‘Augustine himself. (A wonderful saint! As full of pride, passion, bitterness, censoriousness, and as foul-mouthed to all that contradicted him… When Augustine’s passions were heated, his word is not worth a rush. And here is the secret: St. Augustine was angry at Pelagius: Hence he slandered and abused him, (as his manner was,) without either fear or shame. And St. Augustine was then in the Christian world, what Aristotle was afterwards: There needed no other proof of any assertion, than Ipse dixit: “St. Augustine said it.” ‘
– John Wesley, The Works of the Late Reverend John Wesley (1835 Edition), volume 2, p. 110
‘Calvinists have tried to say that the doctrine of man’s total inability is the historic position of the Church, but that is simply not true. Many take for granted that the Church has always held to the doctrine of total inability. Yet a study of history reveals that the doctrine of free will was universally taught by the Early Church, without exception, for the first three to four hundred years. The Early Church was continually defending the doctrine of free will and refuting the Gnostic’s who held to the doctrine of total inability and determinism or fatalism.
The Gnostic’s had a predestination philosophy, or a fatalistic mentality of “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be.)” But the Early Church believed that man’s free choice had a major contribution or ultimate determination to his course and destiny. The Gnostic’s, who claimed to be the real Christians, taught that man’s nature was so corrupted and ruined that man did not have a free choice between good and evil; while the Early Church taught that God has granted the faculty of free will to the nature of all mankind and has preserved that free will so that it has not been lost, as we shall see.
There are those today who make the doctrine of total inability an essential doctrine of the Christian faith and are quick to condemn anyone who would dare question or challenge it. But in the times of early Christianity, the doctrine of free will was considered orthodox and the doctrine of total inability was heretical. Being considered orthodox or heretical is merely a matter of dates. The Early Church said that only Gnostic’s deny the freedom of the will; yet many denominations of our day say that only heretics affirm it.
Gnosticism vs. Early Christianity
In the days of the Early Church, the debate between the freedom of man’s will vs. the total depravity of man’s nature was one of the major divisions between the early Christians and the Gnostic sects. Beausobre said, “…those ancient writers, in general, say that Manichaeans denied free-will. The reason is, that the Fathers believed, and maintained, against the Manichaeans, that whatever state man is in he has the command over his own actions, and has equally power to do good or evil.” W. F. Hook said, “The Manichaeans so denied free will, as to hold a fatal necessity of sinning.” Lyman Beecher said, “…the free will and natural ability of man were held by the whole church… natural inability was to that of the pagan philosophers, the Gnostic’s, and the Manichaeans.”
There were many different Gnostic groups in the days of early Christianity, who also denied the freedom of man’s will, such as Marcionism started by Marcion. But one of the greatest competitors and threats to the Early Church was the Manichaeans started by Manes, a Persian philosopher, also known as Mani.
The Early Church debated the founder of this Gnostic group in the “Acta Archelai,” also known as “The Disputation with Manes.” Archelaus, a bishop in the Early Church, represented their doctrine that God does not make us with ruined natures but has given us free will. Mani took the Gnostic position that man’s nature was totally depraved and corrupted and that man did not have a free will.
The judges of the debate ruled in favor of Archelaeus and ruled against Mani, stating that man does in fact have free will as opposed to a depraved nature. The belief of early Christianity is stated in the debate in this way, “All the creatures that God made, He made very good. And He gave to every individual the sense of free will, by which standard He also instituted the law of judgment… our will is constituted to choose either to sin or not to sin… And certainly whoever will, may keep the commandments. Whoever despises them and turns aside to what is contrary to them, shall yet without doubt have to face this law of judgment… There can be no doubt that every individual, in using his own proper power of will, may shape his course in whatever direction he pleases.”
This debate of constitutional liberty vs. constitutional corruption between Mani and Archelaus dealt with the very core of Early Christianity vs. the emerging Gnosticism. The danger that the Early Church saw with the Gnostics was that they professed to be Christians and they claimed to be teaching Christian doctrine. In fact, the Gnostic’s declared that they were the real or true Christians who had special knowledge that others did not. The Church considered Manichaeans to be imposters and Manichaeism to be a counterfeit. The leaders of Christianity were worried that Gnostic doctrine might corrupt the Churches.
