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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IX:
John of Damascus: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.: Concerning the volitions and free-will of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XIV.—Concerning the volitions and free-will of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since, then, Christ has two natures, we hold that He has also two natural wills and two natural energies. But since His two natures have one subsistence, we hold that it is one and the same person who wills and energises naturally in both natures, of which, and in which, and also which is Christ our Lord: and moreover that He wills and energises without separation but as a united whole. For He wills and energises in either form in close communion with the other 2082 . For things that have the same essence have also the same will and energy, while things that are different in essence are different in will and energy 2083 ; and vice versa, things that have the same will and energy have the same essence, while things that are different in will and energy are different in essence.

Wherefore 2084 in the case of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit we recognise, from their sameness in will and energy, their sameness in nature. But in the case of the divine dispensation 2085 we recognise from their difference in will and energy the difference of the two natures, and as we perceive the difference of the two natures we confess that the wills and energies also are different. For just as the number of the natures of one and the same Christ, when considered and spoken of with piety, do not cause a division of the one Christ but merely bring out the fact that the difference between the natures is maintained even in the union, so it is with the number of wills and energies that belong essentially to His natures. (For He was endowed with the powers of willing and energising in both natures, for the sake of our salvation.) It does not introduce division: God forbid! but merely brings out the fact that the differences between them are safeguarded and preserved even in the union. For we hold that wills and energies are faculties belonging to nature, not to subsistence; I mean those faculties of will and energy by which He Who wills and energises does so. For if we allow that they belong to subsistence, we will be forced to say that the three subsistences of the Holy Trinity have different wills and different energies.

For it is to be noted 2086 that willing and the manner of willing are not the same thing. For to will is a faculty of nature, just as p. 58b seeing is, for all men possess it; but the manner of willing does not depend on nature but on our judgment, just as does also the manner of seeing, whether well or ill. For all men do not will in the same way, nor do they all see in the same way. And this also we will grant in connection with energies. For the manner of willing, or seeing, or energising, is the mode of using the faculties of will and sight and energy, belonging only to him who uses them, and marking him off from others by the generally accepted difference.

Simple willing then is spoken of as volition or the faculty of will 2087 , being a rational propension 2088 and natural will; but in a particular way willing, or that which underlies volition, is the object of will 2089 , and will dependent on judgment 2090 . Further that which has innate in it the faculty of volition is spoken of as capable of willing 2091 : as for instance the divine is capable of willing, and the human in like manner. But he who exercises volition, that is to say the subsistence, for instance Peter, is spoken of as willing.

Since, then 2092 , Christ is one and His subsistence is one, He also Who wills both as God and as man is one and the same. And since He has two natures endowed with volition, inasmuch as they are rational (for whatever is rational is endowed with volition and free-will), we shall postulate two volitions or natural wills in Him. For He in His own person is capable of volition in accordance with both His natures. For He assumed that faculty of volition which belongs naturally to us. And since Christ, Who in His own person wills according to either nature, is one, we shall postulate the same object of will in His case, not as though He wills only those things which He willed naturally as God (for it is no part of Godhead to will to eat or drink and so forth), but as willing also those things which human nature requires for its support 2093 , and this without involving any opposition in judgment, but simply as the result of the individuality of the natures. For then it was that He thus willed naturally, when His divine volition so willed and permitted the flesh to suffer and do that which was proper to it.

But that volition is implanted in man by nature 2094 is manifest from this. Excluding the divine life, there are three forms of life: the vegetative, the sentient, and the intellectual. The properties of the vegetative life are the functions of nourishment, and growth, and production: that of the sentient life is impulse: and that of the rational and intellectual life is freedom of will. If, then, nourishment belongs by nature to the vegetative life and impulse to the sentient, freedom of will by nature belongs to the rational and intellectual life. But freedom of will is nothing else than volition. The Word, therefore, having become flesh, endowed with life and mind and free-will, became also endowed with volition.

Further, that which is natural is not the result of training: for no one learns how to think, or live, or hunger, or thirst, or sleep. Nor do we learn how to will: so that willing is natural.

And again: if in the case of creatures devoid of reason nature rules, while nature is ruled in man who is moved of his own free-will and volition, it follows, then, that man is by nature endowed with volition.

And again: if man has been made after the image of the blessed and super-essential Godhead, and if the divine nature is by nature endowed with free-will and volition, it follows that man, as its image, is free by nature and volitive 2095 . For the fathers defined freedom as volition 2096 .

And further: if to will is a part of the nature of every man and not present in some and absent in others, and if that which is seen to be common to all is a characteristic feature of the nature that belongs to the individuals of the class, surely, then, man is by nature endowed with volition 2097 .

And once more: if the nature receives neither more nor less, but all are equally endowed with volition and not some more than others, then by nature man is endowed with volition 2098 . So that since man is by nature endowed with volition, the Lord also must be by nature endowed with volition, not only because He is God, but also because He became man. For just as He assumed our nature, so also He has assumed naturally our will. And in this way the Fathers said that He formed our will in Himself 2099 .

