Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The Father William Most Collection

Summary of Debate on Salvific Will Started by Augustine

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

Hell for unbaptized infants:

It is truly sad to see persons fighting with all their might to insist that it is at least likely that God, who is Infinite Goodness, sends unbaptized babies into eternal fire, to suffer forever, when they are completely innocent of any personal fault.

They say: "There is no middle place between heaven and hell". But the Church has taught, in the words of Pius IX, Quanto conficiamur moerore (DS 2866, in Encyclical of August 10, 1863): "God. . . in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault."

Yet these persons dismiss the teaching of the Encyclical of Pius IX as mere "opinion". They do not know some basic theology: Pius XII, in Humani generis, of 1950 explained: "Nor must it be thought that the things contained in Encyclical Letters do not of themselves require assent [internal belief] on the pleas that in them the Pontiffs do not exercise the supreme power of their Magisterium. For these things are taught with the ordinary Magisterium, about which it is also true to say: 'He who hears you, hears me.'" That is a promise of Christ, from Luke 10.16. It cannot fail. So these things are infallible, cannot be pushed aside as "opinions." Pius XII continued: "If the Supreme Pontiffs in their Acta expressly pass judgment on a matter debated until then, it is obvious to all that the matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs cannot be considered any longer a question open to discussion among theologians."

Vatican II spoke similarly, in Lumen gentium 25: "Religious submission of mind and of will must be shown in a special way to the authentic Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff even when he is not defining, in such away, namely, that the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to according to his manifested mind and will. . . ."

As to rejecting of any state other than heaven and hell, the Synod of Pistoia in Italy in September 1786 tried to say that the teaching of St. Thomas that unbaptized infants can have a sort of limbo was a "Pelagian fable". That teaching of Pistoia was rightly condemned by Pius VI in DS 2626.

St. Thomas himself, in his De malo q. 5. a. 3. ad 4: "The infants 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." So there is no hell for unbaptized infants.

Really the doctrine of hell is a most difficult one, to think a good God would send anyone at all into eternal fire. How then can some insist that He probably does send innocent babies into such fire! What a slur on the goodness of God!

Can there be errors even in Doctors of the Church? Definitely yes. St. Thomas Aquinas himself in Summa III. 27. 2 ad 2 denied the Immaculate Conception -- most of the great theologians of the Middle Ages did that too, starting with St. Bernard of Clairvaux, otherwise famed for his Marian devotion (PL 182. 335). St. Thomas wrote: ". . if the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never been defiled with the contagion of original sin, this would take away from the dignity of Christ, according to which He is the universal Savior of all."

Pius IX in defining the Immaculate Conception answered that, saying she was redeemed by her Son, but with a preventive redemption: grace was granted to her from the start in anticipation of His merits.

Denial of God's Salvific Will:

To deny the words of St. Paul in 1 Timothy 2. 4. is horrendous: "God wills all men to be saved." Why? When The Father says in 1 Tim 2.4 that He wills all men to be saved, it really means that He loves them, for He wills them good, even divine good. He wills that we be able to get in on the infinite streams of infinite knowledge and of infinite love that flow within the Holy Trinity.

Really, since to love is to will good to another for the other's sake - cf. St. Thomas, Summa I-II. 6. 4 - when God says He wills us to be saved, it means He loves us. So to deny that He wills all to be saved is to deny His love! What a horrid error!

Does He want our salvation strongly? Romans 5. 8 says God "Proved His love for us". He did this in two ways.

First, when we love, there are three steps. First, we see something fine in another. That leads us, as the second step, to will or wish that so fine a person may be well off. Then, thirdly, if that will is strong, we will not be content to merely say I wish, but will act to bring it about.

But if someone starts out to bring well-being and happiness to the one loved, and a small obstacle can stop him - that love is small. If it takes a great obstacle to stop him - that love is great. If even a measureless obstacle, literally immense, cannot stop him - then that love is measureless.

What obstacle did the Father surmount to bring us this divine happiness? Nothing less than the terrible death of His Only Son. This is a staggering thought. Plato (Symposium 203) had said that "No god associates with man." Aristotle (Ethics 1. 5) said that no friendship is possible between a god and a man, since the distance is too great. What would these great minds have thought had they heard that God not only became man, but even was willing to suffer so horribly for us. No wonder St. Paul told the Corinthians (1. 24) that Christ crucified is "a stumbling block to the Jews (who had heard in Dt 21. 23 "God's curse in upon every one who hangs on the tree"), and nonsense to the Greeks." So in this way we can begin to see that His love is measureless for us. So the will to save us is measureless. Hence in Romans 8. 32: "He who did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over for all of us: How will He not give us all things along with Him?"

There is still another way to as it were measure the measureless love of God for us. In Isaiah 55. 8-9 He had said: "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts, and my ways above your ways" --in view of that He knew we could not understand Him or feel at home with Him unless He in some way told us what He is like. So He did that in His Son, and by way of the New Covenant that Son brought to us. In a covenant, the two sides each give something and receive something. What they give is of course of the same greatness as that which they receive. The Father accepted the infinite price of redemption, the death of His Only Son. So in accepting that infinity, He pledged, obligated Himself to offer forgiveness and grace infinitely, with no limit other than that which we might place in rejecting His advances.

