Thursday, 2 November 2006

Monergism and synergism: some ecumenical suggestions

Over at Pontifications, there is an excellent post by Phillip Cary on different forms of monergism in Christian tradition. This topic is of great importance for ecumenical understanding, and Cary is right to distinguish between a “monergism of faith” and a “mono-causalism.” He concludes by saying: “There is of course no one on earth to adjudicate between Catholics and Protestants. But perhaps it will help to be aware ... of the difference between absolute monergism and the more modest monergism about faith, justification and salvation which is the legacy of Luther and Calvin.”

In discussing the monergism/synergism debate, I think it’s especially important to question the competitive model of divine and human action on which the debate is often premised. And one of the best resources here (in my opinion) is the thought of Thomas Aquinas. Thomas offers a radically non-competitive account of divine and human action – a far richer and more sophisticated account than was developed in the later Ockhamist tradition (against which Luther rightly rebelled).

For Thomas Aquinas, there is no competition between divine and human action: “God’s will extends not only to the doing of something by the thing that he moves, but also to its being done in a way that is fitting to the nature [congruit naturae] of that thing” (Summa theologiae, 1a2ae.10.4). Thus when God moves voluntary agents, “he does not deprive their actions of being voluntary: but rather he produces this very thing in them [sed potius hoc in eis facit]” (1a.83.1). Human action as free action thus arises precisely from the prevenient action of God – there is no competition between the two, but only the sharpest possible distinction on the one hand and the closest possible correspondence on the other.

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