Dialogue: Molinism & How God Predestines (Pt. IV)

Dialogue: Molinism & How God Predestines (Pt. IV) September 20, 2018

See Part I and Part II and Part III. “JS” is a Catholic and a Thomist. Note the different color scheme below. My words will be in blue [not the usual black], “JS’s” in black [not the usual blue]; JS’s previous responses green; Scripture red; Ludwig Ott purple; William G. Most, J.P. Holding, Adam Clarke, and Church Fathers in brown.


What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? God forbid! For He saith to Moses: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. And I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy. So then it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. (Romans 9:14-17) 

It doesn’t say that it is unconditional: that is what you read into the passage. 

The Scriptures do not use the word “Trinity” either, yet the reality that this word signifies is pulled forth from the words of Jesus. Simply because the word “unconditional” is not explicitly stated, does not mean the concept is not present. By unconditional is meant that which is neither conditioned nor contingent upon anything. For example, love that is unconditional (such as with God) is without cost or strings attached. So when St. Paul states rather clearly, So then it is not of him that wills or him that runs, but of God that shows mercy it seems clear to me that God’s eternal decree to save some and not others does not depend (not of him) on any actions of ours- past, present or future. Further, as noted already at length, even if I did concede that it depends on future merits, these merits are only merits on account of prior grace, which in turn brings us back to the absolute dispensation of God’s grace for the salvation of the elect.

You simply eisegete the passage according to your prior view, just as Calvinists do in supposed support of their double predestination. 

Drawing logical conclusions from the literal-historical meaning of a given text is not eisegesis, as I’m sure you would agree. You, however, are content to stymie the implications of Romans 9-11 because St. Paul doesn’t use the critical word “unconditional” or the phrase “absolute predestination of the elect”. But if that is your approach to the Scriptures, then you might as well abandon a host of Catholic doctrines that are not explicitly stated in Scripture, but are only implied in seminal doctrines. Further, you seem to forget the fact that the Calvinists are not completely wrong about everything! In fact, no heresy is completely devoid of truth. The kernel of truth in Calvinism, implicitly acknowledged by the Council of Trent, is that God absolutely predestines the elect to salvation. Trent condemned virtually all other tenets of Calvinism, except this important doctrine.

According to Trent, the error of “double predestination” is included in its very terminology. To predestine means to direct, or send beforehand. Now as noted at length already, God does not direct anyone to sin and, subsequently to hell, since this would contradict the teaching that God is supremely just and good. Therefore, absolute predestination cannot be applied to damnation, as Trent teaches. But Trent does not extend the same logic to the predestination of the elect. Implicitly then, the Church seems to accept the absolute predestination of the elect. Further, perhaps the Church at Trent did not feel the need to clarify the issue since up until the time of Molina no one questioned the absolute predestination of the elect.

Protestant sources of analysis

I found your sources of commentary somewhat interesting, and I am not going to take up much issue with them except for a few comments.

Protestant apologist James Patrick Holding has commented on this passage at great length, in response to anti-Catholic Reformed Baptist apologist James White. 

I can only smile at this approach of yours. I would not have expected that part of your rebuttal would entail placing me in the same corner as James White! Perhaps this is difficult for you to stomach, but maybe there is a certain grain of truth in White’s Reformist banter. If James White agrees with St. Augustine and St. Thomas that God absolutely predestines the elect to eternal life –– apart from foreseen consent- then it would seem to me there is some fertile ground for dialogue with him, since Trent did not condemn that proposition of Calvin.

Comments regarding James Patrick Holding

They [the rabbis after the NT] also argued that “unless God’s proposed destiny for man is subject to alternation, prayer to God to institute such alteration is nonsensical.”

In general, I enjoyed the long excerpts that you provided and find very few conflicting statements between them and the position of St. Thomas or St. Augustine, especially since their position on predestination is radically different from Calvin’s. Both St. Thomas and St. Augustine respect the paradox of grace and free will; of faith and good works so I’m not quite sure the exact point that you are trying to make. I would argue that they articulate the relationship even better the Molinists do. Yet even as the author notes, paradox and contradiction are distinct. The Scriptures are full of paradoxes- apparent contradictions-but of course the Scriptures are inerrant and devoid of contradiction. The question that I proposed in my last response calls into question the Molinist conception of efficacious grace as extrinsic to the person and conditioned by his or her cooperation with sufficient grace.

This is the real heart of the issue. I think it is a contradiction, not a paradox, to assert that God’s will is infallible in saving the elect and at the same time assert that efficacious grace is not of itself efficacious as the Molinists do. I think Hebrew block logic (paradox) is better preserved in St. Paul’s writings by asserting that God’s will is infallible with regard to the elect, that efficacious grace is really efficacious, and that man is nonetheless completely free according to his nature (bearing in mind also, that his freedom is a secondary cause in relation to God, the divine cause of freedom).

In regard to the above statement on prayer, I wonder if it is simply an issue of semantics. The author probably would agree that the will of God is immutable, and His decrees are from all eternity, Whatever God wills in heaven is done. Therefore, prayer cannot, strictly speaking, alter the will of God. In fact, prayer is a consequence of the will of God manifesting itself through an individual. Since we walk by faith, not by sight, we hope and trust in God that our prayers (assuming they are made with the right intentions) will be answered; yet God already knows what we need. When the Scriptures speak of God “repenting” of a chastisement for example, or heeding the requests of Abraham or Moses, it is metaphorical, not literal.

