A Tiptoe Through T.U.L.I.P.
by James Akin
Predestination means many things to many people. All Christian churches believe in some form of predestination, because the Bible uses the term , but what predestination is and how it works are in dispute.
In Protestant circles there are two major camps when it comes to predestination: Calvinism and Arminianism . Calvinism is common in Presbyterian, Reformed, and a few Baptist churches. Arminianism is common in Methodist, Pentecostal, and most Baptist churches .
Even though Calvinists are a minority among Protestants today, their view has had enormous influence, especially in this country. This is partly because the Puritans and the Baptists who helped found
Calvinists claim God predestines people by choosing which individuals will accept his offer of salvation. These people are known as "the elect" . They are not saved against their will. It is because God has chosen them that they will desire to come to him in the first place. Those who are not among the elect, "the reprobate," will not desire to come to God, will not do so, and thus will not be saved .
Arminians claim God predestines people by pronouncing (but not deciding) who will accept salvation. He makes this pronouncement using his foreknowledge, which enables him to see what people will do in the future. He sees who will choose to accept his offer of salvation. The people who God knows will repent are those he regards as his "elect" or "chosen" people.
The debate between Calvinists and Arminians is often fierce. These groups frequently accuse each other of teaching a false gospel, at least on a theoretical level, although on a practical level there is little difference between the two since bonow about these subjects: First, Catholics are often attacked by Calvinists who misunderstand the Catholic position on these issues. Second, Catholics often misunderstand the teaching of their own Church on predestination. Third, in recent years there has been a large number of Calvinists who have become Catholics . By understanding Calvinism better, Catholics can help more Calvinists make the jump.
Despite its name, the doctrine of total depravity does not mean men are always and only sinful. Calvinists do not think we are as sinful as we possibly could be. They claim our free will has been injured by original sin to the point that, unless God gives us special grace, we cannot free ourselves from sin and choose to serve God in love. We might choose to serve him out of fear, but not out of unselfish love .
What would a Catholic think of this teaching? While he would not use the term "total depravity" to describe the doctrine , he would actually agree with it. The accepted Catholic teaching is that, because of the fall of Adam, man cannot do anything out of supernatural love unless God gives him special grace to do so .
Thomas Aquinas declared that special grace is necessary for man to do any supernaturally good act, to love God, to fulfill God's commandments, to gain eternal life, to prepare for salvation, to rise from sin, to avoid sin, and to persevere .
The doctrine of unconditional election means God does not base his choice (election) of certain individuals on anything other than his own good will . God chooses whomever he pleases and passes over the rest. The ones God chooses will desire to come to him, will accept his offer of salvation, and will do so precisely because he has chosen them.
To show that God positively chooses, rather than merely foresees, those who will come to him, Calvinists cite passages such as Romans 9:15-18, which says, "[The Lord] says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy.... So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills ."
What would a Catholic say about this? He certainly is free to disagree with the Calvinist interpretation, but he also is free to agree. All Thomists and even some Molinists (such as Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suarez) taught unconditional election.
Thomas Aquinas wrote, "God wills to manifest his goodness in men: in respect to those whom he predestines, by means of his mercy, in sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of his justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others.... Yet why he chooses some for glory and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will. Hence Augustine says, 'Why he draws one, and another he draws not, seek not to judge, if thou dost not wish to err.'" 
Although a Catholic may agree with unconditional election, he may not affirm "double-predestination," a doctrine Calvinists often infer from it. This teaching claims that in addition to electing some people to salvation God also sends others to damnation.
The alternative to double-predestination is to say that while God predestines some people, he simply passes over the remainder. They will not come to God, but it is because of their inherent sin, not because God damns them. This is the doctrine of passive reprobation, which Aquinas taught .
The Council of Trent stated, "If anyone says that it is not in the power of man to make his ways evil, but that God produces the evil as well as the good works, not only by permission, but also properly and of himself, so that the betrayal of Judas is no less his own proper work than the vocation of Paul, let him be anathema.... If anyone shall say that the grace of justification is attained by those only who are predestined unto life, but that all others, who are called, are called indeed, but do not receive grace, as if they are by divine power predestined to evil, let him be anathema." 
