Divine Purpose and Foreknowledge (Augustine)

The Protestant Reformers did not make up their teaching about God’s foreknowledge, sovereignty, and divine purpose.  Here’s Augustine:

“Now God foreknew everything, and therefore could not have been unaware that man would sin.  It follows that all our assertions about the Holy City must take into account God’s foreknowledge and his providential design; we must not advance theories which could not have become matters of knowledge for us, because they had no place in God’s plan.  Man could not upset the divine purpose by his sin, in the sense of compelling God to alter his decision.  For God in his foreknowledge anticipated both results: he knew beforehand how evil the man would become whom God himself had created good; he also knew what good, even so, he would bring out of man’s evil.”

Of course, ultimately the Reformers did not lean on Augustine, but Scripture:

“[God] works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11 NIV).

“[Jesus] was handed over…by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge…” (Acts 2:23 NIV).

“The plans of the LORD stand firm forever…” (Ps. 33:11 NIV).

“He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.          No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?'” (Dan. 4:35 NIV)

To be sure, there are quite a few other Bible texts that affirm the truth that God is sovereign and in total control of all things.  Nothing surprises him; his counsel will stand and nothing can thwart his plans or purposes.  This is good news for Christians.  Not only do all things come our way by the good and sovereign will of God, but our salvation is also secure because it is part of his sovereign plan in Christ.

The above quote from Augustine is found in City of God, XIV.11.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI


Anselm’s “De Concordia”

The Western Canon XI: Ancient and Medieval Philosophy and Theology
 I’ve been reading through Anselm of Canterbury’s De Concordia, which was one of the last things he wrote before his death in 1109 AD.  De Concordia is no easy read, since it deals philosophically with the difficult topics of God’s foreknowledge and predestination as well as human freedom.  In fact, I’m still wrestling through some things he says, and I’m not sure I’m totally in agreement.  However, it is worth the read.  Here’s a sample:

“If one rightly grasps the meaning of the word foreknown, by the very fact that something is said to be foreknown, its future existence is declared.  For it is not foreknown unless it shall actually be, since the object of knowledge is what is actually the case” (p. 437).

“Predestination is the equivalent of pre-ordination and pre-establishment; and therefore to say that God predestines means that he pre-ordains, that is, to bring it about that something happen in the future.  But it seems that whatever God decrees to happen in the future shall happen of necessity.  Therefore, whatever God predestines shall happen of necessity” (p. 449).

“It should also be understood that the word ‘foreknowledge,’ as also the word ‘predestine’ are not used of God literally, for in him there is no before or after, but all things are present to him at once” (p. 450).

De Concordia is an interesting read, that’s for sure!  This also reminds me that the discussions of predestination and the will certainly did not originate with the Canons of Dort or John Calvin.  By the way, this book, Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) is under $10 at the WTS bookstore.  If you’re into historical theology, or you want some primary sources for medieval theology, I’d recommend this book.  For that good price, you get a solid paperback (c. 500 pages) which contains other works such as Monologion, Proslogion, and Why God Became Man (Cur Deus Homo), among others.

shane lems

sunnyside wa