The Love and Hate of God in Romans 9

[This was originally posted on Lux Christi.]

At last recovered from fishing (but more on that later). At last to some thoughts on Romans 9. One of my former Calvinist mentors once opined that most people had little problem understanding why God hated Esau: what the real conundrum was, was why did He love Jacob? For Orthodox, of course, this is a false alternative, for Romans 9, the passage in which St. Paul cites Malachi about loving Jacob and hating Esau, is not about individuals, but the divine providence in preserving the godly seed. As an aside, in beginning to think about this, I would commend St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on Romans. Calvin unhappily cited St. John’s teachings on this subject: “Moreover although the Greeks more than others, and among these especially Chrysostom, have exceeded decorum in extolling the powers of the human will, nonetheless, all the fathers, with the exception of Augustine, in this matter are so wayward, vacillating, and confused, that nothing clear  can be had from their writings (Porro tametsi Graeci prae aliis, atque inter eos singulariter Chrysostomus, in extollenda humanae voluntatis facultate modum excesserunt, veteres tamen omnes, excepto Augustino, sic in hac re aut variant, aut vacillant, aut perplexe loquuntur, ut certi fere nihil ex eorum scriptis referre liceat Institutes, 2..2.4). While an opportunity to comment again about what it says when one can so easily dismiss the universal testimony of the Fathers, it is instructive to see that even Calvin was willing to admit that St. Augustine alone spoke for his own views (and I think St. Augustine would take umbrage at how Calvin used them).

In regard to Romans 9, there are three things on should note: the matter of the love of God, the question of Providence in working out Salvation, and lastly, what is specifically meant by “predestination.” First, the matter of God’s love and God’s opprobrium. God’s love, as everyone will confess, is eternal, for after all, God is love. But His hatred is not, not unless, that is, you have fallen into what has been termed the Origenistic problematic. Origen, the brilliant second/third-century father was influenced by middle-Platonism, and was a contemporary of the founder of NeoPlatonism, Plotinus. He and Plotinus had the same teacher in Alexandria, Ammonius Saccas. The starting point for both Origen and Plotinus was the ineffable singular unity of God (for Plotinus, “The One,” in Greek, to hen, which is neuter in form). For Origen, the eternality and unity of God was primary, and all that God was, he was eternally. Thus He was both Eternally Father with the eternally-begotten Son. (He was the first theologian to use the term “the eternal generation of the Son.”) But this comes at a cost: if God is creator, He is eternally so, and creation becomes eternal. Origen, moreover, was hard pressed to distinguish the eternal act of creation from the eternal act of begetting, for were we to begin with the unity of God, how can we distinguish acts (though Origen did seek to do so). In respect to the love of God, it would seem, hate becomes systemic of the divine nature as well. Origen reasoned that for God to be all-powerful, there must be something against which his power stood; for him to be infinite, His infinity must be opposed to finitude. We can see in this a dialectic of opposition, which would then entail that his love, while having an eternal object of love (and for Christians love is an energy within the Trinity and ultimately among us creatures), this same must be true of his hate. Origen really doesn’t comment on this, and later theologians have seen that God’s hate is but the disposition of God toward that which is not of Him, namely, sin. (Origen’s thoughts on all of this is in his On first principles.)

But Origen’s theology in these matters was condemned by the Church. God’s hate, such as it is, is not eternal (and neither is creation), but a response of his justice and love toward the corruption of His creation. This can be seen at the beginning of Dante’s Divine Comedy, for when Dante enters Hell he reads “eternal love created me.” Thus the love and hate of Jacob and Esau cannot be linked to the eternal purposes of God, in that the hate of God, like God’s creation, are acts of God in His relationship to time. This point was brought home to me by Fr. Aidan Nichols, a Dominican friar in Cambridge, in a conversation we had about the uncreated love of God within the saints, and what constituted freewill in heaven. I shall return to this, but first must note that the love of God, then, as an eternal energy of God, is not the opposite or corollary of God’s hate, the one part of the two decrees, what the Reformers dubbed gemina predestinatio, with the hate of God being the other. It is not some cosmic balancing act, as St. Augustine spoke of in his On Free Choice of the Will, in which God offsets the blessed and the damned by some cosmic scale to bring equilibrium to the universe. What the love of God is, is one of the myriad logoi of God’s existence, eternal, flowing from God and around God, and properly, like God’s glory, a consequence or creature of God, but not the divine essence. This love and into this glory constitute the goals, ends, and telos of the Christian, and properly said, of every creature of God. More anon.

Thus we come to the second point, the question of God’s providence. For the Orthodox God does not do violence to his creatures. The Reformed will maintain this as well, but still must assert that it is God that changes the will, and God that moves us from beginning to end. Providence, for the Reformed, is God’s active ordering of the world, part of God’s eternal decree by which He brings to pass all He has decreed. For the Orthodox, this is not the case. The Blessed Mother of God could have said “No.” (Most Holy Theotokos save us!) What Providence is, is God’s moving, calling, wooing, confronting, and ordering the world to effect salvation. God does have a way of being persistent (ask Jonah), and about making our lives miserable until we obey, and using His gifts in us to his own purposes (see Baalam). God uses people’s own ambitions and desires for His purposes (He will cause the wrath of man to praise Him), and we see in the case of Pharaoh that God ultimately moved Pharaoh’s heart in order to teach him a lesson. If we really want to resist God, He will grant us our request. This is why, as C. S. Lewis wrote, the gates of Hell are locked, from the inside. When we look at Romans 9 we see the working out of God’s purposes for “Israel.” And what Israel is, is not a clearly precise thing, as it is not those of the physical seed of Abraham, for not Ishmael but Isaac is the seed. That God is watching over Israel, waiting for the fullness of Israel (both Jew and Gentile Israel) is the thrust of Romans 9-11. But I must pause over those few verses, 9: 20-23, about the vessels of honor and dishonor, wrath and mercy, for here we have what seems a clear statement that what is being said is about individuals.

