Calvinists believe that God unconditionally elects certain people to believe, these are His "elect"

I am trying to figure what Catholics believe. This article states "A true biblical understanding of “election” must involve man’s truly free response" While this article says "[A Catholic] certainly is free to disagree with the Calvinist interpretation, but he also is free to agree."

Do Catholics believe the elect are those unconditional chosen by God or conditionally chosen by God? Do Catholics have to believe that election involves man's truly free response, or are Catholics free to agree or disagree?

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    The answers may improve if the question is given more precision. The term "the elect" is a loaded phrase with all sorts of historical baggage. What are you actually asking about? A Biblical reference to the elect? A conciliar statement? Anti-Calvinist condemnations?
    – zippy2006
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 17:43
  • Bryce I apologize for not being quicker with the link. The rite of election results in those seeking baptism to be called The Elect of God. Hopefully, this will help you refine your question as @zippy2006 has suggested. Commented May 16, 2020 at 21:22
  • @KorvinStarmast I did do a lot of prior research, mostly on Catholic Answers. this article says a Catholic must believe that Election includes your free response to grace while this article says a Catholic may believe in Unconditional Election. I'm not familiar with the Catholic Catechism, and I was unable to find a definition in there. So posted this here to clear up my confusion. Commented May 17, 2020 at 13:52
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    @zippy2006 I edited my question to be more precise. Commented May 17, 2020 at 14:25
  • Bryce, thanks for the further clarification. Commented May 17, 2020 at 15:14

3 Answers 3


According to Catholicism, who are “the elect”?

In a nutshell, this term for Catholics refers to the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant.

Here follows what the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say on the subject of the Elect:


Denotes in general one chosen or taken by preference from among two or more; as a theological term it is equivalent to "chosen as the object of mercy or Divine favour, as set apart for eternal life". In order to determine the meaning of the word more accurately, we shall have to study its usage both in the Old Testament and the New.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament applies the term elect, or chosen, only to the Israelites in as far as they are called to be the people of God, or are faithful to their Divine call. The idea of such an election is common in the Book of Deuteronomy and in Isaiah 40-66. In Psalm 104:6 and 43 and 105:5, the chosen ones are the Hebrew people in as far as it is the recipient of God's temporal and spiritual blessings; in Isaiah 65:9, 15 and 23, they are the repentant Israelites, as few in number "as if a grain can be found in a cluster" (ibid., 8); in Tob., xiii, 10, they are the Israelites remaining faithful during their captivity; in Wisd., iii, 9, and iv, 15, they are God's true servants; in Sirach 24:4, 13 and 46:2, these servants of God belong to the chosen people.

The New Testament

The New Testament transfers (excepting perhaps in Acts 13:17) the meaning of the term from its connection with the people of Israel to the members of the Church of Christ, either militant on earth or triumphant in heaven. Thus 1 Peter 1:1, speaks of the elect among the "strangers dispersed" through the various parts of the world; 1 Peter 2:9, represents them as "a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people", called from darkness into God's marvellous light. St. Paul, too, speaks of the elect (Romans 8:33) and describes the five degrees of their election: they are foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified (loc. cit., 29, 30). He returns to the idea gain and again: 2 Thessalonians 2:12 sq.; Colossians 3:12; Titus 1:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:10. St. John gives the title of elect to those who fight on the side of the Lamb against the powers of darkness (Revelation 17:14). According to Luke 18:7, God hears the cries of his elect for vengeance; according to the first two Evangelists he will shorten the last days for the sake of the elect (Matthew 24:22, 24, 31; Mark 13:20, 22, 27).

If it be asked why the name elect was given to the members of the Church Militant, we may assign a double reason: first, they were freely chosen by God's goodness (Romans 11:5-7, 28); secondly, they must show in their conduct that they are choice men (Ephesians 4:17). In the sentence "many are called, but few are chosen", the latter expression renders a word in the Greek and Latin text which is elsewhere translated by elect (Matthew 20:16; 22:14). It is agreed on all sides that the term refers to members of the Church Triumphant, but there is some doubt as to whether it refers to mere membership, or to a more exalted degree. This distinction is important; if the word implies mere membership in the Church Triumphant, then the chosen ones, or those who will be saved, are few, and the non-members in the Church Triumphant are many; if the word denotes a special degree of glory, then few will attain this rank, and many will fail to do so, though many are called to it. The sentence "many are called, but few chosen" does not, therefore, settle the question as to the relative number of the elect and the lost; theologians are divided on this point, and while Christ in the Gospels urges the importance of saving one's soul (Luke 13:23, 24), he alternately so strengthens our hope and excites our fear as not to leave us any solid ground for either presumption or despair.

