Soteriology is the theology of salvation. Jimmy Akin's article at EWTN entitled 'A TIPTOE THROUGH TULIP' (which is also a chapter in his book, The Salvation Controversy), comparing Calvinist and Catholic soteriology, contains serious doctrinal errors. These errors so fundmentally and thoroughly contradict the definitive teaching of the Church on salvation that they constitute severe heresy.
Here is Akin's article:
Here is an article on Calvinism:
Akin's article reviews and comments on the Calvinist formula for salvation (TULIP):
Perseverance of the saints.
This set of ideas has been substantially rejected by the Council of Trent and by the teaching of the Magisterium since that time. But Akin insists that a Catholic may accept each of these ideas, with only limited modification. All five Calvinist doctrines on salvation are explained by Akin in such a manner that Calvinist doctrine and Catholic doctrine are merged. His resulting position on soteriology is part Calvinist, and part Catholic, and fundamentally incompatible with sound Catholic teaching on grace and salvation.
Why is Akin's theology on this topic so thoroughly erroneous? Jimmy Akin is a convert to Catholicism from Calvinism. All converts to Catholicism from Protestantism, or from other religions, must struggle with the differences between their former beliefs and their new beliefs. The incorrect ideas of the old faith must be eradicated, if they are entirely incorrect, or transformed, if they are partially correct, so that the truths of the Roman Catholic Faith always prevail. Sometimes traces of old and incorrect beliefs are carried forward and persist within the convert to Catholicism. Other times the convert, so as to avoid past errors, takes an idea too far in the opposite direction.
Akin's version of Catholic soteriology is severely distorted by a partial continuation of these five Calvinist errors on salvation. In covering the five Calvinist ideas called TULIP, he should have refuted each of these errors, and explained in its place the correct Catholic teaching. But instead, his article is an apologia for a modified Calvinist view. He describes each idea in Calvinism, not so as to refute false doctrine, but so as to modify each idea to make it seem acceptable to Catholics. His view of Calvinist soteriology is colored by his current Catholic faith. Worse still, his view of Catholic soteriology is distorted by his Calvinist past. Akin presents a modified version of Calvinist doctrine on soteriology, which is fundamentally contrary to, and essentially incompatible with, Catholic teaching. And yet he claims that this semi-Calvinist soteriology is acceptable belief for Roman Catholics.
Akin's description of Catholic soteriology contains serious doctrinal errors, and he is teaching these errors to Catholics as if these were correct beliefs. When I began reading the article, I expected Akin to refute each of the Calvinist ideas represented by the letters in the term TULIP. I was startled to find, throughout the article, that Akin was proposing that each idea, with some modification, should be accepted by Catholics. In the end, he openly states that Calvinists do not have to refute their understanding of salvation to become Catholic:
Akin: "In view of this, we might propose a Thomist version of TULIP: T=total inability (to please God without special grace); U=unconditional election; L=limited intent (for the atonement's efficacy); I=intrinsically efficacious grace (for salvation); P=perseverance of the elect (until the end of life). There are other ways to construct a Thomist version of TULIP, of course, but the fact there is even one way demonstrates that a Calvinist would not have to repudiate his understanding of predestination and grace to become Catholic. He simply would have to do greater justice to the teaching of Scripture and would have to refine his understanding of perseverance."
The Council of Trent saw a need to strongly condemn and to thoroughly correct, numerous Protestant errors on grace and salvation, including the Calvinist view. But Akin sees only a need for refinement and limited modification of the Calvinist view on this same topic.
He also repeatedly misuses the name and work of Saint Thomas Aquinas to suggest that he is presenting a view of soteriology which should be acceptable to Catholics. His description of St. Thomas' view is inaccurate. And the writings of any particular Saint are not necessarily the same as the teaching of the Magisterium. Even so, Akin's soteriology is not Thomistic or even Catholic, as he claims, but Calvinistic. He is teaching Calvinist errors under the name of Catholicism.
Akin offers this incorrect description of the Calvinist idea of total depravity:
Akin: "Despite its name, the doctrine of total depravity does not mean men are always and only sinful. Calvinists do not think we are as sinful as we possibly could be. They claim our free will has been injured by original sin to the point that, unless God gives us special grace, we cannot free ourselves from sin and choose to serve God in love."
To the contrary, Calvinism does teach that fallen human persons can do nothing good, and that their every act is sinful. Calvinists even hold that human nature itself ceased to be made in the image of God due to original sin. "On the other hand, when original sin took them once captive the image of God was entirety blotted out. This article of 'total depravity' also came from Luther…." (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03198a.htm)
And on the position of the Reformers in general, including Luther and Calvin, the Catholic Encyclopedia describes total depravity as:
"a profound and complete subversion of human nature; it is the physical alteration of the very substance of our soul. Our faculties, understanding, and will, if not entirely destroyed, are at least mutilated, powerless, and chained to evil. For the Reformers, original sin is not a sin, it is the sin, and the permanent sin, living in us and causing a continual stream of new sins to spring from our nature, which is radically corrupt and evil. For, as our being is evil, every act of ours is equally evil." (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02091a.htm)
The false doctrine of total depravity holds that free will is not merely harmed and weakened by original sin, but so totally corrupted that man can do nothing morally good, and every act is a sin:
Calvin: "the mind of man is so entirely alienated from the righteousness of God that he cannot conceive, desire, or design anything but what is weak, distorted, foul, impure or iniquitous, that his heart is so thoroughly environed by sin that it can breathe out nothing but corruption and rottenness; that if some men occasionally make a show of goodness their mind is ever interwoven with hypocrisy and deceit, their soul inwardly bound with the fetters of wickedness." (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02091a.htm)
Therefore, Akin's mild description of total depravity is substantially incorrect. And his statement that Catholics should basically agree with total depravity, though they would reject the term itself, is based on this misunderstanding of the false doctrine of total depravity.
Akin: "The accepted Catholic teaching is that, because of the fall of Adam, man cannot do anything out of supernatural love unless God gives him special grace to do so. Thomas Aquinas declared that special grace is necessary for man to do any supernaturally good act, to love God, to fulfill God's commandments, to gain eternal life, to prepare for salvation, to rise from sin, to avoid sin, and to persevere."
Akin's description of Catholic teaching is partially correct, but substantially incomplete.
Akin omits the Catholic teaching that human nature, after the fall, remains good and continues to be an image of God. This teaching is essential to oppose and correct the error of Calvinism called total depravity. He also omits the teaching that, even without grace, human nature, being good in itself even after the Fall of Adam and Eve, can do acts that are morally good, but not deserving of eternal reward, without grace. Moreover, he seems to suggest the contrary, that nothing good can be done without grace; such a claim is contrary to Catholic teaching, and tends toward the Calvinist error of total depravity.
Akin also fails to distinguish between prevenient grace, which all persons receive, even the most wicked, and subsequent grace, which free will can choose to accept or to reject. His entire article on soteriology makes no mention of prevenient grace, and no distinction between prevenient and subsequent grace. Worse still, Akin's explanation of grace and salvation shows a complete lack of awareness of even the concept of prevenient grace. And this deficiency is partially to blame for his other errors as well.
Trent versus Total Depravity
The Council of Trent rejected the doctrine of total depravity. The Council taught the contrary, that free will was only weakened, not taken away, by original sin: "although free will, attenuated as it was in its powers, and bent down, was by no means extinguished in them." (Decree on Justification, Chapter I.)
The same Council taught that salvation is achieved by the cooperation of the free will with grace, and is lost by the choice of the free will also:
"The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: 'Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you,' we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; 'Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted,' we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God."
Notice the balance in the above definitive teaching of the Council of Trent on grace and salvation. The first grace of justification, which is the beginning of salvation in the soul, is prevenient; it is a free gift from God given with God acting alone -- operating, not cooperating. But this is followed by "His quickening and assisting grace", which is usually termed 'subsequent grace'; this grace is also a gift of God, but one in which God cooperates with our free will. And this free cooperation with subsequent grace merits further subsequent graces.
