Predestination (In Non-Catholic Theology)

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At the very beginning of this article it should be clearly stated that actually there is no single doctrine concerning predestination that would be acceptable to all branches of Protestantism. Therefore, it would be inaccurate and ill-advised to present this article as being the Protestant theology of predestination. All that one can do is treat historic Protestantism as it has faced the problem of predestination, i.e., trace the theories of election and reprobation that can be found in the main currents of Protestantism as it has flowed through the history of the past 400 years. The approach, therefore, will be historical: the beliefs of some of the chief personalities will be delineated, the interrelation of their diverse opinions will be shown as far as possible, and, in conclusion, the doctrine of perhaps the most eminent of modern Protestant theologians, Karl Barth, will be set forth.

Martin Luther. The two men who played key roles in the early history of Protestantism, Martin luther (14831546) and John Calvin, were both deeply influenced by the theological thinking of the centuries previous to those in which they lived. St. Augustine, as understood by them, was a great influence. So were Gottschalk of Orbais in the 9th century and, more proximately, John Wyclif in the 14th.

Luther, in his earlier years at least, maintained as extreme a doctrine of predestination as Calvin himself was later to profess. This is important to note since, by and large, modern lutheranism rejects the extreme approach to predestination that was so emphatically taught by its founder. There are some who claim that in his later years Luther mitigated his doctrine of predestinarianism to a less rigid form of predestination. Actually, however, it seems that although there is a difference in the technical terminology utilized by Luther in the first and later form of his theology, nevertheless the later form does not constitute a radical departure from his earlier conception.

When Luther first began to grapple with the problem of predestination, about 1509 or 1510, he accepted the solution that was common among the schoolmen, that predestination is in some way to be explained by God's foreknowledge of man's conduct. But upon more assiduous study of the Bible and St. Augustine, Luther gradually underwent a complete reversal of opinion and finally professed the doctrine of predestinarianism, which he claimed to be the true teaching of the Bible as well as of St. Augustine.

The most complete sources concerning Luther's teaching on predestination are his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans and his work De servo arbitrio (The Will Enslaved), the latter being written in answer to Erasmus's attack on his doctrine, De libero arbitrio (Free Will). Essentially, the doctrine contained in these works may be summarized as follows.

There exists on the part of God an irrevocable election of some souls to eternal beatitude and positive rejection of the rest, who go to eternal perdition. As proof, Luther gives Paul's references to the scriptural stories of God's election and rejection in the three cases of Isaac and Ishmael, of Jacob and Esau, and of David and Saul.

According to Luther, all objections to predestination, as he understands it, come from human reason and not from the wisdom of God. The objections follow: 1. Man has been given a free will by which he can earn either merit or demerit. (Luther replies that man's will in itself has not the least ability to secure justification, because the will itself is totally corrupt, totally unable to choose anything but sin. Indeed, the will is not free but captive.) 2. Predestination, as held by Luther, is inconsistent with the teaching of Sacred Scripture, which states (1 Tm 2.4) that "God our Savior wishes all men to be saved." (Luther's reply is that all such statements are realized properly in the elect. One must make a distinction between "the apparent will" and "the hidden will" of God. It is interesting to note that in his translation of 1 Timothy Luther renders the above as "God wills that all be assisted.") 3. If men sin of necessity, then they are unjustly condemned. (Luther replies that men are sinners of necessity and so are under condemnation, but no one is a sinner by external coercion or against his will. Man's will has been so corrupted by original sin that it interiorly always chooses evil and of itself is incapable of doing otherwise.) 4. God's hardening of the will of man makes God the cause of man's sin and condemnation. [Luther answers that what God wills cannot be unjust. For what right has the clay to criticize the Potter? God's law exists that the elect may obey it (for this divine grace is conferred) and that the reprobate may be caught in it (for this divine grace is withheld). Thus there is displayed both God's wrath and His mercy.]

Luther's presentation of this extreme position caused a violent reaction on the part of his humanist friends as well as of others. He was roundly criticized; most important of all, Erasmus broke with him and in two treatises bitterly attacked his former friend.

For the person who is tormented by the question as to whether or not he is among the elect, Luther's advice is to turn away from such thoughts and instead look to Christ. If one believes in Christ, then he may be assured that he is called; and if called, he may be sure that he is predestined to eternal salvation. Despite the efforts of certain followers of synergistic tendencies to maintain that Luther mitigated his earlier opinions concerning predestination (see synergism), it is fairly evident from many sections in his "Table Talk" of later years that Luther never retracted the rigid doctrine outlined above.

Huldrych Zwingli. The Swiss reformer (14841531) was a contemporary of Luther and according to many was profoundly influenced by him, though he himself was unwilling to admit it. Although zwingli was much more under the influence of humanism than either Luther or Calvin, some scholars still believe that predestinarianism was the determinative principle in his theology. Zwingli taught a thoroughgoing determinism, declaring that all evil, as well as all good, is due to the causality of God. This generalization includes the fall of Adam. Faith is the fruit and present pledge of election so that he who has faith already knows that he is elected. Zwingli believed in the twofold character of predestination. Election is given to those who are to be saved, positive reprobation and rejection to those who are lost.

