Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Eleonore Stump Lecture: No Predestination in Aquinas?

Yesterday the Thomistic philosopher Eleonore Stump came to my school to give the Thomas Aquinas day lecture. She described what she considered Aquinas' solution to the problem of suffering (basing herself primarily on the Angelic Doctor's commentary on Job). According to Stump, Aquinas holds that suffering is good for us because it eradicates sin within us. We may be temporarily unhappy (happiness being the goal of life in Thomas and Aristotle), but it will lead us to heaven. In heaven, we will know God and therefore enjoy supreme happiness. Hence, temporary unhappiness is justified for the sake of supreme happiness.

In the Q & A section, I asked her about predestination in Thomas. Aquinas very clearly asserts a hard double predestination in the Summa. If you doubt me, just read this:

My question was this: OK, some people suffer because it leads them to God (of course, this would be unnecessary without sin, but that's another issue!), but Aquinas clearly asserts that God predestines people to hell. So then, how does you solution compute with that? People God predestines to hell aren't going to suffer in this life as a means to go to heaven. They're just going to suffer here and then suffer more in hell.

I found her response unusual. First she stated that there was no "predestination" in Aquinas because God is outside of time and therefore there's no "pre." Well, yes, everyone in orthodoxy Christianity agrees with this-especially those theologians who accept election. I don't see the point here. "Predestination" is more of an analogical human turn-of-phrase for God's action in eternity. The issue is: does God elect or not? And Aquinas pretty clearly states that he does.

The second thing she said was that God does not act upon the human will as an efficient cause, but only as a formal cause. To translate this for you Lutherans familiar with Luther in Bondage of the Will, God determines the human will through the "necessity of immutability" (i.e., God gives a new heart to human beings, which they freely act out of it by trust and loving him) and not by the "necessity of compulsion" (God does not somehow "manhandle" us from heaven into having faith). You can see my point here already: No one (and this includes Calvin and Augustine along with Luther) who teaches the doctrine of predestination believes that God acts on human being in salvation by a "necessity of compulsion." Therefore, when she denies this in response to the issue of predestination, she was either setting up a strawman argument (since no one holds the position that she was rejecting) or was somehow unaware of how the Augustinian tradition (within which Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin stand) understands divine and human agency.

Then she asserted what she considers to be Aquinas position: God offers grace to everyone. When God offers his grace, he removes the sinful inclination from the human will. This places the human will in a state of neutrality between good and evil. If the person in this state of neutrality at least does not resist God's grace, then God gives then sufficient divine grace to will the good and therefore converts them.

The difficulty is several fold: First, Thomas along with Luther, Calvin, and Augustine denies that the human will can in any sense be neutral. A will that is neutral is one that is empty of content, and something that is empty of content does not exist. In fact, one of the odder parts of her book on Aquinas is when she cites Aquinas saying precisely this and then proceeds to assert the opposite in the next paragraph. Even if she was correct about Aquinas, it would be an incoherent position. In a state of neutrality, there would be no will to allow itself to be brought in accordance with God's saving purpose, much less resist it. Secondly, because God gives human being the capacity to will the good, they do not trust and love God unfreely, rather they simply do what they want to do. If a good tree bears good fruit, then a good will does good things freely, not by compulsion. In the same way, an evil will does evil things out of its own nature. This is basic Augustinian stuff- it was all worked out in the Anti-Pelagian writings and set down in the Council of Orange. Hence predestination does no abrogate the human will or its freedom in the sense of imposing a form of compulsion on it. Luther only talks about the "slave will" because he is polemically contrasting his position with Erasmus' "free will." Nevertheless, what he means by "slave will" is merely the will determined by the necessity of immutability- which is what the Augustinian tradition has historically referred to as "free will"- i.e. having the ability to do what you want to do and not the ability to do "whatever."


  1. I haven't read Aquinas on Job, and we've corresponded a bit on this already.

    I do however have another Aquinas _Summa_ reference speaking directly to grace vs. predestination:

    "For the book of life is the inscription of those ordained to eternal life, to which one is directed from two sources; namely, from predestination, which direction never fails, and from grace; for whoever has grace, by this very fact becomes fitted for eternal life. This direction fails sometimes; because some are directed by possessing grace, to obtain eternal life, yet they fail to obtain it through mortal sin. Therefore those who are ordained to possess eternal life through divine predestination are written down in the book of life simply, because they are written therein to have eternal life in reality; such are never blotted out from the book of life. Those, however, who are ordained to eternal life, not through divine predestination, but through grace, are said to be written in the book of life not simply, but relatively, for they are written therein not to have eternal life in itself, but in its cause only. Yet though these latter can be said to be blotted out of the book of life, this blotting out must not be referred to God, as if God foreknew a thing, and afterwards knew it not; but to the thing known, namely, because God knows one is first ordained to eternal life, and afterwards not ordained when he falls from grace."

  2. Mike,

    I'm pleased that you bring up this passage. I could see how there could be confusion here and this needs to be addressed. Here's how I read this: Aquinas is making a distinction here between being in a state of grace and predestination. One of the difficulties that a person must face when they buy into the doctrine of predestination is: what are we to make of the fact that people obviously enter into a state of grace or have faith, and then they later lose it and are damned. Calvinists say: Well, you can never really fall away if you're one of the elect and you have faith. You can temporarily lose your sense of joy in your salvation, but you can never really fall away. Aquinas is stating here that being elect is different than to be in the state of grace. People who are not elect (contra Calvin) can temporarily enter into a state of grace and then lose it via mortal sin. This is the reason why he doesn't think that one can be certain of predestination (something Trent follows him on). Just because you are in a state of grace it does not mean that you are predestined, so keep on working on it and you'll know for sure after you die.

