Did the Early Church Fathers teach Calvinistic Doctrines?

2churchfathersTo Listen to the Podcast on the History of this Debate and the teachings of the earliest Church fathers: CLICK HERE

This historical information may be helpful in your search for the most sound soteriological perspective.  Even notable Calvinistic scholar and historian, Loraine Boettner, admitted, “This cardinal truth [Calvinism] of Christianity was first clearly seen by Augustine, the great Spirit-filled theologian of the West.[1]

Consider this article produced by Tim Warner in 2003:

Prior to the writings of Augustine, the Church universally held that mankind had a totally free will. Each man was responsible before God to accept the Gospel. His ultimate destiny, while fully dependent on God’s grace and power, was also dependent on his free choice to submit to or reject God’s grace and power. In the three centuries from the Apostles to Augustine the early Church held to NONE of the five points of Calvinism, not one. The writings of the orthodox Church, for the first three centuries, are in stark contrast to the ideas of Augustine and Calvin. Man is fully responsible for his choice to respond to or reject the Gospel. This was considered to be the Apostolic doctrine passed down through the local church elders ordained by the Apostles, and their successors. Below we have listed a few representative quotes from the earlier writers in order to give the flavor of the earliest tradition regarding election and free will. Some deal with the subject of perseverance and apostasy.

Clement of Rome (AD30-100)
“On account of his hospitality and godliness, Lot was saved out of Sodom when all the country round was punished by means of fire and brimstone, the Lord thus making it manifest that He does not forsake those that hope in Him, but gives up such as depart from Him to punishment and torture. For Lot’s wife, who went forth with him, being of a different mind from himself and not continuing in agreement with him [as to the command which had been given them], was made an example of, so as to be a pillar of salt unto this day. This was done that all might know that those who are of a double mind, and who distrust the power of God, bring down judgment on themselves? and become a sign to all succeeding generations.” (Clement, Epistle to the Corinthians, XI)

Ignatius (AD30-107)
“Seeing, then, all things have an end, and there is set before us life upon our observance [of God’s precepts], but death as the result of disobedience, and every one, according to the choice he makes, shall go to his own place, let us flee from death, and make choice of life. For I remark, that two different characters are found among men — the one true coin, the other spurious. The truly devout man is the right kind of coin, stamped by God Himself. The ungodly man, again, is false coin, unlawful, spurious, counterfeit, wrought not by God, but by the devil. I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures, but that there is one humanity, sometimes belonging to God, and sometimes to the devil. If any one is truly religious, he is a man of God; but if he is irreligious, he is a man of the devil, made such, not by nature, but by his own choice. The unbelieving bear the image of the prince of wickedness. The believing possess the image of their Prince, God the Father, and Jesus Christ, through whom, if we are not in readiness to die for the truth into His passion, His life is not in us.” (Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, V)

Barnabas (AD100)
“The Lord will judge the world without respect of persons. Each will receive as he has done: if he is righteous, his righteousness will precede him; if he is wicked, the reward of wickedness is before him. Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are the called [of God], we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince, acquiring power over us, should thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord. And all the more attend to this, my brethren, when ye reflect and behold, that after so great signs and wonders were wrought in Israel, they were thus [at length] abandoned. Let us beware lest we be found [fulfilling that saying], as it is written, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (Epistle of Barnabas, IV)

Justin Martyr (AD 110-165)
“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. We see the same man making a transition to opposite things. Now, if it had been fated that he were to be either good or bad, he could never have been capable of both the opposites, nor of so many transitions. But not even would some be good and others bad, since we thus make fate the cause of evil, and exhibit her as acting in opposition to herself; or that which has been already stated would seem to be true, that neither virtue nor vice is anything, but that things are only reckoned good or evil by opinion; which, as the true word shows, is the greatest impiety and wickedness. But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made.” (Justin, First Apology, XLIII)

“For so we say that there will be the conflagration, but not as the Stoics, according to their doctrine of all things being changed into one another, which seems most degrading. But neither do we affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer, but that each man by free choice acts rightly or sins; and that it is by the influence of the wicked demons that earnest men, such as Socrates and the like, suffer persecution and are in bonds, while Sardanapalus, Epicurus, and the like, seem to be blessed in abundance and glory. The Stoics, not observing this, maintained that all things take place according to the necessity of fate. But since God in the beginning made the race of angels and men with free-will, they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed. and this is the nature of all that is made, to be capable of vice and virtue. For neither would any of them be praiseworthy unless there were power to turn to both (virtue and vice). And this also is shown by those men everywhere who have made laws and philosophized according to right reason, by their prescribing to do some things and refrain from others. Even the Stoic philosophers, in their doctrine of morals, steadily honour the same things, so that it is evident that they are not very felicitious in what they say about principles and incorporeal things. For if they say that human actions come to pass by fate, they will maintain either that God is nothing else than the things which are ever turning, and altering, and dissolving into the same things, and will appear to have had a comprehension only of things that are destructable, and to have looked on God Himself as emerging both in part and in whole in every wickedness; or that neither vice or virtue is anything; which is contrary to every sound idea, reason, and sense.” (Justin Second Apology, VII)

