An Ancient Theologian tackles John 6 and Romans 9

st-john-chrysostom-71John Chrysostom, a 4th century theologian, served as Bishop of Constantinople and was known for his preaching and ascetic lifestyle. What made him a noteworthy teacher was his ability and desire to be understood by the lay person and his rejection of allegorical interpretation.

Chrysostom predated the Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian debates that dominated the 5th century but was around during the disputes with the Manicheans.

The Manicheans were a heretical group that held to dualism. The founder claimed to be an apostle.

Augustine was a Manichean for nearly a decade before coming to Christ. He spent much of his early Christian experience refuting them in numerous works. At this time Augustine refuted the Manichean deterministic idea that “evils and sins are thereby connected, as by a sort of chain, to God” by arguing that actions that were determined and not performed through a willing agent did not deserve condemnation.

While ministering in Antioch, Chrysostom wrote Homilies (or sermons), which consist of verse by verse expositions of the Scriptures. Chrysostom, did not author major works against the Manicheans as Augustine did, but noted in his sermons those passages which these (and other heretical groups) wrongly interpreted.

In his homilies on the Hebrews, on Romans, and the Gospel of John, Chrysostom tackles some of the challenging passages in Romans 9 and John 6 that were often misused. In rejecting the deterministic views of the Manicheans, Chrysostom interprets these passages in a synergistic way – God and man work together so that one may have faith and be saved.

The portions in italics are quotations taken from the sermons of Chrysostom.

All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and him that comes to Me I will in nowise cast out.

… What He here intimates is something of this kind, that “faith in Me is no ordinary thing, but needs an impulse from above”; and this He establishes throughout His discourse, showing that this faith requires a noble sort of soul, and one drawn on by God.

But perhaps some one will say, “If all that the Father gives, and whomsoever He shall draw, comes unto Thee, if none can come unto Thee except it be given him from above, then those to whom the Father gives not are free from any blame or charges.” These are mere words and pretenses. For we require our own deliberate choice also, because whether we will be taught is a matter of choice, and also whether we will believe. And in this place, by the “which the Father gives Me,” He declares nothing else than that “the believing on Me is no ordinary thing, nor one that comes of human reasoning, but needs a revelation from above, and a well-ordered soul to receive that revelation.”

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,” saith 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 (assistance). …

What then? Does nothing depend on God? All indeed depends on God, but not so that our free-will is hindered. ‘If then it depend on God,’ (one says), ‘why does He blame us?’ On this account I said, ‘so that our free-will is not hindered.’ It depends then on us, and on Him. For we must first choose the good; and then He leads us to His own. …

How is it then that Paul says, “not of him that willeth,” if it depend on ourselves also “nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” ( Romans 9:16) … [this] explanation may be given, that he speaks of all as His, whose the greater part is. For it is ours to choose and to wish; but God’s to complete and to bring to an end. Since therefore the greater part is of Him, he says all is of Him, speaking according to the custom of men. For so we ourselves also do. I mean for instance: we see a house well built, and we say the whole is the Architect’s [doing], and yet certainly it is not all his, but the workmen’s also, and the owner’s, who supplies the materials, and many others’, but nevertheless since he contributed the greatest share, we call the whole his. So then [it is] in this case also.

Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?

...  do not suppose that this is said by Paul as an account of the creation, nor as implying a necessity over the will, but to illustrate the sovereignty and difference of dispensations; for if we do not take it in this way, divers incongruities will follow, for if here he were speaking about the will, and those who are good and those not so, He will be Himself the Maker of these, and man will be free from all responsibility. And at this rate, Paul will also be shown to be at variance with himself, as he always bestows chief honor upon free choice. There is nothing else then which he here wishes to do, save to persuade the hearer to yield entirely to God, and at no time to call Him to account for anything whatever. …

And yet not even is it on the potter that the honor and the dishonor of the things made of the lump depends, but upon the use made by those that handle them, so here also it depends on the free choice.

Chrysostom and Augustine refuted the Manichean (and other) heresies in part by appealing to the free will of man. Before Augustine changed his views on Predestination and Free Will, which would occur during the Pelagian disputes, it seems that the prevailing view of salvation was a synergistic one. Even passages like John 6 and Romans 9 were interpreted in this way.  Prior to Augustine, it seems that only heretical groups, like the Manicheans, used these passages to advocate a deterministic system.

The footnote #210, in Augustine’s work Two Souls reminds us of how his views shifted.

The fact is, that in the Anti-Manichæan time [Augustine] went too far in maintaining the absolute freedom of the will and the impossibility of sin apart from personal will in the sinner; while in the Anti-Pelagian time he ventured too near to the fatalism that he so earnestly combated in the Manichæans.

4 thoughts on “An Ancient Theologian tackles John 6 and Romans 9

  1. Great Post!

    “Chrysostom and Augustine refuted the Manichean (and other) heresies in part by appealing to the free will of man. Before Augustine changed his views on Predestination and Free Will, which would occur during the Pelagian disputes, it seems that the prevailing view of salvation was a synergistic one.”

    This is very, very clearly the case in the early church writings.

  2. Pingback: Society of Evangelical Arminians | Friday Files, 17 January 2020

  3. Pingback: Calvinismo Refutado Versículo por Versículo e Assunto por Assunto – B – Paleo-Ortodoxo

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