Steve Dulwich


Luther and Erasmus and the freedom of the will: The debate over the bondage of the will (1523-25).



Luther could not have foreseen the full implications of the matters he was raising when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, in order to raise scholarly questions for debate in a scholastic manner.  He was presenting a theological argument against the suggested inherent worth of Tetzel’s indulgences.  The central doctrine of Luther’s Theses was “justification by faith alone.”  The bitter controversy that followed forced Luther to develop a deeper understanding of the doctrine, which made him more assertive in his stand for “faith alone.”  His translation of Romans is characterised by the verse “Being therefore justified by faith alone,” (Romans 5:1), in which he added the word “alone”. This understanding of justification removed the ability of an individual to perform any action that can assist in being justified other than having faith.  This is where we arrive at the controversy between predestination and freewill.  Faith becomes a work if it is dependent upon freewill, but if it is “grace alone” that produces faith then the only explanation that accounts for why one person receives it and another does not is the predestined will of God. Luther held that justification was by grace through faith alone.   It was a declaration of the sovereignty of God and the impotence of man in salvation.   


But this was not merely textbook theology, the passion that was characteristic of Luther the theologian had been born out of his personal quest for salvation, and his desire to understand the meaning of the righteousness of God in relationship to the sinfulness of man.   The Bondage of the Will (1525) is the pinnacle of that quest.  It is Luther on Mount Nebo (Deut 34:1) looking over at the Promised Land of the sovereignty of God in the work of salvation. Erasmus, on the other hand, did not face the theological struggle that Luther encountered.  He held practical Christianity to be all-important, not theology. In contrast to Luther, his reasoning remained extremely consistent throughout his life.  The influence of the devotio moderna and the book attributed to Thomas à Kempis The Imitation of Christ was always evident.  His defence of freewill against Luther is the work of a Christian Humanist defending the necessity of practical Christianity.  Theologically it is an inferior work to Luther, but Erasmus is not on the mountain with Luther looking at great theological truth, he is among the people looking for the fulfilment of Christianity in moral behaviour.  It is the purpose of this dissertation to ascertain the historical background to the positions held by Erasmus and Luther concerning freewill; to understand their positions in the debate; and to see how the doctrine of predestination and freewill developed within the Church afterwards.


The major influences in Luther’s theology were the scriptures and the writings of Augustine (354 – 430).[1]   In order to understand the development of Luther’s theological position concerning freewill and predestination, it is necessary to consider the dispute between Augustine and Pelagius in the 5th century. The views of Augustine were not produced through the Pelagian controversy as he had already “published them before the Pelagian heresy existed.”[2] But it appears that Augustine became more predestinarian following the dispute because his earlier writings placed greater emphasis upon freewill, and were not as deterministic as his anti-Pelagian tracts.[3]  Tabletalk quotes Luther as saying, “In his controversy with the Pelagians, Augustine became a strong and faithful defender of grace.”[4]


Augustine’s position concerning the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man is summarised by the words he wrote in his  Confessions; “Give what thou commandest and command what thou wilt.”[5]  Pelagius was angered by these words when he heard them expressed in Rome by an associate of Augustine. They reveal  Augustine’s pessimistic view of human nature, by the implication that  mankind is incapable of obeying God’s commands without divine empowerment.  Augustine maintained that the fall of Adam was responsible for mankind’s sinful condition and evil actions were the consequence of an inherent sinful nature.  He wrote,  From him (Adam) … all are sinners, because we are all produced from him.”[6]  In other words a persons sinful actions are held to be the consequence of his or her sinful nature; we are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.  Augustine was not advocating the total depravity of man as Calvin did, but human beings were seen to be enslaved by their sinful nature, and not free agents as Pelagius asserted.  As mankind is depraved by original sin, individuals are incapable of gaining salvation by their own efforts.  It is the merciful nature of God that predestined a remnant to be the beneficiaries of salvation through faith in the work of His Son.  Repentance is seen to be a work of grace[7] as “no man can come …except the Father…draw him.” (John 6:44, KJV)  Augustine’s emphasis on grace is signified by the label associated with him, doctor gratiae.[8]  This designation was also applicable to Luther whose Reformation doctrine was built upon this emphasis. 


