When someone hears the word predestination, they almost invariably think of the heretic John Calvin, and the Protestant sects that ascribe to this error. There is a correct teaching on predestination faithfully taught by Holy Mother Church. In these evil times, people quote from St. Matthew 24: 24, "For there shall arise false christs and false prophets and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." "The elect," are those who are "chosen" to be saved. The context makes it clear they cannot be deceived by falsehood so as to be condemned eternally. Much of predestination remains a mystery. In this post I will explain the true notion of predestination along with heretical ideas about it, and offer possible solutions for some controversial questions surrounding the issue.
Predestination: True and Heretical Teachings Distinguished
1. Heretical teaching. John Calvin revived and gave a resurgence to heresies going back as far as the fifth and ninth centuries (e.g. that of Lucidus, Gottschalk) which taught God does not Will all humans to be saved, but only those God had chosen or "elected." Consequently, Christ died only for the elect. (In the words of consecration over the wine at Mass, it is stated that Christ's Blood was shed for "many"--those who would cooperate with God's grace and attain Heaven. However, Christ did die for "all" in that His sacrifice was sufficient to save everyone, but only for some [many], would it be efficacious. The Catechism of the Council of Trent clearly explains that Christ was referring to the efficacy of His Bloodshed, not its sufficiency. Hence, for years, the Novus Bogus implied universal salvation, by substituting "all" for the word "many.")
The error of Calvin developed into two groups. The Antelapsarians (i.e., "before the Fall") who maintained that before the Fall of our First Parents was foreseen and considered by God, He randomly chose some to be saved and others to be damned simply to manifest His Mercy and His Justice. The Postlapsarians (i.e., "after the Fall") claimed that in view of the Fall, God destined some for glory and the rest to perdition as a consequence and punishment for Original Sin. All theories of Calvin are heretical and stand condemned as such.
2. The Teaching of the Church
All the pre-Vatican II theologians agree that God sincerely desires the salvation of all people and does not positively predestine anyone to Hell. Anyone who is damned stands condemned by the misuse of their free will. The decision of Christ at the Last Judgement manifestly supposes that the reprobate are to be condemned only because of their evil works, not because of the arbitrary Will of God or because of Original Sin. For thus will Christ address the damned, "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire...for I was hungry and you gave me not to eat...(St. Matthew 25). God's salvific will is seen in 1 Timothy 2: 3-4, "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth."
There is a division among the theologians (upon which the Church has not taken sides) as to whether God decrees predestination to glory, with or without taking the merits of humans into consideration.
The Thomists: The theologians of this school (along with some others) teach that God gives to the predestined effective graces and then rewards them for the merits which flow from their free cooperation with these graces.
The Molinists: These followers of the great theologian Fr. Luis de Molina teach that God infallibly knows what use each person will make of the graces bestowed on him. He then elects for Heaven those who, by virtue of their foreseen merits, persevere in cooperating with grace. Conversely, He determines damnation upon those whom He foresees will accrue demerits and refuse to cooperate with grace, choosing evil.
St. Francis De Sales: Although not a Molinist, this great Doctor of the Church said that the Molinist theory was more likely true than the Thomist.
3. Objection: Unbaptized babies
It has been objected that God's will cannot be said to be universal because of the fate of babies who die without baptism. The objection does not hold because (a) God's salvific Will does not require miraculous intervention to baptize every baby. In some cases, He would have to frustrate the free will of other agents. For example, parents who have apostatized refuse to have their baby baptized, and then the child dies in infancy. God would need to override the free will of the parents to have the baby baptized, which He is not required to do. It would further entail His interference in much of the natural order He created and the free will of humanity. God desires the salvation of all, but all impediments which arise in the world order He created, especially involving (directly or indirectly) the free will of others, need not be removed by miraculous intervention. (b) The babies not baptized will not suffer the pain of the damned, but will be consigned to Limbo, where they will have a degree of natural happiness. Those who die in Original Sin alone are subject to the separation from God, but not the positive infliction of pain (Hell fire) This conclusion, which is taught by nearly every theologian in the past eight hundred years, is in accordance with a pronouncement of Pope Innocent III (III Decr. 42:3): "The punishment of original sin is the deprivation of the vision of God; of actual sin, the eternal pains of hell."
