  30. Well...

    Joe, when reading Romans 9, it is asked: "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" -Romans 9:19

    Would you care to answer the question in Paul's voice?

  31. May I take a shot at the Romans 9 question? It seems St. Paul is using calling and election in a specific sense. He's dealing with a specific issue, which is, what happened to God's promise that Israel would the people of God, what happened to Israel's special calling to be "a light to those who are darkness", considering they have fallen so badly? Are they no longer the people of God? Did God revoke His calling? What if some failed? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? No, writes St. Paul, "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable." Earlier he writes that not all Israel are true Israel, but Israel according to the promise. But now, the righteousness of God has been revealed in the Messiah, "in Whom all the promises of God are Yes, and Amen!" So Jesus the Messiah truly is the Be all, End all of God's calling on Israel, the Alpha and the Omega. the First and the Last!!! In the arrival of Messiah on earth, Who is God's mercy, we find the reason why some in Israel's history were, ironically, hardened. St. Paul says as much when he explains why Pharoah was hardened:

    So then it depends not on human will or exertion,1 but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, y“For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills...

    "For this purpose" writes St. Paul. What purpose? For the purpose of fulfilling Israel's calling in the Word made Flesh, God among us!! Justice has been fulfilled in the death of God made flesh. For me, it all comes together here. The justice that was owed Adam and Eve for eating from the tree, is paid in Messiah being nailed to the Tree!! (Incredible!) So justice is complete. So suddenly it begins to make sense when our Lord prays that the hour is come for his death, and asks that God would glorify His name (John 12:23). God is glorified when Christ is lifted up. So God is glorified not by eternally decreeing a man's damnation, but by meting out the justice due to Adam, to Christ, the last Adam.

  32. Here's how Fr. Most addressed that passage, and I'm persuaded he's correct:

    Exegesis of Rom 9:11-23: According to St. Augustine, this passage teaches predestination to Heaven, or reprobation to hell, before any consideration of human merits and demerits. Out of his interpretation, St. Augustine formed the following theory: As a result of original sin, all men are part of the potter's clay (v. 21), that is, they form one "damned and damnable mass." If God rescues some, this is out of mere mercy. If He deserts others in the same damned mass, it is mere justice.

    All exegetes today reject this interpretation. As Huby points out, it is altogether arbitrary to say that the "clay" in v. 21 stands for the human race, corrupted by original sin, because in the whole of chapter 9 there is not even a remote allusion to original sin. Lagrange makes a keen observation: "At least the potter does not blame the vessels which he has made for ignoble uses." Hence, if God really had made certain men for ignoble roles, He should not blame and condemn these men for being such.

    Actually, St. Paul was only making a comparison, or, as Lagrange says, "a simple parable." St. Paul wishes to teach that God has the right to assign men to various places in the external order of this world-which is quite different and distinct from the internal order of eternal salvation or ruin! That is, God makes some to be kings, others physicians, others laborers, etc. And similarly, He brings some into the Church in the full sense, and not others. But these assignments by no means fix the eternal lot of a man. Later in this chapter we shall examine what relation does exist between a man's eternal lot and his place in the external order of this world.

    Even St. Augustine himself, in many works, as we shall see later, says many things that at least seem to presuppose a view that differs from the massa damnata theory.

    St. Thomas, in his commentary on Romans, followed the interpretation of St. Augustine. However, he seems to feel ill at ease with the harshness of that interpretation. For if he were simply following out the implication of that interpretation, he could and should say that Pharaoh and the other reprobates were first of all deserted by God in the "damned mass." He would say that God did this because of original sin, to display His justice. As a result of this desertion, the reprobate infallibly fall into personal sins. Because of original and personal sins, they will be damned.

    But St. Thomas did not speak this way. Rather, over and over again he harps on personal sins: ". . . because of the sins which they have from themselves, not from God . . . because of the evil things which you did . . . because of their own merits they were worthy to be devoured at once . . . as far as He is concerned, [God] interiorly urges a man on to good . . . but the bad man perverts this divine motion according to the malice of his heart. . . ."

