The British Orthodox Church

within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate

Thread Rating:
  • 0 Vote(s) - 0 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Sola Paradosis?
22-04-2009, 12:39 PM,
Sola Paradosis?
Hello again

I have a question regarding the church's interpretation of Scripture. I realise (with great respect) that the Orthodox Church interprets scripture within the paradigm of historical consensus (Tradition), BUT does ALL interpretation of Scripture have to conform to this consensus?

When the (apperently obvious) plain meaning of a particular passage of Scripture seems to contradict the traditional consensus - what does one do?

Let me give an example: We read three times in John 6:37, 44, 65, from the words of Christ Himself, that it is not possible to come to Him in faith unless the Father graciously makes it possible. These verses seem to suggest a predestinating grace is the only means of salvation. I have tried with no success to find some other possible alternative meaning to these words, but to no avail.

Does your tradition have an answer to the above verses, or, do you simply veto such (difficult) passages on the authority of the fathers?

This is my present struggle as I seek a closer walk with the ancient catholic Church.

Of course, there could be a perfectly obvious, equally valid interpretation to the above passages that I have simply been to dim to realise. If you have any suggestions I would be very grateful for your help.

God Bless

22-04-2009, 05:30 PM,
This is a good question Donald.

I would say that our Church Fathers do not pass over any of these issues, but will answer them according to the theological framework in which they operate, which is usually not an Augustinian one.

St Cyril of Alexandria, as an example, would almost certainly wish to be known as an exegete rather than a controversialist, and felt that controversy was rather thrust upon him and took him away from his study of the Scriptures.

You can find St Cyril's commentary on the Gospel of St John online here..

<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- m -->

and he addresses the passages you point to.

In relation to the first passage he says..

Quote:It did not behove the Lord simply to say, Ye have both seen Me and believe not, but it was necessary that He should bring in besides the reason of their blindness, that they might learn that they had fallen under the Divine displeasure. Therefore as a skilful physician He both shews them their weakness, and reveals the cause of it, not in order that they on learning it may remain quiet in it, but that they may by every means appease the Lord of all, Who is grieved at them, i. e., for just causes. For He would never be grieved unjustly, nor would He Who knows how to give righteous judgment have given any such judgment upon them, were not reason calling Him thereto, from all sides hasting unto the duty of accusal.

The Saviour hereby affirmed that everything should come to Him, which God the Father gave Him; not as though He were unable to bring believers to Himself, for this He would have accomplished very easily if He had so willed, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things to Himself, as Paul saith: but since it seemed somehow necessary and more fit, to say that they who were in ignorance were illumined by the Divine Nature, He again as Man attributes to the Father the operation, as to things more God-befitting. For so was His wont to do, as we have often said.

But it is probable that when He says that all that He giveth Him shall be brought to Him by God the Father, He points to the people of the Gentiles now about full soon to believe on Him. It is the word of one skilfully threatening, that both they shall fall away from grace, and that in their stead shall come in all who of the Gentiles are brought by the goodness of God the Father, to the Son, as to Him Who is by Nature Saviour and Lifegiving, that they, partaking of the Blessing from Him, may be made partakers of the Divine Nature, and be thus brought back to incorruption and life, and be reformed unto the pristine fashion of our nature.

As though one should bring a sick man to a physician, that he might drive away the sickness that has fallen upon him, so we say that God the Father brings to the Son those who are worthy salvation from Him. Bitter then and full of destruction is hardness of heart to them that have it. Therefore doth the word of prophecy chide the Jews, crying aloud, Be ye circumcised to God, and circumcise the hardness of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Yet not for them, but for us rather hath God the Father kept the circumcision in the heart, namely that which is through the Holy Ghost, wrought according to the rites of him who is a Jew inwardly. It is then right to flee from their disobedience, and with all zeal to renounce hardness of heart, and to reform unto a more toward disposition, if we would avert the wrath that was upon them unto destruction.

You can see that it is not at all the case that Scripture is plainly understood to have one meaning, and that in this case St Cyril does not avoid the passage but does not understand it to relate to predestination at all.

In relation to the other passages, he says..

Quote:He says that they cannot attain unto Him, save drawn by the teaching of the Father.