Luther followed Augustine in differentiating between the “revealed will” of God and the “hidden will”.  Augustine called the hidden will of God “voluntus omnipotentissimaand wrote that “Evil men do many things contrary to God’s revealed will, but so great is His wisdom, and so inviolable His truth, that he directs all things into those channels which he foreknew.”[9]  According to Augustine, the hidden will of God, unlike the revealed will, cannot be violated.   In other words although the precepts of God revealed in the scriptures can be disobeyed, neither evil nor good actions can affect in any way the predestined will of God.  This is described in Scripture concerning Pharoah, “Even for this same purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that My name might be declared in all the earth,” (Rom 9:17 NKJV).  Pharoah’s disobedience against the revealed will of God in refusing to let Israel leave Egypt, ultimately resulted in the fulfilment of the hidden will of God, the Passover. 


The British monk Pelagius (c.383 - 409/19) opposed the teachings of Augustine concerning human freedom.  He held an optimistic view of human nature, and his moralistic teaching placed emphasis upon man’s outward actions.  His ‘Letter to Demetrias’ expressed his scorn for the position of Augustine by suggesting that “God would be guilty of twofold ignorance: of not knowing  what he has made, and not knowing  what he has commanded.”[10]  He denied that mankind did not possess the ability to obey the scriptures, he wrote “He has not willed to command anything impossible, for he is righteous; and he will not condemn a man for what he could not help, for he is holy.”[11]  He saw the fulfilment of Christianity in terms of doing works meritorious of salvation. He held the belief that man is capable of avoiding eternal punishment through his own reason and free will, making the individual entirely responsible for his or her own salvation.  Pelagianism’s emphasis on moral behaviour meant that the example of Christ was esteemed of primary importance and Christianity was viewed as the “imitation of Christ.” [12]  This concept is consistent with the teaching of the devotio moderna in the 14th and 15th centuries, and that upheld by Erasmus in his debate with Luther.


The position held by the Catholic Church for the millennium from Augustine to the Reformation varied between a semi-Augustinian and a semi-Pelagian position.    Predestination was accepted, but double predestination, also called predestinarianism, was rejected.  Jerome (347-420) wrote his “finest controversial work”[13] against Pelagius called Dialogi contra Pelagianos in 415.   The position Jerome took was the view known as synergism where both the freewill of man and the sovereignty of God are co-active in salvation.[14]  Synergism is very relevant to the development of Melanchthon’s theology and consequently that of the Lutheran Church.  The Council of Orange in 529 also upheld that grace and freewill work together in salvation, but the doctrines of irresistible grace and the predestination of the reprobate were rejected.  It asserted that “grace having been received in baptism, all who have been baptised, can and ought, by the aid and support of Christ, to perform those things which belong to the salvation of the soul, if they will labour faithfully.”[15]


Pope Gregory (540-604) maintained a semi-Augustinian position in which he held the predestination of the elect to be synonymous with the foreknowledge of God.  This appears to be consistent with the Apostle Peter who wrote “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:2, KJV). Gregory accepted Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, and asserted that this was overcome through baptism.  But “works of merit” and penance were also necessary to make satisfaction for sins after baptism.  These works were considered to be both the works of God through prevenient grace, and the works of man’s will.[16]   The Councils of Quiercy (849 and 853) rejected the teachings of the monk Gottschalk who advocated the doctrine of predestinarianism.  The Council accepted the doctrine of  the predestination of some to salvation,” but rejected double predestination by stating that “the doom of others to everlasting punishment” was  “in consequence of Divine foreknowledge.”[17]  By associating the predestination of the reprobate to the foreknowledge of God, man’s freewill was made relevant and the individual person could therefore be held responsible for his or her own damnation.  


