St. John Cassian: On Grace and Free Will

Update: John Hendryx, of the site I reference below, has opened up a discussion with me here. See below in the comments.

In the very first post in this soteriology diablog, along with contending that monergism was a heresy, I also claimed that the author of the site, John Hendryx, made a caricature of synergism, essentially creating a straw man which he can knock down and claim that “synergism” is a heresy and unbiblical. One of the clearest examples of this caricature of true synergism is his A Prayer That a Synergist Won’t Pray.

The following prayer is indeed a caricature that no synergist would dare pray, but is what a synergist would pray if he were consistent in his theology:

“God, I give you glory for everything else, but not my faith … This is the one thing that is my very own that I produced of my natural capacities. For this little bit the glory is mine. I made better use of Your offer of salvation than others did. While You deserve glory for all I have Lord, my faith was the one part that I contributed to the price of my redemption, apart from and independent of the action of Your Holy Spirit.”

Which just goes to show that Mr. Hendryx has no clue whatsoever what true synergism is. But then he has his own heresy to establish. (He also has a complete misconstrual of synergism in his straw man chart, Two Views of Regeneration by John Hendryx.)

On the website is this quote by A. A. Hodge:

“The Semi-Pelagian doctrine taught by John Cassian (d. 440) admits that divine grace (assistance) is necessary to enable a sinner to return unto God and live, yet holds that, from the nature of the human will, man may first spontaneously, of himself, desire and attempt to choose and obey God. They deny the necessity of prevenient but admit the necessity of cooperative grace and conceive regeneration as the product of this cooperative grace.” A.A. Hodge (The Semi-Pelagian Theology of John Cassian)

There is also this outrageous comment:

Eastern Orthodox will argue that Cassian was not a semi-pelagian (and fail to explain why not) but Cassian himself saw grace and freedom as parallel, grace always cooperating with the human will for man’s salvation.” (p. 56; cf. Phil. 2:12-13) He teaches that the grace of God always invites, precedes and helps our will, and whatever gain freedom of will may attain for its pious effect is not its own desert, but the gift of grace.” (The Semi-Pelagian Theology of John Cassian)

I have decided to take up that challenge, to both show that St. John is not a semi-Pelagian, and that Mr. Hendryx completely mischaracterizes synergism. I will use St. John Cassian’s Conferences, XIII (the third conference with Abba Chaeremon) to do so. But first some caveats. St. John is not a systematic writer, or a systematic theologian. If he is anything, he is an ascetical theologian. And the context in which he takes up this issue is that of Christian askesis. He also makes comments which, lifted out of the context of the thirteenth Conference as a whole, do seem to support the accusations of his critics. But those disclaimers notwithstanding, it is clear from the whole of the conference St. John is not a semi-Pelagian, nor is the synergism in his writings in any way accurately described by the comments cited above.

The other caveat that needs to be stated, is that the understanding of the role of human will and deliberation in the context of salvation and eschatology was given a much more rigorous and Christological framework in St. Maximus the Confessor in the sixth century, and sharpened yet again by St. Gregory Palamas in the thirteenth century. But to explore these issues are beyond the scope of this single post (which will itself be perhaps too extensive in its reach). So I will limit myself to St. John Cassian’s words in the thirteenth Conference.
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My Branch of the Healy Family Tree

Last night I worked through the Healy family genealogy I came across yesterday. I was able to work out the direct line of descent from William to me. A call to Grandma Healy got some of the details surrounding Clifton Dwight and Clifton Arthur worked out. (I’ve left out the information related to my dad and myself.)

It’s just amazing, this finding one’s historical anchors. And as I looked through the genealogy, there’s some very interesting stories interspersed, which I’ll be sharing.
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Healy Genealogy

Bored at work, I did a Google of “Clifton Healy” and came up with this INCREDIBLE page of Healy genealogy.

Why is it incredible you ask?