So again, he does not avoid the passage but does not find predestination in it.

The commentaries of St Cyril are wonderful volumes that require a very slow, considered reading. They are deeply theological. I wonder what you think of St Cyril's explanation.

Let me ask you in return, what does it mean when the patristic consensus is not the same as the Augustinian/Calvinist consensus? Where do we go from such a divergence?

Best wishes and God bless

Father Peter
22-04-2009, 09:20 PM,
Dear Father Peter

Yes, I think I see what St Cyril is saying about the verses in John 6. I do like how he handles them. It is just that the Augustinian interpretation seems to be so much more contextually and gramatically probable. I suppose you are quite aware of the hermeneutical principle that the simplest understanding is the most apt (Occam's razor and all that).

Not that I like it.

Maybe I have been too firmly conditioned by twenty-something years of Calvinistic presuppositions to NOT see the meaning that I do in these verses.

Having said that, I sense, intuitively, that Christ would surely not have simply dismissed his opponents in this offhand manner. Ill be bluntly honest - I WANT to read and understand the verses a la St. Cyril! I am experiencing something of a struggle in this regard between my rationality and my spiritual intuition!

Lets face it - one comes out with a radically different gospel depending on how such passages are interpreted.

You ask how one is to deal with the divergence found between Patristic and Augustinian theology when it comes to predestination, I don't know! But hey! this is a crucial question! It is probably the major theological struggle that I am facing at the present time. I feel that if this particular dichotomy could be effectively resolved in favour of the Orthodox understanding, Protestantism would have no more appeal to me. Its that important!

God Bless

22-04-2009, 10:08 PM,
Hi Don

It's late here so I'll just post a quick note to say that perhaps we should mine the commentaries and writings of many more Fathers to see what they say.

I have to say generally that having been Calvinistic for a while and understanding the position I do not find that it is the position of any of the Fathers other than Augustine who it seems to me had his own personal issues to work out.

That is not to say that grace is not so very important, but it is not seen in such terms as Augustine used, which is why the Eastern Church was accused of semi-Pelagianism, an accusation that is true and reflects the patristic approach as far as I can see.

But lets read the Fathers own words, as I am sure that some at least understood the other possible meanings of the passages.

Best wishes and God bless

Father Peter
23-04-2009, 04:00 AM,
When one has a predisposed position or interpretation on a matter, most things appear to plainly support it.

In these passages, opinions and presuppositions aside Christ says that no man can come to Him unless the Father draws him, it does not say anything about a predetermined list of names. It's just like at dinner time, my kids don't know to come to the table unless I first call them, and if they are willing then they will come.

Let's also remember that Christ said, "When I am lifted up, I will call all men (people)"
29-04-2009, 08:27 AM,
sola paradosis
Dear Donald,
The Father making it possible to come to Christ through Grace does not mean predestination, because that would imply the very opposite of Grace which is a freely given gift, and would go against our free will to choose. Predestination implies a pointlessness in preaching, worship and prayer, because it has all been worked out beforehand. This would oppose God's Mercy.
Marc has squarely hit the nail on the head in his brief post.

Kirk Yacoub
30-04-2009, 01:21 PM,
Greetings all!

Thank you all for positive and helpful responses to my original question. After some careful consideration and with your help, I have come to realise that the particular issue that I have been wrestling with - namely predestination - is something more of a philosophical problem than an exegetical one.

Yes. I can fully see your point that human free will must exist in order to make any sense of our accountability before a holy God as well as help explain the existence of evil in a universe created wholy good.

But what - in simple terms please - does this free will consist of?

Of course, I am free right now to continue typing this letter, or else opt to abruptly stop - I can opt to look left instead of right YES! - but is this REALLY FREE WILL?

Is not all of our volition conditioned, when all is said and done, by one's upbringing, one's environment, present state of mind, as well as one's digestive system? Are we not free to choose ONLY from what 'cards' have been dealt out to us?

Let me offer you an illustration. Suppose one were to meet a humanised cow and one was to invite this cow to a restaurant and offer her the free choice of anything on the menu - what would she freely choose? I'm pretty sure that her free will would opt for the salad bar every time! You see in this (admittedly ridiculous) illustration suggests that acting according to one's nature, and freedom of choice are really the same thing!