The Thomist school upheld a “negative reprobation.”  This is the view that only the elect are predestined, and that the non-elect are allowed by “the Divine Resolve” to commit sinful actions.  The reprobate are held to be responsible for their deeds, and their salvation is ascertained to be lost through the actions of their own freewill.  Although the Thomists rejected double predestination, it is extremely unclear how this view differentiated from it. The Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott states that “it is difficult to find an intrinsic concordance between unconditioned non-election and the universality of the Divine Resolve of salvation.”[18] 


But the pendulum swung back towards Pelagius with the theology of William of Occam (c.1280/1300-1349), and the rise of Nominalism in the mid 14th century.    This “new way,” via moderna, opposed the necessitarianism of the Realists and maintained that actions were contingent.  Their optimistic view of human nature promoted moral behaviour as salvific not through inherent worth, but by means of a covenant between God and man.[19]  Theologians, like Gabriel Biel (c.1410-1495) adopted a theology concerning justification in which they held works to be of little value in themselves, but that God treated them as if they were.  The analogy was made between money that was treated as worth a certain amount regardless of its inherent value.[20]  This is a semi-Pelagian position because although they asserted works to be essential towards salvation, unlike Pelagius, they acknowledged that the works themselves did not merit justification.  The development of Luther’s theology concerning justification was greatly influenced by the via moderna.  The University of Erfurt where Luther studied (1501-5) upheld this view.  When Luther began lecturing on the scriptures in 1513, he still maintained that works were rewarded by grace on the basis of a covenant between God and mankind.[21]


Although Nominalism was associated with the via moderna, there arose another school within Nominalism in reaction against the emphasis on freewill of the via moderna called the schola Augustiniana moderna.[22] Thomas Bradwardine (c.1290-1349) associated the via moderna with Pelagianism and promoted the anti-Pelagian views of Augustine at Oxford through his book De causa Dei contra Pelagium.  His views were upheld and developed by John Wycliffe (c.1326-1384) and propagated by the Lollards in the 15th and 16th centuries. Gregory of Rimini (c.1290-1358) promoted the views of Bradwardine within the Augustinian Order.[23] Heiko A Oberman’s upholds the hypothesis that Luther’s theological understanding came through the influence of the schola Augustiniana moderna,[24] but McGrath refutes Oberman’s hypothesis.   However, these views were definitely being propagated in Augustinian circles, and the dispute between Luther and Erasmus (1523–25) over the freedom of the will was a debate that was rooted in the theological differences of the via moderna and the schola Augustiniana moderna.[25]


The Brethren of Common Life, founded by Gerhard Groote (1340 – 1384), was a major influence that was evident throughout the life of Erasmus.  Their view of the Christian life is expressed in Thomas à Kempis (1379 –1471) “Imitation of Christ.” A Christian is shown to be a person who chooses to emulate Christ, and practical Christianity is held to be more important than doctrine.  Purity of life and devotion to Christ are seen as the supreme objective of Christianity rather than ritual and outward ceremonies. Although the teaching follows Pelagius in seeing Christ as an example to follow, it is not Pelagian because it also upholds that both grace and freewill are necessary in order to live a life that reflects the life of Christ as portrayed in the gospels.  It is this viewpoint that Erasmus is defending in his book De Libero Arbitrio (1524).


The influence  of the Theologia Deutsch is evident in Luther’s De Servo Arbitrio (1525).   He published  two editions (1516 and 1518), and wrote in his preface, "Next to the Bible and St. Augustine, no book has ever come into my hands from which I have learnt more of God and Christ, and man and all things that are."[26]  Concerning the “freedom of the will” the Theologia Deutsch states,  Wherever there is a man in whom the will is not enslaved, but continueth noble and free, there is a true freeman not in bondage to any, one of those to whom Christ said: "The truth shall make you free"; and immediately after, he saith: "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:32).[27]  Freewill is associated only with those who are Christians, and freedom of will is the freedom to obey God.  This is embodied within Luther’s argument of De Servo Arbitrio (1525).


Erasmus wrote his “The Freedom of the Will,” De Libero Arbitrio, as a response to Luther’s “Assertio” (1523), and Luther answered with probably his greatest theological work, The Bondage of the Will”, De Servo Arbitrio.  Erasmus defined freewill “as a power of the human will by which a man may apply himself to those things that lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from the same.”[28] He argues how can a person be held responsible for obeying the commandments of God unless he or she has freedom of choice. “What would be the point of such an exhortation, to turn and come, if those who are in question have no such power in themselves?”[29] This is a very similar argument made by Pelagius in his ‘Letter to Demetrias’ against Augustine.


