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Many are Called, but Few are Chosen



This paper is my attempt to steer a middle way between the heresies of Pelagianism and Calvinism. The basic dispute is about to what degree - if at all - any (wo)man is able to recognize and do what is good at their own initiative rather than simply as a result of God causing or forcing them to do so. Hence it arises from differences in understanding of the notion of "Original Sin".

At the one extreme, the Gnostics taught that Man doesn't need God in order to be good. Either (wo)men are all basically good or can easily gain an adequate idea (knowledge or gnosis) of what it is to be good and can then become so with some effort. Such a belief is liable to be linked with the "universalist" view: that whether or not damnation is possible in principle, in fact no-one is ever damned.

At the other extreme, Luther taught that Man is utterly wicked and remains so even with God's help. Such a belief is liable to be linked with Calvinist doctrine: that few people escape damnation, and that those who do escape do so by the arbitrary whim of God.

What is sin?

Sin is wrongdoing or injustice viewed in term of the effect that it has on the sinner. Any unjust act injures the person who does the injustice by making them at least implicitly but always radically and fundamentally disvalue themselves (as well as any more obviously injured party). In the last analysis such a disvaluing separates the sinner from the ground of all values: the Form of the Good and results in an alienation from God. Damnation is the state of terminal sin.

Although original sin - the degree of separation from God that all humans experience from the start of their lives in this world - does not involve any radical depravation of human nature, it denies (wo)men the only context and environment in which they can prosper and attain their true potential. Rapidly, concupiscence sets in as the conscience becomes malformed by habituated mistaken judgements that are the inevitable consequence of ignorance and short-sightedness.

Nevertheless, even without specific Divine help, (wo)men are capable of objectively just acts. The conscience is not absolutely vitiated by concupiscence. Very often, very many people, have a very good idea of what is kind and loving and just. Very often they have the complete competence to act on this perception. Very often nothing stands in the way of their accomplishing the  good deed that would naturally follow from such a perception.

What is Salvation?

Moreover, human nature is perfectible; though this requires the proper context. In communion with God, the conscience can be healed of its deformities and all concupiscence be abolished, simply by a gathering knowledge of goodness. The Apostle tells us (in highly Platonic language) that God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" [I Tim 2:4], yet Jesus seems to tell us that "few" are in fact saved [Matt 7:13,14]. These two statements seem to be contradictory. If God is all-loving and all-powerful, how can He bear to allow so many to stray from the way to "life" and instead find their way to "destruction". This is a sub-set of the more general (and very serious) "Problem of Pain", on which C.S. Lewis for one has written. It seems that something is wrong here, and that someone (most plausibly God) is "at fault". There seems to be a pressing need to come to God's defence. Before making whatever feeble attempt I may, I think it important to consider what one might mean by "salvation" and "destruction".

What does it mean "to be saved"?

I suppose this to signify "being a friend of God at the last, so that one escapes Hell". I emphasize the negative only so as to avoid opening up even more unanswerable questions about the nature of Heaven, the Resurrection and the New Creation. My trite answer begs the questions: I don't want to dwell on any of these, my present business is elsewhere, but neither do I think it proper to simply ignore such troubling questions. What follows is an abbreviated version of a longer treatment to be found elsewhere,
It seems to me that Hell (or "the destructions", in Jesus' words) exists simply and only because it is an option chosen by some sinners. Rather than to repent (change their life style and philosophy, not just regret and so apologize for past actions) and endure the stressful reformation of his will: the hard-hearted offender against justice prefers to live eternally by his own subjective, mistaken and false values and to refuse to adopt objective, true and so wholesome values. In the last analysis, the only sin that matters is conceit. This is "the sin against Holy Spirit that cannot be forgiven", because it asks for no forgiveness. It is self-satisfied with its poor lot. It prefers its own poverty to the abounding riches of God, for it will not admit that it is mistaken in its judgement.

It is uncongenial to modern minds to conceive of Hell as a place or at least condition of unending (but not necessarily thereby infinite or unlimited) suffering. However, this is the overwhelming testimony of, Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. I take this to be so manifest that I shall not bother to quote any authorities. However, I think the case is not as clear cut and quite so "horrid" as many pre 1960's Catholic propagandists or preachers might have had one believe.

The moment of death.

The moment of death is decisive regarding salvation or damnation. This is simply because it is, by definition, the transition between mortal life; with its uncertainties and the opportunity for the exercise of Free Will: and Eternal Life; which involves intimate union with God - even "divinization", a coming to participate in the Divine Nature, itself [II Pet 1:4]. I also suppose, that the "particular judgement" at the moment of death involves a review of the whole of one's life: with every decision and action having its own proper weight.

Why Eternal Punishment?

No-one with a "spark of goodness" chooses to go to Hell: for this signifies a conceited rejection of God's gracious offer of friendship. Part of making such a choice is a rejection of any possibility of a change of one's belief about God's nature and one's attitude towards Him. God could not intervene to reform this choice without doing violence to the Free Will of the sinner. The presumption (to be examined below) is that God will have done all that is possible and proper (technically: sufficient) to prevent such a decision being made and that for some reason (to be examined below) this was not enough (technically: efficient).

Just how nice are people?