“Could not God have cut off in the beginning the serpent, so that he exist not, rather than have said, ‘And I will put enmity between him and the woman, and between his seed and her seed?’ Could He not have at once created a multitude of men? But yet, since He knew that it would be good, He created both angels and men free to do that which is righteous, and He appointed periods of time during which He knew it would be good for them to have the exercise of free-will; and because He likewise knew it would be good, He made general and particular judgments; each one’s freedom of will, however, being guarded.” (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 102)

“I said briefly by anticipation, that God, wishing men and angels to follow His will, resolved to create them free to do righteousness; possessing reason, that they may know by whom they are created, and through whom they, not existing formerly, do now exist; and with a law that they should be judged by Him, if they do anything contrary to right reason: and of ourselves we, men and angels, shall be convicted of having acted sinfully, unless we repent beforehand. But if the word of God foretells that some angels and men shall be certainly punished, it did so because it foreknew that they would be unchangeably [wicked], but not because God had created them so. So that if they repent, all who wish for it can obtain mercy from God: and the Scripture foretells that they shall be blessed, saying, ‘Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not sin;’ that is, having repented of his sins, that he may receive remission of them from God; and not as you deceive yourselves, and some others who resemble you in this, who say, that even though they be sinners, but know God, the Lord will not impute sin to them.” (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 141)

“Here, then, is a proof of virtue, and of a mind loving prudence, to recur to the communion of the unity, and to attach one’s self to prudence for salvation, and make choice of the better things according to the free-will placed in man; and not to think that those who are possessed of human passions are lords of all, when they shall not appear to have even equal power with men.” (Justin, On the Sole Government of God, VI)

Irenaeus (AD120-202)
“This expression [of our Lord], “How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not,” set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests (ad utendum sententia) of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all. And in man, as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice (for angels are rational beings), so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves. On the other hand, they who have not obeyed shall, with justice, be not found in possession of the good, and shall receive condign punishment: for God did kindly bestow on them what was good; but they themselves did not diligently keep it, nor deem it something precious, but poured contempt upon His super-eminent goodness. Rejecting therefore the good, and as it were spuing it out, they shall all deservedly incur the just judgment of God, which also the Apostle Paul testifies in his Epistle to the Romans, where he says, “But dost thou despise the riches of His goodness, and patience, and long-suffering, being ignorant that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest to thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” “But glory and honor,” he says, “to every one that doeth good.” God therefore has given that which is good, as the apostle tells us in this Epistle, and they who work it shall receive glory and honor, because they have done that which is good when they had it in their power not to do it; but those who do it not shall receive the just judgment of God, because they did not work good when they had it in their power so to do.

“But if some had been made by nature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for such were they created; nor would the former be reprehensible, for thus they were made [originally]. But since all men are of the same nature, able both to hold fast and to do what is good; and, on the other hand, having also the power to cast it from them and not to do it, — some do justly receive praise even among men who are under the control of good laws (and much more from God), and obtain deserved testimony of their choice of good in general, and of persevering therein; but the others are blamed, and receive a just condemnation, because of their rejection of what is fair and good. And therefore the prophets used to exhort men to what was good, to act justly and to work righteousness, as I have so largely demonstrated, because it is in our power so to do, and because by excessive negligence we might become forgetful, and thus stand in need of that good counsel which the good God has given us to know by means of the prophets. … No doubt, if any one is unwilling to follow the Gospel itself, it is in his power [to reject it], but it is not expedient. For it is in man’s power to disobey God, and to forfeit what is good; but [such conduct] brings no small amount of injury and mischief. … But because man is possessed of free will from the beginning, and God is possessed of free will, in whose likeness man was created, advice is always given to him to keep fast the good, which thing is done by means of obedience to God.

