Friday, April 27, 2012

A Response to Vivator on St. Augustine and Monergism

"The human will does not obtain grace by freedom, but
freedom by grace." ~ St. Augustine of Hippo
Catholic apologist and "certified structural engineer" Vivator has a three year old post over at his blog in which he asserted that St. Augustine was not really a monergist (i.e. one who holds that God works alone in drawing sinners to faith in Christ) as widely believed among reformed folks and all honest scholars of Church History, but that he was actually a synergist (i.e. one who holds that God's drawing to faith requires man's willing cooperation). Now being an avid reader of St. Augustine, I knew from the start without any spark of doubt that Vivator has failed to accurately represent St. Augustine in his article. Hence, in the comment section of that post, I gave this reaction (emphasis added):
Certainly in some sense St. Augustine is synergistic. He taught that in order for a good work to be done, one must willingly cooperate with God’s grace. But unlike Rome’s position today, St. Augustine is always careful to explain that man’s willingness to cooperate with Grace is itself God’s gift of Grace. This prior work of Grace which makes man willing is God’s doing alone – in other words, monegistic. 
Therefore, St. Augustine’s synergism is just on the secondary level. Men must cooperate with co-operating grace in order to perform a good work (*synergism in the secondary level), but God must first and foremost operate in man’s heart to make him willing (*monergism in the prime level). (link)
Vivator responded by directing me to another post he wrote about St. Augustine's view on merits and grace, but I insisted that it doesn't contradict my last explanation over St. Augustine's seeming synergism. His next reply was interesting (emphasis mine):
As far as I know (based on what other wrote) in his later days Augustine’s view changed and became closer to what we know today as Calvinism. Thus when Reformed scholars quoted from him they use his later works. (link)
In response to my assertion that St. Augustine was also monergistic, Vivator conceded that the bishop's thoughts drifted towards a more Calvinistic direction during "his later days." To this I agree. What's interesting about this comment, though, is that it show's Vivator's complete ignorance of the fact that all the citations he used in an attempt to prove St. Augustine was a synergist were in fact taken from a book which was written by St. Augustine himself "in his later days"; the time when St. Augustine's view was supposed to have already "changed and became closer to what we know today as Calvinism"! This supports my case that St. Augustine was primarily monergistic in his soteriology, and in some way or another, also synergistic - since both ideas seem to have been held by him at the same time. I will prove this further later. Meanwhile, let's examine what Vivator exactly had in mind when he used terms "monergism" and "synergism" (emphasis added):
The key difference between Monergism and Synergism is whether we can exercise our freewill in our salvation or not. Note that Monergism believes we do have freewill but to them it is under bondage of sin – it is not really free, i.e. we cannot choose to act rightly. (link)
Alright. Now this makes me ask myself how come I haven't met any monergist who teaches that man's freewill doesn't have any role to play in salvation? For example, John Calvin himself was an ardent preacher of the God-glorifying doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace, etc., yet he also contended that man's will is not wholly passive under the sovereign influence of grace (see Institutes, Book III). In particular, Calvin taught and defended justification by faith, which alone is a conspicuous proof that man's uncoerced positive willingness has a role to play for the attainment of salvation!

The truth is, monergism doesn't mean man cannot exercise his freewill in his salvation as Vivator would have his readers to believe. What monergism states is that God works alone effectively and irresistibly in quickening spiritually dead sinners so that they should freely play their proper role in salvation, that is, to believe the Gospel and repent of their sins. Vivator is clearly misrepresenting the monergist position here.

