July 18, 2011 by Jason HoodThe secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deut 29:29)Paul Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford 2004), 115-6:Calvin also emphasizes the role of secondary causes in order to distinguish his view from Stoic ideas of fate. God works by means.What will happen is not fated to happen but happens as the result of the use of means. If I am destined to post the letter, then I am destined to use the appropriate means to post it. [JH: appropriate mental and physical events required for an event to occur are not optional.]This has, for Calvin, a consequence that may seem surprising. He says:With reference to the time future, since the events of things are, as yet, hidden and unknown, everyone ought to be as intent upon the performance of his duty as if nothing whatever had been decreed concerning the issue in each particular case. [Secret Providence of God, 236]The providence of God with regard to the future is secret not only in the sense that it is in fact true that we don’t know what God is going to do, but it is secret in a rather different sense, that in order to act effectively we must believe that it is secret, and our actions must be governed not by an attempt to divine God’s secret will, but by obedience to his commands and reliance on his promises.
October 30, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
I’m giving this next season of study to reading through Thomas’ Summa. I’ve not read much of Thomas, nor many works about him. But I have read Garrigou-Lagrange’s book Predestination, which details Thomas’ understanding of grace and predestination. The first half of his book provides a historical summary of the doctrine of predestination (not unlike McGrath’s treatment of justification in Iustitia Dei). The second half provides a synthesis of his own treatment of the topic (which is basically Thomistic). A couple of thoughts on the book/topic for those who might be interested…
First, Garrigou-Lagrange demonstrates quite clearly that Augustine and Thomas were in basic agreement on the subject of predestination. That is, both Augustine and Thomas maintained the absolute gratuity of predestination prior to merits (either foreseen or actual). In fact, the divergence between Augustine and Thomas seems to be more related to present day Augustinians and Thomists than to the original Doctors themselves. The differences between the two seem minor enough that Garrigou-Lagrange doesn’t spend more than a couple of pages on them. Garrigou-Langrange, being Catholic, also works hard to distance both Augustine and Aquinas from Calvin and Luther. In my mind, this is mostly a reflection of Garrigou-Lagrange’s pre-Vatican II Catholic loyalties. From my reading of Augustine, Calvin and Luther (and now Thomas via Garrigou-Lagrange), the differences between the four theologians seem mostly semantic rather than substantive.
Second, I was intrigued by the emphasis on love that is woven throughout the Thomistic interpretation of unconditional election. Garrigou-Lagrange interprets Thomas — and indeed the whole subject — from what he terms Thomas’ principle of predilection – “that no created being would be better than another unless it were loved more by God.” This means that for Thomas election presupposes love. Why does God choose the elect for salvation and pass over the non-elect? Because he loves the elect with a greater love. Protestant expressions of Augustine on predestination (as seen in Luther and Calvin) do not typically contain this emphasis on the love of God. We heirs of the Reformation tend to use predestination as a doctrine that humbles and chastises (following Paul in Romans 9), and less as a doctrine that assures us of God’s love. Calvin and Luther are surely correct in their emphasis. But I appreciate the Thomistic emphasis of love, particularly in as much as he also finds continuity with Paul.
This emphasis on love is based upon a significant implication of Thomas’ doctrine of predilection — God does not love everyone equally. A remarkable statement to make in the face of popular evangelicalism, but from what I read in scripture here and here (along with others passages), a true statement. In fact, I believe the failure of evangelicals to grapple with the reality that God does not love everyone equally causes us to loose sight of the love of God in our doctrine of election. If God loves everyone equally, then love cannot be his motive in election. Thus, as stated above, we Reformed types tend to use the doctrine of predestination almost exclusively as club to beat down human self-sufficiency. Thomas’ (and I think Augustine’s) doctrine of predestination brings a helpful balance.
Whatever the case, I’m convinced the doctrine of election is meant to both humble us, as well as assure us of God’s deep love for us. So the next time you preach about predestination, don’t just use it to bludgeon sinful pride. Do that, but also use it as a balm that assures the believer of God’s timeless, eternal pursuit. In love, he predestined us… Thomas helps us Protestants remember a neglected — and richly pastoral — emphasis of predestination.2 Comments