And this brings me to my third point, and back as well to Fr. Aidan Nichols. Fr. Aidan, who as noted is a Dominican (and someone whose writings I highly recommend Papist though he be), like St. Thomas Aquinas, sees God as the highest good, the summum bonum, of all (and we would not dissent). But when this is pushed, it robs the Saints in light of any real freewill, for they would have no choice in heaven but the one Good, namely God. I was quite pleased, therefore, in pressing this point that Fr. Aidan said he would not hold to that for in the eschaton the Saints would also have each other, and thus a multiplicity of choices.  Thus, God’s intentions for mankind, His preordained goals and ends for us, His predestinations, inform us about what St. Paul is asserting in Romans 9: God’s love for Israel (and they are not all Israel who are of Israel) was worked out in spite of Pharaoh, and in spite of Edom (the hated Jacob), the vessels of wrath “adjusted to destruction” that he might show His mercy on the vessels of mercy “purposed for glory.”  St. Paul, I should point out, used two different words about how the respective vessels came to their ends. The ones’ ends were reached by an adjustment or a reordering; the other came to their proper end having fulfilled their purpose. What we have in 9:20-23 is not a double predestination, but an affirmation that God has ordered the world to a particular goal, but one which because of the freewill of the creature is not now for everyone. Hell was not something created for the damned, but is instead a place they shall take up with the first rebels against God’s order, namely the Devil and his angels. Thus the vessels of wrath are reordered into the nonorder of death. Each creature, each person, has their own proper logos of existence, and like the other logoi around God constitute the arena of our activity, the ends of our wills ordered to the good. Thus, I concur with Fr. Aidan that we are ordered to the Saints in the age to come, but also ordered to all the words of God.

What clinches this reading, at least for me, comes in the next verse (24): “Even us whom He has called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” These are the Israel not of Israel, the Gentiles who have fulfilled the righteous purposes (dare we say, predestinations) of the law. The purposes of God in showing mercy as He wills, and in enduring those who seek His wrath, is that He might fulfill His purposes among the Gentiles, that is, in the Church. The Church is the great mystery, prefigured in the garden in Adam and Eve, hidden but still present to the prophets, and now at last made known in God’s good time as fulfilling Israel’s purpose as a light to the nations.

There is a great deal to be said about the question of predestination, and there are many places on the web one may look to, to find this, including here, and here, and a very long explanation here, which is not wholly orthodox, but a good reading of the text.

After going back and forth about this, I have decided to go with these thoughts. I am sure they won’t please everyone, but I await your thoughts on this matter.


  1. I think this understanding of Romans 9 with the use of individuals as symbols can be backed up by Galatians 4

    21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic.

    You have to give the Calvinists some credit, they at least got irresistible grace, predestination, and the lack of freewill right when it comes to the resurrection 🙂


  2. For myself, I see that Romans 9 is all about freedom. How? Because it is about God’s freedom. God is not a force or power or robot who responds automatically according to particular input. Rather He is a free being and bound by no necessity, including our good or bad works. He has mercy on whom He wills not according to some law of necessity of whom deserves mercy. We cannot demand from Him our salvation such as earning it by good works. If we are to think this way we deny God’s freedom. God’s freedom though does not override our freedom rather is affirms our freedom because we are created in His image and free as He is free. His freedom does not deny our freedom. Our existence is a relationship of freedom where we must accept and respect God’s freedom as our Creator and He respects our freedom as being in His image. However, God’s freedom comes first because our freedom is His freedom owned for ourselves.


  3. “God’s hate, such as it is, is not eternal (and neither is creation)”

    “…the hate of God, like God’s creation, are acts of God in His relationship to time.”

    Do you suggest that God’s hate is created and, if yes, wouldn’t that bring us to the papist idea of a created hell and of purgatory?


  4. Surely we must not consider that hatred is a positive energy/operation of God, who is love. Rather one may be better to see the hatred of God in terms of His purity and unity in love. That is those things that are opposed to who God is are not capable of participating in God and so separated and rejected by God. In this manner they are “hated” by God as being contrary to Him. It is expressed in human terms as “hatred” to show the depth of how much they are contrary to God. It is about who God is an not an arbitrary preference or passion in God. As such, the potential for this type of hatred is eternally an aspect of who God is. Yet before sin there was nothing opposed to God and so no “hatred” of God. It’s temporal sense does not mean it is created but that only created things with free will, who can sin, can separate from who God is and thus incur the “hatred” of God.


  5. Fr Patrick

    Can you explain how Gods hate and wrath are related? I haven’t worked through this yet for myself, but it seems that I can replace hate for wrath in your explanation and it seems to fit.


  6. Androgen, I haven’t worked through this thoroughly either. I think that hate and wrath have distinct aspects of meaning, which I cannot define adequately here, but I think that wrath, and other such terms, should be seen in the context that I expressed above so that it works replacing hate with wrath as you did.


  7. There is a repulsive power in the mind of God, infinite in stregth, directed against evil, not persons, which shields the purity of His being from all manner of defilement and disgusting absurdities. This is what enables Him to intimately approach and infinitely love all beings, without being at all tainted or corrupted by them. Its overpowering presence crushes evil, and is unbearably painful to those whose minds, hearts, souls, and spirits are soaked in abominations. They inherently perceive it as a form of unspeakable torture and torment, as if one were to pull all your teeth out, or rip all your limbs apart, and tear your entire body to pieces, because of the fact that the fallen beings have identified themselves with evil, and are unable to let go of it, thus suffering together with it. This creates in their minds an illusion of wrath or hatred, because of falsely ascribing meanness to God, when in reality it’s sin itself that causes all this, whose sheer ugliness and utter darkness now becomes straight-forwardly apparent due to God’s light indwelling their beings. According to the Book of Enoch, and to the vision of Saint Niphon, Patriarch of Constantinople, this divine energy manifests itself through a certain Archangel, called Raguel, charged with “the punishment of the luminaries”. Muslims call him Maalik.