The Gnostics, for example, taught that the flesh was sinful in and of itself. Hans Jonas said that in Gnosticism, “The human body is of devilish substance and – in this trait exceeding the general derogation of the universe – also of a devilish design.” Because the Gnostic’s viewed the flesh as a sinful substance, they denied that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, and that is why the Scriptures called them “antichrist” (1 Jn. 4:3, 2 Jn. 1:7). “And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is the spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 Jn. 4:3). “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 Jn. 1:7).
Gnosticism believes that sin is the substance of the body, which is inherited at conception, so that man is born sinful or with a sinful nature. The Early Church, on the other hand, taught that sin was a free choice of the will, which is originated by the individual. The Gnostics taught that man was sinful by nature, while the Early Church taught that man was sinful by choice.
It was referring to these Gnostic groups that John wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 Jn. 2:19). We can see then that the teachings of the Gnostics were condemned in the Scriptures.
On the other hand, in Philippians 4:3 Paul mentions “my fellowlabourers” “in the gospel,” and he names “Clement,” whose name he said was written “in the book of life…” History knows this man, who was Paul’s companion and who was endorsed by the Scriptures themselves, as Clement of Rome. Clement said, “It is therefore in the power of every one, since man has been made possessed of free-will, whether he shall hear us to life, or the demons to destruction.” Clement said that “free-will” was given because “he who is good by his own choice is really good; but he who is made good by another under necessity is not really good, because he is not what he is by his own choice…” Clement also said that the reason a sinner was susceptible to God’s punishment for their disobedience was because a sinner has the ability to obey God. He said, “For no other reason does God punish the sinner either in the present or in the future world, except because He knows that the sinner was able to conquer but neglected to gain the victory.” The reason that a sinner is punishable for sinning, he said, is because a sinner is able not to sin. He said that a sinner is punished, not for his inability but for his negligence.
Ignatius was another figure in the Early Church. He was a disciple of the Apostle John and was martyred in the Roman Coliseum by being eaten by lions. In contradiction to Gnosticism, Ignatius taught that men were sinners, not by nature but by choice. Ignatius said, “If anyone 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.” Ignatius also said, “…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.”
The Apostle John also had a disciple named Polycarp. Polycarp was the Bishop of the Church in Smyrna when Revelation was written. The Church of Smyrna was one of the only Churches in Revelation which Jesus did not say anything negative against (Rev. 2:8-11). Polycarp was a personal friend of Ignatius and he too was also sent to the Coliseum and was martyred as Ignatius was.
Polycarp had a faithful disciple named Irenaeus. Irenaeus refuted the Gnostics by saying, “Men are possessed with free will, and endowed with the faculty of making a choice. It is not true, therefore, that some are by nature good, and others bad.” He also said, “Man is endowed with the faculty of distinguishing good and evil; so that, without compulsion, he has the power, by his own will and choice, to perform God’s commandments.” And, “man is possessed of free will from the beginning, and God is possessed of free will (in whom likeness man was created)…” And he said, “This expression, ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldst not,’ set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free agent from the beginning, possessing his own soul to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God.”
Justin Martyr was an early evangelist and apologist for the Christian faith. He labored tirelessly for the Lord until he too was martyred in Rome. He said, “We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishment, chastisement, and rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Otherwise, if all things happen by fate, then nothing is our own power. For if it is predestined that one man be good and another man evil, then the first is not deserving of praise and the other to be blamed. Unless humans have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions – whatever they may be … for neither would a man be worthy of praise if he did not himself choose the good, but was merely created for that end. Likewise, if a man were created evil, he would not deserve punishment, since he was not evil of himself, being unable to do anything else than what he was made for.”
Tertullian was another leader in the Early Church. He was a Christian apologist and is known for his prolific writings. He was in perfect agreement with early Christianity when he said, “No reward can be justly bestowed, no punishment can be justly inflicted, upon him who is good or bad by necessity, and not by his own choice.”
