What’s the point of anything?

The nihilist title is not mine! Reluctantly I’ve made this reply to Seenoevo’s comment  a new post, simply to manage the length and formatting better. It didn’t really merit more than an inline comment.

Well, Seenoevo, you’re asking me to indicate just one point at which your “definition” of predestination disagrees with, specifically, Catholic teaching, as if it were a serious summary of what you believe your church teaches, when it’s clearly actually a sarcastic polemic against some other view of predestination which nobody, to my knowledge, has ever held. That makes it a straw man and a pastiche. But since you now avow it as your own view, you convict yourself of profound uncatholicity and unorthodoxy, from any viewpoint, Catholic or Protestant. That’s not an ad hominem, but a sober assesment of the theology. I’ll take it phrase by phrase and refute it both from Catholic and Reformed points of view.

Seenoevo: “God knows all things, including what the future holds. Predestination does NOT mean only that God knows what your future destiny is.”

Actually, predestination doesn’t mean AT ALL that God knows your future destiny. As used in Scripture, it means that God destines in advance (proorizo) that his chosen people will be conformed to Christ.

Aquinas: I answer that, Predestination is not anything in the predestined; but only in the person who predestines…Whence it is clear that predestination is a kind of type of the ordering of some persons towards eternal salvation, existing in the divine mind. The execution, however, of this order is in a passive way in the predestined, but actively in God. The execution of predestination is the calling and magnification; according to the Apostle (Romans 8:30): “Whom He predestined, them He also called and whom He called, them He also magnified [Vulg. ‘justified’].”

Westminster Confession: As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto.

Seenoevo: “Predestination more importantly means your destiny is PREDETERMINED by God such that you have NO CHOICE, NO FREE-WILL DECISION and action in the matter.”

Aquinas: I answer that, Predestination most certainly and infallibly takes effect; yet it does not impose any necessity, so that, namely, its effect should take place from necessity. For it was said above (Article 1), that predestination is a part of providence. But not all things subject to providence are necessary; some things happening from contingency, according to the nature of the proximate causes, which divine providence has ordained for such effects. Yet the order of providence is infallible, as was shown above (Question 22, Article 4). So also the order of predestination is certain; yet free-will is not destroyed; whence the effect of predestination has its contingency. Moreover all that has been said about the divine knowledge and will (14, 13; 19, 4) must also be taken into consideration; since they do not destroy contingency in things, although they themselves are most certain and infallible.

Westminster Confession: When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone enables him freely to will and to do which is spiritually good.

Seenoevo: “If Predestination is true…”

Aquinas: I answer that, It is fitting that God should predestine men.

Catholic Catechism, 2nd ed.: 2782 We can adore the Father because he has caused us to be reborn to his life by adopting us as his children in his only Son: by Baptism, he incorporates us into the Body of his Christ; through the anointing of his Spirit who flows from the head to the members, he makes us other “Christs.” “God, indeed, who has predestined us to adoption as his sons, has conformed us to the glorious Body of Christ. So then you who have become sharers in Christ are appropriately called ‘Christs.'”

Council of Trent: No one, moreover, so long as he lives this mortal life, ought in regard to the sacred mystery of divine predestination, so far presume as to state with absolute certainty that he is among the number of the predestined… For except by special revelation, it cannot be known whom God has chosen to Himself.

Conclusion – the Catholic Church says predestination is true. But then since the word itself is used in Scripture, that was never in doubt to the orthodox.

Seenoevo: …what’s the point of Christ’s incarnation and preaching and death, what’s the point of following his commands to grow in virtue and preach and evangelize? If Predestination is true, WHAT’S THE POINT OF ANYTHING?”

Given the Catholic teaching above, it may be because they couldn’t imagine people would ask such questions that I’ve been unable easily to find any directly relevant quotes: frankly, the Catholic Church just doesn’t teach that predestination destroys the point of everything. The Council of Orange, for example, simply assumes the whole gospel as the substrate of predestination and grace:

Canon 7. If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, “For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

And as John Calvin says of this in his sermons on Ephesians, “For we must not put asunder things which he has coupled together.” He refers to Eph 1.4, which says:

God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world

ie there is no predestination apart from the eternal predestination of Christ to incarnation, suffering and glory, in which believers participate through divine grace. Duns Scotus, as I pointed out in a note to Peter Hickman, bases his entire theology on the predestination of Christ.

