"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.


Presupposing the Thomistic doctrine on God's knowledge and God's will, we are now to draw from that doctrine a few essential conclusions on providence and predestination. [421].

Article One: Divine Providence

The proof a posteriori of the existence of divine providence is drawn from the fifth proof of God's existence. [422] The proof quasi a priori rests on what was said in the foregoing chapter about the divine intelligence and the divine will. It can be formulated as follows: In every intelligent agent there pre-exists an intelligent plan, that includes the special reason for each of the intended results. But God's intelligence is the cause of every created good, and consequently of the relation which each created good has to its purpose, above all to its ultimate purpose. Therefore there pre-exists in God's intelligence an intelligent plan for the whole created universe, a plan which includes the special relation of each created being to its purpose, proximate and ultimate. The name we give to this universal plan is Providence.

This notion of providence implies no imperfection. On the contrary, by analogy, starting from created prudence and prevision, as seen, say, in the father of a family or in the head of a state, we must assign the word "providence" to God, not in the metaphorical, but in the proper sense of the word. Divine providence is the complete and ordered plan of the universe, a plan pre-existing in God's eternal mind. Divine government is the execution of that plan. [423] But providence presupposes God's efficacious will to bring about the purpose of that plan. Whatever He ordains, whatever He prescribes, is what He must do to attain His purpose.

1. The Nature of Providence

The nature of providence, so Thomists generally hold, includes these four elements:

a) God wills, as purpose of the universe, the manifestation of His goodness.

b) Among possible worlds known to Him by simple intelligence, anterior to any decree of His will, He selected as suited to that purpose this present world, which involves, first, an order of nature subordinated to the order of grace, second, the permission of sin, third, the hypostatic order of redemptive Incarnation.

c) He freely chooses, as means suited to manifest His divine goodness, this present world with all its orders and parts.

d) He commands the execution of this choice of decree by the imperium, an intellectual act, which presupposes two efficacious acts of will, one the intention of purpose, the other the choice of means. Divine providence consists, properly and formally, in this imperium, [424] whereas divine government is the execution in time of that eternal plan which is providence.

Hence we see that providence presupposes, not merely God's conditional, inefficacious, antecedent will, but also God's consequent, absolute, efficacious will, to manifest His goodness through His own chosen ways and means, by the present orders of nature and of grace, which includes permission of sin with the consequent order of redemptive Incarnation. This order manifestly presupposes, first, God's antecedent will to save all men in virtue of which He makes really and truly possible to all men the fulfilling of His precepts. It presupposes, secondly, God's consequent will to save all men who will in fact be saved. Thus predestination, by its object, is a part, the highest part of providence.

Is providence infallible? Thomists in general answer Yes, with a distinction. Providence, inasmuch as it presupposes God's consequent will, is infallible, both in the end to be obtained and in the ways and means that lead to that end. But in as far as it presupposes solely God's antecedent will, it is infallible only with regard to ways and means. Here lies the distinction between general Providence, which makes salvation genuinely possible for all men, and predestination, which infallibly leads the elect to their preordained good.

2. Scope and Reach of Providence

All creation down to tiniest detail is ruled by providence. "Not a sparrow falls to earth without your Father's permission." "The very hairs of your head are numbered." [425] Hence the question arises: How can providence govern these multitudinous details, without suppressing contingency, fortune, and liberty, without being responsible for evil?

We answer with St. Thomas: "Since every agent acts for an end, the preordaining of ways and means to reach that end extends, when the First Cause is in question, as far as extends the efficient causality of that First Cause. Now that causality extends to all created things, not only as regards their specific characters, but also to their utmost individual differences. Hence all created reality must be preordained by God to its end, must be, that is, subject to providence." [426] Even the least detail of the material world is still a reality, hence known by God, since He is cause not only of its form, but also of its matter, which is the principle of all individual differences. [427].

When we talk of events which men ascribe to fortune, good or evil, we must remember that we are dealing only with the second causes of those events. In relation to the First Cause such events are in no wise accidental and fortuitous, since God eternally foresees all results, however surprising to men, that come from complicated series of created causes.

Evil as such is not a positive something, but is the privation of good in the created thing. God permits it only because He is strong enough and good enough to draw from evil a higher good, the crown of martyrdom, say, from persecution. [428] And God's causality, as we saw above, far from destroying, actualizes liberty. [429] The mode of contingency, and the mode of liberty, says St. Thomas, being modes of created being, fall under divine Providence, the universal cause of being. A great poet expresses with equal perfection sentiments the strongest or the sweetest. God, who can do all things He wills as He wills, can bring it about that the stone falls necessarily and that man acts freely. God moves each creature according to the nature which He gave to that creature.

