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The early Church and the free offer of the Gospel

See also

It is within the context of Augustine's debate with Pelagius over the free will of humankind that the question of free will comes to the fore. Pelagius held that man's will was not so damaged by the Fall that he could not choose God according to his own desire, whereas Augustine held that man's will is made so impotent by the Fall that it is necessary for God to regenerate man in order that man will irresistibly choose God. Furthermore, Augustine held that God only predestined a specific, definite number among mankind to make this choice, and that such an election was not based on anything in the man himself, but only according to God's sovereign desire and decree. Pelagianism, Hanko notes, was condemned by the Council of Carthage in 416 and then again in the Council of Ephesus in 431.

Hanko notes that many theologians took intermediate positions. He cites Cassian, who did not believe that the will was absolutely free the way that Pelagius did, but maintained against Augustine that the will was only weakened rather than rendered utterly impotent by the Fall.

Hanko notes the controversy surrounding Prosper's beliefs concerning unconditional election. As we have seen in our previous quotations, it is not always clear whether or not Prosper believed that God genuinely desires to save even the reprobate. Hanko goes further than this and notes that it is not quite clear what Prosper believed at all, and Hanko confirms our own suspicion that it was Prosper who introduced the distinction between what is now known as the distinction between a will of benevolence and a will of complacency. We will have occasion to look at some of Prosper's direct statements on this issue later.

There has always been some question whether Prosper in fact taught Semi-Pelagian views. This doubt arises from the fact that Prosper engaged in extensive correspondence with Augustine over these questions and was the chief means by which Augustine learned of the teachings of various theologians in Gaul. It is not always easy to tell from Prosper's correspondence whether he was expressing his own opinions or merely informing Augustine of what others taught and asking for more light on these matters.

However, it seems almost certain that he was not completely in agreement with the views of Augustine and that, especially towards the end of his life, he agreed substantially with the position which Cassian had taken. In fact, it is quite possible that he was responsible for advancing the views of Cassian in some respects. It is almost certain that Prosper is the one who introduced into the discussion the distinction in the will of God between one will which was universal and conditional, and another will which was particular and unconditional. Wanting in some sense to maintain the sovereignty of God in the work of grace and predestination, and yet committed to the idea of free will, he spoke of a will of God which was expressive of God's desire to save everyone, a will which was therefore, conditional; and a will which was particular and unconditional, limited, therefore, only to the elect and realized in the work of sovereign grace.

That Prosper was Semi-Pelagian in his views is substantiated by the contention of many that he is the author of a pamphlet which appeared at that time under the title: De Vocatione Omnium Gentium. This pamphlet dealt particularly with the aspect of grace as it related to the controversy. The author made a distinction between general grace and particular grace. General grace stands connected with general revelation in the sense that general revelation reveals this general grace of God to all. In fact, however, this general grace that comes through God’s revelation in creation is also inwardly applied to the heart of every man so that it becomes in man the origin of all religion. Particular grace, on the other hand, is given only to some and is necessary to salvation. The general grace, which all receive, is expressive of God's will that all be saved(Hanko)

Thus, this theology of common grace in the early church seems to have surfaced in the writings of Prosper. Whether or not he actually or finally accepted such views is anyone's guess, but he does seem to have at least broached such a possible distinction.

Hanko also refers to Faustus, whom he acknowledges was ordained a bishop in the 450s. Faustus taught that a general grace was given to everyone without distinction, and that this general grace caused unregenerate man to be able to freely choose God.

What is most disturbing, Hanko points out, is that many of the passages quoted by Semi-Pelagians against predestination in general, are precisely those quoted by advocates of common grace in favor of a well-meant offer. Hanko notes that the Council of Orange, convened in 529, condemned Pelagianism and offered a more, but not fully, Augustinian view of the state of man relative to salvation. Hanko concludes Chapter 1 of his work with the warning that belief in a non-efficacious saving attitude of God towards the reprobate has historically been associated with Pelagianism, and it is something which Augustine rejected. Indeed, those who typically advocated the well-meant offer did so precisely because they believed that God might actually save them, if only they would avail themselves of their God-given free will; and those like Augustine, Fulgentius and Caesarius, who denied it, typically did so because they denied that man had a free will by which they could choose Christ.

