"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


Will is a consequence of intelligence. Divine intelligence, knowing the Supreme Being, cannot be conceived without divine will, which loves the good, pleases itself in good. This will of God cannot be, as it is in us, a mere faculty of willing. Divine will would be imperfect if it were not, by its own nature, an unceasing act of willing, an unceasing act of loving, unceasing love of good, a love as universal and spiritual as the intelligence which directs it. All acts of God's will proceed from His love of good, with its consequent hatred of evil. Hence, necessarily, there is in God one act, spiritual and eternal, of love of all good, and primarily of Supreme Good, the Infinite Perfection. This first divine love is indeed spontaneous, but it is not free. It is something higher than liberty. Infinite good, known as it is in itself, must be loved with infinite love. And the Good and the Love, both infinite, are identified one with the other. [383].

Article One: God's Sovereign Freedom Of Will

In willing the existence of creatures God is entirely free. This follows from what has just been said. Only an infinite good necessitates the will. Hence, while God, we may say, is inclined to creation, since good is of itself diffusive, He nevertheless creates freely, without any necessity, physical or moral, because His happiness in possessing Infinite Good cannot be increased. Creatures can add nothing to infinite perfection. Inclination to self-diffusion is not the same thing as actual diffusion. While it is not free in causes which are non-intelligent (the sun, for example): it is free in causes which are intelligent (e. g.: in the sage dispensing wisdom). This free diffusion, this free communication, does not make God more perfect, but it does make the creature more perfect.

"God would be neither good nor wise had He not created." Thus Leibnitz. [384] Bossuet answers: "God is not greater for having created the universe." Bossuet's sentence is a simple and splendid summary of Aquinas. [385] The creative act does not impart to God a new perfection. This free act is identified with the love God has for Himself. In regard to Himself as object, God's love is spontaneous and necessary, whereas in regard to creatures it is spontaneous and free, because creatures have no right to existence, and God has no need of them. Purpose and agent give perfection to the effect, but are not themselves made more perfect by that effect. This doctrine, the freedom of creation, puts St. Thomas high above Plato and Aristotle, for whom the world is a necessary radiation of God. [386].

Article Two: The Causality Of God's Will

God's will is not only free in producing and preserving creatures, but it is the cause by which He produces and preserves. Herein God's causality differs, for example, from man's generative causality. Man is free indeed to exercise this causality, but if he does exercise it, he is not free to engender aught else than a man, since his generative faculty is by its nature limited to the human race. Man's free will is not of itself productive, but depends on a limited faculty distinct from itself. God's free will is itself infinitely productive. Let us listen to St. Thomas:

"A natural agent, since it is limited, is in its activity limited by that nature. Now, since divine nature is not limited within certain bounds, but contains in itself all the perfection of being, it follows that its boundless causality does not act by natural necessity (unless you absurdly conceive God as producing a second God). And if God does not create by natural necessity, then it is only by the decrees of God's will and intellect that limited created effects arise from His infinite perfection." [387] In these words lies the refutation of a capital thesis of Averroism. God, the saint repeats, acts only by His uncaused will. There are not in God, as in us, two acts of will, one willing the end, the other willing the means. By one sole act God wills both end and means. The phrase "for the sake of" modifies, not God's will, but the object, the effect which God wills. Hence the proper expression is not: For the sake of life God wills food, but rather, God wills food to exist for the sake of life. [388].

Now we understand that God's efficacious will is always infallibly fulfilled. [389] Nothing that is in any way real and good can reach existence except in dependence on God's universal causality, because no second cause can act unless actuated by the first cause, and evil can never come to be without divine permission. [390].

So much on the efficacious will of God. In what sense, then, do we speak of God's inefficacious will? This will, says St. Thomas, [391] is a conditioned will, an antecedent will, which wills all that is good in itself, independently of circumstances. Now this conditional, antecedent will remain inefficacious because, in view of a higher good of which He alone is judge, God permits that this or that good thing does not come to pass, that defectible creatures sometimes fail, that this or that evil comes to pass. Thus, in view of that higher good, God permits, to illustrate, that harvests do not reach maturity, that the gazelle becomes the prey of the lion, that the just suffer persecution, that this or that sinner dies in final impenitence. Sometimes we see the higher good in question, sometimes we cannot. In permitting final impenitence, for example, God may be manifesting infinite justice against obstinacy in evil.

