Lawrence Feingold: A Catholic Understanding of Predestination and Perseverance

Nov 26th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Over the last three months, Professor Lawrence Feingold of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology and author of The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and his Interpreters and the three volume series The Mystery of Israel and the Church has been giving a series of lectures to the Association of Hebrew Catholics on man’s call to share in the divine life. Last week he gave a lecture on the Catholic doctrines of Predestination and Perseverance. The topic of predestination must always be approached in light of the truth of God’s universal salvific will, which was the subject of the previous lecture. Some of the objections that a Protestant might raise to a Catholic understanding of predestination were addressed in the Q&A following that lecture. In the present lecture on predestination, Professor Feingold not only explicates the nature of predestination but also shows clearly the different ways that Luther’s and Calvin’s views of predestination differ from the Catholic doctrine. The audio recordings of the lecture and of the following Q&A session, along with an outline of the lecture and a list of the questions asked during the Q&A are available below. The mp3s can be downloaded here.

The Elect
Luca Signorelli (1499-1502)

Lecture: Predestination and Perseverance (November 16, 2011)

Lawrence Feingold

When we talk about predestination, we always have to keep in mind God’s universal salvific will. (1′)

What does predestination add to God’s universal salvific will? (2′)
A summary of the meaning of the word ‘predestination’ in Catholic doctrine (2′ – 5′)

Predestination includes foreknowledge, and is a part of divine providence. (6′)

Predestination has only one fundamental cause: God’s love. (7′)

Predestination is the part of God’s eternal plan by which the just reach their supernatural end through a series of graces God has prepared for them.

Predestination has two elements:

(a) God’s gracious aid directing us to an end we cannot reach ourselves, and
(b) foreknowledge of our correspondence with His grace. (9′)

St. Augustine’s definition of predestination: (11′)

St. Thomas Aquinas on predestination: (13′)

It is fitting that God should predestine men. For all things are subject to His providence, as was shown above (Question 22, Article 2). Now it belongs to providence to direct things towards their end, as was also said (Q. 22, a.1, ad 2). The end towards which created things are directed by God is twofold; one which exceeds all proportion and faculty of every created nature; and this end is life eternal, that consists in seeing God which is above the nature of every creature, as shown above (Question 12, Article 4). The other end, however, is proportionate to created nature, to which end created being can attain according to the power of its nature. Now if a thing cannot attain to something by the power of its nature, it must be directed thereto by another; thus, an arrow is directed by the archer towards a mark. Hence, properly speaking, a rational creature, capable of eternal life, is led towards it, directed, as it were, by God. The reason of that direction pre-exists in God; as in Him is the type of the order of all things towards an end, which we proved above to be providence. Now the type in the mind of the doer of something to be done, is a kind of pre-existence in him of the thing to be done. Hence the type of the aforesaid direction of a rational creature towards the end of life eternal is called predestination. For to destine, is to direct or send. Thus it is clear that predestination, as regards its objects, is a part of providence. (Summa Theologica I, a.23, a.1)

Example of the arrow and archer (14′)

The idea or blueprint in the mind of God of the way by which we will be saved is predestination. (19′)

Two causes of predestination: one primary, the other secondary (20′)

Reprobation (21′)

Predestination in the Letters of St. Paul (22′)

Romans 8:28-31 (23′)

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom He predestined He also called; and those whom He called He also justified; and those whom He justified He also glorified. What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? (Rom 8:28-31)

The set of those called, is not the same set as those justified, because some reject the actual grace given to them. Example of the wedding feast (29′)

Difference between foreknowing and predestining (32′)

Calvinist interpretation of the passage (33′)

Ephesians 1:3-6 (34′)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. He predestined us in love to be His sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Eph 1:3-6)

Relation between predestination, the Incarnation, and the Church (37′)

Election and predestination in an ecclesiological sense (38′)

1 Corinthians 2:7-9 (39′)

We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed [predestined] before the ages for our glorification. . . Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Cor. 2:7-9)

1 Thessalonians 5:6-10 (42′)

For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. … But, since we belong to the day, let us . . . put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with Him. (1 Thess. 5:6-10)

St. Paul’s notion of predestination was already contained in the Old Testament understanding of the election of the Jews. (45′)

Parable of the sower: election isn’t enough; there has to be perseverance. (48′)

Two senses of the term ‘election’ (49′)

God Does Not “Predestine” Anyone to Hell (50′)

Distinction between predestination and foreknowledge (51′)
God has a universal salvific will, but not all are predestined; only those who cooperate (54′)

Predestination according to Luther and Calvin (54′)
Luther and Calvin’s notion of predestination differs in two fundamental ways from the Catholic doctrine of predestination.