While the "Three Points" of common grace disputed within the CRC in 1924, which resulted in the formation of the PRC, is now well-known, the discussion has important historical pedigree. The Augustine/Pelagius debate is as good a place to begin a discussion of the debate concerning the doctrines of grace as any, and it's precisely where Hanko begins. While he notes that the free offer itself was not the point of the discussion. Indeed, even the anti-papal Roman Catholic group, which teaches that unconditional election represents the historic doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, note that many theologians considered important church writers by the Roman Catholic Church, rejected the notion that God wants everyone to be saved. It is from this website that the following quotes from Augustine, Prosper, Fulgentius, Aquinas and Caesarius are taken. They quote Augustine thus:

‘And so that which is said ‘God wills all men to be saved’ though he is unwilling that so many be saved, is said for this reason: that all who are saved, are not saved except by his will.’ (Epistle 217)

And what is written, that ‘he wills all men to be saved,’ while yet all men are not saved, may be understood in many ways, some of which I have mentioned in other writings of mine; but here I will say one thing: ‘he wills all men to be saved,’ is so said that all the predestinated may be understood by it, because every kind of man is among them. Just as it was said to the Pharisees, ‘Ye tithe every herb;’ where the expression is only to be understood of every herb that they had, for they did not tithe every herb which was found throughout the whole earth. According to the same manner of speaking, it was said, ‘even as I also please all men in all things.’ For did he who said this please also the multitude of his persecutors? But he pleased every kind of men that assembled in the Church of Christ, whether they were already established therein, or were to be introduced into it. (Rebuke and Grace 44)

That, therefore, in our ignorance of who shall be saved, God commands us to will that all to whom we preach this peace may be saved, and himself works this in us by diffusing that love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us, – may also thus be understood, that God ‘wills all men to be saved’, because he makes us to will this; just as ‘he sent the Spirit of his Son, crying, Abba, Father;’ that is, making us to cry, Abba, Father. Because, concerning that same Spirit, he says in another place, ‘we have received the Spirit of adoption, in whom we cry, Abba, Father!’ We therefore cry, but he is said to cry who makes us to cry. If, then, Scripture rightly said that the Spirit was crying by whom we are made to cry, it rightly also says that God wills, when by him we are made to will. (Rebuke and Grace 47)

Thus, Augustine clearly understands the language of universality as referring to intensive scope, not extensive. In other words, the universality refers not to everyone without exception, but everyone to whom it applies. He goes on to show that this is a manner of speaking that is perfectly scriptural and can be found elsewhere. Calvin likewise cites Augustine's comments on John 1:9:

This passage is commonly explained in two ways. Some restrict the phrase, every man, to those who, having been renewed by the Spirit of God, become partakers of the life-giving light. Augustine employs the comparison of a schoolmaster who, if he happen to be the only person who has a school in the town, will be called the teacher of all, though there be many persons that do not go to his school. They therefore understand the phrase in a comparative sense, that all are enlightened by Christ, because no man can boast of having obtained the light of life in any other way than by his grace(Calvin, on John 1:9). likewise cites Augustine on the invincible efficacy of God's will of decree:

