"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.


As from the hypostatic union arise all the prerogatives of Christ, so the divine maternity is the raison d'etre of all Mary's graces, particularly of her role as our Mother and Mediatrix. We treat here four questions:

1. Mary's predestination.
2. Her dignity as Mother of God.
3. Her sanctity.
4. Her universal mediation.

Under these headings we give the common Thomistic teaching, and attempt to make precise the reason why St. Thomas hesitated to affirm the privilege of the Immaculate Conception.

Article One: Mary's Predestination

By one and the same decree God predestined Jesus and Mary, Jesus unto natural divine filiation, Mary to be the Mother of God, because Christ's eternal predestination includes all the circumstances which here and now attend His incarnation. Of these circumstances the most important is that signalized in the Nicene Creed: He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of Mary the Virgin. To this one and the same decree testimony is borne by Pius IX in the bull Ineffabilis Deus: [831] This Virgin's privileges are primordial, given by that one and the same decree which willed that divine Wisdom be incarnate.

The parallelism is complete. Jesus was predestined, first [832] to divine filiation, secondly and consequently to the highest degree of glory and hence to that fullness of grace which belongs to the holy soul of the Word made flesh. Thus too, by the same decree, Mary was predestined first to the divine maternity, secondly and consequently to a very high degree of glory, and hence to that fullness of grace which belongs to the Mother of God, a fullness worthy of the grandeur of her mission, a mission which uniquely associated her with the redemptive work of her Son. [833].

Mary's predestination, further, again like that of Christ, depends, in the order of material causality, on the permission and prevision of Adam's fall, because, in the actual plan of Providence, if the first man had not sinned, were there no original sin to repair, Mary would not be the Mother of God. But where sin abounded, grace super-abounded. [834] The Fall was permitted in view of that great good which we see radiating from the redemptive Incarnation, [835] and Mary, predestined to be Mother of the Redeemer, is thereby predestined likewise to be the Mother of mercy.

Mary's predestination, like that of Christ, is absolutely gratuitous. By no title, either of justice (de condigno) or even of strict appropriateness (de congruo proprie): could she merit divine maternity. This is the common teaching, against Gabriel Biel. The principle underlying this doctrine runs thus: The source of merit cannot itself be merited. Now, in the actual economy of salvation, the Incarnation is the source of all grace, and of all merit, of Mary's graces and of our own.

Further, there is no proportion between merits in the order of created grace and the hypostatic order of uncreated grace. But divine maternity, though it terminates in the hypostatic order, in the person of the Word made flesh, is in itself a created grace. Hence, when we say that the Blessed Virgin merited to bear the Lord of all, we do not mean, says St. Thomas, [836] that she merited the Incarnation itself. What we do mean is this: By the grace given her she merited that degree of purity and sanctity which was demanded by her dignity as Mother of God. Can we therefore say that she merited the Incarnation, not indeed by justice (de condigno): nor even by strict appropriateness (de congruo stricte dicto): but at least by appropriateness in a wider sense (de congruo late dicto) ? St. Thomas [837] seems to say so, and is thus understood by many Thomists. The saint's words run thus: The Blessed Virgin did not merit the Incarnation, but, the Incarnation supposed, she merited, not de condigno but de congruo, that the Incarnation should be accomplished through her. This position is in full accord with two other positions: first that she merited our graces de congruo proprio, secondly that Christ merited our graces de condigno.

Article Two: The Divine Maternity

Mary is truly and properly the Mother of God. This definition of the Church [838] is to be explained thus: The terminus of the act of conceiving is not, properly speaking, the nature of the child, but the person of the child. Now the person in whom Mary's act of conception terminates is the Word incarnate, a divine person.

The divine maternity, therefore, is a relation, of Mary to Christ and of Christ to Mary. Since Christ belongs to the hypostatic order, Mary's maternity is a relation to the hypostatic order. This relation is, in Mary, a real relation, like that of creature to Creator, whereas it is only a relation of reason in the unchangeable Word, like that of Creator to creature.

The sublimity of this divine maternity is thus expressed by St. Thomas: "The Blessed Virgin, by being Mother of God, has a certain infinite dignity, by this relation to that infinite good which is God. And nothing in this line can be conceived greater than this maternity, just as nothing can be conceived greater than God." [839] This conception underlies the saint's words on hyperdulia, a cult due to Mary alone. He says: [840] "Hyperdulia is the highest kind of dulia, [841] because the reverence due to any person grows with that person's affinity to God." Mary's maternity, then, since it terminates in God, has an infinite dignity.