Calvinists believe the atonement is limited, that Christ offered it for some men but not for all. They claim Christ died only for the elect. To prove this they cite verses which say Christ died for his sheep (John 10:11), for his friends (John 15:13-14a), and for the Church (Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25) .
One cannot use these verses to prove Christ died only for the elect. A person may be said to have given himself for one person or group without denying that he gave himself for others as well . Biblical proof of this principle is found in Galatians 2:20, where Paul says that Christ "loved me and gave himself for me," not at all implying that Christ did not also give himself for other people. That Christ is said to have given himself in a special way for his sheep, his friends, or the Church cannot be used to prove Christ did not also give himself for all men in a different way.
The Bible maintains that there is a sense in which Christ died for all men. John 4:42 describes Christ as "the Savior of the world," and 1 John 2:2 states that Christ "is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." 1 Timothy 4:10 describes God as "the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." These passages, as well as the official teaching of the Church , require the Catholic to affirm that Christ died to atone for all men.
Aquinas stated, "Christ's passion was not only a sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the sins of the human race; according to 1 John 2:2, 'He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.'" 
This is not to say there is no sense in which limitation may be ascribed to the atonement. While the grace it provided is sufficient to pay for the sins of all men, this grace is not made efficacious (put into effect) in the case of everyone. One may say that although the sufficiency of the atonement is not limited, its efficiency is limited. This is something everyone who believes in hell must acknowledge because, if the atonement was made efficacious for everyone, then no one would end up in hell.
The difference between the atonement's sufficiency and its efficiency accounts for Paul's statement that God is "the Savior of all men, especially those who believe."  God is the Savior of all men because he arranged a sacrifice sufficient for all men. He is the Savior of those who believe in a special and superior sense because these have the sacrifice made efficacious for them. According to Aquinas, "[Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, efficaciously for some, but sufficiently for all, because the price of his blood is sufficient for the salvation of all; but it has its effect only in the elect." 
A Catholic also may say that, in going to the cross, Christ intended to make salvation possible for all men, but he did not intend to make salvation actual for all men--otherwise we would have to say that Christ went to the cross intending that all men would end up in heaven. This is clearly not the case.  A Catholic therefore may say that the atonement is limited in efficacy, if not in sufficiency, and that God intended it to be this way.  While a Catholic could not say that the atonement was limited in that it was made only for the elect, he could say that the atonement was limited in that God only intended it to be efficacious for the elect (although he intended it to be sufficient for all). 
Calvinists teach that when God gives a person the grace that enables him to come to salvation, the person always responds and never rejects this grace. For this reason many have called this the doctrine of irresistible grace.
This designation has the drawback of making it sound as though God forces people against their will to come to him (like a policeman shouting, "Resistance is useless! Throw down your weapons and surrender!") The designation also sounds unbiblical, since Scripture indicates grace can be resisted. In Acts 7:51 Stephen tells the Sanhedrin, "You always resist the Holy Spirit!" 
For this reason many Calvinists are displeased with the phrase "irresistible grace." Some have proposed alternatives. Loraine Boettner, perhaps best known to readers of This Rock as the author of the wildly inaccurate Roman Catholicism, prefers "efficacious grace."  The idea is that God's enabling grace is intrinsically efficacious, so it always produces salvation.
This is the principal issue between Thomists and Molinists.  Thomists claim this enabling grace is intrinsically efficacious; by its very nature, because of the kind of grace it is, it always produces the effect of salvation. Molinists claim God's enabling grace is only sufficient and is made efficacious by man's free choice rather than by the nature of the grace itself. For this reason Molinists say that enabling grace is extrinsically efficacious rather than intrinsically efficacious. 
