The Catholic Augustine and His Novel Doctrine of Determinism

Many Calvinists are prone to refer to church history as though it started at the Reformation or drop back to the time of Augustine, thereby skipping all church history other than the Reformation. This distorted historical approach includes an attempt to co-opt Augustine from Catholicism in order to make him the Protestant forerunner to Calvin. Resultantly, Augustine and Calvin seem to represent the best of church history and the quintessence of Protestantism. This small sampling demonstrates that a more comprehensive look at church history tells a different story.

Ken Wilson is an orthopedic hand surgeon who also earned a Ph.D. from Oxford. His thesis was Augustine’s Conversion from Traditional Free Choice to Non-free Free Will.[1] Wilson read all of Augustine’s writings in the original language and chronological order, as Augustine directed, and studied all the relevant church fathers and the contemporary religions and philosophies (Stoicism, Manicheism, Neoplatonism) that may have influenced Augustine.

Augustine said, “For whoever reads my works in the order in which they were written will perhaps discover out how I have made progress over the course of my writing.”[2] Referring to his doctoral thesis, Wilson said, “For that project, I read all of Augustine’s extant works, letters, and sermons chronologically and compared them with the various religious and philosophical beliefs on fate and free will from 2000 BCE to 400 CE, including the earlier Christian authors (early church fathers).”[3]

Wilson demonstrates how the early church fathers believed in free will and rejected salvation by predeterminism, and this group included the early Augustine. Wilson said, “Early Christian authors unanimously taught relational divine eternal predetermination. God elected persons to salvation based upon foreknowledge of their faith (predestination) . . . Of the eighty-four pre-Augustinian authors, studied from 95–430 CE, over fifty addressed this topic. All of these early Christian authors championed traditional free choice and relational predestination against pagan and heretical Divine Unilateral Predetermination of Individuals’ Eternal Destinies.”[4] Wilson summarizes, “No Christian author from 95 CE until Augustine in 412 CE could be identified who taught anything other than traditional free choice.”[5]

Thus, for the first three hundred and fifty years after Christ, there were no determinists (like the late Augustine or Calvin and his followers) among these leaders. Let that sink in for a moment. Those of us who reject Calvinism’s determinism are portrayed as the ones who are out of step with history, but the truth is, we are only out of step with their selective history.

Additionally, Augustine actually believed in many of the doctrines the Reformers stood against. This is according to Catholic scholars, writers, and apologists like Dave Armstrong.[6] For example, according to Armstrong, Augustinian doctrines include his beliefs in infant baptism, that the saved pass through purgatory, and that Mary had no personal sin (though he did not affirm that she had no original sin). In the National Catholic Register, Armstrong documents from Augustine’s writings that he believed in the seven sacraments of Rome. One of those sacraments includes the Mass, and the Mass says that the elements turn into the actual body and blood of Christ.[7]

Not only did Augustine believe in infant baptism and that it was a sacrament, he believed it was essential for salvation because, by baptism, the infant is born again, which is an essential event for salvation. Augustine said, “For what Christian is there who would allow it to be said, that anyone could attain to eternal salvation without being born again in Christ—which He meant to be effected through baptism, at the very time when such a sacrament was purposely instituted for regenerating in the hope of eternal salvation?”[8]

Gregory the Great (540­–604 A.D.), elected Pope in 590 A.D., is considered the father of the medieval papacy. At every Mass, he taught that Christ was sacrificed afresh. It is a bloodless Mass. My wife, Gina, went to Catholic school for twelve years. Her missal says, “He, who was both priest and victim on the Cross, continues to offer Himself on the altar. ‘The sacrifice offered on the altar,’ says the Council of Trent, ‘is the same as that offered on Calvary, since both priest and victim are the same.’”[9] According to Rome, Augustine believed in all seven sacraments, including the Mass.

Importantly, whether one believed in the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic church or two as the Protestants do (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) quickly determined whether a person was Catholic or Protestant. Compare for yourself who exemplified the Protestant faith most, Augustine or the petite teenager Lady Jane Grey.

King Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon, with whom he had one child, Mary. But he wanted to divorce Catherine and marry Ann Boleyn. However, the Pope would not grant a divorce. Resultantly, King Henry broke from the Catholic Church and started the Church of England, the Anglican Church. In his newly founded church, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, granted the divorce. When Henry died, he was succeeded by his son Edward VI who was also a Protestant. But Edward was sickly and only reigned for six years.

Edward’s natural successor was his sister, Mary. But Mary was a Catholic. She is also known as Bloody Mary for her bloody persecution of Protestants when she was queen. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was written to expose her terror across the land. In an effort to keep the kingdom Protestant, Edward creatively bequeathed the throne to his Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey as he lay dying.