By what is Mary sanctified? Is it by the divine maternity, independently of her plenitude of grace? Some theologians [842] say Yes, just as the hypostatic union gives to Christ a substantial sanctity independently of His fullness of sanctifying grace. But the generality of theologians [843] say No, because the divine maternity, in contrast to Christ's grace of union, is only a relation to the Word incarnate, and relation as such does not seem to be a sanctifying form.

Nevertheless this relation of divine maternity, though it does not sanctify formally and immediately, does sanctify radically and exigitively, because it connaturally postulates all the graces given to Mary to make her the worthy Mother of God. [844].

To understand this distinction, let us note that the divine maternity, considered materially, consists in the acts of conceiving, carrying, bearing, and nourishing the Word made flesh. Now, in themselves, these acts are less perfect than that of loving God and doing His will according to our Lord's word: "Yea, rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it." [845] But we must consider the divine maternity also formally. To become Mother of God, Mary had to give her consent to the realization of the mystery. By this consent, as tradition says, she conceived her Son, not only in body, but also in spirit, in body, because He is flesh of her flesh, in spirit, because He awaited her consent. But her act of consent was given, says St. Thomas, [846] in the name of the human race. Further, in thus consenting, she consented likewise to that train of sufferings predicted by the Messianic prophecies. Considered thus, formally, the divine maternity demands those high graces which make her, in God's plan, the worthy Mother of the Redeemer, His most intimate associate in the work of redemption. [847].

Let us add that maternity, in a rational creature, presupposes the mother's consent, and that, in the present case, that consent must be supernatural, since it terminates in the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation. Thus while the divine maternity, taken formally, demands grace, the inverse is not true. Fullness of grace, in idea, does not demand the divine maternity. It may be said, of course, that, by God's absolute power, divine maternity could exist without grace. But thus considered, even the soul of Christ could be annihilated, since there is no intrinsic contradiction. But, it need hardly be said, we are dealing here with God's ordinary power, as guided by wisdom which suits all things to their purpose.

A last question. Divine maternity, taken in itself, without considering Mary's fullness of grace—is it higher than sanctifying grace and the beatific vision? Many theologians [848] answer No. Among Thomists, Contenson, Gotti, Hugon, [849] Merkelbach, [850] answer Yes, maintaining that the affirmative answer is more in conformity with traditional doctrine. They give three convincing reasons.

1. The divine maternity belongs, terminatively, to the hypostatic order, it reaches physically the person of the Word made flesh, to whom it gives His human nature. But the hypostatic order surpasses by far the orders of grace and glory. Hence the divine maternity has an infinite dignity. Besides, while grace can be lost, the divine maternity cannot be lost.

2. The divine maternity is the original reason for Mary's fullness of grace, and the converse is not true. Hence her maternity, being the measure and purpose of that fullness, stands simply higher than its effects.

3. Why do we owe Mary the cult of hyperdulia? Answer: because of her divine maternity. This cult cannot be given to the saints, however high in grace and glory. Hyperdulia is due to Mary, not because she is the greatest of saints, but because she is the Mother of God. Hence, speaking simply, her divine maternity, considered purely in itself, [851] is superior to her sanctifying grace and her glory. Thus we return to our thesis: Mary was predestined, first to the divine maternity, secondly and consequently to a surpassing degree of glory, thirdly and again consequently to her fullness of sanctifying grace.

Since Mary by her divine maternity belongs to the hypostatic order, she is higher than all angels, and higher than all priests, who have a priesthood participated from Christ. This maternity divine is the foundation, the root, the fountainhead, of all her other graces and privileges, which either precede her maternity as dispositions, or accompany it, or follow it as consequences.

Article Three: Mary's Sanctity

Mary's sanctity, considered negatively, includes the privileges of the Immaculate Conception, and exemption from even the least personal sin. Considered positively, it means the fullness of grace.

1. St. Thomas and the Immaculate Conception

Was St. Thomas in favor of granting to Mary the privilege of the Immaculate Conception? Many theologians, including Dominicans [852] and Jesuits, [853] say Yes. Many others say No. [854] We hold, as solidly probable, the position that St. Thomas hesitated on this question. This view, already proposed by many Thomists, is defended by Mandonnet, [855] and by N. del Prado, E. Hugon, G. Frietoff, and J. M. Voste. [856] This view we here briefly expound.

