Church Fathers

Justin Martyr on Fate and Free Will

But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate.

Fathers, Church. The Complete Works of the Church Fathers: A total of 64 authors, and over 2,500 works of the Early Christian Church (Kindle Locations 465344-465349). Kindle Edition.

Justin’s Closing Appeal to the Greeks

From Discourse to the Greeks:


Henceforth, ye Greeks, come and partake of incomparable wisdom, and be instructed by the Divine Word, and acquaint yourselves with the King immortal; and do not recognise those men as heroes who slaughter whole nations. For our own Ruler, the Divine Word, who even now constantly aids us, does not desire strength of body and beauty of feature, nor yet the high spirit of earth’s nobility, but a pure soul, fortified by holiness, and the watchwords of our King, holy actions, for through the Word power passes into the soul. O trumpet of peace to the soul that is at war! O weapon that puttest to flight terrible passions! O instruction that quenches the innate fire of the soul! The Word exercises an influence which does not make poets: it does not equip philosophers nor skilled orators, but by its instruction it makes mortals immortal, mortals gods; and from the earth transports them to the realms above Olympus. Come, be taught; become as I am, for I, too, was as ye are. These have conquered me–the divinity of the instruction, and the power of the Word: for as a skilled serpent-charmer lures the terrible reptile from his den and causes it to flee, so the Word drives the fearful passions of our sensual nature from the very recesses of the soul; first driving forth lust, through which every ill is begotten–hatreds, strife, envy, emulations, anger, and such like. Lust being once banished, the soul becomes calm and serene. And being set free from the ills in which it was sunk up to the neck, it returns to Him who made it. For it is fit that it be restored to that state whence it departed, whence every soul was or is.
[emphasis mine]

Fox on Ambrose’s Platonism

In general, Ambrose shared the Apostle Paul’s low opinion of the ‘foolish philosophy’ of this world, but there was one exception: Platonism, with its unworldly emphasis. In a series of brilliant studies, the late Pierre Courcelle showed that phrases adapted and culled from the Platonist Plotinus are present in surviving texts of several of Ambrose’s sermons, those datable, probably, between 386 and 387.26 Whether or not Ambrose ever read Plotinus directly, these statements relate him to the Platonist milieu which is traceable among Augustine’s new ‘friends’.

Fox, Robin Lane. Augustine . Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

On Origen’s use of Predestination

A footnote in Origen’s Commentary on Romans:

Erasmus’s [Desiderius Erasmus’] clarification of this passage (CWE 56:11) is most helpful:
“Origen seems to have thought that ‘predestine’ has a double aspect of futurity and ‘destine’ merely a single. For if I ‘destine’ a bride for a son of mine already born, the person for whom I destine belongs to the present time, what I am destining belongs to the future. But if I resolve to dedicate to the study of theology the son who will be born first, then both the person and the thing belong to future time; and Origen would have the world ‘predestine’ refer to cases ofthe latter type.”

Origen’s Commentary on Romans 1:1

From Origen – Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans:

(4) After all, later in the letter he himself explains this more fully when he says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”46 Plainly showing that those whom God foreknew would become the kind to conform themselves to Christ by their sufferings, he even predestined them to be conformed and similar to his image and glory. Therefore there precedes a foreknowledge of them, through which is known what effort and virtue they will understand at once that they are set apart from the womb deservedly.
(3) It says then that Paul was set apart for the gospel and set apart from his own mother’s womb. The reasons for this and the merits which entitled him to be set apart for this purpose were seen by the One from whom man’s mind does not escape. For God foresaw that Paul was going to labor harder than all the others in the gospel; that, despite hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, dangers from thieves, dangers from rivers, dangers at sea, he was going to preach the gospel of Christ, knowing that it would have been woe to him if he did not preach the gospel; and that he was going to punish his body and reduce it to slavery, so that, after proclaiming to others, he himself should not be rejected. Therefore, seeing in advance these things and many other similar things in him,God set Paul apart for the gospel from his mother’s womb on account of these matters. For if, as the heretics think, he had been chosen either by uncertain fate or by the privilege of possessing a superior nature, surely he would never have expressed the fear that, if he were not to hold the restraints on his own body, it could potentially come to pass that he would be rejected or that woe would be his if he were to cease from proclaiming the gospel.
(4) After all, later in the letter he himself explains this more fully when he says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Plainly showing that those whom God foreknew would become the kind to conform themselves to Christ by their sufferings, he even predestined them to be conformed and similar to his image and glory. Therefore there precedes a foreknowledge of them, through which is known what effort and virtue they will possess in themselves, and thus predestination follows, yet foreknowledge should not be considered the cause of predestination. For while men requite merit to each individual based upon past accomplishments, for God this is determined from future ones; and a person is very impious not to concede to God that what we see in the past he can see in the future.

Ambrose on Active Omniscience

194. I ask then, whether He had this knowledge by reason of His Being, or by chance? For all knowledge comes to us either through nature, or by learning. It is supplied by nature, as for instance to a horse to enable it to run, or to a fish to enable it to swim. For they do this without learning. On the other hand, it is by learning that a man is enabled to swim. For he could not do so unless he had learned. Since therefore nature enables dumb animals to do and to know what they have not learned, why should you give an opinion on the Son of God, and say whether He has knowledge by instruction or by nature? If by instruction, then He was not begotten as Wisdom, and gradually began to be perfect, but was not always so. But if He has knowledge by nature, then He was perfect in the beginning, He came forth perfect from the Father; and so needed no foreknowledge of the future.