Luther is not surprisingly extremely contemptuous of Erasmus regarding De Libero Arbitrio.  This was not only due to the argument presented regarding freewill, but also because Erasmus denounced asserting truth, or speaking against church councils even if they are wrong, and considered that the word of councils, fathers and popes are more reliable than an individual like Luther. The definition of Erasmus concerning freewill is firmly rejected with the assertion that “in regard to matters of salvation or damnation, a man has no free choice.”[30]   He states that without the Holy Spirit “we are held captive” to do the devil’s will… this we do readily and willingly,” because of “the nature of the will.”[31] Tabletalk quotes Luther as saying that those who, like Erasmus, held freewill to be involved in salvation in any way, are denying Christ; “This is my absolute opinion: he that will maintain that man's free-will is able to do or work anything in spiritual cases be they never so small, denies Christ. This I have maintained in my writings, especially in those against Erasmus…“[32]


Luther maintained that there is an appearance of freedom of the will because the individual does not appear to be under any compulsion, but the will is in fact controlled by its nature.  He portrayed the individual as powerless to choose whom to obey, but rather God and the devil contend for “control and possession” of the individual.[33]  Luther did not like the use of the term “necessity” for describing the acts of the will as he recognised that the will works “as if totally free,” and actions are not done under compulsion.  This gives the appearance of actions being carried out entirely at the discretion of the individual.  It is the nature of the will that determines the actions, but the will itself appears free.  He also suggested that it would be better if the term freewill was not used at all, but he accepts that an individual has free choice in “regard to his faculties and possessions,” although “even this is controlled by the free choice of God alone.”[34]  In Tabletalk he is quote as saying, “I confess that mankind has a free-will, but it is to milk kine, to build houses, etc., and no further.”[35]


The main argument against freewill that Luther presents is that “… God foreknows nothing contingently, but that he foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His own immutable, eternal and infallible will.”[36]   He looks upon this as the “bombshell” that  knocks freewill flat.” [37]  This argument rests on the immutability of the attributes of God.  Luther considers foreknowledge to be an unchanging attribute of God as it is firmly connected with God’s immutable will.  Therefore His foreknowledge is known from eternity and cannot change, and there can be nothing that God foreknows contingently as God’s foreknowledge is immutable.  By attributing freedom to the will in matters of salvation, Erasmus is considered by Luther to be making an attack upon the deity of God.  According to Luther, the immutable  will of God …rules over our mutable will.”[38]


Not only does Luther consider this to be an attack upon the nature of God, he also sees it as an attack upon the gospel.  The promises of God can only be relied upon if “His will cannot be resisted, altered or impeded.”  He quotes the scripture, which states “The foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, the Lord knows those that are His” (2 Tim 2:19),  in order to show that the fulfilment of the promises of God are dependent upon “the necessary foreknowledge of God and the necessity of events.” [39]  The foundation of God could not be sure unless he already knew all events, actions, and outcomes.  In other words Luther is saying that God foreknows all actions done by all people throughout time, otherwise he cannot know for sure that his promises will be fulfilled, and the promise that “God does not lie” would be unreliable. Luther states that the promises cannot be relied upon if one is “too proud to acknowledge, that God foreknows and wills all things… necessarily and immutably.” .[40]  Luther emphasises “not only how true these things are, but also how godly, reverent and necessary it is to know them.”[41]   He states there can be “no faith, nor any worship of God” without the knowledge of them.[42]


Luther strongly endorsed Melanchthon’s Instructions for the visitors (1528), but Agricola was concerned that it appeared to be moving towards Rome.[43]  Erasmus accused them of this, primarily because it advocated confession to a pastor.[44] The teaching of freewill differentiates between secular righteousness, which involves freewill and is hindered by the devil, and Christian goodness, which requires the gift of God.[45]  It does not contradict Luther’s “Bondage of the Will,” but although it does not deny Luther’s doctrine of “grace alone” it does not assert it either.


Despite his reservations concerning Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession (1530), Luther highly praised it by saying, “Philip’s apology is superior to all the doctor’s of the church, even to Augustine himself.”[46] Article 18 states  Of free will they teach that man’s will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work things subject to reason.  But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God….”   Although this does not contradict Luther, it doesn’t contradict Erasmus either.  It does unequivocally condemn Pelagianism for denying original sin and teaching that man can “love God” and “do the commandments” without the aid of the Holy Ghost.[47]  It also condemns it for arguing that “man can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.”[48]  Melanchthon tried to fulfil a conciliatory role, consequently, although Luther had contended in the Bondage of the Will that there could be no salvation without knowing that God foreknows all things, not contingently, but necessarily, and immutably,[49] it is not mentioned in these documents.