For the prayers of the faithful are only the results of actual grace working through them. In other words, the prayers of the faithful are secondary causes, and when the Scriptures call us to prayer they are referring to secondary causes of God’s grace. Yet the primary cause of prayer is grace, whether actual or habitual, since all good things ultimately come from God as a first cause. Are we therefore not to pray at all? Obviously, we should always be at prayer. Yet we must realized that prayer is the fruit of God’s grace working through us, not the initial cause of grace in us, as I’m sure you would agree.

I agree that mercy and compassion – the offering of covenant kinship and consideration- are free. It is once we are within that relationship that rewards and punishments begin to come into play. 

No disagreement here, since rewards are the crowning merits that God works through our free cooperation. And any punishment that is incurred is not the result of God having positively damned one from all eternity, but rather the just penalty inflicted upon one for disobedience to the commandments. All men have been given sufficient grace to keep the commandments; those that don’t it is their fault; those that do, it is the gift of Him who saves (Quierzy).

And yes, there does remain a contrast, in my view, between mercy and hardening: it is the stark contrast between covenant concern and non-covenant disregard. 

Yes; if I understand this correctly, it would seem that the author preserves the distinction between mercy (as completely gratuitous) and justice (as commutative).

And yes, the will of God is to decide who he enters into kinship relationships with. But no, this still doesn’t eliminate characteristics as a factor in God choosing people for specific assignments; and it does not eliminate free choice of humans as a factor in salvation. 

No disagreement again, I find no intrinsic difficulty in reconciling the positions of St. Augustine and St. Thomas with this formulation.

Comments regarding Adam Clarke

That these words are used in a national and not in a personal sense, is evident from this: that taken in the latter sense they are not true, for Jacob never did exercise any power over Esau, nor was Esau ever subject to him. 

There is a consistent theme in the Scriptures in which there is a personal and corporate dimension to each covenant, in that the covenant mediators embody the corporate experience of those who are the recipients of the covenant blessings (or curses). So, for example, the covenant blessings of creation were bestowed upon all of mankind through the mediation of Adam; and likewise the covenant curses were levied upon mankind through Adam. There is a double meaning to Adam: 1) he is a real individual person; and 2) He is the prototype of mankind, he symbolizes all of mankind. Likewise, God’s covenant blessings for Abraham directly pertained to Abraham; yet they were ultimately fulfilled not in him, but in his posterity. The struggle for faith and obedience among the Israelites after the Exodus was embodied by the persistent doubting of Moses at Meribah: just as Moses could not enter the promised land on account of his lack of faith, neither could anyone in that generation that tested God in the wilderness (Psalm 95). And it was David and his earthly experience of election, exile and sin that personified the experience of the Israelite kingdom.

Finally, all of these experiences are types and foreshadowing of Jesus and the mystical body of Christ, which shares in the death and resurrection of Christ. With this canonical context in mind, it would seem inconsistent to interpret the passage, Jacob I have loved, Esau have I hated, in either a strictly personal or national sense. To do so would not respect the block logic of Hebrew that your earlier source alluded to. In light of the experience of the Israelites, it would seem that the words are both personal and national, since Israel was both personal (Jacob) and national (in terms of priesthood and kingdom). God clearly chose Jacob, since the covenant blessing ran through his line of descendants, even though Esau was the firstborn son of Isaac. Therefore, God favored Jacob more than Esau, and apparently not because of his trickery. Yet, as Clark observes, “Esau” was not made subject to Jacob in a literal sense; it wasn’t until the establishment of the Davidic kingdom that Esau was made literally subject to Jacob.

So, it would seem to me that the most appropriate interpretation of Romans 9 would be to take Jacob in the personal sense, with regard to the literal meaning of the text, since God favored the person Jacob over that of Esau in terms of covenant blessing. But, it would seem that one ought to take “Jacob” and “Esau” in the national since as far as the allegorical sense of the Scriptures are concerned, since it wasn’t until the experience of the Israelites developed under David that the prophecies concerning Jacob and Esau were fulfilled. Thus, provided that the various senses of Scripture are preserved, there is no reason to subject the passage to a univocal interpretation.

Finally, even if I were to grant Clark’s treatment of Romans 9 in a strictly national sense, the point remains moot because whether we are talking about God’s election of an individual person (Jacob) or a group of people (Israel) we are still dealing with a complete manifestation of God’s mercy in electing the Israelite people- not on account of any merits of their own- but on account of God’s free choice to manifest His plan through them. Still further, it would seem to be somewhat of a dilemma for the Molinists to argue that God could have chosen Israel on the basis of foreseen merits, since they would eventually break the covenant repeatedly and ultimately reject the Messiah. Given what the Bible tells us about the Israelite people, God certainly could not have or did not choose the Israelites on the basis of foreseen merits or lack of demerits.

The reference to this parable [Jeremiah 18] shows most positively that the apostle is speaking of men, not individually, but nationally; and it is strange that men should have given his words any other application with this scripture before their eyes. 

