What Did the Early Church Believe About “Free Will”?

Underdog Theology has put together a portion of the Appendix in Michael Horton’s Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Grand Rapids, MI Baker, 2002) dealing with what the early church fathers believed regarding the so-called “TULIP.” Below is a copy and paste of the portion about “Total Depravity” and man’s “free will.”

Barnabas, associate of Paul (A.D. 70): “Learn: before we believed in God, the habitation of our heart was corrupt and weak.”

Icon of the martyrdom of Saint Ignatius

Ignatius (A.D. 110): “They that are carnal [unbelievers] cannot do the things that are spiritual…Nor can the unbelievers do the things of belief.”

Justin Martyr (A.D. 150): “Mankind by Adam fell under death, and the deception of the serpent; we are born sinners…No good thing dwells in us…For neither by nature, nor by human understanding is it possible for me to acquire the knowledge of things so great and so divine, but by the energy of the Divine Spirit…Of ourselves it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God…He has convicted us of the impossibility of our nature to obtain life…Free will has destroyed us; we who were free are become slaves and for our sin are sold…Being pressed down by our sins, we cannot move upward toward God; we are like birds who have wings, but are unable to fly.”

Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 190): “The soul  cannot rise nor fly, nor be lifted up above the things that are on high, without special grace.”

Origen (A.D. 184/5–253/4): “Our free will…or human nature is not sufficient to seek God in any manner.”

Eusebius (A.D. 330): “The liberty of our will in choosing things that are good is destroyed.”

Augustine (A.D. 370): “If, therefore, they are servants of sin (2 Cor. 3:17), why do they boast of free will?…O, man! Learn from the precept what you ought to do; learn from correction, that it is your own  fault you have not the power…Let human effort, which perished by Adam, here be silent, and let the grace of God reign by Jesus Christ…What God promises, we ourselves do not through free will of human nature, but He Himself does by grace within us…Men labor to find in our own will something that is our own, and not God’s; how can they find it, I know not.”


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