Repeatedly in its documents, the Council of Trent balances the free gift of grace and salvation from God with the necessity of cooperation by the free will. Redemption is a free gift, but it is also a gift that must be used, not set on a shelf, in order to reach its end. The cooperation of the free will is what brings the free gift of redemption to its final fruition in eternal life.
Not so in the soteriology of Jimmy Akin. His semi-Calvinist views have subjugated free will to the will of God, such that the will of God always prevails. He gives free will no fundamentally determinate role in salvation, in accord with Calvinism, contrary to Catholicism. A distorted concept of predestination is partly to blame for his denigration of the role of free will in eternal salvation.
Akin: "Calvinists claim God predestines people by choosing which individuals will accept his offer of salvation. These people are known as 'the elect'. They are not saved against their will. It is because God has chosen them that they will desire to come to him in the first place. Those who are not among the elect, 'the reprobate,' will not desire to come to God, will not do so, and thus will not be saved."
The above quote is Akin's description of the Calvinist view, given in the beginning of his article. But as the article continues, not only does Akin fail to refute this Calvinist error, but he justifies it. His description of grace and salvation throughout the article is based on the above-quoted error concerning free will, grace, and predestination.
Akin's error is to claim that the predestined exercise their free will because God has chosen them. So if God first predestines someone to salvation, Akin claims that the person will necessarily 'freely' choose the path of salvation. But if God does not first predestine someone to salvation, passing over them (passively omitting them from salvation), Akin claims that the person will not (and in effect cannot) choose the path of salvation. The terms will and free will are used by Akin, but his description is such that the human will has no determinate role in predestination and no truly free choice in salvation. He unwittingly has incorporated a serious doctrinal error on free will found in Calvinism into his claims about Catholic teaching. The Calvinist doctrine of total depravity leads to the conclusion that predestination is not fundamentally based on a true freedom of will. Total depravity destroys free will. Akin has accepted, at least in part, this loss of the free will, by holding that predestination is not based, in any substantive way, on free will.
The correct Catholic view is that predestination includes, and is fundamentally based on, the truly free choice of each and every person, those who will finally be saved in Heaven, 'the elect', and those who will finally be condemned in Hell, 'the reprobate'. The free gift of prevenient grace from God enables the will of every human person (good or bad, elect or reprobate) to make fully free choices to do good, or to do evil, to avoid sin, or to commit sin; to repent from sin, or to refuse to repent. Grace and free will are both fundamental to predestination, since prevenient grace enables free will to cooperate with subsequent graces, or to refuse to cooperate. God knows, with absolute certitude, who will be saved in the end, and who will not be saved. But this foreknowledge absolutely does not determine that final destination of Heaven or Hell. The basis for that final destination is the choice of the human will, made truly free by prevenient grace, made able to achieve Heaven by subsequent grace, and known from all eternity by God.
To say otherwise, as Akin does, is to reject Catholic doctrine on the goodness of human nature despite original sin, to reject Catholic doctrine on prevenient grace and subsequent grace, and to reject Catholic doctrine on the role of free will in salvation. Akin in effect claims, as the Calvinists do, that God arbitrarily chooses to punish some persons in Hell, without any fault on their part, only because they are not among the predestined. In Akin's view, these reprobate persons do sin seriously, but they in effect had no possibility to be saved, regardless of their choices in life, because God passively chose not to predestine them. He supposedly chose to omit them from certain graces that the predestined are given, graces essential to salvation.
Akin believes that there are two types of people in the world: those who are predestined to Heaven, and those who are not. True enough. But he considers that the predestined are not predestined because God foreknew that they would freely cooperate with his generous graces through the end of their lives. Instead, he suggests that they cooperate 'freely' only because they are predestined. In effect, free will is then no longer free, at least as concerns attaining to salvation. The end result is predetermined, but not by free will. Lip service is paid to free will, but, by his repeated distorted descriptions of grace, salvation, and predestination, Akin wipes away any true freedom of the will as it pertains to eternal life.
He suggests that those who are not predestined do not cooperate with grace unto the end because they are passively omitted by God from being predestined. Again, in his concept of free will, Akin subjugates the will to predestination, or the lack thereof. The non-predestined person does not freely choose to follow the path of salvation unto the end because he is not predestined. Akin has reversed the role of free will and predestination. He bases free will, as it pertains to achieving salvation, on predestination; if you are predestined, then this fact (supposedly) determines what your free will shall do.
The correct Catholic view is that predestination is based on free will. But in claiming that free will is based on predestination, Akin makes free will not truly free, as far as salvation is concerned. And this error persists throughout the entire article. In order to partially accept various Calvinist errors on grace and salvation, Akin must deprecate the role of free will in predestination. As a result, his explanation of grace and salvation is corrupted. Akin presents a semi-Calvinist view of soteriology, not a tenable Catholic view.
The condemnation of total depravity, and of related false doctrines found among the Protestant Reformers, was given at Trent with attached anathemas:
CANON IV. If any one saith, that man's free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.
Akin's view on free will partially accepts this condemned error. For when the ideas of predestination and free will seem to be in conflict, Akin is unable to resolve the conflict as he ought to, by incorporating free will into predestination. As a result, he in effect denies the true freedom of the will when it comes to eternal salvation. For if the person is not predestined, Akin thinks free will is unable to cooperate with justification to the extent of reaching eternal salvation. But if the person is predestined to Heaven, Akin similarly does not allow the free will to be truly free; the person must choose, in the end, the path of salvation.
CANON V. If any one saith, that, since Adam's sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with only a name, yea a name without a reality, a figment, in fine, introduced into the Church by Satan; let him be anathema.
Here Trent specifically and thoroughly refutes the doctrine of total depravity. And yet Akin's article actually tells the Catholic reader that he is free to hold to the idea of total depravity: "What would a Catholic think of this teaching? While he would not use the term 'total depravity' to describe the doctrine, he would actually agree with it." This assertion is contradicted by the Canons of the Council of Trent, and is dangerous to the souls of the faithful.
CANON VI. If any one saith, that it is not in man's power to make his ways evil, but that the works that are evil God worketh as well as those that are good, not permissively only, but properly, and of Himself, in such wise that the treason of Judas is no less His own proper work than the vocation of Paul; let him be anathema.
The above Canon succinctly refutes one of the errors in Akin's article. The correct Catholic teaching is that the evil ways of man, which lead to eternal condemnation in Hell, occur because God makes free will truly free by His prevenient grace, and because God permits even the free choices, in response to subsequent grace, that lead to Hell. It is because we have the gift of grace from God that we may freely choose, by the way we live, Heaven or Hell. But Akin expresses a view that is in effect the same as the above-condemned error: those who are not predestined to Heaven, because of this omission by God and not because of free will, are unable to make their way of life good unto eternal salvation; and those who are predestined to Heaven, because of this choice of God, do not have it in their power to make their ways evil unto eternal condemnation. Free will is, in the end, not free in Akin's description, because his concept of predestination is not based on the human will made truly free by prevenient grace.
CANON VII. If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema.
(Decree on Justification, Canons 4-7.)
Akin in effect partially adopts this condemned error also. For he claims that the false doctrine of total depravity is acceptable to Catholics. And total depravity implies that all the works of a man who has not yet been baptized, who has not yet had original sin wiped away, are evil and are sins. In his article, Akin omits any mention of cooperation with grace prior to justification, omits the concept of prevenient grace, and omits the teaching that human person can do morally good acts without grace. He implies that those who are not predestined to eternal salvation cannot, in the end, do anything other than die in a state of unrepentant actual mortal sin. The false doctrine of total depravity pervades his entire soteriology. And even though his version of total depravity is modified from the view of Calvin, on the whole his view of soteriology is fundamentally incompatible with basic Catholic teaching on grace and salvation.