195. He therefore was not ignorant of the days; for it does not fall to the lot of the Wisdom of God to know in part and in part to be ignorant. For how can He who made all things be ignorant of a part, since it is a less thing to know than to make.
Exposition of the Christian Faith, Book V

John of Damascus on Foreknowledge and Freewill

We ought to understand that while God knows all things beforehand, yet He does not predetermine all things. For He knows beforehand those things that are in our power, but He does not predetermine them. For it is not His will that there should be wickedness nor does He choose to compel virtue. So that predetermination is the work of the divine command based on fore-knowledge. But on the other hand God predetermines those things which are not within our power in accordance with His prescience. For already God in His prescience has prejudged all things in accordance with His goodness and justice.
An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith

Origen on Foreknowledge and Free Will

From Origen’s On Prayer:

If our free will is in truth preserved with innumerable inclinations towards virtue or vice, towards either duty or its opposite, its future must like other things have been known by God, before coming to pass, from the world’s creation and foundation; and in all things prearranged by God in accordance with what He has seen of each act of our free wills. He has with due regard to each movement of our free wills prearranged what also is at once to occur in His providence and to take place according to the train of future events. God’s foreknowledge is not the cause of all future events including those that are to have their efficient cause in our freewill guided by impulse.

Even though we should suppose God ignorant of the future, we shall not on that account be incapacitated for effecting this and willing that. Rather it ensues from His foreknowledge that our individual free wills receive adjustment to suit the universal arrangement needful for the constitution of the world. If, therefore, our individual free wills have been known by Him, and if in His providence He has on that account been careful to make due arrangement for each one, it is reasonable to believe that He has also pre-comprehended what a particular man is to pray in that faith, what his disposition, and what his desire.

Should the fact of God’s unerring foreknowledge of the future disquiet anyone by suggesting that things have been necessarily determined, we must tell him that it is a real part of God’s fixed knowledge that a particular man will not with any fixed certainty choose the better or so desire the worse as to become incapable of a change for his good. And again I will do this for this man when he prays, as becomes me seeing that he will pray without reproach and will not be negligent in prayer: upon that man who will pray for a certain amount, I will bestow this abundantly in excess of his asking or thinking, for it becomes me to surpass him in well doing and to furnish more than he has been capable of asking.

…This foreknowledge, it may be in regard to all things, certainly in regard to Judas and other mysteries, exists in the Son of God also, who in His discernment of the evolution of the future has seen Judas and the sins to be committed by him, so that, even before Judas came into existence, He in His comprehension has said through David the words beginning “O God, keep you not silence at my praise.”

On Clement of Alexandria’s Love of Plato

Clement of Alexandria provides a more illuminating study. Robert Jenson has recently drawn attention to the fact that a positive reference to Plato comes after `chapters of invective against the Greek-taught pagans for their worship of God’s works instead of God’, where Clement writes: `I long for God, not the works of God. Now – whom from among you can I take for a co-worker in this longing … ? Perhaps Plato. . . ‘2

Colin E. Gunton. Act and Being: Towards a Theology of the Divine Attributes (Kindle Locations 37-39). Kindle Edition.

Philo on God being the First Cause

Philo, On the Cherubim 125–6

God is a cause, not a tool, and it is certain that what comes to be comes to be by means of a tool but by a cause. For many things need to come together if something is to come into being: that by which, that from which, that by means of which and that because of which. That ‘by which’ is the cause; that ‘from which’ is matter, that ‘by means of which’ is the instrument, that ‘because of which’ is the explanation. [126] So, if someone were to ask what needed to come together for the building of any house or city, we would say a craftsman, stones and timber, and tools, wouldn’t we? But what is the craftsman but the cause ‘by which’? What are stones and timber but the matter, ‘from which’ the construction comes? What are the tools but those things ‘through which’? And what is it for but shelter and safety – this being that ‘because of which’?

Aristobulus on Plato drawing from Moses

As quoted in Eusebius:

[ARISTOBULUS] ‘IT is evident that Plato closely followed our legislation, and has carefully studied the several precepts contained in it. For others before Demetrius Phalereus, and prior to the supremacy of Alexander and the Persians, have translated both the narrative of the exodus of the Hebrews our fellow countrymen from Egypt, and the fame of all that had happened to them, and the conquest of the land, and the exposition of the whole Law; so that it is manifest that many things have been borrowed by the aforesaid philosopher, for he is very learned: as also Pythagoras transferred many of our precepts and inserted them in his own system of doctrines.

‘But the entire translation of all the contents of our law was made in the time of the king surnamed Philadelphus, thy ancestor, who brought greater zeal to the work, which was managed by Demetrius Phalereus.’

Then, after interposing some remarks, he further says:

‘For we must understand the voice of God not as words spoken, but as construction of works, just as Moses in the Law has spoken of the whole creation of the world as words of God. For he constantly says of each work, “And God said, and it was so.”

‘Now it seems to me that he has been very carefully followed in all by Pythagoras, and Socrates, and Plato, who said that they heard the voice of God, when they were contemplating the arrangement of the universe so accurately made and indissolubly combined by God. Moreover, Orpheus, in verses taken from his writings in the Sacred Legend, thus sets forth the doctrine that all things are governed by divine power, and that they have had a beginning, and that God is over all. And this is what he says: 52