In Romans 9:21, there is no direct reference to Jeremiah. St. Paul does not explicitly cite Jeremiah 18 in order to formulate his argument about the potter and the clay in relation to the Israelite people. While undoubtedly, Jeremiah 18 does give us one “glance” by which can understand the allegorical sense of St. Paul’s words, there is no reason to reduce Romans 9:21 to a strictly national interpretation. As noted above, it is national in an allegorical sense; yet it remains personal too, since the covenant blessings involved the election of specific individuals to bear forth these covenant blessings. With due respect to Clark, we need to avoid univocal interpretations of any scriptural texts, since there are a variety of senses to the Scriptures. Univocalism, with regard to Scriptural interpretation, seems to be a common characteristic of the various forms of Protestantism. And also, as noted above, the issue is not entirely relevant anyway, since whether we are talking about the election of a group of people or a single person, the issue still remains: are foreseen merits a consequence of prior election or does election take place in view of foreseen merits?

In the Scriptures, the election of groups of people always follows the election of a single person. Thus, the election of the “Jews” (descendents of the line of Judah) followed the royal election of David, who stemmed from the tribe of Judah. The election of Israel followed the election of Jacob. The election of the Levites as the priestly tribe of Israel followed the election of Aaron the Levite as high priest. Thus, in the Scriptures there is a “bi-polarity” of election: 1) in terms of an individual person who is chosen as an instrument (and prototype) of God’s plan of salvation 2) a group of people who have kinship bonds with that chosen individual. Lastly, we find the same truth expressed and fulfilled in Christ, the mediator of the true and everlasting covenant, and His Church, the mystical body in which- through baptism- He has established kinship bonds with.

The Fathers and Romans 9-11

In your last response, you asked to refrain from discussing individual citations from the Fathers. I cannot fully comply with this request, since part of your argument is that the doctrine of middle knowledge can be found in at least some of the Fathers. Therefore, you conclude it has at least equal, if not greater support, in the Tradition of the Church. I believe that the premises of Molinism must be read into the Fathers in order to make the claim that it has some basis in their writings.

God does not have to wait, as we do, to see which one will turn out good and which on will turn out bad. He knew this in advance and decided accordingly. –St. John Chrysostom 

I’m not sure why you selected this quote because it would seem to be a much stronger argument in favor of the position of Augustine and Aquinas, rather than Molina. When St. John states, He knew this in advance . . ., it would seem that he is implying absolute predestination because in the previous sentence he states that God already knows which one will turn out good and which on will turn out bad, and it doesn’t say that God knows this on the basis of foreseen merits. He simply states that God had foreknowledge of the elect and the non-elect and decided accordingly. This would seem to support Augustine’s definition of predestination: Predestination is the foreknowledge and preparedness on God’s part to bestow the favors by which all those are saved who are to be saved

This entire scheme presupposes that God already knows who will be predestined, and he prepares and bestows those graces to infallibly secure their birth into eternal life. I see the above quote by St. John as simply another way of putting it, but substantially the same. Again, to read middle knowledge into St. John’s statement is anachronistic.

So also he chose Jacob over Esau…Why be surprised then, if God does the same thing nowadays, by accepting those of you who believe and rejecting those who have not seen the light? –Theodoret 

I don’t understand how this quote does not support the Augustinian interpretation of Romans 9, I will show mercy on who I will show mercy. Quite simply, God chose Jacob (and concomitantly all of Israel) because He loved him more than Esau. This is the principle of predilection that St. Thomas formulates and develops: God’s love is the cause of all that is good; therefore, one thing would not be better than another if God had not loved it more than the others. Why God chose Jacob over Esau is not immediately clear to us in this life; it appears somewhat arbitrary from the standpoint of human (finite) limits of justice.

Such is the wisdom of God that St. Paul exalts in Romans 11, a wisdom that can only be contemplated on the basis of God’s utterly gratuitous love for mankind. The problem with Molinism is that it tampers with this mystery; it does not fully respect its transcendence and tries to rationalize it (though again, not to the point of heresy) so that God appears fairer, more humane. St. John Chrysostom follows the sentiments of Theodoret and St. Augustine in likewise respecting the complete transcendence of this mysterious relationship between God’s mercy and justice:

Paul says this in order not to do away with free will but rather to show to what extent we ought to obey God. We should be as little inclined to call god to account as a piece of clay is. 

This statement is perfectly consistent with St. Augustine and St. Thomas, since neither wish to do away with free will either. Yet Chrysostom again yields to the brightness of the mystery, which is too sublime for the human intellect to fully grasp. As the Council of Trent admonished, we ought to entrust ourselves to the providence of God, to the sacraments, and to perseverance in good works, since the sovereignty of God is absolute (not conditioned) and He will show mercy on whomever he wishes to show mercy.

No one can be absolutely certain of his or her salvation (except via private revelation) in this life; so we must hope for that which we do not as yet possess, and remain obedient to the will of God. Yet who will call God to account for why some fall away and others persevere? We must also remember the distinction between the primary cause of obedience, which is God’s grace working through us and with us, and the secondary cause of grace, which is our free will manifesting God’s grace through cooperation.

