Why did God become Man? – Missio Dei

Introduction  For those who are unfamiliar, the question of the “motive” of the Incarnation has a long history. Though it has its roots in the writings of the Church Fathers, it did not receive its first systematic treatment until the time of medieval scholasticism. At that juncture, opposing theses were advanced by two of the most authoritative scholastic theologians of the 13th century: St. Thomas Aquinas and Bl. John Duns Scotus. The former, which we may call the Thomistic thesis, argued that if Adam had not sinned, God would not have become man. Thomas wrote the following in his Summa Theologica: “the work of the Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin; so that, had sin not existed, the Incarnation would not have been.”1 Thus, for Thomas, the only reason for the Incarnation is the redemption of fallen man. The Scotistic thesis, on the other hand, argued that the Incarnation was willed by God from all eternity prior to any consideration of sin, and thus it would have come about even had Adam not sinned. For Scotus, God created the world and everyone in it for the sake of Christ, sin or no sin. Christ, then, was not an afterthought of God, but rather the first thought, so to speak.  The debate over which of the two theses was the correct one took center stage in the Christological writings of the early modern period. In fact, according to Trent Pomplun, “it could be argued that [during this period] no controversy was so celebrated as the age-old debate between Thomists and Scotists about the so-called ‘motive’ of the Incarnation.”2 All serious theologians of the major religious orders (i.e. Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, etc.) took part in the debate. The Dominicans, with some notable exceptions, adhered to the Thomistic thesis, while the Franciscans for the most part adopted that of Scotus. But even Dominicans like Capreolus (ca. 1380-1444) and Cajetan (ca. 1468-1534) had to wrestle with some of the principles of Scotus’s thesis, such as the application of the signa rationes to God’s eternal decree, all the while trying to remain faithful to Thomas’s overall position. The Jesuits either sided with one of the two theses or proposed a mitigated form of either thesis. By the eighteenth century, Scotus’s teaching had pretty much won out, though many Dominicans continued to voice their opposition to it. As it stands, the debate continues to this very day, though it is no longer one of the major points of discussion in contemporary Christologies. 

Why did God become Man? – Missio Dei

Please share with others our publication, God Bless! Please visit our website https://missiodei.substack.com/  and subscribe via email or follow us on Twitter @missiodei451  

Why don’t the Saints pity the damned?

Lets rather examine the next point of contention: while man cannot experience pity for the damned, he can experience a type of joy at their suffering. Its important to not move to this topic too quickly. Again, the wrathful move to this rather quickly as if it applies to them right now, in this life – which it does not. And the type of joy experienced at the suffering of the damned needs to be nuanced so as to avoid any type of cruel notion that is contrary to love. Quote 3 – Summa Theologica II, II, Q. 94 A3 It is written (Psalm 57:11): “The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge.” Further, it is written (Isaiah 56:24): “They shall satiate [Douay: ‘They shall be a loathsome sight to all flesh.’] the sight of all flesh.” Now satiety denotes refreshment of the mind. Therefore the blessed will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked.

Why don’t the Saints pity the damned?

Please visit our website https://missiodei.substack.com/  and subscribe via email or follow us on Twitter @missiodei451  

Unique Ways We Learn About Jesus in John’s Gospel

As we approach the joyous celebration of Christmas we Catholics typically focus on Luke’s Gospel; more specifically Luke 2, where we learn of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the birth of our Savior and the announcement of that birth to the shepherds in the fields as well as their visit to behold the newborn baby Jesus. In this season of preparation for the birth of our Lord, I would rather in this reflection turn to another Gospel, that of John; and his telling us about the Holy Spirit and other major themes that distinguish this Gospel from the other three Synoptic Gospels. We are therefore able to supplement our present focus on the birth of our Lord with reflections upon our re-birth in Jesus Christ and His glory, even in crucifixion and death.

