Thursday, July 9, 2009

G.K. Chesterton On Predestination

Predestination has been the issue of debate since the founding of Christianity. The first Christians tried understand how God has chosen us before the beginning of time and why we as Christians and people of God sin. Thus the discussion of predestination was born; it quickly took shape, and was more widely accepted after the explanation of St. Augustine:

"Therefore God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, predestinating us to the adoption of children, not because we were going to be of ourselves holy and immaculate, but He chose and predestinated us that we might be so. Moreover, He did this according to the good pleasure of His will, so that nobody might glory concerning his own will, but about God's will towards Himself.” St. Augustine

In the writings of St. Augustine there is nothing that should suggest the elimination of free will or any indication that works are not needed for salvation.

The core of Calvinism is the Zwinglian thought on scriptural reading. This thought allows only things that are explicitly and literally (Sola Scriptura) contained in scripture are to be accepted. It was this understanding that gave rise to “The Doctrine of the Living Saints,” commonly held as protestant predestination. Calvin brought in the idea of spiritual elitism; he taught that people are “elected” for salvation by God. The “elect” were to become the Calvinist Church. Calvin felt that no one could choose salvation, except God. This belief of Calvinist predestination is in direct contrast to the Catholic belief that man’s soul is judged according to their deeds. This belief of judgment based on free will has its literal and explicit foundation in the Gospels.

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels: and then will he render to every man according to his works.” (Matthew 16:27)

Calvin overlooked this passage of scripture when he formed his doctrine of the living saints. He wanted to believe that all the “elect” were chosen by God could live out their lives as they choose because their providence is entirely God’s plan. Furthermore the Catholic idea of repentance and confession was lost in the mix with the new found “living saints.” G.K. Chesterton was frequently boggled by this Calvinist idea and wrote about it in:

The Thing: Why I am a Catholic: "Of the idea of Predestination there are broadly two views; the Calvinist and the Catholic; and it would make a most uncommon difference to my comfort, if I held the former instead of the latter. It is the difference between believing that God knows, as a fact, that I choose the devil, without my having any choice at all."

Paraphrasing: God told Adam and Eve to live in the Garden of Eden, and to enjoy everything but the tree of knowledge of God and Evil. He gave them free will, he knew the outcome of their actions; but God did not deign our first parents to sin. It was their choice, and the resolution that gave each man the stain of original sin.

Chesterton was very uncomfortable with the Calvinists’ belief that he did not have self-governance. For a man of great learning and understanding freedom was at the heart of his belief. Liberty to choose God is the core of faith. Rather by having no option in the matter one would deny faith, because faith is deciding to believe in God.

This predestination leads to another theological problem. This ideal gives an alternate understanding of who God is. This transforms Him from all Just to a Father who favors one child over another “the elect.” Christ came for all! Died for all! He knew that not all would choose Him, but in Chesterton’s own words “that I choose the devil.” God could never choose the devil for me. Predestination in the Catholic understanding is the plan that God has for us, but the key difference is we freely choose to follow it. There is no impalement of our will or self-rendering to a higher being who chooses our destiny for us like a marionette jostled along by a puppeteer. Reason and free will are at the core of personhood. Chesterton wanted all men to live as God had intended them to live, on their own. He felt that the faulty understanding of no free will was incorrect. Chesterton wanted to make his understanding of predestination in relation to faith and sovereignty of will abundantly clear in his writings. He said: “"A puritan is a person who pours righteous indignation into the wrong things." Chesterton also wrote: The Puritan substituted a God who wished to damn people for a God who wished to save them." He was speaking against predestination and the Calvinist notion, that man can have free reign over the earth and still attain heaven without answering for their actions. Again this model is in direct contrast to the first principle of Protestantism, Sola Scriptura, because scripture points to taking responsibility for one’s actions as Christ did on the cross for us. He gave the apostles direction to preach to all the nations. Chesterton claimed that "The genuine Protestant creed is now hardly held by anybody--least of all by the Protestants. So completely have they lost faith in it, that they have mostly forgotten what is was." He wrote this because the idea of predestination is not scriptural, and denies the benevolent nature of God. The Creator is all good and cannot destine anyone to commit evil, so in the Catholic understanding of predestination the “elect” has an alternate meaning. The Catholic elect are those whose earthly deeds mirrored the scripture and best revealed God’s plan for the world. They are the church triumphant in heaven compiled of all who aspired to live the gospel; no one being excluded from the power to seek God.