“I speak to those who lawfully may hear:
Depart, and close the doors, all ye profane,
Who hate the ordinances of the just,
The law divine announced to all mankind.
But thou, Musaeus, child of the bright Moon,
Lend me thine ear; for I have truths to tell.
Let not the former fancies of thy mind
Amerce thee of the dear and blessed life.
Look to the word divine, keep close to that,
And guide thereby the deep thoughts of thine heart.
Walk wisely in the way, and look to none,
Save to the immortal Framer of the world:
For thus of Him an ancient story speaks:
One, perfect in Himself, all else by Him
Made perfect: ever present in His works,
By mortal eyes unseen, by mind alone
Discerned. It is not He that out of good
Makes evil to spring up for mortal men.
Both love and hatred wait upon His steps,
And war and pestilence, and sorrow and tears:
For there is none but He. All other things
‘Twere easy to behold, could’st thou but first
Behold Himself here present upon earth.
The footsteps and the mighty hand of God
Whene’er I see, I’ll show them thee, my son:
But Him I cannot see, so dense a cloud
In tenfold darkness wraps our feeble sight.
Him in His power no mortal could behold,
Save one, a scion of Chaldaean race:
For he was skilled to mark the sun’s bright path,
And how in even circle round the earth
The starry sphere on its own axis turns,
And winds their chariot guide o’er sea and sky;
And showed where fire’s bright flame its strength displayed.
But God Himself, high above heaven unmoved,
Sits on His golden throne, and plants His feet
On the broad earth; His right hand He extends
O’er Ocean’s farthest bound; the eternal hills
Tremble in their deep heart, nor can endure
His mighty power. And still above the heavens
Alone He sits, and governs all on earth,
Himself first cause, and means, and end of all.
So men of old, so tells the Nile-born sage,
Taught by the twofold tablet of God’s law;
Nor otherwise dare I of Him to speak:
In heart and limbs I tremble at the thought,
How He from heaven all things in order rules.
Draw near in thought, my son; but guard thy tongue
With care, and store this doctrine in thine heart.”

Aratus also speaks of the same subject thus: 53

“From Zeus begin the song, nor ever leave
His name unsung, whose godhead fills all streets,
All thronging marts of men, the boundless sea
And all its ports: whose aid all mortals need;
For we his offspring are; and kindly he
Reveals to man good omens of success,
Stirs him to labour by the hope of food,
Tells when the land best suits the grazing ox,
Or when the plough; when favouring seasons bid
Plant the young tree, and sow the various seed.”

‘It is clearly shown, I think, that all things are pervaded by the power of God: and this I have properly represented by taking away the name of Zeus which runs through the poems; for it is to God that their thought is sent up, and for that reason I have so expressed it. These quotations, therefore, which I have brought forward are not inappropriate to the questions before us.

‘For all the philosophers agree, that we ought to hold pious opinions concerning God, and to this especially our system gives excellent exhortation; and the whole constitution of our law is arranged with reference to piety, and justice, and temperance, and all things else that are truly good.’

To this, after an interval, he adds what follows: 54

‘With this it is closely connected, that God the Creator of the whole world, has also given us the seventh day as a rest, because for all men life is full of troubles: which day indeed might naturally be called the first birth of light, whereby all things are beheld.

‘The same thought might also be metaphorically applied in the case of wisdom, for from it all light proceeds. And it has been said by some who were of the Peripatetic School that wisdom is in place of a beacon-light, for by following it constantly men will be rendered free from trouble through their whole life.

‘But more clearly and more beautifully one of our forefathers, Solomon, said that it has existed before heaven and earth;55 which indeed agrees with what has been said above. But what is clearly stated by the Law, that God rested on the seventh day, means not, as some suppose, that God henceforth ceases to do anything, but it refers to the fact that, after He has brought the arrangement of His works to completion, He has arranged them thus for all time.

‘For it points out that in six days He made the heaven and the earth and all things that are therein, to distinguish the times, and predict the order in which one thing comes before another: for after arranging their order, He keeps them so, and makes no change. He has also plainly declared that the seventh day is ordained for us by the Law, to be a sign of that which is our seventh faculty, namely reason, whereby we have knowledge of things human and divine.

‘Also the whole world of living creatures, and of all plants that grow, revolves in sevens. And its name “Sabbath” is interpreted as meaning “rest.”

‘Homer also and Hesiod declare, what they have borrowed from our books, that it is a holy day; Hesiod in the following words: 56

“The first, the fourth, the seventh a holy day.”

‘And again he says:

”And on the seventh again the sun shines bright.”

‘Homer too speaks as follows:

” And soon the seventh returned, a holy day.”

‘And again:

” It was the seventh day, and all was done.”


” And on the seventh dawn the baleful stream
Of Acheron we left.”

‘By which he means, that after the soul’s forgetfulness and vice have been left, the things it chose before are abandoned on the true seventh which is reason, and we receive the knowledge of truth, as we have said before.

‘Linus too speaks thus:

“All things are finished on the seventh dawn.”

‘And again:

“Good is the seventh day, and seventh birth.”


“Among the prime, and perfect is the seventh.”


“Seven orbs created in the starlit sky
Shine in their courses through revolving years.”‘

Such then are the statements of Aristobulus.

Polycarp likely an Open Theist

Polycarp is one of the earliest Church Fathers, student of, Ignatius. His writings sound Open-Theistic. His idea is that God actively watches the world and sees everything we are doing. This is not a “timeless” knowledge, but an active scanning. God is “receiving” information. He, like Clement, encourages people to reform their ways to avoid judgement. The future is not set, but open:

Polycarp 4:3
Our widows must be sober-minded as touching the faith of the Lord, making intercession without ceasing for all men, abstaining from all calumny, evil speaking, false witness, love of money, and every evil thing, knowing that they are God’s altar, and that all sacrifices are carefully inspected, and nothing escapeth Him either of their thoughts or intents or any of the secret things of the heart.

Polycarp 6:2
If then we entreat the Lord that He would forgive us, we also ought to forgive: for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and we must all stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, and each man must give an account of himself.

Polycarp 7:2
Wherefore let us forsake the vain doing of the many and their false teachings, and turn unto the word which was delivered unto us from the beginning, being sober unto prayer and constant in fastings, entreating the all-seeing God with supplications that He bring us not into temptation, according as the Lord said, The Spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.

