Thursday, October 15, 2015

Calvinism is Not as Bad as You Think

Note:  See here for a much more recent, updated version of my views on the relationship between Calvinism and Catholicism.

In an article about G. K. Chesterton (one of my favorite authors, by the way), Catholic writer Mark Shea made some comments about Calvinism.  I want to address them a bit because I see similar comments made about Calvinism all the time from Catholic writers.  Here is what he said:

My own introduction to him [Chesterton] came at a deeply providential hour in my life. As a very young Christian, I had just had my first taste of the destructive power of Calvinism and its cold diagrammatic god that might or might not love you depending on whether he felt like capriciously damning you. I had no tools for dealing with the icy logic of Calvinism when I happened across Chesterton’s sane and humane Orthodoxy, where he put into words what I had felt but could not articulate about philosophies and theologies you couldn’t argue with, yet knew to be inhuman and evil nonetheless:

I find these kinds of references to Calvinism very troubling, because they represent a serious misrepresentation of what Calvinism is.  (And I know something about that, having been a Calvinist myself for a little over 18 years.)  What Shea is referring to here is the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.  Here is that doctrine described by the Calvinist Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 3:

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. 
II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions. 
III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death. 
IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished. 
V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto: and all to the praise of His glorious grace. 
VI. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. 
VII. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.

Here is the Westminster Confession on free will from Chapter 9:

God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil. 
II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it. 
III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto. 
IV. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil. 
V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone in the state of glory only.

And here is the Confession on our conversion to God by grace, from Chapter 10:

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. 
II. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.

These texts describe the Calvinist view on these matters.  Now here's something interesting:  Nothing in anything quoted above is contrary to Catholic doctrine, except one thing--Catholic doctrine does not maintain that all who are converted by grace are given the gift of final perseverance, so in Catholic doctrine it does not necessarily follow that everyone who is (using the Confession's terminology) effectually called is kept by God's grace to the end as one of the elect.  (And even on this point, if we understand "effectual calling" in its fullest version to include not only a temporary conversion but also the gift of grace to persevere to the end, which Calvinists do indeed include in their idea of effectual calling in terms of their idea of its fullest implications in God's design, this would be in accord with Catholic doctrine.)

In fact, these doctrines articulated by the Westminster Confession have a well-established historic pedigree in the Catholic Church.  They were taught by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, and have been taught by many others as well.  Those in the Catholic Church who follow Augustine and Aquinas in these points hold that these teachings follow necessarily from the official doctrines of the Catholic faith.  The Catholic Church has never condemned these views.  On the contrary, it has explicitly refused to condemn them.  It is true that there are other schools of thought in the Catholic Church (such as Molinism) which also have not been condemned and which teach on some points contrary to the above doctrines, but these alternative schools are not allowed to claim that the Augustinian position has been condemned or rejected as heretical by the Church.

Fr. John Hardon describes some aspects of the Augustinian view as held by the Banezian school of Thomism (which is a form of the Augustinian view that is officially allowed in the Catholic Church):