Scroll down to Generation no. 7, no. 54 “Children of Abiel Healy and Mary Adams,” small Roman numeral iii–almost to the bottom of the page . . . which begins:

“CLIFTON DWIGHT HEALY b. January 21, 1848 in Cedar Co., Ia., m. ELIZABETH BROOKS SATTERWAIT 3/10/1870, who was b. 1/22/1849 in Muscatine Co., Ia. and d. 3/15/1885 in Eldorado, Kan.; m. 2nd MARY M. VAN VALKENBURG 11/11/1887, who was b. 9/24/1855; divorced 3/1901; m. 3rd MARY E. GALLUP 2/24/1903; Res. Eldorado, Kan. 1920; Kan. City, Mo. 1929.”

As far as we have previously known, Clifton Dwight is the furthest back we can go in my own direct family descent in terms of how many Cliftons there were. A quick search on the page of the name “Clifton” shows that Clifton Dwight was indeed the first in this family tree. Which means that, as we have thought all my life, I am, indeed, the fifth Clifton (though not Clifton the Fifth).

If you read a little further into the paragraph of children, born-dates/death-dates, marriages, you’ll come to:

“CLIFTON ARTHUR HEALY b. 3/9/1885, m. CORA BUELL 2/14/1910; Res. Latham, Kan. (Had; BEULAH DIMPLE HEALY b. 2/18/1911, CORA OLIVE HEALY b. 6/12/1912, CLIFTON FITZROY HEALY b. 8/9/1913)”

And Clifton Fitzroy is my own grandfather.

Here is a page describing the Healy family crest.
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Soteriological Sidebar II: Nominal and Real Personhood

Most of Kevin’s reply (Nature of Persons) to my soteriological sidebar on Trinitarian personhood is taken up with illustrating my seeming lack of either logic, consistency, or logical consistency. This may well be true of me, though I really don’t think so, but the logic, consistency or logical consistency one exhibits must be true to one’s subject matter. One cannot demand of “God talk” the sort of logical consistency that one demands of mathematical formulae, since God is not number. Nor can one demand of these discussions the sort of syllogistic one rightly expects of rationalist proofs. The Christian God is not the God of the philosophers, so, for example, absolute simplicity cannot be ascribed to him. Indeed, it is not so much a matter of logic per se, but more a matter of the premises with which one begins. Non-Christians may look at the conciliar dogma surrounding the person of Jesus Christ, that he was fully (or perfect) God and fully (or perfect) man, that he had two natures and two wills in one Person, and think “Illogical.” But if one examines the arguments surrounding the reality of the Incarnation, one will see a thoroughgoing consistent logic being applied to the premises. In these discussions, I think, it is not so much a question of the logic as it is a question regarding the premises.

Be that as it may, very little of Kevin’s post criticizing my account of Trinitarian personhood actually deals substantively with the content of my own post, and, more particularly, the problems his own Trinitarian statements give rise to. In fact, the problems continue in the instances that he spends discussing God’s Person.
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And Never the Twain Shall Meet: The Irredeemable Qualities of Darren’s and Kevin’s Soteriological Reflections

Since Perry, of the presently de-energized, soon to be re-energized, Energies of the Trinity blog, has thoroughly responded to Kevin’s post, What to Do? (in the comments to Kevin’s post), and done so better than could I, it would be redundant to address Kevin’s reply in the sort of detail that has been my wont in previous encounters. First of all, Perry rightly shows the flaws of Kevin’s construal of nature, will and person, and does so with more terminological rigor than I can presently muster (I am, after all a philosopher more than I am a theologian). Furthermore, I have already addressed the Trinitarian concerns in Kevin’s post in my sidebar earlier in the week. And finally, Kevin ends up conceding most of the main points on which I base my argument, the principle of assumption, the assumption by Christ of a fallen nature (though there are some slight but significant differences on that), and so forth. But I will address Kevin’s final paragraph, for it is there that his schema falls apart.