Anselm Contradicts Himself on Necessity

From De Concordia:

Now, if something is going to occur without necessity, God foreknows this, since he foreknows all future events. And that which is foreknown by God is, necessarily, going to occur, as is foreknown. Therefore, it is necessary that something be going to occur without necessity. Hence, the foreknowledge from which necessity follows and the freedom of choice from which necessity is absent are here seen (for one who rightly understands it) to be not at all incompatible. For, on the one hand, it is necessary that what is foreknown by God be going to occur; and, on the other hand, God foreknows that something is going to occur without any necessity

Plotinus and Ambrose on Self-Sufficiency

Plotinus in Ambrose’s Theology of Ascent, Gerald Boersma:

Participatory metaphysics rejects a real relation on the part of God to the creature; he does not participate, but is participated in. Plotinus writes that the One “provides for all and remains by itself and gives to all but receives nothing into itself.”14 Similarly, Ambrose writes, “This it is that supplies to all things their being; itself remaining in itself, it gives to others but receives nothing into itself from others.”15 The phrasing of this quotation is remarkably similar: The One gives to all (sumministrat uniuersis substantiam/χορηγεῖ μὲν ἅπασιν) while remaining bound within his own being (ipsum autem manens in semet/ἐφ´ ἑαυτοῦ δὲ μένον δίδωσι). The One gives but does not receive (suscipit/δέχεταί).

Aristobulus on Biblical Interpretaion

As quoted by Eusebius:

These are the accurate distinctions concerning the idea set forth allegorically in the sacred laws, which the High Priest gave to those Greeks who had come to him, thinking them likely to meet with the translations of the Scriptures which were about to be published. But it is time to hear what Aristobulus, who had partaken of Aristotle’s philosophy in addition to that of his own country, declared concerning the passages in the Sacred Books which are currently understood to refer to limbs of God’s body. This is that very man who is mentioned in the beginning of the Second Book of Maccabees:7 and in his writing addressed to King Ptolemy he too explains this principle.

[ARISTOBULUS] ‘WHEN, however, we had said enough in answer to the questions put before us, you also, O king, did further demand, why by our law there are intimations given of hands, and arm, and face, and feet, and walking, in the case of the Divine Power: which things shall receive a becoming explanation, and will not at all contradict the opinions which we have previously expressed.

‘But I would entreat you to take the interpretations in a natural way, and to hold fast the fitting conception of God, and not to fall off into the idea of a fabulous anthropomorphic constitution.

‘For our lawgiver Moses, when he wishes to express his meaning in various ways, announces certain arrangements of nature and preparations for mighty deeds, by adopting phrases applicable to other things, I mean to things outward and visible.

‘Those therefore who have a good understanding admire his wisdom, and the divine inspiration in consequence of which he has been proclaimed a prophet;8 among whom are the aforesaid philosophers and many others, including poets, who have borrowed important suggestions from him, and are admired accordingly.

‘But to those who are devoid of power and intelligence, and only cling close to the letter, he does not appear to explain any grand idea.

‘I shall begin then to interpret each particular signification, as far as I may be able. But if I shall fail to hit upon the truth, and to persuade you, do not impute the inconsistency to the Lawgiver, but to my want of ability to distinguish clearly the thoughts in his mind.

‘First then the word “hands” evidently has, even in our own case, a more general meaning. For when you as a king send out forces, wishing to accomplish some purpose, we say, The king has a mighty hand, and the hearers’ thoughts are carried to the power which you possess.

‘Now this is what Moses also signifies in our Law, when he speaks thus : “God brought thee forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand”;9 and again: “I will put forth My hand,” saith God, “and will smite the Egyptians.” 10 Again in the account of the death of the cattle Moses says to Pharaoh : “Behold, the hand of the Lord shall be upon thy cattle, and upon all that are in the fields a great death.” 11 So that the “hands” are understood of the power of God: for indeed it is easy to perceive that the whole strength of men and their active powers are in their hands.

‘Wherefore our Lawgiver, in saying that the effects are God’s hands, has made the word a beautiful metaphor of majesty. The constitution too of the world may well be called for its majesty God’s standing; for God is over all, and all things are subject unto Him, and have received from Him their station, so that men may comprehend that they are immovable. Now my meaning is like this, that heaven has never become earth, and earth heaven, nor the sun become the shining moon, nor again the moon become the sun, nor rivers seas, nor seas rivers.

‘And again in the case of living beings there is the same principle. For man will never be beast, nor beast man. In the case of all the rest too the same rule exists, of plants and all other things: they are not interchangeable, but are subject to the same changes in themselves, and to decay.

‘In these ways then God may rightly be spoken of as standing, since all things are set under Him. It is said too in the book of the Law that there was a descent of God upon the mountain, at the time when He was giving the Law, in order that all might behold the operation of God: for this is a manifest descent; and so any one wishing to guard safely the doctrine of God would interpret these circumstances as follows.12

‘It is declared that the mountain burned with fire, as the Lawgiver says, because God had descended upon it, and that there were the voices of trumpets, and the fire blazing so that none could withstand it.

‘For while the whole multitude, not less than a thousand thousands, besides those of unfit age, were assembled around the mount, the circuit of it being not less than five days’ journey, in every part of the view around them all as they were encamped the fire was seen blazing.

‘So that the descent was not local; for God is everywhere. But whereas the power of fire is beyond all things marvellous because it consumes everything, he could not have shown it blazing irresistibly, yet consuming nothing, unless there were the efficacy given to it from God.

‘For though the places were all ablaze, the fire did not actually consume any of the things which grew upon that mountain: but the herbage of all remained untouched by fire, and the voices of trumpets were loudly heard together with the lightning-like flashing of the fire, though there were no such instruments present nor any that sounded them, but all things were done by divine arrangement.

‘So that it is plain that the divine descent took place for these reasons, that the spectators might have a manifest comprehension of the several circumstances, that neither the fire which, as I said before, burnt nothing, nor the voices of the trumpets were produced by human action or a supply of instruments, but that God without any aid was exhibiting His own all-pervading majesty.’

