Church Fathers on Foreknowledge and Freewill

, posted by Godismyjudge

Some Calvinists suggest that God’s foreknowledge is based on His plan and/or knowledge of causal relations rather then based on the future. I thought I would look up what the church fathers had to say on the subject of God’s foreknowledge and freewill. Here are the results.

Diodore of Tarsus (circa 390)
This text [Romans 8:29-30] does not take away our free will. It uses the word foreknew before predestined. Now it is clear that foreknowledge does not by itself impose any particular behavior. What is said here would be clearer if we started from the end and worked backwards. Whom did God glorify? Those whom he justified. Whom did he predestine? Those whom he foreknew, who were called according to his plan, i.e., who demonstrated that they were worthy to be called by his plan and made conformable to Christ. (Romans (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, volume 6. Edited by Thomas Oden. P 235)

Ambrosiaster (late 4th century)
Those whom God foreknew would believe in him he chose to receive the promises. But those who appear to believe yet do not persevere in the faith are not chosen by God, because whosever God chooses will persevere. (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, volume 6. Edited by Thomas Oden. P 235)

Theodoret of Cyrus (circa 393 – 457)
Those whose intentions God foreknew he predestined from the beginning. Those who are predestined, he called, and those who were called, he justified by baptism. Those who were justified, he glorified, calling them children. To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God. Let no one say that God’s foreknowledge was the unilateral cause of these things. For it was not foreknowledge which justified people, but God knew what would happen to them, because he is God. (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, volume 6. Edited by Thomas Oden. P 237)

Origen (circa 185–254)
It is not because God knows that something is going to be that that thing is going to be, but rather it is because it is going to be that it is known by God before it comes to be. For even if we imagine for the sake of argument that God does not foreknow anything it was without a doubt going to happen that, say Judas became a traitor, and this is just the way the prophets foretold it would happen. Therefore, it was not because the prophets foretold it that Judas became a traitor, but rather it was because he was going to be a traitor that the prophets foretold the things that he was going to do by his wicked designs, even though Judas most certainly had it within his power to be like Peter and John if he had so willed; but he chose the desire for money over the glory of apostolic companionship, and the prophets, foreseeing that this choice of his, handed it down in their books. Moreover, in order that you might understand that the cause of each person’s salvation is to be found not I God’s foreknowledge but in that person’s intentions and actions, notice that Paul tormented his body and subjected it to servitude because he feared that, after having preached to others, he himself might perhaps become reprobate. (Book 7 of his commentary on the epistle to the Romans (Romans chapter 8)).

John Damascene (circa 676 – 749)
From this it is clear that foreknowledge was not in the least a cause of the devil’s becoming evil. For a physician, when he foresees a future illness, does not cause that illness. To the contrary, the real cause of the illness consists of a perverse and immoderate way of life. For it’s part, the physician’s foreknowledge is a sign of his erudition, whereas the cause of the foreknowledge is the fact that things were going to turn out that way. (Dialogs against Manichees)

Jerome (circa 347 – 420)
For Adam did not sin because God knew that he would do so; but God inasmuch as He is God, foreknew what Adam would do of his own free choice. (Against the Pelagians. Book 3 part 6)

For not because He knew that which is about to come, is it necessary for us to do that which He has foreknown: but He became cognizant of the future because we were about to do it by our own will. For He is God. (Dan’s translation of Jerome’s comments on Ezekiel 2:5)

Tertullian (circa 160 – 220)
You ought, however, to deduct from God’s attributes both His supreme earnestness of purpose and most excellent truth in His whole creation, if you would cease to inquire whether anything could have happened against the will of God. For, while holding this earnestness and truth of the good God, which are indeed capable of proof from the rational creation, you will not wonder at the fact that God did not interfere to prevent the occurrence of what He wished not to happen, in order that He might keep from harm what He wished. …The necessary consequence, therefore, was, that God must separate from the liberty which He had once for all bestowed upon man (in other words, keep within Himself), both His foreknowledge and power, through which He might have prevented man’s falling into danger when attempting wrongly to enjoy his liberty. Now, if He had interposed, He would have rescinded the liberty of man’s will, which He had permitted with set purpose, and in goodness. ….If He had checked (man’s freedom), would He not then seem to have been rather deceived, through want of foresight into the future? But in giving it full scope, who would not say that He did so in ignorance of the issue of things? God, however, did fore-know that man would make a bad use of his created constitution; and yet what can be so worthy of God as His earnestness of purpose, and the truth of His created works, be they what they may? (Against Marcion book 2 chapter 7)

