On Self-Mercy and Self-Condemnation

last-judgment-1St. John Chrysostom ca. 347-407

He says, Depart from me, you cursed, (no longer of the Father; for not He laid the curse upon them, but their own works), into the everlasting fire, prepared, not for you, but for the devil and his angels. For concerning the Kingdom indeed, when He had said, Come, inherit the kingdom, He added, prepared for you before the foundation of the world; but concerning the fire, no longer so, but, prepared for the devil. I, says He, prepared the kingdom for you, but the fire no more for you, but for the devil and his angels; but since you cast yourselves therein, impute it to yourselves. And not in this way only, but by what follows also, like as though He were excusing Himself to them, He sets forth the causes. (Homilies on Matthew, Homily 79)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Again, we who have been baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mat. 28:19) bear the name of Christ’s brethren (Heb. 2:11f.). We are more than this, for we are also His members (1 Cor. 6:15, 12:27). As His brother and His member you may honor all others, give them hospitality, and care for them. Yet if you ignore yourself and, instead of striving by every means to attain to the summit of that life and honor which are pleasing to God, leave your soul in the famine of laziness or the thirst of indifference or imprisoned in the dungeon of this filthy body through gluttony or love of pleasure, lying in filth, squalor, and deepest gloom as though it were dead, have you not treated Christ’s brother with contempt? Have you not abandoned Him to hunger and thirst? Have you not failed to visit Him when He was in prison (Mat. 25:42)? Surely, for this you will hear Him say, “You had no mercy on yourself, you will be shown no mercy.” (The Discourses: IX On Works of Mercy 5)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

Let us be merciful to ourselves by being merciful to others, gain compassion by showing compassion, and do good that good may be done to us. For we receive the like in return: good works, benevolence, love, mercy, and compassion, but not merely to the same value and measure of excellence. You give out of what you possess as a man, and only as much as a man can bestow. But you receive in return a hundredfold from the inexhaustible divine treasures, together with eternal life, and benefit from as many great bounties as God can bestow, which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man” (1 Cor. 2:9).

May we make haste to obtain the riches of kindness and buy an eternal kingdom in exchange for a little money. We should be afraid even now of the sentence pronounced on the unmerciful, lest we receive the same condemnation. (Homily 4.24-25, On Christ’s Second Coming)

On the Baptism of Tears

St. John Climacus ca. 7th cent.

The tears that come after Baptism are greater than Baptism itself, though it may be rash to says so. Baptism washes off those evils that were previously within us, whereas the sins committed after baptism are washed away by tears. The Baptism received by us as children we have all defiled, but we cleanse it anew with our tears. (Step 7, On Mourning)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

We have been baptized as babies, unaware; as incomplete we also incompletely received the grace, receiving the remission from the first trangression. (On the Mystical Life, The Ethical Discourses. Vol. 3: Life, Times, and Theology, p. 118)

The first Baptism has the water which foreshadows the tears, [and] it has the myron of the anointing which signifies beforehand the intelligible myron of the Spirit. The second [Baptism], however, is no longer a type of the truth, but is the truth itself. (On the Mystical Life, The Ethical Discourses. Vol. 3: Life, Times, and Theology, p. 117)

On the Full Knowledge of God II

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Brothers, if full knowledge of the true wisdom and knowledge of God were going to be given us through letters and formal study, what need would there be then for faith, or for divine Baptism, or even communion in the Mysteries? Obviously, none whatever. (On the Mystical Life, The Ethical Discourses. Vol. 3: Life, Times, and Theology, p. 117)

On Searching the Divine Scriptures

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

[L]et us be persuaded by the Master Who says: “Search the Scriptures” (Jn. 5:39). Search, that is, and not meddle! Search the Scriptures and do not busy yourselves with disputes which lie outside the sacred writings. Search the Scriptures so that you may learn about faith, and hope, and love. About faith, so that you may not be tossed about by every wind which comes from the trickery of unstable men, but are rather rooted in the true dogma of the apostolic and catholic Church and “rightly divide” the word of her truth (II Tim. 2:15). And not only this, but you should be taught as well to seek out the fruits of faith and the profit which derives from them through the practice of the commandments. (First Ethical Discourse XII)

On How to Read Holy Scripture

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose 1934-1982

It is well known that Protestants spend a great deal of time on Holy Scripture, because for them it is everything. For us Orthodox Christians the Scripture also holds an essential place. Often, however, we do not take advantage of it, and do not realize what importance it has for us; or if we do, we often do not approach it in the right spirit because the Protestant approach and Protestant books about the Scriptures are widespread, while our Orthodox approach is quite different.

The fact that Scripture is an essential part of our Faith can be seen in our Orthodox services. There are daily readings from the New Testament from both the Epistles and Gospels. In one year we read through almost the entire New Testament. In the first three days of the week before Pascha—the feast of Christ’s Resurrection, the four Gospels are read in church, and on Thursday night of Passion Week twelve long selections from the Gospels are read concerning the Passion of our Lord, with verses sung in between, commenting on these passages. The Old Testament is also used in the services. In the vespers for every great feast three parables are read prefiguring the feast. And the Divine services themselves are filled with Scriptural quotations, Scriptural allusions and inspiration coming directly from Holy Scripture. Orthodox Christians also read the Scripture outside the services. St. Seraphim, in his monastic life, read the entire New Testament every week. Perhaps it is because we have such a richness of Scripture in our Orthodox tradition that we are often guilty of taking them for granted, of not valuing and making use of the Scriptures.

One of the leading interpreters of Holy Scripture for us is St. John Chrysostom, an early 5th century Holy Father. He wrote commentaries on practically the whole of the New Testament, including all of St. Paul’s epistles and also many Old Testament books. In one sermon concerning Scripture, he addresses his flock:

“I exhort you, and I will not cease to exhort you to pay heed not only to what is said here, but when you are home also you should occupy yourselves attentively with the reading of Holy Scripture. Let no one say to me such cold words—worthy of judgment—as these: ‘I am occupied with a trial, I have obligations in the city, I have a wife, I have to feed my children, and it is not my duty to read the Scripture but the duty of those who have renounced everything.’ What are you saying?! It is not your duty to read Scripture because you are distracted by innumerable cares? On the contrary, it is your duty more than those others, more than the monks; they do not have such need of help as do you who live in the midst of such cares. You need treatment all the more, because you are constantly under such blows and are wounded so often. The reading of Scripture is a great defense against sin. Ignorance of the Scripture is a great misfortune, a great abyss. Not to know anything from the word of God is a disaster. This is what has given rise to heresies, to immorality; it has turned everything upside down.”

Here we see that the reading of Holy Scripture provides us with a great weapon in the fight against the worldly temptations surrounding us—and we do not do enough of it. The Orthodox Church, far from being against the reading of Scripture, greatly encourages it. The Church is only against the misreading of Scripture, against reading one’s own private opinions and passions, even sins into the sacred text. When we hear that the Protestants are all excited about something that they say is in the Scripture—the rapture, for example, or the millennium—we are not against their reading the Scripture but against their misinterpretation of the Scripture. To avoid this pitfall ourselves we must understand what this sacred text is and how we should approach it.

The Bible—the Holy Scripture, the Old and New Testaments—is not an ordinary book. It is one that contains not human but divinely revealed truths. It is the word of God. Therefore, we must approach it with reverence and contrition of heart, not with mere idle curiosity and academic coldness. Nowadays one cannot expect a person who has no sympathy for Christianity, no sympathy for the Scriptures to have a proper attitude of reverence. There is, however, such power in the words of Scripture—especially in the Gospels—that it can convert a person even without this proper attitude We have heard of cases in communist countries; the police go out in special squads to persecute believers and break up their meetings; they confiscate all their literature: Bibles, hymn books, patristic texts—many written out by hand. They’re supposed to burn them, but sometimes either the person who is assigned to bum them or the person collecting them gets curious and begins reading the condemned materials. And there have been cases where this has changed the person’s life. All of a sudden he meets Jesus Christ. And he’s shocked, especially if he has been raised with the notion that this is a great evil; here he discovers that there is no evil here but rather something quite fantastic.

Many modern scholars approach the Scriptures with a cold, academic spirit; they do not wish to save their souls by reading Scripture: they only want to prove what great scholars they are, what new ideas they can come up with; they want to make a name for themselves. But we who are Orthodox Christians must have utmost reverence and contrition of heart; i.e., we must approach the word of God with a desire to change our hearts. We read the Scripture in order to gain salvation, not, as some Protestants believe, because we are already saved without the possibility of falling away, but rather as those desperately trying to keep the salvation which Christ has given us, fully aware of our spiritual poverty. For us, reading Scripture is literally a matter of life and death. As King David wrote in the Psalms: Because of Thy words my heart hath bee, afraid. I will rejoice in Thy sayings as one that hath found great spoil.

The Scripture contains truth, and nothing else. Therefore, we must study the Scripture believing in its truth, without doubt or criticism. If we have this latter attitude we shall receive no benefit from reading Scripture but only find ourselves with those “wise” men who think they know more than God’s revelation. In fact, the wise of this world often miss the meaning of Scripture. Our Lord prayed: I thank Thee, O Father…that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes (Luke 10:21). In our approach we must not be sophisticated, complicated scholars; we must be simple. And if we are simple the words will have meaning for us.

For our reading of Scripture to be fruitful, to help save our souls, we must ourselves be leading a spiritual life in accordance with the Gospel. The Scriptures are addressed precisely’ to those who are trying to lead a spiritual life. Others will usually read them in vain, and will not even understand much. St. Paul teaches: The natural [i.e., unspiritual] man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (I Cor. 2:14). The more one is leading a spiritual life, the more one is capable of understanding the Scripture.

A second point. Because we are weak and can only boast of our infirmities, we must pray to God to open the eyes of our understanding by His grace Even Christ’s disciples on the road to Emmaus did not understand the Scripture; they did not understand that it was Christ in front of them interpreting the Scripture, until Christ Himself opened their minds (Luke 24:45). So unless we have our minds opened—which comes from the grace of God—we will read Scripture and not understand it; hearing we will not understand, seeing we will not see.

The Inspiration of Scripture

Why do we say that Scripture is the inspired word of God? Among occultists and spiritualists there is a phenomenon known as automatic writing, in which a person is literally possessed by a spirit and writes without using his free will. In fact, the latest fashion in this kind of occultism is to sit in front of a typewriter and let the spirit take over your fingers, and “spirit messages” appear. This is not the way Holy Scripture is inspired. This is the way demons operate. St. Basil, in his introduction to his commentary on the book of Isaiah, writes:

“Some think that the prophets prophesied in ecstasy, so that the human mind was eclipsed by the Spirit. But it is against the promise of God to give divine inspiration in an ecstatic state, so that when a person is filled with divine teachings he should go out of his normal mind, and when he gives benefit to others he should receive no benefit from his own words… And in general,” St. Basil continues, “is it reasonable that the spirit of wisdom should make a man like someone out of his mind, and that the spirit of knowledge should annihilate the power of reason? Light does not produce darkness, but on the contrary awakens the power of sight given by nature. And the spirit does not produce darkness in souls; on the contrary, the mind which has been cleansed of sinful defilements is thereby awakened to mental vision or contemplation.’

The revelation of Holy Scripture is thus given to pure and holy men who are in an exalted end inspired state but in full possession of their mental faculties. Those who wish to understand the Scriptures must likewise be struggling to lead a pure and holy life, receiving God’s grace to understand what the Holy Spirit has revealed. St. Basil, in this same introduction, writes:

“The first and great gift, which requires that a soul be carefully cleansed, is to contain in oneself divine inspiration and to prophesy of God’s mysteries [This refers to a person who writes the Scripture]. And the second gift after this, which likewise requires great and assiduous care, is to pay heed to the intent of what has been declared by the Spirit, and not to err in understanding it, but to be led up to this understanding by the Spirit.” That is, the second great thing is to understand what these prophets, the writers of Holy Scripture have written in their state of respiration. So we ourselves must be striving to receive God’s grace and inspiration to understand the Scripture. Therefore, the labor of interpreting the Scripture is not an easy one. In fact, St. Basil teaches, ‘there are many places in Scripture that are deliberately difficult to understand.’ How can this be? He writes:

“Just as our Creator did not will that we should be like the animals and that all the conveniences of life should be born together with us [i.e., fur to clothe us, horns to defend us, etc], so that the lack of what is ncessary should lead to the use of the mind; so too is Scripture, He allowed there to be a lack of clarity is [sometimes] for the benefit of the mind, so as to arouse its activity. That which is obtained with labor somehow attaches itself more to us, and what is produced over a long time is more solid, while that which is obtained easily is not so much enjoyed.” That is, we see that the Scriptures are deliberately difficult so that we might force our mind to be raised up to a state of understanding and not simply received on a platter an already obvious meaning.

All this shows that the reading of Scripture is not to be taken up lightly, and it is not just to gather information which we can take or leave. Rather, it is for the salvation of our souls. And as we read we must be n the process of changing ourselves because this is the purpose of Scripture. If we are not converted: it is to convert us, if we are already converted it is so that we will work on ourselves more, if we are working on ourselves it is so that we will be humble and not think too highly of ourselves. There is no state in which Scripture is not applicable to us.

All this is quite different from the teachings of those Protestants who regard Scripture as an infallible oracle (which is, in fact, similar to a belief in the infallibility of the Pope of Rome) and that man’s common sense can understand its meaning. If you look at the innumerable Protestant sects you will see that they each have different peculiar interpretations of the same passages, and they all say theirs is the ‘obvious’ meaning. Sometimes they learn Greek, and they say that’s ‘obviously’ what the Greek says, while someone else has exactly the opposite interpretation and he thinks it’s just as obvious. How do you know what it really says?

How to Interpret Scripture

First, some examples of how to misinterpret Scripture. There are in Scripture numerous passages which seem to contradict other passages. For example, ‘Whosoever abideth in God sinneth not, and Whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither knoweth Him’ (I John 3:9). According to the plain meaning of this passage you would think that a person who becomes a Christian ceases to sin. If this is so, why do we have confession? Why do we look at ourselves and see that we constantly sin? Does this mean that we are not really Christians? But in this same epistle we read: ‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (I John 1:8). How can the same writer say two such seemingly contradictory, things? It’s obvious that we must have a deeper understanding of both passages. We must understand that while we have the grace of God we do not sin; when we sin it proves we have lost the grace of God, and we must struggle to regain it. We must recognize that there is a standard, a model which we must follow, which is not to sin. We must not deceive ourselves in thinking that we are constantly in a sinless state; rather, we are constantly striving towards it, sometimes reaching it and then falling away. That is our Christian lift. These passages must be read with an awareness of what it is to struggle as an Orthodox Christian.