Lady Jane was a 16-year-old smiling girl whose frame was so tiny that she wore platform shoes to give her normal height. She was described as having red hair and red lips. Lady Jane was a devoted, incredibly well-read, knowledgeable Protestant. On July 10, 1553, Lady Jane Grey was processed at the Tower of London as Queen of England, a position she did not seek. Upon her enthronement, she murmured a quick prayer. If it was God’s will that she be queen, then Lady Jane would trust in God to help her govern England for His glory.

Lady Jane is known as the nine-day queen because Mary (Edward’s Catholic sister) was able to depose Lady Jane and ascend to the throne. Then, Lady Jane remained at the Tower not as the ruling queen but as a prisoner of Queen Mary, charged as a traitor and thus awaiting execution.

Queen Mary hated the thought of beheading Jane because she was a royal as well as her cousin. Consequently, Mary sought her recantation and, in a final effort to avoid beheading Jane, she sent John Feckenham, Dean of St. Paul’s, to spend a few days seeking to sway Jane to the Catholic faith. But that was not to be. Jane answered each of Feckenham’s arguments with her own. All Lady Jane Grey had to do was agree there were seven sacraments, not just two. But each time Feckenham challenged that there were seven sacraments, she effectively responded there were only two sacraments. If Jane recanted her Protestant faith, she would live. If she did not, she would be guilty of treason and be executed.

Finally, she was ordered beheaded. On Friday, February 9, 1554, at the Tower of London, she stood before her executioner with her prayer book. Kneeling, she read Psalm 51 and gave a few words of testimony of her Christian faith, followed by the executioner kneeling before her, seeking her forgiveness. She gave her forgiveness ‘most willingly.’ Then, Lady Jane Grey was beheaded; her decapitated body lay in public view for four hours. She is one of the most famous queens in England’s history and is included in the list of Christian martyrs.[10]

She chose to be beheaded rather than affirm doctrines that Augustine so willingly affirmed. Which of these two is the greater Protestant? I choose Lady Jane Grey.

Loraine Boettner, a Calvinist theologian and historian, said, “The earlier church fathers . . . taught that salvation was through Christ; yet they assumed that man had full power to accept or reject the gospel. Some of their writings contain passages in which the sovereignty of God is recognized; yet alongside of those are others which teach the absolute freedom of the human will.”[11] The cults of that time, such as the Stoics and Manicheans, taught unilateral determinism, like the late Augustine and Calvin and their followers. Before Augustine’s conversion to Christianity, he was a Manichean for ten years and remained committed to Stoicism his entire life; both groups were determinists.

[1] “Generally, nations with British-based academic systems of university education use dissertation to refer to the body of work at the end of an undergraduate or masters level degree. British-based institutions generally use thesis to refer to the body of work produced at the end of a PhD.” “What is the Difference Between a Dissertation and a Thesis?”, para. 27, accessed 10/3/22.

[2] Sourced as Retract., Prol.3 by Ken Wilson, The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism, (Regula Fidei Press, 2019), 3.

[3] Ken Wilson, The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism, (Regula Fidei Press, 2019), III.

[4] Ken Wilson, The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism, (Regula Fidei Press, 2019), 19–20. Wilson goes on to say, “Some persons triumphantly cite ancient Christian authors claiming they believe Augustin’s deterministic interpretations of scripture, but without reading the entire context or without understanding the way in which words were being used. I am not aware of any Patristics (early church fathers) scholar who would or could make a claim that even one Christian author prior to Augustine taught Divine Unilateral Predetermination of Individuals’ Eternal Destines (DUPIED, i.e., non-relational determinism unrelated to foreknowledge of human choices.)” 20.

[5] Kenneth M. Wilson, Augustine’s Conversion from Traditional Free Choice to “Non—free Free Will” A Comprehensive Methodology (Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2018) 307.

[6] Dave Armstrong, “Did St. Augustine Accept All Seven Sacraments?” National Catholic Register, November 15, 2017,, accessed 4/14/22.

[7] Dave Armstrong, “Did St. Augustine Accept All Seven Sacraments?” National Catholic Register, November 15, 2017,, accessed 4/14/22.

[8] St. Augustine, The Anti-Pelagian Writings (Germany: Jazzybee Verlag Jurgen Beck). See also Christian Theology, Biblical, Historical, and Systematic by Adam Harwood (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Academic, 2022), 355­–56.

[9] Saint Andrew Daily Missal, New Regular Edition, the E.M. Lohmann Company, effective January 1,1956, 7.

[10] Marilee Hanson, “Lady Jane Grey – Facts, Biography, Information & Portraits,” February 1, 2015 accessed 2/23/15.

[11] Loraine Boettner, Calvinism in History,,, ch. 1, para. 1, accessed 9/4/19.

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Ronnie W. Rogers