"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.



In the first part we shall direct attention first to the idea of predestination as presented to us in the Scripture. Then we shall inspect the declarations of the Church formulated on the occasion of conflicting heresies. Thus we shall perceive more clearly the point at issue and what precisely constitutes the chief difficulty of the problem. Then there will be a classification of the various theological opinions to be explained in the course of this work. At the end of this first part we shall remind our readers of the stand taken by St. Augustine and his first disciples, since this exerted a very profound influence on the whole of medieval theology.


The Gospel is the good tidings of the redemption of the human race which must be preached to all, for our Savior said: "Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world." St. Paul says in like manner: "God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a redemption for all." (2)

God never commands what is impossible and He makes the fulfilment of His precepts really possible for all, both when they are of obligation and according as they are known. However, there are souls that through their own fault are lost; and souls, at times, that have enjoyed a close intimacy with the Savior, as was the case with the "son of perdition." There are others, the elect, who will infallibly be saved. Among these are children who die shortly after being baptized, and adults who, by divine grace, not only can observe the commandments, but actually do so and obtain the gift of final perseverance. Jesus in His sacerdotal prayer said to His Father: "Those whom Thou gavest Me have I kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the Scripture may be fulfilled."(3) Speaking in more general terms, Jesus says again: "My sheep hear My voice. And I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them life everlasting: and they shall not perish for ever. And no man shall pluck them out of My hand. That which My Father hath given Me is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of the hand of My Father. I and the Father are one."(4) There are elect chosen by God from all eternity. Jesus spoke of them on several occasions. Once He said: "Many are called, but few are chosen." (5) He announced the destruction of Jerusalem, the distress of those times of trial, and He added: "Unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened." (6)

The precise meaning of these utterances of our Savior are made known to us by what St. Paul tells us about predestination, by which God directs and brings the elect infallibly to eternal life. In one of his epistles we read: "What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?"(7) It is but the comment on the words of the Master, who said: "Without Me you can do nothing." (8) St. Paul also says: "For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will." When writing to the Ephesians, he speaks explicitly about predestination. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," he says, "who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. As He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in His sight in charity. Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the purpose of His will. Unto the praise and glory of His grace, in which He hath graced us in His beloved Son."(10) Again, with more clarity of precision, he writes: "We know that to them that love God all things work together unto good: to such as according to His purpose are called to be saints. For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn amongst many brethren. And whom He predestinated, them He also called. And whom He called, them He also justified. And whom He justified, them He also glorified." (11)

With St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and St. Bellarmine, we must remark that in this last text the words, "whom He foreknew, He also predestinated," do not refer to the divine foreknowledge of meritorious acts. Nowhere in St. Paul do we find any foundation for this interpretation, and it would contradict several of his texts, especially this one and the ones we are about to cite. The meaning is: "those whom God foreknew, looking favorably upon them," which is a frequent acceptation of the verb "to know" in the Bible, as in the text: "God has not cast away His people which He foreknew."(12) This exegesis of St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and St. Robert Bellarmine is upheld at the present day by Lagrange, Allo, Zahn, Julicher, and others.(13)

In the Epistle to the Romans (chaps. 9-12), St. Paul in plain terms also sets forth God's sovereign independence in the dispensation of His graces. The Jews, who were the chosen people, are rejected because of their unbelief, and salvation is announced to the Gentiles as a result of Israel's obduracy. The Apostle prophesies, however, the final conversion and salvation of the Jews, and he formulates the principle of predilection, which is applied to nations and individuals: "What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? God forbid! For He saith to Moses: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. And I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy. So then it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." (14)

Hence the Apostle's conclusion: "O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him, and recompense shall be made him? For of Him and by Him and in Him are all things. To Him be glory for ever. Amen." (15)

We shall return later on to a discussion of the literal meaning and scope of these texts, when we present the scriptural background for the teaching of St. Thomas. It suffices for the present to point out with the Thomists and St. Robert Bellarmine (16), what Scripture has to say about the gratuitousness of predestination to eternal life. Such is the teaching of Scripture, which declares three indisputable things on this point, namely: (1) God has chosen certain persons to constitute the elect.(17) (2) He has caused this election to be efficacious so that they will infallibly get to heaven: "My sheep shall not perish for ever. And no man shall pluck them out of My hand."(18) "Whom He predestinated, them He also called. And whom He called, them He also justified. And whom He justified, them He also glorified."(19) (3) God's choice of the elect was entirely gratuitous and previous to any consideration of foreseen merits: "Fear not little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom."(20) "You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go and should bring forth fruit and your fruit should remain."(21) "Even so then, at this present time also, there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace. And if by grace, it is not now by works, otherwise grace is no more grace."(22) "As He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy,"(23) and not because we were so, or because He foresaw that we would be so by our own efforts. "For whom He foreknew (in His benevolence), He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son." (24)

From all these passages of Scripture, St. Augustine formulated this classical definition: "Predestination is the foreknowledge and preparedness on God's part to bestow the favors by which all those are saved who are to be saved."(25) St. Augustine is still more explicit on this point when he writes: "God already knew, when He predestined, what He must do to bring His elect infallibly to eternal life."(26)

Index Top


1. Matt. 28: 19-20.

2. I Tim. 2: 3-5.

3. John 17: 12.

4. Ibid., 10: 27-30.

5. Matt. 22: 14.

6. Ibid., 24: 22.

7. I Cor. 4: 7.

8. John 15: 5.

9. Phil. 2: 13

10. Eph. 1: 3-7.

11. Rom. 8: 28--30.

12. Rom. 11: 2; d. Matt. 7: 23; Gal. 4: 9; I Cor. 8: 3; 13: 12; II Tim. 2: 19: Ps. 1: 6.

13. Father Lemonnyer, O.P., has explained the deep significance of this standard text of Rom. 8: 28-30, in his article entitled: "Predestination," which was written for the Dict. de th éol. cath. He remarks that God's intention is manifested in this text by two acts: first, there is the act of foreknowing: "those whom He foreknew" (29); then the act of predestinating: "whom He predestinated" (30). But the act of first intention seems to be passed over in silence. As a matter of fact, remarks Father Lemonnyer, it is indicated in the final clause of v. 29: "that He might be the firstborn amongst many brethren:" Here we have this divine intention. . . . This presupposed intention suffices to provide the means for its realization, that is, the discerning and decreeing of the putting of it into effect. This discernment is the foreknowledge, and this decree is the predestination. Both are evidently acts of the practical reason moved by a preconceived intention."

Father Lemonnyer insists upon the gratuitous character of the divine purpose, which is the reason of our salvation and our call. It seems that this gratuitousness must be extended to predestination. Cf. II Tim. 1: 9; Eph. 1: 11; Tit. 3: 5.

14. Rom. 9: 14-17; cf. Lagrange, Epitre aux Romains, 1916, chap. 9, p. 244.

15. Ibid., 11: 33-36.

16. De gratia et lib. arb., Bk. II. chaps. 9-15.

17. Matt. 20: 16; 24: 31; Luke 12: 32; Rom. 8: 33; Eph. 1: 4.

19. John 10: 27 f.; d. Matt. 24: 24; John 6: 39.

20. Rom. 8: 30

21. Luke 12: 32.

22. John 15: 16.

23. Rom. 11: 5.

24. Eph. 1: 4.

25. Rom. 8: 29.

25. De dona perseverantiae, chap. 14.

26. De praedestinatione sanctorum, chap. 10


"Those who love God are always happy, because their whole happiness is to fulfill, even in adversity, the will of God."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

* * *

"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

* * *

"God speaks to us without ceasing by his good inspirations."

The Cure D'Ars

* * *