"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2


by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.




The declarations of the Church in the Council of Orange express one aspect of the great mystery with which we are concerned; the other is presented to us by what the Church taught first of all against predestinarianism, and then against Calvinism, Bajanism, and Jansenism.

1) In the fifth century, Lucidus, a priest of the Catholic Church who was accused of having taught predestinarianism or predestination to evil, made a retractation of his teaching in the Council of Arles, which was held in the year 473. His opinion, as formulated by the council, reads as follows: "That Christ the Lord, our Savior, did not die for the salvation of all mankind; . . . that God's foreknowledge forcibly impels man to everlasting death, or that those who are lost, are lost by God's will. . . . Likewise I reject the opinion of one who says that some are destined to everlasting death and others are predestined to everlasting life."(29) In his retraction, Lucidus affirmed that he who is lost could have been saved.(30) We must beware of attaching too much importance to the decisions made against Lucidus. They are the result, it has been said, of an anti-Augustinian environment.

2) In the ninth century. As for the controversies of the ninth century in connection with predestination, we must by all means quote the decisions of the councils of Quierzy (853),(31) Valence (855),(32) Langres, Toul, and finally Thuzey.(33) From these divers texts it follows: (1) that God wills in a certain way to save all men; (2) that there is no such thing as predestination to evil, but that God decreed from all eternity to inflict the penalty of damnation for the sin of final impenitence, a sin which He foresaw and in no way caused but merely permitted.

From the canons of the above-mentioned councils we see the meaning and scope of these two propositions. Predestination to evil is clearly excluded in the first canon of Quierzy. As for predestination to eternal life, it is viewed as a grace, a special mercy as regards the elect whom God by His grace has predestined to life, and to eternal life. The second canon reads: "Our will, aided by prevenient grace and concomitant is free to do what is good; and our will, forsaken by grace, is free to do what is evil." These latter words indicate that sin does not happen without God's permission, who justly allows it to happen in one, while mercifully preserving another from it. This truth is brought out more clearly in the following canon, and what is of essential significance is that portion of it which states: "Almighty God wills without exception, all men to be saved, though not all are saved. That some are saved, however, is the gift of Him who saves; if some perish, it is the fault of them that perish." This canon is taken from the writings of St. Prosper. From this third canon of Quierzy we see that, if the will to save is universal, it is not equally so for all, as the Pelagians wanted it to be. It is efficacious only as regards the elect, and that in virtue of a special gift; but there is no predestination to evil. The two aspects of the mystery are affirmed in plain language, but we fail to perceive the mode of their intimate reconciliation. The fourth canon of Quierzy affirms that Christ died for all men.

The third Council of Valence (855) insisted more strongly on the gratuity of predestination to eternal life in so far as it is distinct from simple foreknowledge, for this latter also extends to evil. According to the declarations of this council, the least good and the least punishment that is justly inflicted, never occur without a positive and infallible decree from God, and no sin is committed, and nowhere by preference, without His foreknowledge and permission.(34)

We know that after the Council of Langres (859), the discussions concerning predestination between Hincmar, the great opponent of Gottschalk, and the Church of Lyons, were terminated at Thuzey in the year 860. The synodal letter, approved in this council, contains the following affirmations.(35) (1) Whatsoever the Lord pleased He hath done in heaven and on earth. For nothing is done in heaven or on earth, except what He Himself is pleased to do, or justly permits to be done. This means that all good things, whether easy or difficult to accomplish, whether natural or supernatural, come from God, and that sin does not occur, nor in this one rather than in the other, without His divine permission. Countless consequences evidently are included in this absolutely general principle. The Thomists see in it the equivalent of the principle of predilection. The other assertions of this synodal letter are derived from this general principle. They are as follows: (2) God wills all men to be saved and no one to perish. . . nor after the fall of the first man is it His will forcibly to deprive man of free will. (3) That those, however, who are walking in the path of righteousness, may continue to do so and persevere in their innocence, He heals and aids their free will by grace. (4) They who go far from God, who is desirous of gathering the children of Jerusalem that wills it not, will perish. (5) Hence it is because of God's grace that the world is saved; and it is because man has free will that the world be judged. (6) Adam, through willing what is evil, lost the power to do what is good. . . . Wherefore the whole human race became a mass of perdition. If no one had been rescued from it, God's justice would not have been to blame. That many are saved, however, is due to God's ineffable grace. This last statement repeats what SS. Augustine and Prosper said. Thus at the end of these conferences of the ninth century, the bishops, assembled in council at Thuzey, rejected absolutely the theory of predestination to evil and affirmed God's universal will to save, as Prosper had done. God never commands the impossible, but He wills to make it possible for all to fulfil His precepts and obtain salvation. That is what all the bishops assembled in this last mentioned council affirmed with SS. Augustine and Prosper. But they do not deny, on that account, the other aspect of the mystery, to wit: the absolute gratuity of predestination, of true predestination as opposed to reprobation.