Unique Ways We Learn About Jesus in John’s Gospel

If you like this article please visit our website https://missiodei.substack.com/  and subscribe via email or follow us on Twitter @missiodei451  

Was the Star of Bethlehem a Real Event? – Missio Dei

A planetary conjunction appears to be the most likely historical theory in regards to the Star of Bethlehem. Some theories have considered a comet, but Haley’s comet comes too early – around 12 B.C. And others consider that the Star could have been a super nova, but Comet 53 that could have become a supernova came after Herod’s death.[3] The comet is a popular theory for the historicity of the Star of Bethlehem. There are records of a long-lasting comet event from Chinese astronomers, noticed in March of 5 B.C. and April of 4 B.C. The fact that these dates are near the date of Herod the Great’s death in 4 B.C. make it a possibility for the Gospel of Matthew’s record of the Star of Bethlehem.[4]    

Was the Star of Bethlehem a Real Event? – Missio Dei

If you like this article, please subscribe by visiting our website https://missiodei.substack.com/  and subscribe via email or follow us on Twitter @missiodei451  

Missio Dei, A New Substack Newsletter for You!

Greetings everyone!

Pilgrims of Christ has more or less migrated to a new Substack newsletter, which relies on email subscription for viewership. I’d like to invite you to subscribe to our Substack publication Missio Dei—a publication dedicated to proclaiming the Mission of God to the world. I started this independent publication with my classmate from Holy Apostles College and Seminary Jonathon Fessenden, a grad-student M.Th.-Apologetics. We are full of joy that the Holy Spirit is working in our lives encouraging us to proclaim the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and through His resurrection raises us to new life. Missio Dei is a more tailored and precise model of subsidiarity by reaching out to those in our own circles of family, friends, and local parishes to promote our publication. We hope with your help we can begin to reach out in mission to those who have been isolated around our parish communities as a source for clarity of the Catholic faith. Please share with others our publication, God Bless! Please visit our website https://missiodei.substack.com/ and subscribe via email or follow us on Twitter @missiodei451  

Why Theology Matters

Jim @ Not For Itching Ears asserted that God doesn’t care about theology. Citizen Tom attempted here to rebut his assertion. I suppose the claim was presented because of the intention of wanting to bring together different denominations, but true ecumenicalism shouldn’t forgo truth for religious indifference or syncretism, God in the Old Testament puts those ideas to rest quite often. Jim from his original post doesn’t address Philippians though he brought up to me when I questioned that religious doctrinal indifference is never a theme in the undisputed letters of the Pauline canon. Jim’s argument rests on the Greek phrase “Ti Gar”, which is sometimes translated “What does it matter” in the passage that he quotes Philippians 1:17-18.  I made the point that Paul is very concerned in the Corinthian correspondences, Galatians, Romans, etc. with the understanding revelation correctly. The occasions for Paul’s letters generally center around defending the revelation against circumcision parties or defending his own apostleship. So, I had my suspicions that this just didn’t seem like the correct reading of Philippians, which is usually considered an authentic letter of St. Paul. The few commentaries that I perused didn’t even sniff Jim’s interpretation of the text, so again, exegesis is a conversation, it cannot be done in a vacuum. 

The complete thought of the periscope begins at verse 12, so again, in exegetical work, careful reading must be applied to a particular passage, a verse should not be taken out of its context both within the theme of the letter, it’s rhetorical devices, and its form. 

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (ESV Phil 1:12-18)

The entire context of verse 18 centers around Paul’s imprisonment which, as we can see from the complete periscope, advances the Gospel message either by men who do so for the sake of Christ’s gospel or personal gain, it has nothing to do with a group getting the gospel wrong. If one group was preaching adherence to the Mosaic law to be justified by Christ, from the context of Paul’s other letters, he would not have been so accepting, but Paul’s concern is the spread of the true message of the good news. 


So, does theology matter to God? Yes. It begins with the kerygma. God loves us and has a plan for us. So, the question should be asked in this manner, does theology matter for us? 

And because of this question we have to fully understand what is theology.  

Theology starts with the most knowable cause itself; it instructs man who God is through metaphors and analogy because man learns through the senses. It is a science that studies higher things, but It differs from the modern understanding of science that is only concerned with information; or the gathering of information to test hypothesis. However, the purpose of science is the certitude of the four causes. The supreme science to arrive at the conclusion of satisfaction is metaphysics. 

