The Mystery of Predestination Book Summary

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Title: The Mystery of Predestination: According to Scripture, the Church, and St. Thomas Aquinas
Author: John Salza

TLDR: This book delves into the complex doctrine of predestination, arguing that God predestines some to salvation while permitting others to be damned, all for the greater good of the universe. It champions the Thomist perspective, emphasizing both God’s sovereignty and human free will, while refuting Calvinist and Molinist interpretations.

Chapter 1: Predestination and Divine Predilection

This chapter delves into the foundational concept of predestination as an integral part of God’s providential plan for His creation. It establishes God’s absolute sovereignty over all things, emphasizing His control and authority in directing all creation towards its ultimate end, which is Heaven. The chapter acknowledges that achieving Heaven is beyond human capacity and necessitates God’s predestined guidance through His grace.

The chapter then explores the differing schools of thought within Christianity regarding the mechanism of predestination:

  • Thomism vs. Molinism: Within Catholicism, Thomists believe God bestows both sufficient and efficacious grace according to His divine decree. Efficacious grace infallibly moves individuals to freely choose the spiritual good, while sufficient grace provides the power to choose but allows for resistance. Molinists, on the other hand, argue for conditional election based on God’s foreknowledge of human cooperation with His grace.
  • Calvinism vs. Arminianism: Within Protestantism, Calvinists adhere to unconditional election, believing God grants irresistible grace to the elect while the reprobate are not offered salvific grace. Arminians, like Molinists, believe in conditional election based on God’s foreknowledge of human cooperation.

The chapter then presents the principle of divine predilection as the true motive for predestination. This principle states that God’s love is the cause of goodness in things, and He loves His elect more because He gives them more grace and help. The chapter uses Scriptural passages, particularly Romans 8:29 and 11:2, and 1 Peter 1:19-20, to demonstrate that God’s “foreknowledge” refers not to passive knowledge of future merits, but to His active prearrangement of events based on His predilection. It refutes the Molinist and Arminian understanding of “foreknowledge” as a passive act, emphasizing God’s active role in foreordaining events.

The chapter further dismantles the Molinist concept of “middle knowledge” and argues that it makes God dependent upon human will, diminishing His omnipotence and sovereignty. It uses the example of Jesus’ lament over the Jewish cities in Matthew 11 to illustrate that God doesn’t base His grace on foreseen merits. The chapter concludes by asserting that the “foreknowledge” mentioned in Romans 8:29 refers to God’s active prearrangement based on His special love for the elect, a love that causes them to freely choose salvation.

The book then shifts to Romans 9, specifically verses 11-13, to further reinforce the principle of divine predilection. By focusing on the example of Jacob and Esau, the chapter shows that God’s choice is not based on their future merits or demerits, but solely on His love and mercy. This unconditional election is explained through the metaphor of the potter and the clay, emphasizing God’s absolute authority in choosing who receives His mercy (“vessels of mercy”) and whom He permits to reject Him (“vessels of wrath”).

The chapter concludes by refuting Fr. Most’s novel interpretation of Romans 8-9, which rejects the traditional understanding of individual predestination based on divine predilection. The author defends the traditional interpretation, aligning it with the teachings of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Councils of Quiersy and Valence. It also critiques Fr. Most’s concept of “internal” and “external” economies, arguing that both economies flow from the single decree of predestination. Finally, the chapter analyzes Ephesians 1:3-6, 9, 11 to highlight God’s sovereignty in His plan of election and how He chose His elect “before the foundation of the world” in His love and according to His will.

Chapter 2: God’s Will to Save Sinners

This chapter addresses the apparent contradiction between God’s universal will to save all men and the reality that some people go to hell. It begins by citing both Old and New Testament scriptures that clearly express God’s desire for the salvation of all humanity. However, it acknowledges the equally clear Scriptural pronouncements that no one can resist God’s will.