Such is the Thomistic distinction of antecedent (inefficacious) will from consequent (efficacious) will. On this distinction as foundation rests, further, the distinction of sufficient grace (which depends on antecedent will) from efficacious grace (which depends on consequent will). Sufficient grace is really sufficient, it makes fulfillment of precepts really and objectively possible. [392] But efficacious grace gives the actual fulfillment of the precepts here and now. Actual fulfillment is something more than real power to fulfill, as actual vision is something more than the real power of sight. [393].

To illustrate. God willed, by consequent will, the conversion of St. Paul. This conversion comes to be, infallibly but freely, because God's will, strong and sweet, causes Paul's will to consent freely, spontaneously, without violence, to his own conversion. God did not on the other hand will, efficaciously, the conversion of Judas, though He, conditionally, inefficaciously, antecedently, certainly willed it, and He permitted Judas to remain, freely, in final impenitence. What higher good has God in mind? This, at least: the manifestation of infinite justice. [394].

We must add this remark: Resisting sufficient grace is an evil which comes solely from ourselves. But non-resistance is a good, which, in last analysis, comes from God, source of all good. Further, sufficient grace, however rich in the order of power, proximate power, still differs from efficacious grace, which effectively causes the salutary act itself, which is something more than the power. And to say that he who does not have efficacious grace, which causes the salutary act, cannot have even the real power to place that act is equivalent to saying that a sleeping man is blind, because, forsooth, since he does not actually see, he cannot have even the power of sight. [395].

Article Three: The Thomistic Dilemma

This dilemma runs thus: In regard to any created and limited good, if God's knowledge is not unlimited and independent, then God's knowledge would be dependent on, determined by, something created.

But scientia media is dependent on something finite and created, the creature's act of choice.

The efficacious will of God, far from forcing the sinner at the moment of conversion, actualizes the free will, carries it on, strongly and sweetly, to make its own free choice of good. From all eternity God willed efficaciously that Paul, at that particular hour, on the road to Damascus, hic et nunc, would consent to be converted. God's will, entering into all details of space and time, is infallibly fulfilled by actualizing, not by forcing created liberty. Similarly, from all eternity God willed efficaciously that Mary, on Annunciation Day, would freely consent to the realization of the mystery of the Incarnation and that divine will was infallibly fulfilled.

On this point Thomists have written much against "simultaneous concursus" as defended by Molina and Suarez. For this "simultaneous concursus" is a divine causality which is indifferent, that is, can be followed, in fact, either by an evil act or by a good act. Thomists, on the contrary, to defend God's efficacious acts of will, call these acts "predetermining divine decrees," which are all summed up in the term "physical premotion." They insist that this physical premotion does not force the created will, does not destroy created liberty, but, in us and with us, actualizes the essential freedom of our choice. If even a beloved creature, they argue, can lead us to choose freely what that creature wills we would choose, how much more the Creator, who is more deeply intimate with us than we ourselves are! [396].

Let us here note the harmony of this doctrine with a commonly accepted theological principle. All theologians agree in admitting that, since all good comes from God, the best thing on earth, sanctity, is a special gift of God. Now what is the chief element of sanctity, not as it is in heaven, but as it is in the saints who still live here on earth? It is their meritorious acts, especially their acts of charity. Even sanctifying grace, a far higher thing than the soul which has received that grace, even the infused virtues, and charity in particular, have a purpose beyond themselves, namely, free and meritorious acts, in particular acts of love for God and neighbor. Free choice makes these acts what they are. Without free and self-determined choice the act would have no merit; and eternal life must be merited.

Hence this free self-determination, this choice as such, must come from God, who alone by His grace brings it to be a reality in us. Think of what is best in Peter and Paul at the moment of martyrdom. Think of the merit of Mary at the foot of the cross. Think, above all, of that free and self-determined act of love in the soul of Jesus when He cried: "Consummatum est."

According to Molina, this free self-determination of the meritorious act does not come from the divine motion, from divine causality, but solely from us, in the presence indeed of the object proposed by God, but under a grace of light, of objective attractiveness, which equally solicits both him who is not converted and him who is converted. [397].

Simultaneous concursus gives no more to the one than it does to the other. Let us suppose that from God comes the nature and existence of the soul and its faculties, and sanctifying grace, and actual grace in the form of objective attractiveness, and also a general divine concursus under which man can will evil as well as good. Let us further suppose two just men, who have received all these gifts in equal measure. If one of these men freely determines himself to a new meritorious act, even to an act of heroism, whereas the other freely falls into grievous sin and thus loses sanctifying grace—then the first man's free and meritorious self-determination, that by which he is better than the second, does not come from God, since He is not the author of that which precisely distinguishes the first from the second. Here, then, since God is not the creative and determining source of this self-determining meritorious act, God's knowledge of that act is dependent on, determined by, the act of God's creature. God is spectator, not author, of what is best in the heart of God's saints. How can this doctrine be reconciled with the infinite independence of God, the Author of all good?

Now listen to St. Thomas: "Since God's act of love is the source of all good in creatures, no creature can be better than another, did not God give to that creature a higher good than He gives to another." [398].

And again: "Certain authors, since they cannot understand how God can cause an act of will without harm to our liberty, give of these verses [399] a wrong exposition. The words 'to will' and 'fulfill' they expound thus: God gives the power of willing, but not the actual choice between this and that. [400]... But Scripture is evidently against this exposition. Isaias, for example, in 36: 12, speaks thus: 'All our deeds Thou hast wrought for us, O Lord!' Hence we have from God not only our power of willing, but also our act of willing." [401].

Let us now summarize. If God is the cause of our faculties, then a fortiori He is cause of that which is still better than our faculties, since a faculty exists only for the sake of its act. Hence man's free and self-determined choice, which comes entirely from man as second cause, comes likewise entirely from God as first cause. Thus, to illustrate, the apple belongs entirely both to the tree and to the branch.

Article Four: Difficulties

We must now examine some texts wherein St. Thomas seems at first sight not to be in accord with his own texts just cited. Here is one such text. [402].

"God, as universal mover, moves the will of man to the universal object of the will, to good, namely, and without this universal motion man cannot will anything. But man by reason determines himself to will this or that, either to a true good, that is, or to an apparent good."

The text, even as it stands, is thus interpreted by Thomists: Man, as second cause, certainly determines himself, since he deliberates only to make a choice. His deliberation ends, either in a salutary act, under actual operating grace, or then in an evil act, under that universal motion treated in our text, which motion is not the cause of the act as evil, just as, to illustrate, the energy of a lame man is the cause of his walk, but not of the limp. But the text cited does not at all prove that the divine motion toward the salutary free act is never predetermining, or that it remains indifferent, so that from it an evil act might as equally come forth as a good act.

So far the text as it stands. But, in that same response, [403] the saint adds these words: "Yet sometimes God moves some men in a special manner to will determinately something which is good, as in those whom He moves by grace." [404] This is particularly true of gratia operans, of special inspiration. But now, if even in one sole case divine motion infallibly produces a salutary act, which must be free (Mary's fiat, for example, or Paul's conversion): it follows evidently that the divine motion does not destroy the creature's freedom of will.

Now let us consider another text [405] from which an objection has been drawn. It runs thus: "The will is an active principle, not limited to one kind of object. Hence God so moves the will that it is not of necessity determined to one act, but that its act remains contingent and not necessary, except in objects to which it is moved by nature" [406] (e. g.: happiness, beatitude).

Is this text opposed to common Thomistic doctrine? Not at all. Throughout this whole question the two expressions, non ex necessitate movet and movet sed non ex necessitate, are used interchangeably. Similarly, voluntas ab aliquo objecto ex necessitate movetur, ab alio autem non (in art. 2) and voluntas hominis non ex necessitate movetur ab appetitu sensitivo (in art. 3). Moreover, in the very same article from which the objection is taken, the saint in the third response writes as follows: "If God moves the will to act, then, under this supposition, it is impossible that the will should not act. Nevertheless, speaking simply and absolutely, it is not impossible that the will should not act. Hence it does not follow that the will is moved by God ex necessitate." [407].

Clearly, the meaning of the passage is this: The divine motion obtains infallibly its effect, i. e.: man's act of actual choice, but without forcing, necessitating, that choice. Thus, on Annunciation Day, the divine motion infallibly brought Mary to say freely her fiat. Far from forcing the act, far from destroying Mary's freedom, the divine motion instead actualized her freedom. When efficacious grace touches the free will, that touch is virginal, it does no violence, it only enriches.

Let us listen again to the saint, in a passage where he first presents an objection incessantly repeated down to our day, and then gives his own answer. The objection runs thus: If man's will is unchangeably (infallibly) moved by God, it follows that man does not have free choice in willing. [408] The answer is this: [409] God moves the will infallibly (immobiliter) by reason of the efficacy of His moving power; [410] but, since our will can choose indifferently among various possibilities, its act remains, not necessary, but free.

