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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Origen on Pharaoh, his hard heart, free will, and Romans chapter 9

Eventhough Origen is seen as a heretic in the christian east(because of what he tought on other issues) in 1998/1999 I was still a protestant and I didn't know what the eastern view of Origen was. But none the less, what he said in first principles about Pharaoh, his hard heart and Romans chapter 9 in general........... single handedly erased the doctrine of unconditional Predestination from my mind. The wisdom he showed, was something I never saw before, and I was amazed that someone from the 3rd century had such wisdom. So from 1998/1999 on, I no longer read Romans chapter 9 the same again.........and all thanks to Origen. My view of Romans chapter 9 since then has changed over the years, but the basic outline is still similar.

This translation of De Principiis (Book III) came from the New Advent website. This is book 3 chapter 1:7-22 on the issue of free will.

"7. But, seeing there are found in the sacred Scriptures themselves certain expressions occurring in such a connection, that the opposite of this may appear capable of being understood from them, let us bring them forth before us, and, discussing them according to the rule of piety, let us furnish an explanation of them, in order that from those few passages which we now expound, the solution of those others which resemble them, and by which any power over the will seems to be excluded, may become clear. Those expressions, accordingly, make an impression on very many, which are used by God in speaking of Pharaoh, as when He frequently says, I will harden Pharaoh's heart. For if he is hardened by God, and commits sin in consequence of being so hardened, the cause of his sin is not himself. And if so, it will appear that Pharaoh does not possess freedom of will; and it will be maintained, as a consequence, that, agreeably to this illustration, neither do others who perish owe the cause of their destruction to the freedom of their own will. That expression, also, in Ezekiel, when he says, I will take away their stony hearts, and will give them hearts of flesh, that they may walk in My precepts, and keep My ways, may impress some, inasmuch as it seems to be a gift of God, either to walk in His ways or to keep His precepts, if He take away that stony heart which is an obstacle to the keeping of His commandments, and bestow and implant a better and more impressible heart, which is called now a heart of flesh. Consider also the nature of the answer given in the Gospel by our Lord and Saviour to those who inquired of Him why He spoke to the multitude in parables. His words are: That seeing they may not see; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest they should be converted, and their sins be forgiven them. The words, moreover, used by the Apostle Paul, that it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy; in another passage also, that to will and to do are of God: and again, elsewhere, Therefore has He mercy upon whom He will, and whom He will He hardens. You will say then unto me, Why does He yet find fault? For who shall resist His will? O man, who are you that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him who has formed it, Why have you made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another to dishonour? — these and similar declarations seem to have no small influence in preventing very many from believing that every one is to be considered as having freedom over his own will, and in making it appear to be a consequence of the will of God whether a man is either saved or lost."

8. 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. And hence they maintain that Pharaoh, too, being of a ruined nature, was on that account hardened by God, who hardens those that are of an earthly nature, but has compassion on those who are of a spiritual nature. Let us see, then, what is the meaning of their assertion; and let us, in the first place, request them to tell us whether they maintain that the soul of Pharaoh was of an earthly nature, such as they term lost. They will undoubtedly answer that it was of an earthly nature. If so, then to believe God, or to obey Him, when his nature opposed his so doing, was an impossibility. And if this were his condition by nature, what further need was there for his heart to be hardened, and this not once, but several times, unless indeed because it was possible for him to yield to persuasion? Nor could any one be said to be hardened by another, save him who of himself was not obdurate. And if he were not obdurate of himself, it follows that neither was he of an earthly nature, but such an one as might give way when overpowered by signs and wonders. But he was necessary for God's purpose, in order that, for the saving of the multitude, He might manifest in him His power by his offering resistance to numerous miracles, and struggling against the will of God, and his heart being by this means said to be hardened. Such are our answers, in the first place, to these persons; and by these their assertion may be overturned, according to which they think that Pharaoh was destroyed in consequence of his evil nature. And with regard to the language of the Apostle Paul, we must answer them in a similar way. For who are they whom God hardens, according to your view? Those, namely, whom you term of a ruined nature, and who, I am to suppose, would have done something else had they not been hardened. If, indeed, they come to destruction in consequence of being hardened, they no longer perish naturally, but in virtue of what befalls them. Then, in the next place, upon whom does God show mercy? On those, namely, who are to be saved. And in what respect do those persons stand in need of a second compassion, who are to be saved once by their nature, and so come naturally to blessedness, except that it is shown even from their case, that, because it was possible for them to perish, they therefore obtain mercy, that so they may not perish, but come to salvation, and possess the kingdom of the good. And let this be our answer to those who devise and invent the fable of good or bad natures, i.e., of earthly or spiritual souls, in consequence of which, as they say, each one is either saved or lost.

9. And now we must return an answer also to those who would have the God of the law to be just only, and not also good; and let us ask such in what manner they consider the heart of Pharaoh to have been hardened by God— by what acts or by what prospective arrangements. For we must observe the conception of a God who in our opinion is both just and good, but according to them only just. And let them show us how a God whom they also acknowledge to be just, can with justice cause the heart of a man to be hardened, that, in consequence of that very hardening, he may sin and be ruined. And how shall the justice of God be defended, if He Himself is the cause of the destruction of those whom, owing to their unbelief (through their being hardened), He has afterwards condemned by the authority of a judge? For why does He blame him, saying, But since you will not let My people go, lo, I will smite all the first-born in Egypt, even your first-born, and whatever else was spoken through Moses by God to Pharaoh? For it behoves every one who maintains the truth of what is recorded in Scripture, and who desires to show that the God of the law and the prophets is just, to render a reason for all these things, and to show how there is in them nothing at all derogatory to the justice of God, since, although they deny His goodness, they admit that He is a just judge, and creator of the world. Different, however, is the method of our reply to those who assert that the creator of this world is a malignant being, i.e., a devil.

