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THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS AND PREDESTINATION

by Jacques More

In a previous Article I wrote entitled THE MEANING OF ELECT - now a chapter in the book So you think you're chosen? - I made mention that "There is no record of a teaching of 'predestination of individuals' in the early church until Augustine came along. So for at least 300 years any such notion was not taught." The context of this remark was that anyone 'specially picked' or 'chosen out from others' was not a concept familiar to the first century christian. This helps to define the predestination discussed as unconditional predestination: a choosing by God in no way initially influenced by the chosen one, but in being prior to the existence of that person. This is what I mention as foreign prior to Augustine (395-430). Which is more like 400 years of the Church without such a doctrine.

In response to this Article, I received a letter from a believer of unconditional predestination which stated: 'Until Augustine, nobody doubted the calvinistic view he propounded, so it was not until it was questioned did he have to write it down in detail, just as all the great creeds have been written down in defence of the faith when various heretics have come along thinking they know better.' I understand the strong feeling this Christian brother has in defending what he believes. It is sad however since to me this seems more out of a desire to believe it than out of a reading of the evidence, and the aim of this leaflet is to share some of the clear pointers that the early church did not have unconditional predestination as a creed.

I will be honest with you that I have not read all the early church fathers' writings but I am here relying upon compilers of the history of their thinking who have read them and quote liberally from them. Due to the size of this present document I will just submit their conclusions:

In harmony with the foregoing views as to human freedom and responsibility, conditional predestination is the doctrine inculcated by the Greek Fathers.

HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE page 165 by George Park Fisher DD LLD. T&T Clark(1). (italics mine)

Inculcated means it was the teaching urged or impressed persistently by the early Church Fathers. Conditional means in God's desire for you, if you work with Him it will happen; if you don't want Him, it cannot happen. Which, of course, is true due to His Self control (Galatians 5:23). Immediately preceding this statement, but after his various quotes from the Early Church Fathers, Dr. Fisher states:

...the renewal of the soul is made to be the result of the factors, divine grace and the exertion of man's free-will. As a rule, the exertion of free-will, human efforts in a right direction, precede the divine aid, and render men worthy of it. It is a doctrine of synergism. God and man cooperate.

(also page 165)(1)

Indeed reading Henry Chadwick's THE EARLY CHURCH (page 38) the index points the first idea of unconditional predestination as appearing from the gnostic sect, not an orthodox body of believers:

...the Gnostics [placed]...the natural order at so vast a distance in moral value from the supreme God. The influence of fatalistic ideas drawn from popular astrology and magic became fused with notions derived from Pauline language about predestination to produce a rigidly deterministic scheme. Redemption was from destiny, not from the consequences of responsible action, and was granted to a pre-determined elect in whom alone was the divine spark.(2)

In fact, when the teaching of Augustine on these things came into the hands of one of his contemporaries, Vincent of Lérins, he expressed it as:

...a most disturbing innovation, quite out of line with 'orthodoxy' which Vincent defined as that body of belief which is held undeviatingly by the universal church.

Chadwick Page 233(2)

Another contemporary, Julian bishop of Eclanum, expressed that Augustine was causing trouble because he 'brought his Manichee ways of thinking into the church... and was denying St Paul's clear teaching that God wills all men to be saved'(2) (Chadwick page 232-3 & 1 Timothy 2:4). The Manichees were a cult Augustine originally belonged to which advocated that:

...the nature of man can be corrupt to the point that his will is powerless to obey God's commands.

Chadwick page 228(2)

This continuing tenet of Augustine theology is an indispensible part of his unconditional predestination thinking, but it is in open defiance to prior teaching in the church concerning man's free-will. Roger T Forster and Paul V Marston in GOD'S STRATEGY IN HUMAN HISTORY quote directly from the following Early Church Fathers(3):

(As of 26th September 2002 a link has been placed with each of the 17 early Church Fathers below to their respective quotes)


JUSTIN MARTYR (c.100-165 A.D.)

IRENAEUS of Gaul (c.130-200)

ATHENAGORAS of Athens (2nd century)

THEOPHILUS of Antioch (2nd century)

TATIAN of Syria (flourished late 2nd century)

BARDAISAN of Syria (c.154-222)

CLEMENT of Alexandria (c.150-215)

TERTULLIAN of Carthage (c.155-225)

NOVATIAN of Rome (c.200-258)

ORIGEN (c.185-254)

METHODIUS of Olympus (c.260-martyred 311)

ARCHELAUS

ARNOBIUS of Sicca (c.253-327)

CYRIL of Jerusalem (c. 312-386)

GREGORY of Nyssa (c.335-395)

JEROME (c.347-420)

JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (347-407)

They conclude (page 244(3)) that as concerns 'free-will' three recurrent themes are found in the early fathers teachings:

1. The rejection of free-will is the view of heretics.

2. Free-will is a gift given to man by God - for nothing can ultimately be independent of God.

3. Man possesses free-will because he is made in God's image, and God has free-will.

It is implied throughout that this free-will is always able to act, even if sometimes to a limited degree, irrespective of individual sin inherited or carried out. They also state that 'the only ones to reject it were heretics like the Gnostics, Marcion, Valentinus, Manes (and the Manichees), etc.' Two of these heretical cults we have seen above agree with Augustine. Finally I give place to Forster and Marston for the concluding words:

[Augustine's] difference from the early church was not a simple one of faith versus works. The early Christian teachers were no less clear than Augustine that salvation was a free gift. His point of departure from them is that faith itself was an irresistible gift.

We must decide for ourselves whether we believe that Augustine, or the Christians of the first centuries, had the true Pauline doctrine.

GOD'S STRATEGY IN HUMAN HISTORY(4)

This evidence helps to show the early Church did not have unconditional predestination as a doctrine (for 400 years); it does not help to show how they read Paul's writings in the New Testament which have been used to say otherwise. I refer the reader to the book below which is a comprehensive response to Calvinism and my YouTube channel of gracetruthguy.

NOTES:

(1) Permission has been granted for these quotes from the publisher T & T Clark Ltd Edinburgh (July 1994).

(2) Permission has been granted for these quotes from the publisher Penguin Books Ltd (August 1994).

(3) GOD'S STRATEGY IN HUMAN HISTORY HISTORY by Roger T Forster and Paul V Marston Published by Highland Books 1989, page 244: used by permission of the publisher (July 1994).

(4) ibid. Page 287


 

The above article and all the quotes of these writers can be found in the separate chapter of the same name in the book So you think you're chosen? - A comprehensive response to Calvinism.

 




© copyright Jacques More 2009

· The Early Church Fathers and Predestination
· The Impossibility of Evolution
· Harry Potter - The Catalyst
· Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?
· The Characteristics of Deception
· What About Tithing?