Hence we must inquire in what sense is said of God what the apostle has mostly truly said: ‘who will have all men to be saved.’ For, as a matter of fact, not all, nor even a majority, are saved: so that it would seem that what God wills is not done, man’s will interfering with, and hindering the will of God. When we ask the reason why all men are not saved, the ordinary answer is: ‘because men themselves are not willing.’ This indeed cannot be said of infants, for it is not in their power either to will or not to will. But if we could attribute to their will the childish movements they make at baptism, when they make all the resistance they can, we should say that even they are not willing to be saved. Our Lord says plainly, however, in the Gospel, when upbraiding the impious city: ‘how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ as if the will of God had been overcome by the will of men, and when the weakest stood in the way with their want of will, the will of the strongest could not be carried out. And where is that omnipotence which hath done all that it pleased on earth and in heaven, if God willed to gather together the children of Jerusalem, and did not accomplish it? or rather, Jerusalem was not willing that her children should be gathered together? But even though she was unwilling, he gathered together as many of her children as he wished: for he does not will some things and do them, and will others and do them not; but ‘he hath done all that he pleased in heaven and in earth. (Enchiridion 97)

Augustine even explicitly addresses Matt. 23:37 in this text; a text to which those who affirm the well-meant offer frequently appeal in order to support their claims. Yet Augustine interprets it in a manner quite radically unlike theirs. What then, Augustine wonders aloud. Does this text speak of such an infirmity in God's will that His will to save them is impeded by other humans? God forbid. They quote Augustine further:

Accordingly, when we hear and read in scripture that he ‘will have all men to be saved,’ although we know well that all men are not saved, we are not on that account to restrict the omnipotence of God, but are rather to understand the scripture, ‘who will have all men to be saved,’ as meaning that no man is saved unless God wills his salvation: not that there is no man whose salvation he does not will, but that no man is saved apart from his will; and that, therefore, we should pray him to will our salvation, because if he will it, it must necessarily be accomplished. And it was of prayer to God that the apostle was speaking when he used this expression. And on the same principle we interpret the expression in the Gospel: ‘the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world:’ not that there is no man who is not enlightened, but that no man is enlightened except by him. Or, it is said, ‘who will have all men to be saved;’ not that there is no man whose salvation he does not will (for how, then, explain the fact that he was unwilling to work miracles in the presence of some who, he said, would have repented if he had worked them?), but that we are to understand by ‘all men,’ the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstances, – kings, subjects; noble, plebeian, high, low, learned, and unlearned; the sound in body, the feeble, the clever, the dull, the foolish, the rich, the poor, and those of middling circumstances; males, females, infants, boys, youths; young, middle-aged, and old men; of every tongue, of every fashion, of all arts, of all professions, with all the innumerable differences of will and conscience, and whatever else there is that makes a distinction among men. For which of all these classes is there out of which God does not will that men should be saved in all nations through his only-begotten Son, our Lord, and therefore does save them? For the Omnipotent cannot will in vain, whatsoever he may will. Now the apostle had enjoined that prayers should be made for all men, and had especially added, ‘for kings, and for all that are in authority,’ who might be supposed, in the pride and pomp of worldly station, to shrink from the humility of the Christian faith. Then saying, ‘for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our saviour,’ that is, that prayers should be made for such as these, he immediately adds, as if to remove any ground of despair, ‘who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.’ God, then, in his great condescension has judged it good to grant to the prayers of the humble the salvation of the exalted; and assuredly we have many examples of this. Our Lord, too, makes use of the same mode of speech in the Gospel, when he says to the Pharisees: ‘ye tithe mint, and rue, and every herb.’ For the Pharisees did not tithe what belonged to others, nor all the herbs of all the inhabitants of other lands. As, then, in this place we must understand by ‘every herb,’ every kind of herbs, so in the former passage we may understand by ‘all men,’ every sort of men. And we may interpret it in any other way we please, so long as we are not compelled to believe that the omnipotent God has willed anything to be done which was not done: for setting aside all ambiguities, if ‘he hath done all that he pleased in heaven and in earth,’ as the psalmist sings of him, he certainly did not will to do anything that he hath not done. (Enchiridion 103)