Here emerges a rule for Christian life. We must work out our salvation, certainly. But the chief element in that work is to abandon ourselves to providence, to God's wisdom and goodness. We rest more surely on God's design than on our own best intentions. Our only fear must be that we are not entirely submissive to God's designs. To those who love God, who persevere in His love, all things work together unto good. [430] This abandonment evidently does not dispense us from doing our utmost to fulfill the divine will signified by precepts, counsels, and the events of life. But, that done, we can and should abandon ourselves completely to God's pleasure, however hidden and mysterious. Such abandonment is a higher form of hope; it is a union of confidence and love of God for His own sake. Its prayer unites petition and adoration. It does not pray, indeed, to change the dispositions of providence. But it does come from God, who draws it forth from our heart, like an earthly father, who, resolved on a gift to his child, leads the child first to ask for the gift.

Article Two: Predestination

What we here attempt is a summary of the principles which underlie Thomistic doctrine on the high mystery of predestination. [431].

1. Scriptural Foundation

St. Thomas studied deeply those texts in St. John and St. Paul which express the mystery of predestination, its gratuitousness, and its infallibility. Here follow the chief texts.

a) "Those whom Thou gavest Me have I kept: and none of them is lost but the son of perdition that the Scripture may be fulfilled." [432].

b) "My sheep hear My voice. And I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them life everlasting: and they shall not perish forever. And no man shall pluck them out of My hand. That which My Father hath given Me is greater than all: and no one can snatch them out of the hand of My Father." [433].

c) "For many are called, but few are chosen." [434].

St. Thomas, based on tradition, interprets these texts as follows: There are elect souls, chosen by God from all eternity. They will be infallibly saved; if they fall, God will raise them up, their merits will not be lost. Others, like the son of perdition, will be lost. Yet God never commands the impossible, and gives to all men genuine power to fulfill His precepts at the moment when these precepts bind according to the individual's knowledge. Repentance was genuinely possible for Judas, but the act did not come into existence. Remark again the distance between potency and act. The mystery lies chiefly in harmonizing God's universal will of salvation with the predestination, not of all, but of a certain number known only to God.

This same mystery we find often affirmed by St. Paul, implicitly and explicitly. Here are the chief texts.

a) "For what distinguisheth thee? or what hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received? " [435] This is equivalent to saying: No one would be better than another, were he not more loved and strengthened by God, though for all the fulfillment of God's precepts is genuinely possible. "It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will." [436].

b) "He chose us in Him [Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and unspotted in His sight. He hath predestinated us to be His adopted children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will, to make shine forth the glory of His grace, by which He has made us pleasing in His eyes, in His beloved son." [437].

This text speaks explicitly of predestination. So St. Augustine. So St. Thomas and his school. St. Thomas sets in relief both the good pleasure of God's will and the designs of God's mind, to show the eternal freedom of the act of predestination.

c) "We know that to them who love God all things work together unto good, to those who are called according to His designs. For those whom He foreknew, these also He predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His son, that His son might be the firstborn among many brethren. And whom He predestinated, these He also called, and whom He called, these He also justified. And whom He justified, these He also glorified." [438].

"Those whom He foreknew, these also He predestinated." How does St. Thomas, following St. Augustine, understand these salient words? Nowhere does he understand them of simple prevision of our merits. Such a meaning has no foundation in St. Paul, and is excluded by many of his affirmations. [439] The real meaning is this: "Those whom God foreknew with divine benevolence, these He predestinated." And for what purpose? That His Son might be the first among many brethren. This is the genuine meaning of "foreknew."

d) This same idea appears clearly in the commentary on Romans, [440] where St. Paul is magnifying the sovereign independence of God in dispensing His graces. The Jews, the chosen people of old, have been rejected by reason of their unbelief, and salvation is being announced to the pagans. St. Paul sets forth the underlying principle of God's predilection, applicable both to nation and to individuals:

"What shall we say? Is there injustice in God? Far from it. For He says to Moses: 'I will have mercy on whom I will, I will have compassion on whom I will. ' This then depends not on him who wills, not on him who runs, but on God who shows mercy." [441] If predestination includes a positive act of God, hardening of the heart, on the contrary, is only permitted by God and comes from the evil use which man makes of his freedom. Let no man, then, call God to account. Hence the conclusions: "Oh unsounded depth of God's wisdom and knowledge! How incomprehensible are His judgments, how unsearchable His ways!. Who hath first given to Him, that recompense should be made? For of Him and by Him and in Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen." [442].

2. Definition of Predestination

The Scripture texts just quoted are the foundation of the doctrine, Augustinian and Thomistic, of predestination. The definition of St. Augustine runs thus: Predestination is God's foreknowledge and preparation of those gifts whereby all those who are saved are infallibly saved. [443] By predestination, he says elsewhere, God foreknew what He Himself would do. [444].

The definition of St. Thomas runs thus: That plan in God's mind whereby He sends the rational creature to that eternal life which is its goal, is called predestination, for to destine means to send.

This definition agrees with that of St. Augustine. In God's mind there is an eternal plan whereby this man, this angel, reaches his supernatural end. This plan, divinely ordained and decreed, includes the efficacious ways and means which lead this man, this angel, to his ultimate goal. This is the doctrine of Scripture. [445] This is the doctrine of the two saints, Augustine and Thomas.

