Kiven Choy


Deerfield, Illinois

May 1994

Originally in WordPerfect Format


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For Aurelius Augustine (354-430), the problem of evil was his lifelong preoccupation.  His free will defense for the problem of evil has been followed and developed by the majority of subsequent theologians.  Identifying evil as a privation of good and locating the cause of the fall in the free will of Satan and man, Augustine presents an invaluable theodicy to Christianity for the ancient problem.  Nevertheless, this traditional Christian defense of the problem of evil is recently challenged by many atheists and theists.  They find his view faulty and claim that his defense is inconsistent with his notion of God's sovereignty and he has repudiated his earlier notion of free will in his mature thoughts.  John S. Feinberg says, "This is an old mistake and a very common one.  In fact, I believe Augustine himself made this error.  His free will defense clearly commits him to indeterminism, and yet his other treatises about God's control of the world necessitate some form of determinism."[1]  Gerard O'Daly believes, "Augustine implicitly disclaims his theory of the indifferent will in his first anti-Pelagian treatise . . .

A philosophical defense of Augustine's notion of freedom of the will seems impossible: it remains a glorious and influential failure."[2]  We find these charges unconvincing and objectionable.

In this paper we will show that his defense is reasonable and is consistent with his later view in his anti-Pelagian works.  In the second half of this chapter we will define modern notions of related terms in this paper.  In Chapter 2,  we will identify that there are two different aspects of free will in Augustine's view and Augustine has upheld his earlier notion of free will throughout his life.  We will also show that his notion of freedom is consistent with his view of God's grace.  In Chapter 3, our discussion will emphasize on how Augustine defends that his free will notion is compatible with God's sovereignty.  Given his definition of will, Augustine has argued convincingly the compatibility.  In Chapter 4,  we will defend the essential similarity between Augustine and John Calvin in this topic.  We believe that followers of Calvin can conscientiously uphold Augustine's free will defense.  Finally in Chapter 5, we will briefly conclude our previous discussion.




Several terms related to this issue will be used frequently.  The meanings of these terms are listed:


Determinism.  It "is the general philosophical thesis which states that for everything that ever happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen."[3]


Soft-determinism.  It affirms that determinism is true but preserves a semblance of liberty and responsibility.  For instance, human action is causally determined and the action is free because there is no constraining cause which forces against the agent's will.[4]


Self-determinism.  It affirms that every event has an adequate cause.  This theory distinguishes 'agency' as a basic philosophical category different in kind from other events.  The efficient cause of the free act is the human agent.[5]


Free will (libertarian).  This notion of free will affirms that there is no contingently sufficient non-subsequent conditions for an human agent such that he chooses to act in one particular way and not another.[6]


Compatibilist free will (unconstrained).  This notion of free will affirms that there is contingently sufficiently non-subsequent conditions for an human agent such that he chooses to act in one particular way and not another and there is no constraining cause against the agent's will.[7]


Self-determinist free will.  This notion of free will  emphasizes that there is no contingently sufficiently external non-subsequent conditions for an human agent such that he chooses to act in one particular way and not another.  This view would hold that for Adam, before the fall, there is also no internal contingently sufficiently non-subsequent conditions for him to choose the fall necessarily.  The efficient cause of the will is the agent.[8]


Will.  The word "will," related to the issue of free will, can mean (1) the faculty of decision-making of an individual, (2) the power of choosing one's own actions, (3) the act or process of using or asserting one's choice, (4) wish or desire, (5) purpose or determination, (6) the wish or purpose as carried out, or to be carried out, and (7) disposition, whether good or evil, toward another.[9]












To differentiate Augustine's different usage of "will" and "free" is crucial to the understanding of his free will defense and his later anti-Pelagian works.  Robert M. Cooper points out that "the problem of evil for St. Augustine resolves itself into the problem of the will."[10]  In this chapter we defend that Augustine has not repudiated his earlier notion of free will in his mature works and his notion of free will is compatible with his notion of grace.


Will as Faculty and Disposition


Concerning the word "will" (voluntas) we must understand that for Augustine it can mean (1) the faculty of choosing as a whole and (2) the moral disposition of the person.  J. B. Mozley reminds us,

And this view accounts for an apparent contradiction which we meet with in Augustine, in speaking of the will.  He talks of will as being essentially original and the cause of itself, or self-determining; being this, as being will; and he also speaks of will as if the fact of a will, whatever were its cause, made a true and genuine will.  He is first speaking of will as a whole, and secondly of will in a particular stage.  Will as a whole must be original and self-determining; . . . But will in a particular stage or

condition may be the conscious fact of willing, and no more, acting really under a necessity.[11]


This two different meanings of "will" is essential for us to understand the apparent contradiction in Augustine's usage.

