Some Thoughts on Free Will and St John Cassian

“God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” Eccl. 7:29, NKJV.

The word tranlated “schemes” in the Septuagint version is logismous, and may be translated variously as thoughts, reasonings, reckonings, judgments, decisions, imaginations, questions, inventions, or devices. This implies a free will on the part of man and, moreso, implies that man was created in the image and for the likeness of God, but through his own devices chooses to rebel against his own upright and God-like qualities.

St John Cassian (360-435), sometimes called Cassian the Roman, was a deacon who spent a lot of time in monastic communities in Bethlehem and Egypt. He is known for his writings the Intstitutes and Conferences. The latter may be considered somewhat controversial since they are supposedly critical of St Augustine of Hippo. These criticisms have prompted many in the West to label him semi-Pelagian. However, a thorough reading of his works should reveal that if he was semi anything, he was semi-Augustinian, having more in common with him than with Pelagius.

In the 13th Conference, Chapter XII, he wrote:

For we should not hold that God made man such that he can never will or be capable of what is good: or else He has not granted him a free will, if He has suffered him only to will or be capable of evil, but neither to will or be capable of what is good of himself. And, in this case how will that first statement of the Lord made about men after the fall stand: “Behold, Adam is become as one of us, knowing good and evil?” Gen. 3:22. For we cannot think that before, he was such as to be altogether ignorant of good. Otherwise we should have to admit that he was formed like some irrational and insensate beast: which is sufficiently absurd and altogether alien from the Catholic faith. . . . Adam therefore after the fall conceived a knowledge of evil which he had not previously, but did not lose the knowledge of good which he had before. Finally the Apostle’s words very clearly show that mankind did not lose after the fall of Adam the knowledge of good: as he says: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things of the law, these, though they have not the law, are a law to themselves, as they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to these, and their thoughts within them either accusing or else excusing them, in the day in which God shall judge the secrets of men.” Rom. 2:14-16.


St John Cassian

St John Cassian


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