On Demonic Encounters at the Departure of the Soul

Lk. 12:20 But God said to him, Fool! This night they demand your soul from you; and that which you prepared, to whom will it be?

Jn. 14:30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on Me…

Eph. 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Jude 1:9 But when the Archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Met. Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos

Also related to the foregoing is the teaching of both Holy Scripture and the holy fathers about the taxing of souls… We find this topic in the whole biblico-patristic tradition and it corresponds to a reality which we need to look at in order to prepare ourselves for the dreadful hour of death… According to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, the soul at its departure from the body, as well as when it is preparing to leave, senses the presence of demons who are called customs demons, and is possessed with fear because of having to pass through customs.

Of course we must say from the start that the customs demons have no sovereignty over the righteous, those who have united with Christ. The righteous not only will not go through the “customs-houses”, but they will also not be in fear of that. We shall see this better when we compare the teachings of the Fathers… the tax collectors, in their effort to collect as many taxes as they could — and especially in order not to let some people escape who could not accept the very heavy and unjust tax — contrived various means: they would lie in wait in narrow roads and seize passers-by, forcing them to give what they owed. It was very unpleasant and odious to the people of that time. It is just this familiar and odious image which the Fathers used in order to give the people of that time an understanding of the terrible mystery of death and of the terrible things that unfold when the soul is being prepared for departure, especially when it is leaving the body.

The image of the tax collectors certainly belongs to the reality of that time. But the teaching that the demons try to seize a man’s soul at its departure is mentioned in many texts of Holy Scripture and of the Fathers of the Church. We have already seen that after death the souls of the righteous are received by the angels and the souls of the of sinners by the demons. With the malice which all the demons have against men, they would like to dominate everyone and have them in their power forever. But they cannot have authority over the righteous.

A basic passage which the Fathers of the Church interpret as referring to the customs demons is what Christ said shortly before His Passion: “for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me” (Jn. 14, 30). The ruler is this world is the devil. He is called the ruler of the world not because he is really the ruler and final authority in the whole world, but because he dominates the world of the unjust…

St. Paul, referring to the spiritually dead who were deprived of the grace of God, writes: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the ways of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2, 1-2). This passage indicates that men are deadened by sins and the work of the devil.

Likewise the devil is characterised as the prince of the power of the air because he is in the atmosphere and is constantly waging war on men. It is precisely this image which the Fathers have in view, saying that when the soul leaves the body and passes through the air towards heaven, it meets the ruler of the air. The passage also mentions that this ruler is working now too in the sons of disobedience.

There are many passages in the Old Testament which the Fathers use to indicate what is called the souls’ payment of customs duties. I should like to mention two of them. One comes from a psalm of David in which the Prophet King speaks to God and says: “0 Lord my God, in you I put my trust; save me from all those who persecute me; and deliver me, lest they tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces, with no one to rescue me” (Psalm 7, 1-2). The other passage is in the book of the Prophet Jeremiah, where it says: “there seemed to be a fire burning in my bones; I was wearied and could not endure, for I heard many mocking me on every side” (Jer. 20, 9-10). (Life After Death pg. 65)

Met. Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk

According to the patristic view widespread in the East, the soul of the righteous encounters angels after its departure from the body (this opinion is partly based on Luke 16:22), but demons torture the soul of a sinner. One of the homilies of Macarius of Egypt speaks of this…We find a similar concept of the fate of a person after death in Blessed Diadochus, the bishop of Photiki, who says that people who have not confessed their sins during life will be terror-stricken at the hour of death. And “he who then finds himself in fear will not pass freely by the prince of Hades, because they consider the timidity of this soul to be a sign of its co-participation in their evil deeds.” But the soul of the God-loving person that bears repentance for sins, at the hour of separation from the body “is borne from the world by angels beyond all the dark hordes, because such a soul is inspired by spiritual love in some way.” It is said in both Macarius and Diadochus that demons meet the souls of sinners, while the souls of the righteous fall into the arms of angels. There exists, however, another idea, according to which the soul of every person, including the righteous, endures trials after death. Basil the Great, speaking on the “steadfast divine ascetics, who have sufficiently grappled with invisible enemies all their life,” claims that when they find themselves at the end of life, “the prince of this age comes to know of it, in order to keep them for himself if there can be found any wounds on them received during the battle, or any kind of stain or imprint of sin.”

…The testimony of another type of patristic literature is the fundamental teaching on the “tribulations” — trials in the afterlife that the soul of each persons endures. This teaching found reflection in various memorials of Byzantine ascetic and hagiographic literature, particularly in The Torments of Blessed Theodora. Described in this account is an experience of going through twenty torments (“tollhouses”), each of which correspond to one of the sins: a person must give answer to the demon-torturer for every sin committed, and if hat person cannot prove their innocence, they will not be permitted to go on to the next torment. To a modern person, such descriptions can seem to be the stuff of fantasy or some kind of unhealthy “eschatological sadism,” although the experience of people who have survived clinical death, researched by doctors, psychologists, and theologians, in some cases support the testimony in these ordeals. (Orthodox Christianity, Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church Vol. II pp. 499-501)

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

For the passage, ‘Deliver my soul from the sword, and my only-begotten from the hand of the dog; save me from the lion’s mouth, and my humility from the horns of the unicorns,’ is indicative of the suffering by which He should die, i.e., by crucifixion. For the ‘horns of the, unicorns,’ I have already explained to you, are the figure of the Cross only. And the prayer that His soul should be saved from the sword, and lion’s mouth, and hand of the dog, was a prayer that no one should take possession of His soul: so that, when we arrive at the end of life, we may ask the same petition from God, who is able to turn away every shameless evil angel from taking our souls. (Dialogue with Trypho 105)

St. Melito of Sardis died ca. 180

And what was taken from earth was dissolved, and what was given from God was confined in Hades; and there was separation of what fitted beautifully, and the beautiful body was split apart. For man was being divided by death; a strange disaster and captivity were enclosing him, and he was dragged off a prisoner under the shadows of death, and desolate lay the Father’s image. (On Pascha, 54-56)

Tertullian ca. 160-220

Undoubtedly, when the soul, by the power of death, is released from its concretion with the flesh, it is by the very release cleansed and purified: it is, moreover, certain that it escapes from the veil of the flesh into open space, to its clear, and pure, and intrinsic light; and then finds itself enjoying its enfranchisement from matter, and by virtue of its liberty it recovers its divinity, as one who awakes out of sleep passes from images to verities. Then it tells out what it sees; then it exults or it fears, according as it finds what lodging is prepared for it, as soon as it sees the very angel’s face, that arraigner of souls, the Mercury of the poets. (A Treatise on the Soul 53)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235

For as a serpent cannot mark its track upon a rock, so the devil could not find sin in the body of Christ. For the Lord says, Behold, the prince of this world comes, and will find nothing in me. (Jn. 14:30) (On Proverbs)

And when those who are conducted by the angels appointed unto the souls have passed through this gate, they do not proceed on one and the same way; but the righteous, being conducted in the light toward the right, and being hymned by the angels stationed at the place, are brought to a locality full of light…. But the unrighteous are dragged toward the left by angels who are ministers of punishment, and they go of their own accord no longer, but are dragged by force as prisoners. And the angels appointed over them send them along, reproaching them and threatening them with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts. And when they are brought there, those appointed to that service drag them on to the confines or hell. And those who are so near hear incessantly the agitation, and feel the hot smoke. And when that vision is so near, as they see the terrible and excessively glowing spectacle of the fire, they shudder in horror at the expectation of the future judgment, (as if they were) already feeling the power of their punishment. (Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe)

Origen of Alexandria ca. 185-254

Who could follow the soul of a martyr as it passes beyond all the powers of the air and makes its way toward the altar of heaven? Blessed is that soul which, by the crimson of its blood poured out in martyrdom, puts to rout the ranks of the demons of the air advancing toward it. Blessed is he of whom the angels shall sing the prophetic words as he enters into heaven: “Who is this that comes up from Bosra?”(Hom. in Judic., 7.2. excerpted from “The Angels and Their Mission” by Jean Danielou pg. 115)

St. Alexander of Alexandria died ca. 326

For the form indeed lay rotting in the ground; but that inspiration which had been as the breath of life, was detained separate from the body in a dark place, which is called Hades. There was, therefore, a division of the soul from the body; it was banished ad infernos, while the latter was resolved into dust; and there was a great interval of separation between them; for the body, by the dissolution of the flesh, becomes corrupt; the soul being loosened from it, its action ceases. For as when the king is thrown into chains, the city falls to ruin; or as when the general is taken captive, the army is scattered abroad; or as when the helmsman is shaken off, the vessel is submerged; so when the soul is bound in chains, its body goes to pieces; as the city without its king, so its members are dissolved; as is the case with an army when its general is lost, they are drowned in death, even as happens to a vessel when deprived of its helmsman. The soul, therefore, governed the man, as long as the body survived; even as the king governs the city, the general the army, the helmsman the ship. But it was powerless to rule it, from the time when it was immoveably tied to it, and became immersed in error; therefore it was that it declined from the straight path, and followed tempters, giving heed to fornication, idolatry, and shedding of blood; by which evil deeds it has destroyed the proper manhood. Nay, but itself also being carried at length to the lower regions, it was there detained by the wicked tempter. (On the Soul and Body and Passion of the Lord, 3)

St. Anthony the Great ca. 251-356

For once, when about to eat, having risen up to pray about the ninth hour, he perceived that he was caught up in the spirit, and, wonderful to tell, he stood and saw himself, as it were, from outside himself, and that he was led in the air by certain ones. Next certain bitter and terrible beings stood in the air and wished to hinder him from passing through. But when his conductors opposed them, they demanded whether he was not accountable to them. And when they wished to sum up the account from his birth, Antony’s conductors stopped them, saying, ‘The Lord has wiped out the sins from his birth, but from the time he became a monk, and devoted himself to God, it is permitted you to make a reckoning.’ Then when they accused him and could not convict him, his way was free and unhindered. And immediately he saw himself, as it were, coming and standing by himself, and again he was Antony as before.

After this, when he once had a discussion with certain men who had come to him concerning the state of the soul and of what nature its place will be after this life, the following night one from above called him, saying, ‘Antony, rise, go out and look.’ Having gone out therefore (for he knew whom he ought to obey) looking up, he beheld one standing and reaching to the clouds, tall, hideous, and fearful, and others ascending as though they were winged. And the figure stretched forth his hands, and some of those who were ascending were stayed by him, while others flew above, and having escaped heaven-ward, were borne aloft free from care. At such, therefore, the giant gnashed his teeth, but rejoiced over those who fell back. And immediately a voice came to Antony, ‘Do you understand what you see?’ And his understanding was opened, and he understood that it was the passing of souls, and that the tall being who stood was the enemy who envies the faithful. And those whom he caught and stopped from passing through are accountable to him, while those whom he was unable to hold as they passed upwards had not been subservient to him. So having seen this, and as it were being reminded, he struggled the more daily to advance towards those things which were before. And these visions he was unwilling to tell, but as he spent much time in prayer, and was amazed, when those who were with him pressed him with questions and forced him, he was compelled to speak, as a father who cannot withhold ought from his children. And he thought that as his conscience was clear, the account would be beneficial for them, that they might learn that discipline bore good fruit, and that visions were oftentimes the solace of their labours. (St. Athanasius: Life of St. Anthony, Chaps. 65-66)

St. Pachomius the Great ca. 292-346

As for you, my son, shun the satisfactions of this age, so as to be happy in the age to come. Do not be negligent, letting the days pass by till unexpectedly they come looking for you and you arrive at the straits of your anguish and the ‘horror-faces’* surround you and drag you off violently to their dark place of terror and anguish. Do not be sad when you are cursed by men; be sad and sigh when you sin — this is the true curse — and when you go away bearing the sores of your sins.

If you have hit your brother, you will be handed over to pitiless angels and you will be chastised in torments of fire for all eternity. (Pachomian Koinonia III: Instructions, Letters, and Other Writings of Saint Pachomius and His Disciples. The Instructions of Saint Pachomius, 23,41)

St. Macarius the Great ca. 295-392

When the soul of a man departs from the body, a certain great mystery is there enacted. If a person is under the guilt of sin, bands of demons and fallen angels approach along with the powers of darkness which capture the soul and drag it as a captive to their place. No one should be suprised by this fact. For if, while a man lived in this life, he was subject to them and was their obedient slave, how much more, when he leaves this world, is he captured and controlled by them? (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 22)

[T]he angel of the Lord that had appeared to him earlier in his [St. Macarius] life, appeared surrounded with heavenly hosts and said to him, ‘Come with us, for all of these are waiting for you.’ The saint replied and said, ‘My master Lord Jesus Christ whom my soul loves, accept my spirit.’ When he said that he gave up his spirit.

This was on the twenty-seventh day of the Coptic month of Baramhat. As the Angel of the Lord was escorting his spirit to Heaven, some of the elders saw the devils come to hinder his ascent. They heard them saying to him. ‘You are saved and have escaped from us.’ The saint replied, ‘Not yet.’ When the saint set one foot inside the Heavenly gate they said to him, ‘You have entered,’ he replied ‘Not yet.’ When he had completely entered they said again to him weeping, ‘You have entered,’ He then shouted back, ‘I have accepted the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I thank my Lord for His Heavenly grace and love to mankind.’ (The Life of St. Macarius the Great)

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

And once more, if the devil, the enemy of our race, having fallen from heaven, wanders about our lower atmosphere, and there bearing rule over his fellow-spirits, as his peers in disobedience, not only works illusions by their means in them that are deceived, but tries to hinder them that are going up (and about this the Apostle says: According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience); while the Lord came to cast down the devil, and clear the air and prepare the way for us up into heaven, as said the Apostle: Through the veil, that is to say, His flesh Heb. 10:20— and this must needs be by death— well, by what other kind of death could this have come to pass, than by one which took place in the air, I mean the cross? For only he that is perfected on the cross dies in the air. Whence it was quite fitting that the Lord suffered this death. For thus being lifted up He cleared the air of the malignity both of the devil and of demons of all kinds, as He says: I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven; and made a new opening of the way up into heaven as He says once more: Lift up your gates, O you princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors. (On the Incarnation, Chap. 25)

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

While the dying person addresses his last words to us, suddenly his tongue is at a loss, his eyes dim, his mouth falls silent, his voice paralyzed when the Lord’s troops have arrived, when His frightening armies overwhelm him, when the divine bailiffs invite the soul to be gone from the body, when the inexorable lays hold of us to drag us to the tribunal… Then the angels take the soul and go off through the air. There stand principalities, powers and leaders of the adverse troops who govern the world, merciless accusers, strict agents of an implacable tax bureau, like so many examiners that await the soul in the air, ready to demand a reckoning, to examine everything, brandishing their claims, that is to say our sins: those of youth and of old age, those intentional and those not so, those committed by actions and those by words or thoughts. Great then is the fear of the poor soul, inexpressible its anguish when it sees itself at grips with these myriads of enemies, who stop it, push and shove it, accuse it, hinder it from dwelling in the light, from entering into the land of the living. But the holy angels, taking the soul, lead it away. (“Sur la seconde venue du Christ”, ed. Assemani, tome 3, pp. 275-276. excerpted from “Life After Death According to the Orthodox Tradition” by Jean-Claude Larchet pp. 90-91)

St. Macrina the Younger ca. 327-379

Thou hast given a sign to those that fear Thee in the symbol of the Holy Cross, to destroy the adversary and save our life. O God eternal, to Whom I have been attached from my mother’s womb, Whom my soul has loved with all its strength, to Whom I have dedicated both my flesh and my soul from my youth up until now—-do Thou give me an angel of light to conduct me to the place of refreshment, where is the water of rest, in the bosom of the holy Fathers. Thou that didst break the flaming sword and didst restore to Paradise the man that was crucified with Thee and implored Thy mercies, remember me, too, in Thy kingdom; because I, too, was crucified with Thee, having nailed my flesh to the cross for fear of Thee, and of Thy judgments have I been afraid. Let not the terrible chasm separate me from Thy elect. Nor let the Slanderer stand against me in the way; nor let my sin be found before Thy eyes, if in anything I have sinned in word or deed or thought, led astray by the weakness of our nature. (St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of St. Macrina)

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

The dying person, knowing only that there is only one Savior and Liberator cries out: In Thee have I put my hope, save me” from my weakness “and rescue me” from captivity. For I think that the valiant athletes of God, after having kept up the good fight the whole course of their existence against the invisible enemies and escaping every trap, when they arrive at life’s end, are examined by the Prince of this world. If they are found, following the battle, to still have some wounds, stains or remnants of sin, are detained by him. However , if they are to the contrary whole and untainted, these invincible heroes remain free and are admitted by Christ to the place of rest. (Homilies, On Psalm 7, 2 PG 29, 232B, D.)

The one who has done much evil in this life will be confronted by frightening, sinister-looking angels, emitting fire in their breath and their glances because of the harshness of their character; their gloomy and threating demeanor will be like the night. (PG 29.372A7—B6. Excerpted from “The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology by Brian E. Daley. Chap 7: Facing Death in Freedom: Eastern Eschatology in the Age of Nicea [325-400], pg. 82)

Theophilus of Alexandria died ca. 412

The same Abba Theophilus said, “What fear, what trembling, what uneasiness will there be for us when our soul is separated from the body. Then indeed the force and strength of the adverse powers come against us, the rulers of darkness, those who command the world of evil, the principalities, the powers, the spirits of evil. They accuse our souls as in a lawsuit, bringing before it all the sins it has committed, whether deliberately or through ignorance, from its youth until the time when it has been taken away. So they stand accusing it of all it has done. Furthermore, what anxiety do you suppose the soul will have at that hour, until sentence is pronounced and it gains its liberty. That is its hour of affliction, until it sees what will happen to it. On the other hand, the divine powers stand on the opposite side, and they present the good deeds of the soul. Consider the fear and trembling of the soul standing between them until in judgment it receives the sentence of the righteous judge. If it is judged worthy, the demons will receive their punishment, and it will be carried away by the angels. (Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection pp. 81-82)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

[F]rom the parable, it is quite certain that souls when they leave the body do not still linger here, but are forthwith led away. And hear how it is shown: “It came to pass,” it is said, “that he died, and was carried away by the angels.” Not the souls of the just only, but also those of sinners are led away. This also is clear from the case of another rich man. For when his land brought forth abundantly, he said within himself, “What shall I do? I will pull down my barns and build greater,” (Luke xii. 18.) Than this state of mind nothing could be more wretched. He did in truth pull down his barns; for secure storehouses are not built with walls of stone; they are “the mouths of the poor.” But this man neglecting these, was busy about stone walls. What, however, did God say to him? “Thou fool, this night shall they require thy soul of thee.” Mark also: in one passage it is said that the soul is carried away by angels; in the other, that “they require it;” and in the latter case they lead it away as a prisoner; in the former, they guard and conduct it as a crowned victor. And like as in the arena a combatant, having received many wounds, is drenched with blood; his head being then encircled with a crown, those who stand ready by the spot take him up, and with great applause and praise they bear him home amid shouting and admiration. In this way the angels on that occasion led Lazarus also away. But in the other instance dreadful powers, probably sent for that purpose, required the soul. For it is not of its own accord that the soul departs this life; indeed, it is not able. For if when we travel from one city to another we need guides, much more does the soul stand in want of those who can conduct it, when it is separated from the flesh, and is entering upon the future state of existence. (Four Discourses, Chiefly on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Discourse 2.1-2)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

Let no one tear her [St. Monica] away from Your protection. Let not the devil, who is a lion and serpent in one, bar her way by force or by guile. For she will not answer that she has no debt to pay, for fear that her cunning accuser should prove her wrong and win her for himself. Her reply will be that her debt has been paid by Christ, to whom none can repay the which He paid for us, though the debt was not His to pay. (Confessions, Bk. 9, 13.36. excerpted from the “Birth of Purgatory” by Frances Le Goff, p. 65)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

Lk. 12: 58-59 For whilst you are going with him who has a suit against you in the way to the magistrate, give diligence that you may be delivered, from him; lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the exactor, and the exactor cast you into prison. I tell you, you shall not come out thence, until you have made compensation unto the last mite.

Now perhaps it may be imagined that the sense of this passage is difficult to comprehend: but it will become very easy if we examine the metaphor by what takes place among ourselves. For let there be supposed, He says, some one who has brought a charge against you before one of those in authority, and has pointed you out to those whose office it is to carry the accused into court, and is causing you to be taken thither. “While therefore, He says, you are still with him on the way,” that is, before you have come to the judge, “give diligence,” that is, weary not, in using all your earnestness that you may be delivered from him. For otherwise he will give you up to the judge; and then, when you have been proved to be indebted to him, you will be delivered to the exactors, to those, that is, whose office it is to exact the money; and they will cast you into prison, and make you pay the last mite.

Now all of us, without exception, upon earth are guilty of offences: he who has a suit against us and accuses us is the wicked Satan: for he is “the enemy and the exactor.” While therefore we are in the way: that is, ere yet we have arrived at the termination of our life here, let us deliver ourselves from him: let us do away with the offences of which we have been guilty: let us close his mouth: let us seize upon the grace that is by Christ, which frees us from all debt and penalty, and delivers us from fear and torment: lest if our impurity be not cleansed away, we be carried before the judge, and given over to the exactors, that is, the tormentors, from whose cruelty no man can escape: yea, rather, who will exact vengeance for every fault, whether it be great or small. (Commentary on Luke, Sermon XCV)

LXX Isa. 3:12 My people, the tax collectors scourge you, and the creditors lord it over you.

At a mystical level, on the other hand, the text refers also to other tax collectors, whom those wanting to live an upright life should avoid; the wicked and hostile powers even demand, as it were, of people on earth attention that is depraved, and collect from them as a kind of tax the inclination to the passions of the mind. The sacred text, for instance, blesses those who do not heed the call of the collector; anyone who resists the desires of the flesh and with youthful alertness repels the harm coming from sin, trampling down its overtures and vanquishing the spirits of wickedness, is proof against the call of the collector. Such tax collectors are therefore to be avoided, not allowed to harvest in us the produce leading to sin or apply scourging. Now, we shall succeed in this when we are strengthened in Christ, and expel from our minds wicked thoughts, base desires, and every form of vice. (Commentary on Isaiah Vol. 1: Chapters 1-14 trans. by Robert Charles Hill pg. 97)

St. Euthymius the Great ca. 377-473

Listen to an edifying and true story that some Egyptian elders I met told me about a man thought holy by all but who in secret stirrings of his heart angered God becuase, I think, of assent to impure thoughts. Their story went as follows. A man with second sight, on entering this man’s city, found him gravely ill and all the citizens affirming with tears, “If the saint dies, we have no firther hope of salvation; for we are all protected through his intercession.” On hearing this, the man with second sight hurried off to get a blessing from the supposed saint. When he drew near, he saw many candles all ready and great crowds of clerics and laymen, including the bishop himself, waiting to conduct the funeral. Going in to him, he found him still breathing, and saw with the eye of his mind the devil of hell with a fiery fork inserting the fork into his heart and with many tortures pulling at his soul; and he heard a voice from heaven saying, “Just as his soul did not give me rest for a single day, so you too are not to stop pulling at his soul and torturing it.” I have recounted this to make us at all times ready for combat and prepared for the departure of the soul from the body, lest, seduced by love of pleasure, we be unbearably tormented at the time of departure…let us entreat God, Who has applied corrective not capital punishment, to free His creature from the plot of the impure and pleasure loving spirit. (Cyril of Scythopolis: The Lives of the Monks of Palestine. Life of Euthymius pp. 33-34)

St. Diadochos of Photiki ca. 5th cent.

If we do not confess our involuntary sins as we should, we shall discover an ill-defined fear in ourselves at the hour of our death. We who love the Lord should pray that we should be without fear at that time; for if we are afraid then, we will not be able to freely pass the rulers of the nether-world. They will have as their advocate to plead against us the fear which our soul experiences because of its own wickedness. But the soul which experiences the love of God, at the hour of its departure, is lifted with the angels of peace above all the hosts of darkness. (Philokalia Vol. 1, pg. 295: On Spiritual Knowledge, 100)

St. Symeon of Emesa, Fool for Christ ca. 6th cent.

Grant her angels who will keep her soul safe from the spirits and beasts of the air, evil and unmerciful beings who endeavor to swallow up everything which comes into their midst. Lord, Lord, send out to her mighty guards to rebuke every impure power molesting her. (Leontius of Neapolis, Life of Symeon the Fool, 9; Krueger, p. 141.)