Metaphysics does differ from theology as the study of being as being that begins with cause and effect and rises to the cause. The classical understanding of science to knowledge in the strict sense of the word is one that proceeds from cause and effect. Theology is primarily about God as is all religious knowledge; it is not anthropology; it is primarily about the Trinity. Theology is not about the subjective needs of man, it is about God, who is the material object of study and His revelation which is the formal object. 

The trajectory of understanding in Theology is a top down approach where authority takes precedent. In theology, one looks at everything from God’s point of view, where reason cannot follow without help. So, does it matter to God—absolutely in this context. The subject matter is not diverse like it is in philosophy, but it has unity in the subject matter. It is one single unified vision of everything coming from God and leading one back to God in Christ. It is a conformity between nature, grace, and glory. 

The understanding of the nature of faith is predicated on the understanding of theology as a real science, which begins with the Creator and His revelation. Faith is a virtue, and it is necessary. It exists in its subject.

The starting point of the cause helps to understand how the act of our will as a response to grace toward God’s will in love—as St. Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:6—different from some of these commonly held misunderstandings on what is faith—for example, merely blind confidence. Theology depends on faith and revelation, which is how one assents to the propositions of theology as a science—science in the proper sense of all knowledge. In the proper sense of understanding theology as a science—dependent on faith and revelation—one could not be a theologian if one lacked faith because of theology’s dependence of both faith and revelation, one would either be a historian or a philosopher.

Faith is our response to revelation—which is grace; a free gift that is an invitation to the Divine life. One cannot merit this free gift of grace. For modernity, faith is the blind assent to a proposition; however, this is not the proper sense of the definition of the term. The act of belief as a form of knowing is distinct from the act of science and the act of opinion. These differences can be distinguished by the Aristotelean model of the three acts of the mind: simple apprehension, judgment, and reasoning.

There are two ways in which a person can come to judgment within this model. The first is philosophical in which one reasons through composing, combining, comparing, contrasting different beings. The second way is the movement of the intellect by an act of the will. If a person has assented to some propositions of faith through reason but cannot fully understand who God is, they will have a natural desire to move the intellect.  It is from the revelation of God that our natural desire is satisfied by an act of the will to faith. 

For example, Jesus gives us provocation to trust in His divinity through the signs of miracles. So, by these signs, a person can believe in His divinity because a person trusts in the authority in which Jesus speaks. An example of assenting to the authority and divinity of Jesus through signs would be St. Thomas the Apostle’s response to the sign of touching the man Jesus’ wounds which causes him to assent to the faith of the divinity of Jesus with the response, “My Lord, and my God.”[1]

So when it comes to assenting to a proposition, there is a similarity and difference between science and faith. In science, the mind is convinced by the examination of the scientific method and cause and effect. After such discourse through examination, assent puts an end to any further dialogue and ends examination. However, in faith, discourse and assent are in movement together at the same time. It is faith seeking understanding. When our will assents to faith in Christ, it moves also orders our will to acts of charity as the fruits of that faith.            The nature of faith is more closely related to a verb because it moves twofold from the intellect to faith by revelation and acts of charity.  The act of faith is when the intellect is moved by the will assents to the articles of faith given to us by God through revelation. It differs from doubt, opinion, and science because it assents by trust in the revelation of the revealer. It is done by ordering our will with God’s will by acts of charity. 


[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II 4.

New Catechesis Resources!!

Pilgrims of Christ now provides free public domain copies of the Baltimore Catechism No. 1, the Confessions of St. Augustine Trans. EB Pusey, and Summa Theologica: Part 1.

It’s the fraternity’s hope with time to provide a more detailed break down of each particular texts for reference to specific chapters and parts. Of course, until that time, the text is easily referenced using your “find” feature on your computer.

For further edification, please feel free to read my post On the Influence of St. Augustine and check out my videos where I give small lectures on main topics found in each lesson in the Baltimore Catechism.

God Bless!

Farewell to the Devil?

