Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback
Background Image


Click to enlarge

Predestinarianism is a heresy not unfrequently met with in the course of the centuries which reduces the eternal salvation of the elect as well as the eternal damnation of the reprobate to one cause alone, namely to the sovereign will of God, and thereby excludes the free cooperation of man as a secondary factor in bringing about a happy or unhappy future in the life to come.

I. CHARACTER AND ORIGIN.—The essence of this heretical predestinarianism may be expressed in these two fundamental propositions which bear to each other the relation of cause and effect: (a) the absolute will of God as the sole cause of the salvation or damnation of the individual, without regard to his merits or demerits; (b) as to the elect, it denies the freedom of the will under the influence of efficacious grace while it puts the reprobate under the necessity of committing sin in consequence of the absence of grace. The system in its general outlines may thus be described: the question why some are saved while others are damned can only be answered by assuming an eternal, absolute, and unchangeable decree of God. The salvation of the elect and the damnation of the reprobate are simply the effect of an unconditional Divine decree. But if those who are predestined for eternal life are to attain this end with metaphysical necessity, and it is only such a necessity that can guarantee the actual accomplishment of the Divine will, God must give them during their lifetime efficacious graces of such a nature that the possibility of free resistance is systematically excluded, while, on the other hand, the will, under the influence of grace, is borne along without reluctance to do what is right and is forced to persevere in a course of righteousness to the hour of death. But from all eternity God has also made a decree not less absolute whereby he has positively predestined the non-elect to eternal torments. God can accomplish this design only by denying to the reprobate irresistibly efficacious graces and impelling their will to sin continually, thereby leading them slowly but surely to eternal damnation. As it is owing to the will of God alone that heaven is to be filled with saints, without any regard to their merits, so also it is owing to that same will of God that hell is to be filled with the reprobate, without any regard to their foreseen sins and demerits and with such only as God has eternally, positively, and absolutely destined for this sad lot. In any case sin is the most efficacious means of infallibly bringing to hell, with some appearance of justice, those who are positively destined for reprobation. In its further development Predestinarianism admits of a harsher and of a milder form according as its adherents by insisting exclusively on the salvific will of God push positive reprobation into the background or endeavor to hide under a pious phraseology what is most offensive in their doctrine, i.e. God‘s supposed relation towards sin. And yet this element forms the keystone of the whole system. For the all-important question is: Can God the all just absolutely and positively predestine anyone to hell? Can the all holy incite and force anyone to sin with the intention of consigning him to eternal damnation? The denial of the universality of the salvific will of God and the restriction of the merits of Christ’s passion to the elect are only natural consequences of the fundamental principles of this heresy.

The history of dogma shows that the origin of heretical Predestinarianism must be traced back to the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of St. Augustine’s views relating to eternal election and reprobation. But it was only after the death of this great doctor of the Church (430) that this heresy sprang up in the Church of the West, whilst that of the East was preserved in a remarkable manner from these extravagances. Beginning from the anonymous author of the second part of the so-called “Praedestinatus” (see below) up to Calvin, we find that all the adherents of this heresy have taken refuge behind the stout shield of Augustinism. The question therefore to be answered at present is this: Did St. Augustine teach this heresy? We do not wish to gainsay that St. Augustine in the last years of his life fell a victim to an increased rigorism which may find its psychological explanation in the fact that he was called to be the champion of Christian grace against the errors of Pelagianism and Semipelagianism. Still the point at issue is whether he, in order to establish the predestination of the just, gave up his former position and took refuge in the so-called “irresistible grace” (gratia irresistibilis) which in the just and in those who persevere destroys free will. Not only Protestant historians of dogma (as Harnack) but also a few Catholic scholars (Rottmanner, Kolb) even up to the present time have thought that they found in his works evident indications of such a strange view. But among most of the modern students of St. Augustine the conviction is constantly gaining ground that the African Doctor at no time of his life, not even shortly before his death, embraced this dangerous view of grace which Jansenism claims to have inherited from him. Even the Protestant writer E. F. K. Muller emphasizes the fact that St. Augustine, with regard to the liberty of the will in all conditions of life, “never renounced his repudiation of Manichaeism, a step which had caused him so severe a struggle” (Realencyk. fur prot. Theologie, Leipzig, 1904, XV, 590).