St. Columba of Iona ca. 521-597

[W]hilst the holy man was living in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), he one day suddenly raised his eyes to heaven and uttered the words, “O happy woman happy because of thy virtues; the angels of God are now carrying thy soul to paradise.” Now these words from the mouth of the saint were heard by a certain religious brother, a Saxon, by name Genere, who was at the moment working at his trade, which was that of a baker. And on the same day of the month, at the end of the same year, the saint addressed the same Genere the Saxon, and said, “I see a wonderful thing; behold, the woman of whom I spake in thy presence last year, now meeteth in the air the soul of her husband, a poor and holy man, and together with the holy angels engageth in a contest for it against the adverse powers; by their united assistance, and by the aid of the virtuous character of the man himself, his soul is rescued from the assaults of the demons, and brought to the place of eternal refreshment. (St. Adamnan, Life of St. Columba Bk. 3.11)

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

One must reflect deeply on how frightful the hour of death will be for us, what terror the soul will then experience, what remembrance of all the evils, what forgetfulness of past happiness, what fear, and what apprehension of the Judge. Then the evil spirits will seek out in the departing soul its deeds; then they will present before its view the sins towards which they had disposed it, so as to draw their accomplice to torment. But why do we speak only of the sinful soul, when they come even to the chosen among the dying and seek out their own in them, if they have succeeded with them? (Homilies on the Gospels, XXXIX, 8 [on Luke 19:42-27], PL 76, 1298D-1299D)

St. John the Almsgiver died ca. 616

The blessed man always used to talk much about the thought of death and the departure of the soul so that on several occasions those who went in to him with a haughty bearing and laughing face and bold eyes came out from his presence with humble demeanor and a contrite face and eyes filled with tears. He used to say: ‘My humble opinion is that it suffices for our salvation to meditate continually and seriously about death and to think earnestly upon the fact that nobody will pity us in that hour nor will anyone travel with us out of this life except our good deeds. And when the angels come hastening down, in what a tumult will a soul then be if it is found unready! How it will beg that it may be allowed a further short span of life, only to hear the words: “What about the time you have lived, have you spent it well?” ‘

And again he used to say as though speaking of himself, ‘Humble John, how will you have the strength to “pass the wild beasts of the brake”, [Ps/ 68:30 = LXX 67:31, which read epitimeson tois theriois tou kalamou] when they meet you like tax collectors? Woe is me, what fears and tremors will encompass the soul when it is called to account by so many keen and pitiless accountants?’ (Leontius of Neapolis, Life of St. John the Almsgiver, 41)

St. John Moschos ca. 550-619

One of the fathers said that in Thessalonica there was a monastery of virgins. One of them was coerced by the operation of the evil one into going out of the monastery. She went and fell into porneia by the machinations of the demon who scoffed at her until she left the monastery. Once she had fallen, she remained some time in sin then finally, undergoing a change of heart by the cooperation of God the good, she came to repentance. Re-entering her community in order to repent, she fell before the gateway of the monastery — and she died. Her death was revealed to one of the holy bishops. He saw holy angels coming to receive her soul and demons in attendance; he witnessed a dialogue taking place between them. The angels were saying: ‘She came in repentance’, but the demons said: ‘She served us so long a time she is ours’. Their altercation lasted some time and then the demons, those who obstruct the good, said: ‘She did not get as far as entering the monastery; how can you say she repented?” In answer to this the holy angles said: ‘Insofar as God saw her intention tending in that direction, He accepted her repentance. And she was a mistress of repentance by virtue of the goal she set for herself: the Lord the and Master of all.’ Put to shame by these words, the demons withdrew. (The Spiritual Meadow: Supplementary Tales. Cistercian Publications trans. by John Wortley, pg. 200)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

By the fear of God and the threat [of chastisements] to come, halt the violent impulses of the senses. In everything and everywhere remember death and the soul’s terror upon it’s leaving the body, and how the powers of the air and the dark forces come to meet it, all dissociated and cut to pieces in proportion to its disastrous familiarity with them through the passions. (Letters, 24, PG 91, 609C-612D.)

So the Lord put off the principalities and powers at the time of His first experience of temptation in the desert, thereby healing the whole of human nature of the passion connected with pleasure. Yet he despoiled them again at the time of His death, in that He likewise eliminated from our human nature the passion connected with pain. In His love for humanity, He accomplished this restoration for us though He were Himself liable; and what is more, in His goodness, He reckoned to us the glory of what He had restored. So too, since He assumed our nature’s liability to passions, albeit without sin (cf. Heb. 4:10), thereby inciting every evil power and destructive force to go into action, He despoiled them at the moment of His death, right when they came after Him to search Him out. He triumphed (Col. 2:15) over them and made a spectacle of them in His Cross, at the departure of His soul, when the evil powers could find nothing at all [culpable] in the passibility proper to His human nature. (Ad Thalassium 21)

St. John Climacus ca. 7th century

Some of the dying would answer: “Blessed be God Who has not turned away my prayer nor His mercy from me.” (Ps. 62:50) Others would say, “Blessed be the Lord God Who has not given us a prey for their teeth.” (Ps. 123:6) But others would be sad and say: “Will our souls pass through the impassable water of the spirits of the air?” (cf. Ps. 123:5) These would be unsure, and worried about the rendering of accounts after death. (Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 5)

St. Anastasios the Sinaite ca. 620-710

We were there at the end of Abba Stephen the Byzantine, I and Abba Theodosios the African who became the bishop of Babylon. As we were chanting the “Blameless is the man…” (Psa. 119 [118 LXX]) as is usual at the gathering of the soul, suddenly his face became very grim and with a commanding voice he spoke to something that appeared to him. “Why do you come here? Go into the outer darkness. You have nothing on me. The Lord is my part.” When we arrived in our chanting at this verse saying, “You are my part, O Lord,” Abba Stephen gave over his spirit to the Lord. Seeking a garment in order to bury him we found nothing at all of wealth and glory.

Abba Stephanos the Cypriot, a serene man participating in the Holy Spirit and adorned with all virtues, had come with me to the holy mountain. When he was about to die he suffered such trouble in departing as nobody had seen; and after remaining many days as if impaled, he died. Someone who knew his work and life had difficulty in his thoughts as to why such a man needed to fall into such trouble. And behold, Stephanos appeared to him in a dream saying, “Brother, although troubled a little, I found greater confidence before the Lord.” (Tales, 20, 28)

One of the brothers met an elder who lived on Mount Sinai and asked him, “Father, tell me how I should pray, for I have done much to anger God.” The elder said to him, “Son, when I pray I say this, ‘Lord, make me worthy to serve You as I have served Satan; make me worthy to love You as I have loved sin.’” And again he said, “It is good to raise the hands in the air and beg God that at its exit the soul might pass unhindered by all the impediments which try to delay it in the air.” (Tales – Supplement 4. Material found only in the Sinai manuscripts. These being primarily Sinai Greek Codex 451, and SGC 659)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

Whilst Sigebert still governed the kingdom, there came out of Ireland a holy man called Fursey renowned both for his words and actions, and remarkable for singular virtues, being desirous to live a stranger for our Lord, wherever an opportunity should offer…he built himself the monastery, wherein he might with more freedom indulge his heavenly studies. There, falling sick, as the book about his life informs us, he fell into a trance, and quitting his body from the evening till the cock crew, he was found worthy to behold the choirs of angels, and to hear the praises which are sung in heaven. He was wont to declare, that among other things he distinctly heard this: “The saints shall advance from one virtue to another.” And again, “The God of gods shall be seen in Sion.” Being restored to his body at that time, and again taken from it three days after, he not only saw the greater joys of the blessed, but also extraordinary combats of evil spirits, who by frequent accusations wickedly endeavored to obstruct his journey to heaven; but the angels protecting him, all their endeavors were in vain. Concerning which particulars, if any one desires to be more fully informed, that is, with what subtle fraud the devils represented both his actions and superfluous words, and even his thoughts, as if they had been written down in a book…He also saw devils flying through the fire, raising conflagrations of wars against the just. Then followed accusations of the wicked spirits against him, the defense of the good angels in his favor, and a more extended view of the heavenly troops; as also of holy men of his own nation, who, as he had long since been informed, had been deservedly advanced to the degree of priesthood, from whom he heard many things that might be very salutary to himself, or to all others that would listen to them. (Ecclesiastical History Bk. 3.19)

St. Boniface the Apostle to the Germans ca. 680-755

I thank God that now I can the more fully meet thy wishes, because but lately I spoke with this brother myself, when he came back here from abroad; he set forth to me in his own words the marvellous spectacle which he beheld when rapt in spirit beyond the body… As he quitted the body, angels of such dazzling brightness that he could scarcely look upon them for their splendour, bore him up. With sweet and harmonious voices they were singing, “O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy wrath: neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure.” “They raised me,” said he, “high into the air, and circling the world I beheld a blazing fire, the mighty flame soaring terribly aloft, as though to grasp the whole mechanism of the world in its embrace, had not the holy angel calmed it with the sign of Christ’s holy cross. When he had made the sign of the cross before the threatening flame, it gradually retired. By its terrible heat I was sorely tried, while my eyes were burned, and my sight was shattered by the brightness of the gleaming spirits until an angel, splendid to behold, touched my head with a protecting hand, and brought me safe from harm in the flames.

He added that during the time while he was out of the body, such a multitude of souls leaving the body had gathered where he was as to exceed what he had thought before to be the numbers of the whole human race. An innumerable band of evil spirits and a bright choir of heavenly angles had also assembled; and there was the greatest dispute between the demons and the angels over the souls leaving the body, for the demons were accusing the dead and making heavy the burden of their sins, while the angels were excusing them and lightening their load. (Letter XIII, To the Holy Virgin and Dear Lady Eadburga)

St. Theodore the Studite ca. 759-826

Are you not afraid of death, which we shall all face in a little while? How are we to look on the fearsome angels, as they come to take us from the body? How are we to journey on that long and unending road, if we have not obtained the necessities for the journey? (Catechesis 103, On Keeping God’s Commandments and the Just Threat Against Those who Neglect Them)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

You fill me with all blessings, O my God; but all of these will not help me if You will not give me the grace to overcome without confusion the gates of death. If the prince of darkness, when he come, should not see Your glory surrounding me and be not completely rendered powerless, he with his darkness be not dissipated by Your inaccessible light and if all the opposing powers with him be not put to flight, seeing the sign of Your stamp on me…of what use to me are all these which are now taking place in me? (Hymns, 28, ll. 201-211; Maloney, p. 152. Also see: Sources Chretiennes, Les Editions du Cerf, Paris. Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos “Life After Death” pg. 68)

St. Boris the Passion-Bearer ca. 986-1015

My Lord, Jesus Christ, hear me this hour and vouchsafe me to share of the company of Thy saints. For, O Lord, even as once this day Zechariah was slaughtered before Thine altar, so now also am I slaughtered before Thee, O Lord. O Lord, Lord, remember not my former transgressions, but save my soul, so that the deceitful counsel of my adversaries may not block its way, and let Thy bright angels receive it. Because, O Lord, Thou art my Savior, do Thou forgive them that do these things, for Thou art the true God, and to Thee is glory forever. Amen. (Hagiography of Kievan Rus’, trans. Paul Hollingsworth [Cambridge, MA: Harvard U, 1992], p. 16)

St. Nikitas Stithatos ca. 1005-1090

[S]ouls, obscured and frightfully plunged in darkness because of the malice of their acts, words and thoughts, their habits, occupations and dispositions, these are the souls of sinners; when they are violently torn from the body, they give off such stench as they have imparted to it in leaving, along with all manner of unpleasantness. These souls, filled with obscurity, stench and rottenness, are dragged away against their will by dark and avenging angels, in the midst of a terrible fear, shaking with fright, to the depths of hell as into a dark prison devoid of consolation. They are handed over to the impure and evil spirits that guard this prison, there where the prince of darkness is held fast by eternal bonds so to be consumed by fire along with his kind, the angels of darkness. They are handed over to them to remain with them eternally in the future; they have, in fact, accepted them as friends during their life in their acts and their words. They have preferred their suggestions, they have implemented them to their loss and others. (On the Soul, XIV, 79-81)

St. Theodosius of the Kiev Caves ca. 1009-1074

…I pray Thee, O my Lord, have mercy on my soul, that it may not encounter the malice of Thy enemies, but that Thy angels may receive it and lead it through the trials of the darkness after death towards the light of Thy mercy. (A Life of St. Theodosius, The Way of the Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality edited by G.P. Fedotov)

St. Theophylact of Ochrid ca. 1055-1107

God said unto him, Thou fool, this night they shall require thy soul of thee. The words God said unto him do not mean that God conversed with the rich man, although the parable puts it in this form. Instead, the thought’s that came into the man’s mind are what God spoke. Thou fool. He calls him a fool because everything he wanted was foolish, as we have shown. And every man like him is foolish and acts in vain, for, as David says, in vain doth every man disquiet himself. (Ps. 38:14) Why? Because he stores up things without knowing for whom he gathers them. How can he not be called a fool who does not know that the length of a man’s life rests with God alone and that no man can set limits of his own life? Notice also the words they will require. Like some stern imperial officers demanding tribute, the fearsome angels will ask for your soul, and you will not want to give it because you love this life and claim the things of this life as your own. But they do not demand the soul of a righteous man, because he himself commits his soul into the hands of the God and Father of spirits, and he does so with joy and gladness, not in the least bit grieved that he is handing over his soul to God. For him the body is a light burden, easily shed. But the sinner has made his soul fleshy, something in substance like the body and like the earth, rendering it difficult to separate from the body. This is why the soul must be demanded of him, the same way that harsh tax collectors treat debtors who refuse to pay what is due. See that the Lord did not say, “I shall require thy soul of thee,” but, they shall require. (The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, Chap. 12.16-21)

St. Meletios Homologetes ca. 1209-1286

…[T]he time of death is full of consternation since all the tax collectors bring forward deeds and words, plans and thoughts, desires, and all that we have done when instructed by them, in obedience to our enemies. Alas for our lack of perception! After the release the powers and authorities and all the principalities of Satan pick everyone out and examine minutely the things that are in the soul and the body. They meet with us to cut and chop, to forcibly drag us down because of the previous disposition we had towards them, because the affection and condition through the passions, and because of our familiarity with them, by which they alienated us from God our Maker and Master. (excerpted from “Traditions of Belief in Late Byzantine Demonology” by R.P.H. Greenfield, pp. 17-18)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

When the evil one was justly abandoned by the God of the true life because of his voluntary sin, he became a dead spirit… the evil one caused our double death by his single death. Having flung us down even lower than himself, he appeared to be great and exalted, and boasted that he had outwitted us with his intelligence and reduced us to slavery. As he was immortal, he appeared, alas, to be our god. Even after death our souls, having been deserted by God, fell to his lot and he dragged them down to into Hades, and shut them up in seemingly inescapable prisons. (Homily 16, On Holy and Great Saturday)

St. Nilus of Sora 1443-1508

But, O soul, whatever time you still have, give up your shameless deeds and convert yourself to a noble life. Turn to the Lord and cry out with faith: “I have sinned, Lord. But I know your mercy and love for men. For this reason, I fall down and beg your goodness to grant me mercy, O Lord! For my soul will be confused and will be sick at my having turned away from my repentance and at my wicked bodily deeds. May the evil powers never capture me and cast me into darkness for my invisible and visible sins of my whole earthly life.

Have mercy on me, O Master, and do not let my soul ever look upon the ugly countenances of the evil demons, but let your radiant and most glorious angels receive me. You have authority to forgive sins. Forgive me my sins. Let my sin never again be before You for because of my weakness I have sinned in word and in deed and in thought, deliberately and indeliberately. May I turn toward you when I am divested of my body and not be found with any filth on the image of my soul. And may the hand of the dark prince of this world never receive me, a sinner, and drag me into the depths of hell, but may you stand before me and be my Savior and Protector! (Nil Sorsky, The Complete Writings: Have Mercy on Me, O Master!)

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk 1724-1783

After the Prayer of the Ambon at the liturgy on every Lord’s day and holy day, there shall be a reading, either an interpretation of the Gospel, or from another book accepted by the holy Church or even a profitable sermon from the Prologue. On certain Sundays, there shall be read from the Sequential Psalter that greatly profitable sermon, so stirring for for the sleepy and heedless soul, On the Departure of the Soul (*) by St. Cyril of Alexandria. (Journey to Heaven, The Life of St. Tikhon pg. 204)

(*) In the fifth century the depiction of the immediate judgement upon the soul after its departure from the body, called the Particular judgement, was even more closely joined to the depiction of the toll-houses, as we see in St. Cyril of Alexandria’s “Homily on the Departure of the Soul,” which sums up the images of this kind in the Fathers of the Church which preceded him. (Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky “On the Question of the Tollhouses”)

St. Makarios of Corinth 1731-1805

Suffer me to say: if death suddenly overtakes those who delay communicating and finds them unprepared, without Divine Communion, what will be in store for these wretched ones? How will they be able to pass freely by the demonic publicans of the air? (Manna from Athos: The Issue of Frequent Communion on the Holy Mountain in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries by Hieromonk Patapios and Archbishop Chrysostomos, p. 126)

St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite 1749-1809

The Great Elder [Barsanuphius of Gaza] would give over the souls of certain dying brethren to the Holy Life-giving Trinity, and while they would be passing over to heaven, he would free them from demonic attacks. (The Life of Saints Barsanuphius and John, 5)

St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833

Two nuns, who had both been abbesses, died. The Lord revealed to me how their souls had been subjected to the aerial tests, how they had been tried and then condemned. For three days and nights I prayed, wretched as I am, entreating the Mother of God for them, and the Lord in His goodness pardoned them through the prayers of the Mother of God; they passed all the aerial tests and received forgiveness through God’s mercy. (St. Seraphim of Sarov: A Spiritual Biography by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore. Chapter XV “Amazing Wonderworker” pg. 396)

St. Ignaty Brianchaninov 1807-1867

For the testing of souls as they pass through the spaces of the air there have been established by the dark powers separate judgment places and guards in a remarkable order. In the layers of the under-heaven, from earth to heaven itself, stand guarding legions of fallen spirits. Each division is in charge of a special form of sin and tests the soul in it when the soul reaches this division. The aerial demonic guards and judgment places are called in the patristic writings the toll-houses, and the spirits who serve them are called tax-collectors. (Discourse on Death, Collected Works, vol. III, Saint Petersburg, 1886, p. 136)

At both judgments God Himself is present and judges. At the private judgment He judges by means of angels of light and fallen angels; at the general judgment He judges by means of His Incarnate Word. (The Arena, An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, p. 6)

St. Theophan the Recluse 1815-1894

No matter how absurd the idea of toll-houses may seem to our ‘wise men’, they will not escape passing through them. What do these toll-gatherers seek in those who pass through? They seek whether people might have some of their goods. What kind of goods? Passions. Therefore, in the person whose heart is pure and a stranger to passions, they cannot find anything to wrangle over; on the contrary, the opposing quality will strike them like arrows of lightning. To this someone who has a little education expressed the following thought: The toll-houses are something frightful. But is quite possible that the demons, instead of something frightful, might present something deceptive and seductive, according to all kinds of passions, to the soul as it passes through one after the other. When, during the course of earthly life, the passions have been banished from the heart and the virtues opposed to them have been planted, then no matter what seductive thing you might present, the soul, having no kind of sympathy for it, passes it by, turning away from it with disgust. But when the heart has not been cleansed, the soul will rush to whatever passion the heart has most sympathy for; and the demons will take it like a friend, and then they know where to put it. Therefore, it is very doubtful that a soul, as long as there remain in it sympathies for the objects of any passion, will not be put to shame at the toll-houses. Being put to shame here means that the soul itself is thrown into hell. (The One-Hundred Eighteenth Psalm, Interpreted by Bishop Theophan, Moscow 1891, reprinted Jordanville, 1976 pp. 289-290)

St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908

Represent to yourself how necessary repose is to the departed one, and how greatly he (or she) needs the prayers for him (or her) of the living, being a member of the one body of the Church; how the demons are contesting his (or her) soul from the angels, and how it trembles, not knowing what its eternal destiny will be. Our prayer of faith and love for the departed means much in the Lord’s sight. (Saint John of Kronstadt on Prayer – Extracts from his Writings. Chap. XI.118 On Prayer for the Departed, pp. 44-45)

St. Nikolai Velimirovich 1881-1956

[Taxiotes] spent his entire life in grievous sins, but finally repented, left his military service and adopted a way of life pleasing to God. Once when he had gone with his wife to their property close to the city, he fell into adultery with the wife of his workman, and immediately after this a snake bit him and he died. He lay dead for six hours, and after that he arose and, on the fourth day, broke his silence and related how he had somehow passed through all the toll-houses until he arrived at the toll-house for adultery. There he had fallen into the dark dwelling of the demons, but was then led out by an angel who vouched for him, and had returned to the body to expiate his last sin. He lived in penitence for forty days, going from church to church and striking his head against the doors and thresholds. Weeping incessantly, he spoke of the terrible torments in which sinners lived in that world, and implored people not to sin and to repent of sins already committed. On the fortieth day he went with joy to the Kingdom of the merciful God. (The Prologue from Ochrid: April 10th)

St. John Maximovitch 1896-1966

[W]hen it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and bad. Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them.

For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres. At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it. According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called “toll-houses,” at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that Mother of God herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of her approaching death, answering her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. (A Homily on Life After Death)

[T]he Virgin Mary during Her earthly life avoided the glory which belonged to Her as the Mother of the Lord. She preferred to live in quiet and prepare Herself for the departure into eternal life. To the last day of Her earthly life She took care to prove worthy of the Kingdom of Her Son, and before death She prayed that He might deliver Her soul from the malicious spirits that meet human souls on the way to heaven and strive to seize them so as to take them away with them to hades. The Lord fulfilled the prayer of His Mother and in the hour of Her death Himself came from heaven with a multitude of angels to receive Her soul. (The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God)

On the Humble Person

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th century

For the humble person never falls. Where would he fall since he is lower than all others? (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies: Homily 19.8)

On Priesthood in the Church

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

Formerly Moses and Aaron, who were given the power of the priesthood, had to suffer many things. Caiaphas, when he took over their role, persecuted and condemned the Lord. However, the Lord, respecting the priesthood, permitted that to happen. Likewise the prophets were persecuted by their own nation. Also, Peter succeeded Moses, entrusted with the new Church of Christ and the authentic priesthood. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 26.23)

On the Departure of St. Macarius the Great

St. Macarius the Great ca. 295-392
When the saint’s body had grown weak because of old age and because of all his secret ascetic practices that nobody knew about, and while he was thinking one day about the day he would leave this world the two saints Abba Anthony and Abba Pachomius appeared to him at the seventh hour of the day telling him that he would repose in nine days. After nine days the angel of the Lord that had appeared to him earlier in his
life, appeared surrounded with heavenly hosts and said to him, ‘Come with us, for all of these are waiting for you.’ The saint replied and said, ‘My master Lord Jesus Christ whom my soul loves, accept my spirit.’ When he said that he gave up his spirit.
This was on the twenty-seventh day of the Coptic month of Baramhat. As the Angel of the Lord was escorting his spirit to Heaven, some of the elders saw the devils come to hinder his ascent. They heard them saying to him. ‘You are saved and have escaped from us.’ The saint replied, ‘Not yet.’ When the saint set one foot inside the Heavenly gate they said to him, ‘You have entered,’ he replied ‘Not yet.’ When he had completely entered they said again to him weeping, ‘You have entered,’ He then shouted back, ‘I have accepted the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I thank my Lord for His Heavenly grace and love to mankind.’ (The Life of St. Macarius the Great)

On the Thrifty Monk

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

I will relate what took place not very many years ago at Nitria. A brother, more thrifty than covetous, and ignorant that the Lord had been sold for thirty pieces of silver, Mat. 26:15 left behind him at his death a hundred pieces of money which he had earned by weaving linen. As there were about five thousand monks in the neighborhood, living in as many separate cells, a council was held as to what should be done. Some said that the coins should be distributed among the poor; others that they should be given to the church, while others were for sending them back to the relatives of the deceased. However, Macarius, Pambo, Isidore and the rest of those called fathers, speaking by the Spirit, decided that they should be interred with their owner, with the words: Your money perish with you. Acts 8:20 Nor was this too harsh a decision; for so great fear has fallen upon all throughout Egypt, that it is now a crime to leave after one a single shilling. (Letter 22.33)

St. Macarius on the Appearance of the Soul

St. Macarius the Great ca. 300-391

Question: Does the soul have any form?

