Calvinism and Catholicism Contrasted


1. God infallibly foresees and immutably preordains from eternity all future events.

2. However, this does not mean fatalistic necessity, for the destruction of human liberty.

3. Consequently, man is free whether he accepts grace and does good or whether he rejects it and does evil.

4. God desires that all men obtain eternal happiness.

5. Christ has died for all men, though not all avail themselves of the benefits of redemption.

6. God preordained both eternal happiness and the good works of the elect.

7. God predestined no one positively to hell, much less sin.

8. Consequently, just as no one is saved against His will, so the reprobate perish solely on account of their wickedness.

9. God foresaw the everlasting pains of the impious from all eternity, and preordained this punishment on account of their sins.

10. However, He does not fail therefore to hold out the grace of conversion to sinners, or pass over those who are not predestined.

11. As long as the reprobate live on earth, they may be accounted true Christians and members of the Church, just as on the other hand the predestined may be outside the pale of Christianity and of the Church.

12. Without special revelation, no one can know with certainty that he belongs to the number of the elect.

13. With our faith in Christ and perseverance in obedience (2 Pet 1:10) we can have what is called a "moral certitude" of our salvation.


1. God knows all things, including those who will be saved (THE ELECT). 2. God's foreknowledge does not destroy, but includes, free will. 3. God desires all men to be saved. 4. Jesus died to redeem all men. 5. God provides sufficient grace for all men to be saved. 6. Man, in the exercise of his free will, can accept or reject grace. 7. Those who accept grace are saved, or born-again. 8. Those who are born-again can fall away or fall into sin. 9. Not everyone who is saved will persevere in grace. 10. Those who do persevere are God's elect. 11. Those who do not persevere, or who never accepted grace, are the reprobate. 12. Since we can always reject God in this life, we have no absolute assurance that we will persevere. 13. We can have a moral assurance of salvation if we maintain faith and keep God's commandments (1 John 2:1-6; 3:19-23; 5:1-3,13).


1. Predestination is not predetermination :

"Predestination is nothing else than the foreknowledge and foreordaining of those gracious gifts which make certain the salvation of all who are saved." (St. Augustine, Persever 14:35)

Predestination is God's decree of the happiness of the elect. God's infallible foreknowledge (and thus predestination also) includes free will. God's foreknowledge cannot force upon man unavoidable coercion, for the simple reason that it is at bottom nothing else than the eternal vision of the future historical actuality. God foresees the free activity of a man precisely as that individual is willing to shape it, predestination is not predetermination of the human will.

2. Election is a consequence of God's foreknowledge :

By definition, the ELECT are those whom God infallibly foresees will be saved (Rom 8:28-30). By this definition, it is impossible for the elect to be lost, precisely because God foreknows who will not be lost. But since election depends on God's infallible foreknowledge, we simply have no way of knowing whether or not we are in that category -- God knows with certainty His elect, but we do not. The elect are predestined in the sense that God knows them, and enables them by grace, to be saved.

3. Free will can resist and reject God's grace :

"You stiff-necked always resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51). The angels possessed grace and perfectly intact intellect, and yet many of them freely sinned and rejected God. Adam and Eve possessed grace and a perfectly intact nature, and yet they freely sinned. How much more so is it possible for the born-again Christian, who possesses grace but also a wounded nature and a darkened intellect, to sin also. Paul mentions sins which keep a man from the Kingdom of God: fornication, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, and so on (1 Cor 6:9-10).

When Jesus was expressly asked what one must do to gain eternal life, he answered, "keep the commandments," and went on to list the moral commandments of the Decalogue (Matt 19:16-21). Revelation describes those whose lot is the burning pool of fire and sulfur, the second death: "cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste" and so on (Rev 21:8). Aren't born-again Christians capable of these sins? And if they die in these sins, how can they possibly inherit heaven? If Adam and Eve could fall from grace, surely we can fall from grace as well. Surely we can harden our hearts and resist the Holy Spirit.

4. We cannot confuse Election with being "Born Again" :

The set of those who are "born again" (in Catholic and historic Christian understanding those who have been regenerated "of water and Spirit" in the Sacrament of Baptism -- John 3:3,5; Acts 2:38) is not necessarily co-extensive with the set of those who will persevere and gain eternal life. Born-again Christians can and (sadly) do fall away. Otherwise free will and (mortal) sin are merely fictitious for a Christian during this life of testing and pilgrimage. Otherwise all the language in Scripture of persevering to the end in order to be saved (cf. Matt 10:22; 24:13; Phil 2:12-13) makes no sense.


Calvin : God's sovereignty determines the will.
Catholic : God's sovereignty includes free will.

Calvin : Predestination as predetermination.
Catholic : Predestination as infallible foreknowledge.

Calvin : God desires only the salvation of the elect.
Catholic : God desires the salvation of all.

Calvin : God provides grace only to the elect.
Catholic : God provides grace to all, though not all accept it.

Calvin : Christ died only for the elect.
Catholic : Christ died for all men.