If faith is simply of free will, and is not given by God, why do we pray for those who will not believe, that they may believe? This it would be absolutely useless to do, unless we believe, with perfect propriety, that almighty God is able to turn to belief wills that are perverse and opposed to faith. […] Nor can we possibly, without extreme absurdity, maintain that there previously existed in any man the good merit of a good will, to entitle him to the removal of his stony heart, when all the while this very heart of stone signifies nothing else than a will of the hardest kind and such as is absolutely inflexible against God? For where a good will precedes, there is, of course, no longer a heart of stone. (Grace and Free Will 29, 30)

‘Why he does not teach all men the apostle explained, as far as he judged that it was to be explained, because, ‘willing to show his wrath, and to exhibit his power, he endured with much patience the vessels of wrath which were perfected for destruction; and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy which he has prepared for glory.’ Hence it is that the ‘word of the cross is foolishness to them that perish; but unto them that are saved it is the power of God.’ God teaches all such to come to Christ, for he wills all such to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And if he had willed to teach even those to whom the word of the cross is foolishness to come to Christ beyond all doubt these also would have come. For he neither deceives nor is deceived when he says, ‘every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to me.’’ (The Predestination of the Saints 14)

“21 Woe to thee, Corozain, woe to thee, Bethsaida: for if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes.
22 But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you.
23 And thou Capharnaum, shalt thou be exalted up to heaven? thou shalt go down even unto hell. For if in Sodom had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in thee, it would have remained unto this day.
24 But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” (St. Matthew 11)

“13 Woe to thee, Corozain, woe to thee, Bethsaida. For if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the mighty works that have been wrought in you, they would have done penance long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” (St. Luke 10)

‘Or, it is said, ‘who will have all men to be saved;’ not that there is no man whose salvation he does not will (for how, then, explain the fact that he was unwilling to work miracles in the presence of some who, he said, would have repented if he had worked them?), but that we are to understand by ‘all men,’ the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstances.’ (Enchiridion 103)

‘This is the predestination of the saints, – nothing else; to wit, the foreknowledge and the preparation of God’s gifts, whereby they are most certainly delivered, whoever they are that are delivered. But where are the rest left by the righteous divine judgment except in the mass of ruin, where the Tyrians and the Sidonians were left? who, moreover, might have believed if they had seen Christ’s wonderful miracles. But since it was not given to them to believe, the means of believing also were denied them. […] But what the Lord said of the Tyrians and Sidonians may perchance be understood in another way: that no one nevertheless comes to Christ unless it were given him, and that it is given to those who are chosen in him before the foundation of the world, he confesses beyond a doubt who hears the divine utterance. […] ‘To you,’ said he, ‘it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.’’ (The Gift of Perseverance 35)

‘Tyre and Sidon would not have been condemned, although more slightly than those cities in which, although they did not believe, wonderful works were done by Christ the Lord; because if they had been done in them, they would have repented in dust and ashes, as the utterances of the Truth declare, in which words of his the Lord Jesus shows to us the loftier mystery of predestination. […] But can we say that even the Tyrians and Sidonians would have refused to believe such mighty works done among them, or would not have believed them if they had been done, when the Lord himself bears witness to them that they would have repented with great humility if those signs of divine power had been done among them? And yet in the day of judgment they will be punished; although with a less punishment than those cities which would not believe the mighty works done in them.’ (The Gift of Perseverance 22, 23)

Let's note a few things in these texts of Augustine:

1) He understands God's "will" for the salvation of all men as referring to intensive scope, rather than to extensive scope.

2) He understands "all" as referring to all classes of people rather than to everyone without exception.

3) He makes no distinction between an efficacious saving will and a non-salvific saving will; or to use the language of those who accept common grace, he makes no distinction here between a will of benevolence, according to which God exhibits a generic kindness towards the reprobate without deigning to save them, and between a will of complacence, according to which He distributes His efficacious grace only to His elect. Indeed, such a distinction is utterly absent from the Augustine texts which we have just considered. And yet, is it not precisely the kind of distinction we would expect him to have made if he had accepted the well-meant offer, and the distinction which typically accompanies it? The silence is deafening. Augustine's distinction is the distinction of scripture, and it is a simple one: God either wills that a person be saved, and that person is irresistibly saved, or God does not will that the person is saved, and the person is not saved.

4) There does not seem to be any notion that God's will is in any sense divided or compound with respect to His predestination of the elect to salvation and His reprobation of the non-elect. God either saves the elect infallibly according to His own desire, or He does not save the reprobate at all because He simply has no desire to do so.

It is certainly possible that such a distinction can be found somewhere in Augustine's writings. I am not an Augustine scholar, but I am unable to found any texts in Augustine's writings which speak of such a distinction. The irony, of course, is that Augustine, a Roman Catholic saint, has a doctrine of God's will that emphasizes the sovereignty of God in election and reprobation more than many contemporary Calvinistic defenders of the notion of the free offer. The notion that God condemns the reprobate for going against the prescribed will of God, according to the decreed will of God, is admittedly counterintuitive, of course, and Augustine comments on this:

“…in a way unspeakably strange and wonderful, even what is done in opposition to His will does not defeat His will. For it would not be done did He not permit it (and of course His permission is not unwilling, but willing); nor would a Good Being permit evil to be done only that in His omnipotence He can turn evil into good.” Augustine, “On Faith, Hope and Love,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series, ed. P. Schaff (1888; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004), 3:269.

Yet even here, he notes that God's will of 'permission' of the sin of the reprobate is not a will of mere permission, but is as positive a desire as His will that the elect be saved. It is only in the writings of Prosper of Aquitaine, it seems to be, that we first have an example of one who accepts something like a non-salvific will of benevolence in God:

“…he who says that God will not have all men to be saved but only the fixed number of the predestined, speaks more harshly than we should speak of the depth of the unsearchable grace of God.” (Prosper of Aquitaine: Defense of St. Augustine, trans. by P. De letter [New York: Newman Press, 1963], 159.).

Apart from this, of course, Prosper was a thoroughgoing predestinarian:

‘What, then, about the trite objection from the Scripture text, ‘God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth?’ Only they who fail to see its meaning think it goes against us. All those who, from the past ages till today, died without having known God, are they of the number of ‘all men’? And if it is said, wrongly, that in the case of adults the evil works they did of their own free will were the obstacle to their salvation, as though grace saved the good and not the wicked, what difference in merit could there be between infants that are saved and others that are not? What is it that led the first into the kingdom of God, and what is it that kept the second out of it? Indeed, if you consider their merit, you cannot say that some of them merited to be saved; all of them deserved to be condemned, because all sinned in Adam’s sin. The unimpeachable justice of God would come down on all of them, did not his merciful grace take a certain number unto himself. As to inquiring into the reason and manner of this discrimination hidden in God’s secret counsel, this is above the ken of human knowledge, and our faith suffers no harm from not knowing it, provided we confess that no one is lost without his fault, and no one saved for his own merit, that the all-powerful goodness of God saves and instructs in the knowledge of the truth all those whom ‘he will have to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’. Save for his call, his teaching, his salvation, no man comes or learns or is saved. Though the preachers of the gospel are directed to preach to all men without distinction and to sow the seed of the word everywhere, yet ‘neither he that planteth is anything, nor he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase.’’ (Letter to Rufinus 13)

‘Or should we say that the wills of men obstruct the will of God, that those peoples are of such wild and fierce ways that the reason why they do not hear the gospel is that their ungodly hearts are not ready for its preaching? But who else changed the hearts of believers but he ‘who hath made the hearts of every one of them?’ Who softened the hardness of their hearts into willing obedience but he ‘who is able of these stones to raise up children of Abraham?’ And who will give the preachers intrepid and unshaken firmness but he who said to Paul: ‘Do not fear, but speak, and hold not thy peace, because I am with thee and no man shall set upon thee, to hurt thee. For I have much people in this city?’ […] For none other will have a share in the inheritance of Christ than those who before the creation of the world were elect, predestined, and foreknown, according to the counsel of him ‘who worketh all things according to the counsel of his will.’’ (Letter to Rufinus 15)

