Were the Early Church Fathers Calvinists? – A Brief Reply to Dr. Fernandes

In a recent debate over the five points of Calvinism, Dr. Fernandes said the following:

“Another problem for Calvinism: No one held the Calvinist view of predestination until Augustine.  If the apostles taught Calvinism, then they apparently didn’t consider it important enough to convey this doctrine to their successors.  Until Augustine embraced unconditional predestination in about 380 AD, we know of no church father who was a Calvinist.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard an Arminian make this claim.  And I don’t suppose it will be the last.  Regardless, what should we make of the statement?  Is it true?  Was there not one poor Calvinist running around Macedonia or Italy in the days before Augustine, the first *gasp* Calvinist?

The frustrating thing about this claim is the manner in which it is framed.  If anyone has read through the apostolic fathers, for example, they’ll know that they simply weren’t concerned with expounding the doctrines of sovereign grace, or nearly any other doctrine for that matter!  They wrote letters, not systematic theologies.  They were dealing with false teachers and persecution.  They were trying to survive.  And since the early false teachers weren’t distant cousins of a guy by the name of Pelagius, the issue wasn’t a matter of great concern.  So no, the apostolic fathers weren’t running around with tulips for bookmarks.

That being said, what did they say?  During one my reads through the apostolic fathers, I marked every location that touched on the sovereignty of God, at least in an overt way.  If I have missed one, please let me know.  I likewise kept an eye out for “Arminian” proof texts.  But in all honesty, I’m not aware of any distinctly Arminian statements.  Again, if someone thinks otherwise, please let me know.  At the end of the day, I think you’ll find that while the apostolic fathers didn’t articulate a robust view of the doctrine of unconditional election (either for or against!), they nevertheless held to a very high view of the sovereignty of God, which, of course, provides the necessary substructure for the doctrine.

Want to see what I found?  The following quotes are taken from “The Apostolic Fathers,” second edition, edited and revised by Michael W. Holmes.

1 Clement

1 Clement 0.0, “The Church of God which sojourns in Rome to the Church of God which sojourns at Corinth, to those who are called and sanctified by the will of God through our Lord Jesus Christ…”

A potentially (it’s a LONG stretch) synergistic statement, 7.5, “Let us review all the generations in turn, and learn that from generation to generation the Master has given an opportunity for repentance to those who desire to turn to him.”

21.9, “For he is the searcher of thoughts and desires; his breath is in us, and when he so desires, he will take it away.”

27.4-5, “By his majestic word he established the universe, and by a word he can destroy it. “Who will say to him, ‘What have you done?’ Or who will resist the might of his strength?”  He will do all things when he will and as he wills, and none of those things decreed by him will fail.”

Ignatius to the Ephesians

0.0, “Ignatius… to the church at Ephesus in Asia, blessed with greatness through the fullness of God the Father, predestined before the ages for lasting and unchangeable glory forever, united and elect through genuine suffering by the will of the Father and of Jesus Christ our God…”

To the Smyrnaeans

4.1b, “But I am guarding you in advance against wild beasts in human form- men whom you must not only not welcome but, if possible, not even meet.  Nevertheless, do pray for them, if somehow they might repent, difficult though it may be.  But Jesus Christ, our true life, has power over this.”

The Didache

3.10, “Accept as good the things that happen to you, knowing that nothing transpires apart from God.”


(This isn’t a copy error) 19.6b, “Accept as good the things that happen to you, knowing that nothing transpires apart from God.”

The Epistle to Diognetus

5.4, [speaking of Christians] “But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food…”

9.1, “So then, having already planned everything in his mind together with his Child, he permitted us during the former time to be carried away by undisciplined impulses as we desired, led astray by pleasures and lusts, not at all because he took delight in our sins, but because he was patient; not because he approved of that former season of unrighteousness, but because he was creating the present season of righteousness, in order that we who in the former time were convicted by our own deeds as unworthy and, having clearly demonstrated our inability to enter the kingdom of God on our own, might be enabled to do so by God’s power.”

[There are several statements to effect of our needing to persevere in order to obtain the promises, but I won’t reproduce them here.  Any Calvinist worth his salt believes that every Christian must continue in the faith.]


  1. irishanglican ~ Fr. Robert August 5, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    St. Paul was the essence of a ‘Calvinist’! 😉 Btw following Roger Nicole’s acrostic, Grace is:

    1. Obligatory (indispensable)
    2. Sovereign (in choice)
    3. Particular in (redemption)
    4. Effectual (in operation)
    5. Lasting (that is secure)

    Indeed the Doctrines of Grace are more intertwined with the ordo salutis, but yet always more than the temporal order.

  2. olivianus August 6, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    Mr. Brown,

    If man has the freedom to choose outside of a sovereign decree, how can the future be something real that God can foreknow? If man can choose against the decree then the future is not something objective and real. This elimates the possibility of foreknowledge.

    • Austin Brown August 6, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

      Greetings Mr. Olivianus,

      In this post I was primarily concerned with what the apostolic fathers thought about God’s sovereignty. It appears to me that you are interested in raising the question of Open Theism, which is a subject that didn’t register at all on their radar. But never mind the fathers, for the time being. Your question is important.