Methodius was a Christian martyr who lived near the end of the third century. He wrote, “Those [pagans] who decide that man does not have free will, but say that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate, are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils.” He said, “…the Divine Being is not by nature implicated in evils. Therefore our birth is not the cause of these things…” He went on to say that men are “possessing free will, and not by nature evil…” He said, “…there is nothing evil by nature, but it is by use that evil things become such. So I say, says he, that man was made with free-will, not as if there were already evil in existence, which he had the power of choosing if he wished, but on account of his capacity of obeying or disobeying God. For this was the meaning of the gift of free will… and this alone is evil, namely, disobedience…” And he also said, “God did not make evil, nor is He at all in any way the author of evil; but whatever failed to keep the law, which He in all justice ordained, after being made by Him with the faculty of free-will, for the purpose of guarding and keeping it, is called evil. Now it is the gravest fault to disobey God, by overstepping the bounds of that righteousness which is consistent with free-will…”
Eusebius was a Bishop in the Early Church who is considered the father of “Church History” for his extensive writings in ecclesiastical history. He wrote, “On the Life of Pamphilus,” “Chronicle of Universal History,” and “On the Martyrs.” He clearly laid out the position of the Early Church on this topic when he wrote, “The Creator of all things has impressed a natural law upon the soul of every man, as an assistant and ally in his conduct, pointing out to him the right way by this law; but, by the free liberty with which he is endowed, making the choice of what is best worthy of praise and acceptance, because he has acted rightly, not by force, but from his own free-will, when he had it in his power to act otherwise, As, again, making him who chooses what is worst, deserving of blame and punishment, as having by his own motion neglected the natural law, and becoming the origin and fountain of wickedness, and misusing himself, not from any extraneous necessity, but from free will and judgment. The fault is in him who chooses, not in God. For God has not made nature or the substance of the soul bad; for he who is good can make nothing but what is good. Everything is good which is according to nature. Every rational soul has naturally a good free-will, formed for the choice of what is good. But when a man acts wrongly, nature is not to be blamed; for what is wrong, takes place not according to nature, but contrary to nature, it being the work of choice, and not of nature!” Eusebius went as far as to say that it was the doctrine of devils to teach that man’s will was not at liberty but in the bonds of necessity. He said, “The devil in his oracles hangs all things upon fate, and taking away that which is in our power, and arises from self-motion of free will… brings this also into bondage to necessity.”
There is no shortage or lack of supply from the Early Church when it comes to quotations in regards to the freedom of man’s will; but the quotations referenced above should suffice to make my point that free will was a universal doctrine of early Christianity. What the Early Church believed and what the Gnostic’s believed should be brought to our attention and considered in this discussion. An understanding of the origin of doctrines such as inability is very helpful. The Gnostic’s held to the doctrine of man’s total inability and this doctrine did not find any acceptance at all by the Church until Augustine converted from Manichaean Gnosticism, as we shall see.
Free Will Is A Faculty Of Our Nature
The Early Church, before Augustine, taught that free will was an essential element of our God given nature. That is, they taught that it was a faculty of our constitution, and that we abuse that faculty of free will when we choose to sin. They taught that all men have the same nature in the sense that the faculty of free will is in the constitution of all.
Irenaeus said, “Forasmuch as all men are of the same nature, having power to hold and to do that which is good, and having power again to lose it, and not to do what is right; before men of sense, (and how much more before God!) some… are justly accused, and receive condign punishment, because they refuse what is just and right.” Again Irenaeus said, “Those who do not do it [good] will receive the just judgment of God, because they had not worked good when they had it in their power to do so. But if some had been made bynature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for they were created that way, nor would the former be reprehensible, for that is how they were made. However, all men are of the same nature. They are all able to hold fast and to do what is good. On the other hand, they have the power to cast good from them and not to do it.”
Pelagius, who is historically known for teaching free will in the days of Augustine, was in perfect agreement with the Early Church on this point. He said, “In all there is free-will equally by nature…”
Origen said, “The Scriptures…emphasize the freedom of the will. They condemn those who sin, and approve those who do right… We are responsible for being bad and worthy of being cast outside. For it is not the nature in us that is the cause of the evil; rather, it is the voluntary choice that works evil.” He also said, “the heretics introduce the doctrine of different natures.”
