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Dear Father Angelo,

with regard to Question 23 of the first part of the Summa Theologiae, I personally find it hard to accept that God has already decided who to save and lets others, not of their own will, be reprobated. I know that this doubt of mine borders on Pelagius’ position, but it also worries me to think of a predestined salvation not for everyone. On these points I need your precious clarifications, because I probably cannot fully understand the Angelic Doctor, precisely where he speaks of predestination as part of providence in Q. 23. In article 3 God reproves somebody. In article 7 the number of the predestined is determined. It’s true that there is only one predestination, unlike Protestants, but the saint also speaks of divine reprobation of men regardless of their actions … “God wills to manifest His goodness in men; in respect to those whom He predestines, by means of His mercy, as sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reproves, by means of His justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others”. Precisely article 5 most of all, but in general also the other articles (3,7) of the aforementioned Question, take away from me some of the wonderful pleasure of reading the Summa Theologiae. I kindly ask you for a prayer so that I may understand the Question on the Predestination. I read an answer you gave on the matter with which I totally agree. You made it clear that Grace is granted to all but it is then up to our free will to make good use of it to be deserving of eternal salvation or supernatural beatitude. A grace that even some angels have rejected out of pride and consequent envy. However, I don’t think that Thomas thinks exactly as you answered, at least in the articles on Predestination. It is one thing to say that good deeds are possible for Divine Grace and thus deserving (I fully agree); another thing is to say that God wanted some men to be predestined for salvation and others to be reprobated. How can I reconcile these two different statements?

Thank you for your patience and for your eventual clarification.

Priest’s answer


1. First of all, I am pleased with your study of the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas and indeed with the study of one of the certainly more difficult points.

2. For the benefit of our visitors it is right to remember what St. Thomas means by predestination, a term used by St. Paul in Rm 8.30.

Well, here’s what he says:

“For all things are subject to His providence, as was shown.

Now it belongs to providence to direct things towards their end, as was also said.

The end towards which created things are directed by God is twofold; one which exceeds all proportion and faculty of created nature; and this end is life eternal, that consists in seeing God which is above the nature of every creature, as shown.

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. (…)

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.” (Summa theologiae, I, 23, 1).

2. The point is therefore perfectly clear: if the goal to which man is destined is a goal that surpasses his strength because it is a goal of a supernatural order, it is necessary that someone leads him there.

This is God’s providence for the man, who is led by Him to eternal life through faith, grace and through the possession of God with the beatific vision, also called glory.

This providence is also called predestination.

3. The problem arises for those who do not reach eternal salvation.

Why don’t they get there? Is it because God doesn’t want it? Not at all, because the Lord “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2: 4).

God wants all to be predestined, to receive the supernatural means to reach Heaven, to be saved.

4. Therefore if they do not receive the means to be predestined, which is the same as being saved, it is only because they have rejected them.

God takes them away from those who reject them.

Here’s a very practical example that makes the idea clear: if the customer refuses a course that the host presents him, the host dutifully takes it away from him and conforms to the will of the customer.

5. The reprobation St. Thomas speaks of has precisely this meaning.

It doesn’t mean, as in our dictionaries, voluntary condemnation.

It is a permission, because God’s will would be just the opposite.

These are his exact words: “Thus, as men are ordained to eternal life through the providence of God, it likewise is part of that providence to permit some to fall away from that end; this is called reprobation” (Summa Theologiae, I, 23, 3).

Therefore reprobation does not mean condemnation, but “permission“.

6. Thus we understand the rest of the affirmations of St. Thomas: “Thus, as predestination (that is, salvation) is a part of providence, in regard to those ordained to eternal salvation, so reprobation (that is, permission) is a part of providence in regard to those who turn aside from that end.

Hence reprobation (that is, permission) implies not only foreknowledge, but also something more, as does providence, as was said above. Therefore, as predestination (that is, salvation) includes the will to confer grace and glory; so also reprobation (that is, permission) includes the will to permit a person to fall into sin, and to impose the punishment of damnation on account of that sin”(Ib.).

7. There is a statement in your email that does not correspond to what St. Thomas says and it is this: “But the saint also speaks of divine reprobation of men regardless of their actions … “

Well, St. Thomas says just the opposite in ad 2 of article 3: “Reprobation (permission) differs in its causality from predestination (salvation).

This latter (salvation) is the cause both of what is expected in the future life by the predestined – namely, glory – and of what is received in this life – namely, grace.

Reprobation (permission), however, is not the cause of what is in the present – namely, sin; but it is the cause of abandonment by God. It is the cause, however, of what is assigned in the future – namely, eternal punishment.

But guilt proceeds from the free-will of the person who is reprobated and deserted by grace. In this way, the word of the prophet is true – namely, “Destruction is thy own, O Israel.” (Hos 13,9 Vg) “(Summa theologiae, I, 23, 3, ad 2).

(Remember the example I gave: if the course is no longer in front of the customer it is because he refused it and the host rightly took it away from him. But this does not depend on the host’s will, but on the customer’s).

7. Therefore, when “God wills to manifest His goodness in men (…) in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of His justice, in punishing them”, it is a will resulting from the will of human free will.

Reprobation or permission does not absolutely imply to actively influence the guilt, but not to impede.

Not to impede is not disinterest, because God wants all to be saved, and therefore he offers to all the goods of heaven and does everything he can so that all can achieve them through many actual graces.

But some systematically reject them and God allows them to persist.

And so they choose by themselves their condemnation.

Thank you for this question, which has allowed me to return to these beautiful pages of St. Thomas.

I wish you all the best, I remind you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo

Translated by Chiara P.