Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

The Father William Most Collection

Predestination: Reasons For Centuries-Old Impasse

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

Was Nestorius a Nestorian? The article on "Nestorianism" in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity insists he was not a Nestorian.

So now we ask: Was St. Thomas a Thomist on the question of predestination? Our answer is no for two reasons.

FIRST REASON: St. Thomas follows excellent theological method. In approaching the problem of predestination, he looked for more than one starting point, and seemed to have found two. To visualize it, we imagine him standing on the perimeter of a circle. He finds two points from each of which he hopes to project a line to hit the center, the correct answer.

The two points he found were these:

1) 1 Timothy 2:4: "God wills all men to be saved." He did this especially in Contra gentiles 3:159 ff, though there are echoes of it also in his commentary on Romans. Unlike others, whom we will consider presently, he accepted this clear truth of Scripture and did not try to distort it into meaning the opposite.

2) Romans 8:29 ff: He inherited from St. Augustine the latter's exegesis of Romans 8:29 ff. This included what Augustine called the massa damnata theory, in which all men form one damned and damnable mass, which God could throw into hell without waiting for anyone to sin personally. Augustine derived this from a purely allegorical reading of Romans 9, which speaks of the mass of clay from which the potter can make whatsoever he wills, a vessel of honor or of dishonor. Again, there are echoes of this idea in St. Thomas' commentary on Romans.

Thomas' attempt at a synthesis of the two points:

1) In his Commentary on Romans, Chapter 8, lessons 1-3 we find indications of both tendencies:

a) Tendency to the massa damnata view: "Since all men because of the sin of the first parents are born exposed to damnation, those whom God frees through His grace, He frees out of mercy alone. And so He is merciful to certain ones whom He delivers; but to certain ones He is just, whom He does not deliver."

b) Tendency to the opposite view: ". . . foresight of sins can be some reason for reprobation . . . inasmuch as God proposes to punish the wicked for sins which they have of themselves, not from God, but He proposes to reward the just because of merits, which they do not have of themselves. Osee, 13:9: ‘Your ruin is from yourself, Israel; only in me is your help.’ . . . Those whom He hardens, earn that they be hardened by Him."

2) In Contra gentiles 3.159, 161, 163:

a) Universal salvific will in general: CG 159: "They alone are deprived of grace who set up in themselves an impediment to grace, just as when the sun shines on the world, he deserves blame who shuts his eyes, if any evil comes thereby even though he could not see without having the light of the sun." COMMENT: A broad statement: God offers help to all; only they do not get it who shut themselves off from it.

b) Massa damnata: CG 163: ". . . some by the divine working are directed to their ultimate end, being helped by grace, but others, deserted by the help of grace, fail to reach the ultimate end. Because all things that God does are provided and ordained from eternity by His wisdom, it is necessary that the difference of men mentioned be ordained by God from eternity. . . . Those whom He planned from eternity that He would not give grace, He is said to have reprobated or to have hated, according to what is said in Malachi 1:2,3: 'I have loved Jacob, but hated Esau.'" COMMENT: Here the difference in men is not that they voluntarily close or do not close their eyes: it is something God planned for from eternity. He hated some as He hated Esau.

3) Conclusion on the method of St. Thomas:

He had, as we said, two starting points, the salvific will, and Augustine's misunderstanding of Romans. Standing, as it were on the rim of the circle, Thomas began to draw a line from each point. But before going all the way, he pulled back, seeing that the lines would not meet.

St. Thomas knew that at least part of this view of Augustine was an error. For in De malo q. 5. a. 3, ad 4: "The infants [who die without baptism] are separated from God perpetually, in regard to the loss of glory, which they do not know, but not in regard to participation in natural goods, which they do know. . . .That which they have through nature, they possess without pain." In contrast, Augustine, as his massa damnata theory really required, held for the positive damnation of infants: Enchiridion 93. Even he admitted much discomfort with his conclusion, in Epistle 166.6.126: "But when we come to the punishment of little ones, believe me, I am caught in great difficulty, nor can I find at all what I should answer." Centuries later Pope Pius IX was to confirm the position of Thomas in regard to the lack of pain. In Quanto conficiamur moerore (DS 2866): "God . . . in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishment who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault."

SECOND REASON: St. Thomas never denied the universal salvific will.