Total depravity is contrary to the teaching of the Council of Trent. The Church teaches that original sin has harmed and weakened the intellect and the will, but that free will can still do some good acts, and the intellect can still perceive truth, including moral truth, through the light of reason alone. Therefore, even without grace, a fallen human person does not necessarily sin by his every act; he can do some acts that are morally good (i.e. morally permissible and not sin) by his own good nature. But the false doctrine of total depravity makes human nature capable of nothing but constant sin, as if our nature had become evil.
Akin describes the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election as follows:
Akin: "The doctrine of unconditional election means God does not base his choice (election) of certain individuals on anything other than his own good will. God chooses whomever he pleases and passes over the rest. The ones God chooses will desire to come to him, will accept his offer of salvation, and will do so precisely because he has chosen them."
Akin is describing the Calvinist false doctrine of unconditional election. But instead of refuting it, he accepts it and claims that it is consistent with sound Catholic theological opinion.
Akin: "What would a Catholic say about this? He certainly is free to disagree with the Calvinist interpretation, but he also is free to agree. All Thomists and even some Molinists (such as Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suarez) taught unconditional election."
Again, Akin does not allow room for any decisive role for free will in eternal salvation. This complete omission of free will from the concepts of predestination and election is contrary to definitive Catholic teaching. It is therefore absurd to claim, as Akin does, that the Protestant Reformers' doctrine of unconditional election is still an open question, about which one might agree or disagree. All the heresies of the Protestant Reformation have been fully treated and corrected by the Magisterium, not only at the Council of Trent, but since that time on a continuing basis. On the question of free will and predestination, the Magisterium teaches the following.
Catechism of the Catholic Church: "To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of 'predestination', he includes in it each person's free response to his grace…." (CCC, n. 600).
Catholic teaching on election and predestination is that God 'wants all men to be saved and to arrive at an acknowledgment of the truth.' (1 Tim 2:4). Before the fact of our sinfulness, God wills all persons to be saved without any exception. But He also wills that we freely choose the love of God and neighbor which is the foundation of salvation. After the fact of a free and full choice, enabled by prevenient grace, in which the human person turns away from the love of God and neighbor in an actual mortal sin, AND in which the human person refuses to repent through the last moment of his life, only in view of such a sinful truly free choice does God will that some be reprobate (i.e. be condemned to Hell).
But all this refutes Akin's claim that Catholics are free to choose to agree or disagree with Calvinism on the point of unconditional election. The Magisterium does have definitive teachings on election and predestination, and these are essentially incompatible with Calvinism. Akin errs in saying Catholics might agree or disagree with Calvinism on this point because he has adopted an erroneous understanding of the Calvinist view, one that partly incorporates Catholic teaching. His view of salvation is not full Calvinism, but rather semi-Calvinism.
To the contrary, Roman Catholic teaching, correctly understood, implies that salvation is unconditional in one sense, and conditional in another sense. Salvation is not simply and wholly unconditional, no matter what version of 'unconditional election' is used.
Salvation is unconditionally offered to all human persons. The mere offer itself is accompanied by prevenient actual graces, the graces needed to enlighten and enable each person to be able to freely accept or freely reject subsequent actual graces. Cooperation with subsequent graces leads the adult to convert, be baptized, and receive prevenient sanctifying grace. As for the person baptized in infancy, his later reception of prevenient actual graces, and his cooperation with subsequent actual graces, leads him to remain in the state of sanctifying grace. For all persons in a state of sanctifying grace, cooperation with subsequent actual graces, made truly free by prevenient actual graces, will lead to eternal salvation. No one is excluded from the possibility of this path because they were passed over for, or passively omitted from, predestination to Heaven. Both the offer of salvation, and the accompanying prevenient graces enabling the acceptance of that offer, are given unconditionally to all persons. Even very wicked human persons receive, innumerable times throughout their lives, prevenient actual graces. They cannot reject this type of grace, since it precedes the choice of the free will; it acts upon the free will, but by the operation of God alone, not by cooperation. And this type of grace makes each and every person's will truly free and truly able to accept the unconditional offer of eternal life.
But salvation is also conditional. For we are not saved by the offer of salvation alone, nor by prevenient grace alone. We are called by God to respond to the offer of salvation, and we are enabled, by prevenient grace, to respond with a full freedom of will. But whether or not we are saved depends on our free response to subsequent graces. When we cooperate with grace, by free will, we may reach salvation. When we continue to reject cooperation with subsequent grace, this too is an act of free will, but it leads to eternal condemnation. And yet God's grace is always first, and so salvation is not based solely on our free act, but also on the first grace of God, acting alone, without which we could not be free to cooperate to reach salvation.
Akin quotes St. Thomas and St. Augustine to support his claim that Church teaching on unconditional election is compatible with the Calvinist view. But Akin misunderstands the teaching of these Saints by his omission of any substantial role for free will. Aquinas gives such a role to free will, and Akin's interpretation of Aquinas does not. Also, these two Saints were not teaching infallibly under the Magisterium, and each wrote long before the heretical distortions of the Protestant Reformers, and the need for the correction given by the Council of Trent. The views of these two Saints contributed substantially to the teaching of the Church on grace and salvation, but their views do not entirely comprise that teaching. And the teachings of all Saints must be understood with a critical eye that takes account of all the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.
Akin distorts Aquinas' position on predestination. Aquinas did not teach simple unconditional election. He held instead that election is twofold:
Aquinas: "The end towards which created things are directed by God is twofold; one which exceeds all proportion and faculty of created nature…. The other end, however, is proportionate to created nature, to which end created being can attain according to the power of its nature….. Hence, properly speaking, a rational creature, capable of eternal life, is led towards it, directed, as it were, by God."
So Aquinas combines the supernatural act of God, which is a free unconditional undeserved offer of salvation including all the graces needed for that salvation, and the participation of the rational creature, of the human person with intellect and free will, who is made capable by prevenient grace of cooperating with supernatural grace to reach eternal life. Human nature was designed to work intimately with grace, so as to be fully human and fully free.
Akin: "Although a Catholic may agree with unconditional election, he may not affirm 'double-predestination,' a doctrine Calvinists often infer from it. This teaching claims that in addition to electing some people to salvation God also sends others to damnation. The alternative to double-predestination is to say that while God predestines some people, he simply passes over the remainder. They will not come to God, but it is because of their inherent sin, not because God damns them. This is the doctrine of passive reprobation, which Aquinas taught."
There are several serious errors in the above quote. First, as already explained, Catholics must not agree with the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. In the Catholic view, there is a sense in which salvation is unconditional, in its offer to all, but there is also a sense in which salvation is conditional, in that we are truly free to cooperate with, or to reject, the graces that lead to eternal life. God foresees our free choice, but He does not determine it, neither in the elect, nor in the reprobate. "When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of 'predestination', he includes in it each person's free response to his grace…." (CCC, n. 600) Any Catholic who holds that salvation is due simply and solely to unconditional election, holds to a Protestant heresy. For the Church teaches that God incorporates our free response to His grace into His plan of predestination.
Second, it is absurd to claim that we may believe both that the elect are predestined unconditionally, and that the reprobate are not. If one were to believe that the elect are the only ones who are saved, and that their salvation is predetermined by God regardless of their free choice, then this view necessarily implies that all others are reprobate (i.e. they end up in Hell). So double predestination is essentially the same error as 'single' predestination.