Transferring these norms to theology, Banezianism teaches that a twofold help of grace is needed for a salutary act. One help is less powerful and perfect; it predetermines the soul to certain indeliberate supernatural acts, and functions by way of stimulus or excitation. The other help follows on the previous, is more perfect and powerful, and assists the will to perform deliberate acts of free choice. The first kind of grace is called sufficient or stimulating (excitans), the second type efficacious, or assisting (adjuvans). 
These two graces, sufficient and efficacious, are essentially different, since the former gives only ability (posse) whereas the latter produces activity (agere). “Sufficient grace in a Thomistic sense is one that gives a man the power of doing something good; in order to have him actually do well or rightly use this ability, he needs another more powerful grace.” [9] This “more powerful” grace is called efficacious grace. It confers not only the power to act but the act itself. By definition, it includes the free consent of the will, whereas merely sufficient grace lacks that consent. 
More closely examined, efficacious grace is that additional divine aid which physically predetermines the human will, without taking away our free choice, both as to the exercise of our freedom and its specification or choice of a given object. “It never happens that the power which sufficient grace confers would either act or obtain its main effect, unless it were supplemented by an efficacious grace.” [10] This efficacious grace is a determination because it is absolutely impossible for the will, under its influence, not to perform the act which God has determined; it is in every sense a pre-determination since it comes before our consent, for the sake of that consent and in order to effect a consent. It is physical because it produces its effect by virtue of its own reality, intrinsically woven into its nature, and independent of any circumstance or consent of the free agent. 
If a man resists sufficient grace, he sins. [11] For a sin to take place, two decrees are required on the part of God: an eternal decree permitting the sin in this case and moreover the man to remain with sufficient grace only; another decree predetermining the sinner to the material element in the sin. Both factors are verified antecedent to God’s foresight of what choice the created agent will make. The sequence is something like this. God confers a sufficient grace on some person; He predetermines the individual to the material part of this sin, by which he resists the grace offered; thereby the man sins formally, consequently rendering the grace merely sufficient. In penalty for this sin he is deprived of the efficacious grace that would have predetermined him to place a salutary act. 
The relation of efficacious grace to predestination in the Banezian system follows naturally on the foregoing. God wants all men to be saved, unless a universal salvation would impede the achievement of higher divine ends or purposes. Antecedent to His prevision of their good or bad use of freedom, by a free and absolute decree on God’s part, He chooses certain persons for a definite measure of eternal glory. The rest of the human race He omits from this decree, which is technically called a negative antecedent reprobation. It is reprobation because it is not predestination to glory. It is negative and not positive because (other than Calvin) the object of the divine resolve is not eternal punishment but exclusion from the beatific vision. It is antecedent because God’s will on their fate is determined (in human language) before He foresees their merits or demerits.
God absolutely predetermines to give the help of efficacious graces, by which the predefined meritorious acts of the elect will infallibly take place. This predetermination is called extrinsic. But when God puts it into effect in time by means of physical premotion, as explained above, it becomes intrinsic predetermination, i.e., built into the free human will. As regards the negative reprobates, God orders their lives in such a way so that they receive only such graces as are finally merely sufficient. They do not die in the state of grace. . . , 
Before going on to evaluate the Banezian theory, it may be useful to summarize. The Thomistic explanation of how grace and free will are reconciled begins with the premise that God has eternally predetermined that some people should be saved, and to realize this aim confers effective (efficacious) graces on these elect. He therefore physically affects their free wills, and thus secures that they decide freely to cooperate with His grace. There is an inner power in efficacious grace which infallibly insures that the predestined freely consent to perform such salutary actions as will merit heaven. Consequently efficacious grace is essentially different from merely sufficient grace, which confers the power or ability to place salutary acts, but no more. Before this bare potency can be reduced to action, another and different divine help must be received, namely efficacious grace. Since God has eternally willed the free consent of His chosen ones to the efficacious graces He confers, He thus ineluctably brings about the salvation of those who are included in His loving decree. All the rest who do not come within the ambit of this election are permitted, through the abuse of their freedom, not to attain heaven. The divine motive for this negative reprobation is that God willed to manifest His goodness not only by means of His mercy, but also by means of His justice.

Here are some comments from a well-known Catholic theologian--Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange--who himself held this Thomist, Augustinian view:

