"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.


St. Thomas holds that all the angels were elevated to the state of grace before the moment of their trial, because without sanctifying grace they could not merit supernatural happiness. With this doctrine Scotus and Suarez agree. They also agree in saying that most probably all angels received this gift at the moment of their creation. All three teachers, following St. Augustine, [611] hold that the revelation had the obscurity of faith. [612] The three agree also in saying that after their trial the good angels were immovably confirmed in grace and received the beatific vision, while the wicked angels became obstinate in evil. But, notwithstanding this agreement, there remain three problems concerning the state of the angels before and during their trial. On these problems St. Thomas again differs widely from Scotus and Suarez.

1. Natural Happiness

St. Thomas holds that at the very moment of their creation the angels received all their natural perfection of spirit and their natural happiness, because their innate knowledge proceeds instantaneously, without succession, from faculty to act. Hence, at the very moment of creation, they have perfect intuition of their own nature, and in that nature as mirror they know God as author of that nature, on which their own natural law is inscribed. Simultaneously also in that same moment they know all other angels, and have instantaneous use of their own infused ideas.

Here Scotus and Suarez do not follow St. Thomas. They deny, first, that angels had natural beatitude from the moment of creation. They hold, secondly, that the angels could, from that first moment, sin against the natural law directly and immediately. In reply, Thomists simply insist that pure spirits must from their first moment of creation, know their own selves perfectly as pure spirits, and hence know their own nature as mirror of the Author of that nature, and consequently must love that Author as the source of their own natural life, which they necessarily desire to preserve.

2. Instantaneous Choice

At the very moment of creation, so St. Thomas, the angels could not sin, but neither could they fully merit, because their very first act must be specially inspired by God, without their own self-initiated interior deliberation. But at the second instant came either full merit or full demerit. The good angel after the first act of charity, by which he merited supernatural beatitude, was at once among the blessed. [613] Just as immediately the demons were repudiated.

Hence, with St. Thomas, we must distinguish three instants in the life of the angel: first, that of creation; second, that of merit or demerit; third, that of supernatural beatitude [614] or of reprobation. We must note, however, that an angelic instant, which is the measure of one angelic thought, may correspond to a more or less long period of our time, according to the more or less deep absorption of the angel in one thought. An analogy, in illustration, is that of the contemplative who may rest for hours in one and the same truth.

The reason for the instantaneousness of the divine sanction after the first angelic act, fully meritorious or fully demeritorious, has been given above. Angelic knowledge is not abstract and discursive like ours, but purely intuitive and simultaneous. The angel does not pass successively, as we do, from one angle of thought to another. He sees at once, simultaneously, all the advantages and disadvantages. Hence his judgment once made is irrevocable. There is nothing he has not already considered.

What kind of sin was that of the demons? Pride, says St. Thomas. [615] They chose as supreme purpose that which they could obtain by their natural powers, and hence turned away from supernatural beatitude, which can be reached only by the grace of God. Thus, instead of humility and obedience, they chose pride and disobedience, the sin of naturalism.

Scotus and Suarez, as we have seen, since they hold that the angelic knowledge is discursive and successive, maintain likewise that the angel's practical judgment and act of choice are revocable, but that after many mortal sins, God no longer gives them the grace of conversion.

3. Source Of Angelic Merit

St. Thomas holds that the essential grace and glory of the angels does not depend on the merits of Christ, because "the Word was made flesh for men and for our salvation." Christ merited as Redeemer. Now the essential grace of the angels was not a redemptive grace. [616] And their essential glory, he says elsewhere, [617] was given them by Christ, not as Redeemer, but as the Word of God. Yet the Word incarnate did merit graces for the angels, graces not essential but accidental, to enable them to cooperate in the salvation of men.

Scotus again differs. Since the Word, he says, also in the actual plan of Providence, would have become man even if man had not sinned, we should hold that Christ merited for the angels also their essential grace and glory. And Suarez holds that Adam's sin was the occasion and condition, not of the Incarnation, but of the Redemption. Even if man had not sinned, he says, the Word would still perhaps have become incarnate, but would not have suffered. Hence, he concludes, Christ merited for the good angels their essential grace and glory, and is therefore their Savior.

Thomists reply that Christ is the Savior only as Redeemer. But for the angels He is not Redeemer. Further, they reflect, if the angels owed to Christ their essential glory, the beatific vision, they would, like the just of the Old Testament, have had to wait for that vision until Christ rose from the dead.

Let us summarize this Thomistic treatise on the angels. The main point of difference from Scotus and Suarez lies in the specific difference between angelic intelligence and human intelligence, a difference that depends on their respective formal object, his own essence for the angel, for the man the essence of the sense world known by abstraction. Hence angelic knowledge is completely intuitive. From this position derive all further conclusions of St. Thomas, on angelic knowledge, will, merit, and demerit. This Thomistic [618] conception of pure spirit is much higher than that of Scotus and Suarez. This treatise also throws much light on the following treatise where St. Thomas, in studying the nature of man, dwells on the quasi-angelic state of the separated soul.

A last remark. St. Thomas, as he proceeds, corrects the grave errors of the Latin Averroists, who looked upon all immaterial substances as eternal and immutable, as having a knowledge eternally complete, as depending on God, not for creation, but only for preservation. [619].

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