Answer: It has a form and image similar to that of an angel. For as angels have an image and form and as the outer man has his image so also the inner man has image that is similar both to that of angel and that of the exterior man. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 7.7)

On the Dignity of Mankind

Psa 8:3-4 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

St. Gregory of Nyssa ca. 335-395

Man, who among the things that exist is reckoned as nothing, as ashes, as grass, as vanity, is made the familiar of such and so great a Majesty as can neither be seen, nor heard, nor reckoned. Man is received and accounted as son by the God of the universe. Who can discover a way of giving thanks worthily for such a gift? With what voice, with what thought, what movement of the heart, can a man sing the praises of this superlative gift? Man transcends his own nature: from mortal he is made immortal, from brazen, unalloyed, from ephemeral, eternal, and in short, from man, a god. For if he is made worthy of becoming a son of God he will have entirely in himself the dignity of the Father, and will be heir to all the paternal goods. O, the liberality of that wealthy Master! (The Beatitudes 7)

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

If, then, anyone loves God, God also shares His love with him. Once a person believes in Him, God bestows on such a one a heavenly faith and so he becomes twofold. As you offer God any part of yourself, He Himself shares with your soul similar aspects of His own being, so that all you do, you may do sincerely and purely, lovong and praying in this same way. For great is the dignity of humanity. See how great are heavens and the earth, the suna and the moon. But the Lord was not pleased to find His rest in them but in humanity alone. Man, therefore, is of greater value than all other creatures, and perhaps, I will not hesitate to say, not only visible creatures, but also those invisible, namely, “the ministering spirits” (Heb. 1:14). For it was not Michael or Gabriel, the archangels, that God said: “Let Us make according to Our image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26), but He said it concerning the spiritual makeup of the human, I mean, the immortal soul. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 15.22)

St. Macarius on “Judaism”

In the same way, as we said above, the people of Israel corrupted themselves by many crimes and sins…They laid their hands on the dignity of the Lord. For this reason they were completely deserted and rejected. They lost prophecy, priesthood , and the cult of God. These were given to believing Gentiles as the Lord says: “The Kingdom shall be taken from you and will be given to a nation that will bring forth its fruits” (Mt. 21:43) (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies 4.23)

Also, Peter succeeded Moses, entrusted with the new Church of Christ and the authentic priesthood. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies 26.23)

On Spirit and Ink

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

It is like this in Christianity for anyone who tastes the grace of God. For it says: “Taste and see how sweet the Lord is” (Ps. 34:8). Such a taste is this power of the Spirit working to effect full certainty in faith which operates in the heart. For as many as are sons of light and in the service of the New Covenant through the Holy Spirit have nothing to learn from men. For they are taught by God. His very grace writes in their hearts the laws of the Spirit. They should not put all their trusting hope solely in the Scriptures written in ink. For divine grace writes on the “tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3) the laws of the Spirit and the heavenly mysteries. For the heart directs and governs all the other organs of the body. (Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 15.20)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces. So that in their case, I think, the saying is already fulfilled: Whether there be prophecies they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 1 Cor. 13:8 Yet by means of these instruments (as they may be called), so great an edifice of faith and love has been built up in them, that, holding to what is perfect, they do not seek for what is only in part perfect— of course, I mean, so far as is possible in this life; for, in comparison with the future life, the life of no just and holy man is perfect here. Therefore the apostle says: Now abides faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity: 1 Cor. 13:13 because, when a man shall have reached the eternal world, while the other two graces will fail, love will remain greater and more assured. (Christian Doctrine Bk. 1.39.43)

St. Sophronius of Jerusalem ca. 560-638

St. Mary of Egypt: I am fed and clothed by the all-powerful Word of God, the Lord of all. For it is not by bread alone that man lives. And those who have stripped off the rags of sin have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rocks.

Hearing that she cited words Scripture, from Moses and Job, Zosimas asked her: “And so you have read the psalms and other books?”

St. Mary smiled at this and said to the elder: “Believe me, I have not seen a human face ever since I crossed the Jordan, except yours today. I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert. I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them. But the word of God which is alive and active, by itself teaches a man knowledge. (The Life of St. Mary of Egypt)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

So long as we only see the Logos of God as embodied multifariously in symbols in the letter of Holy Scripture, we have not yet achieved spiritual insight into the incorporeal, simple, single and unique Father as He exists in the incorporeal, simple, single and unique Son, according to the saying, ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father… and I am in the Father and the Father in Me’ (John 14:9-10). We need much knowledge so that, having first penetrated the veils of the sayings which cover the Logos, we may with a naked intellect see – in so far as men can – the pure Logos, as He exists in Himself, clearly showing us the Father in Himself. Hence a person who seeks God with true devotion should not be dominated by the literal text, lest he unwittingly receives not God but things appertaining to God; that is, lest he feel a dangerous affection for the words of Scripture instead of for the Logos. For the Logos eludes the intellect which supposes that it has grasped the incorporeal Logos by means of His outer garments, like the Egyptian woman who seized hold of Joseph’s garments instead of Joseph himself (cf. Gen. 39:7-13), or like the ancients who were content merely with the beauty of visible things and mistakenly worshipped the creation instead of the Creator (cf. Rom. 1:25). (Two Hundred Texts on Theology and the Incarnate Dispensation of the Son of God: Second Century 73)

St. Isaac of Syria died ca. 700

Until a man has received the Comforter, he requires inscriptions in ink to imprint the memory of good in his heart, to keep his striving for good constantly renewed by continual reading, and to preserve his soul from the subtelties of the ways of sin; for he has not yet acquired the power of the Spirit that drives away delusion which takes soul-profiting recollections captive and makes a man cold through the distraction of the intellect. When the power of the Spirit has penetrated the noetic powers of the active soul, then in place of the laws written in ink, the commandments of the Spirit take root in his heart and a man is secretly taught by the Spirit and needs no help from sensory matter. (The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian by Hilarion Alfeyev  pg. 183)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Just as the more comprehensive commandments contain within themselves all the more particular commandments, so the more comprehensive virtues contain in themselves the more particular virtues. For he who sells what he has and distributes it to the poor (cf. Matt. 19:21), and who once and for all becomes poor himself, has fulfilled at once all the more particular commandments: he no longer has to give alms to the person who asks him for them, nor does he have to-refrain from rejecting the man who wishes to borrow from him (cf. Matt. 5:42). So, too, someone who prays continuously (cf. 1 Thess. 5:17) has in this act included everything and is no longer obliged to praise the Lord seven times a day (cf. Ps. 119:164), or in the evening, in the morning, and at noonday (cf. Ps. 55:17): he has already done all that we do by way of prayer and psalmody according to the regulations and at specific times and hours. Similarly, he who has acquired consciously within himself the Teacher of spiritual knowledge (cf. Ps. 94:10) has gone through all Scripture, has gained all that is to be gained from reading, and will no longer have need to resort to books. How is this? The person who is in communion with Him who inspired those who wrote the Divine Scriptures, and is initiated by Him into the undivulged secrets of the hidden mysteries, will himself be an inspired book to others – a book containing old and new mysteries and written by the hand of God; for he has accomplished all things and in God, the principle of perfection, he rests from all his labors. (One Hundred and Fifty-Three Practical and Theological Texts 118)

But while he (St. Symeon’s elder, St. Symeon of Studion) was still alive he said that he had God wholly within himself, and after his death he shouted aloud that which he wrote with his own hand, “Gain God as your friend and you will not need the help of man…”, and again, “Gain God for yourself and you will not need a book.” This he showed by his deeds, as he wrote a book by his own efforts, or rather by the Spirit that dwelled within him (Rom. 8:11), though he had no literary education. (The Discourses Chap. VI, The Example and Spirit of Symeon the Pious)

also see: http://classicalchristianity.com/2011/08/26/chrysostom-on-the-written-word/

On the Depth of the Human Heart

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

…[T]he heart itself is but a small vessel, yet there also are dragons and there are lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. And there are rough and uneven roads; there are precipices. But there also is God, also the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and Apostles, the treasures of grace — there are all things. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 43.7)

On Anger

St. Macarius the Great ca. 300-390

Abba Macarius said, “If you reprove someone, you yourself get carried away by anger and you are satisfying your own passion; do not lose yourself, therefore in order to save another.” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: Macarius 17)

St. Macarius on the Soul After Death

St. Macarius the Great ca. 300-391
When the soul of a man departs from the body, a certain great mystery is there enacted. If a person is under the guilt of sin, bands of demons and fallen angels approach along with the powers of darkness which capture the soul and drag it as a captive to their place. No one should be suprised by this fact. For if, while a man lived in this life, he was subject to them and was their obedient slave, how much more, when he leaves this world, is he captured and controlled by them? (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 22) 
Like the tax collectors who sit along the narrow streets and snatch at passers-by and extort from them, so also the demons watch carefully and grab hold of souls. And when they pass out of the body, if they are not completely purified, they are not permitted to go up into the mansions of Heaven there to meet their Master. For they are driven down by the demons of the air. But if, while they still live in the flesh, they shall, because of their hard toil and much struggle, obtain from the Lord on high grace, they, along with those who through virtuous living are at rest, shall go to the Lord, as He promised. “Where I am, there also shall My servant be.” (Jn. 12:26) (ibid., Homily 43)

On Degrees of Bliss and Torment

St. Macarius the Great ca. 295-392

[S]ome speak of one kingdom and one hell. We, however, speak of many degrees and differences and measures, both in the kingdom and in hell itself. Just as the soul “ensouls” all the members and yet operates in the brain and still moves the feet below it, so also the Godhead contains all creatures, the heavenly and those under the abyss, and is everywhere being filled up in creation, even though it is most transcendent above creatures because it is infinite and beyond any comprehension. Therefore, this Godhead is concerned with men, and it providentially guides all things according to reason. And when some pray, not knowing what they seek, others fast, while others perservere in service, God being a just judge, gives the reward to each one according to the measure of his faith. For what things they do, they do out of fear of God. But not all these are sons or kings or heirs. In the world there are murderers, others are fornicators and others robbers. On the other hand, there are those who distribute their goods to the poor. For both of these groups the Lord has a concern and to those doing good He gives rest and a reward. For there are superior and inferior degrees. And in the very light itself and the glory there is a difference. And in hell itself and punishment there appear poisoners and robbers and others who have committed lesser sins. Those who say that there is only one kigdom and one hell and that there are not degrees, speak wrongly. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 40)

St. Gregory of Sinai ca. 1265-1346

Chastisements differ, as do the rewards of the righteous. Chastisements are inflicted in hell, in what Scripture describes as ‘a dark and gloomy land, a land of eternal darkness’ (Job 10:21-22 LXX), where sinners dwell before the judgment and whither they return after judgment is given. For can the phrases, ‘Let sinners be returned to hell’ (Ps. 9:17 LXX), and ‘death will rule over them’ (Ps. 49:14 LXX), refer to anything other than the final judgment visited upon sinners, and their eternal condemnation? (On Commandments and Doctrines, 33)

By ‘many dwelling-places’ (Jn. 14:2) the Saviour meant the differing stages of spiritual ascent and states of development in the other world; for although the Kingdom of Heaven is one, there are many different levels within it. That is to say, there is place for both heavenly and earthy men (cf. 1 Cor. 15:48) according to their virtue, their knowledge and the degree of deification that they have attained. ‘For there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars, for one star differs from another star in glory’ (1 Cor. 15:41); and yet all of them shine in a single divine firmament. (ibid., 44)

On the Orthodox Definition of Justification and Grace

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

This is the foundation of the road to God, in much patience, in hope, in humility, in poverty of spirit, in gentleness to travel along the road of life. By such means one can possess justification for himself. We mean by justification the Lord Himself. These commandments, which so enjoin us, are like milestones and signposts along the royal highway that leads a journeyer to the heavenly city. For it says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the peacemaker” (Mt. 5:3). Call this Christianity. If anyone does not pass along this road, he has wandered off along a roadless way. He used a bad foundation. Glory to the mercies of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 27.23)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

So the Fathers tell us that the divine grace of the suprasensible light is God. But God in His nature does not simply identify Himself with this grace, because He is able not only to illumine and deify the mind, but also to bring forth from nonbeing every intellectual essence. (The Triads, B.23)

On the Perseverance of the Saints

John Jefferson Davis, professor of Systematic Theology and Christian ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA

The first extensive discussion of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is found in Augustine’s Treatise on the Gift of Perseverance, written in A.D. 428 or 429 in the context of the controversies with Pelagius on the issues of grace, original sin, and predestination. At the very outset Augustine affirms the grace of God as the ultimate basis for the believer’s final perseverance: “I assert….that the perseverance by which we persevere in Christ even to the end is the gift of God.” From a human perspective it is inscrutable why, given two pious men, one should be given the grace of final perseverance and the other not. From a divine perspective it must be the case that the individual who perseveres is among the predestined while the other is not. The one who fails to persevere has not been called according to God’s plan and chosen in Christ according to God’s purpose.

God’s sovereignty in election and predestination, then, is the basis for Augustine’s understanding of final perseverance. The grace of God

“which both begins a man’s faith and which enables it to persevere unto the end is not given in respect of our merits, but is given according to His own most secret and at the same time most righteous, wise, and beneficent will; since those whom He predestinated, them He also called, with that calling of which it is said, ‘The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.’ ”

Unlike Calvin and those in the later Reformed tradition, however, Augustine does not believe that the Christian can in this life know with infallible certitude that he is in fact among the elect and that he will finally persevere. According to Augustine “it is uncertain whether anyone has received this gift so long as he is still alive.” The believer’s life in this world is a state of trial, and he who seems to stand must take heed lest he fall. It is possible to experience the renewal of baptismal regeneration, and the justifying grace of God, and yet not persevere to the end. The recognition of this possibility should make the believer’s confession of faith “lowly and submissive” and lead to continued dependence on the grace of God. Augustine’s understanding of perseverance, then, reflects his understanding of the eternal predestination of God, the warning passages addressed to believers in the NT, and his sacramental theology of grace and baptismal regeneration. He held that God’s elect will certainly persevere but that one’s election could not be infallibly known in this life — and that in fact one’s justification and baptismal regeneration could be rejected and lost through sin and unbelief. Augustine’s understanding set the parameters for Aquinas, for the Council of Trent, and for the Roman Catholic tradition generally down to the present day.

…Luther’s understanding of perseverance clearly bears marks of the Roman Catholic tradition and yet differs from it on the key point of the believer’s present certitude of the experience of grace. In the context of a late medieval Church whose theology and practices mitigated against such certitude, Luther is horrified that the pope “should have entirely prohibited the certainty and assurance of divine grace.”  The preacher’s essential task is to make the hearers sure of their salvation. “If you want to preach to a person in a comforting way,” urged Luther in a midweek sermon on Matt 18:21-22, “then do it so that he who hears you is certain that he is in God’s favor, or be silent altogether.” Preachers who make their hearers doubt are “good for nothing.” Assurance that one is presently in a state of grace is foundational to the Christian life. “I must be able to say,” stated the great reformer, “I know that I have a gracious God and that my works, performed in this faith and according to this Word, are good fruits and are pleasing to Him.”

Like Augustine, Luther believed that regeneration occurred through the waters of baptism. “But,” noted the Reformer, “all of us do not remain with our baptism. Many fall away from Christ and become false Christians.” In his commentary on 2 Pet 2:22 he writes as follows on apostates in the Church: “Through baptism these people threw out unbelief, had their unclean way of life washed away, and entered into a pure life of faith and love. Now they fall away into unbelief and their own works, and they soil themselves again in filth.”

One who has experienced the justifying grace of God through faith can lose that justification through unbelief or false confidence in works. “Indeed, even the righteous man,” writes Luther in his comments on Gal 5:4, “if he presumes to be justified by those works, loses the righteousness he has and falls from the grace by which he had been justified, since he has been removed from a good land to one that is barren.”

Martin Luther shared with the Roman Catholic Church of his day the belief that the grace of baptismal regeneration and justification could be lost.

…Like Luther, Calvin believes that the Christian can enjoy moral certitude of his present state of grace. Calvin, however, has greater confidence than Luther and the Catholic tradition before him that the believer can also have great assurance of his election and final perseverance.

Calvin also differs from Luther in his understanding of regeneration. According to Calvin, once the Spirit brings a person to regeneration this reality cannot be lost.

…Calvin, Arminius and Wesley agreed that if election were unconditional, then final perseverance would logically follow as a matter of course. Augustine and Aquinas affirmed unconditional election but taught that believers did not enjoy infallible certitude of their election and hence of their final perseverance. Luther believed that the Christian could have certitude concerning the present state of grace but not concerning final perseverance. Like the Roman Catholic tradition that preceded him and the Wesleyan tradition that succeeded him, Luther did not see regeneration as inextricably linked with final salvation. The Calvinistic tradition has understood election as unconditional, regeneration as permanent, and certitude of final perseverance as a genuine possibility for the believer. (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society [JETS] 34/2 (June 1991) p. 213-228The Perseverance of the Saints: A History of the Doctrine by John Jefferson Davis)

Barnabas ca. 70-130

We take earnest heed in these last days; for the whole [past] time of your faith will profit you nothing, unless now in this wicked time we also withstand coming sources of danger, as becomes the sons of God. That the Black One may find no means of entrance, let us flee from every vanity, let us utterly hate the works of the way of wickedness. Do not, by retiring apart, live a solitary life, as if you were already [fully] justified; but coming together in one place, make common inquiry concerning what tends to your general welfare. For the Scripture says, Woe to them who are wise to themselves, and prudent in their own sight! (Isa. 5:21) Let us be spiritually-minded: let us be a perfect temple to God. As much as in us lies, let us meditate upon the fear of God, and let us keep His commandments, that we may rejoice in His ordinances. The Lord will judge the world without respect of persons. Each will receive as he has done: if he is righteous, his righteousness will precede him; if he is wicked, the reward of wickedness is before him. Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are the called [of God], we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince, acquiring power over us, should thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord. And all the more attend to this, my brethren, when you reflect and behold, that after so great signs and wonders were wrought in Israel, they were thus [at length] abandoned. Let us beware lest we be found [fulfilling that saying], as it is written, Many are called, but few are chosen. (Epistle of Barnabas, 4)

The Didache ca. 70-120

Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord comes. But you shall assemble together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you be not made complete in the last time. (Chap 16)


St. Ignatius of Antioch ca. 45-107

Do not err, my brethren. (Comp. Jam 1:16)Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (1Cor. 6:9-10) If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with anyone who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him. (Epistle to the Ephesians, 16)

2nd Clement ca. 100-150

Let us, then, not only call Him Lord, for that will not save us. For He saith, “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall be saved, but he that worketh righteousness.” Wherefore, brethren, let us confess Him by our works, by loving one another, by not committing adultery, or speaking evil of one another, or cherishing envy; but by being continent, compassionate, and good. We ought also to sympathize with one another, and not be avaricious. By such works let us confess Him, and not by those that are of an opposite kind. And it is not fitting that we should fear men, but rather God. For this reason, if we should do such [wicked] things, the Lord hath said, “Even though ye were gathered together to me in my very bosom, yet if ye were not to keep my commandments, I would cast you off, and say unto you, Depart from me; I know you not whence ye are, ye workers of iniquity.” (2 Clement 4)

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

Justin well said: Before the advent of the Lord, Satan never ventured to blaspheme God, inasmuch as he was not yet sure of his own damnation, since that was announced concerning him by the prophets only in parables and allegories. But after the advent of the Lord learning plainly from the discourses of Christ and His apostles that eternal fire was prepared for him who voluntarily departed from God and for all who, without repentance, persevere in apostasy, then, by means of a man of this sort, he, as if already condemned, blasphemes that God who inflicts judgment upon him, and imputes the sin of his apostasy to his Maker, instead of to his own will and predilection. — Irenaeus: Heresies, v. 26. (Other Fragments from the Lost Writings of Justin)

Shepherd of Hermas ca. 150

For the Lord has sworn by His glory, in regard to His elect, that if any one of them sin after a certain day which has been fixed, he shall not be saved. For the repentance of the righteous has limits. Filled up are the days of repentance to all the saints; but to the heathen, repentance will be possible even to the last day. You will tell, therefore, those who preside over the Church, to direct their ways in righteousness, that they may receive in full the promises with great glory. Stand stedfast, therefore, ye who work righteousness, and doubt not, that your passage may be with the holy angels. Happy ye who endure the great tribulation that is coming on, and happy they who shall not deny their own life. For the Lord hath sworn by His Son, that those who denied their Lord have abandoned their life in despair, for even now these are to deny Him in the days that are coming. (Vision Second, Chap. II)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

Some of his disciples, too, addicting themselves to the same practices, have deceived many silly women, and defiled them. They proclaim themselves as being “perfect,” so that no one can be compared to them with respect to the immensity of their knowledge, nor even were you to mention Paul or Peter, or any other of the apostles. They assert that they themselves know more than all others, and that they alone have imbibed the greatness of the knowledge of that power which is unspeakable. They also maintain that they have attained to a height above all power, and that therefore they are free in every respect to act as they please, having no one to fear in anything. For they affirm, that because of the “Redemption” it has come to pass that they can neither be apprehended, nor even seen by the judge. (Against Heresies, Bk. I, 13.6)

And truly the death of the Lord became [the means of] healing and remission of sins to the former, but Christ shall not die again in behalf of those who now commit sin, for death shall no more have dominion over Him; but the Son shall come in the glory of the Father, requiring from His stewards and dispensers the money which He had entrusted to them, with usury; and from those to whom He had given most shall He demand most. We ought not, therefore, as that presbyter remarks, to be puffed up, nor be severe upon those of old time, but ought ourselves to fear, lest perchance, after [we have come to] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we obtain no further forgiveness of sins, but be shut out from His kingdom. And therefore it was that Paul said, For if [God] spared not the natural branches, [take heed] lest He also spare not you, who, when you were a wild olive tree, were grafted into the fatness of the olive tree, and were made a partaker of its fatness.

As then the unrighteous, the idolaters, and fornicators perished, so also is it now: for both the Lord declares, that such persons are sent into eternal fire; Mat. 25:41 and the apostle says, Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, not effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Cor. 6:9-10 And as it was not to those who are without that he said these things, but to us, lest we should be cast forth from the kingdom of God, by doing any such thing, he proceeds to say, And such indeed were you; but you are washed, but you are sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God. And just as then, those who led vicious lives, and put other people astray, were condemned and cast out, so also even now the offending eye is plucked out, and the foot and the hand, lest the rest of the body perish in like manner. Mat. 18:8-9 (Against Hereises, Bk. IV, 27.2,4)

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

Forgiveness of past sins, then, God gives, however, as to future sins, each one procures this for himself. And this is to repent, to condemn the past deeds, and beg oblivion of them from the Father, who only of all is able to undo what is done, by mercy proceeding from Him, and to blot out former sins by the dew of the Spirit. “For by the state in which I find you will I judge” also, is what in each case the end of all cries aloud. So that even in the case of one who has done the greatest good deeds in his life, but at the end has run headlong into wickedness, all his former pains are profitless to him, since at the catastrophe of the drama he has given up his part; while it is possible for the man who formerly led a bad and dissolute life, on afterwards repenting, to overcome in the time after repentance the evil conduct of a long time. But it needs great carefulness, just as bodies that have suffered by protractred disease need regimen and special attention. Thief, do you wish to get forgiveness? steal no more. Adulterer, burn no more. Fornicator, live for the future chastely. You who has robbed, give back, and give back more than you took. False witness, practice truth. Perjurer, swear no more, and extirpate the rest of the passions, wrath, lust, grief, fear; that you may be found at the end to have previously in this world been reconciled to the adversary. It is then probably impossible all at once to eradicate inbred passions; but by God’s power and human intercession, and the help of the brethren, and sincere repentance, and constant care, they are corrected. (Who is the Rich Man That Shall be Saved? Chap. XL)


Tertullian ca. 160-220

Whereas the material class— in other words, those souls which are bad souls they say, never receive the blessings of salvation, for that nature they have pronounced to be incapable of any change or reform in its natural condition. This grain, then, of spiritual seed is modest and very small when cast from her hand, but under her instruction increases and advances into full conviction, as we have already said; and the souls, on this very account, so much excelled all others, that the Demiurge, even then in his ignorance, held them in great esteem. For it was from their list that he had been accustomed to select men for kings and for priests; and these even now, if they have once attained to a full and complete knowledge of these foolish conceits of theirs, since they are already naturalized in the fraternal bond of the spiritual state, will obtain a sure salvation, nay, one which is on all accounts their due. (Against the Valentinians, Chaps. 29-30)

But some think as if God were under a necessity of bestowing even on the unworthy, what He has engaged (to give); and they turn His liberality into slavery. But if it is of necessity that God grants us the symbol of death, then He does so unwilling. But who permits a gift to be permanently retained which he has granted unwillingly? For do not many afterward fall out of (grace)? is not this gift taken away from many? (On Repentance,6)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-236

Hoodwinking therefore multitudes, he led on (into enormities) many (dupes) of this description who had become his disciples, by teaching them that they were prone, no doubt, to sin, but beyond the reach of danger, from the fact of their belonging to the perfect power, and of their being participators in the inconceivable potency. And subsequent to the (first) baptism, to these they promise another, which they call Redemption. And by this (other baptism) they wickedly subvert those that remain with them in expectation of redemption, as if persons, after they had once been baptized, could again obtain remission. (The Refutation of All Heresies, Bk. VI Chap. XXXVI)

St. Cyprian of Carthage +258

He says that we are sanctified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God. We pray that this sanctification may abide in us and because our Lord and Judge warns the man that was healed and quickened by Him, to sin no more lest a worse thing happen unto him, we make this supplication in our constant prayers, we ask this day and night, that the sanctification and quickening which is received from the grace of God may be preserved by His protection.

