In this answer about Pelagianism (Did Pelagius believe in "faith alone"?) the author makes a sort of apology for Pelagianism and claims that St. John Chrysostom was Pelagian himself. The author says in the comments: "early synergist fathers implicitly believed same that man can be saved without grace ... Chrysostom was a Pelagian". I haven't yet dug into the works of this St. John, but found a good article about the topic:

St John Chrysostom on Grace and Free Will

In which there is the following paragraph:

Chrysostom then raises as a possible objection the famous statement of St. Paul in Romans, “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (9:16). His reply is that St. Paul here uses the common idiomatic device in which one who is the author of the greater part of a work is said to be its sole cause, as when a house is said to be an architect’s doing even though in fact he only designed it. Paul’s purpose, he says, is “that we should not be lifted up …Even though you run (he would say), even though you excel, do not consider the well-doing your own; for if you do not obtain the impulse from above, all is to no purpose.”

The footnote cites the source as:

Chrysostom, Homilies on Hebrews 12.3 (PG 63 100); tr. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series (= NPNF) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983 [reprint]), vol. 14. I have modified translations from NPNF for the sake of style and to bring out important features of the Greek.

I think the author of the aforementioned post is conflating patristic synergism with Pelagianism and therefore teaching what mainline Christianity has considered heresy since the Pelagian controversies. However, I don't have a larger perspective on the views of St. John Chrysostom. Is the referenced article correct and does St. John Chrysostom indisputably teach synergism and that man cannot be saved without grace?

  • There would need to be some kind of quote to deal with. John Crysostom isn't guilty until proven innocent, is he? Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 17:21
  • Note that the Pelagian debate is largely a western debate and does not really fit in eastern Christianity. That being said, Chrysostom taught the need of grace. I'll dig up quotes when not at work.
    – bradimus
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 17:42
  • @bradimus - I would think the debate was both Eastern and Western. St. John Cassian (from the East and West) definitely wrote about it to prepare for the Council of Ephesus and that council mentions the heresy: orthodoxa.org/GB/orthodoxy/canonlaw/canons3econcileGB.htm. I would call the Reformed/Roman Catholic debate about meriting salvation Western; during which the patristic perspective was never voiced clearly. But not the Pelagian controversy.
    – Ian
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 18:00
  • You presuppose that Pelagianism is mutually exclusive with synergism. I believe both are same, as the expert calvinists correctly observe. There is no such thing in reality as semi pelagianism or semi-Augustinism. RC Sproul rightly says "Now what is called semi-Pelagianism, as the prefix “semi” suggests, was a somewhat middle ground between full-orbed Augustinianism and full-orbed Pelagianism.[...] And as long as semi-Pelagianism, which is simply a thinly veiled version of real Pelagianism at its core" in article The Pelagian Captivity of the Church bible-researcher.com/sproul1.html
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 17:23
  • Pelagianism is indeed same as patristic synergism.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 16:36

1 Answer 1


John Chrysostom was not a Pelagian and the claim that "early synergist fathers implicitly believed same that man can be saved without grace" is patently absurd.

In his initial defense against Pelagius, Augustine took an extreme view that man is saved entirely by grace without any involvement of man's free will whatsoever. In "On Rebuke and Grace" he wrote:

Will you dare to say that even when Christ prayed that Peter's faith might not fail, it would still have failed if Peter willed it to fail? As if Peter could in any measure will otherwise than Christ had wished for him to will?1

Several Fathers came out against Augustine's extreme views - which Augustine himself later came to renounce later in life. Most notably was John Cassian, who wrote in his Conferences:

And so the grace of God always co-operates with our will for its advantage, and in all things assists, protects, and defends it, in such a way as sometimes even to require and look for some efforts of good will from it that it may not appear to confer its gifts on one who is asleep or relaxed in sluggish ease, as it seeks opportunities to show that as the torpor of man’s sluggishness is shaken off its bounty is not unreasonable, when it bestows it on account of some desire and efforts to gain it. And none the less does God’s grace continue to be free grace while in return for some small and trivial efforts it bestows with priceless bounty such glory of immortality, and such gifts of eternal bliss.2

