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June 27, 2010 / vivator

a simple analogy to explain the difference among monergism, synergism, semi-pelagianism and pelagianism

In the analogy we have three persons, let’s call them John, Jim and Theo.  John and Jim represent all men – John represent those will go to heaven, which in this analogy is represented by going to the concert, of which a ticket, representing salvation, is required.  Jim represents those who do not go to heaven while Theo represents God.

Monergism

John and Jim are not aware of the concert – they even cannot afford to buy ticket no matter how hard they work.  Theo decided to send free ticket to John.  John found the ticket inside his mail box – it made him interested in the concert and therefore he goes to the concert.  Jim did not receive free ticket – he cannot go to the concert and remains unaware of the concert.

Protestants and “Bible only” Christians who follow Calvinism or Reformed theology are monergists.

Synergism

John and Jim are not aware of the concert – they even cannot afford to buy ticket no matter how hard they work.  Theo took the initiative – he offered free tickets to both John and Jim.  John said he wanted to go to the concert and accepted the offer.  Jim, on the other hand, said he is not interested in the concert and declined the offer.

Catholics, Protestants and “Bible only” Christians who follow Arminianism are synergists

Semi-Pelagianism

John and Jim are aware of the concert – but they cannot afford to buy ticket no matter how hard they work.  John decided he wanted to go to the concert.  Realizing he will never be able to buy the ticket, he contacted Theo for help – Theo gave him free ticket.  Jim, on the other hand, is not interested to go to concert and does not bother to contact Theo.

Pelagianism

John and Jim are aware of the concert and they can afford to buy ticket, though they must work hard. John decided he wanted to go to the concert – he has been working hard for it. Optionally he can ask Theo for help – if he does Theo will give him money – a gift from him (not a loan) and it can cover partial cost of the ticket.  Jim, on the other hand, is not interested to go to concert and does not bother to do anything.

Pelagian and semi-Pelagian were condemned at Council of Orange in 529 AD.

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18 Comments

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  1. Christian / Jun 27 2010 12:59 pm

    Thanks for this…I can never remember what these terms mean, but this lesson should help a lot.

  2. LUCIO PAULO / Jul 17 2010 2:05 pm
  3. JephRBNY / Mar 29 2011 9:41 pm

    The illustrations presented for each system in this article is a bit confusing. Here’s a more accurate and comprehensive presentation:

    Pelagianism

    All the people are on the boat with the God. At this point, in their natural condition, they don’t need to be saved as they are not in danger. However, most (if not all) people will eventually jump in the water (sin) and find themselves in need of God’s grace. The reason why they jump in the water is because they are following numerous example of those who jumped before them. This example goes all the way back to the first two who jumped into the water, setting the first bad example. God them offers them a life preserver when they call on him for help. If they respond they will be saved (synergism).

    Semi-Pelagianism

    All people are in the water drowning. They are born drowning. This is the natural habitation of all humanity since the first man and woman jumped into the water. Their legs are cramping and they cannot swim to safety on their own. However, they may desire salvation on their own. Though they cannot attain it, they can call, with a wave of their arm, to God who is eagerly waiting on the edge of the boat. At the first sign of their initiative, God will then throw out the life preserver (grace). If they respond, they will be saved (synergism).

    Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

    All people are in the water drowning. They are born drowning. This is the natural habitation of all humanity since the first man and woman jumped into the water. Their legs are cramping and they cannot swim to safety on their own. God, standing on the edge of the boat, makes the first initiative by throwing a life preserver to them (prevenient grace). Upon seeing this act, they make a decision to grab a hold (faith) or to swim away. If they grab a hold, God will slowly pull the rope connected to the life preserver. But they must do their part by swimming along with God’s pull (grace plus works; synergism). If at any time they let go or quit swimming, they will not be saved.

    Arminianism

    All people are floating in the water dead in their natural condition (total depravity). They are born dead because that has been the condition of humanity since the first man and woman jumped into the water and died (original sin). Death begets death. There must be intervention if they are to be saved. God uses his power to bring every one of them back to life (prevenient grace), but they are still in the water and in danger of drowning. With the regenerated ability to respond to God, now God throws the life preserver to them and calls on them all to grab hold of it. They then make the free-will decision on their own to grab a hold of the life preserver (faith) or to swim away. If they grab a hold, they must continue to hold as God pulls them in (synergism). They don’t need to do anything but hold on. Any effort to swim and aid God is superfluous (sola fide). They can let go of the preserver at any time and, as a consequence, lose their salvation.

    Calvinism

    All people are floating in the water dead in their natural condition (total depravity). They are born dead because that has been the condition of humanity since the first man and woman jumped into the water and died (original sin). Death begets death. There must be radical intervention if they are to be saved. While God calls out to all of them (general call), due to his mysterious choice, he brings back to life (regeneration) only certain people (election) while passing by the rest (reprobation). He does not use a life preserver, but grabs a hold of the elect individually and immediately pulls them onto the boat (monergism). They naturally grab a hold of God as a consequence of their regeneration (irresistible grace; sola fide). They forever stay on the boat due to their perpetual ability to recognize God’s beauty (perseverance of the saints).

    Source: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2010/10/the-parable-of-the-boat-illustrating-differences-between-pelagianism-semi-pelagianism-eastern-orthodoxy-roman-catholicism-arminianism-and-calvinism/

  4. vivator / Apr 2 2011 2:44 pm

    Thank you for your comment. I must say you misunderstand what the Catholic Church really teaches when you wrote “But they must do their part by swimming along with God’s pull (grace plus works; synergism). If at any time they let go or quit swimming, they will not be saved.”. Here you think Catholics believe we must contribute to their salvation. We do cooperate, following your analogy, by grabbing and keep on holding on life preserver but we do not contribute. Catholics believe that our good works, which we can only do after God’s grace moves us (in other words they are part of holding on the life preserver in your analogy – keep in mind in Catholicism justification is a process). The merit of our good works are gift from God. For more detail you may read my post at:
    https://vivacatholic.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/merits-in-catholicism/
    and comparing what the Reformers taught in:
    https://vivacatholic.wordpress.com/2007/09/30/comparing-catholic-and-protestants-view-on-good-works/
    Pls also read my page on Justification at
    https://vivacatholic.wordpress.com/223-2/

    • Jeph / Feb 1 2012 6:19 am

      The overall outcome is still the same, Salvation in Catholicism ultimately hinges on God’s grace (taking the initiative) and man’s cooperation to that grace. Of course you will deny all day that man doesn’t contribute to his Salvation, but the fact that the final determining factor as to whether one will be saved or not is man’s choice to cooperate or not with God’s grace. Therefore, in some way man has to contribute in the process to finally attain to Salvation, and that contribution is his willing cooperation. The analogy I presented, therefore, accurately presents the Catholic position.

      Of course the same can be accused of Evangelicals who teach that Justification by grace can only be attained through faith (as a response to God’s offer of Salvation). At surface level it would appear that faith (or the absence of it) ultimately determines one’s eternal destiny; therefore, a contribution on man’s part to Salvation. However, when we examine Scripture we will find that faith itself–the ability and willingness itself to do so–is God’s gift.

      In the Roman Catholics presentation, Grace has done its part in giving us the ability to cooperate, but it would not infallibly lead anyone to actually cooperate with God’s sanctifying grace. The decision to cooperate or not lies on our own freewill alone. Thus the willingness itself is not God’s gift, which makes the notion that Catholicism espouses “grace + man’s contribution” true. The only way out of this dillema is to confess with St. Augustine that men’s choices are under God’s sovereign control and that the willingness to cooperate with Grace is a gift of God’s grace itself. But such would be very unlikely because St. Augustine’s thoughts on freewill and grace are no longer appealing to the humanistic philosophy held by Rome today.

      • vivator / Feb 6 2012 10:02 pm

        It seems you insist Catholics must contribute in their salvation but if there is such contribution then the next question is what is our minimum contribution? There is no such thing in Catholicism! We enter heaven upon dying when we die without un-repented mortal sin – it depends neither on the amount and quality of our good works nor on amount and quality of our sins.
        As Calvinist I understand you loved quoting from Augustine then you should read the following:
        https://vivacatholic.wordpress.com/2007/12/08/augustine-on-faith-works-grace-and-eternal-life/

      • Robert Allen / Feb 8 2012 12:59 pm

        Vivator,

        As you know, I agree with you here, but Jeph has a point: you say that we enter Paradise if we have died in a state of grace, i.e., having repented of any mortal sins we may have committed. Our contribution, then, can be seen as those acts of repentance; they are the necessary and sufficient conditions of salvation. Unless those acts themselves were caused by God’s grace, as Augustine seems to maintain, we have done something to bring about our salvation. The question still remains, I would contend, whether or not we deserve credit for repenting in response to the offer of grace. I would like to think that we can avoid Pelagianism of any sort by drawing a distinction between freely contributing to one’s salvation and deserving credit for one’s contribution thereto. The way I look at it, since we deserve damnation and, instead, receive a gift more beautiful than anything we could have imagined- without which salvation would be impossible- we earn nothing by accepting it. Sort of like a drowning man who merely takes the hand of his rescuer. St. Peter drowning for having lost his faith represents all of us.

      • vivator / Feb 9 2012 9:41 pm

        Thank you for your feedback. I did some study from Ludwig Ott “Fundamental of Catholic Dogma”. What is at debated here is the relation between efficacious grace and human freedom, i.e. how effficacious of Grace works while at the same time human remains free? Calvinist solution is, of course, take away human freedom from the equation and efficacious grace becomes irresistible grace. From Catholic point of view there is no unanimous agreements about the issue. Thus according to Ott book (who refer it as theological speculation) there are five views: Thomism, Augustinian, Molonism, Congruism and Syncretism.
        Coming back to Jeph, he tried to show that in Catholicism our free-will, not efficacious grace, is the one that governs our salvation – which is close, though not the same, with semi-pelagianism.

  5. Robert Allen / Dec 6 2011 9:48 pm

    Ok Vivator, your analogy is helpful and so is your correction of Jeph. I’d like your thoughts on a couple of philosophical issues they entail. 1) How is the possibility of the rejection of grace, which is necessary for freedom, to be reconciled with its irresistibility? If God is omnipotent it shouldn’t be possible to reject his assistance; but, unless it is, it cannot be freely accepted. 2) If, out of inordinate pride, one rejects grace, then one seems blameworthy and deserving of the eternal punishment one receives. On the other hand, to avoid any form of Pelagianism, we must not say that we are praiseworthy for the humility that enables us to cooperate with the workings of grace. Usually, though, persons who at least know they are in need of assistance and are able to overcome their pride and submit to the discipline others impose by way of assistance ARE thought to be praiseworthy, in comparison to those who scorn would be helpers. I call this the Asymmetry Problem.

    I am also a Roman Catholic. I hope that your Advent is going well. God bless.

  6. jephrbny / Apr 5 2012 1:19 pm

    Vivator, again let me point some misrepresentations you made concerning what Calvinists believe regarding grace and free will.

    First of all, it isn’t true that “Calvinist solution is, of course, take away human freedom from the equation and efficacious grace becomes irresistible grace.” This is one of the grossest caricature ever made about Calvinism.

    In fact, historical Calvinists (which includes Calvin himself) contends that under the inspiration of grace, man is not forced against his will, but God changes his heart so he might eventually choose God freely. In this sense, freedom is not taken away from man as you know it.

    Now the “freedom” Calvinists would want to take away from man is the erroneous idea that “there is in man a remaining ability of will to turn to God for Salvation despite his being a slave to sin by birth” (semi-Pelagianism). No, this freedom does not exist in the fallen man as the Scripture says. Calvinists are one with Augustine in saying that apart from the inner working of God’s Spirit in our hearts we would never have turned to God for Salvation.

    Secondly, “Irresistible Grace” doesn’t mean that man does not resist God. By nature, man is a rebel against the righteousness of God and would never seek Him unless God make the first move. Now when we say that God’s saving grace is “irresistible” we simply mean, as St. Augustine verbatimly puts it: “This grace [the gift of faith], therefore, which is hiddenly bestowed in human hearts by the Divine gift, is rejected by no hard heart, because it is given for the sake of first taking away the hardness of the heart” (On Pred, Book I, Ch. 13 [viii]).

    I don’t want to think you made that misrepresentation on purpose, but I hope I made myself clear on this point.

    Thank you.

    • vivator / Apr 7 2012 9:01 pm

      If you read what the late Reformed scholar Lorraine Boettner wrote in his book: The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, you will find that he preferred the term “efficacious grace” to “irresistible grace”.

      In Calvinism God must first regenerate us, who were spiritually dead, to enable us to believe in Christ. This regeneration is monergistic, i.e. neither our cooperation is required nor kicking and screaming from us. That is how Calvinists interpret being dead spiritually (Ephesians 2:1, 5, Colossian 2:13), i.e. they use physical dead analogy. But Christ said in John 5:25 that the dead (without being first regenerated) will hear the voice of Son of God.

      Catholic teaching is God takes the initiative through His Grace to move our heart to believe in Christ. We cannot use our freewill to take the initiative to believe in Christ. But when God through His Grace moves our heart we have freedom to either cooperate or to reject His Grace. What Augustine wrote is in agreement with what Catholics believe.

      I recommend you to read my post on comparing justification in Catholicism and Protestantism, which you can assess at the top of my blog.

      • jephrbny / Apr 8 2012 12:45 am

        I’m not really concerned about your baseless opinion that St. Augustine complelety agrees with Rome regarding the issue at hand (*because I can prove with many clear evidences straight from Augustine’s mouth that he actually believed and taught the Calvinist concept of “Irresistible Grace”), but my concern is about YOUR GROSS MISREPRESENTATIONS of what Calvinists believe.

        You claim that Calvinists do away man’s freedom with their affirmation that God’s grace infallibly leads sinners to saving faith (like you want people to believe that men are drawn to Christ against their will), when in fact they deny the very same thing you falsely allege they hold.

        Again, I don’t wanna think you’re doing this on purpose, but seeing you still insist on those misrepresentations, I’m afraid I’m beginning to be inclined to believe that.

        Get your facts straight before you talk. Just an advice.

      • Jeph / Apr 8 2012 12:50 am

        I’m not really concerned about your baseless opinion that St. Augustine complelety agrees with Rome regarding the issue at hand (*because I can prove with many clear evidences straight from Augustine’s mouth that he actually believed and taught the Calvinist concept of “Irresistible Grace”), but my concern is about YOUR GROSS MISREPRESENTATIONS of what Calvinists believe.

        You claim that Calvinists do away man’s freedom with their affirmation that God’s grace infallibly leads sinners to saving faith (like you want people to believe that men are drawn to Christ against their will), when in fact they deny the very same thing you falsely allege they hold.

        Again, I don’t wanna think you’re doing this on purpose, but seeing you still insist on those misrepresentations, I’m afraid I’m beginning to be inclined to believe that.

        Get your facts straight before you talk. Just an advice.

      • vivator / Apr 8 2012 7:45 am

        Are you and jephrbny the same person? If yes, you don’t need to make the same comment twice.
        From the post you commented (a simple analogy to explain the difference among monergism, synergism, semi-pelagianism and pelagianism) can you point-out where I wrote men are drawn to Christ against their will?
        If you can point-out in any of my posts where I wrote “in Calvinism men are drawn to Christ against their will”, for sure I will revise it.
        In Calvinism God must first monergistically regenerate us who are spiritually dead. Here spiritually dead person behaves like physically dead person – he/she can do nothing other than what spiritual dead person can do, until God regenerates him/her. But John 5:25 says the dead (without being first regenerated) will hear the voice of Son of God. Scripture nowhere says that regeneration must take place before faith.

  7. David / Jun 4 2012 7:05 am

    I think to myself. People can have their freewill but as for me I know that I do not have will or ability for God or religion. I know that of myself I am not a Christian but I shall only have of God and a holy life what God gives me. God does all therefore he receives all the glory. God must work in me every holy act or work. He must make me to abound in spiritual thoughts. Thoughts of God, and Christ, and spiritual things. He must give me holy affections. If he does not give I shall never have. I shall only be as holy as he makes me. I shall only be as obedient as he makes me. I will say of myself I am nothing but sin and evil. I think it was Augustine that said the prayer, “Give what you require and require what you will.” But why give because I have it not of myself. I guess I will have to say that salvation, sanctification, a holy life is all of grace from first to last. Man cannot be what of himself he is not. Man cannot do what of himself he cannot do. Do you think that man naturally just thinks of God and Christ and spiritual things all the day long with faith and joy and hope and love to God. The Christian life is a life of absolute dependence on God everyday of your life. It is God that keepeth from and enableth unto. Is not man a slave of himself everyday of his life, a slave of inabillity. Is not man of himself nothing but failure itself, weakness itself, ignorance and inability itself. May God give the grace so that we may love the Lord Jesus Christ, his person, his works, his words. May God make us to abound in thoughts of him and Christ and spiritual things with faith and love and hope and joy. It is God which worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. God gives both will and ability. I know myself to be nothing but weakness, imperfection, failure, powerlessness, impotence, evil, sin, enmity, ignorance itself. Nothing but walking failure and less than nothing. God give or I shall never have.

  8. Carol / Jul 4 2012 2:45 am

    The Orthodox Churches of the East have complained that Western Christianity is too rationalistic and too juridical. I agree and find myself becoming more of an Eastern than a Western Christian.

    Eastern theological Tradition: The Mysteries of faith are like the sun, we cannot gaze directly into them; but they illuminate all else.

    I do not understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us. ~ Anne Lamott

    Perhaps the answer to the question of the relationship of fwill to grace is best stated in a statement fro the Orthodox Study Bible:
    Becoming a Christian is not so much inviting Christ into one’s l ife as getting oneself into Christ’s life.

    • Robert Allen / Jul 5 2012 12:35 pm

      Getting oneself into Christ’s life would be meritorious; it would leave one’s salvation up to oneself. Roman Catholics are taught instead that salvation is a wholly undeserved gift. I went astray and the Good Shepherd rescued me- out of sheer love. It is incredibly hard to square this teaching with the belief in FW, but there you have it. We do nothing to deserve grace.

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