…[T]here is need of continual prayer and supplication, that we fall not away from the heavenly kingdom, as the Jews, to whom this promise had first been given, fell away; even as the Lord sets forth and proves: Many, says He, shall come from the east and from the west, and shall recline with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 8:11 He shows that the Jews were previously children of the kingdom, so long as they continued also to be children of God; but after the name of Father ceased to be recognised among them, the kingdom also ceased; and therefore we Christians, who in our prayer begin to call God our Father, pray also that God’s kingdom may come to us. (Treatise 4: On the Lord’s Prayer, 12-13)

St. Aphrahat the Persian ca. 270-345

Therefore, my beloved, we also have received of the Spirit of Christ, and Christ dwelleth in us, as it is written that the Spirit said this through the month of the Prophet: –I will dwell in them and will walk in them.Therefore let us prepare our temples for the Spirit of Christ, and let us not grieve it that it may not depart from us. Remember the warning that the Apostle gives us:–Grieve not the Holy Spirit whereby ye have been sealed unto the day of redemption. For from baptism do we receive the Spirit of Christ … And whatever man there is that receives the Spirit from the water (of baptism) and grieves it, it departs from him until he dies, and returns according to its nature to Christ, and accuses that man of having grieved it.

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 293-373

For what the Word has by nature, as I said, in the Father, that He wishes to be given to us through the Spirit irrevocably; which the Apostle knowing, said, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ for ‘the gifts of God’ and ‘grace of His calling are without repentance.’ It is the Spirit then which is in God, and not we viewed in our own selves; and as we are sons and gods because of the Word in us, so we shall be in the Son and in the Father, and we shall be accounted to have become one in Son and in Father, because that that Spirit is in us, which is in the Word which is in the Father. When then a man falls from the Spirit for any wickedness, if he repent upon his fall, the grace remains irrevocably to such as are willing; otherwise he who has fallen is no longer in God (because that Holy Spirit and Paraclete which is in God has deserted him), but the sinner shall be in him to whom he has subjected himself, as took place in Saul’s instance; for the Spirit of God departed from him and an evil spirit was afflicting him. (Athanasius,Discourse Against the Arians,3:25)

Now, my beloved, our will ought to keep pace with the grace of God, and not fall short; lest while our will remains idle, the grace given us should begin to depart, and the enemy finding us empty and naked, should enter [into us], as was the case with him spoken of in the Gospel, from whom the devil went out; ‘for having gone through dry places, he took seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and returning and finding the house empty, he dwelt there, and the last state of that man was worse than the first. ‘ For the departure from virtue gives place for the entrance of the unclean spirit. There is, moreover, the apostolic injunction, that the grace given us should not be unprofitable; for those things which he wrote particularly to his disciple, he enforces on us through him , saying, ‘Neglect not the gift that is in you. For he who tills his land shall be satisfied with bread; but the paths of the slothful are strewn with thorns;’ so that the Spirit forewarns a man not to fall into them, saying, ‘Break up your fallow ground, sow not among thorns. ‘ For when a man despises the grace given him; and immediately falls into the cares of the world, he delivers himself over to his lusts; and thus in the time of persecution he is offended , and becomes altogether unfruitful.

Therefore the blessed Paul, when desirous that the grace of the Spirit given to us should not grow cold, exhorts, saying, ‘Quench not the Spirit 1 Thessalonians 5:19.’ For so shall we remain partakers of Christ , if we hold fast to the end the Spirit given at the beginning. For he said, ‘Quench not;’ not because the Spirit is placed in the power of men, and is able to suffer anything from them; but because bad and unthankful men are such as manifestly wish to quench it, since they, like the impure, persecute the Spirit with unholy deeds. ‘For the holy Spirit of discipline will flee deceit, nor dwell in a body that is subject unto sin; but will remove from thoughts that are without understanding Wisdom 1:5.’(Letter 3.3-4)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

Terrible in good truth is the judgment, and terrible the things announced. The kingdom of heaven is set before us, and everlasting fire is prepared. How then, some one will say, are we to escape the fire? And how to enter into the kingdom? I was an hungered, He says, and ye gave Me meat. Learn hence the way; there is here no need of allegory, but to fulfil what is said. I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in; naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye visited Me; I was in prison, and ye came unto Me. These things if thou do, thou shall reign together with Him; but if thou do them not, thou shalt be condemned. At once then begin to do these works, and abide in the faith; lest, like the foolish virgins, tarrying to buy oil, thou be shut out. (Catechetical Lectures,15:26)

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

Question: Can a man fall who has the gift of grace?

Answer: If he is careless, he certainly falls. For the enemies never take a rest nor do they withdraw from the war. How much more you ought not to cease seeking God! For a very great loss comes to you if you are careless, even though you may seem to be confirmed in the very mystery of grace. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 15.16)

Do you not hear what Paul says? “If I have all gifts, if I hand my body over to be burnt, if I should speak with the tongues of angels and, yet, I have no charity, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1) These gifts really are to encourage us. And those who settle for these, even though they are in the light, they still are infants. For many of the brothers have reached this degree and enjoyed the gifts of healings and revelation and prophecy. But because they did not reach perfect charity, which is the “bond of perfection” (Col. 3:18), war came upon them and, because they were negligent, they fell. (ibid., Homily 26.16)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

Let us admonish each other. Let us correct each other, that we may not go to the other world as debtors, and then, needing to borrow of others, suffer the fate of the foolish virgins, and fall from immortal salvation. (Concerning Statues, 21)

St. Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

But if someone already regenerate and justified should, of his own will, relapse into his evil life, certainly that man cannot say: “I have not received’; because he lost the grace he received from God and by his own free choice went to evil. (Admonition and Grace: 6,9)

St. Vincent of Lerins + 445

But what do they say? “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down;” that is,. If thou wouldst be a son of God, and wouldst receive the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven, cast thyself down; that is, cast thyself down from the doctrine and tradition of that sublime Church, which is imagined to be nothing less than the very temple of God. And if one should ask one of the heretics who gives this advice, How do you prove? What ground have you, for saying, that I ought to cast away the universal and ancient faith of the Catholic Church? he has the answer ready, “For it is written;” and forthwith he produces a thousand testimonies, a thousand examples, a thousand authorities from the Law, from the Psalms, from the apostles, from the Prophets, by means of which, interpreted on a new and wrong principle, the unhappy soul may be precipitated from the height of Catholic truth to the lowest abyss of heresy. Then, with the accompanying promises, the heretics are wont marvellously to beguile the incautious. For they dare to teach and promise, that in their church, that is, in the conventicle of their communion, there is a certain great and special and altogether personal grace of God, so that whosoever pertain to their number, without any labour, without any effort, without any industry, even though they neither ask, nor seek, nor knock, have such a dispensation from God, that, borne up by angel hands, that is, preserved by the protection of angels, it is impossible they should ever dash their feet against a stone, that is, that they should ever be offended. (Commonitory 26)

St. Prosper of Aquitaine ca. 390-455

Just as good works are to be referred to Him that inspires them, God, so too evil works are to be referred to those who are sinning. For sinners have not been abandoned by God so that they may themselves abandon God; rather, they have abandoned and have been abandoned and have been changed from good to evil by their own will; and consequently, although they may have been reborn, although they may have been justified, they are not, however, predestined by Him who foreknew what kind of persons they would be. (Responses on behalf of Augustine to the Articles of Objections Raised by his Calumniators in Gaul, 3)

Since there can be no doubt that perserverance in good even to the end is a gift of God, which, it is clear, some, from the very fact that they have not perservered, never had, it is no way a calumniation of God to say that these were not given what was given to others; rather it is to be confessed both that He gave mercifully what He did give, and He withheld justly what He did not give, so that, although the cause of man’s falling away originates in free choice, the cause of his standing firm does not likewise have its origins in himself. If falling away is done by human effort, standing firm is accomplished by means of a divine gift. (ibid., 7)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

Now, we should understand that ababdonment by God of a person’s soul aslo happens frequently if one chooses not to perform what is commanded and produce the fruits of piety toward Him by submitting his neck to the Lord’s pronouncements. Even if styled son or daughter of God, even if becoming Sion, which means lookout, that is, possessing elevated thinking and a pure mind capable of nderstanding mysteries, and then does what is wrong and is guilty of provoking the Holy One of Israel, it will be abandoned by Him and like an unprotected vineyard it will be given over to to Satan and the sufferings of the flesh, shown to be bereft of every virtue, stripped of the priviliges proper to a good lifestyle, and filled with every evil. (Commentary on Isaiah)

Pope St. Leo the Great ca. 400-461

The manifold mercy of God so assists men when they fall, that not only by the grace of baptism but also by the remedy of penitence is the hope of eternal life revived, in order that they who have violated the gifts of the second birth, condemning themselves by their own judgment, may attain to remission of their crimes, the provisions of the Divine Goodness having so ordained that God’s indulgence cannot be obtained without the supplications of priests. For the Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, has transmitted this power to those that are set over the Church that they should both grant a course of penitence to those who confess, and, when they are cleansed by wholesome correction admit them through the door of reconciliation to communion in the sacraments. In which work assuredly the Saviour Himself unceasingly takes part and is never absent from those things, the carrying out of which He has committed to His ministers, saying: Lo, I am with you all the days even to the completion of the age Mat. 28:20: so that whatever is accomplished through our service in due order and with satisfactory results we doubt not to have been vouchsafed through the Holy Spirit. (Letter 108.2)

St. Faustus of Riez ca. 407-493

We assert that whoever is lost is lost by his own volition, but that he could have obtained salvation by grace had he cooperated with it. On the other hand, whoever, by means of [this] cooperation attains perfection may, of his own fault, his own negligence, fall and lose it and [become] lost. Certainly we exclude all personal boasting, for we declare that all that we have has been gratuitously received from God’s hand. (Epistle to Lucidus, LIII:683)

St. Dionysius the Areopagite ca. 5th cent.

We say, then, that the goodness of the divine blessedness, while forever remaining similar to and like itself, nevertheless generously grants the beneficient rays of its own light to whoever views it with the eyes of the intelligence. But it can happen that intelligent beings, because of their free will, can fall away from the light of the mind and can so desire what is evil that they close off that vision, with its natural capacity for illumination. They remove themselves from the light which is ceaselessly proferred to them and which, far from abandoning them, shines on their unseeing eyes. With typical goodness that light hastens to follow them even when they turn away from it. (The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, III.3)

St. John Climacus ca. 525-606

Do not be self-confident before judgment has been passed on you. Remember the guest at the marriage feast. He got there, and then, tied hand and foot, he was thrown into the dark outside (Matt.23:13). So do not be stiff-necked, since you are a material being. Many although holy and unencumbered by a body were thrown out even from heaven. (The Divine Ladder: Step 23, On Pride)

Pope St. Gregory the Dialogos ca. 540-604

And they who mourn their transgressions certainly cast forth by confession the wickedness with which they have been evilly satiated, and which oppressed the inmost parts of their soul; and yet, in recurring to it after confession, they take it in again. But the sow, by wallowing in the mire when washed, is made more filthy. I and one who mourns past transgressions, yet forsakes them not, subjects himself to the penalty of more grievous sin, since he both despises the very pardon which he might have won by his weeping, and as it were rolls himself in miry water; because in withholding purity of life from his weeping he makes even his very tears filthy before the eyes of God. (Pastoral Rule, 30)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

Do not lend your ear to the slanderer’s tongue nor your tongue to the fault-finder’s ear by readily speaking or listening to anything against yor neighbor. Otherwise you will fall away from divine love and be found excluded from eternal life. (The Four Hundred Chapters on Love, First Century: 58)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

We are of God by His grace and we are reborn in baptism through faith and kept that we may remain for a long time in faith. But the lovers of the world are subject to the malicious enemy either because they have never been freed from his sovereignty by the waters of rebirth or because sinning again after the grace of rebirth they have been brought again under his sovereignty. (Commentary on 1st John 5:18-19)

For in Egypt He first so saved the humble who cried out to Him from their affliction that He might afterword bring low the proud who murmured against Him in the desert. He stresses this so much that we may remember even now that He so saves believers through the waters of baptism, which the Red Sea foreshadowed, that He demands a humble life of us even after baptism and one seperated from the filth of vices, such as the hidden way of life of the desert quite properly pointed to. If anyone actually profanes this life, either by departing from the faith or by acting evilly, being turned away in heart, as it were to Egypt, he will deserve not to reach the fatherland of the kingdom but to persih among the ungodly. (Commentary on Jude 5-6)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

The remission of sins, therefore, is granted alike to all through baptism: but the grace of the Spirit is proportional to the faith and previous purification. Now, indeed, we receive the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit through baptism, and the second birth is for us the beginning and seal and security and illumination of another life. It behoves as, then, with all our strength to steadfastly keep ourselves pure from filthy works, that we may not, like the dog returning to his vomit, make ourselves again the slaves of sin. (On the Orthodox Faith, 4:9)

On Irresistible Grace and Synergy

Philip Schaff 1819-1893

The Augustinian system was unknown in the ante-Nicene age, and was never accepted in the Eastern Church. This is a strong historical argument against it. Augustin himself developed it only during the Pelagian controversy; while in his earlier writings he taught the freedom of the human will against the fatalism of the Manichaeans. (History of the Christian Church VIII The Theology of Calvin § 112. The Calvinistic System)

…[N]o man is saved mechanically or by force, but through faith, freely, by accepting the gift of God. This implies the contrary power of rejecting the gift. To accept is no merit, to reject is ingratitude and guilt. All Calvinistic preachers appeal to man’s responsibility. They pray as if everything depended on God; and yet they preach and work as if everything depended on man. And the Church is directed to send the gospel to every creature. We pray for the salvation of all men, but not for the loss of a single human being. Christ interceded even for his murderers on the cross.

Here, then, is a practical difficulty. The decree of reprobation cannot be made an object of prayer or preaching, and this is an argument against it. Experience confirms election, but repudiates reprobation.

[T]here is a logic of ethics as well as of metaphysics. God is holy as well as almighty and omniscient, and therefore cannot be the author of sin. Man is a moral as well as an intellectual being, and the claims of his moral constitution are equal to the claims of his intellectual constitution. Conscience is as powerful a factor as reason. The most rigid believer in divine sovereignty, if he be a Christian, cannot get rid of the sense of personal accountability, though he may be unable to reconcile the two. The harmony lies in God and in the moral constitution of man. They are the two complementary sides of one truth. Paul unites them in one sentence: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). The problem, however, comes within the reach of possible solution, if we distinguish between sovereignty as an inherent power, and the exercise of sovereignty. God may limit the exercise of his sovereignty to make room for the free action of his creatures. It is by his sovereign decree that man is free. Without such self-limitation he could not admonish men to repent and believe. Here, again, the Calvinistic logic must either bend or break. Strictly carried out, it would turn the exhortations of God to the sinner into a solemn mockery and cruel irony. (History of the Christian Church VIII The Theology of Calvin § 114. Calvinism examined.)

Alister Mcgrath

The main external threat to the church, particularly during the second century, appears to be pagan or semi-pagan fatalism, such as Gnosticism, which propagated the thesis that humans are responsible neither for their own sins nor for the evils in the world. It is quite possible that what some consider to be the curious and disturbing tendency of some of the early fathers to minimise original sin and emphasise the freedom of fallen humanity is a consequence of their anti-Gnostic polemic. While it is true that the beginnings of a doctrine of grace may be discerned during this early period, its generally optimistic estimation of the capacities fallen humanity has led at least some scholars to question whether it can be regarded as truly Christian in this respect.

The pre-Augustinian theological tradition is practically of one voice in asserting the freedom of the human will.

While there is still uncertainty concerning the precise nature of Gnosticism, it may be noted that a strongly fatalist or necessitarian outlook appears to be characteristic of the chief Gnostic systems. Far from recognising the  limitations of humanity’s free will, many early fathers enthusiastically proclaimed its freedom and self-determination (autoexousia)…God cannot be said to force the free will, but merely influence it. While God does not wish people to do evil, He cannot compel them to do good. (Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, pg. 34-35)

St. Ignatius of Antioch ca. 45-107

As persons who are perfect, you should also aim at those things which are perfect. For when you are desirous to do well, God is also ready to assist you. (Letter to the Smyrneans 11)

Mathetes ca. 130

This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing? (Letter to Diognetus Chap. VII)

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

…Paul the Apostle says to the Corinthians, Do you not know, that they who run in a racecourse, do all indeed run, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain. Every one also who engages in the contest is temperate in all things: now these men [do it] that they may obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. But I so run, not as uncertainty; I fight, not as one beating the air; but I make my body livid, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, when preaching to others, I may myself be rendered a castaway. 1 Cor. 9:24-27 This able wrestler, therefore, exhorts us to the struggle for immortality, that we may be crowned, and may deem the crown precious, namely, that which is acquired by our struggle, but which does not encircle us of its own accord (sed non ultro coalitam). And the harder we strive, so much is it the more valuable; while so much the more valuable it is, so much the more should we esteem it. And indeed those things are not esteemed so highly which come spontaneously, as those which are reached by much anxious care. (Against Heresies, Bk.IV:37:7)

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

But the Lord replies, Because what is impossible with men is possible with God. This again is full of great wisdom. For a man by himself working and toiling at freedom from passion achieves nothing. But if he plainly shows himself very desirous and earnest about this, he attains it by the addition of the power of God. For God conspires with willing souls. But if they abandon their eagerness, the spirit which is bestowed by God is also restrained. For to save the unwilling is the part of one exercising compulsion; but to save the willing, that of one showing grace. Nor does the kingdom of heaven belong to sleepers and sluggards, but the violent take it by force. For this alone is commendable violence, to force God, and take life from God by force. And He, knowing those who persevere firmly, or rather violently, yields and grants. For God delights in being vanquished in such things. (Who is the Rich Man That is Saved? XXI)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-236

Such is our faith, O all ye men,–ours, I say, who are not persuaded by empty expressions, nor caught away by sudden impulses of the heart, nor beguiled by the plausibility of eloquent discourses, yet who do not refuse to obey words that have been uttered by divine power. And these injunctions has God given to the Word. But the Word, by declaring them, promulgated the divine commandments, thereby turning man from disobedience, not bringing him into servitude by force of necessity, but summoning him to liberty through a choice involving spontaneity. (Refutation of All Heresies, Bk. X, Chap. 29)

Origen of Alexandria ca. 185-254

In the book of Psalms— in the Songs of Degrees, which are ascribed to Solomon— the following statement occurs: Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. By which words he does not indeed indicate that we should cease from building or watching over the safe keeping of that city which is within us; but what he points out is this, that whatever is built without God, and whatever is guarded without him, is built in vain, and guarded to no purpose. For in all things that are well built and well protected, the Lord is held to be the cause either of the building or of its protection. As if, e.g., we were to behold some magnificent structure and mass of splendid building reared with beauteous architectural skill, would we not justly and deservedly say that such was built not by human power, but by divine help and might? And yet from such a statement it will not be meant that the labour and industry of human effort were inactive, and effected nothing at all. Or again, if we were to see some city surrounded by a severe blockade of the enemy, in which threatening engines were brought against the walls, and the place hard pressed by a vallum, and weapons, and fire, and all the instruments of war, by which destruction is prepared, would we not rightly and deservedly say, if the enemy were repelled and put to flight, that the deliverance had been wrought for the liberated city by God? And yet we would not mean, by so speaking, that either the vigilance of the sentinels, or the alertness of the young men, or the protection of the guards, had been wanting. And the apostle also must be understood in a similar manner, because the human will alone is not sufficient to obtain salvation; nor is any mortal running able to win the heavenly (rewards), and to obtain the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus, unless this very good will of ours, and ready purpose, and whatever that diligence within us may be, be aided or furnished with divine help. And therefore most logically did the apostle say, that it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy; in the same manner as if we were to say of agriculture what is actually written: I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants anything, neither he that waters; but God that gives the increase. As, therefore, when a field has brought good and rich crops to perfect maturity, no one would piously and logically assert that the husbandman had made those fruits, but would acknowledge that they had been produced by God; so also is our own perfection brought about, not indeed by our remaining inactive and idle, (but by some activity on our part): and yet the consummation of it will not be ascribed to us, but to God, who is the first and chief cause of the work. (De Principiis, Bk. III, 1.18)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 293-373

Let us, therefore, in the faith of the disciples, hold frequent converse with our Master. For the world is like the sea to us, my brethren, of which it is written, ‘This is the great and wide sea, there go the ships; the Leviathan, which You have created to play therein. ‘ We float on this sea, as with the wind, through our own free-will, for every one directs his course according to his will, and either, under the pilotage of the Word, he enters into rest, or, laid hold on by pleasure, he suffers shipwreck, and is in peril by storm. For as in the ocean there are storms and waves, so in the world there are many afflictions and trials. The unbelieving therefore ‘when affliction or persecution arises is offended Mark 4:17,’ as the Lord said. For not being confirmed in the faith, and having his regard towards temporal things, he cannot resist the difficulties which arise from afflictions. But like that house, built on the sand by the foolish man, so he, being without understanding Luke 6:49, falls before the assault of temptations, as it were by the winds. But the saints, having their senses exercised in self-possession Hebrews 5:14, and being strong in faith, and understanding the word, do not faint under trials; but although, from time to time, circumstances of greater trial are set against them, yet they continue faithful, and awaking the Lord Who is with them, they are delivered. (Letter 19.7)

St. Hilary of Poitiers ca. 300-368

To perservere in faith is certainly a gift from God; but the first stirring of faith has its beginning in us. Our will must be such that, properly and of itself, it wills. God will give the increase after a beginning has been made. Our weakness is such that we cannot of ourselves carry through to completion; but the reward of growing to completion is in view of a beginning made in the will.

