Three Interesting Quotations from Chrysostom

As I have been reading through Chrysostom’s Homilies on Ephesians, I stumbled upon three very interesting quotations from his first sermon.

Sola Fide?

That you may not then, when you hear that He has chosen us, imagine that faith alone is sufficient, he proceeds to add life and conduct. To this end, says he, has He chosen us, and on this condition, that we should be holy and without blemish.

I can only imagine many Romanists using this quotation to prove Chrysostom would reject Sola Fide. Given my reading of Chrysostom, it is hard to say whether or not he would agree with the Reformed understanding of Sola Fide (though some have made strong arguments he would). However, I do not believe this particular quotation is at odds with Sola Fide.

Chrysostom is clearly saying that faith alone is in some way insufficient, but the key question is: “Insufficient for what?” Chrysostom is commenting on the fact that God predestined His people to “be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). Chrysostom makes the very valid point that God does not merely predestine our salvation, He does not merely predestine our justification, He does not merely predestine our forgiveness, but the ultimate telos of God’s predestination is sanctification. We are predestined to be holy. Therefore, Chrysostom is right in this context to say that faith alone is insufficient. God has not merely predestined us to believe, but to be holy. Therefore, if someone is merely believing and not being sanctified, than whatever faith that is, it isn’t enough to count that person among the elect (James 2:11-26). Chrysostom is not talking about justification or adoption here when he speaks of the insufficiency of faith alone. This particular quotation is a sure condemnation against antinomians, but it is not a condemnation of the Reformed. Faith alone may be sufficient for justification, but it is not sufficient for the entire Christian life. It is not sufficient for being elect. It is not sufficient for glory.

In Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians, he makes the same point which Chyrysostom makes in different words,

We learn also from these words, that election gives no occasion to licentiousness, or to the blasphemy of wicked men who say, “Let us live in any manner we please; for, if we have been elected, we cannot perish.” Paul tells them plainly, that they have no right to separate holiness of life from the grace of election; for “whom he did predestinate, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified” (Romans 8:30).

Two Wills of God

For the word good pleasure everywhere means the precedent will, for there is also another will. As for example, the first will is that sinners should not perish; the second will is, that, if men become wicked, they shall perish. For surely it is not by necessity that He punishes them, but because He wills it.

Chrysostom would not be a Calvinist were he to resurrect today. Nonetheless, he recognizes a very basic truth that so many of his fellow non-Calvinists refuse to recognize: God has competing desires, or “wills” in other words. (I prefer to speak of the desires of God rather than wills, since it may sound confusing to those who maintain Classical Theism which teaches that there is only one will in God. I do think we can speak of the term “will” in different ways. So I do not believe that Chrysostom, or any Reformed theologians compromise the one will in God when they speak of God having multiple wills in this context.)

Chrysostom gives his own example of two competing wills in God. On the one hand, God desires the salvation of every sinner. On the other hand, God also desires to justly judge sinners. Thus, when an unbeliever dies God desires for them not to perish, but he also desires their judgment. Thus, God has a competition of wills.

Calvinists recognize this concept as it pertains to election. God desires the salvation of all, but He also desires to glorify His wrath and justice, preventing Him from electing all. The same can be said for the crucifixion. God did not want Jesus to be murdered since He desires no man to sin and because He loves His Son. On the other hand, He did desire Jesus’ crucifixion. That is why He sent Him into the world, that was the way ordained to save His people. Thus, as it pertains to Christ’s death, God decreed that which He did not desire, because in other sense, He desired it.

Many non-Calvinists will avoid a notion of competing wills because they see how much it plays into the Calvinist’s hands in debate. Chrysostom, though not a Calvinist (to speak anachronistically), was not foolish enough to adopt that strategy.

Compatibilism

Because our being rendered virtuous, and believing, and coming near unto Him, even this again was the work of Him that called us Himself, and yet, notwithstanding, it is ours also.

While Chrysostom would not agree with Calvin on many issues, he does tip his hat here to the Reformed doctrine of Compatibilism. It’s difficult to say too much since Chrysostom does not elaborate on this point, but he does write like a Compatibilist when he so freely speaks of our sanctification and faith as being both God’s work and our work simultaneously. He is very comfortable with this tension just as we the Reformed are in our writings. Chrysostom here believes the Lord does things through us and with us; yet, the works are still our own. That is the position of the Reformed. God predestines our works; yet, they are our works also.

To be more specific, Chrysostom’s quotation is very much in support of what we call “Irresistible Grace.” On the one hand, we believe because our faith is God’s doing. God draws us to the Son, the Spirit opens the eyes of our heart and gives us understanding. God predestined our faith; our faith is a gift from God; God did it. Yet, at the same time, the work is our work. I believed, God didn’t believe for me. It was both God’s doing and my doing. And the purpose of this post is not to defend that proposition. The purpose of this post is simply to show that whether it is a paradox or contradiction, Chrysostom agrees with the Reformed.

7 thoughts on “Three Interesting Quotations from Chrysostom

  1. It’d be better if you didn’t say “Romanist.” In other news, I promise not to comb the Fathers, looking for things to beat you with. The far more compelling questions and answers are: To whom did these men submit, and why? And, presuming that they submitted to a discernibly visible structure they called the Church, on what terms did they do so? I’m no Catholic, if I offer Catholicism on Protestant terms. On the other hand, if the visible Church is part of the revelation given to humanity, it probably seems like playing with loaded dice, from a Reformed position. Even so, I don’t think it’s possible to accurately account for the early Church, whilst remaining Reformed.