Again, St. Matthew says, ‘Call no man your father on the earth’ (Matthew 23:9). Many Protestants interpret this quite literally and thereby refuse to call any clergyman “Father”. But even this same book of St. Matthew calls Abraham the father of us all (Matthew 4:16). That, of course, concerns a father who is dead; that’s one difference. In his epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul speaks of the fathers and prophets of the Old Testament; these are also dead. But he also speaks about living fathers: ‘Though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel’ (1 Cor. 4:15). Here he says quite clearly that “I am your spiritual father.” He doesn’t say this in so many words, so the Protestants overlook this passage. Nevertheless, he is saying, “that you have not many fathers, therefore you have some, and I am one of them because I have begotten you in the Gospel”. That seems to contradict what the Lord says, “Call no man father upon the earth”. But here Our Lord is speaking about the One Father; there is One Who is Father in the sense that no one else is father. There are others who are fathers in the limited sense: there are some spiritual fathers, there are fathers in the flesh…, they are all fathers but different types Just as He says, Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, Even Christ (Matthew 23:10).

Literal vs. Non-literal

Once we were visited by some Protestants who told us that they interpreted the Bible absolutely literally. I asked them about the passage, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you”‘ (John 6:53). And the first thing they said was, “Well, that is not literal.” Immediately they contradicted themselves. They think that they accept everything literally, but they make excuses for not accepting literally those passages which do not agree with their beliefs.

Many passages in Scripture can only by understood in the context of dogmatic teaching—which a person receives either from other scriptures or from some other source, either from the authority of the Church or the private opinions of some particular teacher. Some Seventh-Day Adventists, commenting on the Lord’s promise to the wise thief, “Verily I say unto thee, today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43), claim that it is mispunctuated, that it should read: “Verily, I say unto thee today, thou shalt…”, because they believe that when a person dies his soul goes to sleep, and therefore the thief could not be with Christ in Paradise today. Here is an example of changing the meaning of Scripture to conform with one’s beliefs. And because their dogmatic teaching is wrong on this subject, their interpretation of Scripture is also wrong.

There are many such seeming problems which can be seen if one looks at separate verses of Scripture. Some Protestants argue for hours, even years, over such questions. It is important for us not to get bogged down in such problems. We must understand the principles of correctly interpreting Scripture. About this St. John Chrysostom writes in his homily in Philippians:

“One must not simply seize the words of Scripture and tear them out of their connection and context. One must not take bare words, depriving them of support from what precedes and what follows in order then simply to ridicule and make clever tricks. For if in criminal trials, where we examine worldly matters, we set forth everything which serves for justification—the place and time, the causes, the persons and much else—would it not be absurd when we have before us the struggle for eternal life to quote the words of Scripture simply, just as they occur.”

This is precisely what many Protestants do; not having the whole context, not having the whole, reasoned theological dogma, they quote the Scriptures just as they occur: “It’s obvious that’s what it means.” But Scripture must be placed in context, in the complete picture both of the book in which they occur, in the rest of Holy Scripture, and in the whole teaching of Christ as handed down in His Church.

A difficult question concerns what in Holy Scripture is to be interpreted literally and what is not to be interpreted literally. We cannot answer this question by “common sense” because this only causes new sects to arise. St. Simeon the New Theologian, the great Orthodox Father of the 11th century, explains this in concise form:

“Christ the Master of all daily teaches us through the Holy Gospel, where some things He speaks in a hidden way so that not many might understand, when He speaks in parables. And some of these things He later explains alone to his disciples, saying: ‘Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, but to the rest in parables’ (Luke 8:10). But other things He speaks plainly, clearly to everyone, as the Apostle said to him, ‘Lo, now speakest Thou plainly and speakest no parable’ (John 16:29). Therefore, it is our duty to investigate and find out in which words the Lord taught plainly and clearly, and in which He taught in a hidden manner and in parables.”

St. Simeon gives examples of when our Lord speaks plainly. For instance,” Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44). We are to understand that literally. Or again, in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they that weep for they shall laugh, etc.” We must understand this as it is written; now is a time for weeping. And again, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2); or “He that loveth his own soul will lose it” (John 3:25); or “If any would follow Me, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Some of these things are very hard to do. And some are even quite difficult for our worldly minds to grasp. But, with knowledge of the Kingdom of Heaven and the spiritual life, they become clear and they are interpreted literally, even though sometimes also by the use of metaphors. As examples of parables, St. Simeon speaks of “faith being like a mustard seed” (Luke 13), or of “the Kingdom of Heaven being like the pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:45) or “leaven” (Matt. 13:33). St. Simeon continues:

“Therefore, reflect, I beg you, on how great is God’s wisdom, that by means of such sensuous examples, which seem to us to be lowly, He depicts for us and like an artist sketches out in our mind that which is unthinkable and unapproachable. He does this so that unbelievers might remain blind, deprived of knowledge of those good things of heaven, since they have become unworthy of this by reason of unbelief. But believers, on the other hand, hearing and receiving with faith the word of the parable, might see the truth and clearly know the reality in the things which are shown by the parables, for parables are the images of spiritual things.” (Homily 53) St. Simeon teaches that the epistles of the apostles also contain many hidden things, in addition to the things which are said plainly.

Closely related to the literal vs. the mystical meaning of texts are cases in which a particular text has many meanings, where material objects are spoken of in order to raise our minds to spiritual realities. This is not to say that we should deliberately search the Scriptures for symbols, as if whatever is said means something else; rather, it is a matter of raising ourselves to a spiritual level where we can begin to understand the spiritual reality about which the inspired writers often speak. Thus, when David says, “Thou has broken my bonds asunder” (Ps. 115), he is not merely speaking of physical bonds and using this as a symbol of deliverance from corruption and death. This is the mystical meaning. But he is not using this worldly image of “bonds” in order only to express the mystical meaning, the lack of corruption or immortality; he is also speaking at the same time on a second level of meaning, using the physical image as an opportunity to express the spiritual truth of deliverance from corruption. If we already know the Christian teaching of Adam’s fall, the corruption of the world, and our redemption by Jesus Christ, and if we are struggling to raise ourselves to this spiritual level, we do not need a commentary to explain the words; that is, the Holy Fathers will help us, but we don’t need a commentary to tell us that “x=y.” The words themselves express the spiritual meaning. Anyone who reads and prays with the psalms has experienced this. Especially in times of sorrow, the words of psalms acquire a new and deeper meaning; we find that physical things refer to our own sorrows and dejection and our need to receive deliverance from Christ.

The Orthodox services are full of this same kind of language, which we call sacred poetry. The key to understanding this poetry is the leading of a spiritual life, which is what Scripture speaks about. In a word, the understanding of Scripture requires God’s grace. St. Simeon the New Theologian gives an excellent image of this:

“Spiritual knowledge is like a house built in the midst of Greek and worldly wisdom, in which house, like a tightly locked trunk, there is the knowledge of the divine Scriptures, and the unutterable treasure hidden in this knowledge of the Scriptures, that is, Divine grace. Those who enter this house cannot see this treasure if the trunk is not opened for them, but this trunk cannot be opened by any human wisdom. This is why people who think in a worldly way do not know the spiritual treasure which lies in the trunk of spiritual knowledge, and just as someone who lifts this trunk on his shoulders cannot by this alone see the treasure which is inside, so also even if someone were to read and learn by heart the divine Scriptures, and could read them all like a single psalm, he cannot by this alone acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is hidden in them. For just as what is hidden in the trunk cannot be revealed by the trunk itself, so also what is concealed in the divine Scriptures cannot be revealed by the Scriptures themselves.” (Homily 39)

This is a very interesting passage; is shows that the Protestants are clearly wrong—for Scripture itself does not reveal the meaning of Scripture. Rather, it is revealed by God’s grace. St. Simeon continues:

“When God comes to dwell in us and reveals Himself to us consciously, then we awaken to knowledge, i.e., we understand in reality those mysteries which are concealed in the divine Scriptures. But it is impossible to attain this in any other way. Those who do not know what I have spoken about and have not experienced it in reality have not yet tasted of the sweetness of the immortal life which the divine words have, and they boast only of their knowledge; they place the hope for their salvation on the knowledge of the divine Scripture alone and in the fact that they know it by heart. Such ones, after death, will be judged more than those who have not heard the Scripture at all. Especially do those who have gone astray in ignorance corrupt the meaning of divine Scripture and interpret it according to their lusts. For them the power of divine Scripture is inaccessible. One who has the whole of Divine Scripture on his lips cannot understand and attain to the mystical divine glory and power concealed in it if he will not fulfill the commandments of God and be vouchsafed to receive the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who might open to him the words of Divine Scripture as a book, and show him the mystical glory which is within them and might at the same time show the power and glory of God; which good things are concealed in them, together with eternal life overflowing with those good things. But these things are concealed and unknown to all those who are careless disdainers of God’s commandments.”

Thus, in order to read and understand the Scriptures we must be leading a life according to the commandments, receiving the grace of the Holy Spirit, even as the authors of the sacred books were doing. And we must be eager and zealous in our reading. St. John Damascene, the great Orthodox Father of the 8th century, who summed up the teaching of the earlier Fathers in his book, On the Orthodox Faith, says, “Let us not knock casually, but with eagerness and persistence, and let us not lose heart while knocking, for so it will be opened to us. If we should read once and then a second time and still not understand what we are reading, let us not be discouraged. Rather, let us persist, let us reflect and inquire, for it is written: ‘Ask thy father and he will declare it to thee, thy elders and they will tell it thee’ (Deut. 32:7). For not all have knowledge. From the fountain of paradise let us draw ever flowing and most pure waters springing up into life everlasting; let us revel in them; let us revel greedily in them to satiety, for they contain the grace which cannot be exhausted.”

Another important point in approaching Scriptures is that we should approach them with humility, i.e., we should not expect to read just once and immediately “understand”; we should not expect to read and use our common sense and think that we really understand; but we should have a very humble idea that there is probably a great deal that we missed, even in the most seemingly “obvious” passages. We must have this basic humility because the underlying cause of all these Protestant sects, which are based on different interpretations of Scriptures, is precisely pride. They read and they think, “I understand what it says.” And that is wrong. When we read the Scriptures we must think to ourselves: “I understand a little, my fathers have taught me, I’ve read commentaries and heard sermons in Church, and my understanding is in accordance with what I’ve been taught by Church Tradition; but still, I don’t trust entirely that I know what it means.” We cannot simply take the first idea that comes into our minds—or even the second or third idea; we must go deeper and see what the Fathers teach us, what the Church teaches us, how this fits in with other books of the Bible, always thinking that our knowledge of Scripture—no matter how much we know—is always deficient; we never know enough; we must always be willing to learn more. (Source)

On the Full Knowledge of God

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

For my part, I will naturally grieve and weep at the breaking up of my own members, my own race, of brothers according to flesh and spirit, because we who have put on Christ through baptism account the Mysteries of Christ as nothing. We think we will receive the full knowledge of God’s truth by means of worldly wisdom, and fancy that this mere reading of the God-inspired writings of the Saints is to comprehend Orthodoxy, and that this is an exact and certain knowledge of the Holy Trinity… For no one is able to think or speak properly about what concerns the Holy Trinity from just reading the Scriptures. One instead accepts it by faith alone, abides with what has been written, and does not dabble with anything more. As for those who are curious and dare to meddle cheerfully with divine things, [they should understand that] it is not possible to say anything at all outside of what has been written and taught by the Fathers. (The Ethical Discourses: Ninth Ethical Discourse)

On the Danger of Not Following the Contemporary Saints

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

[T]he Saints — those who appear from generation to generation, from time to time, following the Saints who preceded them — become linked with their predecessors through obedience to the divine commandments, and endowed with divine grace, become filled with the same light. In such a sequence all of them together form a kind of golden chain, each Saint being a separate link in this chain, joined to the first by faith, right actions and love; a chain which has its strength in God and can hardly be broken. A man who does not express a desire to link himself to the latest of the saints (in time) in all love and humility owing to a certain distrust in himself, will never be linked to the preceding saints and will not be admitted to their succession, even though he thinks he possesses all possible faith and love for God and for all His saints. He will be cast out of their midst, as one who refused to take humbly the place allotted to him by God before all time, and to link himself to that latest saint (in time) as God had disposed. (Practical and Theological Precepts, 157-158. Writings From the Philokalia: On the Prayer of the Heart)

On Those Who Should Not Commune

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

We should know that there are five classes of people for whom, according to the holy fathers, it is forbidden to approach Holy Communion. The first are the catechumens, as they are not yet baptized. The second are those baptized, but who fell in love with shameful and unrighteous ways, such as apostates from the holy life for which they were baptized: fornicators, murderers, usurers, extortioners, slanderers, proud persons, jealous persons, those who harbor grudges, all those who being in such a state do not feel that they are enemies of God and are in a tragic situation, because they do not repent… The third are those possessed by demons, if they blaspheme and mock this Divine Mystery. The fourth are those who have come to their senses and have repented, but are fulfilling the penance (epitimia) laid on them to stand outside the church for a certain period of time. The fifth are those who have not yet the ripened fruit of repentance, i.e. those who have not yet come to the final decision to consecrate their entire life to God and to live the rest of their life in Christ in purity and without reproach. These five classes are clearly unworthy of Holy Communion. He is worthy to commune the precious Mysteries who is pure and has no part with sin, of whom we have spoken above. But when anyone of these worthy persons is corrupted by any corruption, as a man, then, of course, he also communes unworthily, if he does not wash away by repentance that which corrupted him. And so he eats and drinks unworthily who, although he is worthy, unworthily approaches the Holy Mysteries. May we, then, be worthy and commune worthily the most pure Mysteries in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be glory for endless ages of ages. Amen. (“Concerning Communicants and those who Partake of the Holy Mysteries Unworthily”, Orthodox Life, July-August, 1975, p. 11.)

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 Predestined

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Do you not hear the Savior crying out every day: “I live and do not want the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn to me and live”? Do you not hear how He says: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”? Perhaps He said to one: “Do not repent, because I will not accept you,” but to others, to those who are predestined: “Repent, because I knew you before?” No! But in every day in every church He calls out to the whole world: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Come, He says, you who are burdened with sins, to Him Who takes the sins of the world on Himself! (Moral Oration 2.12-15)

St. Symeon on the Judgment

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

[I]n the future life a Christian will not be tested as to whether he renounced the world, whether he fasted, whether he performed vigils, whether he prayed, whether he wept, or performed any such good deeds in the present life; but he will be carefully tested as to whether he has some kind of likeness to Christ, as a son to his father, as the Apostle Paul also says: My little children, over whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you (Gal. 4:19). For as many of you have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27).

Those who keep the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven, if they do not see in a Christian the likeness of Christ, as a son to his father, will by no means open to him and allow him to enter. (Homily 2.3-4 The Blessed State)

On Why Christ was Manifested

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

John the Theologian says, To this end was the Son of God manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8). The works of the devil are every kind of sin: envy, lying, cunning, hatred, hostility, remembrance of wrongs, slander, anger, rage, pride, vainglory, lack of mercy, covetousness, thievery, unrighteousness, evil lust, quarrelsomeness, dissatisfaction, irritability, ridicule, making oaths, forgetfulness of God, lack of human mercy, and every other evil. And so for those who are called Christians and do such works of the devil, what benefit is there from the fact that they are called Christians, when the manifestation of the Son of God has not destroyed in them these works of the devil?