The Semipelagians, as we see from the letters of SS. Prosper and Hilary to St. Augustine, admitted: (1) that man does not need grace for that beginning of faith and good will spoken of as the "beginning of salvation," and that he can persevere until death without any special help; (2) that God wills equally the salvation of all, although special graces are granted to some privileged souls; (3) consequently predestination is identical with the foreknowledge of the beginning of salvation and of merits by which man perseveres in doing good without any special help; negative reprobation is identical with the foreknowledge of demerits. Thus predestination and negative reprobation follow human election, whether this be good or bad. 
Such an interpretation eliminates the element of mystery in predestination spoken of by St. Paul. God is not the author but merely the spectator of that which distinguishes the elect from the rest of mankind. The elect are not loved and helped more by God. . . . 
Against these principles, St. Augustine, especially in his writings toward the end of his life(1), shows from the testimony of Holy Scripture that: (1) man cannot, without a special and gratuitous grace, have the "beginning of salvation," and that he cannot persevere until the end without a special and gratuitous grace; (2) that the elect, as their name indicates, are loved more and helped more, and that the divine election is therefore previous to foreseen merits, which are the result of grace; (3) that God does not will equally the salvation of all. . . . 
It [that is, Canon 9 of the Council of Orange] concerns efficacious grace by which we not only can but actually do what is right. The fact that God operates in us, enabling us to act, is verified in every free act disposing us to salvation. We cannot at all see how this free determination disposing us to salvation, as a free determination, should escape the divine causality. The obvious sense of the text is, that God works in us and with us, as St. Paul says: "It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish."(19) There is a grace that is efficacious in this sense that it is effective of the act, although it does not exclude our co-operation, but in a mysterious way starts it. Canon twelve formulates the principle of predilection: "God so loves us, as we shall be by the gift of His grace, not as we are by our own merit." Taken from Prosper's fifthy-sixth sentence, it follows immediately from this that God so much the more loves us, as we shall be better by the gift of His grace. In other words, no one would be better than another, if he were not loved more by God. In the quotation of this canon,(20) there is reference in the margin to the "Indiculus" on the Grace of God,(21) where it is said: "There is no other way by which anyone is pleasing to God except by what He Himself has bestowed." Therefore, one is not more pleasing to God than another, without having received more from Him. If, on the contrary, grace became efficacious in actu secundo by our consent, then it would follow that of two men who received equal help, one would become better, and this without having been loved more, helped more, or having received more from God. This is not what the Council of Orange declares, or the "Indiculus" on grace, which latter is a collection of the declarations of the Roman Church, compiled in all probability by the future pope St. Leo I. This collection of declarations by the Church met with universal reception about the year 500.(22) If it be so, how is it possible for the salutary act, in so far as it is a free determination, not to depend upon the efficacy of grace, but to be the cause of this efficacy?

As you can see, the very same ideas of "unconditional election" and "efficacious grace given to some and not others" which Mark Shea calls "destructive," "cold," "diagrammatic," "capricious," "icy logic," "inhuman," and "evil" turn out to be doctrines taught by some of the most prominent Doctors of the Catholic Church and which have been explicitly protected from censure as officially heretical by the Catholic Church.  According to many Catholic saints and Doctors, these doctrines are biblical and follow logically from the central doctrines of the Catholic faith.

Because Calvinism as a movement is a heretical movement and exists in opposition to the Catholic Church, many Catholics have sought to distance the Augustinian view from the Calvinist view.  In doing so, many Catholics have ended up misrepresenting Calvinism.  Here is an example from Fr. Hardon (who was quoted above):

