On Depraved Nature

J.N.D. Kelly 1909-1997
It was in the fourth and fifth centuries that the doctrine of human nature became an issue of prime importance in the Church. For the fathers, with their Biblical presuppositions, the problem was one of history rather than analysis. They sought to explain man’s present situation, and also to throw light on his hope for redemption, by expounding the story (whether taken literally or allegorically) of his creation and fall. During the larger portion of our period, when Greek writers are being passed in review, we shall find that the estimate formed of man’s plight is relatively optimistic. This was partly due to the Hellenic temperament, but partly also to the fact that the rival philosophy was Manichaeism, with its fatalism and its dogma that matter, including the body, was intrisically evil. When we turn to the West and approach the Pelagian controversy, the shadows deepen, and the picture of man passed on to the Middle Ages by Augustine is sombre, even pessimistic.
…The image of God has been defaced. In arguing thus these thinkers are trying to refute Manichaeism by removing the blame for evil from God. But do they hold that, along with its tragic after-effects, Adam has transmitted his actual sinfulness, i.e. his guilt, to posterity? The answer usually given is negative, and much of the evidence seems at first sight to support this. The Greek fathers, with their insistence that man’s free will remains intact and is the root of actual sinning, have a much more optimistic outlook than the West.
The customary verdict, however, seems unjust to the Greek fathers, perhaps because it depends on the assumption that no theory of original sin holds water except the full-blown Latin one. It is imperative to get rid of this prejudice. Admittedly there is hardly a hint in the Greek fathers that mankind as a whole shares in Adam’s guilt, i.e. his culpability. This partly explains their reluctance to speak of his legacy to us as sin, and of course makes their indulgent attitude to children dying unbaptized understandable. But they have the greatest possible feeling for the mystical unity of mankind with its first ancestor. This is the ancient doctrine of recapitulation, and in virtue of it they assume without question that our fall was involved Adam’s. Again, their tendency is to view original sin as wound inflicted on our nature. (Early Christian Doctrines, pg. 344, 349, 350)
Jaroslav Pelikan 1923-2006
It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that the most explicit doctrines of original sin in the second century were taught not by the church fathers, but by the Gnostics; it is also misleading to speak of a “doctrine of original sin” in church fathers such as Irenaeus. Nevertheless, the theories of cosmic redemption in the Gnostic systems were based on an understanding of the human predicament in which man’s incapacity to avoid sin or to evade destiny was fundamental…Simon Magus was accused of teaching that those who were to be saved would receive salvation by grace alone, irrespective of their moral actions, so that moral responsiblity was meaningless… In one way or another, the various schools of Gnosticism depicted man as the victim and slave of forces over which he had no control, and therefore they diagnosed sin as inevitable. (The Emergence of Catholic Tradition (100-600): pp. 282-283, The State of Christian Anthropology)
Tertullian ca. 160-220

Hence it is that heretics start at once from this point, from which they sketch the first draft of their dogmas, and afterwards add the details, being well aware how easily men’s minds are caught by its influence, (and actuated) by that community of human sentiment which is so favourable to their designs. Is there anything else that you can hear of from the heretic, as also from the heathen, earlier in time or greater in extent? Is not (their burden) from the beginning and everywhere an invective against the flesh—against its origin, against its substance, against the casualties and the invariable end which await it; unclean from its first formation of the dregs of the ground, uncleaner afterwards from the mire of its own seminal transmission; worthless, weak, covered with guilt, laden with misery, full of trouble… (On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chap. IV) 

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-236

This Logos, I say, the Father sent forth, in order that the world, on beholding Him, might reverence Him who was delivering precepts not by the person of prophets, nor terrifying the soul by an angel, but who was Himself–He that had spoken–corporally present amongst us. This Logos we know to have received a body from a virgin, and to have remodelled the old man by a new creation. And we believe the Logos to have passed through every period in this life, in order that He Himself might serve as a law for every age, and that, by being present (amongst) us, He might exhibit His own manhood as an aim for all men. And that by Himself in Person He might prove that God made nothing evil, and that man possesses the capacity of self-determination, inasmuch as he is able to will and not to will, and is endued with power to do both. This Man we know to have been made out of the compound of our humanity. For if He were not of the same nature with ourselves, in vain does He ordain that we should imitate the Teacher. For if that Man happened to be of a different substance from us, why does He lay injunctions similar to those He has received on myself, who am born weak; and how is this the act of one that is good and just? In order, however, that He might not be supposed to be different from us, He even underwent toil, and was willing to endure hunger, and did not refuse to feel thirst, and sunk into the quietude of slumber. He did not protest against His Passion, but became obedient unto death, and manifested His resurrection. Now in all these acts He offered up, as the first-fruits, His own manhood, in order that thou, when thou art in tribulation, mayest not be disheartened, but, confessing thyself to be a man (of like nature with the Redeemer), mayest dwell in expectation of also receiving what the Father has granted unto this Son. (The Refutation of All Heresies, Bk. 10, Chap. 29)