If anyone will say that some of those who are like this explain the Divine Scripture, theologize, preach Orthodox dogmas — let them know that it is not in this that the work of Christ consists. John the Theologian does not say, to this end was the Son of God manifested, that certain ones should theologize and orthodoxize, (that is, pride themselves in their Orthodoxy — trans. note) but that He might destroy the works of the devil. Concerning such ones, I shall say that first one must clean the vessel of every filth and then place it in myrrh, lest the myrrh itself become defiled, and in place of fragrance there should come from it an evil smell. The Son of God, the Word, did not become man in order only that men should believe in the Holy Trinity, glorify It, and theologize about It, but in order to destroy the works of the devil. In whomever among those who have received the faith of Christ the works of the devil shall be destroyed, to him may be entrusted the mysteries of theology and Orthodox dogmas. (The First Created Man, Homily 10 Adam’s Sin and Our Salvation: 4)

What Should a Priest be Like?

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

I am not worthy to be a priest; but I know very well what someone who is to celebrate the sacred mysteries of God should be like. In the first place, he should be chaste, not only in body but also in soul, and he should be free of all sin. Secondly, he should be humble both in his external manner and in the inner state of his soul. Then, when he stands before the holy altar, while gazing with his physical eyes on the holy gifts, spiritually – and with total certainty – he should perceive the Godhead. Moreover, his heart should be consciously aware of Him who is invisibly present and dwelling in the gifts, so that he may offer the petitions with confidence; and when, like a friend speaking to a friend, he says, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name’ (Matt. 6:9), the way in which he recites the prayer will show that he has dwelling within him the true Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. I have seen such priests. Forgive me, fathers and brethren.’.(One Hundred and Fifty-Three Practical and Theological Texts, 153)

On When to Arrive for the Divine Services

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

You should arrive first at the church services, especially matins and the Liturgy, and leave last, unless forced to do otherwise.(One Hundred and Fifty-Three Practical and Theological Texts, 137)

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 Baptism and Free-will

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Baptism does not take away our free will or freedom of choice, but gives us the freedom no longer to be tyrannized by the devil unless we choose to be. After baptism it is in our power either to persist willingly in the practice of the commandments of Christ, into whom we were baptized, and to advance in the path of His ordinances, or to deviate from this straight way and to fall again into the hands of our enemy, the devil.

Whoever after baptism deliberately submits to the will of the devil and carries out his wishes, estranges himself – to adapt David’s words – from the holy womb of baptism (cf. Ps. 58:3). None of us can be estranged or alienated from the nature with which we are created. We are created good by God – for God creates nothing evil – and we remain unchanging in our nature and essence as created. But we do what we choose and want, whether good or bad, of our own free will. Just as a knife does not change its nature, but remains iron whether used for good or for evil, so we, as has been said, act and do what we want without departing from our own nature. (One Hundred and Fifty Three Practical and Theological Texts 109-110)

Have Mercy on Yourself

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

We, on our part, have apparently become poor, even as Christ our God, Who though He was rich became poor for our sakes (2 Cor. 8:9). How shall we be accounted as showing mercy toward Him, Who for our sakes became like us, while we show mercy toward ourselves? Think carefully what I’m saying! For your sake God became a poor man. You who believe in Him owe Him the debt of becoming poor like Him. He is poor according to human nature, you are poor according to divine. Consider, therefore, how you may feed Him! Pay careful attention! “He became poor that you might become rich,” that He may impart to you the riches of His grace (Eph. 1:7, 2:7). For this reason He assumed flesh, that you might become a partaker of His divinity (2 Pet. 1:4). When, therefore, you make ready to entertain Him, it is said of Him that He is about to be your guest. When you are hungry and thirsty for His sake it is reckoned as food and drink for Him. How? Because by these actions you cleanse your soul and rid yourself of the famine and squalor of passions. God, who receives you and thus makes His own all that concerns you, desires to make you a god, just as He became man. Whatever you do to yourself He counts as though He undergoes it Himself and says, “As you did this to the least one, your soul, you did it to Me” (cf. Mt. 25:40).

By what other works have those pleased God who have “dwelt in caves and on mountains” (Heb. 11:38), save by love, repentance and faith? They have left all the world and followed Him alone (Mk. 10:28). They have received and entertained Him as their guest through penitence and tears; they have fed Him and given Him drink when thirsty. Likewise indeed have all those by reason of Holy Baptism are entitled sons of God, yet according to the world are insignificant and poor. Those, then, who realize in their souls that they are sons of God can no longer bear to adorn themselves for a transitory world, for they have clothed themselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27). Who among men clothed with royal purple will ever allow himself to put on a filthy and torn garment on top of it? Those who do not know this and are naked, without the royal array, yet endeavor to put on Christ by means of penitence and other good works that we have mentioned, clothe themselves with Christ Himself. They themselves are christs, just as they are sons of God by virtue of divine Baptism. But even if they were to clothe all the naked people that are in the world, but fail to do this and so leave themselves naked, what have they gained?

Again, we who have been baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mat. 28:19) bear the name of Christ’s brethren (Heb. 2:11f.). We are more than this, for we are also His members (1 Cor. 6:15, 12:27). As His brother and His member you may honor all others, give them hospitality, and care for them. Yet if you ignore yourself and, instead of striving by every means to attain to the summit of that life and honor which are pleasing to God, leave your soul in the famine of laziness or the thirst of indifference or imprisoned in the dungeon of this filthy body through gluttony or love of pleasure, lying in filth, squalor, and deepest gloom as though it were dead, have you not treated Christ’s brother with contempt? Have you not abandoned Him to hunger and thirst? Have you not failed to visit Him when He was in prison (Mat. 25:42)? Surely, for this you will hear Him say, “You had no mercy on yourself, you will be shown no mercy.” (The Discourses: IX On Works of Mercy 5)

The Key to the Closed Chest of Holy Scripture

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Brethren and Fathers,

Spiritual knowledge is like a house built in the midst of secular and pagan knowledge, in which there is laid up, like a solid and well-secured chest, the knowledge of the inspired Scriptures and the inestimable riches they contain. Those who enter into the house will never at all be able to see those treasures unless this chest is opened for them. But it does not belong to human wisdom (cf. 1 Cor. 2:13) ever to be able to open it, so that the riches of the Spirit deposited in it remain unknown to all who are worldly.

A man might pick up the entire chest and carry it on his shoulders without knowing what treasure is contained in it. So a person may read the Scriptures and commit them to memory and carry them with him as if they were but one psalm, and yet be ignorant of the gift of the Holy Spirit hidden within them. It is not by the chest that its contents are exposed, nor is it by the Scripture that the contents of Scripture become clear. How is this so? Listen!

You see a small chest, firmly secured on every side. By means of its weight and its external beauty you conjecture, or perhaps believe from what you have heard, that it contains a treasure. You pick it up quickly and go off with it. But tell me, what will it profit you if you constantly carry it about closed and locked without opening it? As long as you live you will never see the treasure it contains; you will not see the sparkling of its precious stones, the luster of its pearls, the flashing gleam of its gold. What will you profit, if you are not found worthy to take even a small part of it to but some food or clothing? But if, as we have said, you carry the chest about with you entirely sealed, even though it is filled with a great and costly treasure, will you not be worn out with hunger, thirst, and nakedness? You will not profit at all!

Pay heed to me brother, and apply this to spiritual things. Think of the chest as the Gospel of Christ and the other divine Scriptures. In them there is enclosed and sealed up eternal life together with the unutterable and eternal blessings which it contains, though unseen by physical eyes. As the Lord’s word says, “Search the Scriptures, for in them is eternal life” (Jn. 5:39). As for the man who carries the chest about, think of him as one who learns all the Scriptures by heart and always quotes them with his mouth. He carries them about in the memory of his soul as in a chest containing God’s commandments as precious stones (cf. Ps. 19:11) wherein is eternal life. For Christ’s words are light and life, as He Himself says, “He who does not obey the Son shall not see life” (Jn. 3:6). Together with the commandments [it contains] the virtues, like pearls.

From the commandments spring the virtues, and from them the revelation of the mysteries that are hidden and veiled in the letter. From the fulfillment of the commandments comes the practice of the virtues; through the practice of the virtues the commandments are fulfilled. Thus by means of these the door of knowledge has been opened to us (cf. Lk. 11:52); or rather, it has been opened, not by them, but by Him Who has said, “He who loves Me will keep My commandments, and My Father will love him, and I will reveal Myself to him” (Jn. 14:23,21). When, therefore, God “lives in us and moves among us” (2 Cor. 6:16) and perceptibly reveals Himself to us, then we consciously contemplate the contents of the chest, the divine mysteries that are hidden in the divine Scripture. Let no one decieve himself — in no other way it is possible for the chest of knowledge to be opened to us, and for us to enjoy the good things that it contains and partake of them and contemplate them. (The Discourses: XXIV On Spiritual Knowledge 1-3)

On Icons and the Uncreated Light

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

I went off to reverence the spotless icon of her who bore Thee. As I fell before it, before I rose up, Thou Thyself didst appear to me within my poor heart, as though Thou hadst transformed it into light; and then I knew that I have Thee consciously within me. From then onwards I loved Thee, not by recollection of Thee and that which surrounds Thee, nor for the memory of such things, but I in very truth believed that I had Thee, substantial love, within me. For Thou, O God, truly art love (1 Jn. 4:8, 16) (The Discourses XXXVI:11)

On Veneration of the Latest Saints

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

A man who does not express desire to link himself to the latest of the saints (in time) in all love and humility owing to a certain distrust of him, will never be linked with the preceding saints and will not be admitted to their succession, even though he thinks he possesses all possible faith and love for God and for all His saints. He will be cast out of their midst, as one who refused to take humbly the place allotted to him by God before all time, and to link himself to that latest saint (in time) as God had disposed. (Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, Faber and Faber, London, 1979, p. 135)

The New Heresy

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

[T]he men of whom I speak and whom I call heretics are those who say that there is no one in our times and in our midst who is able to keep the Gospel commandments and become like the holy Fathers. That is to say, they should believe and practice, for faith is shown by deeds (cf. Jas. 2:18), just as the features of the face in a mirror. Further, that they may be both great contemplatives and see God, by the illumination and reception of the Holy Ghost, through whom the Son is perceived together with the Father. Now those who say that this is impossible have not fallen into one particular heresy, but rather all of them, if I may say so, since this one surpasses and covers them all in impiety and abundance of blasphemy. He who makes this claim subverts all the divine Scriptures. I think (that by making this claim) this vain person states that the Holy Gospel is now recited in vain, that the writings of Basil the Great and our other priests and holy fathers are irrelevant or have been frivolously written. If, then, it is impossible for us to carry out in action and observe without fail all the things that God says, and all the saints after first practicing them have left in writing for our instruction (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11), why did they at that time trouble to write them down and why do read them in church?

It would appear to me that you ascribe salvation solely to your cloak, cowl, and scapular – in some cases, to a very heavy and impressive beard – and so, as you put your trust in them you take pride in them! But ne of good cheer, you who are naked and exposed (Heb. 4:13)! Even though you refuse to hear the divine Scripture as it daily shouts at you with a loud voice, we shall yet stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10), so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body (2 Cor. 5:10). (The Discourses XXIX:4,8)

On the Celestial Gatekeepers

St. Gregory of Nyssa ca. 335-394

The doorkeepers of the [heavenly] kingdom are careful and they do not play games. They see the soul bearing the marks of her banishment…Then the miserable soul, accusing herself severely of her own thoughtlessness, and howling and wailing and lamenting, remains in that sullen place, cast away as if in a corner, while the incessant and inconsolable wailing takes vengeance forever. (Against Those Who Resent Correction. Migne PG 46: col. 312)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

And therefore [the angels] descrying the approach of the Lord of all, first and only Vanquisher of Death, bade their princes that the gates should be lifted up, saying inadoration, Lift up the gates, such as are princes among you, and be lifted up, O everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.

Yet there were still, even among the hosts of heaven, some that were amazed, overcome with astonishment at such pomp and glory as they had never yet beheld, and therefore they asked: Who is the King of glory? Howbeit, seeing that the angels (as well as ourselves) acquire theirknowledge step by step, and are capable of advancement, they certainly must display differences of power and understanding, for God alone is above and beyond the limits imposed by gradual advance, possessing, as He does, every perfection from everlasting.

Others, again—those, to wit, who had been present at His rising again, those who had seen or who already recognized Him—made reply: It is the Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Then, again, sang the multitude of angels, in triumphal chorus: Lift up the gates, O you that are their princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. And back again came the challenge of them that stood astonished: Who is that King of glory? For we saw Him having neither form nor comelines; Isa. 53:2 if then it be not He, who is that King of glory?

Whereto answer they which know: The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of glory. Therefore, the Lord of Hosts, He is the Son. How then do the Arians call Him fallible, Whom we believe to be Lord of Hosts, even as we believe of the Father?

What shall we do, then? How shall we ascend unto heaven? There, powers are stationed, principalities drawn up in order, who keep the doors of heaven, and challenge him who ascends. Who shall give me passage, unless I proclaim that Christ is Almighty? The gates are shut—they are not opened to any and every one; not every one who will shall enter, unless he also believes according to the true Faith. The Sovereign’s court is kept under guard. (De Fide Bk 4.9-15)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Those who keep the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven, if they do not see in a Christian the likeness of Christ, as a son to his father, will by no means open to him and allow him to enter. (Homily 2.3-4 The Blessed State)

St. Nicholas Cabasilas ca. 1323-1391

Thus he comes forth, and when he reaches the temple and comes near to it he stands before the closed doors and commands those who stand within the doors to open them for the King of Glory (Ps. 24:7,9), as he utters the very words of David. When he has heard from those who are within the words which David represents the angels as saying to each other when the Saviour ascends into heaven, and when the doors are flung open, he enters the temple with the veiled vessel upon his head. (The Life in Christ, Fifith Book: 2. The Ceremonies of Consecration)

Church Fathers on Universalism

Mat 12:31-32 Therefore I say to you: Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world, nor in the world to come. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. 

Mat 25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

2Th 1:7-9 And to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with the angels of his power: In a flame of fire, giving vengeance to them who know not God and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his power… 

Rev 20:10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

St. Polycarp of Smryna ca. 69-155

The proconsul then said to him, “I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast you, unless you repent.”

But he answered, “Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.”

But again the proconsul said to him, “I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing you despise the wild beasts, if you will not repent.”