For the faculty as a whole the terms "will" (voluntas), "free choice" (liberum arbitrium), "free choice of will" (liberum arbitrium voluntatis) and "free will" (libera voluntas) are interchangeable.  For Augustine, "Will is an essential constituent of human nature.  Along with memory and understanding it constitutes the triune faculty of the human mind, which is the greatest gift of God's goodness in the creation of man."  In On the Trinity 10.11 Augustine says,

Putting aside, then, for a little while all other things, of which the mind is certain concerning itself, let us especially consider and discuss these three--memory, understanding, will. . . .

Since, then, these three, memory, understanding, will, are not three lives, but one life; not three minds, but one mind; it follows certainly that neither are they three substances, but one substance.


Fred Berthold stresses that Augustine "did not think of the will as something separable from the person" and "Augustine is obviously interested in the will primarily as a faculty of moral deliberation."  "Will" is a faculty but it is not separable from the person.  This may lead some scholars to emphasize that "will" is not a decision-making faculty.  John M. Rist believes that the word "will" (voluntas) in Augustine "does not denote for Augustine a part of human psyche; rather it is the human psyche in its role as a moral agent. . . . Thus voluntas is not a decision-making faculty of the individual, as subsequent philosophy might lead us to suppose, but the individual himself. . . . it is the basic core of the human person."  Robert R. Brown also echoes, "Voluntas is not a decision-making faculty.  It is rather the basic core of an individual as moral personality."  They are correct that "will" for Augustine means more than a decision-making faculty and he equates with the person and "will" can also mean the moral disposition of a person.  But they are wrong to reject that "will" cannot mean a decision-making faculty for Augustine. 

In On Free Choice 2.19 Augustine calls "will" as "an intermediate good" which can cling to "immutable and common goods" or "its own private good."  Adam can choose either ways.  He means that Adam, before the fall, has free will (libertarian).  In On Free Choice Augustine emphasizes,

If it cannot happen that when we will we do not will, then the will is present in the one who wills.  And nothing else is in our power except what is present to us when we will.  Our will, therefore, is not a will unless it is in our power.


Augustine's free will is a kind of self-determinist free will. 

J. B. Mozley comments,


the further question remains, how this will is determined; that is, caused to decide on one side or another, and choose this or that act.  The doctrine of freewill is that the cause of this decision is the will itself, and that the will has a power of self-determination inherent in it.


He reminds us, "In the book De Libero Arbitrio, a freewill is indeed described which comes up to the above definition of it as original and self-determining."  For Augustine, Adam before the fall has a self-determining free will without any internal necessity to sin.

Concerning the second use of "will" Augustine also talks about "good will" and "bad will" in his works.  Here "will" means the moral disposition of the person and it can be judged ethically.  In On Free Choice Augustine calls "a will by which we seek to live rightly and honorably and to come to the highest wisdom" as "a good will."  In this use, the will must either be good or evil.  Augustine emphasizes,


It would indeed be a strange thing so as to be neither good nor bad; for we either love righteousness, and then our will is a good one (and if our love for it be greater or less, then our will is more or less good); or else we do not love it at all, and in that case our will is not a good one. . . . Since therefore the will is either good or bad, and since of course we have not the bad will from God, it remains that we have of God a good will;" 


Gerard O'Daly gets confusion to accuse that Augustine has repudiated his earlier notion of free will in On Free Choice (Book I, 388; Book II-III, 391-5) because he omits that the two uses of "will" exist both in Augustine's early works and his later works.  O'Daly claims,

In the Confessions, begun some two years later, Augustine has already moved away from the notion of the will as an indifferent instrument, used for good or ill, to the concept of will as good or evil, depending upon the value of what is willed.  This latter concept of a will that is morally determined represents Augustine's mature thought on the subject.


But even O'Daly has to admit that in On the Spirit and the Letter (412) Augustine also mentions the neutral will.  Augustine says,

let us then, first of all, lay down this proposition, and see whether it satisfies the question before us: that free will, naturally assigned by the Creator to our rational soul, is such a neutral power, as can either incline towards faith, or turn towards unbelief.


It is clear that Augustine here is talking the decision-faculty of will.  It is not the moral disposition of man.  Based On Grace and Free Will (426-7), one of his latest works, O'Daly argues that the middle power of will is only its capacity for change.  He says,

"The human will is not removed, but is changed from an evil into a good will by grace', a view expressed by Augustine in a later work (De gratia et libero arbitrio 20.41), might also be the motto of On the Spirit and the Letter.


O'Daly seems to neglect Augustine's purpose of the same book:  But since there are some persons who so defend God's grace as to deny man's free will, or who suppose that free will is denied when grace is defended, I have determined to write somewhat on this point to your Love, . . .


The quoted verse in 20.41 only refers to the disposition.  Throughout the same book Augustine uses Scripture to emphasize the existence of the faculty of free will:

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 percepts 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. 

The faculty of will is free but the disposition of man is dominated by evil and this disposition is needed to be transformed from evil to good.  Throughout his life he upholds that the faculty of free will exists for all man.


Freedom before and after the Fall


Next, we come to the meaning of "free."  Augustine emphasizes that there are two senses of "free" for "free will."  One, for Adam, before the fall, is free to choose either God, or lesser goods.  The other, for fallen man, is free because one will willingly.  Man keeps the self-determining faculty of free-will but loses the freedom of choice of good.  Berthold reminds us, "For Augustine voluntas is free by definition."  In On Free Choice Augustine says,

If it cannot happen that when we will we do not will, then the will is present in the one who wills.  And nothing else is in our power except what is present to us when we will.  Our will, therefore, is not a will unless it is in our power.


For man before or after the fall, the free will is self-determining and thus free.  But fallen man is only free to sin.  Mary Clark reminds us, "Without the distinction that Augustine made between human choice and human freedom (arbitrium voluntatis and libertas), his doctrine of freedom would be incomprehensible."  John Rist also reminds us,

It is true that he would say that Adam was free and that we ourselves are free, but there is no reason to assume that we are free in the same sense as Adam before the Fall.  Indeed we are free in a quite different sense.


In The Enchiridion (421-3) Augustine emphasizes that "when man by his own free-will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost." 

Describing the fall, Augustine emphasizes that the will, for Adam, which is an intermediate good, can cling to immutable good or private good.  If the will clings to immutable good, Adam can lead a happy life without evil.  However,

It turns to its own private good when it desires to be its own master. . . . evil is a turning away from immutable goods and a turning toward changeable goods.  This turning away [aversio] and turning toward [conversio] result to the just punishment of unhappiness, because they are committed, not under compulsion, but voluntarily.


Adam falls voluntarily, by his self-determining free will (libertarian), without contingently sufficiently non-subsequent conditions.  Augustine also emphasizes that the first sin is Adam's evil will.  Also in On Free Choice after he quotes 1 Tim. 6:10 that "the root is avarice," Augustine says, "This avarice is desire, and desire is a wicked will.  Therefore, a wicked will is the cause of all evil."  In The Enchiridion, Augustine also talks about the self-determinist free will of Adam and the loss of the freedom after the fall,

Can they do anything by the free determination of their own will? Again I say, God forbid.  For it was by the evil use of his free-will that man destroyed both it and himself.  For, as a man who kills himself must, of course, be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself ceases to live, and cannot restore himself to life; so, when man by his own free-will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost. 


The true freedom to choose good is lost because of the fall.  Fallen man can only free to sin.  Berthold reminds us,

The quotation . . . , from the Enchiridon [sic], in which Augustine speaks of freedom of the will as having been lost, is an exception--though by no means an insignificant one.  Usually he insists that fallen men still possess free will.  Whatever we choose, we choose freely.


Concerning the freedom of choices in the fallen state, Rist also points out that fallen man only frees to sin:

In brief, when Augustine says that our choices are free, he does not mean that we are autonomous beings, able to weigh up good and evil courses of action and decide upon the one or the other.  Unless he is helped by God's grace, fallen man's freedom of choice is only the freedom to sin. . . . Hence we come to the familiar Augustinian paradox: fallen man has free choices, always of evil, but does not enjoy freedom (libertas).



Grace Precedes Faith and Does Not Destroy Free Will

For Augustine grace is compatible with free will.  First, we must notice that for Augustine true freedom is when the will submits to the truth.  The disposition of fallen man is evil because of the fall.  The personality and desire of fallen man is bad.  Though fallen man has a self-determining faculty of free will, man sins voluntarily and morally necessarily with his evil internal inclination.  He cannot do good nor attain salvation without the grace of God.  The grace is needed to change evil disposition to good: "the human will is not taken away, but changed from bad to good, and assisted when it is good."  Augustine also emphasizes that grace does not destroy will: "For to consent and to refuse are functions proper to will."  Grace precedes faith and does not destroy free will. 

O'Daly claims that Augustine's indeterminist position of free will "fits ill with his deterministic account of the operation of grace."  He seems to confuse again the faculty of free will and the disposition of person which is needed to transformed.  Augustine emphasizes,

It is not, however, to be for a moment supposed, because he said, "It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his own pleasure," that free will is taken away.  If this, indeed, had been his meaning, he would not have said just before, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."  For when the command is given "to work," their free will is addressed. 


If we lack the disposition to will good, we can pray and then we may receive assistance to perform God's commandments.  Believers' will, which was before an evil one, can become a 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."  As Ecclesiasticus 15:15 says, "If thou wilt, thou keep the commandments."

Augustine consistently maintains that man, both before and after the fall, has a self-determining free will.  But man has lost his freedom to do good after the fall because the disposition of man has turned to be evil.  Only with the help of God's grace, the disposition of man can turn to be good and only after then the free will can truly will good.







The idea of both the existing of self-determinist free will of Adam and the decree of the fall by God before the fall seems incompatible.  John Feinberg claims,

His free will defense clearly commits him to indeterminism, and yet his other treatises about God's control of world necessitate some form of determinism.  Theists who take this approach need either to change their views on freedom or modify their notion of God's sovereignty.


William Maker also says that "there are difficulties with Augustine's account of evil, chiefly the problem of reconciling the idea of free will with God's foreknowledge."  Augustine is not unaware of the problem.  He provides: (1) an empirical-logical defense and (2) a biblical defense.   


Empirical-Logical Defense

Empirical-Logical defense is Augustine's primary defense of the compatibility of free will and God's sovereignty.  We will show that given Augustine his definition of self-determinist free will, his defense is valid.

First of all, in On Free Choice Augustine argues the existence of free will by a challenge to human experience.  By human experience, "it cannot be denied that we have a will."  Augustine also emphasizes that free will is necessary for one to live rightly.  He says, "If man is a good, and cannot act rightly unless he wills to do so, then he must have free will, without which he cannot act rightly."  And God's reward system requires free will: "Both punishment and reward would be unjust if man did not have free will."  Then Augustine argues that will, by definition, must be voluntary.  He emphasizes, "No one wills a thing unwillingly."  In Book 3.3, he tackles the question:

how can the following two propositions, that [1] God has foreknowledge of all future events, and that [2] we do not sin by necessity but by free will, be made consistent with each other?


He first asks: Does God knows that you are going to will tomorrow? Given the notion of God's sovereignty, the answer is surely yes.  Augustine affirms that God is free and God is not by necessity to do what He is going to do.  Next Augustine supposes that If one is to be happy a year later, then God must actually will him to be happy a year from now.  As God's will is a necessity.  Then the man will be happy.  On this point, Augustine challenges, "So you will be happy against your will?"  The agent has to admit that "anything is in our power except actions that are subject to our own will."  The agent will be happy by his own will.  "Will nonetheless remain a will, since God foreknew that it would be so."  Because by the definition of will there is no necessity in human perspective.  Augustine emphasizes,

When we will, if the will itself is lacking in us, we surely do not will.  If it cannot happen that when we will we do not will, then the will is present in the one who wills.  And nothing else is in our power except what is present to us when we will.  Our will, therefore, is not a will unless it is in our power.  And since it is indeed in our power, it is free in us. . . . For when He has foreknowledge of our will, it is going to be the will that He has foreknown.  Therefore, the will is going to be a will because God has foreknowledge of it.  Nor can it be a will if it is not in our power. . . . So the power is not taken from me by His foreknowledge; but because of His foreknowledge, the power to will will more certainly be present in men, since God, whose foreknowledge does not err, has foreknown that I shall have the power.


We have to admit that God "foreknows our sins in such a way that our will still remains free in us and lies in our power."  Augustine also emphasizes that the will is the first cause of sin: "Either the will is the first cause of sin, or else there is no first cause."  As Augustine upholds a self-determinist free will.  God's foreknowledge does not take away the human agent's power of the will.  The human agent is still the efficient cause and do it willingly according to his choice and will.  For Augustine, God's foreknowledge actually affirms that human agent has within his power to choose among the alternatives. 

Joseph Runzo attacks this defense.  Commenting Augustine's using human foreknowledge to show that God's foreknowledge does not reduce human freedom, he says, "If God can foreknow with certainly the future free actions of creatures, His knowledge cannot be based on a like knowledge of human dispositions, etc."  Runzo do not agree Augustine's example in On Free Choice 3.4, where Augustine uses human foreknowledge to show that foreknowledge does not nullify the agent's will.  Runzo may argue that human foreknowledge and God's foreknowledge have different certainty.   But he has not disproved Augustine's argument.  Given the concept of self-determining free will, Augustine has argued that foreknowledge does not necessarily evade the agent's free will.  As we cannot deny we have will in our choosing which God has foreknown.  We have to accept that we are the efficient cause and the will is free and self-determining.  Augustine concludes, "God foreknows all things of which He Himself is the Cause, and yet He is not the Cause of all that He foreknows."  God is not the efficient cause of sin.


Biblical Defense


Augustine not only provides us an empirical-logical defense.  In his later anti-Pelagian work, On Grace and Free Will (426-7), he uses Scripture to support the co-existence of free will and grace.  He emphasizes, "There is, to begin with, the fact that God's percepts 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."  Quoting Phil. 3:12, 15, 16, John 15:22, Rom. 1:18-20, James 1:13-15, Prov. 19:3, and Ecclesiasticus 15:11-17, he emphasizes, "Observe how very plainly is set before our view the free choice of the human will."  Augustine also emphasizes the co-existence of will and grace: "For to consent and to refuse are functions proper to will."  He goes on,

Therefore, my dear beloved, as we have now proved by our former testimonies from Holy Scripture that there is in man a free determination of will for living rightly and acting rightly; so now let us see what are the divine testimonies concerning the grace of God, without which we are not able to do any good thing. 

Using Rom. 12, Augustine clarifies his point more clearly,


If he should say in respect of these commandments, 'I wish to keep them, but am mastered by my concupiscence,' then the Scripture responds to his free will, as I have already said, "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.'  In order, however, that this victory may be gained, grace renders its help; and were not this help given, then the law would be nothing but the strength of sin. 


The faculty of will is free but the disposition of man is dominated by evil and this evil disposition is needed to be transformed by to choose good.  Augustine us that Scripture clearly teaches the existence of self-determinist free will and man is responsible for his choice because he is the efficient cause of his decision.









In this chapter we would show that John Calvin essentially follows Augustine in his view of will before and after the fall and in his defense of the compatibility of free will with God's works in us and God's sovereignty.


Free Will Before the Fall


Calvin, following Augustine, clearly teaches that Adam could will otherwise than the fall if he wished.  Calvin says, In this integrity man by free will had the power, if he so willed, to attain eternal life. . . . Therefore Adam could have stood if he wished, seeing that he fell solely by his own will.  But it was because his will was capable of being bent to one side or the other, . . . Yet his choice of good and evil was free, and not that alone, but the highest rectitude was in his mind and will, and all the organic parts were rightly composed to obedience, until in destroying himself he corrupted his own blessings.


Calvin clearly teaches here the initial uprightness of Adam.  He emphasizes that Adam can will either ways.  He agrees with Augustine that Adam, if he wished, could attain eternal life.  Calvin accepts that Adam has free will which has no contingently sufficient non-sequential conditions for Adam to fall.  Adam has free will (libertarian).  Moreover, the power of free will is within Adam.  Adam has self-determinist free will.  When Calvin condemns philosophers' assumption that "man would not be a rational animal unless he possessed free choice of good and evil."  He comments, "Well reasoned so far

--if there had been no change in man."  It is clear that Calvin teaches that Adam has free choice of will but this is lost because of the fall.  This is the same as Augustine.  Calvin also agrees with Augustine that the true freedom is the ability to do only good which Adam does not have.  


The Fall


Describing the fall, Calvin follows closely with Augustine but with his different emphasis.  In his commentary of Genesis, he follows Augustine closely that Satan fell by his will, not by the nature, and Adam fell by his own will.  He says,

Wherefore, without controversy, we must conclude, that the principle of evil with which Satan was endued was not from nature, but from defection; because he had departed from God, the fountain of justice and of all rectitude. . . . Adam was not created to those multiplied miseries under which all his posterity suffer, but that he fell into them by his own fault.


Calvin also agrees with Augustine that "Adam did not fall without the ordination and will of God."  Calvin challenges the thought that the decree of God is not compatible with free choice.  He comments, "Hence the unskilful rashly infer, that man did not sin by free choice.  For he himself perceives, being convicted by the testimony of his own conscience, that he has been too free in sinning."  From the prospective of Adam, he sinned voluntarily and freely.

Calvin basically agrees with Augustine that pride is the beginning of the first sin.  He says, "Augustine is more correct, who says, that pride was the beginning of all evils, and that by pride the human race was ruined."  But Calvin emphasizes the real root is unbelief.  He says, "Therefore, unbelief was the root of defection; just as faith alone unites us to God.  Hence flowed ambition and pride, . . ."  Calvin also agrees with Augustine that evil is nothing in nature.  He says, "I will not repeat here with Augustine what yet I willingly accept from him as true: There is nothing positive in sin and evil: for this subtlety does not satisfy many."


The Loss of Freedom after the Fall


Calvin agrees with Augustine that Adam, falling by his free choice of will, has brought the corruption such that man can only free to sin.  After Calvin quotes Augustine's On Man's Perfection in Righteousness 4.9: "Through freedom man came to be in sin, but the corruption which followed as punishment turned freedom into necessity,"  Calvin comments,

The chief point of this distinction, then, must be that man, as he was corrupted by the Fall, sinned willingly, not unwillingly or by compulsion; by the most eager inclination of his heart, not by forced compulsion; by the prompting of his own lust, not by compulsion from without.


There is no compulsion from without.  There is no external contingently sufficiently conditions for man such that he chooses to act in one particular way and not another.  In his fall, man has self-determinist free will.  Agreeing Bernard, Calvin quotes, "Thus the soul, in some strange and evil way, under a certain voluntary and wrongly free necessity is at the same time enslaved and free: enslaved because of necessity; free because of will."  Calvin basically agree with Augustine that concerning the will fallen man sins willingly and freely and concerning the corrupted nature fallen man sins necessarily.

Calvin reminds all his readers that he follows closely with Augustine: "Surely my readers will recognize that I am bringing forth nothing new, for it is something that Augustine taught of old with the agreement of all the godly, and it was still retained almost a thousand years later in monastic cloisters."     


Free Will and God's Work in Us


Calvin prefers not to use the word "free will" to describe the fallen man.  But this does not mean that Calvin's view differs from Augustine's.  In Institutes 2.2.8 Calvin discusses about Augustine's doctrine of "free will" concerning human will after the fall.  He agrees with all what Augustine has said about the relationship between free will and grace.  The evil will needs to be changed to good will before one can be saved.  But he points out that Augustine's usage of "free will" as the faculty has given some fools an illusion.  He comments, "And they do not heed the fact that in the term 'free will' freedom seems to be implied."  Therefore Calvin says, "I prefer not to use it myself, and I should like others, if they seek my advice, to avoid it."   Elsewhere Calvin clarifies that he does not mean the faculty of "free will" for Augustine is not present.  Calvin says, "I say that the will is effaced; not in so far as it is will, for in man's conversion what belongs to his primal nature remains entire." 


Free Will and God's Sovereignty


Similar to Augustine, Calvin defends the compatibility between free will and God's sovereignty.  A. N. S. Lane reminds us, "Calvin's 'determinism' is marked by the fact that he preserved the human will and made man the real agent in all that he does."  Agreeing with Augustine, Calvin emphasizes God's providence.  Calvin says,

How the term 'permission,' so frequently mentioned by him [Augustine], ought to be understood will best appear from on passage, where he proves that God's will is the highest and first cause of all things because nothing happens except from his command or permission.


Immediately Calvin emphasizes that the ordained event is accidental in human perspective: "Therefore I shall put it this way: however all things may be ordained by God's plan, according to a sure dispensation, for us they are fortuitous."  In human perspective the future events can be otherwise.  Calvin says, "As all future events are uncertain to us, so we hold them in suspense, as if they might incline to one side or the other."

In discussing the predestination of the fall of Adam, Calvin reminds us to differentiate between proximate and remote causes.  He says,

One excuse is suggested, that he could not evade what God had decreed.  But his voluntary transgression is enough and more than enough to establish his guilt.  For the proper and genuine cause of sin is not God's hidden counsel but the evident will of man.


Adam is the efficient cause of his sin.  Calvin also follows Augustine to appeal to human experience that man is the cause of their will.  Calvin says,

But godly minds cannot by this reasoning reconcile the two matters, that man when first made was set in such a position that by voluntarily failing he should be the cause of his own destruction, and yet that it was so ordained by the admirable counsel of God . . . I again repeat, I am aware how much absurdity and contradiction these things carry with them for profane men.  But, over against a thousand witnesses, the voice of one conscience ought to suffice for us.  If we listen to it, we shall be ashamed to deny that man perished justly for voluntarily preferring to follow Satan rather than God.


Calvin understands the absurdity of the idea but he appeals to human conscience. 

Lastly, Calvin affirms that in respect to human understanding there are contingency.  Here in his French version, Calvin defines contingency: "As for what is called contingency, it means that things can happen either in one way or another."  Calvin then says,

Yet it seems absurd to remove contingency from the world. . . . What necessarily happens is what God decrees, and is therefore not exactly or of itself necessary by nature. . . . But though it is proper for us to regard the order of nature as divinely determined, I do not at all reject contingency in regard to human understanding.