3) In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This teaching of the Church was confirmed both by the decisions of the Council of Trent against the errors of Protestantism and by the condemnation of Jansenism. The Church again declares that man, though having contracted the stain of original sin, is free to do good by the aid of grace, consenting to co-operate with it, though at the same time he can resist it.(36) From this it follows that God predestines no one to evil;(37) but He wills, on the contrary, the salvation of all men; and Christ dies for all, although all do not receive the benefit that is the fruit of His death, "but only those to whom the merit of His passion is communicated."(38) In the case of adults good works are necessary for salvation, and, in the order of execution, heavenly glory is the reward granted at the end of their probation for meritorious acts.

It is likewise declared against Jansenism that Christ did not die only for the predestined, or only for the faithful;(39) that there is a grace which is truly sufficient, and which makes the fulfilment of God's precepts possible for all those on whom these precepts are imposed. The Church, quoting the words of St. Augustine, says again in refuting the Protestants and Jansenists: "God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou art able, and to pray for what thou art not able to do."(40) She also says that "God does not abandon the just without previously having been abandoned by them."(41) It is only mortal sin that deprives them of sanctifying grace, and they are deprived of certain actual graces necessary for salvation only because they resisted sufficient graces. God does not permit us to be tempted beyond our powers of resistance;(42) the grace of conversion is offered to sinners,(43) and only those are deprived of it who, failing in their duty, refuse it, this being something which God permits, but of which He is by no means the cause.(44) The Church, however, though affirming that God by a sufficient grace makes the fulfilment of His precepts possible for all, none the less affirms the efficacy of grace that actually is productive of good works. The Council of Trent declares that "God, unless men be themselves wanting to His grace, as He has begun the good work, so will He perfect it, working in them to will and to accomplish."(45)

What are we to conclude then from the teaching of the Church against the conflicting heresies of Semipelagianism and predestinarianism, heresies that were renewed by Calvinism and Jansenism?

To sum up: Against Semipelagianism, we must say that the Church affirms particularly three things: (a) The cause of predestination to grace is not the foreknowledge of naturally good works performed, nor is it due to any preliminary acts of the natural order that are supposed to prepare for salvation. (b) Predestination to glory is not due to foreseen supernatural merits that would continue to be effective apart from the special gift of final perseverance. (c) Complete predestination, which comprises the whole series of graces, is gratuitous or previous to foreseen merits. And St. Thomas understands this to mean that "whatsoever is in man disposing him towards salvation, is all included under the effect of predestination."(46) In a word: "that some are saved is the gift of Him who saves."(47)

4) Against predestinarianism and the doctrines of Protestantism and Jansenism that revive it, the Church teaches: (a) God wills in a certain way to save all men and He makes the fulfilment of His precepts possible for all; (b) There is no predestination to evil, but God has decreed from all eternity to inflict eternal punishment for the sin of final impenitence which He foresaw, He being by no means the cause of it but merely permitting it.

We see that the teaching of the Church against these conflicting heresies may be summed up in these profound words of St. Prosper, which the Council of Quierzy makes its own. Against Pelagianism and Semipelagianism the council says: "That some are saved, is the gift of Him who saves." Against predestinarianism it says: "That some perish, is the fault of those who perish." Holy Scripture expressed the same thought in these words: "Destruction is thy own, O Israel; thy help is only in Me."(48)

There is no difference of degree between the assent of the Christian mind unhesitatingly given to these two great and indisputable truths, and the mysterious mode of the intimate reconciliation.


Index Top


29. Denz., no. 3026.

30. For an explanation of this episode, consult the Dict. de théol. cath.

31. Denz., no. 316.

32. Ibid., no. 320.

33. PL, CXXVI, 123. Cf. Dict. de théol. cath., art. "Prédestination."

34. Denz., nos. 321-22.

35. PL, CXXVI, 123.

36. Denz., no. 797; d. no. 816.

37 Ibid., no. 827.

38. Ibid., no. 795.

39. Ibid., nos. 1096, 1294, 1380 ff.

40. Ibid., no. 804.

41. Ibid., nos. 804. 806, 1794.

42. Ibid., no. 979.

43. Ibid.. no. 807.

44. Ibid., nos. 816, 827, 1677.

45. Ibid., no. 806; Phil. 2: 13.

46. Summa theol., Ia, q.23, a.5.

47. Denz., no. 318

48. Osee 13: 9


"Try to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"Lord, here burn, here cut, and dry up in me all that hinders me from going to You, that You may spare me in eternity."

St Louis Bertrand

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