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Election and Predestination


Election is a term used to refer to the act by which God chooses a people as the object of his special revelation, love and care. Predestination from ‘Predestine’ means literally "to decide or determine beforehand." In theology it refers to an eternal, infallible decree of God by which he brings about all the good in creation, especially the salvation of those who are saved. It translates the Greek “proorizo” which St. Paul first used in speaking of a wisdom which "God decreed before the ages for our glorification" (1 Cor 2:7). Later, as he was encouraging the Christians in Rome threatened by persecution, he used it to assure them of God's saving power and love. He spoke of five successive divine saving acts: foreknow, predestine, call, justify, and glorify (see Rom 8:28-30).

Foreknow is used here by Paul in a Semitic sense and refers not so much to cognitive awareness, as to an eternal loving regard (See Rom 11:2 for a similar usage). Out of this regard God predestines what his love intends: from eternity he decides that people should be made like Christ. To implement this decision he calls them by grace. The people who accept this call through faith he justifies, that is, he forgives their sins, adopts them as his sons and daughters, and thus makes them initially like Christ. When they persevere in a life of love he glorifies them by granting them eternal salvation, making them definitively like Christ. Paul does not imply here that those who are predestined and called cannot fall away, for he warns them of this danger (see 11:22). But God is at work on their behalf, and no hostile power is strong enough to separate them from his love (see Rom 8:38-39).

The meaning of predestine underwent a change when foreknow was understood more in a Greek sense of intellectual knowledge. Thus God chose and predestined all those who he foresaw throughout history would be just. Augustine spoke of God's foreknowing the gifts he decides to confer on those he predestines for salvation: "This and nothing else is the predestination of the saints, God's foreknowledge and preparation of his benefits whereby whoever is liberated is most certainly liberated."

If we say that predestination is constituted both by God's eternal knowledge of who accept his grace and by his eternal will that they do so, then we may affirm that predestination is eternal, infallible and gratuitous, but that it does not contradict either God's universal saving will or human freedom. It is eternal, since God knows eternally as present to him who actually accept his grace, and has always willed that they do so. It is infallible, as his knowledge cannot fail, and his will is ever faithful and powerful. It is gratuitous, because it is the ultimate source of human merits and is not caused by them. It does not contradict God's universal saving will, as it flows out of this will which is ineffective only in the case of those who freely resist it. It does not contradict human freedom, as it is in the power of the human will as graced by God to accept his grace while never losing the power to reject it.


The hymn in Ephesians (1:3-14) stresses the Father's initial "election," a choice that has a decisive value. To "choose" is to manifest one's favour to the one who is loved and who is personally valued. What this choice affirms more emphatically is that the Father personally loved those who would be his adoptive sons and daughters in Jesus long before they came into being.

The Father's paternal intention might have been conceived as having only a general, global significance. It might have been seen as a plan to establish his fatherhood toward all those to whom Christ would communicate his life. But much more than this is involved. Even before the creation of the world the Father singled out each of those whom he destined to become his children. His paternal gaze rested on them in such a way that each was personally chosen. The divine "election" that is manifested in those who cleave to the Gospel and live Christian lives is not a favour granted by the Father only in the recent past. It was already established in eternity.

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So the Father's plan to be a universal father was at the same time an intentional choice to be the individual father of each and every human being. The choice must be understood in a positive way, as paying special attention to each individual person with the resolve to give him or her particular advantages. It must not be interpreted negatively as a kind of adoption reserved to certain individuals to the detriment of others who would be rejected or abandoned. The underlying idea is that the election once reserved for Israel is now shown to be available to everyone. The choice is a universal one, without ceasing to be a choice, because each person is considered individually and is the object of a personal love.

The same holds true of predestination, which must not be understood as the exclusion of certain individuals or groups. The notion of predestination has sometimes been used doctrinally with a restrictive meaning, or even sometimes with a distinction between predestination to good and predestination to evil. There is question here only of predestination to happiness, the destiny to become adoptive sons and daughters in Christ. And this predestination is available to all, without restriction. In fact, all are predestined by the Father to become his children in Christ. The hymn considers only the historical manifestation of predestination in the Christians of that time, but this manifestation is the sign of a much more far-reaching predestination.


Predestination, therefore, is the Father's loving plan for all. Probably the words "in love" that immediately precede "he destined us for adoption" modify the "predetermining" participle." They express more clearly the love that inspires predestination. But even if these words were to refer to what precedes, they would still, according to the entire context, signify not our love for God but God's love for us, and they would be the ultimate description of the state elicited by divine election. The Father's choice, being a work of love, maintains in this love those who have been chosen, by enabling them to live lives which were "holy and blameless in his sight" (Ep 1:4).

It follows that the Father's choice involves a definitive love that determines the personal life of those who are chosen. In this connection, the term "plan" is too weak to express the paternal decision, for on the Father's part there is more than a plan. His fatherhood is already being established with reference to all who will subsequently come into being.

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