There were two conflicting views of human nature during the days of the Early Church. The Christians believed that free will was a faculty of the nature of every man by virtue of his creation. Therefore the Early Christians viewed the sinfulness of man as being all together voluntary, caused by the freedom of their own wills. The Gnostics, on the other hand, believed that the human nature of each man was created so corrupt and ruined that mankind did not have the freedom to choose what was good. They viewed the actions of men as being caused by their natures. The Early Christians taught that it is not that some men choose evil because their nature is evil, while other men choose what was good because their natures were good, but that all men have the same nature, all having the faculty of free will in their constitution, and each man chooses by free will to be either good or evil in their moral character.
The errors of the Gnostics were continually rejected by the Early Church, but the Gnostics continued to try to penetrate the Church with their views. The Gnostics even wrote their own gospels, known as the Gnostic Gospels today, where they stole credible names like Mary and Thomas to try to give validity to their teachings.
While many of the attempts of the Gnostics to infiltrate the Church failed, and many of their views are widely rejected today, it seems that their particular view of human nature, free will, and the nature of sin has found wide acceptance in the Church today. While the view of the Early Church on human nature, free will, and sin is seldom held to or taught in our time.
None Deny that the Early Church Taught the Freedom of the Will
Episcopius said, “What is plainer than that the ancient divines, for three hundred years after Christ, those at least who flourished before St. Augustine, maintained the liberty of our will, or an indifference to two contrary things, free from all internal and external necessity!” One would think that if a doctrine was truly derived from the Scriptures and were taught by the Apostles, that we would find that the Early Church believed it, especially during its years when it was the most faithful to God, when men were shedding their blood in martyrdom in the Roman Coliseum. But the doctrine of total inability was not taught by the Churches which the Apostles founded; rather, the doctrine of man’s natural ability was.
Regarding the term “free will,” John Calvin admitted “As to the Fathers, (if their authority weighs with us,) they have the term constantly in their mouths…” He said, “The Greek fathers above others” have taught “the power of the human will” and “they have not been ashamed to make use of a much more arrogant expression calling man ‘free agent or self-manager,’ just as if man had a power to govern himself…” He also said, “The Latin fathers have always retained the word ‘free will’ as if man stood yet upright.” It is a fact that cannot be denied even by those who most ardently oppose the doctrine of free will, that the doctrine of free will and not that of inability was held by all of the Early Church.
Walter Arthur Copinger said, “All the Fathers are unanimous on the freedom of the human will…” Lyman Beecher said, “the free will and natural ability of man were held by the whole church…” And Dr Wiggers said, “All the fathers…agreed with the Pelagians, in attributing freedom of will to man in his present state.” This is a very important point because whenever a person today holds to the belief that all men have the natural ability to obey God or not to obey Him, or that man’s nature still retains the faculty of free will and can choose between these two alternatives and possibilities, he is almost immediately accused of being a heretical “Pelagian” by the Calvinists. This accusation is being unfair to the position of free will since all of the Early Church Fathers held to free will long before Pelagius even existed.
The Pelagians agreed with free will, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who agrees with free will is a Pelagian. Such reasoning is as fallacious as saying that everyone who believes in the virgin birth is a Catholic. While the Catholics believe in the virgin birth, that belief is not exclusively Catholic, thus it is fallacious to say that everyone who believes in the virgin birth is a Catholic.
Likewise the Pelagians believed in free will, but the belief in free will is not exclusively a Pelagian doctrine. Therefore, not everyone who believes in free will is a Pelagian. Williston Walker said that even in Pelagius’ own day, Pelagius’ teaching on “the freedom of the human will” was “in agreement with many in the West” and with “the East generally…”
Asa Mahan said that free will “was the doctrine of the primitive church for the first four or five centuries after the Bible was written, the church which received the ‘lively oracles’ directly from the hands of some of those by whom they were written, to wit: the writers of the New Testament. It should be borne in mind here, that at the time the sacred canon was completed, the doctrine of Necessity was held by the leading sects in the Jewish Church. It was also the fundamental article of the creed of all the sects in philosophy throughout the world, as well as of all the forms of heathenism then extant. If the doctrine of Necessity, as its advocates maintain, is the doctrine taught the church by inspired apostles and the writers of the New Testament, we should not fail to find, under such circumstances, the churches planted by them, rooted and grounded in this doctrine.” Rather, we find that absolutely all of the Early Church affirmed free will and explicitly denied the doctrine of total inability. If the doctrine of total inability was taught by the Apostles, you would expect that their faithful disciples who gave their lives in martyrdom would have taught it; but as we have seen, they did not.