I think that the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination takes this into consideration. We are, according to Calvin, controled by our fallen nature and therefore only able to turn to God if RECREATED in nature by grace. This to Calvin is what is means by being one becoming 'born again'.

How would Orthodoxy define free will in the light of this?

Sorry, I know that this is an issue that may be foreign to your approach to Divinity, but is anybody is able to offer me any help here it would be greatly appreciated.

God Bless you all

30-04-2009, 02:24 PM,
donald wilson Wrote:How would Orthodoxy define free will in the light of this?

Hi Don,

After reading your last post, my mind wandered and I wondered who you think it is that speaks for Orthodoxy? In other words, "Who speaks for Orthodoxy?" What if there are different schools of thought and in this sense there are different answers to be found from within Orthodoxy? I remember when I first made a movement towards Orthodoxy, I thought there was one answer and one Orthodox position on the key theological issues. I was ignorant of the reality of the situation.

I don't think I could present a very good survey on this topic for you. However, I would fall in line with the thinking of John Cassian as it relates to the sovereignty of God and the free will of man, in which there is a synergy which takes place.

Somewhat as you imply, to me, it seems more than clear that we cannot have absolute free will because we do not have absolute freedom.

In Christ,
30-04-2009, 03:22 PM,
Hi Don,

as Rick as stated it is not always possible to find a find answer to any question within orthodoxy. This does not mean that orthodoxy does not have any answers but it does suggest that it is always appropriate to have a measure of humility when considering any question.

I often begin my own consideration of any question by turning to St Cyril of Alexandria and St Severus of Antioch. These to speak with one voice. In their writings of all is a loss of the indwelling spirit of God who is true life through Adam's sin man has lost the gift of immortality and in corruption which is experienced through the presence of the holy spirit. Finding himself alone he experiences his own mortality and the true death as separation from God.

The cause of this loss is the turning of Adams will away from God and towards his own pleasure. The will is the locus of sin in man's heart. Sin has no existence apart from in the will of man. It is not a thing. It has no hypostasis, no reality. But the consequences are very real, first of all through Adam's sin the loss for all men of the grace of incorruptibility and immortality, and the indwelling spirit. And in our own lives an increasing darkness and the liability to judgement.

But St Cyril and St Severus are clear, we are not born sinners though we are born mortal. It is possible to imagine that a man might choose always not to sin, yet in the reality of human existence only one has ever been able to choose God in all ways and at all times, Jesus Christ the incarnate Word. And even were a man to avoid sin all of his life, that is always to have his will turn towards God, he would remain mortal and corruptible and devoid of the spirit, having done no more than was his duty.

Within orthodoxy the beginning of a man's experience of salvation is not found in his particular predestination to life, but in the incarnation of the word who renews human nature and in himself restores to it the grace of immortality and in corruption. My faith, baptism, and participation in the Eucharist we are united with this renewed human nature, and Christ becomes for us a second Adam. Salvation begins not with the exercise of human will whether free or constrained, but with the free choice of God who offers salvation to all.

What then of the human will? It seems to me that the fathers teach us that the human will is never so corrupt that there is not some possibility of turning towards God, and this turning, however imperfect, is in some sense an exercise faith that draws from God the grace of the holy spirit to nurture and perfect it.

As Rick has already said, St John Cassian exemplifies the Orthodox perspective on grace, and does so much more than St Augustine. Indeed St Augustine's views on grace, predestination, sin and the fall, are almost entirely rejected by orthodoxy. Orthodoxy tends to the view that man is not so corrupt that he cannot still choose God even while that choice is itself compromised by passions, appetites and sin.

But the first turning towards God is not the fullness of life in the spirit. Indeed if the spirit is our true life then we will discover as Christians that we become more and more alive as we root ourselves in the life of the spirit. True freedom is only experienced in the spirit and so Christ is uniquely free, but calls us all to enter into the freedom of life in the spirit. If my first choice for God is weak and halting and shadowed with ulterior motives that I can barely understand myself, then this should not be so for my second choices, my 10th, my hundredth, and so on and so on. As a Christian I should be becoming more free and more freely exercising my will, and the proper exercise of free will is not found in being able to choose other than God, but in choosing only God.