(1) Double predestination (54′)

Why did Luther hold this? Because he denied free will. (57′)
In his On the Bondage of the Will, Luther wrote: (58′)

Now the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though He saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus’ words) “to delight in the torments of the poor wretches.”

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin wrote: (59′)

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which He determined within Himself whatever He wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.21.6)

The problem here is the notion of irresistible grace. (62′)

(2) Luther and Calvin deny our ability to cooperate with grace. (63′)

The Lutheran and Calvinist thesis of double-predestination was condemned at the Council of Trent: (64′)

If anyone says that the grace of justification is shared by those only who are predestined to life, but that all others who are called are called indeed but receive not grace, as if they are by divine power predestined to evil, let him be anathema. (Session VI, Canon 17)

Predestination and God’s Antecedent and Consequent Will (64′)

St. Thomas explains this in Summa Contra Gentiles III 159-161: (66′)

[S]ince one cannot be directed to the ultimate end except by means of divine grace, without which no one can possess the things needed to work toward the ultimate end, such as faith, hope, love, and perseverance, it might seem to some person that man should not be held responsible for the lack of such aids. Especially so, since he cannot merit the help of divine grace, nor turn toward God unless God convert him, for no one is held responsible for what depends on another. Now, if this is granted, many inappropriate conclusions appear. (SCG III.159.1)

To this problem St. Thomas replies:

To settle this difficulty, we ought to consider that, although one may neither merit in advance nor call forth divine grace by a movement of his free choice, he is able to prevent himself from receiving this grace: Indeed, it is said in Job(21:34): “Who have said to God: Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of Your ways”; and in Job (24:13): “They have been rebellious to the light.” And since this ability to impede or not to impede the reception of divine grace is within the scope of free choice, not undeservedly is responsibility for the fault imputed to him who offers an impediment to the reception of grace. In fact, as far as He is concerned, God is ready to give grace to all; “indeed He wills all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” as is said in 1 Timothy (2:4).But those alone are deprived of grace who offer an obstacle within themselves to grace; just as, while the sun is shining on the world, the man who keeps his eyes closed is held responsible for his fault, if as a result some evil follows, even though he could not see unless he were provided in advance with light from the sun. (SCG III.159.2)1

Final Perseverance (71′)

Second Council of Orange: (72′)

God’s help is always to be sought even for the regenerated and holy, that they may come to a happy end, or that they may continue in the performance of good works. (Denz. 183)

Can Final Perseverance be Merited? (73′)

St. Thomas addresses this in Summa Theologica I-II, q. 114, a.9.

Can the Faithful Have Complete Assurance of Final Perseverance? (75′)

Luther taught that faith had to include faith in one’s own justification. (76′)
Calvin taught that faith had to include faith in one’s own final perseverance to glory. (77′)

The problem with the claim that faith must include belief in one’s own final perseverance (77′)

The Council of Trent condemned this: (77′)

Canon 15. If anyone says that a man who is born again and justified is bound ex fide to believe that he is certainly in the number of the predestined, let him be anathema.

Canon 16. If anyone says that he will for certain, with an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance even to the end, unless he shall have learned this by a special revelation, let him be anathema. (Session VI)

St. Francis de Sales on God’s Universal Salvific Will (79′)

First He willed, with a genuine will, that even after the sin of Adam all men should be saved, but in a way and with means suited to the condition of our nature, which is endowed with free-will; that is to say He willed the salvation of all those who would contribute their consent to the graces and favours which He would prepare, offer and distribute for this purpose. Now, among these favours, He willed that the call be first, and that it should be so accommodated to our freedom that we might at our good pleasure accept or reject it. And to those whom He foresaw would receive it, He willed to give the sacred movements of repentance; and to those who would follow those movements He determined to give holy charity, those again who were in charity, He purposed to supply with the helps necessary to persevere, and to such as should make use of these divine helps He resolved to impart final perseverance, and the glorious felicity of his eternal love. … Without doubt, God prepared heaven only for those whom He foresaw would be His. … But it is in our power to be His: for although the gift of being God’s belongs to God, yet this is a gift which God denies no one, but offers to all, and gives to those who freely consent to receive it. (Treatise on the Love of God, 3.5)

Questions and Answers

1. In light of all you have said, then why do we pray for anyone else? (1′)

2. The gospel readings of last Sunday and this morning dealt with the servants receiving talents from their master. How does that relate to predestination? (3′)