The development of the Lutheran Church was greatly influenced by Melanchthon, and so it is important to look at his position. The Bondage of the Will refers to a work by Melanchthon, called Commonplaces,[50] which Luther held to be “unanswerable.”  In this work Melanchthon stated that “the doctrine of Scripture is, that all things come to pass necessarily.” [51]  This implies agreement with double predestination.  But the implication that God predestined the reprobate as well as the elect is one that appears offensive to those not adhering to the doctrine. It is perhaps not surprising to find that Melanchthon moved to a more conciliatory position known as synergism.[52] This is the belief that salvation is the combination of God’s initiative and man’s response.[53] Concerning predestination, Luther is quoted in his Tabletalk as saying, “The sentences in Holy Scripture touching predestination, as, ‘No man can come to me except the Father draweth him,’ … show that we can do nothing of our own strength and will that is good before God, and put the godly also in mind to pray. When people do this, they may conclude they are predestinated.” [54] This shows that Luther continued to maintain that the doctrine of predestination excluded any freewill action whatsoever by an individual in his or her personal salvation. In Tabletalk Luther refers to Melanchthon’s character as being like the prophet who “stood always in fear.”[55] 


Warfield states that Melanchthon’s changed position resulted in the denial of double predestination by the Lutheran Churches as stated in the “Formula of Concord” (1576).  This made the distinction between the foreknowledge of God, which it claimed involves all people, and predestination, which it applied only to the elect.  However, it is difficult to understand how this distinction can logically be made.  The synod of Missouri in 1932 justified this position by stating “Blind reason indeed declares these two truths to be contradictory; but we impose silence on our reason.  The seeming disharmony will disappear in the light of heaven, 1 Cor.13:12.”[56]  This reasoning is reminiscent of the Thomist “leap of faith,” and in opposition to Luther’s  Bondage of the Will. Luther said concerning his work “I am certain that what I wrote on the matter is the unchangeable truth of God.”[57] It is strange that the Lutheran Church went against Luther on such an important issue.


Synergism, and need for carefulness sums up the attitude towards predestination both of the Lutheran Church, and the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556).  In Spiritual Exercises he wrote “allowing it is very true that none can be saved, unless he be predestinate, and without having faith and grace, - there is much to attend to in the manner of speaking and conversing on all these topics.”[58] This has much in common with the position of the Lutheran Church in 1576.   But Loyola’s attitude towards predestination echoes the words of Erasmus in De Libero Arbitrio, when he warned about “prostituting these truths before common ears,”[59] which Luther totally rejected.   Loyola states  we ought not to speak much of predestination by way of habitual topic” for the reason that the common sort might “grow slack in the works that conduce to the salvation and spiritual profit of their souls.”[60]  Although predestination was not rejected, the Roman Catholic Church emphatically denied that only the sovereignty of God was involved in salvation, and asserted that freewill was involved.  The Council of Trent pronounced an anathema on those who adhered to justification by faith alone, it stated “If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sin for Christ’s sake alone; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified, let him be anathema.” (Sess.VI,Can.12).[61] Although the  Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church were moving closer together regarding predestination and freewill, this was not the case with regard to the development of the doctrine of the Reformed Church in Switzerland.


B B Warfield states that “the doctrine of predestination was the central doctrine of the Reformation.”[62] This statement is more justified concerning the Swiss Reformation than Luther’s Reformation in Germany.  McGrath contends that it was Zwingli’s experience during the plague of 1519 in Zurich that caused him to see life and death as providential.[63]   Although Zwingli was initially a humanist who like Erasmus emphasised moral behaviour, he moved away from the Erasmian position that saw freewill as the basis for reform, and upheld the view that only divine providence could bring true reform, this is seen in his Commentary on True and False Religion (1525).[64]


