A reader writes:
I recently read St. Augustine’s On the Predestination of the Saints. In De Praed. Sanc. Augustine claims that even the beginning of faith is a gift from God. This, of course, I understand. Furthermore, Augustine asserts that God gives this gift as He pleases, without regard to any person’s merit. Again, understandable. However, God doesn’t give this gift to everybody, although it seems that He could. How does the Church reconcile the belief that God desires all people to be saved, to come to Him, with this Augustinian understanding that God could give the gift of faith to everyone and simply doesn’t? How does the Church understand Augustine’s claims so that we aren’t just left with a Calvinist interpretation of this text?
I have always accepted C.S. Lewis’ claim concerning salvation: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell choose it” [from The Great Divorce]. But if the ability of the first type to submit to God’s will is a gift from God that is simply not given to the second type, how can either group really have been said to have chosen anything at all? It would seem that God arbitrarily makes it possible for some people to accept him, but does not do so for everyone, even though He could.
I assume I am misunderstanding Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, so I would greatly appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction, or to put it differently, explain how the Church understands free will and the necessity of grace for salvation.
I know this is a little redundant, but I want to make sure I’ve expressed the issue properly, so here are the claims that I would like to understand how to reconcile:
1. God desires all people to be saved.
2. In order to be saved, one must conform one’s will to God’s.
3. The ability to conform one’s will to God’s is a gift from God, given without regard to any merit.
4. God can give this gift to anyone He wishes.
5. Not everyone is saved. Some people go to hell.
I ask you this question because I’ve greatly appreciated the posts you’ve put up lately about the early Fathers and Mary, which led me to believe that you’d probably have a good understanding of Augustine.
I’m not actually all that much of an expert in Augustine, nor in the Church’s theology on predestination. I think the main thing to realize is that it doesn’t really matter what Augustine taught about predestination. It only matters what the Church teaches. There’s a good summary here, first of the heresy of Predestinarianism and then of the Church’s teaching on Predestination .