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.

9 Comments:

Halden said...

This is exactly right. This also falls right in line with de Lubac's theology of nature and grace, which seems more and more to me to be the correct interpretation of St. Thomas.

It is on this point that I think Reformed soteriology misses the boat to some degree. Inherently competitive accounts of divine and human action create insufferable problems for understanding the nature of salvation. It is here that von Balthasar's theology of the dramatic interplay between finite and infinte freedoms (TDII) is extrememly helpful.

D.W. Congdon said...

Ah, but the best modern account of divine-human action is without a doubt Karl Barth in Church Dogmatics III/3.

Pontificator said...

Austin Farrer's theory of "double agency" is of interest here: Faith and Speculation.

Deep Furrows said...

Even when I disagree with Thomas, I always admire the way he frames his questions.

Terry said...

“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).

Does Aquinas mean that God's will ordains x to happen but that when he does so, he ensures that it happens in a way that is fitting for x to happen? For example, does it mean that if God's will is for Manchester United to lose to FC Copenhagen in the UEFA Champions League group stages, then that should happen by United conceding more goals than they score rather than by eleven elephants suddenly squashing United's players? If so, then surely that's more accommodation of divine action to secondary causes than it is non-competition between divine and human agency as such.

Halden said...

"Ah, but the best modern account of divine-human action is without a doubt Karl Barth in Church Dogmatics III/3."

I don't know, David. Barth's theology of baptism in IV/4-Fragments seems to still have some big problems with competitive divine-human action. Hence his dichotomy between physical baptism and baptism "in the Spirit." We don't have his treatment of the Eucharist, but it would be interesting to see what he would have said there.

Then again, Barth's whole dialectical approach makes synthesizing his position pretty difficult.

Pontificator said...

I've been ruminating on this question of double agency, and I'm still not sure what it really gets us. I'm sure that that Aquinas & Company are correct that we simply cannot mix divine causality and creaturely causality. That's apple and oranges. Hence there is no competition.

But does this really help us when we address, say, the question of saving faith and election. It seems to me that both Calvin and Arminius could agree with Aquinas and yet continue to disagree on election. Am I off base here?

byron said...

Has anyone seen Olson's new book on Arminianism? (review by iMonk here)

Anonymous said...

Quite frankly, as a Roman Catholic, I find this whole "monergism" concept unbiblical. Hebrews 11 completely refutes it, as far as I am concerned. I find that Calvinists who hold this view are like the Pharisees - believing Jesus only washes the outside of the cup, much like Luther referring to humans as a pile of dung covered by snow.

For us, transformation is very intrinsic, and for them extrinsic. They claim that faith is the result of "regeneration", while Heb 11 clearly shows that faith precedes.

They blatantly claim an extrinsic imputation of Christ's righteousness, claim that they have been "regenerated" and are able therefore to see the Kingdom of Heaven (and their sins just don't count). "Sin and sin boldly!", declared Luther.

Yes, they are the new breed of Pharisees and should beware of Jesus' condemnation of such people, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, 'We see,' so your sin remains." John 9:41. "Whitewashed Walls" the lot of 'em. They exhibit not the sign of true transformation (Ez 36:31).

I recently debated the matter over at Reformed Theology...Here's the link:

http://www.reformationtheology.com/2010/08/rome_v_the_gospel.php

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