Monday, April 6, 2015

Romans 9 and Patristic Quotes on Free Will

This post is in response to a conversation concerning Calvinist and Orthodox (and Arminian) views of God's sovereignty. My fellow theologian and conversation partner Mitch asked me for an alternate interpretation of Romans 9 (which he takes to be a strong support for Calvinistic theology) in light of my Orthodox view. (Which is somewhat different from the Arminian interpretation I described a few years ago) So, here is my attempt to lay one out, relying as little on my own words and as much on the words of the church fathers as possible. I will especially be drawing from St. John Chrysostom's sermon on the chapter, with quotations from other church fathers to show that his views on free will are essentially Orthodox.

[1] I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit,

Coming off the marvelous crescendo of Romans 8, Paul is moving on to things even higher and more glorious, but also harder to believe.
For as on the point of entering upon greater things than those, and therefore liable to be disbelieved by the generality, he first uses a strong asseveration about the matter he is going to speak of; which many are in the habit of doing when they are going to say somewhat which is not believed by the generality, and about which they feel the utmost certainty in their own minds. Hence he says, "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, and my conscience beareth witness."
[2] that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. [3] For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race.

Despite his own conviction of security in Christ as he just expressed in chapter 8, Paul shockingly expresses his willingness to be accursed, cut off from his Lord and Savior? This is not a proclamation of some impossibly high kind of asceticism that gains Christ to the utmost by renouncing him, but a humble declaration of concern for his brethren, the Jews, and still more for the name of his God.

[4] They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; [5] to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen.

Why does Paul wish to be accursed only for the sake of the Jews and not the Gentiles as well? According to Chrysostom, he is responding in particular to blasphemy directed against God that after being the chosen race of God for so long, after receiving the Law and the Temple and the Prophets and all the promises of God (which indeed speak of Christ), having descended from the patriarchs and being ancestors of Christ himself, the Jews are now apparently cast off and forgotten, replaced by the Gentiles who have never known God.
Now since they said all this, and blasphemed God, Paul, hearing it and being cut to the heart, and vexed for God's glory's sake, wished that he were accursed, had it been possible, so that they might be saved, and this blasphemy be put a stop to, and God might not seem to have deceived the offspring of those to whom He promised the gifts. And that you may see that it was in sorrow for this, that the promise of God might not seem to fall to the ground, which said to Abraham, "I will give this land to thee and to thy seed," that he uttered this wish, he proceeds,
In these verses Paul also foreshadows his later defense of God's righteousness: the Jews are accursed not because of any failure on God's part to save them but because of their own rejection of God's saving promises and coming in the flesh, which assumes a patristic, synergistic notion of free will.
For when he says, 'to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises,' he does but say that God willed them indeed to be saved, and this he showed by his former dealings, and by Christ's having sprung from them, and by what he promised to the Fathers. But they out of their own untreatable temper thrust the benefit away from them.
By focusing on the Jews in particular, Chrysostom argues that Paul is actually showing himself willing to be accursed purely for Christ's glory, since the apostasy of the Jews is the source of blasphemy directed against God whereas the condition of the Gentiles is not the ground for such blasphemy. Though not lacking in concern for the Jews or for the Gentiles, Paul's radical abnegation here is based most completely on his concern for God's glory and for ending the blasphemy against it.

[6] But it is not as though the word of God had failed.

Paul is not speaking as though the word of God has failed and he needs to rehabilitate it, but simply out of love for Christ. The foundational promise of God that has not failed is the one made to Abraham: "To thee and thy seed I will give the land," and "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." (Gen 12:7,3) So Paul next moves on to examine what kind of seed God spoke of in his promise.

For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,

Or, as Chrysostom explains it, "it is not all that are from [Abraham] that are his seed," the seed the promise spoke of. So then who are the seed?

[7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants; but "Through Isaac shall your descendants be named."
Now when you come to know of what kind the seed of Abraham is, you will see that the promise is given to his seed, and know that the word hath not fallen to the ground. Of what kind, pray, is the seed then? It is no saying of mine, but the Old Testament itself explains itself by saying as follows, "In Isaac shall they seed be called." (Gen 21:12)
And what is meant by "In Isaac"?

[8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants.

Paul does not merely say that the children of the flesh are not the children of Abraham, but of God, "blending the former things with the present and showing that even Isaac was not merely Abraham's son."
And what he means is something of this sort: as many as have been born as Isaac was, they are sons of God, and of the seed of Abraham. And this is why he said, "in Isaac shall thy seed be called." That one may learn that they who are born after the fashion of Isaac, these are in the truest sense Abraham's children. In what way was Isaac born then? Not according to the law of nature, not according to the power of the flesh, but according to the power of the promise. What is meant then by the power of "the promise"?
[9] For this is what the promise said, "About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son."

It was not the power of Sarah's dead womb that begat Isaac, but the word, the promise, of God.
Thus are we also gendered [i.e. created, conceived] by the words of God. Since in the pool of water [i.e. baptism] it is the words of God which generate and fashion us. For it is by being baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost that we are gendered. And this birth is not of nature, but of the promise of God. (John 3:3, Eph 5:26, Jas 1:18, 1 Pet 3:21)
So those born (or reborn) of God's promise are the seed of Abraham to whom the promise pertains. It is through baptism, not natural birth, that we are made "children of the promise". If God's promise, "In Isaac your seed will be called", simply meant that those born to Isaac would be the "seed of Abraham", then of course Esau and the Edomites would be included as well as the Israelites, which is apparently not the case.
You see then that it is not the children of the flesh that are the children of God, but that even in nature itself the generation by means of baptism from above was sketched our beforehand.
[10] And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,