  33. All of that (save the first sentence) was Fr. Most.

    I'd add these points:

    1) St. Paul's summary of Romans 9 shows that he doesn't appear to think he just made an argument for unconditional election. He seemed to think he showed the need for (a) faith and (b) a response to that faith.

    2) Paul doesn’t seem to be talking about eternal salvation and reprobation in the parts leading up to this. That is, it seems much better exegesis to say that Paul is talking about why God chose Jacob over Esau or Pharaoh (which makes direct sense for the context of Jewish/Gentile relations, which is a good chunk of what Romans is about), then the idea that Paul is claiming that God actually hates Esau, and actually created him for damnation. That’s no more likely then the idea that we’re actually supposed to hate our parents and desire their damnation, on account of Jesus’ words in Luke 14:26.

    3) If St. Paul were saying that how we're saved or damned is something we have no right to know about, he would seem to be in tension with the innumerable passages where he and others speak of Judgment Day, and how the Lord will judge.

    4) The parable of the talents strikes me as a helpful analogy. God gives to some of us five talents, some two, and some one. We, as the clay, can't protest, since even one talent is more than we're owed.

    But God is still Just. He requires more from those who receive five talents than those who receive one or two. In this way, God can both give some more talents than others, without being partial in any way. This is summarized neatly by Luke 12:48, which says that to those who have been given much, much will be expected.

    5) At the most extreme, we might compare the will of God described in Rom. 9:19 with the decision of the school teacher to choose the Chinese restaurant over the burger joint in the example to HocCogitat in my earlier comment. But that will still isn't the will that desires someone's damnation, and nothing in Romans 9 actually supports that.

    6) So God's Justice is actually Just, not arbitrary, and He holds Judgment in the sight of the universe; in contrast, His Benevolence with Graces is left to His Inscrutable Will, and known only to Him.



  34. Never heard that before. Interesting. And convincing.

    Devil's advocate, a position all too familiar for me:

    Proverbs 8:35 LXX (stuck with LXX because of Canon 4 of Orange) "The will is prepared by the Lord..."

  35. Daniel,

    Yeah, the reason I suggested the book is because it's what convinced me on the subject.

    And yes, the Lord does prepare our will. The Catholic understanding of free will isn't the Pelagian one that we'll simply seek out God out of our own goodness.

    But having said that, He prepares our will. That is, while acknowledging that God takes the first step in salvation, this passage simultaneously affirms that we have wills of our own.

    Perhaps another way of putting it is like this. Christ stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20). If He didn't, we would never have sought Him out. But even here, even with Him at our door, we can still refuse Him entry.



  36. Is the Douay Rheims and King James insane with their translation of Isaiah 45:7?

  37. Not insane, but you have to know how the language is being used. It's a reference to what's called "natural evil" or "first-order evils" -- sickness, hurricanes, pain, and the like. These things are the opposite of natural (what J.L. Mackie calls "first-order") goods like health, prosperity, pleasure, etc.

    Virtue and vice are your moral ("second-order") goods and evils. Natural goods and evil aren't inherently moral or immoral. It's not intrinsically immoral to feel pain or pleasure, for example.

    In fact, natural "evils" play an important rule in the cultivation of virtue. Catholics recognize this with things like fasting and mortification.

    By exposing ourselves to first-order evils, we help build virtue, a second-order good.



    P.S. Admittedly, all this first-order / second-order good/evil terminology can be confusing. But it's a recognition that all things being equal, pleasure is superior to pain: that's the sense in which pain is "evil." But having said all that, I get why the other translations go with less shocking interpretations.

  38. Ok, so we have just about chased every rabbit and kicked every dog. Roma locuta est, causa finita est.

  39. Good discussion. Fr. Most's work is persuasive, but he does not comment on Romans 9:22-24 which speaks of vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. Those words don't seem to describe merely the external order of individuals. It's tough for me, too, sitting here outside.

    What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
    (Romans 9:22-24 ESV)

    What if he did those things? He did them in justice and goodness, Potter that he is.