Origen of Alexandria ca. 185-254

Seeing, then, that these positions are thus established by a sort of natural evidence, is it not superfluous to throw back the causes of our actions on those things which happen to us from without, and thus transfer the blame from ourselves, on whom it wholly lies? For this is to say that we are like pieces of wood, or stones, which have no motion in themselves, but receive the causes of their motion from without. Now such an assertion is neither true nor becoming, and is invented only that the freedom of the will may be denied; unless, indeed, we are to suppose that the freedom of the will consists in this, that nothing which happens to us from without can incite us to good or evil. And if any one were to refer the causes of our faults to the natural disorder of the body, such a theory is proved to be contrary to the reason of all teaching. (De Principiis Book 3.5)

Let us begin, then, with what is said about Pharaoh— that he was hardened by God, that he might not send away the people; along with which will be examined also the statement of the apostle, Therefore has He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens. And certain of those who hold different opinions misuse these passages, themselves also almost destroying free-will by introducing ruined natures incapable of salvation, and others saved which it is impossible can be lost; and Pharaoh, they say, as being of a ruined nature, is therefore hardened by God, who has mercy upon the spiritual, but hardens the earthly. Let us see now what they mean. For we shall ask them if Pharaoh was of an earthy nature; and when they answer, we shall say that he who is of an earthy nature is altogether disobedient to God: but if disobedient, what need is there of his heart being hardened, and that not once, but frequently? Unless perhaps, since it was possible for him to obey (in which case he would certainly have obeyed, as not being earthy, when hard pressed by the signs and wonders), God needs him to be disobedient to a greater degree, in order that He may manifest His mighty deeds for the salvation of the multitude, and therefore hardens his heart. This will be our answer to them in the first place, in order to overturn their supposition that Pharaoh was of a ruined nature. And the same reply must be given to them with respect to the statement of the apostle. For whom does God harden? Those who perish, as if they would obey unless they were hardened, or manifestly those who would be saved because they are not of a ruined nature. And on whom has He mercy? Is it on those who are to be saved? And how is there need of a second mercy for those who have been prepared once for salvation, and who will by all means become blessed on account of their nature? Unless perhaps, since they are capable of incurring destruction, if they did not receive mercy, they will obtain mercy, in order that they may not incur that destruction of which they are capable, but may be in the condition of those who are saved. And this is our answer to such persons. (ibid. Book 3.8 Greek Trans.)

But let us take from the Gospels also the similitudes of those things which we have mentioned, in which is described a certain rock, having on it a little superficial earth, on which, when a seed falls, it is said quickly to spring up; but when sprung up, it withers as the sun ascends in the heavens, and dies away, because it did not cast its root deeply into the ground. Now this rock undoubtedly represents the human soul, hardened on account of its own negligence, and converted into stone because of its wickedness. For God gave no one a stony heart by a creative act; but each individual’s heart is said to become stony through his own wickedness and disobedience. (ibid. Book 3.14)

St. Methodius of Olympus + 311

Well, then, the connection of these names with substance is owing to its accidents. For murder is not a substance, nor is any other evil; but the substance receives a cognate name from putting it into practice. For a man is not (spoken of as) murder, but by committing it he receives the derived name of murderer, without being himself murder; and, to speak concisely, no other evil is a substance; but by practising any evil, it can be called evil. Similarly consider, if you imagine anything else to be the cause of evil to men, that it too is evil by reason of its acting by them, and suggesting the committal of evil. For a man is evil in consequence of his actions. For he is said to be evil, because he is the doer of evil. Now what a man does, is not the man himself, but his activity, and it is from his actions that he receives the title of evil. For if we were to say that he is that which he does, and he commits murders, adulteries, and such-like, he will be all these. Now if he is these, then when they are produced he has an existence, but when they are not, he too ceases to be. Now these things are produced by men. Men then will be the authors of them, and the causes of their existing or not existing. But if each man is evil in consequence of what he practises, and what he practises has an origin, he also made a beginning in evil, and evil too had a beginning. Now if this is the case, no one is without a beginning in evil, nor are evil things without an origin…