God does nothing at random or by mere chance, even if you do not understand the secrets of his wisdom. You allow the potter to make different things from the same lump of clay and find no fault with him, but you do not grant the same freedom to God! . . . How monstrous this is. It is not on the potter that the honor or dishonor of the vessel depends but rather on those who make use of it. It is the same way with people- it all depends on their own free choice. –St. John Chrysostom 

Indeed, it does all depend on our free choice- in the order of execution. Yet, that some choose to cooperate with God’s grace is the fruit and expression of efficacious grace working through them; that some do not is their own fault, as Quierzy clearly teaches. I don’t think this understanding at all conflicts with the writings of St. Augustine or St. Thomas. In the order of intention, of course, it all depends on God, since God does nothing at random or by mere chance, even if you do not understand the secrets of His wisdom. Again, we are dealing here with the block logic of Christianity in general: when the Scriptures and the Fathers speak of obedience, cooperation, and perseverance in good works, they are talking about secondary causes, since these actions presuppose a prior grace that moves the will to do these meritorious works.

When the Scriptures speak of the will of God and of that grace which justifies man, they are talking about the five causes of justification- final, formal, instrumental, effective and efficient- each outlined nicely by Ott as he follows the teaching of the Council of Trent (see p.251). The effective cause of justification- sanctifying grace- is the sole cause of justification in man, according to the Council of Trent. Consequently, it can be inferred that sanctifying grace is efficacious in and of itself to bring about justification, since it is the sole cause of justification in man.

Therefore, since it is efficacious in and of itself, it is not rendered efficacious by man’s free consent to cooperate, but rather is the cause of man’s cooperation which brings forth meritorious works. Consequently, if efficacious grace is the cause of merits, and not the result of cooperation; so too, by analogy, the absolute predestination of the elect is likewise the cause of God’s dispensing efficacious grace in accordance with His wisdom, and not the result of foreseen cooperation. Again, any such cooperation that is foreseen is already the result of prior grace dispensed, since the execution of an intention can never be prior to the intention itself (logically speaking).

The following quote that you furnished from Theodoret also seems to follow the teaching of the Council of Quierzy, which distinguishes reprobation and predestination,

Those who are called vessels for menial use have chosen this path for themselves . . . This is clear from what Paul says to Timothy: If anyone purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work 

The position of St. Thomas and his followers is that those who are reprobate incur damnation because of their own fault; they have, so to speak, chosen this path for themselves. And as far as the reference to Timothy, this text is a perfect example of secondary causes of justification: man cannot purify himself unless God moves Him to do so by efficacious grace; and it is only via efficacious grace that man is ready for any good work. That man cooperates is once again, the result, not the coordinate cause of justification. Logically (in causality, not in the order of time), grace precedes any good work.

All in all, you seem to be attacking my position, which is principally that of St. Thomas, by appealing to those Fathers of the Church and those Scripture passages that emphasize man’s obedience, cooperation, good works, and the foreknowledge of God. This is perhaps a great strategy for dealing with the Calvinists since they preach double predestination and total deprivation, but it will not work with the Thomists because they do not hold to such doctrines. The one common ground that the Thomists share with the Calvinists is that the elect are absolutely predestined- and apart from foreseen merits or the lack of foreseen demerits. And this position, which the Thomists and the Calvinists share, was not condemned at Trent, a fact that is significant.

The Dialogue Resumed

O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has first given to Him, and recompense shall be made him? For of Him and by Him and in Him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33:36) 

St. Paul here yields to the mystery of why God chooses some for election and others he permits to fall into and remain in sin. 

He does? Where does that them appear above? I must have missed it.

Apparently you did! In Romans 11, St. Paul is adding the finishing touches to his doctrine of absolute predestination of certain men to eternal life. He is applying it to the mysterious election of the Gentiles in the wake of the Jewish rejection of the Messiah. The primary objection, which was raised in Romans 9:19-22, is that God is somehow unjust because He permits some men to fall into and remain in sin, whereas, certain other men are predestined to eternal life. St. Paul states,

You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can oppose his will?’ But who indeed are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Will what is made say to its maker, ‘Why have you created me so?’ Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for a noble purpose and another of an ignoble one? What if God, wishing to show his wrath and make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction? 

St. Paul makes no attempt to solve this mysterious aspect of predestination by appealing to foreseen merits. For such would be a rationalization of the mystery at hand, which involves the reconciliation of two infinite perfections in God: His infinite mercy and His infinite justice. For St. Paul, the mind must submit to the mysterious unity of these two perfections, which remains hidden from us in this life, despite the absolute predestination of the elect and the conditional negative reprobation of the wicked. Hence St. Paul declares, Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge God! How incomprehensible are His judgments and unsearchable His ways?

The solution of St. Thomas and St. Augustine halts at this mystery and respects it fully as there is no attempt to tamper with it. And this “halting” of the intellect before the brightness of this mystery is no less of a “cop out” than St. Paul’s admission of the “incomprehensibility” of the wisdom and knowledge of God. While Molinism is not heretical, it does not fully respect the mystery; it seeks to penetrate and “rationalize” it via middle knowledge and foreseen merits, so that it appears more respectable and “humane.” I candidly disagree with this approach, and find it to be vain.