Third, Akin presents the so-called 'alternative to double-predestination' as if this were either Catholic teaching, or at least a tenable opinion; it is neither. If God were to 'simply pass over' those who are not elect, this choice of God would necessarily condemn to Hell, since no one can attain eternal salvation without the help of God. If you see your neighbor drowning and you are able to help, but instead you choose to pass by, allowing him to drown, you have committed the intrinsically evil act of murder by omission. The choice to allow your neighbor to drown is an active choice in the heart and mind, even though it is the choice to omit an exterior act. Similarly, if God were to merely pass over the reprobate, so that ultimately they lack the graces needed for salvation, He would be, in effect, actively choosing to condemn them to Hell, and unjustly so. Such a claim about God is certainly false.
All the denizens of Hell are being punished for their unrepentant actual mortal sins; they are truly guilty because they received the prevenient grace needed to freely choose (in cooperation with subsequent grace) not to sin, or to freely choose to repent, but instead they chose to sin and to remain in sin. The predestination of the elect, as well as of the reprobate, is essentially the same; it is the knowledge of God, from all Eternity, as to who will freely cooperate with the unconditional offer to all of salvation, and who will freely choose not to cooperate, AND it is the providence and grace of God offered to all, working with all, toward salvation, but permitting free will to choose to depart from the way of salvation.
Akin states that the reprobate are condemned because of their sins: "They will not come to God, but it is because of their inherent sin, not because God damns them." But he nevertheless implies that God does not give them the graces needed for salvation, instead passing over them, allowing them to sin and to be condemned for sin. This idea is essentially incompatible with the salvific act of Christ dying for our sins on the Cross, since He died for us while we were yet sinners. He did not die only for the elect, but even for the reprobate. And it is part of the suffering of the reprobate in Hell that they realize Jesus died for their sins, that they realize God gave them all the graces needed for salvation without any exception at all, and that they realize that they are in Hell solely and entirely because of their own free choice, which choice was manifestly and fully contrary to the salvific will of God.
Fourth, Aquinas did not teach passive reprobation. He stated that predestination is in one sense active, and in another sense passive, in all persons.
"We have said above that predestination is a part of providence…. But the execution of providence which is called government, is in a passive way in the thing governed, and in an active way in the governor. Whence it is clear that predestination is a kind of type of the ordering of some persons towards eternal salvation, existing in the divine mind. The execution, however, of this order is in a passive way in the predestined, but actively in God." (Summa Theologica, I, 23, 2).
But, as Akin distorts it, the active predestination is only in the elect, and the passive predestination is only in the reprobate. What Aquinas was really saying is that predestination is active in God, and passive in us. But this passivity does not contradict our free will:
"I answer that, God does reprobate some…. Thus, as men are ordained to eternal life through the providence of God, it likewise is part of that providence to permit some to fall away from that end; this is called reprobation. Thus, as predestination is a part of providence, in regard to those ordained to eternal salvation, so reprobation is a part of providence in regard to those who turn aside from that end. Hence reprobation implies not only foreknowledge, but also something more, as does providence, as was said above (Question 22, Article 1). Therefore, as predestination includes the will to confer grace and glory; so also reprobation includes the will to permit a person to fall into sin, and to impose the punishment of damnation on account of that sin." (Summa Theologica, I, 23, 3).
Notice that Aquinas attributes the reprobation of the condemned in Hell to free will. The reprobate freely choose to 'turn aside from that end,' i.e. eternal salvation. God's role is not to pass over the reprobate, but to offer salvation to all, to grant prevenient grace to all, and to enable and permit free will to be exercised, even though some may choose to fall away from that end. God's work to save the elect is the same as His work to save the reprobate; the difference between the two is due to free will.
Notice, too, that predestination is not solely the foreknowledge of who will be saved and who will not be saved. Predestination includes the providence and grace of God working with all human persons toward their salvation, both enabling all to be saved and permitting anyone who wishes to fall away, by their own free choice, to do so in the end. It is the error of Calvinism to portray this work of God as choosing, simply and without regard for free will, who is saved and who is not. The correction of Calvinism offered by Catholic teaching, and entirely absent in Akin's explanation, is that predestination does not determine who is elect, or who is reprobate, apart from the true and full free choice of the human person, and that all persons, including the reprobate, are aided by grace to reach salvation throughout their lives.
In the section on limited atonement, Akin continues to teach serious doctrinal errors on soteriology.
He begins well enough, correctly asserting that Jesus died for all human persons, to atone for the sins of all. And he quotes Aquinas who taught that the atonement of Christ is sufficient for all, but effective only in the elect; this is true, but only if properly understood. Akin's error is to assume that the effectiveness of atonement is simple: either it is effective and the person attains salvation in Heaven, or it is not effective and the person is condemned to Hell. This is a false dichotomy. Atonement is not simply limited or simply unlimited. Why? because of free will.
But Akin's entire section on Limited Atonement contains no mention of free will at all. He is working from the false assumption, found throughout his article, that free will has no fundamental role in predestination, despite the clear teaching in the CCC to the contrary. He is still carrying forward his error of accepting a modified version of total depravity, which causes him to substantially reduce, and in the end to deny, the role of free will in salvation.
Akin: "While the grace it provided is sufficient to pay for the sins of all men, this grace is not made efficacious (put into effect) in the case of everyone. One may say that although the sufficiency of the atonement is not limited, its efficiency is limited. This is something everyone who believes in hell must acknowledge because, if the atonement was made efficacious for everyone, then no one would end up in hell."
In Akin's view, atonement is either effective unto eternal salvation, or not. This view would be acceptable if it were joined to an understanding of the role of free will with respect to atonement, grace, predestination, and salvation. It is not.
Consider a man who God knows will eventually end in Hell, not Heaven. Before he dies in a state of unrepentant actual mortal sin, is the atonement of Christ on the Cross effective in his life in any way? It is not effective in the sense of the attainment of eternal life; but this failure is due to his own knowing free choice. No one dies unrepentant from actual mortal sin without the full knowledge and free choice found in every actual mortal sin.
Now suppose that this man was baptized as an infant. Did he not certainly receive a great unmerited benefit from the atonement of Christ on the Cross? Without doubt, he did. For he was conceived and born with original sin, and yet he was completely cleansed by Baptism. Or if he was baptized as an adult, not only original sin, but all his past personal sins, were completely wiped away and forgiven by his Baptism. And this great gift is from the Cross of Christ. Only because of the atonement of Christ are we able to receive the Sacraments and the graces that accompany them. For all the Sacraments and all the graces that we receive pour forth from the side of Christ on the Cross as a result of His salvific loving act of atonement for all sinners.
But there is no mention of the Sacraments in Akin's article on salvation. Calvinism does not give any fundamental role to the Sacraments in salvation; you are either predestined, or you are not. Baptism becomes essentially irrelevant in Calvinism. And since Akin's position is influenced by Calvinism, he makes no mention of the Sacraments in his article. No matter what Akin might say about the Sacraments in his other writings, his view of predestination precludes any fundamental role for the Sacraments in salvation: you are predestined by God, or you are passed over, simply and absolutely.
As a result of this atonement on the Cross all human persons are offered salvation and are given prevenient graces enabling them to freely choose their own final eternal destination, to choose that destination by means of the moral choices we make in life. So each and every human person, even the person who finally ends up in Hell, receives from Christ on the Cross (1) the offer of salvation by sanctifying grace, and (2) the reception of prevenient actual graces, enabling him to freely choose the path to Heaven, or the path to Hell, and (3) the offer of subsequent actual graces, all of which is intended to bring him to Heaven in the end, if only he will freely choose to cooperate.
Not so in Akin's view.
Akin: "A Catholic also may say that, in going to the cross, Christ intended to make salvation possible for all men, but he did not intend to make salvation actual for all men --otherwise we would have to say that Christ went to the cross intending that all men would end up in heaven. This is clearly not the case."