    Any thoughts from you Catholic guys or Fr. Most would be appreciated, though I understand that this is already an awfully tired thread.

    Peace and hope.


  40. I believe that current, intelligent Reformed Calvinists are closet Catholics and won't admit it. I fervently followed RC Sproul for years until I was hit in the face with Church History that is resoundlingly Catholic. Sproul's tapes on Rome actually helped me become Catholic because he agrees so much with Rome.

    The fact that man isn't justified by faith alone (as the term "faith" by itself meant/implied a mere intellectual belief during the Reformation) and that sola scriptura is a man made doctrine without any cogent biblical support caused me to no longer protest Rome. The Reformed position has to be pulled from scripture and doesn't flow naturally from scripture like the Catholic position. All I hear at mass is Jesus, sin and hell. Funny how Rome gets labeled as a works religion and I have yet for anyone to tell me that I'm guaranteed salvation through my good works. For an "apostate" church Rome does a great job telling people they need to have faith, hell is a real place and we must have faith in Jesus.

    People just want to be their own pope/priest and Rome will always have to fight this problem. Modern man, with all his science, resists the metaphysical so he dismisses the Eucharist despite 2,000 years of Church history that supports the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

    Unless I'm convinced by plain reason and scipture, I will no longer protest Rome.

  41. Cwdlaw223,

    They say everyone has a twin. Nice to meet you. :-)

  42. Daniel,

    Always enjoy kicking the tires on these sorts of issues, so if you come up with more angles of approach, have at it. Particularly on something like this, where the Church hasn't spoken infallibly, and leaves some room for theological exploration.


    Fr. Most says:

    “In other words, there are two questions, which we must not confuse: (1) According to what principles does God predestine individuals to heaven? (2) According to what principles does God predestine nations to belong to the chosen people in the Old Testament, or to be in the Church in the full sense in the New Testament?

    As to the first question, all exegetes agree that St. Paul does not really treat it in the entire Epistle to the Romans-or rather, in no Epistle does he treat it.

    But in chapter 9 of Romans, St. Paul does give an answer to the second question. He says that God does not predestine nations to this privileged position according to merits: that the descendants of Jacob rather than those of Esau became the chosen people was "not because of works but because of his call." Only indirectly does St. Paul bring in individuals, such as Pharaoh, Esau, and Jacob insofar as they are related to the question of nations. Hence, God said to Moses: "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy." That is, I will do as I wish in the matter of the mercy shown in the call to membership in the chosen people.”

    To that I'd add:

    1) As the above shows, the vessels aren't individuals, but nations: that's why the only individuals mentioned are the heads of nations (Jacob, Esau, Pharaoh).

    2) In the Old Testament, the relationship between God and the nation of Israel is described as that of a Potter and His vessel: see particularly Jeremiah 18:6.

    3) Given this, I think that the best understanding is that this is related to the Jewish / Gentile question, particularly to the in-grafting of the Gentiles. Look at the surrounding context, because it’s all about the role group membership plays (or doesn’t play) in salvation: we see that (a) God is drawing some Gentiles to salvation, despite the fact that they aren’t members of the tribe of Israel (Rom. 9:25-26), (b) many in Israel were losing their salvation, despite being Israelites by flesh (Rom. 9:27-29), and (c) what matters for purposes of salvation isn’t the Mosaic Law [the way that the Israelites wanted to be justified], but what we believe, and how we respond to that belief. Here, I should point out that the Law, and the works of the Law, aren’t talking about “good works.” That’s a misreading. It’s about works of the Law like circumcision: in other words, being Jewish.

    4) So mere group membership, by happenstance of birth, can’t save us. God exalts or humbles nations (vessels) for the sake of the salvation of souls. Israel was chosen as His people, not because He liked this nation better than the others, but so that all nations could come to salvation. We’re told this as far back as Genesis 18:18, and Galatians 3:8 says that this is fulfilled through justification by faith. Of course, if mere group membership, by happenstance of birth, isn’t what saves us, then unconditional election to double predestination is wrong.



