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St. Augustine on Reprobation


Everyone wants St. Augustine on their side. The specific nuances of his thought have sparked the fiercest debates within the realm of Historical Theology. Semipelagians, the Reformed, Lutherans, Jansenists, and Roman Catholics have all claimed him as their own. Within this hot debate, the fiercest battle has been waged over St. Augustine’s specific doctrine of Predestination, especially in the area of Reprobation.

This question is not merely a debate between modern academics on an inconsequential, arcane, and archaic point of theology, rather this is a living debate within the church catholic. Further, the solution of this “living debate” will be a “nail-in-the-coffin” of some sort for certain groups which pride themselves on their Augustinian pedigree.

While certain eminent and saintly interpreters of the Doctor gratiae differ, St. Augustine taught that there is a Massa Damnata [damned mass] which is negatively elected (passed over) unto damnation, based on the elective will of God as is seen in his work De praedestinatione sanctorum, in the rest of his corpus, and realized by the consensus of Augustinian interpreters.

To defend this thesis, first, I will give an “explanation of the question” whereas, after the mode of the schoolmen, I will first give those necessary distinctions and definitions which explains what is meant by “reprobation,” and second, will explain those questions which this paper does not seek to treat. Second, I will give the historical context of the Pelagian controversy which produced St. Augustine’s most mature reflection on the subject. Third, I will give an overview of the history of interpretation within the church catholic on this topic, especially focusing on the interpretations of St. Prosper of Aquitaine, the councils of Orange and Valence, Gottschalk of Orbais, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Reformed Scholastics, the Lutherans, the Council of Trent, and those involved in the Jansenist controversy.

Then, I will defend the thesis from the Augustinian corpus itself, especially from his work De praedestinatione sanctorum. Lastly, I will bring forth and respond to objections given against the thesis thus stated and proved from the Augustinian corpus. As a side note, due to the nature of the debate, a larger emphasis will be placed on those historical interpretations of St. Augustine, rather than those current, academic treatments of his thought (although those sources will be treated).

Explanation of the Question

First, the explanation of the question.[1] We must start with what “providence” is, and then from genus to species, explain “predestination,” and then the specific aspects of that “predestination,” that is, “election” and “reprobation.”

Providence is, as explained by St. Thomas Aquinas, “the order[ing] of things towards their end [which] pre-exist[s] in the divine mind.”[2] That is, providence is the ordering of all things in prudence by God to their end. All things are subject to this providence,[3] “all things that exist in whatsoever manner are necessarily directed by God towards some end,”[4] “even the smallest [thing],”[5] although in the “execution of this order [providence]...there are certain intermediaries of God’s that the dignity of causality is imparted even to creatures”[6] and “Divine providence does not therefore impose any necessity upon things so as to destroy their contingency.”[7]

A species of this providence is “predestination.” This is specifically the “order[ing] of things towards their end,” in that the “thing” is men, and the “end” is their eternal destiny. There are two aspects of this in that there are two eternal destinations, salvation and damnation. The execution of the former is called “election,” the execution of the latter is called “reprobation.”

In election, there “is not anything in the predestined; but only in the person who predestines [God].”[8] The execution of election “is in a passive way in the predestined, but actively in God.”[9] Specifically, the execution is called “the calling and magnification [glorification].”[10] The “foreknowledge of merits is not the cause or reason of predestination,”[11] rather the cause is found in the love of God.

Reprobation, on the other hand, is predestination in relation to the damned, thus the label “double-predestination.” This reprobation can be taken in four ways. First, the “Remonstrance” which conceives of the cause of reprobation thus, “Reprobation from eternal life is made according to the consideration of antecedent unbelief and perseverance in the same.”[12]

Second, the “equal-ultamists” or “hyper-calvinists” which conceive of election and reprobation to be equal in its instrumentality, means, execution, and governance. That is, just as God actively regenerates, infusing grace into the elect, so also God actively hardens the reprobate as his means for reprobation. This view conflates damnatio and reprobatio, placing the cause of damnatio not in the sin of the individual, but in the will of God in reprobation. The second and third groups distinguish damnatio and reprobatio thus “whereas the cause of damnatio is the sin of an individual, the cause of reprobatio is the sovereign will of God.”[13]

Third, the “supralapsarians” who, just as the hyper-Calvinists, consider reprobatio and electio to be coordinate, yet they are distinguished in that the supralapsarians deny an equality of instrumentality. The affirmation of equality is found in the “thing” or “object” of the decree in that “both election and reprobation ultimately take possible, creatable, and thus unfallen human beings as their object.”[14]