Akin makes the same error here that he makes with predestination and election. He assumes that the role of God is the sole decisive factor concerning who is saved and who is condemned. This is essentially the error of Calvin, who gave no decisive role in salvation to free will because of the false doctrine of total depravity. But again, it is absurd to claim that God makes an offer of possible salvation to some persons who are also denied what is needed to make that salvation actual. Akin is saying that Christ intended to make salvation possible for all, but also chose to deny what is needed to make salvation actual for all. This claim is inherently contradictory. Salvation which is not actual is not possible, as Akin describes it. For none of these persons who received only this 'gift' of 'possible' salvation are able to achieve it. Akin gives their free will no fundamentally decisive role, and he does not allow that Christ intends all persons to have 'actual' salvation. Thus 'possible' salvation is impossible because it lacks 'actual' salvation, and it lacks actual salvation supposedly solely because of Christ's inexplicable choice, not because of the choice of the free will by the human person.
In effect, Akin accuses Christ dying for our sins on the Cross of not intending to make salvation actual for all men. He accuses Christ on the Cross of intending the false doctrine of limited atonement. But since Christ's atonement is an expression of love, in effect limited atonement is limited love, as if God loves some persons, but not others, arbitrarily. All of these claims are completely incompatible with the Catholic Faith.
Akin's excuse is to point out that some persons certainly do not end up in Heaven, but in Hell. He assumes that since God is all-powerful, what he intends must occur. What he fails to understand throughout the article is that God's intention for our salvation is complex, not simple. Christ on the Cross intended actual salvation for all human persons, but His intention includes a fundamental role for free will. Christ died to offer salvation through sanctifying grace to all human persons, to give prevenient grace to all, and to offer subsequent grace to all, so that each person could then freely choose to accept or to reject the graces that lead to eternal life. Christ on the Cross ardently desires the actual salvation of all souls, but at the same time, in the same act, He ardently desires that they arrive at salvation by a choice that is truly free. Christ died to free us from the slavery of sin, so that we could freely choose eternal life in Heaven, or eternal death in Hell. The inexplicable choice that results in some persons being condemned to Hell is not the choice of God, but the choice of the free will contrary to grace and contrary to the good will of God.
Christ's one ardent desire on the Cross, for each and every human person, is three-fold: (1) that each one be offered salvation, in sanctifying grace, by His sacrifice, (2) that each one receive prevenient grace, in order to make his choices truly free, (3) that each one freely choose to cooperate with subsequent grace unto Heaven. But His desire has complete respect for, and inherently includes, our inviolate free will. He will not drag us into Heaven, or into Hell, nor does he arbitrarily (or mysteriously) choose to limit atonement and salvation to some and not others.
Continuing our consideration of the reprobate man. Even if he were never a Christian, he certainly received prevenient grace innumerable times in his life. This type of grace is not merely offered by God, it is always, in every case, no matter how wicked or unrepentant the human person may be, actually received by the individual. So prevenient grace is always effective in every human person in the same way: to enlighten and enable the intellect and free will, so that the human person may freely choose to accept or reject subsequent graces and the path of salvation. The effectiveness of prevenient grace, and its source in the atoning act of Christ on the Cross, is undeniable. And yet this idea is entirely absent from Akin's article and from his understanding of grace and salvation. As a result, he does not perceive that the atonement of Christ is just as effective, unto salvation, in the lives of the reprobate as in the lives of the elect. The difference is not found in some limit to atonement, but in the different but truly free choice of each person. For Christ's atonement makes the elect person just as free as the reprobate person to make the choice between Heaven and Hell. The elect are elect because they choose Heaven, and the reprobate are reprobate because they choose Hell.
Akin has Christ making that choice for each person, in some arbitrary or at least inexplicable manner. Supposedly this choice is based on the 'good will' of God. But Akin's omission of any decisive role for free will in predestination leads him to make much the same mistake on the subject of atonement. In his view, the difference between the elect and the reprobate is that the former are given 'efficacious atonement' and the latter are not. And this is not a result of free will, but supposedly solely a result of the choice of God. He calls the type of atonement given to the reprobate 'sufficient atonement', but since, in his view, they have no possibility of reaching salvation, the term 'sufficient atonement' is a misnomer.
It is true that the final full effectiveness of the atonement of Christ is found in eternal salvation. And certainly this is lacking in those who end up in Hell. But instead of attributing the final destination of the reprobate to free will, which freely rejects what Christ's atonement obtained AND offered AND provided in every case, Akin falls into the error of Calvinism, and accepts the false doctrine of limited atonement. For he attributes the final destination of the reprobate to the sole choice by God to limit the effectiveness of atonement, not merely such that free will is permitted to choose either final destination, but such that God's limitation of atonement is the determinant of the free will's failure to attain eternal life; free will is then not truly free, neither in the elect, nor in the reprobate, at least as concerns salvation. This false doctrine of limited atonement flows from the previously discussed errors: from total depravity, which even in Akin's modified form deprecates free will, and from unconditional election, which allows no true role for free will in one's final destination.
The Council of Trent taught otherwise:
"This disposition, or preparation, is followed by Justification itself, which is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting."
The atonement of Christ, even in those Christians who eventually become reprobate (i.e. they end in Hell), is effective in justifying the person, in remitting original sin, in remitting personal sin (by Baptism and by Confession), and in sanctifying and renewing the human person (through all the Sacraments) to his inmost being, and most important: in freeing him to be able to choose his own path in life, whether it is the path to eternal life in Heaven, or the path to eternal death in Hell. According to Trent, the atonement of Christ and the justification wrought by that atonement, occurs in conjunction with the "voluntary reception of grace", which implies the cooperation of free will. And this atonement is fully effective, even in the reprobate, since it frees them, exactly as it frees the elect, to be able to choose the path to Heaven or the path to Hell.
The fact that some persons end up in Hell and others in Heaven does not prove that atonement is limited, but rather that atonement fully frees every human person to exercise their free will as concerns their eternal destination.
"Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father; the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified; lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one's proper disposition and co-operation." (Decree on Justification, Chapter VII.)
Again, the teaching that salvation and justification is from the atonement of Christ, is accompanied by the teaching that each one must freely choose the proper disposition and cooperation. There is an effectiveness to the atonement of Christ in all persons, even in those who eventually become the reprobate in Hell. But they are not reprobate until they are judged and sent to Hell. And in every case, the atonement of Christ was effective to give each person the benefits of that atonement, which is to free the human person to choose his own final destination.
Some persons are predestined for Heaven, and other persons are predestined for Hell, but not in the sense that God chooses, wisely or unwisely, who will end in each place. Rather, the predestination of God is threefold:
1. God's timeless knowledge of our free will decisions,
2. God's providence and grace offering salvation, by sanctifying grace, to all persons, and enabling the human will, by prevenient grace, to be truly free,
3. and our free decisions in life, especially those decisions that lead us to die either in a state of grace, or in a state of unrepentant actual mortal sin.
Thus, there is a fundamental role that free will plays in each person's predestination and salvation. And all three elements of predestination are an harmonious whole. God never chooses to pass over anyone, thereby in effect refusing to rescue them from drowning in their own sinfulness, unto eternal condemnation. Akin's claim to this effect is a serious doctrinal error, and is not at all the same as Aquinas' position on predestination. God is never the sole determining factor in the condemnation of anyone to Hell; if a particular person does end in Hell, then that person freely chose, by means of the gift of freedom given to him by the atonement of Christ, to commit actual mortal sin and never to repent. Therefore, he is justly condemned, since he was truly free to choose.
Akin: "Calvinists teach that when God gives a person the grace that enables him to come to salvation, the person always responds and never rejects this grace. For this reason many have called this the doctrine of irresistible grace."
This description of the Calvinist position is correct. Unfortunately, Akin goes on to accept this Calvinist position, just as he accepts, at least in part, the other Calvinist positions that he considers.
