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February 16, 2007


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Clifton D. Healy

The two are not the same, for a very simple reason: monergism confuses person and nature, while synergy preserves the distinction.

Chris Jones


Can you unpack that a little bit for me? That is, specifically how does monergism confuse person and nature? and how is that confusion evident in the Lutheran Confessions?

The not-so-hidden agenda of this post is that I am not convinced that the Lutheran version of monergism is all that monergistic. I get in a lot of trouble with my fellow Lutherans over this.

Don Bradley

I am an Orthodox layman that is in Fr. Stephen's parish. I shall attempt a detailed explanation why Fr. Stephen cannot possibly be a monergist. I cannot speak for him, nor would I venture to try. He's a good man, but he doesn't have the heart of a polemicist. I do.

Monergism means "one will", which I'm sure many of you know. That there is but one will in the universe, that being God's, and we are all subject to that one will. There are varying degrees of monergism ranging from Augustine to Luther to Calvin to A.W. Pink; I really don't want to break them all down here, but I recommend anybody interested in examining monergism to sample all of these men.

Monergism fails as a viable philosophy because it breaks down when applied to Christ. As Christians we are monotheists; that is, that we believe in one God. We believe in God revealed to us in three Persons (Ecumenical Councils 1 and 2). The second Person became incarnate for us men and for our salvation, being both divine and human (Ecumenical Councils 3 and 4). Not separating the natures for then we would have 2 Christs, nor confusing the 2 natures because then He would be neither God nor man but a hybrid, therefore unable to save us; but the two natures in union in the one Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Follow me? Now let's get to the fun stuff.

The Son has 2 natures in union in that one Person. So where does the will come in? If the will is a function of Person than there are 3 divine wills in the Holy Trinity, and therefore disunity in the Godhead. Christ would also have but one will, whether you attributed that to the divine or the human nature (no matter); either way He would be less than fully God or fully man (take your pick). But, if will is a function of nature, then Christ has 2 wills because He has 2 natures (6th Ecumenical Council, 681 A.D., ConstantinopleIII). Isn't this fun? So when Christ prayed to the Father, "Not my will, but thine be done" He clearly exemplified a multiplicity of wills (one shared with the Father according to His divinity, the other shared with us according to His humanity). So now I have demonstrated Christ has a divine will from His Father and a human will from His mother. Great.

Why does this matter? Being that He had a human will He got from His mother, it is the same human will I got from my mother, which we all have by being from Adam. We are both fully human and born in the same state, the difference lying in our persons (He able to control death because of His hypostatically conjoined divine nature and will, me unable to handle death and thereby reverting to materiality and sin in a vain attempt to avoid death). To denigrate the human will and the divine image in my humanity(as is common in western soteriology since Augustine), is to denigrate the humanity of Christ, and we find our salvation in that He became fully human to unite us to Himself. So to make all of humanity guilty as Augustine does (he exempted Christ because he located sin and original guilt in sperm, which anthropomorphizes sin into a material object that God has called good in Genesis, and Rome exempted Mary via the Immaculate Conception in 1854 to create ex cathedra infallibility) is to make Christ guilty and unable to destroy death by death, which is the gospel of our salvation. If Christ's will is free, then so is mine, since we both share the same humanity. If my will is bound and not free (monergism) because of sin, then so is Christ, since we share the same human nature of which the will is but one part thereof.

Those who argue for monergism essentially are monenergists, monothelites, and monophysites; they denigrate Christ's true humanity for philosophical reasons. Fr. Stephen, since he subscribes to all 7 Ecumenical Councils and therefore Christ's full humanity, was not proposing monergism in his post. I know this man. He is a synergist to his core, and a good one at that. Not only does he have his theology down, he is able to make it practical in all of his posts dealing with our union with God, which is salvation itself. Salvation is a uniting of my entire person in all of my faculties (body, soul, mind, and even will) to share in the life that comes to us from God in Christ. Monergism destroys this union; synergism delivers union with God in its fullest.

Chris Jones


It was not my intention to claim that "Fr Stephen was proposing monergism" in his post, but to suggest that Lutheran "monergism" is not all that monergistic. I certainly understand that, as an Orthodox priest, Fr Stephen is committed to synergism. He is, as you say, "a synergist to his core"; as, indeed, I am as well.