“And not merely in works, but also in faith, has God preserved the will of man free and under his own control, saying, “According to thy faith be it unto thee; “ thus showing that there is a faith specially belonging to man, since he has an opinion specially his own. And again, “All things are possible to him that believeth;” and, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.” Now all such expressions demonstrate that man is in his own power with respect to faith. And for this reason, “he that believeth in Him has eternal life while he who believeth not the Son hath not eternal life, but the wrath of God shall remain upon him.” In the same manner therefore the Lord, both showing His own goodness, and indicating that man is in his own free will and his own power, said to Jerusalem, “How often have I wished to gather thy children together, as a hen [gathereth] her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Wherefore your house shall be left unto you desolate.”” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. IV, 37)

The above passage is immediately followed by Irenaeus’ refutation of the Gnostic cults who “maintain the opposite to these conclusions.”

“Has the Word come for the ruin and for the resurrection of many? For the ruin, certainly, of those who do not believe Him, to whom also He has threatened a greater damnation in the judgment-day than that of Sodom and Gomorrah; but for the resurrection of believers, and those who do the will of His Father in heaven. If then the advent of the Son comes indeed alike to all, but is for the purpose of judging, and separating the believing from the unbelieving, since, as those who believe do His will agreeably to their own choice, and as, [also] agreeably to their own choice, the disobedient do not consent to His doctrine; it is manifest that His Father has made all in a like condition, each person having a choice of his own, and a free understanding; and that He has regard to all things, and exercises a providence over all, “making His sun to rise upon the evil and on the good, and sending rain upon the just and unjust.”

“And to as many as continue in their love towards God, does He grant communion with Him. But communion with God is life and light, and the enjoyment of all the benefits which He has in store. But on as many as, according to their own choice, depart from God, He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord. But separation from God is death, and separation from light is darkness; and separation from God consists in the loss of all the benefits which He has in store. Those, therefore, who cast away by apostasy these forementioned things, being in fact destitute of all good, do experience every kind of punishment. God, however, does not punish them immediately of Himself, but that punishment falls upon them because they are destitute of all that is good. Now, good things are eternal and without end with God, and therefore the loss of these is also eternal and never-ending. It is in this matter just as occurs in the case of a flood of light: those who have blinded themselves, or have been blinded by others, are for ever deprived of the enjoyment of light. It is not, [however], that the light has inflicted upon them the penalty of blindness, but it is that the blindness itself has brought calamity upon them: and therefore the Lord declared, “He that believeth in Me is not condemned,” that is, is not separated from God, for he is united to God through faith. On the other hand, He says, “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God;” that is, he separated himself from God of his own accord. “For this is the condemnation, that light is come into this world, and men have loved darkness rather than light. For every one who doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that he has wrought them in God.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. V, XXVII)

Tatian (AD110-172)
“Why are you fated to grasp at things often, and often to die? Die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it. Live to God, and by apprehending Him lay aside your old nature. We were not created to die, but we die by our own fault. Our free-will has destroyed us; we who were free have become slaves; we have been sold through sin. Nothing evil has been created by God; we Ourselves have manifested wickedness; but we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it.” (Tatian, Address to the Greeks, XI)

