January 5, 2018

On the Evils That Proceed from Rejecting Free Will (St. Syncletike of Alexandria)

By St. Athanasius of Alexandria

(From the Teachings of Saint Syncletike)

81. One of the soul-destroying wild beasts is to be dragged down on the part of those who talk about fate, even if they call it 'genesis.' This is the most terrible nail of the devil. When often he only moves pestilential illusion against the mind of serious souls, and then he flies away; but he dominates the more negligent. For no one of those living according to virtue believes in or accepts the deranged and vain notion of this one. For he places God as the beginning of all goods that have existed and that now exist; and secondly he appoints God in his own mind as the chief and judge of virtue and vice. Such ones who have suffered from thoughtlessness and apathy come immediately to that demon. For just as children who desert their post and do not recall the education from their parents for their use, they, shrinking back, gain possession of the desert spaces and are united with wild and barbarous demons. For fearing to place the blame for their own actions on their intentions, they calumniate things that are not there.

82. Further rejecting the divine from themselves, they say that things having to do with pleasure happen to them because of their birth. For fornicating and stealing, being ill with love of money and craftiness, they stand in awe of your acts, and bend from the truth. Their achievement of the goal is despair that brings ruin to them. For it is necessary from these thoughts that God is removed from them, and over and above God, God's judgment. For they say, 'If he has judged me this, to fornicate or to be covetous, judgment is superfluous. For the punishment of voluntary sins is just; but the involuntary act that comes from some origin renders its performer innocent.' And from this judgment is annulled.

83. One must hear how the divine is also cast away from them. For they say in their vanity that it is either first or second or always existent. Therefore if they say God precedes, it will follow by necessity that all things are made by him, for he is in everything. Surely he is the lord of fate. If one is a covetous person or a fornicator from one's origin, it is necessary through the mediator of this birth that God himself is the cause of evil; the very thing is outrageous. If they say that God is the second, it is obvious that he would be subject to the first; and whoever wishes the principal, to this one necessarily the one who comes after will follow. And again God is guilty of evils for them; the very thing is wicked. And if they wish him to be coeternal, they move to combat those things that are naturally opposed. Therefore from these thoughts their vain idea is completely rejected. Concerning these Scripture spoke: 'The foolish one says in his heart, God does not exist,' and 'They spoke lawlessness into the heights.'

84. They make excuses with pretexts for their sins. For they mutilate the Scriptures, being blind and wishing to give assurance to their depravity from them. First trying to vomit forth from the gospel their own poison, they do great violence. For it says, 'thus was the birth of the Christ.' The divine Scripture called his birth 'genesis.' Yet the birth among human beings according to the economy [of the incarnation] is called 'genesis.' But if they spread false reports concerning the star, let them learn again his glorious coming. For us the brightest star became the herald of truth; but the vain opinion of those ones bears many away to the pursuit of the human birth. And from this it has been shown that in every way evil is hostile to itself. And they call Isaiah into witness for their folly. For they say that he said this: 'Lord maker of peace and creator of evil.' Therefore peace is acknowledged by all as being the work of God, but evil truly is practiced by them, evil coming from the soul. For us, the evil that is originated from God is the most useful kind. For toward the salvation of the soul and the education of the body are there famines and droughts, illnesses and sufferings, and all other various accidents. For the salvific remedies that they supposed were evil of the soul were not truly evil, these bear conversion to us from the mightier one. 'For what son is there that the father does not educate?' Moreover 'his ways are not in the human being,' again in the same way they bring forward their own destruction; having no paths, they want to search one out. Covetousness, gluttony, fornication are not a path; for these things are without independent existence not befitting themselves. For these people are wont to say that these are paths. Scripture says that our paths are common to all, that of life and that of death. For truly the journeys are of beginning here and of migrating out of these senses.

85. Therefore those possessed by an evil genius will do anything for their rejection of free will. They are even placed by means of this zeal to exchange freedom for slavery. For this is the work of evil, always to drag down others together with it to the worse. For they became witnesses for themselves, as ones who sold themselves to evil. Therefore this is the deceptive handiwork of the devil. For he prepares careless souls by means of heresy to be stooped, not allowing them to come to their senses through knowledge of the truth. For just as a boat sailing without a rudder is always afflicted, so danger always breathes upon them, for no one is able to start toward the salvific harbor who abandons the Lord who steers the boat. He thus leads astray the souls devoted to him. Often the enemy lies in ambush for the zealous souls on account of these, wishing to cut off their good race. For he throws in that to do well comes from the movement of the stars. But the adversary brings this thought to those who have turned from worldly wisdom to the solitary life; for the devil, being intelligent in evil matters, sets up traps for human nature. For he is constantly present for them through despair; he drags some down by vainglory, he destroys others by love of riches. For just as a death-bearing doctor brings poison to humans; and he destroys one through the liver, bringing him the toxin of desire; another he makes wounded in the heart, fastening his temper to anger. He blunts the principal power of some, surrounding them with ignorance, or twisting them by means of superstition.