Predestination and determinism

Predestination is not determinism. Determinism is the doctrine that whatever happens in time is determined by what happened at a previous time. In this view, a free action  is only possible at the beginning of time. Predestination makes no claims about the causes of things in time, except those that can be inferred from the actions of the Saints.

Determinism and predestination do not entail each other. There is no contradiction in a believer in predestination insisting that history is really contingent, and that there is no determinate truth value for future events as such. Predestination is not a statement about causes existing in time; a fortiori, it is not a statement about the possibility of real contingency in history. In fact, so far as predestination only applies to the free action of the saints, it seems that the believer in predestination is required to deny determinism

(about a hundred years ago, this would have been a very difficult and stark denial- one would have to deny several hundred years of very well established, very clear Newtonian science, which made the idea of any undetermined action very unreasonable. It’s hard for us to appreciate how difficult this denial would have been. Newtonian science was far more proven in 1900 than any science is proven now.)

To confuse predestination and determinism is easy enough: one starts thinking “what difference does it make whether I am determined in relation to the past or determined in relation to God?” The question, its seems to me, answers itself. Since God is not a temporal cause, any statement about his causality does not speak to the nature of causes in time, whether we are speaking about free act or not.  What does predestination tell us about the possibility of free acts or determined acts in history? Little or nothing, and what little it tells us seems to require that one deny determinism.



  1. Michael said,

    July 30, 2009 at 6:35 am

    I’ve heard Thomists talk about predetermining decrees? What does that mean and how is that different from determinism? And how is Thomism’s understanding of predestination and free will different from the Calvinist theory of compatibilism?

    Thank You and God Bless,

  2. Breier Scheetz said,

    July 30, 2009 at 7:10 am


    Check out the book Predestination by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange for an indepth Thomistic discussion of those topics.

    • Michael said,

      July 30, 2009 at 7:29 am

      Thanks, Brier Scheetz for the recommendation. I heard that is a very good book. But can you give at least a summary? I’m currently in a discussion with a compatibilist Calvinist and I’m trying to understand the difference between Thomism and compatibilism.

      God Bless,

  3. July 30, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Most of that Gerrigou stuff should be online too. Look before you pay.

    “Predetermining decrees” sounds fishy to me, like an attempt to simplify a doctrine that should either remain less defined (truth requires recognizing the degree of clarity that nature allows) or be treated in another way.

    Compatiblism seems like a dead letter to me. God’s sovereignty does not require us to deny the reality of contingency, and scientists stopped being determinists a hundred years ago. So where is the determinism coming from that makes compatiblism necessary?

  4. July 30, 2009 at 10:12 am

    St. Thomas was always clear that one cannot conclude from the immutability of providence to the absence of contingency in the universe. In fact, we come to know God- both by reason and by revelation- through the contingency and indeterminacy of creatures. we can’t very well turn around and deny the reality of contingency when we come to consider his providence. This saws off the branch we are sitting on.

    • Michael said,

      July 31, 2009 at 6:50 am

      Can you explain the concept of contingency and how grace can be intrinsically efficacious and yet our acts are not determined?

      Thank you so much and God bless,

  5. Om said,

    May 29, 2011 at 7:11 am

    What if God created the big bang? Would they entail each other then?

  6. Caleb Cumberland said,

    September 27, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Michael, God made man to be free. God can influence or suggest options for man, but God does not determine man’s decisions. God can arrange for the best possible options to occur for man, given his circumstances, but God does not control people. For a good look at predestination look at the writings on the issue by Fr. William Most. Essentially he argued that God gives less grace to those who resist the grace He offers and more grace to those who accept.

  7. Fr Aidan Kimel said,

    March 1, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Thomist, may I invite you to take a look at an article I recently posted on my blog: I welcome your criticisms and suggestions. All of us are wondering how Thomas’s predestination does not boil down to a form of determinism. Perhaps you can enlighten us.

  8. March 1, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    Oops…Didn’t realize I posted the link before. Sorry.

  9. March 1, 2015 at 11:17 pm

    Lagrange I think, along with the old Thomists, acknowledged Mystery, but only within their rigid schema and cut-and-paste exegesis. The Jesuits in this case and others like St. Alphonsus Liguori were much more amenable to both the wide ranging scope of Mystery and scripture and free will, while faithful to the Church’s definitions regarding grace.

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