  8. Ioannis, not created, but the response of his righteousness in the face of sin, which is also “created” in the sense that it is our turning to non-being, to death.


  9. Could it be that God’s “hate” is, for lack of a better word…God being infinite and all.., His disposition towards something and His wrath the “action” He takes as a result of this “hate”? Sometimes active like the destruction of Sodom or passive as described in Romans where He gave them over to their sinful desires. Either way, the presence of God among the sinful and unrepentant that brings about their destruction or the abandoning by God of the sinful which leaves them w/ the horrible consequences of their sin are examples of His wrath. Does this sound right or am I off base?

    Secondly, I’m surprised that there has not been more reaction to this essay. I was expecting quite the slugfest.


  10. Apologies in advance for this tangential request:

    Is Perry or Cyril going to write a blog post about Metropolitian Jonah’s resignation in the OCA?

    Something seems awry here and perhaps the writers of the Energetic Procession can shed some light here.


  11. write a blog post about Metropolitian Jonah’s resignation in the OCA


    The hour of his birth, rise to power, fall from power, and death have all been predestined from before the beginning of all time by the almighty sovereignity of God, according to His unfathomable and inscrutable grace, not by works, that no man shall boast, for it is He and He alone Who will have mercy unto whomever He will have mercy. Sola Gratia! Soli Deo Gloria! Amen. +


  12. TU…&D, I have been away. I only know rumors, and have but my own suspicions. I would suggest going to Monomakhos website and you will get an ear full.

    Lvka, why the cynicism?


  13. I understand the variance in interpretation regarding Romans 9. My question: do the fathers deal with any kind of randomness objection to free will. That is, if my choices are not determined by a particular nature or motivation, then they are random, which would undermine moral responsibility just as determinism.

    If our choices are caused by a particular nature or motivation, making them part of a cause and effect chain, then it seems they are determined by that nature. Then we could only choose other than our choice is our nature had been different. And God would have to change that nature by grace.

    Orthodox synergy still implies that there was an original motivation to cooperate with God, a choice caused by a motivation we did not cause. If we caused our motivations, that would mean were motivated to cause our motivation with would end in an infinite series.

    It seems that Orthodox imply libertarian free will, and I guess i’m asking whether there are any good Orthodox arguments for holding to that. OR does is a combatalist version of free will compatiable with Orthodoxy? And if so, how does that not lead back to salvation as a total act of God and irresistabe grace?
    forgive my spelling mistakes.


  14. David, thanks for pointing Ryan to Perry’s article. Ryan, as to your question on motivation. St. Maximus makes clear in his Disputation with Pyrrhus, that what is natural is not constrained. Natures are free, The motive in us is in us naturally, for we were created ordered to God, but it is an end we must freely embrace. We are free to choose death, and many do. Freedom is a corollary to, though I would not say a consequence of, the logos of our nature.


  15. I found the link helpful. Thanks. Cyril, I think my question still holds. If the motivation in us is natural and ordered to the good, then why do some choose “death.” They must have had some inclination towards evil. If its simply because they are “weak” and have not obtained righteousness, then why do some choose to practice towards righteousness while others do not. Are some created stronger than others? If its simply random who chooses the good and who does not, then how can a random process be held responsible for its choice? I’m just trying to understand the concept and see how it holds together. I really want libertarian freedom to be true but i’m having trouble justifying it to myself.


  16. Ryan,

    Here is how I see things.

    God is free from any exterior or interior compulsion and we being in His image must share such a freedom. This is not randomness because the freedom can be exercised according to reason or to instinct or to passions but none of these things in itself is able to force one to act in a particular manner. The person is free to be random not by randomness affecting the choice but the person’s freedom itself allows a “random” decision. The decision is that of the person not randomness nor any other ground for a decision even if it appears random or controlled. Hence, they are accountable for the decision. God cannot provide any factor that prevents the decision from acting contrary to reason or instinct or good because such would destroy the freedom. He can provide motivation, reasons, instincts, inclinations to good but these cannot be determinative of the decision unless the person freely accepts to heed these things.

    We are also not omniscient, so we do not know everything. All our decisions are based on this incomplete knowledge and our inabilities to know what we don’t know and to understand completely what we do know. So we must decide and act in faith regarding the knowledge that we have. This faith is not forced by the situation but a free choice of the person deciding what to believe. All interior motivations, inclinations are also subject to being accepted/rejected in faith. So, some people will act one way and others in another on the same information depending on their free faith regarding the information.

    We do not need to be inclined to evil to choose the wrong thing. Created matter being created and there is open to being the focus of attention of a person rather than the Creator. Creation is more immediate to our senses and so draws our attention more immediately than the Creator hence the predominance of those living to creation as an end in itself. The only way to completely avoid this is either to remove creation or to so unite creation with the Creator and each person with the Creator that the Creator is seen in creation by each creature by means of the Creator. That is theosis in the context of the new heaven and earth. Avoidance is also possible through heeding revelation from the Creator and progressing to theosis in a free act of faith by grace, that is by the Creator.

    Only by the grace of God, that is by the Creator, can we live righteousness as He lives it. This is effected by free exercise of faith, without which it is impossible to “please God”. God cannot create us in the condition of God else we would be the only-begotten Son and not unique persons in ourselves. So, we must start in a position of being limited by our creation and so needing to live in faith and grace. God cannot completely limit/control our freedom without denying His image in us and our potential for theosis. That is He cannot in even one aspect make us always choose good. Even though He may at some times prevent us from acting contrary to good this is not always the case and He will permit our freedom to evil in other times to respect His image within us. That some people are more protected than others is not that God makes them better or worse nor loves them more or less but may be a result of His own freedom because neither can we force Him to give Himself to us. However, to he who is given more, more is expected.