To reconcile this seemingly paradoxical situation, the chapter introduces the Thomistic concept of antecedent and consequent wills. God’s antecedent will refers to His desire to save all men when considered individually, without regard to the totality of His plan. This will is reflected in passages such as 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9. However, God’s consequent will takes into account the greater good of the universe and dictates that He will to save only the elect while permitting the non-elect to be damned.

The chapter utilizes the analogy of a judge sentencing a murderer to death despite his antecedent will that all men live. It argues that God, like the judge, considers the greater good of the universe when making His consequent will. The chapter then delves into St. Thomas Aquinas’ teachings, which explain that God wills different grades of goodness in the universe to communicate His goodness to the greatest possible extent. This diversity includes the permission of evil and the failure of some things to achieve their intended goodness, all for the ultimate good of the whole.

Applying this principle to predestination, the chapter explains that God wills different grades of goodness in men, resulting in some achieving their goodness (the elect) and others failing (the reprobate). It clarifies that God doesn’t will damnation in the same way He wills salvation; He merely permits it. However, God ultimately utilizes even the free-will decisions of the reprobate to achieve His plan of election for the greater good of the universe.

The chapter then addresses Fr. Most’s objections to the traditional Thomistic understanding of reprobation. It defends the Thomistic view that reprobation is for the good of the universe, arguing that Fr. Most confuses the natural order with the supernatural order of grace. The chapter also clarifies that reprobation does not involve God actively deserting man before he sins, but rather involves God decreeing the permission to sin before it occurs and deserting man only after he has sinned. The chapter concludes by reaffirming the Catholic teaching that God loves all men and gives them sufficient grace to be saved, while also highlighting that man is responsible for his condemnation through his rejection of this grace.

Finally, the chapter revisits the Scriptural passages addressed earlier (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, John 3:16, Ezekiel 18:32 and 33:11) to demonstrate how they can be understood in light of God’s antecedent and consequent wills. It provides a detailed exegesis of each passage, addressing the Calvinist and Arminian interpretations and arguing that the Catholic understanding best reflects the intended meaning. It concludes that while God truly desires the salvation of all men, His consequent will, guided by His love for His elect and His desire to manifest His justice, permits the reprobation of some for the greater good of the universe.

Chapter 3: God’s Gift of Efficacious Grace

This chapter tackles the mystery of efficacious grace, building upon the previous chapter’s discussion of antecedent and consequent wills. It begins by clarifying the distinction between efficacious grace, which infallibly moves man to freely choose the spiritual good, and sufficient grace, which provides the power to choose but allows for resistance. Efficacious grace actualizes man’s potency to act, while sufficient grace leaves that potency unrealized due to man’s free resistance.

The chapter then emphasizes that the type of grace a person receives – whether sufficient or efficacious – is determined by God’s eternal decrees and not by any foreseen merits in man. It cites numerous Scriptural passages that underscore this truth, such as 1 Corinthians 4:7 and Romans 9:16. God, in His sovereign will, chooses to dispense His grace differently to individuals, ensuring the beauty and perfection of the Church through this diversity.

The chapter then connects efficacious grace to the efficacy of the divine will, highlighting that if God simply (consequently) wills something, it will infallibly come to pass. It draws on Scriptural passages that emphasize the irresistible nature of God’s will, such as Esther 13:9 and Psalm 113:11. It further explains that God’s efficacious will not only causes things to happen, but also causes them to happen in the specific way He desires, as evidenced in Romans 8:28.

The chapter then clarifies the relationship between efficacious grace, human free will, and merit. It argues that efficacious grace works within man to both will and accomplish God’s end while still preserving the freedom of the will. This grace perfects the will so that it freely chooses the good for which God created it. This is why St. Paul, despite his past sins, could proclaim that “Christ liveth in me” and therefore “I cast not away the grace of God” (Gal. 2:20-21).