In his essay “Farewell to the Devil?”, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) examines and rebuts the argument presented by Swiss Catholic Theologian Herbert Haag, who asserts that Satan does not exist and that Satan was an idea that manifested ancient Jewish culture’s understanding of evil and sin. (Ratzinger, Farewell to the Devil? 197.) Haag’s thesis was written during the time of great cultural upheaval both in secular culture and in Catholic Culture as his book “Farewell to the Devil” would be printed after the Vatican II council. It should be no surprise that Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Sosa, has recently made comments that Satan is an analogy making very similar points as presented in Haag’s argument ( A comment that Fr. Sosa has since walked back a bit).

Ratzinger explains that this position is one that uses a methodology that is devoid of literary analysis of scripture but rather is a methodology that focuses on a false historicism (emphasis mine) that those of a different era are either stupid, naive, or both, so in effect, Haag’s position is based on the rhetoric fallacy of “poisoning the well” of the witness testimony of Jesus and the Apostles as it is presented in the New Testament. Haag’s thesis is refuted by Ratzinger by examining the New Testament in which Satan and Demons exist, and the Devil is not a synonym for sin which is claimed by Haag (Ratzinger, Ibid.).

It’s so glaringly obvious in the belief of those in scripture that both Satan and Demons exist that Haag had to admit this is a commonly held belief of those in 1st century Palestine. However, Haag argues that these people were victims of their understanding and culture during this period of time. Again, it’s important to reiterate that Haag’s position is based on his own cultural bias in which he has already assumed those in Jesus’ time are inferior to his own understanding. Naturally, this type of assertion is one of the most dangerous facets of a strict historical-critic exegesis and the use of historicism by modern scholars. Ratzinger does a good job acknowledging that it’s Haag’s bias that has predetermined his conclusion on this matter, Ratzinger writes, “Haag bids the devil farewell, not in his capacity as exegete or interpreter of Scripture, but rather as a contemporary, who considered the existence of a devil untenable (Ratzinger, 198).”

One of the key aspects in understanding Satan and Demons, after examining the role of the Old Testament as being dependent on the New Testament, is understood when Ratzinger writes, “The spiritual battle against the enslaving powers, the exorcism pronounced over a world blinded by demons, is an inseparable part of Jesus’ spiritual way that belongs to the heart of his own mission and of the mission of his disciples.” (Ratzinger, 202). Furthermore, Ratzinger indicates that our understanding of the faith must be rendered within the faith community. If it is to be determined that Satan is merely an analogy to sin or a sort of moral taboo then the Church’s sacramental life with the foundation of baptism would be moot. Ratzinger writes, “One must be able to take baptism at its word, especially in its central action. It indicates what takes place in becoming a Christian and what does not…exorcism and the renunciation of Satan are part of the central action of baptism.” (Ratzinger, 203.)

At the end of the essay, Ratzinger questions what Haag means that the Devil cannot be understood to exist by what we know in our modern age. In many respects, I believe the question of “Farewell to the Devil?” is one that originates in the metaphysical and spiritual and moves into the material, perhaps, there is to be understood better the sacred and the profane. A good measurement of whether something is contingent on faith testimony which is the essence of the faith is its relation to the Incarnation itself.

How does Satan, the demonic, and hell relate to the Incarnation? In the course of the history of the Church, the great heresies have always been misguided teachings on who is Jesus Christ. Satan and hell must be articles of faith as without those parts of revelation, it would render the Incarnation useless. If theologians eliminate Adam and Eve, the fall, hell, and then the slope—as we see today—leads to there being no such thing as sin, then those theologians have rendered Jesus Christ merely an ancient understanding of the world.

Biblical Exegesis: Primarily a philosophical discussion or historical?

Bourdon_Sebastien-Moses_and_the_Burning_Bush

Pope Benedict XVI explained in his 1988 Erasmus lectures, “The debate about modern exegesis is not at its core a debate among historians, but among philosophers”. (Matthew J. Ramage, Jesus Interpreted, 9).

Is the discussion of the Holy Scriptures primarily a philosophical debate of those who claim there is a God and those who do not?

The statement appears to be correct on the surface; however, the difficulty with this particular assertion is that it is a false dichotomy when it comes to the interpretation of what is true and what actually happened as it is described in the written word. In attempting to determine what is true, the historian–both secular and religious–deals with the axiological value judgment of the truth just as much as any philosopher would when it comes to scriptural exegesis and the matter of what is the truth.

