Saturday, February 18, 2006

Augustine and Free Will

4. Augustine and Free Will

This will be my final response to Mike Garner's comment to my post. I honestly thought I was finished but I think God wants me to do one more. I may do another one outside of this series about who killed Jesus but right now, I'm being pushed this way.

Mike graciously suggested that I read A Treatise on the Predestination. He is correct that it is very well worth the read. I've done a cursory read although haven't had much time to digest it.

Interestingly, in our latest comments, he suggested that I was reading my own opinion into John 6:45. "Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. "

First of all, I will admit that when I read scripture that I look at it with a jaundiced view...that God loves you and He wants you to love Him back. That's not in one line of the Bible, it screams out at me throughout the whole of Scripture.

Secondly, upon reading Augustine's book upon Mike's recommendation, I stumbled onto this in chapter 14:

And yet in a certain sense the Father teaches all men to come to His Son. For it was not in vain that it was written in the prophets, "And they shall all be teachable of God." And when He too had premised this testimony, He added, "Every man, therefore, who has heard of the Father, and has learned, cometh to me."

I didn't read this until tonight but apparently, if Mike disagrees with me, he also disagrees with Austine's writings that he recommended to me.

I also think Mike (and all Calvinists) will disagree with Augustine in regards to his thoughts on Free Will (which makes me wonder why they would refer to themselves as Augustinians). He wrote a whole treatise on it titled On Grace and Free Will.

I have only read the first few chapters and skimmed the rest of it (but I'm sure it's also definitely worth the read). Augustine writes this in Chapter 2:

Now He has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in a man a free choice of will. But how He has revealed this I do not recount in human language, but in divine. There is, to begin with, the fact that God's precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards.

The only difference between what I was saying and what he's saying is that he says it better than I do (and I erroneously preached the Semipelagian heresy...thanks again, Mike for catching that).

So, according to Augustine (and me):

Man has free will.

God loves us. All of us. He wants us to love him back freely and the whole of scripture does not make sense without free will.

I honestly don't think there's anything more I can write about this. When I started last week, my plan was to write about something completely different but God pushed me in this direction and I didn't understand it at the time.

I want to thank Mike Garner for this as it's helped me have a much better understanding of the subject. It's also given me a better understanding of the Catholic Church's teaching of Free Will of which I honestly only had a vague understanding.

I really hope that all who read this will be drawn closer to Him. I am not looking for division because that's not what He wants.

He wants us to love Him back.

May the Grace and the Love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all who read this post.


Mike Garner said...

This will be very long but I encourage you to read it. We will finally deal with Augustine since it has been looming in the background for so long. There will be some quotations in the beginning that you believe you have recanted (viz. when you stated Pelagian beliefs). They have, however, been left because they play a crucial role in the flow of Augustine. I will be tracing the document that you cited.

I suspected that you would raise Augustine's work on Free Will eventually. You must understand that the same words can be used in a different sense. The question is not whether the words "free will" exist in the teachings of Augustine, but if it is the same concept of Free Will that you maintain.

I think Augustine's writings are pretty clear on the matter.

First, everyone (except the Hyper-Calvinist) believes that we are Volitional People. That is, we make real decisions from our Will. The fact that we can make decisions means that we are not PHYSICALLY constrained by something outside of us. That is to say, we always maintain the physical ability to make a choice. So then, the question of Free-Will here is not a matter of Choosing to Fly because that is a physical inability.

The question that we raise, and the question that Augustine answers, is whether we are Morally Capable of choosing completely free of outside influences.

The bible speaks very clearly on this but I have often found that Roman's respond better to those in their own tradition. Accordingly, we can proceed using Augustine's works.

Chapter 7 from "On Grace and Free Will":

Therefore, my dearly beloved, as we have now proved by our former testimonies from Holy Scripture that there is in man a free determination of will for living rightly and acting rightly; so now let us see what are the divine testimonies concerning the grace of God, without which we are not able to do any good thing.

Augustine, and presumably you, would include having Faith/belief/trust in Jesus is a "good thing". Accordingly, Augustine clearly requires Grace to Proceed Faith. A man does not come to the Father and Then they receive Grace, rather it is to the contrary.

From Chapter 10
Here, possibly, the Pelagians think they have a justification for their opinion which they so prominently advance, that God's grace is given according to our merits.

Such passages do they collect out of the Scriptures,--like the one which I just now quoted, "Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,"--as if it were owing to the merit of our turning to God that His grace were given us, wherein He Himself even turns unto us

According to Augustine, it is only Pelagians who believe that God gives Grace as a result of us turning to him.

Now, if this is the Pelagian view, let us begin too examine what Augustine's view. We shall consider how Augustine believes a person comes to faith.

Chapter 28 Faith is the Gift of God:
The spirit of grace, therefore, causes us to have faith, in order that through faith we may, on praying for it, obtain the ability to do what we are commanded.

