If you hang around here long enough, you’ll learn that I’m not a big fan of Calvinism.
Calvinism, to put it briefly, is a Protestant theology based broadly on the writings of John Calvin and other theologians of the Reformation. Calvinism, or ‘Reformed’ theology as it’s also known, emphasises the sovereignty of God, particularly in how God predestines some to by saved and others not. This doctrine of predestination and free will is often summarised by the mnemonic TULIP.
What is TULIP?
Now, I love a good mnemonic and this one is no exception. It’s the content of that mnemonic that I just can’t agree with.
TULIP stands for:
- Total Depravity: People are inherently and totally unable to please God because we’re sinners. We have a total inability to cooperate with grace.
- Unconditional Election: God chooses some people to be saved for no other reason than that, in His mercy and for His glory, He wills it.
- Limited Atonement: Christ only died for those God already elected. (If He didn’t, that means that the sins of the reprobate (the unelect) have been “paid for” twice, firstly by Christ and then by the individual themselves in hell.)
- Irresistible Grace: When God chooses you for salvation, you can’t reject His grace. It’s irresistible.
- Perseverance of the Saints: God’s unconditional election by irresistible grace obviously means that those He chooses will persevere in their faith because they can’t not.
Full-blown Calvinism leads us to a God who wills the salvation of some and not others, a Christ who died for some and not for others, and a Holy Spirit who unilaterally overwhelms the will of those He comes to save. It denies true freedom and, frankly, presents God as a Very Big and Very Picky Cosmic Bully.
What does the Catholic Church Teach?
The teachings of the Catholic Church on predestination are rather different. In contrast to Calvin, Catholics affirm the importance of free will and the synergistic relationship between free will and divine sovereignty. Although we are sinners, we are still human persons with an inherent dignity and an ability to choose the right or the wrong. That’s why evil exists in the first place; it’s our choice to reject God and all that is good.
We believe that God truly wills all to be saved and provides everyone with what they need to know God. Although, just because God provides this grace, doesn’t mean we’ll take Him up on His gracious offer. Finally, we also affirm that Christ truly died for every single person whether they ultimately accept Him or not. He died as much for Judas Isacariot as He did for St John the Beloved.
This is a truly beautiful and liberating teaching. But it’s missing one thing.
Clearly, we need a mnemonic! Well, do not despair. The antidote to TULIP, I think, is ROSES.
What is ROSES?
ROSES is my own creation which presents the Catholic teaching on predestination. It stands for:
- Rebellious Children
- Open Invitation
- Sufficient for All
- Effective Grace
- Safe in Christ
ROSES says that we are Rebellious children who have received an Open invitation of salvation, won by the life, death and resurrection of Christ which is Sufficient for all. Through the Effective grace of God, we are enabled to believe and, by the same grace, kept Safe in Christ. (As an added bonus, ROSES reminds me of that quintessentially Catholic prayer, the Rosary!)
To break it down a little more:
All human beings are children of God, wounded by sin and opposing God. By the fall, our human nature is wounded and our capacity to choose the good is impaired — but it is far from destroyed as Calvinism posits. Despite the wounds of sin, we still have free will. Scripture consistently presents us a free moral agents who can choose the good — to choose God and His righteousness. We are the prodigal sons, the rebellious children who need to called home and freed from our sins.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20a)
For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. (Romans 2:6-8)
Even though we are sinners, all of us are deeply loved by God. (Rom 5:8) To love someone is to will their good and therefore, we can’t say that God could love us and not will our salvation. God invites us all to receive His love freely given through Christ Jesus. (He is the king who prepared a great wedding feast and invited everyone.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men… This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1, 3-4)
The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Sufficient for All
The passion and death of Christ was the perfect offering of love to the Father through the Holy Spirit. He offered up His life as an atoning sacrifice and this sacrifice is more than sufficient: it’s good enough and big enough to dwarf even the greatest sins. Christ died for the whole world, even if some never accept His salvation, He still died for them. He is the Saviour of all, the propitiation for all our sins and the redeemer of the world.
We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10)
We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1b-2)
Because God wills that all be saved and He knows we are sinful, wounded people, He always gives us enough grace to accept His love. His grace is effective. Only God’s grace can enable us to believe in Him and bring us to salvation. By ourselves, we can do nothing but He can do all things if we are open to receive His salvation. But, we still need to accept and cooperate with this grace. We can refuse it and that is the whole sorry story of sin.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (Matthew 23:37)
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? (Acts 7:51-52a)
Safe in Christ
God is always faithful. He will not go back on His word or change His mind. We, however, can turn away from Him and refuse to accept His love. We, who have tasted the heavenly gifts, can choose to reject our Lord. He will protect us from everything the world can throw at us — from death, demons, height, depth and “anything in all creation” (Romans 8:37-38) but we can still choose to leave Him. Yet, He is always there, loving us and helping us to return to Him.
For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4-7)
If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal. ( 1 John 5:16-17)
If we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)
ROSES: The Catholic Alternative
ROSES is simply my humble attempt at articulating the Catholic teaching on predestination: the goodness of God who wills salvation for all and our own free will to reject Him. The relationship between these two wills, one divine and one human, is a mystery. And even the best mnemonic in the world couldn’t unravel that mystery.
We must, at all costs, uphold the goodness of God who loves each and every human creature. Calvinism pits the sovereignty of God against His goodness but we cannot do this. That is the not the God revealed to us in Scripture; it is a God of our mental gymnastics. Jesus Christ was lifted up on the Cross to draw all men to Himself. (cf. John 12:32-33)
This is God’s Heart for us.
A Heart that loves and wills the salvation of all His creatures.