Friday, May 04, 2012

XVII: Presdestination and Election, is that all?

And today I get to tackle the big guns. Presdestination and Election, is that all? No problem. (and, yes, the 2nd paragraph is one complete sentence):

XVII. Of Predestination and Election
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind. and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: then be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son ,Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.

Predestination is one of the few theological doctrines that I have literally seen people get into knock down/drag out fights over.  Earlier in my life, I really had no particular problem with Predestination, though I was never quite on board with the Double Predestination argument (Something I am convinced Calvin himself did not have a strong opinion on, speaking to it only once in the entire Institutes of Religion, and then only as a throw away line.)

This is such a loaded and extensive topic, I do not know precisely where to begin other than to offer a definition for the term. Predestination is at its core in the Christian context the doctrine that teaches that all things are willed by God.

But this overall concept goes way back in history before the advent of Christianity. Greek philosophy wrestled with the idea of "fate" long before Christians ever came on the scene. This is a theme that comes up over and over again in classic Greek mythology and stories from Oedipus Rex to Hercules. Josephus wrote that the Pharisees believed that all things were controlled by fate, yet with some reservation of the freedom of the will. Likewise, Islamic theology is extremely fatalistic, in the sense that Allah is the sole motor or energy of all things.

In Western Christianity,  Saint Augustine wrote about "Election" extensively. Augustine though was one of those theologians that was so brilliant and wrote for so long and most of his works still survive, that he got to the point that he was writing retractions of retractions by the end of his life on some things. He at first denied free will with respect to salvation and affirmed that salvation needs an initial input by God in the life of every person. His later position affirmed the necessity of God granting grace in order for the desire for salvation to be awakened.

In his spat royale with Pelagius, Augustine again rethinks the issues. The British monk Pelagius denied Augustine's view of "predestination" in order to affirm that salvation is achieved by an act of free will. Augustine does argue that humans have free will; however, their will is so distorted, and the Fall is so extensive, that they can only choose evil. So, suffice is to say, Augustine is somewhat all over the place on the issue of Election.

The Catholic church's teachings on the issue are influenced by St. Thomas Aquinas, and are best summed up by Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, which says, ""Salvation in Christ Is Offered to All. The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all...Grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation."

During the Reformation, John Calvin, out of pastoral concern for people who were living daily if dread mortal terror of going to hell because they never knew if they had confessed enough and were doing enough good works to assure salvation via penance, began to teach to give people peace of mind that the Elect of God were predestined to salvation. As such, they did not  need to worry about the quota of good works to assure them salvation because God before the dawn of time had already foreordained all that would happen, including the salvation of those chosen by Him for eternal life. Whatever else you want to say about Calvin's notions on this, one must understand that he taught these things to give people peace of mind and not to bludgeon people over the head with the idea that they might also be predestined to go to hell.

Now, given that background, let's look at the actual Article itself. One will notice the Augustinian thread of Election in this article's definition of Predestination. It clearly defines the doctrine in the positive sense, Predestination to Life. It keeps in view the original design of Calvin which was to use the doctrine to give struggling people pastoral comfort. The article commends that about the doctrine.

Conversely, this article does not take a double predestination view that God also predestines people to hell. The reader will not that it actually takes what is known as the Doctrine of Reprobation. Those who "have not the Spirit of Christ" are tormented by the Election of Christians, so that they must either change their ways and live or else be left to their own devices and become reprobates. Basically, Election of others drives non--believing people to accept God's grace and repent or else become slaves to their sinful natures and risk eternal damnation.

I basically agree with the Augustinian view of Election, that people do not of their own free will and accord choose to become children of God. God gives His grace enough for man to cooperate in salvation. That still allows free will, but it is God, not man, that initiates the process. Without God's help or revelation, humans are not going to get very far because we are sinful. We may feel we "found God" but it was really God, who like the Father of Prodigal Son, was on the lookout all this time and found us first. 

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