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Providence, free will and the virtues

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#1 Stephen Griffith

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 02:39 PM

According to what I have heard, Orthodox theology understands the virtues as energies of God that are given to us by God and not our own. However it seems that it could be concluded from this that if someone does not possess certain virtues, especially fundamental ones such as faith it is because God has chosen not to give them to them, while those who do posses the virtues do so because God has given them to them. Thus it seems to suggest that God has determined the people’s lives and their outcomes which result from the way they live them and seems to abolish any notion of free will. I’m sure I’m greatly misunderstanding something somewhere since I also know that human free will is another tenet of Orthodox theology. If anyone can please help me to understand how God’s providence and human free will work together in Orthodox theology. Any quotes from the Fathers on this subject would be really helpful.
In Christ

#2 Dora Spyros

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 04:54 PM

In "On Commandments and Doctrines", St Gregory of Sinai provides the following guidance:

83. The principle and source of the virtues is a good disposition of the will, that is to say, an aspiration for goodness and beauty. God is the source and ground of all supernal goodness. Thus the principle of goodness and beauty is faith or, rather, it is Christ, the rock of faith, who is the principle and foundation of all the virtues. On this rock we stand and on this foundation we build every good thing (cf. 1 Cor 3:11). Christ is the capstone (cf. Eph 2:20) uniting us with Himself...

86. The pursuit of the virtues through one's own efforts does not confer complete strength on the soul unless grace transforms them into an essential inner disposition. Each virtue is endowed with its own specific gift of grace, its own particular energy, and thus possesses the capacity to produce such a disposition and blessed state in those who attain it even when they have not consciously sought for any such state. ...For just as a living soul activates the body's members, so the grace of the Holy Spirit activates the virtues. Without such grace the whole bevy of the virtues is moribund; and in those who appear to have attained them, or to be in the way of attaining them, solely through their own efforts they are but shadows and prefigurations of beauty, not the reality itself.

88. Among the virtues some are practical, others are natural, and others are divine and conferred by the Holy Spirit. The practical virtues are the products of our resolution, the natural virtues are built into us when we were created, the divine virtues are the fruits of grace.

89. Just as the virtues are begotten in the soul, so are the passions. But the virtues are begotten in accordance with nature, the passions in a mode contrary to nature. For what produces good or evil in the soul is the will's bias: whichever way it inclines, so it will determine the consequences. For our inner disposition is capable of operating in one way or another, since it bears within itself both virtue and vice, the first as its natural birthright, the second as a result of the self-incurred proclivity of our moral will.

#3 Owen Jones

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Posted 13 August 2010 - 02:49 PM

St. Gregory makes some very helpful distinctions, but I would add that there is always a paradoxical relationship between Grace and free will, and we should not try to overcome that paradox by seeking absolute distinctions. Part of faith is accepting the paradoxic nature of reality.

#4 Mikhail Kolitwenzew

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Posted 13 August 2010 - 08:01 PM

I have a Christian commentary program on my CPU, which allows me to look up keywords from all the Fathers.

Here are some reguarding free-will.

Romans. 9:21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

. AUGUSTINE: If this lump of clay were of such indifferent value that it deserved nothing good any more than it deserved anything evil, there would be reason to see injustice in making of it a vessel unto dishonor. But when through the free will of the first man alone, condemnation extended to the whole lump of clay, it is undoubtedly true that if vessels are made of it unto honor, it is a question not of justice not forestalling grace, but of God’s mercy. If however, vessels are made of it unto dishonor, this is to be attributed to God’s justice, not to his injustice—a concept which can hardly exist with God! LETTER 186.70

1Cor. 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

NOT BY STRENGTH OF FREE WILL. AUGUSTINE: Why is this written if we are now so endowed that by the strength of our free will we are able to overcome all temptations merely by bearing them? LETTER 179, TO BISHOP JOHN.20

Phil. 1:29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;

THE GIFT WHOLLY OF GOD BUT NOT DENYING FREE WILL. CHRYSOSTOM: He speaks of the gift of faith as if it were already granted. It is not given unilaterally from God but in a way that we can take a share in it. Even here the greater part of the share comes from God. But this gift is not given in such a way as to circumvent or overcome free will. Rather it is given to make us humble and rightly disposed. HOMILY ON PHILIPPIANS

