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The Mystery of Predestination in Christ

1986, May 28

General Audience

The question about one's own destiny is a deep concern of the human heart. It is a great, difficult, but decisive question: "What will happen to me tomorrow?" There is the risk that mistaken replies may lead to forms of fatalism, desperation, or even a proud and false sense of security. "Fool! This night your soul is required of you," God warns (Lk 11:20). But the inexhaustible grace of divine Providence is manifested precisely here. Jesus provides an essential light. Speaking of divine Providence in the Sermon on the Mount, he ended with the following exhortation: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well" (Mt 6:33; cf. also Lk 12:31). In the previous catechesis we reflected on the profound relation between God's Providence and human freedom. Jesus addresses the words on the kingdom of God and on the necessity of seeking it above everything else precisely to man, first of all to man, created in the image of God.

This link between Providence and the mystery of the kingdom of God directs our thought to the truth of man's destiny-his predestination in Christ. The predestination of man and of the world in Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, confers on the whole doctrine of divine Providence a decisive soteriological and eschatological characteristic. The Divine Master himself indicated it in his conversation with Nicodemus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).

These words of Jesus constitute the nucleus of the doctrine on predestination, which we find in the teaching of the apostles and especially in St. Paul's letters.

We read in the Letter to the Ephesians:

"God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love, having destined us to be his children through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace" (Eph 1:3-6).

These luminous statements explain authentically and authoritatively what predestination consists in. (Christian terminology calls this "predestination" from the Latin term praedestinatio.) It is important to clarify this term from those erroneous or even imprecise and non-essential meanings which have entered into common use-predestination as a synonym for "blind fate" or the capricious "anger" of an envious divinity. In divine revelation the word "predestination" means God's eternal choice, a paternal, intelligent and positive choice, a choice prompted by love.

Together with the decision that puts it into effect, namely, the plan of creation and redemption, this choice pertains to the intimate life of the most Holy Trinity. It is made from eternity by the Father together with the Son in the Holy Spirit. It is a choice which, according to St. Paul, precedes the creation of the world, ("before the foundation of the world," Eph 1:4), and of humanity in the world. Even before being created, man is "chosen" by God. This choice takes place in the eternal Son ("in him," Eph 1:4), that is, in the Word of the eternal Mind. Man is chosen in the Son to participate in the same sonship by divine adoption. The essence of the mystery of predestination consists in this. It manifests the Father's eternal love ("in love, having destined us to be his sons through Jesus Christ," Eph 1:4-5). Predestination contains man's eternal vocation to participate in the very nature of God. It is a vocation to holiness, through the grace of adoption as sons ("to be holy and blameless before him" Eph 1:4).

In this sense predestination precedes "the foundation of the world," namely, creation, since creation is realized in the perspective of man's predestination. By applying the temporal analogies of human language to the divine life, we can say that God "first" willed to communicate himself in his divinity to the human race, called to be his image and likeness in the created world. "First," he chose man, in the eternal and consubstantial Son, to participate in his sonship through grace. Only "afterward" ("in its turn") God willed creation; he willed the world to which humanity belongs. In this way the mystery of predestination enters "organically" in a certain sense into the whole plan of divine Providence. The revelation of this plan opens up before us the perspective of the kingdom of God and leads us to the heart of this kingdom, where we discover the ultimate finality of creation.

We read in the Letter to the Colossians: "With joy give thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col 1:12-14). God's kingdom is the kingdom of the "beloved Son" in the eternal plan of the Triune God. This is so particularly because the "redemption" and "the remission of sins" is accomplished through the Son. The Apostle's words allude also to human "sin." Predestination, that is, adoption as sons of the eternal Son, operates therefore not only in relation to the creation of the world, but in relation to the redemption, carried out by the Son, Jesus Christ. Redemption becomes the expression of Providence, that is, of the solicitous governance which God the Father exercises particularly in regard to creatures endowed with freedom.

In the Letter to the Colossians we find that the truth of "predestination" in Christ is closely connected with the truth of "creation in Christ." St. Paul wrote: "He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created..." (Col 1:15-16). Thus, the world created in Christ the eternal Son, bears in itself from the beginning, as the first gift of Providence, the call, or the pledge of predestination in Christ. The finality of the world is joined to this, as the fulfillment of the definite eschatological salvation, and first of all of humanity. "For in him [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Col 1:19). The fulfillment of the finality of the world, and especially of man, takes place precisely by means of this fullness which is in Christ. Christ is the fullness. That finality of the world is fulfilled in him in a certain sense. According to it, divine Providence cares for and governs the things of the world, and in particular, man in the world, his life and his history.

Thus we understand another fundamental aspect of divine Providence-its salvific finality. God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4). In this perspective it is only right to broaden a certain naturalistic concept of Providence, limited to the good government of physical nature or even of natural moral behavior. In actual fact, divine Providence is expressed in the attainment of the ends which correspond to the eternal plan of salvation. In this process, thanks to the "fullness" of Christ, in him and through him sin is overcome. Sin is essentially opposed to the salvific finality of the world, to the definitive fulfillment which the world and humanity find in God. Speaking of the fullness which has taken up its abode in Christ, the Apostle proclaimed: "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Col 1:19-20).

Against the background of these reflections drawn from St. Paul's letters, Christ's exhortation becomes more intelligible, that is, in regard to the Providence of the heavenly Father which embraces everything (cf. Mt 6:33-34 and also Lk 12:22-31). He says: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well" (Mt 6:33; cf. Lk 12:31). With that "first" Jesus wishes to indicate what God himself wills "first"-that which is his first intention in the creation of the world, and at the same time the final end of the world itself. This is "the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (the righteousness of God). The whole world was created in view of this kingdom, so that it would become a reality in man and in history. By means of this "kingdom" and of this "righteousness," that eternal predestination which the world and man have in Christ may be fulfilled.

St. Peter's words correspond to this Pauline vision of predestination:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are guarded through faith for a salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet 1:3-5).

Truly "blessed be God," who reveals to us how his Providence is his untiring, solicitous intervention for our salvation. It is indefatigably at work until we shall reach "the last time." Then, "the predestination in Christ" of the beginning will be definitively accomplished "through the resurrection in Jesus Christ," who is "the Alpha and the Omega" of our human history (Rv 1:8).