…to the end we should be holy and without blame before him in love. He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accoredance with his pleasure and will – to the priase of his glorious grace, which he has freeely given us in the One he loves.

ie, predestination is ordained to the very end of obedience and holiness. Romans 8 agrees with this: we are predestined specifically “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

In other words in both these passages (and others) predestination is the very basis of the Incarnation, preaching and death of Christ, and of obedience to his commands. Predestination is essentially, as the Catholic sources do clearly say, the basis on which God confers the grace necessary for these things. Council of Orange again:

Canon 6. If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).

Just to add, buck-shee, a comment on your contention that free-will itself is the “grace” that is meant in Scripture, I have to inform you that this was the very position of Pelagius – who also threw in Scripture and Mosaic Law as the content of grace. From a Catholic source:

[Pelagius taught that] freedom is the central constituent of human nature. This freedom is a grace which comes from the Grace of God. Freedom does not have a tendency to evil, even after the fall. Thus, if one can will it, they can and must do it. Thus, the human will is totally independent of God in making its moral decisions. Therefore, Pelagian Grace must be merely an external aid, solo ab extra.

This teaching was declared heretical by the Church, as in these Canons from Orange:

Canon 4. If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, “The will is prepared by the Lord” (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

Canon 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism — if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, “And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.

Conclusion. And thus according to the passages of holy scripture quoted above or the interpretations of the ancient Fathers we must, under the blessing of God, preach and believe as follows. The sin of the first man has so impaired and weakened free will that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought or believe in God or do good for God’s sake, unless the grace of divine mercy has preceded him. We therefore believe that the glorious faith which was given to Abel the righteous, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and to all the saints of old, and which the Apostle Paul commends in extolling them (Heb. 11), was not given through natural goodness as it was before to Adam, but was bestowed by the grace of God. And we know and also believe that even after the coming of our Lord this grace is not to be found in the free will of all who desire to be baptized, but is bestowed by the kindness of Christ, as has already been frequently stated and as the Apostle Paul declares, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). And again, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and it is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). And as the Apostle says of himself, “I have obtained mercy to be faithful” (1 Cor. 7:25, cf. 1 Tim. 1:13). He did not say, “because I was faithful,” but “to be faithful.” And again, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). And again, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17). And again, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). There are innumerable passages of holy scripture which can be quoted to prove the case for grace, but they have been omitted for the sake of brevity, because further examples will not really be of use where few are deemed sufficient.

And in the Council of Carthage:

5. If anyone says that this grace … only helps us to avoid sin in this way; that by it we are given by revelation an understanding of God’s commands that we may learn what we ought to strive for and what we ought to avoid, but that it does not give us also the delight in doing, and the power to do, what we have recognized as being good, let him be anathema.

Does that answer your question?

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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6 Responses to What’s the point of anything?

  1. seenoevo says:

    Jon,

    Did that answer my question? No.

    I do give you some credit for making a considerable effort in trying to give the appearance you answered my questions and refuted my positions.

    But you could have saved yourself over 2,000 words by just saying something like:
    ‘On second thought, Seenovo IS right, or at least his words are NOT in conflict with the Catechism of the Catholic Church or Aquinas.’
    .
    #1
    First, you play pedant with “predestination” and “proorizo”. Now, I’m all for endeavoring to assure shared understanding of shared words. One must be wary of assuming too much. And as I wrote on “The hermeneutic” blog, one should NEVER take ANYTHING for granted in THIS forum (e.g. the meaning of “orthodox”, “traditional”, “the church”, “every” (Gen 1:30), “predestination”, “team”).

    If you want to insist you’ve scored points by saying I’m not in synch with some philosophical/theological nuances and nits of a particular word (e.g. “predestination”), then maybe someone else can chime in here and give you an ‘atta boy!”.

    But the POINT, Jon, the main POINT here is that human beings UNQUESTIONABLY have free will, they have a most important degree of freedom and autonomy.