‘He who says that the Lord withholds from some men the message of the gospel, lest hearing it they be saved, can escape the odium of the objection by invoking the authority of the saviour himself. He did not want to work miracles among people who, he said, would have believed had they seen them. He forbade his apostles to preach to some nations, and he still allows other nations to live untouched by his grace.’ (Answers to the Gauls, qualification to article 10)

‘What, then, about the trite objection from the Scripture text, ‘God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth?’ Only they who fail to see its meaning think it goes against us. All those who, from the past ages till today, died without having known God, are they of the number of ‘all men’?’ (Letter to Rufinus 13)

Interestingly enough, there are texts in which he comments on 1 Timothy 2:4 which seem to contradict his previously stated position on the will of God for the salvation of the reprobate:

‘And again, at the very moment that the preachers of the gospel were sent out to all the nations, the apostles were forbidden to go to certain regions by him ‘who will have all men to he saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’, with the result, of course, that many, detained and going astray during this delay of the gospel, died without having known the truth and without having been sanctified in baptism. Let, then, holy scripture say what happened: ‘And when they had passed through Phrygia and the country of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia. And when they were come into Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not.’ Is there any wonder that at the very beginning of the preaching of the gospel the apostles could not go except where the Spirit of God wanted them to go, when even now we see that many of the nations only begin to have a share in the Christian grace, while others have not yet got a glimpse of that divine gift?’ (Letter to Rufinus 14)

Prosper, a faithful disciple of St. Augustine himself, seems in this passage to understand God's will that "all men" be saved as a reference to God's desire to save for Himself a people of every tribe, tongue and nation, and not a non-salvific desire for every man without distinction. So it is not clear to me that he is consistent in this respect. It is possible that he changed his views at some point, and it is also possible that he was simply unsure of which position or interpretation of the text to adopt.

St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, another Augustinian of the same time period, takes a position concerning God's will of salvation that is similar to that of Augustine:

‘Truly, by these ‘all persons’ whom God ‘wills to be saved’ are signified not the entire human race completely, but the entirety of all who are to be saved. And, likewise, they are called ‘all’ because divine goodness saves all those from humanity, that is, from every nation, condition, and age, from every language and from every province.’ (Epistle 17:61)

‘And so that we might know more fully who those ‘all’ are, let us listen to the words of the same blessed Peter who, speaking by the Holy Spirit, concluded that Joel’s prediction was fulfilled in the exhortation, where he says: ‘Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, and for your children, and for as many as the Lord our God will call.’ (Acts 2:38-9). And so he says ‘all,’ but also ‘as many as the Lord will call.’ Also, blessed Paul refers to them as ‘those called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).’ (Epistle 17:63)

‘All of the predestined are those whom God ‘wills to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.’’ (Epistle 15:15)

‘Therefore they are called ‘all’ because they are gathered from all kinds of persons, from all nations, from all conditions, from all masters, from all servants, from all kings, from all soldiers, from all provinces, from all languages, from all ages and from all classes. Thus ‘all’ are saved who God ‘wills to be saved.’’ (De Veritate 3:15)

‘No one of these [predestined] perishes. Because he who has done all things he wanted wants this, what he wants he always does invincibly. And so that is fulfilled in them which the unchangeable and invincible will of almighty God has, whose will, just as it cannot be changed in its plans, so neither is his power stopped or hindered in its execution.’ (De Remissione 2.2,2)

Whence our saviour reproves the malevolence of the unbelieving city with these words: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling?’ (St. Matthew 23:37) Christ said this to show its evil will by which it tried in vain to resist the invincible divine will, when God’s good will neither could be conquered by those whom it deserts nor could not be able to accomplish anything which it wanted. That Jerusalem, insofar as it attained to its will, did not wish its children to be gathered to the saviour, but he still gathered all whom he willed. In this it wanted to resist the omnipotent but was unable to because God who, as it is written, ‘Whatever the Lord pleases, he does’ (Psalm 135:6), converts to himself whomever he wills by a free justification, coming beforehand with his gift of superabounding grace on those whom he could justly damn if he wished.’ (De Remissione 2.2,3)

