Update: John Hendryx, of the Monergism.com 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 Monergism.com 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.
First, we need to clarify the terms Pelagianism, and then semi-Pelagianism. Pelagius and his followers essentially taught that there is no such thing as original sin. Adam’s fall affected only himself. Human nature as created is good and able to will the good, and each person born is born with the same nature with which Adam was created. This meant that the will was entirely free, and that man, by his own effort could achieve spiritual advancement. It’s important to remember that Pelagius was a monk, and that this doctrine, though heretical, came out of a context of spiritual askesis. Pelagius, heretic though he was, was intent on preserving moral responsibility before God. He rightly surmised that if all human nature had been affected by Adam’s fall, that the freedom of the human will would be affected, which would diminish personal responsibility and therefore guilt.
St. Augustine, in combatting the error of Pelagius, emphasized the complete corruption of human nature, such that the will was not at all free and utterly reliant on God. This, obviously, led to certain other necessary conclusions: that each person through human nature inherited Adam’s guilt, that God foreknew and therefore predestined all the elect, and that the elect had a specific number, and so forth. One should also keep in mind Augustine’s background, especially as related in the Confessions. Augustine had definitely experienced his will as in bondage to his fallen nature, and God’s work in his life seemed wholly outside his own cooperation.
In other words, both Pelagius and St. Augustine were monergists of a sort (though perhaps not in the modern sense): Pelagius in that the work of salvation was fundamentally human, with which God “cooperated;” St. Augustine that the work of salvation was fundamentally divine, within which the human will was moved to “cooperate.”
The term, semi-Pelagian (which itself did not arise till the eighteenth century, and so was not applied to the controversy in antiquity), however, as applied to St. John Cassian, is just simply wrong and pejorative. St. John and other of his contemporaries recognized that both Pelagius and St. Augustine taught things that the Church Fathers themselves had not taught, but of the two, Pelagius was the heretic. No, if St. John and his contemporaries were “semi-” anything, they were semi-Augustinians. As we will see, St. John agrees with St. Augustine that all of human nature is fallen. Like St. Augustine, he recognizes that salvation is primarily (both temporally and providentially) God’s work. The main difference between St. Augustine and St. John is to what extent the will is free to act on its own in cooperation with God’s salvific work. (For the above, cf. the following articles: Semi-Pelagianism and Pelagianism)
Having briefly clarified terms, we can now look at St. John’s thirteenth Conference.
One of the primary texts from this conference that is taken out of context to make of St. John a semi-Pelagian is the following:
And so the manifold wisdom of God grants with manifold and inscrutable kindness salvation to men; and imparts to each one according to his capacity the grace of His bounty, so that He wills to grant His healing not according to the uniform power of His Majesty but according to the measure of the faith in which He finds each one, or as He Himself has imparted it to each one.(Conferences, XIII.15)
This is where monergists and those who attack St. John’s supposed semi-Pelagianism gravitate. After all, where could it be more clear? God grants his grace according to the measure of the faith he finds in each person, right? We will, then God joins in and helps us. But we respond first.
But not so fast. To that text, we could juxtapose the following:
But let no one imagine that we have brought forward these instances to try to make out that the chief share in our salvation rests with our faith, according to the profane notion of some who attribute everything to free will and lay down that the grace of God is dispensed in accordance with the desert of each man: but we plainly assert our unconditional opinion that the grace of God is superabounding, and sometimes overflows the narrow limits of man’s lack of faith. (Conferences, XIII.16)
Here St. John condemns precisely the criticism that monergists apply to him. But we must be careful here. St. John is expressly condemning Pelgianism here. But he is also asserting that the ultimate cause is God’s grace, not man. Indeed, it is in fact that lack of a man’s faith in which God’s grace superabounds. What could be clearer here? St. John is not predicating God’s grace on man’s own faith.
This is merely an introduction to several more texts that we will consider. We will consider these texts under the rubrics of human nature, God’s actions in salvation, man’s actions in salvation, and how man and God both act in salvation.
The Nature of Man
Human nature is one of the great divides between monergists and synergists. Both monergists and synergists believe God is sovereign. Both monergists and synergists believe that salvation is accomplished by God and extended to us in grace. Both monergists and syngergists believe human nature is fallen. Where they disagree is on the extent of that fallenness.
This is why St. John is not a semi-Pelagian. Contra Pelagius, he believes human nature to be fallen, and every person has a fallen nature. While St. John is not clear, in a systematic way, as to what extent human nature is fallen, he is clear that human nature is fallen.
For we should not hold that God made man such that he can never will or be capable of what is good: or else He has not granted him a free will, if He has suffered him only to will or be capable of evil, but neither to will or be capable of what is good of himself. (Conferences, XIII.12)
Here St. John clearly asserts the freedom of the will to will the good. He expressly rejects the Augustinian notion of the complete bondage of the will. He bases his declaration on the biblical account of Adam:
And, in this case how will that first statement of the Lord made about men after the fall stand: “Behold, Adam is become as one of us, knowing good and evil?” For we cannot think that before, he was such as to be altogether ignorant of good. Otherwise we should have to admit that he was formed like some irrational and insensate beast: which is sufficiently absurd and altogether alien from the Catholic faith. Moreover as the wisest Solomon says: “God made man upright,” i.e., always to enjoy the knowledge of good only, “But they have sought out many imaginations,” for they came, as has been said, to know good and evil. Adam therefore after the fall conceived a knowledge of evil which he had not previously, but did not lose the knowledge of good which he had before.(Conferences, XIII.12, emphasis added)
In other words, Adam did, indeed, fall, but he did not fall so as to be incapable of knowing the good along with the evil he had not previously known from experience. Furthermore, this applies not only to Adam, but to his descendents through history as well.
Finally the Apostle’s words very clearly show that mankind did not lose after the fall of Adam the knowledge of good: as he says: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things of the law, these, though they have not the law, are a law to themselves, as they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to these, and their thoughts within them either accusing or else excusing them, in the day in which God shall judge the secrets of men.” And with the same meaning the Lord rebukes by the prophet the unnatural but freely chosen blindness of the Jews, which they by their obstinacy brought upon themselves, saying: “Hear ye deaf, and ye blind, behold that you may see. Who is deaf but My servant? and blind, but he to whom I have sent My messengers?” And that no one might ascribe this blindness of theirs to nature instead of to their own will, elsewhere He says: “Bring forth the people that are blind and have eyes: that are deaf and have ears;” and again: “having eyes, but ye see not; and ears, but ye hear not.” . . . (Conferences, XIII.12)
Note here, he is not just stating that we have a knowledge of good but are unable to do it. Indeed, we have both the knowledge and the freedom of will to do good things. He makes this clear by calling to mind David and his building of the Temple.
Wherefore we must take care not to refer all the merits of the saints to the Lord in such a way as to ascribe nothing but what is evil and perverse to human nature: in doing which we are confuted by the evidence of the most wise Solomon, or rather of the Lord Himself, Whose words these are; for when the building of the Temple was finished and he was praying, he spoke as follows: “And David my father would have built a house to the name of the Lord God of Israel: and the Lord said to David my father: Whereas thou hast thought in thine heart to build a house to My name, thou hast well done in having this same thing in thy mind. Nevertheless thou shall not build a house to My name.” This thought then and this purpose of king David, are we to call it good and from God or bad and from man? For if that thought was good and from God, why did He by whom it was inspired refuse that it should be carried into effect? But if it is bad and from man, why is it praised by the Lord? It remains then that we must take it as good and from man. (Conferences, XIII.12, emphasis added)
But just because man can do good, does not mean that that good is efficacious to bring about our salvation or that it is meritorious in some way.
And in the same way we can take our own thoughts today. For it was not given only to David to think what is good of himself, nor is it denied to us naturally to think or imagine anything that is good. It cannot then be doubted that there are by nature some seeds of goodness in every soul implanted by the kindness of the Creator: but unless these are quickened by the assistance of God, they will not be able to attain to an increase of perfection, for, as the blessed Apostle says: “Neither is he that planteth anything nor he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase.” But that freedom of the will is to some degree in a man’s own power is very clearly taught in the book termed the Pastor [i. e., the Shepherd of Hermas], where two angels are said to be attached to each one of us, i.e., a good and a bad one, while it lies at a man’s own option to choose which to follow. And therefore the will always remains free in man, and can either neglect or delight in the grace of God. For the Apostle would not have commanded saying: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” had he not known that it could be advanced or neglected by us. But that men might not fancy that they had no need of Divine aid for the work of Salvation, he subjoins: “For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do, of His good pleasure.” And therefore he warns Timothy and says: “Neglect not the grace of God which is in thee;” and again: “For which cause I exhort thee to stir up the grace of God which is in thee.” . . . (Conferences, XIII.12, emphasis added)
In other words, for St. John, human nature is fallen, but is still able to know and will the good, and indeed, even to do that which is good. In the text above, he implies that human striving does not accomplish personal salvation, though personal salvation does not happen apart from human striving. Those implications will be seen more clearly in the following texts.
Before we move on to those texts, we need to be clear. How it is that nature is both fallen and yet able to know and do the good is not spelled out by St. John. And given the questions which have arisen historically in the wake of the Pelagian controversy, St. John can be misread. Those later soteriological and Christological wrestlings clarified more than St. John does here, how it is that man is fallen yet able still to know and do the good. Indeed, St. John himself, in his other work, Institutes, beginning in Book V, gives a non-systematic answer, in that human nature has been “infected” with the passions. That is to say, human nature shares in death with Adam, and that mortal nature allows for a distortion of the human nature through the personal embrace of the passions. (The Fathers differ in whether the passions are distortions of human nature, or completely alien to human nature, but are agreed that they distort the nature God created.)
But one needs to keep in mind that the teaching St. John espoused was not rejected by the historic Church, but was the foundation for the later clarifications which came to fruition in St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Symeon the New Theologian and St. Gregory Palamas. That teaching emphasized that any nature God creates is good and naturally wills the good. Thus, so long as our nature is human, there is, as St. John clearly understands, the capacity to know and to will the good that is God.
The Work of God in Salvation
So, what does God do, according to St. John, in salvation? Does he merely just jump start the will? Does he wait till the will inclines toward him? Does he thoroughly encompass the will such that beginning to end it is all God’s work, and not that of the will? The answer that St. John will emphasize again and again is that salvation entails both divine and human action.
And therefore though in many things, indeed in everything, it can be shown that men always have need of God’s help, and that human weakness cannot accomplish anything that has to do with salvation by itself alone, i.e., without the aid of God . . . . And all these matters, as we cannot desire them continuously without divine inspiration, so in no respect whatever can we perform them without His help. (Conferences, XIII.6)
What could be clearer that St. John does not teach that God merely adds his salvific work on top of the human will? It is first and last God’s work. But it is also man’s work. Unfortunately St. John’s critics choose to focus on texts like the following out of their context:
And when His goodness sees in us even the very smallest spark of good will shining forth, which He Himself has struck as it were out of the hard flints of our hearts, He fans and fosters it and nurses it with His breath, as He “willeth all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” for as He says, “it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” . . . (Conferences, XIII.7)
But even this text, taken out of context, has to be misread in defiance of its prima facie statement: God sees the “very smallest spark of good will” but where did that will come from? “He Himself has struck as it were out of the hard flint of our hearts.” That is to say, God, himself is the cause of the spark he looks for, and fans into flame.
But lest we think this is an anomaly in St. John’s teaching, he says again:
. . . For the goodness and love of God, which He ever shows to mankind,-since it is overcome by no injuries so as to cease from caring for our salvation, or be driven from His first intention, as if vanquished by our iniquities,-could not be more fitly described by any comparison than the case of a man inflamed with most ardent love for a woman, who is consumed by a more burning passion for her, the more he sees that he is slighted and despised by her. The Divine protection then is inseparably present with us, and so great is the kindness of the Creator towards His creatures, that His Providence not only accompanies it, but actually constantly precedes it, as the prophet experienced and plainly confessed, saying: “My God will prevent me with His mercy.” (Conferences, XIII.8, emphasis added)
Which precedes the following passage:
And when He sees in us some beginnings of a good will, He at once enlightens it and strengthens it and urges it on towards salvation, increasing that which He Himself implanted or which He sees to have arisen from our own efforts. For He says “Before they cry, I will hear them: While they are still speaking I will hear them;” and again: “As soon as He hears the voice of thy crying, He will answer thee.” And in His goodness, not only does He inspire us with holy desires, but actually creates occasions for life and opportunities for good results, and shows to those in error the direction of the way of salvation. (Conferences, XIII.8, emphasis added)
This last citation is again one of the many texts taken out of context to prove St. John was a semi-Pelagian. But again, even this passage shows that St. John does not attribute efficacious salvation to the human will.
And to prove that the cooperation of God’s saving grace with the human will cannot include any merit on the part of man, or any ability to effect his own salvation, St. John writes:
And so the grace of God always co-operates with our will for its advantage, and in all things assists, protects, and defends it, in such a way as sometimes even to require and look for some efforts of good will from it that it may not appear to confer its gifts on one who is asleep or relaxed in sluggish ease, as it seeks opportunities to show that as the torpor of man’s sluggishness is shaken off its bounty is not unreasonable, when it bestows it on account of some desire and efforts to gain it. And none the less does God’s grace continue to be free grace while in return for some small and trivial efforts it bestows with priceless bounty such glory of immortality, and such gifts of eternal bliss. For because the faith of the thief on the cross came as the first thing, no one would say that therefore the blessed abode of Paradise was not promised to him as a free gift, nor could we hold that it was the penitence of King David’s single word which he uttered: “I have sinned against the Lord,” and not rather the mercy of God which removed those two grievous sins of his, so that it was vouchsafed to him to hear from the prophet Nathan: “The Lord also hath put away thine iniquity: thou shalt not die.” The fact then that he added murder to adultery, was certainly due to free will: but that he was reproved by the prophet, this was the grace of Divine Compassion. Again it was his own doing that he was humbled and acknowledged his guilt; but that in a very short interval of time he was granted pardon for such sins, this was the gift of the merciful Lord. And what shall we say of this brief confession and of the incomparable infinity of Divine reward, when it is easy to see what the blessed Apostle, as he fixes his gaze on the greatness of future remuneration, announced on those countless persecutions of his? “for,” says he, “our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” of which elsewhere he constantly affirms, saying that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which shall be revealed in us.” However much then human weakness may strive, it cannot come up to the future reward, nor by its efforts so take off from Divine grace that it should not always remain a free gift. And therefore the aforesaid teacher of the Gentiles, though he bears his witness that he had obtained the grade of the Apostolate by the grace of God, saying: “By the grace of God I am what I am,” yet also declares that he himself had corresponded to Divine Grace, where he says: “And His Grace in me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: and yet not I, but the Grace of God with me.”For when he says: “I laboured,” he shows the effort of his own will; when he says: “yet not I, but the grace of God,” he points out the value of Divine protection; when he says: “with me,” he affirms that it cooperates with him when he was not idle or careless, but working and making an effort. (Conferences, XIII.13, emphasis added)
Once again, St. John is not stating these things in such a systematic way as to allow us to demarcate off where God’s work begins and ends and where man’s work begins and ends. But that, as we are about to see, is precisely his point.
The Work of Man in Salvation
We are already clear that whatever man does in salvation is not efficacious nor meritorious in accomplishing that salvation.
. . . the blessed old man [i. e., Abbot Chaeremon] had by the addition of a single sentence broken down the claims of man’s exertions, adding that man even though he strive with all his might for a good result, yet cannot become meter of what is good unless he has acquired it simply by the gift of Divine bounty and not by the efforts of his own toil.(Conferences, XIII.1)
But that man’s work is unnecessary to salvation is flatly rejected by St. John as well.
. . . human pride should never try to put itself on a level with the grace of God or to intermingle itself with it, so as to fancy that its own efforts were the cause of Divine bounty, or to boast that a very plentiful crop of fruits was an answer to the merits of its own exertions. . . . the initiative not only of our actions but also of good thoughts comes from God, who inspires us with a good will to begin with, and supplies us with the opportunity of carrying out what we rightly desire: for “every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from above, from the Father of lights,” who both begins what is good . . . . (Conferences, XIII.3)
In part, the work of man in his own salvation is a testimony to God’s saving grace itself. It is “necessary” in the sense that God has created man with free will and for man not to exercise that free will would be to resist God’s will. Of course, as we have seen, St. John doesn’t spell out the extent of man’s fallen human nature.
The Work of God and Man in Salvation
What St. John is clear about is that salvation is a synergistic cooperation between God and man. Against those critics who would make him a semi-Pelagian, St. John writes:
And so these [i. e., free will and omnipotence or providence] are somehow mixed up and indiscriminately confused, so that among many persons, which depends on the other is involved in great questionings, i.e., does God have compassion upon us because we have shown the beginning of a good will, or does the beginning of a good will follow because God has had compassion upon us? For many believing each of these and asserting them more widely than is right are entangled in all kinds of opposite errors. For if we say that the beginning of free will is in our own power, what about Paul the persecutor, what about Matthew the publican, of whom the one was drawn to salvation while eager for bloodshed and the punishment of the innocent, the other for violence and rapine? But if we say that the beginning of our free will is always due to the inspiration of the grace of God, what about the faith of Zaccheus, or what are we to say of the goodness of the thief on the cross, who by their own desires brought violence to bear on the kingdom of heaven and so prevented the special leadings of their vocation? But if we attribute the performance of virtuous acts, and the execution of God’s commands to our own will, how do we pray: “Strengthen, O God, what Thou hast wrought in us;” and “The work of our hands stablish Thou upon us?” . . . These two then; viz., the grace of God and free will seem opposed to each other, but really are in harmony, and we gather from the system of goodness that we ought to have both alike, lest if we withdraw one of them from man, we may seem to have broken the rule of the Church’s faith: for when God sees us inclined to will what is good, He meets, guides, and strengthens us: for “At the voice of thy cry, as soon as He shall hear, He will answer thee;” and: “Call upon Me,” He says, “in the day of tribulation and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.” And again, if He finds that we are unwilling or have grown cold, He stirs our hearts with salutary exhortations, by which a good will is either renewed or formed in us. (Conferences, XIII.11, emphasis added)
In other words, humanly, it is impossible to demarcate out where God’s work in our personal salvation begins and ends, and where our personal human activity begins and ends.
Indeed, part of the reason it is so difficult to make such demarcations, is that God’s work in human salvation is rich in variation, fitted to the person.
By those instances then which we have brought forward from the gospel records we can very clearly perceive that God brings salvation to mankind in diverse and innumerable methods and inscrutable ways, and that He stirs up the course of some, who are already wanting it, and thirsting for it, to greater zeal, while He forces some even against their will, and resisting. And that at one time He gives his assistance for the fulfilment of those things which he sees that we desire for our good, while at another time He puts into us the very beginnings of holy desire, and grants both the commencement of a good work and perseverance in it. Hence it comes that in our prayers we proclaim God as not only our Protector and Saviour, but actually as our Helper and Sponsor. For whereas He first calls us to Him, and while we are still ignorant and unwilling, draws us towards salvation, He is our Protector and Saviour, but whereas when we are already striving, He is wont to bring us help, and to receive and defend those who fly to Him for refuge, He is termed our Sponsor and Refuge. . . . Whoever then imagines that he can by human reason fathom the depths of that inconceivable abyss, will be trying to explain away the astonishment at that knowledge, at which that great and mighty teacher of the gentiles was awed. For if a man thinks that he can either conceive in his mind or discuss exhaustively the dispensation of God whereby He works salvation in men, he certainly impugns the truth of the Apostle’s words and asserts with profane audacity that His judgments can be scrutinized, and His ways searched out. . . . (Conferences, XIII.17)
It is difficult, then, to articulate a single systematic outline by which we can explicate God’s salvation of man and man’s participation in that salvation. If we claim that faith must precede God’s act, St. John pulls out the example of St. Paul. If we claim that God must act apart from human will, St. John pulls out the example of St. Zacchaeus. What St. John knows and states consistently is that God begins, continues, and ends our salvation, and we cooperate with that activity of God, according to the nature he has himself given to us.
As has been implied from above, monergism and Augustinianism and Pelagianism, rest on an understanding of human nature such that human nature and divine nature relate in terms of opposition. Human nature resists divine nature. St. John, however, affirms that which had been dogmatized at Chalcedon and III Constantinople: that human and divine nature were not a relation of opposition, but, via the Incarnation, were in synergistic cooperation. That is to say, human nature is not naturally opposed to God’s nature, nor, given that Jesus had enhominized the divine nature, could human will be said to be naturally in bondage. If there is a bondage to the will, it is not due to human nature, but due to the hypostasis of human nature, that is to say, the person. St. Maximus will later clarify and distinguish the natural will from the gnomic will. But we need not trace St. Maximus’ teachings here. It is enough to follow St. John in affirming the catholic faith, that all that God created, including human nature, is good, and that not even personal sin can erase or obliterate the goodness of what God created, even if it can deface and distort it.
Finally, lest we think that St. John’s teaching is an aberration, an idiosyncratic formula, he himself concludes:
And therefore it is laid down by all the Catholic fathers who have taught perfection of heart not by empty disputes of words, but in deed and act, that the first stage in the Divine gift is for each man to be inflamed with the desire of everything that is good, but in such a way that the choice of free will is open to either side: and that the second stage in Divine grace is for the aforesaid practices of virtue to be able to be performed, but in such a way that the possibilities of the will are not destroyed: the third stage also belongs to the gifts of God, so that it may be held by the persistence of the goodness already acquired, and in such a way that the liberty may not be surrendered and experience bondage. For the God of all must be held to work in all, so as to incite, protect, and strengthen, but not to take away the freedom of the will which He Himself has once given. If however any more subtle inference of man’s argumentation and reasoning seems opposed to this interpretation, it should be avoided rather than brought forward to the destruction of the faith (for we gain not faith from understanding, but understanding from faith, as it is written: “Except ye believe, ye will not understand”) for how God works all things in us and yet everything can be ascribed to free will, cannot be fully grasped by the mind and reason of man. (Conferences, XIII.18)
And not only does St. John invoke the catholic and apostolic faith of the Church, he puts the final point to the proof that he is no semi-Pelagian. And that monergism, on its face, cannot be said to be the historic faith of the Church.
[Note: Please note that this post originally contained an egregious spelling error. I had originally used “meritricious,” intending to convey “meritorious.” I have changed the original word to meritorious in both instances. “Meretricious,” by the way, means “Attracting attention in a vulgar manner,” ” Plausible but false or insincere; specious,” and “Of or relating to prostitutes or prostitution.” Clearly not at all what I meant to say. A little embarassing, but thanks to Chris Jones for privately pointing it out to me.]