But Polycarp said, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will.” (The Martyrdom of Polycarp)

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

For among us the prince of the wicked spirits is called the serpent, and Satan, and the devil, as you can learn by looking into our writings. And that he would be sent into the fire with his host, and the men who follow him, and would be punished for an endless duration, Christ foretold. (First Apology 28)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

Inasmuch, then, as in both Testaments there is the same righteousness of God [displayed] when God takes vengeance, in the one case indeed typically, temporarily, and more moderately; but in the other, really, enduringly, and more rigidly: for the fire is eternal, and the wrath of God which shall be revealed from heaven from the face of our Lord (as David also says, “But the face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” ), entails a heavier punishment on those who incur it—the elders pointed out that those men are devoid of sense, who, [arguing] from what happened to those who formerly did not obey God, do endeavour to bring in another Father, setting over against [these punishments] what great things the Lord had done at His coming to save those who received Him, taking compassion upon them; while they keep silence with regard to His judgment; and all those things which shall come upon such as have heard His words, but done them not, and that it were better for them if they had not been born, Matthew 26:24 and that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the judgment than for that city which did not receive the word of His disciples. Matthew 10:15

For as, in the New Testament, that faith of men [to be placed] in God has been increased, receiving in addition [to what was already revealed] the Son of God, that man too might be a partaker of God; so is also our walk in life required to be more circumspect, when we are directed not merely to abstain from evil actions, but even from evil thoughts, and from idle words, and empty talk, and scurrilous language: thus also the punishment of those who do not believe the Word of God, and despise His advent, and are turned away backwards, is increased; being not merely temporal, but rendered also eternal. For to whomsoever the Lord shall say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire,” Matthew 25:41 these shall be damned for ever; and to whomsoever He shall say, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you for eternity,” Matthew 25:34 these do receive the kingdom for ever, and make constant advance in it; since there is one and the same God the Father, and His Word, who has been always present with the human race, by means indeed of various dispensations, and has wrought out many things, and saved from the beginning those who are saved, (for these are they who love God, and follow the Word of God according to the class to which they belong,) and has judged those who are judged, that is, those who forget God, and are blasphemous, and transgressors of His word. (Against Heresies Bk. 4:28:1-2)

Mathetes ca. 150

[H]e who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God. Then you shall see, while still on earth, that God in the heavens rules over [the universe]; then you shall begin to speak the mysteries of God; then shall you both love and admire those that suffer punishment because they will not deny God; then shall you condemn the deceit and error of the world when you shall know what it is to live truly in heaven, when you shall despise that which is here esteemed to be death, when you shall fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who shall be condemned to the eternal fire, which shall afflict those even to the end that are committed to it. Then shall you admire those who for righteousness’ sake endure the fire that is but for a moment, and shall count them happy when you shall know [the nature of] that fire. (Letter to Diognetus 10)

2nd Clement ca. 150

This world and the next are two enemies. The one urges to adultery and corruption, avarice and deceit; the other bids farewell to these things. We cannot, therefore, be the friends of both; and it behoves us, by renouncing the one, to make sure of the other. Let us reckon that it is better to hate the things present, since they are trifling, and transient, and corruptible; and to love those [which are to come,] as being good and incorruptible. For if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; otherwise, nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment, if we disobey His commandments. For thus also saith the Scripture in Ezekiel, “If Noah, Job, and Daniel should rise up, they should not deliver their children in captivity.” Now, if men so eminently righteous are not able by their righteousness to deliver their children, how can we hope to enter into the royal residence of God unless we keep our baptism holy and undefiled? Or who shall be our advocate, unless we be found possessed of works of holiness and righteousness? (2nd Epistle of Clement 6)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235

Standing before [Christ’s] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: ‘Just if your judgment!’ And the righteousness of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which doesnot die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appealof interceding friends will profit them. (Against the Greeks 3)

St. Cyprian of Carthage died ca. 258

When the day of judgment shall come, what joy of believers, what sorrow of unbelievers; that they should have been unwilling to believe here, and now that they should be unable to return that they might believe! An ever-burning Gehenna will burn up the condemned, and a punishment devouring with living flames; nor will there be any source whence at any time they may have either respite or end to their torments. Souls with their bodies will be reserved in infinite tortures for suffering. Thus the man will be for ever seen by us who here gazed upon us for a season; and the short joy of those cruel eyes in the persecutions that they made for us will be compensated by a perpetual spectacle, according to the truth of Holy Scripture, which says, “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be for a vision to all flesh.” Isaiah 66:24 And again: “Then shall the righteous men stand in great constancy before the face of those who have afflicted them, and have taken away their labours. When they see it, they shall be troubled with horrible fear, and shall be amazed at the suddenness of their unexpected salvation; and they, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit, shall say within themselves, These are they whom we had some time in derision, and a proverb of reproach; we fools counted their life madness, and their end to be without honour. How are they numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints! Therefore have we erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness has not shined upon us, and the sun rose not on us. We wearied ourselves in the way of wickedness and destruction; we have gone through deserts where there lay no way; but we have not known the way of the Lord. What has pride profited us, or what good has the boasting of riches done us? All those things are passed away like a shadow.” Wisdom 5:1-9 The pain of punishment will then be without the fruit of penitence; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late they will believe in eternal punishment who would not believe in eternal life.(Treatise V: To Demetrianus 24)

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus ca. 213-270

Aforetime did the devil deride the nature of man with great laughter, and he has had his joy over the times of our calamity as his festal-days. But the laughter is only a three days’ pleasure, while the wailing is eternal; and his great laughter has prepared for him a greater wailing and ceaseless tears, and inconsolable weeping, and a sword in his heart. This sword did our Leader forge against the enemy with fire in the virgin furnace, in such wise and after such fashion as He willed, and gave it its point by the energy of His invincible divinity, and dipped it in the water of an undefiled baptism, and sharpened it by sufferings without passion in them, and made it bright by the mystical resurrection; and herewith by Himself He put to death the vengeful adversary, together with his whole host. What manner of word, therefore, will express our joy or his misery? (On All Saints)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 297-373

But we impart of what we have learned from inspired teachers who have been conversant with them, who have also become martyrs for the deity of Christ, to your zeal for learning, in turn. And you will also learn about His second glorious and truly divine appearing to us, when no longer in lowliness, but in His own glory—no longer in humble guise, but in His own magnificence—He is to come, no more to suffer, but thenceforth to render to all the fruit of His own Cross, that is, the resurrection and incorruption; and no longer to be judged, but to judge all, by what each has done in the body, whether good or evil; where there is laid up for the good the kingdom of heaven, but for them that have done evil everlasting fire and outer darkness. (On the Incarnation 56)

St. Hilary of Poitiers ca. 300-368

Thus there will be given no rest to the pagans nor will the onset of death bring the peace they desire. Instead, their bodies are destined to suffer eternally because their punishment of eternal fire will be physical. What they endure, along with everything else destined for eternity, will have no end. If pagans are given a body destined for eternity in order to suffer the fire of judgment, how great is the impiety of those saints who doubt the glory of eternity since eternal punishment is certain for sinners! (On Matthew 5.12)

St. Ephrem of Syria ca. 306-373

The children of light

dwell on the heights of Paradise,

and beyond the Abyss

they espy the rich man;

he too, as he raises his eyes,

beholds Lazarus,

and calls out to Abrhaham

to have pity on him.

But Abraham, that man so full of pity,

who even had pity on Sodom,

has no pity yonder

for him who showed no pity.

The Abyss severs any love

which might act as a mediary,

thus preventing the love of the just

from being bound to the wicked,

so that the good should not be tortured

by the sight, in Gehenna,

of their children or brothers

or family –

a mother, who denied Christ,

imploring mercy from her son

or her maid or her daughter,

who had all suffered affliction for the sake of

Christ’s teaching.

…The children of light reside

in their lofty abode

and, as they gaze on the wicked

they are amazed to what extent these people

have cut off all hope by committing such iniquity.

(The Hymns on Paradise 1.12-14)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with Angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We blaspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past. (Catechetical Lectures 18:19)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

I know the glittering sword, Ezekiel 21:9 and the blade made drunk in heaven, bidden to slay, to bring to naught, to make childless, and to spare neither flesh, nor marrow, nor bones. I know Him, Who, though free from passion, meets us like a bear robbed of her whelps, like a leopard in the way of the Assyrians, Hosea 13:7-8 not only those of that day, but if anyone now is an Assyrian in wickedness: nor is it possible to escape the might and speed of His wrath when He watches over our impieties, and His jealousy, which knows to devour His adversaries, pursues His enemies to the death. Hosea 8:3 I know the emptying, the making void, the making waste, the melting of the heart, and knocking of the knees together, Nahum 2:10 such are the punishments of the ungodly. I do not dwell on the judgments to come, to which indulgence in this world delivers us, as it is better to be punished and cleansed now than to be transmitted to the torment to come, when it is the time of chastisement, not of cleansing. (Oration 16:7)

St. Basil of Caesarea ca. 330-379

In one place the Lord declares that “these shall go to eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46), and in another place He sends some “to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41); and speaks elsewhere of the fire of gehenna, specifying that it is a place “where their worm dies not, and the fire is not extinguished” (Mk. 9:44-49) and even of old and through the Prophet it was foretold of some that “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be extinguished” (Isa. 66:24). Although these and the like declarations are to be found in numerous places of divinely inspired Scripture, it is one of the artifices of the devil, that many forgetting these and other such statements and utterances of the Lord, ascribe an end to punishment, so that they can sin the more boldly. If, however, there were going to be and end of eternal punishment, there would likewise be and end to eternal life. If we cannot conceive of an end to that life, how are we to suppose there will be and end to eternal punishment? The qualification of “eternal” is ascribed equally to both of them. “For these are going,” He says, “into eternal punishment; the just, however, into eternal life.” (Mt. 25:46) If we profess these things we must recognize that the “he shall be flogged with many stripes” and the “he shall be flogged with few stripes” refer not to an end but to a distinction of punishment. (Rules Briefly Treated 267)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 337-397

[H]ow can they dare to reckon the Holy Spirit among all things, since the Lord Himself said: “He who shall blaspheme against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but he who shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost shall never be forgiven, either here or hereafter.” Matthew 12:32 How, then, can any one dare to reckon the Holy Spirit among creatures? Or who will so blind himself as to think that if he have injured any creature he cannot be forgiven in any wise? For if the Jews because they worshipped the host of heaven were deprived of divine protection, while he who worships and confesses the Holy Spirit is accepted of God, but he who confesses Him not is convicted of sacrilege without forgiveness: certainly it follows from this that the Holy Spirit cannot be reckoned among all things, but that He is above all things, an offense against Whom is avenged by eternal punishment. (On the Holy Spirit Bk. 1:53)

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

If all rational creatures are equal, and by their own free will are, in view of their virtues or of their vices, either raised up to the heights or plunged down to the depths, and after the lengthy passage of infinite ages there will be a restitution of all things and but a single destiny for all soldiers, how far apart will a virgin be from a whore? What difference between the Mother of the Lord – and it impious even to say it – the victims of public licentiousness? Will Gabriel and the devil be the same? The Apostles and the demons the same? The Prophets and the pseudo-prophets the same? Martyrs and their persecutors the same? (Commentaries on Jonas 3,6)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

There are many men, who form good hopes not by abstaining from their sins, but by thinking that hell is not so terrible as it is said to be, but milder than what is threatened, and temporary, not eternal; and about this they philosophize much. But I could show from many reasons, and conclude from the very expressions concerning hell, that it is not only not milder, but much more terrible than is threatened. But I do not now intend to discourse concerning these things. For the fear even from bare words is sufficient, though we do not fully unfold their meaning. But that it is not temporary, hear Paul now saying, concerning those who know not God, and who do not believe in the Gospel, that “they shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction.” How then is that temporary which is everlasting? “From the face of the Lord,” he says. What is this? He here wishes to say how easily it might be. For since they were then much puffed up, there is no need, he says, of much trouble; it is enough that God comes and is seen, and all are involved in punishment and vengeance. His coming only to some indeed will be Light, but to others vengeance. (Homily 3 on 2nd Thessalonians)

Blessed Augustine ca. 354-430

It is in vain, then, that some, indeed very many, make moan over the eternal punishment, and perpetual, unintermitted torments of the lost, and say they do not believe it shall be so; not, indeed, that they directly oppose themselves to Holy Scripture, but, at the suggestion of their own feelings, they soften down everything that seems hard, and give a milder turn to statements which they think are rather designed to terrify than to be received as literally true. For “Hath God” they say, forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Now, they read this in one of the holy psalms. But without doubt we are to understand it as spoken of those who are elsewhere called “vessels of mercy,” because even they are freed from misery not on account of any merit of their own, but solely through the pity of God. Or, if the men we speak of insist that this passage applies to all mankind, there is no reason why they should therefore suppose that there will be an end to the punishment of those of whom it is said, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment;” for this shall end in the same manner and at the same time as the happiness of those of whom it is said, “but the righteous unto life eternal.” But let them suppose, if the thought gives them pleasure, that the pains of the damned are, at certain intervals, in some degree assuaged. For even in this case the wrath of God, that is, their condemnation (for it is this, and not any disturbed feeling in the mind of God that is called His wrath), abides upon them; that is, His wrath, though it still remains, does not shut up His tender mercies; though His tender mercies are exhibited, not in putting an end to their eternal punishment, but in mitigating, or in granting them a respite from, their torments; for the psalm does not say, “to put an end to His anger,” or, “when His anger is passed by,” but “in His anger.” Now, if this anger stood alone, or if it existed in the smallest conceivable degree, yet to be lost out of the kingdom of God, to be an exile from the city of God, to be alienated from the life of God, to have no share in that great goodness which God has laid up for them that fear Him, and has wrought out for them that trust in Him, would be a punishment so great, that, supposing it to be eternal, no torments that we know of, continued through as many ages as man’s imagination can conceive, could be compared with it.

This perpetual death of the wicked, then, that is, their alienation from the life of God, shall abide for ever, and shall be common to them all, whatever men, prompted by their human affections, may conjecture as to a variety of punishments, or as to a mitigation or intermission of their woes; just as the eternal life of the saints shall abide for ever, and shall be common to them all, whatever grades of rank and honor there may be among those who shine with an harmonious effulgence. (Enchiridion 112-113)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

And this too we must bear in mind, that the crowns are to be won by labour. It is strong exertion united with skill that perfects those mighty athletes in the games. It is courage and a brave mind that are most serviceable to those who are skilled in battles: while the man who throws away his shield is ridiculed even by the foe: and if the runaway live, he leads a life of disgrace. But he who was steadfast in the battle, and stood stoutly and courageously with all his might against the enemy, is honoured if he win the victory; and if he fall, is looked upon with admiration. And so ought we to reckon for ourselves; for to endure patiently, and maintain the conflict with courage, brings with it great reward, and is highly desirable, and wins for us the blessings bestowed by God: while to refuse to suffer death in the flesh for the love of Christ, brings upon us lasting, or rather never-ending punishment. For the wrath of man reaches at most to the body, and the death of the flesh is the utmost that they can contrive against us: but when God punishes, the loss reaches not to the flesh alone;—-how could it?—-but the wretched soul also is cast alone; with it into torments. (Sermon 87, On Luke)


St. Patrick of Ireland ca. 387-493

Far from the love of God is a man who hands over Christians to the Picts and Scots. Ravening wolves have devoured the flock of the Lord, which in Ireland was indeed growing splendidly with the greatest care; and the sons and daughters of kings were monks and virgins of Christ — I cannot count their number. Wherefore, be not pleased with the wrong done to the just; even to hell it shall not please (Sirach 9:3). Who of the saints would not shudder to be merry with such persons or to enjoy a meal with them? They have filled their houses with the spoils of dead Christians, they live on plunder. They do not know, the wretches, that what they offer their friends and sons as food is deadly poison, just as Eve did not understand that it was death she gave to her husband. So are all that do evil: they work death as their eternal punishment. (Letter to Coroticus)

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

GREGORY. Certain it is, and without all doubt most true, that as the good shall have no end of their joys, so the wicked never any release of their torments: for our Saviour himself saith: The wicked shall go into everlasting punishment, and the just into everlasting life. Seeing, then, true it is, that which He hath promised to His friends: out of all question false it cannot be, that which He hath threatened to His enemies.

PETER. What if it be said that He did threaten eternal pain to wicked livers, that He might thereby restrain them from committing of sins?

GREGORY. If that which He did threaten be false, because His intent was by that means to keep men from wicked life: then likewise must we say that those things are false which He did promise: and that His mind was thereby to provoke us to virtue. But what man, though mad, dare presume so to say? For if He threatened that which he meant not to put into execution: whiles we are desirous to make Him merciful, enforced we are likewise (which is horrible to speak) to affirm Him to be deceitful.

PETER. Willing I am to know how that sin can justly be punished without end, which had an end when it was committed.

GREGORY. This which you say might have some reason, if the just judge did only consider the sins committed, and not the minds with which they were committed: for the reason why wicked men made an end of sinning was, because they also made an end of their life: for willingly they would, had it been in their power, have lived without end, that they might in like manner have sinned without end. For they do plainly declare that they desired always to live in sin, who never, so long as they were in this world, gave over their wicked life: and therefore it belongeth to the great justice of the supreme judge, that they should never want torments and punishment in the next world, who in this would never give over their wicked and sinful life.

PETER. But no judge that loveth justice taketh pleasure in cruelty: and the end why the just master commandeth his wicked servant to be punished is, that he may give over his lewd life. If, then, the wicked that are tormented in hell fire never come to amend themselves, to what end shall they always burn in those flames?

GREGORY. Almighty God, because He is merciful and full of pity, taketh no pleasure in the torments of wretched men: but because He is also just, therefore doth He never give over to punish the wicked. All which being condemned to perpetual pains, punished they are for their own wickedness: and yet shall they always there burn in fire for some end, and that is, that all those which be just and God’s servants may in God behold the joys which they possess, and in them see the torments which they have escaped: to the end that they may thereby always acknowledge themselves grateful to God for His grace, in that they perceive through His divine assistance, what sins they have overcome, which they behold in others to be punished everlastingly.

PETER. And how, I pray you, can they be holy and saints, if they pray not for their enemies, whom they see to lie in such torments? when it is said to them: Pray for your enemies.

GREGORY. They pray for their enemies at such time as their hearts may be turned to fruitful penance, and so be saved: for what purpose else do we pray for our enemies, but, as the Apostle saith, that God may give them repentance to know the truth, and recover themselves from the devil, of whom they are held captive at his will?

PETER. I like very well of your saying: for how shall they pray for them, who by no means can be converted from their wickedness, and brought to do the works of justice?

GREGORY. You see, then, that the reason is all one, why, in the next life, none shall pray for men condemned for ever to hell fire: that there is now of not praying for the devil and his angels, sentenced to everlasting torments: and this also is the very reason why holy men do not now pray for them that die in their infidelity and known wicked life: for seeing certain it is that they be condemned to endless pains, to what purpose should they pray for them, when they know that no petition will be admitted of God, their just judge? And therefore, if now holy men living upon earth take no compassion of those that be dead and damned for their sins, when as yet they know that themselves do some thing through the frailty of the flesh, which is also to be judged: how much more straightly and severely do they behold the torments of the damned, when they be themselves delivered from all vice of corruption, and be more nearly united to true justice itself: for the force of justice doth so possess their souls, in that they be so intrinsical with the most just judge, that they list not by any means to do that which they know is not conformable to his divine pleasure. (Dialogues Bk. 4:44)

Mat 25:11-12 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

The door of the kingdom will close forever to those left outside, who will then weep; that door is now open to all penitents. There will be repentance then, but it will be fruitless. The Lord does not hear virgins call Him, because once the door of the kingdom is closed they can no longer approach Him, Who was so formerly approachable. (The Ten Virgins, Orthodox New Testament: Endnotes-Matthew pg. 121)

5th Ecumenical Council: Second Council of Constantinople 553

The Anathemas Against Origen

If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema. (Anathema 1)

The Anathemas of the Emperor Justinian Against OrigenIf anyone says or thinks that Christ the Lord in a future time will be crucified for demons as he was for men, let him be anathema. (Anathema 7)

If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (ἀποκατάστασις) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema. (Anathema 9)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

Indeed there exists but one happiness, a communion of life with the Word, the loss of which is an endless punishment which goes on for all eternity. And that is why abandoning his body and whatever is the body’s he strives intensely toward that communion of life with God, thinking that the only loss – even he were master of everything on earth – would be in the failure of the deification by grace which he pursues. (Commentary on the Our Father)

St. Andrew of Caesarea ca. 6th cent.

Rev 14:11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.

This smoke must imply either the labored breath that cornes out along with the groaning of those being punished emanating up from below, or the smoke coming forth from the fire punishing those who have fallen. It is to ascend forever and ever, it says, that we might learn that it is endless, just as the bliss of the righteous (will be endless), in like manner also, the torment of the sinners. (Commentary on the Apocalypse)

Rev 19:3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

And the smoke rises forever and ever from the city signifies either the uninterrupted never-to-be-forgotten (nature) of the punishments coming upon her into perpetuity, or the judgments partly rendered to her, to be tormented more fittingly but nevertheless eternally in the future. (ibid.)

Rev. 19:21 And the rest were slain by the sword of Him Who sits upon the horse, the sword which cornes from his mouth, and ail the birds were gorged with their flesh.

There are two deaths; the first is the separation of the soul and the body, the second is being cast into Gehenna. If (this is applied to) those (who are) together with the Antichrist, it is said they will be led to the first death in the flesh by the sword of God, that is, by his command, and thus afterward the second will follow, if this is correct. If it is not thus, they will (only) participate in the second death, the eternal torment with the ones who had deceived them.  (ibid.)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

For the fire which once punished the people of Sodom also plainly shows what the wicked are going to suffer without end. And the fact that their smoke-producing land remains, that its most admirable fruits have ashes and a bad smell within, clearly signifies to all ages that although bodily pleasure delights the minds of the foolish for the present, nevertheless in what concerns that which cannot be seen restains for itelf nothing except that the smoke of its torments rise up for ever and ever. (Commentary on 2nd Peter)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

All wickedness, then, and all impure passions are the work of their mind. But while the liberty to attack man has been granted to them, they have not the strength to over-master any one: for we have it in our power to receive or not to receive the attack. Wherefore there has been prepared for the devil and his demons, and those who follow him, fire unquenchable and everlasting punishment Matthew 25:41 .

Note, further, that what in the case of man is death is a fall in the case of angels. For after the fall there is no possibility of repentance for them, just as after death there is for men no repentance. (An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Book II. 4)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

So let us see, if you are willing, who is he “who hates to be reformed” and who it is who “casts His words behind him.” He who does not obey God’s laws hates the instruction that comes from the words of the Lord. He “stops his ears” (Ps. 58:5) so that he may not hear the word about the final retribution for sinners or about that eternal fire and the punishments of hell and that everlasting condemnation, from which retribution he who has fallen into cannot escape. (The Discourses, Discourse 7.1)

St. Theophylact of Ochrid ca. 1055-1107

A conclusion to be drawn against the Origenists who say that there will be a time when there is an end to hell, that the sinners will be united with the righteous and with God, and thus God will be all in all. Let us hear what Abraham says, that they who would pass from hence to you, or from thence to us, cannot. Therefore, it is impossible for anyone to go from the place apportioned to the righteous to the place of sinners, and likewise, Abraham teaches us, it is impossible to go from the place of punishment to the place of the righteous. And Abraham, I presume, is more trustworthy than Origen. (Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Luke, Chap. 16)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

Although in the future restoration, when the bodies of the righteous shall be raised, the bodies of the lawless and sinners will also be raised, they will be raised only so as to be subjected to the ‘second death’, that is, to eternal torment, the unsleeping worm (Mk. 9:48), the gnashing of teeth (Mt. 8:12), the outer and inpenetrable darkness (Mt. 8:12), to dark and inextinguishable Gehenna (Mt. 5:22). The prophet says, ‘The lawless and the sinners shall be burnt together, and there shall be none to quench (Is. 1:31; cf. Jer. 4:4)’. For this is the ‘second death’, as John teaches us in his Apocalypse. (To the Nun Xenia, P.G. 150:1043-1088)

On Heresy

Gal 5:19-21

Now the works of the flesh are clearly revealed, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, fightings, jealousies, angers, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and things like these; of which I tell you beforehand, as I also said before, that the ones practicing such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The word “heresy” is from the Greek word αἵρεσις (hairesis), a word meaning choice, course of action or in a extended sense, school of thought and hence inherently implies a conscious, deliberate and willful rejection or opposition to the Divine Truth manifest in the Orthodox Church.

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 any one 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. (Ephesians 16)

I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that ye use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a different kind; I mean heresy. For heretics mix up Jesus Christ with their own poison, speaking things which are unworthy of credit, like those who administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, which he who is ignorant of does greedily take, with a fatal pleasure leading to his own death. (Trallians 6)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

There are also those who heard from him (St. Polycarp) that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me?” “I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.” Such was the horror which the Apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” (Tit. 3:10) (Against Heresies 3.3.4)

Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church, — those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the Apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth. And the heretics, indeed, who bring strange fire to the altar of God — namely, strange doctrines — shall be burned up by the fire from heaven, as were Nadab and Abiud. (Lev. 10:1, Lev. 10:2) But such as rise up in opposition to the truth, and exhort others against the Church of God, [shall] remain among those in hades (apud inferos), being swallowed up by an earthquake, even as those who were with Chore, Dathan, and Abiron. (Num. 16:33) But those who cleave asunder, and separate the unity of the Church, [shall] receive from God the same punishment as Jeroboam did. (1Kgs. 14:10) (ibid., 4.26.2)

Now all these [heretics] are of much later date than the bishops to whom the apostles committed the Churches; which fact I have in the third book taken all pains to demonstrate. It follows, then, as a matter of course, that these heretics aforementioned, since they are blind to the truth, and deviate from the [right] way, will walk in various roads; and therefore the footsteps of their doctrine are scattered here and there without agreement or connection. But the path of those belonging to the Church circumscribes the whole world, as possessing the sure tradition from the Apostles, and gives unto us to see that the faith of all is one and the same, since all receive one and the same God the Father, and believe in the same dispensation regarding the incarnation of the Son of God, and are cognizant of the same gift of the Spirit, and are conversant with the same commandments, and preserve the same form of ecclesiastical constitution, and expect the same advent of the Lord, and await the same salvation of the complete man, that is, of the soul and body. (ibid., 5.20.1)

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

Accordingly it is added: “For he hath forsaken the ways of his own vineyard, and wandered in the tracks of his own husbandry.” Such are the sects which deserted the primitive Church. Now he who has fallen into heresy passes through an arid wilderness, abandoning the only true God, destitute of God, seeking waterless water, reaching an uninhabited and thirsty land, collecting sterility with his hands. And those destitute of prudence, that is, those involved in heresies, “I enjoin,” remarks Wisdom, saying, “Touch sweetly stolen bread and the sweet water of theft;” the Scripture manifestly applying the terms bread and water to nothing else but to those heresies, which employ bread and water in the oblation, not according to the canon of the Church. For there are those who celebrate the Eucharist with mere water. “But begone, stay not in her place:” place is the synagogue, not the Church. He calls it by the equivocal name, place. Then He subjoins: “For so shalt thou pass through the water of another;” reckoning heretical baptism not proper and true water. “And thou shalt pass over another’s river,” that rushes along and sweeps down to the sea; into which he is cast who, having diverged from the stability which is according to truth, rushes back into the heathenish and tumultous waves of life. (Stromata Bk. 1 Chap. 19)

Tertullian ca. 160-220

Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, as many as walk according to the rule, which the church has handed down from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the Scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus, not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, Who are you? When and whence did you come? As you are none of mine, what have you to do with that which is mine?  (Prescription Against Heretics 37)

I must not omit an account of the conduct also of the heretics— how frivolous it is, how worldly, how merely human, without seriousness, without authority, without discipline, as suits their creed. To begin with, it is doubtful who is a catechumen, and who a believer; they have all access alike, they hear alike, they pray alike— even heathens, if any such happen to come among them. That which is holy they will cast to the dogs, and their pearls, although (to be sure) they are not real ones, they will fling to the swine. Simplicity they will have to consist in the overthrow of discipline, attention to which on our part they call brothelry. Peace also they huddle up anyhow with all comers; for it matters not to them, however different be their treatment of subjects, provided only they can conspire together to storm the citadel of the one only Truth. All are puffed up, all offer you knowledge. Their catechumens are perfect before they are full-taught. The very women of these heretics, how wanton they are! For they are bold enough to teach, to dispute, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures— it may be even to baptize. Their ordinations, are carelessly administered, capricious, changeable. At one time they put novices in office; at another time, men who are bound to some secular employment; at another, persons who have apostatized from us, to bind them by vainglory, since they cannot by the truth. Nowhere is promotion easier than in the camp of rebels, where the mere fact of being there is a foremost service. And so it comes to pass that today one man is their bishop, tomorrow another; today he is a deacon who tomorrow is a reader; today he is a presbyter who tomorrow is a layman. For even on laymen do they impose the functions of priesthood. (ibid., 41)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235

Do not devote your attention to the fallacies of artificial discourses, nor the vain promises of plagiarizing heretics, but to the venerable simplicity of unassuming truth. (Refutation of All Heresies Bk. X Chap. 30)

St. Methodius of Olympus died ca. 311

The dragon, which is great, and red, and cunning, and manifold, and seven-headed, and horned, and draws down the third part of the stars, and stands ready to devour the child of the woman who is travailing, is the devil, who lies in wait to destroy the Christ-accepted mind of the baptized, and the image and clear features of the Word which had been brought forth in them. But he misses and fails of his prey, the regenerate being caught up on high to the throne of God—that is, the mind of those who are renovated is lifted up around the divine seat and the basis of truth against which there is no stumbling, being taught to look upon and regard the things which are there, so that it may not be deceived by the dragon weighing them down. For it is not allowed to him to destroy those whose thoughts and looks are upwards. And the stars, which the dragon touched with the end of his tail, and drew them down to earth, are the bodies of heresies; for we must say that the stars, which are dark, obscure, and falling, are the assemblies of the heterodox; since they, too, wish to be acquainted with the heavenly ones, and to have believed in Christ, and to have the seat of their soul in heaven, and to come near to the stars as children of light. But they are dragged down, being shaken out by the folds of the dragon, because they did not remain within the triangular forms of godliness, falling away from it with respect to an orthodox service. Whence also they are called the third part of the stars, as having gone astray with regard to one of the three Persons of the Trinity. As when they say, like Sabellios, that the Almighty Person of the Father Himself suffered; or as when they say, like Artemas, that the Person of the Son was born and manifested only in appearance; or when they contend, like the Ebionites, that the prophets spoke of the Person of the Spirit, of their own motion. For of Marcion and Valentinus, and those about Elkesaios and others, it is better not even to make mention. (Banquet of the Ten Virgins Discourse 8, Chap. 10)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 293-373

Yes surely; while all of us are and are called Christians after Christ, Marcion broached a heresy a long time since and was cast out; and those who continued with him who ejected him remained Christians; but those who followed Marcion were called Christians no more, but henceforth Marcionites. Thus Valentinus also, and Basilides, and Manichæus, and Simon Magus, have imparted their own name to their followers; and some are accosted as Valentinians, or as Basilidians, or as Manichees, or as Simonians; and other, Cataphrygians from Phrygia, and from Novatus Novatians. So too Meletius, when ejected by Peter the Bishop and Martyr, called his party no longer Christians, but Meletians , and so in consequence when Alexander of blessed memory had cast out Arius, those who remained with Alexander, remained Christians; but those who went out with Arius, left the Saviour’s Name to us who were with Alexander, and as to them they were hence-forward denominated Arians. Behold then, after Alexander’s death too, those who communicate with his successor Athanasius, and those with whom the said Athanasius communicates, are instances of the same rule; none of them bear his name, nor is he named from them, but all in like manner, and as is usual, are called Christians. For though we have a succession of teachers and become their disciples, yet, because we are taught by them the things of Christ, we both are, and are called, Christians all the same. But those who follow the heretics, though they have innumerable successors in their heresy, yet anyhow bear the name of him who devised it. Thus, though Arius be dead, and many of his party have succeeded him, yet those who think with him, as being known from Arius, are called Arians. And, what is a remarkable evidence of this, those of the Greeks who even at this time come into the Church, on giving up the superstition of idols, take the name, not of their catechists, but of the Saviour, and begin to be called Christians instead of Greeks: while those of them who go off to the heretics, and again all who from the Church change to this heresy, abandon Christ’s name, and henceforth are called Arians, as no longer holding Christ’s faith, but having inherited Arius’s madness. (Discourse 1 Against the Arians, 3)

Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophet; ‘I will take away from them the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the scent of myrrh, and the light of a lamp, and the whole land shall be destroyed.’ (Jer. 25:10) For the whole service of the law has been abolished from them, and henceforth and for ever they remain without a feast. And they observe not the Passover; for how can they? They have no abiding place, but they wander everywhere. And they eat unleavened bread contrary to the law, since they are unable first to sacrifice the lamb, as they were commanded to do when eating unleavened bread. But in every place they transgress the law, and as the judgments of God require, they keep days of grief instead of gladness. Now the cause of this to them was the slaying of the Lord, and that they did not reverence the Only-Begotten. At this time the altogether wicked heretics and ignorant schismatics are in the same case; the one in that they slay the Word, the other in that they rend the coat. They too remain expelled from the feast, because they live without godliness and knowledge, and emulate the conduct shewn in the matter of Bar-Abbas the robber, whom the Jews desired instead of the Saviour. (Festal Letter 6.6)

St. Hilary Poitiers ca. 300-368

But I trust that the Church, by the light of her doctrine, will so enlighten the world’s vain wisdom, that, even though it accept not the mystery of the faith, it will recognise that in our conflict with heretics we, and not they, are the true representatives of that mystery. For great is the force of truth; not only is it its own sufficient witness, but the more it is assailed the more evident it becomes; the daily shocks which it receives only increase its inherent stability. It is the peculiar property of the Church that when she is buffeted she is triumphant, when she is assaulted with argument she proves herself in the right, when she is deserted by her supporters she holds the field. It is her wish that all men should remain at her side and in her bosom; if it lay with her, none would become unworthy to abide under the shelter of that august mother, none would be cast out or suffered to depart from her calm retreat. But when heretics desert her or she expels them, the loss she endures, in that she cannot save them, is compensated by an increased assurance that she alone can offer bliss. This is a truth which the passionate zeal of rival heresies brings into the clearest prominence. The Church, ordained by the Lord and established by His Apostles, is one for all; but the frantic folly of discordant sects has severed them from her. And it is obvious that these dissensions concerning the faith result from a distorted mind, which twists the words of Scripture into conformity with its opinion, instead of adjusting that opinion to the words of Scripture. And thus, amid the clash of mutually destructive errors, the Church stands revealed not only by her own teaching, but by that of her rivals. They are ranged, all of them, against her; and the very fact that she stands single and alone is her sufficient answer to their godless delusions. The hosts of heresy assemble themselves against her; each of them can defeat all the others, but not one can win a victory for itself. The only victory is the triumph which the Church celebrates over them all. Each heresy wields against its adversary some weapon already shattered, in another instance, by the Church’s condemnation. There is no point of union between them, and the outcome of their internecine struggles is the confirmation of the faith. (On the Trinity Bk. 7,4)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

But since the word Ecclesia is applied to different things (as also it is written of the multitude in the theatre of the Ephesians, And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the Assembly), and since one might properly and truly say that there is a Church of evil doers, I mean the meetings of the heretics, the Marcionists and Manichees, and the rest, for this cause the Faith has securely delivered to thee now the Article, “And in one Holy Catholic Church;” that thou mayest avoid their wretched meetings, and ever abide with the Holy Church Catholic in which thou wast regenerated. And if ever thou art sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord’s House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all, which is the spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God (for it is written, As Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it, and all the rest,) and is a figure and copy of Jerusalem which is above, which is free, and the mother of us all; which before was barren, but now has many children.(Cathechetical Lectures 18.26)

St. Gregory Nazianzus ca. 329-390

Yea! Would that I were one of those who contend and incur hatred for the truth’s sake: or rather, I can boast of being one of them. For better is a laudable war than a peace which severs a man from God: and therefore it is that the Spirit arms the gentle warrior, as one who is able to wage war in a good cause. (Oration 2.82)

St. Basil of Caesarea ca. 330-379

As for all those who pretend to confess sound Orthodox Faith, but are in communion with people who hold a different opinion, if they are forewarned and still remain stubborn, you must not only not be in communion with them, but you must not even call them brothers. (Patrologia Orientalis, Vol. 17, p. 303)

Abba Agathon ca. 4th cent.

Several brothers once visited Abba Agathon, for they had been informed that he was possessed of great spiritual discretion. And wishing to test him, to see if he would become angry, they said: “Are you Agathon? We have heard about you that you are debauched and proud.” He replied, “Yes, it is so.” They said to him once more, “Are you Agathon the loose-tongued lover of slander?” “I am he,” he responded. And the visitors spoke to him a third time, “You are Agathon, the heretic?” To this, he answered, “I am not a heretic.” After this answer, they asked him to explain: “Why, when we called you so many things, did you admit them, while you would not, however, endure the accusation that you were a heretic?” And the Abba said to them: “The first things I accepted since they were beneficial for my soul; but not the accusation that I am a heretic, since heresy is separation from God.” On hearing this reply, the visitors marvelled at the spiritual discretion of the Abba and departed, benefitted in soul. (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: Agathon 5)

Abba Poemen the Great ca. 4th cent.

Some heretics came to Abba Poemen one day and began to speak evil of the archbishop of Alexandria suggesting that he had received the laying on of hands from priests. The old man, who had remained silent till then, called his brother and said, ‘Set the table, give them something to eat and send them away in peace.’ (ibid., Abba Poemen 78)

Abba Theodore ca. 4th cent.

He also said, ‘If you are friendly with someone who happens to fall into the temptation of fornication, offer him your hand, if you can, and deliver him from it. But if he falls into heresy and you cannot persuade him to turn from it, seperate yourself quickly from him, in case, if you delay, you too may be dragged down with him into the pit. (ibid., Theodore of Pherme 4)

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

Heretics bring sentence upon themselves since they by their own choice withdraw from the Church, a withdrawal which, since they are aware of it, constitutes damnation. Between heresy and schism there is this difference: that heresy involves perverse doctrine, while schism separates one from the Church on account of disagreement with the bishop. Nevertheless, there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church. (Commentary on Titus 3:10–11)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

They (the Galatians) had, in fact, only introduced one or two commandments, circumcision and the observance of days, but he says that the Gospel was subverted, in order to show that a slight adulteration vitiates the whole. For as he who but partially pares away the image on a royal coin renders the whole spurious, so he who swerves ever so little from the pure faith, soon proceeds from this to graver errors, and becomes entirely corrupted. Where then are those who charge us with being contentious in separating from heretics, and say that there is no real difference between us except what arises from our ambition? Let them hear Paul’s assertion, that those who had but slightly innovated, subverted the Gospel. Not to say that the Son of God is a created Being, is a small matter. Know you not that even under the elder covenant, a man who gathered sticks on the sabbath, and transgressed a single commandment, and that not a great one, was punished with death? Numbers 15:32-36 and that Uzzah, who supported the Ark when on the point of being overturned, was struck suddenly dead, because he had intruded upon an office which did not pertain to him? 2 Samuel 6:6-7 Wherefore if to transgress the sabbath, and to touch the falling Ark, drew down the wrath of God so signally as to deprive the offender of even a momentary respite, shall he who corrupts unutterably awful doctrines find excuse and par don? Assuredly not. A want of zeal in small matters is the cause of all our calamities; and because slight errors escape fitting correction, greater ones creep in. As in the body, a neglect of wounds generates fever, mortification, and death; so in the soul, slight evils overlooked open the door to graver ones. It is accounted a trivial fault that one man should neglect fasting; that another, who is established in the pure faith, dissembling on account of circumstances, should surrender his bold profession of it, neither is this anything great or dreadful; that a third should be irritated, and threaten to depart from the true faith, is excused on the plea of passion and resentment. Thus a thousand similar errors are daily introduced into the Church, and we have become a laughing-stock to Jews and Greeks, seeing that the Church is divided into a thousand parties. But if a proper rebuke had at first been given to those who attempted slight perversions, and a deflection from the divine oracles, such a pestilence would not have been generated, nor such a storm have seized upon the Churches. (Homily 1 on Galatians)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

The Apostle Paul has said: A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject, knowing that he that is such is subverted and sins, being condemned of himself. Titus 3:10-11 But though the doctrine which men hold be false and perverse, if they do not maintain it with passionate obstinacy, especially when they have not devised it by the rashness of their own presumption, but have accepted it from parents who had been misguided and had fallen into error, and if they are with anxiety seeking the truth, and are prepared to be set right when they have found it, such men are not to be counted heretics. Were it not that I believe you to be such, perhaps I would not write to you. And yet even in the case of a heretic, however puffed up with odious conceit, and insane through the obstinacy of his wicked resistance to truth, although we warn others to avoid him, so that he may not deceive the weak and inexperienced, we do not refuse to strive by every means in our power for his correction. (Letters 43,1)

We believe also in the holy Church, that is, the Catholic Church. For both heretics and schismatics style their congregations churches. For heretics violate the faith itself by a false opinion about God; schismatics, however, withdraw from fraternal love by hostile separations, although they believe the same things we do. Consequently, neither heretics nor schismatics belong to the Catholic Church; not heretics, because the Church loves God; and not schismatics, because the Church loves neighbor. (Faith and the Creed 10:21)

St. John Cassian ca. 360-435

Tell me, I pray, if any Jew or pagan denied the Creed of the Catholic faith, should you think that we ought to listen to him? Most certainly not. What if a heretic or an apostate does the same? Still less should we listen to him, for it is worse for a man to forsake the truth which he has known, than to deny it without ever having known it. (On the Incarnation Bk. VI Chap. 10)

For the scheme of the mysteries of the Church and the Catholic faith is such that one who denies one portion of the Sacred Mystery cannot confess the other. For all parts of it are so bound up and united together that one cannot stand without the other and if a man denies one point out of the whole number, it is of no use for him to believe all the others. (ibid., Bk. VI Chap. 17)

St. Vincent of Lerins died ca. 445

I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church. (The Commonitory, Chap. 2)

Here, possibly, some one may ask, ‘Do heretics also appeal to Scripture?’ They do indeed, and with a vengeance; for you may see them scamper through every single book of Holy Scripture,—through the books of Moses, the books of Kings, the Psalms, the Epistles, the Gospels, the Prophets. Whether among their own people, or among strangers, in private or in public, in speaking or in writing, at convivial meetings, or in the streets, hardly ever do they bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavour to shelter under words of Scripture. Read the works of Paul of Samosata, of Priscillian, of Eunomius, of Jovinian, and the rest of those pests, and you will see an infinite heap of instances, hardly a single page, which does not bristle with plausible quotations from the New Testament or the Old.

But the more secretly they conceal themselves under shelter of the Divine Law, so much the more are they to be feared and guarded against. For they know that the evil stench of their doctrine will hardly find acceptance with any one if it be exhaled pure and simple. They sprinkle it over, therefore, with the perfume of heavenly language, in order that one who would be ready to despise human error, may hesitate to condemn divine words. They do, in fact, what nurses do when they would prepare some bitter draught for children; they smear the edge of the cup all round with honey, that the unsuspecting child, having first tasted the sweet, may have no fear of the bitter. So too do these act, who disguise poisonous herbs and noxious juices under the names of medicines, so that no one almost, when he reads the label, suspects the poison. (ibid., 25)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

I write these things not wishing to cause distress to the heretics or to rejoice in their ill-treatment — God forbid; but, rather, rejoicing and being gladdened at their return. For what is more pleasing to the faithful than to see the scattered children of God gathered again as one? Neither do I exhort you to place harshness above the love of men. May I not be so mad! I beseech you to do and to carry out good to all men with care and assiduity, becoming all things to all men, as the need of each is shown to you; I want and pray you to be wholly harsh and implacable with the heretics only in regard to cooperating with them or in any way whatever supporting their deranged belief. For I reckon it hatred towards man and a departure from divine love to lend support to error, so that those previously seized by it might be even more greatly corrupted. (Patrologia Graeca, Vol. 91 col. 465c)

St. John Climacus ca. 7th cent.

A transgressor is someone who observes the divine law only in his own depraved fashion and holds heretical belief in opposition to God. (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 1)

A very well-informed man once put this question to me: “Leaving aside murder and the denial of God, what is the most serious of sins?”

“To lapse into heresy,” I replied.

