The cliché about only Nixon being able to go to China was proven again a few years ago, when the best recent book about the Virgin Mary was written by . . . a Protestant. (It’s called Mary for Evangelicals, by Tim S. Perry.) The conservative Catholic publisher TAN Books has just returned the favor by publishing a fascinating and important new book about predestination. (How conservative is TAN? I quote, from memory, a joke I once saw on the Internet: “You know you’re a conservative Catholic when . . . you read only books published by Ignatius. You know you’re an ultra-conservative Catholic when . . . you read only books published by TAN.”) The book is The Mystery of Predestination According to Scripture, The Church, and St. Thomas Aquinas, by John Salza. (Just how conservative a Catholic is Mr. Salza? This should give some indication: Among his earlier books are Why Catholics Cannot Be Masons and The Biblical Basis for Purgatory.)
The back cover asks, bluntly, “Isn’t predestination a Protestant doctrine?” and Salza answers, just as flatly, in the first sentence of his preface: “Predestination is a doctrine clearly revealed in Scripture and taught by the Catholic Church for 2,000 years.” But — unlike some other doctrines that are baffling to the intellect, such as the Trinity — this doctrine is rarely mentioned in Catholic pulpits and publications. (It has fallen into desuetude even among Protestants. I was, for almost three years, a member of a Presbyterian congregation — in the denomination gently mocked as “God’s frozen chosen” for its past emphasis on predestination — and, in three years of Sundays, it was mentioned in exactly one sermon. Though that sermon, by the Rev. Beverly Bartlett, had a line that I will always remember as a delightful diagnosis of the American character: “If you don’t know what a Pelagian is, don’t worry. If you grew up in this country, you probably are one.”)
The understanding of God’s dark counsels, his mercy and justice, is one of the most treacherously difficult undertakings the intellect can attempt. I can’t endorse everything Salza says in this book. But that a Catholic writer is not afraid to deal so forthrightly with the central Reformation emphasis — that man is not loved by God because of any merit of which man himself is the source and author — is another indication that the ecumenical spirit is bearing rich fruit in our times.