When one reflects on various ostensible atrocities committed by (wo)men, one begins to doubt that people are generally as "nice" as one would like to think. St Paul's various "lists of sins", with his emphasis on disputatiousness, dissension, anger, whispering, lying, boasting, wilful stupidity, hard heartedness and a lack of back-bone (the "malakoi") should be an alert to us all; as should be Jesus' warning about the dire consequence of "eternal punishment" for those who refuse hospitality [Mat 10:15] or simply neglect to care for those marginalized in society [Mat 25:31-46]. The evidence of modern psychology is sadly that, subject to very moderate peer pressure, the overwhelming majority of people will behave in entirely despicable ways. It is much more important to most people "to conform" and "to do what they're told" than "to do justice". We should all be wary of complacency. It is very easy to live a self-satisfied life, secure in the conceit that one is a decent person, who wouldn't do anyone any harm: while in fact being implacably opposed to any of the least demands that Justice might make upon one's will.

What is Justification? Or thank God for Purgatory!

In order to be God's friend, it is unavoidably necessary to be perfect and holy. This is because any friendship worthy of the name is built on a real mutual respect. Hence, in the end, every friend of God must become truly worthy of that friendship. This is a daunting requirement! Of course, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory comes to one's aid. It is not necessary to be perfect now in order to be God's friend now. God is gracious. He willingly takes our flawed good intentions; our half-hearted aspirations; our partial recognition and acknowledgement of what is true, right and proper: our "faith", "belief" or "doxa", as a "down payment" or "deposit" on our eventual radical personal reformation: our justification or sanctification. St Paul points out that:
"Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" [Rom 4:3].
So this system, arrangement or economy was just as operative both before and under the Mosaic dispensation as under the New Covenant. In the book of Wisdom we find it written:
"....thou art merciful to all .... and thou doest overlook men's sins, that they might repent. For thou hast loathing for nothing that thou hast made, for thou wouldst not have made it if thou hadst hated it. How would anything have endured if thou hadst not willed it? Thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living" [Wis 11:23,24,26].
There is no notion here that a single sin necessitates Divine vengeance, but rather that God "bends over backwards" to excuse and forgive: because He loves all that He has made and wants sinners to repent.

The notion of "Justification by Faith through Charity" is not specific to the Gospel, but is part of the general dispensation available to all men of good-will [II Tim 2:4]. God's grace can work within the heart of any sinner, given an attitude of faith, to effect the necessary reformation by nurturing the additional "Theological Virtues" of Hope and, pre-eminently, Charity. Still, a degree of Faith, Hope and Charity are necessary preconditions for anyone to be a "friend of God". If they are lacking, Purgatory is no option, and Hell is the only prospect facing the recalcitrant sinner.

So just Who are Saved, and Why and How?

As I've already mentioned, there is a paradox here. God, who is all-powerful and all-loving, desires everyone to be saved. To this end, God gives all (wo)men "sufficient grace" to be saved. Yet not all are saved. Why? As I understand it, there are three generic answers to this problem. The controversy generated has generally been heated and given rise to extreme degrees of ill will: simply because the issues involved are very delicate. For myself, I well recall being sent into a serious three day depression by a Priest of Opus Dei, who insensitively and almost gleefully argued (as best I recall) that those who have not had the Gospel preached to them explicitly have no chance of being saved!

What is grace?

Often grace is talked of as if it was a fluid that one went to a filling station (such as the sacraments, prayer or the scriptures) to replenish or tank-up on. This is arrant nonsense! The deepest and primary meaning of grace is Holy Spirit Herself, active in the will (or "heart") of the friend of God. This is what is technically referred to as "Uncreated Grace". The second meaning is the immediate effects of this activity of Holy Spirit: the healing of the will and the insights; knowledge; wisdom and unexpected abilities that this gives rise to, this is "actual grace" or "graces". The root meaning of the word "grace" is "free": both in the sense that there is no charge for a thing and in the sense that it is liberating. Hence, God graciously graces us with His grace: God of His own initiative and looking for no recompense liberates us from our limitations by engaging with us and offering us His friendship.

Grace is not an Aristotelian substance. It is a process; an engagement; an encounter with God. It is the helping hands offered by parents to their child who is learning to walk. It is the roar of approval from the crowd of supporters at the sports stadium or fans at the rock concert. It is the compassionate caress or smile of encouragement offered to the person who is suffering. It is the conversation of sharing between friends. It is the embrace of lovers.

Many graces given by God do not result in the entire effect toward which they are directed, while other graces do elicit the effect that was envisaged. Graces of the first kind are calledsufficient graces. They give the potential to do good, without necessarily bringing the good act itself to pass, since the recipient could and did in fact resist them. Graces of the second kind are calledefficacious. They not only give us the potential to do some good, but in fact enable us to actually accomplish it.