A Catholic can agree with the idea that enabling grace is intrinsically efficacious and, consequently, that all who receive this grace will repent and come to God. Aquinas taught, "God's intention cannot fail... Hence if God intends, while moving it, that the one whose heart he moves should attain to grace, he will infallibly attain to it, according to John 6:45, 'Everyone that has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.'"  Catholics must say that, while God may give efficacious grace only to some, he gives sufficient grace to all. This is presupposed by the fact that he intended the atonement to be sufficient for all. Vatican II stated, "[S]ince Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate calling of man is in fact one and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery." 
Perseverance of the saints
Calvinists teach that if a person enters a state of grace he never will leave it but will persevere to the end of life. This doctrine is normally called the perseverance of the saints.  All those who are at any time saints (in a state of sanctifying grace, to use Catholic terminology) will remain so forever. No matter what trials they face, they will always persevere, so their salvation is eternally secure. 
Analogies are used to support this teaching. Calvinists point out that when we become Christians we become God's children. They infer that, just as a child's position in the family is secure, our position in God's family is secure. A father would not kick his son out, so God will not kick us out.
This reasoning is faulty. The analogy does not prove what it is supposed to. Children do not have "eternal security" in their families. First, they can be disowned. Second, even if a father would not kick anyone out, a child can leave the house on his own, disown his parents, and sever all ties with the family. Third, children can die; we, as God's children, can die spiritual deaths after we have been spiritually "born again." 
Calvinists also use Bible passages to teach perseverance of the saints. The chief ones are John 6:37-39, 10:27-29, and Romans 8:35-39. The Calvinist interpretation of these passages takes them out of context , and there are numerous other exegetical problems with their interpretation. 
Calvinists assume perseverance of the saints is entailed by the idea of predestination. If one is predestined to be saved, does it not follow he must persevere to the end? This involves a confusion about what people are predestined to: Is it predestination to initial salvation or final salvation? The two are not the same. A person might be predestined to one, but this does not mean he is predestined necessarily to the other.  One must define which kind of predestination is being discussed.
If one is talking about predestination to initial salvation, then the fact that a person will come to God does not of itself mean he will stay with God. If one is talking about predestination to final salvation, then a predestined person will stay with God, but this does not mean the predestined are the only ones who experience initial salvation. Some might genuinely come to God (because they were predestined to initial salvation) and then genuinely leave (because they were not predestined to final salvation).  Either way, predestination to initial salvation does not entail predestination to final salvation.  There is no reason why a person cannot be predestined to "believe for a while" but "in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13). 
A Catholic must affirm that there are people who experience initial salvation and who do not go on to final salvation, but he is free to hold to a form of perseverance of the saints. The question is how one defines the term "saints"--in the Calvinist way, as all those who ever enter a state of sanctifying grace, or in a more Catholic way, as those who will go on to have their sanctification (their "saintification") completed.  If one defines "saint" in the latter sense, a Catholic may believe in perseverance of the saints, since a person predestined to final salvation must by definition persevere to the end. Catholics even have a special name for the grace God gives these people: "the gift of final perseverance."
The Church formally teaches that there is a gift of final perseverance.  Aquinas (and even Molina) said this grace always ensures that a person will persevere.  Aquinas said, "Predestination [to final salvation] most certainly and infallibly takes effect."  But not all who come to God receive this grace.
Aquinas said the gift of final perseverance is "the abiding in good to the end of life. In order to have this perseverance man...needs the divine assistance guiding and guarding him against the attacks of the passions...[A]fter anyone has been justified by grace, he still needs to beseech God for the aforesaid gift of perseverance, that he may be kept from evil till the end of life. For to many grace is given to whom perseverance in grace is not give." 
The idea that a person can be predestined to come to God yet not be predestined to stay the course may be new to Calvinists and may sound strange to them, but it did not sound strange to Augustine, Aquinas, or even Luther. Calvinists frequently cite these men as "Calvinists before Calvin." While they did hold high views of predestination, they did not draw Calvin's inference that all who are ever saved are predestined to remain in grace.  Instead, their faith was informed by the biblical teaching that some who enter the sphere of grace go on to leave it.
