Author Topic: St Augustine on Predestination and Free Will  (Read 1616 times)

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Offline sakura95

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St Augustine on Predestination and Free Will
« on: December 19, 2016, 12:18:29 PM »
I am not sure if this is the appropriate board for this topic but I would post it here anyways given St Augustine's influence on Catholicism and the entire Christian West.

I had been reading about the saint for a while and what I oddly found were conflicting accounts on his view of predestination and free will, usually either painting him as affirming both simultaneously such as in McGrath's Iustitia Dei or affirming free will early on before devolving into a predestinarian view later on in his life(I did not actually encounter this but I found it in Carol Harrison's book Rethinking Augustine's Early Theology where she argues against this tendency though oddly enough displaying some of it in some of her exposition on St Augustine's view of St Paul).

While scholarship seems divided on St Augustine's view on this issue, I personally see him in tension as trying to affirm both though with his stress that the human being is free in On Grace and Free Will in his address to the monks who end up divided on this issue of grace and free will, yet also trying to avoid the Pelagians from abusing his affirmations on the human will by making clear that Grace isn't given in accordance to effort or that without God's grace, one is powerless to turn to God. A similar tension is found in On the Gift of Perseverance where he sometimes stop and make clear that human beings have free will despite sounding predestinarian. However I think despite his intention to preserve the role of the human will, he does prioritize Grace.

But I am no expert on the blessed saint himself and hence I am not really satisfied with what I ended up with and I think there are posters here who are more familiar with St Augustine's overall thought and his works to clarify my views.

Is Augustine somehow that of Calvinistic predestinarian or is he one who tries to hold both predestination and free will at once?
« Last Edit: December 19, 2016, 12:19:19 PM by sakura95 »
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Offline minasoliman

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Re: St Augustine on Predestination and Free Will
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2016, 02:49:11 PM »
My guess, and I need to stress "guess", is that St. Augustine theological works were mostly reactionary to some of the issues he faced, and that his thoughts were yet to be formulated or refined properly.  This is why you get both Catholics and Calvinists who use the same writings and come to different interpretations.  St. Augustine was a man who didn't have all the Greek fathers available to him, so he had to in a sense be a synthesizer of ancient traditions in Latin starting from scratch.  The end result is worthy effort with great works that deserve to be read, but with holes and cracks in between that need to either be filled or removed from Orthodox thought in general.  That has been my experience thus far in discussions regarding St. Augustine from an Eastern perspective.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2016, 02:49:47 PM by minasoliman »
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Offline sakura95

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Re: St Augustine on Predestination and Free Will
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2016, 03:56:43 PM »
My guess, and I need to stress "guess", is that St. Augustine theological works were mostly reactionary to some of the issues he faced, and that his thoughts were yet to be formulated or refined properly.  This is why you get both Catholics and Calvinists who use the same writings and come to different interpretations.  St. Augustine was a man who didn't have all the Greek fathers available to him, so he had to in a sense be a synthesizer of ancient traditions in Latin starting from scratch.  The end result is worthy effort with great works that deserve to be read, but with holes and cracks in between that need to either be filled or removed from Orthodox thought in general.  That has been my experience thus far in discussions regarding St. Augustine from an Eastern perspective.

I could see truth in this since St Augustine doesn't even know Greek from what I heard and this caused him to read St Paul in a predestinarian sense. That said, I feel that it is a mistake to dismiss him right away as some heretic or being  completely in error. But equally wrong would be to somehow think that his overall thought can be reconciled with Orthodox theology. The tension between St Augustine's beliefs in Grace and free will in some sense set up the divergence between them with Catholicism having to follow his path to affirm both and Reformed theology to place emphasis on his predestinarian side to the point of some sort of fatalism.
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Offline Rohzek

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Re: St Augustine on Predestination and Free Will
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2016, 04:09:43 PM »
Augustine's conception of free will and grace is pretty much the same as Calvinism, as I generally understand the latter. It basically breaks down like this: the Fall of Man left humanity not only critically wounded and changed, but entirely depraved. Therefore, humanity could do nothing but choose evil. In short, the Fall destroyed Free Will. The Grace of God restores the Free Will of Man, which is only given to a selection known as the Elect, whom God predestined before all creation. In a strange way, Free Will is a gift of grace. Those whom are Elected God will not lose, hence they will ultimately be saved although they may in the meantime from the reception of their grace choose to do sin.

