On Election and Foreknowledge

 Philip Schaff 1819-1893

[We] may say every reflecting Christian must believe in some sort of election by free grace; and, in fact, the Holy Scriptures are full of it. But up to the time of Augustine the doctrine had never been an object of any very profound inquiry, and had therefore never been accurately defined, but only very superficially and casually touched. The Greek fathers, and Tertullian, Ambrose, Jerome, and Pelagius, had only taught a conditional predestination, which they made dependent on the foreknowledge of the free acts of men. In this, as in his views of sin and grace, Augustine went far beyond the earlier divines, taught an unconditional election of grace, and restricted the purpose of redemption to a definite circle of the elect, who constitute the minority of the race. (History of the Christian Church III Chap. IX § 158. The Doctrine of Predestination)

The Greek church ignored Augustin, and still more Gottschalk, and adheres to this day to the anthropology of the Nicene and ante-Nicene fathers, who laid as great stress on the freedom of the will as on divine grace. John of Damascus teaches an absolute foreknowledge, but not an absolute foreordination of God, because God cannot foreordain sin, which He wills not, and which, on the contrary, He condemns and punishes; and He does not force virtue upon the reluctant will. The Latin church retained a traditional reverence for Augustin, as her greatest divine, but never committed herself to his scheme of predestination. (History of the Christian Church IV Chap XI § 119. The Predestinarian Controversy)

H/T to JNorm over at Ancient Christian Defense for his excellent treatment of how the fathers defined foreknowledge.

Barnabas ca. 70-130

Behold, therefore, we have been refashioned, as again He says in another prophet, “Behold, saith the Lord, I will take away from these, that is, from those whom the Spirit of the Lord foresaw, their stony hearts, and I will put hearts of flesh within them,” because He was to be manifested in flesh, and to sojourn among us. For, my brethren, the habitation of our heart is a holy temple to the Lord. (Epistle of Barnabas, Chap. VI)

Hermas ca. 100-150

“That you may behold,” he added, “the great mercy of the Lord, that it is great and glorious, and that He has given His Spirit to those who are worthy of repentance.” “Why then, sir,” I said, “did not all these repent?” He answered, “To them whose heart He saw would become pure, and obedient to Him, He gave power to repent with the whole heart. But to them whose deceit and wickedness He perceived, and saw that they intended to repent hypocritically, He did not grant repentance, lest they should again profane His name.” (The Shepherd of Hermas, Book Third, Similitude 8 Chap. VI)

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

Furthermore, I have proved in what has preceded, that those who were foreknown to be unrighteous, whether men or angels, are not made wicked by God’s fault, but each man by his own fault is what he will appear to be. (Dialogue with Trypho, Chap. CXL)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons ca. 2nd cent. -202

Those persons, therefore, who have apostatized from the light given by the Father, and transgressed the law of liberty, have done so through their own fault, since they have been created free agents, and possessed of power over themselves.

But God, foreknowing all things, prepared fit habitations for both, kindly conferring that light which they desire on those who seek after the light of incorruption, and resort to it; but for the despisers and mockers who avoid and turn themselves away from this light, and who do, as it were, blind themselves, He has prepared darkness suitable to persons who oppose the light, and He has inflicted an appropriate punishment upon those who try to avoid being subject to Him. Submission to God is eternal rest, so that they who shun the light have a place worthy of their flight; and those who fly from eternal rest, have a habitation in accordance with their fleeing. Now, since all good things are with God, they who by their own determination fly from God, do defraud themselves of all good things; and having been [thus] defrauded of all good things with respect to God, they shall consequently fall under the just judgment of God. For those persons who shun rest shall justly incur punishment, and those who avoid the light shall justly dwell in darkness. For as in the case of this temporal light, those who shun it do deliver themselves over to darkness, so that they do themselves become the cause to themselves that they are destitute of light, and do inhabit darkness; and, as I have already observed, the light is not the cause of such an [unhappy] condition of existence to them; so those who fly from the eternal light of God, which contains in itself all good things, are themselves the cause to themselves of their inhabiting eternal darkness, destitute of all good things, having become to themselves the cause of [their consignment to] an abode of that nature. (Against Heresies IV:39:3-4)