David Bercot said, “The Early Christians didn’t believe that man is totally depraved [totally unable] and incapable of doing any good. They taught that humans are capable of obeying and loving God.” He went on to say, “There was a religious group, labeled as heretics by the early Christians… they taught that man is totally depraved [totally unable]… the group I’m referring to are the Gnostics.”
When reading the writings of the early Christians, you would think by some of their quotes that they were engaged in debates with Calvinists and were seeking to refute Calvinism. However, it was actually the Gnostic’s that they were debating. It was Gnosticism which they were refuting. It should cause no small concern for those who hold to the doctrine of inability that there is no support from the Early Church for their doctrine, but they actually only have the Gnostic who agree with them. At the very least, this should make them reconsider their doctrine.
Reviving an Old Truth &
Confronting an Ancient Error
It is my aim to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jud. 1:3). It is my hope that this book will help return the Church, or at least a remnant in it, to the doctrines of Early Christianity on this point. The objective of this article is to confront and correct the Gnostic errors which have crept into the Church and to revive a very old Scriptural doctrine which was held universally by early Christianity in the days of its prime, but which has been largely forgotten overall by the Church ever since.
If all of the Early Christians believed in free will, we have to ask: what went wrong? When did this change and who changed it? The Apostle Paul said, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). If the Church was so perfectly united for hundreds of years on this doctrine, when did the division occur and who brought it? Who lead the Church in its departure from Early Christianity? These are very important questions that few consider; yet, the answer is obvious enough in history.
It was not until the fourth century that Gnostic and Manichaean influence started to infiltrate the Christian Church, polluting it with their doctrines. Augustine, after saturating himself in Gnostic philosophy for many years, joined the Church and became a Bishop. He then began to contradict what the Church had always taught on human nature and the freedom of man’s will and taught in accordance with the Gnostic views of human nature and free will. The Church, through the influence of Augustine, began to embrace and teach the doctrine of natural inability.
It is an undisputed and known fact of history, admitted by Augustine’s admirers and supporters in their historical accounts of his life, that Augustine was influenced by, and a member of, the Manichaean Gnostic sect. John K. Ryan, in his introduction to “The Confessions of Saint Augustine” said, “The two great intellectual influences upon Augustine prior to his conversion were Manicheism and Greek Philosophy.” In their introduction to “The Confessions of Augustine,” John Gibb and William Montgomery said, “In the same year in which he read the Scriptures and was disappointed in them, Augustine joined the Manichaean sect…” They also said, “For nearly nine years Augustine was a Manichaean Auditor. At first he was a zealous partisan who contended publicly for his new faith, and did not hesitate to ridicule the doctrines of the Church and especially the Old Testament Scriptures…”
Remember that Manes, also known as Mani, was the founder of Manichaeism. That was the same man who Archelaus of the Early Church debated against on the topic of free will and inability. Augustine had been in Manichaeism for many years and studied the writings of Manes. Surprisingly, when Augustine first joined the Christian Church, he began teaching the freedom of the will when debating against the Manichaeans. He said, “We [Christians]…assert the liberty of the will, whereby our actions are rendered either moral or immoral, and keep it free from every bond of necessity, on account of the righteous judgment of God.” He also said, “The religious mind… confesses… and maintains… that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it.” And he said, “we sin voluntarily and not by necessity.” But after refuting the Manichaeans and defending free will, when he was debating the Pelagians, Augustine unfortunately went back to the doctrine of total inability, as the Manichaeans had taught. Beausobre also noticed this change and noted that Augustine defended free will “so long as he had to do with the Manichaeans. But when he came to dispute with the Pelagians, he changed his system. Then he denied that kind of freedom which before he had defended; and, so far as I am able to judge, his sentiments no longer differed from theirs [the Manichaeans] concerning the servitude of the will. He ascribed the servitude to the corruption which original sin brought into our nature; whereas the Manichaeans ascribed it to an evil quality, eternally inherit in matter.” When Augustine forsook his position on free will, saying “I have tried hard to maintain the free choice of the human will, but the grace of God prevailed,” he began to influence the rest of the Church with the idea of natural inability, which view the Church did not previously believe at all. The doctrine of free will was soon replaced with the idea of a ruined, corrupt, sinful nature.
