The MOST Theological Collection: Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God: New Answers to Old Questions
"Pt. 1: Research in the sources of revelation - Ch. 9: The special promises of Christ"
156. The promise for those who leave parents, wives, houses, etc.: In the Gospel according to St. Luke we read that Christ promised:1 "And he said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.'" And similarly in the Gospel according to St. Matthew:2 "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life." We notice the great sweep of the promise:
1) According to St. Luke, no one who fulfils the conditions will not receive eternal life. According to St. Matthew, everyone who fills the conditions will possess life everlasting.
2) The required conditions are not great: It is not demanded that a man leave both home, and parents, and wife, and fields . . .-it is enough to leave even one of these: "house or parents, or brothers . . ." Even to leave lands alone is enough!
Therefore, one of two alternatives must be true:
1) Either we have here a special revelation that all who leave even lands for Christ are predestined, and will most certainly be saved.
2) Or not all who fulfill these conditions are predestined.
Now the first alternative cannot be true. For, according to the way the Church has always understood these promises, not everyone who enters the religious life, not everyone who observes celibacy or virginity from a religious motive, not everyone who gives lands to pious causes will most certainly be saved. The definition of the Council of Trent seems to confirm this traditional interpretation:3 "If anyone says that he, with absolute and infallible certitude, will surely have that great gift of perseverance to the end . . . let him be anathema."
Therefore the second alternative is true, namely: Not all who fulfil these conditions are predestined.
But we must ask at once: If not all who fill these conditions are predestined; on what does the reprobation depend in those who are not predestined?
We reply that there are again two alternatives:
1) Either the reprobation is decided altogether after considering the personal fault of the one who is reprobated, who really is able to "distinguish himself"4 in regard to reprobation,
2) Or the reprobation is decided before considering the personal fault of the individual, who cannot "distinguish himself."
If the first alternative is true, there is no problem. For then the fault lies solely on the part of the man who is reprobated. God, on His part, has given that man5 "a rich abundance of divine graces" so that the man was able to be saved, and was able to "distinguish himself." The man is reprobated solely after and because of his personal foreseen demerits.
But if the second alternative were true, there would be an immense difficulty: For then God, through Christ, would have promised to give eternal life to all who would leave lands, or wife, or father etc.-but yet, before considering their demerits, He would decide to desert6 many, so that they could not "distinguish themselves," and so that it would be metaphysically inconceivable for them to reach heaven. Then the promise of Christ would be totally vain and empty in regard to these reprobates. For example, let us imagine a certain man, Gaius, who left wife and lands for Christ, but yet, since God (in the second alternative) would reject many without even considering demerits, God could happen to reprobate Gaius and others too who had fulfilled the conditions laid down by Christ-for in the second alternative, God would reject some without even looking to see if they had fulfilled the conditions laid down by Christ. Gaius would be reprobated without consideration of demerits, and in spite of the fact that he had fulfilled the conditions laid down by Christ: thus, without any fault of Gaius, the promise of Christ would be vain: Gaius would be damned.
Nor could we escape the difficulty by saying: "God has so arranged everything that no one is reprobated who has actually filled the conditions:" For this is the same as the first alternative in the first set of alternatives, that is, then the words of Christ would be a special revelation that all who fill the conditions are predestined. But this, as we have seen, is contrary to the way the Church traditionally understands the promise, and seems also to be against the definition of Trent cited above.
157. The promise for those who receive the Eucharist: Christ Himself promised:7 "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever. . . ."
The Council of Trent has officially interpreted these words saying:8 "He wished it furthermore to be a pledge of our future glory and perpetual happiness. . . ."
Now he who gives a pledge, does not make merely a verbal promise, but in addition, by an action, and by giving a thing, he provides a powerful confirmation that he will do as he has promised.
Therefore, Christ has given us a most firm promise: He who receives the Eucharist will have eternal life in heaven.-The alternatives are the same as above. And there is a much greater difficulty against the theory of negative reprobation before consideration of demerits, for those who receive the Eucharist are far more numerous than those who leave lands, father, wife, etc., for Christ.
158. The promise and command of Christ on forgiving: Christ promised us pardon on a condition:9 ". . . if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you." And when Peter asked how many times he ought to forgive, He revealed that God is always disposed to forgive. St. Matthew relates it this way:10 "Then Peter came up and said to him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.'" That is, He ordered Peter to forgive always.
Now according to the words of Christ:11 "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master." But if Peter, following the command of Christ, were to forgive offenses seventy times seven times, but Christ, in His divine nature, would reprobate men on account of original sin alone-in which there is no personal fault even after an infinite price has been given in satisfaction for original sin: then the disciple would forgive much more easily than the master. The disciple would be above the Master. And if God were to desert12 men before any consideration of demerits, then the disciple would have much more love, and would forgive much more readily than God Himself. Further Christ would have contradicted Himself in saying, "It is enough for the disciple to be like his master," when at the same time He would order His disciples to always forgive, while the Master would be accustomed to desert even before any fault.
1) The theory of negative reprobation before consideration of demerits cannot harmonize with the special promises of Christ.
2) Christ has revealed that God does confer salvation on men according to the human conditions of which He speaks in these promises.
160. Objection 1: But God does not positively condemn, but merely deserts before consideration of personal sins.
Answer: Even so, the disciples will be above the Master. First, because the disciples do not even desert in that way. But besides, Christ ordered His disciples to come to the aid of the needy. Now needy persons can be in various circumstances: for example, (1) A man can come to my door, asking shelter, at a time when the weather is good, and the man who asks is in no particular need, or (2) He can come at a time when the weather is severe, and he, the beggar, is so weak that if I do not help him he will die wretchedly. No disciple of Christ would be excused from caring for a needy man in such a state, in which he is going to die of weakness. In fact, many who are not disciples of Christ would not refuse help to such needy men. Therefore, if Christ, in His divine nature, would wish to desert men without any fault on their part, although He knows most clearly that without His aid they will perish wretchedly out of weakness, then many disciples of Christ-in fact, many pagans-would be above the Master.13
161. Objection 2: But God is the supreme Lord. He is not bound to give anything to creatures.
Answer: The difficulty remains without diminution. For Christ, though He knew well that God owes nothing to men, still ordered men to forgive always, and also said that it is enough for the disciple to be like the Master.
Furthermore, the question is not only about what God owes to man: there is question also of what God has freely decided to do. Now we cannot know what God has freely decided to do without revelation. But the objectors are accustomed to forget the need of consulting revelation in this matter, since they are preoccupied with trying to find the answer by mere human metaphysical reason-through which the free decisions of God cannot be known.
Furthermore, as we saw in chapter 4, God freely bound Himself by infinite objective titles for each individual man. So He does owe it to Himself not to desert without any consideration of demerits.
162. Objection 3: But Christ promised pardon only on a condition: If man forgives his fellow men.
Answer: This is true, but it does not prove that Christ, as God, deserts men before consideration of any human condition. Rather, it proves that God gives pardon after considering human conditions. It is true, to give pardon is a positively good and salutary work, and man cannot do this without grace. But this grace is always offered to men, and is given to those who do not resist, as we see from chapters 4, 5 and 7. Therefore, to forgive others really is within human control; and Christ reveals that our pardon from God depends on our pardoning other men. Therefore He implicitly reveals that God gives pardon on a condition that is within our control.
|3||DS 1566 (DB 826).|
|4||Cf. §§ 18, 118-20.|
|5||Cf. § 48.|
|6||Cf. § 51.|
|8||DS 1638 (DB 875).|
|12||Cf. § 51.|
|13||Cf. also § 51.|