In the Christian religion, there were historical divisions that occurred during the reign of the Catholic Church with its stronghold in Rome. These divisions led to the rise of the protestant faith, with the main groups being the Lutherans and the Calvinists. The dividing factor was mainly in the interpretation of predestination. This paper will explore the doctrine of predestination, as well as the views of Martin Luther and John Calvin regarding it.
Predestination is the belief that all events have been determined beforehand by deity. In its most regular form, it asserts that all past, present and future events are willed by God, who is omniscience, and seeks to address the idea of human free will as it relates to God’s control. In determinism, God can see the future but may not direct what will happen then. Most major religions have in their doctrine some forms of pre-destination including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Judaism, however, disagrees that there is some incompatibility between free will and predestination, thereby rejecting the idea of predestination in their doctrines.
The Catholic encyclopedia describes predestination as the absolute will of God as the only cause of salvation or damnation of a person, without regards to his good deeds or bad. It also denies the freedom of free will under the influence of efficacious grace and the drive towards sin as a result of the absence of grace.
Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Esisleben, Germany. He was initially baptized as a Catholic but later became a monk. He was a professor of theology, a priest, and an icon during the times of the protestant reformation. He strongly disputed the contemporary belief that God’s punishment for sin could be abated with money. His doctrines strongly challenged the authorities of the Pope and the Roman emperors, leading to his excommunication by the sitting Pope and condemnation by the emperor then. Luther made very significant contributions to advancement of Christian faith through translations of the Bible into vernacular languages as opposed to Latin, as was earlier done. He also aided in the translation of the King James Version into English.
In his radical shift from the traditional Catholic doctrines, Luther married Katharina Von Bora, setting a precedent that allowed clerical marriage in protestant denominations to date. Apart from this, Luther came to interpret various Catholic doctrines in new controversial ways, leading to a fall-out between him and the church.
Initially a Catholic, Luther later went against some Catholic doctrines sparking controversies with the papacy as well as the Roman Emperor. Pope Leo X in 1520 demanded him to retract his writings regarding church procedures and beliefs but he declined, earning his excommunication by the Pope. Luther held that good deeds alone were insufficient to earn one salvation, stating that salvation was only possible as an act of God’s grace through faith in Christ.
John Calvin was a French theologian born in 1509. He was a key figure during the protestant reformation. The Christian theological concepts later called Calvinism were developed after him. He fled to Switzerland after an uprising in France, from where he was later expelled in relation to his religious views. He spent much of his time promoting Christian reformation in Geneva and the greater Europe. In his time he wrote many Bible commentaries, confessionals, and theological treatises. The Augustinian tradition greatly influenced Calvin, leading him to expound the predestination doctrine and the sovereignty of God in saving man’s soul from death and damnation. He studied Latin in Paris, and then went to the College De Montaigu to study philosophy. In 1525, he withdrew from the college and was enrolled in the University of Orleans where he studied law.
Calvin’s Religious Inclinations
Calvin’s self-account states that he encountered a religious conversion in 1533. As his commentary on the book of Psalms indicates so that the completed change of mind was brought about by God. So thorough was the shift of mind that, as Calvin states, though he did not abandon other studies, Calvin did not henceforth pursue them with much ardor. The two churches that owe much of their theological framework to Calvin are the Reformed and the Presbyterian churches.
Calvin’s Position on Predestination
Institutes of Christian Religion
This was Calvin’s first major work in which he expressed his views on Christianity. The first edition was done in 1536 and had four books. Book one explored the element of God as the creator, book two was on the redeemer as Christ, book three was with regard to receiving grace of Christ through the Holy Spirit and book four was on “The Society of Christ”, which is also the church. In his starting doctrines, Calvin states that humanity cannot inherently discover knowledge of God. He asserts that knowledge of God can only be obtained from studying the scriptures and that the scripture’s powers are self-authenticating, needing no proof. He asserts in the final part of book one that, as regards providence, God in his providence made the world. He cherishes the world and his providence rules all its parts.
He asserts that humans are unable to understand what God does, and that all human actions, good or bad, happen to fulfill God’s will and judgment.This concept is a strong case of predestination. That man is not only unable to discern the actions of God, but also that any act of man happens to fulfill God’s will. The will of God, therefore, predetermines man actions. The second book focuses on the origin of sin, which also was the downfall on man. It cites the garden of Aden as the place of Adam’s fall, as well as the beginning of dominion of sin over man, so that man is now inherently inclined to do evil. He then makes reference to the Apostles Creed in which Christ intervenes between fallen mankind and God, bridging the gap that existed through sin between god and man.
The third book offers yet a stronger case of predestination in the way God judge’s man. He first defines faith as the knowledge of God through Christ. He points to repentance, remission of sin and then regeneration as the process of reconciliation between God and man. The process of justification into righteousness (purity from sin), however, is God’s alone. According to Calvin, man is unable to attain purity by himself, therefore, God in his sovereignty and grace accepts the justified man into grace. Augustine’s doctrine of predestination comes out clearly towards the end of the third book when Calvin defends the Augustine’s point of view regarding God’s powers. In Calvin’s own words regarding predestination, “God adopts some people to the hope of life while He judges others to eternal death”.
His final book was not very focused on predestination. In it, however, he did mention his view as regards the ecumenical councils. He did not dispute their authority, but stressed that their work is subject to God’s word and scriptural teachings. In this statement he acknowledges the undoubted and undisputed sovereignty of God’s word as well as the necessary alignment of all other works to fit the will of God, contained in his word. Therefore in a way this book also endorses his belief in predestination. Calvin also states that the scriptures have a “divine majesty that subdues our presumptuous opposition and forces us to do its homage” .He states that the scriptures speaks with a voice that is unified, and that the parts of the scriptures make a whole which is in complete harmony. These statements clearly indicate a firm belief that God, through his words as in the scriptures, works through predestination especially through the words “forces us to do its homage”.