  43. Joe,

    One more clarification. How is Vatican 2's saying that "God offers to every man the possibility of [salvation]" not a rejection of the Thomist position of unconditional election. Must not you be "elect" in order to have that possibility? If election is conditional, one could say that God offers everyone the possibility of attaining that condition. If it is unconditional, there seems to be no chance for the non-elect.

    So I'm confused how Jimmy Akin can say in the article that a Catholic can hold to a theory of unconditional election consistently with Vatican 2? Do you see the reconciliation I'm missing?

  44. Not much to add with all these remarks except the your premise is a tract (probably Hyper-Calvinist) who many Evangelicals, Protestants, and Catholics superficially apply the moniker upon all 5 pointers. But Calvinism is not just a refutation of Jacob Armenius' followers. The work advanced by Calvin was not the beginning but an expansion and explanation of the theological darkness that permeated and enveloped Europe in his time. The Institutes and his work in Geneva are demonstrations of a theology and an ethic that survives today. In his classic work brings in the works of Paul, Augustine, and so many others. Later leaders advanced the principles but in NO CASE IS A CALVINIST TO BE A STODGY "WE FOUR AND NO MORE." The gospel is broadcast (Mt 13 and the 4 soils) to whosoever will. Only the soil prepared [by the Spirit without us even being aware of it] will grow and bring fruit.

    No Calvinist with any reputation ever makes a case that they somehow know the mind of God and His sheep. Election is a mystery that is not clear until time passes after the gift of faith is moved in the heart of a sinner to see the need of the Cross. It is called spiritual maturity. Peter even makes that point: see 2 Peter 1:10-11. Consider Peter's words in 1 Peter 1:2; 17-25. How about Acts 13:48 or 2 Thess 2:13? God is not a man that He is capable of sin but a being beyond all comprehension. Deut 29:29a shouts that we are always the finite. His immutability makes a lie an impossibility (Heb 6:18). And lest I forget, believers are to examine themselves (often) as expressed in 2 Cor 13:5 and at each and every Lord's Supper (1 cor 11:28).

    Free will is the anthropocentric work of man who fatally believes he can control his own destiny by works, or church, or baby dunking.

  45. Clicking through the fortuitously linked Called to Communion post, I see that the whole thing is complicated by the fact that Aquinas apparently thought we could reject the "irresistible" grace:

    "To settle this difficulty, we ought to consider that, although one may neither merit in advance nor call forth divine grace by a movement of his free choice, he is able to prevent himself from receiving this grace: Indeed, it is said in Job(21:34): “Who have said to God: Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of Your ways”; and in Job (24:13): “They have been rebellious to the light.” And since this ability to impede or not to impede the reception of divine grace is within the scope of free choice, not undeservedly is responsibility for the fault imputed to him who offers an impediment to the reception of grace. In fact, as far as He is concerned, God is ready to give grace to all; “indeed He wills all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” as is said in 1 Timothy (2:4).But those alone are deprived of grace who offer an obstacle within themselves to grace; just as, while the sun is shining on the world, the man who keeps his eyes closed is held responsible for his fault, if as a result some evil follows, even though he could not see unless he were provided in advance with light from the sun." (SCG III.159.2)

    So perhaps the answer to my question is that on Thomism God could have chosen out of the nothing more than his will to reprobate some, but he has a salvific will for all, so the "unconditional election" prong of Thomism is of no consequence. Is this how you read it?

    I think the Akin piece might be needlessly confusing by trying to fit Thomism into a Calvinist box. Or maybe I am just hopelessly confused. Help!


  46. HocCogitat,

    Good question. I'm genuinely not sure. You might ask Jimmy Akin -- he's probably better equipped to answer that than me.

    But that sunlight analogy is one of the things that sticks out about Aquinas. It would seem to suggest a condition for election: our willingness to accept the salvific graces of God. Fr. Most seems to argue that both Aquinas and Augustine contradict their own theologies when they get to Romans 9 -- that they're left just ascribing to a great mystery the interrelation between grace, predestination, and the salvific will of God, because of the damage by the massa damnata theory.