Calvin : God predetermines some for hell.
Catholic : Men merit hell by their own wickedness.

Calvin : The elect include all those born-again.
Catholic : The elect are those who persevere to the end.

Calvin : Grace co-opts human free will.
Catholic : Grace perfects the free will that cooperates.

Calvin : Those in grace (born-again) can't fall away.
Catholic : Those in grace can freely sin and lose grace.

Calvin : The elect will unfailingly persevere.
Catholic : The elect are those who have persevered.

Calvin : The elect are assured of their salvation.
Catholic : Yes, but only God knows who they are.

Calvin : Predestination eliminates merit and guilt.
Catholic : Predestination includes merit and guilt.

The Pelagian heretics held that man alone (apart from God's grace) is responsible for his salvation. Calvinists start with the opposite premise that God alone is responsible for man's salvation.


Calvin located the reason of predestination solely in the absolute will of God. But by making God alone responsible for everything, Calvin abolished the free cooperation of the will in obtaining eternal happiness. Therefore he was logically forced to admit an irresistible efficacious grace, to deny the freedom of the will when influenced by grace, and to completely reject supernatural merits (as a secondary reason for eternal happiness).

Not only is God completely responsible for the salvation of the elect, but He must also be responsible for the damnation of the reprobate, even to the point of directly willing their sins. Since God wills everything good for the elect, as well as everything bad for the reprobate, Calvin maintained that Christ died only for the elect (this is challenged by Geisler's recent book Chosen But Free, see link below):

"As Scripture, then, clearly shows, we say that God once established by his eternal and unchangeable plan those whom he long before determined once for all to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, he would devote to destruction.

"We assert that, with respect to the elect, this plan was founded upon his freely given mercy, without regard to human worth; but by his just and irreprehensible but incomprehensible judgment he has barred the door of life to those whom he has given over to damnation." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book III:21:7)

Salvation and damnation depend wholly on the will of God -- man is completely predetermined to one or the other by irresistible grace or the lack thereof, without any cooperation or resistance of his will. Since grace is irresistible, the will of the predestined is not free to cooperate with grace to perform meritorious good works, and so salvation is purely arbitrary. Even more disturbing, since concupiscence is likewise irresistible without God's grace, the will of the reprobate is not really free to sin and perform culpably evil works, and so damnation is not caused by demerits.

For Calvin, whom God selects, He saves; whom God rejects, He damns.


But consider what this means and whether this is biblical :

1. No truly free will (denied by experience, and by the Gospel commands to repent, reform, obey the commandments, perform works of charity, and persevere to the end).

2. Thus no merit or demerit (denied by the whole Bible which testifies to the rewards and punishments God will apportion to all men according to their deeds, e.g. Matt 16:27; Rom 2:5-10; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 22:11-12; etc).

3. God desires salvation only for the elect. (Denied by 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; Matt 23:37; Ezek 18:23-32; 33:11; etc).

4. Christ died only for the elect. (Denied by John 3:16-17; 4:42; 1 John 2:2; 4:9-14; Rom 5:6,18; 2 Cor 5:14-15; 1 Tim 2:6; 4:10; etc).

5. God provides grace only to the elect. (Denied by Titus 2:11; John 1:9,16; Rom 2:4; etc).

6. God directly predetermines the salvation of the elect, including their good works. (This ignores any cooperation of the will with grace).

7. God directly predetermines the damnation of the reprobate, including their sins. (This is denied by James 1:13-14; Sirach 15:11-20; 1 Cor 10:13; and ignores any true resistance and rejection by the will).

8. The elect will be saved with no merit of their own. (This denies heavenly reward).

9. The reprobate will be damned for no fault of their own. (This denies true guilt and deserved punishment).

Between these two extremes the Catholic dogma of predestination keeps the golden mean, because it regards eternal happiness primarily as the work of God and His grace, but secondarily as the fruit and reward of the meritorious actions of the predestined.


The process of predestination and salvation consists of the following five steps :

A. The first grace of vocation, especially faith as the beginning, foundation, and root of justification (Council of Trent, session VI, chapter 8)

B. A number of additional, actual graces for the successful accomplishment of justification and sanctification (1 Cor 6:11)

C. Justification itself as the beginning of the state of grace and love

D. Final perseverance or at least the grace of a happy death

E. The admission to eternal bliss and glorification (Rom 8:28-30)

The Calvinist position is consistent with itself, but is not consistent with human experience or the Scriptures. It cannot be reconciled with the cooperation and resistance of free will, sin and virtue, the possible loss of grace, punishment and reward, and the universality of redemption and grace. Calvin's God is arbitrary and despotic.

The Catholic position is consistent with itself, with human experience, and with the Scriptures. God's foreknowledge and foreordination of the elect to heavenly glory includes His universal desire and sufficient grace to save all men, our free cooperation with His grace, good works which truly merit heavenly reward, and the real possibility -- during this life of testing and pilgrimage -- of rejecting grace and salvation and thus deserving the punishments of hell.