3. God knowing from the beginning who and how many would be saved, why didn’t He set the bar lower, to save more? (7′)

4. How did Luther and Calvin ever give the early Protestants incentive to love God more or live moral lives if it didn’t matter or change predestination? (10′)

5. Paul himself seemed to know that he himself was saved. How is that possible? (13′)

6. Because the Church allows many views on this subject, can you distinguish the view of the Dominican Bañez from that of Calvin? (14′)

7. I understand that God gives sufficient grace for all to be saved, but it seems unfair that God gives more grace to some than to others. It seems the ones that He gave more grace to would have a better chance at salvation than someone to whom He gave less grace. (17′)

8. Shouldn’t Jesus have said more accurately “All are called and some are chosen”? (21′)

9. What does it mean that Herod and Pilate were predestined to do what God had planned to take place (Acts 4:28)? (23′)

10. What about Jude 4, which speaks of present persons long ago “designated” for condemnation? (25′)

11. Why does St. Paul say regarding Jacob and Esau that God chose Jacob over Esau before either had done anything good or bad (Rom 9:11)? (27′)

12. Why doesn’t the notion that men can successfully resist God’s grace detract from His omnipotence? If He really wants all men to be saved, why doesn’t He overwhelm all men with irresistible grace? (33′)

13. If God’s knowledge is the cause of what happens, rather than the other way around, how can man’s response to grace be the cause of God’s foreknowledge of who is predestined? (37′)

14. What about Limbo? (39′)

  1. Elsewhere St. Thomas adds:

    Therefore, since God has made all human beings for beatitude, He is said to will the salvation of all through His antecedent will. But because there are those who resist their salvation, those whom, because of their own defectiveness, the order of His wisdom does not allow to attain salvation, in them He brings to fulfillment in a different way that which pertains to His goodness, namely, by condemning them through His justice–so that while they are falling short of the primary order of His will, they are slipping into the secondary order, and while they are failing to fulfill God’s will, God’s will is being fulfilled in them. (De Veritate, q. 23, a.2, corpus)


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  1. Bryan,

    Thank you for taking the time to catalogue this lecture. I look forward to hearing Dr. Feingold’s further explication upon question number six, above. When Dominican Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange made the attempt to distinguish his position from Calvinism in his book Predestination, it was a very short section.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  2. Hello Tom,

    That explication will come in the next lecture. In the Q&A from the last two lectures, the questions most pertinent to Calvinists are questions 4-7 in the Q&A following the lecture on God’s universal salvific will (see here), and questions 4-13 in the Q&A following this lecture on predestination.

    Also, in my opinion, this explanation makes better sense of the relation between predestination and the Catholic doctrine that Christ died for every single person, as I explained in comments 47, 51, 54, 59, and 62 in the “Signs of Predestination” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. In addition, this explanation fits better with the patristic teaching concerning predestination, as well as with the Eastern Orthodox understanding of predestination (e.g. see here).

  4. Hi, I am not sure that I am grasping his premise here. Mr. Feingold seems to imply that predestination lies in God’s foreknowledge. He also says that man could indeed thwart God’s intent to save us. Yet all of the Thomistic theologians seem to condemn the fact that predestination is congruent with His foreknowledge. For example, Fr. Lagrange covers the basic facts of what Catholics must believe concerning predestination. He makes it clear that none of God’s grace, including that of final perseverance is not because God foresaw it. It is indeed because God chose it, determined it. Any thoughts. Thanks

    Fr Lagrange from his work ‘Predestination.’

    They are: (1) Predestination to the first grace is not because God foresaw our naturally good works, nor is the beginning of salutary acts due to natural causes; (2) predestination to glory is not because God foresaw we would continue in the performance of supernaturally meritorious acts apart from the special gift of final perseverance; (3) complete predestination, in so far as it comprises the whole series of graces from the first up to glorification, is gratuitous or previous to foreseen merits. These three propositions are admitted by all Catholic theologians.

  5. Hello Matthew, (re: #4)

    Hi, I am not sure that I am grasping his premise here. Mr. Feingold seems to imply that predestination lies in God’s foreknowledge.

    It depends what you mean by “lies in.” If you simply mean “is based entirely on,” then no, that’s not what he is saying. If, however, by “lies in” you simply mean that God’s predestination includes foreknowledge of our correspondence with His grace, then yes. Predestination does not exclude divine foreknowledge of our correspondence with grace.

    He also says that man could indeed thwart God’s intent to save us.

    Again, it depends what you mean by “intent.” If you are referring to God’s antecedent will, then yes, as man violates God’s will whenever he breaks one of the commands. But if you are talking about God’s consequent will, then no. (See footnote 5 in “Lawrence Feingold on God’s Universal Salvific Will.”)