Philipp Melanchthon. At first an adherent of Luther's rigid predestination and the denial of free will in man, Philipp melanchthon (14791560), perhaps because of humanistic tendencies, gradually changed his opinion. The augsburg confession, in the formation of which he played the leading role, manifests a deliberate avoidance of the question of predestination. The Formula of Concord (see concord, formula and book of) became the accepted Lutheran doctrine in the 17th century. This document states that predestination is the will of God that all who believe are saved. It states that fore-knowledge deals with both the good and the evil, but that predestination deals with salvation. However, the promise of salvation is made to all men and not to just a few. Those whom God foresees will believe, He eternally elects. If certain men are not elected, the fault is their own. Thus it came to pass that the vast majority of Lutherans eventually held a position directly opposed to that of their founder.

John Calvin. A second-generation reformer, John calvin (150964) absorbed many of his ideas from the writings of Luther and Zwingli. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion (3.21.5, 7) Calvin teaches:

We call predestination God's eternal decree, by which he determined with himself what he willed to become of each man. eternal life is fore-ordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or death. We assert that, with respect to the elect, this plan was founded upon his freely given mercy, without regard to human worth; but by his just and irreprehensible but incomprehensible judgment he has barred the door of life to those whom he has given over to damnation. Now among the elect we regard the call as a testimony of election. Then we hold justification another sign of its manifestation, until they come into the glory in which the fulfillment of that election lies. But as the Lord seals his elect by call and justification, so, by shutting off the reprobate from knowledge of his name or from the sanctification of his Spirit, he, as it were, reveals by these marks what sort of judgment awaits them.

It is evident from the above that the first and absolute intention of God at creation was that certain men should be saved and the rest condemned to eternal damnation. This will of God is incapable of being frustrated. It imposes on secondary causes, even man himself, a direct internal necessity. Freedom of the creature consists in mere immunity from extrinsic coaction. Only the elect are justified; grace cannot be lost. The rest of men God precludes from the possibility of life, since He refuses them grace, without which they are internally incapable of positing a morally good act. In fact, God actually wills that they sin and die in the state of aversion from Him. This, however, is truly sinful and blameworthy on the part of man, because he is free from external coaction. (see calvinism.)

Jacobus Arminius. A theologian of the Reformed Church and professor at the University of Leiden, Netherlands, arminius (15601609) and his followers protested against Calvin's doctrine of unconditional election and irresistible grace. They maintained that for God to elect some men to salvation and to deny the privilege to the rest would be unjust on the part of God, and injustice is impossible with Him. The truth is that God knows in advance that a man will sin by free choice, but He does not will nor does he predestine him to do so. Man's freedom must be in contrast to all compulsion, necessity, and spontaneity. Freedom exists only when there is the power of alternate choice. Man does face alternate choices and therefore is actually free. For Arminius grace is not irresistible. (see arminianism.)

In the face of this mitigated doctrine and the controversy that it engendered in the Reformed Church, the Synod of Dolt (161819) was convened. The Arminians were subsequently condemned and excluded from their pastorates; rigid Calvinism was strongly reiterated. There were, however, two groups among the members of the synod. One group, the supralapsarians, maintained that prior to any knowledge of original sin, and in fact independently of it, God eternally wills some men to be saved and positively reprobates the rest. The second group, the infralapsarians, maintained that God's positive decree to predestine the elect to glory and to reprobate the rest came only after His prevision of the fall of man. The influence of Arminian theology was extremely important, because it was widely diffused when adopted by John Wesley and Methodism, as well as by related movements in the 18th century. The theological influence of Melanchthon, Arminius, and Wesley provided a basis for the fact that the united stand that the original reformers had taken regarding the doctrine of predestination of free will steadily lost ground. As a result, today most of Protestantism takes a synergistic position that in many ways is similar to that held by the Catholic Church in opposition to the reformers.

Karl Barth. No new development of importance occurred until that of the present day, when neo-orthodoxy has produced a departure in an entirely new direction from historic reformed doctrine. This position is best exemplified in the theology of an outstanding Protestant theologian of the 20th century, Karl barth.

Election in Christ. For Barth predestination is essentially connected with Christology. The root of every error that has crept into the doctrine of predestination lies in the blindness of its classic exponents to the fact that the ground of the electing will of God is identical with the reality of Jesus Christ. The divine election of grace means that God in the eternal counsel of His will has chosen for Himself fellowship with man, and for man fellowship with Himselfthus a double choice and predestination. This double choice is revealed in Jesus Christ and takes effect in Him on the stage of time. Christ is both the electing God and the elected Man. As the eternal Son of the Father, He is very God. His will is one with God's will. There is no other will of God for man but what is expressed, realized, and fulfilled in Him. And Christ is also the elected Man. In Him, through Him, and for Him, man's humanity is laid hold of and gathered into the life of God. Jesus Christ is true man. In the light of Christ one can no longer speak of God purely in Himself or of man purely in himself. One can only speak of God and man united in that communion wherein God meets man in pure sovereign grace and man meets God in faith and obedience.