J. K. S. Reid summarizes Calvin's view:


It is true, he says, that what God freely decrees necessarily happens.  But this is quite different from natural necessity, which is embedded in things in themselves; and at the same time, it is quite compatible with what we must call natural contingency.

For Calvin there are two levels of causes, as Reid sees it:


There is the supernatural order which belongs to the divine ordination of all things.  But besides this, there is the natural order, which may also in certain aspects be called an order of contingency.


Reid emphasizes,

Calvin's Predestination has really nothing to do with antecedent factors . . . Predestination or predetermination is not determination simply by a greater power, but it is different in kind from mere determination and hence a fortiori from determinism. . . . But just because He is really infinite, the Predestination of which He is the author does not rob man of his independence and therefore of his responsibility.  


Calvin warns us that God's cause is different in kind:

The nature of the Stoics' supposition is known.  They weave their fate out of a Gordian complex of causes.  In this they involve God Himself, making golden chains, as in the fable, with which to bind Him, so that He becomes subject to inferior.


In his Institutes Calvin reminds that God's providence "is the determinative principle of all things in such a way that sometimes it works through an intermediary, sometimes without an intermediary, sometimes contrary to every intermediary."

Describing the compatibility of God's sovereignty and human will, Calvin emphasizes that "in a wonderful and inconceivable manner he regulates all the movements of men, so that they still have the exercise of their will."


Similarity and Divergence between Augustine and Calvin


Using slightly different terminologies, both Augustine and Calvin agrees: (1) the two stages of free will, (2) Adam's capacity to choose good or evil, (3) the cause of evil is human free will, (4) the existence of evil disposition after the fall, (5) the necessity of grace for salvation for the fallen man, and (6) human agent as the efficient cause.  We may call Calvin's concept of free will for the fallen man as either compatibilist free will (unconstrained) or self-determinist free will.  But we cannot call Calvin's concept of free will for Adam as compatibilist free will (unconstrained).  It is certainly self-determinist free will or free will (libertarian). 

Nevertheless, we have to admit that Calvin has not defended the self-determinist free will so sharply as Augustine does.  Lane gives us a very balanced comment,

Did Calvin believe in freewill? Even Calvin himself could not give a clear and unequivocal answer to this question.  At different stages in man's history different degrees of freedom are conceded to the will.

Calvin's teaching on freewill is very close to that of Augustine.  Perhaps the greatest difference is one of attitude.  Augustine, while clearly teaching the bondage of the will and the sovereignty of grace, took great care to preserve man's freewill.  Calvin was much more polemical in his assertion of human impotence and was reluctant to talk of freewill.  What Augustine had carefully safeguarded, Calvin grudgingly conceded.


Calvin is more cautious in describing human self-determinist free will, but his position is essentially similar to Augustine.  Followers of Calvin may conscientiously use the Augustinian free will defense.






In this paper we have shown that Augustine is consistent in his notion of free will.  Moreover, given his definition of the faculty of "free will."  His free will defense is reasonable and defensible.  Furthermore, we also defend that Augustine and Calvin have essentially the same notion of free will defense. 

In the issue of free will defense and the nature of free will, usually evangelical theists are tempted to label each other as "Calvinist" or "Arminian."  The self-determinist free will is also usually classified by some scholars as Arminian.  This paper shows that both Augustine and Calvin support the self-determinist free will.  They both believe that it is compatible with God's sovereignty and is invaluable in describing the fall of Adam.  Calvinists should not wrongly charge Augustine's free will defense as an Arminian view.  Self-determinist free will is the main argument for the problem of evil for both Calvin and Augustine.  All evangelicals should respect the Augustine's free will defense as one reliable, consistent solution to the problem of evil.










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        [1]John S. Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 98.

        [2]Gerard O'Daly, "Predestination and Freedom in Augustine's Ethics," in The Philosophy in Christianity, ed. G. Vesey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 88, 97.

        [3]Richard Taylor, "Determinism," Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1967, 2:359.

        [4]Cf. Ibid., 368; John S. Feinberg, "God Ordains All Things," in Predestination & Free Will, ed. David Basinger & Randall Basinger (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press), 24.

        [5]Cf. Taylor, "Determinism," 2:369; Norman Geisler, "God Knows All Things," in Predestination & Free Will, 76.

        [6]Cf. Anthony Flew, "Compatibilism, Free Will and God," Philosophy 48 (1973): 233.

        [7]Cf. Ibid., 233-34.