No one is denying that God is sovereign!!! It doesn’t help your argument to keep repeating things that we already agree on. 

The issue isn’t that the Molinists reject the sovereignty of God; the issue is that the Molinists condition the sovereignty of God. I’ve already shown above that God’s will is radically sovereign, Whatever God wills in heaven is done (Psalm 115:3). So logically, I reject any “conditions” placed on God’s will. To be sovereign in some regard, means to act without interference or influence from an outside source. So it seems to me that if we say that God’s will to save some men is conditioned by foreseen merits, God is not completely sovereign. God is still sovereign to some degree, but not entirely so in the Molinist scheme.

So if you admit that grace does not depend on foreseen consent, then it would seem contradictory to state that election is based on foreseen consent. 

That doesn’t follow because the consent itself is from grace; therefore, it would be (in Molinist thought) God “crowning His own gifts” just as the Church has proclaimed that he does in cases of merit per se. 

I’m not sure I understand this response. In an earlier response, you stated that grace does not depend on foreseen merits; but you maintain that election does. But is not election an unmerited gift (grace) bestowed upon certain men? Election is the cause of sanctifying grace in that those who are elected are the determined recipients of such grace (in the order of intention); yet on the other hand, election is the fruit of grace (in the order of execution), in that God “crowns His own gifts” according to St. Augustine.

In the end, the entire process involves grace (which according to you is not dispensed based on foreseen merits) working through human freedom in order to manifest meritorious works. As I see it, you can’t hold (without contradiction) that the dispensation of grace does not depend on foreseen merits, but election does or could depend on foreseen merits, since the two realities are inseparable from each other.

Nope; I am departing from Pelagianism. 

Not exactly; Molinism entails the view that the dispensation of efficacious grace to the elect is contingent upon foreseen merits. If you reject this possibility (as you seemed to indicate in your last post) you have parted theological company with Molina. Ludwig Ott states rather concisely, “According to them [the Molinists] God, by His scientia media, sees beforehand how men would freely react to various orders of grace. In the light of this knowledge he chooses, according to His free pleasure a fixed and definite order of grace” (p. 243).

Your fallacy is that you see “man’s will” and you immediately interpret it as if it is in inexorable contrast to God’s will. 

This would be the doctrine of total deprivation, which I do not accept. In my last response I argued that God works through all created being to accomplish His designs for 1) the universe as a whole and 2) species of the individual being and 3) the individual being itself. This entire line of reasoning contradicts the above statement. There is no intrinsic opposition between man’s will and God’s will, since God has ordained the human will towards universal good.

When we sin, this is indeed true. 

Not exactly. Even when we sin, we still choose something that is apparently good or good in some measure. Just as every error contains a measure of truth, so too every sin possesses a measure of goodness. A “sin” is a corruption of something good; it is the choice to do something that is not good enough for God or for man. For example, fornication is the corruption of the marital act, and as such it is neither worthy of God (in terms of justice to Him) nor is it worthy of man (it terms of our dignity as persons). Paradoxically, even when man sins, he cannot help doing something good- no matter how perverted this good may be- because the will is ordained to choose the good.

Therefore, election based on foreseen merits would be “within” God’s will and grace, insofar as it is not “distinct” from God in terms of cause or control. 

And again, those foreseen merits would not be “merits” unless God had already imparted the grace to secure them. There is no merit without grace; therefore, “foreseen” merits presuppose prior graces; the dispensation of these prior graces constitute “pre“-destination.

Until you recognize this biblical and theological paradoxical truth, you’ll keep repeating the same error over and over. 

As noted above, the position of St. Thomas and St. Augustine in no way compromises the “biblical paradox” that you speak of. So the point is moot.

The Thomist “physical” notion of causation (for virtually everything it seems) was critiqued at some length in my survey paper. I do not accept all of these Thomist “dogmas” or undisputed premises. I am a philosophical syncretist, as Suarez was. 

The Thomistic notion of physical causality follows philosophically from the first, second and final proof for God’s existence, which can be known with metaphysical certainty; in other words, it is impossible to refute them logically. Theologically, the Thomistic concept of physical causality flows from the intrinsic efficacy of grace moving the will to perform meritorious works according to its nature, as God moves, causes and directs all things according to their respective nature. The Catechism endorses the traditional 5 proofs and the First Vatican Council asserts that God’s existence can be known with certitude on the basis of his works.

These are not Thomist “dogmas”- whatever you may mean by this expression. St. Thomas himself refers to these as the “preambles of faith” in that they are the certain rational principles that establish a credible foundation for the Faith (“motives of credibility”). The sad reality of the high Middle Ages is that the Thomistic synthesis was abandoned, leading to a multiplicity of errors that we are still dealing with today (not withstanding Protestantism itself). Pope Leo XIII in Aeterni Patris strongly endorses the principles of St. Thomas “over all others”. As noted in my last paper, perhaps you could expound on these “undisputed premises”?

Finally, as per Ott, Suarez was not a syncretist; he was a Congruist. And if you do consider yourself a syncretist, your dilemmas are all the more magnified since in an attempt to pull forth the good from every system, you likewise incur all the bad.

