Robert Jenson on St Augustine and the Logic of Grace

Augustine’s fundamental insight, against Pelagians or Arminians (full, semi-, demi-semi-, or whatever) is veridical: theology that makes my conversion, or my subsequent persevering in sanctity or growing in it, dependent on my own decision to seek holiness or on my own sanctified decisions or actions, must “beware, lest … the grace of God be thought to be given somehow in accord with our merit, so that grace is no longer understood as grace” [De praed. sanct. 1.6]. There is indeed no escaping the logic: if at any step or stage of spiritual life my choice or action determines whether or not I am in fact to be sanctified, then indeed that is what it does, and God’s role can only be to confirm my choice. Which is to say, God’s grace is not free, and so is neither God nor grace.

Augustine did not cultivate this logic for its own sake, but as a pastor, for the comfort of the bewildered North African believers of his time. They compared themselves to martyrs and other spiritual heroes of the just previous age of persecution, and had to doubt the worth of their own choices and actions; that is, if Pelagius was right, they had to doubt the possibility of their salvation.

Robert. W. Jenson

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27 Responses to Robert Jenson on St Augustine and the Logic of Grace

  1. Davidb says:

    So help me out here:

    I have heard many a Calvinist say the same thing. How does the above insight coincide with Roman Catholic or Orthodox synergism?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hi, David. My first response to your question is, I honestly do not know. Is there in fact a dogmatically binding formulation of synergism in either the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Church? Roman Catholic and Orthodox preachers of course rightly tell their people that they need to “cooperate” with the grace of God, but what does this really mean? We know what it means when two individuals work together on a project, but what are the analogical limits of projecting this image upon the Creator/creature relationship? (See my articles “Rowboating with God” and “Divine Agency and Human Agency” for my own tentative reflections on this question.) In the RC Church a wide diversity of theological opinion exists on this question (think Dominicans versus Jesuits). In the Orthodox Church less diversity, on the surface, appears to exist, but only because, as Jenson notes in the same book, Orthodox thinkers “have so assumed freedom as the great gift that they have made little attempt to think it.”

      Perhaps synergism is an unfathomable mystery, a true aporia, that we cannot conceive because we cannot conceive the Creator/creature relationship. Again Jenson:

      But how can both be true, that we believe or do not believe “because” we choose to believe or not to believe, and that we believe or do not believe because God chooses us to do the one or the other? Both can be true because, although Augustine of course never puts it in just this way, between God’s will and a creature’s will there is no zero-sum game, because God’s deciding something in the manner of God and my deciding the same thing in the manner of a creature are not on the same plane of being. In a typically lapidary and nearly untranslatable Augustinian dictum: when we do the good, “both we do it, and God does that we do it.”

      This point, Jenson comments, “is simple, decisive, and easy to lose hold of.” We tend to think of God as a being standing alongside the universe, and it is that image that leads us astray.

      And none of this helps, does it? Jenson agrees with Augustine, while at the same time finding his answers unsatisfactory, and offers some very Lutheran suggestions on how to think about this question further. For myself, what interests me most acutely is how our formulations of synergism impact our preaching of the gospel. As far as I can tell, most RC and Orthodox preachers have decided that synergism means that the gospel is conditional upon human performance, which implies, as Jenson notes that “God’s grace is not free, and so is neither God nor grace.”

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      • Nicholas says:

        Father, what if our work, our part in the cooperation is simply to let go into God’s will? As Christ prayed at Gethsemane: “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” It is not the synergism of strength that we hear preached often. “Stop sinning! Overcome the passions!” But it is a synergism of weakness, allowing Christ to meet us in our smallness, lostness, and death.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Nicholas, I do not disagree with you, but your suggestion inevitably raises the following four questions: (1) How does one go about “letting go”? (2) How does one know when one is doing it? (3) Is the exhortation to “let go” really any different than the exhortation to “subdue your passions”? (4) If I find that my will is recalcitrant and refuses to let go, refuses to die, does that mean that I cannot be saved? I am reminded of the wonderful poem by John Donne:

          Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
          As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
          That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
          Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
          I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
          Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
          Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
          But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
          Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
          But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
          Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
          Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
          Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
          Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

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          • Nicholas says:

            Thank you for that poem.

