I’ve been heavily involved in the subject of predestination and free will this summer (a part of the Calvinist-Arminian debate). However, for all the discussion I’ve provided here, I’ve done very little work on the views of the early church regarding these theological issues. So, starting today, I’m gonna bring you quotes daily from the church fathers.
For those of you who are dying to go book shopping (my favorite shopping), I recommend the book “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” by editor David W. Bercot. The book is published by Hendrickson Publishers, and the seventh edition was printed in March 2008. If you want something on the theology of the church fathers, you should buy this book. You can order it from Amazon, Books-a-Million, or even Barnes and Noble.
I will be publishing and discussing quotes from that book here, as we explore what the church fathers had to say regarding the compatibility of free will and predestination. For most people, I think the views of the church fathers may shock them.
To begin here, I’d like to provide the first quote from an early Christian
apologist, Justin Martyr:
“Lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever occurs happens by a FATAL NECESSITY, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Now, if this is not so, but all things happen by fate, THEN NEITHER IS ANYTHING AT ALL IN OUR POWER. For if it is predetermined that this man will be good, and this other man will be evil, neither is the first one meritorious nor the latter man to be blamed. And again, unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions (Justin Martyr, c. 160E, 1.177)” (“A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed By the Early Church Fathers” by David W. Bercot, editor. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.).
Justin Martyr says something in the above quote that I think is worth repeating: “For if it is predetermined that this man will be good, and this other man will be evil, neither is the first one meritorious nor the latter man to be blamed…” If God has decided everything for us, including our decision of eternity, then what need is there to bestow rewards upon those who “do right,” or bestow punishment upon those who “do evil”? Merit or reward can only come from someone who has “done” something of their own accord to receive, not someone who has been “forced” or “dragged” into doing something.
It seems from Martyr’s quote that he upholds both God’s divine foreknowledge and man’s free choice simultaneously. Justin Martyr doesn’t seem to be perplexed about whether or not they fit together—he believed that they peacefully coexisted, not that they were in theological tension.
In his last statement of the above quote, Justin Martyr shows how power and responsibility fit together: “…unless the human race has the POWER of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not ACCOUNTABLE for their actions.” With power comes responsibility; but with responsibility also comes power. Man cannot be held responsible for wrong choices if he had no POWER over his choices. But free choice is negated (and so is power) if God PREDETERMINES someone’s choices in life (and eternity).
I’ll discuss more on the church fathers in the succeeding posts.