    Or at least I thought that was subject, after reading the article texts and noting the article titles:
    Freedom and Autonomy #1
    Freedom and Autonomy #2
    Freedom and Autonomy #3
    Freedom and Autonomy #4
    Freedom and Autonomy #5
    Freedom and Pharisees

    Any grade schooler, if not any kindergartener, knows intuitively (i.e. without many articles and thousands of words) that
    1) Sin and disobedience are bad realities (and even a two year-old experiences “cookie jar guilt”)
    2) Being punished for sin/disobedience you have no control over makes no sense
    3) So, we have some control over whether we sin/disobey (and whether we do good and obey)
    4) God knows all things, including everything in the past, present and future.
    5) Everything that exists is a gift from, or allowed by, God.
    6) This includes our sometimes mischievous minds and pre-dinner-cookie-grabbing fingers.
    7) If we had absolutely NO control over the good and bad, over the reward and punishment, over the winning and losing, over the life and death, then WHAT WOULD BE THE POINT of our existence? (And the more theologically word-wise high schooler might ask “Why the Atonement? For if there be no free-will, there be no guilt and no need for forgiveness?”)

    And these children eventually cease playing with toy soldiers and dolls. Because they come to appreciate that the toy soldiers and dolls can never really play with THEM.
    .
    #2
    Let’s take a specific point you try to make against my words. You quote The Council of Orange:

    “Canon 7. If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers WITHOUT THE ILLUMINATION AND INSPIRATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a HERETICAL spirit…”

    Compare that to my actual words, brought to you again, for the third time:
    “My own definition above of Predestination included the absence of human free-will decision… This “FREE-WILL”, like everything else, IS a GIFT from God (i.e. GRACE), and our PROPER EXERCISE of it ALSO REQUIRES GRACE. Nevertheless, we DO exercise the free-will to SOME mysterious extent on our own and apart from God’s influence. It is a mystery to me, and I think to the CC. Bottom-line: God does NOT force us or program us like robots.”

    I see no substantive difference between the thoughts here of Seenoevo and le grande Orange.
    .
    #3
    Let’s take another specific point you try to make against my words:

    “Just to add, buck-shee, a comment on your contention that free-will itself is the “grace” that is meant in Scripture, I have to inform you that this was the very position of Pelagius”

    I did NOT say that free-will itself is the “grace” that is meant in Scripture. (Maybe you’re referring to a verse such as “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast.” [Ephesians 2:8-9])

    What I DID SAY is that EVERYTHING we have is a GIFT FROM GOD (i.e. “GRACE”), and that this everything INCLUDES our FREE-WILL. In other words, free-will is NOT grace itself, but rather the result of grace. I also said the proper exercise of our free-will depends to an extent on God’s encouraging and enabling grace.

    A bad analogy might be in education. Your parents may grace you with payment of your tuition. They, and your teachers, may grace you with encouragement and help in properly performing your academic tasks. (And God may have graced you with a decent brain.) But just having a scholarship or “paid ride” and teachers and books and a brain does NOT GUARANTEE getting a diploma. Ultimately, you have to do YOUR part in “getting educated”.
    .
    #4
    Regarding your quote from the Council of Trent:
    “No one, moreover, so long as he lives this mortal life, ought in regard to the sacred mystery of divine predestination, so far presume as to state with absolute certainty that he is among the number of the predestined… For except by special revelation, it cannot be known whom God has chosen to Himself.”

    Would you say that the teaching of many Protestant groups that is variously known as “Once Saved Always Saved”, “Eternal Security”, “You can’t lose your salvation” is wrong and presumptuous?
    .
    P.S.
    What did you think of Obama’s statement while in Northern Ireland?
    “If towns remain divided–if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs–if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.”

    Sounds to me that he doesn’t like Catholics having their own schools (nor Protestants theirs).
    .
    P.P.S.
    I would consider calling someone “unteachable” an ad hominem. No big deal, at least for me. What you think of me as a person is, to be polite, no concern of mine. (I’m not Rhett Butler, after all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6Pbc8SQwV8 )

  2. Cal says:

    I’m taking up Jon’s banner and going to try and answer some of these questions:

    #1 Jon never disavows the action of the will, nor that humans have free choice. Fundamentally, what do you think happened with Adam in the Garden? Did his choice effect his progeny? My opinion, shaped no doubt by the Scriptures (this is a “humble” way of saying “Scripture teaches…” 🙂 ), is that Adam was cursed to be outside the Garden. Like it or not, he was our representative.