10. But since we acknowledge the God who spoke by Moses to be not only just, but also good, let us carefully inquire how it is in keeping with the character of a just and good Deity to have hardened the heart of Pharaoh. And let us see whether, following the example of the Apostle Paul, we are able to solve the difficulty by help of some parallel instances: if we can show, e.g., that by one and the same act God has pity upon one individual, but hardens another; not purposing or desiring that he who is hardened should be so, but because, in the manifestation of His goodness and patience, the heart of those who treat His kindness and forbearance with contempt and insolence is hardened by the punishment of their crimes being delayed; while those, on the other hand, who make His goodness and patience the occasion of their repentance and reformation, obtain compassion. To show more clearly, however, what we mean, let us take the illustration employed by the Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where he says, For the earth, which drinks in the rain that comes oft upon it, and brings forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, will receive blessing from God; but that which bears thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned. Now from those words of Paul which we have quoted, it is clearly shown that by one and the same act on the part of God— that, viz., by which He sends rain upon the earth— one portion of the ground, when carefully cultivated, brings forth good fruits; while another, neglected and uncared for, produces thorns and thistles. And if one, speaking as it were in the person of the rain, were to say, It is I, the rain, that have made the good fruits, and it is I that have caused the thorns and thistles to grow, however hard the statement might appear, it would nevertheless be true; for unless the rain had fallen, neither fruits, nor thorns, nor thistles would have sprung up, whereas by the coming of the rain the earth gave birth to both. Now, although it is due to the beneficial action of the rain that the earth has produced herbs of both kinds, it is not to the rain that the diversity of the herbs is properly to be ascribed; but on those will justly rest the blame for the bad seed, who, although they might have turned up the ground by frequent ploughing, and have broken the clods by repeated harrowing, and have extirpated all useless and noxious weeds, and have cleared and prepared the fields for the coming showers by all the labour and toil which cultivation demands, have nevertheless neglected to do this, and who will accordingly reap briers and thorns, the most appropriate fruit of their sloth. And the consequence therefore is, that while the rain falls in kindness and impartiality equally upon the whole earth, yet, by one and the same operation of the rain, that soil which is cultivated yields with a blessing useful fruits to the diligent and careful cultivators, while that which has become hardened through the neglect of the husbandman brings forth only thorns and thistles. Let us therefore view those signs and miracles which were done by God, as the showers furnished by Him from above; and the purpose and desires of men, as the cultivated and uncultivated soil, which is of one and the same nature indeed, as is every soil compared with another, but not in one and the same state of cultivation. From which it follows that every one's will, if untrained, and fierce, and barbarous, is either hardened by the miracles and wonders of God, growing more savage and thorny than ever, or it becomes more pliant, and yields itself up with the whole mind to obedience, if it be cleared from vice and subjected to training.

11. But, to establish the point more clearly, it will not be superfluous to employ another illustration, as if, e.g., one were to say that it is the sun which hardens and liquefies, although liquefying and hardening are things of an opposite nature. Now it is not incorrect to say that the sun, by one and the same power of its heat, melts wax indeed, but dries up and hardens mud: not that its power operates one way upon mud, and in another way upon wax; but that the qualities of mud and wax are different, although according to nature they are one thing, both being from the earth. In this way, then, one and the same working upon the part of God, which was administered by Moses in signs and wonders, made manifest the hardness of Pharaoh, which he had conceived in the intensity of his wickedness but exhibited the obedience of those other Egyptians who were intermingled with the Israelites, and who are recorded to have quitted Egypt at the same time with the Hebrews. With respect to the statement that the heart of Pharaoh was subdued by degrees, so that on one occasion he said, Go not far away; you shall go a three days' journey, but leave your wives, and your children, and your cattle, and as regards any other statements, according to which he appears to yield gradually to the signs and wonders, what else is shown, save that the power of the signs and miracles was making some impression on him, but not so much as it ought to have done? For if the hardening were of such a nature as many take it to be, he would not indeed have given way even in a few instances. But I think there is no absurdity in explaining the tropical or figurative nature of that language employed in speaking of hardening, according to common usage. For those masters who are remarkable for kindness to their slaves, are frequently accustomed to say to the latter, when, through much patience and indulgence on their part, they have become insolent and worthless: It is I that have made you what you are; I have spoiled you; it is my endurance that has made you good for nothing: I am to blame for your perverse and wicked habits, because I do not have you immediately punished for every delinquency according to your deserts. For we must first attend to the tropical or figurative meaning of the language, and so come to see the force of the expression, and not find fault with the word, whose inner meaning we do not ascertain. Finally, the Apostle Paul, evidently treating of such, says to him who remained in his sins: Despise the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? but, after your hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto yourself wrath on the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Such are the words of the apostle to him who is in his sins. Let us apply these very expressions to Pharaoh, and see if they also are not spoken of him with propriety, since, according to his hardness and impenitent heart, he treasured and stored up for himself wrath on the day of wrath, inasmuch as his hardness could never have been declared and manifested, unless signs and wonders of such number and magnificence had been performed.