Simply put the Elect are those saved and are in heaven, thus forming the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant on earth.

What is the Church Militant?

The Church on earth, still struggling with sin and temptation, and therefore engaged in warfare (Latin militia) with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

And what is the Church Triumphant?

The Church of all those in heavenly glory who have triumphed over their evil inclinations, the seductions of the world, and the temptations of the evil spirit.

  • The first paragraph under the "New Testament" heading clearly says that the term is also applied to the Church Militant. The sentence you bolded only means that the term applies, at the very least, to certain members of the Church Triumphant (and this is proved by CE's postulate that there may be some members of the Church Triumphant who are not elect). So your source contradicts your claim that The Elect = Church Triumphant, twice.
    – zippy2006
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 2:39
  • @zippy2006 The second paragraph explains a double meaning. Read on.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 3:00
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    I see you changed the answer in an attempt to be faithful to your source, which is good, but your answer is still quite strange in this sentence: "Simply put the Elect are those saved and are in heaven, thus forming the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant on earth." If the Elect are the saved in heaven, then they are not at the same time the Church Militant (who are not in heaven).
    – zippy2006
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 15:40
  • @KorvinStarmast Unfortunately the Rite of Election in the RCIA program is a modern term for becoming Catholic through this program. I dwelt with the historical and much more classical meaning and definition.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 22:04
  • OK, I'll remove that comment. I see your point. Commented May 16, 2020 at 23:10

Catholics also believe, according to Parente et al.'s Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology p. 84, that "the elect" are

Those predestined by God to eternal life [heaven].

The difference between Calvinists and Catholics regarding predestination is that Calvinists believe

that some are freely predestined, and the rest are freely and positively damned. According to his theory, God urges man to sin, which is, however, freely committed, in the sense that there is no exterior influence compelling man to commit sin.

—Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Predestination pt. 2, §2, §§1 "Protestantism"

The Council of Trent's 6th session (Decree on Justification) condemned the Calvinist doctrine:

CANON IV.—If any one saith, that man's free-will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-coperates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it can not refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive: let him be anathema.

CANON V.—If any one saith, that, since Adam's sin, the free-will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with only a name, yea a name without a reality, a figment, in fine, introduced into the Church by Satan: let him be anathema.

CANON VI.—If any one saith, that it is not in man's power to make his ways evil, but that the works that are evil God worketh as well as those that are good, not permissively only, but properly, and of himself, in such wise that the treason of Judas is no less his own proper work than the vocation of Paul: let him be anathema.

CANON XVII.—If any one saith, that the grace of Justification is only attained to by those who are predestined unto life; but that all others who are called, are called indeed, but receive not grace, as being, by the divine power, predestined unto evil: let him be anathema.

CANON XVIII.—If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep: let him be anathema.

source: this answer to "How does the Roman Catholic Church interpret predestination?"

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    This answer definitely seems far more concerned with Trent's rejection of Calvinism than actually answering the question. Just saying that the elect are those predestined seems to be answering without answering. Commented May 13, 2020 at 19:52
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    "CANON XVII" is probably the thing to stress. It basically says that those who believe in predestination are evil.
    – Nat
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 23:55
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    @Nat Of course, most that believe in predestination also believe in human depravity, so would have to agree that they themselves are evil :) But of course not the anathema, unable-to-receive-grace evil that Canon 17 says.
    – Nacht
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 1:11
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    Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange completely mischaracterises Reformed teaching. The idea that God urges anyone to sin is completely abhorrent. @Geremia your last comment there is only true for supralapsarians, who are a tiny minority of Reformed Christians, I'm not sure I've ever met any.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 3:14
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    @Geremia It is not productive in re this site's raison d'etre for you to throw shade on another Christian denomination. You've been around here for a while. Knock it off, OK? Commented May 16, 2020 at 3:21

If you want a good overview of Catholic doctrine on predestination (and then you will be able to understand who are the elect), the best is the two-part lecture: Are you saved? part1, part2.

The second part is more fully devoted to predestination but the first part is a requisite. The lecturer comments on the Calvinistic theory (their mistake is the doctrine of positive predestination to hell) of predestination and he himself was converted to Catholicism with the help of the Church Fathers.


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