The doctrine of John Calvin (1509-1564) was consistent with the teaching of the schola Augustiniana moderna.  The possibility that Calvin was influenced by the teaching of Bradwardine and Gregory of Rimini is probable, but exactly how is not known.[65]   Calvin went further than Augustine with regard to predestination when he wrote “some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation.”[66]  But the doctrine of predestination was not “a primary doctrine” in Calvin’s teaching it was “a logical development of his original principles.”[67]  Only four of the eighty chapters contained in Calvin’s Institutes actually deals with predestination.[68] However, the doctrine increased in prominence due to its controversial nature.  Calvin was involved in two major disputes concerning the doctrine, firstly in 1543 with Pighuis, the Archdeacon of Utrecht, and also in 1550 with Jerome Bolsec, a former Carmelite monk who turned Protestant.  Pighius contended that Calvin’s doctrine encouraged immorality, and made God responsible for sin.[69]   Calvin denied that predestination was determined by foreknowledge, but he held that it was determined through “the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man.”[70] This is associated with the second Psalm which asserts that despite opposition to the revealed will of God by kings and rulers, the eternal decree of God will still be accomplished.  The decree is seen to include the enthronement of Christ as King (v6), the redemption of the elect (v8), and the destruction of the reprobate (v9).


The influence of Calvin’s teaching throughout Europe was greatly enhanced by the large number of Protestants who had fled persecution to the safety of Geneva.  It was Calvin’s objective to spread his teaching, especially in France. The doctrine of predestination in the Reformed Confessions of Faith is consistent with Calvin’s Institutes.  However, it is also evident that the framers of the Confessions were careful not to stress predestination to the extent that responsibility to do good works was excluded.  In the Netherlands the Belgic Confession was prepared by Guido de Brès in 1561, and based upon Calvin’s Confession of the Reformed Churches in France published in 1559.  The Confession asserts the single predestination of the elect, and it implies double predestination.   But whereas responsibility for the salvation of the elect is accredited to God alone, the responsibility for the damnation of the reprobate is accredited to man alone.  Article 16 states “He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works.  He is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves.”


Bullinger (1504-1575) the successor of Zwingli was also careful in handling this doctrine.  He was responsible for writing the 2nd Helvetic Confession of 1566, which states, “We do not approve of the impious speeches of some who say,…’If I am predestinated and elected by God,  nothing can hinder me from salvation, which is already certainly appointed for me, no matter what I do. But if I am in the number of the reprobate, no faith or repentance will help me, since the decree of God cannot be changed. Therefore all doctrines and admonitions are useless.’”  Bullinger is confronting the very problem that Ignatius Loyola had mentioned in his Spiritual Exercises, but whereas Loyola believed the doctrine should not be propagated, Bullinger denounces those who draw fatalistic conclusions.  


            The most widely read and most influential catechism was the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563. Three German editions were published in the first year as well as a Latin translation.  In 1566, it was translated into Dutch and published with the Genevan Psalter. The catechism does not mention predestination, but justification by faith alone is firmly asserted and responsibility for evil is attributed to man through the fall. In answer to the question “Does this teaching not make people careless and wicked?”  the catechism states, “No. It is impossible that those grafted into Christ by true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.”  The Reformed Church was obviously aware that the doctrine of predestination could be used to justify immorality, and were formulating teaching in order to avoid it.


In Scotland the influence of Calvin’s Geneva was very evident in the establishment of the Presbyterian Kirk. The Scottish Confession of Faith was drafted by John Knox and five other ministers on 17th August 1560.   The doctrine of predestination is firmly embedded throughout the Confession, but the chapter on election does not emphatically assert predestinarianism, it does assert single predestination by stating, “For that same Eternal God and Father, who of mere grace elected us in Christ Jesus his Son before the foundation of the world was laid.”  The chapter concerning good works is reminiscent of Luther’s Bondage of the Will and the Theologia Deutsch, it states “ the cause of good works we confess to be, not our free will, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus who, dwelling in our hearts by true faith, brings forth such good works as God has prepared for us to walk into.”


John Knox was also involved in the preparation of the Forty-two articles of 1553, which was revised under Elizabeth to the Thirty-nine articles.  The influence of Calvinism is evident and Article XVII on ‘Predestination and Election’ is similar to the Scottish Confession in its assertion of single predestination, but the predestination of the reprobate is also implied. The article states “the godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ,” but for the reprobate “to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination is a most dangerous downfall….”