If one defines "saint" as one who will have his "saintification" completed, a Catholic can say he believes in a "perseverance of the saints" (all and only the people predestined to be saints will persevere). But because of the historic associations of the phrase it is advisable to make some change in it to avoid confusing the Thomist and Calvinist understandings of perseverance. Since in Catholic theology those who will persevere are called "the predestined" or "the elect," one might replace "perseverance of the saints" with "perseverance of the predestined" or, better, with "perseverance of the elect."
A Thomistic TULIP
In view of this all, we might propose a Thomist version of TULIP:
T = Total inability (to please God without special grace)
U = Unconditional election
L = Limited intent (for the atonement's efficacy)
I = Intrinsically efficacious grace (for salvation)
P = Perseverance of the elect (until the end of life).
There are other ways to construct a Thomist version of TULIP, of course, but the fact there is even one way demonstrates that a Calvinist would not have to repudiate his understanding of predestination and grace to become Catholic. He simply would have to do greater justice to the teaching of Scripture and would have to refine his understanding of perseverance. 
1. See Rom. 8:29-30, Eph. 1:5, 11. For the Catholic Church's teaching on predestination see Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 242-244, and William G. Most, Catholic Apologetics Today, 114-122.
2. Calvinists are followers of John Calvin (1509-1564). Arminians are followers of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), not people from the Republic of Armenia.
3. In Catholic circles, the two major groups discussing predestination are the Thomists and the Molinists, the followers of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Luis de Molina (1536-1600). Thomists emphasize the role of grace, while Molinists emphasize free will. Neither school ignores grace or free will.
4. From the Greek word eklektos, which means "chosen."
5. Calvinists are sometimes wrongly criticized as teaching that a person can be unconcerned about his salvation since he is already either among the elect or the reprobate. According to a Calvinist it would be a mistake for a person to say, "Well, if God chooses me, I'll be saved, and if he doesn't, I won't, so I can sit back and do nothing." A person who said this until his death would show he was not one of the elect because he never did the things, such as repenting and trusting God, which are necessary for salvation.
6. Among Catholics the discussion has been much more peaceful. Since the controversy over grace in the late 1500s and early 1600s, Thomists and Molinists have been forbidden to accuse each other of heresy. In 1748 the Church declared Thomism, Molinism, and a third view known as Augustinianism to be acceptable Catholic teachings.
7. There are some Calvinists, known as Amyraldians or "four-point Calvinists," who hold all of TULIP except for "L."
8. Including Scott Hahn, Steve Wood, myself, and numerous others.
9. There is nothing wrong with serving out of godly fear. The Bible often uses fear of divine chastisement as a motivator. Love and a certain kind of fear do not exclude each other; a child may both love his parents and have a healthy fear of his parents' discipline. But service based on fear only, being self-interested, does not please God in a supernatural way and does not receive a supernatural reward. Love is necessary to please God and receive rewards.
10. That term is badly misleading, as even Calvinists acknowledge. For example, Calvinist theologian R.C. Sproul proposes the alternative term "radical corruption," although this is not much better. Author Lorraine Boettner uses the much better term "total inability."
11. In Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma Ludwig Ott gives the following as a defined article of faith: "For every salutary act internal supernatural grace of God (gratia elevans) is absolutely necessary" (Ott, 229). He goes on to cite the second Council of Orange, which stated that "as often as we do good God operates in us and with us, so that we may operate" (canon 9) and that "man does no good except that which God brings about" (canon 20). The Council of Trent solemnly condemned the proposition that "without the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be repentant as he ought, so that the grace of justification my be bestowed upon him" (Decree on Justification, canon 3). The Church teaches God's grace is necessary to enable man to be lifted out of sin, display genuine supernatural virtues, and please God.
12. Summa Theologiae (hereafter ST) I-II:109:2-10.
13. The Arminians, one will recall, said God bases it on his knowledge of what individuals will do in the future.
14. Catholics understand this hardening in terms of Romans 1:20-32, where Paul repeatedly states God gave pagans up to their sinful desires after they refused to acknowledge him. See also James 1:13.