Because there is nothing evil by nature, but it is by use that evil things become such. So I say, says he, that man was made with a free-will, not as if there were already evil in existence, which he had the power of choosing if he wished, but on account of his capacity of obeying or disobeying God. For this was the meaning of the gift of Free Will. And man after his creation receives a commandment from God; and from this at once rises evil, for he does not obey the divine command; and this alone is evil, namely, disobedience, which had a beginning.

For man received power, and enslaved himself, not because he was overpowered by the irresistible tendencies of his nature, nor because the capacity with which he was gifted deprived him of what was better for him; for it was for the sake of this that I say he was endowed with it (but he received the power above mentioned), in order that he may obtain an addition to what he already possesses, which accrues to him from the Superior Being in consequence of his obedience, and is demanded as a debt from his Maker. For I say that man was made not for destruction, but for better things. For if he were made as any of the elements, or those things which render a similar service to God, he would cease to receive a reward befitting deliberate choice, and would be like an instrument of the maker; and it would be unreasonable for him to suffer blame for his wrong-doings, for the real author of them is the one by whom he is used. But man did not understand better things, since he did not know the author (of his existence), but only the object for which he was made. (Concerning Free Will)

Archelaus ca. 320

Archelaus said: What say you of the race of men? Is it unbegotten, or is it a production? 

Manes said: It is a production

Archelaus said: If man is a production, who is the parent of adultery and fornication, and such other things? Whose fruit is this? Before man was made, who was there to be a fornicator, or an adulterer, or a murderer?

Manes said: If man is fashioned of the evil nature, it is manifest that he is such a fruit, whether he sins or does not sin. From this, the name and race of men are once and for all and absolutely of this character. (Disputation of Archelaus and Manes)

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 293-373

Now certain of the Greeks, having erred from the right way, and not having known Christ, have ascribed to evil a substantive and independent existence. In this they make a double mistake: either in denying the Creator to be maker of all things, if evil had an independent subsistence and being of its own; or again, if they mean that He is maker of all things, they will of necessity admit Him to be maker of evil also. For evil, according to them, is included among existing things. But this must appear paradoxical and impossible. For evil does not come from good, nor is it in, or the result of, good, since in that case it would not be good, being mixed in its nature or a cause of evil. But the sectaries, who have fallen away from the teaching of the Church, and made shipwreck concerning the Faith 1 Timothy 1:19, they also wrongly think that evil has a substantive existence. (Against the Heathen, Part 1.6)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

For it is not according to your nativity that you sin, nor is it by the power of chance that you commit fornication…

The soul is immortal, and all souls are alike both of men and women; for only the members of the body are distinguished. There is not a class of souls sinning by nature, and a class of souls practising righteousness by nature : but both act from choice, the substance of their souls being of one kind only, and alike in all. I know, however, that I am talking much, and that the time is already long: but what is more precious than salvation? Are you not willing to take trouble in getting provisions for the way against the heretics? And will you not learn the bye-paths of the road, lest from ignorance thou fall down a precipice? If your teachers think it no small gain for you to learn these things, should not thou the learner gladly receive the multitude of things told you?

The soul is self-governed: and though the devil can suggest, he has not the power to compel against the will. He pictures to you the thought of fornication: if you will, you accept it; if you will not, you reject. For if you were a fornicator by necessity, then for what cause did God prepare hell? If you were a doer of righteousness by nature and not by will, wherefore did God prepare crowns of ineffable glory? The sheep is gentle, but never was it crowned for its gentleness: since its gentle quality belongs to it not from choice but by nature. (Catechetical Lectures IV)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

Moreover, in no other way was it possible for the Love of God toward us to be manifested than by making mention of our flesh, and that for our sake He descended even to our lower part. For that flesh is less precious than soul, everyone who has a spark of sense will acknowledge. And so the passage, The Word was made Flesh, seems to me to be equivalent to that in which it is said that He was made sin, (2 Cor. 5:21) or a curse (Gal.3:13) for us; not that the Lord was transformed into either of these, how could He be? (Epistle to Cledonius)

