Friday, August 22, 2014

Gregory of Rimini, A True Augustinian in the 14th Century

Gregory of Rimini 1300 – 1358, was one of the great scholastic philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages. He was a devout Augustinian, holding as his contemporary Thomas Bradwardine, Augustine’s doctrine of Double Predestination. 

Gregory claimed that not only do the predestined play no causal role in the salvation, but neither do the reprobate contribute to their damnation. In short, there is no reason either for one person's salvation or for another person's damnation except the inscrutable will of God: we do not know why some are saved and others damned. This, after all, Gregory believed, was the theory of Paul and of Augustine.

Gregory unabashedly affirms double predestination, as did Augustine. Moreover, he holds a clearly Supralapsarian viewpoint. He defines predestination as election to eternal life and reprobation as the refusal of eternal life. They are eternally willed by God, and it rests with God’s mercy whether a man is saved or not. 

This means that salvation and reprobation are independent of any action on the part of those elected or damned, either through the actions they may perform or through God’s foreknowledge of how their natural powers will be used, for good or ill. And secondly, it means that in the way in which God wills election or damnation His motive lies entirely with His will.

Gregory presents the fact that God acts as He wills: there are no nuances to be discerned in His election of one and His damnation of another other than the fact that He has willed it. God, far from loving all mankind and desiring the salvation of all men, deliberately discriminated among them, choosing to elect some and to damn others. He is not a respecter of persons when it comes to dealing with those who are in sin, for He renounces and punishes all in iniquity.

Central to Gregory’s view is his exegesis upon 1 Timothy 2:4 - God ‘will have all men to be saved.’ Gregory’s reading makes no attempt to reconcile God’s will to predestine all men with His reprobation of many. In his eyes ‘all’ did not mean literally every man, but men of every different sort and condition, as John of Damascus expounded it, 'of all kinds of men, not all men individually, embracing high and low, rich and poor, men and women, a conspectus of mankind, but not all men.'

In Gregory's theology, predestination is independent from any other consideration than God’s will. The whole cause of predestination lies in God’s will. Divine election is to be understood as God’s free acceptance of one person over another. It is therefore arbitrary and without any criterion save God’s will to bestow mercy upon some and not on others. All that can be said is that a man is justified because he is elected and not the other way around. 

Neither salvation nor damnation has a cause beyond God’s willing. His decision would have been fitting wherever His choice had lain, for what God wills is its own raison d’être. It is a doctrine without extenuation or qualification. Gregory makes no attempt to mitigate God’s initial refusal to save all men. He places the onus of reprobation squarely upon God’s free refusal to bestow His mercy. Anticipating the objections this doctrine is likely to raise, he reminds us what Paul replied to the opponents of his day who bristled at said doctrine: "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?"

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