According to the Catholic encyclopedia, so stringent was Calvin’s affirmation regarding predestination that some hitherto strict Calvinists disagreed with Calvin’s assertion indicating God had predestined some to eternal grace, yet others to eternal wrath which, in their view, placed God’s glory above his sanctity. In his Decree of reprobation, Calvin mentions that God created some as vessels of mercy and others as vessels of wrath. Calvin does not deny existence of man’s free will in the original paradise, but attributes the fall of Adam an absolute decree of God in book one, chapter fifteen, line eight.
Martin Luther’s View on Predestination
In a famous quote, Martin Luther stated that "All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment; whereby it was foreordained who should receive the word of life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; and who should be justified and who should be condemned.". From these words, it was clear that Luther was also a firm believer in predestination. Martin Luther taught against being ignorant in faith. He stated that the chief comfort of Christians in every adversity is found in knowing that God cannot lie, but that he brings all things immutably to pass, and his will cannot be impeded, altered, or resisted. As such was the belief of Luther in predestination as a source of comfort for Christians.
In the work Sola Fide, Luther states that justification of a sinner into righteousness is done by God alone through faith and nothing else. His stronghold of a new faith was founded on the one belief that salvation is a gift of the Grace of God, attainable though faith in Christ Jesus. In 1525, he published the work On The Bondage of Will in which he touches on predestination as he expounds on the biblical book of Ephesians 2:8-10. Luther disputed the famous belief that acts of righteousness were done in cooperation with God. He stated that all acts of righteousness, and justification of sinners into purity, are solely acts of God with no involvement of man. The sole linkage between God and man in the justification is faith in Christ, which was the only requirement that man needed to fulfill.
In response to Johannes Agricola sermons and theses drawn in 1538 and suggesting that Christians be exempted from teachings of the Ten Commandments, Luther makes reference to certain theories that show his belief in predestination. He said that that the commandments, when seen as an expression of God’s eternal will and not condemning judgment offer a necessary guidance to how Christians should live. This statement points to Luther’s inclination towards the unquestionable superiority of God’s will. As regards predestination, Luther mentions to a clear point on the pre-ordainment of the souls to receive God’s mercy. His works “On the Bondage of Will” did not expressly mention God’s intended purpose to destroy those people not chosen to receive mercy. However, it talks about condemnation but fails to mention the end result of the condemnation.
Comparing Luther’s and Calvin’s Perceptions of Predestination
Both Luther and Calvin were strong believers in predestination. They believed that God, through his word in the scriptures, determined the future of man. It also emerges that both men believed that whatever man can do lies within the preordained mindset of God. However, there arise differences as regards the nature of the predestination and the degrees of freedom of man in choosing his destiny.
Single and Double Predestination
While Calvinism is associated with double predestination, involving the choosing of the people to receive the word of life as the first one and the choosing of the ones destined for condemnation and punishment as the second predestination, Lutheranism only seems to assert that there will be those preordained for salvation and those preordained for condemnation without stating anything on punishment of the later group. Again, Luther, as with today’s Lutherans, disagrees on the belief that predestination is the source of salvation. To Luther, salvation was made possible only due to the death of Christ and justification of sinners into righteousness is made possible only due to God’s grace, through faith in Christ. Calvinism is associated with belief that some people are predestined to eternal damnation, while Lutheranism associates damnation as the end result of lack of repentance from sin, unbelief, and rejection of forgiveness.
Calvin’s doctrines are richly drawn from the Biblical book of Romans 9:19-23, which speaks extensively of God’s preordained vessels. In these verses, scriptures talk about God’s unquestionable power, comparable only to a molder and his molded works. It relates the helplessness of man with the situation of the molded vessel, which may not question its maker. It outlines the presence of vessels of wrath- prepared for destruction, as well as vessels of mercy- prepared for glory. Even though there is no clear statement directly implying that Calvin meant judgment and destruction is inevitable for some people no matter what they do, it is clear that his doctrines were much more encompassing of such a belief than were those of Luther, whose main emphasis was on justification of a sinner and insufficiency of man’s efforts – but not on the presence or the severity of punishment.
Both Calvin and Luther assert that works are insufficient to secure man’s salvation. However, Calvin’s theory is less emphatic of the uselessness of works and virtues as a gateway to the appointment into being a vessel of mercy. On the other hand, Luther’s principal argument is built on the emphasis of the insufficiencies of one’s merit as an appointment procedure to be the chosen vessels of mercy. Asserting instead that only through God’s grace people are saved. Luther’s views are more directly in line with most scriptural teachings regarding salvation, the most important verse being Ephesians 2:8-10. Another similarity between Luther and Calvin is their emphasis of faith and believe in Christ as the paramount requirement of a Christian. In Calvin’s work, faith takes a center stage as a replacement for deeds or works in the pursuit for justification. The same approach is taken by Luther.
Both John Calvin and Martin Luther were very important icons in the protestant reforms that brought about a major split in the Catholic doctrines as well as the flourishing of other branches of Christian faith. Even though much of their doctrines are very similar, there still existed deep fundamental differences between their ideologies. This has led to the rise of operationally different denominations of religion. The religious views associated with Luther, bore the Lutherans while those associated with Calvin gave rise to the Calvinism beliefs. Predestination was a profound link between them and a driving factor for each of them. However, the contention regarding single or double predestination has remained a fundamental division line between the two scholars and the millions of religious followers inspired by their work.