Tertullian ca. 160-220

Now, although you will have it that He is inconstant in respect of persons, sometimes disapproving where approbation is deserved; or else wanting in foresight, bestowing approbation on men who ought rather to be reprobated, as if He either censured His own past judgments, or could not forecast His future ones; yet nothing is so consistent for even a good judge as both to reject and to choose on the merits of the present moment. Saul is chosen, but he is not yet the despiser of the prophet Samuel. Solomon is rejected; but he is now become a prey to foreign women, and a slave to the idols of Moab and Sidon. What must the Creator do, in order to escape the censure of the Marcionites? Must He prematurely condemn men, who are thus far correct in their conduct, because of future delinquencies? But it is not the mark of a good God to condemn beforehand persons who have not yet deserved condemnation. Must He then refuse to eject sinners, on account of their previous good deeds? But it is not the characteristic of a just judge to forgive sins in consideration of former virtues which are no longer practised. Now, who is so faultless among men, that God could always have him in His choice, and never be able to reject him? Or who, on the other hand, is so void of any good work, that God could reject him for ever, and never be able to choose him? Show me, then, the man who is always good, and he will not be rejected; show me, too, him who is always evil, and he will never be chosen.  Should, however, the same man, being found on different occasions in the pursuit of both (good and evil) be recompensed in both directions by God, who is both a good and judicial Being, He does not change His judgments through inconstancy or want of foresight, but dispenses reward according to the deserts of each case with a most unwavering and provident decision. (The Five Books Against Marcion, Book II, Chap. XXIII)

Origen of Alexandria ca. 185-254

When God undertook in the beginning to create the world; for nothing that comes be is without a cause, each of the things that would ever exist was presented to His mind. He saw what else would result when such a thing were produced; and if such a result were accomplished, what else would accompany; and what else would be the result even of this when it would come about. And so on to the conclusion of the sequence of events, He knew what would be, without being altogether the cause of the coming to be of each of the things which He knew would happen. (Commentaries on Genesis, Book III,6)

Eusebius of Caesarea ca. 263-339

And if it must needs be said that foreknowledge of events is not the cause of the occurence of those events; for a foreknown sinner, when he sins, does not thereby hold God within his power – why, what is even more wonderful, we do in fact say that the event about to take place is the cause of the existence of the foreknowledge concerning it. For not because it is known does it take place; but because it is about to take place, it is known. A distinction must be made. Indeed, we will not concede to the interpretation some make: that something absolutely must come about because what is foreknown must necessarily be about to take place. For we do not say that because it was foreknown that Judas would become a traitor, it was therefore of utter necessity that Judas become a traitor. (Preparation for the Gospel, 6:11)

St. Hilary of Poitiers ca. 300-368

“Blessed is he whom you have chosen and have taken up, that he may dwell in your tabernacles.” Indeed, all flesh will come, which is to say, we will be gathered together from every race of men: but whoever will be chosen, he is blessed. For many, according to the Gospel, are called, but few are chosen. The elect are distinguished in their wedding garment, splendid in the pure and perfect body of the new birth. Election, therefore, is not a thing of haphazard judgment. It is a distiction made by selection based on merit. Blessed, then, is he whom God elects: blessed for the reason that he is worthy of election. And it given us to know in what respect the blessed shall be elect, this being clear from what follows: “He shall dwell in your tabernacles.” (Commentaries on the Psalms, 64 [65])

St. Ambrose ca. 337-397

Then, speaking of the Father, He added: For whom it has been prepared, to show that the Father also is not wont to give heed merely to requests, but to merits; for God is not a respecter of persons. (Acts 10:34) Wherefore also the Apostle says: Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate. (Rom. 8:29) He did not predestinate them before He knew them, but He did predestinated the reward of those whose merits He foreknew. (De Fide, Book V: 6.82)

