This is the 3rd post in a series about the teachings of the Early Church Fathers (100 A.D. – 300 A.D.). We are using Origen’s summary of the Church’s teaching found in the preface of his book “First Principles.” For the first post in the series click here.
“This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the Church, that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition; that it has a struggle to maintain with the devil and his angels, and opposing influences, because they strive to burden it with sins; but if we live rightly and wisely, we should endeavor to shake ourselves free of a burden of that kind. From which it follows, also, that we understand ourselves not to be subject to necessity, so as to be compelled by all means, even against our will, to do either good or evil. For if we are our own masters, some influences perhaps may impel us to sin, and others help us to salvation; we are not forced, however, by any necessity either to act rightly or wrongly, which those persons think is the case who say that the courses and movements of the stars are the cause of human actions, not only of those which take place beyond the influence of the freedom of the will, but also of those which are placed within our own power.”
The Early Church was utterly clear; people have a genuinely free will. The Church Fathers argue again and again that if people could not help but sin, then God would be unjust in punishing them. The Early Church taught that God had foreknowledge of all that men would freely do. And for that reason every man is judged for their choices, whether they surrender to the grace and influence of God, or they submit to the Devil and his desires.
They believed “the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).
“Regarding the devil and his angels, and the opposing influences, the teaching of the Church has laid down that these beings exist indeed; but what they are, or how they exist, it has not explained with sufficient clearness. This opinion, however, is held by most, that the devil was an angel, and that, having become apostate, he induced as many of the angels as possible to fall away with himself, and these up to the present time are called his angels.”
“This also is a part of the teaching of the Church, that there are certain angels of God, and certain good influences, which are His servants in accomplishing the salvation of men. When these, however, were created, or of what nature they are, or how they exist, is not clearly stated.”
Origen tells us that the Early Church all believed in the demonic forces and the angelic forces. He tells us that the teaching of how the Devil became the Devil is not clear, but that most agree that he and his angels were once angels of the Lord that turned away. He also tells us that angels are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). But he lets us know that the Church did not hand down any detailed information about how God created them, in what order and of what their exact nature is. The Gnostics had long genealogies of the angels and other spirit beings, but Origen tells us that this is not from the Apostolic Church.
To Be Continued…