You have given an able account of the basic teachings of St Maximos Confessor, as endorsed by the sixth Ecumenical Council, and of their anthropological and soteriological implications. I fully subscribe to these teachings. If you follow the link in my post and read the comments thread, you will see that I am arguing in favor of synergism with some of my fellow Lutherans, whose understanding of "monergism" is (in my view) not authentically Lutheran at all.

So you see, my point was not to make a Lutheran of Father Stephen, but to make Lutherans see how Orthodox their own Confessions are (at least on this point).

I am a great admirer of Father Stephen. You are indeed fortunate to have him as your pastor and spiritual father.



Wouldn't you agree that Lutherans tend to shy away from any talk of synergism due to a fear of the Pelagian bogeyman? I hear the term Pelagian (and his little brother, semi-Pelagian) thrown around quite a lot among Lutherans - toward the Wesleyans, American Evangelicals, the Orthodox, Roman Catholics, anybody who isn't a Lutheran, etc. - and honestly, it's starting to grate on my nerves.

It reminds of the great Inigo Montoya line from The Princess Bride: 'You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.'

Chris Jones


Wouldn't you agree that Lutherans tend to shy away from any talk of synergism due to a fear of the Pelagian bogeyman?

Absolutely. In particular I think there is a deep misunderstanding of what semi-Pelagianism is. To over-simplify vastly, people think Pelagianism means "we save ourselves", and orthodoxy means "God alone saves us"; so semi-Pelagianism must be halfway between the two: God does part and we do part. This they call "synergism", and condemn it.

That is neither a fair characterization of what semi-Pelagianism actually is, nor a fair characterization of patristic synergism. If that were what "synergism" actually meant, I would condemn it as well.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.




I am wondering if you ever saw this thread, about how Augustine was really a synergist (in a sense at least):


Further, you have told me that when it comes to initial conversion, you believe that God does everything. Indeed, in Article 2 of the FOC it explicitly says that there is "no cooperation", although, as you have wonderfully defended, we certainly must cooperate with God when it comes to His continually feeding us with the Means of grace.

Did Augustine speak both in ways that are clearly monergistic and clearly synergistic?

What do you make of the idea that we have two wills, like Christ? (but ours is the "flesh" and the spirit)?

St. Augustine, Confessions: “The new will that had begun within me was not yet able to overcome the former will that had the strength of maturity. I now had two wills and the two tore my soul asunder!... (quoted in Koberle, The Quest for Holinesss, 225).

Chris Jones


I hadn't read that thread before. I can't comment intelligently on St Augustine, really. I haven't studied him deeply, and such reading of St Augustine as I have done was many, many years ago.

What do you make of the idea that we have two wills, like Christ? (but ours is the "flesh" and the spirit)?

It can't be right to say that we have two wills "like Christ". He has two wills because He has two natures: divine and human. If we had two natures, we should have two wills. And while I am a strong believer in theosis (because Scripture and Tradition teach it), it still cannot be said that we will have -- even in the eschaton -- two natures, and therefore two wills. We are to participate in the divine nature, but we do not and shall not have the divine nature as our own. It is always grace.

I understand what one is trying to express by talking about "two wills" -- the struggle between the flesh and the spirit while we are still on our earthly pilgrimage -- but I don't think "two wills" is the best way to express it. And it certainly is not analogous to the manner in which Christ has two wills.

Clifton D. Healy


I apologize for the much delayed response. To tell the truth, I'd forgotten this post and my comment.

Here's what I mean. Monergists are committed to the notion that synergism is impossible because man in his unregenerate state is depraved: he is not able to will any good because he has a nature that is sinful. (There is a huge Christological problem in assuming this, but I'll leave this aside for now.)

Now, if human nature is sinful, and if the will is an extension of that nature, then the will only wills sinful things, or only wills sinfully. Thus even if one wills the good, one wills it for, say, selfish reasons. Thus one's sinful nature makes it impossible for one to will the good, or the ultimate Good, God himself.

But this assumes that all willing is subsumed under nature, and thus eliminating any personal element of the will. But if a person does not have a personal will, then in what sense is the individual a person? He is nothing but a singular instantiation of human nature. The person has been subsumed under nature.