    1) Admittedly, the tract was what sparked this post, but the central claim -- that Christ only died for some people, and there's no way of knowing for sure whether your neighbor is one of them -- is one that I think all 5 point Calvinists would affirm.

    2) Did any of the passages that you cite mention unconditional election? We can have a broader debate over Calvinist and Catholic views on predestination, but it'll be a lot more coherent if we stick to unconditional election, I think.

    3) You mentioned 2 Peter 1:10-11, 2 Cor 13:5, and 1 Cor. 11:28, each of which talk about our need to confirm our election and examine our consciences. I'd add to the passages you cited 2 Peter 2:1, 20-22, and Romans 11:20-21.

    These passages only make sense if unconditional election is false. It makes sense to get screen for a treatable disease. But if a disease if completely untreatable, it's a waste of time to get screened, since screening won't do you any good. Romans 11:20-21 is completely explicit that many of the Jews were saved, but lost their salvation through disbelief, and that this same fate will fall the Gentiles if they're not careful. This explicitly refutes the notion of unconditional election, since it shows faith to be a condition.

    4) Scripture describes man's will. Passages like Mark 14:38, for example, make sense only if man has a free will. Otherwise, Christ would be saying that it's God's will that's overcome by the weakness of the flesh.

    5) What you mock as "baby dunking" is the work of God. Scripture is absolutely, emphatically clear that "Baptism now saves you" (1 Peter 3:21). In Acts 22:16, Ananias has Paul get Baptized to "wash away [his] sins," even though Paul has already come to faith. Christ calls it being born again of water and the Spirit, and says it's necessary for salvation (John 3:5; see also Matthew 3:11, Mt. 3:16). He also says, "whoever believes and is Baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16). Lutheran Satire has a great video on this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwxHzo0QVYY

    I don't want to have a whole side conversation about Baptism, but I do want to point out that you're taking a complex part of Scripture in such a way that it causes you to mock and deride an incredibly clear part of Scripture. So it's good evidence that you're wrong about election and predestination.

    6) Finally, the right answer isn't necessarily the least anthropocentric one. After all, the Incarnation is pretty anthropocentric, in that God becomes an Anthropos.

    So the idea that Calvinists are right because they're (allegedly) less anthropocentric just seems like it leads to some ironic "we're humbler than thou" pride.



  47. Woah.I've never seen you stumped before. Also, do you sleep?

  48. Ha! The trouble with your question is this: I agree with you that God's universal salvific will would seem to close off the notion of unconditional election (it's part of the reason I rejection unconditional election, after all). And His universal salvific will is seen in both Scripture and Gaudium et Spes. So I'm inclined to think that they're just incompatible. But I have a lot of respect for Jimmy Akin, and it may be that he sees a compatibility on this that I'm just not seeing.

    And on that note, I think I'll get some sleep!



  49. The Thomist argument would be that there is a sufficient call to everyone, and a sufficient and efficient/efficacious call to the elect.

  50. Daniel -

    Did you have a similar conversion experience (Calvinism to Catholicism) over the same issues I described? I'm shocked at how many of us exist. Never would have happened for me but/for the Internet (and the Holy Spirit).

  51. And it just so happens that the supposedly "sufficient" cause alone never results in conversion? That stretches credibility, doesn't it? And it doesn't seem to me to be what Thomas is saying in the sunlight quote.

  52. That is, in what sense is it "sufficient" if it never has and never will be enough for an actual person?

  53. For indulginces, the treasury of merit the church has, I'd wager, is infinite. If so, it would be sufficient for all, but only efficacious to some in that context.

    Could it work the same way with salvation?

  54. Daniel,

    That is the view we have of the Atonement: that it's infinitely sufficient, but only efficacious as to the saved.

    What I think Robert is saying is that if conceptualize a category of people for whom the Atonement is sufficient, but under no circumstances efficacious, that seems to thwart the whole point of the unlimited nature of the Atonement. Robert, am I getting your argument right?