Make sure to pre-order my new book: The Birth of God in Historical Context: An Examination of the Infancy Narrative of Jesus Christ: 

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-birth-of-god-in-history-phillip-hadden/1134980944?ean=9781078744492

Has God chosen you to love? St. Augustine: On the Predestination of the Saints

1024px-The_Last_Judgement_-_Stefan_Lochner_-_Wallraf-Richartz_Museum_-_Cologne_-_Germany_2017

St. Augustine is the cornerstone, so to speak, with the development of predestination theology and with its role of Grace and justification in the Christian life. The New Catholic Encyclopedia informs that “Prior to the time of St. Augustine the Fathers of the Church were not preoccupied with the problem of predestination. It was the bishop of Hippo who first treated the mystery exhaustively, with the theological decisiveness so characteristic of him.”[1]

The development of theology is often brought about from an expressed error in doctrine. Naturally, Augustine’s development of predestination theology was a response to Pelagius, a 4th-century priest from Britain, who argued that our will was utterly free to do good or evil and merit salvation from purely good works of one’s own accord. Pelagius’ heresy bears his name: Pelagianism. However, what is vital to understanding the Augustinian notion of predestination and justification is Augustine’s development of the concept of original sin.

In Catholicism, there are two competing ideas of free will and predestination. One is held by the Jesuits called Molinism, and the other is held by the Dominicans as a development of Thomistic theology. Fr. Luis De Molina, a 16th century Spanish Jesuit priest, is the one whose name is the origin of the Jesuit developed theology of predestination:

“Molina taught that there exists in God a knowledge of all possible beings, as well as a knowledge of all possible orders of things. As a result, God knows all possible free acts of all possible men in all possible world orders. Presupposing this knowledge on the part of God, He, for His own reasons, freely chooses one order of things and wills its fulfillment. Thus, He chooses, those men to be saved whom in this world order He has foreseen would make good use of the graces that would be granted to them in these particular circumstances, men whom He has foreseen would persevere and ultimately merit eternal felicity…The explanation of Molina is founded on his opinion concerning the manner by which God knows future free acts. He maintains that this knowledge is in God independently of any decree of the will of God that would physically predetermine the will of man to one course of action, PREDETERMINATION, he holds, would destroy human freedom.”[2]

 The New Catholic Encyclopedia examines the response to Molinism from the Dominicans, namely from Fr. Domingo Banez:

Domingo Báñez. In opposition to Molina, the Spanish Dominican theologian held that predestination to glory, viewed in itself, is decreed before the provision of any merits whatsoever (ante praevisa merita). The very first action of God concerning the chosen group of men (the elect) is their election to glory, and, conversely, His very first action concerning the rest of men is their exclusion from glory or from an efficacious election to glory. This predestination of certain souls to glory before the prevision of their merits is, of course, not a result of any merit on the part of man, but is entirely gratuitous. God wills this by reason of His absolute dominion over all creatures and through His inscrutable counsel. This is the first decree of God in the order of intention…To those who were not elected, the negatively reprobated, God, subsequently to the decree excluding them from glory or from an efficacious election to glory, decrees not to give them efficacious graces, but graces that are merely sufficient.”[3]

 What is interesting, as explained by Matthew Levering in his book The Theology of Augustine, is that St. Augustine seems to hold the former view at one point and moves to what the Dominican view holds today. Of course, The Dominican view, influenced from St. Thomas Aquinas, is more or less a synthesis of the latter Augustinian understanding of Grace and predestination. Levering writes, “His opponents advocated a view that Augustine himself once held—namely, that predestination depended on God’s foreknowledge of a person’s free act of faith. On the Predestination of the Saints, however, Augustine argues that God’s Grace causes the free charitable actions by which we attain eternal life.”[4]

Naturally, the understanding of the history of St. Augustine’s debate with Pelagianism, the Dominicans viewed the Jesuit understanding, God’s ‘middle knowledge’ as Molina called it, to be Pelagius in origin. At which point both sides labeled the other heretics, and the matter was brought before Pope Clement VIII and decided by Pope Paul V. The papacy did not make a doctrinal pronouncement on the, and it was determined either view could be held by a Catholic.