The great majority of (mainly western) older theologians, such as St Augustine and Jerome, hold that the grace called efficacious is efficacious intrinsically: simply because God chooses it to be so. God, they argue, is to no degree a spectator or player in the drama of salvation, but is its sovereign author. However, regarding how such grace is efficacious, these theologians differ. Sacred Scripture itself uses the term predestination [Rom 8:29-30, Eph 1:5,11], but what is meant by this term is unclear. The sage judgement of Origen is highly relevant here: In extreme contrast to the ancient consensus stands the figure of Pelagius, the first famous English christian. He rightly believed that (wo)mankind was basically good, but then made the mistake of arguing from the true premise that (wo)men can do good acts naturally (as much later infallibly testified to by the Oecumenical Council of Trent), to the false conclusion they can thereby merit salvation naturally.
"If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema." [Oecumenical Synod of Trent: session VI: canon 7]
According to Pelagius' mortal enemy St. Augustine of Hippo, the Englishman believed that (wo)men were naturally capable of pleasing God and so earning His approval. Hence, Pelagius (I think rightly) believed that it was possible for those who have never heard the Gospel to be saved:
“.... the human race ....  if  it is self-sufficient for fulfilling the law and for perfecting righteousness [as the Pelagians falsely contend], ought to be sure .... of everlasting life, even if in any nation or at any former time faith in the blood of Christ was unknown to it .... Before, however .... the actual preaching of the Gospel reaches the ends of all the earth .... what must human nature do .... but believe in God who made heaven and earth, by whom also it perceived by nature that it had been created, and lead a right life, and thus accomplish His will, uninstructed with any faith in the death and resurrection of Christ [the Pelagians say]?  [St Augustine of Hippo: "On Nature and Grace"]
The (I think correct) belief of the early Church that (wo)men can do no salvific good work without grace was so firm that Pelagius found it necessary to argue that the natural gift of human free will itself, or the recollection of the forgiveness of sins, or of the good example of Christ is the grace without which we can do no good.
“Pelagius’ book contains and asserts this view .... where he says that he ought not to be reputed as defending free will as unhelped by the grace of God, since he says that the ability 'to will and to do' .... any good has been implanted by our Creator in our human nature, and that manifestly this was the grace of God, as understood by the doctor of grace himself, which is common to pagans and Christians, wicked and good, unbelievers and believers.” [St Augustine of Hippo: letter 186]
The local Council of Carthage, held in 418 AD in the presence of St. Augustine and later confirmed by Pope St. Zosimus, non-infallibly (but I think correctly) condemned the proposition (attributed to Pelagius) that: wo(men) can with difficulty "do good, in a way that fulfils the purpose of the Law and produces the fruit of salvation" without any grace:
“Also it has pleased, that if anyone shall have said, that the grace of justification is given to us so that we may be able to fulfil easier through grace what we are commanded to do through free choice, as if, were grace not given, even without it we would be able to fulfil the divine commandments, although not indeed easily, let him be anathema. For the Lord spoke of the fruit of the commandments, where He did not say, without Me ye are able to do with a greater difficulty, but he said: ‘without Me ye can do nothing’.” [Council of Carthage: AD 418, Canon 5]


In extreme opposition to Pelagius' doctrine, St Augustine (I think wrongly) insisted that:
Well, if this could have been done, or can still be done, then for my part I have to say what the apostle said in regard to the law: ‘then Christ died in vain’. For if he said this about the law, which only the nation of the Jews received, how much more justly may it be said of the law of nature, which the whole human race has received, If righteousness come by nature, ‘then Christ died in vain’.
If, however, Christ did not die in vain, then human nature cannot by any means be justified and redeemed from God's most righteous wrath .... except by the faith and the sacrament of the blood of Christ.” [St Augustine of Hippo: "On Nature and Grace"]
Taking St. Augustine literally, one would have to conclude that Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and St John the Baptist, among many others, are all damned. Indeed if the phrase "and the sacrament of the blood" is insisted on, then even "the repentant thief" must now be in Hell: in direct contradiction with the explicit testimony of Our Blessed Lord! Any interpretation that is placed upon At Augustine's words which makes it possible to avoid this conclusion: and I am pretty sure that he would not have wanted his words to be understood in this way, will inevitably open up the possibility of other (wo)men of good being graciously redeemed on the basis of an implicit faith in Christ, and an implicit desire for Baptism and Holy Communion.

Nevertheless, it is certainly true that some early theologians (I think very wrongly) explicitly rejected any such possibility:

"Grace is not properly esteemed by any one who supposes that it is given to all men, when not only does The Faith not pertain to all, but even at the present time some nations may yet be found to whom the preaching of The Faith has not yet come. But the Blessed Apostle says: ‘How then are they to call upon Him in whom they have not believed? or how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? but how are they to hear, without preaching?’ Grace, then, is not given to all; for certainly they cannot be participants in that grace, who are not believers; nor can they believe if it is found that the preaching of The Faith has never come to them at all." [Synodal Epistle of St. Fulgentius and other African Bishops]
However, the teaching of even a good number of such authorities cannot be taken as determinative of Apostolic Tradition. This is mainly because it is clear in reading their works that they are not considering all the issues and possibilities, but simply giving a naive reaction to an inadequately posed question.

Often, the question is seen as one of justifying God's seemingly unreasonable and unkind actions in terms of a narrow legalism:

"[The Lord] says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy .... So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills." [The Apostle Paul: Rm. 9:15-18]
"Faith, then, as well in its beginning as in its completion, is God's gift; and let no one have any doubt whatever, unless he desires to resist the plainest sacred writings, that this gift is given to some, while to some it is not given. But why it is not given to all ought not to disturb the believer, who believes that from one all have gone into a condemnation, which undoubtedly is most righteous; so that even if none were delivered therefrom, there would be no just cause for finding fault with God." [St Augustine of Hippo: "Predestination of the Saints" Ch 16]

"God wills to manifest his goodness in men: in respect to those whom he predestines, by means of his mercy, in sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of his justice, in punishing them .... Yet why he chooses some for glory and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will. Hence Augustine says, 'Why he draws one, and another he draws not, seek not to judge, if thou dost not wish to err.'"
[St Thomas Aquinas: "Summa Theologica  I:23:5", citing St Augustine: "Homilies on the Gospel of John 26:2"]

Such arguments are correct as far as they go, but entirely miss the point at issue!