    What’s the point of our existence? Not to live in a Shoots&Ladder type of existence of winning and losing, that’s for sure. Can you stop your own death? To frame it merely in terms of choosing and guilt misses a wealth of both the Scripture and early Church (destroying death, bearing the sin of the world (more than just guilt), recreating humanity).

    #2 What do you think of Augustine when he said, “command what you will, and grant what you command”? I do see substantial difference in what you wrote and Orange. By your standards, our wills, by fact that they exist, are the grace Orange speaks about. That would destroy the entire point of the council. They met to debate Pelagius’ teaching, and it’s moderated form from John Cassian. That’s exactly what they taught. You’re right though, Medieval Catholicism bastardized this council and adopted, for the most part, Cassian’s semi-pelagian theology.

    The point is you’re not in line with their intention. But, I’m not really concerned on this point.

    Even though you reject this in #3 (don’t worry, I read your whole comment), you’re shoring up Cassian’s approach. We need the kick-start to get an otherwise uncorrupted will going. Yes, even the rain and sunshine are grace, but perhaps we should pick a different word to make the point. There’s a difference in God maintaining the Cosmos and His parting the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape Pharoah’s chariots. Jon and I believe that it is this sort of power, this movement of God’s “Wind”, that resuscitates us men of dust so we may become like the Second Adam.

    I differ with Jon on points beyond this, so I’ll leave it at that.

    #4 I would certainly say there is a massive difference between the teaching of “perseverance” and “Once Saved..”. Roman teaching leaves fear and a tier between the “saints” and regular saints. It is true I do not know eternally where I’ll end up, today I’m trusting Jesus will keep me. He died on the cross for me, and rose for me. He’s the mirror of election as the Reformers put it. Or as Paul said it, “If you confess Jesus is Lord with your mouth and believe God raised Him from the dead in your heart, you will be saved”.

    PS.
    That’s disrespectful to the history of Ireland. Given the centuries of sectarianism, that’s like asking whether the KKK and the Black Panthers should run schools in some US borderstate. Both sides, Catholic and Protestant, have oceans of blood on their hands. I can understand the caution Obama, even as an outsider, would have to the situation.

    Cal

  3. seenoevo says:

    Cal,

    You write:
    “#1 Jon never disavows the action of the will, nor that humans have free choice.”

    Neither do I. Jon “disavowed” my position on “predestination” and free-will, saying it was not in agreement with the Catholic Church and Aquinas. I submit Jon is wrong.
    .
    .
    “Fundamentally, what do you think happened with Adam in the Garden?”

    Just what Genesis says.
    .
    .
    “Did his choice effect his progeny? My opinion, shaped no doubt by the Scriptures…”

    My opinion is shaped by Scripture and the 2,000 year teaching, namely, that because of Adam’s sin ALL of his progeny is tainted with Original Sin, which darkens the light of our bodies, minds and wills. So we’re unavoidably susceptible to physical, intellectual and spiritual dangers. Calamities and concupiscence.
    .
    .
    “What’s the point of our existence? … To frame it merely in terms of choosing and guilt misses a wealth of both the Scripture and early Church (destroying death, bearing the sin of the world (more than just guilt), recreating humanity).”

    MY point was that there IS no point IF we’re robots (or dolls or toy soldiers). The POINT was also that there would be no sin to be forgiven if there was no free-will in the “sinner”.
    .
    .
    “#2 What do you think of Augustine when he said, “command what you will, and grant what you command”?”

    Sounds OK to me.
    .
    .
    “I do see substantial difference in what you wrote and Orange. By your standards, our wills, by fact that they exist, are the grace Orange speaks about.”

    I think you see wrongly. Go back and re-re-read what I wrote. Also, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, with MY EMPHASIS:
    [406 The Church’s teaching on the transmission of original sin was articulated more precisely in the fifth century, especially under the impulse of St. Augustine’s reflections against Pelagianism, and in the sixteenth century, in opposition to the Protestant Reformation. Pelagius held that man could, by the natural power of free will and WITHOUT THE NECESSARY HELP OF GOD’S GRACE, lead a morally good life; he thus reduced the influence of Adam’s fault to bad example. The first Protestant reformers, on the contrary, taught that original sin has radically perverted man and DESTROYED HIS FREEDOM; they identified the sin inherited by each man with the tendency to evil (concupiscentia), which would be INSURMOUNTABLE. The Church pronounced on the meaning of the data of Revelation on original sin especially at the second Council of Orange (529) and at the Council of Trent (1546).]
    .
    .
    “… We need the kick-start to get an otherwise uncorrupted will going.”