Tertullian (AD145-220)
“Moreover, man thus constituted will be protected by both the goodness of God and by His purpose, both of which are always found in concert in our God. For His purpose is no purpose without goodness; nor is His goodness without a purpose, except forsooth in the case of Marcion’s God, who is purposelessly good, as we have shown. Well, then, it was proper that God should be known; it was no doubt a good and reasonable thing. Proper also was it that there should be something worthy of knowing God. What could be found so worthy as the image and likeness of God? This also was undoubtedly good and reasonable. Therefore it was proper that (he who is) the image and likeness of God should be formed with a free will and a mastery of himself; so that this very thing — namely, freedom of will and self-command — might be reckoned as the image and likeness of God in him. For this purpose such an essence was adapted to man as suited this character, even the afflatus of the Deity, Himself free and uncontrolled. But if you will take some other view of the case, how came it to pass that man, when in possession of the whole world, did not above all things reign in self-possession — a master over others, a slave to himself? The goodness of God, then, you can learn from His gracious gift to man, and His purpose from His disposal of all things. At present, let God’s goodness alone occupy our attention, that which gave so large a gift to man, even the liberty of his will. God’s purpose claims some other opportunity of treatment, offering as it does instruction of like import. Now, God alone is good by nature. For He, who has that which is without beginning, has it not by creation, but by nature. Man, however, who exists entirely by creation, having a beginning, along with that beginning obtained the form in which he exists; and thus he is not by nature disposed to good, but by creation, not having it as his own attribute to be good, because, (as we have said,) it is not by nature, but by creation, that he is disposed to good, according to the appointment of his good Creator, even the Author of all good. In order, therefore, that man might have a goodness of his own, bestowed on him by God, and there might be henceforth in man a property, and in a certain sense a natural attribute of goodness, there was assigned to him in the constitution of his nature, as a formal witness of the goodness which God bestowed upon him, freedom and power of the will, such as should cause good to be performed spontaneously by man, as a property of his own, on the ground that no less than this would be required in the matter of a goodness which was to be voluntarily exercised by him, that is to say, by the liberty of his will, without either favor or servility to the constitution of his nature, so that man should be good just up to this point, if he should display his goodness in accordance with his natural constitution indeed, but still as the result of his will, as a property of his nature; and, by a similar exercise of volition, should show himself to be too strong in defense against evil also (for even this God, of course, foresaw), being free, and master of himself; because, if he were wanting in this prerogative of self-mastery, so as to perform even good by necessity and not will, he would, in the helplessness of his servitude, become subject to the usurpation of evil, a slave as much to evil as to good. Entire freedom of will, therefore, was conferred upon him in both tendencies; so that, as master of himself, he might constantly encounter good by spontaneous observance of it, and evil by its spontaneous avoidance; because, were man even otherwise circumstanced, it was yet his bounden duty, in the judgment of God, to do justice according to the motions of his will regarded, of course, as free. But the reward neither of good nor of evil could be paid to the man who should be found to have been either good or evil through necessity and not choice. In this really lay the law which did not exclude, but rather prove, human liberty by a spontaneous rendering of obedience, or a spontaneous commission of iniquity; so patent was the liberty of man’s will for either issue. Since, therefore, both the goodness and purpose of God are discovered in the gift to man of freedom in his will, it is not right, after ignoring the original definition of goodness and purpose which it was necessary to determine previous to any discussion of the subject, on subsequent facts to presume to say that God ought not in such a way to have formed man, because the issue was other than what was assumed to be proper for God. We ought rather, after duly considering that it behooved God so to create man, to leave this consideration unimpaired, and to survey the other aspects of the case. It is, no doubt, an easy process for persons who take offence at the fall of man, before they have looked into the facts of his creation, to impute the blame of what happened to the Creator, without any examination of His purpose. To conclude: the goodness of God, then fully considered from the beginning of His works, will be enough to convince us that nothing evil could possibly have come forth from God; and the liberty of man will, after a second thought, show us that it alone is chargeable with the fault which itself committed.” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Bk. II, ch. vi) 

“God put the question [to Adam – “where art thou”] with an appearance of uncertainty, in order that even here He might prove man to be the subject of a free will in the alternative of either a denial or a confession, and give to him the opportunity of freely acknowledging his transgression, and, so far, of lightening it. In like manner He inquires of Cain where his brother was, just as if He had not yet heard the blood of Abel crying from the ground, in order that he too might have the opportunity from the same power of the will of spontaneously denying, and to this degree aggravating, his crime; and that thus there might be supplied to us examples of confessing sins rather than of denying them: so that even then was initiated the evangelic doctrine, “By thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Bk. II, xxv)

“That rich man did go his way who had not “received” the precept of dividing his substance to the needy, and was abandoned by the Lord to his own opinion. Nor will “harshness” be on this account imputed to Christ, the Found of the vicious action of each individual free-will. “Behold,” saith He, “I have set before thee good and evil.” Choose that which is good: if you cannot, because you will not — for that you can if you will He has shown, because He has proposed each to your free-will — you ought to depart from Him whose will you do not.” (Tertullian, On Monogamy, XIV)

Clement of Alexandria (AD153-217)
“God, then, is good. And the Lord speaks many a time and oft before He proceeds to act. … For the Divine Being is not angry in the way that some think; but often restrains, and always exhorts humanity, and shows what ought to be done. And this is a good device, to terrify lest we sin. “For the fear of the Lord drives away sins, and he that is without fear cannot be justified,” says the Scripture. And God does not inflict punishment from wrath, but for the ends of justice; since it is not expedient that justice should be neglected on our account. Each one of us, who sins, with his own free-will chooses punishment, and the blame lies with him who chooses. God is without blame. “But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous, who taketh vengeance? God forbid.” … It is clear, then, that those who are not at enmity with the truth, and do not hate the Word, will not hate their own salvation, but will escape the punishment of enmity. “The crown of wisdom,” then as the book of Wisdom says, “is the fear of the Lord.” Very clearly, therefore, by the prophet Amos has the Lord unfolded His method of dealing, saying, “I have overthrown you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah; and ye shall be as a brand plucked from the fire: and yet ye have not returned unto me, saith the LORD.” See how God, through His love of goodness, seeks repentance; and by means of the plan He pursues of threatening silently, shows His own love for man. “I will avert,” He says, “My face from them, and show what shall happen to them.” For where the face of the Lord looks, there is peace and rejoicing; but where it is averted, there is the introduction of evil. The Lord, accordingly, does not wish to look on evil things; for He is good. But on His looking away, evil arises spontaneously through human unbelief. “Behold, therefore,” says Paul, “the goodness and severity of God: on them that fell severity; but upon thee, goodness, if thou continue in His goodness,” that is, in faith in Christ.” (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Bk. I, viii)