    Yet all of the Thomistic theologians seem to condemn the fact that predestination is congruent with His foreknowledge.

    Here too it depends what you mean by “congruent,” in the same way I described above with your phrase “lies in.”

    For example, Fr. Lagrange covers the basic facts of what Catholics must believe concerning predestination. He makes it clear that none of God’s grace, including that of final perseverance is not because God foresaw it. It is indeed because God chose it, determined it. Any thoughts. Thanks

    That second sentence is a bit unclear. Dr. Feingold does not teach that perseverance is given on the basis of foreknowledge. But persons to whom God offers the sufficient grace to persevere can, by their own free will, fail to persevere, just as by their own free will they can refuse to cooperate with actual grace. No one can truthfully say to God that it was because God did not give sufficient grace for perseverance that he or she did not persevere. At one and the same time it is true that (a) any movement toward our supernatural end or sustaining of movement toward our supernatural end comes from God such that any cooperation with grace [both initial actual grace, and the grace of perseverance] is a gift from God, and (b) any movement away from God or failure to sustain movement toward God comes from man. The reason why some people fail to persevere is *not* because God [antecedently] wants anyone to fail to persevere and so, without any consideration for their choice, refuses to give them the grace they would need to persevere, so that they are guaranteed to fall away forever. They could have persevered, had they remained in the grace God gave them. But at the same time, no one who perseveres can boast that he merited it; his perseverance is a divine gift that, by its work in him sustained him and preserved him, even though he could have freely rejected it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. Hello

    Having listened to this lecture I still find that the Calvinistic (and in my opinion, the Biblical) position still stands. There are just too many Bible verses that go contrary to what Dr. Feingold conveyed. For instance, the issue of “foreknowledge” merely being God’s foreknowing if a person will “respond” to grace. This idea goes contrary of the following Bible verses: 2 Timothy 1:9, Romans 9:11-18, Titus 3:5. I found it eerie when Dr. Feingold that if the Calvinist doctrine on this topic held sway than it would be “unfair” or words to that effect. Doesn’t one see the same reaction to Paul’s naysayer in Romans 9:19-20. To gain a correct biblical definition of this word “foreknew” (in Romans 8:29), rather than assume its meaning (which is what many do), we need to do some homework and study. When we do this, we find that the word does not merely mean to know future actions beforehand. It has a much more precise meaning. The word “foreknew” (Greek: proginosko) in Romans 8:29 is a verb rather than a noun. It is an action word, and as the text informs us, it is something done by God. What exactly does God do then? The text says “those whom He foreknew…”

    But again, what exactly does this mean? We find the answer to this question by going to passages of scripture that have God as the subject of the verbal form, as here in this passage. This is because passages that have humans as the subject would differ substantially in their meaning from the ones where God is the subject, because, I am sure we will all agree, we as creatures “know” things on a very different basis to the way God does.

    When we do this, here’s what we find. The verb proginosko is used three times in the New Testament with God as the subject – here in Romans 8:29, then also in Romans 11:2, and lastly in 1 Peter 1:20. This proves to be significant when we ask the question “what, or who is foreknown by God?”

    In Romans 8:29, the direct object of the verb is a pronoun that refers back to the called of the previous verse (v. 28). In Romans 11:2 the object the verb is referring to is “His people,” and in 1 Peter 1:20, the object is Jesus Christ Himself.

    Each reference then portrays God as foreknowing persons rather than actions. 1 Peter 1:20 says, “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.” When God foreknew Christ, did that mean that God simply knew that Jesus would make correct decisions or have faith in His Father? Hardly! It speaks of the Father’s personal intimacy and affection for His beloved Son.

    To quote Dr. James White in this regard, “to say that God foreknows acts, faith, behavior, choices, etc, is to assume something about the term that is not witnessed in the biblical text. God foreknows persons not things.”

    How does this relate to what we find in the Old Testament? Well there, we have a similar meaning to the word meaning of “foreknew” in the New Testament. This is the Hebrew word “yada.” It refers in a number of instances to God’s “knowing” of individuals. For instance in Jeremiah 1:5, God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

    Dr. White comments, “Here God’s knowledge of Jeremiah is clearly personal. It is paralleled with the term “consecrated” and “appointed,” pointing us toward the element of “choice.” This knowledge of Jeremiah is not limited to time. In some manner, God “knew” Jeremiah before Jeremiah came into existence.”

