Although Pelagianism, a view that denies original sin and promotes the idea that salvation can be earned, went against Augustine’s views of grace through Christ, it did encourage Augustine to focus his thinking on the doctrine of predestination. In his early writings, Augustine taught predestination based upon God’s foreknowledge. The idea was that God merely chose those human beings whom He foreknew would freely choose to believe in Him.
However, the mature Augustine promoted predestination based upon God’s autonomous and inscrutable choice. This position holds that God chooses to extend His saving grace to some (the elect), but not to all (bypassing the reprobate).1 Thus, God predestines some to eternal life via irresistible though not coercive grace, but leaves others in their sin to be justly condemned through their own choice and deeds.
Augustine’s great and terrible doctrine of so-called “double predestination” was rejected by many in his time as it is by some today. However, Augustine believed that while God’s act of election may be inequitable, it is not unfair. Augustine reasoned that sinners have no claim whatsoever to the grace of God. The choice as to whom God extends His grace is totally within His sovereign discretion and prerogative. Most importantly, Augustine believed his thinking on the subject was simply reflecting the clear teaching of Scripture, especially the writings of the Apostle Paul (Romans 8–9; Ephesians 1).
Augustine’s strong predestinarian views influenced a number of Roman Catholic thinkers in history, but has been, for the most part, ignored by their modern counterparts. Augustine’s basic perspectives on this topic were embraced largely by such Protestant Reformers as Martin Luther and John Calvin, and are still reflected today in the historic confessional statements of the Reformed theological tradition.
1. Allan D. Fitzgerald, ed., Augustine through the Ages (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), s.v. “Predestination.”
Subjects: People of Faith, Philosophy of Religion