In theology, predestination refers to the predetermination by God of the individual’s ultimate destiny. Controversies regarding predestination have centered on the apparent contradiction between such predetermination and man’s free will. (As noted below, they are thus analogous to controversies regarding man’s freedom in a universe seemingly determined by scientific law.) The doctrine of predestination is associated particularly with Christianity, but also occurs elsewhere; in Islam,* e.g., during its scholastic period, the orthodox position was strongly predestinarian, but some theologians stressed free will (the Mutazalites). In the first centuries of the Christian Church, predestination was not an issue. Theological energy was taken up with definitions of the Trinity and arguments regarding the nature of Christ. In the
In the Western Churches the issue was raised (as imperial rule in the West tottered) by Pelagius, who taught that man had the freedom to accept or reject God. This was countered by the great theologian Augustine,* who held that man’s will was enslaved by sin, that grace was needed to choose for God, and that this grace was given to those whom God had predestined. The Augustinian position was upheld by the Synod of Orange (529)—but by this time the barbarian invasions were in full swing, and there was little talent or time for theology. An aftermath to the Pelagian controversy occurred in the age of Charlemagne*: the monk Gottschalk* held (apparently) that God actively willed the nonelect to be damned, a position which was rejected (Synod of Quiercy, 849).
The medieval revival of learning, from around 1050, produced schools and universities in abundance. Theology was held to be the “queen of the sciences,” the key to the understanding of reality. The task of the Schoolmen, or Scholastics, was to reconcile Christianity with the newly rediscovered heritage of classical philosophy; in a sense, to harmonize reason and faith. By the late 1200s, after
But this “solution” was soon attacked. With Duns Scotus, and especially with
The Protestant Reformers followed this emphasis also. Luther,* Zwingli,* Calvin*—all held to predestination, the true church as made up of the elect, the enslavement of the will (e.g., Luther against Erasmus*), the need for unconditioned grace to enable a choice for God. Yet this strongly Augustinian approach did not escape criticism. In the Lutheran churches the fierce “synergistic” controversy of the later 1500s resulted from Melanchthon’s* attempt to save some role for the human will. Similar debates arose in Calvinism over the teachings of Arminius (condemned at the
In postmedieval Catholicism the issue flared up several times. The
As interest in traditional theological argument faded into the background in the 1800s, the problem appeared in other areas. If the universe is determined by scientific law, how can man have free will? If man’s actions are not in a sense determined by such law, how is any political science or economic science or science of history possible? If heredity and environment determine actions, how can the courts punish a man (for doing what was predetermined)? And the like. In the twentieth century,
In summary, predestination and the debates about it deal with a recurring problem, whether in theology or in other fields: the relation between man’s freedom and a universe which seems in some sense determined.
Bibliography: J.B. Mozley, A Treatise on the Augustinian Doctrine of Predestination (1855); L. Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (1932); M. Luther, On the Bondage of the Will (ed. J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston, 1957); P. Maury, Predestination (1960); H.G. Hageman, Predestination (1963).