Pantaenus on Active Knowledge

On Pantaenus and his belief in Platonistic knowledge, from Scholia:

Accordingly, when asked by some who prided themselves on the outside learning, in what way the Christians supposed God to become acquainted with the universe, their own opinion being that He obtains His knowledge of it in different ways,-of things falling within the province of the understanding by means of the understanding, and of those within the region of the senses by means of the senses,-they replied: “Neither does He gain acquaintance with sensible things by the senses, nor with things within the sphere of the understanding by the understanding: for it is not possible that He who is above all existing things should apprehend them by means of existing things. We assert, on the contrary, that He is acquainted with existing things as the products of His own volition.” They added, by way of showing the reasonableness of their view: “If He has made all things by an act of His will (and no argument will be adduced to gainsay this), and if it is ever a matter of piety and rectitude to say that God is acquainted with His own will, and if He has voluntarily made every several thing that has come into existence, then surely God must be acquainted with all existing things as the products of His own will, seeing that it was in the exercise of that will that He made them.

Josephus on Omnipresence and Omniscience

From Josephus’ Antiquities, 6.11.8:

8. But Jonathan heard these last words with indignation, and promised to do what he desired of him, and to inform him if his father’s answers implied any thing of a melancholy nature, and any enmity against him. And that he might the more firmly depend upon him, he took him out into the open field, into the pure air, and sware that he would neglect nothing that might tend to the preservation of David; and he said, “I appeal to that God, who, as thou seest, is diffused every where, and knoweth this intention of mine, before I explain it in words, as the witness of this my covenant with thee, that I will not leave off to make frequent trims of the purpose of my father till I learn whether there be any lurking distemper in the most secret parts of his soul; and when I have learnt it, I will not conceal it from thee, but will discover it to thee, whether he be gently or peevishly disposed; for this God himself knows, that I pray he may always be with thee, for he is with thee now, and will not forsake thee, and will make thee superior to thine enemies, whether my father be one of them, or whether I myself be such. Do thou only remember what we now do; and if it fall out that I die, preserve my children alive, and requite what kindness thou hast now received to them.” When he had thus sworn, he dismissed David, bidding him go to a certain place of that plain wherein he used to perform his exercises; for that, as soon as he knew the mind of his father, he would come thither to him, with one servant only; “and if,” says he, “I shoot three darts at the mark, and then bid my servant to carry these three darts away, for they are before him, know thou that there is no mischief to be feared from my father; but if thou hearest me say the contrary, expect the contrary from the king. However, thou shalt gain security by my means, and shalt by no means suffer any harm; but see thou dost not forget what I have desired of thee in the time of thy prosperity, and be serviceable to my children.” Now David, when he had received these assurances from Jonathan, went his way to the place appointed.

From Josephus’ Antiquities, 8.8.4:

And when [Jeroboam] had called those ten tribes together over whom he ruled, he made a speech to the people in these words: “I suppose, my countrymen, that you know this, that every place hath God in it: nor is there any one determinate place in which he is: but he every where hears and sees those that worship him. On which account I do not think it right for you to go so long a journey to Jerusalem, which is an enemies city, to worship him. It was a man that built the temple: I have also made two golden heifers, dedicated to the same God; and the one of them I have consecrated in the city Bethel; and the other in Dan: to the end that those of you that dwell nearest those cities may go to them, and worship God there.

The Shared Platonist Beliefs of Augustine and Origen

From The Influence of Origen on the Young Augustine by Gyorgy Heidl:

Hinting at Col. 2:8, Augustine makes a distinction between the philosophers and, accordingly, between two worlds.18 The reasoning is strongly Origenian both in form and content. The two thinkers claim that there is another world (alius mundus – [Greek]) which is intelligible (intellectus intuetur – [Greek]), which cannot be reached by sensation (ab istis oculis remotissimus – [Greek]), which only those who are pure (sanorum intellectus – [Greek]) can behold (intuetur – [Greek]), which Christ speaks about in St. John’s Gospel (regnum meum non est de hoc mundo – [Greek]),19 and, finally, which is identical to divine Wisdom itself (sapientia – [Greek]).20

According to Augustine, the philosophy of the other world is not merely Platonism or Neoplatonism but also Christianity. In addition, it is only the latter which is capable of calling sinful souls back to the intelligible world.21 Therefore, Christianity is considered the “true” or “truest philosophy” (verissima philosophia)22 which teaches the unity of the Trinity and the Incarnation of the Divine Intellect.23

Justin Martyr Describes His Philosophical History

From Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho:

Being at first desirous of personally conversing with one of these men, I surrendered myself to a certain Stoic; and having spent a considerable time with him, when I had not acquired any further knowledge of God (for he did not know himself, and said such instruction was unnecessary), I left him and betook myself to another, who was called a Peripatetic, and as he fancied, shrewd. And this man, after having entertained me for the first few days, requested me to settle the fee, in order that our intercourse might not be unprofitable. Him, too, for this reason I abandoned, believing him to be no philosopher at all. But when my soul was eagerly desirous to hear the peculiar and choice philosophy, I came to a Pythagorean, very celebrated–a man who thought much of his own wisdom. And then, when I had an interview with him, willing to become his hearer and disciple, he said, ‘What then? Are you acquainted with music, astronomy, and geometry? Do you expect to perceive any of those things which conduce to a happy life, if you have not been first informed on those points which wean the soul from sensible objects, and render it fitted for objects which appertain to the mind, so that it can contemplate that which is honourable in its essence and that which is good in its essence?’ Having commended many of these branches of learning, and telling me that they were necessary, he dismissed me when I confessed to him my ignorance. Accordingly I took it rather impatiently, as was to be expected when I failed in my hope, the more so because I deemed the man had some knowledge; but reflecting again on the space of time during which I would have to linger over those branches of learning, I was not able to endure longer procrastination. In my helpless condition it occurred to me to have a meeting with the Platonists, for their fame was great. I thereupon spent as much of my time as possible with one who had lately settled in our city,–a sagacious man, holding a high position among the Platonists,–and I progressed, and made the greatest improvements daily. And the perception of immaterial things quite overpowered me, and the contemplation of ideas furnished my mind with wings, so that in a little while I supposed that I had become wise; and such was my stupidity, I expected forthwith to look upon God, for this is the end of Plato’s philosophy.

