"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.


Following the order of St. Thomas, we dwell here, first, on the necessity of grace, second, on its essence, third, on its divisions, fourth, on its causes, fifth, on its effects, which are justification and merit.

Article One: The Necessity Of Grace [1087]

Man, even in his fallen state, can without grace, by God's concurrence in the natural order, know certain natural truths, though this concurrence of God is gratuitous in this sense, that it is accorded to men in varying degree. Yet, even within the natural order, fallen man cannot without supernatural grace attain all truths, in particular not the more difficult truths. To reach these latter truths man must have long years of study, an ardent love of truth, a persevering will, and subservient passions, and these qualities man in his actual state cannot have without grace added to his nature. [1088].

Even supposing revelation as an exterior fact, man cannot without interior grace give a supernatural assent to divine revelation. This point of doctrine is strenuously upheld by Thomists against those who approach more or less nearly to Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism. The act of faith, by which we adhere to supernatural truths as revealed, is essentially supernatural, [1089] by reason of its specific object and motive The mysteries of faith are more supernatural than miracles. A miracle is supernatural, not by the essence of its effect, but only by the mode of production, as when resurrection, for example, restores to a corpse the natural life it once had. Whereas, then, the miraculous fact is naturally knowable, the life of grace, on the contrary, and the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption, are in their very essence supernatural, inaccessible to all natural knowledge, human or angelic. [1090].

Here Thomists part company with Scotus, the Nominalists, and Molina, who maintain that the assent of faith to revelation is natural in substance and only supernatural by superadded modality. This "supernatural veneer" is contrary to the principle: Acts and habits are specifically proportioned to their formal object, that is, a supernatural object can be attained as supernatural only by an act which is itself essentially supernatural. Further, if you hold that the act of faith is substantially natural, you must likewise say the same of the acts of hope and charity, and you must further say that charity here below is not identified with charity above, because charity is, like the beatific vision, essentially supernatural.

What Thomists do concede is this: After revelation has been preached, fallen man can, without grace, by God's natural concurrence, know and admit the supernatural truths materially, by an imperfect consent given for a human motive. Thus heretics, by their own judgment, retain dogmas that please them, and reject dogmas that displease them. Such faith is not infused; it is a human faith, similar to the acquired faith of the demons, who, by reason of confirmatory miracles, admit supernatural mysteries. But while such faith, founded on the evidence of miraculous signs, is possible without grace, true faith, founded formally on the veracity of God, the author of supernatural life, is impossible without grace. But this necessary grace can be lacking in an adult only by his own fault, because if he does not resist the voice of conscience and prevenient grace, he will be led to the grace of faith. [1091].

A man in mortal sin, deprived of grace and charity, can still perform acts, morally good in the natural order, and, if he preserves infused faith and hope, can, with actual grace, elicit supernatural acts in those virtues.

Fallen man, without the grace of faith, can perform natural acts that are morally good, honor his parents, for example, pay his debts, and so on. The acts of infidels are not all sins. They retain, however enfeebled, the natural inclination to moral good. The natural concurrence of God in these acts, ethically good, is gratuitous only in this sense that it is given in varying degree. [1092].

Fallen man, without medicinal grace, cannot love God more than himself, more than all else, not even as the author of nature, much less as the author of grace. [1093].

Whereas Scotus, Biel, and Molina grant that man cannot, without grace, though he may have the firm purpose, carry out that purpose by fulfilling the whole natural law, Thomists hold that medicinal grace is necessary even for that firm purpose which precedes execution. To love God naturally above all things, says St. Thomas, fallen man needs the aid of medicinal grace. The reason is that fallen man, until healed by grace, prefers his own good to that of God.

The injured faculties of fallen man cannot, it is clear, perform the most elevated of those acts which they would have performed when still sound. The feebleness of will in fallen man, while it consists directly in aversion from his supernatural end, includes at least indirectly aversion from his natural end. Every sin against the supernatural end is indirectly against the natural law, which binds us to obey all God's commands, be they in the natural order or in a higher order.

Hence Thomists in general, against Molina and his school, hold that man, in his fallen state, is less able to keep the natural law than he would have been in the state of pure nature. In a purely natural state his will would not, initiatively, be turned away even indirectly from his natural end, but would be capable of choosing this end, or of turning away from it. [1094] Hence we understand [1095] that fallen man, without medicinal grace, cannot observe the whole natural law. Could he do so, he could even keep that firm purpose we spoke of above.