            As far as your questions, these are what I’ve been struggling with for the past few months, in particular (3) and (4).

            For (1) and (2), I would say that confession, communion, prayer, and, as Fr. Stephen said in his recent blog post, constantly giving thanks to God are all ways of “letting go.” Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” There is a bit of a paradox there, as “letting go” is more not doing, or being done to, than doing. And we only know how to do.

            This is why I get confused about (3). I honestly don’t know if I am simply misreading or mishearing, but many articles I’ve read and sermons I’ve heard lately sound to me like “just stop sinning and do good works.” That is, use your willpower to resist the passions. To me, this sounds like the exact opposite of letting go into God’s will, but then again, I may just be misunderstanding for some reason. After all, Paul also exhorts in 1 Thessalonians: “Abstain from every form of evil.”

            And for (4), I really have no answer right now. It may be that at the moment of our deaths, our wills inevitably give up. We no longer attempt to hold our lives together ourselves (our literal physical lives), but give in completely to God.

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  2. Our awareness of the will’s consent to what we do does not prove that the will is its final or efficient cause. God’s work through mediate causes is still God’s work.

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  3. Nota bene– In the New Testament’s ‘new creation,’ God’s gracious work in souls may be ‘post-destined’ from the descent of heaven to earth rather than being predestined as in the Synod of Dort sort of Calvinism.

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  4. 407kwac says:

    Only the universalist hope can possibly allow the word “grace” in such a scheme to retain its meaning as “God in His love.” Otherwise, it merely becomes some inscrutable divine will and power, and indeed as Fr. Aiden wrote in a previous post, “all our worst nightmares have come true.”

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  5. tgbelt says:

    With Davidb, I don’t see that Jenson’s view agrees with that of the Orthodox.

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  6. tgbelt says:

    We could question the notion of “free” at play in the claim that “grace is free.” I’m not sure what people who say it mean, and some understandings I have in mind have little or no biblical basis (Eph 2.8 included). Grace is opposed to ‘earning’, not to ‘effort’ as such. God doesn’t love and pursue us ‘in response to’ any inherent or achieved merit in us that might make his love and pursuit an obligation he fulfills on account of our merit; it’s not (to put it in Augustine’s terms) “given somehow in accord with our merit.”

    But it doesn’t follow as far as I can see that if “faith” (i.e., our response to grace) is undetermined by God (in the sense the later Augustine perhaps believed?) that grace is thus ‘earned’ or ‘merited’. For if we suppose that our very existence is already an act of grace, and that the agency by which we utter even our “no” to God is itself God’s gift (to us) “to be,” then there’s no falling into a view of synergy that asserts itself “over and against God” as if creaturely agency is a kind of absolute autonomous, self-existent power to determine itself without reference to, acknowledgement of, or gratitude for, that primal giftedness/graciousness of existence to begin with. Grace is always (of metaphysical necessity) prior—creating, sustaining, inviting, empowering, letting be, etc. And that “prior” is enough both to prevent our viewing grace as somehow given in accord with our “merit” (for “through faith” (Eph 2) is not “through merit”), but it’s also enough to posit a genuine synergy (not a synergy that eclipses the asymmetricality of the Creator/created distinction, or the dependence of the latter on the former—that’s not possible—but a gracious gift to be truly other than God, an endowment of “relatively” self-determining empowerment, a gifted share of God’s “say-so”).

    Unless we want to reduce secondary causes to “remote” operations of the divine will, then we have to grant creaturely agency a causal integrity of its own. And by “its own” I don’t mean some Enlightenment notion of absolute, unqualified, autonomous power of the will free from all exterior context and influence. Nobody believes that anyhow. It’s ‘synergy’: We cannot exist at all or fulfill our natures apart from gratefully acknowledging the same as the gift of undeserved benevolence (thus no merit) AND God cannot simply produce by unilateral fiat the kind of loving, participating subjects he desires should reflect him for ages to come (thus real synergy).