      Here it is crucial to remember the careful balance of the Westminster Confession of Faith when it talks about God’s sovereign decree, which I believe best describes the overall teaching of the Bible on this matter. You can read it here (See chapter III): http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/

      Now if you are interested in exploring the subject of God’s foreknowledge further, I would recommend the following resources. “Freedom of the Will,” by Jonathan Edwards. He has a chapter refuting those who assert that God does not possess exhaustive knowledge of the future. As for a more recent work, I would recommend John Frame’s “No Other God,” or his larger work, “The Doctrine of God.” John Piper also has an excellent volume entitled, “Beyond the Bounds.” Those will help answer your question.
      If, however, you remained convinced of Open Theism, I doubt that I will be able to persuade you otherwise. Although, I have found that some who cling to Open Theism for its theodicy can be shown that it doesn’t help the situation. And if that peg can be pulled out, they are, perhaps, more open to chucking the position. And I can tug on that peg, if you like.

  3. Jared Olivetti August 6, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    Good stuff, Austin. Thanks for digging into the patristics for us–the general line of study and questioning could make a really great book or PhD thesis…

  4. Henry Fernandez August 9, 2011 at 11:37 am #


    Good blog. Just recently introduced to it. Thanks for the good work and the clear presentations.

    Just a small annoyance, if you will: the spelling of Dr. Phil’s name. Please note how Dr. Fernandes spells his name (Portuguese origin), not Fernandez (Spanish origin). The EZ on the end of an Iberian surname indicates “son of” (as the Scottish “Mac” does).

    This small matter is only important to those of us of Iberian heritage, so it’s not a big deal (in light of the worthy discussion above), but I mention anyway.

    Thanks again for your ministry.

    Henry Fernandez, pastor
    Bryce Avenue Presbyterian Church (PCA)
    Los Alamos, New Mexico

    • Austin Brown August 9, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

      LoL, thanks pastor Fernandez. Since I listened to the debate, I just guessed at the spelling. So thank you for clearing that up! I should have looked it up. Since I’m a big white mix of who knows what, it didn’t even cross my mind 🙂

      Glad to have you aboard!


  5. Henry Fernandez August 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm #


    Muchas gracias! Obrigado (that’s Portuguese for thanks!). I appreciate the effort!

    Blessings on the good work.


  6. David Fitch August 11, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

    Although I’ve only worked my way up to the Latin Fathers, it would seem Steven Lawson’s magnificent book “Pillars of Grace: A Long Line of Godly Men” would put to rest the argument that the doctrines of grace didn’t appear until Augustine.

  7. Sean McDonald October 3, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    Regardless of what one may think of him (and I ordinarily hesitate to recommend him), Gill masterfully treats of the early fathers on Calvinism in Part IV of his “Cause of God and Truth.” http://books.google.com/books?id=Dsw8AAAAcAAJ&pg=PA404&dq=gill+%22since+those+doctrines+which+are+commonly+called+calvinistical%22&hl=en&ei=I3aKTq1w4tXRAaTwydME&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

  8. rickyroldan May 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    Reblogged this on Urban Reformed Blog.

  9. Chris September 5, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    In order to be clear I think virtually all Christians accept the true definition of Gods sovereignty a common understanding would be along the lines of, “The biblical teaching that God is king, supreme ruler, and lawgiver of the entire universe.” Virtually all theistic Christian’s would agree with this definition of God’s sovereignty. So I would certainly hold to God’s sovereignty in this terminology.

    There are a couple quotes in there that do seem to slightly indicate an Augustinian or Calvinistic understanding of Sovereignty but the vast majority do not and quite simply indicate the sovereignty I believe all Christians hold as I noted above. Just because one uses the word Proorzein (predestined) or elect/ chosen doesn’t mean they understand those in the way a Calvinist would thus the quotes that basically are only included in these two article seemingly because of the use of these word are of non- effect.

    The quote of Ignatius to the Smyrnaens is taken far out of context as it is really talking about false teachers but the quote picks up in the middle of the verse and then doesn’t go on to explain the conclusion after the verse. Having read it once before I remember this section (I am currently working my way through Ignatius’s letters again and look forward to reading that section in greater detail.)

    The identical quotes in the first article from the Didache/ barnabus does not state that he decrees all the things that happens to us but that he at least allows these events to transpire.

    The last quote from Ignatius in the first article really indicates is God has been preparing the way for Christ so that those after him ,who could not make it into God’s kingdom on their own (again we are in full agreement their) would now have a way and be enabled by the power of God. This does not mean however that we do not need to cooperate with him in order to enter the kingdom.

    If you look you will find many other quotes that people try to say shows a Calvinistic approach to God’s sovereignty but the vast majority of the quotes from the early church fathers on this are simply talking and describing in more detail the sovereignty that all Christains believe which I defined above but do not really indicate God Preordaining or predestining anything. For example this quote that he includes from Lactantius:

    Quotes like these make me think that the author of this article completely misunderstand the arguments against a Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty that many from the Orthodox or Arminian camp are making and instead think that they are rejecting God’s soveriengty in general but this simply is not the case. One who questiosn a Calvinistic understanding of Gods soveriengty is questioning the pre ordination or predestining of all things by God, he may be aware or allow all things and be able to work all things for good if we love him but this does not mean but it doesn’t mean that he wanted, intended, or sovereignly willed evetything that happens if he did he would most certainly have to be the author of Evil and sin. The quotes above, like many I have seen say nothing on the issue but that God is the one and only king of the universe, if that is what one means by sovereignty you have no argument from me at all God is our sovereign.