Nebridius Praises Augustine for Teaching Platonism

In a letter to Augustine, Nebridius praises Augustine for teaching Platonism:

To Augustine Nebridius Sends Greeting.

1. Your letters I have great pleasure in keeping as carefully as my own eyes. For they are great, not indeed in length, but in the greatness of the subjects discussed in them, and in the great ability with which the truth in regard to these subjects is demonstrated. They shall bring to my ear the voice of Christ, and the teaching of Plato and of Plotinus.

Answered Questions – Boyd’s Early Church Influences

From a Reddit Question and Answer with Greg Boyd:

Hey Greg Boyd! Love your work!
In what ways do the early church fathers influence your theology? Do you have particular church fathers you read that help you?
Also, I host a podcast from Would you be willing to come on?
God bless!

Greg responds:

GREAT question! I love the theology of pre-Constantinian fathers. They SO got cosmic spiritual warfare and how it affects this earth. And they ALL emphasized free will. Irenaeus used to be my favorite, but over the last view years I’ve been into Origen. My approach to violent portraits of God in the OT has been influenced by him.

Apologetics Thursday – Greek Influences in the Church

By Christopher Fisher

Arbour and Blount argue that Open Theists just assume that the church fathers rejected face value readings of the Bible in favor of Platonism. From The Camel’s Nose: Open Theism and Biblical Interpretation – Benjamin H. Arbour and Douglas K. Bloun:

Now Adolf Harnack and Wolfhart Pannenberg not withstanding, we doubt that the tradition’s interpretive approach has been as heavily influenced by Greek philosophy as open theists suggest. Sadly, however, we cannot entertain open theists’ arguments to the contrary for the simple reason that they have put forward no such arguments.21 That traditional Christian readings of scripture have been unduly influenced by Greek philosophy is not a conclusion for which open theists argue but rather an assumption from which they argue. So, for instance, Sanders—who proclaims the point persistently and pointedly—does nothing to show that the tradition has been so influenced; he also does nothing to show which Greek philosophical doctrines are problematic for Christian theology, not to mention why they are so. Apparently, he takes the point to be beyond dispute; it is not.

Arbour and Bloun might be unfamiliar with the extent of documentation of the early Church’s reliance on Platonism. Augustine, the most influential Christian writer, literally stated that he believed the Bible was absurd before Simplicanous told Augustine to read the Bible in light of Plotinus. Augustine admits it plainly. This is in the same work which Augustine shows utter contempt for those who read the Bible on face value:

6. I rejoiced also that the old Scriptures of the law and the prophets were laid before me, to be perused, not now with that eye to which they seemed most absurd before, when I censured Your holy ones for so thinking, whereas in truth they thought not so; and with delight I heard Ambrose, in his sermons to the people, oftentimes most diligently recommend this text as a rule—The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life; while, drawing aside the mystic veil, he spiritually laid open that which, accepted according to the letter, seemed to teach perverse doctrines— teaching herein nothing that offended me, though he taught such things as I knew not as yet whether they were true…

Notice, the Bible was “absurd” to Augustine during his face value readings. And what was absurd? In Chapter 11, Augustine mocks those who think God is in time and spoke as Jesus was being baptized. In Augustine’s commentary on Genesis, he does great damage to the text. Augustine makes the “original sin” as sex between Adam and Eve, as well as other affronts to the face value reading. As soon as Augustine was given license to reinterpret the text spiritually, dumping the face value reading, that allowed him to convert to Christianity.

26. But having then read those books of the Platonists, and being admonished by them to search for incorporeal truth, I saw Your invisible things, understood by those things that are made; [Romans 1:20] and though repulsed, I perceived what that was, which through the darkness of my mind I was not allowed to contemplate,— assured that You were, and were infinite, and yet not diffused in space finite or infinite; and that Thou truly art, who art the same ever, varying neither in part nor motion; and that all other things are from You, on this most sure ground alone, that they are. Of these things was I indeed assured, yet too weak to enjoy You… Upon these [books by the Platonists], therefore, I believe, it was Your pleasure that I should fall before I studied Your Scriptures, that it might be impressed on my memory how I was affected by them… For had I first been moulded in Your Holy Scriptures, and had Thou, in the familiar use of them, grown sweet unto me, and had I afterwards fallen upon those volumes, they might perhaps have withdrawn me from the solid ground of piety; or, had I stood firm in that wholesome disposition which I had thence imbibed, I might have thought that it could have been attained by the study of those books alone.

Notice, Augustine praises the books of the Platonists. Augustine then says his Platonism made the Bible repulsive. Augustine then says that once he used Platonism to understand the Bible, he accepted the Bible. And to top it off, Augustine runs a hypothetical: if Augustine first accepted the Bible and then came across the books of Platonism, Augustine would have converted away from Christianity to Platonism. Christianity, Augustine explicitly says, is Platonism plus charity.

In Confessions, Book 8, Simplicanus lets Augustine into a secret: All the Church Fathers were engrained in Platonism. Simplicanus told Augustine that all Augustine needed to do was import Platonism into Christianity to make Christianity believable:

But when I mentioned to him that I had read certain books of the Platonists, which Victorinus, sometime Professor of Rhetoric at Rome (who died a Christian, as I had been told), had translated into Latin, he congratulated me that I had not fallen upon the writings of other philosophers, which were full of fallacies and deceit, after the rudiments of the world, [Colossians 2:8] whereas they, in many ways, led to the belief in God and His word.

When Arbour and Bloun claim that it is only assumed that the Church Fathers read the Bible in light of Platonism, they are very mistaken. They might be unfamiliar with Early Church writings, but it is not a contested point. It is well documented that not only were the Church Fathers hardcore Platonists, but that they would reject Christianity if they believed the face value text of the Bible. Platonism was their mechanism to conforming Christianity into something they could accept. This is not assumption (as Arbour and Bloun label it); it is explicitly stated in essay format by the Church Fathers.