The Number of the Elect and the Fate of Infidels Who Never Knew the Church
1. The Number of the Elect. Only God knows the number of the elect. Will more people be damned or saved? The more common teaching is that when the human race is taken as a whole, there will be more damned than saved. "Many are called but few are chosen." (St. Matthew 22: 14). However, there are theologians who reject this claim based on the salvific Will of God, and Christ's universal act of Redemption. They claim it is repugnant to think the Kingdom of Satan will be more populous, and thereby larger, than the Kingdom of God.
In the matter of True Catholics alone, the great theologian Suarez teaches (with the majority of theologians) that more will be saved than damned because of the sanctity of Holy Mother Church, the salvific Will of God, and the parable of the wedding banquet, at which only one person was found without a garment (i.e., sanctifying grace).
As to True Catholics combined with schismatics and heretics, the majority of theologians declare more will be damned than saved because of the deprivation (in regards to the schismatics and heretics) of the efficacy of the Holy Sacrifice and the sacraments which are only efficacious unto salvation within the Church. However, a significant minority hold that more will be saved than damned in this scenario.
2. The fate of Infidels. What of infidels who never heard the Gospel? (By the term infidel it is to be understood all the unbaptized; principally Jews, Mohammedans, and pagans). In 1690, Pope Alexander VIII condemned the propositions that Christ died for the faithful only and pagans, Jews and heretics receive no grace from Him. If they cooperate with grace they can receive the great grace of Baptism of Desire (BOD) and be saved within the One True Church. However, this is a rare miracle of God. It would make the Great Commission a farce, if they need not convert because of miraculous intervention.
What are we to make of the billions who did not have the opportunity to believe through no fault of their own? A possible solution is God wants as many people as possible to be saved and he wants as few as possible to be lost. So what God has done is to create a world having an optimal balance between saved and lost. A world that involves the maximum number of saved for the minimum number of lost people. And he gives sufficient grace for salvation to everyone whom He creates. Everyone can be saved if they want to be saved. Perhaps God has so ordered the world that those who never hear about Christ and the Church and are lost are only people who would not have believed in Him even if they had heard about it. In other words, anyone who would have believed and entered the Church to be saved if he heard it, is born at a time and place in history where he does hear it.
The logical objection would be, "So isn't it more merciful not to create such a person in the first place if God knows they freely choose damnation?" To this it can be replied that if you change one thing in this world, it will have repercussions on everything else. Who knows how the absence of those people would affect the salvation of others? Remember too, people are only lost through their own fault.
Signs of Predestination
No one can be certain of having the greatest grace; Final Perseverance. To die in the state of sanctifying grace is to achieve Heaven. We can not earn it, but the theologians teach that God will not turn away someone who prays for it unceasingly. Even that, however, does not guarantee it; no one can be certain if they are among the elect except by special revelation from Almighty God. There are signs that salvation is probable, and gives rise to great hope while we "...workout Thy salvation with fear and trembling."(Philippians 2:12). The Calvinists falsely taught that if you were predestined by God, he would give you rewards on Earth. Therefore, if you were rich, it would be a sign of predestination--hence, the so-called "Protestant Work Ethic." Work and become rich, and it's a sign of predestination!
The teachings of the theologians of the One True Church outline eight (8) signs of probable predestination:
- a conscience that fears danger
- contempt for the things of the world
- patience in adversity
- zeal for the salvation of souls
- constant practice of the Eight Beatitudes
- devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
- devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary (and her Rosary)
- frequent and fervent Holy Communion
(Most of the above post was condensed from theologians Tanquerey, Dogmatic Theology Vol. 1; Pohle, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 7; Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma; and Parente, Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology).
This post was but a brief sketch of the dogma of predestination. We will never fully understand its mystery. "O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways!For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor?" (Romans 11:33- 34).
Two things are certain; our salvation is in the Hands of God, as well as our own. God wills for us to be saved, but we must do our part. Pray for Final Perseverance, and cultivate love of the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart. Make frequent and fervent Holy Communions. To sum it up, there's the old aphorism, "Pray as if everything depends on God, then work as if everything depends on you."