Cassian enumerated a number of Scriptures in support of his opinion in the same Conferences:

Whence human reason cannot easily decide how the Lord gives to those that ask, is found by those that seek, and opens to those that knock, and on the other hand is found by those that sought Him not, appears openly among those who asked not for Him, and all the day long stretches forth His hands to an unbelieving and gainsaying people, calls those who resist and stand afar off, draws men against their will to salvation, takes away from those who want to sin the faculty of carrying out their desire, in His goodness stands in the way of those who are rushing into wickedness. But who can easily see how it is that the completion of our salvation is assigned to our own will, of which it is said: If ye be willing, and hearken unto Me, ye shall eat the good things of the land, (Isaiah 1:19) and how it is not of him that willeth or runneth, but of God that hath mercy? (Romans 9:16) What too is this, that God will render to every man according to his works; (Romans 2:6) and it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do, of His good pleasure; (Philippians 2:13) and this is not of yourselves but it is the gift of God: not of works, that no man may boast? (Ephesians 2:8-9) What is this too which is said: Draw near to the Lord, and He will draw near to you, (James 4:8) and what He says elsewhere: No man cometh unto Me except the Father who sent Me draw Him? (John 6:44) What is it that we find: Make straight paths for your feet and direct your ways, (Proverbs 4:26 LXX) and what is it that we say in our prayers: Direct my way in Thy sight, and establish my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps be not moved? (Psalm 5:9) What is it again that we are admonished: Make you a new heart and a new spirit, (Ezekiel 18:31) and what is this which is promised to us: I will give them one heart and will put a new spirit within them: and I will take away the stony heart from their flesh and will give them an heart of flesh that they may walk in Thy statutes and keep My judgments? (Ezekiel 1:19-20) What is it that the Lord commands, where He says: Wash thine heart of iniquity, O Jerusalem, that thou mayest be saved, (Jeremiah 4:14) and what is it that the prophet asks for from the Lord, when he says Create in me a clean heart, O God, and again: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow? (Psalm 50:12 LXX). What is it that is said to us: Enlighten yourselves with the light of knowledge; (Hosea 10:12 LXX) and this which is said of God: Who teacheth man knowledge; (Psalm 93:10 LXX) and: the Lord enlightens the blind, (Psalm 145:8 LXX) or at any rate this, which we say in our prayers with the prophet: Lighten mine eyes that I sleep not in death, (Psalm 12:4 LXX) unless in all these there is a declaration of the grace of God and the freedom of our will.3

Some have painted Cassian's view of synergy - the cooperation of man's will with God's grace - with a broad brush and called it just Pelagianism, plain and simple. But belief that man is saved through the cooperation of his free will with God's grace is a far cry from belief that man can be saved through his free will alone. Even the synergistic view - which John Cassian points out has firm support in Scripture - is derided by some as being "semi-Pelagian".

There is nothing anywhere in the writings of John Chrysostom that suggests he holds Pelagius' views that man can be saved without God's grace. One need only look to his commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:10 to confirm this:

And His grace in me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, and yet not I, but the grace of God with me

Seest thou again another excess of humility? In that the defects he imputes to himself, but of the good deeds nothing; rather he refers all to God. Next, lest he might hereby render his hearer supine, he saith, And His grace which was bestowed upon me was not found vain. And this again with reserve: in that he said not, I have displayed a diligence worthy of His grace, but, it was not found vain.4

1. In The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church, p.37.
2. XIII.13
3. Ibid., XIII.9
4. Homily XXXVIII on First Corinthians

  • All Pelagians, arminians or non-calvinists would fully agree with statements like "all good is God's work, and all bad is done by flesh"; along with all the predestination passages, though as in their right sense- figuratively, not Gnostic fatalism of Augustine. That is correctly mentioned as idiom in the first quote in the Q on Homilies.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 17:50

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