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So Is Calvinism Consistent With What The Early Church Fathers Believed?

Historic Christianity has with stood fallacies and aberrant teachings from the days of the Apostles and early church fathers to the modern day. What is refuted in one generation makes a subtle comeback in the next dressed in more alluring language with all garb and fanfare. Michael Horton tackles the theology of the early church fathers so well in his book Putting Amazing Back into Grace. I would gladly like to share an excerpt that I came across courtesy of T. Scott Morgan (Warranted Faith):

The ubiquity of Arminianism in the modern evangelical church can make it difficult for some to seriously consider the possibility of the truth of an alternate doctrinal system such as Calvinism.  However, this over-sensitivity toward Arminian theology is not a result of a discovery of its own alleged truth.  Rather, it demonstrates only how easily heresy can spread and gain legitimacy in a culture and church that is by and large theologically illiterate, apathetic, and ignorant of the historical Christian faith.

It’s not uncommon in the internet world to encounter those who would like to associate the origin of Calvinism with the great Reformer, John Calvin.  In truth, little more than the modern name of this theological system originated wih Calvin.  Calvinism, as it has come to be called, is simply a nickname for historical Christianity.  ”Calvinism” and “Arminianism” are only modern labels of the same issues that the church has always been dealing with.  While the “5 Points of Calvinism” did not develop until the need to produce a concise response during the 17th century conflict with the Arminian Remonstrance, the truths declared in these points were largely believed by those who denounced the great heresies, and have always been accepted and cherished by some portion of the Christian Church from its beginning.

What follows are sample quotations from early Church fathers who supported these doctrines of grace.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY

Barnabas (A.D. 70): “Learn: before we believed in God, the habitation of our heart was corrupt and weak.”

Ignatius (A.D. 110): “They that are carnal cannot do the things that are spiritual…Nor can the unbelievers do the things of belief.”

Justin Martyr (A.D. 150): “Mankind by Adam fell under death, and the deception of the serpent; we are born sinners…No good thing dwells in us…For neither by nature, nor by human understanding is it possible for me to acquire the knowledge of things so great and so divine, but by the energy of the Divine Spirit…Of ourselves it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God…He has convicted us of the impossibility of our nature to obtain life…Free will has destroyed us; we who were free are become slaves and for our sin are sold…Being pressed down by our sins, we cannot move upward toward God; we are like birds who have wings, but are unable to fly.”

Clement Of Alexandria (A.D. 190): “The soul cannot rise nor fly, nor be lifted up above the things that are on high, without special grace.”

Origen: “Our free will…or human nature is not sufficient to seek God in any manner.”

Eusebius (A.D. 330): “The liberty of our will in choosing things that are good is destroyed.”

Augustine (A.D. 370): “If, therefore, they are servants of sin (2 Cor. 3:17), why do they boast of free will?…O, man!  Learn from the precept what you ought to do; learn from correction, that it is your own fault you have not the power…Let human effort, which perished by Adam, here be silent, and let the grace of God reign by Jesus Christ…What God promises, we ourselves do not through free will of human nature, but He Himself does by grace within us…Men labor to find in our own will something that is our own, and not God’s; how can they find it, I know not.”

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

Clement Of Rome (A.D. 69): “Let us therefore approach Him in holiness of soul, lifting up pure and undefiled hands unto Him, with love towards our gentle and compassionate Father because He made us an elect portion unto Himself…Seeing then that we are the special elect portion of a Holy God, let us do all things that pertain unto holiness…There was given a declaration of blessedness upon them that have been elected by God through Jesus Christ our Lord…Jesus Christ is the hope of the elect…”

Barnabas (A.D. 70): “We are elected to hope, committed by God unto faith, appointed to salvation.”

Ignatius: “To the predestined ones before all ages, that is, before the world began, united and elect in a true passion, by the eternal will of the Father…”

Justin Martyr: “In all these discourses I have brought all my proofs out of your own holy and prophetic writings, hoping that some of you may be found of the elect number which through the grace that comes from the Lord of Sabaoth, is left or reserved [set apart] for everlasting salvation.”

Irenaeus (A.D. 198): “God hath completed the number which He before determined with Himself, all those who are written, or ordained unto eternal life…Being predestined indeed according to the love of the Father that we would belong to Him forever.”

Clement Of Alexandria (A.D. 190): “Through faith the elect of God are saved.  The generation of those who seek God is the elect nation, not [an earthly] place, but the congregation of the elect, which I call the Church…If every person had known the truth, they would all have leaped into the way, and there would have been no election…You are those who are chosen from among men and as those who are predestined from among men, and in His own time called, faithful, and elect, those who before the foundation of the world are known intimately by God unto faith; that is, are appointed by Him to faith, grow beyond babyhood.”

Cyprian (A.D. 250): “This is therefore the predestination which we faithfully and humbly preach.”

Ambrose Of Milan (A.D. 380): “In predestination the Church of God has always existed.”

Augustine (A.D. 380): “Here certainly, there is no place for the vain argument of those who defend the foreknowledge of God against the grace of God, and accordingly maintain that we were elected before the foundation of the world because God foreknew that we would be good, not that He Himself would make us good.  This is not the language of Him who said, ‘You did not choose Me, but I chose you’ (John 15:16).”   Read More Here.

14 responses to “So Is Calvinism Consistent With What The Early Church Fathers Believed?

  1. Andy January 7, 2011 at 18:39

    I did my M.Div thesis on TULIP in the writings of the Fathers. Believe me, “Calvinism” is everywhere in their writings

    • michael January 7, 2011 at 18:49

      Hi Andy, where can i get to read your thesis from?

      • Andy January 9, 2011 at 01:41

        I’ve never published my thesis or printed it (outside of submitting it to my prof). About 15% of it is scattered around my blog in various posts. Probably anything on my blog that cites any of the Fathers is from my paper.

    • Shaikh April 30, 2011 at 20:10

      IF you can find your thesis IT WOULD BE GREAT! I really want to read it personally!

    • wigglyhashashin7777 August 15, 2017 at 11:16

      Except it’s not only some one extremely dishonest would make such an assertion. I guess you believe the Roman Catholic church fell out of the sky and magically killed all true Christians and then forgot to suppress the church fathers but became too stupid to read them

    • wigglyhashashin7777 August 15, 2017 at 11:21

      If you don’t believe me why don’t you read John Calvin ‘s comments on Origen and Jerome and see how “Calvinist” they were. You had asserted that Origen taught Calvinist docterines!

  2. Tim March 20, 2011 at 22:48

    One question about total depravity. Given what I have been told and what I have read in Calvinism literature, how was it that Cain and Able (being totally depraved) were making sacrifices to God, having conversations with Him, and seeking after Him? In fact, Cain was upset that God didn’t accept his offer. Able’s offer, on the other hand, was acceptable, because he did what was right in the sight of God. How can a totally depraved individual do the will of God, what is right in His sight?

    Also, if Cain was totally depraved, unable to do what is right, or even desire to do what is right, why does God say to Cain, “If you do what is right , will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” It seems clear that God is placing the responsibility for doing right or wrong, thus being accepted or rejected by Him, and the responsibility of ruling over Sin, squarely on Cain. But if God has chosen Cain for destruction, there is no way Cain can possibly do right to be accepted. God doesn’t want him to be “accepted”. So God’s question to Cain is a bit Sadistic.

    What I mean is, God warns Cain that Sin is crouching at his door and wishes to have him, but that he must rule over it. Yet, according to Calvinism, there is no way Cain can hope to rule over it because God hasn’t chosen him to be able to. God tells Cain what he must do to be accepted, but then doesn’t enable Cain to do it. Then punishes Cain for not being able to do it. That is a pretty Sadistic God in my opinion.

    Thanks,

    Tim

    • Michael March 21, 2011 at 11:11

      @Tim i will try to answer you from scripture. The Bible says all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Through one man sin entered the world through Adam we all fell. We all have a moral responsibility to God to keep the law but no one has ever kept the law. We all like sheep have gone astray and become altogether worthless. In trying to deny cain’s responsibility over God’s sovereignty you end up impugning the character and nature of God. God is no author of evil and neither does he tempt with evil.

    • Julie Steadman January 10, 2019 at 17:36

      …this is a very good point. Just re-visiting Calvanism myself for the 4th time. I have never been able to see how it makes sense of scripture. A narrow interpretation of a few scriptures negates most of the rest of the warnings in the NT and takes away a person’s free will which then makes a mockery of the final judgement.

      I believe that God knows us so well he knows who will and who wont turn to him from the beginning of time, that makes sense of pre-destination without negating the rest of the scriptural warnings.

      Its interesting that Calvin had people put to death. How can he have the love of God in his heart and do such a thing. If he hasn’t got the Holy Spirit in his heart how can he rightly divide the word of truth and understand it. Where is he getting his inspiration from.

      Also Armenius was trained to the highest level in Calvinistic doctrine in a Geneva university. It was a lay person who challenged his thinking and made him change his mind. He absolutely knew and understood Calvanism before he changed his mind.

  3. Michael March 21, 2011 at 11:16

    Furthermore @Tim you see, side by side with the immutability and invincibility of God’s decrees, Scripture plainly teaches that man is a responsible creature and answerable for his actions. And if our thoughts are formed from God’s Word the maintenance of the one will not lead to the denial of the other.

    • Michael March 21, 2011 at 11:33

      Abel shed the life of an animal (without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin) to plead grace upon himself.Cain refused to apply the principle of substitutionary atonement. God sent Jesus so that in christ we are under grace of God if we have repented and come to faith in christ for he died as a propitiation for our sins.One cannot use election or as an excuse for sin. If one goes to hell, they go to hell because they have sinned against God and rejected his plan for salvation. And if any one goes to heaven, its because of God’s grace alone. Not by human exertion or effort but by grace that comes through repentance and faith in Christ.

  4. Tim Prussic May 14, 2011 at 18:58

    Good stuff. I’d like to see Andy’s thesis, too. Where did you study, Andy, that the M.Div. required a thesis?

    • Andy May 17, 2011 at 21:57

      Tim, I went to a Reformed seminary in the Philippines while I was doing mission work there. Almost anything about TULIP and patristics on my blog is either from my thesis or edited portions of it.

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