12. But if the proofs which we have adduced do not appear full enough, and the similitude of the apostle seem wanting in applicability, let us add the voice of prophetic authority, and see what the prophets declare regarding those who at first, indeed, leading a righteous life, have deserved to receive numerous proofs of the goodness of God, but afterwards, as being human beings, have fallen astray, with whom the prophet, making himself also one, says: Why, O Lord, have You made us to err from Your way? And hardened our heart, that we should not fear Your name? Return, for Your servants' sake, for the tribes of Your inheritance, that we also for a little may obtain some inheritance from Your holy hill. Jeremiah also employs similar language: O Lord, You have deceived us, and we were deceived; You have held (us), and You have prevailed. The expression, then, Why, O Lord, have You hardened our heart, that we should not fear Your name? used by those who prayed for mercy, is to be taken in a figurative, moral acceptation, as if one were to say, Why have You spared us so long, and did not requite us when we sinned, but abandoned us, that so our wickedness might increase, and our liberty of sinning be extended when punishment ceased? In like manner, unless a horse continually feel the spur of his rider, and have his mouth abraded by a bit, he becomes hardened. And a boy also, unless constantly disciplined by chastisement, will grow up to be an insolent youth, and one ready to fall headlong into vice. God accordingly abandons and neglects those whom He has judged undeserving of chastisement: For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. From which we are to suppose that those are to be received into the rank and affection of sons, who have deserved to be scourged and chastened by the Lord, in order that they also, through endurance of trials and tribulations, may be able to say, Who shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus? shall tribulation, or anguish, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For by all these is each one's resolution manifested and displayed, and the firmness of his perseverance made known, not so much to God, who knows all things before they happen, as to the rational and heavenly virtues, who have obtained a part in the work of procuring human salvation, as being a sort of assistants and ministers to God. Those, on the other hand, who do not yet offer themselves to God with such constancy and affection, and are not ready to come into His service, and to prepare their souls for trial, are said to be abandoned by God, i.e., not to be instructed, inasmuch as they are not prepared for instruction, their training or care being undoubtedly postponed to a later time. These certainly do not know what they will obtain from God, unless they first entertain the desire of being benefited; and this finally will be the case, if a man come first to a knowledge of himself, and feel what are his defects, and understand from whom he either ought or can seek the supply of his deficiencies. For he who does not know beforehand of his weakness or his sickness, cannot seek a physician; or at least, after recovering his health, that man will not be grateful to his physician who did not first recognise the dangerous nature of his ailment. And so, unless a man has first ascertained the defects of his life, and the evil nature of his sins, and made this known by confession from his own lips, he cannot be cleansed or acquitted, lest he should be ignorant that what he possesses has been bestowed on him by favour, but should consider as his own property what flows from the divine liberality, which idea undoubtedly generates arrogance of mind and pride, and finally becomes the cause of the individual's ruin. And this, we must believe, was the case with the devil, who viewed as his own, and not as given him by God, the primacy which he held at the time when he was unstained; and thus was fulfilled in him the declaration, that every one who exalts himself shall be abased. From which it appears to me that the divine mysteries were concealed from the wise and prudent, according to the statement of Scripture, that no flesh should glory before God, and revealed to children— to those, namely, who, after they have become infants and little children, i.e., have returned to the humility and simplicity of children, then make progress; and on arriving at perfection, remember that they have obtained their state of happiness, not by their own merits, but by the grace and compassion of God.

13. It is therefore by the sentence of God that he is abandoned who deserves to be so, while over some sinners God exercises forbearance; not, however, without a definite principle of action. Nay, the very fact that He is long-suffering conduces to the advantage of those very persons, since the soul over which He exercises this providential care is immortal; and, as being immortal and everlasting, it is not, although not immediately cared for, excluded from salvation, which is postponed to a more convenient time. For perhaps it is expedient for those who have been more deeply imbued with the poison of wickedness to obtain this salvation at a later period. For as medical men sometimes, although they could quickly cover over the scars of wounds, keep back and delay the cure for the present, in the expectation of a better and more perfect recovery, knowing that it is more salutary to retard the treatment in the cases of swellings caused by wounds, and to allow the malignant humours to flow off for a while, rather than to hasten a superficial cure, by shutting up in the veins the poison of a morbid humour, which, excluded from its customary outlets, will undoubtedly creep into the inner parts of the limbs, and penetrate to the very vitals of the viscera, producing no longer mere disease in the body, but causing destruction to life; so, in like manner, God also, who knows the secret things of the heart, and foreknows the future, in much forbearance allows certain events to happen, which, coming from without upon men, cause to come forth into the light the passions and vices which are concealed within, that by their means those may be cleansed and cured who, through great negligence and carelessness, have admitted within themselves the roots and seeds of sins, so that, when driven outwards and brought to the surface, they may in a certain degree be cast forth and dispersed. And thus, although a man may appear to be afflicted with evils of a serious kind, suffering convulsions in all his limbs, he may nevertheless, at some future time, obtain relief and a cessation from his trouble; and, after enduring his afflictions to satiety, may, after many sufferings, be restored again to his (proper) condition. For God deals with souls not merely with a view to the short space of our present life, included within sixty years or more, but with reference to a perpetual and never-ending period, exercising His providential care over souls that are immortal, even as He Himself is eternal and immortal. For He made the rational nature, which He formed in His own image and likeness, incorruptible; and therefore the soul, which is immortal, is not excluded by the shortness of the present life from the divine remedies and cures.

