Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Augustine and the Varieties of Monergism"

That's the title of an essay authored by Eastern University philosophy professor Phillip Cary. You can find it here. Here are some excerpts from this carefully crafted article:
Synergism is just a Greek way of saying “co-operation,” which in turn is just a Latin way of saying “working together.” Paul uses the corresponding Greek verb when he describes himself and his colleagues as “co-working” (2 Cor. 6:1) with God as ambassadors for Christ, through whom God urges people to be reconciled to himself (ibid., 5:20). Monergism, a much more recent term, means to work alone, having no co-worker. So monergists are those who think that in some respect God works alone.

The crucial question is: in what respect? The standard Protestant view is monergism with respect to justification: God alone renders us just or righteous in his sight, without our co-operation. But most Protestants would add that sanctification is a co-operative enterprise in which our will and work have a necessary role to play, working together with the grace of God. So most Protestants are monergists about justification but synergists about sanctification. And since justification by faith alone is all that is necessary for salvation, most Protestants are also monergists about salvation.

Of course in order to be thoroughly monergist about justification one must also be monergist about the faith by which we are justified, understanding it to be a divine gift resulting from grace alone and not from human work. Luther, in effect, insisted on this type of monergism when he excoriated the medieval nominalist notion of “congruent merit,” according to which sinners work to acquire the gift of “first grace” (meaning roughly, the gift of conversion and true faith) by praying as well as they can, trying their best to “do what is in them” (facere quod in se est) even without grace. The term “synergism” seems to have come into use for the position rejected by the Lutheran orthodox theologians when they reaffirmed Luther’s doctrine in the Book of Concord in 1580 (see especially article 2). Later, Calvinists used it to describe the Arminian position that our free will has an independent role to play in accepting the gift of grace. Synergism, for both Lutherans and Calvinists, means the teaching that grace does not simply cause us to have faith, but rather makes an offer of salvation which it is up to us to accept or reject. Both Lutherans and Calvinists reject this synergism, and thus can aptly be labeled monergists with respect to the gift of faith.

The question of whether Augustine is a monergist or a synergist is more complicated. For one thing, even at his most monergistic, Augustine does not deny that we are active in our own salvation. Augustine is a monergist with respect to the origin of faith, for instance, in that he sees it as resulting from prevenient or “operating grace” rather than “co-operating grace” (his terms). But for Augustine this does not take away the role of human free will, for what prevenient grace does is precisely to move our wills so that they freely will the good. Hence for Augustine grace never undermines or replaces free will. In that sense he is never a radical monergist, as if the human will had no active role to play. On the other hand, he is indeed a monergist in a less radical sense, because for him the gift of faith is wholly the work of God, since even our freely willing to accept God’s gift is a work of grace alone.

You can read the whole thing here.


lojahw said...

Augustine’s views on free will, like other topics, shifted from the time of his early writings (On Free Will) to his later writings (On the Spirit and the Letter).

From the latter:
On the Spirit and the Letter, 52, Do we by grace destroy free will? God forbid! We establish free will. For even as the law is not destroyed but established by faith, so free will is not destroyed but established by grace. The law is fulfilled only by a free will. . . . grace brings the healing of the soul from the disease of sin; the health of the soul brings freedom of will; free will brings the love of righteousness; free will is not made void through grace, but is established, since grace cures the will whereby righteousness is freely loved and the love of righteousness fulfils the law. … How is it then that miserable human beings dare to be proud, either of their free will, before they are set free, or of their own strength, if they have been set free? They do not observe that in the very mention of free will they pronounce the name of liberty. But ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.’ If, therefore, they are the slaves of sin, why do they boast of free will?

On the Spirit and the Letter, 54. . . . what is believing but consenting to the truth of what is said? And this consent is certainly voluntary: faith, therefore, is in our own power. But, as the apostle says: There is no power but comes from God, what reason then is there why it may not be said to us even of this: What have you which you have not received? — for it is God who gave us even to believe. Nowhere, however, in Holy Scripture do we find such an assertion as, There is no volition but comes from God. And rightly is it not so written, because it is not true: otherwise God would be the author even of sins (which Heaven forbid!), if there were no volition except what comes from Him; inasmuch as an evil volition alone is already a sin, even if the effect be wanting—in other words, if it has not ability. But when the evil volition receives ability to accomplish its intention, this proceeds from the judgment of God, with whom there is no unrighteousness.


lojahw said...

More from Augustine (part 2 of 3):

On the Spirit and the Letter, 57, ‘What do you have that you did not receive? Now, if you received it, why do you boast, as if you had not received it ?’ If the will to believe is not God’s gift, we could reply: ‘See, we have the will to believe, which we did not receive. See what we boast about — even something we did not receive!’ If, however, we were to say that this kind of will is entirely the gift of God, we would then have to fear that unbelieving and ungodly people might unreasonably seem to have a fair excuse for their unbelief, in the fact that God had refused to give them the will to believe. … If we believe that we may attain this grace (and of course believe voluntarily), then the question arises whence we have this will?— if from nature, why it is not at everybody's command, since the same God made all men? If from God's gift, then again, why is not the gift open to all, since He will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth?