Regarding the doctrine of a sinful nature, Charles Finney said, “This doctrine is a stumbling-block both to the church and the world, infinitely dishonorable to God, and an abomination alike to God and the human intellect, and should be banished from every pulpit, and from every formula of doctrine, and from the world. It is a relic of heathen philosophy, and was foisted in among the doctrines of Christianity by Augustine, as everyone may know who will take the trouble to examine for himself.”
Harry Conn said, “Augustine, after studying the philosophy of Manes, the Persian philosopher, brought into the church from Manichaeism the doctrine of original sin.”
The corruption of our nature, or the loss of our free will, Augustine credited to the original sin of Adam. Augustine said that the “free choice of the will was present in that man who was the first to be formed… But after he sinned by that free will, we who have descended from his progeny have been plunged into necessity.” “By Adam’s transgression, the freedom of’ the human will has been completely lost.” “By the greatness of the first sin, we have lost the freewill to love God.” And finally he said, “by subverting the rectitude in which he was created, he is followed with the punishment of not being able to do right” and “the freedom to abstain from sin has been lost as a punishment of sin.”
Julian of Eclanum properly stated Augustine’s position when he said, “…by the sin of the first man, that is, of Adam, free will perished: and that no one has now the power of living well, but that all are constrained into sin by the necessity of their flesh…” In this teaching, that free will was lost and that men sin by necessity as opposed to abusing their liberty, Rev. Daniel R. Jennings said that Julian “sensed a carryover of Manichaean thought from Augustine into the Christian Church…” This is why Julian referred to the Augustinians as “Those Manichaeans…” George Pretyman said about Augustine, “He was in the early part of his life a Manichaean” but “some remains of it seem to have been still left upon his mind…”
By teaching that free will was lost and sin is the result of a defect in our nature, or the necessity of our corrupted constitution, Augustine was infiltrating the Church with Gnostic concepts and doctrines. Sin was no longer viewed as an ethical problem or a problem with how men use the faculty of their will. Rather, the problem of sin was now viewed as a metaphysical problem or as a fault in the faculty of the will itself.
Those who stood against the error of Augustinian Gnosticism, who accused Augustine of teaching Manichaeism and held unto the old ways and truths of early Christianity, were soon persecuted and condemned as heretics once Augustinianism was given civil and Church authority. The many bishops in the Church who denied that the original sin of Adam so corrupted human nature that free will was lost continued to teach that men were sinners by choice and not by constitution. As a result, they were ripped out of their pulpits, had their possessions confiscated, and were excommunicated by both state and church. The doctrine of free will that the Early Church taught was soon replaced with the Gnostic teaching of a necessitated will because of a corrupted, ruined, sinful nature. Augustinian theology was a massive departure from Early Christianity. Like Calvinism after it, Augustinianism used political and governmental force to silence any voice of opposition so that its doctrines could spread like a plague without challenge. Gnostic views, on this point, successfully crept into the Church.
There are major similarities and yet subtle differences between Augustinianism and Gnosticism. While the Gnostics said that man’s nature was sinful and corrupt and that man didn’t have a free will because man was created by an inferior god, Augustine agreed with the Gnostics that man’s nature was sinful and corrupt and that man did not have a free will, but he said that God made it that way on account of Adam’s sin. While the Gnostics said that flesh was sinful and therefore Christ did not have a flesh, Augustine said that concupiscence in the flesh was sinful and that this sin was hereditary or transmitted from parent to child through the physical passions of intercourse, but that Jesus avoided this hereditary sin by being conceived without physical passion and being born of a virgin. Therefore, Augustine agreed with the Gnostics in principle, but he differed from them inexplanation. In this way, Augustinian theology was a modified Manichaeism or a semi-Gnosticism.
Consider the following facts:
- All of the Early Christians, before Augustine, believed in man’s free will and denied man’s natural inability.
- The Gnostics in the days of the Early Church believed in man’s natural inability and denied man’s free will.
- Augustine was a Gnostic for many years, in the Manichaeism sect, and converted to the Church out of Gnosticism.