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

Is it not from hence that have come forth Marcions and Valentini, and the detestable heresy of the Manicheans, which you may without going far wrong call the putrid humour of the churches…It is equally impious to say that evil has its origin from God; because the contrary cannot proceed from its contrary. Life does not engender death; darkness is not the origin of light; sickness is not the maker of health. In the changes of conditions there are transitions from one condition to the contrary; but in genesis each being proceeds from its like, and not from its contrary. If then evil is neither uncreate nor created by God, from whence comes its nature? Certainly that evil exists, no one living in the world will deny. What shall we say then? Evil is not a living animated essence; it is the condition of the soul opposed to virtue, developed in the careless on account of their falling away from good. Do not then go beyond yourself to seek for evil, and imagine that there is an original nature of wickedness. Each of us, let us acknowledge it, is the first author of his own vice… Do not look for the guiding cause beyond yourself, but recognise that evil, rightly so called, has no other origin than our voluntary falls. If it were involuntary, and did not depend upon ourselves, the laws would not have so much terror for the guilty, and the tribunals would not be so without pity when they condemn (Hexæmeron, Homily 2.4-5)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 339-397

You perceive that men are not made guilty by the fact of their birth, but by their evil behaviour. (Quaest. vet. et. novi test. 21 f, quoted in Kelly Early Christian Doctrines, pg. 356)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

Rom. 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…

As the best physicians always take great pains to discover the source of diseases, and go to the very fountain of the mischief, so does the blessed Paul also. Hence after having said that we were justified, and having shown it from the Patriarch, and from the Spirit, and from the dying of Christ (for He would not have died unless He intended to justify), he next confirms from other sources also what he had at such length demonstrated. And he confirms his proposition from things opposite, that is, from death and sin. How, and in what way? He enquires whence death came in, and how it prevailed. How then did death come in and prevail? Through the sin of one. But what means, for that all have sinned? This; he having once fallen, even they that had not eaten of the tree did from him, all of them, become mortal.

Rom. 8:3 For what the Law could not do, he says, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.

Again, he seems indeed to be disparaging the Law. But if any one attends strictly, he even highly praises it, by showing that it harmonizes with Christ, and gives preference to the same things. For he does not speak of the badness of the Law, but of what it could not do; and so again, in that it was weak, not, in that it was mischievous, or designing. And even weakness he does not ascribe to it, but to the flesh, as he says, in that it was weak through the flesh, using the word flesh here again not for the essence and subsistency itself, but giving its name to the more carnal sort of mind. In which way he acquits both the body and the Law of any accusation…

He confessed that He was the Son of Man, and stood by it (i.e. the flesh), and condemned the sin. However, He did not endure to smite it besides; or rather, He smote it with the blow of His death, but in this very act it was not the smitten flesh which was condemned and perished, but the sin which had been smiting…

For this is what he means by saying, for sin condemned sin in the flesh. As if he had said that he had convicted it of great sin, and then condemned it. So you see it is sin that gets condemned everywhere, and not the flesh, for this is even crowned with honor, and has to give sentence against the other. But if he does say that it was in the likeness of flesh that he sent the Son, do not therefore suppose that His flesh was of a different kind. For as he called it sinful, this was why he put the word likeness. For sinful flesh it was not that Christ had, but like indeed to our sinful flesh, yet sinless, and in nature the same with us. And so even from this it is plain that by nature the flesh was not evil. For it was not by taking a different one instead of the former, nor by changing this same one in substance, that Christ caused it to regain the victory: but He let it abide in its own nature, and yet made it bind on the crown of victory over sin, and then after the victory raised it up, and made it immortal. What then, it may be said, is this to me, whether it was this flesh that these things happened in? Nay, it concerns you very much. (Homily 13 on Romans)

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

The soul is neither by nature divine nor by nature part of the darkness of wickedness, but is a creature, intellectual, beautiful, unique, and admmirable. It is a beautiful likeness and image of God. Into that likeness the wickedness of passions of the dark world entered through the fall. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 1.7)

If you say that the enemy has too great a power and that evil completely dominates man, you make God unjust, who would condemn human nature for surrendering to Satan since Satan is really stronger and forces man into submission by his power. “You make him greater and more powerful than the soul. But will you ever listen to my plea?” It is like a young man wrestling with a child. if the child loses, he is condemned for having been weaker. This is a great injustice. But again we insist that the mind is a good match and is equipped with equal powers of combat. A soul like this, if it seriously seeks aid and strength, will obtain it and will be considered worthy of redemption. (ibid, Homily 3.6)