(ibid., Step 15)

Snow cannot burst into flames. It is even less possible for humility to abide in a heretic. This achievement belongs only to the pious and the faithful, and then only when they have been purified. (ibid., Step 25)

In any conflict with unbelievers or heretics, we should stop after we have twice reproved them (cf. Tit. 3:10). But where we are dealing with those eager to learn the truth, we should never grow tired of doing the right thing (cf. Gal. 6:9). And we should use both situations to test our own steadfastness. (ibid., Step 26)

St. Isaac the Syrian died ca. 700

Beware of reading the doctrines of heretics for they, more than anything else, can arm the spirit of blasphemy against you. (The Ascetical Homilies, Homily Four)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

All heretics distort the Scriptures, for there is no book either of the Old or New Testament in which they do not understand many things perversely. But they also often twist the meaning of the Scriptures either by taking something away or adding or changing, whatever their faithlessness has commanded…(Commentary on 2 Pet. 3:16)

You who perceive the true God, in whom you have eternal life, keep yourselves from the teachings of heretics which lead to everlasting death, because like those who fabricate idols in place of God, they by their wicked teachings change the glory of the imperishable God into the likeness of perishable things. (Rom. 1:23) (Commentary on 1 Jn. 5:21)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

With all our strength, therefore, let us beware lest we receive communion from or grant it to heretics; Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, saith the Lord, neither cast ye your pearls before swine(Mat. 7:6), lest we become partakers in their dishonour and condemnation. For if trojan is in truth with Christ and with one another, we are assuredly voluntarily united also with all those who partake with us. For this union is effected voluntarily and not against our inclination. For we are all one body because we partake of the one bread, as the divine Apostle says. (1 Cor. 10:17) (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Bk. 4, 13)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

It is heresy when someone turns aside in any way from the dogmas that have been defined concerning the right faith. (Discourses XXXII. 2)

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

My son, it is not meet to praise another’s faith. Whoever praises an alien faith is like a detractor of his own Orthodox Faith. If anyone should praise his own and another’s faith, then he is a man of dual faith and is close to heresy. If anyone should say to you: “your faith and our faith is from God”, you, my son, should reply: “Heretic! do you consider God to be of two faiths? Don’t you hear what the Scriptures say: “One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.” (Eph. 4,5) (Testament to the Great Prince

Izyaslav of Kiev)

St. Symeon Defines “Abraham’s Bosom”

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

As we depart from this present life we shall find God as the great “bosom of Abraham” (cf. Lk. 16:22), receiving us and cherishing us in the kingdom of heaven. To this may we all attain by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (The Discourses IX, On Works of Mercy 10)

On Theosis

 The Eastern Orthodox Church has retained theosis as a concept for theological reflection, while the Western churches, seperated by time, language, and philosophy from Greek thinkers of the early church, have dropped it. In fact, theosis simply does not exist for most contemporary Western theologians…The near disappearance in Western Christendom of an idea that was widely accepted for over a thousand years (including by Latin theologians like Augustine), is a serious loss for the Christian thought and hope.  (Stephen Finlan and Vladimir Kharlamov, Theosis/Deification in Christian Theology: Introduction, pg. 8)

 St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

But far be such a thought concerning the gods from every well-conditioned soul, as to believe that Jupiter himself, the governor and creator of all things, was both a parricide and the son of a parricide, and that being overcome by the love of base and shameful pleasures, he came in to Ganymede and those many women whom he had violated and that his sons did like actions. But, as we said above, wicked devils perpetrated these things. And we have learned that those only are deified who have lived near to God in holiness and virtue; and we believe that those who live wickedly and do not repent are punished in everlasting fire. (First Apology 21)

And when I saw that they were perturbed because I said that we are the sons of God, I anticipated their questioning:

Justin: Listen, sirs, how the Holy Ghost speaks of this people, saying that they are all sons of the Highest; and how this very Christ will be present in their assembly, rendering judgment to all men. The words are spoken by David, and are, according to your version of them, thus: ‘God stands in the congregation of gods; He judges among the gods. How long do you judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Judge for the orphan and the poor, and do justice to the humble and needy. Deliver the needy, and save the poor out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither have they understood; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth shall be shaken. I said, You are gods, and are all children of the Most High. But you die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God! judge the earth, for You shall inherit all nations.’ But in the version of the Seventy it is written, ‘Behold, you die like men, and fall like one of the princes,’ in order to manifest the disobedience of men—I mean of Adam and Eve—and the fall of one of the princes, i.e., of him who was called the serpent, who fell with a great overthrow, because he deceived Eve. But as my discourse is not intended to touch on this point, but to prove to you that the Holy Ghost reproaches men because they were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons, and yet they, becoming like Adam and Eve, work out death for themselves; let the interpretation of the Psalm be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming gods, and of having power to become sons of the Highest; and shall be each by himself judged and condemned like Adam and Eve. Now I have proved at length that Christ is called God. (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 124)

The end contemplated by a philosopher is likeness to God, so far as that is possible. (Fragments of St. Justin the Martyr: from the writings of Antonius Melissa)

Mathetes ca. 130

And if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God. But these things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God. (To Diognetus, 10)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

For who else is there who can reign uninterruptedly over the house of Jacob for ever, except Jesus Christ our Lord, the Son of the Most High God, who promised by the law and the prophets that He would make His salvation visible to all flesh; so that He would become the Son of man for this purpose, that man also might become the son of God? (Against Heresies, Book III:2)

For it is thus that you will both controvert them in a legitimate manner, and will be prepared to receive the proofs brought forward against them, casting away their doctrines as filth by means of the celestial faith; but following the only true and steadfast Teacher, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself. (Against Heresies Book V, Preface)

Since the Lord thus has redeemed us through His own blood, giving His soul for our souls, and His flesh for our flesh, and has also poured out the Spirit of the Father for the union and communion of God and man, imparting indeed God to men by means of the Spirit, and, on the other hand, attaching man to God by His own incarnation, and bestowing upon us at His coming immortality durably and truly, by means of communion with God—all the doctrines of the heretics fall to ruin. (Against Heresies, Book V.1)

Theophilus of Antioch died ca. 185

And God having placed man in Paradise, as has been said, to till and keep it, commanded him to eat of all the trees,–manifestly of the tree of life also; but only of the tree of knowledge He commanded him not to taste. And God transferred him from the earth, out of which he had been produced, into Paradise, giving him means of advancement, in order that, maturing and becoming perfect, and being even declared a god, he might thus ascend into heaven in possession of immortality. For man had been made a middle nature, neither wholly mortal, nor altogether immortal, but capable of either; so also the place, Paradise, was made in respect of beauty intermediate between earth and heaven. And by the expression, “till it,” no other kind of labour is implied than the observance of God’s command, lest, disobeying, he should destroy himself, as indeed he did destroy himself, by sin. (To Autolycus Book 2.24)

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

But such a good conscience preserves sanctity towards God and justice towards men; keeping the soul pure with grave thoughts, and pure words, and just deeds. By thus receiving the Lord’s power, the soul studies to be God; regarding nothing bad but ignorance, and action contrary to right reason. And giving thanks always for all things to God, by righteous hearing and divine reading, by true investigation, by holy oblation, by blessed prayer; lauding, hymning, blessing, praising, such a soul is never at any time separated from God. Rightly then is it said, And they who trust in Him shall understand the truth, and those faithful in love shall abide by Him. Wisdom 3:9 …To the likeness of God, then, he that is introduced into adoption and the friendship of God, to the just inheritance of the lords and gods is brought; if he be perfected, according to the Gospel, as the Lord Himself taught. (Stromata, Book VI, 14)

Tertullian ca. 160-220

Truth, however, maintains the unity of God in such a way as to insist that whatever belongs to God Himself belongs to Him alone. For so will it belong to Himself if it belong to Him alone; and therefore it will be impossible that another god should be admitted, when it is permitted to no other being to possess anything of God. Well, then, you say, we ourselves at that rate possess nothing of God. But indeed we do, and shall continue to do— only it is from Him that we receive it, and not from ourselves. For we shall be even gods, if we, shall deserve to be among those of whom He declared, I have said, You are gods, and, God stands in the congregation of the gods. But this comes of His own grace, not from any property in us, because it is He alone who can make gods. The property of Matter, however, he makes to be that which it has in common with God. Otherwise, if it received from God the property which belongs to God—I mean its attribute of eternity— one might then even suppose that it both possesses an attribute in common with God, and yet at the same time is not God. (Against Hermogenes V)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-236

And in like manner God commanded, that from earth should arise reptiles and beasts, as well males and females of all sorts of animals; for so the nature of the things produced admitted. For as many things as He willed, God made from time to time. These things He created through the Logos, it not being possible for things to be generated otherwise than as they were produced. But when, according as He willed, He also formed (objects), He called them by names, and thus notified His creative effort. And making these, He formed the ruler of all, and fashioned him out of all composite substances. The Creator did not wish to make him a god, and failed in His aim; nor an angel—be not deceived,— but a man. For if He had willed to make you a god, He could have done so. You have the example of the Logos. His will, however, was, that you should be a man, and He has made you a man. But if you are desirous of also becoming a god, obey Him that has created you, and resist not now, in order that, being found faithful in that which is small, you may be enabled to have entrusted to you also that which is great. (Refutation of All Heresies, Book X.29)

You shall escape the boiling flood of hell’s eternal lake of fire and the eye ever fixed in menacing glare of fallen angels chained in Tartarus as punishment for their sins; and you shall escape the worm that ceaselessly coils for food around the body whose scum has bred it. Now such (torments) as these shall you avoid by being instructed in a knowledge of the true God. And you shall possess an immortal body, even one placed beyond the possibility of corruption, just like the soul. And you shall receive the kingdom of heaven, you who, while you sojourned in this life, knew the Celestial King. And you shall be a companion of the Deity, and a co-heir with Christ, no longer enslaved by lusts or passions, and never again wasted by disease. For you have become god: for whatever sufferings you underwent while being a man, these He gave to you, because you were of mortal mould, but whatever it is consistent with God to impart, these God has promised to bestow upon you, because you have been deified, and begotten unto immortality. This constitutes the import of the proverb, Know yourself; i.e., discover God within yourself, for He has formed you after His own image. For with the knowledge of self is conjoined the being an object of God’s knowledge, for you are called by the Deity Himself. Be not therefore inflamed, O you men, with enmity one towards another, nor hesitate to retrace with all speed your steps. For Christ is the God above all, and He has arranged to wash away sin from human beings, rendering regenerate the old man. And God called man His likeness from the beginning, and has evinced in a figure His love towards you. And provided you obey His solemn injunctions, and becomest a faithful follower of Him who is good, you shall resemble Him, inasmuch as you shall have honour conferred upon you by Him. For the Deity, (by condescension,) does not diminish anything of the divinity of His divine perfection; having made you even god unto His glory! (ibid., Book X.30)

St. Cyprian of Carthage died ca. 258

This is our God, this is Christ, who, as the mediator of the two, puts on man that He may lead them to the Father. What man is, Christ was willing to be, that man also may be what Christ is. (Treatise VI, On the Vanity of Idols 11)

And that the proof might not be the less substantial, and the confession of Christ might not be a matter of pleasure, they are tried by tortures, by crucifixions, by many kinds of punishments. Pain, which is the test of truth, is brought to bear, that Christ the Son of God, who is trusted in as given to men for their life, might not only be announced by the heralding of the voice, but by the testimony of suffering. Therefore we accompany Him, we follow Him, we have Him as the Guide of our way, the Source of light, the Author of salvation, promising as well the Father as heaven to those who seek and believe. What Christ is, we Christians shall be, if we imitate Christ. (ibid., 15)

Origen of Alexandria ca. 185-254

Either they deny that the Son has a distinct nature of His own besides that of the Father, and make Him whom they call the Son to be God all but the name, or they deny the divinity of the Son, giving Him a separate existence of His own, and making His sphere of essence fall outside that of the Father, so that they are separable from each other. To such persons we have to say that God on the one hand is Very God (Autotheos, God of Himself); and so the Saviour says in His prayer to the Father, John 17:3 That they may know You the only true God; but that all beyond the Very God is made God by participation in His divinity, and is not to be called simply God (with the article), but rather God (without article). And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him, of whom God is the God, as it is written, The God of gods, the Lord, has spoken and called the earth. It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is The God, and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype. But the archetypal image, again, of all these images is the Word of God, who was in the beginning, and who by being with God is at all times God…Now it is possible that some may dislike what we have said representing the Father as the one true God, but admitting other beings besides the true God, who have become gods by having a share of God. They may fear that the glory of Him who surpasses all creation may be lowered to the level of those other beings called gods. We drew this distinction between Him and them that we showed God the Word to be to all the other gods the minister of their divinity. To this we must add, in order to obviate objections, that the reason which is in every reasonable creature occupied the same relation to the reason who was in the beginning with God, and is God the Word, as God the Word occupies to God. As the Father who is Very God and the True God is to His image and to the images of His image— men are said to be according to the image, not to be images of God— so He, the Word, is to the reason (word) in every man. Each fills the place of a fountain— the Father is the fountain of divinity, the Son of reason. As, then, there are many gods, but to us there is but one God the Father, and many Lords, but to us there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, so there are many Λόγοι, but we, for our part, pray that that one Λόγος may be with us who was in the beginning and was with God, God the Logos. For whoever does not receive this Logos who was in the beginning with God, or attach himself to Him as He appeared in flesh, or take part in some of those who had part in this Logos, or whoever having had part in Him falls away from Him again, he will have his portion in what is called most opposite to reason. (Commentary on the Gospel of John Book II, 2-3)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 293-373

He became man so that we might be made god; and He manifested Himself in the flesh, so that we might grasp the idea of the uneen Father; and He endured the insolence of men, so that we might receive the inheritence of immortality. (On the Incarnation of the Word, 54:3)

For what the human Body of the Word suffered, this the Word, dwelling in the body, ascribed to Himself, in order that we might be enabled to be partakers of the Godhead of the Word. And verily it is strange that He it was Who suffered and yet suffered not. Suffered, because His own Body suffered, and He was in it, which thus suffered; suffered not, because the Word, being by Nature God, is impassible. And while He, the incorporeal, was in the passible Body, the Body had in it the impassible Word, which was destroying the infirmities inherent in the Body. But this He did, and so it was, in order that Himself taking what was ours and offering it as a sacrifice, He might do away with it, and conversely might invest us with what was His… (Epistle to Epicetus, 6)

St. Hilary of Poitiers ca. 300-368

But the Incarnation is summed up in this, that the whole Son, that is, His manhood as well as His divinity, was permitted by the Father’s gracious favour to continue in the unity of the Father’s nature, and retained not only the powers of the divine nature, but also that nature’s self. For the object to be gained was that man might become god. But the assumed manhood could not in any wise abide in the unity of God, unless, through unity with God, it attained to unity with the nature of God. Then, since God the Word was in the nature of God, the Word made flesh would in its turn also be in the nature of God. Thus, if the flesh were united to the glory of the Word, the man Jesus Christ could abide in the glory of God the Father, and the Word made flesh could be restored to the unity of the Father’s nature, even as regards His manhood, since the assumed flesh had obtained the glory of the Word. Therefore the Father must reinstate the Word in His unity, that the offspring of His nature might again return to be glorified in Himself: for the unity had been infringed by the new dispensation, and could only be restored perfect as before if the Father glorified with Himself the flesh assumed by the Son. (On the Trinity, Book IX.38)

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

…had the serpent been rejected, along with the sin, they would have eaten of the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge would not have been withheld from them any longer; from the one they would have acquired infallible knowledge, and from the other they would have acquired divinity (allahutha) in humanity; and had they thus acquired infallible knowledge and immortal life, they would have done so in this body. (Commentary on Genesis II.23)

The Most High knew that Adam wanted to become a god, so He sent His Son who put him on in order to grant him his desire. (Nisibene Hymns LXIX. 12)

He gave us divinity, we gave Him humanity. (Hymn on Faith V.17)

Sebastian Brock, Introduction to Hymns on Paradise pg. 73: It has sometimes been said that the concept of the divinization, or theois, of humanity is something that crept into Christianity, and especially under Eastern Christianity, under Hellenic influence. It is clear, however, that St. Ephrem, whom Theodoret described as “unacquainted with the language of the Greeks” (Eccles. History IV.29), and whose thought patterns are essentially Semitic and Biblical in character, is nonetheless an important witness to this teaching. Moreover in this context it should be recalled that, since the term “son of” implies “belonging to the category of,” the title “children of God” to which Christians attain at Baptism would suggest to the Semitic mind that they had, potentially, the characteristics of divine beings, in other words, immortality.