Origen (AD185-254)
“This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the Church, that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition; that it has a stuggle to maintain with the devil and his angels, and opposing influences, because they strive to burden it with sins; but if we live rightly and wisely, we should endeavor to shake ourselves free of a burden of that kind. From which it follows, also, that we understand ourselves not to be subject to necessity, so as to be compelled by all means, even against our will, to do either good or evil. For if we are our own masters, some influences perhaps may impel us to sin, and others help us to salvation; we are not forced, however, by any necessity either to act rightly or wrongly, which those persons think is the case who say that the courses and movements of the stars are the cause of human actions, not only of those which take place beyond the influence of the freedom of the will, but also of those which are placed within our own power.” (Origen, De Principis, Preface)

“And for this reason we think that God, the Father of all things, in order to ensure the salvation of all His creatures through the ineffable plan of His word and wisdom, so arranged each of these, that every spirit, whether soul or rational existence, however called, should not be compelled by force, against the liberty of his own will, to any other course than that to which the motives of his own mind led him (lest by so doing the power of exercising free-will should seem to be taken away, which certainly would produce a change in the nature of the being itself); and that the varying purposes of these would be suitably and usefully adapted to the harmony of one world, by some of them requiring help, and others being able to give it, and others again being the cause of struggle and contest to those who are making progress, amongst whom their diligence would be deemed more worthy of approval, and the place of rank obtained after victory be held with greater certainty, which should be established by the difficulties of the contest.” (Origen, Bk. II ch. I)

Hippolytus (AD170-236)
“But man, from the fact of his possessing a capacity of self-determination, brings forth what is evil, that is, accidentally; which evil is not consummated except you actually commit some piece of wickedness. For it is in regard of our desiring anything that is wicked, or our meditating upon it, that what is evil is so denominated. Evil had no existence from the beginning, but came into being subsequently. Since man has free will, a law has been defined for his guidance by the Deity, not without answering a good purpose. For if man did not possess the power to will and not to will, why should a law be established? For a law will not be laid down for an animal devoid of reason, but a bridle and a whip; whereas to man has been given a precept and penalty to perform, or for not carrying into execution what has been enjoined. For man thus constituted has a law been enacted by just men in primitive ages.” (Hippolytus, Against all Heresies, Bk. X, ch. xxix)

Novatian (AD210-280)
“And lest, again, an unbounded freedom should fall into peril, He laid down a command, in which man was taught that there was no evil in the fruit of the tree; but he was forewarned that evil would arise if perchance he should exercise his free will, in the contempt of the
law that was given. For, on the one hand, it had behooved him to be free, lest the image of God should, unfittingly be in bondage; and on the other, the law was to be added, so that an unbridled liberty might not break forth even to a contempt of the Giver. So that he might receive as a consequence both worthy rewards and a deserved punishment, having in his own power that which he might choose to do, by the tendency of his mind in either direction: whence, therefore, by envy, mortality comes back upon him; seeing that, although he might escape it by obedience, he rushes into it by hurrying to be God under the influence of perverse counsel.” (Novatian, Trinity, ch. I)

Archelaus (AD277)
“This account also indicates that rational creatures have been entrusted with free-will, in virtue of which they also admit of conversions.” … “For all the creatures that God made, He made very good; and He gave to every individual the sense of free-will, in accordance with which standard He also instituted the law of judgment. To sin is ours, and that we sin not is God’s gift, as our will is constituted to choose either to sin or not to sin. … The judges said: He has given demonstration enough of the origin of the devil. And as both sides admit that there will be a judgment, it is necessarily involved in that admission that every individual is shown to have free-will; and since this is brought clearly out, there can be no doubt that every individual, in the exercise of his own proper power of will, may shape his course in whatever direction he pleases.” (Archelaus, The Acts of the Disputation)