If the will is not natural, it must be either hypostatic or unnatural. But if it is hypostatic, the Son must thus, forsooth, have a different will from what the Father has: for that which is hypostatic is characteristic of subsistence only. And if it is unnatural, will must be a defection from nature: for p. 59b what is unnatural is destructive of what is natural.

The God and Father of all things wills either as Father or as God. Now if as Father, His will will be different from that of the Son, for the Son is not the Father. But if as God, the Son is God and likewise the Holy Spirit is God, and so volition is part of His nature, that is, it is natural.

Besides 2100 , if according to the view of the Fathers, those who have one and the same will have also one and the same essence, and if the divinity and humanity of Christ have one and the same will, then assuredly these have also one and the same essence.

And again: if according to the view of the Fathers the distinction between the natures is not seen in the single will, we must either, when we speak of the one will, cease to speak of the different natures in Christ or, when we speak of the different natures of Christ, cease to speak of the one will.

And further 2101 , the divine Gospel says, The Lord came into the borders of Tyre and Sidon and entered into a house, and would have no man know it; but He could not be hid 2102 . If, then, His divine will is omnipotent, but yet, though He would, He could not be hid, surely it was as man that He would and could not, and so as man He must be endowed with volition.

And once again 2103 , the Gospel tells us that, He, having come into the place, said ‘I thirst’: and they gave Him some vinegar mixed with gall, and when He had tasted it He would not drink 2104 . If, then, on the one hand it was as God that He suffered thirst and when He had tasted would not drink, surely He must be subject to passion 2105 also as God, for thirst and taste are passions 2106 . But if it was not as God but altogether as man that He was athirst, likewise as man He must be endowed with volition 2107 .

Moreover, the blessed Paul the Apostle says, He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross 2108 . But obedience is subjection of the real will, not of the unreal will. For that which is irrational is not said to be obedient or disobedient 2109 . But the Lord having become obedient to the Father, became so not as God but as man. For as God He is not said to be obedient or disobedient. For these things are of the things that are under one’s hand 2110 , as the inspired Gregorius said 2111 . Wherefore, then, Christ is endowed with volition as man.

While, however, we assert that will is natural, we hold not that it is dominated by necessity, but that it is free. For if it is rational, it must be absolutely free. For it is not only the divine and uncreated nature that is free from the bonds of necessity, but also the intellectual and created nature. And this is manifest: for God, being by nature good and being by nature the Creator and by nature God, is not all this of necessity. For who is there to introduce this necessity?

It is to be observed further 2112 , that freedom of will is used in several senses, one in connection with God, another in connection with angels, and a third in connection with men. For used in reference to God it is to be understood in a superessential manner, and in reference to angels it is to be taken in the sense that the election is concomitant with the state 2113 , and admits of the interposition of no interval of time at all: for while the angel possesses free-will by nature, he uses it without let or hindrance, having neither antipathy on the part of the body to overcome nor any assailant. Again, used in reference to men, it is to be taken in the sense that the state is considered to be anterior in time to the election. For man is free and has free-will by nature, but he has also the assault of the devil to impede him and the motion of the body: and thus through the assault and the weight of the body, election comes to be later than the state.

If, then, Adam 2114 obeyed of his own will and ate of his own will, surely in us the will is the first part to suffer. And if the will is the first to suffer, and the Word Incarnate did not assume this with the rest of our nature, it follows that we have not been freed from sin.

Moreover, if the faculty of free-will which is in nature is His work and yet He did not assume it, He either condemned His own workmanship as not good, or grudged us the comfort it brought, and so deprived us of the full benefit, and shewed that He was Himself subject to passion since He was not willing or not able to work out our perfect salvation.

Moreover, one cannot speak of one comp. 60b pound thing made of two wills in the same way as a subsistence is a composition of two natures. Firstly because the compositions are of things in subsistence (hypotasis), not of things viewed in a different category, not in one proper to them 2115 : and secondly, because if we speak of composition of wills and energies, we will be obliged to speak of composition of the other natural properties, such as the uncreated and the created, the invisible and the visible, and so on. And what will be the name of the will that is compounded out of two wills? For the compound cannot be called by the name of the elements that make it up. For otherwise we should call that which is compounded of natures nature and not subsistence. And further, if we say that there is one compound will in Christ, we separate Him in will from the Father, for the Father’s will is not compound. It remains, therefore, to say that the subsistence of Christ alone is compound and common, as in the case of the natures so also in that of the natural properties.

And we cannot 2116 , if we wish to be accurate, speak of Christ as having judgment (γνώμη) and preference 2117 . For judgment is a disposition with reference to the decision arrived at after investigation and deliberation concerning something unknown, that is to say, after counsel and decision. And after judgment comes preference 2118 , which chooses out and selects the one rather than the other. But the Lord being not mere man but also God, and knowing all things, had no need of inquiry, and investigation, and counsel, and decision, and by nature made whatever is good His own and whatever is bad foreign to Him 2119 . For thus says Isaiah the prophet, Before the child shall know to prefer the evil, he shall choose the good; because before the child knows good or evil, he refuses wickedness by choosing the good 2120 . For the word “before” proves that it is not with investigation and deliberation, as is the way with us, but as God and as subsisting in a divine manner in the flesh, that is to say, being united in subsistence to the flesh, and because of His very existence and all-embracing knowledge, that He is possessed of good in His own nature. For the virtues are natural qualities 2121 , and are implanted in all by nature and in equal measure, even if we do not all in equal measure employ our natural energies. By the transgression we were driven from the natural to the unnatural 2122 . But the Lord led us back from the unnatural into the natural 2123 . For this is what is the meaning of in our image, after our likeness 2124 . And the discipline and trouble of this life were not designed as a means for our attaining virtue which was foreign to our nature, but to enable us to cast aside the evil that was foreign and contrary to our nature: just as on laboriously removing from steel the rust which is not natural to it but acquired through neglect, we reveal the natural brightness of the steel.

Observe further that the word judgment (γνώμη) is used in many ways and in many senses. Sometimes it signifies exhortation: as when the divine apostle says, Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord; yet I give my judgment 2125 : sometimes it means counsel, as when the prophet David says, They have taken crafty counsel against Thy people 2126 : sometimes it means a decree, as when we read in Daniel, Concerning whom (or, what) went this shameless decree forth 2127 ? At other times it is used in the sense of belief, or opinion, or purpose, and, to put it shortly, the word judgment has twenty-eight 2128 different meanings.



Leo, Epist. 10, ad Flavian.


Max., Disp. cum Pyrrho.


Supr., bk. ii. ch. 22.


οἰκονομίας, incarnation.


Max., Dial. cum Pyrrho; Anast. in ῾Οδηγός, ch. 6, p. 40.


τὸ μὲν ἁπλῶς θέλειν, θέλησις, ἤτοι ἡ θελητικὴ δύναμις.




θέλητον, willed, the thing willed.


θέλημα γνωμικόν, dispositional volition, will of judgment.


θελητικον, volitive. Volitivum, volitive, is the Scholastic translation θελητικόν.


Max., Dial. cum Pyrrh.


Max., ibid.


Max., ibid.


θελητικός, endowed with volition.


θέλησις, will.






καὶ κατὰ τοῦτο οἱ Πατέρες τὸ ἡμέτερον ἐν ἑαυτῷ τυπῶσαι αὐτὸν ἔφησαν θέλημα: and according to this the Fathers said that He typified, moulded, had the form of our will in Himself.


Greg. Nyss., Cont. Apollin and others, Act. 10, sext. syn.


Max., Agatho pap. Epist. Syn. in VI Syn., Act. 4.


St. Mark vii. 24.


Max., ibid.


Matt. 27:33, 34, John 19:28, 29.


ἐμπαθής, passible, sensible, possessed of sensibility.


πάθος, sensibility.


In N. is added: καὶ εἰ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ πάθους λέγει· Πάτερ, εἰ δυνατὸν, παρελθέτω τὸ ποτήριον τοῦτο ἀπ᾽ ἐμοῦ. Πλὴν οὐχ ὡς ἐγὼ θέλω, ἀλλ᾽ ὡς σύ. ᾽Ιδοὺ δύο θελήσεις, θεϊκὴ ἅμα καὶ ἀνθρωπίνη.


Phil. ii. 8.


Max., ut supr.


τῶν ὑπὸ χεῖρα γὰρ ταῦτα.


Orat. 36, some distance from the beginning.


Max., Disp. cum Pyrrh.


ὡς συντρεχούσης τῇ ἕξει τῆς προχειρίσεως, the choice, or decision, being synchronous with the moral disposition.


Max., Disp. cum Pyrrh.


πρῶτον μὲν, ὅτι αἱ συνθέσεις τῶν ἐν ὑποστάσει ὄντων, καὶ οὐ τῶν ἑτέρῳ λόγῳ, καὶ οὐκ ἰδί& 251· θεωρουμένων εἰσί.


Max., Dial. cum Pyrrh.


Max., Epist. ad Marin.




Basil, on Ps. xliv., or rather on Isaiah vii.


Is. vii. 16, sec. LXX.


Φυσικαὶ μεν γάρ εἰσιν αἱ ἀρεταὶ; cf. Cicero, De leg. 1.


Supr., bk. ii., ch. 30.


Max., Dial. cum Pyrrh.


Gen. i. 26.


1 Cor. vii. 25.


Ps. lxxxiii. 3.


Dan. ii. 15. περὶ τίνος ἐξῆλθεν ἡ γνώμη ἡ ἀναιδὴς αὕτη. In our A.V., Why is the decree so hasty from the king?


Text, κατὰ εἴκοσι ὀκτὼ: Variants, κατὰ κοινοῦ, κατὰ πολύ, secundum multa (old trans.), and secundum plurima (Faber). Maximus gave 28 meanings of γνώμη.

Next: Concerning the energies in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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