St. Augustine's book "On Grace and Free Will" is largely a exposition of his conviction that (wo)men can do no "good works", without grace:

“And therefore he makes strong the flesh of his arm who supposes that a power which is frail and weak (that is, human) is sufficient for him to perform good works, and therefore puts not his hope in God for help.....
So now let us see what are the divine testimonies concerning the grace of God, without which we are not able to do any good thing....
So that a man is assisted by grace, in order that his will may not be uselessly commanded....
Nevertheless, lest the will itself should be deemed capable of doing any good thing without the grace of God, after saying, ‘His grace within me was not in vain, but I have laboured more abundantly than they all’, St. Paul immediately added the qualifying clause, ‘Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me’.....
Were grace only to withdraw itself, man falls, not raised up, but precipitated by free will. Wherefore no man ought, even when he begins to possess good merits, to attribute them to himself, but to God, who is thus addressed by the Psalmist: ‘Be Thou my helper, forsake me not’. By saying, ‘Forsake me not’, he shows that if he were to be forsaken, he is unable of himself to do any good thing.....
Here John the Baptist says of Christ: ‘Of His fulness have we all received, even grace for grace’. So that out of His fullness we have received, according to our humble measure, our particles of ability as it were for leading good lives.....
For when the command is given ‘to work’, their free will is addressed; and when it is added, ‘with fear and trembling’, they are warned against boasting of their good deeds as if they were their own, by attributing to themselves the performance of anything good.....
But when a man knows sin, and grace does not help him to avoid what he knows, undoubtedly the law works wrath. And this the apostle explicitly says in another passage. His words are: ‘The law worketh wrath’....
Not that the law is evil; but because they are under its power, whom it makes guilty by imposing commandments, not by aiding. It is by grace that any one is a doer of the law; and without this grace, he who is placed under the law will be only a hearer of the law.[St Augustine of Hippo: "Grace and Free Will", Ch 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 21, 22, 24]
In all of the above, the saint fails to clarify whether the good acts that he is discussing are merely objectively just or also subjectively charitable: good works proper, and so meritorious. Moreover, the saint never deals with the issue as to whether sanctifying grace can exist apart from an explicit faith in Christ and explicit adherence to His Church.

It should already be apparent that I am no enthusiast for St. Augustine's doctrine of the relationship between grace and free-will. I believe that in his wholesome zeal to defend the Apostolic Tradition from the Pelagian error that (wo)men could earn or merit God's approval without God first deciding to reach out to them, he came at least close to the error that Origen warned against and which I will quote once more:

"This Epistle to the Romans is accounted more difficult to understand than the other Epistles of the Apostle Paul, this arises in my judgement from two reasons. One of these is the fact that he uses language which at times is involved and wanting in precision. The other is that in this Epistle he raises many problems, and especially those on which the heretics usually rely in their attempts to show that the reason of each of our actions must be assigned not to intention, but to some natural peculiarity. From a few texts in this Epistle they attempt to overthrow the meaning of the whole of Scripture, which teaches that freedom of will was bestowed upon man by God." [Origen: Preface to Romans, in "Selections from the Commentaries and Homilies of Origen", p 120-121 translator: R.B. Tollinton]


In more modern times, Jesuit theologians have generally argued that some people are simply not saveable, given God's best efforts: short of coercion! God is simply unable to bring them to repentance. Their Free Will is sovereign and the grace that should be sufficient to effect their conversion in fact fails to do so. It is not "efficient", even though it is super-abundant! Grace always actualizes, never compels human liberty,
"as often as we do good God operates in us and with us, so that we may operate"
[Second Council of Orange, canon 9]
and it never compromises the freedom to resist, as is taught infallibly by the Oecumenical Synod of Trent:
"If any one saith, that man's free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema." [Oecumenical Synod of Trent : Session VI, canon 4]
The Jesuit theologian Molina maintained that when grace is efficacious, it is so by virtue of human consent, foreseen by God. We shall shortly see that this theory is rejected by the Thomists, on the grounds that it implies a passivity in God relative to human Free Will.
"The idea that God does not allow anyone to perish for want of grace is crucial for a Molinist. The Jesuit theologian Pohle answers the question 'how God provides for the salvation of the heathen' in his book 'Grace Actual and Habitual' by first stating that whereas the Catechism says that six distinct revealed truths must be believed for salvation, it is not certain that anything other than a belief in God and that He is a rewarder of virtue is necessary for salvation. He then argues that even if the stricter view is true the six revealed truths need only be believed 'implicitly'.
The scholastics maintained that one must explicitly believe in the Trinity, Incarnation, Redemption and the Church in order to be saved, and that other doctrines need only be believed 'implicitly', in perhaps a general act of faith.
Molinists extend this principle and argue that in order to be saved, one need not explicitly believe anything identifiably Christian, but that it suffices to be a person of good will.
Pohle then discusses three commonly proposed hypotheses, as to how God might elicit explicit faith in a person of good will if, as the Thomists assert, this be required:
  1. by directing a missionary to them,
  2. by sending an angel to them or
  3. by illuminating them internally.
Pohle assumes that many heathen will be saved, because (as has been for some time the common view of theologians) God grants to all (wo)men sufficient grace to be saved. Hence he rejects the three hypotheses as manifestly absurd because they are clearly not in fact “the ordinary means of conversion”.
[Closely based on a text by Thomas Sparks]
"The implicit faith theory is far more plausible, for it postulates no miracles, implicit faith being independent of the external preaching of the Gospel, just as the baptism of desire is independent of the use of water .… Some theologians hold that those to whom the Gospel has never been preached, may be saved by a quasi-faith based on purely natural motives.... For the rest, no one will presume to dictate to Almighty God how and by what means He shall communicate His grace to the heathen. It is enough, and very consoling, too, to know that all men receive sufficient grace to save their souls, and no one is eternally damned except through his own fault." [Joseph Pohle SJ "Grace Actual and Habitual" 1914, p185-6]
On the one hand, this view neatly exonerates God from responsibility for damning anyone, and suggests that it is only wilful obduracy that prevents anyone obtaining Eternal Life. After all, Jesus taught that all it took to "enter the Kingdom" was to receive the Gospel "like a child" [Mk 10:15] and to keep the commandments [Mk 10:19]. He did not think this task impossible, at least not in whatever sense He meant it to be understood by the rich young man who asked him "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" We can see this in the fact that "Jesus looking upon him, loved him" [Mk 10:19-21], when he claimed "Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth." If the task was truly impossible, then the young man would have been either lying or mistaken, and in neither case would Jesus have failed to correct him.

