I felt like I would try to tackle the “free will vs. predestination” debate from a different angle. I am pretty sure that I have settled the argument here (bring on the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes – read sarcasm, if you’re not sure). Consequently, I’m off to solve world hunger and the problem of evil after I have a midnight snack.
As Augustine’s predestinarianism was developed by Luther and assimilated into Reformation thought, an inexorably flawed theological system based on double predestination quickly emerged. Prior to Luther’s utilization, prominent figures in church history left Augustine’s doctrine relatively intact. As early as the Synod of Orange in 529 and notably in the Belgic Confession of Faith in 1561, church leaders rejected the assertions of double predestination. Gottschalk hazarded an attempt at interpreting Augustine in a theory of double predestination in the ninth century, but was condemned of heresy because of it in Maiz. Anselm of Canterbury promoted the Augustinian position in the eleventh century. Thomas Aquinas elaborated the Augustinian position by differentiating between God’s general will and his special will in the soteriological realm in the thirteenth century. If any real deviation from Augustine’s predestinarianism took place, it was in the Catholic Church’s general trend toward Pelagianism.
For eleven centuries, then, endeavors to deviate from the Augustinian position on predestination were generally met with condemnation by the church. Though Luther played a seminal role in the Protestant church’s schism with Catholic thought, he too maintained an Augustinian predestinarianism. Scholars cannot agree concerning a cause for the longevity of Augustine’s postulation. However, history makes clear the fact that attempts to create a system of thought centered on his postulation would not be tolerated. The Reformation, though, provided grounds to contradict the wishes of the Catholic Church. This provided opportunity for the Reformation’s thinkers to speculate the value of theological system based on Augustine’s philosophy and theology independent of church councils.
Unfortunately, only one of those thinkers really understood Augustine’s agenda and, perhaps, the doctrinal consequences of basing a theological system on it. The correlations between Augustine and Luther reveal that their theologies sought to accomplish a different goal than those found in the reformed tradition that emerged from Calvin’s influence on the Reformation. The predestinarianism of Augustine and Luther was born out of a personal struggle with sin and served as the means to a soteriological end, not as the framework for a theological system.
Augustine and Early Predestinarianism
Religious upheaval, bearing profound consequences, regularly struck at the core of St. Augustine’s life prior to conversion. This upheaval centered on Augustine’s lifelong struggle over the problem of evil with near exclusivity. While his mother had trained Augustine in the tenets of Christianity, he could not reconcile the existence of evil in the world with that worldview. This and other early irreconcilable differences with Christianity drove Augustine to dabble in Manichaeism and Neo-Platonism. Fatefully, once again through the influence of his mother, Augustine agreed to hear the preaching of Ambrose, and came to a point of personal crisis regarding Christianity. Namely, Ambrose’s preaching inadvertently quelled Augustine’s most vexing contentions. However, having many of his intellectual disputes settled, Augustine struggled with the moral demands that following Christ placed on a person’s life.
Ultimately, this internal upheaval replaced the external, intellectual upheaval that had dominated the landscape of his life prior to conversion. Augustine long remembered the internal struggle, and the point of his will’s desire to fight off grace’s apprehension influenced his defense of the faith. Some like Gerald Bonner suggest that Augustin’s theology of predestination began here long before the Pelagian controversy, and, in fact, that his predestinarianism was a result of his stress on original sin and internal struggling against the Spirit of God.  Gonzalez also identifies this internal upheaval as the point of contention between Augustine and Pelagius, noting that Augustine rejected Pelagius’ claims to the simplicity of human will. Because of Augustine’s personal struggle with sin, the reader finds him postulating, “the will is not always its own master, for it is clear that the will to will does not always have its way.” For Augustine, something overrode his internal will that wanted to continue in iniquity; he identifies that “something” as the grace of God.
Consequently, predestinarianism is something that Augustine grows into. Fendt argues that Augustine’s writing in Confessions, De Libero Arbitrio, and the anti-Manichaean works adequately developed the predestinarianism “about which Augustine seems to grow more adamant as he ages.” This predestinarianism, though, analyzes the role of the created will relationally to the holiness of God, not the role of God’s providential rule over the created order. This remains the important difference between Augustine’s predestinarianism as means to understanding justification and subsequent developments of the doctrine as a theological system.
At every point, Augustine’s evaluation of the will indemnifies the Creator against the guilt of creating evil, and at the same time locating the responsibility of justification squarely on the good pleasure of the greatest Good, God. Therefore, God has not created evil, propagated evil, or preemptively damned the existence of any created will; but He alone reserves the right to express grace or not to express grace to that created will. Augustine writes, “The supremely Good thus turning to good account even what is evil, to the condemnation of those whom in His justice He has predestined to punishment, and to the salvation of those whom in His mercy He has predestined to grace.” Accordingly, Augustine’s predestinarianism involves itself with the business of offering salvation or offering consequences, whereas subsequent theological systems create a priori criteria and preexistent decrees that stem supposedly from the providential rule of the creator. Then all of creation is bound by the content of these decrees and restrained within the parameters of a system where God expressly creates wills in order to damn them.
The seminal stages of Augustine’s predestinarianism play a significant role in the aftermath of the Pelagian controversy as well. If, as Fendt suggests, Augustine cultivates an increasingly rigid predestinarianism, then it is because of polemics and not because of conviction. Augustine seemed destined to contend for Christianity against enemies of the faith and Fendt warns that Augustine’s later writings bear the mark of rhetorical certitude and not necessarily that of an increasingly severe idea of predestination. Fendt writes, “Augustine must feel at the time of writing this part of DCD the threat of Pelagian huzzas, for if we do not make salvation the direct determination of (predestining) grace, it sounds like it is within our power to save ourselves.” Augustine, then, has polarized the issue with Pelagius somewhat. Later writings carry the weight of a hard predestination, only if the reader ignores the rhetorical context. Fendt concludes his argument by observing that Augustine not only has a vaster education in rhetoric than he does in the intricacies of philosophy but also that it is, “required of a bishop in the pressing situation to be forceful and obvious.”
From start to finish, the student of Augustine can appropriately understand his predestinarianism within the context of a personal struggle with sin and the philosophical quandary over the existence of evil. Though the content of Augustine’s later writing bore the mark of reactionary pontificating, his writing should not be held hostage by a situation that can be explained within a historical context. Augustine wrote extensively concerning his early life and conversion, documenting in brilliant commentary the skirmish that he personally waged against the sinful will. This propensity for documentation not only provides modern scholars with insight into his thinking, but it also provided a young Augustinian monk going through a very similar struggle with the means to articulate his own treatises on predestinarianism.
More on that young Augustinian monk in Part II…
 Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology. Vol. 3, Sin, Salvation. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2004): 565-566.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998): 925.
 Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, Vol. 1 (San Francisco: Harper, 1984), 208-211.
 See Gerald Bonner, Freedom and Necessity: St. Augustine’s Teaching on Divine Power and Human Freedom, (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2007) This contention is indeed the thesis of Bonner’s entire work, and is argued to the effect that Augustine’s predestinarianism stemmed more from this soteriological source than a polemic against Pelagius. See also Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 922.
 González, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, 214.
 Gene Fendt, “Between a Pelagian Rock and a Hard Predestinarianism: The Currents ofControversy in ‘City of God’ 11 and 12.” The Journal of Religion, 81 (April 2001): 211.
 Philip Schaff, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: First Series. Vol. 3, Augustin: On the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 2004), 269.
 Fendt, “Between a Pelagian Rock,” 222.