14. 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. As, therefore, if one were to blame a husbandman for not casting his seed more quickly upon rocky ground, because seed cast upon other rocky soil was seen to spring up speedily, the husbandman would certainly say in reply: I sow this soil more slowly, for this reason, that it may retain the seed which it has received; for it suits this ground to be sown somewhat slowly, lest perhaps the crop, having sprouted too rapidly, and coming forth from the mere surface of a shallow soil, should be unable to withstand the rays of the sun. Would not he who formerly found fault acquiesce in the reasons and superior knowledge of the husbandman, and approve as done on rational grounds what formerly appeared to him as founded on no reason? And in the same way, God, the thoroughly skilled husbandman of all His creation, undoubtedly conceals and delays to another time those things which we think ought to have obtained health sooner, in order that not the outside of things, rather than the inside, may be cured. But if any one now were to object to us that certain seeds do even fall upon rocky ground, i.e., on a hard and stony heart, we should answer that even this does not happen without the arrangement of Divine Providence; inasmuch as, but for this, it would not be known what condemnation was incurred by rashness in hearing and indifference in investigation, nor, certainly, what benefit was derived from being trained in an orderly manner. And hence it happens that the soul comes to know its defects, and to cast the blame upon itself, and, consistently with this, to reserve and submit itself to training, i.e., in order that it may see that its faults must first be removed, and that then it must come to receive the instruction of wisdom. As, therefore, souls are innumerable, so also are their manners, and purposes, and movements, and appetencies, and incitements different, the variety of which can by no means be grasped by the human mind; and therefore to God alone must be left the art, and the knowledge, and the power of an arrangement of this kind, as He alone can know both the remedies for each individual soul, and measure out the time of its cure. It is He alone then who, as we said, recognises the ways of individual men, and determines by what way He ought to lead Pharaoh, that through him His name might be named in all the earth, having previously chastised him by many blows, and finally drowning him in the sea. By this drowning, however, it is not to be supposed that God's providence as regards Pharaoh was terminated; for we must not imagine, because he was drowned, that therefore he had forthwith completely perished: for in the hand of God are both we and our words; all wisdom, also, and knowledge of workmanship, as Scripture declares. But these points we have discussed according to our ability, treating of that chapter of Scripture in which it is said that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and agreeably to the statement, He has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens.

15. Let us now look at those passages of Ezekiel where he says, I will take away from them their stony heart, and I will put in them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances. For if God, when He pleases, takes away a heart of stone and bestows a heart of flesh, that His ordinances may be observed and His commandments may be obeyed, it will then appear that it is not in our power to put away wickedness. For the taking away of a stony heart seems to be nothing else than the removal of the wickedness by which one is hardened, from whomsoever God pleases to remove it. Nor is the bestowal of a heart of flesh, that the precepts of God may be observed and His commandments obeyed, any other thing than a man becoming obedient, and no longer resisting the truth, but performing works of virtue. If, then, God promises to do this, and if, before He takes away the stony heart, we are unable to remove it from ourselves, it follows that it is not in our power, but in God's only, to cast away wickedness. And again, if it is not our doing to form within us a heart of flesh, but the work of God alone, it will not be in our power to live virtuously, but it will in everything appear to be a work of divine grace. Such are the assertions of those who wish to prove from the authority of Holy Scripture that nothing lies in our own power. Now to these we answer, that these passages are not to be so understood, but in the following manner. Take the case of one who was ignorant and untaught, and who, feeling the disgrace of his ignorance, should, driven either by an exhortation from some person, or incited by a desire to emulate other wise men, hand himself over to one by whom he is assured that he will be carefully trained and competently instructed. If he, then, who had formerly hardened himself in ignorance, yield himself, as we have said, with full purpose of mind to a master, and promise to obey him in all things, the master, on seeing clearly the resolute nature of his determination, will appropriately promise to take away all ignorance, and to implant knowledge within his mind; not that he undertakes to do this if the disciple refuse or resist his efforts, but only on his offering and binding himself to obedience in all things. So also the Word of God promises to those who draw near to Him, that He will take away their stony heart, not indeed from those who do not listen to His word, but from those who receive the precepts of His teaching; as in the Gospels we find the sick approaching the Saviour, asking to receive health, and thus at last be cured. And in order that the blind might be healed and regain their sight, their part consisted in making supplication to the Saviour, and in believing that their cure could be effected by Him; while His part, on the other hand, lay in restoring to them the power of vision. And in this way also does the Word of God promise to bestow instruction by taking away the stony heart, i.e., by the removal of wickedness, that so men may be able to walk in the divine precepts, and observe the commandments of the law.