If we used legal language, we would say that He created an infinite objective claim or title to forgiveness and grace without limit for mankind. But is it just for mankind in a block, as it were? It is that, but far more. St. Paul in Gal 2. 20 wrote that, "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." Was that only for St. Paul, a very special person? No, Vatican II, Church in Modern World #22 assures us: "Each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me."

So for each one of us, individually, there is an infinite claim or title to all forgiveness and grace. That does not imply a man could set out on a spree of sin, and intend to pull up just in time. No, when he did pull up, there would be no change of heart, it would be all preplanned . And so no real change of heart, no contrition. Further, much sinning brings hardness or blindness. Then God would indeed be glad to offer grace, but the man would be closed off, incapable of taking it in.

In Psalm 118 the refrain is: "For His love is everlasting." Yes, that is true, but we should add that it is also without measure.

We have tried to find a way to gauge the immeasurable, we have found it absolutely beyond our poor measures.

Tragically, St. Augustine did, more than once, deny that God wills all to be saved.

(1) In his Enchiridion 103: "When we hear and read. . . 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]." But this is a vicious circle.

In the same passage, he continues: "Or certainly it was 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 [Tyre and Sidon] 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. . . ." So it means not that He wills all to be saved, but only some from each category of persons!

(2) In his work De correptione et gratia 14. 44 he quotes 1 Timothy 2. 4 and continues: [it] 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." But this is not honest. All really means only those whom He predestines.

(3) ibid. 15. 47: "[it] can be understood also in this way: that He causes us to wish [that all be saved]." But He Himself does not wish it!

(4) Epistle 217. 6. 19: "And so that which is said, God wills all men to be saved, ALTHOUGH 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." So He really is unwilling that many be saved.

Massa damnata: This idea, that all humans by original sin became a "damned and damnable" gob, which God could throw into hell without waiting for anyone to sin personally, naturally follows from the above. He taught this many times. Here are some:

(1) To Simplicianus 1. 2. 16: "Therefore all men are . . . one condemned mass [massa damnata] of sin, that owes a debt of punishment to the divine and supreme justice. Whether it [the debt] be exacted or whether it be condoned, there is no injustice."

(2) Epistle 190. 3. 12: He said that the reprobates are so much more numerous than the saved that "by an incomparable number they are more numerous than those whom He deigned to predestine as sons of the promise. . . so that by the very number of those rejected, it might be shown that the number, howsoever large, of the justly damned, IS OF NO IMPORTANCE WITH A JUST GOD. . ."

(3) On the predestination of the saints 17: "Let us, then, understand the call by which the elect are made [elect]. [they are] not [persons] who are chosen because they have believed, but [they are chosen] so that they may believe. For even the Lord Himself made this sufficiently clear when He said: 'You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. [Jesus was talking about His choice of men to be apostles, not of heaven and hell]. . . . this is the unshakable truth of predestination and grace. For what else does that mean, that the Apostle says, 'As He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world' [Ephesians 1, speaking of full membership in the Church, not of heaven and hell]. For surely if it was said because God foresaw that they would believe [and] not because He himself was going to make them believers -- the Son speaks against that sort of foreknowledge saying, 'You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you' [same error as above]. So they were chosen before the foundation of the world by that predestination by which God foreknew His own future acts: they are chosen out of the world by that call by which God fulfilled that which He had predestined. . Therefore God chose the faithful, not because they were already [faithful] but that they might he [faithful]."

(4) Enchiridion 99: "For grace alone distinguishes the redeemed from the lost, whom a common cause from [their] beginning had joined into one mass of perdition. . . ." If it is grace alone, then no human behavior, good or bad, makes any difference.

(5) City of God 21. 12:"Hence there is a condemned mass of the whole human race. . . so that no one would be freed from this just and due punishment except by mercy and undue grace; and so the human race is divided [into two parts] so that in some it may be shown what merciful grace can do, in others, what just vengeance can do. . . . In it [punishment] there are many more than in [mercy] so that in this way there may be shown what is due to all."

Approval of the Church?:

Never has the Church endorsed these points, the massa damnata, or the denial of 1 Timothy 2.4. On the contrary, in 1597, Pope Clement VIII, seeing that these ideas were disturbing souls in debates in Spain, ordered both Dominicans and Jesuits to send a delegation to Rome, to debate before cardinals. (The Dominican theory is not from St. Thomas, but from Domingo Bañez (cf. "Predestination: Reasons for Centuries-Old Impasse") who explicitly denied the salvific will.)

The debates ran for ten years and got nowhere. Chief reason was the both sides were abusing Scripture - as we just saw St. Augustine doing it - without considering the context in which something was said. Then the next Pope, Paul V, consulted St. Francis de Sales, Saint, and great theologian. He had had six weeks of blackness himself, as he tells in one of his letters, from the Dominican theory -- in which God really loves no one, for God blindly picks a small number to save, not for their sake, but to use them, to make a point. St. Francis advised the Pope to approve neither side. That is what he did, and ordered them not write on it again without special permission. That order of course fell into disuse, and early this century they were at it again, until the ferment of Vatican II brought an end to such solid and difficult matters, on which neither side had found the right answer.



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