Between the infusion of divine grace and the faculty of the human will there is the following element: the decision stemming from a human choice, which is capable of spontaneously desiring good or bad things. Grace is the free gift of divine mercy, through which we evidence the beginning of a good will and its fruits. Divine grace anticipates man, so that he may do what is good; human free will does not anticipate God's grace, but grace itself anticipates an unwilling person, so that he may want what is good. Because of the burden of the 'flesh,' man finds it easy to sin, though he is slow to repent. Man has within himself the seeds of corruption but not of spiritual growth, unless the Creator, in order to raise him up, stretched his merciful hand to man, who is prostrated as a result of the Fall. Thus, through God's grace human free will is restored, which the first man had lost; in fact, Adam had free will to do what is good, even though he did it with God's help. We obtain our will to do what is good and embrace God perfecting us, thanks to divine grace. We receive the power to begin and to perfect what is good from God, who gave us the gift of grace; as a result of that, our free will is restored in us. Whatever good we do, it is God's, thanks to his prevenient and subsequent grace; but it is also ours, thanks to the [God-made] obedient power of our wills. But if it isn't God's, why do we give him thanks? And if it isn't ours, why do we look forward to the reward of good works? Insofar as we are anticipated by God's grace, it is God's; insofar as we follow prevenient grace to do what is good, it is ours. Nobody anticipates God's grace with his merits, thus making him almost indebted to us. The just Creator chose in advance some people by predestining them, but justly abandoned the others to their evil ways. Thus, the truest gift of grace does not proceed from human nature, nor is the outcome of our free will, but is bestowed only in virtue of the goodness of God's mercy. In fact, some people are saved by a gift of God's mercy which anticipates them, and thus are made "vessels of mercy;" but the reprobates are damned, having been predestined and made "vessels of wrath." The example of Jacob and Esau comes to mind, who, before been [sic] born, and again, after being born as twins, shared the bond of original sin. The prevenient goodness of divine mercy drew one of them to itself through sheer grace, but condemned the other through the severity of divine justice. The latter was abandoned in the mass of perdition, being 'hated' by God; this is what the Lord says through the prophet: "I loved Jacob but hated Esau" (Mal 1:3). From this we learn that grace is not conferred on account of any pre-existing merits, but only because of divine calling; and that no one is either saved or damned, chosen or reprobated other than by decision of God's predestination, who is just towards the reprobates and merciful towards the elect ("All the paths of the Lord are faithful love" Ps 25:10).
Monday, January 18, 2016
St. Isidore of Seville on Predestination, Grace, and Free Will
Isidore of Seville was Archbishop of Seville in Spain in the seventh century and is an important saint and Doctor of the Church. I recently came across a quotation from him on the topic of predestination, grace, and free will, which I found very helpful and succinct. He sums up well and concisely the classic Augustinian doctrine on these matters. The quotation is from his Libri Duo Differentiarum, chapter XXII. I came across the quotation in a book by Guido Stucco entitled God's Eternal Gift: A History of the Catholic Doctrine of Predestination from Augustine to the Renaissance (Xlibris, 2009), pp. 317-319. (The book is an immensely helpful resource, by the way, if you are interested in these subjects.) Here is St. Isidore: