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:
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 soul, knows 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 further elaborates elsewhere:
Lest, however, it should be thought that men themselves in this matter do nothing by free will, it is said in the Psalm,
Harden not your hearts; and in Ezekiel himself,
Cast away from you all your transgressions, which you have impiously committed against me; and make you a new heart and a new spirit; and keep all my commandments. For why will you die, O house of Israel, says the Lord? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies, says the Lord God: and turn ye, and live. Ezekiel 18:31-32 We should remember that it is He who says,
Turn ye and live, to whom it is said in prayer,
Turn us again, O God…Why does He command, if He is to give? Why does He give if man is to make, except it be that He gives what He commands when He helps him to obey whom He commands? There is, however, always within us a free will — but it is not always good; for it is either free from righteousness when it serves sin — and then it is evil — or else it is free from sin when it serves righteousness — and then it is good. But the grace of God is always good; and by it it comes to pass that a man is of a good will, though he was before of an evil one. By it also it comes to pass that the very good will, which has now begun to be, is enlarged, and made so great that it is able to fulfil the divine commandments which it shall wish, when it shall once firmly and perfectly wish…he receives assistance to perform what he is commanded (On Grace and Free Will, Chap 31).
In the preceding, we can see Augustine teaches that with the cooperation of one’s free will, God turns it towards increasing degrees of good. 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 him. 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.
“It appears incontestable that fundamentally,” You seem to speak in absolutes.
For the Protestant (which I am not), God’s foreknowledge of man’s acceptance or rejection of God conditions that choice. Boethius (died circa 521 AD) informs us that God stands outside of time and sees the past, present and future in His field of vision so to speak. If you want to believe in free will, then God’s foreknowledge of how we will choose does not by default condition or predestine that human choice.
As to the gift of faith and who or to how many it is given, why not consider this: Is Christianity a lesser vehicle for salvation? In other words, do only a handful of souls end up saved?
Now, according to Aquinas, the essence of God is existence. In regards to predestination, I think important to flesh out the idea of the will. Now, if we choose God on our own accord and with our own merits; this appears to presuppose that our will operates outside of God’s essence which pressed to its logical conclusions would appear impossible. By connecting God’s essence with the will, I would think that although Aquinas pulls back a bit from Augustine that Augustine was closer to the truth.
The assertion illustrates the value of practicing virtues and the sacraments so that God through the Grace of the sacraments orders our will towards Him.
I think you’re right that RC’s and EO’s and Calvinists often talk past one another on this issue…which is a shame…because these sorts of things cannot be spoken of constructively without precision in terminology.
Unfortunately, much of the discussion is rife with ambiguity and even self- contradiction. Chrysostom is, at times, a clearcut Semi-Pelagian. At other times, he is anything but.
I don’t believe it is constructive to bring up the topic of “predestinarianism.” I’m not all to sure that such a thing even exists. I know of no present-day group, for example, that believes in anything close to “puppetry.” Even supposed hypercalvinist sects (like the Primitive Baptists) adamantly deny hard determinism.
Best I can tell, Chrysostom does NOT believe in prevenient grace…which is a definite distinction between him and Augustine.
his exegesis of acts 16:14 speaks of prevenient grace
That may well be, but he also says things like the following (from “Homilies on Hebrews”):
“All indeed depends on God, but not in such a way that our free will be hindered. It is both up to us and up to Him. For we must first choose the things that are good, and when we have chosen, then He brings in His own part. He does not anticipate our acts of will, lest our free will should suffer indignity; but when we have chosen, then He brings great assistance.”
If God seriously does not anticipate our response to him, then there is no such thing as prevenient grace, which DOES ANTICIPATE our response to him, right?
So it’s not up to you to have faith who is having the faith?
It’s not up to my toddler to make or serve his oatmeal…though he does eat it.
It’s not up to (unregenerate) us to initiate movement toward faith. To believe that we can is termed Semipelagianism in the West. (It IS an established term, having been coined by Dominicans to rebuke Jesuit Molinism–which, quite frankly, is closer to full-on Pelagianism–and then retrofitted back to Cassian and others. I’m not at all sure that Cassian is Semipelagian. He’s pretty imprecise in his beliefs.
One cannot be consistently Sola Gratia and believe that WE initiate, maintain, or complete our faith. Christ is the Author. Christ is the Finisher. Why is that controversial in the slightest? Why do we argue over such fundamental tenets of Christendom?
Chrysostom unequivocally said that God initiates. Man responds, which is also the grace of God, but his response to grace is authentically his own. This is what Orthodoxy teaches.
Besides, I have seen the Orthodox defend semi-Pelagianism. Are you dead set against it?
Semi pelagianism it’s not a real term but I would af firm John Cassian if that’s what you’re asking
The term has been in use for half a millennium, so it is a “real term”. It’s just that it’s not really accurate or precise. A Lutheran priest and theologian with a doctorate in the history of systematic theology once called it “Pelagianism Light”, comparing it to beer: “light” beer may have less alcohol, but it still has alcohol! The term was coined less as a descriptor of doctrine but because it was seen as an attempt to reach a compromise between Pelagianism and Augustinianism, making it “half”, or “semi” Pelagian.
Just to clarify, Christians of all stripes and varieties hold to human free will, to the role of good works in salvation (and thus to our cooperation with grace). In this sense, we are ALL synergistic. No one I know of admits to puppetry. In fact, I dragged my heels converting to a Cavinistic soteriology until it became clear to me that nothing even resembling puppetry was in play.