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  7. Jonathan says:

    St Augustine certainly has a valuable contribution to this discussion. However, I feel that he sometimes has a tendency to see divine will and human will as intractably opposed; that is, he sees human action as sinful, and divine action as grace. Whilst this certainly serves to emphasise the primacy of grace, it also gestures towards a conflation of creation and fall. If we recognise that human willing only occurs through the grace of God’s act of creation and sustaining the universe in being, an Augustininian view of human nature begins to lose it’s appeal. And to respond to the final point of Jenson’s, I think that it might be answered by reference to faith. We trust God to svae us despite all of our failings. Though I agree the question probably deserves further reflection. I recently read St Maximus’ ‘Disputation with Pyrrhus’, and I feel that the Confessor’s thought might be helpful in these explorations.

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  8. Phil Cary says:

    Fr. Aidan asked me to comment, and I’m happy to oblige. Unfortunately, given the issue, I can’t keep the comment real brief.

    In contrast to Jonathan, I don’t think Augustine conflates creation and fall. That’s what the Manichaeans did, and Augustine early on escaped from that heresy. But his doctrine of grace comes later and is directed against the Pelagians rather than the Manichaeans, so you have to look a bit more carefully to see how he distinguishes creation and fall. The key distinction is encapsulated in his phrase, “corrupted nature.” We are not sinful by nature, because God created all natures good (Augustine is VERY emphatic about that). But we are incapable of overcoming the sin in our CORRUPTED nature.

    And that complicates the issue of synergy that tgbelt helpfully brings up. I think Augustine sees quite clearly what tgbelt sees (along with every metaphysically sophisticated theologian known to me, East and West): that divine and human causality are not operating on the same plane. It’s not as if we carry part of the load and God carries the other part, dividing up the work between us. Rather, God is the source of all causal power, as he is the source of all being. So our power to do good, like our very being, is always a gift of God. There is no good we ever do without God’s gracious assistance, as there is not a moment of our being that we do not owe to God. Call that “metaphysical synergism.”

    But now reckon with a human nature so corrupted that all it can do by its own power is sin. That’s what Augustine is considering, and it is a point even more strongly emphasized by Luther, who hovers powerfully in the background for Jenson. Apart from Christ we are like lost sheep who cannot do anything to get themselves found. Here metaphysical synergism reaches its limit.

    Now, in addition, add an explicit reference to free will, as Augustine does when he considers Paul on the Damascus road, aiming to do his best to wipe out the Christian faith. The last thing his free will is capable of choosing is to embrace Christ in faith, because that is the very last thing he wants. (Our free will can do nothing to free us from sin if it doesn’t want to). But God can choose to turn his free will around so that he freely chooses the faith of Christ. That’s the metaphysical claim in Augustine’s mature anti-Pelagian doctrine of grace. God can choose how we shall freely choose, by giving us a gift of delight in the faith of Christ that (previously) we did not even want.

    The reason Luther loves this teaching (which is reflected also in the quote from Jenson that got this thread started) is because it eliminates a certain kind of performance anxiety. If anything in our salvation is ultimately up to us, then we can always ask: Have I done it well enough? And Luther thinks the proper (penitent) answer is: No. The corrupted human nature can do never do anything well enough to contribute anything but sin, even when it (deceptively) thinks it wants to. Our corrupted free will (which is to say, our will in bondage to sin) does not love God for his own sake, but only for its own selfish purpose of escaping punishment and using God for its own satisfaction. Our corrupted free will is as helpless to do any good in God’s sight as the lost sheep is to find itself. There is no hope in us. We should despair of all our works, which means we have no hope for salvation at all except in Jesus Christ alone. And there the Gospel comes to meet us with the best news of all: that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and commands us to be baptised and believe that he is our Savior, Lord and gracious God.