What about our choices for self and pleasure rather than God. This is not the exercise of free will, this is the exercise of a constrained will, bound by habit, natural animal appetites, and the sin dominated environment. We are not free when we make these choices, we are free when we choose only God. Yet orthodoxy, unlike Calvin I believe, does not believe that man, created in the image of God and with an immortal soul that is always called heavenward, is left so devoid of grace and natural spiritual instinct, but is unable to call out to God with faith at any moment. Yet this is no work of salvation, this desire for God and for the transcendent implanted in our nature is itself a gift.

Orthodoxy would insist that all are called, and that all have the possibility of responding, however imperfectly. This imperfect response is but the beginning of life in the holy spirit. True freedom of will is found not in this first hesitant turning to God, but in a life lived in spiritual effort and self-denying spiritual exercise.

As I sit here assailed on many sides by various temptations I am aware of this at least that I am free enough to make right choices and if I choose the wrong it is not because I lack the freedom but it is because the freedom is not habitually exercised by me.

This is only a poor introduction to the Orthodox view on this subject, and it could be much improved by others. I would be very interested in your response.

God bless

Father Peter
01-05-2009, 08:33 AM,
sola paradosis
Dear Donald,
We have free will because we are created in God's image. The choice made by Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit was freely made when in a state of grace in paradise. They could have chosen otherwise. When Gabriel visited Mary at the Annunciation she could have said "No!"
to becoming the Mother of Christ, but humbly chose to accept. At the end of the Gospel of St John 6, we read that a number of those who had been drawn to Christ left him because of the difficulties of what he was saying. Yet many also stayed with Him.
In the course of Christ's preaching in Capernaum as related in John6 He tells us that people who come to Him are drawn (an energetic verb in the Greek original, being synonymous with pull, tug) by the Father, and we understand by the end of this chapter that both those who stay and those who leave were initially drawn to Him by the Father. The Second Letter of Peter 3:9 tells us that God "is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." So all of us, in our fallen state, are being welcomed to repent and join God. Some agree, some refuse, some keep changing their minds, but the key point is that these differing responses are coming from we human beings who are suffering under the same fallen state.
The interaction of the work of God, the work of those who follow Him, the destructive efforts of the Devil and his demons, is a complex matter to follow, but if we did not have our ability to choose due to that image of God within us, then we would all be lost.

Kirk Yacoub
01-05-2009, 11:12 AM,
Dear Kirk,

I think you did a very good job presenting what you have presented in the above post. And, while these days I normally avoid conversations such as this like the plague (or the swine flu), I feel compelled to mention that just as you have presented what you have from the Holy Writ . . . probably as you know, others can take the same Holy Writ and make an equally good presentation for predestination Calvinism/Augustinianism whatever you want to call it.

This is why I don't want to participate in these discussions very much anymore about which "side" is correct. I have attended one Calvinistic bible college, one Calvinistic seminary, and two other seminaries which have leanings towards Arminianism. In my early years I would go round and round with this (always arguing against Calvinism). But, over the years (different faces and places), in the end, 'they' would use 'their' scriptures and the fathers and logic/reason to argue 'their' position . . . 'I/we' would do the same with 'ours' and nothing would be changed. In the end, there is nothing more than a trading of well honed responses. After the usual scriptures were quoted, then the next step is the explaining of how the other side has not used a proper hermeneutic in their understanding of what was written, and in turn each side is making a poor application. If some up and comers who were not familiar with the issues were present sometimes their could be some influencing of minds going on there; but, overall it was a big waste of time.

Somewhat as I have suggested in the theopoiesis/theosis thread, I wonder if the answer is found in the knowledge that God has predestined some from the womb to be His, but in other cases it is just as you have presented it to be?

I wonder if it is possible that there is not one right answer here. While John Cassian writes of a middle way (which one side views as being semi-augustinian and the other side views as being semi-[or full-blown] pelagian), I wonder if it is possible that there can be no dogmatic stance on this because there are varying degrees of these aspects at play in the lives of individual people on their respective paths? I wonder if even here we see that one size does not fit all?