Following the death of Calvin in 1564,  Beza took over the leadership of the Genevan Calvinists.  He adopted a stronger position with regard to the doctrine of predestination than Calvin had, and it was under Beza’s leadership that Calvinism took on the distinctive predestinarian character with which it has ever since been associated.  Beza firmly adherred to the supralapsarian position concerning God’s eternal decree. The supralapsarian view considers the fall of man to be the means whereby God was able to  fulfil his decree regarding the elect and the reprobate.  The infralapsarian view considers the fall of man to be the cause for the decree concerning the elect and the reprobate.[71] The supralapsarian view associates election and reprobation entirely with God’s choosing before the foundation of the world.  The Calvinists were in danger of falling into an extreme supralapsarian position in which individual responsibility for moral behaviour was removed as all actions are seen as predetermined.


The controversy regarding the Calvinists supralapsarian position eventually led to opposition from the Dutchman Arminius (1560-1609) who as a learned Calvinist had been called upon to defend the supralapsarian position.  He found that he could not uphold the doctrine of “unconditional predestination.”  It is perhaps not surprising that although the Netherlands had become predominantly Calvinist, this land that had produced Thomas à Kempis Thomas à Kempis and Erasmus to defend practical Christianity, should now raise up another champion for the cause.  The views of Armenius were published after his death in five Articles of Remonstrance in which predestination was asserted to be conditional as God foreknows who will respond.  This upheld freewill as essential in salvation, but the Articles refuted Pelagianism by asserting the need to be regenerate in order to do good.  It upheld the necessity of grace, but irresistible grace was denied.  The doctrine that believers would always persevere in the faith was also denied, but it was asserted that through the assistance of the Holy Spirit they could do so.   The Synod of Dort was held between November 1618 and May 1619 to answer the five points of Armenianism, resulting in the declaration of the five points of Calvinism, known as TULIP; the total depravity of man; unconditional election; limited atonement; irresistible grace; and the final perseverance of the saints.  However, Calvinism avoided the pressure from Gomarus (1563-1641) and his supporters to embrace a more extreme supralapsarian position.[72]


In conclusion, Pelagius emphasised freewill and excluded entirely the sovereignty of God, but not many between Augustine and the Reformation adhered to this extreme position.  Most people recognised that Scripture upheld the doctrine of predestination, but the area of dispute was concerning the scriptural requirement for works of obedience.  Were they a prerequisite of salvation or the evidence of salvation?  And what part did grace and freewill play in a persons ability to repent?  Luther’s The Bondage of the Will is a theological masterpiece that associates making freewill necessary in salvation, regardless of how small a part this may be, with an attack against the nature of God.  In contrast, Erasmus’ De Libero Arbitrio is the work of a humanist seeking to uphold the necessity of freewill and the importance of practical Christianity.  On the one hand Luther held the belief that the sovereign grace of God produces a new nature in the Christian and good works follow, while Erasmus upheld the belief that with the help of God’s grace, man’s freewill is responsible for following the example of Christ in order to be a Christian.  Luther went beyond Augustine in asserting the sovereignty of God, while Erasmus was not a Pelagian in that he accepted the need for grace. Consequently, for Erasmus the emphasis was the responsibility of man, while for Luther it was the sovereignty of God.  However, the development of the Lutheran Church followed Melanchthon’s synergism rather than Luther’s teaching in the Bondage of the Will.  The extent of predestination was a major issue in the Swiss Reformation and the development of the Reformed Church.  The Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Church both accepted that predestination is scriptural, and both accepted that there was a danger that the doctrine could be misunderstood and encourage immorality.  But whereas one concluded that the doctrine should be left alone, the other denounced those who wrongly interpreted the doctrine.  Consequently, while the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church denied double predestination by associating freewill with the foreknowledge of God, the Reformed Church firmly embraced “unconditional election.”   






[1] Theologia Deutsch,  Preface, internet edition,  http:\\

[2] Stevenson,J., Creeds, Councils, and Controversies, London:S.P.C.K., 1972, p.216.