15. ST I:23:5, citing Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John 26:2.
16. ST 1:23:3.
17. Decree on Justification, canons 6 and 17. The same points were taught by the Second Council of Orange (531), the Council of Quiersy (853), and the third Council of Valencia (855), although none of these were ecumenical councils, though the canons of II Orange are normally considered infallible due to their special papal reception.
18. Calvinists view these groups as identical with the elect. This assumption is false. Not all who are at one time Christ's sheep or Christ's friends remain so (see below on perseverance of the saints). Similarly, not all who are in the Church are among the elect.
19. Suppose a father sacrifices his life in order to save an endangered group of people that includes his family plus two friends. He might be said to have given himself for his family, even though the group he saved also included other people.
20. See Ott, 188f. 21. ST III:48:2.
22. 1 Timothy 4:10.
23. Commentary on Titus, I, 2:6.
24. Matthew 18:7-9, 22:13, 24:40f, 51, 25:30, Mark 9:48, Luke 3:17, 16:19-31, and especially Matthew 7:13f, 26:24, Luke 13:23ff, and Acts 1:25.
25. Although one must be sure to maintain that God desires the salvation of all men, as the Catholic Church teaches. 1 Timothy 2:4 states God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." See also Ezekiel 33:11. This does not conflict with God's intent to save only some, since a person may desire one thing but intend another. A father may desire to not punish his son, but he may intend to do so nonetheless.
26. Some Calvinists are unhappy with the statement that the atonement is limited. They prefer saying that Christ made a "particular redemption" rather than a "limited atonement." These mean the same thing, but the former destroys the TULIP acrostic, so the latter is normally used.
27. See also Sirach 15:11-20, Matthew 23:37.
28. Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1932), ch. 8, "Efficacious Grace."
29. Some Molinists, such as Bellarmine and Suarez, almost have bee Thomists. they agreed with almost all that Thomism says, such as its affirmation of unconditional election, but they resisted the idea that grace is intrinsically efficacious.
30. One should note Thomists do believe in free will, although not the sort Molinists believe in. They claim God's grace establishes what will be freely chosen, but in a way that does not disturb the will's freedom. Aquinas said, "God changes the will without forcing it. But he can change the will from the fact that he himself operates in the will as he does in nature," De Veritatis 22:9.
31. ST I-II:112:3.
32. Gaudium et Spes 22; "being associated with this paschal mystery" means being saved.
33. Many Calvinists prefer the phrase "preservation of the saints" since it puts emphasis on God's preservation of the saints rather than on the saints' efforts in persevering (which is thought to smack of "works-salvation"). This often results in a "holier-than-thou" attitude ("Look how holy I am; I place the emphasis on God's action, not man's"). But Scripture normally uses a human point of view. It calls men to repent, have faith, convert, and persevere. When one insists on preservation-language over perseverance-language, one is actually taking a holier-than-thou attitude, because the one who wrote Scripture used perseverance-language more than preservation-language. In effect one is playing spiritual one-upmanship with Scripture and the one who wrote Scripture.
34. This differs from the "once saved, always saved" teaching common in Baptist circles. According to that theory, a person never can lose his salvation, no matter what he does. Even if he leaves the faith and renounces Christ he will be saved. Perseverance of the saints states that, while a person will lose his salvation if he fails to persevere in faith and holiness, all who do come to God will persevere. If a person does not persevere, it shows he did not come to God in the first place. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21, which say a person will not inherit the kingdom if he commits certain sins, are understood to mean that, if one habitually commits these sins, he was never a true Christian, no matter how sincere he appeared. Both "once saved, always saved" and perseverance of the saints teach "eternal security," but they are not the same. Calvinism admits there are mortal sins, such as failure to persevere, but says that no one who is saved commits these sins. "Once saved, always saved" says no sins would be mortal for a Christian, even in principle.
35. Elements of these responses are brought together in Luke 15, where the prodigal son begins as a son, then leaves the family and is spoken of by the father as "dead," only to return to the family and be spoken of as being "alive again" (Luke 15:24, 32). Christ teaches we can be sons, die spiritually by severing our ties to the family, then come back and be alive again--spiritually resurrected.