On the other hand, it is difficult to see how God can be said to be Almighty, if his grace is so easily frustrated by human Free Will. Couldn't God astutely organize circumstances for each of his creatures so that their Free Will never came into conflict with His grace? In fact it seems that reality is far removed from such a cosy arrangement. While some people have quite easy lives, with few challenges to their faith; others have to contend with emotional, material and spiritual turmoil that tends directly to confound their faith and commitment to justice. Of course, it is not necessarily those who experience the easy option who are "faithful to the truth", and those who suffer many difficulties who fall by the wayside: a life of few challenges can result in complacency, a life full of disasters can result in someone clinging stubbornly to God, the only steadfast refuge in a volatile world.


As best I understand it, Calvin believed the reprehensible doctrine that God positively intends that some people are not saveable. For some unfathomable reason, Calvin thought that God wants to see Hell well stocked, and that He uses the Devil as His agent to induce and entrap those who are pre-destined to Eternal Punishment to sin, and so to deserve this fate! This view certainly ensures that God's "sovereign power" is maintained, but at the expense of (it seems to me) a denial of the central tenet of Christianity: "God is Love". Why God should specifically create beings in order that they might suffer eternally, quite escapes me. I wouldn't do any such thing! I think that this makes me morally superior to Calvin's "God". To argue that it is just and loving for God to behave in such a manner, because our notions of justice and love are somehow deficient is, I believe a total abandonment of sense and rationality.
"According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptised persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labour faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema."
[Second Council of Orange: Concluding Statement]
Calvinists believe that when God gives a (wo)man the grace that enables him to come to salvation; they always respond, and never reject this grace. This is the doctrine of irresistible grace. It amounts to the idea that God forces people to come to him, against their will. This doctrine is contrary to Scripture, which gives clear indication that grace can be resisted. Stephen Protomartyr tells the Sanhedrin, "You always resist the Holy Spirit!" [Acts 7:51]. For this reason some Calvinists prefer the term "efficacious grace." According to Blaise Pascal, this idea: that God's enabling grace is intrinsically efficacious so that it always produces salvation is common territory with Jansenists (a form of Calvinism that grew up within the French Catholic Church)  and Thomists.

This is the principal issue between Thomists and Molinists. The former claim that enabling grace is efficacious by its very nature: because of the kind of grace it is, it always produces the effect of salvation. Molinists claim that enabling grace is only sufficient of itself: it is then made efficacious by man's free assent, co-operation and consent.

"If any one saith, that man's free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema." [Oecumenical Synod of Trent : Session VI, canon 4]


Dominican theologians have typically adopted an intermediate position. In their view, God chooses to put in enough effort to save those whom He chooses. While all are potentially saveable, not all are actually saved. God gives "sufficient" grace to all, but only "efficient" grace to a subset: "the many". Again, God's "sovereign power" is apparently maintained, because God chooses who will be saved and who will be damned. Nevertheless, He neither positively wants anyone to be damned [II Tim 2:4], nor works in any way to advance such a purpose.

This is, it seems to me, an attempt to "both have one's cake and eat it". If God does not want anyone to be damned, why doesn't God give everyone "efficient" grace? Is there some quota or limited supply of the stuff? Why doesn't God arrange circumstances in such a way in fact that all people are saved?  If God can't do this, then it would seem that the Jesuit position is recovered. If God could do so but in fact chooses not to, the Calvinist position is recovered.

Byzantine theology

I next include an extended quotation as evidence of the Byzantine Orthodox theology concerning grace.
"We believe the most good God to have from eternity predestinated unto glory those whom He hath chosen, and to have consigned unto condemnation those whom He hath rejected; but not so that He would justify the one, and consign and condemn the other without cause. For that were contrary to the nature of God, who is the common Father of all, and no respecter of persons, and 'would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth'; [1 Timothy 2:4] but since He foreknew the one would make a right use of their free-will, and the other a wrong, He predestinated the one, or condemned the other.
And we understand the use of free-will thus:
But to say, as the most wicked [Calvinist] heretics do .... that God, in predestinating, or condemning, had in no wise regard to the works of those predestinated, or condemned, we know to be profane and impious. For thus Scripture would be opposed to itself, since it promiseth the believer salvation through works, yet supposeth God to be its sole author, by His sole illuminating grace, which He bestoweth without preceding works, to shew to man the truth of divine things, and to teach him how he may co-operate therewith, if he will, and do what is good and acceptable, and so obtain salvation. He taketh not away the power to will: to will to obey, or not obey him.