    Having said all that. You probably don’t have time but if you do consider reading over the huge amount of writings from the church fathers that most certainly contradicts the Calvinistic idea of God’s sovereignty of pre ordaining or pre destining everything.

    Let me start with a couple of quotes that explain the apparent contradiction in light of foreknowledge all either before or at least contemporaries with Augustine:

    Origen (circa 185–254)
    It is not because God knows that something is going to be that that thing is going to be, but rather it is because it is going to be that it is known by God before it comes to be. For even if we imagine for the sake of argument that God does not foreknow anything it was without a doubt going to happen that, say Judas became a traitor, and this is just the way the prophets foretold it would happen. Therefore, it was not because the prophets foretold it that Judas became a traitor, but rather it was because he was going to be a traitor that the prophets foretold the things that he was going to do by his wicked designs, even though Judas most certainly had it within his power to be like Peter and John if he had so willed; but he chose the desire for money over the glory of apostolic companionship, and the prophets, foreseeing that this choice of his, handed it down in their books. Moreover, in order that you might understand that the cause of each person’s salvation is to be found not I God’s foreknowledge but in that person’s intentions and actions, notice that Paul tormented his body and subjected it to servitude because he feared that, after having preached to others, he himself might perhaps become reprobate. (Book 7 of his commentary on the epistle to the Romans (Romans chapter 8)).

    John Chrysostom (circa 347–407)
    But when He said, “It must needs be,” it is not as taking away the power of choosing for themselves, nor the freedom of the moral principle, nor as placing man’s life under any absolute constraint of circumstances, that He saith these things, but He foretells what would surely be; and this Luke hath set forth in another form of expression, “It is impossible but that offenses should come.” But what are the offenses? The hindrances on the right way. Thus also do those on the stage call them that are skilled in those matters, them that distort their bodies. It is not then His prediction that brings the offenses; far from it; neither because He foretold it, therefore doth it take place; but because it surely was to be, therefore He foretold it; since if those who bring in the offenses had not been minded to do wickedly, neither would the offenses have come; and if they had not been to come, neither would they have been foretold. But because those men did evil, and were incurably diseased, the offenses came, and He foretells that which is to be. (Homilies # 59 on Mathew 18:7)

    Justin Martyr (100 – 165 AD)
    But when the Spirit of prophecy speaks of things that are about to come to pass as if they had already taken place, ….The things which He absolutely knows will take place, He predicts as if already they had taken place. …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. And the holy Spirit of prophecy taught us this, telling us by Moses that God spoke thus to the man first created: “Behold, before thy face are good and evil: choose the good.” …So that what we say about future events being foretold, we do not say it as if they came about by a fatal necessity; but God foreknowing all that shall be done by all men, and it being His decree that the future actions of men shall all be recompensed according to their several value, He foretells by the Spirit of prophecy that He will bestow meet rewards according to the merit of the actions done, always urging the human race to effort and recollection, showing that He cares and provides for men. (First Apology Chapters 42-44)

    Basil the Great: (329-379) Why in short was it receptive to evil? Because it was endowed with free will, which is expecially appropriate for a nature endowed with reason. So the soul is freed of all constraints, and obtains from the Creator a life at its own discretion; and because it was made in God’s image, it understood the good and knows its joys, and has the possibility and power of maintaining its natural life by continuing to gaze on the good and to enjoy the life of the spirit. But it has also the possibility on occasion of abandoning the good. – God is not the author of Evil (Homily 9)

    Then consider the rest of these quotes all before the time of Augustine (To me it is overwhelming how much they argued against the Augustinian/ Calvinistic idea of sovereignty):

    Ignatius (lived 35-107) –

    Ignatius said, “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. (Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, V)

    Justin Martyr
    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. (Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 141, p. 269-270)

    Irenaeus said, “But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.” (c.180, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 286, published by Hendrickson Publishers)

    “’Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds’…And ‘Why call me, Lord, Lord, and do not do the things that I say?’…All such passages demonstrate the independent will of man…For it is in man’s power to disobey God and to forfeit what is good.” (c.180, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 287, published by Hendrickson Publishers)

    “…there is no coercion with God, but a good will is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good councel to all. And in man as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice (for angels are rational beings), so that that those who had yeilded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves . . . If then it were not in our power to do or not to do these things, what reason had the apostle, and much more the Lord Himself, to give us counsel to do some things and to abstain from others? But because man is possessed of free-will from the beginning, and God is possessed of free-will in whose likeness man was created, advise is always given to him to keep fast the good, which thing is done by means of obedience to God.” (Irenaeus of Gaul (c. 130-200) Against Heresies, XXXVII)

    Clement of Alexandria – (lived 150-215)