Paul turns to another example to further his point, since it is a difficult one for his Jewish interlocutor (who, remember, takes the estrangement of the Jews from Christ to mean that God's promises to his people have failed, or that Christ is not really the Savior Paul makes him out to be) to accept. It is as though a king's son who had been promised succession to the throne were cast out and a condemned, evil man were to become king instead. If the son was unworthy, then how much more the condemned man! They ought to have been honored or punished together. "Now it was something of this sort," says Chrysostom, "which befell the Jews and the Gentiles, or something far more strange then this." Paul has already established that all were unworthy in the first few chapters of this epistle, as summed up in his assertion that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (3:23)
But the new thing is, that when all were unworthy, the Gentiles were saved alone. And beside this there is another difficulty that some one may start, he says. If God had no intention of fulfilling the promises to them, why make them at all? For men who know not the future, and are many times deceived, do promise even the undeserving that they shall have their largesses. But He Who knoweth beforehand things to come as well as things present, and hath a clear knowledge that they will make themselves undeserving of the promises, and therefore will not receive any of the things specified,—why should He promise at all? Now what is Paul’s way of meeting all this? It is by showing what the Israel is to whom He made the promise. For when this has been shown, there is at the same time demonstrated the fact that the promises were all fulfilled. And to point this out he said, “For they are not all Israel that are of Israel.”
In short, Paul shows that the promises of God have not failed by clarifying who the true "Israel" was to whom the promises were made. Israel has always been defined by the promises of God more truly than by genealogy. Using examples from the Old Testament, he shows that the Jews already don't believe that participation in the promises of God is simply a function of natural descent.
Why do you feel surprised, he means, that some of the Jews were saved, and some not saved at this time? Why of old, in the patriarch’s times, one may see this happening. For why was Isaac only called the seed, and yet he was the father of Ishmael also, and of several others.
But lest anyone should discount the other children of Abraham, since they were born to mothers who were slaves, Paul introduces a clearer example.

[11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, [12] she was told, "The elder will serve the younger." [13] As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

Here is where Chrysostom really starts to diverge from a Reformed interpretation.
What was the cause then why one was loved and the other hated? why was it that one served, the other was served? It was because one was wicked, and the other good.
Paul specifically mentions God's election being before Jacob and Easu were born and before they had done anything good or bad not to imply that God pays no attention to righteousness or works, but
Because He doth not wait, as man doth, to see from the issue of their acts the good and him who is not so, but even before these He knoweth which is the wicked and which not such. And this took place in the Israelites’ case also, in a still more wonderful way. Why, he says, do I speak of Esau and of Jacob, of whom one was wicked and the other good? For in the Israelites’ case, the sin belonged to all, since they all worshipped the calf. Yet notwithstanding some had mercy shown them, and others had not.
For Chrysostom, God's election is based not on some inscrutable, impenetrable, unconditional counsel known only to him, but on his omniscience, his perfect knowledge of things we glimpse only dimly and incompletely, if at all. Jacob was chosen over Esau before birth because God foreknew the former's uprightness and his brother's wickedness. The mystery of God's foreknowledge is even deeper in the case of the Israelites, who all worshipped the calf together, yet some experienced mercy; to this example Paul will later return.

Returning to Jacob and Esau, Chrysostom says:
For they were both sprung from Rebecca, and from Isaac the true-born, the elect, the son honored above all, of whom He said, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called,” who became “the father of us all;” but if he was our father, then should his sons have been our fathers; yet it was not so. You see how this happens not in Abraham’s case only, but also in that of his son himself, and how it is faith and virtue in all cases that is conspicuous, and gives the real relationship its character. For hence we learn that it is not only from the manner of birth, but owing to their being worthy of the father’s virtue, that the children are called children of him. For if it were only owing to the manner of the birth, then ought Esau to have enjoyed the same as Jacob did. For he also was from a womb as good as dead, and his mother was barren. Yet this was not the only thing required, but the character too, which fact contributes no common amount of practical instruction for us. And he does not say that one is good and another bad, and so the former was honored; lest this kind of argument should be wielded against him, “What, are those of the Gentiles good men rather than those of the circumcision?” For even supposing the truth of the matter was so, still he does not state it yet, as that would have seemed to be vexatious. But it is upon God’s knowledge that he has cast the whole, and this no one would venture to gainsay, though he were ever so frantic. “For the children being not yet born,” he says, “it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.” And he shows that noble birth after the flesh is of no avail, but we must seek for virtue of soul, which even before the works of it God knoweth of. For “the children,” he says, “being not yet born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, it was said unto her that the elder shall serve the younger:” for this was a sign of foreknowledge, that they were chosen from the very birth. That the election made according to foreknowledge, might be manifestly of God, from the first day He at once saw and proclaimed which was good and which not.
Again, Paul is not contrasting election conditioned on human descent with unconditional election, but with election conditioned on foreknown "faith and virtue". The sovereignty of God is displayed in the election of Jacob not for its sheer unconditionality (which Chrysostom does not seem to have any concern for), but in its prophetic, foreknowing nature; God knows the breadth of the twins' lives before they are born, and so promises to Rebecca, "the older will serve the younger." The incomprehensibility of God's election, its being beyond human questioning, is not because it is based solely on a mysterious, unknowable secret counsel of God, but because God sees all, knows all, and judges justly, not according to the fallible judgments of men.
For He that knoweth how to assay the soul, knoweth which is worthy of being saved. Yield then to the incomprehensibleness of the election. For it is He alone Who knoweth how to crown aright. How many, for instance, seemed better than St. Matthew; to go by the exhibition of works then visible. But He that knoweth things undeclared, and is able to assay the mind’s aptitude, knew the pearl though lying in the mire, and after passing by others, and being well pleased with the beauty of this, He elected it, and by adding to the noble born free-will grace from Himself, He made it approved.
Chrysostom brings in the apostle Matthew, a tax collector reviled by men but chosen by God, as yet another example. God is the great assayer who sees beneath the surface to the treasures of the heart hidden from men—but that treasure really does matter! The last sentence contains a point that Chrysostom dwells on less but is also important: though God is pleased with the faithful and virtuous exercise of our will, he is never satisfied with it; it is in need of completion and perfection by his grace to be fully acceptable. This is the Orthodox doctrine of synergism. Chrysostom further describes God's superior insight:
For if in the case of these arts which are perishable, and indeed in other matters, those that are good judges do not use the grounds on which the uninstructed form their decision, in selecting out of what is put before them; but from points which they are themselves well aware of, they many times disparage that which the uninstructed approve, and decide upon what they disparage: and horse-breakers often do this with horses, and so the judges of precious stones, and workmen in other arts: much more will the God that loveth man, the infinite Wisdom, Who alone hath a clear knowledge of all things, not allow of man’s guesses, but will out of His own exact and unfailing Wisdom pass his sentence upon all men. Hence it was that He chose the publican, the thief, and the harlot; but dishonored priests, and elders, and rulers, and cast them out. And this one may see happening in the martyrs’ case also. Many accordingly of those who were utterly cast aside, have in the time of trial been crowned. And, on the other hand, some that have been held great ones by many have stumbled and fallen.
God's judgment is beyond our own not because it is simply unconditional, but because our knowledge and understanding are limited by our finitude. Though it may seem strange or unfair to us, we can trust that God's counsel is wholly just.
Do not then call the Creator to account, nor say, Why is it that one was crowned and another punished? For He knoweth how to do these things with exactness. Whence also he says, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated.” That it was with justice, you indeed know from the result: but Himself even before the result knew it clearly. For it is not a mere exhibition of works that God searcheth after, but a nobleness of choice and an obedient temper besides.
[14] What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!
Hence there is no such thing in the case of us and the Jews. And then he goes on with another thing, a more clear than this. And of what sort is it?
[15] For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."

