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Church History Forum: Saint Augustine/Limited atonement

by Catherine Frakas 01 Jan 2002

Saint Augustine/Limited atonement QUESTION from RUSSELL April 14, 2001 I was talking with a Prebysterian he said that St Augustine teached predestination. Are there any quotes or books referring this that could be aurgued that he didnt ?
Thank You for your time and God Bless
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on April 16, 2001 Dear Russell,
I am so happy you asked this question because it gives me the opportunity to expound on Catholic teaching and Tradition.
Indeed, St. Augustine taught predestination. In fact, it is one of his signature doctrines. Unfortunately, while most people know the brand name, they don't know what it stands for!
St. Augustine is an author who wrote so much in his lifetime, that his works can easily be misused to advance doctrines which contradict his own beliefs. Predestination is a case in point. It is commonly asserted that St. Augustine believed that God appoints some people to go to heaven, and some people to go to hell, regardless of their personal behaviour and desire to be saved.
Why do many people believe this? Because they only know of Augustine through John Calvin, the sixteenth century founder of Calvinism, the theological system upon which the Presbyterian Church was founded. And the proponents of Calvinism state that Augustine taught that some Christians are saved regardless of their behaviour and desire, and some are damned. No Christian could simply want to be saved and work out their salvation in fear and trembling. All effort and desire was pointless: you could only hope that you were saved, and look for signs of salvation. Countless people in English-speaking countries abandoned Christianity because they could not tolerate such a cruel and arbitrary conception of God.
(In passing, American capitalism was largely shaped by this belief. Many an entrepreneur grew rich believing that if his labours bore much fruit (i.e. money) that was a sign of God's favour and that he was predestined to heavenly glory. This in part explains why rich people are often perceived as being more moral in America.)
If you actually read Augustine's works, you will gradually understand that this is not what he taught at all. Augustine believed that every individual had the power of saving himself: that he was free to accept or reject grace. But God knew since before the creation of the world who would be saved and who would be damned. There are a fixed number of souls who will be saved *through their own choice*. These are the people predestined to heaven. In the same way, there are a fixed number of souls who are predestined to hell *through their own choice*. They are the reprobate. God knows beforehand who will accept his gifts of grace, and who will not. God also foreordains which invitations to grace will lead to salvation. He knows what will lure the predestined into his fold.
That begs the question: why doesn't God give enough grace to the reprobate so that they can be saved? Ultimately, it is a mystery. But Augustine says Who are the elect? You, if you wish it (In Ps. Lxxiii, n. 5). All the reprobate have the opportunity to be saved. The responsibility for damnation rests entirely on the individual, because God gives all men enough grace to undergo justification. God respects our freedom. Why he gives some individuals more opportunities for grace than other is a mystery: but we know that anyone who wants to be saved, can be.
Thank you for your question.
Happy Easter.
God Bless, Suzanen Fortin
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