There are many people who do not know what the Catholic Church teaches on predestination. Many people avoid the subject because they are afraid of what they might learn about it. I have also heard Reformed apologists tell their audiences that the Catholic position denies God's sovereignty. They tell people that the Catholic position presumes that man chooses his own eternal destiny apart from the sovereignty of God. Catholics are often falsely called Semi-Pelagians, which is also not the case. I wanted to give a basic explanation of the Catholic position on predestination.
There are two basic concepts that must believed in order to hold a Catholic position. They combat the dire sins of presumption and despair. This subject cannot be elaborated on in one small blog post such as this one. There have been volumes written on this subject by great theologians that I am nowhere in the same league with, such as St Thomas, St Augustine, St. Bellarmine and the like. It is a mystery that will never be fully understood until we reach eternity. With that being understood, here is a very condensed summary of the Catholic teaching of predestination. I hope that there will be others who can come by to further expound on this post in the com-boxes.
Here are the two basic premises a Catholic must hold, as I understand them.
Premise one, God's predestination of efficacious and gratuitous grace.
1. Man cannot be saved without the efficacious and gratuitous grace given by God alone. The elect that God chooses are are not chosen because God foresees how the elect will respond to His grace, but because of His grace alone. The Council of Trent tells us that the gift of final perseverance cannot be obtained or merited, but it is given by God as a gift. Complete predestination, which includes first grace, as well as a series of graces up until glorification, is gratuitous and is chosen by God previous to foreseen merits. It is not based upon God's foreknowledge. Finally no man can boast of being better than another, because it is God's grace only that can elevate man to being better than another, not one's own choices or works. If we say that we choose or act better than another apart from God's grace, and as a result we are saved because of that choice or act, then we surely will be able to boast that we are better than another.
Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote, " It is impossible that the whole of the effect of predestination in general should have any cause as coming from us; because whatsoever is in man disposing him toward salvation, is all included under the effect of predestination; even preparation for grace."
Canon 20 Council of Orange.
"That a man can do no good without God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it."
Even prayer is a gift from God.
Council of Orange Canon 3.
"If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1)."
The Council of Trent tells us,
The Gift Of Perseverance
"Similarly with regard to the gift of perseverance, of which it is written:
He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved, which cannot be obtained from anyone except from Him who is able to make him stand who stands, that he may stand perseveringly, and to raise him who falls, let no one promise himself herein something as certain with an absolute certainty, though all ought to place and repose the firmest hope in God's help."
"If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema."
The second principal is the condemnation of predestination to evil, which concerns man's freewill and God's goodness and will to save all men.
2. God did not predestine anyone to evil, or to hell. The penalty of damnation is a result of man's final impenitence, not caused by God, but only permitted by Him. So when a man commits evil, he does so willfully. When man does good, he is helped by God's grace. God also in some way wills that all men be saved, but not all men will be saved. Man is saved by God's grace, and man is condemned by his own freewill. God did not remove freewill from man. If man had no freewill God's justice would mean nothing. Councils such as Thuzey, Trent and Quierzy affirm that God wills all men to be saved and that God does not predestine evil.
The Council of Quierzy.
"That some are saved is the gift of Him who saves... That some perish, is the fault of those who perish."
Man also can never presume that he is among the elect and that he will never lose his salvation or choose to freely commit evil.
Canon 16 of Trent.
"If anyone says that he will for certain, with an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance even to the end, unless he shall have learned this by a special revelation, let him be anathema."
Man can also co-operate with God's grace. In other words man is not an inanimate object, but is able to freely co-operate with God's grace or even reject it. This however does not upset God's predestination to the elect. It is not as if man is thwarting God.
Canon 4 of Trent.
"If anyone says that man's free will moved and aroused by God, by assenting to God's call and action, in no way cooperates toward disposing and preparing itself to obtain the grace of justification, that it cannot refuse its assent if it wishes, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive, let him be anathema."
These two basic premises are what a Catholic has to work with. They seem to be contradictory at first glance, and they are indeed difficult to understand. There are a few different positions among Catholics on how to reconcile these two truths: God wills all men to be saved, (I Tim 2:4) and God predestines some to be saved. (Rom 8:29). Why God leaves some men to their own freewill destruction and chooses others to be saved is a mystery that none of us will know until eternity. We cannot know or understand the mind of God. These two truths should keep us on the boat, neither falling into despair, nor into presumption. No man can know for sure if he is predestined, and yet man knows that he should rely on God for everything, even prayer. God's sovereignty is never upset, and the fact that men can choose how they live and respond to God is never compromised. Somehow all of this falls into God's sovereign creation, a creation that he predestines, yet allows to remain free.
As I have warned, this is not an exhaustive look at this subject. It only lays down a bare minimum understanding of God's sovereignty in predestination, and God's will that man may be able to make free choices. We cannot deny God's predestination of the elect, and we cannot deny that God gave man freewill. I welcome those who would like to reconcile the two using various theological positions such as the Augustinian, Molinist or the Thomistic schools of thought, for example.
Credit where credit is due.
I pulled most of this information from Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's book "Predestination." For more information on how theologians have tried to reconcile these facts you can start with the following internet sources.
Canons of the Council of Trent. (See Canons Concerning Justification)
The first part of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's book. I would suggest buying the book and reading it. I would love to hear from those who have read Lagrange's book. Feel free to clarify anything I might have missed or anything that needs to be stated more clearly. This is certainly not an easy subject to examine.