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Do Catholics believe in fate, or in freedom?

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Alexandre Ribeiro - published on 11/20/20 - updated on 10/06/23

Does God have a specific plan for my life, or am I free to choose my own path? Am I predestined by God to make certain decisions, such as who I am going to marry, or what career I will pursue?

God made us free, but he didn’t leave us without guidance or assistance. Catholics do not believe in a fatalistic concept of destiny, because we believe that God created us as free and intelligent beings who are responsible for our actions. The Church teaches that God, by his providence, “guides all his creatures with wisdom and love to their ultimate end.” Therefore, Christians should not believe in destiny or an inevitable fate, which is a concept that comes from pagan mythology.

Fate: a pagan concept

The idea of destiny predates Christianity. It expresses the idea that behind the events of life, there may be something inevitable and predetermined that goes beyond human freedom. It is as if certain events and facts were written in advance, such that no one can ever change anything.

In ancient Greek mythology, the Fates (or Moirae) were the personification of destiny. The Fates assigned the gods their fields of action, honors, and privileges. Since the gods could not go beyond their assigned limits, the Fates could thus act upon human beings as well. In this sense, their decrees were inflexible.

God gives us free will

Catholic theology denies that the world and events are the product of an obscure force — sometimes beneficial, sometimes malevolent — that is imposed on human beings. For Christians, God created the world according to his wisdom and goodness and wanted to make his creatures share in his being, wisdom, and love.

God created us intelligent and free, and therefore responsible for our actions. Therefore, we cannot attribute the consequences of our own actions to fate.

God did not just create the world. He did not just give his creatures life and existence, but also granted them the power to participate in his work. In other words, he enabled them to cooperate in making the world more perfect and harmonious. In a special way, he gave his creatures who are endowed with intelligence and will (angels and human beings) the dignity of acting on their own, freely.

Freedom implies responsibility

Christian thought sets such a high value on human freedom that it goes so far as to affirm that this freedom is an “outstanding manifestation of the divine image” (CCC, No. 1705). Therefore, if we are free to act according to our free will guided by our intellect, how could we be locked into predetermined decrees governing our life? Thus, we are always responsible for our voluntary behaviors; that is, we must answer for our free acts, both to the human community and to God.

Instead of believing in fate, Christians believe in divine providence. We are created in a state of journeying toward an ultimate perfection yet to be achieved, with God. Divine providence refers to the provisions by which God guides his creation toward this ultimate perfection, while respecting our free will.

At times during the history of the Church, due to certain passages of Sacred Scripture as well as to theological and philosophical reflections, there has been great debate about whether or not God has predestined us to be either saved or damned. Indeed, this is a complicated issue, and was an important point of contention during the Protestant Reformation. While some Protestants adopted the idea that God predestined everyone to heaven or to hell, the Catholic Church held firm to a stance that defends human freedom and denies that God has predestined anyone to hell.

God calls us to the fullness of love

The final perfection to which human beings are called in eternal life consists in sharing in the fullness of love, which is God (CCC, No. 221). This mystery of communion with God surpasses all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: paradise, the heavenly Jerusalem, the Father’s house, happiness, light, life, peace (CCC, No. 1027).

But here in our earthly life, human beings were created in a state of journeying toward this ultimate perfection. In this journey, God does not abandon us creation to our own devices. He maintains us, providing his help as we live our lives.

This relation expresses our dependence on our Creator. Recognize this dependence does not imply challenging human freedom or referring to destiny as if it were a predetermined fate. Rather, it is an act of humility, which is a source of wisdom, freedom, joy, and confidence (CCC, No. 301).

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