Now from Chapter 29 entitled God is Able to Convert Opposing Wills, and To take away from the Heart its Hardness:

Now if faith is simply of free will, and is not given by God, why do we pray for those who will not believe, that they may believe?

This it would be absolutely useless to do, unless we believe, with perfect propriety, that Almighty God is able to turn to belief wills that are perverse and opposed to faith?.

This is Absolutely Essential to Augustine. Almighty God must turn our perverse Will (that which is opposed to faith) into a will of Belief. This is exactly what the Calvinist believes. We maintain free will, but that will left alone will never choose God. Rather, God must change our will.

Augustine continues:
Now can we possibly, without extreme absurdity, maintain that there previously existed in any man the good merit of a good will, to entitle him to the removal of his stony heart, when all the while this very heart of stone signifies nothing else than a will of the hardest kind and such as is absolutely inflexible against God?

Notice, of course, that Augustine believes that it would be utterly absurd to maintain that our will (before faith) could possibly desire the removal of our stony heart. (Referring to Ezekiel's famous passage). Why is this absurd:

For where a good will precedes, there is, of course, no longer a heart of stone.

And that is really the point. If our will is good at all - then it is no longer stony. But how, does it become a heart of flesh (rather than that of stone)? Augustine quotes the Scripture:
"I will take from them their heart of stone, and will give them a heart of flesh."

And then he quotes from the NT allusion:

"Ye are our epistle, . . . written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart."

Now from Chapter 32
The Pelagians think that they know something great when they assert that "God would not command what He knew could not be done by man." Who can be ignorant of this? But God commands some things which we cannot do, in order that we may know what we ought to ask of Him. For this is faith itself...

Notice, Augustine makes the same argument I have been trying to drive home. Simply because God commands something does not mean that we are able to do it. What is an example ... the first thing Augustine lists is "faith itself".

And then if it could not be said any clearer, Augustine attempts to make it clearer - From Chapter 38

And nothing else than this is shown us by the words of our Lord when He says to His disciples, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." For if we first loved Him, in order that by this merit He might love us, then we first chose Him that we might deserve to be chosen by Him. He, however, who is the Truth says otherwise, and flatly contradicts this vain conceit of men. "You have not chosen me,"

He, in fact, calls it vain conceit, to suggest that we have chosen God and have loved Him before he has first given his Love to us and Chosen us. Well, this may allow for a weak Grace that enables us but does not compel us. Thankfully, however, Augustine does not allow for this:

And then could they possibly help choosing Him afterwards, and preferring Him to all the blessings of this world?

The Calvinist (or rather Augustinian) doctrine of Effectual Grace is stated.

Now we really get to the core of the matter once we reach Chapter 41. Here he argues against the future Hyper-Calvinist and Against the future libertarian (whether RCC or Arminian):

I think I have now discussed the point fully enough in opposition to those who vehemently oppose the grace of God, by which, however, the human will is not taken away, but changed from bad to good, and assisted when it is good

Clearly, are will is not completely removed - BUT - changed from Bad to Good. Once it is then changed, God's grace then perfects it.

Augustinianism - the precursor to Calvinism continues:

I think, too, that I have so discussed the subject, that it is not so much I myself as the inspired Scripture which has spoken to you, in the clearest testimonies of truth; and if this divine record be looked into carefully, it shows us that not only men's good wills, which God Himself converts from bad ones, and, when converted by Him, directs to good actions and to eternal life, but also those which follow the world are so entirely at the disposal of God, that He turns them whithersoever He wills, and whensoever He wills,--to bestow kindness on some, and to heap punishment on others, as He Himself judges right by a counsel most secret to Himself, indeed, but beyond all doubt most righteous.

Wow! Tons in that quotation.

First - We see that Eternal life comes from God changing the Bad will into a Good will. We then see that men's wills are so much at the disposal of God that he turns them where he wishes - and He does so to bestow blessings on some and to heap judgment on others. Then, Augustine knows what the question will be (which I myself have been asked many times. He expects, "How then does God choose who to turn for the good and who to heap judgment upon." Augustine's answer, just like the Calvinist, is that it is by God's perfect and righteous counsel that is Secret to Himself indeed.

Augustine continues in the same chapter:

Now, why did they not stand by free will, but, with a will perplexed by fear, took to flight, were it not that God has the lordship even over men's wills, and when He is angry turns to fear whomsoever He pleases?

Do you believe that God has the lordship over men's wills and turns them wherever he pleases? Augustine does.

And this all culminates in Augustine's famous line - Chapter 43 - God operates on Men's hearts: To incline their wills whithersoever He pleases.