A truly sufficient grace is sufficient for placing a salutary act. It carries with it the power of producing such an act. Jansenius denied "merely sufficient grace." He could not see how a grace could be truly sufficient and yet not be efficacious. He conceded that a grace could be absolutely sufficient for man, if it were viewed apart from his present circumstances and difficulties; but if it were viewed relative to these circumstances and remained "sterile," then it was not sufficient in his present condition. Against him we hold that there exists a grace that is truly and relatively sufficient, and yet inefficacious. 
By a truly efficacious grace is meant one that will be (is) infallibly followed by the act to which it tends, e.g. contrition. If you receive such a grace, even before your will consents to it, that grace is infallibly “sure of success;” it will infallibly procure your consent, produce that act – of contrition. But although it infallibly procures your consent, it does not necessitate you to consent: it leaves you free to dissent. Your will will infallibly say "yes" to it, but it is free to say "no.” Luther, Calvin, and Jansenius denied the existence of such a non-necessitating efficacious grace: an efficacious grace, they maintained, necessitates you to consent: you cannot resist it or dissent from it. 
The disagreement between the Dominicans and the Jesuits [that is, between the Thomists and their theological rivals the Molinists] is, of course, not over Catholic dogma: both sides firmly maintain the existence of a truly sufficient inefficacious grace and of a non-necessitating efficacious grace. They differ over the best way to explain these two graces; how are we to reconcile the infallible efficacy of efficacious grace with 1. human liberty and 2. truly sufficient but inefficacious grace? The Jesuits point out to the Dominicans that their grace is “so efficacious” it seems logically incompatible with human freedom and with a truly sufficient but inefficacious grace; the Dominicans in turn point out to the Jesuits that their human freedom is “so extreme” it seems to make man determine God’s operation.

Hardon points out that the theological enemies of the Thomist/Augustinian view (primarily the Molinist Jesuits) try to paint the Augustinian position into the corner of denying true free will and thus contradicting a central Catholic doctrine.  In their efforts to extricate themselves from this accusation, the Augustinian Catholics have sometimes ended up caricaturing the Calvinist position, trying hard to show that they are not fatalists or necessitarians like those Calvinists are thought to be.  Now, let me make a concession at this point:  There are those among the Calvinists who are indeed fatalists and necessitarians--that is, who deny the true voluntary nature of human choices.  But formal, official Calvinism at its best has never done so, but quite the contrary, as we saw earlier in our quotations from the Westminster Confession.  The Jansenists (another heretical sect also labeled fatalistic and necessitarian) were officially condemned by the Catholic Church for, among other things, denying that all men have been given "sufficient grace" to follow Christ.  This is indeed a serious problem, and some Calvinists apparently have shared this problem as well.  God has given all men a command to trust in his grace and turn to him in reliance on that grace.  If a person does not have sufficient grace available to him to do this, he would have no grace to rely on, and so would have a valid excuse in his neglect of the command--a man cannot be justly commanded to do what he cannot do even if he wills to do it.  So this position would indeed destroy moral responsibility and legitimate freedom.  I would argue that Jansenism could have accommodated itself to Catholic orthodoxy on this point, so far as I can see.  From what I know of the Jansenist position, I think that a willingness to recognize "sufficient grace" in the Catholic sense would have been consistent with their being able to preserve their (legitimate) core concern to maintain the full graciousness of salvation.  I would even argue that their core concern required them to accept the basic idea of "sufficient grace."  I think their continued resistance to the Church in this matter was owing to an unwarranted stubbornness (whether well or ill motivated on the part of individual Jansenists).  But, as it turned out, they did continue to resist.  The Calvinist view at its best, likewise, I would argue, is perfectly consistent with "sufficient grace," and while this terminology may not be used often by Calvinists, the idea is present in the best representations of Calvinist theology.  Fr. Hardon, in the quote just above, says that Luther and Calvin "denied the existence of such a non-necessitating efficacious grace: an efficacious grace, they maintained, necessitates you to consent: you cannot resist it or dissent from it."  This makes it sound as though Luther and Calvin believed that efficacious grace works by means of, in effect, dragging a person against his will to salvation, or saving him without or against his will.  But this is a seriously inaccurate caricature of their positions, so far as I understand them.  I've already quoted the Westminster Confession above, which describes the working of efficacious grace in this way:

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

Note that according to the Confession, efficacious grace works not by dragging someone against his will but by opening his mind and heart so that he comes freely and rationally to turn to Christ.  Luther made the same point in his writings.  Here is a quotation from his famous Bondage of the Will (trans. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston [Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1957], 102-103):