At the beginning of his theological career [857] St. Thomas [858] explicitly affirms this privilege: The Blessed Virgin, he says, was immune, both from original sin and from actual sin. But then he saw that many theologians understood this privilege in a sense that withdrew the Virgin from redemption by Christ, contrary to St. Paul's [859] principle that, just as all men are condemned by the crime of one man (Adam): so all men are justified by the just deed of one man (Christ, the second Adam): and that therefore, just as there is but one God, so there is also only one mediator, Christ, between God and men. Hence St. Thomas showed that Mary, too, was redeemed by the merits of her Son, and this doctrine is now part and parcel of the definition of the Immaculate Conception. But that Mary might be redeemed, St. Thomas thought that she must have the debt of guilt, [860] incurred by her carnal descent from Adam. Hence, from this time on, he said that Mary was not sanctified before her animation, leaving her body, conceived in the ordinary way, to be the instrumental cause in transmitting the debitum culpae. We must note that, in his view, [861] conception, fecundation, precedes, by an interval of time, the moment of animation, by which the person is constituted. The only exception he allowed was for Christ, whose conception, virginal and miraculous, was simultaneous with the moment of animation.

Hence, when we find St. Thomas repeating that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in original sin, we know that he is thinking of the conception of her body, which precedes in time her animation.

At what exact moment, then, was Mary sanctified in her mother's womb? To this question he gives no precise answer, except perhaps at the end of his life, when he seems to return to his original view, to a positive affirmation of Mary's Immaculate Conception. Before this last period, he declares [862] that we do not know the precise moment, but that it was soon after animation. Hence he does not pronounce on the question whether the Virgin Mary was sanctified at the very moment of her animation. St. Bonaventure had posed that question and like many others had answered in the negative. St. Thomas preferred to leave the question open and did not answer it.

To maintain his original position in favor of the privilege, he might have introduced the distinction, familiar in his works, between priority of nature and priority of time. He might thus have explained his phrase "soon after" (cito post) to mean that the creation of Mary's soul preceded her sanctification only by a priority of nature. But, as John of St. Thomas [863] remarks, he was impressed by the reserved attitude of the Roman Church, which did not celebrate the feast of Mary's Conception, by the silence of Scripture, and by the negative position of a great number of theologians. Hence he would not pronounce on this precise point. Such, in substance, is the interpretation given by N. del Prado and P. Hugon. [864] The latter notes further the insistence of St. Thomas on the principle, recognized in the bull Ineffabilis Deus, that Mary's sanctification is due to the future merits of her Son as Redeemer of the human race. But did this redemption preserve her from original sin, or did it remit that sin? On this question St. Thomas did not pronounce.

In opposition to this interpretation two texts of the saint are often cited. In the Summa [865] he says: The Blessed Virgin did indeed incur original sin, but was cleansed therefrom before she was born. Writing on the Sentences, [866] he says: The Virgin's sanctification cannot properly be conceived either as preceding the infusion of her soul, since she was not thus capable of receiving grace, or as taking place at the very moment of the soul's infusion, by a grace simultaneously infused to preserve her from incurring original sin.

How do the theologians cited above explain these texts? They [867] answer thus: If we recall the saint's original position, and the peremptoriness of the principle that Mary was redeemed by Christ, these two texts are to be understood rather as a debitum culpae originalis than the actual incurring of the sin itself. Thus animation would precede sanctification by a priority of nature only, not of time.

Here we must remark, with Merkelbach, [868] that these opportune distinctions were not yet formulated by St. Thomas. The saint wrote "she incurred original sin," and not "she should have incurred it," or "she would have incurred it, had she not been preserved." Further, the saint wrote: "We believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary was sanctified soon after her conception and the infusion of her soul." [869] And he does not here distinguish priority of nature from priority of time.

But we must add, with Voste, [870] that St. Thomas, at the end of his life, seems to return to the original view, which he had expressed as follows: [871] Mary was immune from all sin, original and actual. Thus, in December 1272, he writes: [872] Neither in Christ nor in Mary was there any stain. Again, on the verse [873] which calls the sun God's tent, he writes: Christ put His tent, i. e.: His body, in the sun, i. e.: in the Blessed Virgin who was obscured by no sin and to whom it is said: [874] "Thou art all beautiful, my friend, and in thee there is no stain." In a third text [875] he writes: Not only from actual sin was Mary free, but she was by a special privilege cleansed from original sin. This special privilege distinguishes her from Jeremias and John the Baptist. A fourth text, [876] written in his last year of life, [877] has the following words: Mary excels the angels in purity, because she is not only in herself pure, but begets purity in others. She was herself most pure, because she incurred no sin, either original or actual, not even any venial sin. And he adds that she incurred no penalty, and in particular, was immune from corruption in the grave.

Now it is true that in that same context, some lines earlier, the saint writes this sentence: The Blessed Virgin though conceived in original sin, was not born in original sin. But, unless we are willing to find in his supreme mind an open contradiction in one and the same context, we must see in the word, "She was conceived in original sin," not original sin itself, which is in the soul, but the debt of original sin which antecedently to animation was in her body conceived by the ordinary road of generation. [878].