Justin Martyr (circa 100 – 165)
But when the Spirit of prophecy speaks of things that are about to come to pass as if they had already taken place, ….The things which He absolutely knows will take place, He predicts as if already they had taken place. …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. And the holy Spirit of prophecy taught us this, telling us by Moses that God spoke thus to the man first created: “Behold, before thy face are good and evil: choose the good.” …So that what we say about future events being foretold, we do not say it as if they came about by a fatal necessity; but God foreknowing all that shall be done by all men, and it being His decree that the future actions of men shall all be recompensed according to their several value, He foretells by the Spirit of prophecy that He will bestow meet rewards according to the merit of the actions done, always urging the human race to effort and recollection, showing that He cares and provides for men. (First Apology Chapters 42-44)

And that God the Father of all would bring Christ to heaven after He had raised Him from the dead, and would keep Him there until He has subdued His enemies the devils, and until the number of those who are foreknown by Him as good and virtuous is complete, on whose account He has still delayed the consummation—hear what was said by the prophet David. These are his words: “The Lord said unto My Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool. (First Apology Chapter 45)

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. For the reason why God has delayed to do this, is His regard for the human race. For He foreknows that some are to be saved by repentance, some even that are perhaps not yet born. In the beginning He made the human race with the power of thought and of choosing the truth and doing right, so that all men are without excuse before God; for they have been born rational and contemplative. And if any one disbelieves that God cares for these things, he will thereby either insinuate that God does not exist, or he will assert that though He exists He delights in vice, or exists like a stone, and that neither virtue nor vice are anything, but only in the opinion of men these things are reckoned good or evil. (First Apology Chapter 28)

Pseudo- Justin Martyr (date unknown)
Foreknowledge is not a cause of that which is going to be, but rather that which is going to be is a cause of foreknowledge. For that which is going to be does not ensue upon foreknowledge, but rather foreknowledge ensues upon that which is going to be. (link)

Irenaeus (2nd century – 202)
Man has received the knowledge of good and evil. It is good to obey God, and to believe in Him, and to keep His commandment, and this is the life of man; as not to obey God is evil, and this is his death. Since God, therefore, gave [to man] such mental power (magnanimitatem) man knew both the good of obedience and the evil of disobedience, that the eye of the mind, receiving experience of both, may with judgment make choice of the better things; and that he may never become indolent or neglectful of God’s command; and learning by experience that it is an evil thing which deprives him of life, that is, disobedience to God, may never attempt it at all, but that, knowing that what preserves his life, namely, obedience to God, is good, he may diligently keep it with all earnestness. Wherefore he has also had a twofold experience, possessing knowledge of both kinds, that with discipline he may make choice of the better things. …Offer to Him thy heart in a soft and tractable state, and preserve the form in which the Creator has fashioned thee, having moisture in thyself, lest, by becoming hardened, thou lose the impressions of His fingers. … If, however, thou wilt not believe in Him, and wilt flee from His hands, the cause of imperfection shall be in thee who didst not obey, but not in Him who called [thee]. … Nor, [in like manner], does the light fail because of those who have blinded themselves; but while it remains the same as ever, those who are [thus] blinded are involved in darkness through their own fault. The light does never enslave any one by necessity; nor, again, does God exercise compulsion upon any one unwilling to accept the exercise of His skill. Those persons, therefore, who have apostatized from the light given by the Father, and transgressed the law of liberty, have done so through their own fault, since they have been created free agents, and possessed of power over themselves. But God, foreknowing all things, prepared fit habitations for both, kindly conferring that light which they desire on those who seek after the light of incorruption, and resort to it; but for the despisers and mockers who avoid and turn themselves away from this light, and who do, as it were, blind themselves, He has prepared darkness suitable to persons who oppose the light, and He has inflicted an appropriate punishment upon those who try to avoid being subject to Him. (Against Heresies chapter 39)

John Chrysostom (circa 347–407)
But when He said, “It must needs be,” it is not as taking away the power of choosing for themselves, nor the freedom of the moral principle, nor as placing man’s life under any absolute constraint of circumstances, that He saith these things, but He foretells what would surely be; and this Luke hath set forth in another form of expression, “It is impossible but that offenses should come.” But what are the offenses? The hindrances on the right way. Thus also do those on the stage call them that are skilled in those matters, them that distort their bodies. It is not then His prediction that brings the offenses; far from it; neither because He foretold it, therefore doth it take place; but because it surely was to be, therefore He foretold it; since if those who bring in the offenses had not been minded to do wickedly, neither would the offenses have come; and if they had not been to come, neither would they have been foretold. But because those men did evil, and were incurably diseased, the offenses came, and He foretells that which is to be. (Homilies # 59 on Mathew 18:7)