Predestination and Free Will

Predestination and Free Will


  1. What is Predestination?
  2. Predestination in Scripture
  3. Predestination According to Theologians
  4. Heresy: Double Predestination
  5. Catholic Affirmations
  6. Characteristics of Predestination

What is Predestination?

'To predestine' (Latin, prae + destinare) means to direct or determine something beforehand. Predestination in general refers to every decree by which God orders from eternity all temporal events, especially those influenced by human free will. Temporal events include all historical facts (e.g., the fall of the Roman Empire) and all turning points in salvation history (e.g., the election of Mary as the Mother of God).

In particular, predestination is "the ordering of some persons towards eternal salvation, existing in the divine mind."1 Both predestination and reprobation are parts of God's providence.2

Predestination in Scripture

The verb 'to predestine' (Greek, prooridzo) literally appears in four scriptural passages: Acts 4:27–28, Romans 8:29–30, 1 Corinthians 2:7, and Ephesians 1:3–12.

27 For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined [prooridzo] to take place (Acts 4:27–28).

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined [prooridzo] to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined [prooridzo] he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom 8:29–30).

But we speak God's wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed [prooridzo] before the ages for our glory (1Cor 2:7).

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined [prooridzo] us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Eph 1:3–6).

Predestination is referred to conceptually, for example, in Matthew 22:14, Matthew 25:34, and 1 Peter 1:1–2.

For many are called, but few are chosen (Mt 22:14).

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Mt 25:34).

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance (1Pet 1:1–2).

We can identify at least two types of predestination in Scripture: (1) predestination to grace and (2) predestination to glory. Being predestined to grace means being predestined to enter into the Christian life (e.g. Eph 1:5). Being predestined to glory means being predestined to enter into heaven (e.g., Rom 8:29–30; cf. 1Cor 15:49).

Predestination According to Theologians

What is the relationship between these two types of predestination? Prominent Catholic theologians, such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, and even Martin Luther agree that predestination to grace does NOT automatically entail predestination to glory. In other words, the fact that you are a Christian does not guarantee that you will be saved:

[O]f two pious men, why to the one should be given perseverance unto the end, and to the other it should not be given, God's judgments are even more unsearchable … had not both been called and followed him that called them? And had not both become, from wicked men, justified men and both been renewed by the laver of regeneration?

—Augustine, Gift of Perseverance, XXI

[P]erseverance is called the abiding in good to the end of life. And in order to have this perseverance man … needs the Divine assistance guiding him and guarding him against the attacks of the passions … And hence after anyone has been justified by grace, he still needs to beseech God for the aforesaid gift of perseverance, that he may be kept from evil till the end of his life. For to many grace is given to whom perseverance in grace is not given.

—Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 109 a. 10

Through baptism these people threw out unbelief, had their unclean way of life washed away, and entered into a pure life of faith and love. Now they fall away into unbelief and … soil themselves again in filth.

—Martin Luther, Luther's Works, 30:190.

Heresy: Double Predestination

John Calvin was the first one to teach, contrary to the above-cited theologians, that predestination to grace automatically entails predestination to glory. This heretical idea, condemned by the Council of Trent,3 has been dubbed OSAS (once saved, always saved). Calvin's reasoning goes as follows:

  1. God's choice is unconditional.

  2. God actively chooses certain individuals to be saved (S) and others to be damned (D).

  3. God determines whether an individual desires salvation or damnation.

  4. God gives to (S) grace so that they will inevitably be saved.

  5. God does not give grace to (D) so that they will inevitably be damned.

Catholic Affirmations

Every sound understanding on predestination must stay within the boundaries set by the following affirmations:

  1. God is omniscient. God infallibly foresaw and immutably preordained from eternity all future events.4 From all eternity, he foresaw the condemnation of the wicked and preordained this punishment on account of their sins.5 St. Thomas resumes the reality of predestination and reprobation as follows: "predestination includes the will to confer grace and glory; so also reprobation includes the will to permit a person to fall into sin, and to impose the punishment of damnation on account of that sin."6
  2. God's salvific will is universal. God wills all human beings to be saved.7 He offers sufficient grace (the possibility of salvation) to all. This grace allows one to turn toward God and away from sin.
  3. Christ's redemption is universal. Christ died for all,8 not only for the predestined9 or for the faithful.10 Nonetheless, not all avail themselves of the benefits of Christ's redemption.11
  4. Human beings are free to accept God's grace or reject it.12 God's foreknowledge does not coerce human beings to act against their will. Predestination imposes no necessity.13 In the words of St. Augustine, "he who created thee without thy help does not justify thee without thy help."14 He adds that "His mercy comes before us in everything. But to assent to or dissent from the call of God is a matter for one's own will."15 Hence, it is possible to willfully turn away from God (even though the Church does not teach that any particular person is in hell).
  5. God predestines the elect to heaven.16 However, God predestines no one to sin or to hell: "God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end."17 St. Augustine affirms that "God is good, and God is just. He can save a person without good works, because he is good. But he cannot condemn anyone without evil works, because he is just."18

In sum, the golden mean between grace and merit has to be maintained:

Grace Merit
Heaven is the work of God's grace. One's natural merit does not influence God's election to grace and glory. Aquinas clarifies that "[t]he reason for the predestination of some, and reprobation of others, must be sought for in the goodness of God."19 Heaven is the reward of the meritorious acts of the predestined. These meritorious acts are the partial cause of their eternal happiness. God does not randomly choose who will be saved.

Characteristics of Predestination

  1. Objective immutability. Predestination is objectively immutable because God is omniscient. God knows from all time who will be saved and who will not be. "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."20 The divine foreknowledge is symbolized in Scripture by the figure of the "Book of Life."21
  2. Definite number of the elect. This is a consequence of the immutability of the divine predestination: the number of the elect is definitely determined and known to God alone.
  3. Subjective uncertainty. Predestination is subjectively uncertain, mysterious, and unapproachable. We do not know whether or not we are predestined. God alone does. "So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall" (1Cor 10:12). St. Thomas states: "Even if by a special privilege their predestination were revealed to some, it is not fitting that it should be revealed to everyone; because, if so, those who were not predestined would despair; and security would beget negligence in the predestined."22

  1. Aquinas, ST I, q. 23 a. 2 co.
  2. Aquinas, ST I, q. 23 a. 2 co.
  3. DH 1567.
  4. DH 3003.
  5. DH 628.
  6. Aquinas, ST I, q. 23 a. 3 co.
  7. See 1Tim 2:4: "[God] desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."
  8. DH 1522.
  9. DH 2005.
  10. DH 2304.
  11. DH 1523.
  12. DH 1177; 1525.
  13. Aquinas, ST I, q. 23 a. 6 co.
  14. Augustine, Sermo 169, II, 13.
  15. Augustine, De spiritu et litt., 34, 60.
  16. DH 628.
  17. CCC, 1037.
  18. Augustine, Contra Jul. III 18, 35.
  19. Aquinas, ST I, q. 23 a. 5 ad 3.
  20. CCC, 600.
  21. See Ex 32:32; Lk 10:20; Heb 12:23; Rev 21:27.
  22. ST I, q. 23 a. 1 ad 4.