  55. My conversion experience is:

    7 point calvinist Republican Navy (me), meets Unitarian Republican Navy, Evangelical Protestant Republican Marine, and Jewish Republican Navy at a bar. Runs into Latin Mass going Christendom grads.

    Three of us become Catholic, and one becomes Greek Orthodox after 5 years of coffee, wine, cigars, and many many knock down drag out debates.

    My breaking point wasn't theology, but history. Warren Carroll's History of Christendom was the straw that broke the camel's back. I also credit my wife ( a revert), Fr Corapi on tv, A Tiptoe Through Tulip by Akin, and of course this article. And Protestant Josh McDowell's book Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

  56. Didn't link the article. Fail. http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/dontbelieve.HTM

  57. Nice.  Have you read Gother's A Papist Misrepresented and Represented?  It's a great book treating some of the same issues, and with the same goal as the article you linked to.

  58. Sweet! Free Catholic books on my Kindle = win!

  59. Right. That is a nice way to put it. In what sense is the grace sufficient, if it is never enough in actual circumstances? And if it is not sufficient in any meaningful sense, how is this consistent with God's salvific will for all?

    The better interpretation, and the one even Thomas seems to make at times, is that election is conditional on our accepting the sufficient grace offered to us. Otherwise, I don't think God is in any meaningful sense "impartial". Am I right?

  60. But that first choosing of accepting the grace is a grace I think, more than it would be considered a work.

    Wait that's too confusing.

    Down to brass tacks. The problem with using the phrase unconditional election is that those who advocate it don't believe it is unconditional, but rather that the only condition is God's election.

  61. Isn't that Predestinarianism and hasn't that been deemed heretical?

  62. Jon Anthony,

    Isn't what Predestinatianism? I can't tell what your "that" refers to.

  63. I meant the claim that "that first choosing of accepting the grace is a grace".

  64. Ah. No. The opposite is true. From the Council of Orange:

    CANON 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1).

    CANON 4. If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, "The will is prepared by the Lord" (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).

    Two things to note:

    1) God gives these initial graces freely; and

    2) these graces enable us to respond to His Call: they don't force us to.

    If we're totally asleep in sin, we lack the ability to decide to be awake or asleep. It's only awake that we have that free will. God awaken us enough for us to choose to rise with Him, or go back down into our bed of sin.



  65. Ok, I see that that is heresy, but isn't Predestinarianism something different. From the Catholic encyclopedia:

    Predestinarianism is a heresy not unfrequently met with in the course of the centuries which reduces the eternal salvation of the elect as well as the eternal damnation of the reprobate to one cause alone, namely to the sovereign will of God, and thereby excludes the free co-operation of man as a secondary factor in bringing about a happy or unhappy future in the life to come.

    Your analogy is a nice one and very helpful. I take it from your Chinese food analogy that you are a Molinist. Right?

  66. Also, there is a somewhat dense piece on some of the issues uncovered here in the Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06710a.htm

    It gives some color to many of the debates flying around here, it appears these debates have gone on a long time and they are somewhat intractable.

  67. Thomist or Molinist or None of the above, as I understand it, the initial choosing to receive grace is a grace. The *denial* of that fact is heresy.

  68. I think what the Thomist position lacks is the truth that God is love. I find it difficult to reconcile Thomism with a loving God.

    Molinism seems a lot more compatible with omnibenevolence, especially the idea that God chose to create the "best" of all counterfactual worlds while still allowing for the free will of man. This reconciles the absolute sovereignty of God with the gift of free will.

    But I don't pretend to know more than St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine or any other saint or scholar, this is just my humble opinion :)

  69. Hopefully I'm not too late to this party. Some thoughts I'd like to share:

    (1) Regarding the "good news" of Calvinists, Joe is very correct that logically one cannot know if they are elect in Calvinism. This "now knowing" is of course disastrous, for it makes no sense to have joy about something you don't know actually applies to you or not. This is why most Calvinists believe the elect do know, but the embarrassing part is that their answers are purely subjective (e.g. "I must be elect because I'm following Christ"). Of course, this is even more exposed in Joe's powerhouse Evanascent Grace article he posted last year.

