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St. Thomas Aquinas and Predestination
Question from Anne on 5/10/2006:


I believe this is the right forum for this question:

I have been reading from a website: under St. Thomas Aquinas on Predestination and Invincible Ignorance.

Here is an excerpt from the article apparently summarizing St. Thomas Aquinas:

“As we have seen, it is necessary for the completion of the universe that some men fail in their end and are damned. Now, invincible ignorance is precisely an instance of men failing to obtain their good, which failure must be for the completion of the universe to be effected. If no men failed to obtain their end, which is salvation, or died in their sins, then the goodness of God’s avenging justice would not be manifested in their damnation; and then the universe as a whole would not manifest His goodness as far as it could in the required variety. So it must be that some men are damned - and invincible ignorance is an adequate means to this end. For, all men are conceived with original sin, which suffices for their damnation, as suffice the mortal sins which many men commit. That these people are damned, it is not required that they resist the Faith with a positive sin of infidelity; rather it is adequate that they never hear of the Faith, in which consists their invincible ignorance, without which Faith their sins, which suffice for damnation, cannot be taken away. Wherefore, those who die invincibly ignorant are damned.”

How is this doctrine any different from Calvin’s Doctrine of Election?

Pope Pius IX states:

“We must hold as of the faith, that out of the Apostolic Roman Church there is no salvation; that she is the only ark of safety, and whosoever is not in her perishes in the deluge; we must also, on the other hand, recognize with certainty that those who are invincible in ignorance of the true religion are not guilty for this in the eyes of the Lord. And who would presume to mark out the limits of this ignorance according to the character and diversity of peoples, countries, minds and the rest?”

If the Pope states those who are invincibly ignorant cannot be held guilty in the eyes of the Lord, and St. Thomas states that invincible ignorance suffices for damnation, how can these two doctrines co-exist?

Thank you.

Answer by Richard Geraghty on 5/26/2006:

Dear Anne,

I checked the web site you mentioned. It is a follower of Father Feeney, who was excommunicated by the Church around the 1940's or 50's because he took too rigid a line on who will be saved. That is why the text you read which was supposed to be the teaching of St. Thomas sounded so odd. I checked the Summa Theologica against. In Part I, Question 23 it deals with predestination. It is quite good. You can get the Summa Theologica on line. The teaching of St. Thomas is that God not only knows what will happen to each individual in the future but also causes the future to happen because he exercises care over the whole universe, human beings included. But he directs things according to their nature. Things like brute animals he directs necessarily because they do not have the power of choice. Things like man have the power of choice so he rules and directs them as free creatures. When he foresees that some human beings will not cooperate with his grace, he knows he will condemn them to hell. Now human beings, having free will, have the power to cooperate with grace or not. That is what free will is all about. So when God predestines some to hell, he does so not as if they had no choice in their own destiny. All had a choice. All had sufficient grace to be be saved. But not all will cooperate with the grace that God has given them. As far as I know, this is far from the teaching of the Calvinists. According to the Catholic Church no man knows in this life whether he is predestined for eternal life or not. Only God Himself knows how each man will use his free will.

Dr. Geraghty


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