  17. Ryan, here’s my .002 cents. It seems that you want to remove the person in question out of the equation. That there must by some other “force” outside of the person that is the source of their particular actions. Why would God create a being that cannot perform a particular action unless they are made to do so by something other than the person themselves? Doesn’t this reduce humanity to something less than real beings that can make real choices? Is God not big enough to create free persons?

    You said:
    “If its simply random who chooses the good and who does not, then how can a random process be held responsible for its choice?”

    Again, to me, it’s not random. It is a choice that the individual made for any combination of reasons. That’s one of the things that make persons truly individuals. I would also suggest that to have some “force” outside of that person or some alien “force” w/in that person causing the choices would be reason that that particular person is not responsible for some act that they were only doing that which they by necessity must do.

    I hope I haven’t misread you…I can have abundant talent for doing that.


  18. Hi all,

    I’ve seen this Origenistic accusation with respect to Calvinist predestination repeated on this list several times. Though I haven’t read everything that’s been posted, has anyone dealt with the fact that Origen EXPLICITLY condemned a Calvinist (to be anachronistic) interpretation of Romans 9; something apparently popular among the laity in his congregation?

    Not only that, he didn’t go to scripture to refute them (as has been done, in part at least, above), he employed his Platonism IN DEFENCE of the current Orthodox understanding AND AGAINST a “Calvinistic” predestinarian understanding.



  19. Ryan,

    “That is, if my choices are not determined by a particular nature or motivation, then they are random, which would undermine moral responsibility just as determinism”

    Actually, the opposite is true. If your personal choice is determined by your nature, then there is no reason why you made a specific choice because your nature does not reason. In other words, since natures do not think or reason, you would then have an unthinking, unreasonable and therefore random cause for your choice.

    Freewill is a power rooted in nature and it is the person that uniquely employes that power towards objects of choice. Natures do not think, wish, inquire, examine, deliberate, judge, or choose, only persons do.

    I do think motivation does determine our choices if you define motivation as the natural appetitive power towards the good. In other words, our nature “offers up” to us objects of choice and motivates us towards them, yet this divine pre-determination cannot not oppose nor eliminate our natural power of freewill.


  20. Jim, I for one, am not understanding what you’re getting at and would be interested in you fleshing out your point. Do you have ana online source for what you say Origen wrote?


  21. I am horrible at reviewing. Anyway, I meant to say that this divine pre-determination cannot oppose instead of cannot not oppose.


  22. Hi David,

    De Principiis, Book III, First section. Some things to note,
    1) Origen is NO fan of “Calvinist” conceptions of predestination – which he describes fairly accurately.
    2) He makes a note in passing about “those that hold this view” and how this reading can “trouble the masses” (not exact quotes).
    3) His answer (other than repeated statements of incredulity balanced by liberal doses of verses that in his mind teach the opposite) weaves in his conception of human pre-existence, which is where our merrit (or demerrit, as it were) is acheived. In this section there is only a passing reference to it when he talks about the “source of variability (quote a Platonic concern)” because he fleched it out in more depth in the previous book. Pay particular attention to Book II, ch IX, p 6 and 7.



  23. Jim, sorry to be so dim but I’m still not understanding what you’re getting at…your point in bringing Origen into the discussion. I’m not trying to be argumentative just trying to get on board w/ what you’re trying to get across.


  24. David,

    No problem. I didn’t think you were being argumentative.

    A recurring theme in posts on this forum is how Platonism is at the core of Calvinist views of predestination. Frequently (as in the 2nd paragraph in the above post) Origen is named as one of the early causes for this position.

    Now, I don’t read all of the posts here. I pop in from time to time. So I asked (honest question) if anyone dealt with the fact that Origen’s Platonism seemed to lead him to the same conclustion about Calvinistic views of predestination that the Orthodox currently hold – odd if he’s the root of the problem.

    That’s all. Nothing tricky.



  25. Ah, OK, now I get’cha. Having said that I will let others wiser than myself (which would be anyone according to my mother-in-law) deal w/ the issue you raise…I’ll be interested in how they respond.


  26. This is mostly boilerplate rhetoric about those jerky Calvinists, but the irony is that Orthodox who follow Maximus must equally reckon with divine determinism — no less so than their monergist bete noir. Why? Because in Maximus’s thought, insofar as free will is the ‘self-chosen impulse and movement of reason to one thing or another’, it is a postlapsarian product of corruption which must ultimately be overthrown and substituted with a natural will which functions as a one-way channel of human action such that choosing anything other than God would be impossible. Whereas Calvin openly and honestly denied free will, Maximus affirms it only to denigrate it. Moreover, salvation in Maximus is completely impersonal — literally, because Maximus follows Aristotle in attributing activity to nature, rather than person, and so salvation appears as an historical determinism whereby personhood, as the free inclination or ‘tropos’ of human beings, is dissolved and human nature is brought into a universal process of movement towards the Logos. Calvin’s schema arguably did not go as far as to deny the importance of personhood.


  27. “A recurring theme in posts on this forum is how Platonism is at the core of Calvinist views of predestination. Frequently (as in the 2nd paragraph in the above post) Origen is named as one of the early causes for this position.”

    I never understood this. So we’re supposed to believe that the Byzantine church managed to eradicate Platonism in the region of its birth, only to have it spontaneously re-emerge hundreds of years later in Geneva? As if Origen and Platonism had left Orthodoxy completely untainted?


  28. Also, it seems that to assert that God does not eternally oppose finitude (or to anything at all) seems to imply universalism, does it not? If God’s hate or opposition to finitude is not eternal, then everyone and everything must eventually be reconciled at the end of history, the apokatastasis.


  29. Kevin W.

    “in Maximus’s thought,… free will…. is a postlapsarian product of corruption which must ultimately be… substituted with a natural will which functions as a one-way channel of human action such that choosing anything other than God would be impossible”

    What you wrote doesn’t make sense. It seems that you suggest that man was created by God without a natural will because, if he was made with one, the Fall would be impossible since, in your own words, for natural will choosing anything than God is impossible. But if man was made without a natural will then how was he able to eat from the forbidden tree? if what you wrote is correct then the Fall is a good thing because it brought liberty and free will to man. Of course Saint Maximus never wote or implied such absurdities.

    It is wrong to oppose natural will to free will because for Maximus natural will means free will because, for him, nothing natural is forced.


  30. ““nothing natural is forced” that is, nature does not mean necessity.”

    If this is true, one wonders what the definition of ‘nature’ is since it seems to bear no resemblance to what it did historically.


  31. Jim,

    According to Maximus, if nature means necessity then God who is by nature God, good and creator, becomes God, good and creator by necessity. And that’s a blasphemy because it means that there is someone who imposes the necessity on God. it’s a denial of God’s freedom.

    Read the beginning of his Disputation with Pyrrhus and see for yourself. There, Patriarch Pyhrrus was saying something similar to what Kevin W, wrote. For Pyrrhus, Maximus shouldn’t ascribe natural will to Christ because that would mean that Christ was bound to necessity.


  32. ” for Maximus natural will means free will because, for him, nothing natural is forced.”

    But Maximus is very clear that free inclination, i.e. the gnomic will, is a perversion of the natural will, which inclines only toward the good. According to Maximus, Christ did not deliberate or truly ‘choose’ anything — because his knowledge of good was perfect, he only had a natural will, meaning that he chose the good almost out of instinct, without any kind of doubt or deliberation. This same natural will is what will come to replace our gnomic will as we achieve theosis. There is no ‘personal salvation’. We are saved in spite of, or instead of, our personhood.

    If you think I’m misinterpreting Maximus, take it up with Anastasius of Sinai, who criticized him on this point: “However, Anastasios tells us one must be careful, theosis is the ascension toward what is better — it is neither a diminution nor an alteration of nature. In other words, by theosis man will not cease being man; he will simply become perfect man ” (from Tatakis’s Byzantine Philosophy).


  33. “it’s a denial of God’s freedom.”

    But Orthodox deny God’s freedom all the time, because they resist divine command theory. How many Orthodox could agree with Chrysostom that “It is not the nature of things but God’s judgment that makes things good or bad”? And if not, how is God ‘free’?


  34. free inclination, i.e. the gnomic will

    The two aren’t the same.

    without any kind of doubt or deliberation

    To know the truth, and to actually act on it are two different things. (We also know the truth, but don’t act on it).


  35. Kevin W,

    Not only Maximus but you misrepresent Tatakis and Anastasius of Sinai as well because the passage you cited neither is connected with nor is against to Maximus. Maximus does not believe that theosis means an alteration of nature.

    I do not know what the “divine command theory” is about. However, all Orthodox agree with John Chrysostom that the natures of things are not in conflict with God because the natures of things are made and determined by God.

    It is not a matter of replacement of what you think is our current will with a natural will because man never lost his natural will (the proof is in Christ who although he assumed the postlapsarian nature – of course without sin – and yet He possessed the human natural will). It is about cleansing ourselves of and throwing away whatever is unnatural in us so that only the nature will remain with its free will and all its natural virtues given by God. The choice for doing that or not is personal.

    Therefore salvation is both natural and personal. The whole human nature is saved by Christ but under two forms. Hell is one form of salvation and Heaven is another. Maximus never said that all men are going to go in Heaven..


  36. Ryan,

    Unfortunately, I am not seeing an argument with your randomness objection. How do we get from, they are undetermined, to, the are random? Second, what concept of randomness do you have in mind? If I am the sufficient cause of my choices, then they are not random since I caused them to occur.

    If my choices are caused by a chain of deterministic causes, then what it is about them that constitutes them as my choices other than the fact that like digestion the occur in me?

    The subjunctive gloss simply doesn’t work to cash out “could” statements as has been shown by Chisholm and Lehrer. (See Watson’ Oxford Readings volume, “Free Will.” Such a gloss fails to capture the necessary or sufficient conditions for could statements and most compatibilists working the field have admitted as much for some time.

    Implying an original motivation only works for you if you have first demonstrated that motivations are causes of things and deterministic causes to boot. God supplying us with natural dispositions or motivations doesn’t trace back to God in a deterministic way since those things are not deterministic causes of our actions.

    I’ve argued here for years that a soft determinist gloss on free will is not compatible with Orthodox Theology proper, Christology and anthropology.

    You ask, why some choose death but first we need to disambiguate the question. By “why” do we mean in terms of causal power or do we mean in terms of reasons for actions? Reasons are not causes so they could have reasons for choosing death, namely mistaking the way of acquiring some good with a good way of acquiring it or mistaking an apparent good for a real good. If that doesn’t do all the explanatory work in terms of reasons, it surely does a good amount of the heavy lifting or so it seems to me.

    And I do not think that the soft determinist gloss fairs better but in fact fares worse. How exactly does it help to say Joe chose death because God determined him to do so? How is the choice Joe’s? Being an effective conduit for the divine will doesn’t seem to place the responsibility at Joe’s feet but rather God’s. It then leaves us at the doorstep of the problem of evil since God has sufficient power and motive to eliminate evil. Either God lacks one of these and so the Christian view of God is false or there is no God or god has some morally sufficient reason for preferring a world with evil over a world that is perfect from the get-go and forever more. What is that morally sufficient reason? And furthermore, while God may not be obligated to save anyone of give anything beyond the goodness of being to creatures (even if that existence is pretty shitty) that is not the question. Rather the question, is such a God still good?

    If you are having trouble justifying LFW, the question that pops into my head would be, what have you read on it so far?