In both systems, the elect is chosen by God for salvation. The difficulty in Molina’s system is that by attaching a radical free will away from God and asserting that God gives efficacious Grace to those whom he knows will only accept due to his all-knowingness tends to struggle with the philosophical understanding of God’s nature and Divine Revelation. The knowledge of God’s nature through the proofs of God’s existence by St. Thomas Aquinas indicates that God’s nature is existence itself. In some respect, one might say that all creation participates in God’s Divine nature. If there is no God—there would be nothing. Therefore, it would be hard to explain how humanity’s will would then somehow be outside of God’s very own nature. Naturally, the Molinists will state that God merely respects our free choice, but that sentiment isn’t unique to Molinism and can still be used within the Dominican understanding of Grace.

In accord with Holy Scripture, the Catholic Church teaches that God desires us all to be saved—not that we all will be saved:

CCC 74God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”: that is, of Christ Jesus.30Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth:[5]

 1 Tim. 2:3-4 RSV

 This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.[6]

Mathew Levering examines that Augustine, “emphasizing the radical priority of the grace of the Holy Spirit, Augustine focuses the debate away from the difficulties caused by the fact that God does not predestine all persons.”[7]How are we to feel about this? It’s a concept that would be surmised that many Catholics do not know or understand it. Bishop Robert Barron explains the difficulty of this theological understanding in a short video on the differences between Grace and karma, why does God choose some and others? Why did God choose David—forgive David—and not Saul, whom he did not forgive?

God desires all to be saved and gives us all grace sufficient to be saved. However, as Fr. Thomas Joseph White explains in his book, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism, “no one can come to know God personally and approach God with genuine love for God unless God first acts upon a person’s mind and heart by Grace. Grace is a participation in the very life of God…Grace makes us friends with God…” Prevenient grace” is a term used frequently by St. Augustine. It denotes a central New Testament teaching: we cannot take any initiative to turn toward God unless he first takes the initiative to turn us toward himself. This mystery does not entail a denial of free will, but its affirmation.”[8]

Mary, the mother of God, is the perfect example of how our will works with Grace. Now, according to Catholic teaching, Mary was conceived without sin due to a special grace afforded to her by God in which the paschal mystery sanctifies her so that she can be Christ’s mother. In Luke’s Gospel, there is some indication of the special Grace afforded to her by the particular tense of the participle used by Luke. “In the RSV translation, Gabriel says, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”…[9]The importance of this particular passage is “full of grace,” which comes from the Greek word “kecharitomene.” The tense of this specific verb form is a perfect passive participle, and the message that it conveys doesn’t rightly translate into English. A perfect passive participle verb indicates something that occurs in the past, present, and future; therefore, what Gabriel is saying to Mary, and Luke is recording, is that Mary is with Grace through all time of her existence—she is conceived without sin.”[10]

What is understood from Mary in the scripture is that our wills that are not tainted with original sin are properly ordered with the will of God. In fact, the Augustinian understanding is that because all goodness comes from God and his graces, our choices to choose evil against His will which is perfect and all good, therefore must be from our own will alone. It is by this understanding that is revealed that we are saved by God alone and damned by our own actions.

Augustine teaches that since the fall of our first parents, original sin is spread to the entirety of the human race through the propagation of our human race. It’s interesting that Catholic scientist attempt to overlook Augustine in this particular teaching of the Church like Fr. Nicanor Austriaco O.P., often wrongly labeling Augustine a creation fundamentalist to promote polygenism. However, the magisterium of the Catholic Church from the promulgation of Pope Pius XII in 1950 in his encyclical Humani Generiswith authoritative language has declared that because of the doctrine of original sin, our current human race is the progeny of two distinct parents. Pope Pius XII writes:

37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.[12]

