On God’s Foreknowledge and the Crucifixion of Christ

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 past, 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 Your holy Servant Jesus, Whom You have anointed, Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel were gathered together to do what Your hand and Your 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.

In fact, the case of the Crucified is so different from that of His crucifiers that what Christ undertook could not be reversed, while what they did could be wiped out. For He Who came to save sinners did not refuse mercy even to His murderers, but changed the evil of the wicked into the goodness of the believing, that God’s grace might be the more wonderful, being mercifully put in force, not according to men’s merits, but according to the multitude of the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge, seeing that they also who had shed the Saviour’s blood were received into the baptismal flood. For, as says the Scripture, which contains the Apostlesacts when the preaching of the blessed Apostle Peter pierced the hearts of the Jews, and they acknowledged the iniquity of their crime, saying, what shall we do, brethren? the same Apostle said, Repent and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For to you is the promise, and to your sons, and to all that are afar off, whomsoever our Lord God has called, and soon after the Scripture goes on to say: they therefore that received his word were baptized, and there were added on that day about 3,000 souls Acts 2:37-41 . And so, in being willing to suffer their furious rage, the Lord Jesus Christ was in no way the Author of their crimes; nor did He force them to desire this, but permitted them to be able, and used the madness of the blinded people just as He did also the treachery of His betrayer, whom by kindly acts and words He vouchsafed to recall from the awful crime he had conceived, by taking him for a disciple, by promoting him to be an apostle, by warning him with signs, by admitting him to the revelation of holy mysteries , that one who had lacked no degree of kindness to correct him, might have no pretext for his crime at all. (Sermon 67.2-3)

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