16. There is next brought before us that declaration uttered by the Saviour in the Gospel: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest they should happen to be converted, and their sins be forgiven them. On which our opponent will remark: If those who shall hear more distinctly are by all means to be corrected and converted, and converted in such a manner as to be worthy of receiving the remission of sins, and if it be not in their own power to hear the word distinctly, but if it depend on the Instructor to teach more openly and distinctly, while he declares that he does not proclaim to them the word with clearness, lest they should perhaps hear and understand, and be converted, and be saved, it will follow, certainly, that their salvation is not dependent upon themselves. And if this be so, then we have no free-will either as regards salvation or destruction. Now were it not for the words that are added, Lest perhaps they should be converted, and their sins be forgiven them, we might be more inclined to return the answer, that the Saviour was unwilling that those individuals whom He foresaw would not become good, should understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, and that therefore He spoke to them in parables; but as that addition follows, Lest perhaps they should be converted, and their sins be forgiven them, the explanation is rendered more difficult. And, in the first place, we have to notice what defence this passage furnishes against those heretics who are accustomed to hunt out of the Old Testament any expressions which seem, according to their view, to predicate severity and cruelty of God the Creator, as when He is described as being affected with the feeling of vengeance or punishment, or by any of those emotions, however named, from which they deny the existence of goodness in the Creator; for they do not judge of the Gospels with the same mind and feelings, and do not observe whether any such statements are found in them as they condemn and censure in the Old Testament. For manifestly, in the passage referred to, the Saviour is shown, as they themselves admit, not to speak distinctly, for this very reason, that men may not be converted, and when converted, receive the remission of sins. Now, if the words be understood according to the letter merely, nothing less, certainly, will be contained in them than in those passages which they find fault with in the Old Testament. And if they are of opinion that any expressions occurring in such a connection in the New Testament stand in need of explanation, it will necessarily follow that those also occurring in the Old Testament, which are the subject of censure, may be freed from aspersion by an explanation of a similar kind, so that by such means the passages found in both Testaments may be shown to proceed from one and the same God. But let us return, as we best may, to the question proposed.

17. We said formerly, when discussing the case of Pharaoh, that sometimes it does not lead to good results for a man to be cured too quickly, especially if the disease, being shut up within the inner parts of the body, rage with greater fierceness. Whence God, who is acquainted with secret things, and knows all things before they happen, in His great goodness delays the cure of such, and postpones their recovery to a remoter period, and, so to speak, cures them by not curing them, lest a too favourable state of health should render them incurable. It is therefore possible that, in the case of those to whom, as being without, the words of our Lord and Saviour were addressed, He, seeing from His scrutiny of the hearts and reins that they were not yet able to receive teaching of a clearer type, veiled by the covering of language the meaning of the profounder mysteries, lest perhaps, being rapidly converted and healed, i.e., having quickly obtained the remission of their sins, they should again easily slide back into the same disease which they had found could be healed without any difficulty. For if this be the case, no one can doubt that the punishment is doubled, and the amount of wickedness increased; since not only are the sins which had appeared to be forgiven repeated, but the court of virtue also is desecrated when trodden by deceitful and polluted beings, filled within with hidden wickedness. And what remedy can there ever be for those who, after eating the impure and filthy food of wickedness, have tasted the pleasantness of virtue, and received its sweetness into their mouths, and yet have again betaken themselves to the deadly and poisonous provision of sin? And who doubts that it is better for delay and a temporary abandonment to occur, in order that if, at some future time, they should happen to be satiated with wickedness, and the filth with which they are now delighted should become loathsome, the word of God may at last be appropriately made clear to them, and that which is holy be not given to the dogs, nor pearls be cast before swine, which will trample them under foot, and turn, moreover, and rend and assault those who have proclaimed to them the word of God? These, then, are they who are said to be without, undoubtedly by way of contrast with those who are said to be within, and to hear the word of God with greater clearness. And yet those who are without do hear the word, although it is covered by parables, and overshadowed by proverbs. There are others, also, besides those who are without, who are called Tyrians, and who do not hear at all, respecting whom the Saviour knew that they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, if the miracles performed among others had been done among them, and yet these do not hear those things which are heard even by those who are without: and I believe, for this reason, that the rank of such in wickedness was far lower and worse than that of those who are said to be without, i.e., who are not far from those who are within, and who have deserved to hear the word, although in parables; and because, perhaps, their cure was delayed to that time when it will be more tolerable for them on the day of judgment, than for those before whom those miracles which are recorded were performed, that so at last, being then relieved from the weight of their sins, they may enter with more ease and power of endurance upon the way of safety. And this is a point which I wish impressed upon those who peruse these pages, that with respect to topics of such difficulty and obscurity we use our utmost endeavour, not so much to ascertain clearly the solutions of the questions (for every one will do this as the Spirit gives him utterance), as to maintain the rule of faith in the most unmistakeable manner, by striving to show that the providence of God, which equitably administers all things, governs also immortal souls on the justest principles, (conferring rewards) according to the merits and motives of each individual; the present economy of things not being confined within the life of this world, but the pre-existing state of merit always furnishing the ground for the state that is to follow, and thus by an eternal and immutable law of equity, and by the controlling influence of Divine Providence, the immortal soul is brought to the summit of perfection. If one, however, were to object to our statement, that the word of preaching was purposely put aside by certain men of wicked and worthless character, and (were to inquire) why the word was preached to those over whom the Tyrians, who were certainly despised, are preferred in comparison (by which proceeding, certainly, their wickedness was increased, and their condemnation rendered more severe, that they should hear the word who were not to believe it), they must be answered in the following manner: God, who is the Creator of the minds of all men, foreseeing complaints against His providence, especially on the part of those who say, How could we believe when we neither beheld those things which others saw, nor heard those words which were preached to others? in so far is the blame removed from us, since they to whom the word was announced, and the signs manifested, made no delay whatever, but became believers, overpowered by the very force of the miracles; wishing to destroy the grounds for complaints of this kind, and to show that it was no concealment of Divine Providence, but the determination of the human mind which was the cause of their ruin, bestowed the grace of His benefits even upon the unworthy and the unbelieving, that every mouth might indeed be shut, and that the mind of man might know that all the deficiency was on its own part, and none on that of God; and that it may, at the same time, be understood and recognised that he receives a heavier sentence of condemnation who has despised the divine benefits conferred upon him than he who has not deserved to obtain or hear them, and that it is a peculiarity of divine compassion, and a mark of the extreme justice of its administration, that it sometimes conceals from certain individuals the opportunity of either seeing or hearing the mysteries of divine power, lest, after beholding the power of the miracles, and recognising and hearing the mysteries of its wisdom, they should, on treating them with contempt and indifference, be punished with greater severity for their impiety.

