Saturday, June 14, 2008

Predestination and Free Will

There is certainly a tension in the early church fathers between human free will (which they universally affirm) and foreordination. Moreover, the pre-Nicenes allude to the topic of foreordination, but they do not really elucidate their beliefs concerning it: predestination does not become a major issue until Augustine's time period (see Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. London: Banner of Truth, 1971, page 109).

In his authoritative work, The Christian Tradition (1:280), historian Jaroslav Pelikan points out that Augustine's spiritual predecessors [i.e. the pre-Nicenes and post-Nicenes] "leaned noticeably to one side of the dilemma, namely, the side of free will and responsibility rather than the side of inevitability and original sin."

Augustine argued that the reason those who preceded him did not adequately deal with the issue of human free will and divine foreordination was because their historical circumstances did not necessitate that they deal with the issue in a satisfactory manner (On the Predestination of the Saints 14.27; On the Gift of Perseverance 2.4). In other words, heresy had not yet made it necessary to deal with this problematic question (according to Augustine of Hippo).

One important caveat to mention at this point, however, is that Augustine did not reject free will in toto. According to what he writes in De Civitate Dei 5.9, God "knows all things before they come to pass," yet we will or act freely, of our own choosing. Nevertheless, the ancient bishop claims, free will is included in "a certain order of causes" that has been determined or decreed by God. Such a view can be aptly described as "soft determinism" since it does not affirm a libertarian version of human voluntas. William Hasker discusses these points in God, Time, and Knowledge (pp. 5-6).

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