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Saint Athanasius: Excerpt of a Homily on the Passion of the Lord and on the Cross

Can the result precede the cause?  By the Grace of God, even this kind of paradox can occur - a topic that the Fathers had examined, centuries before modern Physics and Philosophy (see Retrocausality) began to study it....

"...So, here we have those things which had been said in older times about the Saviour in the Book of Psalms and have now been fulfilled by the soldiers' audacity, because the things that the Lord had pre-warned He would suffer, those same things were now being enacted by the Judean people, by casting lots to distribute the Savior's garments and by giving Him vinegar and bile to drink.  "Because these things" - said the Apostles - "are happening in order that the Scriptures be fulfilled".  One such prophecy had said: "My garments were distributed among them, and on my robe they cast lots" and the other one said: "they gave me bile as my food, and when I thirsted they gave me vinegar".

There are many who, when studying the Gospels and hearing the words "in order that the Scriptures be fulfilled", are under the impression that the events themselves took place for no other reason than to fulfil what had been written. Based on this impression, it was not only regarded that the instigators of those actions were blameless; instead, that they are probably worthy of praise - not only because they didn't sin, but because they were actually performing a ministry with those actions and also because the words of the prophets would have proven untrue if the instigators hadn't done what they did.

As a matter of fact they are under this impression, after being influenced by the words of John's Gospel, where he narrates the faithlessness of the Judeans and says that it complies with Isaiah's prophecy: "Even though he (Christ) performed so many miracles before them, they did not believe; to thus fulfil the words of Isaiah, who had said 'Lord, who has listened to our teaching, and the arm of the Lord, to whom was it revealed?' " (John 12:37-38). Thus, if the Judeans did not believe for the sole purpose of verifying Isaiah's words, then they surely  cannot be the cause of their faithlessness, but only the prophet, who had uttered what he did.  Because then they would say: "remove the words of the prophet, and then they will certainly believe".  However, all this and the related mentality is a far cry from the truth; because neither is the prophet the cause, nor are the Judeans blameless for their faithlessness. Rather, it is because the prophet had foreseen the things that they were going to do, that he narrated them. For they - long after these words had been uttered and they had actually done those deeds - proved that the word of the prophet was true; it was not because they were supposedly ministering to those prophetic words that they had dared to act against the Savior; they did what they did, out of their own predisposition - because they so desired.  So that the prophet was not the cause of their actions; it was their own predisposition that was the cause. In fact, they became the cause for the prophet to utter what he did about them; because the characteristic trait of a prophet is to see future events and to not err, whereas one's actions have their cause in one's own predisposition.

And, just as we do not err while looking at something with our own eyes, nor do we see something differently and it occurs differently, but rather, we see it the way it occurs and it occurs the way we see it, thus the prophets likewise "saw" future events as though they were taking place before their eyes.  Therefore, whatever events the prophets saw had to take place, and those events had to have been seen by the prophets.  And again, just as the things that we see with our eyes must necessarily be thus (because we see whatever exists), those things also cannot be otherwise, but only the way that we have seen them.  The same applies with the prophets: the things that they foresaw had to necessarily be thus, and they could not be otherwise, but only the way that they had seen them. If they hadn't foreseen the things that eventually occurred, they would no longer be prophets. And we must also keep this in mind: that the prophets were not lawmakers, inasmuch as whatever they "commanded" had to be observed; they were just the "advance notifiers" of things to come.  It is not because they speak of future events that the events themselves have to occur; it is because the events are going to occur that they fore-tell them (and it is obligatory for prophets to not utter falsely, because they can truly "see".)  But, even if - hypothetically - the prophets did not fore-tell, the predisposition of the Judeans existed anyway, to go ahead and realize their intentions.  Likewise, neither do the saints force any events (to occur); rather, it is because they can foresee the predisposition of evildoers that they write about the event. Thus, in the exact same manner that the refuters said: "remove the words of the prophet, and then they will certainly believe", I can likewise say: "remove the actions of the Judeans, and then Isaiah would never have prophesied about them."

Therefore when John says: "the Judeans did not believe in Him, thus fulfilling the words of Isaiah", you should not ascribe the cause of their faithlessness to the words of the prophet, but to the actions of those Judeans. Because the things that they were now committing were the things that the prophet had already foreseen, a long time ago. And it was imperative that the prophet not utter falsely, but make sure that he had indeed foreseen those (now occurring) events. It was because the words of the prophet were verified to those who lived long after his time, that the Judeans were checked  as faithless and covert, because it was in their intentions to be nefarious. (John 12:39-40). However, because they kept their faithlessness hidden, the words of the prophet became their censors.

Well, was that the reason they did not believe? Because they had been checked by the prophetic word as coverts?  And again, even if John had said that the Judeans could not believe because the events that were fore-written applied to them, do not imagine that they are excused on account of (the element of) predisposition, because one's predisposition can easily be altered.  Instead, you should imagine that it is impossible for a prophet to utter falsehoods (NB: inasmuch as it is not up to him to do so). Rather, inasmuch as he accurately fore-tells something, it  is impossible for him to err. Thus, it is because the prophet did not foresee events otherwise, except exactly as they occurred, that they (Judeans) proved themselves to be unbelievers.

It is in this manner that the miracle pertaining to the Virgin Mary was fulfilled and the ensuing events in John's Gospel now came to be, and all the pre-described events fulfilled.  They did NOT come to be, just because they had been written in the past; rather, it was BECAUSE those things were to eventually occur, that they had been written in advance. That is what happened with the advance reference to lots being cast to distribute Christ's garments: it was BECAUSE the event was to take place eventually, that it had been foretold in the past. Just as it was pre-notified and pre-announced, thus exactly was it fulfilled and enacted.




Note:  When Saint Athanasius mentions above that the prophets "foresaw", he implies that it was according to Divine Revelation.  God alone - as the Uncreated One - is beyond created Space and created Time and as such, knows everything in advance:  "...for a prophecy never came by the will of man; rather, the holy men of God spoke when moved by the Spirit..."  (2 Peter 1:21)


Translation by A.N.

Article published in English on: 21-9-2010

Last update: 21-9-2010