1) But the founder of the "Thomist" system, Domingo Bañez wrote (Scholastica commentaria in primam partem Angelici Doctoris, D. Thomae, Romae, 1584. In I.19,6. col. 363): "Quia non est in Deo formaliter talis voluntas, necessse est quod sit eminenter, cum Deus sit causa illius in sanctis." That is: God does not really will all to be saved: He just causes us to will that.

This is not too strange, since the system of Bañez is essentially the same as that of St. Augustine, who clearly denied the salvific will:

a) Enchiridion 103: "when we hear and read in the sacred Scriptures that He wills all men to be saved . . . we must . . . so understand [it] as if it were said that no man is saved except whom He wants [to be saved]. . . . Or certainly it was so said . . . not that there is no man whom He is unwilling to have saved, He who was unwilling to perform the wonders of miracles among those whom He says would have done penance if He had done them; but in such a way that we understand 'all men' to mean the whole human race, distributed into various categories: kings, private citizens, nobles, ordinary men, lofty, lowly, learned, unlearned. . . ."

b) De correptione et gratia 14.44: " And that which is written that 'He wills all men to be saved,' and yet not all are saved, can be understood in many ways, of which we have mentioned some in other works, but I shall give one here. It is said in such a way . . . that all the predestined are meant; for the whole human race is in them."

c) Ibid 25.47: "That 'God wills all men to be saved' can be understood also in this way: that He causes us to wish [that all men be saved]. . . ."

d) Epistle 217,5.19: "..and so that which is said 'God wills all men to be saved' though He is unwilling that so many be saved, is said for this reason: that all who are saved, are not saved except by His will."

COMMENTS: Here are his solutions: 1) "All" means "some out of every category of men." 2) No one is saved unless God wills it. 3) All the predestined. 4)God causes us to will that all be saved."

But this is a sad denial of the explicit teaching of Scripture. His fourth reasoning is the same as that of Bañez. His result is the same as that of Bañez.

All who follow Bañez fail to see an equation: To love is to will good to another for the other's sake (Cf. 1-11 26.4). Therefore when God says He wills someone to be saved, it is the same as saying He loves that one. If there is anyone He does not will to be saved, He does not love that one. So to deny the salvific will is to deny God's love. But God has proved His love: Romans 5:8.

St. Augustine himself at least five times implied the opposite of the massa damnata theory. Here are two examples: In De diversis quaestionibus LXXXII.68.5": "For not all who were called willed to come to that dinner which as the Lord says in the Gospel was prepared, nor would they who came have been able to come if they had not been called. And no neither should they who came attribute [it] to themselves, for they came, being called; nor should those who were unwilling to come attribute [it] to anyone but themselves, for in order that they might come, they were called in free will." Similarly in De Actis cum Felice Manichaeo 2.8: "Felix said: You call Manichaeus cruel for saying these things. What do we say about Christ who said: Go into eternal fire? Augustine said: He said this to sinners. Felix said: These sinners - why were not they purified? Augustine said: Because they did not will [it]. Felix said: Because they did not will it - did you say that? Augustine said: Yes, I said it, because they did not will it."

Now Augustine's theory is called massa damnata. He meant that by original sin all our race became a massa damnata et damnabilis. God willed to display mercy and justice. To display mercy, He rescues a small percent. To display justice, the rest go to hell, to show that all should have gone to hell. But in the two quotes just given, the basic reason for their loss is not God's desertion, but man's desertion.

God does not love anyone in Augustine's view, for even though He does will salvation to a small percent, He wills it not for their sake, but just to make a point. But to love is to will good to another for the other's sake.

2) Those who do not explicitly deny the salvific will propose a position which is almost the same. They hold that actual grace, which is needed for salvation, may be either sufficient or efficacious. Sufficient grace they say gives the full power of doing good, but it infallible that a man will not do good with it. The reason is that the application of that sufficient grace is still needed: without that application, it is metaphysically impossible to have an actualization of the grace. Now Garrigou- Lagrange (De gratia, Turin 1945, p. 63, note 2) wrote: ". . . a person is not able by himself alone to not place an obstacle [to sufficient grace]". This is even clearer in a later Thomist, P. Lumbreras O.P., (De gratia, Rome 1946, pp. 95-96, citing John of St. Thomas I-II, q. 111. disp. 14. a. 1. n. 12): "To be deprived of efficacious grace, it is not always required that we first desert God by sin. . . . on our part, there is always some impediment to efficacious grace, not by way of fault, yet by way of inconsideration or some other defect. . . . 'Because of this defective consideration [in the human intellect] because of this voluntary defect - which is not yet a sin, since the consideration is for the sake of the judgment, and the judgment for the sake of the work, that is, the consent - God can refuse a man efficacious grace.'"