Alexander of Alexandria (AD273-326)
“I will endeavor, with your assistance and favor, to examine carefully the position of those who are offended, and deny that we speak the truth, when we say that man is possessed of free-will, and prove that “They perish self-destroyed, By their own fault,” choosing the pleasant in preference to the expedient.” (Alexander, Banquet of the Ten Virgins, Discourse VIII, ch. xii)

Lactantius (AD260-330)
“When, therefore, the number of men had begun to increase, God in His forethought, lest the devil, to whom from the beginning He had given power over the earth, should by his subtilty either corrupt or destroy men, as he had done at first, sent angels for the protection and improvement of the human race; and inasmuch as He had given these a free will, He enjoined them above all things not to defile themselves with contamination from the earth, and thus lose the dignity of their heavenly nature.”(Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Bk. II, ch. xv)

There seems to have been no exceptions among early Christian writers to the orthodox teaching that man has been granted by God a free will to choose his destiny, and that salvation is available to all. The opposing view, that man is controlled by fate, could only be found in the Greek philosophical schools, Gnosticism, and Eastern mysticism during the first 300 years of Christianity. It is no wonder that the man who introduced Greek fatalism into Christianity should come from a Gnostic and Neo-Platonic background. Augustine’s theory differed from the Greek philosophers mainly by naming the CAUSE of fate — God’s mysterious will which must not be questioned, and cannot be understood by mortals. The impact of Augustine’s teaching probably would not have been nearly so great if Pelagius had not gone to the opposite extreme in renouncing Augustine.

While those of the Reformed persuasion are right to reject the Latin heresies of Rome, they have been lax to recognize the Greek heresies introduced before the Latin era, which are equally contrary to the truth of the Christian Faith “once for all delivered to the saints” by the Apostles of Jesus Christ. They seem to hold a higher opinion of philosophers, like Augustine, than of the Apostles themselves, and those to whom the Apostles entrusted the Apostolic tradition. [LINK]

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7 thoughts on “Did the Early Church Fathers teach Calvinistic Doctrines?

  1. Thank you Brother Flowers for the overview of what these men thought and taught in the first three centuries after Christ! It certainly shows proof of the view of free-will and personal responsibility as popular in their circles of influence during that time!

    I have to admit, I am not a big fan of pointing to most of these men as authorities of a proper biblical perspective when I consider that it was their writings that were chosen for preservation by the RC denomination because those writings reflected the same sacramental gospel and magisterial ecclesiology that RC wanted to promote as orthodox. I really believe that we do not need any Church Fathers as recognized authorities of truth except for Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Barnabas (if you will grant he wrote Hebrews🙂 ), James, Peter and Jude.

    Most of your quotes were just theological opinions by these men. The best, I felt, where the ones from those who pointed to Scriptures and discussed passages of God’s word on this matter (e.g. Irenaeus). And, in my opinion your most helpful point was in your introduction, when you demonstrated that modern Calvinists recognize that Christianity (actually – Roman Catholicism) did not see a development of divine determinism until Augustine’s theology became popular.

    I really all your work and research in these things!


  2. Thank you for sharing this podcast. Two years ago, I came across Jesse Morrell’s presentation on the history of the Early Church in relation to the teachings of Calvinism, and it was extremely eye-opening for me. It bothered me how people on both sides of the aisle claim their doctrines are taught in the Bible, yet these same doctrines are polar opposites. I never before realized how much the Early Church had to say about these doctrines, but I was excited because understanding the historical context at the time Scripture was written helps reveal the true heart and intent of the Scriptures.

    However, I have met stiff resistance from my friends and family who are staunch Calvinists of varying degrees and I have experienced the same result when I bring up the history of the Early Church Fathers and their teachings. They get very uncomfortable when I show them that the history of the doctrines of Calvinism were around before Augustine, only under a different name. They vehemently deny their doctrines are rooted in Gnosticism for the reasons you mentioned in your podcast. Their history stops at Augustine and when I probe further they shut down.

    I have noticed while talking with a dear friend of mine about this church history that she fears, if Calvinism is wrong somehow God is no longer sovereign and her salvation is in jeopardy. It unravels the rest of these doctrines that she believes in so strongly. This terrifies her. She can’t reconcile how one can oppose Calvinism and yet believe in the sovereignty of God. Her theological world would be flipped upside down. So as mentioned before, they shut down before they come to the place of admitting the error of these doctrines and run to Rom. 9 and Eph. 1:4. I can see how ingrained these doctrines are in their entire belief system, because their entire view of God and the Bible is based on these doctrines being true.

    With this in mind, how would you advise helping answer her fears and concerns? Thank you for your study and research on these things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your encouragement. I’m not sure their is anything you can say to convince her because sometimes arguing (or persuasive efforts) serves only to harden her heart further.