Phil. 2:13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

FREE WILL NOT UNDERMINED. AUGUSTINE: We should not suppose, because he said, “For it is God that works in you both the willing and the doing,” that he has taken away free will. For if that were so he would not have said above “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” For when he bids them work, it is agreed that they have free will. But they are to work with fear and trembling so that they will not, by attributing the good working to themselves, be elated by the good works as though they were their own. ON GRACE AND FREE WILL 21.7

Philem. 14 But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.

Be wary when reading anything of this one:

FREE WILL A REALITY. ORIGEN: God does not tyrannize but rules, and when he rules, he does not coerce but encourages and he wishes that those under him yield themselves willingly to his direction so that the good of someone may [NT IX p. 315] not be according to compulsion but according to his free will. This is what Paul with understanding was saying to Philemon in the letter to Philemon concerning Onesimus: “So that your good be not according to compulsion but according to free will.” Thus, the God of the universe hypothetically might have produced a supposed good in us so that we would give alms from “compulsion” and we would be temperate from “compulsion,” but he has not wished to do so. HOMILIES ON JEREMIAH 20.2.17

#5 Mikhail Kolitwenzew

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Posted 13 August 2010 - 08:11 PM

Gen. 12:19 Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.

. CHRYSOSTOM: What imagination could adequately conceive amazement at these events? What tongue could manage to express this amazement? A woman dazzling in her beauty is closeted with an Egyptian partner, who is king and tyrant, of such frenzy and incontinent disposition, and yet she leaves his presence untouched, with her peerless chastity intact. Such, you see, God’s providence always is, marvelous and surprising. Whenever things are given up as hopeless by human beings, then he personally gives evidence of his invincible power in every circumstance. HOMILIES ON GENESIS 32.22.3
Gen. 13:2 And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.
. CHRYSOSTOM: Let us not rush idly by this reading but rather recognize clearly the precision of sacred Scripture in recounting nothing to us as of no importance. “Now Abram was very rich,” the text says. Consider first of all this very fact that its habit had been to convey nothing idly or to no purpose. In this case is it not without reason that [the text] calls him rich. Nowhere else had it made mention of his being rich—this was the first time. Why, and to what purpose? For you to learn the inventiveness of God’s wisdom and providence displayed in favor of the great man, as well as his boundless and extraordinary power. The man who had gone into exile in Egypt under the pressure of famine, unable to sustain the privations of Canaan, suddenly became rich—and not just rich but very rich, not only in cattle but also in silver and gold. Do you not see the extent of God’s providence? Abraham left to find relief from famine and came back not simply enjoying relief from famine but invested with great wealth and untold reputation, his identity well known to everyone. Now the inhabitants of Canaan gained a more precise idea of the good man’s virtue by seeing this sudden transformation that had taken place—the stranger who had gone down into Egypt as a refugee and vagabond now flush with so much wealth. HOMILIES ON GENESIS 33.4–5.6

Gen. 46:27 And the sons of Joseph, which were born him in Egypt, were two souls: all the souls of the house of Jacob, which came into Egypt, were threescore and ten.

BE AMAZED AT GOD’S PROVIDENCE. CHRYSOSTOM: Why did sacred Scripture indicate the number to us precisely? So that we might be in a position to know how God’s prediction took effect that said, “I will make you into a great nation there.” You see, from those seventy-five persons the people of Israel grew into six hundred thousand. You notice how it was not idly or to no purpose that it taught us the number of those that went down to Egypt, but for us to know from how few that great number came and not to lose confidence in God’s promises. I mean, when you consider that after the death of Jacob and Joseph the king of the Egyptians went to such lengths to reduce their numbers and prevent them from growing, be amazed and overcome at God’s providence and the fact that his wishes can never fail, no matter how many people try their utmost. HOMILIES ON GENESIS 65.7.11

Ex. 1:21 And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.
Ex. 1:22 And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.