The context is now that of the exodus, and the Jews' worship of the golden calf, which took place in the chapter right before Paul's quotation of Exodus 33:19. In the case of Jacob and Esau virtue and vice may be the deciding factor, but in this case
there was one sin in which all the Jews joined, that of the molten calf, and still some were punished and some were not punished. And this is why He says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Exo 33:19: observe context.)
But even in this case God's judgment is not unconditional, but only incomprehensible to us. Moses' modesty in the face of God's ways should induce us to be all the more modest.
For it is not thine to know, O Moses, he means, which are deserving of My love toward man, but leave this to Me. But if Moses had no right to know, much less have we. And this is why he did not barely quote the passage, but also called to our minds to whom it was said. For it is Moses, he means, that he is speaking to, that at least by the dignity of the person he might make the objector modest.
[16] So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy.

Chrysostom actually comments on this verse more in a tangent during one of his sermons on Hebrews, chapter 7:
Wherefore we ought always to "guard ourselves, lest at any time we should fall asleep. For "lo" (it is said) "he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep" (Psa 121:4) and "Do not suffer thy foot to be moved." (Psa 121:3) He did not say, "be not moved", but "do not thou suffer," &c. The suffering depends then on ourselves and not on any other. For if we shall stand "steadfast and unmovable" (1 Cor 15:58), we shall not be shaken.
What then? Does nothing depend on God? All indeed depends on God, but not so that our free-will is hindered. "If it then depend on God," (one says) "why does He blame us?" On this account I said, "so that our free-will is not hindered." It depends then on us, and on Him. For we must first choose the good; and then He leads us to His own. He does not anticipate our choice, lest our free-will should be outraged. But when we have chosen, then great is the assistance he brings to us.
How is it then that Paul says, "not of him that willeth," if it depend on ourselves also "nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy?" (Rom 9:16)
In the first place, he did not introduced it as his own opinion, but inferred it from what was before him and from what had been put forward [in the discussion]. For after saying, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Rom 9:15), he says, "It follows then that it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." "Thou wilt say then unto me, why doth He yet find fault?" (Rom 9:16,19)
And secondly the other explanation may be given, that he speaks of all as His, whose the greater part is. For it is ours to choose and to wish; but God's to complete and to bring to an end. Since therefore the greater part is of Him, he says all is of Him, speaking according to the custom of men. For so we ourselves also do. I mean for instance: we see a house well built and we say that the whole is the Architect's [doing], and yet certainly it is not all his, but the workmen's also, and the owner's, who supplies the materials, and many others', but nevertheless since he contributed the greatest share, we call the whole his. So then [it is] in this case also. Again, with respect to a number of people, where the many are, we say All are: where few, nobody. So also Paul says, "not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy."
And herein he establishes two great truths: one, that we should not be lifted up: even shouldst thou run (he would say), even shouldst thou be very earnest, do not consider that the well doing is thine own. For if thou obtain not the impulse that is from above, all is to no purpose. Nevertheless that thou wilt attain that which thou earnestly strivest after is very evidence; so long as thou runnest, so long as thou willest.
He did not then assert this, that we run in vain, but that, if we think the whole to be our own, if we do not assign the greater part to God, we run in vain. For neither hath God willed that the whole should be His, lest He should appear to be crowning us without cause: nor again ours, lest we should call away to pride. For if when we have the smaller [share], we think much of ourselves, what should we do if the whole depended on us?
In other words, Paul is not making a dogmatic statement of monergism despite all that he has said of freedom and human responsibility elsewhere. Rather, he is using a bit of hyperbole to emphasize that the grace of God is far more important and decisive than anything we can do, as a rebuke to anyone who thinks he is saved by his own striving alone. As Paul similarly says of himself in relation to the other apostles, "I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me." (1 Cor 15:10) Paul is not of course saying that he was entirely passive in his becoming an apostle, but ascribing all the glory and credit to God the author and perfecter of his faith, humbly giving no credit to his own effort.

Also notice how in the last paragraph Chrysostom mentions the dangers of both Pelagianism and monergism: the former leads to pride and makes all of our running and striving in vain (for without the grace of God we are nothing); the latter makes his blessing arbitrary and purposeless.

[17] For the scripture says to Pharaoh, "I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth."

Paul makes the same point again with the pharaoh of the Exodus, then urges the same objection more strongly:

[18] So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills. [19] You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?"

Yet he does not answer this charge immediately, "but he first stops the disputant's mouth, saying as follows,"

[20] But who are you, a man, to answer back to God?
This he does to take down the objector’s unseasonable inquisitiveness, and excessive curiosity, and to put a check upon it, and teach him to know what God is, and what man, and how incomprehensible His foreknowledge is, and how far above our reason, and how obedience to Him in all points is binding. ... And he does not say, it is impossible to answer questions of this kind, but that it is presumptuous to raise them. For our business is to obey what God does, not to be curious even if we do not know the reason of them. Wherefore he said, “Who art thou that repliest against God?”
Yet having made this point, Paul does not simply leave his interlocutor with a rebuke, but goes on to answer.

Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me thus?" [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?
Here it is not to do away with free-will that he says this, but to show, up to what point we ought to obey God. For in respect of calling God to account, we ought to be as little disposed to it as the clay is. For we ought to abstain not from gainsaying or questioning only, but even from speaking or thinking of it at all, and to become like that lifeless matter, which followeth the potter’s hands, and lets itself be drawn about anywhere he may please.
Chrysostom cautions against pushing the potter-clay metaphor too far, giving some examples of other biblical metaphors for God that must be read discerningly.
And this is the only point he applied the illustration to, not, that is, to any enunciation of the rule of life, but to the complete obedience and silence enforced upon us. And this we ought to observe in all cases, that we are not to take the illustrations quite entire, but after selecting the good of them, and that for which they were introduced, to let the rest alone. As, for instance, when he says, “He couched, he lay down as a lion;” (Num 24:9) let us take out the indomitable and fearful part, not the brutality, nor any other of the things belonging to a lion. And again, when He says, “I will meet them as a bereaved bear” (Hos 13:8), let us take the vindictiveness. And when he says, “our God is a consuming fire” (Deu 4:24, Heb 13:29), the wasting power exerted in punishing.
So with the potter-clay analogy, which Paul is not using so much to describe the way things simply are with God's sovereignty as they way things should be with us and him. He raises the oft-made point (all the more convincing by coming from the mouth of a fourth-century church father) that making God the sole determiner of man's willing would make him into the author of evil and the one really responsible for sin.
So also here must we single out the clay, the potter, and the vessels. And when he does go on to say, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” do not suppose that this is said by Paul as an account of the creation, nor as implying a necessity over the will, but to illustrate the sovereignty and difference of dispensations; for if we do not take it in this way, divers incongruities will follow, for if here he were speaking about the will, and those who are good and those not so, He will be Himself the Maker of these, and man will be free from all responsibility. And at this rate, Paul will also be shown to be at variance with himself, as he always bestows chief honor upon free choice. There is nothing else then which he here wishes to do, save to persuade the hearer to yield entirely to God, and at no time to call Him to account for anything whatever.
What Paul is saying here must be understood within the context of the freedom with which God has made us. We are not simply (by nature) passive lumps of clay determined in every way by God's will, but through the use of our free will to obediently submit to our Maker, we are to become as lumps to clay, allowing him to reshape our wills to follow after his. The one who attempts to gainsay God's decisions (like the one who protests the apparent injustice of the election of the Gentiles and the casting off of the Jews) is resisting his will rather than becoming clay in the potter's hands.
For as the potter (he says) of the same lump makes what he pleaseth, and no one forbids it; thus also when God, of the same race of men, punisheth some, and honoreth others, be not thou curious nor meddlesome herein, but worship only, and imitate the clay. And as it followeth the hands of the potter, so do thou also the mind of Him that so ordereth things. For He worketh nothing at random, or mere hazard, though thou be ignorant of the secret of His Wisdom. Yet thou allowest the other of the same lump to make divers things, and findest no fault: but of Him you demand an account of His punishments and honors, and will not allow Him to know who is worthy and who is not so; but since the same lump is of the same substance, you assert that there are the same dispositions. And, how monstrous this is! And yet not even is it on the potter that the honor and the dishonor of the things made of the lump depends, but upon the use made by those that handle them, so here also it depends on the free choice.
Yet Paul has not yet given his ultimate answer to the objection. He has simply rebuked the unyielding attitude of of the one who calls God's justice into question. But this does not mean that no answer can be known. Now Paul gives his answer.

[22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory, [24] even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
What he means is somewhat as follows. Pharaoh was a vessel of wrath, that is, a man who by his own hard-heartedness had kindled the wrath of God. For after enjoying much long-suffering, he became no better, but remained unimproved. Wherefore he calleth him not only “a vessel of wrath,” but also one “fitted for destruction.” That is, fully fitted indeed, but by his own proper self. For neither had God left out aught of the things likely to recover him, nor did he leave out aught of those that would ruin him, and put him beyond any forgiveness. Yet still, though God knew this, “He endured him with much long-suffering,” being willing to bring him to repentance. For had He not willed this, then He would not have been thus long-suffering. But as he would not use the long-suffering in order to repentance, but fully fitted himself for wrath, He used him for the correction of others, through the punishment inflicted upon him making them better, and in this way setting forth His power.
God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart did not take place apart from the Pharaoh's own hard-heartedness. Pharaoh became hard-hearted in spite of God's longsuffering patience with him, and so made himself into a "vessel of wrath". Though God did use this hard-heartedness as part of the Israelites' salvation, he does not wish for anyone to perish but for everyone to repent. (2 Pet 3:9) Pharaoh became a "vessel of destruction" on his own, not at any urging on God's part (though perhaps in wrongheaded response to his mercy). God has no need to manifest his power or glory through wrath; his wrath does not display anything in his nature that is not glimpsed more fully through his grace.
For that it is not God’s wish that His power be so made known [by his wrath], but in another way, by His benefits, namely, and kindnesses, he had shown above in all possible ways. For if Paul does not wish to appear powerful in this way (“not that we should appear approved,” he says, “but that ye should do that which is honest,”) (2 Cor 13:7), much less doth God.
In relation to verse 23, Chrysostom raises another familiar objection to theological determinism, that if the God really were meticulously sovereign over everything, then of course all men would be saved, since God wishes to save all men.
But in saying, “which He had afore prepared unto glory,” he does not mean that all is God’s doing. Since if this were so, there were nothing to hinder all men from being saved.
But instead, it means God's foreknowledge of and assent to the faith of the subset of the Jews (and of the Gentiles) who are saved.
But he is setting forth again His foreknowledge, and doing away with the difference between the Jews and the Gentiles. And on this topic again he grounds a defence of his statement, which is no small one. For it was not in the case of the Jews only that some men perished, and some were saved, but with the Gentiles also this was the case. Wherefore he does not say, all the Gentiles, but, “of the Gentiles,” nor, all the Jews, but, “of the Jews.” As then Pharaoh became a vessel of wrath by his own lawlessness, so did these become vessels of mercy by their own readiness to obey. For though the more part is of God, still they also have contributed themselves some little.
Talking about Paul's use of sweeping, total statements (which on their face seem to point toward monergism), Chrysostom reminds us of the need to read them within their theological context, and to recognize rhetorical hyperbole when we see it, as he did in the homily on Hebrews 7. The purpose of such statements is not to absolve man of all responsibility, but to break down pride and transform it to conscious dependence on God's grace for salvation.
Whence he does not say either, vessels of well-doing, or vessels of boldness (παρρησίας), but “vessels of mercy,” to show that the whole is of God. For the phrase, “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth,” even if it comes in the course of the objection, still, were it said by Paul, would create no difficulty. Because when he says, “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth,” he does not deprive us of free-will, but shows that all is not one’s own, for that it requires grace from above. For it is binding on us to will, and also to run: but to confide not in our own labors, but in the love of God toward man. And this he has expressed elsewhere. “Yet not I, but the grace which was with me.” (1 Cor 15:10)
In summary: God patiently shows mercy to all, calls all to repentance, wishes for all to be saved, and his goodness is clearly manifested in this. Those who are not redeemed find such a fate because of their own will, their rejection of the call, not because of any prior decree on God's part.
Whence then are some vessels of wrath, and some of mercy? Of their own free choice. God, however, being very good, shows the same kindness to both. For it was not those in a state of salvation only to whom He showed mercy, but also Pharaoh, as far as His part went. For of the same long-suffering, both they and he had the advantage. And if he was not saved, it was quite owing to his own will: since, as for what concerneth God, he had as much done for him as they who were saved. 
Now if all have sinned, how come some to be saved, and some to perish? It is because all were not minded to come to Him, since for His part all were saved, for all were called. 
In support of this answer, Paul next turns to the Old Testament.