St. Basil of Caesarea ca. 329-379

Now the Spirit is not brought into intimate association with the soul by local approximation. How indeed could there be a corporeal approach to the incorporeal? This association results from the withdrawal of the passions which, coming afterwards gradually on the soul from its friendship to the flesh, have alienated it from its close relationship with God. Only then after a man is purified from the shame whose stain he took through his wickedness, and has come back again to his natural beauty, and as it were cleaning the Royal Image and restoring its ancient form, only thus is it possible for him to draw near to the Paraclete. And He, like the sun, will by the aid of your purified eye show you in Himself the image of the invisible, and in the blessed spectacle of the image you shall behold the unspeakable beauty of the archetype. Through His aid hearts are lifted up, the weak are held by the hand, and they who are advancing are brought to perfection. Shining upon those that are cleansed from every spot, He makes them spiritual by fellowship with Himself. Just as when a sunbeam falls on bright and transparent bodies, they themselves become brilliant too, and shed forth a fresh brightness from themselves, so souls wherein the Spirit dwells, illuminated by the Spirit, themselves become spiritual, and send forth their grace to others. Hence comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of what is hidden, distribution of good gifts, the heavenly citizenship, a place in the chorus of angels, joy without end, abiding in God, the being made like to God, and, highest of all, the being made god. Such, then, to instance a few out of many, are the conceptions concerning the Holy Spirit, which we have been taught to hold concerning His greatness, His dignity, and His operations, by the oracles of the Spirit themselves. (On the Holy Spirit, 9.23)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

Stephen Finlan and Vladimir Kharlamov, Introduction to Theosis/ Deification in Christian Theology, pg. 1:  Deification was an important idea in the early church, though it took a long time for θεωσις (theosis) to emerge as the standard label for the process. The term was coined by the great fourth century theologian, Gregory of Nazianzus.  

Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become gods(*) for His sake, since He for ours became Man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich; 2 Cor. 8:9 He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonoured that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him Who gave Himself a Ransom and a Reconciliation for us. But one can give nothing like oneself, understanding the Mystery, and becoming for His sake all that He became for ours. (Oration 1, On Easter and His Reluctance V)

(*) Excerpted from the footnotes Ch. V of Scripture and Tradition (Etna, CA:   Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1994 [1984]), 67-75: We cannot overemphasize the deep spiritual reality of the nature of theosis. This is not to belabor the point needlessly. Being alien to a Western theological outlook, the spiritual sense of theosis, as found in the Patristic literature, is often even distorted as witnessed by various indefensibly mistranslated passages from the Greek. An egregious example of this tendency is found in Schaff and Wace’s English presentation of St. Gregory Nazianzus’ first oration, “On Easter and His Reluctance” (Fathers, VII, pp. 203-204). St. Gregory is quoted as exhorting us to “become God’s for His sake, since He for ours became man” [p. 203]. This incredible translation is a rendering of the Greek, “genometha theoi di’ auton, epeide kakeinos di’ emas anthropos” (PG. XXXV, col. 397). We find the following the only suitable translation: “Let us become gods for Him [His sake], since He for us [our sake] became man.” It is simply impossible to find in the words “genometha theoi di’ auton” genitive expression “become God’s [emphasis ours] for His sake.” We can only presume that the theological sensibilities of the translator prevailed over good scholarship, resulting in a fraudulent translation. 

For He Whom you now treat with contempt was once above you.  He Who is now Man was once the Uncompounded. What He was He continued to be; what He was not He took to Himself.  In the beginning He was, uncaused; for what is the Cause of God?  But afterwards for a cause He was born.  And that came was that you might be saved, who insult Him and despise His Godhead, because of this, that He took upon Him your denser nature, having converse with Flesh by means of Mind.  While His inferior Nature, the Humanity, became God, because it was united to God, and became One Person because the Higher Nature prevailed in order that I too might be made god so far as He is made Man.(Oration 29, 19)

For there is One God, and One Mediator between God and Man, the Man Christ Jesus. For He still pleads even now as Man for my salvation; for He continues to wear the Body which He assumed, until He make me god by the power of His Incarnation; although He is no longer known after the flesh -I mean, the passions of the flesh, the same, except sin, as ours. (Oration 30, 14)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

It is evident, therefore, that He called men gods because they were deified by His grace, and not because they were born of His substance. For He justifies, being just of Himself and not from another; and He deifies, being God of Himself and not by participation in another. But He that justifies does also deify, because by justifying He makes sons of God. For, “He has given them the power to become sons of God.” If we are made sons of God, we are also made gods; but this is by grace adopting, and not by nature begetting. (Enarrationes in Psalmos 49, 2)

Great might is needed to raise up the lowly, to deify a mere mortal, to make the weak perfect, to grant glory through abasement and victory through suffering. (ibid., 117:11)

And there He stood in front of the eyes of a servant, in the form of a servant, saving the form of God for deifed eyes, and He said to him, Am I with you all this time, and you do not know me? (Sermons 126.14)

God, you see, wants to make you a god; not by nature of course, like the One whom He begot; but by His gift and by adoption. (Sermons 166.4)

And being thence warned to return to myself, I entered into my inward self, Thou leading me on; and I was able to do it, for You had become my helper. And I entered, and with the eye of my soul (such as it was) saw above the same eye of my soul, above my mind, the Unchangeable Light. Not this common light, which all flesh may look upon, nor, as it were, a greater one of the same kind, as though the brightness of this should be much more resplendent, and with its greatness fill up all things. Not like this was that light, but different, yea, very different from all these. Nor was it above my mind as oil is above water, nor as heaven above earth; but above it was, because it made me, and I below it, because I was made by it. He who knows the Truth knows that Light; and he that knows it knows eternity. Love knows it. O Eternal Truth, and true Love, and loved Eternity! You are my God; to You do I sigh both night and day. When I first knew You, You lifted me up, that I might see there was that which I might see, and that yet it was not I that did see. And Thou beat back the infirmity of my sight, pouring forth upon me most strongly Your beams of light, and I trembled with love and fear; and I found myself to be far off from You, in the region of dissimilarity, as if I heard this voice of Yours from on high: I am the food of strong men; grow, and you shall feed upon me; nor shall you convert me, like the food of your flesh, into you, but you shall be converted into me. And I learned that You correct man for iniquity, and You make my soul consume away like a spider. And I said, Is Truth, therefore, nothing because it is neither diffused through space, finite, nor infinite? And You cried to me from afar, Yea, verily, ‘I Am that I Am.’ And I heard this, as things are heard in the heart, nor was there room for doubt; and I should more readily doubt that I live than that Truth is not, which is clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. Romans 1:20 (Confessions Book VII.10)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

For since they received the Son through faith, they receive the power to be ranked among the sons of God. For the Son gives what is His alone and specially and of nature to be in their power, setting it forth as common, making this a sort of image of the love for man that is inherent to Him, and of His love for the world. For in none other way could we who bore the image of the earthy escape corruption, unless the beauty of the image of the heavenly were impressed upon us, through our being called to sonship. For being partakers of Him through the Spirit, we were sealed unto likeness with Him and mount up to the primal character of the Image after which the Divine Scripture says we were made. For thus hardly recovering the pristine beauty of our nature, and re-formed unto that Divine Nature, shall we be superior to the ills that have befallen us through the transgression. Therefore we mount up unto dignity above our nature for Christ’s sake, and we too shall be sons of God, not like Him in exactitude, but by grace in imitation of Him. For He is Very Son, existing from the Father; we adopted by His Kindness, through grace receiving I have said, Ye are gods and all of you are children of the Most High. For the created and subject nature is called to what is above nature by the mere nod and will of the Father: but the Son and God and Lord will not possess this being God and Son, by the will of God the Father, nor in that He wills it only, but beaming forth of the Very Essence of the Father, He receives to Himself by Nature what is Its own Good. And again He is clearly seen to be Very Son, proved by comparison with ourselves. For since that which is by Nature has another mode of being from that which is by adoption, and that which is in truth from that which is by imitation, and we are called sons of God by adoption and imitation: hence He is Son by Nature and in truth, to Whom we made sons too are compared, gaining the good by grace instead of by natural endowments. (Commentary on the Gospel of John, Bk. I Chap. 9)

St. Patrick of Ireland ca. 387-493

And if at any time I managed anything of good for the sake of my God whom I love, I beg of him that he grant it to me to shed my blood for His name with proselytes and captives, even should I be left unburied, or even were my wretched body to be torn limb from limb by dogs or savage beasts, or were it to be devoured by the birds of the air, I think, most surely, were this to have happened to me, I had saved both my soul and my body. For beyond any doubt on that day we shall rise again in the brightness of the sun (cf. Isa. 30.26), that is, in the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer (cf. 1 Cor. 15:43, Phil. 3:20-21), as “sons of the living” God (Rom. 9:26) and “co-heirs of Christ” (Rom. 8.17), “conformed to his image” (cf. Rom. 8.29); for we shall reign “through him and for him and in him” (Rom. 11.36). (St. Patrick’s Confessio)

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

And just as in the case of a beautiful garden where there are fruit-bearing trees and the air is saturated with sweet odors and there are many beautiful and refreshing places to delight in and put at rest those who go there, so also are those persons who reach the kingdom. They are all in joy and happiness and peace. They are kings and lords and gods. For it is written: “King of kings and Lord of lords”. (1 Tim. 6:15) (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 27.3)

Abba Alonius ca. 5th cent.

He also said, ‘If only a man desired it for a single day from morning till night, he would be able to come to measure of God.’ (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, Saying 3)

St. Dionysius the Areopagite ca. 5th cent.

The source of this hierarchy is the font of life, the being of goodness, the one cause of everything, namely, the Trinity which in goodness bestow’s being and well-being on everything. Now this blessed Deity, which transcends everything and which is one and also triune has resolved, for reasons unclear to us but obvious to itself, to ensure the salvation of rational beings, both ourselves and those beings who are our superiors. This can only happen with the divinization of the saved. And divinization consists of being as much as possible like and in union with God. (The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy I.3)

The hierarch, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4) by taking on a likeness to God, proclaims the good news to all that God out of his own natural goodness is merciful to the inhabits of earth, that because of His love for humanity He has deigned to come down to us and that, like a fire, He has made one with Himself all those capable of being divinized. “For to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the power to become the children of God; who were born not of blood nor the will of the flesh but of God.” (Jn. 1:12) (ibid., Chap. II.2.1)

St. Benedict of Nursia ca. 480-547

Let us arise, then, at last, for the Scripture stirs us up, saying, “Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep” (Rom. 13:11). Let us open our eyes to the deifying light, let us hear with attentive ears the warning which the divine voice cries daily to us… (The Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue)

St. Barsanuphius ca. 6th cent.

…[B]eing in this state they [the saints] have reached the measure above distraction and high-mindedness — having become wholly mind, wholly eye, wholly light, wholly perfect, wholly gods. Having labored, they became magnified, glorified, enlightened, alive again, because they died to everything. They are now rejoicing and cause joy to all; they are rejoicing over the undivided Trinity, and give joy to the angelic powers. (Answer 120)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

Age, time, and place belong in the category of the relative. Without them nothing of what is included in them exists. God is not of the category of the relative because He does not have anything at all included in Him. If, then, the inheritance of those who are worthy is God Himself, the one who is rendered worthy of this grace will be above age, time, and place. He will have God Himself as a place, according to what is written, “Be for me a protecting God, a strong place which saves me.” (Ps. 71:3) (Chapters on Knowledge, First Century 68)

[W]hen what is partial ceases with the appearance of what is perfect, all mirrors and hidden meanings pass away; once the truth arrives face to face, the one who is saved will be above all worlds, ages, and places in which he was once nurtured as a child, and will reach his end in God. (ibid., First Century 70)

Which exactly the great apostle teaches mystically and says that in the ages to come the superabundant wealth of God’s goodness will be revealed. Therefore, let us too divide the ages in our mind and appoint the one part of them to the mystery of the divine incarnation, and the other part to the grace of the human deification, and we will find the first part to have been completed accordingly, and the other part not yet arrived. And to speak shortly, the first part of the ages belongs to the descent of God to men, and the other part to the ascent of men to God. (To Thalassius, Q.22)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

We know that when he appears we shall be like him. And Paul also explains this in other words, saying, When Christ, your life, appears, then you will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:4) We shall be like him, he says, because when we shall enjoy with attentive regard (Lat. contemplatio) his unchangeable and eternal divinity, we also shall be immortal and like him indeed, because we shall be happy. And yet, we shall not be like our Creator, because we are creatures. For who among the children of God shall be like God? (Ps. 89:6) Although this can also seem to be said about the immortality of the body and in this we shall indeed be like God, but [in fact we will be] only like the Son who alone among the persons of the Trinity received a body, in which he died, rose and brought it to the heavenly heights. (Commentary on Jn. 3:1-3:2)

St Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

And how is it that one made god by grace and by adoption will not be god in awareness and knowledge and contemplation, he who has put on the Son of God? (Introduction to the Discourses, pg. 36)

Display a worthy penitence by means of all sorts of deeds and words, that you may draw yourselves the grace of the all-holy Spirit. For this Spirit, when He descends on you, becomes like a pool of light to you, which encompasses you completely in a inutterable manner. As it regenerates you, it changes you from corruptible to incorruptible, from mortal to immortal, from sons of men into Son of God and gods by adoption and grace… (Discourses, XXXIII)

St. Gregory Palamas ca.  1296-1359

The splendour granted by the grace of God is light, as you may learn from this text: “The splendour for those who who have been purified is light, for the just will shine like the sun; God will stand in the midst of them, distributing and determining the dignities of blessedness, for they are gods and kings.” (The Triads, E. The Uncreated Glory)


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.)