That doesn’t eliminate your difficulties, as outlined in my survey paper, because you still have to explain why, in your system, God chooses one person and not the next, if election is unconditional. On what grounds? 

To attempt to explain the mind of God and to question the sovereignty of his actions is the essence of rationalism, which I seek to avoid. On what grounds? Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? (Romans 11:33-35).

This is what I don’t like about Molinism: it cannot fully accept the mystery of God’s love. Love transcends reasons, though it is not irrational either. Love does not have to give any reasons at all, it simply is what it is- I am who am. Apparently, God chooses one person and not the next because he loves the former more than the latter. Though that one is not saved is not the fault of God, but their own fault because of their actions. This is the principle of predilection noted above that was formulated by St. Thomas following the insights of St. Augustine: “God’s love is the cause of all that is good. Yet one thing would not be better than another, had God not loved it more than the other.”

Therefore, some are saved because God loves them more than others. Now, I hear you say as you read this: “that’s not fair! God loves everyone!” Indeed, it is not fair, if you mean to say that God is not treating everyone equally. God loves everyone, no doubt, and as such He wills that it is really possible for all to be saved. But that some are saved is solely the gift of Him who saves; and God saves those who he loves more so than the others or else everyone would be saved. David expresses this beautifully in Psalm 18:18-20:

He rescued me from my mighty enemy, from foes too powerful for me. They attacked me on a day of distress, but he Lord came to my support. He set me free in the open; he rescued me because he loves me. 

Does David mean to say that God does not love those who are not saved? Of course not! God loves all of creation; yet clearly the fact that he saves some and not others is on account of His greater love for those who He chooses to save. God loves the Virgin Mary more than He loves me, and I have no problem accepting this reality; even though God’s love for me is infinite, it cannot be greater than His love for Mary, for He has favored her infinitely more than me.

So it is, likewise in all of heaven. Everyone is overflowing with God’s love, yet some have a greater capacity for God’s love than others, and God made them that way to manifest His infinite wisdom. Therein lies the mystery that St. Paul speaks of. Love is mysterious, and I think that the Molinist has a hard time accepting just how great and infinite the love of God really is. Though it is not heretical, it does not fully respect the transcendence of this mystery.

Finally, the dilemma that you pose to me is equally a dilemma for you. For you have to explain, as a Molinist, why God arranges the conditions for some to be favorable for eternal life, and why he does not do so for another. Surely God is not powerless to lead a given soul to salvation- “Who can resist the will of God?” So the dilemma is yours as well as mine. I just happen to think that St. Thomas’ position better respects the beauty of this mystery as it was originally presented by St. Paul in Romans 9-11.

If you say that it is (in effect) arbitrary: he simply chooses one person and leaves the other to damnation (as we all can justly be left, etc) then you have to explain how this can be if, in fact, we are all equally blameworthy and should be damned. 

I would not say that God’s decision to elect some and not others is arbitrary. I would say that it is apparently arbitrary, meaning that it appears to be unjust or unfair in this life, but in fact it is not. The real difference, however, is that the Thomists accept the fact that the real reasons for why God chooses some and not others will only be known in the next life. So it is not arbitrary at all, but it cannot be fully grasped in this life. Again, as far as “explaining” the mystery goes, the previous post suffices, He saved me because He loves me. (Psalm 18:20)

If we are all equally to blame (original and actual sin), then if God will simply choose some for election and not others, I don’t see how you can escape the element of “unfairness” and lack of justice for those who are damned (since all are equally guilty). 

This is the only real objection; this is what it boils down to and St. Paul confronts this complaint in Romans 9: “It’s not fair!” Again, God is not fair, nor does He have to be; not everyone is perfectly equal according to nature. Equal in dignity, yes, but each with different capacities for grace. Some vessels are made for greater honor than others in the heavenly mansion. God is supremely just, as noted before. He gives to each: 1) enough graces so that it is possible for all to be saved and that if one is not saved it is solely their own fault (Quierzy) and 2) each according to their own capacity. So, for example, God gave Mary infinitely more graces than you or I because of her exalted calling.

Also, God gave St. Joseph more graces than you or I (and even all the saints) because of his calling -but not more than the Virgin Mary, who exceeds all manner of excellence among angels and men. Is God being “fair”? Strictly speaking He is not; but He is being “just” because He is pouring out grace according to nature and office. In other words, He is giving each person precisely what is due to him according to nature, and precisely what he needs in order to accomplish the purpose that God has for him.

If He chooses some “absolutely unconditionally,” as you say, then those whom He does not choose MUST be damned no matter what they do. And the practical result of that is exactly the same as in supralapsarian Calvinist double predestination, as Ott noted. 

If your line of reasoning here were really true, then the position of St. Thomas and a large host of doctors of the Church would have been condemned long before Calvin even emerged. This is a classic non sequitur argument, since the conclusion does not follow from the premise. Essentially, you are saying, “If God absolutely predestines some men to eternal life, then He must damn others no matter what they do.”

Ironically, this is the same fallacy of generalization that the Calvinists commit when they argue that because God predestines some men absolutely to eternal life, he must absolutely predestine some men to hell regardless of their merits. I will review the refutation of this consistent error of yours once again, since I have already dealt with it at length in my last response.