    And then, by the grace of Christ, there is also a lot of good work for us to do, and synergism comes back into play. Faith in Christ necessarily leads to works of love, in which we are co-workers with God, and which are absolutely required by the commandment of God. But none of our good work is good enough, even with God’s grace, to answer that dreadful question of performance anxiety. It’s good enough to benefit our neighbors, which is why God commands it, but not good enough to contribute anything to our salvation. That’s the Protestant rejection of synergism. It gets rid of the performance anxiety and gives us nothing but Christ to contribute to our salvation.

    P.S. to Nicholas: I hang around with lots of evangelicals who believe you should “let go and let God.” But I think that’s just one more form of works righteousness, about which you can develop the same performance anxiety. Am I REALLY letting go? Have I TRULY surrendered to the grace of Christ?. These are questions that drive evangelicals crazy, for the honest answer, they have to admit, is: No. In other words, once again, the proper answer to our performance anxiety is penitence, confession of sin, and despairing of all our good works, so that we learn we have no hope unless Christ actually died for us, and no recourse but to believe it’s true (= Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone).

    What my evangelical friends find is that trying to “let go” is a harsh psychological trap. It’s like trying to let go and fall asleep on a night when you’re too stressed out, anxious or angry to get to sleep. All you can do is try your hardest to let go, and that just makes you more anxious and stressed. The good news, I think, is that your efforts to let go, like your good works, make no contribution to your salvation. The only thing that matters for our ultimate salvation is whether it’s really true that Jesus is Lord, that he is the good shepherd who knows how to find lost sheep like you and me. To that, like Luther, I say: Thank God.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Phil, thanks so much. Great thoughts.

      I’m inclined to think “metaphysical synergism” (as you phrase it) is irreducible—that is, it constitutes the Creator/created distinction per se. I don’t see that we stop needing grace one way (the way we needed it when we were ‘sinners’) and begin needing it in a fundamentally different way (say, for growth in Christian perfection) after grace makes us new creations. I might be misreading your point here, but I tend to see the need for grace as absolute and definitive of created being from beginning to end and thus the created possibility for synergy as defining us without exception (as opposed, say, to supposing that the reason sinners have yet to believe is just that God has yet to decide to graciously save them). Sin’s corruption cannot eradicate our essential openness to God on this metaphysical level. If we exist at all, we are open to Godward movement. I suspect this is where we differ.

      Tom

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      • Phil Cary says:

        Yes, I agree that metaphysical synergism is irreducible. We creatures never have either being nor doing without the gracious co-operation of God. The limit of metaphysical synergism that I’m concerned with is the limit of our contribution to it, when it comes to moving us toward the good. A thoroughly corrupted will contributes nothing good, or at least nothing sufficient to move us effectually toward the Good that is God. But of course it does remain open to divine grace, because God can find any lost sheep.

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        • tgbelt says:

          I had something slightly different in mind by saying synergism is ‘irreducible’. What I meant was all movement toward the Good is by definition irreducibly synergistic even if the human will has no part to play at first but to agree to accept its place in the Good as created and loved and dependent. But this is true of the created will per se, not just as fallen; i.e., not only do “thoroughly corrupted wills” contribute nothing good, but so are “thoroughly perfected wills” as bereft of inherent goodness and ability to sustain themselves in the Good. If I say creatures are always able on some level to yield their ‘yes’ to God, I don’t suppose this response to be a “good” which corrupted sinners contribute (though it is a minimal expression of the irreducible synergy that defines the Creator/created relationship). In the end, though, I can’t conceive of a “thoroughly corrupted” anything. That kind of privation—thorough or absolute, if that’s what you mean—is metaphysically impossible as I understand things. I could be wrong, but that’s where I am.

          Tom

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          • Phil Cary says:

            Sure – – when I say “thoroughly corrupted,” I don’t mean something like “pure evil.” There’s no such thing. All corruption is corruption in something that is by nature good. So there is no such thing as pure corruption. But if the corruption goes far enough, the good thing cannot do the good it was made for.