The issue is one of relation: how does the sovereignty of God interplay with human freedom. Puppetry (hypercalvinism) negates human responsibility for sin and pretty much everyone agrees it is heretical. Libertarian Free Will is mostly found in Liberal and Pelagianistic systems and is likewise heretical. Everyone else, if we look closely enough, holds to some form of compatabilistic freedom. Which only makes sense. Any view of human freedom which is not COMPATIBLE with divine sovereignty ends up denying sovereignty or severely limiting it.
To my mind, any system in which the human will takes precedence in the initiation, maintenance, or completion of salvation is necessarily pelagianizing.**
Here is the comment from an Orthodox adherent on another blog:
“The very fact that we are created by God, made in His image, and embued with free will is itself a prevenient grace.”
Obviously, Pelagius himself would have no problem making such a statement (which is one of the reasons I have always considered the whole concept of “prevenient grace” to be a manipulative dodge, employed by those who (deep down) held to Pelagianism to some degree but wanted to evade the charge of heresy).
A good number of Catholics and Orthodox believers I converse with acknowledge that the significance of human cooperation in the overall scheme of salvation is miniscule (almost to the point of nonexistence) compared to the role of Christ. They will admit that even the cooperation with which we cooperate with cooperative grace is of grace. That admission is tantamount to embracing monergism. I have no clue whatsoever why they fight so fiercely for the synergistic moniker. Whatever role we play cannot be said to be even on the same plane with divine efforts on our behalf. It shouldn’t be worth arguing about…unless they are harboring pelagianistic tendencies, unless they are overly enamored with the notion of human autonomy.
**By “pelagianizing” I mean that even though it may stop short of heresy, it’s overemphasis on the responsibility of man steers one in that direction.
If that is what Chrysostom taught, then all well and good.
But why point out that the response to God is authentically our own? Is there anyone, anywhere who teaches otherwise?
And why insist that initiation belongs to God, but then waffle on his providential preservation and completion of our salvation?
I agree with you 1,000%. I think if both sides realized we were saying the same thing in two different ways, then we would spend less time being divisive over words and more time in worship and harmonious relations.
As for the doctrine of perseverance, I certainly agree with you that a strong Biblical case may be made. However, the Church has never taught it in the way it has later been understood. Not even Augustine did. As a former Calvinist (and I don’t think I will ever shed my sympathies in this department), we had our ways of shoehorning the doctrine of perseverance within the context of all other Christian thought, which believes that saved Christians can apostatize. We would say, “They were with us but not of us.” So, their faith and everything was just a big illusion, perhaps even to the apostate himself. Not impossible, sure, we decieve ourselves all the time.
So, it is almost like Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein believed that the Earth may be the center of the universe simply if we had a certain perspective. In the same way, Calvinists (and everyone else), if they affirm the existence of apostasy are in reality in agreement. It is there perspective of where they see apostasy as fitting which is different.
When I realized a lot of this (probably a good six months or 1 year before even considering conversion), it made arguing of Calvinism seemingly unimportant.
But yes, it does irk me when people extol human free will, even still. 🙂
To me, there’s not a lot of difference between an “apparent regeneration” ultimately ending in an “apparent apostasy” and a real but temporary regeneration ending in a real but inevitable apostasy.
If we look at the Parable of the Sower and the Seed (what some exegetes now term the Parable of the Soils), we see plants outside of the plowed field which exhibit a modicum of life and growth. We could say that, in some sense, the vital force within them is real. But to what end? And why would it even matter? They will never produce fruit. Their “crop” will never be harvested.
A shallow, meandering stream will accrue sand bars during a stretch of dry weather. Should these sand bars count as “islands”? Will they ever appear on a map? Will any tree grow on them, or any squirrels make their home in its branches? No, no, no, and no!
We need to make very sure of our calling. We need to take our walk very seriously (and that requires acting as if apostasy is truly possible).
But we must NEVER fall for the notion that our success is contingent on our efforts. We must never believe that our Good Shepherd is somehow incompetent or incapable of keeping us in line. His rod and his staff…they comfort us. Not because we enjoy the feel of a cudgel upside the head, or a crook jerked round our neck, but because we know who is in charge. And we know that he is faithful. That he is our strong deliverer.
Not sure if you disagree, because the justification-sanctification debate is for another article.
Not sure what you’re talking about. You wrote concerning apostasy. I wrote back concerning apostasy.
Justification and sanctification are intertwined in the matter, of course, but I have no idea what you’re getting at here.
After reading Augustine’s On the Presestination of Saints and learning from the Dominican view of Grace, I think your conclusion is fairly correct. Is there some nuance within the Augustinian view,—and probably the Orthodox? Sure, but plainly stated in your conclusion: Grace precedes and our faith is our will actively choosing God.
Pretty much this says it. I understood this my closing days as a Calvinist.
\\o// God foreknew those who would respond to him and upon those he set his mark (predestined) – If we are believers in Christ, then God has always known you and we can rejoice in the fact that God’s love is eternal. In His wisdom and power he will guide and protect us until one day we stand in his presence.
Is true that God knows who is going to be saved, but this is not the reason, nor the cause to predestinate them. God knew that Paul will never believe unless He did something in his heart. God did not chose Paul because he was going to respond, because Paul hated God and Christian and was each day even mor hostile to conversion. God changed the heart of Paul before he could believe. God does not forces the will of man, He just take away the veil and the sinners then willingly runs to Christ. He can save every person just by removing the veil, but God did not decide to do so, but instead he decided to save some. He instead planned to never remove the veil, nor let some people hear so the may be lost: “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” (Is 6:10). What God says here is that he does not want them to understand so they will not convert and the perish, because that is his plan. He has the right to do it Rm 9:16-22.
Kindly grant me permission to reference this paper “Augustine versus Chrysostome on Predestination” in a book I am writing that includes Predestination.
Thank you sir.