EPHREM THE SYRIAN: Just as Pharaoh was drowned in those very waters in which he had drowned the infants, so too David removed Goliath’s head with that very sword with which he had destroyed many.12 Moses divided the waters through the symbol of the cross,13 while David laid Goliath low through the symbol of the stone. Our Lord condemned Satan by the word of his mouth when the latter was tempting him. Pharaoh was drowned by the waters with which he had drowned [others]. COMMENTARY ON TATIAN’S DIATESSARON 12.14

GOD’S PROVIDENCE. CHRYSOSTOM: And that you may learn this—Pharaoh commanded the infants to be cast into the river. Unless the infants had been cast forth, Moses would not have been saved, he would not have been brought up in the palace. When he was safe, he was not in honor; when he was exposed, then he was in honor. But God did this to show his riches of resource and contrivance. HOMILIES ON ACTS 54, AT ACTS 20:17.15

DIVINE PROVIDENCE. THEODORET OF CYR: There are people who get quite upset at the sight of wrongdoers prospering. Some have doubts as to whether the God of all takes an interest in human beings; others have faith in the talk about providence but are at a loss to explain why God conducts things in this fashion. The remarkable prophet Habakkuk adopted the attitude of the latter, putting the question as though anxious in his own case to learn the reason for what happens and supplying the solution, which the grace of the Spirit provided. He did not, in fact, as some commentators believed, suffer from this complaint; rather, he presents the view of the others and supplies instruction on the questions raised. COMMENTARY ON HABAKKUK, INTRODUCTION.1

Matt. 6:27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
Matt. 6:28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
Matt. 6:29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Matt. 6:30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

GOD’S PROVIDENCE AND OUR ANXIETIES. CHRYSOSTOM: Do you see how Jesus clarifies what has been obscure by comparing it to what is self-evident? Can you add one cubit, or even the slightest measure, to your bodily life span by worrying about it? Can you by being anxious about food add moments to your life? Hence it is clear that it is not our diligence but [NT Ia p. 145] the providence of God, even where we seem to be active, that finally accompanies everything. In the light of God’s providence, none of our cares, anxieties, toils or any other such things will ever come to anything, but all will utterly pass away. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 21.3.12

Luke 12:4 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
Luke 12:5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.
Luke 12:6 Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?
Luke 12:7 But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

COMFORT FOR THOSE WHO DOUBT GOD’S PROVIDENCE IN CHRIST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA: To bestow yet another means of comfort on our minds, he forcibly added that five sparrows are scarcely perhaps worth a penny, and yet God does not forget even one of them. He also said that the separate hairs of your head are all numbered. Consider how great care he takes of those that love him. The Preserver of the universe extends his aid to things so worthless and descends to the smallest animals. How can he forget those who love him, especially when he takes so great care of them? He condescends to visit them, to know exactly each particular of their state, and even how many are the hairs of their heads….
Let us not doubt that with a rich hand he will give his grace to those who love him. He will not permit us to fall into temptation. If, by his wise purpose he permits us to be taken in the snare in order that we may gain glory by suffering, he will [NT III p. 205] most assuredly grant us the power to bear it. COMMENTARY ON LUKE, HOMILY 87.11

#6 Nicolo Salerno

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 11:45 PM

Issac the Syrian Hyp XXII 9-11 Evergetinos
"For God has commanded all other men to manage their own affairs with discretion and to combine with His Providence the knowledge that they received from Him.
10. However, he who has dedicated his whole life to God, and whose sole concern it is to please Him, has no need to administer his affairs with this kind of knowledge; for in place of this, he posesses faith, whereby he cast down "every high thing that exaulteth itself against the knowledge of God" (2 corinth 10:5) and does not accept human, or natural thoughts, since he has transcended nature and cleaved to God thru the unhesitating and steadfast faith thru which he boldly undertake everything, not as tempting the Lord, but as being confident in Him and being armed with the invincible power of the Spirit.
11. About such a man God will surley say "I am with him in aflliction, and I will deliver him and glorify him. I will satidfy him with length of days, and show him my salvation. Ps 90: 15-16 peace,--nicolo

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