As I said, I will leave off the Christological implications, but even from a strictly anthropological standpoint, the question becomes "Whence this sinful nature?" Are humans strong enough to utterly destroy the nature God gave humanity (and thus to obliterate the imago dei)? Can they self-create, by sinful acts, a new nature and replace the nature given them by God with that depraved nature? Clearly any affirmatives to these answers encroach on the very sovereignty that monergism seeks to perserve.

Synergists assert that human nature has not been destroyed, only defaced, and that the will still wills the good, for that is what God created it to do, but since mortality has stained the imago dei, that willing can be turned from the real good to an apparent good. Thus man can miss the mark, can sin.

The mechanism for directing this natural will is the human person and the freedom of choice that God gives to humanity as part of the imago dei. That is to say man has a personal will (what St. Maximos calls the gnomic or deliberative will), by which he can in reason or in passion, direct the energies of the natural will toward chosen ends, either of the apparent good or the real good. Thus the person remains distinguishable from the nature, and retains personal accountability for his actions--which he would not have if those actions were wholly determined by his nature and the natural will.

Hope this helps.

(By the by, if I don't drop back by soon enough, drop me an email at chealy5 at yahoo dot com and alert me to your response or query.)

Chris Jones


Thanks very much for this clear and cogent response, with which I entirely concur.

But as I said in the comment that you are replying to, I am not convinced that the Lutheran version of monergism is all that monergistic. Your remarks here are quite correct with respect to the full-blown monergism of the Reformed (as I understand it -- an important qualification). But not with respect to classic Lutheran teaching.

You wrote:

Monergists are committed to the notion that synergism is impossible because man in his unregenerate state is depraved: he is not able to will any good because he has a nature that is sinful.

But the Lutheran Confessions do not teach that fallen man "has a nature that is sinful," nor that he is not able to will any good. The notion that our nature is itself sinful did try to gain a foothold within Lutheranism in the mid-sixteenth century, but that teaching was authoritatively condemned in the Formula of Concord:

We believe, teach, and confess that there is a distinction between man's nature, not only as he was originally created by God pure and holy and without sin, but also as we have it that nature now after the Fall, namely, between the nature itself, which even after the Fall is and remains a creature of God, and original sin, and that this distinction is as great as the distinction between a work of God and a work of the devil.

We believe, teach, and confess also that this distinction should be maintained with the greatest care, because this doctrine, that no distinction is to be made between our corrupt human nature and original sin, conflicts with the chief articles of our Christian faith concerning creation, redemption, sanctification, and the resurrection of our body, and cannot coexist therewith. For God created not only the body and soul of Adam and Eve before the Fall, but also our bodies and souls after the Fall, notwithstanding that they are corrupt, which God also still acknowledges as His work, as it is written: "Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about." (Job 10.8)

Moreover, the Son of God has assumed this human nature, however, without sin, and therefore not a foreign, but our own flesh, into the unity of His person, and according to it is become our true Brother. "Forasmuch, then, as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same." Again, "He took not on Him the nature of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, yet without sin." In like manner Christ has also redeemed it as His work, sanctifies it as His work, raises it from the dead, and gloriously adorns it as His work. But original sin He has not created, assumed, redeemed, sanctified; nor will He raise it, will neither adorn nor save it in the elect, but in the blessed resurrection it will be entirely destroyed.
(Formula of Concord, article I)

Thus for Lutherans, our nature is corrupted, but remains in its essence the good creation of God. The corruption of our nature is not the source, but the result, of sin. So the syllogism that "our nature is sinful, therefore we cannot will the good" won't work. Lutherans do affirm that, in spiritual things, the fallen will is powerless apart from grace. But that is not because our nature itself is sinful (which, as above, we deny), but because the fallen will is darkened because of sin and cannot perceive the good. Indeed, even before the Fall it would make no sense to say that our first parents would have been capable of "spiritual good" (that is, growing into a deeper communion with God) apart from grace. It is a contradiction: to say that we could be capable of spiritual good apart from grace is to say that we can become more and more in communion with God without God! The Lutheran insistence on "the bondage of the will" is an insistence on the necessity and primacy of grace, not a form of "total depravity" nor a denial of the need for cooperation with grace once given.

