Sunday, March 6, 2011

Athanasius' Quote Before Augustine

One of the debates in defense or rebuke of Calvinism is provided by the teaching and writing of the church during the first four centuries before Augustine. By 400 AD Augustine was writing theology that would effect Church doctrine for the rest of time. Much of his writing was responsible for the dark ages and false teaching that would follow. Augustine understood predestination and total depravity the way Calvin would 1,100 years later. They taught that man had lost his ability to respond positively to the gospel with his own free will. Augustine, like Calvin, taught that man had to be changed by God first before man would accept the gospel. In this line thinking certain men were predestined in eternity past to be forcefully saved by God with no help from the will of man.

The question is: What did the church teach and believe about free will before Augustine added his philosophic corruptions into Christian theology? One quote I taught this last week as we went through church history was a quote by Athanasius from around 353. Athanasius was the theological hero of the Council of Nicea in 325. He had been one of the few who stood against Arian and his false teaching that the Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, had been a created being. Athanasius convinced the Council of Nicea that Jesus was eternal, the ever existing Son of God. Athanasius won the day and we hold to this teaching yet today.

Constantine had Christianized the Roman Empire. After Constantine died in 353 AD his sons (Constantine II, Constans and Constantius) killed hundreds of their father's offspring to secure the throne. Then Constans slew Constantine II. Constans was killed in battle which left Constantius the sole ruler of the Christian Roman Empire (Byzantine). Constantius proceeded to pillage and destroy the Pagan temples and gave the booty to the church.

This was the beginning of the Christian state government which forced its will and rule on all people. Christianity had not only been made a legal religion, but had now become the only option. It was in this militant Christian state fifty years before Augustine that Athanasius wrote the following to rebuke Constantius and his violent oppression of man's free will to respond to the gospel:
“Satan, because there is no truth in him, breaks in with axe and sword. But the Savior is gentle, and forces no one, to whom he comes, but knocks and speaks to the soul . . . If we open to him, he enters; but if we will not, he departs. For the truth is not preached by sword and dungeon, by might of an army, but by persuasion and exhortation. How can there be persuasion where fear of the emperor is uppermost? How exhortation, where the contradicter has to expect banishment and death?”
It appears that Athanasius, who was very familiar with the writings of the Apostle Paul, did not feel that the Scriptures supported the concept of a total depravity that destroyed man's ability to hear the Savior knocking. It appears that Athanasius, who had correctly defended the deity of Jesus Christ, understood that man had the ability to reject the offer of salvation. There is no hint of Augustine's or Calvin's warped teaching in Athanasius' writing and no support of the Calvinistic concept assigned to Paul's writing about the sin nature of man and God's predestination.

As I have time I will continue to post comments from the early church that reveal their views of Paul's writings before theology was corrupted by Augustine.

Galyn Wiemers
Generation Word