Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume XI/John Cassian/Conferences of John Cassian, Part I/Conference III/Chapter 22
The answer; viz., that our free will always has need of the help of the Lord.
Paphnutius: You have shrewdly enough noticed how it is said “If they would have hearkened to Me:” but have not sufficiently considered either who it is who speaks to one who does or does not hearken; or what follows: “I should soon have put down their enemies, and laid My hand on those that trouble them.” Let no one then try by a false interpretation to twist that which we brought forward to prove that nothing can be done without the Lord, nor take it in support of free will, in such a way as to try to take away from man the grace of God and His daily oversight, through this test: “But My people did not hear My voice,” and again: “If My people would have hearkened unto Me, and if Israel would have walked in My ways, etc.:” but let him consider that just as the power of free will is evidenced by the disobedience of the people, so the daily oversight
of God who declares and admonishes him is also shown. For where He says “If My people would have hearkened unto Me” He clearly implies that He had spoken to them before. And this the Lord was wont to do not only by means of the written law, but also by daily exhortations, as this which is given by Isaiah: “All day long have I stretched forth My hands to a disobedient and gain-saying people.” Both points then can be supported from this passage, where it says: “If My people would have hearkened, and if Israel had walked in My ways, I should soon have put down their enemies, and laid My hand on those that trouble them.” For just as free will is shown by the disobedience of the people, so the government of God and His assistance is made clear by the beginning and end of the verse, where He implies that He had spoken to them before, and that afterwards He would put down their enemies, if they would have hearkened unto Him. For we have no wish to do away with man’s free will by what we have said, but only to establish the fact that the assistance and grace of God are necessary to it every day and hour. When he had instructed us with this discourse Abbot Paphnutius dismissed us from his cell before midnight in a state of contrition rather than of liveliness; insisting on this as the chief lesson in his discourse; viz., that when we fancied that by making perfect the first renunciation (which we were endeavouring to do with all our powers), we could climb the heights of perfection, we should make the discovery that we had not yet even begun to dream of the heights to which a monk can rise, since after we had learnt some few things about the second renunciation, we should find out that we had not before this even heard a word of the third stage, in which all perfection is comprised, and which in many ways far exceeds these lower ones.
- Ib. ver. 15.
- Is. lxv. 2.