St. Irenaeus, the ancient Catholic bishop of Lyons writes concerning the free will of man,
"Those words, however, in which He says: "How often would I have gathered your children togather, but you would not," make clear the ancient law of human liberty; for God made man free from the beginning...to follow God's will freely, not being compelled by God. For with God there is no coercion...He, therefore, gives good counsel to all...He has placed a power of choice, so that those who obeyed might justly possess the good things which, indeed, God gives, but which they themselves must preserve." (Adversus haerses 4, 37, 1).
And he goes on to labor this point citing (Matt 8:13, 9:29, Mark 9:22, John 3:26),
"Not merely in works, but even in faith man's freedom of choice under his own control is preserved by the Lord, who says, "Let it be done to you according to your faith," showing therewith that man has a faith of his own...And again, "All things are possible for him that believes," and "Go, as you have believed, so be it done to you." All such expressions demonstrate that man is, as far as faith is concerned, in his own control. For this reason, he that believes in Him has eternal life; but he that does not believe in the Son does not have eternal life, and the anger of God will remain upon him." (Ibid. 4, 37, 5).
St. Irenaeus in a related notion goes on to reject any idea of a "one time" salvationary effect,
"Paul, an able wrestler, urges us on in the struggle for immortality, so that we may receive a crown, and so that we may regard as a precious crown that which we acquire by our own struggle, and which does not grow on us spontaneously. And beause it comes to us in a struggle, it is therefore the more precious...Those things which come to us spontaneously are not loved as much as those which are obtained by anxious care." (Ibid. 4, 37, 7).
The regula fidei is unified and in total accord with St. Irenaeus. St. Clement of Rome, (7, 3-7). Tertullian defends free will against both the errors of Marcion and Hermogenes, stressing man's culpability for sin (Con Marc. 2, 5-7, also see on this point, Theophilus of Antioch (Epist. ad Autol. 2, 27) and Tatian the Syrian (Oratio ad Graecos. 7)). St. Justin Martyr stresses free will as essential, (Apologia prima pro Christianis. 10, 2-3). Origen in many places espouses free will (i.e, De princ. 3, 1, etc, from a related defense of free will see Epiphanius (haer. 64, 49)). The Cappadocian fathers are united with the living Catholic Tradition, (ex, St. Basil (hom. 8, 3, 8), St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. 37, 13-15) ). St. Hilary of Potiers continues the tradition, (Tract. in. ps. 118 and a related argument in St. John Chrysostom (In Gen. hom. 25, 7) ).
It must be at once prefaced, why the fathers defended free will so strongly. They did so to keep mankind morally responsible against the antinomian tendencies in the heretics (such as Marcion). Moreover, the fathers also held hand in hand a strong sense of the sovereignty of God in salvation. How the two forces existed was never explained and was held paradoxically. It was left for St. Augustine to exegete that mystery in a full sense.