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The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

That the “separation” which arises from foreknowledge does not do away with Free Will. From Book I. of the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, at the words “separated unto the gospel of God.”

1. The third point to notice is the phrase “separated unto the Gospel of God”; and in the Epistle to the Galatians the Apostle says the same thing about himself: “When it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me even from my mother’s womb, to reveal his son in me.” They who do not understand that any one who is predestined through the foreknowledge of God is the cause of the events foreknown, take hold of such expressions as these, and think they can by them establish their doctrine that men are so constituted by nature that they must be saved. And some employ such passages to destroy man’s Free Will, and also make use of the words in the Psalms, “The wicked are estranged from the womb.” We may easily meet this by asking them to explain what comes next; for it is written, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent.” And we will ask those who insist on the clearness of the words, whether the wicked who were estranged from the womb, as soon as they were born went astray and erred from the way of salvation, and whether this was their own doing. And how could the wicked who were estranged from the womb, both go astray as soon as they were born and also speak lies? For our opponents, I suppose, will never be able to show that in the moment of birth they uttered an articulate cry, and told lies. If, however, we observe the steps by which we approach predestination in the argument of the epistle which we are examining, we shall, once we have disposed of what inclines the simpler sort of readers to justify the charge of injustice brought against God’s decree, be able to defend Him Who separated from his mother’s womb, and separated unto the Gospel of God, Paul the servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle. The words stand thus: “We know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknow, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”

2. Let us, then, attend to the order of these statements. God first calls, and then justifies, and He does not justify those whom He did not call; and He calls, having before the calling foreordained, and He does not call whom He did not foreordain; and the foreordaining is not the origin of His calling and justifying; for if it were the origin of all that follows they who bring in by a side wind the absurd doctrine of souls being “naturally constituted” might very plausibly have claimed the victory; but the foreknowledge comes before the foreordaining, for “whom he did foreknow,” says the Apostle, “he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son.” So then, God first surveyed the long series of events, and perceiving the will of certain men to be inclined to godliness, and also their efforts to attain thereto when their will was so inclined, and further, how they would wholly give themselves up to a virtuous life, He foreknew them, for He knows the present and foreknows the future; and whom He thus foreknew, He foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son. Now we know there is a Person, Who is the image of the invisible God, and it is His image which is called the image of the Son of God; and we think that this image is the human soul which the Son of God assumed, and which for its merit became the image of the image of God. And it was to this, which we think is the image of the image of the Son of God, that God foreordained those to be conformed, whom, on account of His foreknowledge of them, He did foreordain. We must not therefore suppose that the foreknowledge of God is the cause of future events; but inasmuch as these events would follow the agent’s own impulses, on this account He foreknew, for He knoweth all things before they be: and inasmuch as He knoweth all things before they be, He foreknew certain individuals and foreordained them to be conformed to the image of His Son; but others He saw estranged. And if any one objects, and asks whether what God foreknows might possibly not occur, we shall say it possibly might not; but granting this possibility, there is no necessity that it should occur, or not occur; and the events will not in the least be necessitated, but there is also the possibility of their not occurring. The subject of possibilities, however, belongs to the science of the skilled logician; so that if a man will cleanse the eye of his mind, he may thus be able to follow the subtle arguments, and may understand how, even in the course of ordinary events, there is nothing to prevent the possibility of a given circumstance issuing many ways, though, in fact, there will be only one out of the many, and that not necessitated; and the foreknowledge of it means that it will be, but will not of necessity be; for though it may possibly not occur, the prediction of it will not be conjecture but real foreknowledge.

3. And let no one think that we have said nothing about the phrase “according to his purpose,” because it may seem to hamper our argument; for Paul says, “We know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.” The critic should observe that the Apostle also at once gave the reason for their being called according to His purpose, saying, “Whom he did foreknow, them he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son.” And who more fitting to be included in the justifying calling by the purpose of God, than those who love Him? And that the cause of the purpose and foreknowledge lies in our Free Will is clearly shown by the words, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God”; for Paul all but said that if all things work together for good, the reason is that they who love God are worthy of their working together. And here let us ask our opponents a question, and let them give us an answer. Just for a moment let us assume that we have some measure of Free Will,—and we will tell them that this is a fact, though they seek to destroy Free Will,—until on that assumption we can prove the unsoundness of their view. If Free Will is indeed a reality, will God, when He considers the chain of future events, foreknow what will be done by each possessor of Free Will through the exercise of that Free Will, or will He not foreknow? To say that He will not foreknow, is worthy of a man who knows nothing of the omniscience and majesty of God. But if they will admit His foreknowledge, let us ask them another question: Is His knowing the cause of future occurrences, assuming that men have Free Will? Or does He foreknow because the events will come to pass? And is it the truth that His foreknowledge is by no means the cause of what will result from man’s Free Will? It is then possible for a man created free, under given circumstances, not to do one thing and to do another.

4. For these reasons, and others like them which might be adduced, we uphold the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord,” and meaning attaches to all commendation. There is sound reason also in the words, “Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou oughtest to have put my money to the bankers.” Only thus can we maintain the justice of what is said to those on His right hand, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat,” and so on; and to those on the left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat,” and so on. But even supposing that the words “Separated unto the gospel of God,” and “He that separated me from my mother’s womb,” imply some necessity, how could the Apostle reasonably say, “I buffet my body and bring it into bondage, lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.” And further, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” For he clearly shows hereby that if he did not buffet his body and bring it into bondage as much as he could, he would be rejected after preaching to others, and that woe might have been unto him if he did not preach the Gospel. Perhaps, then, it was under these conditions that God separated him from his mother’s womb: God saw the cause of the just separation, viz. that Paul would buffet his body, and bring it into bondage, because he feared lest having preached to others he himself might be rejected, and that, knowing there would be woe to him unless he preached the Gospel, being moved with fear towards God so that he might not be in woe, he would not hold his peace but would preach the Gospel. And this He also saw Who separated him from his mother’s womb, and separated him unto His own Gospel, viz. that he would be in labours more abundantly, in prisons more frequently, in stripes above measure, in death oft; that of the Jews he would five times receive forty stripes save one, that he would be thrice beaten with rods, once be stoned; and that he would suffer all this rejoicing in tribulations, and that, knowing that tribulation worketh endurance, he would endure. For these reasons it was meet that he should be separated unto the Gospel of God, as it was foreknown that he would be, and that he should be separated from his mother’s womb. And he was separated unto the Gospel of God not because his nature was specially endowed and by its constitution surpassed the natures of men unlike him, but on account of his actions, first foreknown, but afterwards realised, every one of them, through his apostolic fitness and apostolic purpose. This is not the time to discuss the passage in the psalm, for it was a digression; so, God willing, it shall be discussed in its proper place, whenever we interpret the psalm. The foregoing will abundantly suffice for the term “separated.”

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