I said “of necessity”; I did not say “of compulsion”; I meant, by a necessity, not of compulsion, but of what they call immutability. That is to say: a man without the Spirit of God does not do evil against his will, under pressure, as though he were taken by the scruff of the neck and dragged into it, like a thief or footpad being dragged off against his will to punishment; but he does it spontaneously and voluntarily. And this willingness or volition is something which he cannot in his own strength eliminate, restrain or alter. He goes on willing and desiring to do evil; and if external pressure forces him to act otherwise, nevertheless his will within remains averse to so doing and chafes under such constraint and opposition. But it would not thus chafe were it being changed, and were it yielding to constraint willingly. This is what we mean by necessity of immutability: that the will cannot change itself, nor give itself another bent, but, rather, is the more provoked to crave the more it is opposed, as its chafing proves; for this would not occur, were it free or had ‘free-will’. Ask experience how impervious to dissuasion are those whose hearts are set on anything! If they abandon their quest of it, they only do so under pressure, of because of some counter-attraction, never freely – whereas, when their hearts are not thus engaged, they spare their labour, and let events take their course. 
On the other hand: when God works in us, the will is changed under the sweet influence of the Spirit of God. Once more it desires and acts, not of compulsion, but of its own desire and spontaneous inclination. Its bent still cannot be altered by any opposition; it cannot be mastered or prevailed upon even by the gates of hell; but it goes on willing, desiring and loving good, just as once it willed, desired and loved evil. Experience proves this too. How firm and invincible are holy men, who, when forcibly constrained to sin, are the more provoked thereby to desire good – even as flames are fanned, rather than quenched, by the wind. Here, too, there is no freedom, no ‘free-will’, to turn elsewhere, or to desire anything else, as long as the Spirit and grace of God remain in a man.

Now, it can reasonably be argued that Luther got himself into trouble for the same reason that the Jansenists did--not because (at least in this case) he was affirming something in its essence contrary to Catholic doctrine, but because he refused to submit in obedience to the authority of the Church and so chose to define his position in opposition to the doctrine of the Church rather than in accord with it.  Like the Jansenists, Luther could have been more careful and willing to be corrected in order to articulate his core concerns in a manner not offensive to the accepted articulation of Catholic doctrine.  For example, Luther liked to use the term "free will" to refer to the idea of a human will that is independent of God and which cannot be moved by anything outside of itself to one thing or another (philosophers label this idea of the will "libertarian").  But in using the term in this way, he created the impression that he was denying that humans are capable of truly voluntary acts and thus threatening human responsibility.  (In actuality, Luther simply held a different philosophical view of the will, called by philosophers today "compatibilism"--a view which is inherent in the Augustinian way of thinking about the will.)  Luther could have consented to allow the Church to shape his articulation of doctrine on this point without having to give up what was valid in his core concerns.

According to Calvinism, can a person refuse to be converted when God's grace is working to convert him?  It depends on what you mean.  Fr. Hardon described the Catholic answer in this way:

If you receive such a grace, even before your will consents to it, that grace is infallibly “sure of success;” it will infallibly procure your consent, produce that act – of contrition. But although it infallibly procures your consent, it does not necessitate you to consent: it leaves you free to dissent. Your will will infallibly say "yes" to it, but it is free to say "no.” 

This is exactly the Calvinist view as well.  If by "can" you mean, "If the person wanted to, could he refuse to come to Christ?", the answer is yes.  If by "can" you mean, "It might actually happen that the will, being converted by efficacious grace, actually will refuse to come to Christ," the answer is no.  Calvinist philosopher Jonathan Edwards described two different definitions of inability, which he called "moral" and "natural" inability (from Part I, Section IV of his well-known book, The Freedom of the Will).  When the will is determined to something (which it always is, to some degree or another), there is a moral inability to choose the opposite, but not a natural inability to do so:

What has been said of natural and moral Necessity, may serve to explain what is intended by natural and moral Inability. We are said to be naturally unable to do a thing, when we cannot do it if we will, because what is most commonly called nature does not allow of it, or because of some impeding defect or obstacle that is extrinsic to the Will; either in the Faculty of understanding, constitution of body, or external objects. Moral Inability consists not in any of these things; but either in the want of inclination; or the strength of a contrary inclination; or the want of sufficient motives in view, to induce and excite the act of the Will, or the strength of apparent motives to the contrary. Or both these may be resolved into one; and it may be said in one word, that moral Inability consists in the opposition or want of inclination. For when a person is unable to will or choose such a thing, through a defect of motives, or prevalence of contrary motives, it is the same thing as his being unable through the want of an inclination, or the prevalence of a contrary inclination, in such circumstances, and under the influence of such views. 
To give some instances of this moral Inability.— A woman of great honour and chastity may have a moral Inability to prostitute herself to her slave. A child of great love and duty to his parents, may be thus unable to kill his father. A very lascivious man, in case of certain opportunities and temptations, and in the absence of such and such restraints, may be unable to forbear gratifying his lust. A drunkard, under such and such circumstances, may be unable to forbear taking strong drink. A very malicious man may be unable to exert benevolent acts to an enemy, or to desire his prosperity; yea, some may be so under the power of a vile disposition, that they may be unable to love those who are most worthy of their esteem and affection. A strong habit of virtue, and a great degree of holiness, may cause a moral Inability to love wickedness in general, and may render a man unable to take complacence in wicked persons or things; or to choose a wicked in preference to a virtuous life. And on the other hand, a great degree of habitual wickedness may lay a man under an Inability to love and choose holiness; and render him utterly unable to love an infinitely holy Being, or to choose and cleave to him as his chief good. . . . 
But it must be observed concerning moral Inability, in each kind of it, that the word Inability is used in a sense very diverse from its original import. The word signifies only a natural Inability, in the proper use of it; and is applied to such cases only wherein a present will or inclination to the thing, with respect to which a person is said to be unable, is supposable. It cannot be truly said, according to the ordinary use of language, that a malicious man, let him be never so malicious, cannot hold his hand from striking, or that he is not able to show his neighbor kindness; or that a drunkard, let his appetite be never so strong, cannot keep the cup from his mouth. In the strictest propriety of speech, a man has a thing in his power, if he has it in his choice, or at his election: and a man cannot be truly said to be unable to do a thing, when he can do it if he will. It is improperly said, that a person cannot perform those external actions, which are dependent on the act of the Will, and which would be easily performed, if the act of the Will were present. And if it be improperly said, that he cannot perform those external voluntary actions, which depend on the Will, it is in some respect more improperly said, that he is unable to exert the acts of the Will themselves; because it is more evidently false, with respect to these, that he cannot if he will: for to say so, is a downright contradiction; it is to say, he cannot will, if he does will. And in this case, not only is it true, that it is easy for a man to do the thing if he will, but the very willing is the doing; when once he has willed, the thing is performed; and nothing else remains to be done. Therefore, in these things, to ascribe a non-performance to the want of power or ability, is not just; because the thing wanting, is not a being able, but a being willing. There are faculties of mind, and a capacity of nature, and every thing else, sufficient, but a disposition: nothing is wanting but a will.