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

This is what Marcion asks, and the whole pack of heretics who mutilate the Old Testament, and have mostly spun an argument something like this: Either God knew that man, placed in Paradise, would transgress His command, or He did not know. If He knew, man is not to blame, who could not avoid God’s foreknowledge, but He Who created him such that he could not escape the knowledge of God. If He did not know, in stripping Him of foreknowledge you also take away His divinity. Upon the same showing God will be deserving of blame for choosing Saul, who was to prove one of the worst of kings. And the Saviour must be convicted either of ignorance, or of unrighteousness, inasmuch as He said in the Gospel, “Did I not choose you the twelve, and one of you is a devil ?” Ask Him why He chose Judas, a traitor? Why He entrusted to him the bag when He knew that he was a thief? Shall I tell you the reason? God judges the present, not the future. He does not make use of His foreknowledge to condemn a man though He knows that he will hereafter displease Him; but such is His goodness and unspeakable mercy that He chooses a man who, He perceives, will meanwhile be good, and who, He knows, will turn out badly, thus giving him the opportunity of being converted and of repenting. This is the Apostle’s meaning when he says, “Dost thou not know that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, Who will render to every man according to his works.” For Adam did not sin because God knew that he would do so; but God inasmuch as He is God, foreknew what Adam would do of his own free choice. (Against the Pelagians, Book III, 6)

“Perhaps,” He says, “they may hear and be converted (Jer. 26:3). The uncertainty of the word “perhaps” cannot pertain to the majesty of the Lord, but it is spoken on account of our condition, so that the free will of man may be preserved, lest it be supposed that in view of His foreknowledge there is, as it were, a kind of necessity either of doing something or of not doing it. (Commentaries on Jeremias 5, 35, 5)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

For if it must needs be that offenses come, how is it possible to escape these? Because that the offenses come indeed must needs be, but that men should perish is not altogether of necessity. Like as though a physician should say (for nothing hinders our using the same illustration again), it must needs be that this disease should come on, but it is not a necessary consequence that he who gives heed should be of course destroyed by the disease. And this He said, as I mentioned, to awaken together with the others His disciples. For that they may not slumber, as sent unto peace and unto untroubled life, He shows many wars close upon them, from without, from within. Declaring this, Paul said, Without were fightings, within were fears; 2 Cor. 7:5 and, In perils among false brethren; 2 Cor. 11:26 and in his discourse to the Milesians too He said, Also of you shall some arise speaking perverse things; Acts 20:30 and He Himself too said, The man’s foes shall be they of his own household. Matthew 10:36 But when He said, It must needs be, it is not as taking away the power of choosing for themselves, nor the freedom of the moral principle, nor as placing man’s life under any absolute constraint of circumstances, that He says these things, but He foretells what would surely be; and this Luke has set forth in another form of expression, It is impossible but that offenses should come. Luke 17:1

But what are the offenses? The hindrances on the right way. Thus also do those on the stage call them that are skilled in those matters, them that distort their bodies.

It is not then His prediction that brings the offenses; far from it; neither because He foretold it, therefore does it take place; but because it surely was to be, therefore He foretold it; since if those who bring in the offenses had not been minded to do wickedly, neither would the offenses have come; and if they had not been to come, neither would they have been foretold. But because those men did evil, and were incurably diseased, the offenses came, and He foretells that which is to be. (Homilies on Matthew, Homily 59.1)

Blessed Theodoret of Cyr ca. 393-457

“Those who He predestined, those also did He call; and those whom He called, those also did He justify; and those who He justifed, those also did He glorify.” (Rom. 8:30) Those whose resolve He foreknew, He predestined from the beginning. Predestining them, He did also call them. Calling them, He justified them by Baptism; and justifying them, He glorified them, calling them sons and bestowing on them the grace of the Holy Spirit. But no one would say that His foreknowledge is the cause of this; for His foreknowledge does not accomplish such things as these. Rather, God, since He is God, does see from afar those things that are going to be…The God of the universe, since he is God, sees all things from afar. Assuredly this imposes no necessity on anyone practicing virtue, nor on anyone doing evil. For if a man be compelled to either course, it is not right that he be either praised and crowned, or condemned to punishment. If God is just, as just He be, he encourages to those things that are good, and dissuades from the contrary; and he praises those who do good, and punishes those who voluntarily embrace evil. (Interpretation of Romans, On Rom. 8:30)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

