Thursday, October 30, 2008

Against Semipelagianism

Semipelagianism (hence "SP")--developed by John Cassian in response to Augustine's polemic against Pelagius--implies that one makes a free first step toward salvation, a first step that is in the power of the individual apart from grace. That first step in itself is incomplete, and can be completed only with God's assistance by means of grace.

It seems that SP implies

(A) there can be human actions apart from God's grace,

and that is a proposition I wish to deny. No aspect of human action is possible apart from grace. Insofar as there is an aspect of human action--moral or otherwise--it owes its reality to God's act of creation. But God's act of creation is one of grace--it is a sheer gift. However, since SP implies (A), and (A) is--so far as I can tell--false, it follows SP is false.


At 4:01 PM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for putting this so clearly. I think one of the reasons for the philosophical dilemma is the overarching influence of causality. I tend, myself, to the mystical rather than the strictly philosophical, and so have understood this dilemma through the lens of people like Julian Norwich and Dante -- and in terms of harmonious movement and conjugality rather than brute causality. The sould is wooed to its own best end and responds in love -- and that Love is the "cause" that allows us to love. We cannot step out of God, though we can turn away; but even our turning-towards is due to the immense gravity of the Love that moves the sun and the other stars...

At 10:46 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

You would be correct, but you misrepresent St. Cassian and I might add Eastern and the Desert traditions. One of the things the West, including Augustine, did not understand is that the East cannot conceive of creation as ever prior to God's grace, creation itself being grace, always and already being present. That assumption underlies any theology that follows thereafter. As we have learned in studies of Morgan, i.e., Pelagius, it isn't always clear that Augustine did not misrepresent him in his writings to make his own points. I recommend, for example, the dissertation of Martha Stortz on the matter.

Yes, the formal stance of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism are incorrect. Rather those can be attributed to Pelagius is another matter, and neither represent St. Cassian well.

As the late great John Macquarrie once put it, Anglicans are semi-Augustinians, meaning that salvation is God's gift to us and that we are called to respond to that gift, and we are given love to do just that, especially through the Sacrament in which the image of God is renewed and restored in us.

At 11:39 AM, Blogger Derek the ├ćnglican said...

Actually, you're directly contradicted by Cassian himself. Nowhere ever does Cassian say that "one makes a free first step toward salvation, a first step that is in the power of the individual apart from grace"

Try reading Cassian and you'll see the difference--viz:

"Germanus [the student interlocutor who summarizes the previous discussion and moves it forward with a question]: In what does free will consist, then, and how may our efforts be considered praiseworthy if God begins and ends in us everything that pertains to our perfection?

Abba Paphnutius: It would be odd indeed if in every work and practice of discipline there were only a beginning and an end, and not also something in the middle. Accordingly, just as we know that God offers opportunities for salvation in different ways, so also it is up to us to be either more or less attentive to the opportunities that have been granted to us by God."
(Conf. 3.11-3.12.1)

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Derek the ├ćnglican said...

"Abba Paphnutius: By these words [of Jeremiah and Ezekiel] we are very clearly taught that the beginning of a good will is bestowed upon us at the Lord's inspiration, when either by himself or by the encouragement of some human being or through need he draws us to the path of salvation, and also that the perfection of virtues is granted by him in the same way, but that it is up to us to pursue God's encouragement in either a haphazard or a serious manner."
(Conf 3.19.1)

"We ought to believe with a firm faith that nothing at all can be done in this world without God. ... Let no one try to take what we have put forward in showing that nothing is accomplished without the Lord and twist it by a wicked interpretation in defense of free will in such a way that he attempts to remove from man the grace of God and his daily assistance... By what we have brought forward we do not want to remove the free will of the human being but to prove that God's help and grace is necessary for him at every day and moment."
(Conf. 3.20.1; 3.22.1; 3.22.3)

At 1:41 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Among the non-canonical books referred to in Scripture is the "Cretica": twice in fact (Titus 1:12 if we are to believe Clement, and Acts 17:28).

It seems quite remarkable the canon recognizes (by quotation or allusion) pagan wisdom of some sort not merely in Epimenides, but also in Plato, Thucydides, Euripides, Menander, Heraclitus (!), & Aratus.

But Acts 17:28 is of special interest here:

"For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." There are similar passages--taking "life" for "being"--in Job and Daniel, & passages in the neighborhood elsewhere.

Anyhow, I think such passages are prima facie consistent with the idea in my post that every aspect of reality is a gift from God-an operation of grace-with no exceptions. So think some as well in the RO movement, De Lubac in "Supernatural" if not elsewhere & Marion everywhere I know of--probably others too. And Cassian? One major issue in reading any Father is that he may have low standards for what passes nowadays as analytic rigor, and that risks making him something of a wax nose. One way out of it is just to restate the guy's argument clean, as you think he meant it to be stated.

As things stand, these quotes from the Confrences seem not to exonerate him fully from SP--but I may be wrong.

You might say they can be interpreted in a certain way to say what you and others want them to say, but that leaves open dissent and changing, contrary winds of academic fashion--recognizing the defeasibility of the interpretation up front, and that is a very good thing to do ("good" in a normative sense)

On to Cassian: he has Germ. say God "God begins and ends in us everything that pertains to our perfection"; does Cassian have a speaker settle whether God also begins and ends in us everything that pertains to our imperfection? Or to our morally neutral acts--whether to put on the striped rather than the navy blue shirt? Any word on that from Cassian?

Again, when Cassian has Paph. say

"also it is up to us to be either more or less attentive to the opportunities that have been granted to us by God"

that sounds like Cassian, using Paph., would agree with (A), and that my reading of Cassian is correct (unless you think he is not using Paph.). That is, the middle part of the course of action in question is "up to us"--whatever that means. Likewise, when he says "it is up to us to pursue God's encouragement in either a haphazard or a serious manner."

That is, the notion that "nothing at all can be done in this world without God" needs to be parsed thus: our doings are mereologically complex; God contributes necessary parts but we contribute other parts ourselves--the middle parts or the manner.

I think that is enough for SP. The first step toward God is a complex doing to which we make a necessary (sine qua non) contribution in one sense, and a causally sufficient contribution in another sense. God makes contributions too--but they seem to be distinct in Cassian's picture, e.g. beginnings and ends.

At 11:03 PM, Blogger Bob Schneider said...

Pelagius himself wrote that free will is itself a grace, a gracious gift from God. Therefore, pace Augustine, one has nothing to boast about in exercising free wll, as in doing so one is expressing that gracious gift.

While his surviving works do not offer a fully developed doctrine of grace, according to scholar Robert Evans, Pelagius defined grace as (1) the original gift of free will; (2) the Mosaic Law; (3) faith alone (sola fide) in Christ's redeeming act on the Cross, which is a grace of justification, and (4 and 5) the teachings and example of Christ which are effectual to salvation.

Pelagius was not a Pelagian.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


That's interesting; it would not be the first time a thinker's ideas were captured by a context contrary to their initial promulgation.


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