Akin: "A Catholic can agree with the idea that enabling grace is intrinsically efficacious and, consequently, that all who receive this grace will repent and come to God…. Catholics must say that, while God may give efficacious grace only to some, he gives sufficient grace to all. This is presupposed by the fact that he intended the atonement to be sufficient for all."
Akin attributes his position on this point to Aquinas, but Aquinas gives a place to free will as well as to grace. The relationship between grace and free will is certainly a mystery, but any view of grace and free will which in effect makes free will not truly free, especially as concerns eternal salvation, is contrary to Catholic teaching.
Aquinas: "The first cause of the defect of grace is on our part; but the first cause of the bestowal of grace is on God's according to Hosea 13:9: 'Destruction is thy own, O Israel; thy help is only in Me.' " (Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 112, Article 3, Reply 2.)
Grace never fails, but grace permits us to fail. Here Aquinas allows for an interplay between grace and free will that is entirely lacking in Akin's article. For Akin, grace overwhelms free will. His distinction between 'sufficient' grace and 'efficacious' grace has no basis in free will. It is fundamentally the same false distinction that he makes between different types of atonement. In both cases, free will is not the deciding factor between the elect and the reprobate. But it is absurd to call grace 'sufficient' if there is no possibility that the grace will be effective unto eternal life. And the claim that God denies the type of grace called 'efficacious' to some, but not to others, has the effect of nullifying free will. This approach is Calvinism, not Catholicism.
Suppose a man, at the hour of death, is in need of repentance from actual mortal sin. Does he have the grace to repent, or not? In Akin's view, if he does not repent and dies and is sent to Hell, he had 'sufficient grace' but not 'efficacious' grace; the man went to Hell because God chose not to give him 'efficacious' grace. Such a claim in effect absolves the person of responsibility for his sin in refusing to repent. But then why does God punish him with eternal Hellfire? Akin has in essence adopted the view of Calvin on predestination and related questions, resulting in the same problem of the apparent injustice of sending someone to Hell based on the arbitrary decision of God alone.
In Catholic teaching, this same man in need of repentance on his death bed (or at any time in life) necessarily and always is given and receives a type of grace called prevenient actual grace. And this grace is necessarily and always effective in enlightening his intellect and in enabling his free will, so that his eternal destination depends upon his own truly free choice of the human will. Prevenient actual grace is irresistible, but its purpose is not to choose our final destination for us, but to enable the intellect and will to choose with true freedom between the path to Heaven and the path to Hell. The path to Heaven is found by freely cooperating with subsequent grace, and the path to Hell is found by freely rejecting that cooperation. After receiving prevenient grace, we can choose to cooperate with subsequent grace, or not. Subsequent grace is not irresistible, because God has humbly chosen to make His subsequent grace subject to our free will. And neither type of grace, prevenient or subsequent, is irresistible in the sense of determining our eternal final destination.
Akin presents a false dilemma to the reader. Either grace is irresistible, or it is not. If it is not then God has failed, which cannot be true. Therefore, Akin concludes that grace is always irresistible. His error here is the same as his error on predestination, he does not consider that an all-powerful God would incorporate, in a thorough and fundamental way, the truly free choice of the human will, into His plan of grace and salvation. And this is the same error found in Calvinism, which Akin accepts in modified form and presents to the reader as if it were sound Catholic teaching.
In truth, the gift of grace from God is irresistible in one sense, but not another. It is true that God is all-powerful, even in the realm of providence and grace, such that if He chooses to act, He does not fail. But the most fundamental truth of salvation is that God does not choose to be the sole determinate of each person's eternal final destination. Therefore, God chooses two types of acts with His grace. He chooses to give prevenient grace to all human persons, even to the very wicked, despite His own knowledge of the eternal fate of each person. And the grace of God is entirely irresistible when it is prevenient. No cooperation with prevenient grace is needed, nor does any cooperation with prevenient grace ever occur. But prevenient grace does not determine one's eternal resting place. And the grace of God is, by His humble will, not irresistible in the case of subsequent grace.
Actual grace is the grace from God to do good. Sanctifying grace is the grace from God to be good. Actual grace is divided into prevenient grace and subsequent grace.
When God offers a person the grace to choose a good act, accepting that grace is itself a good act. And the good act of accepting grace also requires grace. Thus grace is always needed first, before any cooperation of the free will. For how can the free will cooperate with grace unless grace first enables it to be truly free? God grants this prevenient grace to all human persons without distinction. It is only because of this grace (which is irresistible) that the individual is then able to exercise a will that is truly free, to choose to cooperate with subsequent grace, or not.
God chose to make prevenient grace irresistible, but He does not choose to make subsequent grace irresistible. And the reason for this choice is that God is Love. No one can truly love unless his will is truly free. God could conceivably make all grace irresistible, as the Calvinists think that He does. But the Catholic view requires the belief both that some graces are irresistible (but not unto eternal life), and that other graces are not irresistible.
This distinction between prevenient grace and subsequent grace also applies to sanctifying grace (the state of grace).
Sanctifying grace is prevenient when it is first granted to the soul, at Baptism; this prevenient act of God in sanctifying the human person occurs by the operation of God, without any cooperation of the free will. It is an irresistible act of grace. Even though an adult must choose to accept Baptism, the act of receiving sanctifying grace in Baptism is an act solely of God, without cooperation. Therefore, we need not wonder whether a baptized adult was effectively baptized. We need not ask, 'Did he cooperate with sanctifying grace given at Baptism?' There is no cooperation when the soul is given this type of grace; it is irresistible. Baptism can be given even to infants partly because no cooperation by the recipient is needed.
But in order to remain in a state of sanctifying grace, the baptized person must subsequently cooperate with the state of grace and with actual graces, living a life in accord with the undeserved gift of sanctifying grace. Without this cooperation, the person will lose the state of sanctifying grace by actual mortal sin, even possibly by an actual mortal sin of omission.
So the Catholic view of grace is such that some graces are irresistible, but other graces are not. But even when grace is irresistible, it is not the sole determinant of our eternal fate. The false dilemma that Akin presents assumes that either all graces are irresistible, or none are, and further assumes that if grace were resistible, some fault or failing would have to be attributed to God. Neither assumption is true. God chooses to make prevenient grace irresistible, and to make subsequent grace subject to free will, and for the very same reason: LOVE. God loves his creation, especially human persons, and so he gives prevenient grace without fail and without requiring any cooperation. Even the most wicked human persons receive innumerable prevenient graces in their lives. But God also requires the cooperation of the free will with subsequent graces, otherwise, our response to God's grace would not be a response of love. For no love is true love unless it is truly free. Prevenient grace is irresistible, in order to make all human persons truly free so that they may love. But subsequent grace is not irresistible, in order that the choice to love may be truly free.
At times, Akin attributes his erroneous position on grace and salvation to Aquinas, and even at times to the Council of Trent, but Aquinas and Trent take account of free will, whereas Akin essentially does not. Free will is not sufficiently accounted for by Akin because he does not distinguish between prevenient grace, which is irresistible, and subsequent grace, in which God humbly submits Himself and His grace to our free will, because He is Love.
Perseverance of the saints
Akin begins this last section of his article by explaining the Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.
Akin: "Calvinists teach that if a person enters a state of grace he never will leave it but will persevere to the end of life. This doctrine is normally called the perseverance of the saints. All those who are at any time saints (in a state of sanctifying grace, to use Catholic terminology) will remain so forever. No matter what trials they face, they will always persevere, so their salvation is eternally secure."
Then he goes on to refute this false doctrine, saying that the "reasoning is faulty," and that the Bible passages relied on by Calvinists on this point are taken out of context and have numerous "exegetical problems with their interpretation." So far, so good.
But then Akin explains the supposedly Catholic position on this question in terms of his previous set of errors on predestination and grace. Yet again his soteriology lacks any fundamental or decisive role for free will. The result is that he misunderstands the Catholic doctrine of final perseverance, and re-imagines it according to his modified version of the Calvinist errors on predestination and salvation.