Let no one suppose, as do some ignorant persons, that the oracles delivered by the holy prophets are carried onward to final accomplishment simply in order that the Scriptures may be fulfilled. For if this is truly the case, there will be nothing to prevent those who have minutely shaped their conduct according to the letter of Scripture, from finding not invalid excuses for sin, or rather from actually making out that they have never erred at all. “For if it needs must have been,” one will say, “that the Scriptures should be fulfilled by such and such things, surely those who were the instruments of the fulfilment must be free from all censure.” The Divine Scripture therefore in such a case must have appeared especially as a minister of sin, urging men on as it were by force to the deeds spoken of by it, in order that what was uttered in days of old might really come to pass. But, because of this, I think the argument is very full of blasphemy. For who could ever be so utterly void of proper reason as to suppose that the Word of the Holy Ghost should become to any a patron of sin? Therefore we do not believe that the deeds of any were done simply for this reason, namely, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. But the Holy Ghost has spoken in perfect foreknowledge as to what will happen, in order that, when the time comes for the event, we may find in the prediction which describes the event, a pledge to establish our faith, and may thenceforward hold it without hesitation (Commentary of the Gospel of John, Bk. IX)

Put perhaps you will say, “How, then, can Christ be said to have kept His disciples, if merely in pursuance of the inclinations and volitions of their own wills the rest escaped the devil’s net while Judas alone was taken, ill-fated beyond the others? How, then, can the safekeeping here spoken of be said to have been of profit?”

Nay, my good friend, we answer, soberness is indeed a good thing, and the keeping guard over our minds profiteth much, together with an earnest endeavour towards the doing of good works and stablishing ourselves in virtue, for so shall we work out our own salvation; but this alone will not avail to save the soul of man. For it stands in urgent need of assistance and grace from above, to make what is difficult of achievement easy to it, and to render the steep and thorny path of righteousness smooth. And to prove to you that we are not able to do anything at all of ourselves without the aid of Divine grace, hearken to the voice of the Psalmist: If the Lord build not the house, their labour is in vain that build it: and if the Lord keep not the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

I say, then, that it is our bounden duty to foster and practise a home-bred self-denial and a religious frame of mind; but in so doing also to ask help of God, and, receiving the aid that comes from above as a panoply proof against every assault, to acquit ourselves like men. When God has once for all vouchsafed to grant our prayer, and it is therefore in our power to subdue the might of our adversaries, and conquer the power of the devil, if we do not choose to follow him when he allures us to pleasure or any other kind of sin; then, I say, if we let our wills comply with him, and, yielding to our wicked inclinations, are entangled in his noose, how can we any more with justice accuse any one else, or fail to attribute our doom to our own folly? For is not this what Solomon said long ago: The foolishness of man perverteth his way, and his heart fretteth against the Lord? And this is unquestionably the case. If, however, the traitor was unable to enjoy the succour of the Saviour as much as the other disciples, let any man only prove this, and we submit; but if, while he was, in common with the rest, encompassed by the Divine grace, of his own will he relapsed into the abyss of perdition, how can Christ be said not to have kept him, when He vouchsafed him the riches of His mercy, and increased, so far as it was possible in any man’s case, his chance of safety, if he had not chosen his doom of his own will? His grace, moreover, was conspicuous in the rest, continually keeping in safety those who made their own free-will, as it were, co-operate therewith. For this is the manner in which the salvation of each one of us is achieved. (Commentary on the Gospel of John, Bk. XI, Chap. 9)

God, who knows the things that belong to the future and not just events when they happen, knew even before the foundation of the world the things that were going to come to pass in the last times. Therefore, effecting such purposes as were befitting Him, not when we were made did He first direct His will to us; but even before He produced the earth and the ages, He had in Himself the knowledge of our affairs. And in His foreknowledge He had already determined in regard to his own Son, that we, being built up by Him, should rise up again in incorruption, who through trangression, had fallen victim to corruption. For He knew that we were going to be corpses on account of sin. (Treasury of the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity, Thesis 15)

St. Prosper of Aquitaine ca. 390-455

These, however, of whom it is said: “They have gone forth from us, but they were not uf us. For if they had been of us, they would surely have remained with us,” went forth voluntarily and voluntarily they fell. And because it was foreknown that they would fall, they were not predestined. But they would have been predestined if they were going to return and remain in holiness and truth. And consequenly, God’s predestination is the cause of the standing firm of many, but for no one is it the cause of their falling. (Responses on Behalf of Augustine to the Articles of Objections Raised by the Vincentianists, 12)

Pope St. Leo the Great ca. 400-461

Since then all things which Jewish ungodliness committed against the Lord of Majesty were foretold so long before, and the language of the prophets is concerned not so much with things to come as with things last, what else is thereby revealed to us but the unchangeable order of God’s eternal decrees, with Whom the things which are to be decided are already determined, and what will be is already accomplished? For since both the character of our actions and the fulfilment of all our wishes are fore-known to God,. how much better known to Him are His own works? And He was rightly pleased that things should be recorded as if done which nothing could hinder from being done. And hence when the Apostles also, being full of the Holy Ghost, suffered the threats and cruelty of Christ’s enemies, they said to God with one consent, “For truly in this city against Thy holy Servant Jesus, Whom Thou hast anointed, Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel were gathered together to do what Thy hand and Thy counsel ordained to come to pass.” Did then the wickedness of Christ’s persecutors spring from God’s plan, and was that unsurpassable crime prefaced and set in motion by the hand of God? Clearly we must not think this of the highest Justice: that which was fore-known in respect of the Jews’ malice is far different, indeed quite contrary to what was ordained in respect of Christ’s Passion. Their desire to slay Him did not proceed from the same source as His to die: nor were their atrocious crime and the Redeemer’s endurance the offspring of One Spirit. The Lord did not incite but permit those madmen’s naughty hands: nor in His foreknowledge of what must be accomplished did He compel its accomplishment, even though it was in order to its accomplishment that He had taken flesh. (Sermon LXVII, II)

St. Fulgentius of Ruspe ca. 467-533

He foretold and promised a reward for the enjoyment of the righteous; He did not promise, however, but only foretold a torment for the punishment of the unrighteous. But neither did He predestine the wicked to the loing of righteousness as He predestined the saints to the receiving of that same righteousness, because the merciful and just Lord was able to gratuitously to free whoever He wished from depravity. He was never the perpetrator of depravity, because no one ever was depraved except insofar as he withdrew from God. Nor did God predestine any to withdraw from Him, although the divine knowledge foresaw who would so withdraw. (To Monimus 1, 25, 4)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

After quite some time, three men of high rank, Theodosius, Bishop of Caesarea in Bithynia, and the patricians Paul and Theodosius, were sent by Constans and Patriarch Peter to win over the saint. They were joined by the Bishop of Bizye, and alternately flattered and threatened Maximus, testing his faith and posing various questions. They began by introducing themselves, then requested Maximus to sit down. Bishop Theodosius asked, “How are you faring, my lord Abba Maximus?”

“Exactly as God knew I would before the ages,” replied the saint. “He foreordained the circumstances of my life, which is guarded by providence.”

“How can that be?” objected Theodosius. “Did God foreknow and actually foreordain our deeds from eternity?”

 The saint said, “He foreknew our thoughts, words, and deeds, which nevertheless remain within our power to control; and He foreordained what befalls us. The latter is not subject to our control, but to the divine will.”

“Explain more exactly what is in our power, and what is not,” requested Bishop Theodosius.

“My lord, you know all this,” answered Saint Maximus. “You only ask to try your servant.”

The Bishop admitted, “Truly, I do not know. I wish to understand what we can control and what we cannot, and how God foresaw one and foreordained the other.”