Now in support of his dishonest definition of the reformed view of monergism, Vivator cited a reformed source which says:
It would be correct to say man HAS A WILL and that his choices are VOLUNTARY (not coerced) but this does not make the choices free. Fallen man chooses sin of NECESSITY due to a corruption of nature, and this is just as much a form of bondage of the will from which we need to be set free by Christ, and a more properly biblical way of expression.
- J.W.H.
Great. Now pleace note that Hendryx's point here isn't whether man has a role to play on salvation, but he is rather discussing the condition of man's will as a fallen being. In a nutshell, what Hendrix is trying to say here is that even though totally depraved sinners can't help sinning due to their corrupt nature (necessity), their choices remain voluntary (not coerced). This, according to Hendryx, is "as much a form of bondage of the will from which we need to be set free by Christ." In other words, we are not able to make right use of our will unless we are first set free by Christ, and guess what... this is exactly what St. Augustine taught against the Pelagians of his time! For example, in response to the Pelagian objection that St. Augustine's idea of total depravity is tantamount to saying that "men are forced to sin by the necessity of their flesh" and therefore cannot be responsible for their sins, the blessed doctor of grace defended himself and wrote (all emphasis mine):
It is not, therefore, true, as some affirm that we say, and as that correspondent of yours ventures moreover to write, that "all are forced into sin," as if they were unwilling, "by the necessity of their flesh"; but if they are already of the age to use the choice of their own mind, they are both retained in sin by their own will, and by their own will are hurried along from sin to sin. For even he who persuades and deceives does not act in them, except that they may commit sin by their will, either by ignorance of the truth or by delight in iniquity, or by both evils—as well of blindness as of weakness. But this will, which is free in evil things because it takes pleasure in evil, is not free in good things, for the reason that it has not been made free. Nor can a man will any good thing unless he is aided by Him who cannot will evil—that is, by the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. "For everything which is not of faith is sin." (Romans 14:23) And thus the good will which withdraws itself from sin is faithful, because the just lives by faith. (Habakkuk 2:4) And it pertains to faith to believe in Christ. And no man can believe in Christ— that is, come to Him— unless it be given to him. (Romans 1:17) No man, therefore, can have a righteous will, unless, with no foregoing merits, he has received the true, that is, the gratuitous grace from above. (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Ch. 7)
Isn't this exactly what Hendryx wrote concerning the fallen man's will? Hendryx says sinners choose sin voluntary, but they necessarily choose sin due to their corrupt nature, and for this reason Christ's liberating power is needed. St. Augustine agrees by saying that "by their own will [sinners] are hurried from sin to sin" (voluntarily), but "this will, which is free in evil things because it takes pleasure in evil, is not free in good things (necessity), for the reason that it has not been made free." St. Augustine's words couldn't have been any more clearer!

In another treatise commonly known as Enchiridon, St. Augustine advanced a similar yet more explicit view of man's total depravity (emphasis all mine):
But this part of the human race to which God has promised pardon and a share in His eternal kingdom, can they be restored through the merit of their own works? God forbid. For what good work can a lost man perform, except so far as he has been delivered from perdition? Can they do anything by the free determination of their own will? Again I say, God forbid. For it was by the evil use of his free-will that man destroyed both it and himself. For, as a man who kills himself must, of course, be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself ceases to live, and cannot restore himself to life; so, when man by his own free-will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost. "For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage." This is the judgment of the Apostle Peter. And as it is certainly true, what kind of liberty, I ask, can the bond-slave possess, except when it pleases him to sin? For he is freely in bondage who does with pleasure the will of his master. Accordingly, he who is the servant of sin is free to sin. And hence he will not be free to do right, until, being freed from sin, he shall begin to be the servant of righteousness. And this is true liberty, for he has pleasure in the righteous deed; and it is at the same time a holy bondage, for he is obedient to the will of God. But whence comes this liberty to do right to the man who is in bondage and sold under sin, except he be redeemed by Him who has said, "If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed?" (Enchiridon, Ch. 30; cf. see also On Man's Perfection In Righteousness, Ch. 4 [9th Breviate])
Please observe how St. Augustine explicitly stated in favor of Calvinism that when man fell in Sin by his own freewill, he destroyed both his liberty and himself! This is essentially what Hendryx's meant in his statement above! Notice also how St. Augustine argues for a monergistic regeneration when he likened man's plight to a suicide: "For, as a man who kills himself must, of course, be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself ceases to live, and cannot restore himself to life; so, when man by his own free-will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost." Now how can a dead person bring himself to life? Of course that's impossible. So how can Vivator inject any synergistic notion of regeneration here when St. Augustine was more than clear that man's freedom to choose good, much less cooperate with God's grace, was lost in him when he sinned? I'd really really love to know how Vivator will respond to this!