Those who affirm that evil exists in itself are really most ignorant. For in God no evil can exist by itself since he himself is not subject to passions and he possesses divinity. In us, however, it works with full power, especially in our senses, suggesting all sorts of obscene desires. In us it is not like, say, wine mixed with water. It is more like wheat in the same field by itself and the tares by themselves. It is like a robber in one part of the house and the owner in another. (ibid., Homily 16)

Blessed Augustine ca. 354-430

What does sinful flesh have? Death and sin. What does the likeness of sinful flesh have? Death without sin. (Sermons for Easter Season, Homily 233.3)

But the consideration we wish most to urge is the truth of the Catholic doctrine, if they can understand it, that God is the author of all natures. I urged this before when I said, I join with you in your condemnation of destructiveness, of blindness, of dense muddiness, of terrific violence, of perishableness, of the ferocity of the princes, and so on; join with me in commending form, classification, arrangement, harmony, unity of structure, symmetry and correspondence of members, provision for vital breath and nourishment, wholesome adaptation, regulation and control by the mind, and the subjection of the bodies, and the assimilation and agreement of parts in the natures, both those inhabiting and those inhabited, and all the other things of the same kind. From this, if they would only think honestly, they would understand that it implies a mixture of good and evil, even in the region where they suppose evil to be alone and in perfection: so that if the evils mentioned were taken away, the good things will remain, without anything to detract from the commendation given to them; whereas, if the good things are taken away, no nature is left. From this every one sees, who can see, that every nature, as far as it is nature, is good; since in one and the same thing in which I found something to praise, and he found something to blame, if the good things are taken away, no nature will remain; but if the disagreeable things are taken away, the nature will remain unimpaired. (Against the Epistle of Manicheus Called Fundamental, Chap. 33)

But perhaps you will say that these evils cannot be removed from the natures, and must therefore be considered natural. The question at present is not what can be taken away, and what cannot; but it certainly helps to a clear perception that these natures, as far as they are natures, are good, when we see that the good things can be thought of without these evil things, while without these good things no nature can be conceived of.

My only remark on this is one closely connected with our subject: that any nature may be in some case disagreeable, so as to excite hatred towards the whole nature; though it is clear that the form of a real living beast, even when it excites terror in the woods, is far better than that of the artificial imitation which is commended in a painting on the wall. We must not then be misled into this error by Manichæus, or be hindered from observing the forms of the natures, by his finding fault with some things in them in such a way as to make us disapprove of them entirely, when it is impossible to show that they deserve entire disapproval. And when our minds are thus composed and prepared to form a just judgment, we may ask whence come those evils which I have said that I condemn. It will be easier to see this if we class them all under one name. (ibid., Chap. 34)

But for the sake of those who, not being able to understand that all nature, that is, every spirit and every body, is naturally good, are moved by the iniquity of spirit and the mortality of body, and on this account endeavor to bring in another nature of wicked spirit and mortal body, which God did not make, we determine thus to bring to their understanding what we say can be brought. For they acknowledge that no good thing can exist save from the highest and true God, which also is true and suffices for correcting them, if they are willing to give heed. (On the Nature of Good, 2)

But if corruption take away all measure, all form, all order from corruptible things, no nature will remain. And consequently every nature which cannot be corrupted is the highest good, as is God. But every nature that can be corrupted is also itself some good; for corruption cannot injure it, except by taking away from or diminishing that which is good. (ibid., 6)

No nature, therefore, as far as it is nature, is evil; but to each nature there is no evil except to be diminished in respect of good. But if by being diminished it should be consumed so that there is no good, no nature would be left… (ibid., 17)