    “If thou wilt be perfect.” Consequently he was not yet perfect. For nothing is more perfect than what is perfect. And divinely the expression “if thou wilt” showed the self-determination of the soul holding converse with Him. For choice depended on the man as being free; but the gift on God as the Lord. And He gives to those who are willing and are exceedingly earnest, and ask, that so their salvation may become their own. For God compels not (for compulsion is repugnant to God), but supplies to those who seek, and bestows on those who ask, and opens to those who knock. (Clement of Alexandria c. 195)

    “Nor shall he who is saved be saved against his will, for he is not inanimate; but he will above all voluntarily and of free choice speed to salvation. Wherefore also man received the commandments in order that he might be self-impelled, to whatever he wished of things to be chosen and to be avoided. Wherefore God does not do good by necessity, but from His free choice benefits those who spontaneously turn.” (Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) Stromata, Bk vii ch.7)

    Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus) 160-225 AD
    I find, then, that man was constituted free by God. He was master of his own will and power…For a law would not be imposed upon one who did not have it in his power to render that obedience which is due to law. Nor again, would the penalty of death be threatened against sin, if a contempt of the law were impossible to man in the liberty of his will…Man is free, with a will either for obedience of resistance. (c. 207, Vol. 3, pp. 300-301)

    No reward can be justly bestowed, no punishment can be justly inflicted, upon him who is good or bad by necessity, and not by his own choice. (c. 207) (Doctrine of the Will by Asa Mahan, p. 61, published by Truth in Heart)

    Some people act as though God were under an obligation to bestow even on the unworthy His intended gift. They turn His liberality into slavery…. For do not many afterwards fall out of grace? Is not this gift taken away from many? (Tertullian On Repentance chap. 6.)

    The world returned to sin…and so it is destined to fire. So is the man who after baptism renews his sins. c.197

    However, in the case of little children…Let them “come,” then, while they are growing up; let them “come” while they are learning, whither to come; let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ. Why does the innocent period of life hasten to the “remission of sins? ”…If any understand the weighty import of baptism, they will fear its reception more than its delay.

    More from Irenaeus of Lyons 120-202 AD
    ”But although we shall be understood, from our argument, to be only so affirming man’s unshackled power over his will, that what happens to him should be laid to his own charge, and not to God’s, yet that you may not object, even now, that he ought not to have been so constituted, since his liberty and power of will might turn out to be injurious…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 him self;… 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.” /Chapter 6

    And again, who are they that have been saved, and received the inheritance? Those doubtless who do believe in God and who have continued in His love… and innocent children, who have had no sense of evil.

    But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God HAVING BEEN MADE FREE IN HIS WILL, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff. (c. 180, E/W), 1:466

    This expression, ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldst not,’ set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free (agent) from the beginning, possessing his own soul to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will (toward 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… (c. 180, Against Heresies 37; God’s Strategy In Human History, p. 246)

    ”Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds”…And ”Why call me, Lord, Lord, and do not do the things that I say?’…All such passages demonstrate the independent will of man…For it is in man’s power to disobey God and to forfeit what is good.” (c.180, Vol. 1, p. 519)

    Nor, again, does God exercise compulsion upon anyone unwilling to accept the exercise of His skill…. They have been created free agents and possessed of power over themselves. (c. 180, Vol. 1, p. 523)

    But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it. Chapter 10

    Christ will not die again on behalf of those who now commit sin because death shall no more have dominion over Him…. Therefore we should not be puffed up…. But we should beware lest somehow, after [we have come to] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we obtain no further forgiveness of sins but rather be shut out from His kingdom (Heb. 6:4-6) [p. 65].

    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. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, XXVII, 2)

    Those who do not obey Him, being disinherited by Him, have ceased to be His sons. c.180

    [Irenaeus quotes 1 Cor. 6:9-10 about inheriting the kingdom of God.] It was not to those who are outside that he said these things, but to us, lest we should be cast out of the kingdom of God by doing any such thing. He proceeds to say, ”And truly such were you, but you are washed, but you are sanctified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” [1 Cor. 6:11]. And just as [under the old covenant], those who led vicious lives and led other people astray were condemned and cast out, so also even now the offending eye is plucked out, and the foot and the hand, lest the rest of the body perish in the same way. (Against Heresies, IV:27:4)

    More from Ignatius 35-107 AD

    And pray ye also without ceasing for the rest of mankind (for there is in them a hope of repentance), that they may find God. Therefore permit them to take lessons at least from your works. (Letter to the Ephesians 10:1)

    Do not err, my brothers. Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those who do this in regard to the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with anyone who corrupts the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified, by wicked doctrine? Such a person, becoming defiled, shall go away into everlasting fire and so shall everyone that listens to him. (Letter to the Ephesians 16)

    I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures, but all humanity is made the same, sometimes belonging to God and sometimes to the devil. If anyone is truly spiritual they are a person of God; but if they are irreligious and not spiritual then they are a person of the devil, made such not by nature, but by their own choice. Pg.61 vol. 1.

    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.

    More from Clement of Alexandria (Titus Flavius Clemens) 150–215 AD

    A theologian who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. Among his pupils were Origen and Alexander of Jerusalem.

    We…have believed and are saved by voluntary choice (c. 195, Vol. 2, p. 217)

    To obey or not is in our own power, provided we do not have the excuse of ignorance (c. 195, Vol. 2, p. 353)

    Each one of us who sins with his own free will, chooses punishment. So the blame lies with him who chooses. God is without blame. (c.195, Vol. 2, p. 226)

    Neither promises nor apprehensions, rewards, no punishments are just if the soul has not the power of choosing and abstaining; if evil is involuntary. (c. 195, Vol. 2, p.319)

    We have heard from the Scriptures that self-determining choice and refusal have been given by the Lord to men. Therefore, we rest in the infallible criterion of faith, manifesting a willing spirit, since we have chosen life. (c. 195, Vol. 2, p. 349)

    The Lord clearly shows sins and transgressions to be in our own power, by prescribing modes of cure corresponding to the maladies. (c. 195, Vol. 2, p. 363)

    Their estrangement is the result of free choice. (c. 195, Vol. 2, p. 426)

    Believing and obeying are in our own power. (c. 195, Vol. 2, p. 527)

    Nor will he who is saved be saved against his will, for he is not inanimate. But above all, he will speed to salvation voluntarily and of free choice. (c. 195, Vol. 2, p. 534)

    Choice depends on the man as being free. But the gift depended on God as the Lord. And He gives to those who are willing, are exceedingly earnest, and who ask. In this manner, their salvation can become their own. For God does not compel. (c. 195, Vol. 2, p. 593)

    Clement of Rome, 80-140 AD
    Although known as 2 Clement, this document is in actuality an anonymous homily of the mid-second century here is some from it.

    Thus although we are born neither good nor bad, we become one or the other and having formed habits, we are with difficulty drawn from them. Pg 273 vol.8

    But inasmuch as inborn affection towards God the creator is sufficient for salvation to those who love Him, the enemy tries to pervert this affection in men, and to render them hostile and ungrateful to their Creator…But if mankind would turn their affection towards God, all would doubtless be saved, even if when they have some faults they would be open to correction for righteousness, but now most of mankind have been made enemies of God, their hearts the wicked one has entered, and has turned aside towards himself the affection which God the Creator had implanted in them, which He, God, desires that they might have towards Him. Pg.101 Vol.8

    1 Clement 7:4 Let us fix our eyes on the blood of Christ and understand how precious it is unto His Father, because being shed for our salvation it won for the whole world the grace of repentance.

    1 Clement 7:5 Let us review all the generations in turn, and learn how from generation to generation the Master hath given a place for repentance unto them that desire to turn to Him.

    For, if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; but if otherwise, then nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment, if we should disobey His commandments. 2 Clement 6:7

    …with what confidence shall we, if we keep not our baptism pure and undefiled, enter into the kingdom of God? Or who shall be our advocate, unless we be found having holy and righteous works? 2 Clement 6:9

    For as concerning them that have not kept the seal, He saith, `Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be for a spectacle unto all flesh’. 2 Clement 7:6

    So, brothers and sisters, if we have done the will of the Father and have kept the flesh pure and have observed the commandments of the Lord, we will receive eternal life (2 Clement 8:4)

    So then He meaneth this, Keep the flesh pure and the seal unstained, to the end that we may receive life. 2 Clement 8:6

    Let us, then, not only call him Lord, for that will not save us. For he says, ”Not every one that says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall be saved, but he that does righteousness.” Therefore, brothers, let us confess him by our works, by loving one another, by not committing adultery, speaking evil of one another, or cherishing envy; but being continent, compassionate, and good. … By such works let us confess him, and not by those that are of an opposite kind. It is not fitting that we should fear men, but rather God. For this reason, if we should do such wicked things, the Lord has said, “Even if you were gathered together to me, into my very bosom, yet if you were not to keep my commandments, I would cast you off and say to you, ‘Depart from me … you workers of iniquity.‘” (2 Clement 4)

    Hermas, c. A.D. 160

    It is therefore in the power of every one, since man has been made possessed of free-will, whether he shall hear us to life, or the demons to destruction.

    He who is good by his own choice is really good; but he who is made good by another under necessity is not really good, because he is not what he is by his own choice…

    For no other reason does God punish the sinner either in the present or in the future world, except because He knows that the sinner was able to conquer but neglected to gain the victory.

    More from Justin Martyr 110-165 AD

    For He fore-knows that some are to be saved by repentance, some even that are perhaps not yet born. In the beginning He made the human race with the power of thought and of choosing the truth and doing right, so that all men are without excuse before God; for they have been born rational and contemplative Chapter 28

    In the beginning, He made the human race with the power of thought AND OF CHOOSING the truth and doing right, so that all men are without excuse before God. (c. 160, E), 1:172

    I have proved in what has been said that those who were foreknown to be unrighteous, whether men or angels, are not made wicked by God’s fault. Rather, each man is what he will appear to be through his own fault. (c.160, Vol. 1, p. 269)

    Neither do we maintain that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer. Rather, we maintain that each man acts rightly or sins BY HIS FREE CHOICE….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. (c. 160, E), 1:190

    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. (c. 160, Vol. 1, p. 250)

    I hold further, that those of you who have confessed and known this man to be Christ, yet who have gone back for some reason to the legal dispensation, an have denied that this man is Christ, and have not repented before death – you will by no means be saved . c.160

