Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Catholics, the Elect, and Predestination

Q: Would you please explain what the Catholic Church teaches about the Elect? I had a priest explain to me that the Church teaches predestination while Calvinistic Protestantism teaches double predestination. I’m confused. If God chooses before all time who is to be saved, where does free will come into play? It would seem fruitless to apply any effort into trying to live the Christian life if you are predestined to hell. No matter what, you’re out of luck. There is a biblical passage that basically says that none of the chosen will be snatched from God. This problem has been bothering me for some time now.

A: First let’s lay down some definitions:
Predestination: The doctrine that God specifically chose some to be saved before the creation of the world. Yet, God predestines no one to go to hell.

Double Predestination: The belief that God specifically chose some to spend their eternity in hell before the foundation of the world.

Predestination is a Catholic doctrine that has a solid base in Scripture, including the passage that you point out in your question, “and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” (Jn. 10:28) Other Scripture on this topic includes, Romans 8:29-30, Matthew 25:34, John 10:27, Acts 13:48, and Ephesians 1:4.

Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia states, “Predestination affirms that, as part of the eternal plan of divine providence, God has predetermined certain persons to eternal bliss.” The Blessed Mother is an example of someone who is predestined for heaven. Those of us who are not predestined to heaven, must choose heaven through our own free will.

However, there are forms of predestination that the Church completely rejects, including double predestination as taught by John Calvin. To believe in double predestination would in effect mean believing that we have no free will, and that we have no purpose in life. As you pointed out, there would be no point in avoiding sin, or even in living, because it has already been determined where we will spend eternity.

Whether we go to heaven or hell is our choice. We can either live a good Christian lifestyle and have a loving intimate relationship with God, or we can live our lives in sin. All we need to do is repent our sins and beg for forgiveness. Of course, that’s not to say that we can just live in sin, and then be sorry for them when we die. Striving for God’s goodness and rebuking evil will make it literally a million times easier for us, and those around us, to reach heaven.