It is narrated that the Devil tried to tempt St. Theresa of Avila. He caught her while she was in the comfort room sitting on the "throne". While she sat there, the Devil came in whispering: "What if you have been predestined to go to hell?" The saintly sage answered: "IF I have been predestined to go to hell, then you shouldn't be bothering me now. Leave me to my privacy!" And so the Devil went away thinking whether it would have been better to rephrase his question.
The problem with any question about predestination arises when it is asked with regards to future things. The term appears in Paul quite a few times but it is not used with regards to the future but to the present. In other writers, especially when they write about the sufferings of Christ, they use it in terms of a past event. Talk about God having predestined something is always said about events that happened in the past and about a present situation. Nowhere does one find in the Scriptures the idea that God predestines someone to hell or to heaven. In Paul, he always talks about Christians having been predestined to glory understood not as something wholly in the future but as already verified in some way in the present. The same goes for those whose present lives are characterized by opposition to the gospel; in a way these are said to be destined for destruction, not for the glory of the sons of God.
In both Ephesians 1:5,11 and Romans 8:29-30 we find Paul contemplating those who have been baptized and the kind of gifts these have received from Christ. From this, he concludes that they enjoy such gifts now, because they have been destined to do so. It is very much like when two lovers who have undergone so much difficulties in their relationship come to the conclusion -- after several years of companionship -- that their being together was their destiny.
It was John Calvin who planted the seed of the notion that God predestines both to hell and to heaven. This absolute predestination theory has two defects:
- it does not consider that God has no future since for Him everything is in the present
- it does not explain the theory in relation to Divine Justice and God's respect for human freedom
The Catholic Church's position on the matter can be outlined in the following points ((From the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Predestination)):
- God infallibly foresees and immutably preordains from eternity all future events (cf. Denzinger, n. 1784), all fatalistic necessity, however, being barred and human liberty remaining intact (Denz., n. 607). Consequently man is free whether he accepts grace and does good or whether he rejects it and does evil (Denz., n. 797).
- Just as it is God's true and sincere will that all men, no one excepted, shall obtain eternal happiness, so, too, Christ has died for all (Denz., n. 794), not only for the predestined (Denz., n. 1096), or for the faithful (Denz., n. 1294), though it is true that in reality not all avail themselves of the benefits of redemption (Denz., n. 795).
- Though God preordained both eternal happiness and the good works of the elect (Denz., n. 322), yet, on the other hand, He predestined no one positively to hell, much less to sin (Denz., nn. 200, 816). Consequently, just as no one is saved against his will (Denz., n. 1363), so the reprobate perish solely on account of their wickedness (Denz., nn. 318, 321).
- God foresaw the everlasting pains of the impious from all eternity, and preordained this punishment on account of their sins (Denz., n. 322), though He does not fail therefore to hold out the grace of conversion to sinners (Denz., n. 807), or pass over those who are not predestined (Denz., n. 827).
- As long as the reprobate live on earth, they may be accounted true Christians and members of the Church, just as on the other hand the predestined may be outside the pale of Christianity and of the Church (Denz., nn. 628, 631).
- Without special revelation no one can know with certainty that he belongs to the number of the elect (Denz., nn. 805 sq., 825 sq.).
In other words, one can say: God wants all to be saved, but not all will want to accept the salvation offered. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1821) has this to say about Romans 8:28-30
We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love Him and do His will (cf. Rom. 8:28-30;Mt. 7:21). In every circumstance, each one of us should hope with the grace of God to persevere "to the end" (Mt. 10:22) and to obtain the joy of heaven as God's eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for "all men to be saved" (1 Tim. 2:4).
With St. Theresa of Avila therefore, we can say
Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end. ((Quoted in CCC 1821, Excl. 15:3))
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