[25] As indeed he says in Hose'a, "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'my beloved.'"
Here to prevent their saying, that you are deceiving us here with specious reasoning, he calls Hosea to witness, who crieth and saith, “I will call them My people, who were not My people.” (Hos 2:23) Who then are the not-people? Plainly, the Gentiles. And who the not-beloved? The same again. However, he says, that they shall become at once people, and beloved, and sons of God.
[26] "And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'"
But if they should assert that this was said of those of the Jews who believed, even then the argument stands. For if with those who after so many benefits were hard-hearted and estranged, and had lost their being as a people, so great a change was wrought, what is there to prevent even those who were not estranged after being taken to Him, but were originally aliens, from being called, and, provided they obey, from being counted worthy of the same blessings?
Next, Isaiah:

[27] And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved;
Do you see that he too does not say that all are to be saved, but that those that are worthy shall? For I regard not the multitude, he means, nor does a race diffused so far distress me, but those only do I save that yield themselves worthy of it. And he does not mention the “sand of the sea” without a reason, but to remind them of the ancient promise whereof they had made themselves unworthy. Why then are you troubled, as though the promise had failed, when all the Prophets show that it is not all that are to be saved?
[28] for the Lord will execute his sentence upon the earth with rigor and dispatch."

Chrysostom here connects the expediency of the promised salvation with the easy yoke of faith in Christ, in contrast with the burden of the law.

[29] And as Isaiah predicted, "If the Lord of hosts had not left us children, we would have fared like Sodom and been made like Gomor'rah."

Another reminder of the necessity of divine grace:
Here again he shows another thing, that not even those few were saved from their own resources. For they too would have perished, and met with Sodom’s fate, that is, they would have had to undergo utter destruction (for they (of Sodom) were also destroyed root and branch, and left not even the slightest remnant of themselves,) and they too, he means, would have been like these, unless God had used much kindness to them, and had saved them by faith. And this happened also in the case of the visible captivity, the majority having been taken away captive and perished, and some few only being saved.
[30] What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; [31] but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law.

After making his case from the basic historical facts, from the lives of the patriarchs, and from the prophets, Paul gives his most decisive answer. But first he presents the objection in its strongest form, as three questions or problems:
that the Gentiles found righteousness, and found it without following after it, and found a  [righteousness] greater than that of the Law. These same difficulties are again felt in the Jews’ case with an opposite view. That Israel did not find, and though he took pains he did not find, and did not find even the less. Having then thrust his hearer into perplexity, he proceeds to give a concise answer, and tells him the cause of all that is said. When then is the cause?
Now Paul gives his clearest answer:

[32] Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,
This is the clearest answer in the passage, which if he had said immediately upon starting, he would not have gained so easy a hearing. But since it is after many perplexities, and preparations, and demonstrations that he sets it down, and after using countless preparatory steps, he has at last made it more intelligible, and also more easily admitted. For this he says is the cause of their destruction: “Because it was not by faith, but as it were by the works of the Law,” that they wished to be justified. And he does not say, “by works,” but, “as it were by the works of the Law,” to show that they had not even this righteousness.
[33] as it is written, "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; and he who believes in him will not be put to shame."

Once more, the laying of the "stumbling stone" (that is, Christ) is not intended to make anyone fall away; Jesus is the "rock of offense" from the point of view of those who reject him of their own desire.
You see again how it is from faith that the boldness comes, and the gift is universal; since it is not of the Jews only that this is said, but also of the whole human race. For every one, he would say, whether Jew, or Grecian, or Scythian, or Thracian, or whatsoever else he may be, will, if he believes, enjoy the privilege of great boldness. But the wonder in the Prophet is that he foretells not only that they should believe, but also that they should not believe. For to stumble is to disbelieve. As in the former passage he points out them that perish and them that are saved, where he says, “If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant shall be saved. And, If the Lord of Sabaoth [Hosts] had not left us a seed, we should have been as Sodoma.” And, “He hath called not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles;” so here too he implies that some will believe, and some will stumble. But stumbling comes of not taking heed, of gaping after other things. Since then they did give heed to the Law, they stumbled on the stone, “And a stone of stumbling and rock of offence” he calls it from the character and end of those that believe not.
Earlier in the sermon, Chrysostom connects this chapter with the next and offers a fitting conclusion:
Now tell me, O thou Jew, that hast so many perplexing questions, and art unable to answer any of them, how thou comest to annoy us on account of the call of the Gentiles? I, however, have a good reason to give you why the Gentiles were justified and ye were cast out. And what is the reason? It is that they are of faith, ye of the works of the Law. And it is owing to this obstinacy of yours that ye have in every way been given up. For, “they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Rom 10:3) The clearing up then of the whole passage, to give the whole sense summarily, is here brought out by that blessed person. But that this may be clearer, let us investigate the things he says also one by one; this knowing, that what the blessed Paul aimed at was, to show by all that he said that God only knoweth who are worthy, and no man whatever knoweth, even if he seem to know ever so well, but that in this sentence of his there are sundry aberrations. For He that knoweth the secrets of the hearts, He only knoweth for a certainty who deserve a crown, and who punishment and vengeance. Hence it is that many of those, by men esteemed good, He convicts and punishes, and those suspected to be bad He crowns, after showing it not to be so; thus forming his sentence not after the judgment of us slaves, but after his own keen and uncorrupt decision, and not waiting for the issue of actions to look at the wicked and him who is not so therefrom.