Human weakness is imbecillic if it expects to achieve anything by itself. The duty of such a nature is simply this: to make a beginning with the will, so as to attach itself to the service of God. Divine mercy is such that it aids those who are willing, strengthens those who are beginning, and assists those who are attempting. The beginning, however, is our part, that He may bring it to perfection. (Commentaries on the Psalms, 118 [119])

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

The present is the season of confession: confess what you have done in word or in deed, by night or by day; confess in an acceptable time, and in the day of salvation 2 Cor. 6:2 receive the heavenly treasure. Devote your time to the Exorcisms: be assiduous at the Catechisings, and remember the things that shall be spoken, for they are spoken not for your ears only, but that by faith you may seal them up in the memory. Blot out from your mind all earthly care: for you are running for your soul. You are utterly forsaking the things of the world: little are the things which you are forsaking, great what the Lord is giving. Forsake things present, and put your trust in things to come. Have you run so many circles of the years busied in vain about the world, and have you not forty days to be free (for prayer ), for your own soul’s sake? Be still , and know that I am God, says the Scripture. Excuse yourself from talking many idle words: neither backbite, nor lend a willing ear to backbiters; but rather be prompt to prayer. Show in ascetic exercise that your heart is nerved. Cleanse your vessel, that you may receive grace more abundantly. For though remission of sins is given equally to all, the communion of the Holy Ghost is bestowed in proportion to each man’s faith. If you have laboured little, you receive little; but if you have wrought much, the reward is great. You are running for yourself, see to your own interest. (Catechetical Lectures, 1.5)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

“It is a question not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God’s showing mercy” (Rom. 9:16)…There are ome people who are so proud of their successes that they attribute everything to themselves and nothing to Him who made them and gave them wisdom and supplied them with good things. Let them learn of this saying that even to wish someone well requires God’s help; or rather, that even to choose what is right is something divine and a gift of God’s benevolence to man. That we be saved requires something from us and from God. That is why it says, “Not of him who wills”; that is, not only of him who wills; and not only of him who runs, but also God’s showing mercy. Since to will is also from God, it reasonable that Paul attributed the whole to God. However well you may run, however well you may wrestle, you still need Him who gives the crown. (Oration 37, 13)

St. Gregory Nyssa ca. 335-395

Yet, even in their reply to this, or the like, they are not at a loss for a contentious rejoinder. For they assert that God, if He had been so pleased, might have forcibly drawn those, who were not inclined to yield, to accept the Gospel message. But where then would have been their free will? Where their virtuous merit? Where their need of praise from their moral directors? It belongs only to inanimate or irrational creatures to be brought round by the will of another to his purpose; whereas the reasoning and intelligent nature, if it lays aside its freedom of action, loses at the same time the gracious gift of intellect. For upon what is he to employ any faculty of thought, if his power of choosing anything according to his inclination lies in the will of another? But then, if the will remains without the capacity of action, virtue necessarily disappears, since it is shackled by the enforced quiescence of the will. Then, if virtue does not exist, life loses its value, reason moves in accordance with fatalism, the praise of moral guardians is gone, sin may be indulged in without risk, and the difference between the courses of life is obliterated. For who, henceforth, could with any reason condemn profligacy, or praise sobriety? Since every one would have this ready answer, that nothing of all the things we are inclined to is in our own power, but that by some superior and ruling influence the wills of men are brought round to the purpose of one who has the mastery over them. The conclusion, then is that it is not the goodness of God that is chargeable with the fact that the Faith is not engendered in all men, but rather the disposition of those by whom the preaching of the Word is received. (The Great Catechism, XXXI)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 347-409

Is it not perfectly clear that anyone can, by his own choice, choose either wickedness or virtue? For if this were not the case, and if such a faculty did not pertain to our nature, it were not right that some be punished while other receive the reward of virtue. But since everything depend, after grace from above, upon our own choice, so too are punishments prepared for sinners and recompense and reward for those who do right. (Homilies on Genesis, 22,1)

God awaits occasions to show us His great liberality. Let us not by laziness, then, defraud ourselve of Hi gift, but hasten and be eager to begin to take the path that leads back to virtue, so that, enjoying help from above, we may be strengthened to perservere to the end; for unles we are assisted from above it is impossible for us to do right at any time. (ibid., 25,7)

That it is not because we are not able but because we are not willing that we are strangers to all His benefit is made perfectly clear by the fact that many men of the same race as ourselves are found to be shining examples of virtue. Such a one was the Patriarch [Abraham] himself, born before grace and before the law. By himself and by the knowledge that is inherent in our nature he came to so great a measure of virtue as to be able to deprive us of all our excuses. But perhaps some will say that this man enjoyed a great measure of God’s solicitous care, and that the God of the universe showered His coniderable providence in Abraham’ regard. Yes, I agree. But if Abraham had not shown beforehand what was his own, He would not have enjoyed the thing from the Master. Do not conider the latter only, therefore, but examine each case and learn how in every one of them proof was first given of personal virtue, and thus did they merit the help of God. (ibid., 42,1)

If He lights every man that comes into the world, how is it that so many continue unenlightened? For not all have known the majesty of Christ. How then does He light every man? He lights all as far as in Him lies. But if some, wilfully closing the eyes of their mind, would not receive the rays of that Light, their darkness arises not from the nature of the Light, but from their own wickedness, who willfully deprive themselves of the gift. For the grace is shed forth upon all, turning itself back neither from Jew, nor Greek, nor Barbarian, nor Scythian, nor free, nor bond, nor male, nor female, nor old, nor young, but admitting all alike, and inviting with an equal regard. And those who are not willing to enjoy this gift, ought in justice to impute their blindness to themselves; for if when the gate is opened to all, and there is none to hinder, any being willfully evil remain without, they perish through none other, but only through their own wickedness. (Homilies on John, 8.1)

Beloved, God being loving towards man and beneficent, does and contrives all things in order that we may shine in virtue, and as desiring that we be well approved by Him. And to this end He draws no one by force or compulsion: but by persuasion and benefits He draws all that will, and wins them to Himself. Wherefore when He came, some received Him, and others received Him not. For He will have no unwilling, no forced domestic, but all of their own will and choice, and grateful to Him for their service. Men, as needing the ministry of servants, keep many in that state even against their will, by the law of ownership; but God, being without wants, and not standing in need of anything of ours, but doing all only for our salvation makes us absolute in this matter, and therefore lays neither force nor compulsion on any of those who are unwilling. For He looks only to our advantage: and to be drawn unwilling to a service like this is the same as not serving at all. (ibid., 10.1)

For when he says, Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace; he shows that they also were saved by grace. And not hereby only, but likewise by saying, I have reserved unto Myself. For this is the language of One Who shows that He Himself was the chief Contributor. And if by grace, it will be said, how came we all not to be saved? Because ye would not. For grace, though it be grace, saves the willing, not those who will not have it, and turn away from it, who persist in fighting against it, and opposing themselves to it. (Homily on Romans, 18)

St. John Cassian ca. 360-435

When God sees in us the beginnings of a good will, He enlightens it at once and strengthens it and urges it on towards salvation, giving increase to that which either He Himself implanted or which He sees has arisen by our own efforts. (Conferences, 2.13)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

But having said above, No man can come to Me, except the Father Which sent Me draw him, He shews that it is not a compulsory nor forcible drawing, adding, Every man that hath heard of My Father and hath learned, cometh unto Me.

For where there is hearing and learning and the benefit of instruction, there is faith, to wit by persuasion and not of necessity: and the knowledge of Christ is given by the Father to them that are worthy, helpful as of love, rather than constraining. For the word of doctrine requires that free-will and free choice be preserved to the soul of man, in order that it may ask the just rewards of its good deeds, and if it have fallen from right, and from heedlessness have transgressed the Will of the Lawgiver, it may receive the doom of its transgression and that most reasonable. (Commentary of the Gospel of John, Bk. IV, Chap. 1)

He says that He so kept His disciples, and had such care for them, that none of them was lost save one, whom He called the son of perdition; as though he were doomed to destruction of his own choice, or rather his own wickedness and impiety. For it is inconceivable that the traitor disciple was by a Divine and irresistible decree entangled, as it were, in the snare of the fowler, and brought within the devil’s noose; for then would he surely have been guiltless when he succumbed to the verdict of heaven. For who shall oppose the decree of God? And now he is condemned and accursed, and it would have been better for him if he had never been born. And why? Surely the wretched man met his doom as a consequence of his own volitions, and is not convicted by destiny. He that was so enamoured of destruction may well be called a son of perdition, inasmuch as he merited ruin and corruption, and ever awaits the day of perdition as fraught with anguish and lamentation. (Commentary on the Gospel of John, Bk. XI, Chap. 9)

Since the nature of man is none too firm, nor has it sufficient strength to be able to win out against vice, God give it sufficiency and He assists in the struggle. Thus it is seen that it had double grace to nourish it: for it is persuaded by admonition and dicovers assistance, and it does better than the present and tyrannizing vice. (Worship and Adoration in Spirit and in Truth, 1)

Blessed Theodoret of Cyr ca. 393-457

There is need of both our efforts and the divine succour. The grace of the Spirit is not vouchsafed to those who make no effort, and without that grace our efforts cannot collect the prize of virtue. (In Ps. 31, 10 f.; 36, 23 f., in Kelly pg. 374)

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

In truth God seeks neither virgin nor married woman, neither monk nor layman, but a free intent, accepting it as the deed itself, and He grants to the free will of every man the grace of the Holy Spirit, which operates in a man and directs the life of everyone who desires to be saved. (Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Christians possess a glory and beauty and an indescribable heavenly richness that come to them with hard work and sweat, acquired in times of temptations and in many trials. All of this must be ascribed to divine grace. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 5.5)

Stand firm, therefore, and think what providence has been working on your behalf. We take an example from human life since we still live in such a manner. Suppose a king came upon a certain poor person, very sick. He is not embarrased to treat his wounds with healing medicines. And when he brings him to his palace, he clothes him with the royal purple and the diadem and shares his table with him. In a similar way the heavenly King, Christ, came to suffering man and healed him. He made him a companion at his royal table. And this he does, not by forcefully constraining man’s will, but by attraction he establishes him in so great a dignity. (ibid., Homily 15.30)

Therefore, since certain persons insist that once they have accepted grace, they need have no further solicitude. But God demands even in those perfect the soul’s will to cooperate in the service of the Spirit, namely, that they freely consent. For the Apostle says: “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19)…Do you see how in the matter of perfection, goodwill toward God (which is developed along with our own cooperating natural will) is found superior and richer? (ibid., Homily 17.8)

St. Vincent of Lerins + 445

Then, with the accompanying promises, the heretics are wont marvellously to beguile the incautious. For they dare to teach and promise, that in their church, that is, in the conventicle of their communion, there is a certain great and special and altogether personal grace of God, so that whosoever pertain to their number, without any labour, without any effort, without any industry, even though they neither ask, nor seek, nor knock, have such a dispensation from God, that, borne up by angel hands, that is, preserved by the protection of angels, it is impossible they should ever dash their feet against a stone, that is, that they should ever be offended. (Commonitory Chap. XXVI)

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

The good we do is both of God and of ourselves. It is God’s through prevenient grace, ours through obedient free will. For if it is not God’s, why do we give thanks to Him in eternity? And again, if it is not our’s, why do we hope that a reward will be given us? It is not improper that we give thanks; for we know that we were anticipated by God’s gift. And again, it is not improper that we seek a reward, because we know that by obedient free will we choose to do what is good. (Moral Teachings from Job, 33:21,40)

If whatever good there is in us is a gift of Almighty God, so that in our virtues there is nothing of our own, why do we seek eternal reward, as if for merits? But if such goodness as we have is not the gift of Almighty God, why do we give thanks for it to Almighty God? It must be understood that our wickednesses are entirely our own, but our goodnesses pertain to Almighty God and ourselves; for He anticipates us with inspiration so that we may will, and He follows us with His support, so that we do not will in vain, but may be able to carry out what we will. By prevenient grace, therefore, and by subsequent good will, that which is a gift of Almighty God becomes our merit. (Homilies on Ezechiel 1:9,2)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

In bringing into existence a rational and intelligent nature, God in His supreme goodness has communicated to it four of the divine attributes by which He maintains, guards, and preserves creatures: being, eternal being, goodness and wisdom. The first two of these He grants to the essence, the second two to its faculty of will; that is, to the essence He gives being and eternal being, and to the volitive faculty He gives goodness and wisdom in order that what He is by essence the creature may become by participation. For this reason he is said to be made “to the image and likeness of God”: to the image of His being by our being, to the image of His eternal being by our eternal being (even though not without a beginning, it is yet without end); to the likeness of His goodness by our goodness, to the image of His wisdom by our wisdom. The first is by nature, the second by grace. Every rational nature indeed is made to the image of God; but only those who are good and wise are made to the likeness. (The Four Hundred Chapters on Love, Third Century: 25)

Only God is good by nature, and only the one who imitates God is good by his own will. His plan is to join the wicked to Himself Who is good by nature in order that they may become good. So, then, when he is reviled by them, he blesses them; when persecuted, he endures; when slandered, he entreats; when put to death, he interecedes for them. He does all things in order not to fall away from the purpose of love, which is our God Himself. (ibid., Fourth Century: 90)

He gives adoption by giving through the Spirit a supernatural birth from on high in grace, of which divine birth the guardian and preserver is the free will of those who are born. By a sincere disposition it cherishes the grace bestowed and by a careful observance of the commandments it adorns the beauty given by grace. By the humbling of the passions it takes on divinity in the same measure that the Word of God willed to empty Himself in the incarnation of His own unmixed glory in becoming genuinely human. (Commentary on the Our Father, Prologue 2.)

St. Andrew of Caesarea ca. 6th cent.

Rev. 6:6 And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”

The command do not harm oil and wine means to not disregard the healing through returning to Christ, which healed the one who has fallen among robbers, in order that those who through long suffering were about to renew the fight would not be carried off by death. Therefore, so that we too will gain, for the disease of our souls, the Physician-God who loves mankind, let us hurry to be such for our fallen brothers, by offering to them the oil of sympathy mingled with the wine of exhortation, in order that the maimed parts not worsen but be healed, according to the divine Apostle, so that becoming co-worker with God, we will delight forever in his blesings, by the grace and philanthropy of our Lord Jesus with whom glory (is due) together with the Father, with the Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages. Amen. (Commentary on the Apocalypse)

Rev. 22:17 And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.

For thirst is necessary for the drink of life for the firm possession of the one who has acquired it, especially because it is also granted as a gift, not to those who did not toil at all, but to those who offered not things worthy of the greatness of the gift but only a genuine and fiery resolve instead of gold and silver and pains of the body. (ibid.)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

Jas 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

All saving wisdom, indeed, must be begged from the Lord, because as the wise man says, All wisdom is from the Lord God and was always with him(Sir.1:1), and no one is able to understand and be wise of his own free will without the help of divine grace, although the Pelagians argue alot [ about this ]. (Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

We must recognize that while God foreknows all things, He does not predestine all things. He foreknows the things that depend upon us, but He does not predestine those things. He does not will the doing of evil, nor does He compel virtue. (The Fount of Knowledge, Bk. III: 2,30)

God Himself has given us the power of doing good. And He made us self-determining so that the good might be produced both from Himself and from us. Whenever a choice is made that prefers the good, God is cooperating in the good in such a way that we do thing that are, while consistent with our nature, yet above our nature. (The Two Wills in Christ, 19)

Synod of Jerusalem 1672 a.d.

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. (Confession of Dositheus, Decree III)

St. Silouan the Athonite 1866-1938

The grace of God does not take away freedom but only helps man to fulfil God’s commandments. Adam knew grace but he could still exercise his will. Thus, too, the angels abide in the Holy Spirit, and yet are not deprived of free-will. (Archimandrite Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite: Chap. VI, pg. 342)


On Divine Fire

Tertullian ca. 160-220
When, therefore, the boundary and limit, that millennial interspace, has been passed, when even the outward fashion of the world itself— which has been spread like a veil over the eternal economy, equally a thing of time— passes away, then the whole human race shall be raised again, to have its dues meted out according as it has merited in the period of good or evil, and thereafter to have these paid out through the immeasurable ages of eternity. Therefore after this there is neither death nor repeated resurrections, but we shall be the same that we are now, and still unchanged— the servants of God, ever with God, clothed upon with the proper substance of eternity; but the profane, and all who are not true worshippers of God, in like manner shall be consigned to the punishment of everlasting fire— that fire which, from its very nature indeed, directly ministers to their incorruptibility. (Apology 48)
St. Ephrem of Syrian ca. 306-373
Praise to the Just One
who rules with His grace;
He is the Good One who never draws in
the limits of His goodness;
even to the wicked
He stretches forth in His compassion.
His divine cloud hovers over
all that is His;
it drips dew even on that fire of punishment
so that, of His mercy,
it enables even the embittered
to taste of the drops of its refreshment.
(Hymns on Paradise, X)
St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389
For I know a cleansing fire which Christ came to send upon the earth, Lk. 12:49 and He Himself is anagogically called a Fire. This Fire takes away whatsoever is material and of evil habit; and this He desires to kindle with all speed, for He longs for speed in doing us good, since He gives us even coals of fire to help us. I know also a fire which is not cleansing, but avenging; either that fire of SodomGenesis 19:24 which He pours down on all sinners, mingled with brimstone and storms, or that which is prepared for the Devil and his Angels Matt. 25:41 or that which proceeds from the face of the Lord, and shall burn up his enemies round about; and one even more fearful still than these, the unquenchable fire which is ranged with the worm that dies not but is eternal for the wicked. For all these belong to the destroying power; though some may prefer even in this place to take a more merciful view of this fire, worthily of Him That chastises. (Oration 40: On Holy Baptism, Chap. XXXVI)
St. Basil of Caesarea ca. 330-379
“The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.” (Ps. 28[29]:7) …I believe that the fire prepared in punishment for the devil and his angels is divided by the voice of the Lord. Thus, since there are two capacities in fire, one of burning and the other of illuminating, the fierce and punitive property of the fire may await those who deserve to burn, while its illuminating and radiant part may be reserved for the enjoyment of those who are rejoicing. (Homilies on the Psalms, On Ps. 28)
St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 339-397
That gnashing is not of bodily teeth, nor is that perpetual fire made up of physical flames, nor is the worm a bodily one. These things are spoken of, however, because, just as worms are born of massive overeating and fevers, so too, if anyone does not boil away his sins…he will be burned up in his own worms. Whence also Isaias says: “Walk in the light of your fire, and the flame which you have ignited .” (Isa. 50:11) It is a fire which gloominess of sins generates. It is a worm insofar as irrational sins of the soul stab at mind and heart and eat the guts out of your conscience. (Commentary on Luke, 7, 205)
St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.
Imitate her, O child, imitate her, I say, who saw nothing but Him alone who said: “I have come to cast fire on the earth and how I desire but that it be already kindled” (Lk. 12:49). For there is a burning of the Spirit that puts hearts on fire. For that reason the immaterial and divine fire enlightens souls and tests them as pure gold is tested in the furnace. But it burns out any evil, as if it were thorns and stubble. For “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29), “taking revenge on those who do not know him in flaming fire and who do not obey His Gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8). This fire surrounded Paul in the voice that enlightened his mind while blinding his sense of sight (Acts 9:3). For it was not in the flesh that he saw the power of that light. This fire appered to Moses in the bush (Ex. 3:2). This fire, in the form of a chariot, caught up Elijah from the earth (2Kgs. 4:11). The blessed david, while seeking out the power of this fire, said: “Search me, Lord, and try me. Burn out my reins and my heart” (Ps. 26:2).
This fire inflamed Cleopas and his companion when the Saviour spoke to them after the resurrection. From the same source also angles and the ministering spirits partake of the shining fire according to what has been said: “Who makes his angels spirits and his minsters a flaming fire” (Heb. 1:7). This fire burns up the beam in the interior eye; it renders the mind pure so that recovering its natural power of seeing, it may constantly gaze on the wonderful works of God according to him who says: “Open my eyes and I will ponder the wonders of thy Law (Ps. 119:18). This fire also drives out demons, takes away sins, and has the power of resurrection. It develops immortality, the illumination of holy souls, and the strengthening of the rational powers. Let us beg that this fire come to also to us so that, constantly walking in the light, we may never for even a moment “dash our feet against the stone” (Ps. 91:12)… (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 25.6)
St. Niphon of Constantia ca. 4th cent.
In a vision of the future Judgment, St. Niphon (4th cent.), Bishop Constantia, heard the Righteous judge declare, “Go from Me, ye who have been cursed, into the fire, the everlasting one, which hath been prepared for the devil and his angels: For I hungered and ye did not give Me anything to eat; I thirsted and ye did not give Me anything to drink; I was a stranger and ye did not bring Me in, naked and ye did not visit Me.” (Mt. 25:41-43) And, “these shall go away into everlasting punishment.” (Mt. 25:46)

St. Niphon then records, “As soon as the Judge pronounced that decison, at once, an enormous fiery river spilled over from the east and went rolling violently toward the west. It was broad like a big sea. When the sinners on the left saw it they were stunned and began to tremble, frightened in their despair. Nonetheless, the impartial Judge ordered everyone – just and unjust – to pass through the flaming river, so the fire could try them. Those at His right hand started first. They crossed and came out gleaming like solid gold. Their deeds did not burn, but instead proved to be brighter and clearer with the test; that is why they were filled with joy. After them, those at His left hand came to pass through the fire, so that their deeds might be tried. However, because they were evildoers, the flame began to envelop them and kept them in the middle of the river. Their deeds were burned like straw, whereas their bodies remained unharmed, to burn for endless ages along with the devil and the demons. No one was able to come out of that fiery river. The fire imprisoned all of them, because they deserved condemnation and punishment.” (The Lives of the Pillars of Orthodoxy pgs. 409-410)

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604
The fire of hell is but one: yet doth it not in one manner torment all sinners. For every one there, according to the quantity of his sin, hath the measure of his pain. For as, in this world, many live under one and the same sun, and yet do not alike feel the heat thereof: for some be burnt more, and some less: so in that one fire, divers manners of burning be found, for that which in this world diversity of bodies doth, that in the next doth diversity of sins: so that although the fire be there all alike, yet doth it not in one manner and alike burn and torment them that be damned.(Dialogues Bk. 4.43)
St. John Climacus ca. 579-649
To keep a regular watch over the heart is one thing; to guard the heart by means of the mind is another for the mind is the ruler and high priest offering spiritual sacrifices to Christ. When heaven’s holy fire lays hold of the former, it burns them because they still lack purification. This is what one of those endowed with the title of Theologian tells us. (i.e. St. Gregory of Nazianzus) But as for the latter, it enlightens them in proportion to the perfection they have achieved. It is one and the same fire that is called that which consumes (cf. Heb. 12:29) and that which illuminates (cf. John 1:9) Hence the reason why some emerge from prayer as a blazing furnace and as though having relieved of all material defilements. Others come forth as if they were resplendent with light and clothed in a garment of joy and humility. (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 28: On Prayer)
St. Andrew of Caesarea ca. 6th cent.

Rev 19:11-12a Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems…

 The heavens opening signifies the appearance of the visible judge to come, just as here, when the curtains of the judges on the earth are drawn back the judgment and sentence come down upon those who are guilty. And the white horse is the future joy of the saints, upon which he is carried to judge the nations impartially, I think by His watchful, providential power throwing out flames of fire, which the righteous illuminate but do not burn, but the sinners burn and do not illumine. (Commentary on the Apocalypse) 

 St. Isaac of Syria ca. 7th cent.

As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful.  (The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian by Bp. Hilarion Alfeyev [Cistercian Studies 175])
The Venerable Bede ca. 673-735
Jas 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.
The tongue is a fire, because by speaking evilly it consumes the forest of virtues. Hence the wise man says about the foolish, And the opening of his mouth is a setting on fire. (Sir. 20:15) That saving fire which, devouring wood, hay, straw, (1 Cor. 3:12) enlightens the secrets of the heart of the heart is contrary, namely, to this destructive fire. Holy teachers are set on fire by it both that they themselves may burn with loving and that by preaching they may set others on fire with fiery tongues, as it were. About them it has been well written that, There appeared to them seperate tongues of fire, as it were, and settled upon each of them, and all were filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:3-4) It is rightly said of the uncontrolled tongue, however, that it is a world of wickedness, because almost all villanous deeds are either planned by it (as robberies, rapes), or carried out by it (as perjuries, flase witnesses), or defended by it (as when some sinner by making excuses denies the evil he has committed and by boasting feigns a good that he has not done.) And having been set on fire by hell, it sets on fire the wheel of our life. By hell, he says, “by the devil and his angels”, for whom hell was made (Mt. 25:41) and who always everywhere take with them the torments of flames, whether they fly in the air or wander on the earth or beneath the earth or are kept [there. They are] like a person with a fever who, even if he is placed on ivory beds or ina sunny places, still cannot avoid the heat and the chill of the illness within him. So therefore the demons, even if they are worshipped in the golden temples or move around through the air, always burn with hellish fire and, being reminded from their own punishment, they also suggest through envy to gullible men, the fuel of vices from which they too may perish. (Commentary on the Catholic Epistles)
Irish Liturgy ca. 7th-11th cent.
You call out to your servant from the flame, (Cf. Ex. 3.2-4)
You do not spurn the bush of thorns,
And though you are consuming fire, (Cf. Dt. 4:24)
You do not burn what you illumine.
Now it is time that the cloudy bee-bread
Should be consumed, all impurity boiled away,
And the waxen flesh should shine
With the glow of the Holy Spirit.
(Celtic Spirituality: Hymn at the Lighting of the Paschal Candle )
St. Mark of Ephesus 1392-1444
Since the saints do not bring with them any evil work or evil mark, this fire manifests them as brighter, as gold tried in the fire, or as the stone amianthus, which, as it is related, when placed in fire it appears as charred, but when taken out of the fire become even cleaner, as if washed with water, as were also the bodies of the Three Youths in the Babylonian furnace. Sinners, however, who bring evil with themselves, are seized as a suitable material for this fire and are immediately ignited by it, and their “work,” that is, their evil disposition or activity, is burned and utterly destroyed and they are deprived of what they brought with them, that is, deprived of their burden of evil, while they themselves are “saved” — that is, will be preserved and kept forever, so that they might not be subjected to destruction together with their evil. (Refutation of the Latin Chapters Concerning Purgatorial Fire, First Homily)
St. John Maximovitch 1896–1966
The Prophet Daniel, speaking of the Dread Judgment, relates how the Ancient of Days, the judge, is on His throne, and before Him is a river of fire. Fire is a purifying element. Fire scorches sin, it burns it up, and woe also burns it up; if sin has become natural to a man, then it burns up the man himself as well.

That fire will flare up inside a man: on seeing the Cross, some will rejoice, while others will fall into despair, confusion, terror. In this way, men will immediately be separated. In the Gospel narrative, some stand to the right of the Judge, some to the left — their inner consciousness separated them. The very state of a man’s soul casts him to one side or the other, to the right or to the left.

The more consciously and persistently a man strives toward God in his life, the greater will be his joy when he hears the words: “Come unto Me, ye blessed”; and conversely, those same words will call forth the fire of horror and torment on those who did not want Him, who fled or fought or blasphemed Him during their life.

The Dread Judgment knows no witnesses or charge-sheets. Everything is recorded in men’s souls, and these records, these “books” are open. Everything becomes clear to all and to oneself, and the state of a man’s soul assigns him to the right or to the left.

Some go to joy, others to horror.

When the “books” are open, it will become clear to all that the roots of all vices are in man’s soul. Here is a drunkard, a fornicator; some may think that when the body dies the sin dies as well. No; the inclination was in the soul, and to the soul the sin was sweet.

And if [the soul] has not repented of that sin and has not become free of it, it will come to the Dread Judgment with the same desire for the sweetness of sin and will never satisfy its desire. In it will be the suffering of hatred and malice. This is the state of hell.

The “fiery Gehenna” is the inner fire; this is the flame of vice, the flame of weakness and malice; and

there will be [the] wailing and gnashing of teeth

of impotent malice.

