Double Predestination Is Anathema to Catholics
Those who are not Christian may believe that we all have identical beliefs. That is not true. There are a variety of understandings Christians have and as with other faiths there are arguments over points of doctrine.
For example, some Christians hold tightly to the first three chapters of Genesis as proof that the world was created in six days and that evolution is a false teaching. Whereas Catholics never believed in understanding those three chapters literally and do accept evolution. We just do not accept random evolution.
The creation story is itself a prophecy. It is not information about the external processes by which the cosmos and man himself came into being. The Fathers of the Church were well aware of this. They did not interpret the story as an account of the process of the origins of things, but rather as a pointer towards the essential, towards the true beginning and end of our being. — PopeBenedict XVI Homily Easter Vigil 2011
Even within a denomination there are differences: Tish Durbin wrote an article for The Atlantic on Medium about the Catholics who dislike both Joe Biden and Pope Francis. Many of them believe few are saved. They accuse other Catholics such as Bishop Robert Barron of being quasi universalists who say few go to Hell, if any at all. Fr. Paulo Ricardo Acevedo, Jr. from the Diocese of Curitaba in Brazil teaches Jesus never said how many were going to be saved and how many were not, he just said “You walk the narrow path and not the wide path.”
So, to assume that one Christian believes the same as all is a misnomer. There are some universally accepted truths such as the resurrection but some Christians also embrace teachings we as Catholics do not. What is also bothersome is when people in the general populace assume after listening to other Christians that they have no hope for salvation. It is something that Catholics do not accept and call anathema.
Scripture alone or with tradition
Some Christian preachers encourage you to find a Bible based Church. That is code for “Do not go to the Catholics.” Evangelicals believe in scripture alone as the source for divine revelation. Catholics believe in scripture and in the traditions of the church passed down from the apostles. Evangelicals can quote many of the scriptures chapter and verse and Catholics often cannot and that is why. Catholics once believed they were not to read the Bible although the Church never taught it prohibition. St. Jerome, who translated the scriptures from Hebrew and Greek to Latin, taught “ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” So think of it this way — Evangelical faith would be represented by the Bible alone and Catholicism would be represented by the Bible and a rolling snowball. The latter is a growing understanding of our faith through the people living it rooted in the traditions handed down over the ages.
The origins of double predestination thought
Let us take the best example of what is not Catholic and it even bleeds over into civil society: double predestination. This teaching is most connected to the reformers and especially John Calvin from the seventeenth century, although traces of it were found throughout the Christian era.
Robert Reilly in his book America on Trial: A Defense of the Founding (Ignatius 2020) explains that one source of the double predestination ideology of Calvin starts with William of Ockham that God is sovereign. There is no order to his movement because he is God. If he wants to make a duck like a fish he can do it because he is God and can do anything he wants.
Catholics reject this understanding completely. We believe in an order to the universe which is why Catholics strongly believe in natural law. That is a philosophy that there is an observable order to nature, teaching us a moral way of living. It actually originates with the pagan pre-Christian Greeks filtered through the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Thirteenth Century. He quotes the philosopher (Artistotle) throughout his masterwork Summa Theologica
What is double predestination?
Double predestination says God made some people to be saved and others to be damned. No one can change God’s mind on who is whom. Indeed Christianity.com explains the doctrine says Jesus did not die for all, but only for some and if you are not one of the some then you are going to Hell no matter whom you may be.
The article indicates that the sign you may be saved is that you live a moral life. However, actually no one knows who is saved and who is damned.
This is far from what we as Catholics believe.
Now let us extend this to the civil sphere. Can you see the problem when some people feel that all Christians consider them condemned to Hell? Can you see what happens when our laws are based on those principles? You end up with a legal system that assumes some people are bad and others by default good.
Catholic belief is we have a mission to lead all to salvation which is why we embrace the grace of God. We believe in praying for others and we seek to bring all to know Christ. We also believe that God does all He can to lead all to salvation. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that God’s grace constantly calls people to convert and it grows stronger even among the most hardened of sinners especially as they approach death.
Catholic teaching always condemned double predestination:
I condemn with you that view which states that Christ our Lord and Savior did not incur death for the salvation of all St. Gelasius I in the Fifth Century
#167 Denzinger, H., & Rahner, K. (Eds.). (1954). The sources of Catholic dogma. (R. J. Deferrari, Trans.) (p. 65). St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that only those who obstinately reject God’s grace will end up in Hell.
God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. (CCC 1037)
The Catechism cites the Council of Orange which considers anathema embracing this double predestination.
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.
And The Council of Trent also condemned the idea:
CANON XVII. If any one shall say, that the grace of justification only befalleth those who are predestined unto life; but that all others who are called, are called indeed, but receive not grace, as being, by the divine power, predestined unto evil; let him be anathema.
Buckley, T. A. (1851). The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (p. 44). London: George Routledge and Co.
The more I live as a Catholic, the more I believe that not only does God desire to see that all are saved, he will hold us responsible if we do not seek to carry out his will by simply teaching people of Christ and leading them to him. We begin with doing nothing more than just teaching people to pray.
We must understand and teach that God’s grace is constantly calling everyone to His salvation. Co-operation with it even for the most hardened of hearts is the way to eternal life and that begins simply with prayer. No one is outside of any chance of salvation.
Photo: Clay Banks from Unsplash