  3. Isn't that a similar position to Luther? That one can have faith temporarily and yet not be elect. The difference is that Luther did not think that this means that no one cannot be certain about one's state before God.

  4. Jack,

    Thanks for this post.

    In the comments you said:

    "Aquinas is stating here that being elect is different than to be in the state of grace. People who are not elect (contra Calvin) can temporarily enter into a state of grace and then lose it via mortal sin."

    I listened to a rather capable (it seems) Catholic apologist talk about Aquinas and predestination here...:

    ...and he talked about how the Scriptures talk about election in two different senses.

    So when you say:

    "The issue is: does God elect or not? And Aquinas pretty clearly states that he does."

    I don't think that this necessarily follows if this is the presupposition (did Aquinas hold this or hint at this? - that is what I wonder). In other words, if the Scriptures show or seem to imply that that there are two different senses of the word "elect", this, it seems to me, might explain why she thinks that God being outside of time is relevant (in that He sees and participates in all moments simultaneously - knowing all at once and determining how He will act in all of our moments simultaneously).

    Here's how I have heard that view unfold (most of this is from the lecture linked to above, but I confess, the lecture resonated with thoughts and questions that I have pondered well... so there may be some of me in this):

    Are those who are baptized into Christ chosen, or elected by God? Yes. Are some of them lost? Yes. So what do the Scriptures say election is?

    In the beginning of Romans 9 and the end of Romans 11 (see 11:28) it seems that all of Israel, is in *some sense* elect, or chosen by God (despite impressions that parts of chapter 9 might seem to give - where it initially might *seem* that Esau would not have been able to claim this - Paul, is in fact, not talking about eternal salvation here but God choosing who He will to complete His plan, or special purposes - Feingold, above), for their call is irrevocable (see Rom 8:30 and 33 as well) - even as ultimately, we must note Galatians 6, and say that the "Israel of God" is going to be those who are circumcised in heart before God and not only outwardly (here we think of "elect" as it is used in Romans 11:5-7)

    So it appears that there are different ways the term is used, i.e. wide and narrow senses.... (note that Judas himself was "elect" but a devil). Think of the parable of the wedding banquet: Feingold, I believe, would see a parallel in the Roman 11:28 sense of "elect" and the *original* invitation list.

    And our potential to reject - after we have been turned from darkness to light - is always in view.


  5. Yes, except that Luther insisted that the saint can have certitude and certainty of salvation.

    The later Luther didn't seem to be consistent in his views and statements (post-Bondage of the Will) on the issue. Dr Paulson in "Lutheran Theology" wrote predestination (through Word and Sacraments) means that the saint receives all of salvation. The distinction is not between reality/ hope (what Dr Paulson clearly meant that the distinction is not between justification and glorification) but Law and Gospel -- the distinction between what is within proclamation and what is outside proclamation since Law in its 1st use normally stands outside proclamation.

    In other words, under the Gospel, the preacher holds out the possibility that the justified may fall away since the preached God Incarnate desires the salvation of all men without exception who comes under proclamation, i.e. hearing of the Gospel. All who are baptised are justified, regenerated. The preacher proclaims Christ's death on the Cross to everyone within the hearing of the Gospel, unconditionally --- Christ died for *you*.

    The hidden God works all in all (omnia in omnibus) -- He determines everything that should come to pass. The falling away of the saint cannot - in this perspective - be attributed to the saint's unbelief but simply that he wasn't an elect/ predestined unto glory. In other words, the distinction between elect and saint is out of place here.

    Of course, confessional Lutherans in the LCMS are bound to the Book of Concord. And the Concordists were clear that on the distinction between justified and regenerated and by implication a definition of faith which places its within an ordo salutis.

  6. Steven, I agree that Luther claims that we can be certain. I think that the major difference between Luther and Aquinas is that for Aquinas we are supposed to think-into God's revelation and so election is a question of what God is doing up in heaven. For Luther, God has made himself fully present in, under, and with Word and Sacrament and so as long as you are in contact with the God of the gospel, you are certain of your election. Why? Because election is less defined as something God decides up in heaven and more about what God is doing and telling you in the Word. You can certainly become alienated from God's electing decision about you through falling away from the faith. But if you are in contact with him in Word and sacrament, then you need not worry about God's election because it is certain.

    Nathan, I think that this would also double as my response to you. Is this sort of what you're driving at as well?

  7. Jack,

    I think so - as I was writing the post it occurred to me that you had made some posts about election and baptism a while back that seemed to kind of go along with what I wrote here (still, I wonder who else has delved into this "election in two senses" idea). I don't know if this kind of thing interests you that much, but I've been having a few debates with RCs on the site I linked to above. This one in particular is quite interesting, I think:

    Andrew seems on the cusp of getting what we are talking about.

    Elsewhere on the site, I debated with Byran Cross (the author of the predestination post above regarding Feingold) and he did not seem to understand that for Lutherans, we don't worry about whether or not we are predestined (he was making arguments against me as if we held to double predestination), but are adament about clinging to the means that God has provided for providing peace with God.


  8. "election is less defined as something God decides up in heaven and more about what God is doing and telling you in the Word."

    Really like that quote

  9. Thank you for this post. I don't understand why scholars of Aquinas are hesitant about his views of predestination and grace. In the seventeenth century, Thomism was *defined* by a strong Augustinian view of predestination and efficacy of grace.

  10. How funny! I posted on your website a few weeks before yesterday's conference. Good to meet you.

    Matt Gaetano