On Uncreated Thrones and Crowns

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

Question: Some people claim that the thrones and crowns are creatures and not of the Spirit. How are we to understand these?
Answer: The throne of the Godhead is our mind and again the throne of our mind is the Godhead and the Spirit…The crowns which Christians will receive in the age to come are not creatures. Those who say this are speaking nonsense. The Spirit uses these in a transfigured sense. What does the Apostle Paul say of the heavenly Jerusalem? “This is the mother of us all whom we all together confess” (Gal. 4:26). In regard to the garment which Christians wear it is evident that the Spirit clothes them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 6.5,7)

On Limited Atonement

Philip Schaff  1819-1893

This doctrine of a divine will and divine provision of a universal salvation, on the sole condition of faith, is taught in many passages which admit of no other interpretation, and which must, therefore, decide this whole question. For it is a settled rule in hermeneutics that dark passages must be explained by clear passages, and not vice versa. Such passages are the following: —

“I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord our God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live” (Ezek. 18:32, 23; 33:11). “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself” (John 12:32). “God so loved the world” (that is, all mankind) “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “God our Saviour willeth that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth “(1 Tim. 2:4). “The grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Tit. 2:11). “The Lord is long-suffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). “Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for (the sins of) the whole world” (1 John 2:2). It is impossible to state the doctrine of a universal atonement more clearly in so few words.

To these passages should be added the divine exhortations to repentance, and the lament of Christ over the inhabitants of Jerusalem who “would not” come to him (Matt. 23:37). These exhortations are insincere or unmeaning, if God does not want all men to be saved, and if men have not the ability to obey or disobey the voice. The same is implied in the command of Christ to preach the gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15), and to disciple all nations (Matt. 28:19).

It is impossible to restrict these passages to a particular class without doing violence to the grammar and the context.

The only way of escape is by the distinction between a revealed will of God, which declares his willingness to save all men, and a secret will of God which means to save only some men. Augustin and Luther made this distinction. Calvin uses it in explaining 2 Pet. 3:9, and those passages of the Old Testament which ascribe repentance and changes to the immutable God.

But this distinction overthrows the system which it is intended to support. A contradiction between intention and expression is fatal to veracity, which is the foundation of human morality, and must be an essential attribute of the Deity. A man who says the reverse of what he means is called, in plain English, a hypocrite and a liar. It does not help the matter when Calvin says, repeatedly, that there are not two wills in God, but only two ways of speaking adapted to our weakness. Nor does it remove the difficulty when he warns us to rely on the revealed will of God rather than brood over his secret will.

The greatest, the deepest, the most comforting word in the Bible is the word, “God is love,” and the greatest fact in the world’s history is the manifestation of that love in the person and the work of Christ. That word and this fact are the sum and substance of the gospel, and the only solid foundation of Christian theology. The sovereignty of God is acknowledged by Jews and Mohammedans as well as by Christians, but the love of God is revealed only in the Christian religion. It is the inmost essence of God, and the key to all his ways and works. It is the central truth which sheds light upon all other truths. (HCC Vol. VIII Chap. XIV § 114. Calvinism examined: THE GENERAL LOVE OF GOD TO ALL MEN)

Jaroslav Pelikan 1923-2006

What was at stake was not only the standard Christian defense of both divine providence and human responsibility against the charge of fatalism, but the Christian doctrine of salvation itself. Augustine’s teaching that the will of God must always, in sovereign grace, achieve it’s intended purpose was not easy to harmonize with the biblical assertion that universal salvation was the will of God. If not all men were saved, did this mean that God had not willed it or that the saving will of God had been frustrated? Augustine rsorted to various devices to square his position with 1 Tim. 2:4: “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” “All men” meant all the predestined, because every kind of human being was represented among them… But then Augustine’s critics were right in summarizing his doctrine: “God does not desire all men to be saved, but only the fixed number of the predestined.” And it did not really resolve the ambiguities of Augustine’s position to resort to the secret counsels of God and to speak of “the reasons for a division [between the elect and the nonelect] which God’s wisdom keeps hidden in the mystery of his justice”…

In the long run, this identification of the anti-Pelagian view of grace with an absolute predestination would not work… And therefore it was unavoidable that the defense of essential Augustinism re-examine his exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:4 with a view to asserting the universal will of God for salvation, and that it distinguish more sharply between doctrine as that which was believed, taught, and confessed by the church and theology as that which was maintained by individual teachers in the church.

To affirm the doctrine of the universal will of God for salvation it was necessary to develop more fully the idea that those who were damned were “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20) because they had all, in some meaningful way, been given the opportunity to respond to the call of God and had refused it. If Augustine held to any such idea, he had not made it very explicit in most of his writings. But further reflection and debate compelled Augustinism to concede that “there is no one to whom either the preaching of the gospel or the commandments of the law or the voice of nature does not transmit God’s call”(Prosp. Resp. Gall. 1.8). (The Christian Tradition, A History of the Development of Doctrine: 1 The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) pp.321-322, 325-326)

Pope St. Clement of Rome fl. ca. 80-102

Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us. Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world. Let us turn to every age that has passed, and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all such as would be converted unto Him. (Epistle to the Corinthians, 7)

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

For the whole human race will be found to be under a curse. For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘Cursed is every one that continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.’ Deut. 27:26 And no one has accurately done all, nor will you venture to deny this; but some more and some less than others have observed the ordinances enjoined. But if those who are under this law appear to be under a curse for not having observed all the requirements, how much more shall all the nations appear to be under a curse who practise idolatry, who seduce youths, and commit other crimes? If, then, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if He were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves? For although His Father caused Him to suffer these things in behalf of the human family, yet you did not commit the deed as in obedience to the will of God. For you did not practise piety when you slew the prophets. And let none of you say: If His Father wished Him to suffer this, in order that by His stripes the human race might be healed, we have done no wrong. If, indeed, you repent of your sins, and recognise Him to be Christ, and observe His commandments, then you may assert this; for, as I have said before, remission of sins shall be yours. (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chap. 95)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

…they thus wander from the truth, because their doctrine departs from Him who is truly God, being ignorant that His only-begotten Word, who is always present with the human race, united to and mingled with His own creation, according to the Father’s pleasure, and who became flesh, is Himself Jesus Christ our Lord, who did also suffer for us, and rose again on our behalf, and who will come again in the glory of His Father, to raise up all flesh, and for the manifestation of salvation, and to apply the rule of just judgment to all who were made by Him. There is therefore, as I have pointed out, one God the Father, and one Christ Jesus, who came by means of the whole dispensational arrangements [connected with Him], and gathered together all things in Himself. Eph. 1:10 But in every respect, too, He is man, the formation of God; and thus He took up man into Himself, the invisible becoming visible, the incomprehensible being made comprehensible, the impassible becoming capable of suffering, and the Word being made man, thus summing up all things in Himself: so that as in super-celestial, spiritual, and invisible things, the Word of God is supreme, so also in things visible and corporeal He might possess the supremacy, and, taking to Himself the pre-eminence, as well as constituting Himself Head of the Church, He might draw all things to Himself at the proper time. (Against Heresies, Bk. III: 16,6)

For as by one man’s disobedience sin entered, and death obtained [a place] through sin; so also by the obedience of one man, righteousness having been introduced, shall cause life to fructify in those persons who in times past were dead. Rom. 5:19 And as the protoplast himself Adam, had his substance from untilled and as yet virgin soil (for God had not yet sent rain, and man had not tilled the ground Gen. 2:5), and was formed by the hand of God, that is, by the Word of God, for all things were made by Him, Jn. 1:3 and the Lord took dust from the earth and formed man; so did He who is the Word, recapitulating Adam in Himself, rightly receive a birth, enabling Him to gather up Adam [into Himself], from Mary, who was as yet a virgin. (ibid., Bk. III: 21,10)

In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word. Lk. 1:38 But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin (for in Paradise they were both naked, and were not ashamed, Gen. 2:25 inasmuch as they, having been created a short time previously, had no understanding of the procreation of children: for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race…And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith. (ibid., Bk. III: 22,4)

Tertullian of Carthage ca. 160-220

Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:21 Here in the word man, who consists of bodily substance, as we have often shown already, is presented to me the body of Christ. But if we are all so made alive in Christ, as we die in Adam, it follows of necessity that we are made alive in Christ as a bodily substance, since we died in Adam as a bodily substance. The similarity, indeed, is not complete, unless our revival in Christ concur in identity of substance with our mortality in Adam.(Against Marcion, Bk. V, IX)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-236

Well, as the Word shows His compassion and His denial of all respect of persons by all the saints, He enlightens them and adapts them to that which is advantageous for us, like a skilful physician, understanding the weakness of men. And the ignorant He loves to teach, and the erring He turns again to His own true way. And by those who live by faith He is easily found; and to those of pure eye and holy heart, who desire to knock at the door, He opens immediately. For He casts away none of His servants as unworthy of the divine mysteries. He does not esteem the rich man more highly than the poor, nor does He despise the poor man for his poverty. He does not disdain the barbarian, nor does He set the eunuch aside as no man. He does not hate the female on account of the woman’s act of disobedience in the beginning, nor does He reject the male on account of the man’s transgression. But He seeks all, and desires to save all, wishing to make all the children of God, and calling all the saints unto one perfect man. For there is also one Son (or Servant) of God, by whom we too, receiving the regeneration through the Holy Spirit, desire to come all unto one perfect and heavenly man. (Eph. 4:13) For whereas the Word of God was without flesh, He took upon Himself the holy flesh by the holy Virgin, and prepared a robe which He wove for Himself, like a bridegroom, in the sufferings of the cross, in order that by uniting His own power with our moral body, and by mixing the incorruptible with the corruptible, and the strong with the weak, He might save perishing man. (The Antichrist, 3-4)

St. Aphrahat the Persian ca. 270-345

And our Savior, the great King, made the rebellious world to be at peace with His Father, though we were all sinners. He took away the sin of all of us and He became the messenger of reconciliation between God and His creature. Though we were all sinners and rebels, He sought for us our reconciliation with Him. (Treatises 14,11)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 293-373

For the Word, perceiving that no otherwise could the corruption of men be undone save by death as a necessary condition, while it was impossible for the Word to suffer death, being immortal, and Son of the Father; to this end He takes to Himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word Who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all, and might, because of the Word which had come to dwell in it, remain incorruptible, and that thenceforth corruption might be stayed from all by the Grace of the Resurrection. Whence, by offering unto death the body He Himself had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from any stain, straightway He put away death from all His peers by the offering of an equivalent. For being over all, the Word of God naturally by offering His own temple and corporeal instrument for the life of all satisfied the debt by His death. And thus He, the incorruptible Son of God, being conjoined with all by a like nature, naturally clothed all with incorruption, by the promise of the resurrection. For the actual corruption in death has no longer holding-ground against men, by reason of the Word, which by His one body has come to dwell among them.  And like as when a great king has entered into some large city and taken up his abode in one of the houses there, such city is at all events held worthy of high honour, nor does any enemy or bandit any longer descend upon it and subject it; but, on the contrary, it is thought entitled to all care, because of the king’s having taken up his residence in a single house there: so, too, has it been with the Monarch of all. For now that He has come to our realm, and taken up his abode in one body among His peers, henceforth the whole conspiracy of the enemy against mankind is checked, and the corruption of death which before was prevailing against them is done away. For the race of men had gone to ruin, had not the Lord and Saviour of all, the Son of God, come among us to meet the end of death. (On the Incarnation of the Word, 9)

St. Hilary of Poitiers ca. 300-368

Mention is made of this sacrifice in another place in the Psalms: “A victim and an oblation you did not desire, but you have perfected a body for me”; that is, by offering to God the Father, who refused the sacrifices of the Law, the pleasing victim of the body which had been received. The blessed Apostle makes mention thus of this sacrifice: “For this He did all in a single time, offering Himelf to God as a victim,” thereby redeeming the total salvation of the human race by the sacrifice of this holy and perfect victim. (Commentaries on the Psalms, On Ps. 53 [54])

Pope St. Damasus ca. 305-384

If anyone does not say that there are three Persons of Father, and of Son, and of the Holy Spirit, equal, always living, embracing all things visible and invisible, ruling all, judging all, giving life to all, making all, and saving all: he is a heretic. (The Tome of Damasus, 21)

St. Methodius of Olympus + 311

Now, since He truly was and is, being in the beginning with God, and being God, Jn. 1:1 He is the chief Commander and Shepherd of the heavenly ones, whom all reasonable creatures obey and attend, who tends in order and numbers the multitudes of the blessed angels. For this is the equal and perfect number of immortal creatures, divided according to their races and tribes, man also being here taken into the flock. For be also was created without corruption, that he might honour the king and maker of all things, responding to the shouts of the melodious angels which came from heaven. But when it came to pass that, by transgressing the commandment (of God), he suffered a terrible and destructive fall, being thus reduced to a state of death, for this reason the Lord says that He came from heaven into (a human) life, leaving the ranks and the armies of angels. For the mountains are to be explained by the heavens, and the ninety and nine sheep by the principalities and powers which the Captain and Shepherd left when He went down to seek the lost one. For it remained that man should be included in this catalogue and number, the Lord lifting him up and wrapping him round, that he might not again, as I said, be overflowed and swallowed up by the waves of deceit. For with this purpose the Word assumed the nature of man, that, having overcome the serpent, He might by Himself destroy the condemnation which had come into being along with man’s ruin. For it was fitting that the Evil One should be overcome by no other, but by him whom he had deceived, and whom he was boasting that he held in subjection, because no otherwise was it possible that sin and condemnation should be destroyed, unless that same man on whose account it had been said, Dust you are, and unto dust you shall return, Gen. 3:19 should be created anew, and undo the sentence which for his sake had gone forth on all, that as in Adam at first all die, even so again in Christ, who assumed the nature and position of Adam, should all be made alive. 1 Cor. 15:22 (The Banquet of the Ten Virgins or On Charity: Discourse 3.6)

St. Epiphanius of Salamis ca. 315-403

From men like ourselves there is no hope of salvation. For no one of all the men who come from Adam is able to effect our salvation… In His coming, therefore, the Lord took flesh from our flesh, and God the Word became a man like us, so that in His divinity He might give us salvation, and that in His humanity He might suffer for the sake of us men, doing away with suffering by His suffering and by his own death putting death to death…In Him the suffering of the flesh is attributed to the divinity, which really cannot suffer at all, so that the world will not place its hope in man, but in the Lordly man, since divinity itself undertakes to attribute the sufferings to Itself. (The Man Well-Anchored, 93)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

These names however are still common to Him Who is above us, and to Him Who came for our sake. But others are peculiarly our own, and belong to that nature which He assumed. So He is called Man, not only that through His Body He may be apprehended by embodied creatures, whereas otherwise this would be impossible because of His incomprehensible nature; but also that by Himself He may sanctify humanity, and be as it were a leaven to the whole lump; and by uniting to Himself that which was condemned may release it from all condemnation, becoming for all men all things that we are, except sin;-body, soul, mind and all through which death reaches-and thus He became Man, who is the combination of all these; God in visible form, because He retained that which is perceived by mind alone. (Oration 30, 21: The Fourth Theological Oration)

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

Simeon prophecies also of Mary herself that, standing beneath the cross seeing what was happening and hearing His words, even after the testimony of Gabriel, even after her secret knowledge of the divine conception, and after the great showing of miracles, she too, he says, will experience a certain unsteadiness in her soul. For the Lord must taste death for the sake of all; and to become a propitiation for the world, He must justify all men in His blood. “Some doubt, therfore, will touch even you yourself, who have been taught from above about the Lord.” That is the sword. (Letter 260: Epistle to Optimus, 9)

St. Gregory of Nyssa ca. 335-394

“But why is it,” they ask, “that all men do not obtain the grace, but that, while some adhere to the Word, the portion who remain unbelieving is no small one; either because God was unwilling to bestow his benefit ungrudgingly upon all, or because He was altogether unable to do so?” Now neither of these alternatives can defy criticism. For it is unworthy of God, either that He should not will what is good, or that He should be unable to do it. “If, therefore, the Faith is a good thing, why,” they ask, “does not its grace come upon all men?” Now, if in our representation of the Gospel mystery we had so stated the matter as that it was the Divine will that the Faith should be so granted away amongst mankind that some men should be called, while the rest had no share in the calling, occasion would be given for bringing such a charge against this Revelation. But if the call came with equal meaning to all and makes no distinction as to worth, age, or different national characteristics (for it was for this reason that at the very first beginning of the proclamation of the Gospel they who ministered the Word were, by Divine inspiration, all at once enabled to speak in the language of any nation, viz. in order that no one might be destitute of a share in the blessings of evangelical instruction), with what reasonableness can they still charge it upon God that the Word has not influenced all mankind? For He Who holds the sovereignty of the universe, out of the excess of this regard for man, permitted something to be under our own control, of which each of us alone is master. Now this is the will, a thing that cannot be enslaved, and of self-determining power, since it is seated in the liberty of thought and mind. Therefore such a charge might more justly be transferred to those who have not attached themselves to the Faith, instead of resting on Him Who has called them to believe. For even when Peter at the beginning preached the Gospel in a crowded assembly of the Jews, and three thousand at once received the Faith, though those who disbelieved were more in number than the believers, they did not attach blame to the Apostle on the ground of their disbelief. It was, indeed, not in reason, when the grace of the Gospel had been publicly set forth, for one who had absented himself from it of his own accord to lay the blame of his exclusion on another rather than himself. (The Great Catechism, Chap. 30)

Since, then, there was needed a lifting up from death for the whole of our nature, He stretches forth a hand as it were to prostrate man, and stooping down to our dead corpse He came so far within the grasp of death as to touch a state of deadness, and then in His own body to bestow on our nature the principle of the resurrection, raising as He did by His power along with Himself the whole man. For since from no other source than from the concrete lump of our nature had come that flesh, which was the receptacle of the Godhead and in the resurrection was raised up together with that Godhead, therefore just in the same way as, in the instance of this body of ours, the operation of one of the organs of sense is felt at once by the whole system, as one with that member, so also the resurrection principle of this Member, as though the whole of mankind was a single living being, passes through the entire race, being imparted from the Member to the whole by virtue of the continuity and oneness of the nature. (ibid., Chap. 32)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 337-397

He saw that sufferers could not be saved without a remedy and for that reason He brought medicine to the ill, He brought strength and health to all, so that whoever should perish must ascribe to himself the causes of his own death, since such a one did not want to be cured although he had the remedy by which death could have been evaded. The clear mercy of Christ, however, is preached in every instance: by the fact that those who perish do perish by their own negligence, while those who are saved are made free by Christ’s purpose, “who wills all men be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (De Cain et Abel: 2. 3,11)

The earth, therefore, is full of the mercy of the Lord; for the forgiveness of sins is given to all. The sun is commanded to rise over all; and indeed, this sun does in fact rise daily over all. The mystic Sun of Justice, however, has risen for all, comes to all, suffers for all and rose again for all. He suffered so that He might take away the sin of the world. If, however, anyone does not believe in Christ, he but cheats himself of this general benefit. (Commentary on Psalm 118: 8,57)

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

In whom also we have been called by lot, predestined according to the plan of Him that works all things according to the counsel of His will… (Eph. 1:11) Let it be noted that this προορισμος and προθεσις , that is, predestination and plan, are taken together as that in reference to which God works all things according to counsel of His will. Not that all things that come to pass in the world are brought about by the will and counsel of God, for that were to impute evil to God; but that all things that He does in His counsel He does also in His will, so that they are done with the full reason and by the power of the one doing them…He desires all men to be saved and to come to an ackowledgement of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4) But because no one is saved without his own willing it (for we have free choice), He wants us to desire the good, so that, when we have willed it, then He too will Himself will that His counsel be fulfilled in us. (Commentaries on the Epistle to the Ephesians 1.1,11)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

Ver. 3. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.

What is said to be acceptable? The praying for all men. This God accepts, this He wills.

Ver. 4. Who wills that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.

Imitate God! If He wills that all men should be saved, there is reason why one should pray for all, if He has willed that all should be saved, be thou willing also; and if you wish it, pray for it, for wishes lead to prayers. Observe how from every quarter He urges this upon the soul, to pray for the Heathen, showing how great advantage springs from it; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life; and what is much more than this, that it is pleasing to God, and thus men become like Him, in that they will the same that He does. This is enough to shame a very brute. Fear not therefore to pray for the Gentiles, for God Himself wills it; but fear only to pray against any, for that He wills not. And if you pray for the Heathens, you ought of course to pray for Heretics also, for we are to pray for all men, and not to persecute. And this is good also for another reason, as we are partakers of the same nature, and God commands and accepts benevolence and affection towards one another.

But if the Lord Himself wills to give, you say, what need of my prayer? It is of great benefit both to them and to yourself. It draws them to love, and it inclines you to humanity. It has the power of attracting others to the faith; (for many men have fallen away from God, from contentiousness towards one another;) and this is what he now calls the salvation of God, who will have all men to be saved; without this all other is nothing great, a mere nominal salvation, and only in words. And to come to the knowledge of the truth. The truth: what truth? Faith in Him. And indeed he had previously said, Charge some that they teach no other doctrine. But that no one may consider such as enemies, and on that account raise troubles against them; he says that He wills that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth… (Homily 7 on First Timothy)

Theodore of Mopsuestia ca. 350-428

He is neither God alone nor man alone; rather, He is truly both by nature, that is to say, God and Man: the Word, the one assuming, and the Man, the one assumed…The one assuming is the divine nature, which does everything for us; and the other [the one assumed], is the human nature, which was assumed on behalf of all of us, and is untied to [the divine nature] in an indescribable union which will never be severed… (Catechetical Homilies, 8)

Ambrosiaster ca. 4th  cent.

God “wills all men to be saved”; but that is if they come to Him. For He does not will that they be saved who do not want to be saved. He wills that they be saved if they themselves also will it. Thus, He that gave the law to all excludes no one from salvation. Similarly, does not a physician make it publicly known that he desires to cure everyone, so that the sick will come to him? It would not truly be salvation if it were given to someone who did not want it. (Commentaries on the Thirteen Pauline Epistles, 1 Tim. 2:4)

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

As many kinds of fish fall into a net and the least useful ones immediately are tossed back into the sea, so also the net of grace spread over all men and seeks tranquility. But men do not surrender and for this reason they are thrown back again into the same depths of darkness. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 15.52)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

Even if in Christ the law of sin was not set in motion, it is because of its having been quieted by the power and operation of the incarnate Word; but if the nature of the flesh be considered in itself, that which is in Christ is not something different from that which is found in us. We, therefore, were crucified with Him when His flesh was crucified, because the whole nature was somehow contained in Him, just as in Adam, of course, when he fell under the curse, the whole nature fell ill of the curse. (Commentary on Romans 6:6. Pusey, pg. 192)

St. Prosper of Aquitaine ca. 390-455

Again, whoever says that God does not will all men to be saved, but only the certain number of the predestined, is saying a harsher thing than ought to be said of the inscrutable depth of the grace of God, who both wills that all should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), and fulfills the proposal of His will in those whom, when He foreknew them, He predestined, when he predestined them, He called, when He called them, He justified, and, when He justifed them, He glorified (Rom. 8:30)…And thus, those who are saved are saved because God willed them to be saved, and those who perish do perish because they deserve to perish. (Sent. super Cap. 8)

The true and powerful and only remedy against the wound of original sin, by which sin in Adam the nature of all men has been corrupted and has been given a death blow, and whence the disease of concupiscence takes firm hold, is the death of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was free of debt and alone was without sin, died for sins and debtors to death. in view of the magnitude and potency of the price, and because it pertains to the universal condition of the human race, the blood of Christ is the redemption of the whole world. (Responses on Behalf of Augustine to the Articles of Objections Raised by the Vincentianists, 1)

Blessed Theodoret of Cyr ca. 393-457

To that end He assumed sinful human nature and justified that nature by His own deeds. He set it free from the bitter tyrants, Sin and Devil and Death, and deemed it worthy of heavenly thrones, and through that which he assumed He gave to all the race a share in liberty. (The Theology of the Trinity and the Divine Incarnation. Migne, PG 75, col. 1448)

Pope St. Leo the Great ca. 400-461

The righteous have received, not given, crowns: and from the endurance of the faithful have arisen examples of patience, not the gift of justification. For their deaths affected themselves alone, and no one has paid off another’s debt by his own death : one alone among the sons of men, our Lord Jesus Christ, stands out as One in whom all are crucified, all dead, all buried, all raised again. Of them He Himself said when I am lifted from the earth, I will draw all (things) unto Me. True faith also, that justifies the transgressors and makes them just, is drawn to Him who shared their human natures and wins salvation in Him, in whom alone man finds himself not guilty; and thus is free to glory in the power of Him who in the humiliation of our flesh engaged in conflict with the haughty foe, and shared His victory with those in whose body He had triumphed. (Letter 124.4)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

Perfect love does not split up the one nature of men on the basis of their various dispositions but ever looking steadfastly at it, it loves all men equally, those who are zealous as friends, those who are negligent as enemies. It is good to them and forebearing and puts up with what they do. It does not think evil at all but rather suffers for them, if occasion requires, in order that it may make them friends if possible. If not, it does not fall away from its own intentions as it ever manifests the fruits of love equally for all men. In this way also our Lord and God Jesus Christ, suffered for all mankind and granted all equally the hope of resurrection, though each one renders himself worthy either of glory or of punishment. (The Four Hundred Chapters on Love, First Century: 72)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

It is needful to remember that God wills beforehand that all should be saved and come into His kingdom. Because He is a good God it was not for punishment that He shaped us, but to participate in His goodness. But because He is a just God, He wills that sinners are to be punished. The first, then, which is from God Himself, is called His antecedent will and good pleasure while the second, having its origin in us, is called His consequent will and permission…But of actions which are in our hands, the good ones He wills antecedently and in His good pleasure; but the evil ones and the really wicked He neither wills antecedently nor consequently; but He permits them in the exercise of free will. (The Fount of Knowledge 3,2,9)

Council of Quiercy 853 a.d.

