Volume 48, Issue 1/2, 2017
Reconsiderations Conference V
J. Patout Burns, Jr.
Human Agency in Augustine’s Doctrine of Predestination and Perseverance
Augustine’s two-stage explanation of the creation of the universe (based on the dual narratives in Genesis) provided a basis for understanding the divine operations that activated the potentialities of angels and humans by which they attained stable beatitude. God caused their activities of knowing and loving rather than endowing them with natural capacities for the divine. In this context, Augustine’s analysis of the success of the angels as well as the failure of the demons and the first humans clarified the limits of the agency of spiritual creatures and specified the occurrence of sin as its defective exercise. Against this background, he distinguished the divine operations that moved and sustained Christians in faith and charity from the divine governance that insured the fidelity of the elect at the end of their lives and thus brought them to salvation. At the same time, he distinguished the final beatitude that made the angels and saints incapable of failure from the gifts of both charity and perseverance. Preserving the elect did not require a strengthening or expansion of the internal gifts attributed to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the agency of the elect living under the gift of perseverance was distinguished from that of Christians who failed to reach salvation only by its success.