God moves each creature according to its nature. That is the saint's central thought. If the creature has free will, God actualizes that freedom to act freely, selectively, by choice, just as, in plants, He actualizes the vegetative power, or in animals the sense power, to act without choice, each in accord with its nature. If the musician can evoke from each instrument the natural vibrations suited to express his inspirations, how much more easily can the divine musician, who lives in us more intimately than our own freedom does, evoke from one free instrument (e. g.: St. Paul) vibrating chords, fully natural and fully free, yet so different from those he evokes from a second free instrument (e. g.: St. John).

Again St. Thomas: "If God's intention is that this man, whose heart He is moving, shall receive (sanctifying) grace, then that man receives that grace infallibly." Why? Because, as he says three lines earlier: "God's (efficacious) intention cannot fail, that is, as Augustine says, by God's gifts, all who are saved are infallibly (certissime) saved." [411].

Further, St. Thomas often speaks of a divine predetermination which does not necessitate the will. Thus, in explaining our Lord's words: [412] "My hour is not yet come," he says: " 'Hour' in this text means the time of Christ's passion, an hour imposed on Him, not by necessity, but by divine providence. [413] And this holds good of all the acts freely done by Christ in that hour of His passion. Here are the saint's own words: "That hour was imposed on Him, not by the necessity of fate, but by the eternal sentence of the entire Trinity." [414] Here we have a predetermining decree, with no allusion to anything like scientia media, a knowledge, that is, which would depend on prevision of our free consent. [415].

We must return again and again to the principle: God's knowledge, being uncreated, can never be dependent on, determined by, anything created, which, though it be only a future conditional thing, would never be at all had God not first decided it should be. And nothing can, here and now, come to pass unless God has from all eternity efficaciously willed it so, and no evil unless He has permitted it. In this sense St. Thomas, following St. Paul and St. Augustine, understands the words of the Psalmist: "In heaven and on earth whatever God willed, that He has done." [416].

Elsewhere our saint reduces this doctrine to a simple formula: "Whatever God wills simpliciter, comes to pass, though what He wills antecedently does not come to pass." Thus, God, who willed the conversion of one thief simpliciter, willed that of the other antecedenter. Admitting, as we must, that we are here faced with an impenetrable mystery, the mystery, that is, of predestination, we must nevertheless hold that whatever there is of good in our free choice comes from God as first cause, and that nothing in any way good come to pass here and now unless God has from all eternity willed it so.

The saint does not tire of reiteration. Whatever there is of reality and goodness [417] in our free acts comes from the Author of all good. Only that which is evil in our acts cannot come from Him, just as, to repeat, the limp of the lame man does not come from the energy by which he walks.

In this sense, then, we understand certain formulas coined by Thomists. The divine motion, they say, prescinds perfectly from the evil in a bad act, [418] that is to say, malice, moral evil, is not contained in the adequate object of God's will and power, just as, to illustrate, sound is not contained in the adequate object of sight. This leads to a second formula: Nothing is more precisive (praecisivum) than the formal object of any power. [419] Thus truth is the precisive object of intelligence, and good is that of the will. Evil, disorder, cannot be the object of divine will and divine power, and hence cannot have other source than the second cause, defectible and deficient.


To show the harmony between this doctrine and generally received theological principles, let us recall that all theologians maintain that what is best in the souls of saints on earth must come from God. Now that which is best in these saints is precisely their self-determined free choice of meritorious acts, above all of love for God and neighbor. To this end are ordained and proportioned all forms of grace: habitual grace, infused virtues, the gifts of the Spirit, all illumination, all attractive, persuasive, actual graces. This general principle, accepted by all theologians, surely inclines to accepting the Thomist doctrine. Without that doctrine we rob the divine causality of what is best in us, and insert into uncreated causality a knowledge dependent on our free choice, which, as such, would not come from Him.

In the light of this principle the saint shows the nature of God's love for us, how God loves those who are better by giving them that by which they are better. [420] He shows further that mercy and justice are the two great virtues of the divine will, and that their acts proceed from love of the Supreme Good. Love of the Supreme Good, which has the right to be preferred to all other good, is the principle of justice. This love of the Supreme Good, which is self-diffusive, is the principle of mercy, a principle higher than justice, since, as radiating goodness, it is the first expression of love.

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