    Methodius 260-312 AD Bishop of Olympus.
    I say that God – purposing to honor man in this manner and to grant him an understanding of better things – has given man the power of being able to do what he wishes. He commends the use of his power for better things. However, it is not that God deprives man again of free will. Rather, He wishes to point out the better way. For the power is present with man, and he receives the commandment. But God exhorts him to turn his power of choice to better things. (c. 290, Vol. 6, p. 362)

    I do not think that God urges man to obey His commandments, but then deprives him of the power to obey or disobey…. He does not give a command in order to take way the power that he has given. Rather, He gives it in order to bestow a better gift…in return for his rendered obedience to God. For man had power to withhold it. I say that man was made with free will. (c. 290, Vol. 6, p. 362)

    God is good and wise. He does what is best. Therefore, there is no fixed destiny.” (c. 190, Vol. 6, p.343)

    Now those [pagans] who decide that man is not possessed of free will, and affirm that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate…are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause or author of human evils. (c. 190, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins 16; God’s Strategy In Human History, p. 252)

    Because there is nothing evil by nature, but it is by use that evil things become such…man was made with free-will, not as if there were already evil in existence, which he had the power of choosing if he so wished, but on account of his capacity of obeying or disobeying God. For this was the meaning of the gift of free will.

    If then, any are evil, they are evil in accordance with the wants and desires of their minds, and not by necessity. They perish self-destroyed, by their own fault.’For a man is not spoken of as ‘murderer’ but by committing it he receives the derived name of murderer. Evil is not a substance, but by practicing any evil it can be called evil…for a man is evil only in consequences of his actions. For he is said to be evil because he is a doer of evil. It is a persons actions that gives them the title of evil. Men produce the evil and are the authors of them. It is through actions that evil exists. Each man is evil in consequences of what they practice. It all has a beginning.

    For man received power, and enslaved himself, not because he was overpowered by irresistible tendencies of his nature, nor because the capacity with which he was gifted deprived him of what was better for him…I say therefore, that God purposing thus to honor man…has given him the power of being able to do what he wishes, and commends the employment of his power for better things; not that he deprives him again of free will, but wishes to point out the better way. For the power is present with him and he receives the commandment; but God exhorts him to turn his power of choice to better things.

    Arnobius 297-303 AD

    Does He not free all alike who invites all alike? Or does He thrust back or repel any one from the kindness of the supreme, who gives to all alike the power of coming to Him. To all, He says, the fountain of like is open, and no one is kept back or hindered from drinking. If you are so fastidious as to spurn the kindly offered gift… why should he keep on inviting you, while His only duty is to make the enjoyment of His bounty depend on your own free choice. Book 2 ,64

    Aristides of Athens – 134 AD (Marcianus Aristides)

    And when a child has been born to one of them, they give thanks to God, and if furthermore, it happen to die in childhood, they give thanks to God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. Apology to Hadrian

    Tatian the Syrian 110-172 AD

    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 to reject it again.” (c. 160, Vol. 2, pp. 69-70)

    Each of these two orders of creatures [men and angels] was made free to act as it pleased. They did not have the nature of good, which again is with God alone. However, it is brought to perfection in men through their freedom of choice. In this manner, the bad man can be justly punished, having become depraved through his own fault. Likewise, the just man can be deservedly praised for his virtuous deeds, since in the exercise of his free choice, he refrained from transgressing the will of God. (c. 160, Vol. 2, p. 67)

    Lactantius 260-330 AD

    We should be free from vices and sin. For no one is born sinful, but if our affections are given to that direction they can become vices and sinful, but if we use our affections well they become virtues.’ Ch16 bk 4 Divine Inst.

    Melito -180 AD Bishop of Sardis near Smyrna

    There is, therefore, nothing to hinder you from changing your evil manner to life, because you are a free man. (c.170, Vol. 8, p. 754)

    Athenagorus 133-190 AD

    Just as with men who have freedom of choice as to bother virtue and vice (for you would not either honor the good or punish the bad; unless vice and virtue were in their own power, and some are diligent in the matters entrusted to them and others faithless), so is it among the angels. (c. 177, Embassy for Christians; God’s Strategy in Human History, p. 247)


    If, on the other hand, he would turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he would himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with power of himself. (c.180, Vol. 2, p. 105)

    Hyppolytus 170 – 235 AD

    God, who created [the world], did not nor does not, make evil….Now, man (who was brought into existence) was a creature endowed with a capacity of self-determination, yet he did not possess a sovereign intellect….Man, from the fact of his possessing a capacity for self-determination, brings forth evil….Since man has free will, a law has been given him by God, for a good purpose. For a law will not be laid down for an animal devoid of reason. Only a bridle and whip will be given it. In contrast, man has been given a commandment to perform, coupled with a penalty.” (c. 225, Vol. 5, p.151)

    The Word promulgated the divine commandments by declaring them. He thereby turned man from disobedience. He summoned man to liberty through a choice involving spontaneity – not by bringing him into servitude by force of necessity. (c. 225, Vol. 5, p. 152)

    Man is able to both will and not to will. He is endowed with power to do both. (c. 225, Vol. 5, p. 152)