But than to affirm that the Divine Will is thus solely and without cause the author of their condemnation, what greater calumny can be fixed upon God? and what greater injury and blasphemy can be offered to the Most High? For that the Deity is not tempted with evils, [cf. James 1:13] and that He equally willeth the salvation of all, since there is no respect of persons with Him, we do know; and that for those who through their own wicked choice, and their impenitent heart, have become vessels of dishonour, there is, as is just, decreed condemnation, we do confess.
But of eternal punishment, of cruelty, of pitilessness, and of inhumanity, we never, never say God is the author, who telleth us that 'there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth' [Luke 15:7]. Far be it from us, while we have our senses, thus to believe, or to think; and we do subject to an eternal anathema those who say and think such things, and esteem them to be worse than any infidels.
["Decree III of The Confession of Dositheos, Patriarch of Jerusalem",
being Chapter VI of the Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem (A.D. 1672)]

"We believe man in falling by the original transgression to have become comparable and like unto the beasts, that is, to have been utterly undone, and to have fallen from his perfection and impassability, yet not to have lost the nature and power which he had received from the supremely good God. For otherwise he would not be rational, and consequently not man; but to have the same nature, in which he was created, and the same power of his nature, that is free-will, living and operating. So as to be by nature able to choose and do what is good, and to avoid and hate what is evil.
For it is absurd to say that the nature which was created good by Him who is supremely good lacketh the power of doing good. For this would be to make that nature evil: than which what could be more impious? For the power of working dependeth upon nature, and nature upon its author, although in a different manner. And that a man is able by nature to do what is good, even our Lord Himself intimateth, saying, even the Gentiles love those that love them. [Matthew 5:46; Luke 6:32]
But this is taught most plainly by Paul also, [Romans 2:14] and elsewhere expressly, saying in so many words, 'The Gentiles which have no law do by nature the things of the law.' From which it is also manifest that the good which a man may do cannot forsooth be sin.
For it is impossible that what is good can be evil. Albeit, being done by nature only, and tending to form the natural character of the doer, but not the spiritual, it contributeth not unto salvation thus alone without faith, nor yet indeed unto condemnation, for it is not possible that good, as such, can be the cause of evil. But in the regenerated, what is wrought by grace, and with grace, maketh the doer perfect, and rendereth him worthy of salvation.

A man, therefore, before he is regenerated, is able by nature to incline to what is good, and to choose and work moral good. But for the regenerated to do spiritual good - for the works of the believer being contributory to salvation and wrought by supernatural grace are properly called spiritual - it is necessary that he be guided and preevented by grace, as hath been said in treating of predestination; so that he is not able of himself to do any work worthy of a Christian life, although he hath it in his own power to will, or not to will, to co-operate with grace."
["Decree XIV of The Confession of Dositheos, Patriarch of Jerusalem",
being Chapter VI of the Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem (A.D. 1672)]

The context of this document is important. A certain Cyril Lucar became the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1620 AD. Before this, he had studied for a while in western Europe. In 1629, a "Confession of Faith", written in Latin and ascribed to Cyril, was published in Geneva.
"In its eighteen articles [it] professed virtually all the major doctrines of Calvinism; predestination, justification by faith alone, acceptance of only two sacraments (instead of seven, as taught by the Eastern Orthodox Church), rejection of icons, rejection of the infallibility of the church, and so on. In the Orthodox church the Confession started a controversy that culminated in 1672 AD in a convocation by Dositheos, patriarch of Jerusalem, of a church council that repudiated all Calvinist doctrines and reformulated Orthodox teachings in a manner intended to distinguish them from both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism." [The Encyclopaedia Britannica]

What about Lucifer?

It occurs to me that the whole problem of pain and sin free-will and grace and death all reduces to the question: "Why did God create Lucifer?" When God created the greatest of the angelic beings, He knew that Morning Star would rebel and reject His friendship. He knew that healthy, objective self appreciation (pride) would become self-destructive, subjective conceit: and that he who should have been the crowning glory of creation would fall from grace, loose his name, and become the Lord of the Abyss.

Why then did God create Lucifer? Once He did, why did He put Lucifer in such a position that he "failed the test": why, for that matter, was there any need to risk corrupting his initial good will?

The only answer that can possibly be made to these questions is "because of Love", but this is itself problematic. While it is loving "to create", and loving "to give freedom to", and even loving "to allow to fail" (in order to allow the one who fails to learn from their failure) it doesn't seem loving "to allow to fail absolutely" (and so for no purpose).

The other side of the question is, of course, just as problematic: "Given his position and access to God; why did Lucifer sin?" One presumes that in order to constitute the Angels as His Friends, God had to give them (as all sentient beings) the chance to choose for or against him of their own Free Will. This amounts to deciding in a state of partial ignorance and so on the basis of doxa: faith; rather than on the basis of episteme: full and clear knowledge. Given such a real choice, it would seem inevitable that some should take the wrong option. If none had turned away from God, then it would seem that no real choice was available. Even the Incarnate Word of God was subject to such an option. Though it was  impossible that the Son should rebel against or be separated from the Father, nevertheless in His sacred humanity Jesus experienced the ultimate doubt regarding God and a total loss of whatever episteme he may have habitually enjoyed. Hence He cried out in utter distress: "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Whereas the Christ passed this test (as was inevitable, given his divinity) at the cost of ultimate anguish, and so become the Head of Creation; the original "chief creature", Lucifer, failed: even though the crisis that he had to endure was much less and was well within his capabilities of winning through.

