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The MOST Theological Collection: Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God: New Answers to Old Questions

"Pt. 2: Predestination and reprobation - Ch. 16: The teaching of St. Francis de Sales"


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273. The special importance of the teaching of St. Francis de Sales: The thought of this Doctor of the Church is of special importance since the Pope himself followed the advice of St. Francis in putting an end to the debates De Auxiliis. Pope Pius IX reports it as follows:1 ". . . our Predecessor of holy memory, Paul V, when the famous debate De Auxiliis was being held at Rome decided to ask the opinion of this Bishop on the matter and, following his advice, judged that this most subtle question, full of danger, and agitated long and keenly, should be laid to rest, and that silence should be imposed on the parties." The special importance of his teaching is even clearer from the words of Pius XI:2 "But taking the opportunity, he lucidly explained the most difficult questions, such as efficacious grace, predestination, and the call to the faith."

274. Was St. Francis a Molinist? The Molinists, without objection from the other theologians, usually claim St. Francis, especially since he wrote as follows to Lessius, an important Molinist (who held predefinition of salutary acts in actu secundo, but was forced to change by the decree of Aquaviva, of which we spoke in chapter 15):3 ". . . I came upon [your] Treatise on Predestination in the library of the College of Lyons, and although I happened only to glance over it here and there, I learned that Your Paternity embraces and defends that view on predestination to glory after prevision of works, a view very noble by its antiquity, sweetness, and the native authority of the Scriptures. This certainly was very pleasing to me, for I have always considered it more in accord with the mercy and grace of God, truer, and more lovable, as I also indicated already in my little book 'On the Love of God.'"

Now these words do not prove that St. Francis was certainly a Molinist. For not all who hold predestination after prevision of works are Molinists. As we shall see presently, St. Francis disagreed with the Molinists on points of major importance. Nor it is entirely clear that he held predestination after prevision of merits. For he did not say simply that this view was true, but truer, that is, truer than the opposite view (that of the older Thomists). We know that he actually recommended to the Pope to approve neither Molinism nor Thomism. It is true, he could have given this advice merely because he thought it more opportune not to approve Molinism then, but at least, it cannot be proved that he held even predestination after prevision of merits, although he seems to be inclined towards it.

275. The teaching of St. Francis himself: We shall read his views from three passages of his Treatise on the Love of God, and then, collect the principal points.

1) Treatise 3.5: St. Francis is speaking about the gift of final perseverance:4 "First he willed, with a genuine will that even after the sin of Adam all should be saved, but in a way and with means suited to the condition of our nature; that is, He willed the salvation of all who would give consent to the graces and favours which He would prepare, offer, and distribute for this purpose. Now among those favours, He willed that the call be first, and that it be so tempered to our freedom that we at our good pleasure could accept or reject it. And to those whom He foresaw would accept, He willed to give the sacred movements of repentance; and to those who would follow those movements, He decreed to give holy love; and to those who would have love He planned to give the means needed to persevere; and to those who would use these divine helps, He decreed to give final perseverance and the glorious happiness of His eternal love. . . . Without doubt, God prepared heaven only for those whom He foresaw would be His . . . But it is in our power to be His: for although the gift of being God's belongs to God, yet this is a gift which God denies to no one, but offers to all, and gives to those who freely consent to receive it."

2) Treatise 4.6: In this chapter St. Francis is concerned principally with explaining that we owe it to God that we are able to love God:5 "So tell me, miserable man, what you have done, in all these things, of which you could boast? You have consented, I know it well: the movement of your will freely followed the movement of heavenly grace. But all that-what else is it but to receive the divine working and not to resist? And what do you have in this that you have not received? Yes, even, poor man, you have even received the acceptance of which you boast, and the consent, which you brag about . . . Is it not the part of most insane impiety to think that you gave effective and holy activity to the divine inspiration because you did not take it away by resisting? We can hinder the efficacy of inspiration, but we cannot give efficacy to it. . . ."

3) Treatise 4.5: In this chapter St. Francis vigorously insists that the sole cause of the lack of love is in us:6 "Just as it would be the part of impious boldness to attribute to the powers of our will the works of holy love that the Holy Spirit does in us and with us, so also it would be the part of impious boldness to wish to attribute the lack of love in an ungrateful man to the lack of heavenly help and grace. For the Holy Spirit cries out everywhere, on the contrary, that our destruction comes from us . . . that divine Goodness wills that no one perish, but wills that all come to the knowledge of the truth: He wills that all men be saved. . . ."