18. Let us now look to the expression, It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy. For our opponents assert, that if it does not depend upon him that wills, nor on him that runs, but on God that shows mercy, that a man be saved, our salvation is not in our own power. For our nature is such as to admit of our either being saved or not, or else our salvation rests solely on the will of Him who, if He wills it, shows mercy, and confers salvation. Now let us inquire, in the first place, of such persons, whether to desire blessings be a good or evil act; and whether to hasten after good as a final aim be worthy of praise. If they were to answer that such a procedure was deserving of censure, they would evidently be mad; for all holy men both desire blessings and run after them, and certainly are not blameworthy. How, then, is it that he who is not saved, if he be of an evil nature, desires blessing, and runs after them, but does not find them? For they say that a bad tree does not bring forth good fruits, whereas it is a good fruit to desire blessings. And how is the fruit of a bad tree good? And if they assert that to desire blessings, and to run after them, is an act of indifference, i.e., neither good nor bad, we shall reply, that if it be an indifferent act to desire blessings, and to run after them, then the opposite of that will also be an indifferent act, viz., to desire evils, and to run after them; whereas it is certain that it is not an indifferent act to desire evils, and to run after them, but one that is manifestly wicked. It is established, then, that to desire and follow after blessings is not an indifferent, but a virtuous proceeding.

Having now repelled these objections by the answer which we have given, let us hasten on to the discussion of the subject itself, in which it is said, It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy. In the book of Psalms— in the Songs of Degrees, which are ascribed to Solomon— the following statement occurs: Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. By which words he does not indeed indicate that we should cease from building or watching over the safe keeping of that city which is within us; but what he points out is this, that whatever is built without God, and whatever is guarded without him, is built in vain, and guarded to no purpose. For in all things that are well built and well protected, the Lord is held to be the cause either of the building or of its protection. As if, e.g., we were to behold some magnificent structure and mass of splendid building reared with beauteous architectural skill, would we not justly and deservedly say that such was built not by human power, but by divine help and might? And yet from such a statement it will not be meant that the labour and industry of human effort were inactive, and effected nothing at all. Or again, if we were to see some city surrounded by a severe blockade of the enemy, in which threatening engines were brought against the walls, and the place hard pressed by a vallum, and weapons, and fire, and all the instruments of war, by which destruction is prepared, would we not rightly and deservedly say, if the enemy were repelled and put to flight, that the deliverance had been wrought for the liberated city by God? And yet we would not mean, by so speaking, that either the vigilance of the sentinels, or the alertness of the young men, or the protection of the guards, had been wanting. And the apostle also must be understood in a similar manner, because the human will alone is not sufficient to obtain salvation; nor is any mortal running able to win the heavenly (rewards), and to obtain the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus, unless this very good will of ours, and ready purpose, and whatever that diligence within us may be, be aided or furnished with divine help. And therefore most logically did the apostle say, that it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy; in the same manner as if we were to say of agriculture what is actually written: I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants anything, neither he that waters; but God that gives the increase. As, therefore, when a field has brought good and rich crops to perfect maturity, no one would piously and logically assert that the husbandman had made those fruits, but would acknowledge that they had been produced by God; so also is our own perfection brought about, not indeed by our remaining inactive and idle, (but by some activity on our part): and yet the consummation of it will not be ascribed to us, but to God, who is the first and chief cause of the work. So, when a ship has overcome the dangers of the sea, although the result be accomplished by great labour on the part of the sailors, and by the aid of all the art of navigation, and by the zeal and carefulness of the pilot, and by the favouring influence of the breezes, and the careful observation of the signs of the stars, no one in his sound senses would ascribe the safety of the vessel, when, after being tossed by the waves, and wearied by the billows, it has at last reached the harbour in safety, to anything else than to the mercy of God. Not even the sailors or pilot venture to say, I have saved the ship, but they refer all to the mercy of God; not that they feel that they have contributed no skill or labour to save the ship, but because they know that while they contributed the labour, the safety of the vessel was ensured by God. So also in the race of our life we ourselves must expend labour, and bring diligence and zeal to bear; but it is from God that salvation is to be hoped for as the fruit of our labour. Otherwise, if God demand none of our labour, His commandments will appear to be superfluous. In vain, also, does Paul blame some for having fallen from the truth, and praise others for abiding in the faith; and to no purpose does he deliver certain precepts and institutions to the Churches: in vain, also, do we ourselves either desire or run after what is good. But it is certain that these things are not done in vain; and it is certain that neither do the apostles give instructions in vain, nor the Lord enact laws without a reason. It follows, therefore, that we declare it to be in vain, rather, for the heretics to speak evil of these good declarations.

