Some patristic quotations on predestination

Last night before bed I was reading the Ancient Christian Devotional for Year A, and the following quotations were part of the patristic commentary on Romans 8:26-39, pp. 177-178:

This text 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 kind of behaviour. 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, that is, who demonstrated that they were worthy to be called by his plan and made conformable to Christ. -Diodore of Tarsus, Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church

Not all who are called are called according to God’s purpose, for the purpose relates to God’s foreknowledge and predestination. God only predestined those whom he knew would believe and follow the call. Paul refers to them as the “elect.” For many do not come, even though they have been called, but no one comes who has not been called. -St Augustine, On Romans 55

Those whose intention 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 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. -Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Interpretation of the Letter to the Romans

First of all, let it be said that Diodore was condemned at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 for his Christology, not his teaching on predestination.

What I find interesting about this selection is that all three of them, even Augustine, corroborate the (Arminian) teaching of John Wesley, that the foreknowledge is the prerequisite to the predestination, thus not overriding our freewill.

I don’t know anything about the volume’s editor, Cindy Crosby’s, confessional allegiance. However, the General Editor IVP’s Ancient Christian Stuff, especially the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture whence the readings from the Fathers come in this volume, is Thomas C Oden, a United Methodist — and someone who would, obviously, follow Wesley’s teaching on this issue. Oden has also been known to put together things like The Justification Reader that present patristic seeds of Protestant doctrine without necessarily giving the other side a hearing. That is to say, the patristic witness given in these passages is not entirely balanced, and with Oden’s name on the cover, one is not necessarily surprised.

Not that I’m wishing to see predestination being published profusely — however, when so many Calvinists and Arminians get so worked up about the issue, it would be refreshing to see Protestant publications covering both sides at once.

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Killing Enemies & Bashing Babies on Rocks: Reading the Difficult Psalms, Pt. 1

Big Bibles from Troll Keeper's HouseModern biblical criticism, “liberal” or “evangelical”, likes the historical understanding of Scripture.  We must read the text and see what it says to the original audience.  This will help us understand what it means.  The meaning of Scripture is thereby reduced to the original audience.  If the original speaker meant, “Smash babies heads on rocks,” then that’s all it means.  If the original speaker meant that a prophecy would be fulfilled in two days, it is unlikely to be fulfilled again in 2000 years.  If the original Hebrew says “young girl,” it doesn’t mean “virgin.”

This form of interpretation only takes us so far, however.  If all of Scripture is God-breathed and useful, as St. Paul contends, then we need a way of reading the Bible beyond the historical meaning.  One of the joys of reading old books and discovering Christians from other ages is to see how they dealt with problems facing them.  Thus, I have an idea how to deal with a verse from the BCP-appointed Psalm for today:

Let them be confounded and perish that are against my soul; let them be covered with shame and dishonour that seek to do me evil. (Ps. 71:13)

Our starting point is one of the good, readable books to come out of the Protestant paleo-orthodoxy and the Evangelical ressourcement, Christopher A. Hall’s Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers.  This book is a brief introduction to patristic thought that requires little specialised vocabulary and no Latin or Greek (thus, those who are neither clergy nor scholars can read it).  He deals with the use of Scripture by the four Doctors of the East and the four Doctors of the West, then he goes more specifically into “Alexandrian” and “Antiochene” schools of thought.

Alexandrians, typified by Origen, sought the allegorical meaning of Scripture, and the Antiochenes reacted against excessive allegorical readings, especially when considering Origen’s more heterodox teachings.*  The Antiochene method sought a spiritual meaning that was not divorced from the literal meaning of the text, as seen in Diodore of Tarsus.  Both schools of thought looked beyond the historical and literal meanings of Scripture, seeking higher spiritual knowledge revealed by the hard work of exegesis and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.

In our old friend John Cassian, we see that as we read Scripture, our contemplation is divided into the historical and the spiritual.  No doubt Cassian would agree with Diodore of Tarsus that we ought not to simply make up whatever allegories we please and that the spiritual understanding will not run counter to the historical (see Conf. 14.8).

The spiritual understanding of a text includes tropology, allegory, and anagogy (14.8.1). His definitions only make sense in the context of the example he uses, so to save time, here’s what the OED tells us:

tropology:

1. ‘A speaking by tropes’ (Blount, 1656); the use of metaphor in speech or writing; figurative discourse.

2. A moral discourse; a secondary sense or interpretation of Scripture relating to morals.

allegory:

1. Description of a subject under the guise of some other subject of aptly suggestive resemblance.

2. An instance of such description; a figurative sentence, discourse, or narrative, in which properties and circumstances attributed to the apparent subject really refer to the subject they are meant to suggest; an extended or continued metaphor.

3. An allegorical representation; an emblem.

anagogy:

{dag}1. Spiritual elevation or enlightenment, esp. to understand mysteries. Obs.

2. Mystical interpretation, hidden ‘spiritual’ sense of words.

The ancient and mediaeval interpreters of Scripture believed that the historical meaning of Scripture was true and useful.  However, it is not enough.  We must seek out deeper meanings that will speak to our spiritual lives, meanings that will help us grow as Christians.  The Spirit will enlighten our understanding; the classic Christian methodology runs counter to Enlightenment methodology that seeks to interpret Scripture by reason alone, believing that with reason even the heathen can unlock the mysteries of God.

To close, from John Cassian, Conf. 13.17.3:

Whoever believes that he can sound the depths of that immeasurable abyss [of God’s wisdom] by human reason is trying to nullify the marvelous aspect of this knowledge, then, which struck the great teacher of the Gentiles.  For the person who is sure that he can conceive in his mind or discuss at length the designs whereby God works salvation in human beings is certainly resisting the truth of the Apostle’s words and declaring with impious audacity that the judgements of God are not inscrutable and that his ways are traceable. (Trans. Boniface Ramsey)

*See also “Antiochene θεωρία in John Chrysostom’s Exegesis,” by Bradley Nassif in Ancient & Postmodern Christianity, K. Tanner & C.A. Hall, eds.  Downers Grove: IVP, 2002.