The chapter then criticizes the Molinist understanding of grace, which makes its efficacy dependent upon human consent. It argues that this view denies God’s position as Prime Mover and First Agent, ultimately diminishing His omnipotence and sovereignty. It further explains that man can merit before God only because efficacious grace causes him to act freely, without coercion.

It then moves to challenge Fr. Most’s novel theory that the absence of a decision not to resist is what renders grace efficacious. The author refutes this theory by showing that St. Thomas Aquinas explicitly teaches that man’s non-resistance itself is a work of grace and not a pre-existing condition in man. Fr. Most’s theory, according to the author, mistakenly attributes the decisive step in salvation to man and not to God’s efficacious grace.

The chapter concludes by addressing the Calvinist understanding of efficacious grace. While both Thomists and Calvinists believe in the intrinsic efficacy of grace, Calvinists hold that it operates independently of human will, which they consider nonexistent due to man’s total depravity. The chapter refutes both the Calvinist doctrines of “total depravity” and “irresistible grace,” drawing on Scriptural passages and teachings of the Church to affirm the existence of human free will and the efficacy of prevenient grace, which prepares man for regeneration.

Chapter 4: God’s Gift of Sufficient Grace

This chapter focuses on the often-misunderstood concept of sufficient grace, particularly its relationship to efficacious grace and its implications for human responsibility and divine justice. It begins by reiterating that sufficient grace, like efficacious grace, empowers man to do God’s will, but unlike its efficacious counterpart, it allows for resistance. Man is truly able to cooperate with sufficient grace, but God, in His consequent will, permits him to freely resist it.

The chapter employs the analogy of a person choosing not to answer a ringing phone despite having the ability to do so. It clarifies that just as the person cannot blame the caller for their inaction, so too man cannot blame God for his failure to respond to sufficient grace. The chapter then explains how sufficient grace, though truly sufficient for salvation, has an operating effect only (empowering the will to act) while efficacious grace possesses both operating and cooperating effects (applying the will to act).

The chapter further clarifies that God, in His mercy, grants sufficient grace to all men, enabling them to seek and find Him. However, it acknowledges the profound mystery that while God wills to permit man to resist sufficient grace, this grace remains absolutely sufficient to obey God’s laws. The chapter further argues that God, in His justice, provides all men with more grace than strict justice demands, making His gift of sufficient grace more than enough to save man’s soul.

This leads to a critical examination of Fr. Most’s argument that sufficient grace is ultimately insufficient based on a metaphysical argument. Fr. Most contends that sufficient grace, while giving man the potency to do good, requires efficacious grace to move him from potency to act, thus making it inherently insufficient. The chapter refutes this claim by arguing that Fr. Most deviates from the metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas, who clearly teaches that non-resistance to grace is itself a work of grace and not a pre-existing condition in man.

The chapter then delves into Scriptural passages that confirm God’s gift of grace to all men, such as Titus 2:11 and Ephesians 4:7. It also examines Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), illustrating the truth that God gives sufficient help to all to receive their eternal reward while, in His mercy, granting more grace to some.

The chapter then shifts to address the Calvinist denial of sufficient grace. Calvinists argue that since man is totally depraved, God only regenerates him through irresistible grace, and those who do not accept Christ have received no grace at all. The chapter counters this position by pointing out that Scripture clearly teaches God’s pleadings for repentance are directed to those who refuse them, not just to the elect. It further argues that if God commands man to repent without providing the power to do so, He makes Himself a liar, a notion repugnant to His divine nature.

The chapter concludes by arguing that the Calvinist denial of sufficient grace is rooted in their misunderstanding of Christ’s atonement as a legal transaction, whereby Christ pays the full penalty for the sins of the elect. It argues that the atonement is not a legal substitution, but a personal propitiation of the Father’s wrath against sin through Christ’s voluntary sacrifice. This propitiation, while efficacious for the elect, also provides sufficient grace for the reprobate. It critiques the Calvinist concepts of “limited atonement” and “common grace,” highlighting the internal inconsistencies within Calvinist theology.