    Origen (Adamantius) 184/185 – 253/254 AD

    The soul does not incline to either part out of necessity, for then neither vice nor virtue could be ascribed to it; nor would its choice of virtue deserve reward; nor its declination to vice punishment.” Again, “How could God require that of man which he [man] had not power to offer Him?” (Doctrine of the Will by Asa Mahan, p. 62, published by Truth in Heart)

    This is also clearly defined in the teaching of the church, that every rational soul has free will and volition….we are not forced by any necessity to act either rightly or wrongly. (c. 225, Vol. 4, p. 240)

    It seems a plausible thing that rational natures, from whom the faculty of free will is never taken away, may be again subjected to movements of some kind. (c. 225, Vol. 4, p. 272)

    Since those rational creatures themselves… were endowed with the power of free will, this freedom of the will incited each one to either progress (by imitation of God), or else it reduced a person to failure through negligence. (c. 225, Vol. 4, p. 292)

    In the preaching of the church, there is included the doctrine concerning a just judgment of God. When this teaching is believed to be true, it incites those who hear it to live virtuously and to shun sin by all means. For they clearly acknowledge that things worthy of praise and blame are within our own power. (c. 225, Vol. 4, p. 302)

    Certain ones of those [Gnostic’s] who hold different opinions misuse these passages. They essentially destroy free will by introducing ruined natures incapable of salvation and by introducing others as being saved in such a way that they cannot be lost.

    Novatian 200–258 AD

    When he had given man all things for his service, he willed that man alone should be free. And lest an unbounded freedom would lead man into peril, He had laid down a command, in which man was taught that there was no evil in the fruit of the tree. Rather, he was forewarned that evil would arise if man were to exercise his free will in contempt of the law that had been given him….As a result, he could receive either worthy rewards or a just punishment. For he had in his own power that which he might choose to do. (c. 235, Vol. 5, p. 612)

    Eusebius 263 – 333 AD Bishop of Caesarea

    A Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon. Considered the father of “Church History” for his extensive writings in ecclesiastical history.

    The Creator of all things has impressed a natural law upon the soul of every man, as an assistant and ally in his conduct, pointing out to him the right way by this law; but, by the free liberty with which he is endowed, making the choice of what is best worthy of praise and acceptance, because he has acted rightly, not by force, but from his own free-will, when he had it in his power to act otherwise, As, again, making him who chooses what is worst, deserving of blame and punishment, as having by his own motion neglected the natural law, and becoming the origin and fountain of wickedness, and misusing himself, not from any extraneous necessity, but from free will and judgment. The fault is in him who chooses, not in God. For God is has not made nature or the substance of the soul bad; for he who is good can make nothing but what is good. Everything is good which is according to nature. Every rational soul has naturally a good free-will, formed for the choice of what is good. But when a man acts wrongly, nature is not to be blamed; for what is wrong, takes place not according to nature, but contrary to nature, it being the work of choice, and not of nature!

    The devil in his oracles hangs all things upon fate, and taking away that which is in our power, and arises from self-motion of free will… brings this also into bondage to necessity.

    Commodianus 250 AD

    Being a believing man, if you seek to live as the gentiles do, the joys of the world remove you from the grace of Christ c.240

    Cyprian 200-258 AD Bishop of Carthage

    It is written, ‘He who endures to the end, the same shall be saved’ [Matt. 10:22]. So whatever precedes the end is only a step by which we ascend to the summit of salvation. It is not the final point wherein we have already gained the full result of the ascent. (Cyprian Unity of the Church sec. 21)

    The liberty of believing or not believing is placed in free choice. In Deuteronomy, it says, ‘Look! I have set before your face life and death, good and evil. Choose for yourself life, that you may live. (c. 250, Vol. 5, p. 547)

    More Shepherd of Hermas –

    The Muratorian canon, a list of canonical books from about the 3d century, says Hermas was written by the brother of Pius, Bishop of Rome, about 140-154. Author still remains unknown. The document was composed over a longer period of time. Visions I-IV were composeed during a threatened persecution, probably under Trajan (the Clement of 8:3 could be Clement of Rome). Vision V – Similitude VIII and Similitude X were written perhaps by the same author to describe reprentance to Christians who were wavering. Similitude IX was written to unify the entire work and to threaten those who had been disloyal. This last phase must have occurred before Irenaeus (ca. 175). A preferred date would be 140. On the basis of this internal analysis multiple authorship seems necessary (Giet 1963), though the work could have been composed by one person over a long period of time (Joly 1958).

    He that does not know God,” [the angel of repentance] answered, ”and practices evil, receives a certain chastisement for his wickedness, but he that has known God ought not to do evil anymore but to do good. If, accordingly, when he ought to do good, he does evil, does he not appear to do greater evil than the one who does not know God? For this reason, those who have not known God and do evil are condemned to death, but those who have known God and have seen his mighty works and still continue in evil shall be chastised doubly and shall die forever. This is the way the Church of God will be purified.” (Shepherd of Hermas III:9:8)

    If you do not guard yourself against anger you and your house will lose all hope of salvation. Hermas c.150

    The Epistle of the Apostles 2nd century (Didache)

    A work from the New Testament apocrypha. The work was lost to the West until a complete version in Ethiopic translation was discovered and published in the early twentieth century. The text was used regularly by the relatively isolated Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and was evidently not considered heretical by that church. A fragmentary Coptic manuscript of the fifth or fourth century, believed to be translated directly from the original Greek, and one leaf of a Latin palimpsest, dating to the fifth century, were then identified as deriving from the same text. The text is commonly dated to the 2nd century, perhaps towards the middle of it.