    We see this same concept in God’s “knowing” of Moses. Exodus 33:17 – “The LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” Again we see the personal nature of God’s knowing of an individual. This refers to a personal intimacy and affection God had for Moses in that he had found favor in the eyes of the Lord. God had chosen Moses to be a recipient of His tender mercy.

    I’ll quote just one more passage where we see this word yada used to refer to God possessing a personal intimacy and affection. Amos 3:2 in speaking of Israel says, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

    The NASB actually translates yada as “chosen,” here, and there is a very strong basis by way of context for this word to be translated in this way. Literally it says, “You only (speaking of Israel) have I known…” It should be obvious to us that God didn’t merely know about Israel, and possessed no such knowledge of other nations, nor that merely God knew the future actions of Israel, and didn’t know the future actions of the other nations. This “knowing” of Israel is deeply personal and intimate and speaks of God’s grace in choosing them to be His people for His Sovereign purposes alone. The word yada is used also in Genesis 4:1 when it says that Adam “knew” his wife Eve. The result of this “knowing” was a child, lets remember – revealing a deep personal relationship.

    This is important because it establishes a consistent pattern: understanding how the verb is used in the New Testament, along with these insights from the Old, provides a very strong basis for understanding what foreknew actually means.

    Dr. White states, “When Paul says, “those whom He foreknew” Paul is speaking about an action on God’s part that is just as solitary, just as God-centered, and just as personal as every other action in the string: God foreknows (chooses to enter into relationship with); God predestines; God calls; God justifies; God glorifies. From first to last it is God who is active, God who accomplishes all these things.”

    “Foreknew” therefore does not merely suggest “a passive gathering of infallible knowledge of the future actions of free creatures” but rather reveals that from start to finish, salvation is a Divine accomplishment, for it is God and God alone who saves, to the praise of His glory alone.

    To quote Dr. James Montgomery Boice in his comments on Romans 8:29, “the verse does not say that God foreknew what certain of his creatures would do. It is not talking about human actions at all. On the contrary, it is speaking entirely of God and of what God does. Each of these five terms is like that: God foreknew, God predestined, God called, God justified, God glorified. Besides, the object of the divine foreknowledge is not the actions of certain people but the people themselves. In this sense it can only mean that God has fixed a special attention upon them or loved them savingly.”

    I believe this then is the scriptural answer to the question, but before we move on, lets also look at this from a logical perspective. Many believe in the Prescient view of foreknowledge, but this position does not answer the challenge of what God knew from eternity.

    What do I mean? Well, as John Hendryx has stated, “if God knew someone would choose hell even before He created them, then this was a fixed certainty (even before their creation), so why did God go ahead and create them? It was obviously, in their view, still within His Providence that these people be lost… or if God already foreknew who would be saved then how can they continue to argue that He is trying to save every man? Certainly God already knows who the persons will be, so why should He send the Holy Spirit to those He knows will reject him.” Ultimately, when this view is subjected to scrutiny, it logically undermines the very position it is seeking to assert.

    And… if we still need further evidence, lets just read on from Romans 8:29, to verse 30…”…those whom he called he also justified”.

    Question: How many of those whom He called did He justify? There is only one answer: ALL.

    Again, as John Hendryx states so well, “If God justifies ALL the persons he calls, it proves beyond all doubt that grace is what sets us apart from other men, not our faith. The grace God exerts in saving us is effectual. We love him because he first loved us. God’s call comes prior to justification, and all who receive that call believe.”

  7. Hi Jerome,

    Question: How many of those whom He called did He justify? There is only one answer: ALL.

    As Dr. Feingold points out, this interpretation of Romans 8:29-30 contradicts Jesus’s words in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet – “Many are called, but few are chosen”. In the parable, the invitation is sent out to “as many as you can find”.

    The Catholic interpretation of Romans 8 doesn’t lead to this contradiction, because the whole section refers to the call of the elect. The elect, having responded to His invitation, are called further to justification and glorification.

  8. A forthcoming conference titled “Thomism and Predestination” at Ave Maria University (January 25-27, 2016)

  9. Brian, was there an mp3 or video available of any of the talks given on the subject you posted in comment #8? Thanks!


  10. Matthew (re: #9)

    Not that I know of.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  11. Well I have been reading what Fr. William Most had to say on the subject. He seems to take the opinion that St. Thomas Aquinas took either one of two views. In both cases, the reprobate are only reprobated because of foreseen impediment to grace at the hour of death but as for predestination (to glory), it could be either after foreseen cooperation with grace or without foreknowledge of cooperation. I tend to think it was the latter. Catholics can hold to that opinion correct? I think it has a bit of merit to it. No pun intended lol.


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