Christ Jesus our Lord, as no man who is or has been or ever will be whose nature will not have been assumed in Him, so there is, has been, or will be no man, for whom He has not suffered- although not all will be saved by the mystery of His passion. (Denzinger, 319)

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)


On Predestination

Josephus ca. 30-100
At this time there were three sects among the Jews, who had different opinions concerning human actions; the one was called the sect of the Pharisees, another the sect of the Sadducees, and the other the sect of the Essenes. Now for the Pharisees, they say that some actions, but not all, are the work of fate, and some of them are in our own power, and that they are liable to fate, but are not caused by fate.  But the sect of the Essenes affirm, that fate governs all things, and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determination. And for the Sadducees, they take away fate, and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal; but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power, so that we are ourselves the cause of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly.  However, I have given a more exact account of these opinions in the second book of the Jewish War. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 13.5.9)

Now, for the Pharisees, they live meanly, and despise delicacies in diet; and they follow the conduct of reason; and what that prescribes to them as good for them, they do; and they think they ought earnestly to strive to observe reason’s dictates for practice.  They also pay a respect to such as are in years; nor are they so bold as to contradict them in anything which they have introduced; and, when they determine that all things are done by fate, they do not take away the freedom from men of acting as they think fit; since their notion is, that it hath pleased God to make a temperament, whereby what he wills is done, but so that the will of men can act virtuously or viciously. They also believe that souls have an immortal vigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again; on account of which doctrines, they are able greatly to persuade the body of the people; and whatsoever they do about divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices, they perform them according to their direction; insomuch that the cities gave great attestations to them on account of their entire virtuous conduct, both in the actions of their lives and their discourses also. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18.1.3)

Philip Schaff 1819-1893

The Greek, and particularly the Alexandrian fathers, in opposition to the dualism and fatalism of the Gnostic systems, which made evil a necessity of nature, laid great stress upon human freedom, and upon the indispensable cooperation of this freedom with divine grace; while the Latin fathers, especially Tertullian and Cyprian, Hilary and Ambrose, guided rather by their practical experience than by speculative principles, emphasized the hereditary sin and hereditary guilt of man, and the sovereignty of God’s grace, without, however, denying freedom and individual accountability.  The Greek church adhered to her undeveloped synergism, which coordinates the human will and divine grace as factors in the work of conversion; the Latin church, under the influence of Augustine, advanced to the system of a divine monergism, which gives God all the glory, and makes freedom itself a result of grace; while Pelagianism, on the contrary, represented the principle of a human monergism, which ascribes the chief merit of conversion to man, and reduces grace to a mere external auxiliary. After Augustine’s death, however the intermediate system of Semi-Pelagianism, akin to the Greek synergism, became prevalent in the West. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church Vol III, Chapter 9, sec 146. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Co.1867, reprinted)

Archbishop Philaret of Chernigov 1802-1866

When the monks of Adumetum presented to Augustine that, according to his teaching, the obligation of asceticism and self-mortification was not required of them, Augustine felt the justice of the remark. He began more often to repeat that grace does not destroy freedom; but such an expression of his teaching changed essentially nothing in Augustine’s theory, and his very last works were not in accord with his thought. Relying on his own experience of a difficult rebirth by means of grace, he was carried a long by a feeling of its further consequences….In defending the truth, he himself was not always faithful to the truth. Therefore it is not surprising that in the Eastern Church the teaching of Augustine on grace was not received with such a lively participation as it was in the west. The Ecumenical Synod of Ephesus (451) properly confirmed the condemnation of Pelagius’ teaching, but concerning the teaching of Augustine it said not a word. (Historical Teaching of the Fathers of the Church [Saint Petersburg, 1882], v.3, pp. 33, 34)

J.N.D. Kelly 1909-1997

A point on which they (the Eastern Fathers) were all agreed was that man’s will remains free; we are responsible for our acts. This was a vital article in their anti-Manichaean propaganda, but it raised the question of man’s need of divine grace. This issue is usually posed in the terms which the later Augustinian discussion is made familiar, and so viewed their postion was that grace and free will co-operate. Our salvation comes, stated Gregory Nazianzen, both from ourselves and from God. If God’s help is necessary for doing good and if the good will itself comes from Him, it is equally true that the initiative rests with with man’s free will.

Although we have only cited these two (Ambrose and Ambrosiaster), there is little doubt that their views were representative (of the Western Fathers). On the related question of grace, the parallel truths of man’s free will and his need of God’s help were maintained, although we can discern increasing emphasis being laid on the latter. ‘We must be and directed’, wrote Hilary, ‘by His grace’; but he makes it plain the initial move in God’s direction lies at our own dispostion. God’s mercy, he points out elsewhere, does not exclude man’s desert, and a man’s own will must take the lead in lifting him from sin. ‘It is for God to call’, remarks Jerome, ‘and for us to believe’. The part of grace, it would seem, is to perfect that which the will has freely determined; yet our will is only ours by God’s mercy. (Early Christian Doctrines pp. 352,356)

Henry Chadwick 1920-2008

It was the intense stress on the absolute necessity of a redeemer from the divine realm which led the Gnostics to place the natural order at so vast a distance in moral value from the supreme God. The influence of fatalistic ideas drawn from popular astrology and magic became fused with notions derived from Pauline language about predestination to produce a rigidly deterministic scheme. Redemption was from destiny, not from the consequences of responsible action, and was granted to a pre-determined elect in whom alone was the divine spark. Valentinus modified the division of humanity into light and darkness by alowing the existence of some grey twilight in between the two extremes. He took a lead from St. Paul’s phrase (1 Thess. v.23) that we consist of spirit, soul, and body, and applied the three-fold division both to humanity and to the entire cosmos. The gnostic initiates were people of the spirit, the elect, whose salvation was certain and indefectible. Ordinary church members, with faith but not ‘knowledge’, were only of psyche while the heathen were merely earthly clods without the dimmest glimmer of light or the faintest ray of hope of salvation. Valentinus allowed his followers to entertain hopes that some moderate degree of twilight happiness hereafter might be granted to those of psyche. But the three classes were determined from eternity. The natural person was constitutionally incapable of discerning the higher things of the spirit. A further consequence of Gnostic devaluation of the created order was the depreciation of the Old Testament. This was greatly accentuated by a thorough exploitation of the Pauline antithesis of law and gospel. (The Early Church, pg. 38)

Jaroslav Pelikan 1923-2006

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. So far did this determinism go that the “aspect of the cosmos in which to the Gnostics its character was pre-eminently revealed is the

heimarmene, that is, universal fate.” 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 Christian Tradition, A History of the Development of Doctrine: 1 The Emergence of Catholic Tradition 100-600. Chap 6 Nature and Grace, pg. 283)

St. Justin Martyr ca. 100-165

But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, 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, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate. We see the same man making a transition to opposite things. Now, if it had been fated that he were to be either good or bad, he could never have been capable of both the opposites, nor of so many transitions. But not even would some be good and others bad, since we thus make fate the cause of evil, and exhibit her as acting in opposition to herself; or that which has been already stated would seem to be true, that neither virtue nor vice is anything, but that things are only reckoned good or evil by opinion; which, as the true word shows, is the greatest impiety and wickedness. But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made. (First Apology, Chapter XLIII [complete]; ANF, Vol. I)

Mathetes ca. 130

He did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things— by whom He made the heavens— by whom he enclosed the sea within its proper bounds— whose ordinances all the stars faithfully observe— from whom the sun has received the measure of his daily course to be observed — whom the moon obeys, being commanded to shine in the night, and whom the stars also obey, following the moon in her course; by whom all things have been arranged, and placed within their proper limits, and to whom all are subject— the heavens and the things that are therein, the earth and the things that are therein, the sea and the things that are therein— fire, air, and the abyss— the things which are in the heights, the things which are in the depths, and the things which lie between. This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?(Letter to Diognetus Chap. VII)

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

Now the followers of Basilides regard faith as natural, as they also refer it to choice, representing it as finding ideas by intellectual comprehension without demonstration; while the followers of Valentinus assign faith to us, the simple, but will have it that knowledge springs up in their own selves, who are savd by nature through the advantage of a germ of superior excellence, saying that it is as far removed from faith as the spiritual is from the animal. Further, the followers of Basilides say that faith as well as choice is proper according to every interval; and that in consequence of the supramundane selection mundane faith accompanies all nature, and that the free gift of faith is comformable to the hope of each. Faith, then, is no longer the result of free choice, if it is a natural advantage. (Stromata, II, III)

Valentinian, in a homily, writes in these words: “Ye are originally immortal, and children of eternal life, and ye would have death distributed to you, that ye may spend and lavish it, and that death may die in you and by you; for when we dissolve the world, and are not yourselves dissolved, ye have dominion over creation and all corruption.” For he also, similarly with Basilides, supposes a class saved by nature, and that this different race has come hither to us from above for the abolition of death, and that the origin of death is the work of the Creator of the world. (Stromata, IV, XIII)

Tertullian ca. 160-220

Cain and Abel, and Seth, who were in a certain sense the sources of the human race, become the fountain-heads of just as many qualities of nature and essential character. The material nature, which had become reprobate for salvation, they assign to Cain; the animal nature, which was poised between divergent hopes, they find in Abel; the spiritual, preordained for certain salvation, they store up in Seth.In this way also they make a twofold distinction among souls, as to their property of good and evil— according to the material condition derived from Cain, or the animal from Abel. Men’s spiritual state they derive over and above the other conditions, from Seth adventitiously, not in the way of nature, but of grace, in such wise that Achamoth infuses it among superior beings like rain into good souls, that is, those who are enrolled in the animal class. Whereas the material class— in other words, those souls which are bad souls they say, never receive the blessings of salvation, for that nature they have pronounced to be incapable of any change or reform in its natural condition. This grain, then, of spiritual seed is modest and very small when cast from her hand, but under her instruction increases and advances into full conviction, as we have already said; and the souls, on this very account, so much excelled all others, that the Demiurge, even then in his ignorance, held them in great esteem. For it was from their list that he had been accustomed to select men for kings and for priests; and these even now, if they have once attained to a full and complete knowledge of these foolish conceits of theirs, since they are already naturalized in the fraternal bond of the spiritual state, will obtain a sure salvation, nay, one which is on all accounts their due. For this reason it is that they neither regard works as necessary for themselves, nor do they observe any of the calls of duty, eluding even the necessity of martyrdom on any pretence which may suit their pleasure. (Against the Valentinians, XXIX-XXX)

St. Melito of Sardis died ca. 180

There is, therefore, nothing to hinder you from changing your evil manner of life, because you are a free man. (David Bercot, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs p. 286).

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

This expression, ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldst not,’ set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free (agent) from the beginning, possessing his own soul to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will (toward us) is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all. And in man as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice (for angels are rational beings), so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves…

If then it were not in our power to do or not to do these things, what reason had the apostle, and much more the Lord Himself, to give counsel to do some things and to abstain from others? But because man is possessed of free-will from the beginning, and God is possessed of free-will in whose likeness man was created, advice is always given to him to keep fast the good, which thing is done by means of obedience to God. (Against Heresies XXXVII)

For He who makes the chaff and He who makes the wheat are not different persons, but one and the same, who judges them, that is, separates them. But the wheat and the chaff, being inanimate and irrational, have been made such by nature. But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect like to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself the cause to himself, that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff. Wherefore also he shall be justly condemned because, having been created a rational being, he lost the true rationality, and living irrationally, opposed the righteousness of God, serving all lusts; as says the prophet, “Man, being in honor, did not understand: he was assimilated to senseless beasts, and made like to them.” (Against Heresies, book 4, chapter 4, 3)


Theophilus of Antioch ca. 2nd century

But some one will say to us, Was man made by nature mortal? Certainly not. Was he, then, immortal? Neither do we affirm this. But one will say, Was he, then, nothing? Not even this hits the mark. He was by nature neither mortal nor immortal. For if He had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God. Again, if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Neither, then, immortal nor yet mortal did He make him, but, as we have said above, capable of both; so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God; but if, on the other hand, he should turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he should himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with power over himself. That, then, which man brought upon himself through carelessness and disobedience, this God now vouchsafes to him as a gift through His own philanthropy and pity, when men obey Him. For as man, disobeying, drew death upon himself; so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself life everlasting. For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption. (To Autolycus XXVII)

Athenagoras of Athens ca. 133-190

For this is the office of the angels,—to exercise providence for God over the things created and ordered by Him; so that God may have the universal and general providence of the whole, while the particular parts are provided for by the angels appointed over them.Just as with men, who have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice (for you would not either honour the good or punish the bad, unless vice and virtue were in their own power; and some are diligent in the matters entrusted to them by you, and others faithless), so is it among the angels. Some, free agents, you will observe, such as they were created by God, continued in those things for which God had made and over which He had ordained them; but some outraged both the constitution of their nature and the government entrusted to them: namely, this ruler of matter and its various forms, and others of those who were placed about this first firmament (you know that we say nothing without witnesses, but state the things which have been declared by the prophets); these fell into impure love of virgins, and were subjugated by the flesh, and he became negligent and wicked in the management of the things entrusted to him. (A Plea for Christians, Chap. XXIV)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-236

Such is our faith, O all ye men,–ours, I say, who are not persuaded by empty expressions, nor caught away by sudden impulses of the heart, nor beguiled by the plausibility of eloquent discourses, yet who do not refuse to obey words that have been uttered by divine power. And these injunctions has God given to the Word. But the Word, by declaring them, promulgated the divine commandments, thereby turning man from disobedience, not bringing him into servitude by force of necessity, but summoning him to liberty through a choice involving spontaneity. (Refutation of All Heresies, Bk. X, Chap. 29)

Origen of Alexandria ca.185-254

Let us begin, then, with those words which were spoken to Pharaoh, who is said to have been hardened by God, in order that he might not let the people go; and, along with his case, the language of the apostle also will be considered, where he says, Therefore He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens. For it is on these passages chiefly that the heretics rely, asserting that salvation is not in our own power, but that souls are of such a nature as must by all means be either lost or saved; and that in no way can a soul which is of an evil nature become good, or one which is of a virtuous nature be made bad. (De Principiis Book III, Chapter I: On the Freedom of the Will VIII)

St. Cyprian of Carthage d. 258

52. That the liberty of believing or of not believing is placed in free choice.

In Deuteronomy: “Lo, I have set before thy face life and death, good and evil. Choose for thyself life, that thou mayest live.”Also in Isaiah:  “And if ye be willing, and hear me, ye shall eat the good of the land. But if ye be unwilling, and will not hear me, the sword shall consume you. For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken these things.”Also in the Gospel according to Luke: “The kingdom of God is within you”. (Three Books of Testimonies Against the Jews, Book III)

St. Anthony the Great ca. 251-356

Wherefore having already begun and set out in the way of virtue, let us strive the more that we may attain those things that are before. And let no one turn to the things behind, like Lot’s wife, all the more so that the Lord has said, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and turning back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven. And this turning back is nought else but to feel regret, and to be once more worldly-minded. But fear not to hear of virtue, nor be astonished at the name. For it is not far from us, nor is it without ourselves, but it is within us, and is easy if only we are willing. That they may get knowledge, the Greeks live abroad and cross the sea, but we have no need to depart from home for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, nor to cross the sea for the sake of virtue. For the Lord aforetime has said, The kingdom of heaven is within you . Wherefore virtue has need at our hands of willingness alone, since it is in us and is formed from us. For when the soul has its spiritual faculty in a natural state virtue is formed. And it is in a natural state when it remains as it came into existence. And when it came into existence it was fair and exceeding honest. For this cause Joshua, the son of Nun, in his exhortation said to the people, Make straight your heart unto the Lord God of Israel Josh. 24:23, and John, Make your paths straight Matt. 3:3 . For rectitude of soul consists in its having its spiritual part in its natural state as created. But on the other hand, when it swerves and turns away from its natural state, that is called vice of the soul. Thus the matter is not difficult. If we abide as we have been made, we are in a state of virtue, but if we think of ignoble things we shall be accounted evil. If, therefore, this thing had to be acquired from without, it would be difficult in reality; but if it is in us, let us keep ourselves from foul thoughts. And as we have received the soul as a deposit, let us preserve it for the Lord, that He may recognise His work as being the same as He made it. (St. Athanasius, The Life of St. Anthony Chap. XX)

St. Methodius of Olympus ca.260-311

Now those who decide that man is not possessed of free-will, and affirm that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate, and her unwritten commands, are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils. But God is the cause of injury to no one; therefore fate is not the cause of all things. Whoever has the least intelligence will confess that God is good, righteous, wise, true, helpful, not the cause of evils, free from passion and everything of that kind. And if the righteous be better than the unrighteous, and unrighteousness be abominable to them, God, being righteous, rejoices in righteousness, and unrighteousness is hateful to Him, being opposed and hstile to righteousness. Therefore God is not the author of unrighteousness. (The Banquet of the Ten Virgins Discourse VIII, Chap. 16)

Archelaus ca. 277

For all creatures that God made, He made very good, and He gave to every individual the sense of free-will in accordance with which standard He also instituted the law of judgment. To sin is ours, and that we sin not is God’s gift, as our will is constituted to choose either to sin or not to sin. (The Acts of the Disputation with Manes)

St. Alexander of Alexandria died ca. 328

From a letter of St. Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, to Aeglon, bishop of Cynopolis, against the Arians.

1. Natural will is the free faculty of every intelligent nature as having nothing involuntary which is in respect of its essence. (Epistles on Arianism and the Deposition of Arius, 4)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 293-373

For having departed from the consideration of the one and the true, namely, God, and from desire of Him, they had thenceforward embarked in various lusts and in those of the several bodily senses. Next, as is apt to happen, having formed a desire for each and sundry, they began to be habituated to these desires, so that they were even afraid to leave them: whence the soul became subject to cowardice and alarms, and pleasures and thoughts of mortality. For not being willing to leave her lusts, she fears death and her separation from the body. But again, from lusting, and not meeting with gratification, she learned to commit murder and wrong. We are then led naturally to show, as best we can, how she does this.

Having departed from the contemplation of the things of thought, and using to the full the several activities of the body, and being pleased with the contemplation of the body, and seeing that pleasure is good for her, she was misled and abused the name of good, and thought that pleasure was the very essence of good: just as though a man out of his mind and asking for a sword to use against all he met, were to think that soundness of mind. But having fallen in love with pleasure, she began to work it out in various ways. For being by nature mobile, even though she have turned away from what is good, yet she does not lose her mobility. She moves then, no longer according to virtue or so as to see God, but imagining false things, she makes a novel use of her power, abusing it as a means to the pleasures she has devised, since she is after all made with power over herself. For she is able, as on the one hand to incline to what is good, so on the other to reject it; but in rejecting the good she of course entertains the thought of what is opposed to it, for she cannot at all cease from movement, being, as I said before, mobile by nature. And knowing her own power over herself, she sees that she is able to use the members of her body in either direction, both toward what is, or toward what is not. But good is, while evil is not; by what is, then, I mean what is good, inasmuch as it has its pattern in God Who is. But by what is not I mean what is evil, in so far as it consists in a false imagination in the thoughts of men. For though the body has eyes so as to see Creation, and by its entirely harmonious construction to recognise the Creator; and ears to listen to the divine oracles and the laws of God; and hands both to perform works of necessity and to raise to God in prayer; yet the soul, departing from the contemplation of what is good and from moving in its sphere, wanders away and moves toward its contraries. Then seeing, as I said before, and abusing her power, she has perceived that she can move the members of the body also in an opposite way: and so, instead of beholding the Creation, she turns the eye to lusts, showing that she has this power too; and thinking that by the mere fact of moving she is maintaining her own dignity, and is doing no sin in doing as she pleases; not knowing that she is made not merely to move, but to move in the right direction. For this is why an apostolic utterance assures us All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient 1 Corinthians 10:23.(Against the Heathen, Part 1.3-4)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 312-386

Next to the knowledge of this venerable and glorious and all-holy Faith, learn further what you yourself art: that as man you are of a two-fold nature, consisting of soul and body; and that, as was said a short time ago, the same God is the Creator both of soul and body. Know also that you have a soul self-governed, the noblest work of God, made after the image of its Creator : immortal because of God that gives it immortality; a living being, rational, imperishable, because of Him that bestowed these gifts: having free power to do what it wills. For it is not according to your nativity that you sin, nor is it by the power of chance that you commit fornication, nor, as some idly talk, do the conjunctions of the stars compel you to give yourself to wantonness. Why do you shrink from confessing your own evil deeds, and ascribe the blame to the innocent stars? Give no more heed, pray, to astrologers; for of these the divine Scripture says, Let the stargazers of the heaven stand up and save you, and what follows: Behold, they all shall be consumed as stubble on the fire, and shall not deliver their soul from the flame Isa. 47:13.

And learn this also, that the soul, before it came into this world, had committed no sin, but having come in sinless, we now sin of our free-will. Listen not, I pray you, to any one perversely interpreting the words, But if I do that which I would not Rom. 7:16: but remember Him who says, If you be willing, and hearken unto Me, you shall eat the good things of the land: but if you be not willing, neither hearken unto Me, the sword shall devour you, etc. Isa. 1:19-20: and again, As you presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification. Rom. 6:19 Remember also the Scripture, which says, Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge Rom. 1:28: and, That which may be known of God is manifest in them Rom. 1:19; and again, their eyes they have closed. Matt. 13:15 Also remember how God again accuses them, and says, Yet I planted you a fruitful vine, wholly true: how are you turned to bitterness, thou the strange vine Jer. 2:21?

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. Basil of Caesarea ca. 300-379

If the origin of our virtues and of our vices is not in ourselves, but is the fatal consequence of our birth, it is useless for legislators to prescribe for us what we ought to do, and what we ought to avoid; it is useless for judges to honour virtue and to punish vice. The guilt is not in the robber, not in the assassin: it was willed for him; it was impossible for him to hold back his hand, urged to evil by inevitable necessity. Those who laboriously cultivate the arts are the maddest of men. The labourer will make an abundant harvest without sowing seed and without sharpening his sickle. Whether he wishes it or not, the merchant will make his fortune, and will be flooded with riches by fate. As for us Christians, we shall see our great hopes vanish, since from the moment that man does not act with freedom, there is neither reward for justice, nor punishment for sin. Under the reign of necessity and of fatality there is no place for merit, the first condition of all righteous judgment. But let us stop. You who are sound in yourselves have no need to hear more, and time does not allow us to make attacks without limit against these unhappy men. (Hexaemeron – Homily VI, Chap VII)

St. Ephrem of Syria ca. 306-373

The Just One did not wish to give Adam the crown quite free, even though He had allowed him to enjoy Paradise without toil; God knew that Adam if wanted he could win the prize. The Just One ardently wished to enhance him, for, although the rank of supernal beings is great through grace, the crown for the proper use of free will, is by no means paltry. (Hymns on Paradise, Chap. XII.XVII)

St. Gregory of Nyssa ca. 335-394

For they assert that God, if He had been so pleased, might have forcibly drawn those, who were not inclined to yield, to accept the Gospel message. But where then would have been their free will? Where their virtuous merit? Where their meed of praise from their moral directors? It belongs only to inanimate or irrational creatures to be brought round by the will of another to his purpose; whereas the reasoning and intelligent nature, if it lays aside its freedom of action, loses at the same time the gracious gift of intellect. For upon what is he to employ any faculty of thought, if his power of choosing anything according to his inclination lies in the will of another? But then, if the will remains without the capacity of action, virtue necessarily disappears, since it is shackled by the enforced quiescence of the will. Then, if virtue does not exist, life loses its value, reason moves in accordance with fatalism, the praise of moral guardians is gone, sin may be indulged in without risk, and the difference between the courses of life is obliterated. For who, henceforth, could with any reason condemn profligacy, or praise sobriety? Since every one would have this ready answer, that nothing of all the things we are inclined to is in our own power, but that by some superior and ruling influence the wills of men are brought round to the purpose of one who has the mastery over them. The conclusion, then is that it is not the goodness of God that is chargeable with the fact that the Faith is not engendered in all men, but rather the disposition of those by whom the preaching of the Word is received. (The Great Catechism, Chap. 31)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 339-397

In everything the Lord’s power cooperates with man’s efforts. (Expos. ev. Luc. 2, 84, in Kelly pg. 356)

St. Jerome ca. 347-420

It is in vain that you misrepresent me and try to convince the ignorant that I condemn free-will. Let him who condemns it be himself condemned. We have been created endowed with free-will; still it is not this which distinguishes us from the brutes. For human free-will, as I said, depends upon the help of God and needs His aid moment by moment, a thing which you and yours do not choose to admit. Your position is that once a man has free-will he no longer needs the help of God. It is true that freedom of the will brings with it freedom of decision. Still man does not act immediately on his free-will but requires God’s aid who Himself needs no aid. (Letters CXXXIII)

But when we are concerned with grace and mercy, free-will is in part void; in part, I say, for so much depends upon it, that we wish and desire, and give assent to the course we choose. But it depends on God whether we have the power in His strength and with His help to perform what we desire, and to bring to effect our toil and effort. (Against the Pelagians Book III, 10)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 347-407

John 6:44 No man can come unto Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw Him.