Now let's turn to those statements of St. Augustine cited and used by Vivator to make him appear to be a thorough synergist. Taken from St. Augustine's book On Grace and Free Will, the first quotation reads (original emphasis by Vivator retained):
Therefore, my dearly beloved, as we have now proved by our former testimonies from Holy Scripture that there is in man a free determination of will for living rightly and acting rightly; so now let us see what are the divine testimonies concerning the grace of God, without which we are not able to do any good thing. (On Grace and Free Will, Ch. 7)
 Taken also from the same book, the second and last quote reads (original emphasis by Vivator retained):
When God says, “Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,”[Zechariah 1:3] one of these clauses–that which invites our return to God–evidently belongs to our will; while the other, which promises His return to us, belongs to His grace. (On Grace and Free Will, Ch. 10-v)
There you have it... St. Augustine denying monergism! What Vivator fails to show here, unfortunately, is the exact statement where St. Augustine actually denies that God alone operates in the heart of the sinner, apart from any cooperation on man's part, in drawing him to fait in and obedience to Christ. What we only have here are statements from the blessed doctor of grace saying that (1) man possesses freedom to live rightly - provided he is under the influence of grace [as clear from its immediate context], and that (2) our turning to God is an act of the human will. Monergism doesn't deny any of these! What monergists deny is that man, though dead in his sins and transgressions, still has a cooperating role in the illuminating, heart-softening, regenerating work of God, and this denial is clearly seen on St. Augustine's words: "For it was by the evil use of his free-will that man destroyed both it and himself. For, as a man who kills himself must, of course, be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself ceases to live, and cannot restore himself to life; so, when man by his own free-will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost" (Enchiridon, Ch. 30).

So, was St. Augustine a monergist or a synergist? I would say both, but not on equal terms. Let me explain further. St. Augustine teaches that God alone efficaciously works within man to make him willing (monergism), but when man is made willing, God cooperates with him to the execution of good (synergism). His own words (all emphasis mine):
But yet, however small and imperfect his love was, it was not wholly wanting when he said to the Lord, "I will lay down my life for Your sake"; (John 13:37) for he supposed himself able to effect what he felt himself willing to do. And who was it that had begun to give him his love, however small, but He who prepares the will, and perfects by His co-operation what He initiates by His operation? Forasmuch as in beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will. On which account the apostle says, "I am confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6) He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us. We can, however, ourselves do nothing to effect good works of piety without Him either working that we may will, or co-working when we will. Now, concerning His working that we may will, it is said: "It is God which works in you, even to will." (Philippians 2:13) While of His co-working with us, when we will and act by willing, the apostle says, "We know that in all things there is co-working for good to them that love God." What does this phrase, all things, mean, but the terrible and cruel sufferings which affect our condition? That burden, indeed, of Christ, which is heavy for our infirmity, becomes light to love. For to such did the Lord say that His burden was light, (Matthew 11:30) as Peter was when he suffered for Christ, not as he was when he denied Him. (On Grace and Free Will, Ch. 33-xvii)
This proves what I've asserted above that St. Augustine's seeming synergism was only on the secondary level under the umbrella of his monergism, which is first and foremost in his soteriology. The blessed doctor affirms that man has a role to play in salvation (faith, repentance, etc.), but unless God first enables him and operates within his heart to make him willing (which Calvinists equate to spiritual regeneration), man will never perform the role he has to play. As St. Augustine puts it elsewhere in the same book: "It is certain that it is we that act when we act; but it is He who makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will" (cf. On Grace and Free Will, Ch. 32-xvi). This divine operation, according to St. Augustine, needs no willing cooperation on man's part because it is in the first place performed by God for the purpose of making us willing. Therefore, this gift cannot be resisted by any hard heart, because it is given for the sake of first taking away the hardness of the heart. In his famous two-volume book On Predestination of the Saints, St. Augustine wrote (emphasis added):
...This grace, therefore, which is hiddenly bestowed in human hearts by the Divine gift, is rejected by no hard heart, because it is given for the sake of first taking away the hardness of the heart. When, therefore, the Father is heard within, and teaches, so that a man comes to the Son, He takes away the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh, as in the declaration of the prophet He has promised. Because He thus makes them children and vessels of mercy which He has prepared for glory. (On Predestination of the Saints (Book I), Ch. 13-viii)
This is exactly what Calvinists mean when they talk about God's grace being irresistible. Not that men are drawn by God against their will, but that they are wondrously drawn by God so that they should certainly and freely choose to come to Him for Salvation. St. Augustine wrote in another treatise: "[the sinner] is drawn in wondrous ways to will, by Him who knows how to work within the very hearts of men. Not that men who are unwilling should believe, which cannot be, but that they should be made willing from being unwilling" (cf. Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Ch. 37-xix).

Furthermore, St. Augustine taught (again, in favor of Calvinism) that this divine gift of conversion is not given to all but only to those particularly chosen by God in eternity past. Evidence of this is found everywhere in his lengthy treatise On Predestination of the Saints, but this is already a topic of another post.

Now back to the question: Was St. Augustine a monergist? Certainly. Was he a synergist? In some way, yes, but it should be noted that in his system monergism is always prior. Was he a thorough synergist? In Vivator's dreams, maybe.

- Jeph


  1. FourFingersBackAtYouApril 30, 2012 at 3:25 AM

    This is excellent.
    Reading it makes me feel like I've read Augustine's Enchiridon for myself. Thank you for getting straight to the matter, and holding Rome's claws to the fire.

    1. Dear Four Fingers Back At You,
      Why are you an angry Protestant?
      Why do you seek to define your version of Christianity by backbiting (holding Rome's claws to the fire) others?
      St. Augustine was a Bishop, why are you holding up a Catholic Bishop as a pillar to prop up your heresy? Do you support everything St. Augustine believed? Such as the Petrine Ministry, Apostolic Succession, Confession, the real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and Infant Baptism?

      If you are so sure of your belief, then why are their so many different Protestant versions that disagree with each other? The last count of different Protestant denominations was around 33,000.
      If you are a typical "Scotch Belt" Protestant you owe your dogmas and traditions to King Henry VIII and his adultery and the brutal murderer Oliver Cromwell.

      Why would Jesus trick humanity for 1,600 years and then trick the other 32,999 versions of Protestantism later on?


    2. Austust,

      We don't agree with everything St. Augustine has taught, but we love how he defended the absolute sovereignty of God's grace in Salvation against those people who sought to put man's freewill on a pedestal that should be God's in the first place.

    3. FourFingersBackAtYouJune 14, 2013 at 10:03 PM

      No Austust, rather I am a happy former Roman Catholic. It will therefore be a bit more difficult for you to hoodwink me regarding that other gospel disseminated by Rome, which is really not the gospel at all.
      * I am happy that I no longer have to set my mind aside to believe what goes against my own clear sensory experience, like transubstantiation.
      * I am happy that I can claim the Biblical promise of eternal security, that at this very moment I am secure in knowing I will inherit eternal life (1 John 5:13) because of Christ alone. Such security according to Rome's other gospel merits me the mortal sin of presumption!
      * I am happy that I am no longer subject to the whims of men who contrive evil doctrines: priestly celibacy; praying to dead people; working (cooperating) to finish my own salvation (Christ's sacrifice was not sufficient?), Galatians 3:3; indulgences, etc.
      * I am happy that I no longer have to pretend that all Catholics are united in doctrine. There are at least "33,000" different kinds of Catholics... I have never met any two that believe the same R.C. doctrines. Despite Rome's monolithic veneer, most Catholics practice a cafeteria-style faith, picking and choosing their own R.C. doctrines, which means they are engaging in their own private interpretations of Roman Catholic doctrine. The difference between your "unity" and our diversity is this: we are honest about our diversity.
      * I am really happy that I don't have to use hackneyed arguments like yours to defend the indefensible. "33,000 Protestant denominations"... really!!
      * I am really happy that I don't have to live with contradictions like yours. You mention "Petrine Ministry" which I take is Rome's misappropriation of authority from the Matthew 16 passage "Thou art Peter and upon this rock..." One small problem: according to Vatican I, doctrine is established by the unanimous consent of the church fathers, and the overwhelming majority of church fathers say "the rock" is Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God; NOT Peter himself. Even the Catholic Catechism can't get it straight: CCC 552 says the "rock" of Matthew is Peter himself; CCC 424 says it is Peter's faith or confession of Christ. Boy am I happy I don't have to play games like that with my integrity! So your foundational scriptural support for papal authority is gone according to Rome's own criterion!

  2. FourFingersBackAtYou,
    You're welcome! It's my pleasure to expose falsehood and make truth known. To God alone be the glory!

  3. Thank you for this post. This article introduced me to St. Augustine of Hippo!!! Please write more. Blessings!!

    1. You're welcome brother. You can read more of St. Augustine here:

      Here's a brief historical background of St. Augustine and his contribution to the development of the doctrines of Grace, written by R.C. Sproul:

      God bless!
      Soli Deo Gloria!

  4. Jeph,

    Your interpretation of St. Augustine is exactly the same problem with the entirety of Protestantism. You look through your own modern lense (yes even if it goes back to Luther or Calvin, etc its still modern by Catholic measures) instead of accepting 2000 years of Holy Mother Church's teaching. Why you accept the interpretion of St. Augstine through your own man made tradition instead of the context in which St Augstine comes - the Catholic Church, is beyond most Catholics. If you wanted to know what Shakespeare meant in a Sonnet, or what Mozart was thinking as he wrote a symphany or what Plato was seeking in his Republic, you would ask them, or those who knew him and his context. But you never do this when you look at St. Augstine let alone the Gospels. St. Augustine was thorgoughly Catholic. His entire work supports Catholic doctrines up and down the Church's doctrines. How readily you seem to accept his supposed Calvinst/Jansinist heretical writings, yet you reject his writings that support the Eucharist, Petrine Authority, the rest of the Sacraments, Mariology and on and on. You cannot take his words, as you have done, and assume they fit into your dogma without looking at the context of the rest of Augustinian Catholicism and history. Thats like taking the parts of Martin Luther that were still Catholic, and argue he never started the Protestant Reformation. You either get it all correct or you are all wrong. As a Catholic Doctor of Church, he got it all correct, including Justification, and that does NOT include a thred of Jansenism/Calvinism. But please keep reading the Church Fathers, especially those that actually knew the Apostles. You will see that they, like St. Augustine taught the Catholic faith alone.

    1. Bobby, I appreciate you for taking time and sharing your thoughts about St. Augustine's view, but I think you miss the whole point.

      The issue is not whether St. Augustine was Catholic (he surely was "CATHOLIC" - in the truest sense of that label), but certainly not ROMAN CATHOLIC. This, however, should be a topic of different post. The issue at hand is actually about Rome's use of St. Augustine to support her semi-pelagianistic views, when HISTORICALLY (I said "HISTORICALLY", because what I am about to claim can be BACKED UP with historical facts and documents straight from St. Augustine's pen, and I can definitely prove that OBJECTIVELY) St. Augustine actually denies that same idea that Rome is claiming to have held by him. An OBJECTIVE example can be seen here:

      The whole issue is not merely about St. Augustine, but about the HISTORICAL position of the Church concerning Grace and Freewill, and it is definitely NOT Roman Catholic as was clearly proven by the historical documents that I've pulled out straight from St. Augustine's pen. Your post, on the other hand, contains rantings that do not approach the issue OBJECTIVELY, but only SUBJECTIVELY. You're merely claiming I'm terribly wrong, I quoted St. Augustine out of context, etc. but that doesn't prove anything. Your rantings are just that: rantings.

      ~ Jeph

  5. PS. By the way, nothing you have quoted there , actually denies Catholic teching, because St. Augstine was Catholic and taught Catholicism and nothing else. The Church teaches what you quote. It is only through Gods grace that we are capable of even knowing Him. But as you quote, He cooperates with us-we have to give our "yes" even if that "yes" is only capable by the promptings of Grace. You have not stated anything here that opposes Catholic doctrine. You have simply debated a straw man. Show me where Catholicsm denies any of the Augustine quotes using Catholic sournces, not what you think Catholcism teaches. Thank you!

    1. Well, for one St. Augustine denies the idea that God merely nudges or invites people to cooperate with Him but does not Himself converts their heart from unwillingness to willingness. For St. Augustine, even the willingness to believe, cooperate, or do God's will, is itself a gift of grace which is bestowed ONLY TO SOME - and not to all. This is certainly not a Roman Catholic teaching.


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