    (2) The issue of "Double Predestination" exposes a serious logical problem in the Calvinist scheme. Some Calvinists (e.g. Calvin) say God formed his plan of who to save *and* who to damn before taking into account Adam's sin, and thus Adam's sin had to be caused by God to accomplish his plan of putting souls on the road to hell. The majority of Calvinists reject this, and instead believe God chose who to save and who to damn after taking into account Adam's sin, but they're left with the logical dilemma about how Adam's own Predestination fits in here, and more importantly Adam's Free Will co-existing with God's Predestination in order to make the Fall not be 'foreordained' (i.e. not freely chosen).
    p.s. some Fathers like John Chrysostom interpreted "predestined" in Rom 8:29 and Eph 1:14 as "predestined to Adoption" (i.e. to conversion to Christianity, not looking further than that).

    (3) Despite the lack of Biblical evidence for a "Limited Atonement," Calvinists are forced to believe this because they believe in Penal Substitution. If Jesus took the punishment a given sinner deserved for his sins, that person obviously cannot be damned. Thus, if Jesus died in the place of everyone, then nobody would be damned, which is obviously false. Thus, Jesus must have only died for some, specifically those God predestined to be saved. But if Penal Substitionary Atonement is false, which it is, then that whole line of thinking collapses.

    (4) This brings us to the next piece of the puzzle, Sola Fide. Sola Fide teaches Jesus did everything for the sinner since the sinner couldn't do it themself, and the sinner merely "accepts" this work of Christ on their behalf, especially Penal Substitution. Thus, Sola Fide needs Penal Substitution to survive.

    (5) But Joe brings up another common objection, which is that all this contradicts Scripture which teaches man isn't saved unless and until he believes, but this is all negated in a Calvinist scheme where man's salvation is already accomplished and the non-believer is damned for "rejecting" a Savior that in reality never was a Savior to him.

    (6) Joe quotes Romans 2:6ff, but I think 2:4-5 are just as powerful:
    "Or do you show contempt for the riches of God's kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?"
    Here Paul condemns a hypocritical sinner, pointing out God "forbearance and patience" (cf Rom 3:25) has the intention of good will so that the sinner will stop his sin and repent! In other words, that's not the talk of a God wanting a sinner to remain in sin. (Enter Pharaoh)

  70. (7) This leads to the final realization, that Romans 9 (which must be read as one thought with Ch10-11) is actually attacking the Jewish heresy of Unconditional Election. In the Jewish mind, God unconditionally predestined a person to be a Jew because He loved them more. Paul realized this was an abomination, and pointed out how throughout history people have lost their favored status by turning to sin. Re-read the chapter and you'll see everyone painted in negative light threw away their favored status, which is the antithesis of unconditional election. Paul's thesis is that of a Jew-Gentile dichotomy, not a saved-damned one!

    Consider how close to Romans 9 this passage in 2 Timothy 2:20-21 sounds:
    "20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. 21 Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work."

    And note the context in Romans 9 - YOU MUST EXAMINE PAUL's NUMEROUS OT REFERENCES IN CONTEXT -

    "22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 AS HE SAYS IN HOSEA:
    “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people;
    and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”

    Paul INTERPRETS HOSEA here as a prophecy for what he said in 22-24. The Context in Hosea is that God is going to say to "His People" the Jews "You are not my People" and the People who are "Not His People" the Gentiles will take on the name "My People". So the lesson is Israel is losing it's "firstborn" son status as Ishmael, Esau, and Pharaoh did and why Paul mentioned these guys.

  71. It appears that misunderstanding the Jew-Gentile debate brought about by the Judaizers and underestimating its significance throughout the New Testament has really muddled things and is at the heart of many of the current disagreements.

    Too many Protestants read the Jew-Gentile dynamic in the NT as a Catholic-Protestant debate. Doing this causes them to miss the trajectory of St. Paul's (primarily) arguments against the Judaizers.