At the end of the day Lutheran "monergism" is merely a safeguard against semi-Pelagianism, an affirmation that grace must come first, and that any cooperation is itself empowered by grace. ... As soon as the Holy Ghost, as has been said, through the Word and holy Sacraments, has begun in us this His work of regeneration and renewal, it is certain that through the power of the Holy Ghost we can and should cooperate, although still in great weakness. (Formula of Concord, article II)

Eric Phillips


"Monergism" does not mean "one will," as you state. It means "one work." Furthermore, it does not mean "There is but one will (or work) in the universe." It is not a universal doctrine in the context we are discussing it, but rather a specifically soteriological one: _salvation_ is God's work alone.

And further-furthermore, it has nothing to do with monenergism, monothelitism, or monophysitism. It is simply a declaration that the divine Persons are the only ones Who save men. Persons who are solely human do not assist Him.

I should also add that St. Augustine did not "locate sin and original guilt in sperm." His mature theory on that score was that the transmission of original sin happened via the concupiscence that attends sexual intercourse. "In sin my mother conceived me." And even if he HAD taught that, such a teaching would NOT have "anthropomorphized sin into a material object that God has called good in Genesis." Augustine is explicit in his writings against Pelagius that 1) Human nature was created good, and 2) It did not become an evil essence when Adam sinned. (There's no such thing as an evil essence). It becomes evil the way anything else becomes evil: it _loses_ part of itself.

You conclude, "If Christ's will is free, then so is mine, since we both share the same humanity." That's like saying, "If Fido can catch the mailman, then so can Rex-the-three-legged-dog, since they both share the same caninity." Fido and Rex are consubstantial, connatural, both of them dogs. One of them is simply wounded.

Alice C. Linsley

Great discussion! Thanks, all.

Synergy is also illustrated in the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Jason Loh

"The Lutheran insistence on "the bondage of the will" is an insistence on the necessity and primacy of grace, not a form of "total depravity" nor a denial of the need for cooperation with grace once given."

The Lutheran insistence on "the bondage of the will" is precisely the insistence on total depravity in which man is completely passive in his justification and sanctification. Confessional Lutherans, unlike Philippists, insist that salvation from start to finish is monergistic. Period. The Christian life IS justification by faith alone.

Chris Jones

Mr Loh,

Dr Chemnitz and the other authors of the Formula of Concord were not "Phillipists," nor is Lutheranism merely a sub-species of the Reformed. Article I of the Formula makes clear that we do not teach total depravity, and Article II makes clear that we are not "completely passive" in sanctification.

I fear that you are reading the Lutheran Confessions through Reformed lenses.

Maurice Harting

One needs to define what a Lutheran is before this discussion goes anywhere.
If one means by being a Lutheran that one follows the teaching and mindset of Martin Luther than one must be monergistic and God-centered and seeing the Word, grace and faith (sola scriptura, sola gracia, and sola fide) as gifts of God imparted to His own as Luther did.
However if one is "lutheran" based on lutheranism of Melanchthon then one is more inclined to be synergistic as many if not most North American Lutheran churches are these days.
I believe that Martin Luther would have frowned upon the North American Lutheran Church today if he were alive, just as he did in his battle with Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam with his On the Bondage of the Will.
Luther maintained that sin incapacitates human beings from working out their own salvation, that they are completely unable to bring themselves to God.
Many modern day "lutheran" churches have to some degree been seduced by semi-palagian thought.

Maurice Harting

William Tighe

What if one is Lutheran -- I am not a Lutheran -- based upon neither "the teaching and (me genoito!) mindset of Martin Luther" nor the "Lutheranism of Melanchthon," but on what the authoritative Lutheran Confessions state clearly and explicitly, and, where there is doubt or unclarity, on what "the Catholic Church of the First Milennium" taught, preached and practiced?

William Weedon

Thank you, Dr. Tighe. Exactly so: a Lutheran is one who holds that the Symbolical Books of the Church are the authoritative voice of our Church on the questions addressed in them; and those Symbolical Books invite the constant criterion of "nothing new" - thus turning our gaze back toward the teaching of the earlier Church.

Maurice Harting

Dr. Tighe misses the point ... you cannot call yourself a Lutheran if you don't follow the beliefs and understanding of Martin Luther, just as you cannot call yourself a Christian if you don't follow the beliefs and understanding of Jesus Christ. If, and I am not stating he does, Dr. Tighe believes that the "early church" he refers to is the Roman Catholic church and not the church founded by Jesus Christ Himself than he is clearly mistaken. The Roman Catholic church has long held to various aspects of the semi-palagian heresy in thought, word, and deed and thereby discredited itself before God.

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