      If however she is still teachable help her to see that Roman 8:28 is still as true for us as it is the Calvinist. He does work out evil for Good in the lives of those who love Him. The difference is that He isn’t the ultimate cause/control of that evil in the first place. So she can blame sin and run to God. Fearing that God is going to cause you harm then be your hero isn’t necessary. He can simply be your hero now. Free evil choices of fallen humanity and the rulers of darkness can receive all the blame for the hardship and evil that befall her.

      Also there is an article on my Blog about the eternal attribute of God (omnipotence) vs his temporal attribute of “sovereignty” or “providence”

      We can firm that the former is never compromised while still understanding that Gods design for his temporal power over creation is not deterministic in nature.

      I hope that helps. Blessings!


  3. I came out of Calvinism from initially being challenged by Elliot Nesch’s YouTube video presentation of David Bercot’s “Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up”. I once used to think “if Charles Spurgeon is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” When I was exposed to the ANF, I was already interested in studying their writings, but wasn’t expecting what I found. I went in with the preconceived notions of Calvinism, but quickly saw I was the one in error.

    I don’t know how a Calvinist can hold to their systematic theology after a thorough study of the Early Church Writings. When I was exposed to this truth, it was humiliating, it was a personal apocalypse, but exactly what I needed. I think this is why they won’t change, they are too vested in the system to be broken by the truth. I actually would like to hear a debate between someone like David Bercot and Dr. James White on the subject.

    Here’s something I wrote about my experience in learning about the early church teachings of faith and works to Calvinists. This was in response to Prebys supporting RC Sproul oversimplifying the Roman Catholic teaching of “works righteousness”

    First, this is not to troll, I would really like an open discussion. This is a challenge to those of you who agree to RC Sproul’s belief here.

    I am not a Roman Catholic, I oppose the extra-biblical “Holy Traditions” of the RCC, but when you oversimplify Catholicism to works righteousness you’re missing a deeper understanding of faith. Now, I’ll give you this, the average Catholic pew-sitter does perform their belief mechanically, and it really does look like works righteousness, but just as there are nominal Catholics, you have nominal Christian Presbyterians too. But there are plenty of Catholics who do study, take holiness seriously in their own way, and they would have some valid objections to this. What RC Sproul (and the VAST MAJORITY of Protestants) don’t understand is that the imbuement of faith/grace wasn’t a one time thing as a completed work in the past of a Christian.

    There’s the original endowment of grace, continued grace to those who obey, and grace in the end for those who persist in the faith…meaning not everyone will persist, and there’s no mention of “well, that only proves they were never, you know, really on the Vine” Jesus’s teachings are simple enough for a child to understand, but it takes criminal theologians to convulute them.

    When Luther and the other Reformers echo Paul and say we are saved by Grace Alone, and Faith Alone, by Christ Alone they are only understanding the first step in faith, which everyone agrees is given 100% entirely by God. Your garden-variety Catholic might not know how to explain that, but the earnest ones would, have you walked to the other side and asked one? The Reformers inadvertently disconnect Paul from Jesus, James, and the writings of the early church that disprove Calvinism as the original Gospel handed down by the saints.

    What they are inhibited from seeing (by holding to the contradictory teaching of the “Perseverance of the Saints”) is that God does require us to do good works, and work out our salvation with fear and trembling. To abide on the Vine, we must have the obedient love faith relationship of serving Jesus by serving others in need. This is not fear based manipulation, God is not the abusive Father atheists claim he is, He loves us, and when we love Him we prove it by our faith in action.

    Look at Matthew 25, the Final Judgment with the sheep and the goats. This judgment is for the flock [Christendom], but what will Jesus use to separate the two? Will we be judged by adherence to RCC Tradition, or by the correct adherence to Reformed systematic theology? No, among those who claim the title of Christian, Jesus will know us by the works we did for others. Sorry guys, Jesus is not going to ask if you memorized the WCF, lived the LBC1689 better than Spurgeon, have read Institutes 9 times, or for dressing like a puritan. He will examine the body of our work since becoming a citizen of His Kingdom. The Gospel is about the Kingdom. Christ being King of it, the Kingdom being in us, and we in being in the Kingdom (restored with God), then, now, and forever to come. Fire insurance and a ticket to Heaven are just really great side bennies.