A few of my own thoughts and reflections on Chrysostom's sermon. Paul's subject, it should be noted, is the fate of the Jews and the apparent indictment on God's faithful righteousness it presents, and it remains so throughout the chapter (and the next two). I have heard Calvinist expositions of this chapter that make Paul out to be using the situation of Israel as a lead-in to a philosophical discussion of free will and determinism. Yet even in verses 18-24, Paul's teaching of the sovereignty of God's judgments has the plight of his kinsmen in mind. In light of this, I find it hard to believe that Paul's answer to the blasphemies being directed against God is that God never planned to save all of Israel (as the Jews believed, and for good reason) but only some (apparently a very small subset), and some Gentiles besides. Rather, through Christ the call to salvation has gone out to all nations through Israel, and he is ready to grant forgiveness and eternal life to all who answer it. The Jews do not attain righteousness because they stumbled over the stumbling stone, because they set up their (God-given) law as the way to take hold of salvation over against faith in the law-giver—not because God simply did not desire to save them. Chrysostom simply takes it as a given (as do all Orthodox) that God desires the salvation of all men. To the mind of the Orthodox Church as expressed by Chrysostom, unconditional election is quite obviously a non-answer.

In regard to God's judgment, according to Chrysostom God does not arbitrarily will to save some and condemn others by an inscrutable, mysterious, unconditional divine decree. Rather, Paul is defending God's prerogative as the just, all-wise judge who sees the heart and not just the exterior, and whose judgments are thus not the superficial judgments of men. God alone is able to truly assess the worthiness of mens' hearts and to know who will accept his grace, to whom to grant salvation (that is, who will be able to receive it), and all of this before they are even born. Thus, the objection Paul addresses in vv. 18-20 is not a challenge to divine voluntarism, but an attempt to set oneself up as the judge of a higher court than God's. The objection is inadequate not because we have no idea of what goodness or justice really are in God's secret counsel, but because we are not omniscient or all-wise as he is; we do not know who is worthy or who is faithful as he does, and so we have no right to gainsay him. Paul does not attempt to elevate God's counsels above any moral standard of righteousness that we can know, but rather defends his righteousness as the Jews have most truly understood it (through the patriarchs and prophets), even if his electing actions don't appear (to our limited judgment) to line up with it. This discrepancy, he argues, is a reflection of our finitude and ignorance rather than any real unrighteousness in God, and it is foolish and disobedient to seek to hold God to account for it.

I grant that a Calvinist reading of Romans 9 does more closely follow with a face-value reading of the chapter—but the strength of Chrysostom's hermeneutic is that because of his strong awareness of the theological and scriptural context, he knows what to take at face value and what to qualify, and how. He has a theological balance, a "big picture" awareness that allows him to interpret Paul here without losing sight of numerous other truths of importance, even if Paul's phrasing appears to at times. He reads Scripture in concert with the "mind of the Church", fitting it in with what has been believed "always, everywhere, by all". This is reflective of the Church's view of Scripture as existing within Holy Tradition, not apart from it. I do not see a Calvinist reading as doing this; instead, it makes this passage and a select other few like it (though more ambiguous) determinative of a drastically different reading of Scripture, one that renders God's goodness and transcendence confusing and opaque and leads to readings of other texts (e.g. Psa 5:4, Eze 18:32, 33:11, Mat 23:37, 1 Tim 2:4) that are at least as strained as Chrysostom's reading of this one and decidedly contrary to the rule of faith handed down in the Church. In my opinion, it leads to imbalance even in Romans 9 itself—what are we to do with verse 32? Why does Paul lament the estrangement of his Jewish brethren in the first five verses, even expressing willingness to be accursed for their salvation, then go on to explain that it is because of God's sovereign, unquestionable "purpose according to election"? Such a reading hews closely to the letter of the Scriptures while denying their Spirit, much as the Pharisees did with the Old Testament.

The rest of this post will be a collection of other patristic quotes demonstrating Chrysostom's view of human freedom to be the consensual one in the early church. (Excepting Augustine—it is ironic that the area in which Reformed Christians draw the most heavily on the great western father is the one in which he is the least orthodox)