In Christ,
02-05-2009, 09:09 AM,
sola paradosis
Dear Rick,
The simple fact is that predestination means that, if correct, God deliberately predestines souls to hell. However, God is a merciful, loving God, which means that in no way would He rubber-stamp our foreheads with "Saved" or "Damned" before we are even born. Therefore, being selective with Biblical texts is wrong if it tries to make God other than He has shown Himself to be.
Kirk Yacoub
02-05-2009, 12:22 PM,
Re: sola paradosis
kirk yacoub Wrote:However, God is a merciful, loving God . . .

Dear Kirk,

I'm not sure how 'simple' this is from our limited perspective(s), but on the above I think we can all agree. Again, those who would argue for predestination would agree with you about being selective with texts. As for me, on this issue, in the End I subscribe to both a philosophy of unknowing and a theology of hope rooted in a merciful and loving God.

In Christ,
02-05-2009, 01:39 PM,
Yes, I have to agree that there are many times when a humble silence is the best approach, and a theology of hope.

It seems to me that that though there are boundaries, there is also a great deal of provisionality in what we can say since God seems to choose to act outside our own prescriptions on so many occasions.

I would also say that I find the standard Calvinist approach to the Gospel to be deficient - and I say that as someone who did accept it for a while. But it seems to lack a sense of hope, and it seems too negative in regard to God's creation. The same could be said of some 'orthodox' views though, which are also rather hopeless and negative. Perhaps it is a theological psychology which is at fault. I wonder what a generous Calvinism looks like? And if that has more in common with a generous Orthodoxy?

Father Peter
02-05-2009, 02:40 PM,
admin Wrote:I wonder what a generous Calvinism looks like? And if that has more in common with a generous Orthodoxy?

Dear Father Peter,

Ask and ye shall receive! :lol: This conversation has taken a very pleasant turn.

[If this link doesn't work, do a search under the title: "The Beauty of the Redemption of the World:*The Theological Aesthetics of Maximus the Confessor and Jonathan Edwards" and click on in your choices]

<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""> ... d615b280fd</a><!-- m -->.

This paper, The Beauty of the Redemption of the World: The Theological Aesthetics of Maximus the Confessor and Jonathan Edwards, is written by an old school chum of mine. We both attended the same calvinistic bible college and went on to the same calvinistic seminary that I mentioned above. For that matter, he (the calvinist) and I (the follower of Cassian unaware) used to talk in between classes and by email about what has been raised in this thread. We would trade well honed responses and bash each other over the head with our bible verses and other until we were both blue in the face . . . but, now both of us think differently than we used to (we are both more generous than we used to be), and I think both of us subscribe to the above mentioned conclusion in my last post.

But, all of that aside, there may be some gems for you to glean on even a skim of this paper as it relates to anything resembling a common ground which would include the Reformed churches and the Orthodox churches. This paper just came out in the Harvard Theological Review this past January, and I am somewhat interested to see if anyone will interact with this in regard to relational ontology provided in John Zizioulas's Being as Communion. Specifically, I am referring to Zizioulas's writing on the problem of a proper synthesis between Christology and Pneumatology in Orthodox Ecclesiology. Much as you have suggested elsewhere Father, there is a lacking in the pnuemotological dimension as we consider the catholicity of the Church today.

And, for that matter, look at the move he makes in this paper as it relates to our other discussion of theosis and theopoiesis. Especially, through his interaction with St. Maximos the confessor as it relates to ascending and descending and how the Eastern Church views participation and deification through the contemplation of the Divine Logos (viz. Logos/logoi).

If you are reading this Don, you might even want to give this paper a go where it speaks to one of your first questions in the forum about the energies of the Creator present in his creation.

I also appreciate your comments above Father about the negativity in a less than generous Calvinism and the logical end conclusion found there, wherein as some like A.W. Pink call for a "sweet spirit of resignation" but in the end there is only the sign over Dante's Hell to be found: "Abandon all 'hope' ye who enter here."

What a nice turn here. Smile Yes, a theology of love, a theology of hope.

In Christ,

Twitter: britishorthodox | Contact: | © The British Orthodox Church 2012 all rights reserved