The only ambiguous passage containing the expressions “unavoidable and invincible” (De corrept. et gratia XII, xxxviii: indeclinabiliter et insuperabiliter) does not refer, as is clear from the context, to Divine grace but to the weak will which by means of grace is made invulnerable against all temptations, even to the point of being unconquerable, without, however, thereby losing its native freedom. Other difficult passages must likewise be explained in view of the general fundamental principles of the saint’s teaching and especially of the context and the logical connection of his thoughts (cf. J. Mausbach, “Die Ethik des hl. Augustinus”, II, 25 sq.; Freiburg,1909). Hence St. Augustine, when towards the end of his life he wrote his “Retractations”, did not take back anything in this matter, nor had he any reason for doing so. But as to God‘s relation to sin, nothing was further from the thoughts of the great doctor than the idea that the Most Holy could in any way or for any purpose force the human will to commit sin. It is true that God foresees sin, but He does not will it; for He must of necessity hate it. St. Augustine draws a sharp distinction between praescire and praedestinare, and to him the infallible foreknowledge of sin is by no means synonymous with a necessitating predestination to sin. Thus he says of the fall of Adam (De corrept. et gratia, 12, 37), “Deo quidem praesciente, quid esset Adam facturus injuste; praesciente tamen, non ad hoc cogente” (cf. Mausbach, ibid. 208 sq.). The question whether and in how far St. Augustine assumed, in connection with the absolute predestination of the elect, what was later on known as the negative reprobation of the damned, is quite distinct from our present question and has nothing to do with heretical Predestinarianism.

II. THE WORK “PRAEDESTINATUS”.—That the Pelagians after their condemnation by the Church had a great interest in exaggerating to their ultimate heretical consequences those ideas of St. Augustine which may easily be misunderstood, that thereby they might under the mask of orthodoxy be enabled to combat more effectually not only the ultra-Augustinian but also the whole Catholic doctrine on grace, is clearly proved by a work written by an anonymous author of the fifth century. This work, edited by Sirmond for the first time in 1643 in Paris under the title of “Praedestinatus” (P.L., LIII, 579 sq.), is divided into three parts. The first part contains a catalogue of ninety heresies (from Simon Magus to the Haeresis Praedestinatorum) and is nothing less than a barefaced plagiarism from St. Augustine’s work “De Haeresibus” and original only in those passages where the writer touches on personal experiences and Roman local traditions (cf. A. Faure, “Die Widerlegung der Haretiker im I. Buch des Praedestinatus”, Leipzig, 1903). The second part is according to the assertion of the author of the work a treatise circulated (though falsely) under the name of St. Augustine which fell into his hands; this treatise, under the form of a violent polemic against the Pelagians, puts forward ultra-Augustinian views on predestination and thus affords a welcome opportunity to a Pelagian to attack both the one-sided exaggerations of the pseudo-Augustine and the Catholic doctrine on grace of the true St. Augustine. As a matter of fact this favorable opportunity is seized upon by the author in the third and last part, where he reveals his real purpose. Adhering closely to the text of the second part he subtlely endeavors to refute not only Predestinarianism but also (and this is the main point), St. Augustine’s doctrine on grace, although for the sake of appearances and to protect himself from attack, Pelagianism is nominally condemned in four anathemata (P.L., LIII, 665). All the older literature concerning this inferior compilation may now be considered as superseded by the recent scholarly work of Schubert, “Der sog. Praedestinatus, ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Pelagianismus” (Leipzig, 1903). We need not, however, entirely accede to the opinion of Schubert that the whole pseudo-Augustine produced in the second part is nothing but a clumsy forgery of the anonymous Pelagian author himself, who put up a straw man in order the more easily to overthrow him. But there can be no doubt as to the meaning, the spirit, and purpose of this manoeuvre. We have to do with a skillful defense of Pelagianism against the doctrine on grace as taught by St. Augustine. And the authorship points rather to Rome than to southern Gaul (perhaps Arnobius the Younger). This work, written probably about A.D. 440, emanated from the group of Pelagians closely associated with Julian of Eclanum. It is not impossible that a friend of Julian living in Rome conceived the hope of making the pope more favorable to Pelagianism by means of this work.

III. LUCIDUS AND GOTTSCHALK.—Toward the middle of the fifth century heretical Predestinarianism in its harshest form was defended by Lucidus, a priest of Gaul, about whose life in all other respects history is silent. According to his view God positively and absolutely predestined some to eternal death and others to eternal life, in such a manner that the latter have not to do anything to secure their eternal salvation, since Divine grace of itself carries them on to their destiny. As the non-elect are destined for hell, Christ did not die for them. When Faustus, Bishop of Riez, ordered Lucidus to retract, he abandoned his scandalous propositions and even notified the Provincial Synod of Arles (c. 473) of his submission (cf. Mansi, “Concil. Collect.”, VII, 1010). It seems that within half a century the Predestinarian heresy had completely died out in Gaul, since the Second Synod of Orange (529), although it solemnly condemns this heresy, still speaks only hypothetically of its adherents; “si sunt, qui tantum malum credere velint” (cf. Denzinger, “Enchirid.”, tenth ed., Freiburg, 1908, n. 200). The controversy was not renewed till the ninth century when Gottschalk of Orbais, appealing to St. Augustine, aroused a long and animated dispute on predestination, which affected the whole Frankish Empire. Rabanus Maurus (about 840) wrote a refutation of Gottschalk’s teaching and clearly summed it up in the following proposition (P.L., CXII, 1530 sqq.): As the elect, predestined by the Divine foreknowledge and absolute decree, are saved of necessity, so in the same way the eternally reprobate become the victims of predestination to hell.

