The late Father William Most, a theologian whose studies included emphasis on predestination, described predestination thusly:
Predestination is an arrangement of Providence to see someone gets either full membership in the Church, or gets to heaven.In some schools of Christian thought, there exists the idea that God "predestines" some persons to heaven independent of that person's free will. There are also some who believe predestination to heaven is due to the person's free will independent of God's movement. Catholic teaching does not subscribe to either notion.
Throughout historical texts in Catholic tradition on predestination, these are two repeated characteristics:
- Man's free response first requires, and is ultimately dependent on, God's preceding grace.
- Man's response to God's grace of justification is free.
MAN'S RESPONSE IS FREE BUT FIRST NEEDS PREVENIENT GRACE
A number of councils throughout the centuries reflect the idea that man's free response to God, which leads him to justification, must be powered by prevenient or preceding grace. (See also the Catechism for various characteristics of grace, including as a share of supernatural life, the favor of God, etc.)
This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God's gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. (CCC#1998)
The sin of the first man has so impaired and weakened free will that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought or believe in God or do good for God's sake, unless the grace of divine mercy has preceded him. (Council of Orange, 529 A.D.)
[W]e speak of only one predestination of God, which pertains either to the gift of grace or to the retribution of justice. ... The freedom of will which we lost in the first man, we have received back through Christ our Lord; and we have free will for good, preceded and aided by grace, and we have free will for evil, abandoned by grace. Moreover, because freed by grace and by grace healed from corruption, we have free will. (Council of Quiersy, A.D. 853)
The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace. (Council of Trent, Session 6, chapter 5)
[W]e are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace. (Council of Trent, Session 6, chapter 8)In very strong terms, the Council of Trent emphasizes man's inability to receive the grace of justification without first receiving prevenient divine help:
Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God . . . God forbid that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself, and not in the Lord, whose bounty towards all men is so great, that He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits. (Council of Trent, Session 6, chapter 16)
If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema. (Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 3)Essentially, this means God makes the first move, the first "gratuitous initiative" as the Catechism says, in drawing man to Himself. Man can boast of no merit in warranting this divine act of love, to invite the fallen creature to communion. As Fr. Most put it:
[M}erits are not a condition [of predestination] precisely because nothing at all is needed from man in order that the Father's love may start and may continue, since it started and continues by its own force, that is, by the spontaneous unmerited goodness of the Father. (Fr. William Most, Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God: New Answers to Old Questions, #288)
MAN'S RESPONSE TO GRACE IS FREE
Some of the above quotes also refer to man's "free" response. The Catechism also reads thusly:
To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of "predestination," he includes in it each person's free response to his grace. (CCC#600a)
And:God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures' co-operation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God's greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan. (CCC#306)
If any one saith, that man's free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema. (Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 6)
SCRIPTURE AND TRADITION
There are a number of Biblical texts and interpretations in Tradition that speak to both of these realities. Here are just a few examples among many more:
God is the ultimate mover in the order of man's meritorious decisions:
[F]or God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:13)
O LORD, thou wilt ordain peace for us, thou hast wrought for us all our works. (Is. 26:12)
Of the same Lord again it is said, It is God who works in you, even to will! (Phil. 2:13)
It is certain that it is we that act when we act; but it is He who makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will, who has said, I will make you to walk in my statutes, and to observe my judgments, and to do them. (Ez. 36:27) ... It is He who causes us to act, to whom the human suppliant says, Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth. (St. Augustine, On Grace & Free Will, #32)
I counsel you to think the same. For since there are some who are so proud of their successes that they attribute all to themselves and nothing to Him that made them and gave them wisdom and supplied them with good; such are taught by this word that even to wish well needs help from God; or rather that even to choose what is right is divine and a gift of the mercy of God. For it is necessary both that we should be our own masters and also that our salvation should be of God. This is why He says not of him that wills; that is, not of him that wills only, nor of him that runs only, but also of God. That shows mercy. Next; since to will also is from God, he has attributed the whole to God with reason. (St. Gregory Nazianzus, Orations 37:13)