Brown on the Origins of Double Predestination

From The Cruciform View:

The overall thrust of this chapter in Cary’s monograph is that Augustine’s idiosyncratic formulation of election and predestination (which would later influence Calvin and Luther’s own idiosyncratic neo-Augustinian versions of the doctrine) was influenced by Platonic and Neo-Platonic thought patterns of grace that differed significantly from the Pauline and Hebraic concept of grace, which is given to one (Israel, Christ, the Church) for the benefit of others rather than merely and arbitrarily given to one instead of another, which as Cary rightly says, leads logically to the “outright disaster” of Augustine’s (and later Calvin’s) doctrine of double-predestination.

Aquinas on Immutability

From Summa Theologica:

On the contrary, It is written, “I am the Lord, and I change not” (Malachi 3:6).

I answer that, From what precedes, it is shown that God is altogether immutable.

First, because it was shown above that there is some first being, whom we call God; and that this first being must be pure act, without the admixture of any potentiality, for the reason that, absolutely, potentiality is posterior to act. Now everything which is in any way changed, is in some way in potentiality. Hence it is evident that it is impossible for God to be in any way changeable.

Secondly, because everything which is moved, remains as it was in part, and passes away in part; as what is moved from whiteness to blackness, remains the same as to substance; thus in everything which is moved, there is some kind of composition to be found. But it has been shown above (Question 3, Article 7) that in God there is no composition, for He is altogether simple. Hence it is manifest that God cannot be moved.

Thirdly, because everything which is moved acquires something by its movement, and attains to what it had not attained previously. But since God is infinite, comprehending in Himself all the plenitude of perfection of all being, He cannot acquire anything new, nor extend Himself to anything whereto He was not extended previously. Hence movement in no way belongs to Him. So, some of the ancients, constrained, as it were, by the truth, decided that the first principle was immovable.

Clement of Alexandria on Predestination

In Stromata, Clement claims that God has no sensory perceptions, knows the future as if it were the present, and makes all things happen:

God is not, then, possessed of human form, so as to hear; nor needs He senses, as the Stoics have decided, “especially hearing and sight; for He could never otherwise apprehend.” But the susceptibility of the air, and the intensely keen perception of the angels, and the power which reaches the soul’s consciousness, by ineffable power and without sensible hearing, know all things at the moment of thought. And should any one say that the voice does not reach God, but is rolled downwards in the air, yet the thoughts of the saints cleave not the air only, but the whole world. And the divine power, with the speed of light, sees through the whole soul. Well! Do not also volitions speak to God, uttering their voice? And are they not conveyed by conscience? And what voice shall He wait for, who, according to His purpose, knows the elect already, even before his birth, knows what is to be as already existent? Does not the light of power shine down to the very bottom of the whole soul; “the lamp of knowledge,” as the Scripture says, searching “the recesses”? God is all ear and all eye, if we may be permitted to use these expressions.

TC Moore on Greek Influence

From TC Moore’s post on immutability:

Just that easily, the royal announcement of a crucified God, the Lord Jesus of Nazareth, foolishness to Greeks and a scandal to Jews, was transformed into a “respectable doctrine.” Tired of being labled “babblers” (as Paul was called in Athens) or “atheists” as the Roman Empire considered them, or other ignoble epitaphs, Christians began to compromise the Gospel in a quest for legitimacy and respectability.

Pinnock on I AM

From The Openness of God:

A striking example of this is the way they distorted the divine self-ascription “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14). This text, which points to the living God of the exodus, was transmuted into a principle of metaphysical immutability, as the dynamic “I AM” of the Hebrew text became the impersonal “being who is” of the Greek Septuagint (LXX), enabling theologians like Philo and Origen to link a changeless Greek deity with the God who acts in history.

Sanders on Philo and Repentance

From The Openness of God:

Philo is well aware of the many texts that say that God repents (changes his mind) or feels anger. In Philo’s mind such texts are not to be taken literally; rather, they are anthropomorphisms for the benefit of the “duller folk” who cannot understand the true nature of God. “For what greater impiety could there be than to suppose that the Unchanging changes?” Philo leans on Numbers 23:19, which in the Septuagint reads: “God is not as man.”39 Because God is not like us, he cannot change his mind. Moreover, since God foreknows all that will happen, divine repentance is impossible. Consequently, though Philo struggled against a static conception of immutability, in the end, the Greek metaphysical understanding of divinity ruled his interpretation of the biblical texts that describe God as genuinely responsive.

Thomas on Clement

Rod Thomas of Political Jesus writes an article entitled Open Theology, Clement, Stoicism, and Prevenient Grace. An excerpt:

Not only is the Exodus Creator God willing to demonstrate God’s holiness through acts of self-giving and self-revealing acts, God is awesomely generous. God’s grace, as the Gospels say, is like the Sun, that shines on the just and unjust. For Clement, Truth has revealed himself in the Logos. Speaking to the “Greek preparatory culture” since Clement was located in Alexandria, the Greek speaking city of Roman Egypt, Clement compares the salvific work of the Good Shepherd who not only takes “care of sheep, but the care of herds, and breeding of horses, and dogs, and bee-craft.” While all of these philosophies differ, they can be useful for life. Now, question is how does Clement define “philosophy.” They are in his words “whatever has been well said by each of those sects, which teach righteousness along with a science pervaded by piety,” and more importantly, Clement stresses, “But such conclusions of human reasonings as men have cut away and falsified, I would never call divine.”