If God hadn't made Lucifer, it would have been possible to accuse Him of a kind of cowardice or censorship or conceit. How could God "know" that such a glorious being would "go bad", unless He gave him a chance to prove himself? God should have given reality to he who was conceived in the Divine Mind, and let him answer for himself. Nothing else would be fair! For God to chose to deny being to a potential creature just because He "knew" that Lucifer would rebel, would have been conceited!

Moreover, it may be that there is no real difference between God conceiving of a possibility in the abstract and God making that possibility real. In which case the question "Why did you make this mess of a Cosmos?" makes a lot less sense, as it is totally  unreasonable to blame an infinite and omniscient God for considering all self-consistent possibilities. What matters in justice is that, given the fact of our Cosmos, God has done everything possible to aid and help and save all those sentient creatures that it contains.

Perhaps our Cosmos is not all that God has made. Perhaps there are Worlds that God has made in which Lucifer did not fall. Perhaps we will never know this; perhaps it is not our business to know.

My attempt at a solution.

Catholic teaching is that, because of the fall of Adam, man cannot do anything out of supernatural love unless God gives him special grace to do so. Thomas Aquinas teaches that special grace is necessary for man to do any supernaturally good act: to love God, to fulfil God's commandments, to gain eternal life, to prepare for salvation, to rise from sin, to avoid sin, and to persevere.
"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 ...." [Second Council of Orange: Concluding statement]

"For every salutary act internal supernatural grace of God (gratia elevans) is absolutely necessary"
[Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma: Dr Ludwig Ott IV.I.8]

"as often as we do good God operates in us and with us, so that we may operate"
[Second Council of Orange, canon 9]

"man does no good except that which God brings about"
[Second Council of Orange, canon 20].

"Whoever says that without the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be repentant as he ought, so that the grace of justification my be bestowed upon him, let him be anathema" [Oecumenical Synod of Trent: session VI: canon 3]

Justification cannot be earned

This is quite obvious in fact and somewhat misleading in tone. For a (wo)man to do anything that is worthwhile in forwarding his/her relationship with God, it is first of all necessary that (s)he has such a relationship with God. One cannot earn friendship, certainly not God's friendship: to think so is Pelagianism. One cannot even do something that might incline God towards offering His friendship: to think so is Semipelagianism. Sinners are not, of themselves, attractive to God. He simply has nothing whatever to gain from any association with any one of them and so cannot be externally motivated to offer His friendship to anyone! When God offers friendship to a sinner, it is always unmerited and absolutely gracious. The recipient of the offer cannot in any sense deserve the offer.
"[The Lord] says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy .... So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills." [Rm. 9:15-18]
Moreover, the offer of friendship is always at God's initiative and on His terms. Fallen, finite and sinful (wo)man is in no position to make the first move!

Human nature is not radically wicked

Contrary to the pernicious teachings of Luther and Calvin, it is entirely possible for someone who is not (as yet) a friend of God to do any number of objectively just acts, of which God approves. This is the infallible teaching of The Oecumenical Council of Trent:
"If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema." [Session Six: Canon VII]

"If any one saith, that the fear of hell (whereby, by grieving for our sins, we flee unto the mercy of God, or refrain from sinning) is a sin, or makes sinners worse; let him be anathema." [Session Six: Canon VIII]

"If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema." [Session Six: Canon IX]

in conformance with the wholesome doctrine of the Confession of Dositheos. Nevertheless, none of these are significant as far as the eternal destiny of that person is concerned: unless they are subjectively motivated by an (implicit) faith in and love of Justice Itself: God. In which case, their agent is already a friend of God, though without knowing it. This love of Justice is sanctifying grace, and being God itself is entirely from God HimSelves. It is certainly not merited by any human action, rather it is disclosed as being already present in someone's life, unmerited and unexpected.
"The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world."
[The Gospel of John: Chapter 1 verse 9]

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field,
which a man found and covered up;
when in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
[The Gospel of Matthew: Chapter 13: verse 44]

"The Kingdom of Heaven is within you: and whosoever knoweth himself shall find it."
["New sayings of Jesus", discovered at Oxyrhynchus 1903,
trans. Greenfell & Hunt, pub 1904, OUP: for the Egypt Exploration Fund]

God is no bystander

In other words, God is always involved in just acts, because He is Justice and anyone who purposefully does justice must already love God. It is quite impossible for anyone to really do justice without being led to do so by God's grace; not because (wo)men are by nature corrupt and unable to do so, but because:
  1. Anyone who does seek to work justice has already responded to the call of love and offer of friendship from God; though perhaps without knowing it.
  2. God forsees the slightest inclination towards justice and always acts in such a way as to facilitate and encourage and actualize that inclination.
It is simply impossible to get in on the act without God having got there beforehand. Such it is to be God:
"Raise the stone and thou shalt find me. Cleave the wood and I am there."
["The Logia", discovered at Oxyrhynchus 1897,
trans. Greenfell & Hunt, pub 1904, OUP: for the Egypt Exploration Fund]

"as often as we do good God operates in us and with us, so that we may operate"
[Second Council of Orange, canon 9]

"We also believe and confess to our benefit that in every good work it is not we who take the initiative and are then assisted through the mercy of God, but God himself first inspires in us both faith in him and love for him without any previous good works of our own that deserve reward, so that we may both faithfully seek the sacrament of baptism, and after baptism be able by his help to do what is pleasing to him."
[The Second Council of Orange, Concluding Statement]