On the Spirit and the Letter, 58, . . . free will, naturally assigned by the Creator to our rational soul, is such a neutral power, as can either incline towards faith, or turn towards unbelief. Consequently a man cannot be said to have even that will with which he believes in God, without having received it; since this rises at the call of God out of the free will which he received naturally when he was created. God no doubt wishes all men to be saved and to come into the knowledge of the truth; but yet not so as to take away from them free will, for the good or the evil use of which they may be most righteously judged. This being the case, unbelievers indeed do contrary to the will of God when they do not believe His gospel; nevertheless they do not therefore overcome His will, but rob their own selves of the great, nay, the very greatest, good, and implicate themselves in penalties of punishment, destined to experience the power of Him in punishments whose mercy in His gifts they despised. Thus God's will is for ever invincible; but it would be vanquished, unless it devised what to do with such as despised it, or if these despises could in any way escape from the retribution which He has appointed for such as they. … He therefore will be guilty unto condemnation under God's power, who shall think too contemptuously of His mercy to believe in Him. But whosoever shall put his trust in Him, and yield himself up to Him, for the forgiveness of all his sins, for the cure of all his corruption, and for the kindling and illumination of his soul by His warmth and light, shall have good works by his grace; and by them he shall be even in his body redeemed from the corruption of death, crowned, satisfied with blessings,— not temporal, but eternal—above what we can ask or understand.


lojahw said...

Third of 3 parts from Augustine on monergism:

On the Spirit and the Letter, 60 . . . the very will by which we believe is reckoned as a gift of God, because it arises out of the free will which we received at our creation. Let the objector, however, attentively observe that this will is to be ascribed to the divine gift, not merely because it arises from our free will, which was created naturally with us; but also because God acts upon us by the incentives of our perceptions, to will and to believe, either externally by evangelical exhortations, where even the commands of the law also do something, if they so far admonish a man of his infirmity that he betakes himself to the grace that justifies by believing; or internally, where no man has in his own control what shall enter into his thoughts, although it appertains to his own will to consent or to dissent. Since God, therefore, in such ways acts upon the reasonable soul in order that it may believe in Him (and certainly there is no ability whatever in free will to believe, unless there be persuasion or summons towards some one in whom to believe), it surely follows that it is God who both works in man the willing to believe, and in all things prevents us with His mercy. To yield our consent, indeed, to God's summons, or to withhold it, is (as I have said) the function of our own will. And this not only does not invalidate what is said, For what do you have that you did not receive? but it really confirms it. For the soul cannot receive and possess these gifts, which are here referred to, except by yielding its consent. And thus whatever it possesses, and whatever it receives, is from God; and yet the act of receiving and having belongs, of course, to the receiver and possessor. Now, should any man be for constraining us to examine into this profound mystery, why this person is so persuaded as to yield, and that person is not, there are only two things occurring to me, which I should like to advance as my answer: O the depth of the riches! and Is there unrighteousness with God? If the man is displeased with such an answer, he must seek more learned disputants; but let him beware lest he find presumptuous ones.


Francis Beckwith said...

Thank you for posting these words of St. Augustine. They seem to be fully consistent with Professor Cary's comments as well as the Catholic understanding that grace changes nature. Take, for example, these words, reproduced in the first comments by lojahw:

"Do we by grace destroy free will? God forbid! We establish free will. For even as the law is not destroyed but established by faith, so free will is not destroyed but established by grace. The law is fulfilled only by a free will. . . . grace brings the healing of the soul from the disease of sin.'

Compare this to the Catholic Catechism:

The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.”

Justification detaches man from sin which contradicts the love of God, and purifies his heart of sin. Justification follows upon God’s merciful initiative of offering forgiveness. It reconciles man with God. It frees from the enslavement to sin, and it heals.

Bryan Hodge said...

I wonder if the reason why a synergistic system can be labeled Semi-Pelagian is that the type of monergism of Luther and Calvin is one where the person cooperates in the sense that what the person does is a 100% response to the work of God, and the synergistic view is one where the person's response is 99% from the work of God and 1% a response from something within them. Otherwise, how else is the person cooperating with God? From what does he cooperate? If it's completely the work of God then the person isn't really cooperating in the sense that they are joining something from themselves to something of God, but instead, their cooperation is only response, and since it is only response, whatever God does, that is what the person will do. If the person can do otherwise then it is not 100% a response to God, but the 99% response to God and 1% response from something within the human agent.
Am I misunderstanding this? I don't know RC theology as well as Arminian theology, since more of my friends are Arminian than RC, but it seems to work out the same. Once again, I'm just trying to understand how the RC system works out because I know that the more educated RC's usually say that it is completely a work of God. Can anyone explain this, so I can work out my confusion? :) This may also account for Augustine's doctrine which, frankly, seems to be confused between these two points (or maybe it's the difference between early and later Augustine, I don't know).

BTW, does anyone else have to continually put in another email to publish a comment, or is just me? I am not doing something right? Thanks in advance.

Bryan Hodge said...

I just wanted to clarify on the point that the "more educated RC's say it's 100% work of God" comment is in reference to my family members who are RC and would say that it is faith plus solely human works that save a person (they're not usually aware of official RC teaching). It was not, therefore, a comment about anyone who is synergistic, but only in reference to my lesser theologically educated family who are in fact either semi-Pelagian or full blown Pelagian.

lojahw said...

You're welcome, Frank. I posted Augustine's words because it seemed best to hear it from him first than to respond to what others say about him.

From what I've read, this debate runs deep. I personally have no problem with Frank's or Augustine's thoughts on the subject. It seems perfectly reasonable philosophically to frame this debate (as well as the scientific debate on evolution) in terms of primary and secondary causes.

In Retractatio 2.1, Augustine tells how he had previously “labored in defense of the free choice of the human will; but the grace of God conquered” when he understood the implications of 1 Cor. 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Yet, reading his later work, On the Spirit and the Letter, one senses that he did not go so far as to affirm monergism. In summary, Augustine essentially said: 1) human will is received naturally as a gift of God at our creation; 2) God’s grace frees the will from the tyranny of sin; 3) God’s Holy Spirit overcomes the weakness of human will to do good works. At the same time, Augustine is careful to affirm that faith “is in our own power.” Hence, “God no doubt wishes all men to be saved and to come into the knowledge of the truth; but yet not so as to take away from them free will, for the good or the evil use of which they may be most righteously judged.”