St. John Cassian ca. 360-435

Adam therefore after the fall conceived a knowledge of evil which he had not previously, but did not lose the knowledge of good which he had before. Finally the Apostle’s words very clearly show that mankind did not lose after the fall of Adam the knowledge of good: as he says: For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things of the law, these, though they have not the law, are a law to themselves, as they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to these, and their thoughts within them either accusing or else excusing them, in the day in which God shall judge the secrets of men. (Rom. 2:14-16) And with the same meaning the Lord rebukes by the prophet the unnatural but freely chosen blindness of the Jews, which they by their obstinacy brought upon themselves, saying: Hear you deaf, and you blind, behold that you may see. Who is deaf but My servant? And blind, but he to whom I have sent My messengers? (Isa.42:18-19) And that no one might ascribe this blindness of theirs to nature instead of to their own will, elsewhere He says: Bring forth the people that are blind and have eyes: that are deaf and have ears; and again: having eyes, but you see not; and ears, but you hear not. The Lord also says in the gospel: Because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not neither do they understand. (Matt. 13:13) And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: Hearing you shall hear and shall not understand: and seeing you shall see and shall not see. For the heart of this people is waxed fat, and their ears are dull of hearing: and they have closed their eyes, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart, and be turned and I should heal them. (Isa. 6:9-10) Finally in order to denote that the possibility of good was in them, in chiding the Pharisees, He says: But why of your own selves do you not judge what is right? (Lk. 12:57) And this he certainly would not have said to them, unless He knew that by their natural judgment they could discern what was fair. Wherefore we must take care not to refer all the merits of the saints to the Lord in such a way as to ascribe nothing but what is evil and perverse to human nature: in doing which we are confuted by the evidence of the most wise Solomon, or rather of the Lord Himself, Whose words these are; for when the building of the Temple was finished and he was praying, he spoke as follows: And David my father would have built a house to the name of the Lord God of Israel: and the Lord said to David my father: Whereas you have thought in your heart to build a house to My name, you have well done in having this same thing in your mind. Nevertheless you shall not build a house to My name. (1 Kings 8:17-19) This thought then and this purpose of king David, are we to call it good and from God or bad and from man? For if that thought was good and from God, why did He by whom it was inspired refuse that it should be carried into effect? But if it is bad and from man, why is it praised by the Lord? It remains then that we must take it as good and from man. And in the same way we can take our own thoughts today. (Conferences, XII)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

We became sinners through the disobedience of Adam in this way: he was created in immortality and in life; and in the paradise of pleasure his manner was always and entirely absorbed in the vision of God, his body in tranquility and quiet, without any shameful pleasure; for there was in him no uproar of untoward movements. But when he fell into sin and became subject to corruption, then impure pleasures crept in upon the nature of the flesh, and the law of the violent was brought forth in our members. Our nature, therefore, contracted the illness of sin “through the disobedience of the one,” that is, of Adam; and thus “the many were made sinners,” not as if they had sinned along with Adam, for they did not yet exist, but having his nature, which fell under the law of sin. (Commentary on Romans, 5:18. Pusey, p. 186)

…[H]e refers to them as evil offspring (cf. Isa. 1:4), not that by nature they are or have been turned into such people, but because they are wicked children of wicked forbears, in accord with John’s statement; he said to the scribes and Pharisees themselves who came for the baptism of repentance, “Brood of vipers” —  that is, though their forbears admittedly were initially holy in the beginning, after them they were quite profane. (Commentary on Isaiah)

St. Prosper of Aquitaine ca. 390-455

For in that ruin of the universal fall neither the substance nor the will of human nature has been snatched away; but it has been deprived of the light and glory of its virtues by the deceit of the Envious One. But when it had lost that by which it would have been able to achieve eternity and in incorruption of body and soul that could not be lost, what did it have left except that which pertain to temporal life, the whole of which belongs to damnation and punishment? That is why those born in Adam need to be reborn in Christ, lest they be found in that generation which perishes. (The Grace of God and Free Choice: A Book Against the Conference Master, 9.3)

