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Are Quotes from the Church Fathers Valid Arguments Against Calvinism?

I have been corresponding with a member of an Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) for awhile. His last assertion was that Orange (529) condemned double-predestination. Then he supplied a list of quotes from early 1st century Fathers speaking about free will. The list ranged from Clement of Rome (good source) to the Epistle of Barnabas (bad source). It’s easy in these types of situations to “pick-up the rope” and chase each rabbit trail. But it’s important to stay focussed on the task at hand and dismantle these assertions one by one. In this case it was pivotal for him to understand that if he was going to say that Orange (529) condemned double-predestination he was going to be corrected. Below is my response:

“In the East, the period of the Fathers of the Church ends with St. John Damascus [AD 749]. Their authority was, and still is, immense within the entire Christian Church. But though their concerted opinions on belief and practice are taken to be of inviolable authority, individual positions of Fathers not in agreement with the universally taught Patristic opinion bear no restrictive authority on the thought and the practice of the Church.” (answering a question “Can You Explain The Holy Fathers In The Church and The Patristic Fathers?”)

Not trying to read too much into someone, but it seems like what he is saying is that when the Fathers agreed on something it was to be considered “inviolable” but their individual opinions weren’t authoritative (in the sense of when they spoke in unison). Therefore, the question would be to find where they spoke in unison and it seems the obvious answer would be the ecumenical councils. This leads to my point (though if it doesn’t that’s okay because the Fathers are not any more authoritative to me than Calvin, Bullinger or Flavel) that the consensus of the Church is best referenced in ecumenical decisions that don’t contradict Scripture rather than individual quotations. These ecumenical decisions after all determine which decisions were in or out of “bounds”.

Finding quotes from Christians throughout random points in church history don’t count as “consensus”. While I find some of the quotes actually interesting and worth interacting with some of them just seem disturbing but this may cause a “rabbit trail” and I think it’s important to stay focussed on the issue.

With regards to my comment and your start of an answer perhaps it would be better to point to a historical consensus. Because your comment initially was that Orange (529) condemned double-predestination/reprobation when in fact it doesn’t. This council of Orange (529) actually speaks against (rather loudly) the quotes you provided about freedom of man. Because it asserts that God’s grace (given in baptism) must precede the work of man. Semipelagianism asserts that the beginning of salvation was due to human free will, growth and final salvation required divine grace. Eventually after this council Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas would affirm God’s unconditional election and reprobation. Later Gregory of Rimini and Archbishop Thomas Bradwardine complained that a robust Augustinianism was being threatened by “a new Pelagianism,” leading to the Reformation. Orange (529) condemns that God gives his grace in response to human decision and effort. In semipelagianism humanity is affected by sin but can still choose good and evil. Click here to find the statement from Council of Orange (529).

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