- After joining the Church and being appointed a Bishop, Augustine began to deny the free will of man and to affirm the natural inability of man
- The Church, under Augustine’s influence, began to believe in the natural inability of man, which it never before held to, but which it formerly would refute.
What can we conclude by these facts except that when Augustine converted to Christianity out of Gnosticism, he brought with him some Gnostic doctrine? His views on human nature and free will were never held by the Early Church, but were held by the Gnostics. How can we possibly account for the fact that all of Christianity held to the freedom of the human will while only the Gnostic’s taught a corrupted and sinful nature, until Augustine joined the Christian Church out of Gnosticism? It seems abundantly clear that Augustine departed from the theology of the Early Church and remained in agreement with the Gnostics on the issue of human nature and free will. Church doctrine and theology has been infiltrated and polluted with Gnostic heresies. The Church went wrong at the time of Augustine. Christian theology violently crashed like a train, falling off the tracks, and has continued to charge and move forward on the wrong path and in the wrong direction ever since.
The greatest contributors to modern Christian theology have been Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Augustine was influenced by Manichaean thought and Luther and Calvin were influenced by Augustinian thought. Therefore, it is no surprise that Augustine denied free will as the Manichaeans did, and Luther and Calvin denied free will as Augustine did. The Manichaeans influenced Augustine and Augustine in turn influenced Luther and Calvin.
There is no dispute over the fact that Luther and Calvin were influenced by Augustine. Luther was even an Augustinian monk. William Carlos Martyn said about Luther, “The study of the Bible and of Augustine theology… lead him to the Redeemer.” In his historical account of Luther, Johann Heinrich Kurtz said, “Luther zealously studied the Bible, along with the writings of Augustine…” Principal Tullock said that Luther “nourished himself upon Scripture and St. Augustine…” Robert Dale Owen said, “Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ are based on Augustine’s ‘City of God’” Thomas H. Dyer said in his biography of John Calvin, “The doctrine of predestination, which is generally regarded as that of which principally characterizes Calvin, is in fact that of St. Augustin…” Oliver Joseph Thatcher explains why, “In theology he [Calvin] was a close follower of St. Augustine. His influence was to revivify the ideas of St. Augustine and, joining them to the main ideas of the Reformation, embody them in the Church he organized.” The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics said, “Luther… Zwingli and Calvin, with minor divergences, agree in reverting to St. Augustine on the main issuesand in the supposed interests of evangelical piety…” Luther referred to Augustine thirteen times in his book “The Bondage of the Will”, and twenty four times in the “Works of Martin Luther.” John Calvin referred to Augustine two hundred and sixty five times in his “Institutes on Christian Religion.”
Since Luther and Calvin were both students of Augustine and learned much of their theology from him, it is not surprising to find the remains of the Gnostic view of human nature in their theological writings. Martin Luther said, “…man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good… he sins and wills evil necessarily…” He said, “Sin in his nature and of himself he can do nothing but sin.” John Calvin said that man does not have a “free will” in the sense that “he has a free choice of good and evil,” but denied this all together. Calvin paraphrases Augustine saying, “…nature began to want liberty the moment the will was vanquished by the revolt into which it fell… by making a bad use of free will, lost both himself and his will… free will having been made a captive, can do nothing in the way of righteousness… man at his creation received a great degree of free will, but lost it by sinning.” The Christian Spectator said, “Augustine, and Calvin, and all of the reformers, taught the bondage, or moral impotence of the will.” While the Early Church wrote about “the freedom of the will,” Martin Luther wrote an entire book called “The Bondage of the Will.” This shows a clear departure from the views of early Christianity.
Luther defended his position against free will by saying, “Augustine… is wholly on my side…” Calvin, like Luther, appealed to Augustine to support and defend his position. Calvin said, “Let us now hear Augustine in his own words, lest” Calvin be charged with “being opposed to all antiquity…” Calvin tried to dismiss the charge of being opposed to the Early Church by saying, “Augustine hesitated not to call the will a slave…” Charles Partee said “In his teaching on total depravity and bondage of the will Calvin is essentially following Augustine and Luther and not creating a so-called Calvinistic doctrine.”