The venerable Maximus explained, “We do not directly control whether blessings will be showered upon us or chastisements will befall us, but our good and evil deeds most certainly depend on our will. It is not ours to choose whether we are in health or sickness, but we make determinations likely to lead to one or the other. Similarly, we cannot simply decide that we shall attain the kingdom of heaven or be plunged into the fire of Gehenna, but we can will to keep the commandments or transgress them.” (The Life of Our Holy Monastic Father Maximus the Confessor and Martyr)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

1Pe 2:25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.How does He call them sheep and wandering ones, when those who lead their life in error are reckoned goats rather than sheep, except because the Lord knows those who are his. He bears for a long time even with many who lead bad lives whom nonetheless He forsees they are to be saved in the number of His sheep. (Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles)

Cogitosus ca. 650

Holy Brigit, whom God knew beforehand and predestined to be formed into His image, was born in Ireland of noble Christian parents who belonged to the good and wise sept of Echtech. (The Life of St. Brigit the Virgin)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

A judge justly punishes one who is guilt of wrongdoing; and if he does not punish him he is himself a wrongdoer. In punishing him the judge is not the cause either of wrongdoing or of the vengeance taken against the wrongdoer, the cause being the wrongdoer’s freely chosen actions. Thus too God, who saw what was going to happen as if it had already happened, judged it as if it had taken place; and if was evil, that was the cause of its being punished. It was God who created man, so of course He created Him in goodness; but man did evil of his own free choice, and is himself the cause of the vengeance that overtakes him. (Dialogue Against the Manicheans, 37)

God’s foreknowledge, as a power, does not have its cause from us; but His foreknowing of what we are certainly going to do, that does have its cause from us. For if we were to do something, He would not foreknow that we were, and neither would it be done. God’s foreknowledge is true and inviolable, but it is not the cause itself, purely and simply, of what is going to be done. It is because we are going to do this or that, that he foreknows it. (Dialogue Against the Manicheans, 79)

Council of Quiercy ca. 853

Chap. 1. Omnipotent God created man noble without sin with a free will, and he whom He wished to remain in the sanctity of justice, He placed in Paradise. Man using his free will badly sinned and fell, and became the “mass of perdition” of the entire human race. The just and good God, however, chose from this same mass of perdition according to His foreknowledge those whom through grace He predestined to life [ Rom. 8:29 ff.; Eph. 1:11], and He predestined for these eternal life; the others, whom by the judgment of justice he left in the mass of perdition, however, He knew would perish, but He did not predestine that they would perish, because He is just; however, He predestined eternal punishment for them. And on account of this we speak of only one predestination of God, which pertains either to the gift of grace or to the retribution of justice. (note: Local Western council against Gottschalk and the Predestinarians)

Synod of Jerusalem 1672 a.d.

We believe the most good God to have from eternity predestinated unto glory those whom He hath chosen, and to have consigned unto condemnation those whom He hath rejected; but not so that He would justify the one, and consign and condemn the other without cause. For that were contrary to the nature of God, who is the common Father of all, and no respecter of persons, and would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth; {1 Timothy 2:4} but since He foreknew the one would make a right use of their free-will, and the other a wrong, He predestinated the one, or condemned the other. And we understand the use of free-will thus, that the Divine and illuminating grace, and which we call preventing grace, being, as a light to those in darkness, by the Divine goodness imparted to all, to those that are willing to obey this — for it is of use only to the willing, not to the unwilling — and co-operate with it, in what it requireth as necessary to salvation, there is consequently granted particular grace; which, co-operating with us, and enabling us, and making us perseverant in the love of God, that is to say, in performing those good things that God would have us to do, and which His preventing grace admonisheth us that we should do, justifieth us, and maketh us predestinated. But those who will not obey, and co-operate with grace; and, therefore, will not observe those things that God would have us perform, and that abuse in the service of Satan the free-will, which they have received of God to perform voluntarily what is good, are consigned to eternal condemnation.

But to say, as the most wicked heretics do and as is contained in the Chapter answering hereto — that God, in predestinating, or condemning, had in no wise regard to the works of those predestinated, or condemned, we know to be profane and impious. For thus Scripture would be opposed to itself, since it promiseth the believer salvation through works, yet supposeth God to be its sole author, by His sole illuminating grace, which He bestoweth without preceding works, to shew to man the truth of divine things, and to teach him how he may co-operate therewith, if he will, and do what is good and acceptable, and so obtain salvation. He taketh not away the power to will — to will to obey, or not obey him. (Confession of Dositheus, Decree III)

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