    I don’t know what you mean here. Maybe this is what you believe, or maybe it’s what you think I believe. It’s not what I believe. I already said above that we had a corrupted will (i.e. NOT an uncorrupted will) due to Original Sin, and said earlier that we needed God’s help (i.e. grace) in properly exercising our will. I also said that by God’s plan, our exercising of this free-will is to SOME mysterious extent TRULY FREE (i.e. OUR choice, NOT God’s). I’m not sure if I’m capable of saying this yet more times and more clearly.
    .
    .
    “#4 I would certainly say there is a massive difference between the teaching of “perseverance” and “Once Saved..”… Or as Paul said it, “If you confess Jesus is Lord with your mouth and believe God raised Him from the dead in your heart, you will be saved”.

    Or as Paul ALSO said: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things…. I pommel my body and subdue it, LEST after preaching to others I MYSELF should be DISQUALIFIED.”

    Or as Jesus said: “…he who endures to the end will be saved.”

    Jesus could have settled the future theological disagreements and confusions by simply reversing the words. For example: ‘he who is saved will endure to the end.”

    But He does NOT say it that way.

    In fact, He does not say it that way three times.
    [cf. Mat 10:22; Mat 24:13; Mark 13:13].

  4. seenoevo says:

    Cal,

    One other point.

    You wrote “I would certainly say there is a massive difference between the teaching of “perseverance” and “Once Saved..”.

    I didn’t ask about differences or even massive differences.

    The question I posed to Jon, and now to you, is whether the teaching of “Once Saved Always Saved”, “Eternal Security”, “You can’t lose your salvation” is WRONG and PRESUMPTUOUS.

    Is it?

  5. Cal says:

    Generally speaking, I’m baffled at you taking argument with Jon then. He’s not saying mankind is a lot of robots or puppets being pulled. You seem to waffle between a Cassianite position and this above, which I find little terribly disagreeable with.

    The Kick-start comment was what it seemed you were arguing.

    Some wills debates go about arguing how much of the pie God and man have. Some say God has all (hyper-calvinists), some say 50/50 or some combination (much of Arminianism). I think its safe to say that it’s a non-question. Our wills are inside of God’s will. Our pie is within another pie. Could you agree to this?

    As for the last part, it depends on the circumstance. Someone who is in despair of this, I could certainly tell them they are saved. They are looking to Christ. I think doctrine of “Once Saved Always Saved” is wrong, but not necessarily presumptuous. Election is hidden, but hidden in Christ. I can be sure today, but because it’s His victory, nothing that I’ve done.

  6. seenoevo says:

    Cal,

    “Generally speaking, I’m baffled at you taking argument with Jon then. He’s not saying mankind is a lot of robots or puppets being pulled.”

    Generally speaking, I’m baffled by Jon writing at least 6 articles to address a simple, if somewhat mysterious, concept which any adult or child already intuitively understands (see my initial post above), AND that Jon would variously describe my position with “incoherent”, “total incomprehension”, “pastiche straw man”, un-Catholic and un-‘Aquinan.’
    .
    .
    “Some wills debates go about arguing how much of the pie God and man have. Some say God has all (hyper-calvinists), some say 50/50 or some combination (much of Arminianism). I think its safe to say that it’s a non-question. Our wills are inside of God’s will. Our pie is within another pie. Could you agree to this?”

    I could agree that those you describe as “hyper-calvinists” are 100% wrong.

    I could agree with someone who said something very much like ‘In God’s plan, our exercising of this free-will is to SOME mysterious extent TRULY FREE (i.e. OUR choice, NOT God’s).’
    .
    .
    “You seem to waffle between …”

    I like waffles but I don’t like waffling. If anyone is waffling here it’s you, with weak, contradictory or ambiguous language such as
    – “which I find little terribly disagreeable with”,
    – “As for the last part, it depends on the circumstance.”
    – “I think doctrine of “Once Saved Always Saved” is wrong, but not necessarily presumptuous.”
    – “I can be sure today, but …”

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