Faith Fridays: Regarding Free Will

Today I have decided not to use my own words, but the words of an old church father, to talk about a big discussion in the church: free will. That church father I mentioned is none other than St. Augustine! Here is the question: Can God’s sovereignty and free will coexist? So here is a small piece from the piece “Augustine’s Retractions”. He nails it excellently. Prepare yourselves; it’s a bit wordy and it is quite formal, but it does explain it all quite well.

It’s about to get deep, y’all.


Now He has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in a man a free choice of will. But how He has revealed this I do not recount in human language, but in divine. There is, to begin with, the fact that God’s precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards. For they are given that no one might be able to plead the excuse of ignorance, as the Lord says concerning the Jews in the gospel:

If I had not come and spoken unto them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. John 15:22

Of what sin does He speak but of that great one which He foreknew, while speaking thus, that they would make their own— that is, the death they were going to inflict upon Him? For they did not have no sin before Christ came to them in the flesh. The apostle also says:

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold back the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him are from the creation of the world clearly seen— being understood by the things that are made— even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are inexcusable. Romans 1:18-20

In what sense does he pronounce them to be inexcusable, except with reference to such excuse as human pride is apt to allege in such words as, If I had only known, I would have done it; did I not fail to do it because I was ignorant of it? or, I would do it if I knew how; but I do not know, therefore I do not do it? All such excuse is removed from them when the precept is given them, or the knowledge is made manifest to them how to avoid sin.

[Much, much later…]

Lest, however, it should be thought that men themselves in this matter do nothing by free will, it is said in the Psalm, Harden not your hearts; and in Ezekiel himself,

Cast away from you all your transgressions, which you have impiously committed against me; and make you a new heart and a new spirit; and keep all my commandments. For why will you die, O house of Israel, says the Lord? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies, says the Lord God: and turn ye, and live. Ezekiel 18:31-32

We should remember that it is He who says,Turn ye and live, to whom it is said in prayer, Turn us again, O God. We should remember that He says, Cast away from you all your transgressions, when it is even He who justifies the ungodly. We should remember that He says, Make you a new heart and a new spirit, who also promises,

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will put within you. Ezekiel 36:26

How is it, then, that He who says, Make you, also says, I will give you? Why does He command, if He is to give? Why does He give if man is to make, except it be that He gives what He commands when He helps him to obey whom He commands? There is, however, always within us a free will—but it is not always good; for it is either free from righteousness when it serves sin—and then it is evil—or else it is free from sin when it serves righteousness—and then it is good. But the grace of God is always good; and by it it comes to pass that a man is of a good will, though he was before of an evil one. By it also it comes to pass that the very good will, which has now begun to be, is enlarged, and made so great that it is able to fulfil the divine commandments which it shall wish, when it shall once firmly and perfectly wish. This is the purport of what the Scripture says:

If you will, you shall keep the commandments; Ecclesiastes 15:15

so that the man who wills but is not able knows that he does not yet fully will, and prays that he may have so great a will that it may suffice for keeping the commandments. And thus, indeed, he receives assistance to perform what he is commanded. Then is the will of use when we have ability; just as ability is also then of use when we have the will. For what does it profit us if we will what we are unable to do, or else do not will what we are able to do?


To finish up this whole thing, go to newadvent.org, because there’s not a chance I would put up the whole thing here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s