    Jesus harmonizes the teachings of Paul and James, where as Luther would have carved James out of the Bible if he could have gotten away with it. Instead, Luther played it down, calling it a “gospel of straw” because it challenged his PRE-CONCEIVED theological system. James said faith without works is dead, as Jesus explained with many parables… you will know them by their fruit as Paul Washer (RB I know) likes to repeat with his OT Prophet-like glare. You want to see what real reformation looked like? Look to the best of the Radical Reformation in the Anabaptist traditions. Even the word “radical” means to return to the root! Those people looked a lot more like Christ and the early church over the Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists of both yesterday and today. They obviously didn’t and don’t get everything 100%, but go down history, read the Martyrs Mirror and see them consistently looking like true Followers of the Way.

    Here’s a quick quiz. Throughout church history, which group looked more like the early church?
    A. Calvin’s Geneva
    B. Luther’s German church city states
    C. The RCC empire
    D. The Anabaptist and other similar groups

    What did the first three have in common? Church-state hybrids, conformed to the world, adulterated the simple teachings of Christ, used force and violence when expedient, and all three persecuted the saints among the Anabaptists. Or do you believe God made exceptions to their anti-christ behavior?

    Works are not meritorious. Once on the Vine, we’ve had the heart change and desire to be like Him. The works performed by a believer already on the Vine are done not just out of fear of being cut off. they are also done out of love, and in obeisance as a good and faithful servant. If you love me, keep my commandments. Love your neighbor as yourself. Who is my neighbor, everyone including my enemies. My neighbor is hungry, I feed him, to feed Him. It’s the least I can do to try to honor His sacrifice. That is Christianity, and it will be in the end what separates the sheep from the goats.

    Marin Luther’s famous scene where he says unless convinced by scripture, he would not believe, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” It’s a nice paper-slogan, and maybe he genuinely meant it at first, but with his commentaries and teaching (to which I’m grateful for) he got more wrong than he did right, and his own/his church’s orthopraxy proves it. Where Luther said Christians were snow-covered dung piles, Jesus said we were clean, and compared the Pharisees who washed only the outside of the cup. I don’t know about you, but I was cleansed inside and out by the blood of Jesus and baptism. In the eyes of God, I’m not a snow-covered turd!

    And in case you’re wondering why I’m bringing up Luther to Calvinists, it’s because Calvin was no better. Calvin supported the same vicious anti-christlike behavior (which they somehow get a pass for?) but had the better systematic theology. That only means he was more consistent than Luther in his error.

    Do what your beloved Dr. James White recommends and read the Ante-Nicean Fathers. I don’t understand how such a smart guy can stand by the “Doctrines of Grace”, but I’d like to understand. Please show me where you see the Reformed concept of faith separate from works. While you’re at it, please show me where in the ANF writings you see a Calvinistic soteriology outside of the heretical Gnostics. Calvinism is not the “faith once delivered” it is something warned against in Galatians 1:8. Calvinism, with it’s brother Lutheranism is just a continuation of Augustinianism, which is just rehashed Gnosticism with better camouflage. If you read the early church writings, be prepared to be challenged, you will have to decide what to do with that knowledge. The truth has that effect if you don’t ignore it.

    As far as I can see, after seriously studying the issue, you have one of two options:

    Either A: Admit Calvinism was not originally what the early church held to, but something teased out over centuries of revealed revelation. Just be careful, know that you will be sitting on the same branch with the Roman Catholic Church where they hold to “Holy Traditions” as you hold to “Sola Reformed-understanding-of Scriptura”

    Or B: Put the “isms” down, be a plain Christian, and live out the Sermon on the Mount and all of His other teachings and Commandments.

    I went with option B, because I didn’t see an option C, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Your brother in Christ,



    1. Hi Gil, If you believe God is going to change your nature again when you receive your resurrected body, so that you never will be able to reject trusting in Jesus, then it might not be too hard for you to consider that He changed your nature by regeneration, guaranteeing the same result by the presence of His everlasting life and His promise to always lovingly discipline His children, but not let them go.

      Careful contextual interpretation with normal use of grammar will help you with John 15:2 & 6. Unfruitful believers are lifted up from the earth, taken to heaven early. Anyone who looks like a branch but never we’re joined to the vine, will be gathered at the last judgment and burned.

      There are numerous teachings of Jesus about those who look like Christians, but never have been saved (cf Matt 7, 13). You even mentioned nominal Christians among RC and among Presbyterians.

      James also was talking about a dead creedal faith that never gets from the head down into the heart. If it did, like it did with Abraham, there would be imputed righteousness, which is the presence of God’s everlasting life itself. That living righteousness will justify itself before others in works.

      Thanks for your input Gil. I believe Jesus has been building His church through every century through the Gospel and pastors whose qualifications for ministry must also include teaching believer’s baptism.


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