Dale Alhquist Interview on "The American View"

This is a radio interview, Alhquist talks about Chesterton and touches on this topic with host John Lofton


  1. You say: "Chesterton was very uncomfortable with the Calvinists’ belief that he did not have self-governance. For a man of great learning and understanding freedom was at the heart of his belief. Liberty to choose God is the core of faith. Rather by having no option in the matter one would deny faith, because faith is deciding to believe in God."

    To which I reply: Ahhhh, yes, “SELF-governance.” That is the original sin, isn't it? --- Adam and Eve,among others, wanting to be as God, determining for THEMSELVES what was good/evil.

    And neither “belief” nor anything else has “freedom” until set free by Christ – then, as He says, we are free, indeed.” As for “faith,” it is NOT something one decides to have on one’s own. Scripture tells us that faith is a gift FROM GOD, NOT OF WORKS. And that all those saved were saved BEFORE the foundation of the world, when, obviously, none of us did any “works.”

    May God bless us all, as He does when we OBEY Him,

    John Lofton, Editor
    Recovering Republican

  2. Thank you for your comment Mr. Lofton; I am a fan of yours. I am going to get a bit theological and biblical rather than “claim it’s a mystery”…Self-governance is not “the original sin,” a poorly formed conscience and a lack of faith caused original sin. “God created man in his image and likeness,” Genesis 1:27. Making man free to choose to love Him was inherent to essence of the human person. What it means to be created in the image of God is that man is different from all other creatures giving him the ‘potential’ for everlasting life. Love is a decision of the will. It is a self-sacrificing decision in which the lover chooses above all things to seek the good of another. When loving God the good that man seeks is two-fold. This love gives glory to God and merits grace for the lover. If man did not have free will he would not be able to love God. Adam and Eve sinned when they engaged in selfishness rather than love. The freedom to choose by our first parents was not lost by their misuse, but they gave every living man to come after them the plague of original sin. God in His perfection had to allow the just consequences for the first parents’ actions, but in his prefect love and mercy promised a redeemer. The actions of God are outside of time. God is eternal, there was never a before or after only a present; and the actions of Christ are eternal. As humans we are weighed down by age and time. God created night and day He holds it in existence, and is not prisoner to it. Furthermore, He expressed this to Moses when God called Himself “I Am.” Jesus saved the world before we were ever created or committed sins, sounds like a little bit of predestination… but God is all just, and even though the eternal saving of Christ would make right the wrong of the first parents before, their sin even happened. God allowed man to have free will and experience the stain of the sin. By our own merit we can not hope to deserve God, but we know that He gives us the gift of faith if we ask for it: 1 Timothy 6:12-14: Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing. We need free will to Love God, and that is the first commandment of Christ “To love God with all your heart, all your soul, and your mind.” Jesus would not ask us to do something we could not do, or was not necessary for salvation. Loving is an acts, and this command of Christ that we have free will and the use of it is necessary for everlasting life.
    God grant us grace, peace, and truth!

  3. Just out of curiosity, why the scare quotes around "the elect?"
    Matthew didn't use scare quotes (24:22, 24). Mark didn't (13:20,22). Luke didn't (18:7). John didn't (II Jn. 1:1, 13). Paul didn't (Rom. 8:33, 9:11; I Tim. 5:1; II Tim. 2:10; Titus 1:1). Even your first "pope" Peter didn't (I Pet.1:1, II Pet. 2:10).
    So help me understand. What DOES the Bible mean when it uses the words elect, election, predestined, etc.?