 38. Just as in the biological and anthropological sciences, so also in the historical sciences there are those who boldly transgress the limits and safeguards established by the Church. In a particular way must be deplored a certain too free interpretation of the historical books of the Old Testament. Those who favor this system, in order to defend their cause, wrongly refer to the Letter which was sent not long ago to the Archbishop of Paris by the Pontifical Commission on Biblical Studies.[13] This letter, in fact, clearly points out that the first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters, (the Letter points out), in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people. If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations (and this may be conceded), it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents.[11]

 There are three key points to understand when reflecting on these words from Pope Pius XII. The first, we are the progeny of our first parents that disobeyed God. The second, the disobedience of our first parents has created a fallen race, which is not inherently good but is a depraved race. And finally, as Levering points out, “Since Adam and Eve’s fall, the entire human race had been wounded by sin, so as to be in need of a savior.”[12]A Catholic who was to hold to the polygenetic model would simply render Jesus Christ as unneeded because the doctrine of Original Sin is founded on the precept of first parents who then spread that curse to their progeny.

It’s important to note that St. Augustine is making the point that good people who do good things do not go to heaven. God’s friendship is a gift and his invitation to live a life of holiness. Levering reminds us that “Paul here makes it clear that we are not the giver of gifts to God; rather, everything that we have is from God…the act of faith meritorious…It is a good act, and God certainly does reward it. But rewarding a good work of ours. God rewards his gifting that moved us to freely do the good work. All things are radically from God.”[13]

The Dominican understanding is far closer to this particular understand than the Jesuit, as levering points out “we must follow Paul in refusing to claim anything, including our act of faith, as originating from ourselves rather than from God.[14]The Jesuit understanding, Molinism, would argue instead that our actions are our own in response to efficacious Grace rather than the Dominican understanding of an infused movement of habitual Grace. Protestant reformed theology, from Calvin; which influences Evangelicals to Baptist, will attempt to counter this understanding and argue that Catholicism teaches a Gospel of ‘sacramental grace.’ What these objectors do admit is that the Catholic faith is one of Grace—it’s undeniable by those who put forth an effort to study Catholic theology. However, what they fail to understand is the Catholic understanding of the human will and its cooperation with God’s Grace; building the habits of virtue and repenting of the habits of vice. In this context, the salvation of the elect without free will is one that fails to understand Christ’s words, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[15]

Augustine’s opponent attempt to disparage him through his change of position on the matter of Grace and election by showing him to be at odds with Cyprian. Levering explains here that Augustine once held the Molina system of election but then in his Retractionsrejected it:[16]

Augustine writes:

 For thus also the blessed Cyprian would have it to be understood that we say, “Thy will be done, as in heaven so in earth,”—that is, as in those who have already believed, and who are, as it were, heaven, so also in those who do not believe, and on this account are still the earth. What, then, do we pray for on behalf of those who are unwilling to believe, except that God would work in them to will also? Certainly the apostle says, “Brethren, my heart’s good will, indeed, and my prayer to God for them, is for their salvation.” He prays for those who do not believe,—for what, except that they may believe? For in no other way do they obtain salvation. If, then, the faith of the petitioners precede the Grace of God, does the faith of them on whose behalf prayer is made that they may believe precede the Grace of God?—since this is the very thing that is besought for them, that on them that believe not—that is, who have not faith—faith itself may be bestowed? When, therefore, the Gospel is preached, some believe, some believe not; but they who believe at the voice of the preacher from without, hear of the Father from within, and learn; while they who do not believe, hear outwardly, but inwardly do not hear nor learn;—that is to say, to the former it is given to believe; to the latter it is not given.[17]

Levering writes, “from his Retractions that he quotes On the Predestination of the Saints, Augustine points out that there is no reason for supposing that our act of faith, like our other good acts, is not also caused by God’s gracious mercy…Since we receive everything from God, there is no space for an action that is solely or primarily our own…God does not respond to our good action and reward it by Grace; rather, God’s Grace causes our free good action.”[18]

St. Augustine explains, “Therefore I ought first to show that the faith by which we are Christians is the gift of God, if I can do that more thoroughly than I have already done in so many and so large volumes. But I see that I must now reply to those who say that the divine testimonies which I have adduced concerning this matter are of avail for this purpose, to assure us that we have faith itself of ourselves, but that its increase is of God; as if faith were not given to us by Him, but were only increased in us by Him, on the ground of the merit of its having begun from us.”[19]