Through the efforts of Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims, the Synod of Quierzy (849) compelled Gottschalk, whose enforced stay in the Order of St. Benedict had cost him dearly, to burn his writings with his own hand, and silenced him by imprisoning him for life in the monastery of Hautvilliers near Reims. At the present time, however, scholars, because of two extant professions of faith (P.L., CXXI, 347 sq.), are inclined to free the eccentric and obscure Gottschalk from the charge of heresy, and to interpret in an orthodox sense his ambiguous teaching on “double predestination” (gemina praedestinatio). It was an unhappy thought of Hincmar to ask the pantheistic John Scotus Eriugena to write a refutation of Gottschalk, as this only served to sharpen the controversy. To the great sorrow of Charles the Bald the whole western part of the Frankish Empire resounded with the disputes of bishops, theologians, and even of some synods. The Canons of the Provincial Synod of Valence (855) may be taken as an expression of the then prevailing views on this subject; they emphasize the fact that God has merely foreseen from eternity and not foreordained the sins of the reprobate, although it remains true that in consequence of their foreseen demerits he has decreed from eternity the eternal punishment of hell (cf. Denzinger, loc. cit., nn. 320-25). It was essentially on this basis that the bishops of fourteen ecclesiastical provinces finally came to an agreement and made peace in the Synod of Tousy held in 860 (cf. Schrors, “Hinkmar von Reims”, 66 sq., Freiburg, 1884). The teaching of the Middle Ages is generally characterized on the one hand by the repudiation of positive reprobation for hell and of predestination for sin, on the other by the assertion of Divine predestination of the elect for heaven and the cooperation of free will; this teaching was only for a short time obscured by Thomas Bradwardine, and the so-called precursors of the Reformation (Wyclif, Hus, Jerome of Prague, John Wesel).

IV. THE REFORMATION.—Heretical Predestinarianism received a new and vigorous impulse at the outbreak of the Reformation. Luther having denied the freedom of the will in sinful man as also freedom in the use of grace, logically placed the eternal destiny of the individual solely and entirely in the hands of God, who without any regard to merit or demerit metes out heaven or hell just as He pleases. Zwingli endeavored to obviate the grave consequences that this principle necessarily produces in the moral order by the vain excuse that “just as God incited the robber to commit murder, so also He forces the judge to impose the penalty of death on the murderer” (De provid. Dei, in “Opera”, ed. Schuler, IV, 113). Melanchthon taught expressly that the treason of Judas was just as much the work of God as was the vocation of St. Paul (cf. Trident., Sess. VI, can. vi, in Denzinger, n. 816). Calvin is the most logical advocate of Predestinarianism pure and simple. Absolute and positive predestination of the elect for eternal life, as well as of the reprobate for hell and for sin, is one of the chief elements of his whole doctrinal system and is closely connected with the all-pervading thought of “the glory of God“. Strongly religious by nature and with an instinct for systematizing, but also with a harsh unyielding character, Calvin was the first to weave the scattered threads which he thought he had found in St. Paul, St. Augustine, Wyclif, Luther, and Bucer, into a strong network which enveloped his entire system of practical and theoretical Christianity. Thus he became in fact the systematizer of the dread doctrine of predestination. Although Calvin does not deny that man had free will in paradise, still he traces back the fall of Adam to an absolute and positive decree of God (Instit., I, 15, 8; III, 23, 8).

Original sin completely destroyed the freedom of will in fallen man; nevertheless, it is not the motive of the decretum horribile, as he himself calls the decree or reprobation. Calvin is an uncompromising Supralapsarian. God for His own glorification, and without any regard to original sin, has created some as “vessels of mercy”, others as “vessels of wrath”. Those created for hell He has also predestined for sin, and whatever faith and righteousness they may exhibit are at most only apparent, since all graces and means of salvation are efficacious only in those predestined for heaven. The Jansenistic doctrine on redemption and grace in its principal features is not essentially different from Calvinism. The unbearable harshness and cruelty of this system led to a reaction among the better-minded Calvinists, who dreaded setting the “glory of God” above his sanctity. Even on so strictly Calvinistic a soil as Holland, Infralapsarianism, i.e. the connection of reprobation with original sin, gained ground. England also refused to adhere to the strictly Calvinistic Lambeth Articles (1595), although in later years their essential features were embodied in the famous Westminster Confession of 1647, which was so strenuously defended by the English Puritans. On the other hand the Presbyterian Church in the United States has endeavored to mitigate the undeniable harshness of Calvinism in its revision of its Confession in May, 1903, in which it also emphasizes the universality of the Divine love and even does not deny the salvation of children who die in infancy.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!