Darren’s post, Jesus Christ and the Mark of Original Sin, construes human fallen nature (original sin) in ways that I think problematic, and so misconstrues some of my own assertions about human fallen nature. Darren’s primary intent is to preserve both inherited guilt, an inherently sinful human nature, the assumptive principle, and the human nature of Christ without original sin (but able to sin). Unfortunately, Darren wants to have it too many ways, and his own attempts at synthesizing these elements leads to inescapable aporia. Yet, as Darren says, “Please consider this development of my own thought to be a work in progress.” So hopefully our diablog will help him (and me, as well) in that process.
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Soteriological Sidebar: Trinitarian Personhood Contra Kevin’s Essence of God

Kevin has offered up some soteriological cogitations in reply to my last post. I will reply to his post from the soteriological standpoint we’ve been pursuing later this week, and if possible, combine with it my reply to any forthcoming posts by Darren. But in Kevin’s reply he refers to my descriptions of God’s person vis a vis his nature as an “assertion of an impossible ‘superessential personhood.’” There’s other talk of “avoiding rational antinomies by fleeing rationality altogether” and of seeking “to escape such logical contradictions by asserting even more of them” and so forth. Kevin’s after all, is not merely a rational God, but a God who happily conforms and confines himself to logical categories.

One is very tempted to be a bit snarky here and say that the Church has never known such a God, but, alas, that would be saying too little and too much, an assertion Kevin will likely find incomprehensible. It is saying too much in that while God cannot be confined or conformed to logical categories, since God is far beyond human knowing, God is, after all, the font of all truth, and as such does not actually commit logical fallacies or contradictions, nor can such be truthfully predicated of him (as long as the “him” we’re speaking of is the Personal Trinity, but more on that in a moment). But it is saying too little because, while it is true that God cannot be conformed or confined to mere logical categories, in point of fact, God is, in his essence and his Person ultimately incomprehensible. That is to say, what can be known of God not only does not begin to adequately treat of God, but even that which is truly known itself exceeds the human ability to comprehend.

But with those provisos, we do know God in ways that are true and real, although partial and never fully comprehended by us. And since my soteriological reflections depend in large part on the Personhood of God, and of the Second Person of the Trinity, I thought it important to execute a sidebar here to clarify my own contentions and dispel Kevin’s mischaracterization of those contentions as irrational and illogical.
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How Human Was Jesus?

Well, as I said to Karl in the comments to my previous post replying to Darren, although it wasn’t my intent to start a diablog, I could be tempted. As you can see, I’ve succumbed to the temptation. So, Darren has offered his most recent reply, Salvation and Christ’s Human Will. (And Kevin has chimed in as well.)

At issue between us is the reality and role of human free will in salvation. I have argued that to properly understand this issue, we must look not to postlapsarian man but to the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, that in Christ is the true picture of humanity. Thus, if Christ, who had two natures and two wills (human and divine) in his one Person, the human will had to be operative and thus freely exercised so that it would be united with his divine will. I have contended that any understanding of Christ that diminishes his human will or prohibits its exercise is either outright monothelitism (an ancient Christological heresy) or a form of monothelitism and still heretical.

Darren has, for the most part, accepted this. But what he denies is that the human will of Jesus was like our human will. As I understand his contention, our human nature and will is fallen and therefore “sinfully depraved,” and although Jesus was like us in all ways, he was not like us in sin, and therefore he could both want and will to do God’s will, while we cannot. As Darren writes:

Christ has a perfect human nature, nature as originally intended and created by God for us. Jesus does not possess a sinful nature, and so is not totally depraved, and so his human will is not incompetent and is not in opposition to the divine will. Jesus is not precisely what we are, but rather is what we are to be.

One rightly asks where Jesus got that unfallen human nature, that nature as it was intended. For Mary was his mother, and I know that Darren believes Mary was fallen. But if Jesus took his humanity from Mary, then the humanity he took was a fallen one. Or does Darren posit that Mary, too, was unfallen? But then where did she get her unfallen nature?

In any case, he goes on to say in his conclusion:

I fully agree with the point that Clifton is trying to make here: Christ is not only our full revelation of who God is, but our full revelation of who man is! It is an amazing truth about the Incarnation, that Christ showed us ourselves as much as he showed us God.

It is a mistake, however, to argue from this truth that either 1) he was as we are; or 2) we are as he is. No, but as he is, we are to one day be. This is the great why of reconciliation.

Christology is formative of an eschatalogically aware anthropology. Christology is not synonymous with anthrology any more than there are no differances between Christ and the serial murderer.

So there are two questions, in terms of the discussion here is: How human was Jesus? Or what does it mean to say that Jesus was both fully God and fully man? For if Darren is right, then even if I am correct that Jesus is the archetype of humanity, it is immaterial in terms of the freedom of the will. He had it, but we don’t. But if I’m right, if Jesus’ human nature was a fallen human nature, save sin, then the exercise of his human will freely is not a reality limited only to the Incarnation, but is true of all humans as well. That is to say, if my argument holds, this gives one major support to the teaching of synergism in soteriology.

The other question is: What does it mean to be a person? Or are persons determined by their nature? For whether or not Jesus had an unfallen nature, then any discussion of his human willing is determined by his human nature (and also his divine willing by his divine nature). But if Jesus was determined by his natures, then he is not, proprely speaking, a Person, but an essence. So we are brought here to the Trinitarian understandings of personhood. (I should note here that though Kevin has offered a reply, I will not respond separately as my comments here will address the substance of his contention: that we will according to our nature.)

These topics are obviously too large to deal with exhaustively in a single post, so I can only offer what is hopefully a substantial outline, but an outline nonetheless.
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Father Joseph and the Prayer of St. Ephrem

Though I have no doubt that some of my Orthodox readers are aware of Fr. Joseph Hunneycutt’s blog, Orthodixie … Southern, Orthodox, Convert, Etc., others of my readers may not be. It’s a great blog from an Orthodox priest and former Episcopalian. Quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever read from Father Joseph, is his post on the prayer of St. Ephrem, O Lord & Master of My Life ….

Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.

The Clarification of the Incarnation

I am a regular reader of Darren’s Nicene Theology blog. And you should be, too. (It’s bookmarked under my blog links, down the left-hand side of the main page here. If I’m not mistaken, Darren is from a Wesleyan background, though he will correct me if I’m wrong.) Yesterday he replied to my post on monergism, with his own post, God Saves His Enemies. It’s not my intent to start another “me-and-Kevin”sort of diablog, but I thought it important to offer some clarifications, since my monergism post is not the most well-written example of blogging.

One example of that problematic writing is Darren’s seeming misunderstanding that I am basing the charge of heresy with regard to monergism on the fact that synergism is the historic Church’s understanding of soteriology. Of course, what each of us means by “historic Church” may be part of the reason he denies that either monergism or synergism has ever been the settled disposition of the Church. In any case, this is not a point about which I wish to argue, as it takes me from my main point with regard to monergism. So, in terms of my seemingly attributing heresy to monergism based on the consensus fidelium of the Church, he, rightly, claims this is question-begging, since, in fact, I did not prove that synergism is the faith of the Church.

In another related aside, I would also contend that St. Augustine is not the monergist that monergists claim. It is true that the Bishop of Hippo did, in his godly-intentioned fight against Pelagius, depart from the balance of the Church’s soteriology (leading those who followed his line of thought in the West to such notions as inherited guilt, double predestination, and other departures from the Church’s deposit of faith), but I am convinced that making of the saint a monergist is to extrapolate extracontextually from his anti-Pelagian works a meaning that he, himself, never intended. But once more, this is not an argument I will be making here, nor for which offering any further support.

Further, I also freely admit that my understanding of Reformation theology and Calvinism is pretty much limited to the infamous TULIP. I have based my understanding of monergism wholly on the website linked in my post criticizing monergism. I can understand presuppositions and premises and argue toward their logical conclusions. But it may be that Calvinism does not follow the logical progression I think is necessitated by its presuppositions.

All that being said, in point of fact, I do happen to believe that monergism is a heresy because, in part, it is not what the historic Church taught. But actually, my point of contention in the post was that monergism necessarily must come to the conclusion that Christ had only a divine will, which is monothelitism–or minimally, that his human will was not operative, which is at least a form of monothelitism–and monothelitism is a heresy. In other words, I contend that to properly understand human nature, including free will, and how human nature is redeemed, it is absolutely essential to start and end with the Incarnation. For it is precisely in the God-man, Jesus Christ, that we properly understand what it means to be human and therefore what it means to be saved. Christology is anthropology. Christology is soteriology.
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