  37. Hi Perry,

    Reasons are not causes so they could have reasons for choosing death, namely mistaking the way of acquiring some good with a good way of acquiring it or mistaking an apparent good for a real good. If that doesn’t do all the explanatory work in terms of reasons, it surely does a good amount of the heavy lifting or so it seems to me.

    This may sound reasonable, however, neither internal reflection nor Biblical anthropology would lead me to believe it has any credibility when it comes to my day-to-day decision making. I’m not weiging the objective value of different “goods” (at least consciously). Typically I’m making selfish decisions based on what I “want” at the time. My “desire” drives my decisions. When I’m more reflective and making right decisions I consciously desire to please God. When I read the Bible it seems to make it plain what the condition of my heart is.

    … or god has some morally sufficient reason for preferring a world with evil over a world that is perfect from the get-go and forever more. What is that morally sufficient reason?

    Ask Joeseph, Pharaoh, the king of Assyria, the blind man, or Satan himself. I don’t see the conclusion of the typical theodicy – I see Rom 8 and Eph 1.


  38. Kevin,

    There is nothing deterministic in Maximus’ account of freedom. And he certainly doesn’t even seem to give an account of contrastive explanation, though he does teach that it is always within our power.

    Secondly, Maximus says that gnome existed prior to the fall and after it, so it is not a product of the fall. Even beyond this, Maximus thinks that free will, which is wider than gnome exists after the consummation, which indicates that it is not a product of the fall.

    The hypostatic employment of the will is not replaced by a non-hypostatic natural will in theosis for Maximus. Rather the personal use of the will is fixed in with the natural power of choice towards the Good. It is just that the Good is not simple and so libertarian freedom is still possible.

    Excluding evil as a way of using the natural power of willing would only amount to a “one way” solidification if free will essentially consisted of being able to choose between options of differing moral value and if the good was simple. But both of these Maximus denies. All that is required to meet the AP condition on LFW is that there be a plurality of options, not options of contrasting moral value.

    Consequently, your charge turns on a gross misreading of Maximus’ theology. Following Aristotle in some respects doesn’t imply following him in all respects. IN actual fact Maximus follows Aristotle in attributing the power of choice to nature. That of itself is hardly problematic, since he doesn’t think that the natural power of choice is fixed to this or that object. And that is exactly what you’d need to prove from Maximus’ writings. Tropos is how a person uses their natural power of choice or inclinations if you will, which is why sin is in the use of the will and not the will itself and why the one divine person uses two powers of willing. In short you’ve turned Maximus on his head with the nature determining the personal employment whereas Maximus has it the other way around.

    Since you have never understood the charge of Origenism with respect to Calvinism, let me sketch it for you. I am fully aware that Origen denied a predestinarian schema in terms of hypostatically determined will. What is Origenistic about the Reformed view is that it employs the same assumptions, but takes them in the opposite direction. If the Good is simple and freedom entails choosing between morally contrastive options, for Origen this means that full integration into the Good is impossible and so a cycle of falls becomes necessary to secure the identity and distinct existence of creatures by a sin just prior to full integration. If we go the other route, freedom must be paired down to a soft deterministic notion to make integration into the Good possible or at least subordination to the Good possible.

    As far as the history goes, no, I am not asking one to believe that the Church managed to eradicate Platonism in birth place only to have it spring up practically causeless in the the West during the Reformation. One never really eradicates ideas. Rather one usually ends up finding few defenders for it when the final breach occurs. More over, ideas tend to move with texts and Platonism as such we never dead and so there is no causeless sprining to account for. The Reformers were just as much products of their times as any group of men have been and this explains quite well the influence of philosophical ideas on them, namely in their inheritance of texts and how to read them. On has only to read them to see this is so. So quite the opposite absurdity seems to be put on the other foot here, how are you to explain the presence of philosophical content in their writings as if they wrote without any philosophical influence at all?

    Why would a lack of divine opposition to creation imply universalism? The potential for conformity to God does not of itself imply an actual conformity to God, does it? Where is the argument for that? Second, all things being conformable to God depends on what kinds of things they are doesn it, and so depends on whether such things have free will or not and whether such a freedom of the will or better the person is entailed as necessary conditions for such conformity, right? If so, then it seems perfectly possible for people to choose not to be saved and to fix their character in such a disposition. It is only Calvinistic and Universalistic systems that both think otherwise or so it seems to me.

    If God has hatred then it is not dependant on any created thing. Consequently whether all agents are reconciled to God or not qua persons doesn’t imply an apokatastasis qua person since God existed with it without creatures. If on the other hand, it is not eternal and relative to creatures, then it would only imply a universal restoration if such a hatred was relative to creaturedhood as such. But in order for that to be so, sin would have to be natural rather than personal and that is just what our position denies. Consequently, your objection goes through only on assuming a straw man view. As scripture indicates (as the older BCP’s used to cite in its Collects) God hates nothing he has made. (Ps 145:9, Wisdom 11:25)

    As for gnome, it is true that in some earlier writings gnome for Maximus is use din an unrefined sense and can me a postlapsarian mode of willing. But once the Monothelite controversy is well underway, Maximus refines this usage to mean even a pre-lapsarian use of the will and one that is consequently blameless. The gnomic will is therefore not a perversion of the natural will, but merely a specific kind of way of using the natural power of choice.

    And Maximus is sufficiently clear that choosing occurs in Christ without deliberation where such a deliberation would imply a lack of fixity in the Good. In this way Christ has no gnomic mode of willing because Christ does not have a beginning, that is, qua person using the natural powers of choice, he is a divine person and not a created person. This is what is so striking about Maximus account of the Passion narrative, Christ at one point actually chooses both options, to save his life and to go to the cross and both options are good.