While Calvin tried to say that he was not “opposed to all antiquity” when it came to free will, what he meant was that he was not opposed to Augustine. Augustine was the only exception. He was opposed to all of the Early Church fathers before Augustine on this topic. John Calvin said, “…all ancient theologians, with the exception of Augustine, are so confused, vacillating, and contradictory on this subject, that no certainty can be obtained from their writings…” Calvin believed that men like Clement of Rome and Ignatius, who personally knew the Apostles, did not understand the Epistles of the Apostles; while Augustine, who did not know the Apostles, apparently did understand them. Calvin admitted, “It may, perhaps, seem that I have greatly prejudiced my own view by confessing that all of the ecclesiastical writers, with the exception of Augustine, have spoken too ambiguously or inconsistently on this subject, that no certainty is attainable from their writings.”
The reason that John Calvin rejected all ancient theologians and dismissed all of their writings on this matter, except for Augustine, is because all ancient theologians affirmed the freedom of the will in their writings, except for Augustine. Gregory Boyd said, “This in part explains why Calvin cannot cite ante-Nicene fathers against his libertarian opponents…. Hence, when Calvin debates Pighuis on the freedom of the will, he cites Augustine abundantly, but no early church fathers are cited.” That is why George Pretyman said, “…the peculiar tenets of Calvinism are in direct opposition to the Doctrines maintained in the primitive Church of Christ…” This we have clearly seen, but he also said, “…there is a great similarity between the Calvinistic system and the earliest [Gnostic] heresies…”
The Reformers sought to return the Church to early Christianity, but actually brought it back to early heresies, because it stopped short at Augustine. The Reformers did not go far back enough. Rather than returning the Church to early Christianity, the Reformation resurrected Augustinian and Gnostic doctrines. The Methodist Quarterly Review said, “At the Reformation Augustinianism received an emphatic re-enforcement among the Protestant Churches.” The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics said, “…it is Augustine who gave us the Reformation. For the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine… the Reformation came, seeing that it was, on its theological side, a revival of Augustinianism…” The Reformation was to a great extent a resurrection or revival of Augustinian theology and a further departure and falling away from Early Christianity.
Gnosticism, Augustinianism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism have much in common. Augustinianism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism teach Gnostic views of human nature and free will but under a different name. It’s the same old Gnosticism in a new wrapper. Other doctrines also seem to have originated in Gnosticism, from Basilianism, Valentianism, Marcionism, and Manichaeism, such as the doctrines of easy believism, individual predestination, constitutional regeneration, a sinful nature or a sinful flesh, eternal security or once saved always saved, and others. But no Gnostic doctrine has spread so widely throughout the Church, with such great acceptance as the doctrine of man’s natural inability to obey God.
This view has been held in both Catholic and Protestant Churches, taught by both Arminian and Calvinist theologians. Augustine taught many false doctrines such as the sinless life of Mary, praying to the dead, persecuting heretics, infant damnation, infant baptism, baptismal regeneration, etc. Yet it is his false teaching in regards to human nature and free will that has spread beyond the Catholic Church into the Protestant realm.
Consider these facts that have been shown:
- Augustine’s mind was highly influenced by the teachings of Manichaeism on the topic of human nature and free will; and in his views on the subject, he clearly departed from the views of the Early Church.
- The minds of Martin Luther and John Calvin were highly influenced by the teachings of Augustine on the topic of human nature and free will and admitted to departing from the views of the Early Church.
- The greatest contributors to modern theology have been Augustine, Luther, and Calvin.
Isn’t it abundantly clear that Gnostic doctrine has infected the Church? The Gnostic doctrine of the bondage of the will, or the doctrine of man’s natural inability to obey God, has crept into the Church through a “Trojan horse” and has been masquerading as Christianity ever since. It has survived the centuries through Augustinian, Lutheran, and Calvinistic theology. These groups have preserved and promoted the doctrine of natural inability. This belief has spread like a dangerous plague, finding acceptance in many denominations and churches, but what it is not what orthodox Christianity believed.’
Source: Jesse Morrell, “Was Augustine A Gnostic Heretic? Did He Corrupt The Church With Gnostic Doctrine? Did The Early Church Agree With Pelagius?” (biblicaltruthresources). This article is an excerpt from his book, The Natural Ability of Man: A Study on Free Will & Human Nature.
 Written by the Jay Livingston and Ray Evans songwriting team in 1956
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