Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Rebuttal to Augustine of Hippo's Theory on Predestination

A Rebuttal to Augustine of Hippo's Theory on Predestination


Amitakh Stanford

In his discussion on predestination, Augustine of Hippo said that God foreknew all human actions and events and their outcomes. Indeed, the whole of Augustine's theory of predestination hinges on the argument that God has the foreknowledge of all human actions, of events and their outcomes, and these are compatible with human freewill.

According to Augustine's theory of predestination, salvation is not guaranteed for everyone, but only for those whom God wills to save. But why does God not will to save all? The following quote is taken from De dono Perseverantiae XIV, 35:PLXIV, 1014:

This is the predestination of the saints... the foreknowledge and the preparation of God's kindness, whereby they are most certainly delivered, whoever they are that are delivered. But where are the rest left by the righteous Divine judgement except in the mass of ruin? ... and yet in the higher judgement of God, they are not by the predestination of grace separated from the mass of perdition, neither those very Divine words nor deeds are applied to them by which they might believe if they only heard or saw such things.

From the above quote, one might interpret God as an unfair judge who condemns the majority of people to eternal damnation. In the context of Augustine's theory, it is not condemnation so much as non-intervention, otherwise the image of God is certainly not one of lovingness but rather one who is stern and unapproachable. If this is the nature of God depicted by Augustine, then we might say that he would certainly pass a severe judgement on those who are not his chosen ones. In view of the Christian teaching that Christ died for all mankind, this clearly contradicts the notion that God foreknows who are to be saved and who are to be condemned to eternal damnation. The only way to complete Augustine's theory is to allow that ALL are saved, even Satan if he/she exists.

If we argue that God does will all people, regardless of colour or creed, to be saved by providing everyone with the power and the means for salvation, and that He also gives freewill for people to choose or reject His salvation, He foreknows that some will choose to respond to His salvation by obeying His laws while others will choose to reject His salvation and thus be condemned. If God foreknows that some will reject salvation and still does not intervene when He can, then in an absolute sense we can say that God had purposefully willed the damnation of those who will be condemned. This does not show God as a wholly just, merciful, and loving God.

If we accept the argument that no one can be saved except by the grace of God, then we need to question why some are not given the grace. Is God biased or unfair? This surely is not what we would expect from a just God (the later Catholic theory is that all are given sufficient grace to be saved if they are prepared to accept it).

It seems then that Augustine's theory of predestination is rather narrow, unjust and untenable, for it means that God, for his own reasons, in fact, wills the salvation of some and the damnation of others. This argument is in opposition to what Bonner has in mind when he cautions against a negative assessment of Augustine's theory of predestination and says that in as much as all humanity has perished in Adam, it is possible that the reprobates are predestined to perdition; but this does not mean an arbitrary decree which deliberately creates certain vessels of wrath who are to be damned simply for the greater glory of God (Bonner, 1986) - it is an arbitrary distribution of undeserved gift.

In view of Augustine's repeated insistence that the lost are justly condemned, such an interpretation seems preferable to a literal acceptance of his words (Bonner, 1986). Bonner's explanation is unconvincing. Likewise, Augustine's predestination argument which involves a Divine foreknowledge of future events in human existence and that Divine foreknowledge presupposes freewill, is thus inconsistent with Divine justice and mercy. Perhaps Augustine feared that if all people were saved, no one would be grateful for their salvation. But that does not excuse the theory of predestination.

Why should God pick and choose even as he creates individuals? This theory of predestination simply does not make any sense. Surely God would be responsible for all the creatures he created. If in fact God created all things, as those of agnosticism insist, then the responsibility is all His. If however, some are creations of the evil demigod, as the Manichaeans and other Gnostics claim, then certainly the prospect of predetermination is a valid one.

Without the existence of the demiurge, this theory of predetermination simply does not make any sense and destroys the use or need of freewill or positive action towards God. The Manichaeans generally allowed no freewill to the wicked though they sometimes hold the Gnostic view that all beings, theomorphic or otherwise, can avail themselves of the opportunity to become Divine by using their freewill and embracing the Nous, or God's grace. Hence, those who know the Father and those who accept the grace of the Father will be saved (The Nag Hammadi Library, 1978). In De Natura Boni Augustine, in his disputation with Felix (a Manichaean), emphatically put down the eternal doom of the wicked to their own refusal of what God offered them. This indeed is an interesting claim in view of his later writing on predestination.

When we assess the above two concepts, we should ask ourselves why would God create the system Augustine proffers where He creates many beings only to then damn the majority? Why would He create imperfections, and punishing, arduous trials to test His own children, His own creations, His own skills? Why would He not create absolute purity, perfection, and bliss from the beginning and stop all the pain, suffering and waste?

In view of these questions, Mani's duality makes a lot more sense. All the perceived chaos is a result of the struggle of Good against the invading Evil and that is why there is a need for salvation and liberation.

© Amitakh Stanford & AHSAF

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