1) Predestination belongs to God’s mercy, which is unconditional and completely gratuitous (Grace is logically prior to merit)

2) Reprobation belongs to God’s justice, which is commutative and dispensed according to man’s actions (Sin is logically prior to punishment)

3) Therefore, grace and merit stand inversely related in contrast to sin and punishment.

4) Consequently,

a. Predestination is absolute, since it is unmerited; any “foreseen” merits are already the work of a prior grace, since grace is prior to merit (in terms of causation)

b. Reprobation is conditional, since it is decreed in view of demerits committed by the person, since sin logically precedes punishment.


1) God wills that all men be saved (antecedent will- God wills that is really possible for all men to be saved)

2) Not all men are saved (not everyone receives efficacious grace which secures meritorious works necessary for salvation- specifically that of final perseverance)

3) Therefore, God predestines some men, and not others.

4) As per above, the work of this predestination of a few is the work of God’s mercy. Therefore, God only bestows efficacious grace (specifically final perseverance) on the chosen few.

5) Yet, since God wills that it is possible for all men be saved, He bestows upon all men sufficient grace, so that it is really possible for them to keep the commandments.

6) Therefore, those who are lost are lost on account of their own refusal to keep the commands (Quierzy).

In summary, the reality of sufficient grace won by Christ crucified for all men secures the possibility of salvation for everyone. Yet only efficacious grace secures the reality that some men are saved. If God granted efficacious grace (specifically that of final perseverance) to everyone, then everyone would be saved, since efficacious grace moves man’s will to perform meritorious works and fulfill the commandments. Yet not everyone is saved. Therefore, not everyone is given these graces. Why does God give some men the grace of final perseverance? We don’t always know, other than the fact that God loves them more so as to impart those graces. Why does God allow final impenitence? Essentially, as a punishment for previous demerits. Why does God allow a just man to fall into sin? Essentially, for a greater good for that person and for the whole of God’s plan, which is not completely realized in this life.

We do know this much though: were it not for sin, Christ would not have come; and so God, in His supreme mercy, allows sin and the penalty that it deserves, for an infinitely greater good- our capacity to share in the Divine Nature, a teaching that positively excludes the Protestant doctrine of total deprivation. In the final analysis though, we are dealing with an absolute mystery that will only be fully realized in the next life. The best we can do on this side of heaven is to affirm the essential truths and contemplate their mysterious (though hidden) unity.

The proposed solution of the Molinists does not solve the dilemma either, but only further complicates it in a noble attempt to explain it. Since one must logically ask, why does God not pre-determine the most ideal circumstances for everyone to achieve salvation? Is God’s middle knowledge not infallible enough to see the possibilities in which everyone can be saved? Is God’s will not omnipotent enough to bring about the salvation of everyone? The same objection of “unfairness” on the part of God can be equally raised against the Molinists, and the Molinists might very well find themselves responding just like the Thomists. Yet unlike the Calvinists, both the Thomists and the Molinists do not accept double predestination and we yield to the mystery of God’s infinite justice.

It’s like saying there are ten murderers, and the governor (after trials of course) decides to hang five of them and let the others go scot-free. When asked how he could do this, he replies, “they were all guilty and worthy of death, so those who were executed cannot complain of injustice, but I have the right to pardon whomever I will, so the relatives of the executed men have no grounds whatsoever to complain of unfairness.” No one would accept that in this world of men, so why do large portions of Christians accept it when it comes to analyses of how God elects? 

This analogy is shocking to its audience, since no one would at first say that justice has been served- I agree. Perhaps equally shocking is Our Lord’s parable concerning the laborers and their wages. Who would agree that justice has been served if those who worked less get paid the same amount as those who worked the entire day? In terms of commutative justice, it makes little sense. Yet of course, what appears to be an injustice on the part of God in this life, from our finite and human limitations, must in reality be the perfect manifestation of justice from the view of heaven, since God’s ways are supremely just. I really think you have a hard time simply accepting the transcendence of God’s mercy and justice. The Scriptures do say, “God’s ways are not man’s ways.” And God does appear to be arbitrary when the Holy Spirit states, “I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

We have every right to question a governor who would arbitrarily pardon five murderers, since he is human and bound to operate according to natural modes of justice. Yet we have no right to question God’s ways (Job 42; Romans 9), because He is infinitely beyond us. Why did Jesus grant the grace of repentance to Peter but not to Judas? To one thief but not the other? We cannot be absolutely certain why in this life, other than the fact that somehow this contrast between justice and mercy will be perfectly understood through the grace of the beatific vision.

Therefore, I reject this scenario and accept either Molinism or Fr. Most’s solution, because they are more in accord with an instinctive, intuitive understanding of how love and mercy and fatherhood function and operate. 

Of course; these schemes makes you “feel” better; they are largely motivated by emotions, not logic, as well as the restlessness that comes from not being able to fully understand God’s ways in this life. These solutions are very much a product of their times. In Molina’s case, it is a product of the Baroque Age following the Reformation; an age that wanted to refresh people and uplift their spirits in contrast to the stark coldness of Calvinism.