Akin: "Some might genuinely come to God (because they were predestined to initial salvation) and then genuinely leave (because they were not predestined to final salvation). Either way, predestination to initial salvation does not entail predestination to final salvation."
It is a serious doctrinal error, entirely incompatible with Catholic teaching on salvation and free will, to claim that God chooses to predestine some persons to initial salvation, but not to final salvation. In the Catholic view, predestination thoroughly incorporates, and always hinges upon, free will. If God were to choose, simply and absolutely, to give some persons 'initial salvation,' but not 'final salvation,' then God would be unjust. Although this type of claim appeals to the 'good will' of God as the sole reason for such a choice, there is no tenable explanation as to why it would be good, in any sense of the word, for God to choose, apart from free will, to deny someone final salvation.
As a result of this continued error of denigrating and even omitting the role of free will in salvation, Akin founders as he tries to explain the gift of final perseverance, as taught by the Roman Catholic Faith.
Akin: "A Catholic must affirm that there are people who experience initial salvation and who do not go on to final salvation, but he is free to hold to a form of perseverance of the saints. The question is how one defines the term 'saints'--in the Calvinist way, as all those who ever enter a state of sanctifying grace, or in a more Catholic way, as those who will go on to have their sanctification (their 'saintification') completed. If one defines 'saint' in the latter sense, a Catholic may believe in perseverance of the saints, since a person predestined to final salvation must by definition persevere to the end. Catholics even have a special name for the grace God gives these people: 'the gift of final perseverance.' "
[Note that Catholicism has NEVER defined 'saint' with a small 's' as only those persons who 'will go on to have their sanctification completed' by dying in a state of grace. Sacred Scripture uses the term 'saint' to refer to the faithful. So, too, does the Church. And we might expand that definition to include all who are in a state of grace, even non-Christians. But to restrict the term 'saint' only to those who are predestined (especially when one's concept of predestination lacks any foundational role for free will) is entirely foreign to Catholic theology and exegesis. "But next I will set out for Jerusalem, to minister to the saints. For those of Macedonia and Achaia have decided to make a collection for those of the poor among the saints who are at Jerusalem." (Romans 15:25-26). It would be absurd to claim that Paul intended only to minister to those who were predestined to Heaven, and that his collection for the poor among the saints would likewise be dispersed only to the predestined. That is not how Catholicism uses the term 'saint.']
The gift of final perseverance is a gift of grace. Pope John Paul II described final perseverance as "the grace to do good until the end." (The Spirit: Pledge of Eschatological Hope, n. 5). But grace is not grace without free will, and free will is not truly free without grace. So no one can 'do good until the end,' unto eternal salvation, without both the free choice of the will and the grace of God.
Akin's error on grace is to try to explain grace separately from free will. This approach always fails because free will is inherent to the definition of grace, and grace is inherent to the definition of free will. The unqualified simple claim that grace is irresistible separates the concept of grace from that of free will. In truth, grace can only be given to created persons who have free will, and can only be understood in the light of free will. Grace is not a created thing, but rather it is an effect on the intellect and free will of created persons. Without free will, grace would not be grace. Prevenient grace makes the will of the created person truly free. Subsequent grace cooperates with this truly free will to do good, or not, in accord with a choice that is truly free.
Akin's error on predestination is to try to separate predestination from free will. This approach always fails. Either predestination occurs prior to free will, which nullifies free will (and this is Akin's approach), or free will occurs prior (i.e. logically prior) to predestination, which nullifies predestination. Neither approach is correct.
This same type of 'dilemma of when' occurred in early theological ideas about the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Some held that Mary was sanctified prior to her conception; others (including Aquinas) held that Mary was sanctified after her conception. Neither approach is correct. She could not have been sanctified prior to her conception, since she did not exist prior to her conception. And she could not have been sanctified after her conception because then she would not be sinless; original sin begins at conception. The solution to this dilemma is now the infallible teaching of the Church: that Mary was sanctified, not before or after, but in her conception.
The solution to the dilemma of the apparent conflict between predestination and free will is to understand free will as inherent to predestination. Free will does not occur logically prior to, nor subsequent to, predestination. Free will occurs within predestination (cf. CCC, n. 600). There are three aspects to the one concept of predestination: (1) the knowledge of God, (2) the work of grace, (3) the work of free will. Grace is not grace without free will, and free will is not truly free without grace. Therefore, any explanation of predestination cannot be doctrinally correct unless both grace and free will are united, in the knowledge and plan of God, in one concept. Like the Most Holy Trinity, predestination is three-yet-one. Any attempt to separate one aspect of predestination, such as free will, from the other two aspects, fails to be in accord with Catholic doctrine.
So, having misunderstood the role of free will in grace and in predestination, Akin finally reaches his discussion of the perseverance of the saints. And he incorporates his prior errors into this concept as well.
Akin: "If one defines 'saint' as one who will have his 'saintification' completed, a Catholic can say he believes in a 'perseverance of the saints' (all and only the people predestined to be saints will persevere). But because of the historic associations of the phrase it is advisable to make some change in it to avoid confusing the Thomist and Calvinist understandings of perseverance. Since in Catholic theology those who will persevere are called 'the predestined' or 'the elect,' one might replace 'perseverance of the saints' with 'perseverance of the predestined' or, better, with 'perseverance of the elect.'"
Yet again, Akin partially accepts a Calvinist error and incorporates it into what he claims is a tenable Catholic theological position. He advises against using the term. Why? because it has been historically used to describe a serious doctrinal error. And yet he incorporates that error, in part, into his soteriology.
How does a Christian reach eternal life? by obtaining the state of grace, ordinarily through the Sacrament of Baptism, and by remaining in that state of grace through the end of his life. And how does he remain in that state of grace? by the grace of final perseverance. In the Catholic view, the grace of final perseverance is obtained by the cooperation of the free will. For free will is inherent to the very definition of grace, and vise versa.
Catholics are taught to pray for the grace of final perseverance. But Akin's view nullifies the role of free will in final perseverance. He confounds the grace of final perseverance with his modified version of the Calvinist error called the perseverance of the saints. The result is that final perseverance is represented as depending only on a version of predestination lacking any decisive role for free will. And his explanation of the 'grace of final perseverance' also incorporates his errors on grace. So while the Church teaches that the Our Father prayer includes a petition for the grace of final perseverance (CCC, n. 2863), Akin's explanation makes such a prayer useless. His over-simplified view, which he holds in common with Calvinism, is that you are either predestined to final perseverance and eternal life, or you are not.
So, in Akin's view, if a person prays for final perseverance, but he is not predestined, there is no hope that his prayer will be granted. No hope at all. And if a person is predestined, then either he will necessarily pray for final perseverance, or he will not, but he will obtain it nonetheless. Again, this reveals the fundamental error on soteriology which pervades Akin's entire article: there is no decisive role for free will in salvation. And this error is found also in Calvinism; it is perhaps the most fundamental error in Calvinist soteriology.
Now let's consider what the Church teaches on final perseverance.
Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The children of our holy mother the Church rightly hope for the grace of final perseverance and the recompense of God their Father for the good works accomplished with his grace in communion with Jesus." (CCC, n. 2016).
All the children of the Church, i.e. all Christians and even non-Christians who have obtained the state of grace (by a Baptism of desire), can "rightly hope for the grace of final perseverance" and for their eternal reward with God. There would be no hope if final perseverance could not be obtained by the cooperation of free will with grace. There would be no hope if the final outcome of our lives is predetermined, so that the only role for free will in salvation is pre-scripted. Such is the conflict between Akin's semi-Calvinism and sound Catholic theology. Calvinism offers no hope to those who are not predestined. Catholicism offers hope to all persons because free will is inherent to predestination.