The Augustinian doctrine of election and efficacious grace, affirmed both by many Catholics and by Calvinists at their best, is not the icy cold, horrible, inhuman doctrine that many try to make it out to be.  It preserves two key doctrines of the Catholic faith (well, it preserves many other key doctrines as well, but I want to focus on these two right now):  1. The absolute sovereignty of God.  2. Salvation by grace alone.  God is absolutely sovereign.  Nothing can happen which can thwart his intentions for the creation.  If some people end up rejecting God of their own free will and going to hell, is this something that God is powerless to prevent?  Sure, it is a terrible evil, but does God watch it happen, saying to himself, "Oh, woe is me!  If only I could prevent these kinds of things from happening!  I wish the universe was a place where more of my ideals could be realized!  But, you have to take what you can get . . ."?  Of course not.  Nothing can happen which God either has not caused to happen or permitted to happen according to his own perfectly wise and good and un-thwartable eternal plan.  But if God could prevent evil, particularly the evil of some people ending up in hell, why doesn't he?  Well, since God hates evil and cannot will it for its own sake, it must be because he is able to bring some greater good out of it.  And here we must remember what our condition is as creatures of God and fallen creatures at that.  As creatures, we cannot merit from our own resources the eternal  happiness of sharing in the life of God in the Beatific Vision.  As fallen creatures, we are sinful and deserving of eternal damnation.  God does nothing unjust, unrighteous, unloving, or inappropriate to human beings when he permits them to end up in eternal damnation because of their sins.  So long as it is consistent with the greater good, God could appropriately have left all of us in a state of sin and allowed us to fall into eternal perdition.  But God has chosen to be merciful as well as just.  He has chosen to send his Son to redeem the human race.  He has procured sufficient grace for all of us to turn to Christ if we will, and he has chosen to give efficacious grace to his elect--chosen not on the basis of any merit of their own, but solely on the basis of God's good and merciful pleasure--in order to effectively bring them to Christ and keep them in Christ for all eternity.  Thus everything the elect have that brings them to salvation, including the good will by which they choose Christ, comes entirely from God's grace as a free gift.  God is able to offer salvation to mankind and to save his elect efficaciously because Christ has made a sufficient atonement for the sins of mankind.  Thus, as the apostle says (Romans 3:26), God can be both just and the justifier of the one who is united to Christ.  Those who end up in hell will have no one to blame but themselves.  God loved them as his creatures and offered them eternal salvation, and they freely rejected it.  God did not owe them efficacious grace to cause them to turn to Christ, and he did nothing inappropriate in not granting such grace to them.  He did not refrain from granting efficacious grace to them out of any hatred of them, or indifference towards them, or any other ill motive, but out of a desire to procure the greatest good conceived of in his plan for creation, a plan to maximize the expression of his glorious perfections in history and in eternity and the eternal happiness of his people in the enjoyment of himself.  God hates sin and suffering, but he is not defeated by them; he sovereignly and voluntarily allows them to occur in order to bring out of them a greater good.  Those who end up in hell have no cause to charge God with injustice, and those who end up in heaven have infinite cause to rejoice and be grateful for God's unmerited favor towards them, and they will rejoice with God for all eternity in the accomplishment of his infinitely wise purposes.

So, in conclusion, I think that many of us Catholics need to be much more careful in how we understand and articulate the Calvinist position.  Although we must condemn what is condemnable in Calvinism and in every other false view, we must also not fail to acknowledge the truth and goodness that are truly present in any view.  Instead, we should seek more opportunities for connection and dialogue with those with whom we disagree in the hope that God will bring us greater unity through the exercise of charity.

For a great article by Jimmy Akin, a Catholic apologist, discussing the relationship between some of the key Calvinist doctrines regarding salvation and their Catholic counterparts, see here.  For an earlier article written by me in which I discuss some of these things further (including providing some additional references and some documentation regarding the Catholic Church's attitude towards Augustinian and Molinist positions), see here.  See here for a more comprehensive (but still pretty brief) article by a Calvinist describing the Calvinist point of view on these matters.

Published on the feast of St. Teresa of Avila.

ADDENDUM 2/15/16:  I have recently been coming to the conclusion that I may have been too hard on the Molinist position.  It may turn out that it is not truly opposed to the fundamental Augustinian position (though it disagrees with some other peculiar articulations of the Dominican school).  See here for more.

ADDENDUM 3/15/16:  See here for a nice, succinct statement of the classic Augustinian Catholic view of predestination, efficacious grace, etc.

ADDENDUM 6/6/2016:  See here for a more up-to-date account of my views of predestination and efficacious grace in the Catholic Church.

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