Theologians often distinguish between antecedent and consequent will in God. Antecedently, that is, in general, He wills all to be saved; but consequently, that is, in view of their sins, He may no longer will to save the man. If we express this view of Lumbreras and John of St. Thomas just cited in those terms, then we would have God saying, "I would like this man to be saved [antecedent will], but not if he has an inculpable inconsideration [consequent will]."

So we must ask: in this view, how strong is God's will to save if it can refuse the indispensable means of salvation for something that is no fault at all in the man? We reply: It is so feeble as to be almost nonexistent.

A Scriptural approach, picking up where Thomas left off:

To complete the work so well started by St. Thomas, we need three things:

1) Remove the obstacle that held him back, i.e, Augustine's misunderstanding; 2) Complete the line he started in CG 159 but did not complete; 3) Put together the two positions that are implied.

1) FIRST STEP: Complete the rejection of massa damnata, which St. Thomas had begun. As we saw above, Thomas himself saw a truth that eluded Augustine, that infants who die without baptism do not go to hell. We saw that that bothered Augustine himself very much. Yet his massa damnata really required that conclusion. St. Thomas courageously rejected that mistake.

He still needed to correct the other part of Augustine's misunderstanding. St. Thomas was centuries early for that, for Scripture studies had not yet developed far enough then. But today they have. Pere Lagrange, in his great commentary on Romans, supplies what was lacking. He showed that the texts of Scripture on which both sides had relied in the De Auxiliis debates were all taken out of context. Scripture never explicitly speaks of predestination to heaven or reprobation to hell. The predestination it speaks of, according to Pere Lagrange, is always and only a predestination to full membership in the people of God, the Church. Now that we know this, we can get past the obstacle that stopped Thomas. (Also, instead of using Scripture, their views were predetermined by that they thought was metaphysics).

2) SECOND STEP: Do not reject, but accept the universal salvific will.

Unlike Bañez and St. Augustine, St. Thomas never denied the salvific will. Rather, he wanted to work out from it to reach the true answer, but was hindered by the obstacle we have just seen. We will not deny that salvific will either. We can fill in on it with the help of an analysis of love.

Thomas said: Amare est velle bonum alicui. Very true. How can we measure it? St. Paul says in Romans 5:8: "God has proved His love." If anyone loves another, which means to will the good and well-being of another for the other's sake, as Thomas said: amare est velle bonum alicui, and if someone starts out to bring well-being and happiness to another, but a small obstacle can stop him, that love is weak. If it takes a great obstacle to stop him, the love is great. But if even an immense obstacle will not stop him then that love is immense, beyond our ability to measure. Such was the love of the Father, sending His Son to a horrible death.

This is implied when St. Paul said that the Father will not refuse to give us what that Son so dearly paid for. In Romans 8:31- 32: "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He even did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over for us all - how will He not also give us all things with Him?" In other words: The Father has already given His own Son to a terrible death out of love of us - for amare est velle bonum alicui. And here the good He wills us is a share in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). After all is bought an paid for, He definitely cannot, will not stop giving out what that Son so dearly paid for. Surely an inculpable inadvertence would not make Him decide to let a soul go to hell!.

St. Paul continues (8:33-36): "Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones? Will it be God who makes them just? Who is there who will condemn them? Will it be Christ Jesus who died, who even rose, who is at the right hand of God, who even intercedes for us?"

Who are the chosen ones of God? They are those mentioned in 8:29, those whom He has called to be members of Christ. Who are they? In 1 Tim 2:4 "God wills all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Really the whole of chapter 8 (and 9- 11 also) is about the Church considered just in itself as a fail- safe means of bringing eternal happiness. We can fail it, but it cannot fail us, according to Romans 8:9: "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, He does not belong to Christ." But He offers that Spirit to all, for He wills that all should come to the knowledge of the truth. As Thomas said, when the sun shines, only they are deprived who close their eyes to the light. Further, if one follows the Spirit of Christ, then: "We are heirs [of the Father] together with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him."

