Wednesday, March 25, 2015

RE Hopko on Predestination

A friend asked me to look at this piece by Fr Thomas Hopko on predestination. I understand he is now with the Lord, so I write this in peace.  This is not an exhaustive commentary, either on his end or my end.  Further, while I hold to predestination I am not *defending* it per se, but rather rebutting some inadequate counter proposals.

Further, I think he and I are closer on free will than he might realize.

Fr Hopko begins on a positive note:  he points out that what most discussions on predestination usually concern “Providence” rather than predestination.  God’s governing the world is not the same thing as his choosing me (or choosing my choosing, what have you).  

Concerning “foreknowledge” Hopko writes,

It is on the basis of his foreknowledge that he makes his plan, that he works out his plan in relationship to creatures, who are free.

If I can rephrase this:  God orders the world based on his foreknowledge.  Okay.   However, we run into troubled waters:

You have to say, “Things do not happen because God knows them, God knows them because they happen.”

I can only ask in response:  Are they happening independent of God?    Hopko is even more explicit,

My action determines God’s knowledge, and that is very important. God knows things because I will freely do them. I don’t do them because God knows them.

This seems to contradict his earlier claim that God foreknows everything.  If God foreknows everything, then my action--since I do not yet exist--cannot cause his knowledge.   Concerning God and Time,

For God, there is no past, present, and future. All knowledge of God is in God before anything even happens. All the whole knowledge of creation, the whole knowledge of everything that could be, and would be, and how it will be, is in the divine mind of God before anything creaturely even exists. That would be a dogma of ancient Orthodox Christian faith; there is no doubt about that.

I don’t accept the Boethian view of time, but even here, if we say that I pre-exist in the mind of God, I only pre-exist as an idea, not as an acting agent.  This means a) God foreknows my actions because I am already in his mind and b) I am not yet acting as a physical agent, which means c) my actions cannot cause God’s knowledge.

Some writers, in fact some very important Christian writers, will say, “God will never violate the freedom of his creature. Once he gives the freedom, he will not violate it.” But I think that we would have to go a step further, on the basis of Scripture and understanding of Scripture in the Tradition of our Church, by our great spiritual teachers, and that is that it is not simply the case that God will not violate our freedom. We have to say something stronger. We have to say, “God cannot violate our freedom.” God cannot force us to do anything at all. He simply cannot do it.

Hopko is skipping over so many issues related to human freedom.  For what it’s worth, I accept real free will.  I don’t like the term “libertarian free will,” but I hold to free will.  

Hopko then goes on to speak of the “eternal council,” which is pretty good so I will move on.

But here, unlike the Calvinists, we Eastern Orthodox ancient Christians would never say that God arbitrarily chooses some and makes them elect, and he could choose anybody He wants. We do not believe in irresistible grace. We believe grace is resistible. We do not believe that the “sovereignty of God” means he could make anybody into St. Paul if he wanted to. That is simply not true, because our freedom is involved.

This is just bad.  Which Calvinist holds that God arbitrarily chooses people?  Citation, please.  We hold that God does not choose us as a reward for fore-knowing we would choose him.  That’s not grace.  That’s wage-labor.  And we believe grace is resistible.  We prefer to say that God’s ultimate calling is effectual.  Instead of interacting with cogent defenses of effectual calling, Hopko attacks bad connotations of “irresistible grace.”


  1. In what sense is grace resistible? Or what kind of grace is resistible? Not arguing, I just want to understand more accurately what you're saying.

    Also, what kind of freedom do you think we have? Obviously we don't have any autonomous freedom, properly understood. Neither, and I think we agree, do we have this really, really weak sense of freedom that is probably the dominant reformed view today.

    I've been thinking through this a lot lately, but I'm having a difficult time pinning down exactly what I think on the subject. So your input would be appreciate.

  2. Irresistible grace might be the worst mnemonic device in TULIP. It connotes that we can never ever resist any call of God, which is silly.

    Effectual calling, on the other hand, means that when God decides to save us he is successful. It means the ultimate or final calling of God works.

    Per freedom: we have freedom of will with a limitation of choice. The object of our choosing is the inducement to volition and the motive is the subjective cause. Motives arise from subjective reflections. The soul is self-determining. This is not Pelagianism, though. We are not saying the faculty of will is self-determining. The soul has its own regulative law of action. This regulative law is its dispositions. This fact coexists with the fact of consciousness.