            And there are levels. Paul says we are not just morally sick, but dead in our trespasses and sins. The sick can do something to co-operate with their medical treatment, but the dead can do nothing to help themselves. When it comes to the question of merit–the crucial 16th century question that Luther was addressing–we are not like the sick but like the dead. We have to give up trying to help ourselves. (If that’s what is meant by “letting go,” I’m all for it. But the Lutheran term for this is despair–evangelical despair, to be sure–despair of one’s good works).

            Morally, sinners are not just sick, but dead. But God can give life to what is dead. That is the prevenient grace that results in the inevitable metaphysical synergism. For when God gives life to the dead, the dead really do live. Grace is given to those who cannot even choose to receive it (like Paul on the Damascus road, you can’t chose faith because he doesn’t want to). But then, as a result of that grace, he really does choose to receive it. The dead live, even though the dead (by their own power) can’t live.

            The flip side of this is that God can’t give life to the dead without making them live. So when he gives life to those who are dead in sin (sola gratia!) the result is that they do in fact live to God, no longer dead in their sins; they do good works, they learn to love God and neighbor, and start to delight in the good. But the grace comes first, preveniently, when we sinners are like a corpse (not “pure evil”) but “throughly corrupted” to the extent that we have nothing to offer but our death (or like a lost sheep that has nothing to offer but its lostness). That’s the situation that Jenson was thinking of, I figure.

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    • Jonathan says:

      I didn’t mean to say that Augustine himself actually conflates creation and fall; I tried to use my words carefully. I hadn’t even considered the Manichaean question. I merely meant that elements in the Augustinian tradition sometimes tend towards that conflation. Nevertheless, thank you, very much, Phil, for an illuminating discussion of some of the points in question.

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    • Nicholas says:

      Thanks, Phil. There is a lot to digest here.

      You are right–letting go is a lot like a Chinese finger puzzle. The more force you apply, the more stuck you become. As I said above, “letting go” is more of a “not doing” or a “being done to” than a “doing”. Thus the paradox–ultimately, we must let go into Christ, but our effort and striving doesn’t get us there.

      I find it interesting that this is a theme in certain strains of Buddhism, particularly Zen. The monk tries and tries to “let go” using different techniques and hours and hours of meditation until there is nothing left to try. Only at that point does “letting go” actually occur.

      It cannot be said that it was caused by the trying. After all, the trying was the very reason they could not let go! But, perhaps, without the trying, they would not have been able to convince themselves that there was no use in trying.

      To return to the Christian context, I think our ascetic practices serve a similar role. We try to fast and pray and do good works, but it’s quite hard. And ultimately, after much striving, we realize that we’re not really getting anywhere and we’ve got to turn to Christ.

      None of that stuff earns our salvation, but it does get us to the point where we can give up the responsibility for our salvation to Christ because we have no options left. I think this is in concordance with the idea that “we have no hope unless Christ actually died for us, and no recourse but to believe it’s true.” Still, I wonder if Luther tried to short-circuit this process via faith as a kind of intellectual assent.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Anxiety will always attend performance based approaches to God. Christians of all theological persuasions get stuck in that. But faith and trust—which is all ‘letting go’ amounts to—isn’t another performance we trust in to recommend ourselves to God.

        Learning to “let go” is one of the best single-phrase summaries of the gospel I can think of. By all means, let go.

        True—a heart that trusts that it is unconditionally loved and valued does not fear (i.e., isn’t anxious), for love casts out all fear. If Evangelicals (I’ve been one for 40 years) are anxious, it’s because they don’t believed God loves them, and when you don’t truly believe God loves you unconditionally, you misrelate to everything, especially to those good things we must do. To be free of fear is not to be free of the need for effort, hard work, or disciplined self-denial; it’s to be free from misrelating to effort as meriting the love that dispels our fear. If one is ‘anxious’, then, that doesn’t mean one should stop going what one is doing (whether letting go, praying, fasting, serving others, etc.). It means one should stop misrelating to the good one must do (1Cor 13.1-3).