The chapter ends by reiterating the Catholic teaching that Christ died for all men, obtaining for them sufficient grace to be saved. It cites numerous Scriptural passages and Church councils that confirm this teaching, including 1 Timothy 4:10 and the Councils of Arles and Quiersy. The author argues that while Christ’s sacrifice is efficacious only for the elect, its value extends to all men, providing sufficient grace to all, even those who ultimately reject Him.

Chapter 5: God’s Gift of Perseverance

This final chapter focuses on the concept of final perseverance, which refers to dying in a state of grace. The chapter begins by highlighting the distinction between habitual grace, which empowers a virtuous life, and the grace of final perseverance, which ensures salvation at death. While habitual grace sustains one in good works, it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of falling from grace through resistance to sufficient grace.

The chapter then emphasizes the necessity of God’s special grace for persevering to the end, citing Scriptural passages such as Philippians 1:6 and 1 Peter 5:10. It draws on St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching that habitual grace doesn’t guarantee perseverance, as the free will remains capable of resisting sufficient grace and rejecting God. This is why the Council of Trent declared that man cannot persevere without God’s special assistance.

The chapter then distinguishes between being predestined to grace, which signifies receiving the grace of baptism and becoming a child of God, and being predestined to glory, which involves dying in a state of grace and attaining Heaven. It uses Scriptural passages from Romans and Ephesians to illustrate this distinction, showing that many who are predestined to grace may not persevere to glory.

The chapter then addresses the question of what distinguishes those who receive the grace of perseverance from those who don’t. It reiterates the principle of divine predilection, explaining that God loves His elect more because He gives them more assistance, even though He loves and gives grace to all. It emphasizes that the elect have nothing to boast about, as their salvation is entirely a work of God’s grace.

The chapter then delves into the complex interplay between sin, grace, and perseverance. It explains that sin, particularly pride, weakens man’s nature and makes it more difficult to resist temptation and cooperate with grace. It draws on St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching that sin obscures reason, hardens the will, and makes good actions more difficult. It further argues that man cannot merit restoration after a fall, and even those who have lived a virtuous life require God’s grace to repent and be reconciled to Him.

The chapter then acknowledges the mystery of reprobation, emphasizing that God could have efficaciously willed the salvation of all, but instead permits some to fall away for the greater good of the universe. God’s justice in punishing the reprobate, according to the chapter, is a consequence of their habitual resistance to sufficient grace and their turning away from His love. It explains that God withholds the grace of perseverance from the reprobate because of their persistent sinfulness and rejection of His mercy.

Finally, the chapter tackles the Protestant doctrine of “eternal security,” which claims that a person knows with certainty whether they are saved and destined for Heaven. The author refutes this doctrine, calling it a heresy introduced by John Calvin and condemned by the Council of Trent. The chapter provides numerous Scriptural passages that demonstrate man’s ability to fall from grace, such as the fall of Adam and Eve, the warnings of Jesus to His disciples, and St. Paul’s exhortations to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, and others.

The chapter concludes by highlighting the signs of predestination that God gives to His elect. It argues that God conforms the elect to the image of Christ through efficacious grace, creating in them a habitual inclination towards good works and a sensitivity to the dangers of sin. The chapter encourages a life of vigilance and dependence upon God, urging readers to trust in His providence while striving to “make sure your calling and election” (2 Pet. 1:10) through a life of prayer and good works.

In summary, “The Mystery of Predestination” presents a compelling and comprehensive examination of a complex theological doctrine. It defends the traditional Thomistic understanding of predestination, emphasizing God’s sovereignty, human free will, and the gratuity of grace. The book skillfully navigates the Scriptural passages and teachings of the Church to reconcile seemingly contradictory truths, leaving the reader with a deeper appreciation for the mystery of God’s love and His plan for the salvation of mankind.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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