St. Vincent of Lerins + 445

 Shun profane novelties of words, which to receive and follow was never the part of Catholics; of heretics always was. In truth, what heresy ever burst forth save under a definite name, at a definite place, at a definite time? Who ever originated a heresy that did not first dissever himself from the consentient agreement of the universality and antiquity of the Catholic Church? That this is so is demonstrated in the clearest way by examples. For who ever before that profane Pelagius attributed so much antecedent strength to Free-will, as to deny the necessity of God’s grace to aid it towards good in every single act? Who ever before his monstrous disciple Cœlestius denied that the whole human race is involved in the guilt of Adam’s sin? Who ever before sacrilegious Arius dared to rend asunder the unity of the Trinity? Who before impious Sabellius was so audacious as to confound the Trinity of the Unity? Who before cruellest Novatian represented God as cruel in that He had rather the wicked should die than that he should be converted and live? Who before Simon Magus, who was smitten by the apostle’s rebuke, and from whom that ancient sink of every thing vile has flowed by a secret continuous succession even to Priscillian of our own time,— who, I say, before this Simon Magus, dared to say that God, the Creator, is the author of evil, that is, of our wickednesses, impieties, flagitiousnesses, inasmuch as he asserts that He created with His own hands a human nature of such a description, that of its own motion, and by the impulse of its necessity-constrained will, it can do nothing else, can will nothing else, but sin, seeing that tossed to and fro, and set on fire by the furies of all sorts of vices, it is hurried away by unquenchable lust into the utmost extremes of baseness? (The Commonitory, Chap. 24)

St. Dionysius the Areopagite ca. 5th cent.

Nor is the common saying true that deprivation fights by its natural power against the Good. Total deprivation is utterly impotent; and that which is partial has its power, not in so far as it is a deprivation, but in so far as it is not a total deprivation. For when the lack of the Good is not total, evil is not as yet; and when it becomes perfect, evil itself utterly vanishes. (On the Divine Names 4, 29 729c1-6)

St. Mark the Ascetic ca. 5th cent.

When evil thoughts become active within us, we should blame ourselves and not ancestral sin. (On Those who Think They are Made Righteous by Works, 120)

St Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

The vices, whether of the concupiscible, the irascible, or the rational element, come upon us with the misuse of the faculties of the soul. Misuse of the rational faculty is ignorance and folly, of the irascible and concupiscible faculty, hate and intemperance. Their right use is knowledge and prudence. If this is so, nothing created and given existence by God is evil.

It is not food which is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but fornication, not possessions but greed, not reputation but vainglory. And if this is so, there is nothing evil in creatures except misuse, which stems from the mind’s negligence in its natural cultivation.

The blessed Dionysius says that among the demons this is what evil is: irrational anger, senseless lust, reckless imagination. But among rational beings unreasonableness, recklessness, and rashness are privations of reason, sense, and circumspection. Now privations follow upon habits; so then the demons once had reason, sense, and religious circumspection. If this is correct, then neither are the demons evil by nature; rather they have become evil through the misuse of the natural faculties. (The Four Hundred Chapters on Love, Third Century: 3-5)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

Our struggles against the vices has not been naturally implanted in us by God our Father and creator, but is proved to have befallen us from our love of this world, which we preferred to our creator. For God made human beings upright, and they have involved themselves in endless questions, as Solomon bears witness. (Commentary on 1 John 2:16)

St. Isaac the Syrian + 700

Sin, Gehenna, and death do not exist at all with God, for they are effects, not substances. Sin is the fruit of free will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist. Gehenna is the fruit of sin. At some point in time it had a beginning, but its end is not known. Death, however, is a dispensation of the wisdom of the Creator. It will rule only a short time over nature; then it will be totally abolished. Satan’s name derives from voluntary turning aside from the truth; it is not an indication that he exists as such naturally. (The Ascetical Homilies, 27)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Why did Saul seek to apprehend and kill David whom he had formerly honored as himself and greatly loved as a benefactor? Was it by nature or out of a evil will? Obviously it was out of ill will. No one is born evil by nature, since God did not create evil works but things that were very good. (The Discourses Chap. 4.2, On Tears of Penitence)

As for those who make excuses for themselves, let them not say that we are totally under the influence of Adam’s trangression and so dragged down into sin. Those who think and speak to this effect claim that the coming of our Master and our God was to no purpose and vain. These are words fit for heretics, not believers! (ibid. Chap. 5.10, On Penitence)

St. Gregory Palamas 1296-1359

It should be remembered that no evil thing is evil insofar as it exists, but insofar as it is turned aside from the activity appropriate of it, and thus from the end assigned to this activity. (The Triads, A. 19, pg. 28)

How can it be that God at the beginning caused the mind to inhabit the body? Did he even do ill? Rather, brother, such views befit the heretics, who claim that the body is an evil thing, a fabrication of the Wicked One.