We conclude with Father Voste: [879] "Approaching the end of his life here below, the Angelic Doctor gradually returned to his first [880] affirmation: the Blessed Virgin was immune from all sin, original and actual."

2. Mary's Fullness of Grace

The Blessed Virgin's fullness of grace made her of all creatures the nearest to the Author of grace. Thus St. Thomas. [881] He adds [882] that her initial fullness was such that it made her worthy to be mother of Christ. As the divine maternity belongs, by its terminus, to the hypostatic order, so Mary's initial grace surpassed even the final grace of the angels and of all other saints. In other words, God's love for the future Mother of God was greater than His love for any other creature. Now, grace, being an effect of God's love for us, is proportioned to the greatness of that love. Hence it is probable, as weighty Thomists [883] say, that Mary's initial fullness surpassed the final grace of all saints and angels taken together, because she was already then more loved by God than all the saints taken as one. Hence, according to tradition, Mary's merits and prayer, could, even without any angel or saint, obtain even here on earth more than could all saints and angels without her. Further, this initial plentitude of sanctifying grace was accompanied by a proportional plentitude of infused virtues and of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.

With such initial fullness, could Mary still grow in grace? Most assuredly. In her we have the perfect exemplification of the principle which St. Thomas thus formulates: "Natural motion (in a falling stone) is intensified by approaching its goal. In violent motion (in a stone thrown upwards) we have the inverse. But grace grows like nature. Hence those who are in grace grow in proportion to their approach to their goal." [884] Hence Mary's progress in grace, ever more prompt toward God, grew ever more rapid in answer to God's greater attraction.

But while Mary's grace thus grew greater until her death, there were two moments when her grace was augmented sacramentally: [885] the moment of the Incarnation, and that on Calvary when she was declared the Mother of all men.

Article Four: Mary's Universal Mediation

From her divine maternity and her fullness of grace arises Mary's function of universal Mediatrix, a title given to her by tradition, and now consecrated by a feast of the Church universal.

Two special reasons underlie this title. First, by satisfaction and merit she cooperated with the sacrifice of the cross, and this is her ascending mediation. Second, and this is her descending mediation, by interceding she obtains and distributes all graces which we receive.

How did she cooperate with the sacrifice of the cross? By giving to God, with great pain and great love, the life of her adorable Son, whom she loved more than her life. Could this act of hers satisfy God in strict justice? No, only our Savior's act could do that. Yet Mary's satisfaction was a claim, not of strict justice, but of loving friendship, [886] which has given her the title of co-redemptrix, in the sense that with, by, and in Christ she redeemed the human race. [887].

Hence whatever Christ on the cross merited in strict justice, Mary too merited by the claim of appropriateness, founded on her friendship with God. This doctrine, now common, is sanctioned by Pius X: [888] Mary merited by appropriateness (de congruo) what Christ merited by justice (de condigno). Hence she is the chief administratrix of all grace that God wills to grant.

What is the difference between meriting de condigno and meriting de congruo? Merit in these two lines, says St. Thomas, [889] is used analogically, merit de condigno meaning a claim founded on justice, and merit de congruo meaning a claim founded on the friendship of charity. But in Mary's case this merit means congruousness in the strict sense [890] and hence is still merit in the proper sense of the word, which presupposes the state of grace. We do indeed speak of the prayers of a man in mortal sin as meritorious, but the merit in this case, being founded, not on divine friendship, but solely on God's mercy, is merit only in an improper, metaphorical sense. Between merit de condigno (Christ's merit) and merit proprie de congruo (Mary's merit) there is the analogy of proper proportionality, and in each case merit in the proper sense, whereas, in the third case, that of a sinner who prays, there is merit only by metaphorical analogy.

Mary performs her function as universal Mediatrix by intercession. This doctrine expressed by the prayer commonly addressed to Mary in the liturgy, [891] is founded on Scripture and tradition. But, granting Mary's intercessory power, can we hold that she is also a physical cause, an instrumental cause, and not merely moral cause, of all graces we receive? Many Thomists say Yes. They reason thus: If the humanity of Jesus is the physical instrumental cause of all our graces, His Mother too should be an instrumental cause, subordinated, of course, to Him who is her Son and her God. We do not see that this position can be established with true certitude, but the principles of St. Thomas on the role of Christ's humanity incline us to accept it. What is certain is that Mary is the spiritual Mother of all men, that, as co-adjutrix in the Savior's work of redemption, she merits the title "Mother of divine grace," and that therefore she pours out graces on all humanity.

Among the authors who have best developed this doctrine we may signalize Blessed Grignon de Montfort. [892].

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