3. Questions

Why did God choose certain creatures, whom, if they fall, He raises ever again, while He rejects others after permitting their final impenitence? The answer of St. Thomas, based on revelation, runs as follows: In the predestined, God manifests His goodness under the form of mercy. In the reprobate, He manifests His goodness under the form of justice. This answer comes from St. Paul: "If God, willing to show His wrath (His justice): and to make His power known, endured (permitted) with much patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction, and if He willed to show the riches of His glory in the vessels of mercy which He had prepared for glory... (where is the injustice?)."

Divine goodness, we recall, tends to communicate itself, and thus becomes the principle of mercy. But divine goodness, on the other hand, has the inalienable right to the supreme love of creatures, and thus becomes the principle of justice. Both the splendor of infinite justice and the glory of infinite mercy are necessary for the full manifestation of God's goodness. Thus evil is permitted only in view of a higher good, a good of which divine wisdom is the only judge, a good which the elect will contemplate in heaven. To this doctrine Thomists add nothing. They simply defend it. And this holds good likewise of the answer to the following question.

Why does God predestine this creature rather than the other? Our Lord says: "No man can come to Me unless the Father who hath sent Me draw him." [446] St. Augustine [447] continues: Why the Father draws this man, and does not draw that man, judge not unless you would misjudge. Why did not the saint find an easier answer? He could have said: God predestines this man rather than the other because He foresaw that the one, and not the other, would make good use of the grace offered or even given to him. But then one man would be better than the other without having been more loved and strengthened by God, a position contrary to St. Paul [448] and to our Lord. [449] The merits of the elect, says St. Thomas, far from being the cause of predestination, are, on the contrary, the effects of predestination. [450].

Let us here repeat the saint's formula of the principle of predilection: "Since God's love is the source of all created goodness, no creature would in any way be better than another, did God not will to give it a good greater than the good He gives to another." [451] Hence, as the saint says elsewhere, [452] God's love precedes God's choice, and God's choice precedes God's predestination. And in that same article he adds that predestination to glory precedes predestination to grace. [453].

The Pelagians thought of God as spectator, not as author, of that salutary consent which distinguishes the just from the wicked. The Semi-Pelagians said the same of the initium fidei et bonae voluntatis. St. Thomas, following St. Augustine, teaches that from God comes everything there is in us of good, from the beginning of a good will to the most intimate goodness of our free and self-determined salutary acts.

To the question, then, of God's motive in choosing one rather than the other, St. Thomas answers that the future merits of the elect cannot be the reason of their predestination, since these merits are, on the contrary, the effect of their predestination. Then he adds: "Why God chose these for glory and reprobated others finds answer only in the divine will. [454] Of two dying men, each equally and evilly disposed, why does God move one to repentance and permit the other to die impenitent? There is no answer but the divine pleasure. [455].

Thomists restrict themselves to defending this doctrine against Molinism and congruism. They add to it nothing positive. The more explicit terms they employ have no other purpose than to exclude from the doctrine false interpretations, which favor simultaneous concursus or premotio indifferens.

Mystery there is in this doctrine, mystery unfathomable but inevitable. How harmonize God's gratuitous predestination with God's will of salvation for all men? How harmonize infinite mercy, infinite justice, and infinite freedom? Mystery there is, but no contradiction. There would be contradiction, if God's salvific will were illusory, if God did not make fulfillment of His precepts really and genuinely possible. For thus He would, contrary to His goodness, mercy, and justice, command the impossible. But if these precepts are really possible for all, whereas they are in fact kept by some and not by all, then those who do keep them, being better, must have received more from God.

St. Thomas [456] thus sums up the matter: "One who gives by grace (not by justice) can at his good pleasure give more or less, and to whom he pleases, if only he denies to no one what justice demands. [457] Thus, the householder says: 'Take what is thine and go. Or is it not lawful for me to do as I will? ' " [458].

This doctrine is expressed by the common language of daily life. When of two great sinners one is converted, Christians say: God showed him special mercy. This solution of daily life accords with that of St. Augustine and St. Thomas when they contemplate the mysterious harmony of infinite mercy and infinite justice. When God with sovereign freedom grants to one the grace of final perseverance, it is a gift of mercy. When He does not grant it to another, it is a deed of justice, due to last resistance to a last appeal.

Against all deviations in this matter, toward predestinationism, Protestantism, and Jansenism, on the one hand, and, on the other, toward Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, we must hold fast these two truths, central and mutually complementary: first, "God never commands the impossible," and second, "No one would be better than another were he not loved more by God." Guided by these truths we can begin to see where the mystery lies. Infinite justice, infinite mercy, sovereign liberty are all united, are even identified, in the Deity's transcendent pre-eminence, which remains hidden from us as long as we do not have the beatific vision. But in the chiaro oscuro of life here below, grace, which is a participation of the Deity, tranquillizes the just man, and the inspirations of the Holy Spirit console him, strengthen his hope, and make his love more pure, disinterested, and strong, so that in the incertitude of salvation he has the ever-growing certitude of hope, which is a certitude of tendency toward salvation. The proper and formal object of infused hope is not, in fact, our own effort, but the infinite mercy of the "God who aids us," [459] who arouses us here to effort and who will there crown-that effort. [460].

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