‘Since scripture testifies, ‘All things whatsoever he willed, he did’ (Psalm 115:3), there is nothing that he has willed and has not done. [...] For, it is evil for someone to say that the Omnipotent is not able to do something that he willed to do. […] ‘For just as the Father raises and gives life to the dead, so also the Son gives life to whom he wills’ (St. John 5:21). Those whom he wills to be given life are those whom he ‘wills to be saved.’ Therefore, just as he saves whom he wills, he also ‘gives life to whom he wills.’’ (Epistle 17:66)

‘For the power of God is not less than his will, and therefore he is found to will nothing which he is not able to bring about. [...] For, ‘the Lord did all things whatsoever he willed, in heaven and on earth, in the sea and in all the abyss’ (Psalm 135:6). Therefore, since he does all things whatsoever he willed even in the realm of people, whomsoever he ‘wills to be saved’, he makes saved.’ (De Veritate 3:14)

‘Surely the will of the omnipotent God is always fulfilled, because his power is absolutely invincible; for it is he who ‘did all things whatsoever he willed, in heaven and on earth, in the sea and in the abyss’, and whose will no one resists.’ (Epistle 15:15)

As in Augustine, he interprets "all" as referring to all kinds of people, rather than every single person without exception. I am unaware of any quotation in the extant works of Fulgentius which would support the notion that he believed that God possessed a non-salvific will of benevolence for the salvation of the reprobate. Indeed, his comment in De Remissione includes a comment strikingly similar to Augustine's own reading of the same text, in which he seems unaware of any interpretation of the text which would have God express a will that the reprobate be saved. This is quite remarkable, in light of the tendency of advocates of common grace to insist that this text speaks of such a thing. Note also that Fulgentius explicitly denies that God desires to save the reprobate:

‘For our saviour said, ‘No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son willed to reveal him’ (St. Matthew 11:27). In saying this he certainly shows that he wills to be revealed to some, and does not will to be revealed to others. How then is it said that he wills those to be saved to whom he did not will to reveal himself and his Father?’ (De Veritate 3:15)

‘‘To you it has been granted to know the mystery of the kingdom, but to those who are outside, everything is spoken in parables; so that seeing, those seeing should see but not see, and those hearing should hear but not understand; lest at any time they be converted and their sins be forgiven them’ (St. Mark 4:11-2). It thus appears that the Lord spoke to the multitudes, but nevertheless refused to open the mystery of the kingdom of heaven to them. Certainly in doing this, therefore, he did not will that his words be understood, because he did not will himself to be revealed in that mystery. [...] If therefore God generally ‘wills all persons to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’, how is it that the Truth himself denies the mystery of his knowledge from some?’ (De Veritate 3:16)

‘If the statement of the apostle is referring universally to all persons entirely, they [who believe this] will be compelled to pronounce that the holy evangelists are liars. For how is it that he who ‘wills all persons to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth’, did not will to give certain ones to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven? Surely if he wills to save all persons entirely, he certainly does not refuse anyone.’ (De Veritate 3:17)

‘‘To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.’ (St. Matthew 3:11) If the Truth willed that all persons would come to his knowledge, how is it that he refused to show them [the way] by which they would come? [...] How, therefore, does he will to come to his knowledge those whom he denies his knowledge? For what is it not to will to reveal the mystery of his knowledge except not to will to save? [...] Therefore he willed to be saved those to whom he gave to know the mystery of salvation; but he does not will to be saved those to whom he has denied the knowledge of the mystery of salvation.’ (De Veritate 3:18)