Then Paul gets exultant: "Who then will separate us from the love of Christ? Will it be tribulation? or being in a tight spot? or hunger? or nakedness? or danger, or persecution? or the sword. . . . But in all these we are super-conquerers because of Him who loved us."

Finally Paul concludes: "I am certain that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor present things, nor future things, nor strength, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Surely, not just an inculpable inadvertence!

So the fact that the Father has accepted the infinite price of redemption, means He owes it to Himself to offer to all every grace and forgiveness. It is only if as Thomas says, we close our eyes to the light that we shall not have it.

But there is more. We could put this in legal language and say that Christ has generated an infinite title to forgiveness and grace for our race as a whole.

But even more: St. Paul in Gal 2:20 says: "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." Was that a special privilege for Paul, a special person? No, Vatican II, Church in Modern World § 22 wrote: "Each one of us can say with the Apostle: the Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me." So - a staggering perspective -there is an infinite objective title to forgiveness and grace for each individual man! No mere inculpable inadvertence could cancel all that out!

Other Fathers of the Church: Do they agree with Thomas as we have developed his thought? Very definitely yes, the Eastern Fathers are absolutely unanimous in teaching that there is no reprobation, not even negative, without our own fault - without our closing our eyes to the light.

What of the Western Fathers? Absolutely the same: Jerome, Ambrose, Hilary and others. After Augustine made his slip what happened? Authors today often say that St. Prosper of Aquitaine was the great defender of the massa damnata theory. But they have not read Prosper. In the massa damnata, first God deserts a man, then the man deserts God. But Prosper wrote three times (Responsiones ad capitula obiectionum Gallorum 3) : "For this reason they were not predestined, because they were foreseen as going to be such as a result of voluntary transgression. . . . They were not deserted by God so that they deserted God; but they deserted and were deserted."

THIRD STEP: Combine the two insights: Here we use the most basic analogy of the Gospels, the Father analogy. That can be used in a foolish sentimental way so as to say: He is so good He would not send anyone to hell. Thomas knew that was not true. He did know the love of the Father.

Now we can distinguish three steps - logical momenta, not chronological periods:

1) The Father wills all men to be saved. This is real, as we have seen. Thomas accepted it in spite of the denials of Augustine and others;

2) Notice that the children in a family do not think they must help around the house, cut the grass, dry dishes etc. so as to get the love and care of their Father (and Mother). They know they get that not because they are good, but because their parents are good;

3) But the children also know that if they are bad, they can be punished. And if this goes on far, they can sense they might be thrown out of the home, be disinherited.

It is the same with our Father in Heaven. His Son said: "If you do not become like little children, you will not enter the mansions of the Father in Heaven. St. Paul, who is so often misunderstood - witness 2 Peter 3:16 on that - when he preached: "You are free from the law", meant merely that we do not have to earn a place in our Father's house. We get that by inheritance (Rom 8:17): "We are heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him." And in Romans 6:23 Paul compactly made the needed distinction: "The wages [what we earn] of sin is death; the free gift [what we do not earn] of God is eternal life". In other words as a student of mine long ago said: "Salvation, you can't earn it, but you can blow it."

What is this in more technical language?: 1) predestination to the Father's mansions without having earned it: it is an inheritance. Both St. Thomas and St. Augustine knew this and insisted on it. 2) Reprobation only in view of demerits. Absolutely all the Fathers of the East, and all those of the West except Augustine saw this. And the other Western Fathers agreed with the Easterners.

We could express this in other language. There are three logical momenta in God's decrees:

1) He wills all to be saved - - very strong, very genuine will.;

2) He looks to see who resists His graces both gravely and persistently, so persistently that the man throws away the only thing that could have saved him. With regrets, the Father decrees to let him go: negative reprobation; 3) All not discarded in step 2 are positively predestined. But it is not because of merits, which have not even been mentioned. Nor is it even because of the lack of persistent resistance - no, there is something more basic: this is what the Father has wanted all along, and these souls are not stopping Him from carrying out His will.

We seem then, to have completed the work so well begun by Thomas. He did indeed well. We should recognize that fact, and not blame him for the mistake of those who later mistakenly tried to claim him.

Was St. Thomas a Thomist on the question of actual grace? See "St. Thomas on Actual Grace". See also the third file in this group of three, "Predestination".



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