Notice that the CCC mentions the eternal recompense that the faithful will have in Heaven for their good works. In Akin's view, free will has no fundamental role in determining who is saved, and so all our works of prayer, self-denial, and mercy toward our neighbor have no hope of recompense in Heaven, unless we are Calvinistically predestined. But in the Catholic view, all our works of prayer, self-denial, and mercy toward our neighbor are acts of the free will in cooperation with grace. Therefore, all these works can truly contribute to our eternal salvation; they are part of our participation in our own salvation. And in such acts, we also participate with God in our own predestination, since genuine predestination is a combination of the knowledge of God, the grace of God, and our free choices. This view of predestination (and of final perseverance) offers hope. Not so in Akin's version.
Catechism of the Catholic Church: "When we say 'lead us not into temptation' we are asking God not to allow us to take the path that leads to sin. This petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength; it requests the grace of vigilance and final perseverance." (CCC, n. 2863).
The Church teaches us to pray for the grace of vigilance against sin and temptation, and for the grace of final perseverance. The faithful say this prayer, in a free response to grace, just as they do all their good works in a free response to grace. The petition is effective for all persons who, freed by grace, use that freedom to cooperate with grace unto eternal life. But if we take either a Calvinist or semi-Calvinist point of view, such a prayer for final perseverance is needless in the predestined, and useless in those who are not predestined. As is the case with all of the Protestant Reformers, with all who teach the false doctrine of 'Once Saved, Always Saved', neither prayer, nor good works have any decisive role in salvation. Akin's soteriology in effect takes a 'once saved, always saved' approach to predestination and to final perseverance.
The absence of hope throughout Akin's article is startling and appalling. Calvinism offers no hope because free will is given no pivotal role in salvation. Akin offers a modified version of Calvinism, which he thinks is fully Catholic, but which continues to omit free will from the ultimate determination as to who is saved. The result is a lack of hope for humanity: only the predestined will be saved. In the Catholic view, we participate with God in predestination. We are each entirely free and able to choose to cooperate with grace unto eternal life. In Akin's view, there is no hope for those whom God has inexplicably 'passed over' for predestination to eternal life.
This nullification of hope is contrary to Catholic teaching about "The hope which the Holy Spirit enkindles in the Christian…." (The Spirit: Pledge of Eschatological Hope, n. 3).
Pope John Paul II: "One further point should be made: life's earthly journey has an end which, if a person reaches it in friendship with God, coincides with the first moment of eternal bliss. Even, if in that passage to heaven, the soul must undergo the purification of its last impurities through purgatory, it is already filled with light, certitude and joy, because the person knows that he or she belongs forever to God. At this culminating moment the soul is led by the Holy Spirit, the author and giver not only of the justifying "first grace" and of sanctifying grace throughout one's earthly life, but also of the glorifying grace in the hour of death. It is the grace of final perseverance, according to the teaching of the Council of Orange (cf. DS 183, 199) and the Council of Trent (cf. DS 806, 809, 832). This is founded upon the teaching of the Apostle, according to which it is up to God "to desire and to work" good (Phil 2:13), and the person must pray in order to obtain the grace to do good until the end (cf. Rom 14:4; 1 Cor 10:12; Mt 10:22; 24:13)." (Pope John Paul II, The Spirit: Pledge of Eschatological Hope, General Audience 3 July 1991, n. 5)
Again, we see that the Church's approach to grace and eternal life always includes a fundamental and decisive role for free will. God acts in His grace, but we also act, hopefully toward the same end, with our free will. He gives us grace, so that we may freely choose to pray in cooperation with grace, and as a result of grace and free will, our eternal salvation is obtained; all this is known from eternity by God.
Pope Pius XI: "Receive, we beseech Thee, O most benign Jesus, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Reparatress, the voluntary homage of this expiation, and vouchsafe, by that great gift of final perseverance, to keep us most faithful until death in our duty and in Thy service, so that at length we may all come to that fatherland, where Thou with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest God for ever and ever. Amen." (Pope Pius XI, Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Reparation to the Sacred Heart, Miserentissimus Redemptor, Prayer of Reparation).
Final perseverance is a gift from God, but we must pray for that gift, as Pope Pius XI shows us by example in the above prayer. How can prayer make any difference when some are predestined and others are not? Because predestination includes all our free will decisions, including our cooperation with grace in prayer, in acts of self-denial, and in works of mercy.
Akin's article is a commentary on the five principles of Calvinist soteriology: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints. Rather than refuting each of these false doctrines, Akin re-tools each one in a manner that he supposes should make all five points now acceptable to faithful Catholics. But the end result is that Akin inserts serious doctrinal errors found in Calvinism into his version of a supposedly-Catholic soteriology.
Throughout his article, Akin attributes his misunderstandings in soteriology to Ss. Augustine and Aquinas. However, Akin views their writings by the false light of certain Calvinist errors, not in light of Catholic teaching. As a result, he uses those Saints to justify his union of Calvinist ideas with Catholic doctrine. Ironically, after repeatedly misinterpreting or misapplying the words of Augustine and Aquinas to justify certain points of Calvinist soteriology, Akin then criticizes Calvinists for doing the same thing.
Akin: "…but it did not sound strange to Augustine, Aquinas, or even Luther. Calvinists frequently cite these men as 'Calvinists before Calvin.' "
Akin several times makes the claim that a Catholic could believe, at least in part, each of the five Calvinist concepts about salvation. He also repeatedly presents various doctrinal errors in Calvinism as if these were the teachings of the Catholic Church. At the end of his article, he summarizes those five points (TULIP) and claims that "a Calvinist would not have to repudiate his understanding of predestination and grace to become Catholic." Akin's article puts these words into practice. His article does not repudiate the Calvinist understanding of predestination and grace. Instead, the article refines and modifies it, bending Calvinism to Catholicism, and vice versa.
Jimmy Akin's stated position in this article on predestination, grace, and salvation is not the same as the Calvinist position, but neither is it compatible with Catholic doctrine. Akin combines selected errors of Calvinism with some truths from Catholicism to form a strange amalgam that is neither fully Calvinist, nor fully Catholic. Akin's version of soteriology could be called semi-Calvinism. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church, especially at the Council of Trent, thoroughly rejected the Protestant Reformers' heretical understanding of salvation. But Akin partially accepts it, and calls it Catholic.
The Catholic view is that God offers salvation to all human persons. He wills that all persons be saved, but He also wills that we reach salvation, or not, by a choice that is truly free. He grants to us the grace needed to be truly free, and He humbly accepts our choice. All persons have all the graces, without any exception as to person or type of grace, needed for salvation -- if only they will freely choose to cooperate with grace.
Even the most wicked persons on earth continue to receive the prevenient grace of God. They are not merely offered grace, they are given and they certainly do receive prevenient grace. And this first grace then enables them to freely choose whether or not to cooperate with subsequent graces. Therefore, even the reprobate, who will eventually die in a state of actual mortal sin and be sent to Hell, even those persons have not only been offered salvation, but they have all actually received all graces needed for them to make an entirely free choice as to their salvation. Their loss of eternal life is entirely due to their own truly free choice. God willed them to be saved, and He omitted absolutely nothing needed for their salvation. The only omission, the sole omission that caused them to lose eternal life, was their truly free choice to omit cooperation with all that God offered them.
The reader is advised to regard Akin's article, 'A Tiptoe Through TULIP,' as an unsound and thoroughly incorrect explanation of Catholic teaching on salvation. That article teaches serious doctrinal errors on matters of faith, which rise to the level of heresy, in contradiction to the teachings of Tradition, Scripture and the Magisterium.
by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator
updated 23 November 2010
For more on the topic of Catholic soteriology, see chapter 30, 'Grace and Salvation,' in my book: The Catechism of Catholic Ethics