Like Augustine, Fulgentius seems totally unaware of any sort of theologically contrived distinction between a non-efficacious desire to save the reprobate vs. an efficacious desire by which he elects them. next cites St. Caesarius of Arles, whose sentiments are strikingly similar to those whom we have just reviewed:

‘Again, I ask you whether God in one day is able to make the whole world Catholic. If you say that he is not able, see how much evil you would presume to bring forth out of your mouth? If you say what is true, that he is able, do you presume to ask him why he does not do it, because without doubt he is able to? The apostle responds to you what was already said above: ‘O man, who are you to answer back to God?’ (Romans 9:20); and this: ‘O the depths of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God, how incomprehensible are his judgments!’ (Romans 11:33)

‘Perhaps you will say: ‘God indeed wills that all believe in him, but not all are willing.’ Why? Because they are not able without his grace. And at this point I ask you whether the human will is more able to contradict the divine will or whether the power of God is more able to convert human wills to itself. If you presume to deny this [latter assertion], the Psalmist cries out to you: ‘But our God in heaven on high did all things whatsoever he willed in heaven and on earth’ (Psalm 135:6); and the apostle says: ‘Who has resisted his will?’ (Romans 9:19) If he did all things whatsoever he willed, what he did not do, he certainly did not will, by a judgment hidden and also deep, and although incomprehensible nevertheless just.’ (On Grace)

‘But lifting yourself up in the most proud tribunal of your heart, you presume to judge God, saying: ‘why does he give grace to one and not give it to another?’ [...] And since our Lord and Saviour said in the Gospel that ‘if the miracles, which has been performed’ in Korazin, Bethsaida and Caupernaum, ‘had been performed in Tyre and Sidon and even in Sodom, they would have repented long ago sitting in sackcloth and ashes’ (St. Luke 10:13), ask him why he would perform miracles there, not only where he would not be believed but also where he would suffer persecution, and did not perform them there where they would have repented and believed? [...] And that which the Lord has said: ‘No one knows the Father except the Son and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal him.’ (St. Matthew 11:27) Say to him: ‘Why not to everyone, but only to whom he wills?’ And that which he again said: ‘Just as the Father raises and quickens the dead so also the Son quickens whom he wills’ (St. John 5:21). On this passage respond to him: ‘Why does he not quicken all, but only those whom he wills? Also argue with the Holy Spirit, why he does not breath on everyone, but only ‘where he wills’ (St. John 3:8), and why ‘he distributes to each one as he wills’ (I Corinthians 12:11).’ (On Grace)

Even the later St. Thomas Aquinas, in the midst of all the hair-splitting distinctions typical of Roman Catholic scholastics, does not seem to have taught a distinction between a will of benevolence and a will of complacence, in accordance with those who teach the well-meant offer. As thoroughgoing a predestinarian as St. Augustine, he simply taught that the elect are predestined to salvation according to God's will, and the reprobate are not. He seems totally unaware of the sort of hair-splitting distinction common among contemporary defenders of common grace:

The reason for the predestination of some, and reprobation of others, must be sought for in the goodness of God. Thus He is said to have made all things through His goodness, so that the divine goodness might be represented in things. Now it is necessary that God's goodness, which in itself is one and undivided, should be manifested in many ways in His creation; because creatures in themselves cannot attain to the simplicity of God. Thus it is that for the completion of the universe there are required different grades of being; some of which hold a high and some a low place in the universe. That this multiformity of grades may be preserved in things, God allows some evils, lest many good things should never happen, as was said above. Let us then consider the whole of the human race, as we consider the whole universe. God wills to manifest His goodness in men; in respect to those whom He predestines, by means of His mercy, as sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of His justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others. To this the Apostle refers, saying (Rm. 9:22,23): “What if God, willing to show His wrath (that is, the vengeance of His justice), and to make His power known, endured with much patience (allowed) vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction; that He might show the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He hath prepared unto glory”; and (2 Tim. 2:20): “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver; but also of wood and of earth; and some, indeed, unto honor, but some unto dishonor.”” (1, 23, 5)



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