    Your misreading of Maximus seems identical to that of Edward Moore, but perhaps I am wrong. In any case, both the primary texts and plenty of secondary literature I think bear out my reading here. What is more what ever Anastasius of Sinai says is only germane if his arguments are good and are firmly rooted in what Maximus says and means. I can’t see that they are.

    As for divine command theory, I can’t see why a denial of it amounts to a denial of divine freedom per se, since the former is a thesis not about divine freedom per se, but the relation of objects and their values or rather the kind of values possible for objects to have relative to the divine will. Denying DCt doesn’t deny that God has freedom in a libertarian sense per se. That is, Libertarianism doesn’t entail DCT relative to divine freedom. If you think it does, you’ll need to give us an argument for thinking so.

    As for your citation from Chrysostom, please give the location of the text. Second, that statement can be read in more than one way. St. John can be simply denying that evil is in the nature of things, but in how they are used. That is perfectly compatible with his over all realistic gloss of things.


  39. Jim,

    It seems your reply contradicts itself. We are supposed to dispense with biblical anthropology and internal reflection and then you proceed to give us an account of how your internal reflection works. To make your last point you give us examples of how biblical anthropology works.

    I suspect that part of the problem is that you are reading internal reflection too narrowly. If you notice I am not talking about internal reflection per se, but the metaphysics of action. This is why I separate out desires from causation and separate both of those from the cognitive conditions that play a role in actual choices, specifically bad ones.

    I am not clear on what you wish me to ask Joseph, Pharaoh and the lot. Do you take them to be cases of divine causal determinism or no?


  40. It seems your reply contradicts itself. We are supposed to dispense with biblical anthropology and internal reflection and then you proceed to give us an account of how your internal reflection works. To make your last point you give us examples of how biblical anthropology works.

    I’m not sure what you mean. I wasn’t arguing to dispense with internal reflection nor Biblical anthropology (at least I didn’t think I was – it’s been a long day though). Also, it was more of a simple observation than an argument. To sumarize, “Maybe you’re right – I don’t see it.” Although I’ll be adding your reference to my Amazon wish list (though, have a penchant for Plantinga I’m not sure Chisholm will be to my liking – that is, if you’re referring Roderick Chisholm).

    I am not clear on what you wish me to ask Joseph, Pharaoh and the lot. Do you take them to be cases of divine causal determinism or no?

    No. Given Theodicy was the context, these were only references to examples where God declares what the “morally sufficient reason” for a particular evil is. That purpose (at least in those cases) never references “free will” – the usual domain of exploration in theodicy.


  41. JIm,

    Does God in those cases give a morally sufficient reason for causing such sins to take place or does God give a morally sufficient reason for permitting them to take place?

    Second, is God indicating that his intentions match up with the specific agents or that his intentions use their to achive goals according to his intentions?

    The question in romans 9 is not about free will and predestination as such. The question is about how Jesus can be messiah when messiah would bring about the salvation of Israel and Jesus didn’t apparently do so. the relevat point of the examples is that electing to a purpose doesn’t garauntee the salvation of those so elected. Personal repentence is also required of them.


  42. Always a pleasure Perry. Thanks for the response.

    Does God in those cases give a morally sufficient reason for causing such sins to take place or does God give a morally sufficient reason for permitting them to take place?

    Exempting ‘instrumental’ cause – and while I know you’ll claim it’s Western Platonic confusion that confounds God’s energies and essence – in the case of God, your question indicates a distinction without a difference.

    Second, is God indicating that his intentions match up with the specific agents or that his intentions use their to achive goals according to his intentions?

    Uncontroversially and very explicitly, God indicates His intentions are NOT the intentons of the agents in question. But just a reminder, I was talking about LFW/theodicy as opposed to salvation.

    The question in romans 9 is not about free will and predestination as such …

    Yes, I believe Roman’s 9 can be read that way. Which is why I tend to look to other passages that deal with personal faith and repentence like John 6, Acts 13, 1Jo5, Eph1, Heb 12:2, Rom 8, Eph 2, Phil 1:29, 1 Co 12:3, Jo 15, Jo 17, Jo 12, 2 Co 7:8 just to name a few.



  43. Perry, my reading of Maximus is based mostly on Balthasar’s, not Farrell’s, so it may simply be that I’m relying an on inferior secondary source. But Balthasar more or less makes the same criticism of Maximus. It also seems that, in early Maximus there is no distinction between the natural will and the gnomic will — gnomes IS will, and is contrasted with nature (a dialectic of opposition, perhaps?). How to explain this passage from the Ambigua, for instance, except as soft determinism:

    “That which is in our power, our free will, through which the power of corruption entered into us, will surrender voluntarily to God and will have mastery of itself because it had been taught to refrain from willing anything other than what God wills.”

    Per your request, the quotation from Chrysostom is from his fourth homily against the Jews, and the full passage is as follows:

    “What is done in accordance with God’s will is the best of all things even if it seems to be bad. What is done contrary to God’s will and decree is the worst and most unlawful of all things-even if men judge that it is very good. Suppose someone slays another in accordance with God’s will. This slaying is better than any loving-kindness. Let someone spare another and show him great love and kindness against God’s decree. To spare the other’s life would be more unholy than any slaying. For it is God’s will and not the nature of things that makes the same actions good or bad.” (


  44. Perry, this may be tangential, but it seems that Maximus’s theology has anti-existential implications, which is why I was so surprised to learn that you are a fan of Kierkegaard. Tropos is after all the ‘mode of existence’, the ‘how’ of personhood (or even personhood itself), and is distinguished from logos, which is ontological and characterizes things at the level of being or nature, and these seem to map onto Kierkegaard’s distinction between the particular and the universal. It seems that for Maximus, deification is a matter of corresponding the tropos with the logos such that they are united toward the good; likewise, in Kierkegaard, the ethical duty of the individual is to unite the universal, or duty in general, with the particular, or personal duty. But when we come to Kierkegaard’s definition of faith as paradox, he says that the particular is higher than the universal, using the now-familiar example of Abraham and Isaac. So Kierkegaard would have to say that Maximus could not proceed beyond the ethical. Is there any way to synthesize Kierkegaard and Maximus, or do you only agree with K. up to a certain point?