19. After this there followed this point, that to will and to do are of God. Our opponents maintain that if to will be of God, and if to do be of Him, or if, whether we act or desire well or ill, it be of God, then in that case we are not possessed of free-will. Now to this we have to answer, that the words of the apostle do not say that to will evil is of God, or that to will good is of Him; nor that to do good or evil is of God; but his statement is a general one, that to will and to do are of God. For as we have from God this very quality, that we are men, that we breathe, that we move; so also we have from God (the faculty) by which we will, as if we were to say that our power of motion is from God, or that the performing of these duties by the individual members, and their movements, are from God. From which, certainly, I do not understand this, that because the hand moves, e.g., to punish unjustly, or to commit an act of theft, the act is of God, but only that the power of motion is from God; while it is our duty to turn those movements, the power of executing which we have from God, either to purposes of good or evil. And so what the apostle says is, that we receive indeed the power of volition, but that we misuse the will either to good or evil desires. In a similar way, also, we must judge of results.

20. But with respect to the declaration of the apostle, Therefore has He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens. You will say then unto me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will? Nay but, O man, who are you that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? Some one will perhaps say, that as the potter out of the same lump makes some vessels to honour, and others to dishonour, so God creates some men for perdition, and others for salvation; and that it is not therefore in our own power either to be saved or to perish; by which reasoning we appear not to be possessed of free-will. We must answer those who are of this opinion with the question, Whether it is possible for the apostle to contradict himself? And if this cannot be imagined of an apostle, how shall he appear, according to them, to be just in blaming those who committed fornication in Corinth, or those who sinned, and did not repent of their unchastity, and fornication, and uncleanness, which they had committed? How, also, does he greatly praise those who acted rightly, like the house of Onesiphorus, saying, The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: but, when he had come to Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day. Now it is not consistent with apostolic gravity to blame him who is worthy of blame, i.e., who has sinned, and greatly to praise him who is deserving of praise for his good works; and again, as if it were in no one's power to do any good or evil, to say that it was the Creator's doing that every one should act virtuously or wickedly, seeing He makes one vessel to honour, and another to dishonour. And how can he add that statement, We must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one of us may receive in his body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad? For what reward of good will be conferred on him who could not commit evil, being formed by the Creator to that very end? or what punishment will deservedly be inflicted on him who was unable to do good in consequence of the creative act of his Maker? Then, again, how is not this opposed to that other declaration elsewhere, that in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth, and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, prepared unto every good work. He, accordingly, who purges himself, is made a vessel unto honour, while he who has disdained to cleanse himself from his impurity is made a vessel unto dishonour. From such declarations, in my opinion, the cause of our actions can in no degree be referred to the Creator. For God the Creator makes a certain vessel unto honour, and other vessels to dishonour; but that vessel which has cleansed itself from all impurity He makes a vessel unto honour, while that which has stained itself with the filth of vice He makes a vessel unto dishonour. The conclusion from which, accordingly, is this, that the cause of each one's actions is a pre-existing one; and then every one, according to his deserts, is made by God either a vessel unto honour or dishonour. Therefore every individual vessel has furnished to its Creator out of itself the causes and occasions of its being formed by Him to be either a vessel unto honour or one unto dishonour. And if the assertion appear correct, as it certainly is, and in harmony with all piety, that it is due to previous causes that every vessel be prepared by God either to honour or to dishonour, it does not appear absurd that, in discussing remoter causes in the same order, and in the same method, we should come to the same conclusion respecting the nature of souls, and (believe) that this was the reason why Jacob was beloved before he was born into this world, and Esau hated, while he still was contained in the womb of his mother.

21. Nay, that very declaration, that from the same lump a vessel is formed both to honour and to dishonour, will not push us hard; for we assert that the nature of all rational souls is the same, as one lump of clay is described as being under the treatment of the potter. Seeing, then, the nature of rational creatures is one, God, according to the previous grounds of merit, created and formed out of it, as the potter out of the one lump, some persons to honour and others to dishonour. Now, as regards the language of the apostle, which he utters as if in a tone of censure, Nay but, O man, who are you that repliest against God? he means, I think, to point out that such a censure does not refer to any believer who lives rightly and justly, and who has confidence in God, i.e., to such an one as Moses was, of whom Scripture says that Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice; and as God answered Moses, so also does every saint answer God. But he who is an unbeliever, and loses confidence in answering before God owing to the unworthiness of his life and conversation, and who, in relation to these matters, does not seek to learn and make progress, but to oppose and resist, and who, to speak more plainly, is such an one as to be able to say those words which the apostle indicates, when he says, Why, then, does He yet find fault? for who will resist His will?— to such an one may the censure of the apostle rightly be directed, Nay but, O man, who are you that repliest against God? This censure accordingly applies not to believers and saints, but to unbelievers and wicked men.