God rejects only those who continually spurn His grace. 

Yes, this is the meaning of conditioned negative reprobation.

It’s not like one’s position on these extremely complex matters has all that much effect on one’s Christian life. We follow and obey God. Period. This is interesting to ponder and debate, but it makes no practical difference which way one comes down on it. 

Certainly, it makes little difference as far as one’s standing with the Church. However, I’m not sure I’d agree about it not making a “practical difference” in one’s spiritual life- though I am not fully prepared to articulate all my reasons why I think it does make a slight, yet important difference as far as the logical consequences of each position is concerned, especially for one’s spiritual life.

Obviously, no one can overcome your reasoning as long as you remain within the Thomist paradigm that you have accepted. 

Thomism, in the eyes of the Church, is not a “paradigm”; nor is it one system among several competing systems. If, by Thomism, you mean St. Thomas’ adaptation of Aristotle to solve the philosophical problems of his day, I would agree with you. However, St. Thomas’ adaptation of Aristotelian philosophy was not what made him innovative. It was his broader approach to the unity and distinction of theology and philosophy that was not only innovative, but also officially endorsed by the Catholic Church in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris.

The theologian and philosopher who follows the example and principles set forth by St. Thomas is not bound to any philosophical system, because he recognizes faith’s ability to purify and exalt that which is true in any given system, while at the same time, following the legitimate principles of philosophy and reason, he is able to probe the mysteries of faith much deeper. Thus, “Thomism” in this broader sense (which is how I understand it), has an amazing capacity to evolve and adapt as new philosophical systems and questions emerge, rather than become bogged down by outmoded categories of thought. The great Thomists of the 20th century, such as Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson and Father LaGrange bear witness to this reality.

One has to overthrow various presuppositions that you hold in that paradigm which guide your own opinions and preclude other opinions. 

Again, these “presuppositions” are? And why are they questionable? And, if perchance they are valid (such as in St. Thomas’ proofs for God’s existence, or the principle of predilection) why do you deny the logical consequences? You are not exactly clear as to what your real dilemma with Thomism is.

I’m not beholden to any particular theological system other than the constraints of Catholic orthodoxy itself, so I am able to move more freely through these discussions and consider options that you have no freedom to consider because of your quasi-dogmatic Thomist preconceptions. 

As per the above post, Thomism, strictly speaking is not a “system” of theology or philosophy; it is a way of doing theology (and philosophy) that has proved itself highly effective, not only in the experience of the Church, but in her doctrinal teaching (Aeterni Patris, First Vaitican Council- De Fide, Fides et Ratio). The “Thomist” is not constrained by any system; he is only limited and liberated by Catholic Orthodoxy, as you pretend to be yourself. So your boasting about being able to move about more freely through these discussions, as well as your ability to consider other options, is really an indication of your narrow view of Thomism.

What I would suggest, since you are a convert to the faith, is that you really brush up on the contribution- not only of St. Thomas- but of those philosophers and theologians of the 20th century who responded wholeheartedly to the call of Pope Leo XIII to replicate the approach of St. Thomas Aquinas, and of St. Pius X to utilize the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas to destroy the error of Modernism (Pascendi Domini). I can recommend a number of books if you would like on this subject. And as far as these “quasi-dogmatic Thomist preconceptions” that you keep complaining about, it would be really great if you could provide some examples. Perhaps it is not so much Thomism that you find dogmatic, but maybe my tone of argument?? I don’t understand these sweeping statements of yours.

I believe there is a profound truth in the fact that one of the first things that Martin Luther did after posting his 95 Theses was to publicly burn St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica. Of all the timeless treasures in Christian antiquity, why would he demonstrate such vehemence for the works of this great saint, if not for the fact that in them were already contained (prophetically I might add) the refutations to all his errors? There is something to be said for the strong anti-Aquinas prejudice that runs through the veins not only of Protestantism, but also of Modernism.

(which is why I could accept Fr. Most’s solution, as even half the Thomists he discussed it with could do). 

First, I don’t reject Fr. Most’s position because I am a Thomist. I reject it because I don’t think it solves the dilemmas of Molinism that it pretends to solve. I do believe that the solution proposed concisely by St. Thomas much better preserves the mystery that we are dealing with. Secondly, I don’t know of any reputable Thomist who is a Molinist- not that it really matters all that much. But if you have resources on these “Thomists” that Fr. Most apparently convinced as to the truth of his argument I would be interested in looking into it.

I don’t observe this to judge you or condemn you at all (it’s not a value judgment) 

Hmmm. I’m not sure I buy into this at this point in the discussion. Essentially what you are saying is “I’m free and you’re not because you are a Thomist.” I find this to be a silly diversion from the topic at hand.

I’m simply stating a philosophical (epistemological) observation, and a point of logic. 

And which point would that be? That Thomism is one system among many? If that is your point, it is moot because Thomism is not, properly speaking, a theological or philosophical system. If anything, Thomism would seem to coincide with your desire to have that freedom to consider other “options” within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy.


(originally 5-14-06)

Photo credit: image by Piotr Siedlecki (“Fractal Lines 2”) [Public DomainPictures.NetCC0 Public Domain license]


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