  45. “I’m not weiging the objective value of different “goods” (at least consciously). Typically I’m making selfish decisions based on what I “want” at the time. My “desire” drives my decisions.”

    This seems correct to me as well. Form follows function, and unfortunately our reason did not evolve in order that we may sort through moral options and sift out the objectively good and rational from the grit of everyday life — this may be possible, but ultimately our reason came into being because it solved adaptive problems, not moral or philosophical ones, and so the default mode of thought for mankind is adaptive, regardless of any after-the-fact rationalizations. Morally bad actions are often adaptively good. This supports the doctrine of total depravity, including the depravity of human reason. I personally like to think of natural selection as the communication of postlapsarian depravity between created things — what could be a greater contrast to the Sermon on the Mount than the realities of human sexual selection as revealed by countless scientific studies, or in the novels of Michel Houellebecq and others?


  46. Chrisostom meant that intention and purpose are that which makes something either good or bad. Good and evil are not to be confused with pain and pleasure.


  47. Kevin,

    Fortunately my reading isn’t grounded primarily on Farrell, but in concert with Thunberg, Bathrellos, Daley, Blowers, Trononen and others. Daley in particular wrote a refutation of Balthsar’s reading which as far as I can tell has achieved consensus status. As far as I can tell, Balthasar’s reading has been roundly rejected by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant specialists in this area.

    As I noted already, the idea that Maximus thinks of the natural will and the gnomic will as the same is based on an early text where he gives an unrefined use of gnome. Once the Monoenergist controversy gets going, he never uses it to simply refer to willing or choosing.

    Second, reading him this way convicts him of a glaring mistake, namely not answering monothelitism and monoenergism. Without the distinction the entire refutation of monothelitism collapses.

    Third, it creates all kinds of problems theologically. If gnome is simply the will, then sin will always been possible just so long as humans are human and so either Christ’s human will is dominated by the divine will or Christ is not fully human and we are right back to square one.

    As for the citation you give, it doesn’t necessarily imply soft determinism. First because he doesn’t say that what God wills is a singular good and second there is no indication that surrendering the divine will implies the determination of the human will. This is in line with his saying it has “mastery of itself.”

    As for Chrysostom, that doesn’t seem like voluntarism to me. Rather he seems to be saying that conformity to the divine will completes an act as being good, which is why appearances to the contrary should not be taken as decisive. Such a voluntarism would be at odds with Chrysostom’s rather explicit realism about the virtues in other places.


  48. Kevin,

    I am a fan of Kiekegaard about certain things. I think he structures his thought along the Lutheran sin/grace dialectic, which is apparent in say “With Respect to God, we are always in the Wrong.” I this kind of positioning creation in a passive way relative to God’s activity reflects an impoverished and sub-Christian view of creation. In short, Kierkegaard is useful for diagnosing aesthetic nihilism and its psychology, but not so much for Christian theology.

    The problem for Kierkegaard relative to tropos is that his usage of it relative to Hegelian idealism is that sin and not tropic usage is the monkey wrench via deficient causation he uses to refute Hegelianism. This seems apparent to me in his Concept of Anxiety. So his problem is a fundamental Manicheanism that plagues Reformation thought rather than Maximus having any particular anti-existential implications.

    Maximus’ view is more of a mapping of tropos onto logos, but of a fixing and union between the two. That doesn’t fix one into the ethical form of life in the Kiekergaardian sense since for the latter the latter is extrinsic and can never really be fulfilled. That is, for Kierkegaard, the ethical stage is not sustainable. But for Maximus the ethical is not extrinsic, but intrinsic, which is why in the Disputation with Pyrrus he says that the virtues do not come to us from the outside. So the comparison here is of apples and oranges. More to the point, Maximus in his Chapters on Love and other works rightly holds to the permanence of the virtuous state while also teaching a transcendence to it in knowing God superior to that of the propositional. That seems quite existential to me. Consequently, the teleological suspension of the ethical is possible for Maximus, it is just different, primarily because there is a balance between the universal and the particular in his thought that there isn’t in Kierkegaard, primarily due to Kierkegaard’s need to refute Hegelianism by becoming its opposite.


  49. “St.” Paul is simply antichrist and his antichristian doctrine of predestination earned him the primo spot in hell burning hotter than Judas Iscariot himself.


  50. Or rather, as is more plausible, Romans is like Alexandrians, one of those epistles “forged in the name of Paul” which the muratorian canon mentions. After all, Paul says in 2nd Timothy 2:14

    “Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.”

    Are we to believe that the same Paul who condemns striving about words to no profit but rather to the subverting of the hearers, turn around and does exactly that in another epistles with foolish words about justification by faith and not by works and about predestination? Epic fail.

    Romans and Galatians are to be rejected along with “to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged in the name of Paul according to the heresy of Marcion. There are also many others which cannot be received in the General Church, for gall cannot be mixed with honey.” Yes, in the true church gall cannot be mixed with honey, and mixing the Pastorals with the filth and garbage that is Romans and Galatians is mixing not just gall but poison with honey! May Christendom come to its senses and condemn these forged epistles which teach evil Gnostic speculations rather than the truth. And may it happen in my lifetime. AMEN.


  51. rev jacobs, as Orthodox Christians we take Paul to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ and I simply won’t tolerate unsupported inflamatory claims about an Apostle.

    Second, we do not interpret Paul’s language of predestination in the way that other Christian traditons do, so please refrain from imputing to us views before you know what they are.


  52. Thanks for the replies, Perry. And sorry I didn’t catch your talk at our house a couple nights ago!


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