  72. May I ask the author of this post where did he get the idea that Calvinists "deny that [God] had any reason" for choosing the elect?

  73. Article 9 and 10 of the Canons of Dordt explicitly reject the idea that God's election is based upon any inherent distinction between the saved and the damned.

    Specifically, Canon 10 says that "the cause of this undeserved election is exclusively the good pleasure of God. This does not involve his choosing certain human qualities or actions from among all those possible as a condition of salvation, but rather involves his adopting certain particular persons from among the common mass of sinners as his own possession."

    So according to Dordt, if you ask why one person goes to Heaven, and another goes to Hell, the only explanation is the "good pleasure of God." He might send one twin to Heaven for all eternity, and another to Hell for all eternity, but it had nothing to do with their faith, or their works, or anything else. The faith and works of the saved twin are a result of his salvation, rather than a cause or fortification, within the Calvinist schema.



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  75. As I understand the citations you quoted, Dort simply denies the idea that the divine predestination is based upon any foreseen merits ON MAN'S PART such as a faith, good works, etc., but those statements hardly equates to saying that God didn't have ANY REASON in himself why He chose certain persons unto salvation. In fact, Calvinists will tell you that while predestination is unconditional on man's part, God still has reasons for choosing one over the other which is reserved ti Himself as a secret divine counsel.

    You said you were not exaggerating the reformed position, but you actually did it on this particular point.

  76. You have distorted the Calvinist position on many points, some of which are as follows:

    1) You said in your paper: "If He chose some and not others for coherent reasons known only to Himself, that would still be a condition (just one we don't know). Calvinists deny that He had any reason." It is clear in this statement of yours that you don't really understand what UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION really means for Calvinists. When they say that God's election unto Salvation is "unconditinal", it simply means it is not based on human worth. It doesn't have any condition on MAN's PART only, but it doesn't mean that GOD doesn't have any reason/s hidden and reserved to Himself why He picked one over the other.

    2) You also said: "Instead, He looks across all of Creation, and arbitrarily chooses some to go to Heaven, and some to go to Hell." Of course this only your conclusion about what you believe to be the position held by Calvinists. As explained above, God has a reason for choosing people unto Salvation, therefore, it is not arbitrary.

    3) You misunderstood Calvinism when you commented that in the said system it seems that faith is rendered irrelevant to Salvation because predestination implies that we are saved by election, not by faith. The truth is that historical Calvinism doesn't teach that one is saved by election or that faith is just a product, and not a prerequisite, unto Salvation. Instead, it affirms that Justification is attained by an individual through faith alone. This is clearly set out in the First Head of Canons of Dort, especially in articles 2 an 4. But since no one is capable of savingly believing the Gospel because of man's deadness in Sin (Rom 3:9-12; 1 Cor. 2:14), faith then must be a divine gift, and Calvinists are convinced that this gift flows from God's gracious election. Thus, election is not Salvation per se, but a preparation towards it (Dort, I, A-6-8).

    4) Your comments on the Calvinist usage of Romans 9 is also misleading. It is true that in Romans 9 Paul was opposing those who hold that God's choice of people unto Salvation is based on being an Israelite/Jew and that the Gentile world has no part in it. These people (who are obviously Jewish) must have been shocked when Paul declared in the previous chapter that all of God's elect will be saved to the fullest (Rom. 8:30-39). For if that's the case, then it would appear that the Israelites were not really God's chosen people because many of them are hostile to the Gospel. Now if they were truly God's chosen, His promises to them therefore failed. In response, Paul explained in Romans 9 that not all who are Israelites according to the flesh really belong to the true spiritual Israel of God consisting of all the elect unto Salvation (v. 6-7). God choise (with regards to Salvation) is not based on what ethnic group you belong (therefore, an open door for the Gentiles also). Moreover, it is not based upon any human worth, but on God's mercy alone. Notice how Paul emphatically stressed that God's choice is not "on him who wills or runs" but based on His mercy alone. This truth complements the overall argument of Paul from Romans 8-11 which--beyond the Calvinistic interpretation--would not make any sense at all.


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