The Manichæans spring upon these words, saying, that nothing lies in our own power; yet the expression shows that we are masters of our will. For if a man comes to Him, says some one, what need is there of drawing? But the words do not take away our free will, but show that we greatly need assistance. And He implies not an unwilling comer, but one enjoying much succor. Then He shows also the manner in which He draws; for that men may not, again, form any material idea of God, He adds,

John 6:46 Not that any man has seen God, save He which is of God, He has seen the Father.

How then, says some one, does the Father draw? This the Prophet explained of old, when he proclaimed beforehand, and said,

John 6:45 They shall all be taught of God. (Isa. 54:13)

Do you see the dignity of faith, and that not of men nor by man, but by God Himself they shall learn this? And to make this assertion credible, He referred them to their prophets. If then ‘all shall be taught of God,’ how is it that some shall not believe? Because the words are spoken of the greater number. Besides, the prophecy means not absolutely all, but all that have the will. For the teacher sits ready to impart what he has to all, and pouring forth his instruction unto all. (On the Gospel of John, Homily 46)

Rom. 9:20-21 Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why have You made me thus? Hath not the potter power, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?

Here it is not to do away with free-will that he says this, but to show, up to what point we ought to obey God. For in respect of calling God to account, we ought to be as little disposed to it as the clay is. For we ought to abstain not from gainsaying or questioning only, but even from speaking or thinking of it at all, and to become like that lifeless matter, which follows the potter’s hands, and lets itself be drawn about anywhere he may please. And this is the only point he applied the illustration to, not, that is, to any enunciation of the rule of life, but to the complete obedience and silence enforced upon us. (On the Epistle to the Romans, Homily XVI)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

Since, then, with the heart man believes in Christ, which no man assuredly does against his will, and since he that is drawn seems to be as if forced against his will, how are we to solve this question, No man comes unto me, except the Father that sent me draw him?

If he is drawn, says some one, he comes unwillingly. If he comes unwillingly, then he believes not; but if he believes not, neither does he come. For we do not run to Christ on foot, but by believing; nor is it by a motion of the body, but by the inclination of the heart that we draw near to Him. This is why that woman who touched the hem of His garment touched Him more than did the crowd that pressed Him. Therefore the Lord said, Who touched me? And the disciples wondering said, The multitude throng You, and press You, and sayest Thou, Who touched me? Luke 8:45 And He repeated it, Somebody has touched me. That woman touched, the multitude pressed. What is touched, except believed? Whence also He said to that woman that wished to throw herself at His feet after His resurrection: ‘Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to the Father. John 20:17 You think me to be that alone which you see, touch me not. What is this? Thou supposest that I am that alone which I appear to you: do not thus believe; that is, touch me not for I am not yet ascended to the Father. To you I am not ascended, for thence I never departed. She touched Him not while He stood on the earth; how then could she touch Him while ascending to the Father? Thus, however, thus He willed Himself to be touched; thus He is touched by those by whom He is profitably touched, ascending to the Father, abiding with the Father, equal to the Father.

Thence also He says here, if you turn your attention to it, No man comes to me except he whom the Father shall draw. Do not think that you are drawn against your will. The mind is drawn also by love. Nor ought we to be afraid, lest perchance we be censured in regard to this evangelic word of the Holy Scriptures by men who weigh words, but are far removed from things, most of all from divine things; and lest it be said to us, How can I believe with the will if I am drawn? I say it is not enough to be drawn by the will; you are drawn even by delight. What is it to be drawn by delight? Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. There is a pleasure of the heart to which that bread of heaven is sweet. Moreover, if it was right in the poet to say, Every man is drawn by his own pleasure, — not necessity, but pleasure; not obligation, but delight—how much more boldly ought we to say that a man is drawn to Christ when he delights in the truth, when he delights in blessedness, delights in righteousness, delights in everlasting life, all which Christ is? Or is it the case that, while the senses of the body have their pleasures, the mind is left without pleasures of its own? If the mind has no pleasures of its own, how is it said, The sons of men shall trust under the cover of Your wings: they shall be well satisfied with the fullness of Your house; and You shall give them drink from the river of Your pleasure. For with You is the fountain of life; and in Your light shall we see light? Give me a man that loves, and he feels what I say. Give me one that longs, one that hungers, one that is travelling in this wilderness, and thirsting and panting after the fountain of his eternal home; give such, and he knows what I say. But if I speak to the cold and indifferent, he knows not what I say. Such were those who murmured among themselves. He whom the Father shall draw, says He, comes unto me. (On John, Tractate 26)

Therefore, whatsoever a man suffers contrary to his own will, he ought not to attribute to the will of men, or of angels, or of any created spirit, but rather to His will who gives power to wills. It is not the case, therefore, that because God foreknew what would be in the power of our wills, there is for that reason nothing in the power of our wills. For he who foreknew this did not foreknow nothing. Moreover, if He who foreknew what would be in the power of our wills did not foreknow nothing, but something, assuredly, even though He did foreknow, there is something in the power of our wills. Therefore we are by no means compelled, either, retaining the prescience of God, to take away the freedom of the will, or, retaining the freedom of the will, to deny that He is prescient of future things, which is impious. But we embrace both. We faithfully and sincerely confess both. The former, that we may believe well; the latter, that we may live well. For he lives ill who does not believe well concerning God. Wherefore, be it far from us, in order to maintain our freedom, to deny the prescience of Him by whose help we are or shall be free. Consequently, it is not in vain that laws are enacted, and that reproaches, exhortations, praises, and vituperations are had recourse to; for these also He foreknew, and they are of great avail, even as great as He foreknew that they would be of. Prayers, also, are of avail to procure those things which He foreknew that He would grant to those who offered them; and with justice have rewards been appointed for good deeds, and punishments for sins. For a man does not therefore sin because God foreknew that he would sin. Nay, it cannot be doubted but that it is the man himself who sins when he does sin, because He, whose foreknowledge is infallible, foreknew not that fate, or fortune, or something else would sin, but that the man himself would sin, who, if he wills not, sins not. But if he shall not will to sin, even this did God foreknow. (City of God, Book V, Chapter X; NPNF 1, Vol. II)

St. John Cassian ca. 360-435

And so these are somehow mixed up and indiscriminately confused, so that among many persons, which depends on the other is involved in great questionings, i.e., does God have compassion upon us because we have shown the beginning of a good will, or does the beginning of a good will follow because God has had compassion upon us? For many believing each of these and asserting them more widely than is right are entangled in all kinds of opposite errors. For if we say that the beginning of free will is in our own power, what about Paul the persecutor, what about Matthew the publican, of whom the one was drawn to salvation while eager for bloodshed and the punishment of the innocent, the other for violence and rapine? But if we say that the beginning of our free will is always due to the inspiration of the grace of God, what about the faith of Zaccheus, or what are we to say of the goodness of the thief on the cross, who by their own desires brought violence to bear on the kingdom of heaven and so prevented the special leadings of their vocation? But if we attribute the performance of virtuous acts, and the execution of God’s commands to our own will, how do we pray: Strengthen, O God, what You have wrought in us; and The work of our hands establish Thou upon us? We know that Balaam was brought to curse Israel, but we see that when he wished to curse he was not permitted to. Abimelech is preserved from touching Rebecca and so sinning against God. Joseph is sold by the envy of his brethren, in order to bring about the descent of the children of Israel into Egypt, and that while they were contemplating the death of their brother provision might be made for them against the famine to come: as Joseph shows when he makes himself known to his brethren and says: Fear not, neither let it be grievous unto you that you sold me into these parts: for for your salvation God sent me before you; and below: For God sent me before that you might be preserved upon the earth and might have food whereby to live. Not by your design was I sent but by the will of God, who has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his house, and chief over all the land of Egypt. And when his brethren were alarmed after the death of his father, he removed their suspicions and terror by saying: Fear not: Can you resist the will of God? You imagined evil against me but God turned it into good, that He might exalt me, as you see at the present time, that He might save much people. And that this was brought about providentially the blessed David likewise declared saying in the hundred and fourth Psalm: And He called for a dearth upon the land: and broke all the staff of bread. He sent a man before them: Joseph was sold for a slave. These two then; viz., the grace of God and free will seem opposed to each other, but really are in harmony, and we gather from the system of goodness that we ought to have both alike, lest if we withdraw one of them from man, we may seem to have broken the rule of the Church’s faith: for when God sees us inclined to will what is good, He meets, guides, and strengthens us: for At the voice of your cry, as soon as He shall hear, He will answer you; and:  Call upon Me, He says, in the day of tribulation and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me. And again, if He finds that we are unwilling or have grown cold, He stirs our hearts with salutary exhortations, by which a good will is either renewed or formed in us.

For we should not hold that God made man such that he can never will or be capable of what is good: or else He has not granted him a free will, if He has suffered him only to will or be capable of evil, but neither to will or be capable of what is good of himself. And, in this case how will that first statement of the Lord made about men after the fall stand: Behold, Adam has become as one of us, knowing good and evil? Gen. 3:22 For we cannot think that before, he was such as to be altogether ignorant of good. Otherwise we should have to admit that he was formed like some irrational and insensate beast: which is sufficiently absurd and altogether alien from the Catholic faith. Moreover as the wisest Solomon says: God made man upright, i.e., always to enjoy the knowledge of good only, But they have sought out many imaginations, for they came, as has been said, to know good and evil. 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. For it was not given only to David to think what is good of himself, nor is it denied to us naturally to think or imagine anything that is good. It cannot then be doubted that there are by nature some seeds of goodness in every soul implanted by the kindness of the Creator: but unless these are quickened by the assistance of God, they will not be able to attain to an increase of perfection, for, as the blessed Apostle says: Neither is he that plants anything nor he that waters, but God that gives the increase. 1 Cor. 3:7 But that freedom of the will is to some degree in a man’s own power is very clearly taught in the book termed the Pastor, where two angels are said to be attached to each one of us, i.e., a good and a bad one, while it lies at a man’s own option to choose which to follow. And therefore the will always remains free in man, and can either neglect or delight in the grace of God. For the Apostle would not have commanded saying: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, had he not known that it could be advanced or neglected by us. But that men might not fancy that they had no need of Divine aid for the work of Salvation, he subjoins: For it is God that works in you both to will and to do, of His good pleasure. Phil. 2:12-13 And therefore he warns Timothy and says: Neglect not the grace of God which is in you; and again: For which cause I exhort you to stir up the grace of God which is in you. Hence also in writing to the Corinthians he exhorts and warns them not through their unfruitful works to show themselves unworthy of the grace of God, saying: And we helping, exhort you that you receive not the grace of God in vain: 2 Cor. 6:1 for the reception of saving grace was of no profit to Simon doubtless because he had received it in vain; for he would not obey the command of the blessed Peter who said: Repent of your iniquity, and pray God if haply the thoughts of your heart may be forgiven you; for I perceive that you are in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity. Acts 8:22-23 It prevents therefore the will of man, for it is said:  My God will prevent me with His mercy; and again when God waits and for our good delays, that He may put our desires to the test, our will precedes, for it is said: And in the morning my prayer shall prevent You; and again: I prevented the dawning of the day and cried; and: My eyes have prevented the morning. For He calls and invites us, when He says: All the day long I stretched forth My hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people; Rom. 10:21 and He is invited by us when we say to Him: All the day long I have stretched forth My hands unto You. He waits for us, when it is said by the prophet: Wherefore the Lord waits to have compassion upon us; Isa. 30:18 and He is waited for by us, when we say: I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me; and: I have waited for your salvation, O Lord. He strengthens us when He says: And I have chastised them, and strengthened their arms; and they have imagined evil against me; Hos. 7:15 and He exhorts us to strengthen ourselves when He says: Strengthen the weak hands, and make strong the feeble knees. Isa. 35:3 Jesus cries: If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink; John 7:37 the prophet also cries to Him: I have laboured with crying, my jaws have become hoarse: my eyes have failed, while I hope in my God. The Lord seeks us, when He says: I sought and there was no man. I called, and there was none to answer; Songs 5:6 and He Himself is sought by the bride who mourns with tears: I sought on my bed by night Him whom my soul loved: I sought Him and found Him not; I called Him, and He gave me no answer. Songs 3:1

And so the grace of God always co-operates with our will for its advantage, and in all things assists, protects, and defends it, in such a way as sometimes even to require and look for some efforts of good will from it that it may not appear to confer its gifts on one who is asleep or relaxed in sluggish ease, as it seeks opportunities to show that as the torpor of man’s sluggishness is shaken off its bounty is not unreasonable, when it bestows it on account of some desire and efforts to gain it. And none the less does God’s grace continue to be free grace while in return for some small and trivial efforts it bestows with priceless bounty such glory of immortality, and such gifts of eterna bliss. For because the faith of the thief on the cross came as the first thing, no one would say that therefore the blessed abode of Paradise was not promised to him as a free gift, nor could we hold that it was the penitence of King David’s single word which he uttered: I have sinned against the Lord, and not rather the mercy of God which removed those two grievous sins of his, so that it was vouchsafed to him to hear from the prophet Nathan: The Lord also has put away your iniquity: you shall not die. 2 Sam. 12:13 The fact then that he added murder to adultery, was certainly due to free will: but that he was reproved by the prophet, this was the grace of Divine Compassion. Again it was his own doing that he was humbled and acknowledged his guilt; but that in a very short interval of time he was granted pardon for such sins, this was the gift of the merciful Lord. And what shall we say of this brief confession and of the incomparable infinity of Divine reward, when it is easy to see what the blessed Apostle, as he fixes his gaze on the greatness of future remuneration, announced on those countless persecutions of his? for, says he, our light affliction which is but for a moment works in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 2 Cor 4:17 of which elsewhere he constantly affirms, saying that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which shall be revealed in us. Rom. 8:18 However much then human weakness may strive, it cannot come up to the future reward, nor by its efforts so take off from Divine grace that it should not always remain a free gift. And therefore the aforesaid teacher of the Gentiles, though he bears his witness that he had obtained the grade of the Apostolate by the grace of God, saying: By the grace of God I am what I am, yet also declares that he himself had corresponded to Divine Grace, where he says: And His Grace in me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: and yet not I, but the Grace of God with me. 1 Cor. 15:10 For when he says: I laboured, he shows the effort of his own will; when he says: yet not I, but the grace of God, he points out the value of Divine protection; when he says: with me, he affirms that it cooperates with him when he was not idle or careless, but working and making an effort. (Conferences XI, XII, XIII)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

But having said above, No man can come to Me, except the Father Which sent Me draw him, He shews that it is not a compulsory nor forcible drawing, adding, Every man that hath heard of My Father and hath learned, cometh unto Me.

For where there is hearing and learning and the benefit of instruction, there is faith, to wit by persuasion and not of necessity: and the knowledge of Christ is given by the Father to them that are worthy, helpful as of love, rather than constraining. For the word of doctrine requires that free-will and free choice be preserved to the soul of man, in order that it may ask the just rewards of its good deeds, and if it have fallen from right, and from heedlessness have transgressed the Will of the Lawgiver, it may receive the doom of its transgression and that most reasonable.

But we must know that even though the Father be said to instruct any in the Mystery of Christ, yet He will not work alone to this end, but will rather effect it through His Wisdom, i. e., the Son. For it is convenient to consider, that not without Wisdom will the revelation to their understanding be given to any from the Father. But the Son is the Wisdom of the Father. By means of Wisdom therefore will the Father effect the revelation of His Own Offspring in them that are worthy. And in fact to speak the whole truth, and nothing else, one would not do wrong in saying that all the operations of God the Father toward any, or His Will toward them, are those of the Whole Holy Trinity, similarly also are those of the Son Himself, and those of the Holy Ghost. For this reason, as I suppose, when God the Father is said to reveal His Own Son, and to call to Him those who are more apt to believe, the Son Himself is found doing this, and no less the Holy Ghost. (Commentary of the Gospel of John, Bk. IV, Chap. 1)

St. Prosper of Aquitaine ca. 390-455

We must confess that God wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Secondly, there can be no doubt that all who actually come to the knowledge of the truth and to salvation, do so not in virtue of their own merits but of the efficacious help of divine grace. Thirdly, we must admit that human understanding is unable to fathom the depths of God’s judgements, and we ought not to inquire why He who wishes all men to be saved does not in fact save all.  (The Call of All Nations, 2.1)

Blessed Theodoret of Cyr ca. 393-457

There is need of both our efforts and the divine succour. The grace of the Spirit is not vouchsafed to those who make no effort, and without that grace our efforts cannot collect the prize of virtue. (In Ps. 31, 10 f.; 36, 23 f., in Kelly pg. 374)

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

In order that man’s free will which God gave to man from the beginning might more clearly be manifested and confirmed, a great providence might more clearly be manifested and confirmed, a great providence is at work in this matter, and the dissolution of the bodies takes place so that it is a question of man’s will choosing to embrace what is good and evil. For even the man confirmed in evil, or the one completely immersed in sin and making himself a vessel of the devil by whom he is totally bound, caught in a certain necessity, still enjoys free will to become a chosen vessel (Acts 9:15), a vessel of life. Similarly, on the other hand, those who are intoxicated with God, even if they are full and dominated by the Holy Spirit, still are not bound by any necessity, but they possess free will to choose and do what pleases them in this life. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 15.40)

St. Faustus of Riez ca. 407-493

We assert that whoever is lost is lost by his own volition, but that he could have obtained salvation by grace had he cooperated with it. On the other hand, whoever, by means of [this] cooperation attains perfection may, of his own fault, his own negligence, fall and lose it and [become] lost. Certainly we exclude all personal boasting, for we declare that all that we have has been gratuitously received from God’s hand” (Epistle to Lucidus, LIII:683).

St. Vincent of Lerins ca. 445

But some one will say, What proof have we that the Devil is wont to appeal to Holy Scripture? Let him read the Gospels wherein it is written, “Then the Devil took Him (the Lord the Saviour) and set Him upon a pinnacle of the Temple, and said unto Him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning thee, that they may keep thee in all thy ways: In their hands they shall bear thee up, lest perchance thou dash thy foot against a stone.” What sort of treatment must men, insignificant wretches that they are, look for at the hands of him who assailed even the Lord of Glory with quotations from Scripture? “If thou be the Son of God,” saith be, “cast the, self down.” Wherefore? “For,” saith he, “it is written.” It behoves us to pay special attention to this passage and bear it in mind, that, warned by so important an instance of Evangelical authority, we may be assured beyond doubt, when we find people alleging passages from the Apostles or Prophets against the Catholic Faith, that the Devil speaks through their mouths. For as then the Head spoke to the Head, so now also the members speak to the members, the members of the Devil to the members of Christ, misbelievers to believers, sacrilegious to religious, in one word, Heretics to Catholics.

But what do they say? “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down;” that is,. If thou wouldst be a son of God, and wouldst receive the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven, cast thyself down; that is, cast thyself down from the doctrine and tradition of that sublime Church, which is imagined to be nothing less than the very temple of God. And if one should ask one of the heretics who gives this advice, How do you prove? What ground have you, for saying, that I ought to cast away the universal and ancient faith of the Catholic Church? he has the answer ready, “For it is written;” and forthwith he produces a thousand testimonies, a thousand examples, a thousand authorities from the Law, from the Psalms, from the apostles, from the Prophets, by means of which, interpreted on a new and wrong principle, the unhappy soul may be precipitated from the height of Catholic truth to the lowest abyss of heresy. Then, with the accompanying promises, the heretics are wont marvellously to beguile the incautious. For they dare to teach and promise, that in their church, that is, in the conventicle of their communion, there is a certain great and special and altogether personal grace of God, so that whosoever pertain to their number, without any labour, without any effort, without any industry, even though they neither ask, nor seek, nor knock, have such a dispensation from God, that, borne up by angel hands, that is, preserved by the protection of angels, it is impossible they should ever dash their feet against a stone, that is, that they should ever be offended. (Commonitory Chap. XXVI)

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)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

We ought to understand that while God knows all things beforehand, yet He does not predetermine all things. For He knows beforehand those things that are in our power, but He does not predetermine them. For it is not His will that there should be wickedness nor does He choose to compel virtue. So that predetermination is the work of the divine command based on fore-knowledge. But on the other hand God predetermines those things which are not within our power in accordance with His prescience. For already God in His prescience has prejudged all things in accordance with His goodness and justice.

Bear in mind, too, that virtue is a gift from God implanted in our nature, and that He Himself is the source and cause of all good, and without His co-operation and help we cannot will or do any good thing, But we have it in our power either to abide in virtue and follow God, Who calls us into ways of virtue, or to stray from paths of virtue, which is to dwell in wickedness, and to follow the devil who summons but cannot compel us. For wickedness is nothing else than the withdrawal of goodness, just as darkness is nothing else than the withdrawal of light While then we abide in the natural state we abide in virtue, but when we deviate from the natural state, that is from virtue, we come into an unnatural state and dwell in wickedness. (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II, Chap XXX)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 942-1022

You say, “What is the cause that one is hardened, and another readily moved to compunction?” Listen! It springs from the will, in the latter case a good will, in the former an evil one. It springs also from the thoughts, in the former case evil thoughts, in the latter from the opposite; and similarly from actions, in the former case actions contrary to God, in the latter godly ones. Examine, if you wish, all who have ever lived and you will find that it from these three causes only that many who were good became evil, and many who were evil became good. To recount them from the beginning, why did Lucifer fall (cf. Is. 14:12)? Was it not by consenting to evil in will and thought? Why did Cain become a fratricide (Gen. 4:8)? Was it not by his evil will? He preferred himself to his creator and followed after evil thoughts and so became abandoned to envy and committed muder. Why did Saul seek to apprehend and kill David whom he formerly honored as himself and greatly loved as benefactor (cf. 1 Sam. 18:24ff.)? Was it by nature or an 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 (Gen. 1:31) …Thus it is not, as some think, by nature but by will that every man becomes either humble, and apt for compunction, or hard-hearted, hardened, and insensitive. (Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses. The Classics of Western Spirituality, trans. C.J. deCatanzaro. Chap IV [On Tears of Penitence] pp. 71-72, 73)

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.

But than to affirm that the Divine Will is thus solely and without cause the author of their condemnation, what greater calumny can be fixed upon God? and what greater injury and blasphemy can be offered to the Most High? For that the Deity is not tempted with evils, {cf. James 1:13} and that He equally willeth the salvation of all, since there is no respect of persons with Him, we do know; and that for those who through their own wicked choice, and their impenitent heart, have become vessels of dishonour, there is, as is just, decreed condemnation, we do confess. But of eternal punishment, of cruelty, of pitilessness, and of inhumanity, we never, never say God is the author, who telleth us that there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth. {Luke 15:7} Far be it from us, while we have our senses, thus to believe, or to think; and we do subject to an eternal anathema those who say and think such things, and esteem them to be worse than any infidels. (Confession of Dositheus, Decree III)

St. Theophan the Recluse 1815–1894

“What is the relationship between the Divine provision and our free will?”

Answer: The fact that the Kingdom of God is “taken by force” presupposes personal effort. When the Apostle Paul says, “it is not of him that willeth,” this means that one’s efforts do not produce what is sought. It is necessary to combine them: to strive and to expect all things from grace. It is not one’s own efforts that will lead to the goal, because without grace, efforts produce little; nor does grace without effort bring what is sought, because grace acts in us and for us through our efforts. Both combine in a person to bring progress and carry him to the goal. (God’s) foreknowledge is unfathomable. It is enough for us with our whole heart to believe that it never opposes God’s grace and truth, and that it does not infringe man’s freedom. Usually this resolves as follows: God foresees how a man will freely act and makes dispositions accordingly. Divine determination depends on the life of a man, and not his life upon the determination. (An Explanation of Certain Texts of Holy Scripture, as quoted in Johanna Manley’s The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox: Daily Scripture Readings and Commentary for Orthodox Christians, pg. 609.)