        [8]Cf. J. B. Mozley, A Treatise on the Augustinian Doctrine of Predestination, 2d ed. (London: John Murray, 1878), 196, 217.

        [9]Cf. Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1989, s.v. "will."

        [10]Robert M. Cooper, "Saint Augustine's Doctrine of Evil," Scottish Journal of Theology 16 (1963): 256.

        [11]Mozley, Predestination, 218.

Cf. Augustine, On Free Choice of the Will, trans. Anna S. Benjamin and L. H. Hackstaff, with an Introduction by L. H. Hackstaff (New York: Macmillan, 1964), I.11, I.16, II.1.

Fred Berthold, Jr., "Free Will and Theodicy in Augustine: An Exposition and Critique," Religious Studies 17 (1981): 525.

Augustine, On the Trinity, X.11, in The Works of Aurelius Augustine, ed. Marcus Dods (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1874), vol. 12.

Berthold, "Free Will," 525-26.

John M. Rist, "Augustine on Free Will and Predestination," Journal of Theological Studies 20 (1969): 421-22.

Robert F. Brown, "The First Evil Will Must be Incomprehensive: A Critique of Augustine," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 46 (1978): 318.

Augustine, On Free Choice, II.19.

Ibid., III.3.

Mozley, Predestination, 196.

Ibid., 206.

Augustine, On Free Choice, I.7.

Augustine, On The Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and Baptism of Infants, II.30, in The Works, vol. 4.

The chronology of Augustine's works in this paper follows G. R. Evans' table in his Augustine on Evil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), xii-xiv.

O'Daly, "Predestination," 88.

Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, LVIII, in Basic Writings of Saint Augustine. ed. Whitney J. Oates (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), vol. 1.

O'Daly, "Predestination," 88.

Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, I, in Basic, vol. 1.

Ibid., II.

Berthold, "Free Will," 527.

Augustine, On Free Choice, III.3.

Mary T. Clark, Augustine: Philosopher of Freedom (New York: Desclee Co., 1958), 91.

John M. Rist, "Augustine on Free Will and Predestination," Journal of Theological Studies 20 (1969): 423.

Augustine, The Enchiridion, XXX, in Basic, vol. 1.

Augustine, On Free Choice, II.19.

Ibid., III.17.

Augustine, The Enchiridion, XXX.

Berthold, "Free Will," 529.

Rist, "Augustine," 424.

Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, XLI.

ibid., III.

O'Daly, "Predestination," 97.

Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, XXI.

Ibid., XXXI.

Feinberg, Many Faces, 98.

William Maker, "Augustine on Evil: The Dilemma of the Philosophers," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 15 (1984): 159.

Augustine, On Free Choice, I.12.

Ibid., II.1.

Ibid., II.14.

Ibid., III.3.

Ibid., III.17.

Joseph Runzo, "Omniscience and Freedom for Evil," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 12 (1981): 135.

Ibid., III.4.

Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, II.

Ibid., III


Ibid., VII.

Ibid., VIII.

John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960) I.15.8.


Cf. Ibid.

John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, in Calvin's Commentaries, vol. 1, trans. and ed. John King (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 142.

Ibid., 144.

Ibid., 145.

Ibid., 153.

John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, translated with an Introduction by J. K. S. Reid (London: James Clark, 1961), X.7.

Calvin, Institutes, II.3.5.


Larry D. Sharp reminds us that while Augustine uses "grace of God" as God's power working in us, Calvin usually uses "Holy Spirit."  Moreover Calvin, differing a little bit from Augustine, does not hesitate to call conversion as a "necessary."  "The Doctrine of Grace in Calvin and Augustine," Evangelical Quarterly 52 (1980): 86, 91.


Calvin, Institutes, II.2.8.

Ibid., II.3.6.

A. N. S. Lane, "Did Calvin believe in Freewill?" Vox Evangelica 12 (1981): 74.

Calvin, Institutes, I.16.8.

Ibid., I.16.9.

John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, translated with an Introduction by J. K. S. Reid (London: James Clark, 1961), VIII.5.

Ibid., VI.

Ibid., X.7, p. 170, n.1.

Ibid., X.7.

Ibid., 25.

Ibid., 26.

Ibid., X.7.

Calvin, Institutes, I.17.1.

John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, vol. 1, in Calvin's Commentaries, vol. 7, 352.

Bruce R. Reichenbach points out, "Calvin suggests that the only humans to whom a libertarian rather than a compatibilist view of freedom applies are Adam and Eve. Cf. "Evil and a Reformed view of God," Philosophy of Religion 24 (1988): 83, n. 13.

Lane, "Calvin," 86.