Now, to those who introduce souls of different natures, and who turn this declaration of the apostle to the support of their own opinion, we have to reply as follows: If even they are agreed as to what the apostle says, that out of the one lump are formed both those who are made to honour and those who are made to dishonour, whom they term of a nature that is to be saved and destroyed, there will then be no longer souls of different natures, but one nature for all. And if they admit that one and the same potter may undoubtedly denote one Creator, there will not be different creators either of those who are saved, or of those who perish. Now, truly, let them choose whether they will have a good Creator to be intended who creates bad and ruined men, or one who is not good, who creates good men and those who are prepared to honour. For the necessity of returning an answer will extort from them one of these two alternatives. But according to our declaration, whereby we say that it is owing to preceding causes that God makes vessels either to honour or to dishonour, the approval of God's justice is in no respect limited. For it is possible that this vessel, which owing to previous causes was made in this world to honour, may, if it behave negligently, be converted in another world, according to the deserts of its conduct, into a vessel unto dishonour: as again, if any one, owing to preceding causes, was formed by his Creator in this life a vessel unto dishonour, and shall mend his ways and cleanse himself from all filth and vice, he may, in the new world, be made a vessel to honour, sanctified and useful, and prepared unto every good work. Finally, those who were formed by God in this world to be Israelites, and who have lived a life unworthy of the nobility of their race, and have fallen away from the grandeur of their descent, will, in the world to come, in a certain degree be converted, on account of their unbelief, from vessels of honour into vessels of dishonour; while, on the other hand, many who in this life were reckoned among Egyptian or Idumean vessels, having adopted the faith and practice of Israelites, when they shall have done the works of Israelites, and shall have entered the Church of the Lord, will exist as vessels of honour in the revelation of the sons of God. From which it is more agreeable to the rule of piety to believe that every rational being, according to his purpose and manner of life, is converted, sometimes from bad to good, and falls away sometimes from good to bad: that some abide in good, and others advance to a better condition, and always ascend to higher things, until they reach the highest grade of all; while others, again, remain in evil, or, if the wickedness within them begin to spread itself further, they descend to a worse condition, and sink into the lowest depth of wickedness. Whence also we must suppose that it is possible there may be some who began at first indeed with small offences, but who have poured out wickedness to such a degree, and attained such proficiency in evil, that in the measure of their wickedness they are equal even to the opposing powers: and again, if, by means of many severe administrations of punishment, they are able at some future time to recover their senses, and gradually attempt to find healing for their wounds, they may, on ceasing from their wickedness, be restored to a state of goodness. Whence we are of opinion that, seeing the soul, as we have frequently said, is immortal and eternal, it is possible that, in the many and endless periods of duration in the immeasurable and different worlds, it may descend from the highest good to the lowest evil, or be restored from the lowest evil to the highest good.

22. But since the words of the apostle, in what he says regarding vessels of honour or dishonour, that if a man therefore purge himself, he will be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master's service, and prepared unto every good work, appear to place nothing in the power of God, but all in ourselves; while in those in which he declares that the potter has power over the clay, to make of the same lump one vessel to honour, another to dishonour, he seems to refer the whole to God,— it is not to be understood that those statements are contradictory, but the two meanings are to be reduced to agreement, and one signification must be drawn from both, viz., that we are not to suppose either that those things which are in our own power can be done without the help of God, or that those which are in God's hand can be brought to completion without the intervention of our acts, and desires, and intention; because we have it not in our own power so to will or do anything, as not to know that this very faculty, by which we are able to will or to do, was bestowed on us by God, according to the distinction which we indicated above. Or again, when God forms vessels, some to honour and others to dishonour, we are to suppose that He does not regard either our wills, or our purposes, or our deserts, to be the causes of the honour or dishonour, as if they were a sort of matter from which He may form the vessel of each one of us either to honour or to dishonour; whereas the very movement of the soul itself, or the purpose of the understanding, may of itself suggest to him, who is not unaware of his heart and the thoughts of his mind, whether his vessel ought to be formed to honour or to dishonour. But let these points suffice, which we have discussed as we best could, regarding the questions connected with the freedom of the will.



Tony-Allen said...

Dang them's a long post! Thanks for posting it though.

From what I've read, some of what Origen's written (such as his commentary, part of which you've posted here) is still considered valid, but you're right, he later went waaaay off the deep end. He started teaching about a temporary hell (which exists in Islam) which was condemned at an ecumenical council. Hence why it is important to read the Church Fathers with a cautious mind.

Pizza Man said...

Thanks for the link, that was very good. From what I've read about Origen (which isn't much), his followers were more extreme than he was, and they are much to blame for the later charges of heresy attributed to him.

Jnorm888 said...

Pizza man,

True, they say his followers were more extreme.


From what I was told, we don't see Origen as a church father. But you are right, we do have to be cautious when reading nonfathers and those declared to be heretics. I didn't know Clement of Alexandria wasn't seen as a Saint until a year after I became Orthodox. So there is still alot I don't know.

Back in the day, I was use to calling everybody church fathers. LOL! Someone told me that there is a difference between what Roman Catholics call Church Fathers and what we call Church Fathers & Mothers.

But I guessm even when reading the fathers & mothers we have to do so with a cautious mind.


Tony-Allen said...

Someone told me that there is a difference between what Roman Catholics call Church Fathers and what we call Church Fathers & Mothers.

Very true, as well as how they interpret those sources. I was researching Thomas Aquinas a while ago, and found that when he defends Purgatory most of the Church Fathers he quotes are actually speaking about prayers for the dead rather than a place called Purgatory.

Even more ironic, the one Church Father he quotes supporting his case plainly is Saint Gregory of Nyssa. Now, Gregory of Nyssa was a good man (I have some of his discourses in my personal library) but he made one mistake - he fell for Origen's belief that hell is a hospital rather than a prison. So ironically, Aquinas got the one Church Father who got it wrong.

Like I said, I'm not trying to knock Gregory of Nyssa, but I think there's a reason the Orthodox Church teaches that you should do your research under spiritual guidance, not just pick and choose what the Church Fathers say, like "That supports my theory, I'll quote him - but I'll ignore that, it doesn't support me." (as so many in the western churches do)

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