Man is empowered to freely respond:
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8a)
Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. (2 Cor. 6:1)
It was [God] who created man in the beginning, and he left him in the power of his own inclination. If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish. Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him. (Sirach 15:14-17)
Therefore say to them, Thus says the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. (Zech. 1:3)
For the coming into being at first was not in our own power; and in order that we may follow those things which please Him, choosing them by means of the rational faculties He has Himself endowed us with, He both persuades us and leads us to faith. (St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 10)
But perhaps some one will say, If all that the Father gives, and whomsoever He shall draw, comes unto You, if none can come unto You except it be given him from above, then those to whom the Father gives not are free from any blame or charges. These are mere words and pretenses. For we require our own deliberate choice also, because whether we will be taught is a matter of choice, and also whether we will believe. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 45 on John)
I counsel you to think the same. For since there are some who are so proud of their successes that they attribute all to themselves and nothing to Him that made them and gave them wisdom and supplied them with good; such are taught by this word that even to wish well needs help from God; or rather that even to choose what is right is divine and a gift of the mercy of God. For it is necessary both that we should be our own masters and also that our salvation should be of God. This is why He says not of him that wills; that is, not of him that wills only, nor of him that runs only, but also of God. That shows mercy. Next; since to will also is from God, he has attributed the whole to God with reason. (St. Gregory Nazianzus, Orations 37:13)Notice the last quote from St. Gregory is included under both subheads. But it is important to note, as I'll discuss further below, that man's will is not something operating independent of God's grace or powers, lest we fall into the heresy of Pelagianism, which, as the Catholic Encyclopedia states, believes man can attain salvation minus grace.
CAN GOD TRULY BESTOW A WILL THAT IS FREE?
Sometimes one will find critiques of these ideas of predestination in that if man's will plays a role, that God's sovereignty is somehow subordinated. Or some may ask, such as Reformed Christian R.C. Sproul who asks:
The question for advocates of prevenient grace is why some people cooperate with it and others don’t. ... The $64,000 question is, “Does the Bible teach such a doctrine of prevenient grace? If so, where?"Sproul asks an intriguing question. Here is how St. Augustine answered:
For if two men, alike in physical and moral constitution, see the same corporal beauty, and one of them is excited by the sight to desire an illicit enjoyment while the other steadfastly maintains a modest restraint of his will, what do we suppose brings it about, that there is an evil will in the one and not in the other? What produces it in the man in whom it exists? ...This consent, then, this evil will which he presented to the evil suasive influence—what was the cause of it, we ask? For, not to delay on such a difficulty as this, if both are tempted equally and one yields and consents to the temptation while the other remains unmoved by it, what other account can we give of the matter than this, that the one is willing, the other unwilling, to fall away from chastity? And what causes this but their own wills, in cases at least such as we are supposing, where the temperament is identical? (St. Augustine, City of God, 12.6)Above are a number of Scriptural examples to answer the latter question posed by Sproul as to where such an idea of prevenient grace exists in Scripture. As well, Catholics do not believe Scripture alone exhausts the Church's understanding of divine revelation. Above quotations from Tradition, which include Scriptural interpretations, consistently admit to a freedom in man's response as well.
If, as Scripture states, all man has is from God (cf. 1 Cor. 4:7), this would include the free will. And if, as St. Justin Martyr (for example) also expresses above, that the free will itself is God's gift, then to demand knowledge of what additional factor "caused" an individual's will to choose one way or another is to deny the very premise that God's gift––free will––is truly free. It is to deny the very generosity of God to supernaturalize, to capacitate, man's will with freedom and grace. It is to deny the power in the divine gift given.
Even if the mechanics of such a harmony between God's gift and man's free response are a mystery, the Church is subject to both teachings from divine revelation. The Church does not have some scientific explanation of how the Trinity or the hypostatic union are interrelated, yet Christians accept these truths because they are believed to be taught by the sources of revelation. Sproul believes theological doctrines are subject to divine revelation as well, although he believes divine revelation is bound in Scripture alone, and he presumably denies the passages presented above are evidence of man's free will.
SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT ON GRACE AND FREE WILL
In Father Most's treatment Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God, he examines a couple schools of thought on how the two realities that predestination is ultimately a work of God's grace and yet man is not a passive participant in his free response.
Fr. Most himself leans toward a school of thought known as Thomism, which he develops in summary as follows:
Predestination is gratuitous: ...for even before God considers human merits, He predestines, and because the sole and total cause of predestination is the goodness and love of the Father which moves spontaneously without stimulus, merit, or condition. The absence of grave and persistent resistance in man is the mere absence of a cause that would call for reprobation: it is an ontological zero. (#290)Essentially, Fr. Most teaches that God's grace appears to all men (e.g. Tit. 2:11), and man's initial "response" is the omission of resistance, which he identifies as an "ontological zero," meaning man does nothing, to enter a state of justification. In a related paragraph, he states:
On condition of this omission, the second stage follows, in which grace moves us further, so that we do make a decision: "It is God who . . . works in you both the will and the performance." Of course, we do actively cooperate with grace in the second stage. The entire process need not take more than one instant of time. (#82)So, in summary of Fr. Most's position, the initial response is one of omission of resistance, followed by a positive response in grace.
Another school of thought which Fr. Most considers is known as Molinism, which he describes thusly:
For in Molinism, even though it is grace that gives the power to consent, and cooperates with man, the work of the man himself seems to be the chief thing in consent. But St. Paul says that: ". . . for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." These words at least seem to give a lesser role to man in the consent. Similarly, the Council of Orange says that "in every good work, we do not begin." (#329.2)In reading about Molinism in Fr. Most's treatment and elsewhere, I am not at this time convinced by his conclusion that Molinism makes man "the chief thing in consent." According to Fr. Most, the Molinist believes "it is grace that gives the power to consent." This also emphasizes man's powerlessness to enter justification on his own merit. To me, that seems to place God in a chief position just as would a Thomist. I also see in this an emphasis on God's generosity and love, that He should be so loving as to bestow on His creatures such freedom. At any rate, Fr. Most does not come out and reject Molinism, rather, he favors the former.
Many of the Early Church Fathers, as mentioned above, seem to harmonize with the idea that man's response, his very will, is graced, something from God in the first place. For good measure, here is another quote from St. John Chrysostom:
Be not affrighted, you are not worsted; both the hearty desire and the accomplishment are a gift from Him: for where we have the will, thenceforward He will increase our will. For instance, I desire to do some good work: He has wrought the good work itself, and by means of it He has wrought also the will. Or he says this in the excess of his piety, as when he declares that our well-doings are gifts of grace. As then, when he calls these gifts, he does not put us out of the pale of free will, but accords to us free will, so when he says, to work in us to will, he does not deprive us of free will, but he shows that by actually doing right we greatly increase our heartiness in willing. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 8 on Philippians)In other words, when God commands, He capacitates the hearer to respond. Yet the ability to respond is also His gift. I am reminded of the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30, Luke 19:12-28). In the parable, the master bestows various amounts of money (called talents), which are his "property," to a number of servants. The servants who make use of the gift are rewarded. The servant who squanders the gift is sent wailing and gnashing his teeth, a figure of hell. The rewarded individuals in the story make use of that which is the "master's property." Because the master shared what was his, he empowered the servants to accomplish what they otherwise could not of their own accord.
So we have the two teachings of predestination in Catholic thought, that God is the ultimate initiator with grace and man is empowered to freely respond. How these necessarily interact is not a settled matter in the Church's understanding. Nor do any of the current schools of thought on how God's grace and man's will interact solve the "mystery" of the matter.
As Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) once said of another "mystery"–– of Christ's descent into hell:
In the Creed we say about Christ’s journey that he “descended into hell.” What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate.