Skip to content
August 29, 2009 / vivator

Was Augustine monergist?

Augustine, bishop of Hippo (died 430 AD), is considered as monergist in www.monergism together with Luther, Calvin and other Reformed/Puritan prominent figures.   The following is statement of Augustine they claimed to show his view on monergism (the complete text of “Against Two Letters of Pelagians” is available online at

Can you say, ‘We will first walk in His righteousness, and will observe His judgments, and will act in a worthy way, so that He will give His grace to us’? But what good would you evil people do? And how would you do those good things, unless you were yourselves good? But Who causes people to be good? Only He Who said, ‘And I will visit them to make them good,’ and, ‘I will put my Spirit within you, and will cause you to walk in my righteousness, and to observe my judgments, and do them’ (Ezek.36:27). Are you asleep? Can’t you hear Him saying, ‘I will cause you to walk, I will make you to observe,’ lastly, ‘I will make you to do’? Really, are you still puffing yourselves up? We walk, true enough, and we observe, and we do; but it is God Who He makes us to walk, to observe, to do. This is the grace of God making us good; this is His mercy going before us.

Augustine , Against Two Letters of the Pelagians 4:15

The title of the works indicates that what Augustine wrote is his objection against Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian (referred as new form of Pelagianism).  Both Pelagian and semi-Pelagian believe that we can take the first step, using our freedom, towards our salvation and then God will give us His Grace. The difference between those two is the former believe that His Grace only serves as facilitator while to the latter it is necessity and is given based on merits.   Catholics, on the other hand, believe that God takes initiative in our salvation by first giving is His Grace.  His Grace will move us to believe in Christ, to obey His commandments etc.  We, in using our freedom, give response by cooperating with it (or rejecting it).  In Monergism God also takes the initiative but His Grace does not require our cooperation – it will regenerate the receivers automatically. A good analogy of monergism is car driving.  Once the driver starts the engine, something that any car cannot do, it will move following the driver’s intention with no resistance (no kicking and screaming whatsoever).

The Catholic Church declares her position against both Pelagian and semi-Pelagian in Council of Orange on 3 July 529 AD (one of the council’s decrees is even cited in and reaffirmed it in Council of Trent after Reformation.

If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.

Council of Trent, Canon II on Justification

If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

Council of Trent, Canon III of the Decree on Justification

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1993 again reaffirms the Church’s position: Without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight

There are some who confused what Catholics believe with semi-Pelagianism.   Reformed scholar, R.C. Sproul, for example, accused Catholics to follow semi-Pelagianism (Faith Alone, pages 140 to 141).

The key difference between Monergism and Synergism is whether we can exercise our freewill in our salvation or not.  Note that Monergism believes we do have freewill but to them it is under bondage of sin – it is not really free, i.e. we cannot choose to act rightly.

It would be correct to say man HAS A WILL and that his choices are VOLUNTARY (not coerced) but this does not make the choices free. Fallen man chooses sin of NECESSITY due to a corruption of nature, and this is just as much a form of bondage of the will from which we need to be set free by Christ, and a more properly biblical way of expression.


Coming back to Augustine, is the above statement describes his view on human freewill?  In Augustine’s own words (emphasis in bold is mine):

Therefore, my dearly beloved, as we have now proved by our former testimonies from Holy Scripture that there is in man a free determination of will for living rightly and acting rightly; so now let us see what are the divine testimonies concerning the grace of God, without which we are not able to do any good thing.

Augustine, A Treatise on Grace and Freewill Chapter 7

When God says, “Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,”[Zechariah 1:3] one of these clauses–that which invites our return to God–evidently belongs to our will; while the other, which promises His return to us, belongs to His grace.

Augustine, A Treatise on Grace and Freewill Chapter 10(V)

A Treatise on Grace and Freewill” was written in around 426 or 427 AD (English translation is available online at and   What he wrote is in agreement with what the Catholic Church teaches: we do have freewill to act rightly (denied in monergism), though we cannot exercise it without first being moved by God’s Grace.   Thus Augustine noted that the quoted verse (Zechariah 1:3) was also used by Pelagians (and Semi-Pelagian) to support their belief, i.e. we make the first move (turn to God) and then God will turn to us.  Citing other verses he pointed out that we cannot turn to God without His Grace

Now the persons who hold this opinion fail to observe that, unless our turning to God were itself God’s gift, it would not be said to Him in prayer, “Turn us again, O God of hosts;” [Psalms 80:7] and, “Thou, O God, wilt turn and quicken us;” [Psalms 85:6] and again, “Turn us, O God of our salvation,” [Psalms 85:4] –with other passages of similar import, too numerous to mention here. For, with respect to our coming unto Christ, what else does it mean than our being turned to Him by believing? And yet He says: “No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. [John 6:65]

Augustine, A Treatise on Grace and Freewill Chapter 10(V)



Leave a Comment
  1. sjdemoor85 / Oct 31 2009 12:15 am

    I am trying to get my new Catholic blog up and running out here in Colorado and would love for you and others to check it out. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. In January, I will be launching a new project for the Church and my blog will be the main platform to let the world know about it. I hope you will follow the adventure. Blessings.

  2. Jeph / Feb 1 2012 7:55 am

    Certainly in some sense St. Augustine is synergistic. He taught that in order for a good work to be done, one must willingly cooperate with God’s grace. But unlike Rome’s position today, St. Augustine is always careful to explain that man’s willingness to cooperate with Grace is itself God’s gift of Grace. This prior work of Grace which makes man willing is God’s doing alone – in other words, monegistic.

    Therefore, St. Augustine’s synergism is just on the secondary level. Men must cooperate with co-operating grace in order to perform a good work (*synergism in the secondary level), but God must first and foremost operate in man’s heart to make him willing (*monergism in the prime level).

      • Jeph / Apr 6 2012 4:33 am

        As if that article disproves what I said about St. Augustine about his being synergistic only in a secondary level (as some Calvinists, like me, also affirm).

      • vivator / Apr 7 2012 10:15 pm

        As far as I know (based on what other wrote) in his later days Augustine’s view changed and became closer to what we know today as Calvinism. Thus when Reformed scholars quoted from him they use his later works.

      • Jeph / Apr 8 2012 2:25 pm

        From the time had countless encounters with Pelagianism, his view on God’s absolute sovereignty in Salvation (in the Calvinistic sense) was intact until his death.

        In fact, most of his statements which you appealed to in your post above were taken from books where he also teaches monergism in the prime level.

        Wanna see what I’m talkin’ about?

      • vivator / Apr 13 2012 9:30 pm


      • Jeph / Apr 14 2012 9:21 am

        I understand your fear of seeing with your own eyes how St. Augustine explicitly agrees with Calvinism time and again throughout his writings.

      • vivator / Apr 14 2012 9:46 am

        Your knowledge on Augustine needs to be upgraded. You simply google “Augustine on eucharist” you will get a number of sites where Augustine BOTH supported Catholic and Protestant view. You wrote only one post on Augustine view on Eucharist and you are bragging it. Augustine was great theologian, respected by both Catholics and Protestants yet neither of them follow everything he wrote and taught.

        Once again you cannot argue using the Bible (supposed to be your only authority) thus you pull me in other direction.

      • jephrbny / Apr 26 2012 1:31 pm

        But we are not talking about the Eucharist here. We are talking about St. Augustine being a monergist or not, and I can prove from first hand sources (straight from St. Augustine’s mouth) that while though he holds to some form of synergism in the secondary level (man believing, man exerting effort, etc), he was a still monergist in the prime level – believing that prior to any willing response from man, God first works in him “both to will and act.”

  3. Jeph / May 8 2012 2:08 am

    Here’s my response to your deliberate misrepresentation of St. Augustine’s view on freewil and grace,

    This is the third time I have posted the link here, but you keep on deleting my comments. Why?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: