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Calvin Dissing the Fathers


John Calvin

John Calvin










In an earlier blog posting “Plucking the TULIP,” I marshaled an array of patristic citations showing that a wide range of early church fathers affirmed human free will: Irenaeus of Lyons, Cyril of Jerusalem, John of Damascus, John of the Ladder, Gregory of Nyssa et al.  I did this to show that the theological consensus of the early Church refuted the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination.

When I wrote it I wondered how Calvin would have responded to my patristic argument.  I recently found the answer when in the course of browsing Calvin’s Institutes I came across the subsection titled “The church fathers generally show less clarity but a tendency to accept freedom of the will.  What is free will?” (2.2.4, pp. 258-261)

Calvin opened with the following statement:

All ecclesiastical writers have recognized both that the soundness of reason in man is gravely wounded through sin, and that the will has been very much enslaved by evil desires.

This also reflects the Orthodox understanding of humanity’s fallen condition and our still having free will and the capacity to reason.  However, Calvin criticized this understanding of the human condition charging that the early church fathers in affirming human reason came “far too close to the philosophers.”  He is of the belief that the early fathers took this position in order to avoid “the jeers of the philosophers.”  Then he made the claim the fathers affirmed human free will in order “not to give occasion for slothfulness.”  He wrote:

Surely you see by these statements that they credited man with more zeal for virtue than he deserved because they thought that they could not rouse our inborn sluggishness unless they argued that we sinned by it alone.


Dissing the Fathers

Calvin’s low opinion of the Greek fathers comes across loud and clear in the following sentence:

Further, even though the Greeks above the rest—and Chrysostom especially among them—extol the ability of the human will, yet all the ancients, save Augustine, so differ, waver, or speak confusedly on this subject, that almost nothing certain can be derived from their writings. (Emphasis added.)

The above sentence is pure dynamite.  One, Calvin was aware of the early fathers (“all the ancients”) affirmation of free will.  Two, that he believed the church fathers spoke “confusedly” meaning there was no patristic consensus on free will.  Three, nothing worthwhile can be learned from the early church fathers on this matter.  Four, the sole exception among the early church fathers is Augustine.

These are all very interesting theses, but like any set of theses they need to be backed up evidence and arguments.  It is disappointing, therefore, to find that Calvin disdains to provide supporting evidence.

Therefore, we shall not stop to list more exactly the opinions of individual writers; but we shall only select at random from one or another, as the explanation of the argument would seem to demand.


My Response to Calvin

If Calvin will not “list more exactly the opinions of individual writers,” then I will.  The following citations are presented to show the breadth and depth of the early Church’s affirmation of human free will.

Ignatius of Antioch (d. 98/117), one of the Apostolic Fathers, affirmed human free will:

Seeing, then, all things have an end, and there is set before us life upon our observance [of God’s precepts], but death as the result of disobedience, and every one, according to the choice he makes, shall go to his own place, let us flee from death, and make choice of life. For I remark, that two different characters are found among men — the one true coin, the other spurious. The truly devout man is the right kind of coin, stamped by God Himself. The ungodly man, again, is false coin, unlawful, spurious, counterfeit, wrought not by God, but by the devil. I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures, but that there is one humanity, sometimes belonging to God, and sometimes to the devil. If any one is truly religious, he is a man of God; but if he is irreligious, he is a man of the devil, made such, not by nature, but by his own choice.  (Letter to the Magnesians – long version, Chapter 5; ANF Vol. I p. 61; emphasis added.)

The Epistle to Diognetus, considered part of the Apostolic Fathers corpus, affirmed human free will:

. . . as a king sending a son, he sent him as King, he sent him as God, he sent him as Man to men, he was saving and persuading when he sent him, not compelling, for compulsion is not an attribute of God (Epistle to Diognetus 7.3; Loeb Classical Library Vol. II, p. 365; emphasis added).

Clement of Rome (fl. c. 90-100) has been cited in support of free will (see Recognitions 9.30).  However, serious concerns have been raised about the authenticity of the Recognitions (Quasten’s Patrology Vol. I, p. 61-62).

Justin Martyr (c. 100-165), an early Apologist who was schooled in classical philosophy before his conversion, wrote:

For the coming into being at first was not in our own power; and in order that we may follow those things which please Him, choosing them by means of the rational faculties He has Himself endowed us with, He both persuades us and leads us to faith (First Apology 10; ANF Vol. I, p. 165; emphasis added).

Athenagoras (2nd century), another early Apologist, wrote:

Just as with men, who have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice (for you would not either honour the good or punish the bad, unless vice and virtue were in their own power . . . . (Athenagoras’ Plea 24, ANF Vol. II p. 142; emphasis added).

Irenaeus of Lyons (fl. c. 175-c. 195), regarded as the greatest theologian of the second century, likewise affirmed man’s capacity for faith was based in his free will:

Now all such expressions demonstrate that man is in his own power with respect to faith (Against Heresies 4.37.2; ANF Vol. I, p. 520).

Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200/210-258), the spiritual son of Tertullian and one of the Latin Fathers, affirmed human free will.  Treatise No. 52 is titled “That the liberty of believing or of not believing is placed in free choice.” (ANF Vol. V p. 547; emphasis added)  He gave three Scripture passages in support of this teaching: Deuteronomy 13:19, Isaiah 1:19, and Luke 17:21.

Athanasius the Great (c. 296-373) was renowned for his defense of Christi’s divine nature. In the Life of Anthony §20 he wrote that human virtue depends on the existence of human free will:

Wherefore virtue hath need at our hands of willingness alone, since it is in us and is formed from us (NPNF Vol. IV p. 201).

Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-c. 254) in De Principiis Preface §5 made this observation about the general opinion of the Church:

This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the Church, that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition; (NPNF Vol. IV p. 240).

Just as significant is the fact that the denial of human free will was rejected as an erroneous teaching.  The opposite of free will is “necessity-constrained will,” this Vincent of Lerins (d. before 450) in his Commonitory noted is heretical because it makes sin to be irresistible.

. . . a human nature of such a description, that of its own motion, and by the impulse of its necessity-constrained will, it can do nothing else, can will nothing else, but sin . . . . (Commonitory Chapter 24, NPNF Vol. XI p. 150; emphasis added)

A similar condemnation can be found in Methodius (d. c. 311) in The Banquet of the Ten Virgins:

Now those who decide that man is not possessed of free-will and affirm that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate, and her unwritten commands, are guilty of impiety towards God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils (Chapter 16, ANF Vol. VI p. 342; emphasis added).

John Chrysostom (c. 349/354-407), famous for his preaching and patriarch of Constantinople, likewise condemned the denial of human free will in his third homily on Timothy:

Having thus enlarged upon the love of God which, not content with showing mercy to a blasphemer and persecutor, conferred upon him other blessings in abundance, he has guarded against that error of the unbelievers which takes away free will, by adding, “with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” (NPNF First Series Vol. XIII p. 418)

Another significant witness to free will is Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 310-386), Patriarch of Jerusalem in the fourth century.  In his famous catechetical lectures, Cyril repeatedly affirmed human free-will (Lectures 2.1-2 and 4.18, 21; NPNF Second Series Vol. VII, pp. 8-9, 23-24).

Likewise, Gregory of Nyssa (330-c. 395), in his catechetical lectures, taught:

For He who made man for the participation of His own peculiar good, and incorporated in him the instincts for all that was excellent, in order that his desire might be carried forward by a corresponding movement in each case to its like, would never have deprived him of that most excellent and precious of all goods; I mean the gift implied in being his own master, and having a free will. (The Great Catechism Lecture 5, NPNF Vol. V p. 479)

John of Damascus (c. 675-c. 745), an eighth century Church Father, wrote the closest thing to a systematic theology in the early Church, Exposition of the Catholic Faith. In it he explained that God made man a rational being endowed with free-will and as a result of the Fall man’s free-will was corrupted (Book 3 Chapter 14, NPNF Second Series Vol. IX, p. 58-60).

Saint John of the Ladder (579-649), a seventh century Desert Father, in his spiritual classic, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, wrote:

Of the rational beings created by Him and honoured with the dignity of free-will, some are His friends, others are His true servants, some are worthless, some are completely estranged from God, and others, though feeble creatures, are His opponents (Step 1.1; emphasis added).

A more exhaustive listing can be found in Mako Nagasawa’s “Free Will In Patristics” (August 2013).  Interestingly, this paper was written in response to the same passage in Calvin’s Institutes 2.2.4.

A survey of the early Christian writings show the following: (1) the doctrine of human free will was taught by the Apostolic Fathers (Ignatius of Antioch and in the Letter to Diognetus), (2) it was affirmed by the Apologists (Justin Martyr and Athenagoras), (3) it was taught by leading church fathers like Irenaeus of Lyons, Athanasius the Great, and Gregory the Great, (4) it was taught by Latin Fathers (Cyprian of Carthage), (5) it was taught by Syrian Fathers (John of Damascus), (6) it was taught by the Desert Fathers (John of the Ladder), and (7) it was affirmed by the Patriarch of Jerusalem Cyril in his catechetical lectures.  It is inexplicable, not to mention inexcusable, for Calvin to have refused to engage this wide ranging patristic consensus.  Calvin in contrast relied almost exclusively on one later church father, Augustine of Hippo.  Furthermore, Augustine’s teaching on human free will were written in response to the Pelagian heresy and do not present a balanced position.

Using the Vincentian Canon, Calvin’s denial of human free will cannot be considered part of the catholic faith.  Unlike the affirmation of human free will which can be found in the Apostolic Fathers and the Apologists who lived in the second century, Calvin made no appeal to the Ante-Nicene Fathers; thus he fails on the grounds of antiquity. In contrast to Augustine who was a North African bishop, patristic witness to free will can be found across the ancient world: Gaul, Italy, Asia Minor, North Africa, Syria, not to mention the major sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.  Thus Calvin’s argument also fails on the grounds of ubiquity.   At best it can be considered a personal opinion, but not the catholic and universal teaching of the Church.


Not a Fluke

Calvin’s denigration of the church fathers was not an off the cuff or in the heat of the moment hyperbole.  Calvin meant what he wrote.  As a matter of fact, he repeated this point again in the chapter 2.2.9 (pp. 266-267).

Perhaps I may seem to have brought a great prejudice upon myself when I confess that all ecclesiastical writers, except Augustine, have spoken so ambiguously or variously on this matter that nothing certain can be gained from their writings.  . . . .  But I meant nothing else than that I wanted simply and sincerely to advise godly folk; for if they were to depend upon those men’s opinions in this matter, they would always flounder in uncertainty.  At one time these writers teach that man, despoiled of the powers of free will, takes refuge in grace alone.  At another time they provide, or seem to provide, him with his own armor.  (Institutes 2.2.9; emphasis added.)

Calvin’s refusal to provide supporting evidence is distressing.  What we have here is not scholarship, but dogmatism.

Calvin’s almost exclusive reliance on Augustine of Hippo is alien to the theological method of the early Christians as described in the Vincentian Canon: quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus (What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.).  (Commonitory Chapter 2.6)   After citing Origen, Calvin skips over the early Greek fathers to the medieval scholastics: Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109), Peter Lombard (c. 1095-1169), and Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274).  Here Calvin is operating as a Western theologian who does theology independently of the patristic consensus.

But some hard questions need to be asked about Calvin’s theological method.  First, was Calvin wiser than the host of early Church Fathers?  Did the Apostles’ disciples and their successors drop the ball?  That is, rather than carefully guard the Apostolic deposit, they carelessly let it be modified to follow their own personal insights or to please their congregations?  That right doctrine disappeared and was replaced by heresy?  The answer to these questions is: No.  History shows that in their wrestling with the issues and questions raised by Greek philosophers and various heresies they sought to be faithful to Holy Tradition.  Furthermore, history shows the early Christians willing to die for the Faith rather than to resort to compromise.  The more one takes the time to read and learn what the church fathers believed and taught, the more confidence one has that the Holy Spirit did indeed make good on the promise of Christ to teach and lead the Orthodox Church into all truth.


Findings and Conclusions

Institutes 2.2.4 and 2.2.9 provide tremendous insights into Calvin’s theological method.  We find that despite his familiarity with the early church fathers and his willingness to cite them Calvin was in fact far removed from the patristic method.  He had no interest in learning where the patristic consensus stood on particular issues.  For an Orthodox Christian this attitude is alarming.

But even more shocking was Calvin’s airy dismissal of the church fathers on the grounds that their teachings were confused and contradictory.  He gives no supporting evidence.  Given his reputation as a first rate theologian this is a damning indictment.  It suggests not intellectual deficiency but arrogant obstinacy.

If it is true that Calvin’s doctrine of double predestination is at odds with the patristic consensus, then it cannot be considered part of the catholic faith.  If that is the case then double predestination is at best a personal opinion or at worst a heresy.  The Orthodox Church in the Confession of Dositheus condemned it as “profane and impious” (Decree III, in Leith Creeds of the Churches, p. 488)

It is imperative that modern day Reformed Christians take another look at the early church fathers’ teachings on free will and our salvation in Christ.  The classic Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura does not exclude patristic sources.  See my review of Keith Mathison’s The Shape of Sola Scriptura.  What is needed is for a contemporary Reformed scholar to investigate the church fathers and determine whether or not the Reformed position on double predestination is consistent with the church fathers or whether Calvin was right in asserting that the church fathers were inconsistent and contradictory in their teachings on free will.


Church Fathers

In closing, I would urge modern day Calvinists to treat the early church fathers with respect and to be open to learning from them.  Disrespecting the church fathers is theologically dangerous.  It is to risk being alienated from church history, from our spiritual heritage.  Not being anchored in the early church fathers put one at risk of either unthinking fundamentalism or syncretistic liberalism.

 Robert Arakaki


  1. Scott R. Harrington

    Dear Robert L. Arakaki. This is possibly the best, or one of the best, articles you have written on the relationship of Orthodoxy to Reformed thought. Only talk about the Filioque is more important, possibly. ISTM. I don’t usually ask for favors from people I’m not acquainted with much, but if you write to me, and you can possibly send me a printed copy of this article about “Calvin Dissing the Church Fathers” to me personally, at my email address, I’ll let you know where you can send the article to me, if you like. Thank you so much for writing this for the benefit of our Protestant friends, whose lives have been thrown into some confusion, because of our Western non-Orthodox upbringing. I am sorry, I don’t have a working printer, and I can’t afford to print much, or too often. If you can do this, I will appreciate it. Thank you again for writing the article. It helps me understand something about Calvin I didn’t understand before. Sincerely, Scott R. Harrington, Erie, PA, USA (Church of the Nativity parish attender).

  2. Fr. John Morris

    It is important to note that Augustine based his doctrine of original sin and total depravity on an incorrect translation of Romans 5:12. The original Greek text states, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned –” However the Latin translation read, “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.” The mistranslation of the Greek words ep ho as “in whom” led Augustine to develop his doctrine of inherited guilt and total depravity upon which is built the doctrine of the denial of free will and predestination.

  3. Zechariah Codex

    I don’t see the problem. Yes, there are passages where the fathers taught free will, but the fathers aren’t giving much of an analysis of what that highly contested te means in light is some scripture. If that is considered dissing, I would hate to see wha an insult is!

    Fr John, most reformed reject augustines doctrine of mediate imputation. I think wgt shedd is the main recent adherent. Given what we believe about federalism, Augustine s gloss is unnecessary

    • robertar


      I don’t understand what you mean by “te” in “that highly contested te.” Please explain. Most likely it’s a typo but please be careful with your spelling.


      • Zechariah Codex

        Contested term. I am using an iPod and it’s hard to type

  4. Hinterlander


    I agree with your conclusions concerning the need for the Reformed to explore the church fathers and wrestles with some of the contradictions between their tradition and that of the ancient church. In this regard, thank you for introducing us to James Payton, Jr via the AFR link a couple weeks past.

    Is there a church father who wrote a book anything like “The Institutes” in terms of scope and purpose? I’m guessing not. This illustrates that Calvin and the Church Fathers were separated by pretty wide cultural, intellectual, theological, liturgical gulf. Were there any Reformers who were capable or willing to give the Church Fathers a fair shake? Can we today fault the Reformers for not swinging Eastward? In Calvin’s day the bastion of Orthodoxy was Ivan the Terrible’s Moscow.

    Unfortunately “obstinacy” and “dismissal” are attitudes that may be as common today as they were in the 16th century. I’m glad this blog is not part of that culture.

    • Zechariah Codex

      The Lutheran Martin Chemnitz read every available codex from he fathers.

      Yes free will discussion is important, but simply showing that said fathers believed in free will really doesn’t say a lot. Do we mean liberum arbitrium, the will it’s self or the faculty of willing? Does the faculty follow the motion of will or knowledge? All these answers, while different, can fit legitimately under the nebulous title of free will? That’s why Calvin really wasn’t impressed with scholia by the fathers on free will

      • Jnorm

        Zechariah Codex,

        Someone already did the homework on what they meant:
        A study of the patristic doctrine of free will

        And from Google books it seems as if his research supports a libertarian Freedom of the will view.

        • Bayou Huguenot

          The price is prohibitive (though I am aware of the document). LFW has its logical problems, especially when applied to God, though I admit the Fathers probably held to it.

    • robertar


      The closest thing to a systematic theology among the early church fathers would be John of Damascus’ Exposition of the Catholic Faith. Here’s the link to page on Christian Classics Ehtereal Library. Scroll down and you can find the links to particular chapters.

      Keep in mind that Calvin and Luther emerged out of the Western European Middle Ages. Medieval Scholasticism marked a major break from the earlier patristic era. Also, Luther and Calvin were on the forefront of the a new intellectual trend, the humanist movement which used the latest intellectual tools like philology and nominalism. So the Reformers were not reactionary fundamentalists but the best and brightest of their day. I think what hindered their appreciation of the early church fathers was the fact that their Roman Catholic opponents were invoking the fathers against them. I suspect that there may have been a defensive mentaliy among the early Protestants when they read the fathers. But I believe the situation in Protestantism today has changed with the emergence of Reformed scholars like James Payton. We need more people like Prof. Payton who are open to what the early church fathers have to say and willing to dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox Christians.


  5. Scott R. Harrington

    Dear friends, The thing about John Calvin’s dissing of free will is it had serious moral implications to himself and others. If Calvin’s will is all that mattered, others’ free will counts for nothing; conversion is tried to be forced upon Servetus, who, although he was a heretic, did not deserve to be killed. We need to beware of calling others having to do these things; this was the 16th century, and back then, they had no problem with the “inquisition” of others. Calvin’s filioquism and predestinarian determinism are problems at best, mistakes or errors, and potentially serious heresies, at worst. Simply put, Calvin’s error did reach deadly proportion, as he persecuted others “in the name of Jesus”, and that is simply unacceptable. Today, we need to be kind to others we disagree with, even disagree strongly. Take care. God bless all of you.

    • Denny Brown

      I’m glad soneone made these points about Calvin!!

  6. Prometheus

    I think that to say that Calvin was “dissing” the fathers is a bit strong. He held strongly to the doctrine of sola scriptura, and if the fathers disagreed with scriptures, he felt a clear need to hold to scriptures. His feelings on this subject are clear when he says, “For although we hold that the Word of God alone lies beyond the sphere of our judgment, and that Fathers and Councils are of authority only in so far as they accord with the rule of the Word, we still give to Councils and Fathers such rank and honor as it is meet for them to hold under Christ.” A Reformation Debate: Calvin/Sadoleto edited by Olin, p.92.

    So to judge Calvin on Orthodox standards is problematic, considering that he was dealing with the very corrupt traditions of his age (to which many would compare Orthodoxy). In addition, Calvin doesn’t need to quote all the fathers because they are of little import (according to his scheme) if the scripture clearly points the other direction (as he seems to think it does). So while he may be wrong, he doesn’t “diss” the fathers. His point was that he would rather do anything than contradict the scriptures, even if it meant disagreeing with the fathers.

    • Benjamin Cutler

      So to judge Calvin on Orthodox standards is problematic, considering that he was dealing with the very corrupt traditions of his age (to which many would compare Orthodoxy).

      I’m trying to understand how this could be problematic. By what standards should he be judged? According to a modern baptist understanding of “soul competency”? Please elaborate.

      In addition, Calvin doesn’t need to quote all the fathers because they are of little import (according to his scheme) if the scripture clearly points the other direction (as he seems to think it does).

      To “diss” is to disrespect (that is, to show a lack of respect or courtesy for), which is exactly what Calvin seems to be doing here. Clearly he believes that his understanding of the scriptures is greater than theirs. Therefore, he basically doesn’t give the fathers the courtesy of voicing their opinions, believing instead that what they say doesn’t matter.

      • Prometheus


        I think you missed the last part of my response. Calvin was so much more interested in not “dissing” scripture that he would disregard certain fathers (or even the majority) if they contradicted the meaning of scripture. So, from his perspective, he was not disrespecting the fathers, but only disagreeing with them if they “dissed” scripture. The Orthodox would admit that no one father is automatically right on every issue. And as soon as I say this I can hear a chorus of people saying, “but the patristic consensus . . .” Yet, Calvin was dealing with people who claimed a certain patristic consensus on many issues which the Orthodox disagree with as well. For Calvin, one of his only recourses would be to show how their view of patristic consensus contradicted scriptures. If he could show this, then he thought it best to side with scriptures. Assuming he was right in his understanding of scripture and that the fathers were contradicting that understanding, he was not disrespecting the fathers, but setting aside where they erred. Even St. Paul himself said that if anyone, even himself, were to preach something different, let him be anathema. So, as Calvin saw it, right or wrong, he was not disrespecting the fathers in anyway. I’m sure the fathers themselves would have said that if they erred in anyway or misrepresented tradition, they would prefer to be ignored rather than the word of God.

        That said, I disagree with Calvin on very many things, and I am aware that he desired Servetus’ death (though he hoped for beheading rather than burning at the stake; can it be that important people among the Orthodox Saints never have been involved in such heinous acts?). That is neither here-nor-there with regard to his views of the fathers. But my point is to ask how Calvin can be said to disrespect the fathers, when he claims to give them place “under Christ.” I can see from his perspective how in his mind the church of his day was putting the fathers “over Christ” on many issues . . . and this was just another similar issue. I still stand by my statement, too, that it is unfair to ask Calvin in his Institutes to cite which father said which thing when his aim was not to say what the patristic consensus was, but what the scripture said.

        Finally, if I am correct, the Orthodox don’t use patristic texts in the way that Evangelical Protestants use the Bible. They don’t mine the fathers to find out what they believe, but they believe and use the (canonized) fathers as confirmation. The faith of the church doesn’t consist in texts, but in the life of the church. Or am I wrong? Do you just count patristic witnesses and use that to determine what you believe? If not, why would you expect Calvin to seek patristic consensus in a way that you would never use them? He already had rejected “the church” as infallible. Counting witnesses would never bring him to certainty because he doesn’t have “the church” to help him through the difficulties and disagreements within the fathers. His problem was not a lack of respect for the fathers, but an ecclesiology that had no visible historical continuity. He claimed continuity, but had to make it invisible and therefore difficult to verify.

        • Anastasios

          There is no such thing as “invisible” continuity; history by definition is visible, therefore continuity of belief must either be visible or else not exist at all. Restorationism (the idea that the church ceased to exist altogether and needed to be restored “from scratch” or from first principles) is pretty much the offspring of Calvinism (and Anabaptism).

  7. Scott R. Harrington

    By what standard was it right of Calvin to put people to death? If that was wrong, we should not hold up Calvin as an example of a correct Christian teacher.

    • Zechariah Codex

      He didn’t put anyone to death. He pleaded against burning servetus. Calvin didn’t have any legal standing in Geneva because he wasn’t a citizen. Servetus execution was carried out by the polity of Geneva and was in full accordance with the Justinian Code, under which Rome also sought the legal execution of Servetus

      • Canadian

        Calvin’s consistory (not jsut the government) was a police state as even Schaff attests to. Multiple killings. Parading through the streets for simple words said against Calvin or doctrines. It goes on and on, really.

        • Cyril

          The Genevan ordinance against blasphemy and Anabaptism predate Calvin’s arrival in Geneva, and while he had no direct use of the sword, he was the chief prosecutor of Servetus, and the one who drew up the accusations against him. He it was who urged the magistrates to arrest him. It is true he argued for the use of the sword as opposed to the stake for Servetus, but he had written to Farel in 1546 that were Servetus to come to Geneva he would not allow him to leave alive. So to argue for his compassion here is like preferring death and Hell over Satan. Further, when the Genevan Council sent a circular letter to Schaffhausen, Berne, Basle, and Zurich asking for their input on what to do with Servetus, Calvin wrote to all of them as well urging them to recommend death. He wrote also to the congregation in Frankfurt, asking them also to encourage the Genevan Magistrates to act against the Spaniard. It was also Calvin who gave the damning evidence to the Inquisition in Vienne about Servetus’s identity. You can say it was cajoled out of him by de Trie, but that is pretty flimsy stuff. Apart from Servetus, no one was specifically executed for heresy in Geneva. And Schaff is wrong about the Justinian code mandating the execution of heretics, as this was unknown under it: only one person in all the history of the Byzantine empire was executed for heresy, Boris the Bogomil, and that was an extreme case, and something not done in the empire (the imperial army had a whole brigade of Paulicians fighting for them). Those executed in Europe were not done so under the Code either. There were other people executed in Geneva for blasphemy, namely Jacques Gruet (who also was accused of sedition) and a former Jacobite friar in 1563, but he was also guilty of adultery and conspiracy to commit murder. Even Luther held to the execution of blasphemers, though not of heretics. Calvin has enough sins to be guilty of without inventing them: I find the man a noisome pestilence, and indeed a heretic on multiple counts (the autothean nonsense alone and the whole concept of the shared monarchy is pure piffle, drivel and swill). There were a number of people (French emigres) who were executed for Sodomy in 1554, but Geneva was not outstanding for its number of executions. Indeed, many people, including one just three days before Servetus was arrested, were expelled for that which Servetus professed, indeed worse: Jean Baudin thought the Bible just another book, and Jesus but a man. Servetus never claimed that.

          As far as Calvin having no legal standing, he certainly did. He did not have full citizenship, nor was he ever granted bourgeois status, but he had immense political power at his disposal, and the Council largely let him have his way with the whole question of discipline, especially in the case of Philibert Berthelier. Calvin’s stand on the question of discipline even trumped his much ballyhooed desire for communion once a week (something I heard blathered all the time by the Jordanites 20 years ago): but Calvin was willing to risk exile for discipline, but not weekly communion.

          • robertar


            Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! And thank you for your comment about Calvin’s influence in Geneva.

            Folks, I would like to note that the discussion about Calvin’s role in Geneva is a tangent to this blog posting. Let’s keep the focus on Calvin’s theological method and how he interacted with the writings of the church fathers.


  8. David

    I didn’t think Robert’s use of the word ‘dissing’ so strong
    given the context of his Institutes’ quotes. Maybe it is. With
    Prometheus, I sympathize with the early Reformers more
    than most Orthodox seem to. The theological and moral
    corruptions of the RC of their day…extended to burning
    many of their friends and countrymen to death. So the
    emotions ran a tad high during the century after Luther 95.
    Also, Scot, it’s my understanding that Calvin argued AGAINST
    the Geneva City Counsel/Magistrates execution of Servetus.
    Maybe not, but Calvin DID plead with him NOT to come to
    Geneva, nor did HE play the decisive role in the execution…
    as I understand the dynamics of Geneva politics…NOT follow-
    ing Calvin’s counsel on many occasions. Am I remembering
    rightly? Of course, Jaraslov Pelikan and many other more recent
    brilliant scholars HAVE looked at the Fathers carefully (like Dr
    Payton)…and seem to have far greater respect (an calmer con-
    text!) than the early Reformers…who were mostly very sincere
    and devout men, despite their errors.

    • Benjamin Cutler

      I didn’t think Robert’s use of the word ‘dissing’ so strong
      given the context of his Institutes’ quotes.

      I think the problem is that many people hear “insult” when they hear the word “diss”, when really it’s simply a shortened form of “disrespect” which simply means to show a lack of respect or courtesy.

      • Prometheus

        “Diss” generally has very strong connotations; but it can be used rhetorically (as perhaps Robert meant it). Linguistically speaking, however, to say “really it’s simply a shortened form of “disrespect”” is incorrect for the most part. Words get their meaning from how they are generally used by people. To argue that it is merely a shortened form of “disrespect” (in a benign sort of way) is to commit the etymological fallacy. It is somewhat akin to saying “gay” really means “happy” or “faggot” really means “bundle of sticks.” For many people, the word “diss” has generally derogatory connotations.

        • Benjamin Cutler

          Linguistically speaking, however, to say “really it’s simply a shortened form of “disrespect”” is incorrect for the most part. Words get their meaning from how they are generally used by people. To argue that it is merely a shortened form of “disrespect” (in a benign sort of way) is to commit the etymological fallacy.

          I’m not arguing from etymology, I’m arguing that people actually use the word as a slang for disrespect. If you ask people what the word “diss” means they will generally define it as slang for “disrespect” (as evidence I’ll point to urban dictionary, which gives us a good idea for how people are generally using the word, and which cites the two most popular definitions of “diss” as some variation of “a shortened version of ‘disrespect'”). I’m certainly not arguing that it means “disrespect in a benign sort of way” since I’m not sure how disrespect could ever possibly be considered benign.

          The point in my (probably poorly written) response above is that the word doesn’t exclusively involve outright insult (even if it often does), but there are some here who seem to be reading it that way. I’ve known many people who’ve used the word when they’ve felt disrespected, not necessarily due to explicit insult, but rather because their ideas or opinions are being ignored or easily dismissed without consideration. In this context, the word “diss” certainly fits, because that is exactly what Calvin is doing (especially since the people who’s ideas he’s so easily dismissing have developed a significant portion his own belief system).

          For many people, the word “diss” has generally derogatory connotations.

          Well, of course it does. I’m not sure why would you think I disagree with this sentiment.

  9. Scott R. Harrington

    Gentleman, That’s a falsifaction of the historical record. The record shows plainly that Calvin wanted Servetus dead. All in all, I believe the record shows some 58 to 63 (I forget the exact number) were put to death in Calvin’s Geneva, including the beheading of a little child, a girl, who was beheaded for striking her parents. For evidence, see, “Did Calvin Murder Servetus?”, see that book, amazon.com GOOGLE search. By any stretch of the imagination, Calvin wanted many people dead who disagreed with Calvin, and with his Calvinism. And Calvin did not repent of this hatred, as far as history shows us. God spare us such feelings. In Erie SRH

    • Zechariah Codex

      Wanting servetus dead is not the same thing as actively prosecuting him. Servetus was an evil, wicked man, besides his blasphemies. Given what I know about him, I would have shot him on sight

      Calvin was at the
      Mercy of the city council.

      • Karen

        “Given what I know about him, I would have shot him on sight . . .”

        Behold the fruit of a strong commitment to Calvinism? If God forgives us in the same way as we forgive others, judges (in the sense of condemning) us as we judge others, and shows the same kind of mercy as we show to others as Jesus’ taught, it seems to me your words do not bode well for you. Knowing myself as the “chief of sinners,” I will be obligated to stand as the Publican did, beating my breast and praying God to have mercy on me and everyone else on that Day! That is not to say I would deny the state its duty to do what it must to restrain evil in the temporal scene (which must also involve due process of law).

        • Bayou Huguenot

          If you want to judge “the fruit of Calvinism” and hence judge the system as a whole, I would love to pull up Chrysostom’s sermons on the Jews and place the Russian pogroms in that light (since a number of True Orthodox guys today have cheerfully conceded the point). Two can play at that game

          Child mortality was a obvious problem in that time period. Servetus went around telling grieving mothers and fathers that their children were in hell (or at least letting them draw that inference, since he said no unbaptized person could go to heaven, and he denied that any baptism under the age of 30 was illegitimate).

          • Bayou Huguenot

            Correction: he inferred any baptism under age 30 was illegitimate.

          • Karen

            That’s an interesting example you raise from Servetus, and I agree that is serious and extremely sad. You will note in my comment I was asking a question (not making a statement) and I will clarify it was in reference not to Calvinists in general, but Calvinism’s effect on you in particular. You shouldn’t imagine I have any reason to believe that most Calvinists would like to shoot people they deem to be heretics on sight!

            Your statement made me wonder if Servetus was a pedophile, torturer, or serial murderer or something. So, am I to understand you would want to kill him for making a false theological inference?

            I also have to admit Servetus sounds like a lot of Protestants I know (and I say this not to the exclusion of some Orthodox or Roman Catholics). Just substitute for baptism whatever outward “hoops” people must jump through in any particular Protestant tradition in order to give what is deemed to be the critical evidence of a proper “belief” in Christ, and you have much the same situation. I understand from Christians from Reformed backgrounds that not infrequently what they were taught gave them no assurance of salvation because, being conscious of their sins, they could never be absolutely sure they were truly among the “elect.”

            Orthodox and Roman Catholics also can have superficial and mechanical understandings of the teachings of their traditions and give the same sort of false impressions by what they claim to be the orthodox teaching. I’m sure we could find many examples of such things in most Christian traditions (ones that have any long-enough history to observe patterns, that is).

            Regarding St. John’s “anti-Semitism,” I have read the argument that, in context, St. John’s comments against the “Jews,” had to do with the Judaizing pressures that still existed in the Church during his day, where Christian Jews and those who did not accept Christ intermarried and, even if they didn’t, could be found within the same extended families, and Christians were caving into pressures in those contexts to come under the Mosaic Law again contrary to the canons of the Church, which were there to reinforce the oneness in Christ of all believers, whether from Jewish background or Gentile. His language also seems to mirror in many respects that of the Gospels about “the (unbelieving) Jews” who were in opposition to Christ and occurs, for the most part, perhaps for similar reasons. In any case, given his cultural context, his comments in no way reflect a modern-day “anti-Semitism” (it was not a blanket attack against anyone of Jewish faith or heritage), which Orthodox understand is a sin. To the extent that St. John’s statements have been used as a pretext for such a thing, this is a cause for grief for any Christian, Orthodox or otherwise. I am not aware of any respected Orthodox teacher or scholar, historic or contemporary, (and certainly not any Saint) who would defend anti-Semitism or the Russian pograms. Are you?

            Btw, “True Orthodox” are schismatics and are not (true Orthodox, that is). By that last statement, I am not meaning to make any inference or comment whatsoever one way or another on whether a “True Orthodox” is being saved or will ultimately be saved. I trust by God’s grace many of them are.

            So, am I to take it you would like me to understand that your statement about shooting Servetus on sight is to be taken as a reflection of the fact that you are a fellow sinner like me and not the fruit of your Calvinist beliefs?

          • Anastasios

            The Russian pogroms were no worse than anything that happened in the West….it was Germany and not Russia that ultimately

            Calvin, by the way, was far harsher on the Jews than Chrysostom; he once claimed that he had “never heard a Jew say anything sensible”. As Karen pointed out, Chryostom was strictly attacking Judaizing practices and wasn’t promoting anti-Semitism in the modern sense (despite the fact that anti-Semites nowadays frequently “claim” him). Calvin, on the other hand, really was just a plain-old anti-Semite.

          • Anastasios

            Whoops, I meant to say “it was Germany and not Russia that ultimately committed the worst atrocities against the Jewish people”.

  10. Scott R. Harrington

    The Golden Rule is the basic Christian Standard. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So, Calvin, in wanting Servetus dead, was asking for death for himself. The truth is so simple, a little child could understand it. America did not come into existence for nothing. We had a civil war to tell us slavery was wrong. And hating others, and killing others, is not a good thing. Because of hatred and bigotry against African Americans, must blood was shed. Because of the legacy of the Spanish Inquisition, and the Protestant Reformation, much blood was shed between 1200 AD and 1660 or so. Well into the modern era, after the great schism of 1054 AD, starting with the fourth crusade against holy Constantinople in 1204 AD. Continuing up until 1945 in Yugoslavia with the Roman Catholic Fascist Nazi Croatian Ustashe, and their killing of Jews, Gypsies, and Orthodox Serbs. At least Serbs. I believe they also would have wanted to kill Jews and Gypsies. At least the Germans did. The Croats were no better than the Germans in this matter.

  11. Charlie

    SRH: sorry, that “basic Christian Standard” went by me a little fast. I was, no – am – sure that it is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.” Who teaches this? well, surely God Himself.

  12. Charlie

    well, sorry, of course the second Commandment is like it “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” … bit even so, a bit more than a ‘standard’ don’t you think?

  13. Charlie

    and Scott, as for the ‘present day’ killings,, what can we say but “Lord have mercy…”
    many,many times.

  14. Scott R. Harrington

    Dear Friends, Anyone can play the false game that Chrysostom is as bad as Calvin or Luther. That’s trying to make such a judgment, when such statements should come from God, not from men. When did Chrysostom, St. John Chrysostom, say things as bad as Luther said in his old-age diatribe against the “Jews and their lies”? When did Chrysostom advocate any violence against them and their property? That is what Luther did. I have not read anything in Chrysostom that is questionable. If so, everyone is human. The saints deserve our understanding, because they are men like us, and they are much better than all of us. Than me, at least. I am much more like Luther, which is the basic reason I don’t want to be like that any more; I have learned that Lutheranism deceived me, and hurt me. Not my family and parents; they were much more mere Christians than Lutherans. I have nothing I hold on my upbringing anyway, whatever people did not tell me or whatever they did not do that maybe they could have done better. I largely made mistakes on my own emotions, and it just didn’t help that the Lutheran tradition has a real, anti-semitic, Antinomian (lawless) streak in it. That was in Luther. And in me. We need God’s mercy. As for Calvin, he was far more violent than St. John Chrysostom. And Luther was more volatile and aggressive that St. John Chrysostom. That is my opinion. I am humbled by the Orthodox Faith, and the good example of St. John Chrysostom, and I find no fault in him, or in my parents. God save us.

    • Zechariah Codex

      I am not saying Chrysostom was a bad guy for callign Jewish (Old Testament?) practices “devilry.” I am pointing out, in response to Karen, that if we want to judge a system by its “fruit” (and not by the actions of the original person/people), then Chrysostom is just as culpable as Nicholas I or Alexander III. I used to run with the hard-core Russian nationalists/True Orthodox guys. The question is not whether Chrysostom personally went Jew-bashing (though scholars have raised that question with regard to Cyril of Alexandria), but whether his sermons against the Jews are consistent with later actions by the Russian Orthodox.

      • Karen

        Dear Jacob,

        Re: fruit. That there will always be sinners and hypocrites ascribing (at least nominally) to any given theological system I would agree is a given. The question is, is there a Reformed or Protestant theological system that regularly and consistently over the centuries has continued to turn out, among those held forth as its most faithful and exemplary adherents (in terms of its “orthodoxy” and “orthopraxy”), people who look like the Orthodox (or even many of the Roman Catholic) Saints and contemporary elders/eldresses (such as the one I sent you a link to on one of your sites some time ago from the book, Everyday Saints)? More precisely, do you find that among those who adhere to your own particular preferred Protestant school of thought? Fruit is not the only consideration, but it is an important one. Ideas have consequences.

        Re: your background with the “True Orthodox” and “hard-core Russian nationalists”, all I can say is, I’m sorry. Have you ever considered taking a deep and sustained look inward at your own heart with the help of the Holy Spirit and in light of the example we are given of Jesus’ behavior and words in His passion, at what lies there that would make you so vulnerable to the influence such people (was well as their counterparts in the Reformed tradition, perhaps?) with a view to allowing God to heal that? I apologize for getting so personal here in a comments thread (and I’m not certainly not expecting you to lay your thoughts bare to me), but out of my own personal pain, struggles and experiences, I really do care. I have a hunch if you would decide to do that and give trying to intellectually defend your own theological position a long hiatus, you would soon be light years ahead of where you are now in your pursuit of the fullness of the truth of the gospel. I say this because I have found it to be true in my own spiritual life that this is what leads to true peace with God and with others (and greater clarity about the meaning of both the Scriptures and events in human and Church history). I have always also found it more spiritually fruitful to prayerfully allow the Scriptures to “read” me, than to try on my own to figure out exactly how all of the Scriptures ought to be read.

        • Zechariah Codex

          ***The question is, is there a Reformed or Protestant theological system that regularly and consistently over the centuries has continued to turn out, among those held forth as its most faithful and exemplary adherents (in terms of its “orthodoxy” and “orthopraxy”), people who look like the Orthodox (or even many of the Roman Catholic) Saints and contemporary elders/eldresses (such as the one I sent you a link to on one of your sites some time ago from the book, Everyday Saints)?***

          This begs a million questions. To answer your quesetion, “Yes, I see good fruit.” As relating to the Jews, it wasn’t until Calvin and the Scottish Reformation did the exegesis change to a pro-Hebrew slant. Chrysostom plainly says in his exposition of the Psalms “I hate the Jews.” Plain as that. He didn’t say Judaizing Christians. He said Jews.

          ***Have you ever considered taking a deep and sustained look inward at your own heart with the help of the Holy Spirit***

          Yes. That’s why I stopped pursuing Orthodoxy. I could not embrace contradictions and the standard slant against logic and the West confirmed the point.

          ***I have a hunch if you would decide to do that and give trying to intellectually defend your own theological position a long hiatus, you would soon be light years ahead of where you are now in your pursuit of the fullness of the truth of the gospel.***

          I know you mean well, but that’s condescending. I can easily turn the question around. Jesus said to love God with all our *mind* and Paul said we are to perform a “rational” liturgy.

          • Karen

            Jacob, thanks for allowing my good intentions and please forgive the (accidental) condescension.

            “Jesus said to love God with all our *mind* and Paul said we are to perform a “rational” liturgy.”

            Could you explain what you understand by the terms “mind” and “rational” in these texts? (We could also invoke the phrase “reason-endowed sheep” from certain prayers in the Orthodox Liturgy, btw.) Specifically, would you clarify, does the employment of our “mind” or exercise of our “rational” faculty in this sense correspond, do you think, to the term “reason” as it is used in Isaiah 1:18?

          • Karen

            Just to clarify, too, I wasn’t asking if you saw “good fruit” (very general category) amongst Reformed and Protestant Christians, but if you saw good fruit (especially among those most carefully and faithfully espousing the theological distinctives you regard as most central/important to the orthodoxy and orthopraxy you observe) on the order of that which is in evidence in the lives of Orthodox Saints and contemporary Elders, such as Fr. John (Krestiankin)?

            Perhaps you have and, if so, perhaps you could point me to a source of information about them, but while I find some extraordinarily heroic Christians evidencing the Holy Spirit’s activity in their lives to love and admire among Protestants (historic and contemporary), I don’t believe I have ever seen or heard report of anything quite on the order or scale of someone like a Fr. John (Krestiankin) or a St. Seraphim of Sarov, or a St. Simeon the New Theologian, or contemporary Greek Elder Porphyrios of Athens or Mother Gavrilia of Greece, for some examples.

            I should also clarify that I expect, through the grace of God, there to be plenty of virtue and good fruit in anyone of good will, who listens to the Holy Spirit speaking to their conscience, even outside of the Orthodox tradition. Even outside of the Orthodox Church, elements of a genuine Apostolic Christian tradition persist and bear good fruit.

  15. Scott R. Harrington

    Calvinism did not affect me directly, as I was in Lutheranism and Pentecostalism, more than Calvinism. I did not learn or accept Calvin’s teachings. I learned more of Luther. The more learned of the aspects of his teachings, I did not like all the aspects I learned. There is a significant antinomian streak in Lutheranism. There seems to be something of this in Pentecostalism, as well. In any case, much of early Luther was very similar to Calvin in its theological determinism. Luther later seems to have changed his mind on this, perhaps significantly so. I don’t know. At any rate, I think what I did is behind most of my errors, in the things I did, more than in the false doctrines I was taught. Maybe not. I can’t measure what effect Lutheran antinomianism had on my actual conduct.

    • Zechariah Codex

      That analysis of Luther is probably true, at least relating to the early Luther. Luther in his old age, and in contrast to Lutheranism, did take a healthy view of the moral Law of God.

      I’ve tried to tell Orthodox this, but I don’t follow Calvin. I happen to agree with him on predestination (though his treatment is woefully incomplete), and I think some of his comments on the unity of the covenants are quite interesting, but that’s it. Calvin really wasn’t that popular in Reformed circles (at least not like today) until the 19th century when most of his works started getting translated out of Latin.

      With the exception of eschatology, Turretin and Charles Hodge are probably more accurate exemplars of Reformed thought.

  16. Zechariah Codex


    *** had to do with the Judaizing pressures that still existed in the Church during his day,***

    Officially, yes, but his sermons on the Psalms are not attacking Judaizing Christians, but Jews themselves (where he adopts the standard Augustinian line that Jews are perpetually cursed to wander the earth).

    • Anastasios

      Well, that just shows he was influenced by Augustine (who was a Westerner).

      If I’m not mistaken, Oriental Orthodoxy has always had a very pro-Hebrew vibe to it, and has always been virtually free of anti-Semitism. After all, many ethnic groups that adhere to OO (like the Nasrani, the Syriacs and arguably the Ethiopians) are descended from Jews, or at least Semites. Ethiopian Orthodoxy even includes replicas of the ark of the covenant in every church! I’m surprised the Christian Zionists and Messianic Jews aren’t heading over to Lalibela in droves. It’d be the perfect place for them! 😉

  17. Scott R. Harrington

    Zechariah Codex: It is precisely on his doctrine (dogma) of (double) predestination that Calvin is sinful (heretical). It is the double part that is the sin. If that is so, God directly creates evil, and approves of it. Everything evil and bad, including satan himself, is God’s predestined will. And then it would mean that evil is good. And this is clearly bad, because God’s nature is wholly good: God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness (no evil) at all. So Calvinism justifies sins, deaths, killings, and so on. For Calvinism sin, disobedence, and death, are all good things. Because God wills them, supposedly. An unreal false god is preached by this antinomianism of Calvin.

  18. Zechariah Codex

    Well, you assert it’s sinful. I assert it’s not. Mexican stand-off. Though in his response to David Bentley Hart, Doug Wilson irrefutably showed how Hart’s aversion to predestination in the Calvinian form guts his theology.

    • Karen

      How do we know Doug Wilson really properly understood what Hart was saying? It took me several attempts (in certain sections) with a dictionary at hand to digest what Hart was saying in his necessarily abridged apology for the Orthodox understanding of the explanation of evil in light of God’s sovereignty in The Doors of the Sea. Do you have a link to Wilson’s piece?

      • Karen

        Found the link at your site–no need to respond. Pretty sure Wilson has no real understanding of Hart’s argument. I suspect since Wilson assumes Western philosophical categories, he has no structure on which to hang much of what it is Hart really is saying (and actually thus proves Hart’s point that for many modern Christians, the fact that evil has no ontological substance of its own, but is rather a sort of “ontological wasting disease” on what God has created means that evil is, by Christian definition, without meaning in and of itself and entirely unnecessary to the fulfillment of God’s purposes, which He will nevertheless fulfill in the end anyway. Thanks for providing the link (at your site).

        • Karen

          Whoops! Sorry for the indequate proof-reading before (late evening) posting. That ridiculously long run-on sentence should have read:

          “. . . (and actually thus proves Hart’s point that for many modern Christians, the fact that evil has no ontological substance of its own, but is rather a sort of “ontological wasting disease” on what God has created, is something they just cannot comprehend or accept). Evil, by Christian definition, defies explanation, being without meaning in and of itself, and is entirely unnecessary to the fulfillment of God’s purposes. It entered the scene only as a contingency because God’s creation of beings with the freedom to exercise their will against His made it a possibility. This kind of creaturely freedom is good in itself because it is necessary to man’s free will offering of himself to God in love in response to God’s freely-offered love, which is the Orthodox definition of salvation and the fulfillment–the proper end and purpose–of human nature and our personhood).

          • Karen

            *sigh!* Please delete that last end parenthesis!

          • David


            new to this discussion, but spent a good bit of time reading the wilson link on jacob’s site last night. did not come away thinking wilson (or jacob either?) have understood hart clearly. this is likely partly hart’s fault as much as theirs as the eastern mind does seem to deal with “causation” very differently than the western mind. i’m personally perplexed how God’s creation of a free human agent in man who can choose disobedience and thus evil — makes Him the ultimate cause of evil is a ‘logical necessity’. thus, i suppose the creation of a female (eve) thus make rape a possibility…thus God the ultimate “cause” of all rapes? then Jacob calls this freedom of will in humanity, free to sin (without God’s active predestinating decree) “open theology” — seem far removed from how the Fathers thought of human freedom, evil — and it’s cause. what am i missing here?

            that being said, is the notion in both aquinas and calvin that the Triune God as a necessity of evil itself…to display grace and salvation is also a bizarre notion. so grace, incarnation and salvation are all dependent upon evil? Not. robin phillips has written on this and i’ll try to find it.

        • Karen


          Thanks for the contribution. Yes, something seems off about the “logic” that makes God the ultimate responsible agent for evil because He created a world in which it was possible, and I think your analogy about the creation of woman making rape a possibility and therefore God the ultimate “cause” of rape is an apt one and helpful. I will be interested in Jacob’s thoughts. I feel hobbled here by my lack of formal theological and philosophical training.

          • Karen

            Further, I would have to agree part of the fault for misunderstandings is Hart’s in that he is definitely not always easy to follow. He tends to regularly weave together multiple strands of thought all in one long sentence, such that it easy for us folks with a much shorter capacity for remembering sequences to get hopelessly lost in some places!

  19. Scott R. Harrington

    Things are what they are. Not a matter of opinion. Or open to negotiation. Calvinism is wrong, by the one standard that counts: the faith once delivered unto the saints (St. Jude 3 KJV). It has been declared so officially by the holy council of Jerusalem, in Jerusalem, 1672 AD. There is no valid authority or truthfulness in the heresies of Protestantism. It is schismatic and traditions of men, of the Protestant Reformers as mini-popes, pontificating about “faith alone” and “Scripture alone”, errors which none of the early Christians taught. Nothing about such matters in the earliest post-NT documents, the “Apostolic Fathers”. See Fr. Jack N. Sparks, Ph.D., ed., The Apostolic Fathers. Minneapolis, MN: Light and Life Publishing Company. See: Confession of Dositheus, 1672 AD. In: John H. Leith, ed. Creeds of the Churches: A Reader In Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present. Third Edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press; Confession of Dositheus, cf. pp. 485-517. The Holy LORD Jesus Christ, our GOD and our Saviour, says, “But when the Comforter is come, Whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, Who proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me”. St. John 15:26 TMB NAV. The Calvinist Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647 AD (England, “Presbyterian”), says: Chapter II. Of God, and of the Holy Trinity. III. “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost [sic]. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost [sic] eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.” (page 197.). “The Filioque is heretical”. “The Western Church believes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Eastern Church believes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and is sent into the world by the Son. Either the Western Church is confusing the “procession” with the “mission” or is deliberately closing its eyes to the difference. /”We would ask just one question: Where does it say in Scripture that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son? Nowhere! On the contrary, it says clearly and bluntly (John 15:26) that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father”. (page 45.). Archimandrite Vassilios Bakoyannis. (1998). “ONE LORD, ONE FAITH” (Ephesians 4:5). An Introduction to comparative Christian doctrine. English translation, from the Greek, by W.J. Lillie. Apostle Andrew Press, Kazantzaki 14, 264 42 Patras, Greece. God save us. Amen.

  20. Zechariah Codex

    *** Where does it say in Scripture that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son?***

    I would love to answer the question, but the very question presupposes (at least temporarily) that Scripture is clear and understandable, otherwise why even ask me to consult it?

  21. Scott R. Harrington

    Zechariah, That presupposes that the Scripture is not clear and is not understandable, and that Matthew 16:18 and John 16:13 are meaningless, and no one is, or ever can be, led into all of the truth by the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, Christ is not the LORD, but is the Liar. Or at least a Lunatic. It’s still a case of where the Lord Jesus Christ is Lord, Liar, or Lunatic; or God, Ghost, or Guru. Calvinism “can’t handle the truth” (cf. Jack Nicholson, “A Few Good Men”) (!). And every argument is, or contains, a string of assertions, and a string of conclusions. The logic of every argument leads inescapably to certain, limited, fixed, and necessary conclusions, and assertions of what the truth is. People by the free will willingly reject the Truth, and hold God they know in unrighteousness, because the evidence of God that can be seen by all and known in the creation, His creations, by the things that are made, by Him, is clearly seen, but men, living in, with, and for their sins, willfully choose NOT to retain God in their knowledge, in their “science falsely so-called”, such as Darwin’s theory of biological evolutionism. See Romans 1:18-25 KJV. Thus Calvinism, denying moral responsibility in all men, who have no moral freedom, being “totally depraved” and with any choice to make about what they do, leads inescapably to moral relativism, antinomianism, disobedience to God, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, determinism, double predestination, sin as “God’s will”, and there is no incentive for any one anywhere to “repent and believe the Gospel”. Case in point: product of Calvinist Scotland, the atheist/agnostic philosopher, David Hume. God save us.

  22. Zechariah Codex

    I didn’t really see any point or interaction in the above text.

    ***Thus Calvinism, denying moral responsibility in all men, who have no moral freedom,***

    That’s false, as even a surface level reading of any Reformed text would demonstrate.

    *** Case in point: product of Calvinist Scotland, the atheist/agnostic philosopher, David Hume. God save us.***

    Case in point: product of Orthodox seminary, Joseph Stalin, God save us.

  23. Scott R. Harrington

    The difference: Orthodoxy does not justify sin. Stalin rejected the Gospel. Willingly. He was not taught the rejection of the Gospel by the Orthodox monastery. Calvinism, however, teaches God CAUSES sin, and people have no other choice but to sin. Because God approves of it, willingly, and predesinatingly. See: Clark, Gordon H. Clark Speaks From The Grave. Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation. See: Calvin, John. (1961). On the Eternal Predestination of God. J.K.S. Reid, trans. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. Calvinism openly promotes the idea that God is the cause, direct, infallible, and pre-determining CAUSE of EVERYTHING whatsoever that happens, to the smallest detail of everything that all men say, do, think, feel, and believe. And God is in charge of causing disaster, tragedy, pain, death, sin, rebellion against God, blasphemy against God, hatred of God, evil, badness, disappointment, doubt, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, hatred, strife, division, war, heresy, false doctrine, false religions, satanism, satan, demons, death, corruption, hell, damnation, double predestination, death of children, corruption of the created world, despair, hopelessness, the darkness of men’s deeds, the lostness of the loss, the unbelief of all of the unbelievers, “god” in the “god” of Calvinism does all of these things, knowingly, willingly, and purposefully, to torture and torment those whom He causes to sin, and that means everyone, everywhere, in all ages, since the creation of Adam, whom He caused to sin, and to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, together with Eve, together with Lucifer, whom this “god” cause to rebel against himself, and thus to create evil; this Calvinistic “god” creates evil, along with the good; in this “god”, this “god” is not Light and Goodness and mercy and Holiness alone, this “god” is darkness and despair and disobedience, and demonism and damnation. This “god” of Calvin causes everything bad in the world, and there is not rebelling against “him” by obeying him and believing in “him”: “he” causes men to disobey “him”, and “he” does not want all men to be saved, to come to repentance, or to the knowledge of the Truth; thus, in Calvinism, the greatest sin of the Bible itself is to teach what 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4 teach, for here the Bible contradicts this Calvinism: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV. And: “For this is good and acceptable, in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to knowledge of the Truth”. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 KJV. There you have it; a clear choice must be made between believing either John Calvin in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, or between believing Saint Peter in 2 Peter 3:9 and believing Saint Paul in 1 Timothy 2:3-4. See Isaiah 45:5 KJV. God save us all. Amen.

    • Zechariah Codex

      Forgive me for not reading long blocks of text with no paragraph breaks. I had to note this comment:

      ***Calvinism, however, teaches God CAUSES sin, and people have no other choice but to sin***

      I know I sound like a broken record, but a) Calvin didn’t say anything Aquinas didn’t say on the matter (not that we follow Calvin), b) Calvin–and Aquinas–taught that God is the ultimate cause, not the proximate cause, and c) your position can’t account for sin without either becoming predestinarian, Manichean, or open theist. This is where Wilson clinched the debate.

      Predestinarian: Presumably God knew that Adam would sin. Why didn’t he stop it? Usually, it’s some answer that God’s greater plan or glory would result. To say free will, while true in some vague or abstract sense, only muddies the issue. If God knew that a pedophile would rape a little girl, but made the ultimate factor in not responding so that he could respect the pedophile’s free will, how is this any better than Calvin? As any Freshman atheist will point out, it’s worse.

      Manichean: Evil/sin seems to have an independent origin of God.

      Open theist: God either doesn’t know what will happen or he can’t stop it, or both. Probably the worst option.

      • Karen

        “Calvin didn’t say anything Aquinas didn’t say on the matter. . .”

        Seems like a good place to remind us of this:

        On the feast of St. Nicholas [in 1273, Aquinas] was celebrating Mass when he received a revelation that so affected him that he wrote and dictated no more, leaving his great work the Summa Theologiae unfinished. To Brother Reginald’s (his secretary and friend) expostulations he replied, “The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.” When later asked by Reginald to return to writing, Aquinas said, “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.” (www.catholic-forum.com/saintS/stt03002.htm)

        Having noted that, I will confess that there is much about the mystery of man’s free will (limited, I believe, we would all allow, by the confounding reality of sin’s entry into the world) and God’s sovereignty that is beyond human comprehension or perhaps will always defy satisfactory explanation this side of the grave. I can certainly allow the probability, while I disagree in strongest possible terms with the fidelity to the biblical teaching of the L in TULIP, that Calvin was at least attempting a coherent explanation in light of what he understood from the Scriptures. Am I remembering something I read correctly that TULIP was not actually Calvin’s creation but that of those who came after him?

        Jacob, I would very sincerely be interested in as clear, concise and concrete an account as you could attempt of what it is that you believe “double predestination” really means. Perhaps you have already addressed this at one of your sites. I will not be able to evaluate what you say against the sources you are claiming as the basis for those convictions, but at least if I have a contribution I want to make or a question to ask, I will be able to engage what it is you actually believe. I confess a lot of abstraction and reference to philosophical terms (without some explanation) will quickly lose me because I’m not trained philosophically and am a very concrete thinker.

        How also do you understand the Scriptures about God’s desire that all be saved and that the wicked not perish, etc., in light of God’s sovereignty?

        Feel free to post a link (or links) if you have one to answer those questions.

        • Zechariah Codex

          For the sake of ease of response, I’ll try to answer those questions on my own site. Pertaining to God’s willing of all to be saved, I’ve answered that in some detail in my discussion of Turretin.

      • Karen

        Below I am posting a comment I made to Jacob (with a couple of clarifications) under the post at his site where he repeats the substance of his comment above.

        From here: http://bayouhuguenot.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/open-theism-or-the-certainty-of-gods-foreknowledge/).


        I have given more thought to trying to communicate why, given the assumption of the true Christian definition of God, I believe the question “Why didn’t God stop evil?” is illogical, not perhaps in the sense of mathematically logical syllogisms, but in the sense of genuinely spiritually meaningful (assuming those things can sometimes be different).

        Here’s my attempt to explain:

        1. Creation, by Christian definition, being the result of God’s Self-expression in going out from Himself (God in His “energies”?) must give rise to morally intelligent and free creatures (i.e., the fullness of His image in created form).

        2. Free creatures, by definition being brought into and sustained in existence by God, but not being God in themselves (that is, God in His “essence”), may (not must) will or act in a limited independence from God and contrary to His wisdom and goodness, thus the inherent logical possibility of sin in that which is not, in itself, God.

        3. To ask why God didn’t stop evil, therefore, is equivalent in spiritual meaning to asking, “Why did God not rather choose not to create?,” since the possibility of evil is logically inherent (though its actualization not ontologically necessary) in God’s act of creation as Self-expression.

        4. Asking “Why did not God rather choose not to create?” is logically and grammatically equivalent to asking “Why did God create?”, which is also logically and spiritually equivalent to asking, “Why does God express Himself?”

        Does this make sense?

        • Karen

          Why does God express Himself? is reasonable to ask, though the answer is something of a tautology. The answer, of course, is “love.” God’s love. God loves because “God is love” in the words of the Apostle John.

          Inasmuch as the answers likely to be offered to this question are more spiritually meaningful and beneficial than those typically offered to the one, “Why doesn’t God stop evil?” I think it is at least better, if not more logical in the strictly mathematical sense, to put it in these terms.

          Trying to answer the latter question in any way other than I have done above–for example by making references to God’s “predestination” and “unfathomable purposes”, while perhaps not altogether incorrect in some context, are extremely likely to muddy the waters, as such language is normally understood (whether properly is up for debate, I suppose) as God’s “will” in the most unqualified and direct and deterministic manner possible and, thus, easily misconstrued to be asserting that evil in its actualization is somehow “necessary” to the fulfillment of God’s good purpose and “glorifies” God in and of itself. As we both I think can agree, from this rather natural (and inevitable?) misconstruction all sorts of monstrous distortions of our understanding of God’s nature flow.

        • David

          karen (& others)

          here a very provocative article by bright Orthodox convert robin phillips that i believe touches on our subject here. it has to do with brain neuro-plasticity and ‘how’ we learn to think…culturally. it has import to just ‘what’ is ‘logical’ and possible for God…in our minds and presuppositions. as we’ve said before, one reason it is hard for those in the West/Aquinas/Calvin mindset to understand the East/Orthodox…are these operating presuppositions about what’s logical/possible for God and a free humanity. (there’s also another article link within at salvo i think, worthy of reading). enjoy!


          • Karen

            Excellent link there, David. Thanks. I especially appreciate and agree with Phillips’ conclusion.

            P.S. I was a Psych. major in college and “Sense and Perception” (the study of the neural map and programming of the brain and its processing of sensory information) was far and away my favorite course.

  24. Scott R. Harrington

    Contradictions? That’s why I stopped pursuing Lutheranism, with the antinomian streak of Martin Luther, which increased and worsened in the predestinarianism and determinism of John Calvin, which I could not accept at all, I could not, because of respect for the faith once delivered unto the saints, by Christ and His Church, I could not ever accept Calvinism. Not ever. I hope I resist Calvinism and Lutheranism, always, for always. God help me. And I could not remain in Pentecostalism, which, in a way, has probably left more emotional and psychological scars upon my soul, perhaps more than the scars I bear in myself because of my Lutheranism. Zechariah Codex, The sad fact is that Calvinism lacks humility and happiness in God, is a sadness of soul based on a warped and false concept of what the Sovereignty of God has to mean, in purely human thinking, philosophy, Persian Zoroastrian influence, Manichaeism, the ancient Persian fatalistic heresies (which were also in Babylonian fatalism, which is inherited in Islam, Mohammedanism, as well), rationalism, traditions of men, Augustinianism as a neo-Platonism taken from some of Greek philosophy, in short, an evil gnosticism which seeks to be a “genius”, rather than an Apostle and a friend of Jesus Christ (Cf. Kierkegaard, Soren. “The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle. Harper & Row, Publishers). An evil pursuit of Calvin, Aquinas, Anselm of Canterbury, John Duns Scotus, Augustine of Hippo; these men exhibited some tendencies toward rationalism, and scholasticism seems to be a rationalistic hyper-intellectualistic pursuit akin to a “secret knowledge” sectarian esoteric gnostics, elitist caste system of high Calvinist gurus, “god’s” “elect”, even, in Dutch Calvinist Apartheid, a kind of Calvinistic, Social Darwinist racism, and Calvin was a kind of “Bible Bigot” (it has been perhaps fairly said that Calvinism is sort of neo-Nestorians, and certain Calvinists like Gordon H. Clark have been seen as Nestorians), and Calvin, John Calvin, was certainly a cold-hearted, cruel and heartless man, who did not like to “love his enemies”, and who seems to have been like many of us, having problems, personal problems. I will give him credit: Calvin did love the Bible. He surely seemed like he, at times, only wanted to do the right thing. But in his pursuit of intellectual knowledge, he had a zeal without knowledge, that lacked a certain amount of love for any but the closest people to him. It is a human problem. Surely, one can have a love for family, love ones, and if one has a wife, for a wife, and for family, children, brothers, father, mother, and close relatives, and close friends. But loving one’s enemies is hard for the natural man, that old man that exists, even in born again Christians, which is hard to manage. Our emotions sometimes drag us into a certain lovelessness. We need to remember how forgiven we are by Christ, and how much He loves us, and then we can begin loving everyone, including loving Calvin, and only hoping for Calvin that he would have loved Servetus and others more. God help us. The thing about Calvinist intellectualism is it lacks a certain humility, and a certain failure to live up to 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. This is a weakness of justification by faith “alone” in Protestantism; in so emphasizing, “faith, faith, and ONLY faith”, it tends to forget all above love, which is greater, better, more important than faith alone. 1 Corinthians 13:2 is precisely what is desperately needed in all of us as greatly sinful human beings, whether we are Calvinists, or not. We need to overcome our sins, in Christ’s mercy, and certainly not become like the Calvinist’s who so talk about God’s predestination, they forget very much about the simple truth of God’s love for everyone, and not for “the elect only”. Cf. John 3:16 KJV. God save us all. “For God so loved THE WORLD, that He gave His Only-begotten Son; that WHOSOEVER believeth in Him should not perish, but have Everlasting Life.” John 3:16 KJV. God save us all in Christ Jesus. Amen. In Erie PA Scott R. Harrington November 2013 AD

  25. The Anti-Nihilist


    …Glad to see I’m not the only one who believes the Reformed sect has a different god…

    • robertar

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!


  26. ChesterKhan

    Hi! Wandering Roman Catholic passing through. He nods his head emphatically to the author of this article regarding his point: ignoring the Fathers of the Church is dangerous and leads to grave errors. I suspect the world we see today, secular, materialistic, attacking Christians – this arose from erroneous thoughts such as determinism – that a man will only choose to be good provided certain conditions, and without them has no free will. It has what has lead to the classism both of communists and of aristocrats. It has lead to the appeal to the state as a final moral authority. And it finally has lead to the theological universalism we see among unchurched people these days.

    Thank you for making this important point, Robert!

    • robertar


      I’m glad you liked the article. Thanks!


  27. Bryan Castleman

    Does this inductive argument lead to a high probability that there is any consensus ?
    I can add another quote to the pile regarding free will.

    “Man, using free will…” – Augustine

    If it wasn’t from Augustine (supposedly a fountain of bad beliefs), this could possibly be more support for an argument about early church consensus. Unfortunately, the quote in context does not lend support.

    Let’s just say that the above argument is a good argument and there really is a consensus. Let’s say that Calvin was wrong in his conclusions. Let’s say there was a consensus among the early church regarding the freedom of the will.

    What then ?

    An ancient belief is not necessarily true. A popular belief is not necessarily true. To say otherwise is to make a fallacious argument.

    • David

      Hey Bryan,

      Would you agree that the repeated exhortation of the Apostle Paul
      to keep the “Tradition” (before a completed or recognized NT) implies
      some sort of Apostolic Tradition their disciples would know and re-
      cognize? If not why not? Would you agree also this follows Christ’s
      promise to send the Spirit to lead them (supernaturally) into all Truth?
      If not why…if so, then the notion of a broad consensus (despite heresies
      noted and refuted) is likely, and to be expected? So then, is not the
      Orthodox zeal for and preservation of Holy Tradition not rooted in
      both the history of, and Christ’s promise of the Spirit to the Church?
      Therefore, is it logically plausible to assume this Apostolic Orthodox
      Church somehow got the Liturgy, Calender, Doctrine of Man, Salvation
      and Church Councils dead wrong. This would include Saint Augustine
      along with thousands of other Bishops and Saints…who were decidedly
      NOT protestant the first 1,000…or 1,500 years? You see, in rejecting
      the place of Holy Tradition…protestant reject a host of logical assump-
      tions resting on the promise of Christ, and the exhortations of the
      Apostles in the Scriptures they eventually wrote. Of course, you can
      place your bet on the modern notion that anything old “could” likely
      be wrong. But then given the above…the Spirit more likely actually
      DOES exactly what Christ promised it would, no?

  28. Scott R. Harrington

    Note:Josef Stalin was not the product of an Orthodox seminary; he rejected Orthodoxy and did not seem to have accepted Christ, and Orthodoxy is all about Christ, not about burning people at the site. It was only after the burnings at the stake in the 16th century among Protestants and Roman Catholics that in the 17th century in Russia, the official Russian church lost its Orthodoxy and imitated the West and burned the Orthodox Old Believers at the stake; some of the Old Believers too lost their Orthodoxy and burned themselves to death.

    • David

      forgive me scott…but i’m missing your point. there IS one right?

  29. Scott R. Harrington

    David, The point was, I responded to someone’s
    misleading comment, “An Orthodox seminary produced Josef Stalin”. What did the person who wrote that intend to mean by that comment? Who was responsible for the conduct of Josef Stalin: Josef ‘Stalin himself, or an Orthodox seminary? Is there is an implication that something in Orthodox tradition sanctioned or approved of communism and mass genocide or political assassination? Calvin’s inquisition is directly linked to the Augustinian roots of religious violence in Roman Catholicism, in Augustine, Aquinas, Charlemagne, and Calvin’s Augustinian double predestination caste system of elect and reprobate, and thus tied to Calvin’s Protestant violence.

    • David

      Sorry…give the time and distance between comments, I lost
      the continuity of the thread, and it made no sense to me.
      Now it does, and I agree! 😉

      • David

        i should have been more precise saying i agree “with
        all the first part”. following your logic here i also
        believe it inappropriate to hold Calvin responsible for
        the violence of the Geneva city council, or other violent
        protestants…much less hold Augustine responsible for
        Calvin’s double predestination. let us be as charitable
        as we can…and slow to assign dubious blame to others.
        Saint Augustine was exponentially more historic Orthodox…
        than a ‘reformed protestant’! 😉

  30. Nelson Banuchi

    When I click onto “found in Mako Nagasawa’s “Human Free Will and God’s Grace in the Early Church Fathers” (August 2013),” a message comes up that the page cannot be accessed. Wold you be able to correct that or send me the paper, via email: atdcross@hotmail.com? Thanks.

    • Robert Arakaki


      Thanks! I fixed the link.


  31. Nelson Banuchi

    Btw, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and the information provided is great!

  32. Craig

    Wonderful article!

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