From these statements of the inspired word, and from similar passages which it would take too long to quote in full, it is, I think, sufficiently clear that God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills whithersoever He wills, whether to good deeds according to His mercy, or to evil after their own deserts; His own judgment being sometimes manifest, sometimes secret, but always righteous.

And this of course is Calvinism 101. God works in the hearts of men in whatever way he pleases. To some, according to his mercy. To others, to evil for that is what they deserve. And how does he choose? We may not know for it is sometimes secret, but we can trust that it is always righteous.

And the title of Chapter 45 sums all of this up:
The Reason way one person is assisted by Grace, and another is not helped, must be referred to the secret judgments of God

So again, allow me to summarize. Clearly Agustine believes in Free will. So do Calvinists. Jonathan Edwards wrong The Freedom of the Will. However, the question must be asked in what sense is the phrase being used. Is it Free to choose - Absolutely. However, is it free to choose Good when it is enslaved to Sin? That answer, by Augustine and Reformers is "No". How then may we choose? We may only choose by God's Grace in giving us a new heart - that is - changing our Bad desires for Good desires. How then does he choose? Not by our own merit, but by his secret (albeit righteous) judgments. This is the doctrine of Augustine and this is the Doctrine of modern-day calvinists.

In Christ alone,

Mike Garner said...

I also realized that you quoted from Augustine's Treatise on Predestination. We can cover that book systematically if you would like.

Just a very brief look at chapter 14 reveals something very clearly. You are reading Augustine into your views. You take the one excerpt from that chapter that could sound like your view and post it.

Just looking at the Title of the Chapter suggests that Augustine is not teaching the point that you suggest he is.
The name of the chapter, on purpose, is "Why the Father does not teach all that they may come to Christ."

Here is how the chapter begins:
Why, then, does He not teach all that they may come to Christ, except because all whom He teaches, He teaches in mercy, while those whom He teaches not, in judgment He teaches not?

And here is an excerpt that follows the portion you quoted:
And if He had willed to teach even those to whom the word of the cross is foolishness to come to Christ beyond all doubt these also would have come.

Here, Augustine says that if God had willed to teach those whom regard the cross as foolishness then they would Without a Doubt come. Augustine's assumption and teaching in this portion of the Treatise is that those whom God teaches will come. That is also the teaching of John 6. It is something that you disagree with.

TheDen said...

Hey Mike,

I can tell that you think very passionately about this. That is absolutely great! I hope there are a lot more people like you. God has wonderful plans for you my friend.

Honestly, I really don't disagree with too much that you said. Yes, it is through God's grace that we hear His voice. I wrote a post last month about grace. Here it is.

I do interpret a lot of what you're reading in Augustine's writings differently though. Actually, I'm a bit surprised that Cavinists hold to this document so dearly as it contains a lot of Catholic teaching--but I really don't want to talk about that.

Anyhow, chapter 7: I agree with you that we receive grace before we choose. However, who does Augustine say receives (and does not receive) this grace?

"Now they to whom this is not given either are unwilling or do not fulfil what they will; whereas they to whom it is given so will as to accomplish what they will. "

What he's saying is that if the person is not willing, God doesn't give him the grace. Therefore, God gives the grace to people who choose freely before they choose.

Chapter 10:

The more I read it, the more embarrassed I am that I made such a mistake as I did honestly study this once in my youth and just totally forgot. Again, thank you!

Chapter 28:

We are in total agreement

Chapter 29:

Regarding the stony hearts being made into hearts of flesh. I don't think that Augustine is saying that all hearts are stony but rather that God can turn a stony heart into a heart of flesh.

As you know in Hebrews, the people who had faith in the Old Testament (Abel, Abraham, etc.) did not have hearts of stone.

"This is Absolutely Essential to Augustine. Almighty God must turn our perverse Will (that which is opposed to faith) into a will of Belief. "

I don't disagree but he prefaces it by saying, "Man's free will is addressed when it is said, "Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts." The first thing we have to do is hear his voice, the second thing we have to do is "harden not our hearts" which could be reworded as listen to Him and learn (John 6:45)

The first thing we have to do is "hear His voice" and Augustine supports this further in Chapter 31. He even goes further by saying:

"There is, however, always within us a free will,--but it is not always good; for it is either free from righteousness when it serves sin,--and then it is evil,--or else it is free from sin when it serves righteousness,--and then it is good. "

This fits in very nicely to my pleasure principle theory and also is the same thing I said earlier about us having a choice. We can be slaves to sin or slaves to God out of Romans 6 which you disagreed with.

Chapter 32:

Regarding this chapter, it's long and wordy but I think I have a grasp of it. I agree with you. I know that living an obedient life is tough. Like Paul says, "you shall not covet" makes you covet. (I know I'm paraphrasing).

We cannot do this without God's grace and I agree with you on this. However, (and I don't want to get into a discussion about this) I am surprised you reference this as it quotes Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) which is out of the Deuterocanonicals. (No need to comment...just surprised).