God is the Great Seducer of Souls

Justifying grace is intrinsically efficacious in the sense that whenever God forsees that He can seduce a soul, then He certainly does so: and this action is bound to succeed (is infallible), simply because it is based upon God's clear understanding of that soul's condition and propensities. To insinuate that God does not do all that He could do to save any soul from eternal damnation is, in my judgement, abhorrent. Thomas Aquinas gets close to this error when he says that:
"God wills to manifest his goodness in men: in respect to those whom he predestines, by means of his mercy, in sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of his justice, in punishing them .... Yet why he chooses some for glory and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will. Hence Augustine says, 'Why he draws one, and another he draws not, seek not to judge, if thou dost not wish to err.'"
[Summa Theologica  I:23:5, citing Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John 26:2.]
Taken literally, Thomas' teaching is simply true: except that the notion of "punishment" itself is complex and problematic. St Augustine is wise in warning against attempting to understand why God's invitation to some is effective and to others ineffective. We cannot possibly fathom what it might mean for One who is outside time to "choose" anything, still less to understand why He chose one option rather than another! Nevertheless, the uncritical use of the word choose is dangerous. It could be taken to mean that God chooses not to go the extra mile with some people: as if he decided beforehand that some were simply not worth bothering with.

An extreme version of this interpretation is "double predestination", a heretical doctrine constitutive of Calvinism. This claims that, in addition to positively electing some people to salvation (in consideration of their response to His sufficient prevenient grace); God also purposefully and deliberately causes others to be damned, (seemingly in order that Hell should be well stocked). A less extreme version is "passive reprobation": a doctrine characteristic of Thomism. This claims that while God positively predestines some people to salvation by lavishing on them infallibly self efficient grace, He simply passes over the remainder: granting them only "sufficient" grace that inevitably turns out to be ineffective. They do not come to God, but it is because of their sin, not because God positively damns them.

I find the Thomist stance distasteful in the extreme. I readily admit that trying to understand why God does and doesn't do things is a forlorn endeavour. We simply don't have the required extra temporal perspective: still less the wisdom to appreciate what we would learn if somehow we were to impossibly gain this viewpoint! Nevertheless, the impression that lingers in my heart after coming up against the idea of "passive reprobation" is of an arbitrary and capricious deity: rather than Substantial Love, who wills that all (wo)men be saved.

God is indiscriminate

In as far as God chooses to spare anyone, He must be said to choose to spare everyone:
"....thou art merciful to all .... and thou doest overlook men's sins, that they might repent. For thou hast loathing for nothing that thou hast made, for thou wouldst not have made it if thou hadst hated it. How would anything have endured if thou hadst not willed it? Thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living" [Wis 11:23,24,26].
God's offer of friendship to a sinner is unmerited. It cannot be elicited. Hence, in some sense God could be choosy about who He invites to be His friends; though given that no-one deserves this grace, it is difficult to see how God could be choosy without being both irrational and unjust. In fact God is indiscriminate. Jesus socialized with the dregs of society: whores and fraudsters. It is fairly clear that the Tradition has it that God offers everyone His friendship, see Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma: Dr Ludwig Ott IV.I.11.2c. This is clearly the teaching of the Confession of Dositheos:
"the Divine and illuminating grace ..... by the Divine goodness imparted to all; to those that are willing to obey this ..... and co-operate with it, in what it requireth as necessary to salvation, there is consequently granted particular grace; which .... justifieth us, and maketh us predestinated."

God is a great respecter of souls

It seems to me that the reason that some sentient beings are damned must be sought in a moral impossibility, rather than in a sovereign - and apparently capricious - decision of God. Something along the lines that: Seduction becomes rape if pressed to its conclusion against unwithdrawn resistance. The "cure" would be worse than the disease. Hence the Great Physician of Souls withdraws, acceding to the principle of Hypocrites: "first of all, do no harm".

Call and Choice

What then does the following scripture mean?
"Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen." [Mat 22:8-14]
One should first note that party invitations were sent out indiscriminately, and then that the wedding hall is neither "Heaven" or "The Church Triumphant": it contains "both bad and good". The "man who had no wedding garment", for whatever reason, himself believed that he had no valid explanation for the fact. We are told that when challenged: "he was speechless". I have heard this explained by saying that wedding garments were provided by the host at the door, and to enter without donning one was an act of great discourtesy; but no matter!

Even though the unsuitably attired wedding guest is forcibly expelled from the marriage feast, the king addressed him as "friend". Moreover, our Lord does not say that the man is to remain in "the outer darkness" for ever, but only that: "there men will weep and gnash their teeth".

Our Lord seems to be saying that God invites (almost?) every (wo)man to be His friend; but that some (too many?) fail to respond in an appropriate way: by taking up the free offer of the wedding garment (God's gracious offer of forgiveness and transformation) and so exclude themselves from the Good Things that God has stored up for His Faithful.

The "called" are then those whom God wants to befriend. The "chosen" are those that select themselves, as in the story of Gideon's choice of shock troops:

"And the LORD said to Gideon, 'The people are still too many; take them down to the water and I will test them for you there; and he of whom I say to you, "This man shall go with you," shall go with you; and any of whom I say to you, "This man shall not go with you," shall not go.' So he brought the people down to the water; and the LORD said to Gideon, 'Every one that laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself; likewise every one that kneels down to drink.'
And the number of those that lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water.
And the LORD said to Gideon, 'With the three hundred men that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Mid'ianites into your hand; and let all the others go every man to his home.'"
[Jdgs 7:4-7]
It may even be that the real choice is positive, for some specific purpose; rather than negative, as in damnation and a final rejection.


I have attempted to argue that: To this argument should be added:

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