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    1. I’ll work backward:

      1) I do not think every debate ought to be evaded so we can retreat back into the wilderness to hide behind the trees of authority. This is a common Roman C. tactic. Every argument makes a Bee line to authority. I think we can itemize and discuss different theologies and different quotations without retreating to “to whom did these men submit?” I think Chrysostom’s view on the freedom of the will matters regardless of whether I agree with his church polity or not.

      2) I do understand why Roman Catholics don’t like the nickname Romanists, as I am sure that it was used an insult among many in times past, but often these offensive monikers become apt titles over time. The word “Christian” comes to mind. I think Roman Cs should embrace them. After all, I don’t particularly care for the term “Calvinist” but I embrace it for clarity/simplicity’s sake. I know “Lutherans” feel the same way about their name.

      The bottom line is to call you “catholic” is to give up the entire debate. I cannot call you Catholic because I too am Catholic. It makes more sense for our nicknames to represent our primary distinctives. Our core distinctiveness should be how we are distinguished from other Christians. And your primary distinctive is indisputably your highest authority, the Roman church, led by the Roman Pope. So I think Papist or Romanist is actually a fair, and accurate moniker to distinguish you from Anglicans, the Eastern churches, Lutherans, etc.

      Ironically, your very comment proves this point. I provided three quotes from Chrysostom, and rather than interact with any of them, you evaded them just to ask about authority. The utmost importance for you is to get other Christians to submit to Rome. The most important thing about Chrysostom to you is whether or not he submitted to the Pope. I think your comment vindicates the point: You are a papist; you’re a Romanist. And I sincerely don’t mean that as an insult or mockery. That’s your core distinction – your commitment to the Roman Pontiff.

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      1. I wasn’t trying to be evasive; I just don’t think trying to “prove” Catholicism from a Father or Fathers is profitable. Any more than “proving” it from Scripture is, past a certain point. You already acknowledge that Reformed faith is different than the patristic. That variance need not be troubling, depending on the assumptions.

        But to find and submit to the Catholic Church, there is a theological meaning to dogmatic continuity. Discontinuity indicates error.

        To my knowledge, I did not appeal to Catholic authority; I merely suggested the possibility that it exists. I do not recommend submitting “because we say so.” I do suggest that such authorities, if they can be found and traced forward, are worth strong consideration.

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  2. As one who was once an inquiring person, I try to still think like that. 3 groups: 1. Catholic Church today; 2. Early Church; 3. My Reformed Church. I only dared to submit when, as best could be ascertained, (1) and (2) were the same Body.

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    1. The difference between us on faith and conduct is subtle, but important. I read this post, BTW. I take you at your word that you believe in holy conduct. But whence does that conduct proceed? As I understand Reformed theology, good works could only be the fruit of election and justification. The fundamental point of Catholic justification is that agape is part of justification, and its essence. This is bigger than a cheap debate about faith vs. works. We don’t even reject faith alone! But we reject what the Protestant Reformers meant by it. Salvation without the Church might as well be salvation without Christ. May it never be!

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      1. //The difference between us on faith and conduct is subtle, but important.//

        Amen!

        //I read this post, BTW. I take you at your word that you believe in holy conduct.//

        Thank you for reading and for taking me at my word.

        //But whence does that conduct proceed? As I understand Reformed theology, good works could only be the fruit of election and justification.//

        You are right. Certainly it could be explained in much greater detail (how it relates to grace, the resurrection, covenant union, etc.) but the general gist you have correctly. We are sinful creatures, and until we are forgiven and regenerated good works cannot be produced by us. Therefore, good works follow predestination, effectual calling, and justification. We take the Ordo Salutis in Romans 8 to be not exhaustive, but very literal. Predestined – called – justified – glorified. I take in that text glorification is encompassing sanctification. Glorification is the final capstone of the sanctification process. So yes, good works flow from a redeemed and restored nature.

        //The fundamental point of Catholic justification is that agape is part of justification, and its essence.//
        Yes, I agree with this assessment. It’s common for Prots to accuse RC’s of “mixing sanctification with justification” and I think that is correct. You essentially define the words synonymously. Though I do think there is some disagreement among RC apologists. Nick for example does not view justification the way you do, at least not entirely.

        //This is bigger than a cheap debate about faith vs. works.//

        Perhaps, yes.

        //We don’t even reject faith alone! But we reject what the Protestant Reformers meant by it.//

        This is correct.

        //Salvation without the Church might as well be salvation without Christ. May it never be!//

        Ironically, I feel the way about this statement that you do about faith alone. I could say similar to you, “We don’t reject that there is no salvation outside the catholic church! But we reject what the Roman Catholics mean by it.”

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      2. I didn’t claim it was the Catholic Church, in the sense of a bald appeal to authority. On the other hand, you can’t claim allegiance to an invisible Church. For another, there’s no point in the Church, if she has no role in mediation. That’s the whole discussion: the role of the sacraments is the role of the Church. Ex opere operantis means in fact that the sacraments aren’t strictly necessary. Reformed people think that if they get sappy about sacraments, that they’ve somehow left an extreme memorialism behind. In fact, it’s repackaged Zwinglianism.

        The Solas are about the rejection of mediation; you can’t then smuggle it in later, and act like you didn’t.

        The bifurcation between justification and sanctification is trying to smuggle in participation, when it’s not necessary in the theology, either.

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