John of Damascus

First, St. John of Damascus discourses extensively on free will and divine providence in his catechism. He again raises the point that the freedom of human agency is necessary to avoid making God (or necessity, or fate, or nature, or chance, or accident) the author of human evil (emphasis added):
Of all the things that happen, the cause is said to be either God, or necessity, or fate, or nature, or chance, or accident. But God’s function has to do with essence and providence: necessity deals with the movement of things that ever keep to the same course: fate with the necessary accomplishment of the things it brings to pass (for fate itself implies necessity): nature with birth, growth, destruction, plants and animals; chance with what is rare and unexpected. For chance is defined as the meeting and concurrence of two causes, originating in choice but bringing to pass something other than what is natural: for example, if a man finds a treasure while digging a ditch: for the man who hid the treasure did not do so that the other might find it, nor did the finder dig with the purpose of finding the treasure: but the former hid it that he might take it away when he wished, and the other’s aim was to dig the ditch: whereas something happened quite different from what both had in view. Accident again deals with casual occurrences that take place among lifeless or irrational things, apart from nature and art. This then is their doctrine. Under which, then, of these categories are we to bring what happens through the agency of man, if indeed man is not the cause and beginning of action? for it would not be right to ascribe to God actions that are sometimes base and unjust: nor may we ascribe these to necessity, for they are not such as ever continue the same: nor to fate, for fate implies not possibility only but necessity: nor to nature, for nature’s province is animals and plants: nor to chance, for the actions of men are not rare and unexpected: nor to accident, for that is used in reference to the casual occurrences that take place in the world of lifeless and irrational things. We are left then with this fact, that the man who acts and makes is himself the author of his own works, and is a creature endowed with free-will. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 2.25)
In Orthodox synergism, this is balanced by the leading or enabling of divine grace.
Note, however, that while the choice of what is to be done is ever in our power, the action itself often is prevented [i.e. anticipated, preceded] by some dispensation of the divine Providence. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith  2.26)
Free will is closely linked to rationality, and moral responsibility depends on it:
We hold, therefore, that free-will comes on the scene at the same moment as reason, and that change and alteration are congenital to all that is produced. ... For reason consists of a speculative and a practical part. The speculative part is the contemplation of the nature of things, and the practical consists in deliberation and defines the true reason for what is to be done. The speculative side is called mind or wisdom, and the practical side is called reason or prudence. Every one, then, who deliberates does so in the belief that the choice of what is to be done lies in his hands, that he may choose what seems best as the result of his deliberation, and having chosen may act upon it. And if this is so, free-will must necessarily be very closely related to reason. For either man is an irrational being, or, if he is rational, he is master of his acts and endowed with free-will. Hence also creatures without reason do not enjoy free-will: for nature leads them rather than they nature, and so they do not oppose the natural appetite, but as soon as their appetite longs after anything they rush headlong after it. But man, being rational, leads nature rather than nature him, and so when he desires aught he has the power to curb his appetite or to indulge it as he pleases. Hence also creatures devoid of reason are the subjects neither of praise nor blame, while man is the subject of both praise and blame. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 2.27)
John is very clear that death, sin, and damnation are not the work of God, but of sinful man. God only creates and renews; man destroys.
Of things that are not in our hands some have their beginning or cause in those that are in our power, that is to say, the recompenses of our actions both in the present and in the age to come, but all the rest are dependent on the divine will. For the origin of all things is from God, but their destruction has been introduced by our wickedness for our punishment or benefit. For God did not create death, neither does He take delight in the destruction of living things. But death is the work rather of man, that is, its origin is in Adam’s transgression, in like manner as all other punishments. But all other things must be referred to God. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 2.28)
What, then, is God's providence? God's caring provision and oversight of the created order.
Providence, then, is the care that God takes over existing things. And again: Providence is the will of God through which all existing things receive their fitting issue.
God therefore is both Creator and Provider, and His creative and preserving and providing power is simply His good-will. For whatsoever the Lord pleased that did He in heaven and in earth, and no one resisted His will. He willed that all things should be and they were. He wills the universe to be framed and it is framed, and all that He wills comes to pass.
That He provides, and that He provides excellently, one can most readily perceive thus. God alone is good and wise by nature. Since then He is good, He provides: for he who does not provide is not good. For even men and creatures without reason provide for their own offspring according to their nature, and he who does not provide is blamed. Again, since He is wise, He takes the best care over what exists. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 2.29)
John rather strikingly says that exertions of free will are "outside the sphere of Providence"; obviously this doesn't mean that we can catch God unawares or thwart his providence, only that we are not controlled by it.
When, therefore, we give heed to these things we ought to be filled with wonder at all the works of Providence, and praise them all, and accept them all without enquiry, even though they are in the eyes of many unjust, because the Providence of God is beyond our ken and comprehension, while our reasonings and actions and the future are revealed to His eyes alone. And by “all” I mean those that are not in our hands: for those that are in our power are outside the sphere of Providence and within that of our Free-will. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 2.29)
John also draws the familiar orthodox distinction between divine action (or cooperation, in the case of virtuous deeds on our part) and permission (or desertion), making clear that the final outcome is in God's hands.
Moreover, it is to be observed that the choice of what is to be done is in our own hands: but the final issue depends, in the one case when our actions are good, on the cooperation of God, Who in His justice brings help according to His foreknowledge to such as choose the good with a right conscience, and, in the other case when our actions are to evil, on the desertion by God, Who again in His justice stands aloof in accordance with His foreknowledge.
Now there are two forms of desertion: for there is desertion in the matters of guidance and training, and there is complete and hopeless desertion. The former has in view the restoration and safety and glory of the sufferer, or the rousing of feelings of emulation and imitation in others, or the glory of God: but the latter is when man, after God has done all that was possible to save him, remains of his own set purpose blind and uncured, or rather incurable, and then he is handed over to utter destruction, as was Judas. May God be gracious to us, and deliver us from such desertion.
Observe further that the ways of God’s providence are many, and they cannot be explained in words nor conceived by the mind.
And remember that all the assaults of dark and evil fortune contribute to the salvation of those who receive them with thankfulness, and are assuredly ambassadors of help. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 2.29)
He clearly states that God desires the salvation or all and has no a priori need to manifest his wrath or "justice" on anyone.
Also one must bear in mind that God’s original wish was that all should be saved and come to His Kingdom. For it was not for punishment that He formed us but to share in His goodness, inasmuch as He is a good God. But inasmuch as He is a just God, His will is that sinners should suffer punishment.
The first then is called God’s antecedent will and pleasure, and springs from Himself, while the second is called God’s consequent will and permission, and has its origin in us. And the latter is two-fold; one part dealing with matters of guidance and training, and having in view our salvation, and the other being hopeless and leading to our utter punishment, as we said above. And this is the case with actions that are not left in our hands. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 2.29)
John cautions that Scripture often speaks of God's permission as actively willing something (this applies to the preceding passage about punishment). He appears to agree wholly with Chrysostom's interpretation of Romans 9:21.
It is to be observed that it is the custom in the Holy Scripture to speak of God’s permission as His energy, as when the apostle says in the Epistle to the Romans, Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour? And for this reason, that He Himself makes this or that. For He is Himself alone the Maker of all things; yet it is not He Himself that fashions noble or ignoble things, but the personal choice of each one.
Wherefore this passage that we have quoted and this, God hath concluded them all in unbelief, and this, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, all these must be understood not as though God Himself were energising, but as though God were permitting, both because of free-will and because goodness knows no compulsion. His permission, therefore, is usually spoken of in the Holy Scripture as His energy and work.
This also should be recognised, that it is usual in the Scriptures for some things that ought to be considered as effects to be stated in a causal sense, as, Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight, that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and prevail when Thou judgest. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 4.19)
Those actions of our that are good God cooperates with and enables; those that are wicked he simply resigns us to, as "a concession to free-will."
But of actions that are in our hands the good ones depend on His antecedent goodwill and pleasure, while the wicked ones depend neither on His antecedent nor on His consequent will, but are a concession to free-will. For that which is the result of compulsion has neither reason nor virtue in it. God makes provision for all creation and makes all creation the instrument of His help and training, yea often even the demons themselves, as for example in the cases of Job and the swine. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 2.29)
Another clear denial that God predetermines acts of evil:
We ought to understand that while God knows all things beforehand, yet He does not predetermine all things. For He knows beforehand those things that are in our power, but He does not predetermine them. For it is not His will that there should be wickedness nor does He choose to compel virtue. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 2.30)
We can do no good on our own, yet we must consciously abide in God and not stray from the way of holiness he has marked for us.
Bear in mind, too, that virtue is a gift from God implanted in our nature, and that He Himself is the source and cause of all good, and without His co-operation and help we cannot will or do any good thing. But we have it in our power either to abide in virtue and follow God, Who calls us into ways of virtue, or to stray from paths of virtue, which is to dwell in wickedness, and to follow the devil who summons but cannot compel us. For wickedness is nothing else than the withdrawal of goodness, just as darkness is nothing else than the withdrawal of light. While then we abide in the natural state we abide in virtue, but when we deviate from the natural state, that is from virtue, we come into an unnatural state and dwell in wickedness. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 2.30)
Finally, concerning the creation of those who God in his foreknowledge knew would not repent, John sharply distinguishes between the intrinsic goodness of God's creation and its subsequent choices of good and evil; God intends nothing but good for all his works.
But if the very existence of those, who through the goodness of God are in the future to exist, were to be prevented by the fact that they were to become evil of their own choice, evil would have prevailed over the goodness of God. Wherefore God makes all His works good, but each becomes of its own choice good or evil. Although, then, the Lord said, Good were it for that man that he had never been born, He said it in condemnation not of His own creation but of the evil which His own creation had acquired by his own choice and through his own heedlessness. For the heedlessness that marks man’s judgment made His Creator’s beneficence of no profit to him. (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 4.21)

