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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IX:
John of Damascus: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.: That God is not the cause of evils.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XIX.—That God 2607 is not the cause of evils.

It is to be observed 2608 that it is the custom in the Holy Scripture to speak of God’s permission as His energy, as when the apostle says in the Epistle to the Romans, Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour 2609 ? And for this reason, that He Himself makes this or that. For He is Himself alone the Maker of all things; yet it is not He Himself that fashions noble or ignoble things, but the personal choice of p. 93b each one 2610 . And this is manifest from what the same Apostle says in the Second Epistle to Timothy, In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth: and some to honour and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work 2611 . And it is evident that the purification must be voluntary: for if a man, he saith, purge himself. And the consequent antistrophe responds, “If a man purge not himself he will be a vessel to dishonour, unmeet for the master’s use and fit only to be broken in pieces.” Wherefore this passage that we have quoted and this, God hath concluded them all in unbelief 2612 , and this, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear 2613 , all these must be understood not as though God Himself were energising, but as though God were permitting, both because of free-will and because goodness knows no compulsion.

His permission, therefore, is usually spoken of in the Holy Scripture as His energy and work. Nay, even when He says that God creates evil things, and that there is no evil in a city that the Lord hath not done, he does not mean by these words 2614 that the Lord is the cause of evil, but the word ‘evil 2615 ’ is used in two ways, with two meanings. For sometimes it means what is evil by nature, and this is the opposite of virtue and the will of God: and sometimes it means that which is evil and oppressive to our sensation, that is to say, afflictions and calamities. Now these are seemingly evil because they are painful, but in reality are good. For to those who understand they became ambassadors of conversion and salvation. The Scripture says that of these God is the Author.

It is, moreover, to be observed that of these, too, we are the cause: for involuntary evils are the offspring of voluntary ones 2616 .

This also should be recognised, that it is usual in the Scriptures for some things that ought to be considered as effects to be stated in a causal sense 2617 , as, Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight, that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and prevail when Thou judgest 2618 . For the sinner did not sin in order that God might prevail, nor again did God require our sin in order that He might by it be revealed as victor 2619 . For above comparison He wins the victor’s prize against all, even against those who are sinless, being Maker, incomprehensible, uncreated, and possessing natural and not adventitious glory. But it is because when we sin God is not unjust in His anger against us; and when He pardons the penitent He is shewn victor over our wickedness. But it is not for this that we sin, but because the thing so turns out. It is just as if one were sitting at work and a friend stood near by, and one said, My friend came in order that I might do no work that day. The friend, however, was not present in order that the man should do no work, but such was the result. For being occupied with receiving his friend he did not work. These things, too, are spoken of as effects because affairs so turned out. Moreover, God does not wish that He alone should be just, but that all should, so far as possible, be made like unto Him.



Against Platonists, Gnostics, and Manicheans.


Damasc. Dial. cont. Manich.


Rom. ix. 21.


Basil, Homil. Quod Deus non sit auct. malorum.


2 Tim. 2:20, 21.


Rom. xi. 32.


Isa. 29:10, Rom. 11:8.


Amos iii. 6.


Text, δισέμφατον. Variant, δυσέμφατον.


Text, τῶν γὰρ ἑκουσίων κακῶν τὰ ἀκούσια, &c. R. 2930 has τῶν ἀκουσίων τὰ ἑκούσια


Basil, loc. cit.


Ps. li. 4.


νικητής is sometimes absent.

Next: That there are not two Kingdoms.

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