Modern Catholicism's understanding of Augustine is notably just that - modern. If you talked to the average Catholic theologian maybe like 1200 years ago, they would have agreed with every word I listed above. You begin to actually have a more Orthodox so-to-speak understanding of Free Will and Grace during the scholastic period surprisingly. Despite this mellowing, the Catholic Church has gone back and forth on the issue. And its desperation to distinguish itself from Calvin helps them try to moderate Augustine's clear lack of appreciation for human agency. And this is all further complicated by the fact that there were countless texts attributed to Augustine on this subject, but were in fact not his. Some were even those originally penned by his rivals in thought.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2016, 04:15:31 PM by Rohzek »
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Offline sakura95

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Re: St Augustine on Predestination and Free Will
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2016, 04:46:15 PM »
Augustine's conception of free will and grace is pretty much the same as Calvinism, as I generally understand the latter. It basically breaks down like this: the Fall of Man left humanity not only critically wounded and changed, but entirely depraved. Therefore, humanity could do nothing but choose evil. In short, the Fall destroyed Free Will. The Grace of God restores the Free Will of Man, which is only given to a selection known as the Elect, whom God predestined before all creation. In a strange way, Free Will is a gift of grace. Those whom are Elected God will not lose, hence they will ultimately be saved although they may in the meantime from the reception of their grace choose to do sin.

I did read an essay by ANS Lane that did basically said the same thing regarding Calvin's view on free will with a quote from the man himself saying that he accepts St Augustine's formulation of the freedom of the will. Oddly though for some reason Richard Muller actually says that a compatabilist account of freedom of the will is not to be found in Calvin but instead first introduced by Jonathan Edwards. He also talks about how some Reformed theologians even affirmed the self determination of the creature. But personally, I am not convinced by this given that the overall picture is still fatalistic in nature given man cannot ultimately choose God or turn to him of his own volition.

From what I read from Augustine, he is probably more leaning towards the freedom of the will but sees it as weakened to the point it cannot even will the good even if it "wants" too. He emphasizes the weakness of humanity. His view that election is not based on foreknowledge also resonates with Calvin and the Westminster Confession of Faith. But he is still as seen in On Grace and Free Will very clear that there is free will whilst emphasizing the role of Grace. He does this at times in On the Gift of Perseverance. This made me more keen on seeing him as trying to uphold both whilst placing a primacy on Grace.

I'll not go into the scholastics and their thought as I am not too familiar with them although I do know well enough that the vocab of predestination is actually quite at home with them
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Offline Rohzek

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Re: St Augustine on Predestination and Free Will
« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2016, 05:36:53 PM »
If I might add, another good author to read on the subject of Augustine's conception of grace and free will is the late Gerald Bonner, an excellent patristics scholar.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2016, 05:37:15 PM by Rohzek »
"Il ne faut imaginer Dieu ni trop bon, ni méchant. La justice est entre l'excès de la clémence et la cruauté, ainsi que les peines finies sont entre l'impunité et les peines éternelles." - Denise Diderot, Pensées philosophiques 1746

Offline sakura95

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Re: St Augustine on Predestination and Free Will
« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2016, 06:11:02 PM »
If I might add, another good author to read on the subject of Augustine's conception of grace and free will is the late Gerald Bonner, an excellent patristics scholar.

Thanks, I will keep this in mind.
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Offline scamandrius

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Re: St Augustine on Predestination and Free Will
« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2016, 10:53:28 PM »
My guess, and I need to stress "guess", is that St. Augustine theological works were mostly reactionary to some of the issues he faced, and that his thoughts were yet to be formulated or refined properly.  This is why you get both Catholics and Calvinists who use the same writings and come to different interpretations.  St. Augustine was a man who didn't have all the Greek fathers available to him, so he had to in a sense be a synthesizer of ancient traditions in Latin starting from scratch.  The end result is worthy effort with great works that deserve to be read, but with holes and cracks in between that need to either be filled or removed from Orthodox thought in general.  That has been my experience thus far in discussions regarding St. Augustine from an Eastern perspective.

Keep in mind also that Augustine was also at the end of his life involved in editing his collected works in what is known as his Retractations (or sometimes called Retractions) affirming what was correct and making changes that were needed.  He died watching the Vandals attacking Hippo Regius so he never completed it. We can only speculate as to how much more in line with Orthodox thought on these subjects had he lived a little longer. 

For whatever is lacking with regards to free will, grace, predestination, those omissions or errors should not be at the expense of his other contributions.  THough Calvin and Luther both quote Augustine affectionately, there is much in Augustine that even he would never have supported what they were doing.  And the bias against Augustine in the Orthodox faith has been lead by Fr. John Romanides (RIP) and Rev. Dr. MIchael Azkoul and their respective disciples.

I would recommend to the OP that you read Fr. Seraphim Rose's The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church.
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Offline Rohzek

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Re: St Augustine on Predestination and Free Will
« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2016, 02:05:53 PM »
I'm a pretty staunch defender of Augustine myself. However, I think it should be noted that his Retractions is more often than not, anything but a retraction. In most cases, particularly his dogma on grace and free will, he doubled down on.
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Offline scamandrius

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Re: St Augustine on Predestination and Free Will
« Reply #9 on: December 20, 2016, 02:43:39 PM »
I'm a pretty staunch defender of Augustine myself. However, I think it should be noted that his Retractions is more often than not, anything but a retraction. In most cases, particularly his dogma on grace and free will, he doubled down on.

The Latin title is Retractationes which transliterates to a retractation, a re-tracing, if you will.  He was going over his entire corpus, spelling out what was good and not-so-good.  He didn't complete it.  Again, who knows what would have been the final product had he lived a little longer?
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