Salvation, Predestination, Reprobation, And Free Will.
I wrote this comment very late at night, reacting to the request of a reader. It being very late, and not wanting to write a complicated piece, I managed to say all that is – I think – important in a way that can be read and digested rather rapidly. The advantages of being tired, and not having time.
I have re-read this, and found it in order. So much so, that I have decided to post it as autonomous post, and put it in my “Vademecum” (see the bar above).
I hope you’ll find it useful. The text follows below, with little modifications for comprehension.
Ah, that’s a complicated issue. I have wanted to write very often, but it’s very complex. It’s also very late, so forgive me if I say something stupid.
In three words, Calvinists (and in a way their Catholic fans, the Jansenists) believed that God makes some **to be damned**. Once born a reprobate, one is irresistibly screwed. End of story. There’s nothing he can do. He will go to hell, period. Sorry mate, yes, please go down that warm corridor…
Catholicism believes that God makes, said very brutally, two kind of people: the predestined and the reprobates. To the first He gives **efficacious** grace, meaning that they will be irresistibly led by Him toward salvation. To the seconds He gives **sufficient** grace, that is: a grace really sufficient to be saved, but that the reprobates nevertheless do not use, choosing of their own will to behave and think in a way that ends up meriting them hell.
No one, therefore, goes to hell who really has not himself to blame for it. At the same time, no one who avoids hell can boast of his goodness. All graces and all goodness come from God, so for every prayer, for every work of mercy, for every salvific act we do not really have the right to boast that “we did it”, though in a way we do really want to pray etc.
What happens is that we do want to act freely, because God inspired us to, freely, act in that way. Think of a mother who knows her child so well she knows what she must do to motivate him to do his homework, though in the end the child really is the one who wants to do his homework. This subtle, but irresistible influence of the efficacious grace is called, if memory serves, “physical premotion” (in the sense, always if memory serves, that it prompts to real, physical action on our part).
The mystery of predestination (one flip of the coin) is therefore fairly easy to grasp: God gives us efficacious grace, and this grace – like the mother above – irresistibly motivates us to, so to speak, do our homework. We do want, because God wants. Still, we do fully want. When God wants one to be saved, He will take care that the chap does not die in a state of mortal sin, giving him the efficacious grace necessary to the purpose. Again, he (the chap) will have nothing to boast about: without God’s help, he would have been nowhere, or rather in hell.
Things become far more terrible when we see the other flip of the coin: the reprobates. The reprobates freely choose (operative word here is “freely”) to think and behave in a way that merits them hell (though they might not even believe in hell); and they do so notwithstanding the fact that they have sufficient graces (the operative words here is “sufficient”; actually, more than sufficient) to avoid hell. But they do not do it and God **allows** them not to do it, and to deserve their punishment. Punishment that is, then, fully deserved, and entirely merited by their own thoughts, actions or omissions.
Why does God do this? Why does he infallibly decide, out of all eternity, that Titius *has to* be saved and will therefore irresistibly be attracted toward salvific acts, and Caius will, out of all eternity, be **allowed** to damn himself? Why one is born a reprobate, and another a predestined? This is a mystery we will only know – and not in its entirety, not in the way God knows it – when we die.
Still, we can throw some light on it even in this life. St. Thomas Aquinas said that every goodness comes from God, because God is the very source of everything that is good. Therefore, those who are exceptionally good (like St. Francis, or Padre Pio) are exceptionally loved. Conversely, there is no other reason why some are better than the fact that they are more loved. Some, God loves so much that he will never allow them to go to hell (giving them efficacious graces), or He will in rare cases even allow them to become, **out of their own will**, great saints; some others, he will still love enough to give them more than sufficient graces to save themselves, but he will **allow** them to choose evil instead. St. Thomas said that this must be so in order for the goodness of God to be revealed. God’s goodness is both mercy and justice. In those whom he saves, he shows His mercy (remember: the graces are unmerited, and purely due to God’s love), and in those whom he damns, he shows His justice. He does not do any injustice to anyone, he simply gives more than it is just to the predestined, without being unjust in any way to the reprobates. Difficult to chew for our egalitarian society, but that’s how it is.
Think to David Cameron. He has all the instruments to decide. He freely chooses the path to hell. Unless he repents, hell is what he will have freely chosen and fully merited. But if he repents, this is because of the efficacious grace of God. If he doesn’t, this is notwithstanding the (fully, and more than) sufficient grace he has received.
“Fine (or rather not!)”, you will say. “How can one know whether he is a predestined or a reprobate?” Well one can’t, of course. If we could, we would know for certain who is sent upstairs and downstairs. But as we are each and every one of us fully in charge of our own destiny (herein lies the real, ultimate crux: that one is full in charge, and STILL nothing happens against the divine decree: the reprobates will go to hell, and the predestined to purgatory or straight to heaven) we can see in our lives signs of predestination, or signs of reprobation, that are indications as to the possible destination of a person. Being born and baptised a Catholic has always been considered a great sign of predestination, which is probably why Catholic countries have historically always been more relaxed about hell than Protestant ones. Praying every day is another sign. Having masses said for one is another one. Having prayers said for one’s own salvation is another one, as are works of mercy. Praying the Rosary devoutly every day is a great sign of predestination (which is why I always insist on it), and so on.
In the end, we are in full control of our destiny, but at the same time everything is already preordained by God from all eternity; then otherwise, God wouldn’t be God: he would be determined by our actions rather than decide himself things of infinite importance like the salvation or damnation of souls. If we are predestined God, like an omnipotent mother, will steer us toward salvation, motivating us to perform salvific acts, etc. In turn, one that performs these acts can see them as a reasonable indication that he is being steered toward a good death (“final perseverance”, the grace of all graces).
Yes, a mother would not allow her child to freely choose hell. But then, this is why we say “God the Father”, and know that the God of the Christian isn’t the sugary “get-out-of-jail-card for everyone” some Proddies would want us to believe He is. God is terrible in his punishment, and wonderful in His love. His justice and His mercy, together, are His goodness. We can’t fully understand the inner working of this goodness, because we … aren’t God. But that’s what it is. God never told us we only have to “luv” and everything will be fine. Actually, Christianity shows that the contrary is the case.