Gonzalez on Immutability

TC Moore quotes extensively from Justo Gonzalez on immutability:

Therefore, when Christians, in their eagerness to communicate their faith to the Greco-Roman world, began interpreting their God in Platonic terms, what they introduced into theology was not a sociopolitically neutral idea. What they introduced was an aristocratic idea of God, one which from that point on would serve to support the privilege of the higher classes by sacralizing changelessness as a divine characteristic. Yahweh, whose mighty arm intervened in history in behalf of the oppressed slaves of Egypt and of widows, orphans, and aliens was set aside in favor of the Supreme Being, the Impassible One, who saw neither the suffering of the children in exile nor the injustices of human societies, and who certainly did not intervene in behalf of the poor and the oppressed. It would be possible to follow the entire history of Christianity to see how this God functioned in favor of the privileged precisely by condemning change and sacralizing the status quo.”

For full post, click here.

Fisher Describes Augustine’s Conversion

From Craig Fisher of Will the Real God Step Forward:

If one is to take Augustine’s words seriously, one must recognize this conversion was not in terms of a Protestant born again experience, but this conversion was a purification resembling the Neoplatonic purification: “The effect of your converting me to yourself was that I did not now seek a wife and had no ambition for success in this world.” To “not seek a wife” is a commitment to celibacy not an admission of guilt, repentance toward God, and belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Augustine’s autobiography, Confessions, may be described as a manual on Platonic purification. The first seven chapters represents the struggle against sexual desire, the nemesis of Platonic purification. Chapter eight is the accomplishment of his goal. The final chapters are his self-congratulation on his success.

The goal of purification is to become like God in order to see God. The practitioner expects to see God in his mind at the end of the ascent. The ascent is a meditative process, removing oneself from the distractions of physical life and seeing God with you mind. The name ascent refers to the Platonic metaphysical system of the pagan philosophers. God is at the top of the “ladder”, all creation is an ordered descent from the top. In order to reach God, it is necessary to ascend the ladder. Ascent is only possible through a process of purification.

For full post, click here.

Clement on Simplicity

Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 5:12, 208 AD

No one can rightly express him wholly. For on account of his greatness he is ranked as the All, and is the Father of the universe. Nor are any parts to be predicated of him. For the One is indivisible; wherefore also it is infinite, not considered with reference to inscrutability, but with reference to its being without dimensions, and not having a limit. And therefore it is without form.

Tertullian on Free Will

I find, then, that man was by God constituted free, master of his own will and power; indicating as by this constitution of his nature… you will find that when He puts before man good and evil, life and death, that the entire course of discipline is arranged in precepts by God’s calling men from sin, and threatening and exhorting them; and this on no other ground than that man is free with a will either for obedience or disobedience or resistance.

For context, click here.

Hill on Augustine and Scripture

From Bob Hill of the now discontinued Biblical Answers:

Augustine also explained the reasoning which allowed him to be converted to the Catholic faith:

For first of all the things began to appear unto me as possible to be defended: and the Catholic faith, in defense of which I thought nothing could be answered to the Manichees’ arguments, I now concluded with myself, might well be maintained without absurdity: especially after I had heard one or two hard places of the Old Testament resolved now and then; which when I understood literally, I was slain. Many places therefore of those books having been spiritually expounded.

What could Augustine not accept literally? One of them was the mutability of God, that God would change his will or purpose from one time to the next in order to adjust to a changeable mankind. In Confessions, Augustine explains which literal interpretations were unacceptable. Here is one of his statements:

And because God commanded them one thing then, and these another thing now for certain temporal respects; and yet those of both ages were servants to the same righteousness, whereas they may observe in one man, and in one day, and in one house, different things to be fit for different members, and one thing to be lawful now, which in an hour hence is not so; and something to be permitted or commanded in one corner, which is forbidden or punished in another. Is Justice thereupon various or mutable.

The Manichaeans believed God could not be mutable and retain his perfection. Augustine accepted this philosophy as true and attempted to prove this doctrine with Scripture.

In another writing, On the Morals of the Catholic Church, Augustine explained the doctrines of the Old Testament that were so absurd. In explaining his dispute with the Manichaeans we observe his agreement with them against the literal interpretation of the Old Testament.

We do not worship a God who repents, or is envious, or needy, or cruel, or who takes pleasure in the blood men or beasts, or is pleased with guilt or crime, or whose possession of the earth is limited to a little corner of it. These and such like are the silly notions . . . the fancies of old women or of children . . . and in those by whom these passages are literally understood. . . . And should any one suppose that anything in God’s substance or nature can suffer change or conversion, he will be held guilty of wild profanity.

Augustine agreed with the Manichaeans that a mutable God was totally unacceptable. In this conflict between the Platonic doctrine of immutability and the literal interpretation of Scriptures what had to change? Augustine’s answer was that the literal interpretation of Scripture had to change. For Augustine the plain narratives of Scripture had to be reinterpreted by spiritual or allegorical methods. The Manichaeans believed the Old Testament revealed a God who was mutable or could repent. Since the Platonists believed that God was immutable this idea of God repenting was a source of ridicule for the Catholic Church. Augustine was so embarrassed by these arguments that he chose to reinterpret Scripture rather than refute the Platonic philosophy.

Augustine and His Platonism

Excerpted from Christopher Fisher:

Simplicianus and Ambrose convinced Augustine that the Bible was to be taken figuratively. Notice how Augustine read the Bible on face value. Augustine called it “absurd”, he said “the letter kills”, he called it “perverse doctrines”, and he called it “offensive”. It was only through Simplicanus and Amborse spiritualizing the text in a Platonic sense that Augustine finally accepted the Bible. In short, Augustine was able to see the natural reading of the Bible, and Augustine rejected it because it was antithetical to Plantonism (that “god” cannot change)…

Augustine’s characteristics for the books of the Platonists are “pride” and “knowledge”. Augustine, even after becoming a Christian, held Platonism in high regard. This is in contrast to his disdain for the natural meaning of the Bible text, which he calls “absurd”, “killing”, “perverse”, and “offensive”. Biblical theology was to be rejected all except one point. The Platonists gave Augustine all Augustine’s theology except “charity”. In fact Augustine writes: “I might have thought that it could have been attained by the study of [Platonist] books alone.”

For full post, click here.