Perhaps too much (or too little) can be made between the alleged differences between Augustinian and Orthodox soteriology. If we were to stereotype Saint Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, one may say that God can save a man irrespective of his will or inclination towards God.

Orthodox theology rejects this. According to Saint Chrysostom:

“For the children,” he [Saint Paul] says, “being not yet born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, it was said unto her that the elder shall serve the younger:” for this was a sign of foreknowledge, that they were chosen from the very birth. That the election made according to foreknowledge, might be manifestly of God, from the first day He at once saw and proclaimed which was good and which not…For He that knows how to assay the soulknows which is worthy of being saved…Whence also he says, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated.” That it was with justice, you indeed know from the result: but Himself even before the result knew it clearly. For it is not a mere exhibition of works that God searches after, but a nobleness of choice and an obedient temper (γνώμην εὐγνώμονα) besides (Chrysostom on Rom 9:10-14). 

To sum up Chrysostom, God’s predestination is according to man’s merits. God forsees those who both do good works and have a noble temper. Saint Augustine, admittedly unaware of the language and views in the eastern half of the Church (“we are not so familiar with the Greek tongue,” On the Trinity, Book 3, Chap 1), categorically rejects this line of thinking:

There are some persons who suppose that…[defend] their liberty of will so peremptorily as to deny the grace of God. This grace, as they assert, is bestowed according to our own merits.  It is in consequence of their opinions that I wrote the book entitled On Grace and Free Will (Retractions, Book II, Chap 66).

In On Free Will and Grace he seemingly rejects Chrysostom’s view of predestination: “There could be no merit in men’s choice of Christ, if it were not that God’s grace was prevenient in His choosing them” (Chap 38).

Reconciling Augustine with Chrysostom. At first glance, what Augustine writes appears absolutely irreconcilable with Chrysostom. To many Orthodox, Augustine’s belief that God chooses people with no regard to their will smacks of predestinarianism (i.e. God simply moves the will of man like a puppeteer.) Some of Augustine’s statements appear to justify this interpretation: “[God] does in the hearts of even wicked men whatsoever He wills” (On Grace and Free Will, Chap 42) and:

Now if God is able, either through the agency of angels (whether good ones or evil), or in any other way whatever, to operate in the hearts even of the wicked, in return for their deserts, — whose wickedness was not made by Him, but was either derived originally from Adam, or increased by their own will, — what is there to wonder at if, through the Holy Spirit, He works good in the hearts of the elect, who has wrought it that their hearts become good instead of evil (Ibid., Chap 43)?

It is my opinion that what we are seeing is two sides speaking past each other due to the nuances of the theological vocabulary, philosophical traditions, and the personalities of both men. To evaluate Augustinianism, it is best to allow the saint to explain precisely what he means:

I was in a similar error, thinking that faith whereby we believe in God is not God’s gift, but that it is in us from ourselves, and that by it we obtain the gifts of God, whereby we may live temperately and righteously and piously in this world. For I did not think that faith was preceded by God’s grace, so that by its means…we should consent when the gospel was preached to us I thought was our own doing, and came to us from ourselves. And this my error is sufficiently indicated in some small works of mine written before my episcopate…I carried out my reasoning to the point of saying: ‘God did not therefore choose the works of any one in foreknowledge of what He Himself would give them, but he chose the faith, in the foreknowledge that He would choose that very person whom He foreknew would believe in Him — to whom He would give the Holy Spirit, so that by doing good works he might obtain eternal life also.’…[Now I believe that] God prepares the will…For we read in the apostle’s words: ‘I obtained mercy to be a believer.’ 1 Corinthians 7:25 He does not say, ‘Because I was a believer.’ Therefore although it is given to the believer, yet it has been given also that he may be a believer (On the Predestination of the Saints, Chap 7).

Augustine’s view of predestination may be summed up as follows: men can only have faith by the supernatural force of God’s grace acting upon them to enable them to choose God. It is not that man’s will is deficient per se, but rather that faith is a spiritual gift that unlocks the hidden potential of human nature, which has been damaged by the fall. In Augustine’s discussions of John 1:16, he comments that God gives grace to believe, grace to do good, and then the grace of eternal life as the reward for the two previous graces He has given (On Grace and Free Will, Chap 21; Gospel of John Tracate 3, Par. 8-10).

The resulting soteriology may be boiled down to God grants the gift of faith in which man cooperates with by believing (Phil 1:27, Acts 16:14), God grants the gift of doing good works which man cooperates with by working (Phil 2:13, Eph 2:10), and God grants eternal life as a reward for believing and doing good works (Rom 2:7). God rewards man for the gifts He has given them. This is a thoroughly synergistic, and Orthodox, soteriology. As Chrysostom writes concerning the topic of synergy:

“He that works in you both to will and to work….” If you will, in that case He will work in you to will. Be not affrighted, you are not worsted; both the hearty desire and the accomplishment are a gift from Him: for where we have the will, thenceforward He will increase our will. For instance, I desire to do some good work: He has wrought the good work itself, and by means of it He has wrought also the will (Comments on Phil 2:13). 

The error of the Pelagians is squarely on one point: they rejected that faith was the gift of God. In effect, man can believe in Christ, and thereby get onto the path of eternal reward, on his own.

Orthodoxy categorically rejects Pelagianism. Saint Chrysostom writes emphatically in his homilies on the Scriptures that faith is a gift, made possible only by the gift of God:

[Y]ou have nothing of yourself but from God received it. Why then do you pretend to have that which you have not? You will say, you have it: and others have it with you: well then, you have it upon receiving it: not merely this thing or that, but all things whatsoever you have. For not to you belong these excellencies, but to the grace of God. Whether you name faith, it came of His calling (1 Cor 4:7).

[W]e need God, to open the heart: but God opens the hearts that are willing: for there are hardened hearts to be seen. So that she attended to the things which were spoken of Paul. The opening, then, was God’s work, the attending was hers: so that it was both God’s doing and man’s (Acts 16:14).

For those who work wickedness, God withdraws His grace. Apart from the grace of God, man could do nothing good: “But when God has left one, then all things are turned upside down”  (Rom 1:26).

Conclusion. It appears incontestable that fundamentally, Chrysostom and Augustine are in full agreement over what 1. predestination is and 2. how God saves man.

Concerning the former, God predestines man by choosing those who He gives the grace of faith. This grace is fundamentally not given according to man’s merits, because any good man does is not of man’s own doing, but God’s. However, belief is still something man does and in effect wills. Belief, therefore, is done by man’s willing but only possible after God opens the heart.

Concerning the latter, God saves man by rewarding us for the good He has wrought in us. Man does good by working righteousness, but this working is only possible by God’s grace: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

Are there larger, more over-arching issues that I am missing in this short article? Probably. I am too simply minded and constitutionally incapable of grasping this issue more thoroughly.

Further, I am not really concerned about theoretical questions such as, “Why does not God give the gift of faith to all?” or “Can God will that anyone believe?” I feel that such questions are in line with the impious who, looking to scrutinize the inscrutable God, ask, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will” (Rom 9:19)?

We must affirm simply what the fathers and the Scriptures affirm: that God is both the author and perfecter of our faith. Man’s role in this is simply to go along with the program.

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