    27 ”For to that end went I down unto the place of Lazarus, and preached unto the righteous and the prophets, that they might come out of the rest which is below and come up into that which is above; and I poured out upon them with my right hand the water (?) (baptism, Eth.) of life and forgiveness and salvation from all evil, as I have done unto you and unto them that believe on me. But if any man believe on me and do not my commandments, although he have confessed my name, he hath no profit therefrom but runneth a vain race: for such will find themselves in perdition and destruction, because they have despised my commandments.”28 …Then said he unto us: Verily I say unto you, all that have believed on me and that believe in him that sent me will I take up into the heaven, unto the place which my Father hath prepared for the elect, and I will give you the kingdom, the chosen kingdom, in rest, and everlasting life. 29 But all they that have offended against my commandments and have taught other doctrine, (perverting) the Scripture and adding thereto, striving after their own glory, and that teach with other words them that believe on me in uprightness, if they make them fall thereby, shall receive everlasting punishment. We said unto him: Lord, shall there then be teaching by others, diverse from that which thou hast spoken unto us ? He said unto us: It must needs be, that the evil and the good may be made manifest; and the judgment shall be manifest upon them that do these things, and according to their works shall they be judged and shall be delivered unto death. And we said unto him: Lord, will they that believe be treated like the unbelievers, and wilt thou punish them that have escaped from the pestilence? And he said unto us: If they that believe in my name deal like the sinners, then have they done as though they had not believed. And we said again to him: Lord, have they on whom this lot hath fallen no life? He answered and said unto us: Whoso hath accomplished the praise of my Father, he shall abide in the resting-place of my Father.

    Epistle of Barnabas 70-100AD

    A Greek text preserved complete in the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus where it appears at the end of the New Testament. It is traditionally ascribed to Barnabas who is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. A form of the Epistle 850 lines long is noted in the Latin list of canonical works in the 6th century Codex Claromontanus. It is not to be confused with the Gospel of Barnabas.

    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.”

    We take earnest heed in these last days, for the whole time of your faith will profit you nothing unless now, in this wicked time, we also withstand coming sources of danger, as befits the sons of God. (Letter of Barnabas 4)

  10. Jon October 2, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    Excellent reply Chris. These men were not even close to the Calvinist position. Any point of agreement with that system, would not be a point unique to Calvinism, and also find agreement with Arminianism. Most of what Calvinists uniquely and specifically hold to (and that would go beyond what an Arminian would feel comfortable with) would not find clear support in these writings. I personally keep it simple. God is in control, and yet has not made us robots, nor is sadistically playing games with us. He cannot lie. He does not author confusion. He does not change. Nor does He contradict Himself. Those simple biblical points will never lead anyone honest and discerning to the Calvinist position.

  11. Jon Xavier October 30, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    None of your quotes from the Fathers are in the least contrary to Arminianism or Eastern Orthodoxy (i.e., everyone agrees that God is sovereign – the question is in what ways is God’s sovereignty exercised). I am amazed how one can argue that the Fathers were Calvinist when Calvin himself admitted otherwise. The idea that they were to busy to mention such beliefs is patently absurd since they mention free will continually. And the idea that they had to emphasize free will due to their debates with others is equally absurd. For, just as it is for any of us and those who discuss theology in any context, the Fathers believed what they believed and stated it clearly.

  12. Mike February 19, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

    Thanks for your in-depth post Chris. I have been researching how Calvinists deal with the quotes that you have listed and others from the early church fathers. I am a person who likes to follow the evidence and refer back to the early church fathers to show non-believers the chain of custody of the original message. This adds weight to the belief that we have today what the originals manuscripts actually stated. I assume that many if not all ardent Calvinists trust what the early church fathers wrote and would at times themselves refer back to them for verification or to support a position. Possibly to verify the transmission of important messages such as salvation by grace, the deity of Jesus or messages against heresies like Gnosticism. Yet when it comes to Calvinistic theology, they seem to completely ignore what is plainly written by the early church fathers.

    What I have discovered on Calvinist websites regarding the fathers quotes is troubling. The quotes seem to be taken very much out of context in an attempt to support their position. I see basically no solid support in this original post for Calvinism. I even see some statements that indicate free will “the Master has given an opportunity for repentance to those who desire to turn to him.” Clement

    This post was not even close to how extreme some attempts are to reconcile the quotes of the early church fathers. Before coming here I had just reviewed one that tried to support the entire TULIP foundation with quotes from the early church fathers. It was amazing how far of a stretch they tried to make. As you stated, as non-Calvinists we believe in God’s sovereignty and predestination too as the early father did. But also like the early church fathers we also believe in mans free ability to choose and that Jesus paid for all men’s sins on the cross.

    If I were a Calvinist, I would stay as far away as I could from the writings of the early church fathers when trying to make my case.

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