        Tom

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        • Phil Cary says:

          One of the things in the background for any Lutheran (such as Jenson) is the question of merit. It’s not a prominent question for the Orthodox tradition. But in the 16th century in the West, it was an overwhelming issue. I think the Reformers gave the right, Pauline answer to that question (sola gratia!). But if that question is not uppermost in your mind, you have more freedom to think differently about issues like synergism.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Been thinking about the merit question within Eastern Orthodoxy. One does not hear the word used in Orthodox pulpits (at least not in my limited experience), though one certainly hears the very biblical word “reward.” How does this not lead to works-righteousness? Orthodoxy, I think, handles this question at an ascetical, pastoral, and even liturgical level. The third Sunday before Great Lent is called “The Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee.” The readings and hymns summon the worshippers to the kind of repentance expressed by the Publican, who presents himself to the Lord without any hope of reward. He is a model of humility, which is prized by Orthodox ascetics above all other virtues.

            In his third homily on the Gospel of Matthew, St John Chrysostom declares:

            Let us beware therefore of saying anything about ourselves, for this renders us both odious with men and abominable to God. For this reason, the greater the good works we do, the less let us say of ourselves; this being the way to reap the greatest glory both with men and with God. Or rather, not only glory from God, but a reward, yea, a great recompense. Demand not therefore a reward that thou mayest receive a reward.

            Confess thyself to be saved by grace, that He may profess Himself a debtor to thee; and not for thy good works only, but also for such rightness of mind. For when we do good works, we have Him debtor for our good works only; but when we do not so much as think we have done any good work, then also for this disposition itself; and more for this, than for the other things: so that this is equivalent to our good works. For should this be absent, neither will they appear great. For in the same way, we too, when we have servants, do then most approve them when, after having performed all their service with good will, they do not think they have done anything great. Wherefore, if thou wouldest make thy good deeds great, do not think them to be great, and then they will be great.

            St Peter of Damascus goes so far as to declare: “At the Last Judgment the righteous will be recognized only by their humility and their considering themselves worthless, and not by good deeds, even if they have done them. This is the true attitude.”

            But might one despair of ever achieving genuine repentance and humility? Yes. I know this because of the emails I receive from faithful Orthodox believers who struggle with despair. What then is the proper response to such despair. Exhortation to deeper repentance and greater ascetical discipline might only deepen the penitent’s despair. I know of only one proper response—the declaration of God’s unconditional love and grace. Only such a declaration, spoken in the name of the risen Christ, can elicit the faith that overcomes despair. At that point, all debates about synergism and monergism become irrelevant.

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    • Mike H says:

      God can choose how we shall freely choose, by giving us a gift of delight in the faith of Christ that (previously) we did not even want.

      I’m hearing that, while God may not directly determine our choices, He is willing to go a step deeper into the subconscious to sort of pull on the strings of our desires? That God could overwhelm us with some sort of lightning bolt of desire for Him at any moment in time (which we” freely” respond to), but just chooses not to? I get the “performance anxiety” piece and that God is (hopefully) working in the depths of existence in ways that we cannot perceive – but barring universal reconciliation this is a sort of scary thing IMO.

      Apologies if I’m misunderstanding this.

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  9. tgbelt says:

    Another thought. To my mind this is related to what I asked DBH (13 May 2015 here: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/essential-readings-on-universalism/) about his reference (in BOTI, p. 320) to Michel de Certeau’s “Authorités Chrétiennes et Structures Sociales” in suggesting the possibility that in our final fulfilled form Christ offers “a style of existence that allows for a certain kind of creativity and that opens a new series of experiences” as opposed to it being the case that God’s will specifies every particular of our continuing existence without remainder. My question had to do with created agency as fulfilled in Christ as enjoying a “scope of possibilities within which to freely/creatively determine how we shall reflect divine beauties.” The divine will would terminate not in the final form of creaturely expression but in the range of creative possibilities offered to creatures in which they would determine their expressive form. Hart said that “works for [him].”