Other Fathers

Origen similarly reflects on the double-sided potential of freedom, and rebukes those who refuse to actively pursue salvation because of a limited view of freedom.
God did not create death; he did not create evil; but he left to human beings, as to angels, freedom in everything. Thus through their freedom some rise to the highest good, others rush headlong into the depths of evil. But you, man, why do you reject your freedom? Why this reluctance to have to make an effort, to toil, to fight, to become the artificer of your own salvation? 'My father is working still,' it is written, 'and I am working.' (Jhn 5:17) Are you then reluctant to work, you who were created in order to create positively? (Origen, First Homily on Ezekiel 3)
And again:
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 struggle 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 endeavour 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, On First Principles, preface V)
In the second century, Justin Martyr expresses the same faith:
For God, wishing both angels and men, who were endowed with free-will, and at their own disposal, to do whatever He had strengthened each to do, made them so, that if they chose the things acceptable to Himself, He would keep them free from death and from punishment; but that if they did evil, He would punish each as He sees fit. (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 88)
Near the end of his Dialogue, Justin explains more of the reason for free will and denies God's role in the wickedness of any of his creatures:
But that you may not have a pretext for saying that Christ must have been crucified, and that those who transgressed must have been among your nation, and that the matter could not have been otherwise, 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 Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 141)
Irenaeus is of the same mind, affirming the God-created freedom of man and the unqualified good will of God towards his creation.
This expression [of our Lord], How often would I have gathered your children together, and you would not [Mat 23:37], 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 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. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.37.1)
Free will is necessary for God's judgment to be just:
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]. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.37.2)
It is also assumed in the commands of the Lord in the gospels; if God determined the will of man, why would he give men commands that he had predestined them to disobey?
All such passages demonstrate the independent will of man, and at the same time the counsel which God conveys to him, by which He exhorts us to submit ourselves to Him, and seeks to turn us away from [the sin of] unbelief against Him, without, however, in any way coercing us. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.37.3)
I could go on quoting from Irenaeus, especially chapters IV.37-IV.39, but since this post is already enormous I will close by repeating myself from my paper on the problem of evil; Irenaeus considers our freedom to be a reflection of the freedom of God, in whose image we are made.
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. ... 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, advice is always given to him to keep fast the good, which thing is done by means of obedience to God. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.37.4)
Gregory of Nyssa says the same:
He who created human beings in order to make them share in his own fullness so disposed their nature that it contains the principle of all that is good, and each of these dispositions draws them to desire the corresponding divine attribute. So God could not have deprived them of the best and most precious of his attributes, his freedom. (Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Oration 5)
The fact of being created in the image of God means that humanity right from the moment of creation was endowed with a royal character ... The godhead is wisdom and logos [reason, meaning]; in yourself too you see intelligence and thought, images of the original intelligent and thought ... God is love and the source of love; the divine Creator has drawn this feature on our faces too. (Gregory of Nyssa, On the Creation of Man)
Expanding on this, Diadochus relates the distinction between the image and likeness of God to freedom.
All of us who are human beings are in the image of God. But to be in his likeness belongs only to those who by great love have attached their freedom to God. (Diadochus of Photike, Gnostic Chapters 4) 
Like John of Damascus, Gregory also states that free will is what absolves God of responsibility for the evil committed by his creatures.
Thus God cannot be held responsible for evil, for he is the author of what is, and not what is not. It is he who made sight, not blindness ... And that without subjecting us to his good pleasure by any violent constraint. He did not draw us toward what is good against our will, as if we were an inanimate object. If when the light shines very brightly ... someone chooses to hide his eyes by lowering his eyelids, the sun is not responsible for the fact that he cannot see it. (Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Oration 7)
Symeon the New Theologian denies the Calvinist teaching that God's foreknowing something is equivalent to his actively doing it. (The context is the Christian's victory over or defeat by sin and death)
It is not God's foreknowledge of those who, by their free choice and zeal, will prevail which is the cause of their victory, just as, again, it is not His knowing beforehand who will fall and be vanquished which is the cause of their defeat. Instead, it is the zeal, deliberate choice, and courage of each of us which effects the victory. Our faithlessness and sloth, our irresolution and indolence, on the other hand, comprise our defeat and perdition. (Symeon the New Theologian, Ethical Discourses 2.I.3)
Maximus the Confessor relates Christ's being the one who stands at the door of our hearts, waiting for each to respond to him (Rev 3:20) with his kenotic, substitutionary suffering:
God has made himself a beggar by reason of his concern for us ... suffering mystically through his tenderness to the end of time according to the measure of each one's suffering. (Maximus the Confessor, Mystagogia 24)
And finally, Isaac of Nineveh states the necessity of the use of our freedom in coming to God in terms that almost sound Pelagian (the "alone" must be taken to mean without compulsion or restriction of freedom, not a denial of a prior divine invitation).
In his great love God was unwilling to restrict our freedom, even though he had the power to do so. He has left us to come to him by the love of our heart alone. (Isaac of Nineveh, Ascetic Treatises 81)
This weight of evidence should be sufficient to demonstrate that the Orthodox Church has affirmed the free will and moral responsibility of humans, and the universal benevolence of God that wills it, since at least the second century, and has consistently done so ever since. I believe that its witness is true, and so I approach Scripture with the mind of the Church on this topic, glad to be free of the endless intramural debates over it within Protestantism. 

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