Chapter 37.

I know you don't discuss this chapter but it just gives me goosebumps reading it. I guess I would say that that is the whole focus of my beliefs.

Chapter 38.

"We love Him because He first loved us."

This is EXACTLY what I say (or at least allude to) in all of my posts. "God loves us, He wants us to love Him back."

His first loving us is our initial grace. At that point, then we CHOOSE to love Him back. That's when we listen or hear His voice or not harden our hearts.

Chapter 41

I totally agree. God can do whatever He wants. He's God and I'm not. The key to this is in Chapter 45...that it's the secret judgement of God and us trying to figure out if a person has that grace or not is us trying to play God.

Regarding Chapter 14 of the Treatise on Predestination, I really don't think I'm reading my view into it. What Augustine is saying in Chapter 14 is essentially, "Who are you to question God?" (Which was my point in saying, "I don't know...I'm not God" and "Who am I to question God?)

The exact words are, "O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Doth the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay of the same lump? "

Essentially, we should not dwell on who He calls but and who He doesn't but rather (at the end of the chapter), "For He neither deceives nor is deceived when He says, "Every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to me." Away, then, with the thought that any one cometh not, who has heard of the Father and has learned."

Well, Mike, I think I'm flat out exhausted out on this subject. I think we did a good job in flushing this out. Thank you for the lesson on Calvinism 101. I honestly don't know much about the Protestant denominations (not that I don't care to but rather never had the opportunity).

A couple of things. I will be traveling out of the country for most of this week and may have limited access to the internet. Also, I don't think we're going to convince each other that our view is correct so at this point, we will just be spinning our wheels--of course, you're free to respond but I may not respond back to you.

I'm being sincere when I thank you for this as it's really helped me have a better understanding of my Catholic view and also a better understanding of the Calvinistic view.

In Christ Alone,


Mike Garner said...


Mondays are my busy days so I probably won't be able to read this / think through it (much less respond) until late tonight or tomorrow. I do, however, look forward to reading what you have to say.

In Christ alone,

Mike Garner said...

After reading your thread I agree that it would probably be in vain to continue to debate Augustine. Clearly one of us (or both) are reading our views into His writings. I would encourage you to ponder why it is that a Reformation would be sparked from a re-discovery of Augustine if he agrees so firmly with your Tradition.

However, ultimately I must pray that you use the Bible as the final and only authoritative truth. Study to show theyself approved as a workman who need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth. I pray that God will direct you (and I) through his word.

To address one thing you said, I was responding only to Augustine. Agustine clearly did believe that at least part of the Apocryphal writings ought to be canonized. He also believed in a more Roman view of the church. Of course with these things I would disagree, but his view of Grace (imo) is clearly on the side of Calvinists and so I will use him as a resource when speaking to Romans who have an elevated view of his work.

The Reformation is said to be the day that Augustine's view of Grace triumphs over Augustine's view of the Church. I think it is an accurate description. In any event, it is worth pondering.

While I won't discuss Augustine any further (unless you'd like), I would like to draw your attention to something I posted in an older thread:


I was reading in First Corinthians Today.

I had asked you, why it is that you came to faith when others do not if Grace is equally given to all. You answered that it was because you listened although you aren't sure why other's didn't listen.

Here, is the answer that Paul gives in 1Corinthians:

v. 30 "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption."

How is it by his doing:

v.27 "but God has chosen the foolish things of the world ..."
v 21 "And the base things of the world God has chosen ..."

And why did he do this?
v.29 "So that no man may boast before God.
v. 31 "Let him who boasts, boast in the lord."

TheDen said...

Hey Mike,

I agree that we both may be reading our interpretation into Augustine's writings. It's inherent in us. We can also agree that neither of us are Augustine and only he can really tell us what he was thinking when he wrote it.

I will also agree that I need to read my Bible more and because of you and writing this Blog(and of course God) I have been reading for which I am truly grateful. I am learning a lot. Regarding it being the only and authoritative truth, well, I think you know where I stand (and no, I don't want to argue about that.)

In regards to the Reformation, I guess my opinion is that there were some really corrupt people in the Catholic Church back then (note: Not the Church but the people...and these people NEVER changed the Church Doctrine) and people felt that they had to leave it.

I honestly don't know what I would have done back then. As I learn about God through the Catholic Church, I feel graces that are truly profound that quite honestly, I don't think I would find in another church. In other words, I am not leaving the Catholic Church.

Regarding 1 Corinthians 1, I think your not interpreting this reading correctly; however, I understand what you're trying to say and don't disagree with it.

Consider this though. Before he starts talking about this, what does he ask of them in verse 26?

"Consider your own calling, brothers..." Calling...if you're called, you have to respond and in that response lies the free will.

God bless my friend.