God not only chooses but He also rejects. He chooses to be man's God, and He chooses not to be not man's God. This negative decision is just as truly a decision as the positive. The man to whom God binds Himself is fallen man, who as such lies under divine rejection. But the election of grace, eternal in the counsels of God, is not nullified by man's sin and fall. In Christ, God takes upon Himself the sentence of rejection and bears it in man's stead. In Christ, God Himself enters into the dark shadow of man's rejection and dissipates it. There is, therefore, because of Jesus Christ no positive decision of God to reject man, but only the gracious decision to accept him. There are not, therefore, two spheres, one of election and the other of rejection, standing independently over against each other.

Old and New Israel. According to Scripture, the first reference about divine election is not to man in general but to a chosen community, named Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the NT. It must be emphasized, however, that it is the individual man who is the object of divine election and not the community as such. Both Israel and the Church exist to serve the electing purpose of God, which is for the individual man. In their life and history they mirror and reflect the great divine events of election and rejection that took place in Him, and so bear witness to Him, mediate Him to the world. The peculiar function of Israel in this regard is to mirror and illustrate the sinful actuality of all mankind and the divine rejection that became event in the Crucifixion of the Son of God, and so of the world that passes away in Him. The peculiar function of the Church is to mirror the new humanity in Christ, to bear witness of the divine election that was manifested in His Resurrection, and so the new coming world of God. Israel and the Church are one and the same community with two historical magnitudes. The one community of God in its departing form as Israel serves to set forth the divine judgment and in its coming form as the Church serves to set forth the divine mercy.

It is necessary to recognize that election is no mere dead, stationary decree fixing in advance all that should follow after. The election of grace is a living, moving thing. It is the action of the living, electing God upon the acts and decisions of men. Predestination as such is salvation history and as such is the secret of all history.

Individual Man. It has been noted that it is not the community as such that is the real object of divine election, but individual man, the single man in his simple humanness, as he exists in relation to the various forms of collectivity with which he is related. What does this individuality mean from the standpoint of divine election? This individual man is a sinful individuality that strives continually to isolate itself from God and make itself its own God. As such, man stands under the rejection of God and must cease to be in order that the true individual, the elect man, may appear. This is attained by a judgment borne by Christ in His death on man's behalf in order that man may receive the promise of his true manhood in Christ's Resurrection.

The election of the individual man is in reality, therefore, a derivation from the election of Jesus Christ. As his life becomes a hearing and receiving of the promise that is his in the election of Jesus Christ, the election becomes the transcendent mystery of his own existence. The elect man allows himself to be loved by God in that he sets aside all claims of his own to that love and permits a love that he has not in any way earned or deserved to determine his life. He allows God's love to overflow to him and finds in that love his one sure ground of hope, his joy and blessedness. However, man is not simply the object of God's love and blessedness; he is also the subject of them. He does not just passively receive; he actively shares. This love and blessedness must pass beyond himself in the direction of the world, which God in His election of grace has chosen for His own. The elect man must be a witness of God's election to others. He must become a further stage along which God's election of grace takes effect in the world. This he does in the very living of his life as an elected man.

Rejection is but the reverse side of election, but nonetheless real. The rejected man, in the crisis into which God's election of grace places him, sets himself in opposition thereto. God is for him, but he is against God. The rejected man exists as the object of God's not willing; that is to say, his existence is determined by the fact that God will not have him as he is. He exists as rejected insofar as he attempts to live in withdrawal from that positive will of God that claims him for divine grace. His life is a life without meaning and substance, without future. It is such a life because it is determined as such by the will of God, which, in electing him for grace, condemns him as one who strives to live in independence of grace.

It is important to note that since God's love is universal, Barth rejects the idea of the predestination of only a certain number of men; instead he would leave the number of the elect indeterminate. However, he would not make this open number of the elect equal to the number of all men. This would limit God's freedom.

Some critics maintain that, since Barth states that all men are elect in Christ, the basic difference between believers and unbelievers is only that the unbeliever does not yet know that he is elected. Moreover, since Jesus took upon Himself the rejection of all men, no man therefore is rejected by God. His critics maintain that because of this basic doctrine, it is difficult to see how Barth can escape from the charge of universalism, the doctrine that holds that all men are de facto eventually saved. It seems that this part of Barth's exposition is as yet a bit uncertain. Despite this limitation, Barth's teaching on election and rejection, with its Christocentrism, has had a remarkable appeal to all forms of Protestantism.

See Also: predestination (in catholic theology).

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[a. g. palladino]