Naturally, this begs the question, how does our free will exactly cooperate with God’s Grace? The Calvinist answer is that it doesn’t cooperate with it. In fact, the argument proposed by them is that God is sovereign over all things, including those who are to be saved and those who will be damned. Your decision has no bearing on God’s will. Again, this goes back to the understanding of sin as a deprivation of the good. Levering explains that “grace enables us freely to embrace a good we otherwise could not have embraced.”[20]

 So, you may hear an Evangelical street preacher say something of the nature, “I am saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ,” which doesn’t contradict any points made by Levering his book The Theology of Augustine. However, the foundation of their theology rests on the premise of faith is the key to justification and no works. “Augustine’s opponents cite Romans 10:9: If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…Augustine observes that those who hold that faith precedes grace get themselves into a tangle regarding infants who die before they are old enough to make an act of faith.”[21]Augustine writes:

Accordingly, as says the apostle, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy,” who both comes to the help of such infants as He will, although they neither will nor run, since He chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world as those to whom He intended to give His Grace freely,—that is, with no merits of theirs, either of faith or of works, preceding; and does not come to the help of those who are more mature, although He foresaw that they would believe His miracles if they should be done among them, because He wills not to come to their help, since in His predestination He, secretly indeed, but yet righteously, has otherwise determined concerning them. [22]

The problem with this, as Levering points out, “Jesus himself call faith a work of God that we must do.”[23]Naturally, what is pointed out to do a work of God that he commands you to do is no different from the Catholic understanding of doing works of mercy, which Jesus commands us in Matthew 25 and St. Paul explains in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

According to the Gospel of John, doesn’t Christ say that all shall be taught? The difficulty with Augustine’s answer is that he asserts that “God teaches everyone who is taught,” which on the surface seems to be poor logic.”[24]However, this is where, ironically, both the Molinist system and the Calvinist understanding appears to be the strongest. Augustine writes:

“And immediately the evangelist says, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who were the believers, and who should betray Him; and He said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me except it were given him of my Father.” Therefore, to be drawn to Christ by the Father, and to hear and learn of the Father in order to come to Christ, is nothing else than to receive from the Father the gift by which to believe in Christ. For it was not the hearers of the Gospel that were distinguished from those who did not hear, but the believers from those who did not believe, by Him who said, “No man cometh to me except it were given him of my Father.”[25]

 So, how exactly can one side who presents a position of radical free will and the other claim God’ total sovereignty hinge on the same argument? It’s where the one stresses it’s the interpretation of Augustine that leads to their conclusion. For example, The Molinist claim that God’s middle knowledge allows him to respect free will and know who will accept efficacious Grace. The Calvinist positon appeals strictly to the idea that there are hearers and there are those who the Gospel falls on deaf ears. Levering explains, “Augustine is aware of the circular argument that results from his position. God does not teach all because those who are perishing do not wish to learn. He teaches all who are open to learning….the Church prays for everyone living, because God may yet turn the hearts of those who now oppose him.”[26]

[1]PALLADINO, A. G. “Predestination (In Catholic Theology).” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 11, Gale, 2003, pp. 647-653. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.uis.edu:2048/apps/doc/CX3407709067/GVRL?u=uiuc_uis&sid=GVRL&xid=f22692e8. Accessed 2 June 2019.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 71.

[5]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 24.

[6]1 Tim 2:3–4. RSV

[7]Ibid.

[8]Fr. Thomas Joseph White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2017), 197.

[9]New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Lk 1:28.

[10]Phillip Hadden, The Nativity of Christ in History. 2019, Unpublished manuscript

[11]Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis, 37-38.

[12]Levering, 72.

[13]Ibid, 73.

[14]Ibid.

[15]Mt. 5:48 RSV

[16]Levering, 74.

[17]Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 505–506.

[18]Ibid, 74-75

[19]Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 499.

[20]Levering, 76.

[21]Ibid, 81.

[22]Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Gift of Perseverance,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 534.

[23]Levering, 81.

[24]Ibid, 77.

[25]Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, 506.

[26]Levering, 79.