[3] Kingdon,R.M.,  “Determinism in Theology:  Predestination,” in Dictionary of the History of Ideas,  ed. By P.P. Weiner, vol.2. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973, pages 25-30

[4] Tappert,Theodore G., ed.& trans., Luther’s Works vol.54,  Table Talk, No.3655b Philadelphia: Fortress Press,  1967, p.8.

[5] Stevenson,J., op.cit., p.216.

[6] ibid.

[7] McGrath,A.E., Reformation Thought, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988, p.75.

[8] McGrath,A.E., op.cit.,, p.56.

[9] Zanchius,J., Absolute Predestination, London:Silver Trumpet Pub. Ltd., 1989, p.15.

Quote De Civ Dei l 22 c.1 Vol.2, p.474

[10] Stevenson,J., op.cit.,, p.219.


[11] ibid.

[12] Kingdon,R.M.,  op.cit., pages 25-30

[13] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Pelagius, CD version

[14] Biggsman’s Creed Study, Important Creeds and Councils of the Christian Church, VII Semi-Pelagianism and the Council of Orange, Internet.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Biggsman’s Creed Study, op.cit.

[17] The Catholic Encyclopaedia, Council of Quierzy, Electronic version.

[18] Ludwig Ott,  Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Rockford, IL:TAN Books, 1974 pp. 242-45

[19] McGrath,A.E., op.cit., p.58

[20] ibid, p.58-9


[21] ibid., p.70-71

[22] ibid.,, p.54

[23] ibid., p.60

[24] ibid., p.54

[25] ibid.


[26] Theologia Deutsch, Preface, internet edition, http:\\

[27] ibid., ch.LI.

[28] Rupp,Gordon,E., op.cit., p.137.

[29] ibid.,p.55

[30] ibid.,p.140


[31] ibid.

[32] Tabletalk, op.cit. internet edition, No.262

[33] Rupp,Gordon,E., op.cit., p.140

[34] ibid., p.143

[35] Tabletalk, op.cit internet edition, No.262

[36] Rupp,Gordon,E., op.cit., p.118

[37] ibid


[38] ibid., p.120

[39] ibid., p.122

[40] ibid.

[41] ibid.

[42] ibid.

[43] Luther’s Works vol.40., p.266.

[44] ibid., p.272.

[45] ibid., p.302

[46] Tabletalk, oo.cit., internet edition.

[47] Augsburg Confession, Article 18,  internet edition.

[48] ibid., Article 2

[49] Rupp,Gordon,E., p.122

[50] ibid., p.102.

[51] Zanchius,J., Absolute Predestination, London:Silver Trumpet Pub. Ltd., 1989. p.119

[52] Warfield,B.B., op.cit., p.118.

[53] Kingdon,R.M.,  “Determinism in Theology:  Predestination,” in Dictionary of the History of Ideas,  ed. By P.P. Weiner, vol.2. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973, pages 25-30

[54] Tabletalk, internet edition, No.263. 


[55] Tabletalk, internet edition, op.cit.

[56] Missouri Synod (1932), Of the Election of Grace, 38, Project Wittenberg, Internet edition.

[57] Tabletalk, internet edition, op.cit., No. 676

[58] Rickaby,J., S.J.,  The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola,  London: Burns & Oates, Ltd.,  1915, p.223.

[59] Rupp,Gordon,E, op.cit, p.40

[60] Rickaby,J., S.J.,  The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola,  London: Burns & Oates, Ltd.,  1915, pp. 223-4.


[61] Boettner,Loraine, Roman Catholicism, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub.Co., 1962, p.261.

[62] Warfield,B.B.,  Studies in Theology,  Edinburgh:Banner of Truth Trust, 1988, p.117

[63] McGrath,A.E., Reformation Thought: An Introduction, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988, p.87

[64] Ibid., pp.89-90.

[65] ibid., pp.63-64

[66] Institutes, Book 3, ch..21,  5.

[67] Mitchell,Robert,M., Calvin’s and the Puritan’s view of the Protestant Ethic, Univ.Press of America, Inc., 1979.p.10.

[68] ibid., p.11

[69] James III,Frank.A., art., Calvin on Predestination, Christian History, vol.5, No.4, 1986.

[70] Mitchell,Robert,M.,op.cit., .p.11


[71] University of California, Davis, Theology notes, Calvinism and Arminianism, internet



[72] ibid