36. John 6:37-38 and 10:27-29 are taken out of context with John 15:1-6, which states Christians are branches in the vine which is Christ (v. 5), that God removes every branch from Christ which does not bear fruit (v. 2), and that the destiny of these branches is to be burned (v. 6). Romans 8:35-39 is taken out of context with Romans 11:20-24, where Paul compares spiritual Israel to an olive tree and states that since certain branches of spiritual Israel were broken off because of unbelief in Christ (v. 20), Christians will not be spared if they fall into unbelief (v. 21), but will be cut off (v. 22). The branches which had been broken off may be grafted in again (vv. 23-24). Romans 8:35-39 is also taken out of context with Romans 8:12f, 17, and 14:15, 20.
37. For further discussion see Robert Shank, Life in the Son (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1989) and Dale Moody, The Word of Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 348ff. Both authors are Baptists who believe in conditional security, not eternal security.
38. For example, if a person was predestined to enter my living room, it would not mean he was predestined to remain forever in my living room.
39. Catholic theology has defined "predestined" to mean "predestined to final salvation." Thus those who will end up with God in heaven are spoken of as "the predestined" or "the elect." That a person experiences salvation at some point does not mean he is among the predestined (those God has chosen to persevere to the end).
40. Once the philosophical issue is cleared up, we can evaluate the teaching of Scripture objectively. When we do so, it is clear there are numerous indications in the Bible that a person can lose salvation. We already have mentioned John 15:1-6, Romans 8:12f, 17, 11:20-24, and 14:15-20. There are many more. Robert Shank gives a list of eighty-five passages he believes will, if carefully interpreted in context, show that loss of salvation is possible; see Shank, 333-337.
41. I recognized this fact even when I was an ardent Protestant.
42. "Sanctification" and "saintification" are the same word in Greek. When one has been completely sanctified (made holy), one has become a saint in the fullest sense of the word. Since this happens only in heaven, it corresponds to the common Catholic usage of the term "saint."
43. Trent's Decree of Justification, canon 16, speaks of "that great and special gift of final perseverance," and chapter 13 of the decree speaks of "the gift of perseverance of which it is written: 'He who perseveres to the end shall be saved [Matt. 10:22, 24:13],' which cannot be obtained from anyone except from him who is able to make him who stands to stand [Rom. 14:4]."
44. Aquinas said it always saves a person because of the kind of grace it is; Molina said it always saves a person because God only gives it to those whom he knows will respond to it. But the effect is the same: The gift of final perseverance always works.
45. ST I:23:6.
46. ST I-II:109:10.
47. The fact Calvinists are not aware of this shows a lack of scholarship. Presbyterian theologian R. C. Sproul attempts to redefine Calvinism as the "Augustinian" view. While Calvin's view of predestination might be a variation of Augustine's view, the two are not the same. Augustine did not believe in Calvin's understanding of the "perseverance of the saints," and neither did the broadly Augustinian tradition. That understanding was new with Calvin. For an accurate historical discussion of perseverance of the saints, see J. J. Davis's article "Perseverance of the Saints: A History of the Doctrine," in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 34/2 (June 1991), 213-228. Davis is himself a Calvinist, and it is fitting a Calvinist help correct the errors of other Calvinists on the history of their doctrine.
48. This has important applications for Calvinists who are thinking about entering the Church, and it has implications for Catholics who want to know what the Church requires them to believe and how they might defend the Church against anti-Catholic Calvinists. For an example of how Thomism can be used to refute Calvinist attacks on the Mass, purgatory, and indulgences, see my article "Fatally Flawed Thinking" (This Rock, July 1993). The article critiques The Fatal Flaw, a book by James White, a Calvinist and a professional anti-Catholic. For further reading on Catholic teaching in this area, see Predestination by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (St. Louis: Herder, 1939). Pope John Paul II studied and wrote his dissertation under Garrigou-Lagrange.
Copyright (c) 1993 Catholic Answers. Reprinted with permission from the September 1993 issue of This Rock magazine. James Akin, a convert to Catholicism, is a contributing editor to This Rock.