As for us, we think the mind becomes evil through dwelling on flehly thoughts, but that there is nothing bad in the body, since the body is not evil in itself…If the Apostle calls the body “death” (saying, “Who will deliver me from the body of death?”), this is because the material and corporeal thought does really have the form of the body. Then, comparing it to spiritual and divine ideas, he justly calls it “body” – yet not simply “body” but “body of death”. Further on, he makes it even clearer that what he is attacking is not the body, but the sinful desire that entered in because of the Fall: “I am sold to sin,” he says. But he who is sold is not a slave by nature. And again: “I well know that what is good does not dwell in me, that is, in the flesh.” You note that he does not say the flesh is evil, but what inhabits it. Likewise, there is nothing evil in the fact that the mind indwells the body; what is evil is “the law which is our members, which fight against the law of the mind.” (ibid., C. I, pp. 41-42)

Synod of Jerusalem 1672 a.d.

 We believe the tri-personal God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to be the maker of all things visible and invisible; and the invisible are the angelic Powers, rational souls, and demons, — though God made not the demons what they afterwards became by their own choice, — but the visible are heaven and what is under heaven. And because the Maker is good by nature, He made all things very good {cf. Genesis 1:31} whatsoever He hath made, nor can He ever be the maker of evil. But if there be aught evil, that is to say, sin, come about contrarily to the Divine Will, in man or in demon, — for that evil is simply in nature, we do not acknowledge, — it is either of man, or of the devil. For it is a true and infallible rule, that God is in no wise the author of evil, nor can it at all by just reasoning be attributed to God. (Confession of Dositheus, Decree IV)

We believe the first man created by God to have fallen in Paradise, when, disregarding the Divine commandment, he yielded to the deceitful counsel of the serpent. And hence hereditary sin flowed to his posterity; so that none is born after the flesh who beareth not this burden, and experienceth not the fruits thereof in this present world. But by these fruits and this burden we do not understand [actual] sin, such as impiety, blasphemy, murder, sodomy, adultery, fornication, enmity, and whatsoever else is by our depraved choice committed contrarily to the Divine Will, not from nature; for many both of the Forefathers and of the Prophets, and vast numbers of others, as well of those under the shadow [of the Law], as under the truth [of the Gospel], such as the divine Precursor, {St. John the Baptist} and especially the Mother of God the Word, the ever-virgin Mary, experienced not these, or such like faults; but only what the Divine Justice inflicted upon man as a punishment for the [original] transgression, such as sweats in labour, afflictions, bodily sicknesses, pains in child-bearing, and, in fine {in summation ELC}, while on our pilgrimage, to live a laborious life, and lastly, bodily death. (ibid. Decree VI)

  We believe man in falling by the [original] transgression to have become comparable and like unto the beasts, that is, to have been utterly undone, and to have fallen from his perfection and impassibility, yet not to have lost the nature and power which he had received from the supremely good God. For otherwise he would not be rational, and consequently not man; but to have the same nature, in which he was created, and the same power of his nature, that is free-will, living and operating. So as to be by nature able to choose and do what is good, and to avoid and hate what is evil. For it is absurd to say that the nature which was created good by Him who is supremely good lacketh the power of doing good. For this would be to make that nature evil — than which what could be more impious? For the power of working dependeth upon nature, and nature upon its author, although in a different manner. And that a man is able by nature to do what is good, even our Lord Himself intimateth, saying, even the Gentiles love those that love them. {Matthew 5:46; Luke 6:32} But this is taught most plainly by Paul also, in Romans chap. i. [ver.] 19, {Rather chap. ii., ver. 14. JNWBR} and elsewhere expressly, saying in so many words, “The Gentiles which have no law do by nature the things of the law.” From which it is also manifest that the good which a man may do cannot forsooth be sin. For it is impossible that what is good can be evil. Albeit, being done by nature only, and tending to form the natural character of the doer, but not the spiritual, it contributeth not unto salvation thus alone without faith, nor yet indeed unto condemnation, for it is not possible that good, as such, can be the cause of evil. But in the regenerated, what is wrought by grace, and with grace, maketh the doer perfect, and rendereth him worthy of salvation.

A man, therefore, before he is regenerated, is able by nature to incline to what is good, and to choose and work moral good. But for the regenerated to do spiritual good — for the works of the believer being contributory to salvation and wrought by supernatural grace are properly called spiritual — it is necessary that he be guided and prevented by grace, as hath been said in treating of predestination; so that he is not able of himself to do any work worthy of a Christian life, although he hath it in his own power to will, or not to will, to co-operate with grace. (ibid. Decree XIV)


Speak Your Mind