276. Synthesis of the teaching of St. Francis: St. Francis insists that God wills the salvation of all "with a genuine will"(3.5). He does this "even after the sin of Adam." Therefore, there is no reprobation on account of original sin. Nor is there desertion before consideration of demerits, for "it would be the part of impious boldness to wish to attribute the lack of love in an ungrateful man to the lack of heavenly help and grace," (4.5) because even though "the gift of being God's belongs to God, yet it is a gift which God denies to no one, but offers to all, and gives to those who freely consent to receive it" (3.5). But so that we may not misunderstand these words about the consent, St. Francis adds that the very consent or acceptance of grace is the effect of grace: "you have even received the acceptance . . . and the consent" (4.6). Hence: "Is it not the part of most insane impiety to think that you gave effective and holy activity to the divine inspiration because you did not take it away by resisting? We can hinder the efficacy of the inspiration, but we cannot give efficacy to it."

It is obvious that St. Francis is describing the process of the granting of grace in precisely the same way as St. Thomas did in CG. 3.159; so he can hardly be called a Molinist. With St. Thomas, he rejects reprobation before consideration of demerits, as we have seen. What does he hold about the place in which the decree of predestination is made? Considering only the description he gives, we could come to the same conclusion as we reached about CG. 3.159-61, namely, that in his teaching, predestination could be put either after absence of resistance but before consideration of merits or after consideration of merits. However, St. Francis differs from St. Thomas in that elsewhere he shows an inclination towards placing predestination after consideration of merits, while, on the contrary, St. Thomas is probably inclined to put it before prevision of merits.

277. Conclusions on St. Francis de Sales:

1) His teaching about the process of conferring grace is just the same as that of St. Thomas in CG. 3.159.

2) St. Francis certainly rejects reprobation before consideration of demerits. He seems to incline to put predestination after prevision of merits, but he does not unequivocally affirm this.

3 ) St. Francis does not really teach Molinism, even though he said it is truer than the theory of the Thomists, for:

a) He says nothing at all about reprobation and predestination through choice of orders. Nor does he explicitly restrict his meaning to predestination to glory considered separately: on the contrary, the description he gives in Treatise 3.5 excludes such a restriction since he gives the principles for the whole process from beginning to end.

b) He does not make foreknowledge of futuribles7 a necessary element in his system, as do the Molinists. He says nothing about futuribles.

c) The critical element in the process of granting of grace in the system of St. Francis is the absence of resistance (cf. 4.6),not positive consent.

4) However, St. Francis was not able to avoid all obscurity: he himself did not make a synthesis of all the elements as we have done. Nor did he take a clear stand on the precise place of predestination, before or after consideration of merits. Perhaps he saw the difficulties on both sides. Especially, it is likely that he thought predestination before consideration of merits was inseparable from reprobation before consideration of demerits-and he certainly and strongly rejected the latter.

But St. Francis is by no means to be blamed for such obscurities: for Divine Providence wisely ordained that revelation should be progressively clarified over the centuries. St. Francis, in spite of these obscurities, truly deserved the singular praise and recognition he received from the Holy See.

278. Objection: Does not St. Francis, in Treatise 4.7, cite many words from St. Augustine, saying that we do not know the reasons why God saves this man and not that man?

Answer: We must note the purpose of the chapter, as the title itself indicates. In that chapter, St. Francis wants to teach us "That we must avoid all curiosity and humbly acquiesce in God's most wise Providence." Hence, he confesses he does not know why God worked miracles in Chorazin and Bethsaida which He did not do in Tyre and Sidon. We too do not know why-but it is not required that we know, for these miracles belong to extraordinary providence.8 But St. Francis does not say he is ignorant of everything, nor is he to be presumed to be retracting everything he had said above, in the passages we have cited. Actually, what he seems to say he does not know is this: Precisely how great and of what sort are the reasons that are required for salvation? It is clear that St. Francis is doing this, from the words he quotes from St. Bonaventure, whose modesty and humility in investigating these reasons he says he admires:9 "But I neither know clearly nor wish to inquire what are those good deeds, whose prevision serves as a motive for God's will. There is no reason except some kind of fittingness." So in this way St. Francis urges us on to humility, without retracting the teaching he had previously given.

We can, however, admit the presence of some obscurity in chapter 7, especially in that he cites the Epistle to the Romans, and does not seem to know the true interpretation of the difficult passages in it. However, the same obscurity, in greater measure, was found in St. Thomas too, as we have seen. But St. Francis in no place teaches reprobation before prevision of demerits.

In St. Francis then, we can see a further stage in the gradual progress of the clarification of revelation.


1 Dives in misericordia Deus, AAS 10, 411-12.
2 Rerum omnium perturbationem. AAS 15.56.
3 Aug. 26, 1618. Oeuvres, Tome 18, Visitation, Annecy, 1912, pp. 272-73.
4 Treatise on the Love of God 3.5.
5 Ibid., 4.6.
6 Ibid., 4.5.
7 Cf. § 396.
8 Cf. § 267.
9 Treatise 4.7.

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