Monday, 3 April 2006

Predestination: Thomas Aquinas and Calvin

In popular books, and even in some theological text books, it is sometimes said that the idea of predestination was invented by John Calvin. Anyone who can say such a thing must never have read Augustine, or Anselm, or Duns Scotus, or Luther—or even Calvin himself (since part of Calvin’s aim is to prove that his doctrine of predestination was also the teaching of the Fathers).

In fact, even Thomas Aquinas has a detailed doctrine of predestination, which is, in many material respects, nearly identical to that of Calvin.

Here’s one quote from Thomas’s Summa theologiae (1a.23.5):

“The reason for the predestination of some and reprobation of others (praedestinationis aliquorum, et reprobationis aliorum) must be sought for in the divine goodness.... God wills to manifest his goodness in those whom he predestines, by means of the mercy with which he spares them; and in respect of others whom he reprobates, by means of the justice with which he punishes them. This is the reason why God chooses some (quosdam eligit) and reprobates others (quosdam reprobat).... Yet why he chooses some for glory and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will (non habet rationem nisi divinam voluntatem).”

Certainly I think the notion of double predestination should be subjected to theological criticism. But let’s not pretend that the idea was invented by Calvin!

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