    This is relevant to Jenson’s (and Augustine’s) comments as it regards the nature of the exercise of the will. Who or what “settles on” the final form (or what Hart in his answer calls the “creative liberty” of the gnomic will)? Not God (though the entire scope of possibilities is enfolded and consummate in Christ, yes). The divine will prescribes only a scope or palette of loving possibilities. Who or what settles on the particular form? It can only be the created will as final arbiter (so to speak, though I know the sound of ‘final arbiter’ grates on the ears of some). But if this kind of creaturely “creative liberty” (in which creature and not God determines the final form of creative expression) is conceivable, it can’t be the case that such liberty per se is incoherent or that it “merits” anything in particular on account of not being specifically determined by God. Neither God is excluded as necessary ground nor creature upheld as independent of grace.

    Tom

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    • Phil Cary says:

      So synergism ultimately means that we dance freely in a space of glorious possibilities opened by the redemptive power of God? Sounds about right to me. But of course the dance won’t be merely random. As we look back at the steps we have taken, it will have some of the sense of inevitability that you get looking back at a startling modulation in a great symphony: it was a surprise when it happened, but it looks perfect and inevitable in retrospect. It’s that kind of freedom.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Well, my point in considering the exercise of the will in its fulfilled form in Christ was only in response to the claim (of Jenson and Augustine) that IF the will of God does not terminate in the determination of particular choices for the Good, those choices constitute a ‘merit’ or somehow accrue to our credit as a ‘good’ which we can claim to have achieved independent of grace, and since therefore that kind of merit is impossible, that kind of choice is impossible. But if that kind of choice is our destiny, it can’t be incoherent, nor is it a creaturely achievement merited independent of grace.

        It’s not random. It wouldn’t be random if God were doing the determining (and there’s no inevitability that defines him). It’s not random if creatures do the determining. The particular choices are not causally entailed in antecedent events in any determinative way that would render them inevitable. So looking to the past one would have only an ‘improvisational’ sense of inevitability that you get looking back at a startling modulation of a great jazz improvisation jam session. The themes, key, time signature and rhythm are prescribed (determined if you want) by the author of the piece, so we know that inevitably each artist will be in that key, play to that time signature, etc. Those are our logoi. But there’s no inevitability of specific outcomes derived from these logoi or from the musicians’ own musical history. The musicians are ‘co-authors’—‘God-like’—in a small but real sense of the word. That’s the kind of freedom I had in mind.

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  10. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Hi, Phil. I really appreciate your willingness to visit Eclectic Orthodoxy and engage in conversation. If I may, I’d like to put to you this question: Did St Augustine develop what might be called a non-competitive understanding of divine causality and human agency, or did the development of such an understanding have to wait until St Thomas Aquinas? And what are your thoughts on the matter?

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  11. tgbelt says:

    Fr. Aidan: St Peter of Damascus goes so far as to declare: “At the Last Judgment the righteous will be recognized only by their humility and their considering themselves worthless, and not by good deeds, even if they have done them.”

    Tom: MT 25 comes to mind (with others): “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

    I’m not suggesting good deeds here were meritorious, only that it’s possible to recognize them without turning them into merit. I don’t know where he got the idea that on the last day the righteous will be recognized “only by their humility” and “not by good deeds.” Between “humility” and what humility inevitably “does” there can be no disjunction.

    Fr. Aidan: What then is the proper response to such despair?…I know of only one proper response—the declaration of God’s unconditional love and grace. Only such a declaration, spoken in the name of the risen Christ, can elicit the faith that overcomes despair. At that point, all debates about synergism and monergism become irrelevant.

    Tom: I agree that the unconditional love (not doing ‘works of law’) alone heals despair. “Perfect love casts our all fear; whoever fears is not made perfect in love.” I’m less sure this makes the truth of synergism vis-à-vis monergism irrelevant since if the latter was true and God were unconditional love, the world would not be in the state it’s in. But that’s another conversation.

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