Hence, further, fallen man, in the state of mortal sin, cannot, without special grace, avoid all grievous sin against the natural law or conquer all temptations thereto. [1096] But the just man can, under the ordinary concurrence of grace and without special privilege, avoid each venial sin, because sin, if it were inevitable, would no longer be sin. Yet in the long run he cannot escape all venial sin, since reason cannot be always vigilant enough to suppress even the first movements of disorder.

Can fallen man, without the concurrence of actual grace, prepare himself for sanctifying grace? To this question the Semi-Pelagians answered Yes, saying the beginning of salvation comes from our nature and that grace comes with this initial natural movement of good will. They were condemned by the Second Council of Orange, which affirmed the necessity of actual, prevenient grace in our preparation for conversion. Insisting on this point, St. Thomas [1097] recalls the words of our Savior, "No one can come to Me unless My Father draws him," [1098] and the words of Jeremias, "Convert us, O Lord, and we will be converted." [1099] The reason lies in the principle of finality. Disposition to grace must be supernatural, as is grace itself. Hence this disposition must come from the Author of grace. Natural acts have no proportion to the supernatural gift of grace, which lies in an order immeasurably higher.

But is there not a common axiom: To him who does what lies in his power God does not refuse grace? Thomists explain thus: To him who, under the concurrence of actual grace, does what in him lies, God does not refuse sanctifying grace. But that God confers this actual grace because man of himself makes a good use of his natural will—this interpretation cannot be admitted. [1100] Why God draws this man and not that man, says St. Augustine, judge not unless you would misjudge. [1101] The divine judgment, which gives a special mercy to one and not to another, is inscrutable. But it would not be inscrutable if grace were given by reason of a good natural disposition, since we could answer: God gave grace to this man and not to this other, because the first did, and the second did not, prepare himself thereto by his natural powers. But such explanation would destroy the mystery, would lose from sight the immeasurable distance between the two orders, one of nature, the other of grace.

Molinists give the axiom a different interpretation. They say that God, by reason of Christ's merits, gives to the man who does what he naturally can an actual grace, and then if the man makes good use of this actual grace, God gives also sanctifying grace. This divergence rests on scientia media, by which God depends on the foreseen choice of the creature. Thomists, denying scientia media, since it posits in God dependent passivity, deny also the above interpretation. Man cannot, then, without the concurrence of grace, even begin to escape from the state of sin. [1102].

Even the justified man, however high be his degree of habitual grace, has need of actual grace for each and every meritorious act. Sanctifying grace, and the infused virtues arising therefrom, are indeed supernatural faculties, supernatural potencies, but still depend for their acts on the divine motion, just as necessarily as do faculties in the natural order.

Does man need a special grace of perseverance until death? The Semi-Pelagians said No. They were opposed by St. Augustine in a special work, [1103] and were condemned by the Second Council of Orange (can. 10). The Church teaches this special grace when she prays: Thy kingdom come. This grace of final perseverance is the union of the state of grace with the moment of death, whether that state has endured for years or has been attained only a moment before death. This union of grace and death is manifestly a special effect of providence, and even of predestination, since it is given only to the predestinate.

In what does it consist? For the infant who dies after baptism it is the state of grace until death, death being permitted by providence at a determined moment before the infant can lose grace. In the case of adults, the grace of perseverance includes, not merely sufficient grace which gives the power to persevere, but also efficacious grace by which the predestinated adult does in fact persevere, even amid great temptations, by a last meritorious act. According to Thomists this grace is of itself efficacious, whereas, according to Molinists, it becomes efficacious by the human consent foreseen by scientia media.

Such is the Thomistic doctrine: Grace is necessary for knowing supernatural truth, for doing good, for avoiding sin, for disposing man unto justification, for performing each meritorious act, for persevering unto the end.

Article Two: The Essence Of Grace

Grace here means above all sanctifying grace which makes us children and heirs of God. Actual grace is either the disposition for sanctifying grace, or the divine concurrence which makes us act supernaturally.

Sanctifying grace, which makes us pleasing to God, is not a mere extrinsic denomination, as when we say that we are seen or loved by human persons, or that a poor infant is adopted by a rich man. Grace is something real and intrinsic in our soul: "He hath given us most great and precious promises that by them you may be made partakers of the divine nature." [1104] Whereas human love, as that of the rich man adopting a child, is given to what already exists, divine love creates something to be loved. Divine love is not sterile, and not merely affective, but effective and efficacious, creating, not presupposing, the good it loves. God cannot love a man without producing in that man a good, be it in the natural order, as when he gives him existence, life, and intelligence, or in the supernatural order, as when He makes man His adopted child, His friend, to prepare him for a blessedness wholly supernatural, wherein He gives Himself to man eternally. God's love, says St. Thomas, [1105] creates goodness in creatures. Uncreated love does not presuppose, but creates, our lovableness in His eyes.

Thus St. Thomas excludes in advance the error of Luther, who says that man is justified solely by the extrinsic imputation to him of Christ's merits, without grace and charity being poured into his heart. This view is manifestly contrary to Scripture, which teaches that grace and charity were given to us by the Holy Ghost. [1106].

Sanctifying grace, to proceed, is a permanent quality of the soul. It is the living water, springing up into eternal life. [1107] It is "the seed of God," [1108] which tradition calls "the seed of glory." [1109] St. Thomas [1110] formulates a precise doctrine, which found ever wider acceptance and final approval in the Council of Trent. [1111] We cannot hold, he says, that God provides less generously in the supernatural order than He does in the natural order. Since in the natural order He gives nature as radical, principle and the faculties as proximate principles of our natural operations, we may expect that He will give us grace as radical principle of our supernatural operations. Thus sanctifying graces becomes "a second nature," which enables us to connaturally know and love God in a higher order than that of our natural faculties.

This participation in the divine nature is indeed formal and physical, but only analogical. [1112] Human words, even inspired words, far from being exaggerations, can express supernatural truths only by understatement. As the divine nature is the principle by which God knows and loves Himself, without medium or interruption, so sanctifying grace is the radical principle which disposes us to see God without medium, to love Him eternally without interruption, to do all things for His sake. That is the meaning of "participation in the divine nature." This participation is not a mere moral quality, a mere imitation of God's goodness. It is a real and physical participation, spiritual and supernatural, because it is the root principle of acts which are themselves really, physically, essentially supernatural. Human adoption gives to the child the moral right to an inheritance. Divine adoption creates in the soul a real and physical claim to divine inheritance.

Sanctifying grace, then, is a participation, not, like actual grace, virtual and transient, but formal and permanent. Still this participation is, not univocal, but analogical, because the divine nature is independent and infinite, whereas grace is essentially finite and dependent on God. Further, grace is an accident, not a substance, and the utmost knowledge it can give us of God is only intuitive, never absolutely comprehensive. Nevertheless this participation, though it is analogical, is still a participation in the deity as deity, since it is the source of the light of glory which enables us to see God as He is in Himself, the deity as deity. Now the deity as deity, though it pre-contains formally all perfections, being, life, intelligence, which it can communicate to creatures, still transcends infinitely all these perfections. [1113] The stone, by participating in being, has an analogical resemblance to God as being. The plant, participating in life, has an analogical resemblance to God as living. Our soul, participating in intelligence, has an analogical resemblance to God as intelligent. But sanctifying grace alone is a participation in the deity as deity, a participation which is naturally impossible and hence naturally unknowable. Only the obscure light of infused faith here below, and only the light of glory there above, can let us see the deity as deity, God as He is in Himself.

We are here in a world of truth far beyond the reach of reason. Hence, first, the adversaries of the faith can never prove that sanctifying grace is impossible. But, secondly, neither can its possibility be rigorously demonstrated by reason. What, then, of the arguments we have just been proposing? They are arguments of appropriateness, profound indeed and inexhaustible, but since they move in an order beyond reason and philosophy, they can never be apodictically demonstrative. Both the intrinsic possibility of grace and its existence are affirmed with certitude, not by reason, but by faith alone. [1114].

Grace, we must insist, is by its very nature absolutely supernatural. Angelic nature, since it far transcends human nature, is relatively supernatural, not essentially. Miracles are indeed absolutely supernatural, but only in the mode of their production, not in the effect they produce. The life restored miraculously to a corpse is in itself a natural life, not a supernatural life. But grace is absolutely supernatural, not in the mode of production merely, but in its very essence. Hence the remark of St. Thomas: [1115] The grace even of one man is a greater good then the whole universe of nature. Only those who enjoy the beatific vision can fully know the value of grace, the source and root of their glory. [1116] Hence God loves one soul in grace more than He loves all creatures with merely natural life, as, to illustrate, a father loves his children more than he loves his houses, and fields, his herds, flocks and droves. God, says St. Paul, guides the universe in favor of the elect.

Scotus greatly reduces this transcendent distance between the order of grace and the order of nature. His distinction between them is not essential but contingent, since God, he says, could have given us the light of glory as a characteristic property of our nature. This grace and glory would indeed be supernatural in fact, but not by intrinsic essence. This intrinsic supernaturality of grace is denied also by the Nominalists who admit in grace only a moral right to eternal life, a right which may be compared to paper money, which, though it is only paper, gives us a right to this or that sum of silver or gold. This Nominalistic thesis prepared the way for that of Luther, which makes grace a mere extrinsic imputation to us of Christ's merits. How profoundly, by contrast with human adoption, does St. Thomas set in relief the creative adoption by God, which gives to the soul an intrinsic root of eternal.

How does sanctifying grace differ from charity? Charity is an infused virtue, an operative potency, residing in the will. But just as acquired virtue presupposes human nature, so infused virtue presupposes a nature raised to supernatural life, and this supernatural life is given to the soul by sanctifying grace. Activity presupposes being, in every order, and God cannot provide in the supernatural order less generously then He provides in the natural order. [1117] Hence grace is received into the essence of the soul, whereas charity is received into the soul faculty which we call the will. [1118] Grace, when consummated, is called glory, the root principle whence the light of glory arises in the intellect, and inalienable charity in the will.

Article Three: Division Of Grace [1119]

Sanctifying grace must be distinguished from charismatic graces, [1120] like prophecy and the grace of miracles, which are signs of divine intervention. These charismatic graces, far from being a new life uniting us to God, can be received even by men who are in the state of mortal sin. Hence infused contemplation, since it proceeds from faith illumined by the gifts, does not belong to the order of charismatic grace, but to the order of sanctifying grace, of which such contemplation is the connatural development, as normal prelude to the life of heaven.

Sanctifying grace, being permanent, must be distinguished also from actual grace, which is transient, just as being, which is permanent, is the presupposition of activity, which is transient.

Actual grace itself is either operative or cooperative. Under cooperative grace, the will, under the influence of a previous act, posits a new act, as when, to illustrate, noticing that our daily hour has come, we give ourselves to prayer. But under operative grace, the will is not moved by a previous act, but by a special inspiration, as when, for example, absorbed in our work, we receive and follow an unforeseen inspiration to pray. Such acts are indeed free, but are not the fruit of discursive deliberation. But they are nevertheless infused acts, arising, not from cooperating grace, but from operative grace.

Actual grace, further, is either sufficient or efficacious. How is the one distinguished from the other? The following article gives the classic Thomistic answer to this much discussed question.

Article Four: Grace, Sufficient And Efficacious

Efficacious grace, in contrast with sufficient grace which can remain sterile, is infallibly followed by a meritorious act. This efficacious grace, so Thomists maintain, is intrinsically efficacious because God wills it; not merely extrinsically efficacious, that is, by the consent of our will.

We shall consider first the texts of St. Thomas which express this doctrine, then the Scriptural texts on which it reposes. The main distinction here is that between God's antecedent will and God's consequent will, a distinction fully in harmony with that between potency and act.

Commenting on St. Paul, [1121] St. Thomas writes: "Christ is the propitiation for our sins, for some efficaciously, for all sufficiently, because the price, which is His blood, is sufficient for universal salvation, but, by reason of impediment, is efficacious only in the elect." God removes this impediment, but not always. There lies the mystery. God, he says again, [1122] withholds from no one his due. Again: [1123] the New Law gives of itself sufficient aid to shun sin. Then, commenting on the Ephesians, [1124] he becomes more precise: God's aid is twofold. One is the faculty of doing, the other is the act itself. God gives the faculty by infusing power and grace to make man able and apt for the act. God gives further the act by inner movement to good, working in us both to will and to do. [1125].

All men receive concurrence of grace which makes them able to fulfill the divine precepts, because God never commands the impossible. As regards efficacious grace, by which a man actually observes God's commands, if it is given to one, it is given by mercy, if it is refused to another, it is refused by justice. [1126] If man resists the grace which makes him able to do good, he merits deprival of that grace which gives him the actual doing of good. By His own judgment, says St. Thomas, [1127] God does not give the light of grace to those in whom he finds an obstacle.

Here follow the chief Scripture texts on which this doctrine rests:

a) "I called, and you refused." [1128].

b) "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not." [1129].

c) "You always resist the Holy Ghost." [1130].

Such texts most certainly speak of graces which remain sterile by man's resistance. Yet they are surely sufficient, whatever Jansenists say, because God could not blame those for whom fulfillment of divine commands is impossible. God wills that all men be saved, says St. Paul, [1131] because Jesus gave Himself as ransom for all. Hence the Council of Trent, [1132] quoting St. Augustine, says: "God does not command the impossible, but gives His command as admonition to do what you can and to pray when you cannot." [1133] The grace which the sinner resists, which he makes sterile, was really sufficient, in this sense, that fulfillment was really in his power.

Further, Scripture often speaks of efficacious grace. Here are the chief texts:

a) "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit in the midst of you, and I will cause you to walk in My commandments and to keep My judgments." [1134].

b) "As the potter's clay is in his hand... so man is in the hand of Him that made him." [1135].

c) "My sheep... shall not perish forever. And no man shall pluck them out of My hand." [1136].

d) "It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish." [1137].

"Whenever we do good," says the Second Council of Orange, "God in us and with us works our work." [1138].

These words surely indicate a grace that is of itself efficacious, efficacious intrinsically, because God wills it to be efficacious, not efficacious merely because He has foreseen that we will consent without resistance.

Further, as we have said, the distinction between grace sufficient and grace intrinsically efficacious is an immediate consequence of the distinction between God's antecedent will and His consequent will. [1139] Antecedent will deals with an object absolutely, abstracting from concrete circumstances. God thus wills the salvation of all men, as, to illustrate, a merchant at sea wills to preserve all his goods. But consequent will deals with a good to be realized here and now. Thus the merchant, willing antecedently and conditionally to save his goods, wills, in fact, during a tempest, to throw his goods into the sea. Thus God, proportionally, analogically, though he antecedently and conditionally wills salvation for all men, permits nevertheless, to manifest His justice, the final impenitence of a sinner, Judas say; while with consequent and efficacious will He gives final perseverance here and now to other men, to manifest His mercy.

"In heaven and on earth, whatever God willed He has done." This verse of the psalm [1140] surely means that God's consequent will is always fulfilled. In this sense it was understood by the Council of Tuzey: "Nothing happens in heaven or on earth, unless God either propitiously does it or justly permits it." [1141] Hence it follows clearly, first, that no good comes to pass here and now, in this man rather than in that other, unless God has from all eternity efficaciously willed it; secondly, that no evil comes to pass, here and now, in this man rather than in that other, unless God has permitted it. The sinner, at the very instant when he sins, can avoid the sin, and God from all eternity has by sufficient grace made him genuinely able to avoid it. But God has not willed efficaciously the actual avoidance here and now, say of the sin of Judas. Did God will this efficaciously, the sinner would have had not merely the great benefit of being able to shun sin, but the far greater benefit of its actual avoidance.

On these sure principles, generally received, rests the Thomistic teaching on the difference between sufficient grace, which makes man able to do good, and grace self-efficacious, which, far from forcing our freedom, actualizes that freedom, leading us, strongly and sweetly, to give freely our salutary consent. [1142].

"What hast thou that thou hast not received? " [1143] This word of St. Paul carries our entire doctrine. That which is best in the hearts of the just, their free choice of salutary acts, was received from God. This free choice, without which there is no merit, is clearly a good beyond that of precept, beyond pious thought, and that velleity which inclines to consent, because these can be found even in him who does not give good consent. Manifestly, he who fulfills the precept in fact has more, has a greater good, then he who, though genuinely able to do so, does not in fact fulfill it. And he who has this greater good has received it from the source of all good.

"Since God's love," says St. Thomas, "is the cause of all created good, no created thing would be better than another, did it not receive from God that good which makes it better." [1144] Besides, if the free and meritorious choice did not come from God, God could not foreknow it by His own causality. His foreknowledge of the future, of His free act, would be dependent and passive.

Here lies the reason why Thomists have never been able to admit the doctrine called scientia media, thus expressed in two propositions by Molina: [1145].

a) "With equal aid of grace it can come to pass that one is converted and the other not."

b) "Even with a smaller aid of grace one can arise while another with greater aid of grace does not rise."

Against this view Thomists, Augustinians, and Scotists are in accord. Their formula is thus expressed by Bossuet: "We must admit two kinds of grace, one of which leaves our will without excuse before God, while the other allows our will no self-glorification."

For better understanding of this doctrine, we add five remarks.

1. Sufficient grace acts on a very wide field. Exteriorly, it includes preaching and miracles. Interiorly, it includes the infused virtues, the seven gifts, and all good thoughts, and invitations which precede meritorious consent. But all these, while in varying degree they perfect the power, still differ notably and intrinsically from self-efficacious grace. The power to act may be ever so proximate and ready to act, [1146] power to act is never the act itself. But power to act is still a reality, a great good. To say that sufficient grace which gives this reality is insufficient in its own order is equivalent to saying that a sleeping man is blind, because, forsooth, since he is not now exercising the act of vision, he cannot even have the power of vision. [1147].

2. Sufficient grace, sufficient as regards a perfect act like contrition, may be efficacious as regards, say, attrition. Sufficient grace is not sterile, it produces a good thought, a good movement of will, some disposition to consent. It is called sufficient, says Alvarez, [1148] as counter-distinguished from "simply efficacious." But each sufficient grace is in a sense efficacious, i. e.: in its own order.

But each meritorious act, however small, requires a grace simply efficacious. It is good here and now realized, hence presupposes an eternal decree of God's consequent will. Nothing comes to pass hic et nunc, unless God has efficaciously willed it (if it is good) or permitted it (if it is evil). [1149] We cannot, says Bossuet, [1150] refuse to God the power of actualizing our free and salutary choice, without which no merit can exist.

3. Resistance to sufficient grace is an evil, arising from us, from our defectibility and our actual deficience, whereas our non-resistance is, on the contrary, a good, arising from ourselves as second causes, but from God as first cause.

Billuart sums up the matter: "Efficacious grace is required for consent to sufficient grace. But for resistance to sufficient grace the man's own defective will is sufficient cause. And since that resistance precedes the privation of efficacious grace, it is true to say that man is deprived of efficacious grace because he resists sufficient grace, whereas it is not true to say that he sins because he is deprived of efficacious grace." [1151].

4. Efficacious grace is offered to us in sufficient grace, as fruit is offered in the blossom, as act is offered in the power. But by resistance to sufficient grace we merit deprival of efficacious grace. Resistance falls on sufficient grace as hail falls on a tree in blossom, destroying its promise of fruit. [1152].

5. Mystery remains mystery. How can God have both a universal will of salvation and a divine predilection for the elect? How can God be simultaneously infinitely just, infinitely merciful, and supremely free? We must leave the mystery where it belongs: in the transcendent pre-eminence of the deity, in the inner life of God, to be unveiled to us only in the beatific vision. There we shall see what now we believe: That some are saved is the Savior's gift, that some are lost is their own fault. [1153] But even here below simple everyday Christian speech grasps the reality of the mystery. What a special act of God's mercy, it says, when of two sinners equal in evil disposition one alone is converted. All that is good comes from God, evil alone cannot come from Him.

Such are the principles which rule Thomistic doctrine on the efficaciousness of grace, a doctrine which claims as sponsors St. Augustine and St. Paul.

Article Five: The Principal Cause Of Grace

The principal cause of grace is God Himself, since grace is a participation in the divine nature. As only fire ignites, so the Deity alone can deify. [1154].

Grace, since it is not a subsistent reality, is not, properly speaking, created, nor concreated. It presupposes a subject in which it begins and continues, the soul, namely, of which it is an accident. But since it is an accident essentially supernatural, not natural and acquired, it is drawn forth from the obediential potency of the soul. This obediential potency of the soul is its aptitude to receive all that God can will to give it, and God can give it anything that is not self-contradictory. Thus the soul has obediential potency to receive not only grace and glory, and the hypostatic union, but also an ever higher degree of grace and glory, since obediential potency can never be so completely actualized as not to be still more actualizable. It is formally a passive potency, yet, if it resides in an active faculty, it is materially active, as when the will receives infused charity. Thomists cannot agree with the Scotist and Suaresian view that obediential potency is formally active.

In the ordinary course of providence, the production of grace presupposes, in the adult, some movement of the free will as disposition. "Prepare your hearts unto the Lord," says Samuel. [1155] God moves all things according to their nature. But though a repeated good act engenders an acquired habit, the disposition we treat of here cannot engender grace, which is an infused habit. Yet to the man who, under actual grace, does what is in his power to prepare for justification, habitual grace is indeed given infallibly, not because this preparation proceeds from our free will, but because it comes from God who moves efficaciously and infallibly. "If God who moves," says St. Thomas, "intends that man attain grace, he attains it infallibly." [1156].

In proportion to his disposition man receives a higher or a lower degree of grace. But God, who is the first cause of each degree of disposition, distributes His gifts more or less abundantly, so that the Church, the mystical body, may be adorned with different levels of grace and charity. [1157].

Can man be certain that he is in the state of grace? Only special revelation can give absolute certitude. The only ordinary certitude man can have is a relative certitude, a moral and conjectural certitude. "Neither do I judge my own self," says St. Paul. [1158] "I am not conscious to myself of anything," he continues. "Yet am I not hereby justified; but He that judgeth me is the Lord."

We can always fear some hidden fault, or some lack of contrition, some confusion of charity with a natural love which resembles charity. Further, the Author of grace transcends our natural knowledge. Hence, without special revelation, we cannot know with genuine certitude whether He dwells in us or not. Yet there are signs whereby we may conjecture our state of grace: to have no conscience of mortal sin, to have no esteem for terrestrial things, to find our joy in the Lord.

Article Six: Justification [1159]

1. By justification sins are truly remitted, deleted, taken away, not merely externally covered. Were it otherwise, man would be simultaneously just and unjust, God's love for sinners would be the same as His love for His friends and children, and sinners remaining in a state of sin would be worthy to receive eternal life, and Jesus Christ would not have taken away the sins of the world. [1160].

For this remissive justification, infusion of sanctifying grace is absolutely necessary. [1161] Against Scotists and Nominalists, Thomists insist on this doctrine, because justification is an effect of God's love, and God's love, since it is not merely affective, but effective, produces something real in the soul, the grace, namely, which justifies and sanctifies. God's act of adoption is not a mere human adoption.

Inversely, the state of sin implies that the sinner's will is habitually, if not actually, turned away from his last end. This habitual estrangement can be changed only by a voluntary turning of his will to God, which requires infusion of grace by God. Hence, says the Council of Trent, [1162] sanctifying grace is the formal cause of justification.

Thomists, consequently, against Scotists and Suarez, maintain that God, even by His absolute power, cannot bring it to pass that mortal sin, habitual or actual, can coexist, in one and the same subject, with sanctifying grace. Grace is essentially justice, rectitude, sanctity, whereas sin is essentially iniquity, defilement, disorder. Hence the two are absolutely incompatible. One and the same man, at one and the same moment, cannot be to God both pleasing and displeasing, spiritually both dead and alive.

2. What are the acts prerequired in the justification of an adult? Six acts are enumerated by the Council of Trent: faith, fear, hope, love, contrition, firm proposal. St. Thomas [1163] insists chiefly on faith and contrition, but notes also filial fear, humility, hope, and love of God. Firm proposal is included in contrition.

In order these acts begin with faith, both in God's justice and His mercy. From this faith arise fear of justice and hope of pardon. Hope leads to love of God, the source of both justice and all benevolent mercy. Love of God leads to hatred of sin, as harmful to the sinner and offensive to God. This hatred of sin is contrition, perfect contrition if sin is hated chiefly as offensive to God, imperfect contrition if sin is hated chiefly as harmful to the sinner. And genuine contrition, perfect or imperfect, includes the firm proposal to begin a new life.

Must all these acts be explicitly present? Two of them must certainly be so present: faith, which is in the intellect, and love, which is in the will. These two acts cannot be contained virtually in other acts. Contrition, too, must be ordinarily present, though it can be contained virtually in the act of love if the man is not at the time thinking of his sins. Hope can likewise be virtually contained in charity.

3. These acts of contrition and love, which are thus the ultimate disposition for sanctifying grace, proceed from what effective principle? Here Thomists divide. John of St. Thomas and Contenson hold that these acts proceed from actual grace, whereas many others [1164] maintain that they arise from sanctifying grace at the very moment of its infusion, since the divine motion which infuses grace infuses simultaneously the virtues from which the acts in question proceed.

St. Thomas [1165] favors this second interpretation. The subject's disposition, he says, precedes the form, not in time but in nature, and in the order of material causality. But in the order of formal and efficient causality, this disposition does not precede, but follows, the action of the agent which disposes the subject. Thus the act of the free will, though it precedes materially the infusion of grace, follows that infusion, formally and effectively.

In illustration, the saint offers the sun and the air in regard to dispelling darkness. By priority of material causality the air loses darkness before it is illuminated. But by priority of the efficient causality the sun illuminates the air before dispelling darkness. Thus God, at one and the same moment, but by priority of nature, infuses grace before dispelling sin, whereas man, by another priority, ceases to be sinner before receiving grace.

The saint, we see, is faithful to his general principle. In its own order, each of the four causes is first. [1166] The ultimate disposition precedes, materially, the form, but follows it, formally, as characteristic of that form. In the human embryo, the ultimate disposition both precedes and follows the infusion of the soul. The air does not enter if the window is not opened, and the window would not be opened if the air were not to enter. We have here no contradiction, no vicious circle, because each priority has its own order, its own circle of causality.

Opposed to this Thomistic teaching is the Nominalistic position which prepared the Lutheran doctrine of justification without infusion of grace, by merely external attribution of the merits of Christ. Thomists have always affirmed, even before the Council of Trent, the doctrine defined by that Council, [1167] that the formal cause of justification is sanctifying grace.

The depth and reach of this doctrine appears in the unvaried Thomistic thesis of the absolute incompatibility, in one and the same man, of mortal sin and sanctifying grace. A consequence of this thesis runs thus: In the actual plan of providence, under which a state of pure nature has never existed, each and every man is either in the state of sin, or then in the state of grace. "He who is not with Me is against Me," i. e.: he who does not love God as his last end is turned away from God. But the other word of our Lord [1168] is also true: "He who is not against you is for you," i. e.: he who, by actual grace, is disposing himself for conversion will, if he continues, reach that ultimate disposition which is realized at the moment when sanctifying grace is infused.

Article Seven: The Merits Of The Just [1169]

Merit follows as a consequence of sanctifying grace, as activity follows being.

1. Definition and Division

Taken concretely, merit is a good work which confers right to a reward. Hence, in the abstract, merit is the right to a reward, opposed to demerit, i. e.: to guilt which deserves punishment. [1170].

On this definition of merit are founded its division. [1171] The idea of merit, we must note, is not univocal, but analogical, because it is found, in meanings proportionally similar and subordinated, first, in the merits of Christ, second, in the merits of the just, third, in the sinner's dispositive preparations for sanctifying grace. We have already seen many exemplifications of analogy: sin, mortal and venial, knowledge, sensitive and intellectual, love, sensible and spiritual. Many errors arise from treating as univocal an idea which is really analogical.

The merits of Christ, then, are founded on absolute justice, because Christ's person is divine. The merits of the just are also founded on justice, not absolute, but dependent on Christ's merits. To this merit we give the name of "condignness," [1172] which expresses a value, not equal to the reward, but proportioned to it. Condign merit rests on God's ordination and promise, without which it could not give a right in the proper sense of the word.

But the just have also a second kind of merit, founded, not on justice, but on friendship, which presupposes grace and charity. To this kind of merit we give the name "merit of proper congruity." [1173] The word "proper" is added to distinguish this merit, based on friendship, from the sinner's dispositive merits, which are based, not on friendship with God, but on God's liberality to His enemies. These merits too are called "merits of congruity," but in a wider sense of the word. [1174].

Merit, then, has four different levels. On the three higher levels, which presuppose sanctifying grace, we have merit by proper proportion, whereas on the lowest level we have improper proportion, almost metaphorical proportion.

Here Thomists are separated by a wide distance from Scotus. Against him they maintain, first, that the merits of Christ have a value intrinsically infinite, not merely extrinsically infinite by divine acceptation. This value is intrinsically equal by absolute justice to the eternal life of all the elect, intrinsically sufficient for universal salvation. Secondly, they hold, against Scotus and the Nominalists, that the condign merits of the just are properly and intrinsically meritorious of eternal life, not merely extrinsically by God's ordination and acceptation. Thirdly, they hold that God cannot accept merely naturally good works as meritorious of eternal life. The order of grace, they repeat, is supernatural, by its very essence, not merely by the mode of its production, as is life miraculously restored to a dead man. The act of charity is, therefore, meritorious, properly, intrinsically, condignly, of eternal life, though such merit presupposes the divine ordination of grace to glory, and the divine promise of salvation to those who merit that salvation. [1175].

The merit of "proper congruity" is found in acts of charity, elicited or commanded, in favor of our neighbor. Thus the just man merits the conversion of a sinner. Thus Monica merited the conversion of Augustine. Thus Mary, universal Mediatrix, merited, de congruo proprie, all graces merited de condigno by Christ. [1176].

The merit of "improper congruity," arising not from grace but from some disposition thereto, a prayer, say, while it is not merit in the proper sense, can still be called merit in so far as God's mercy directs it to the sinner's conversion. [1177].

2. Principle and Qualities of Merit

A meritorious act, in the proper sense, whether condign or congruous, has six qualities. [1178] It must be free and good, addressed to the rewarder, and be done in the present life, proceed from charity, and be under God's promise of reward.

Why must it come under God's promise? Because our good works are already due to God, as Creator, Ruler, and Last End. For lack of this quality the good works done by those in purgatory and heaven are not meritorious. Scotus and the Nominalists, exaggerating this requirement of God's promise, say that merit is not intrinsically meritorious, but only extrinsically, i. e.: because God has promised. The precise doctrine of St. Thomas [1179] is that the act is intrinsically meritorious, but must still be supported by divine promise which makes its reward a duty which God owes to Himself. "Rejoice and be glad," says our Savior, "because your reward is great in heaven." [1180] God's creative ordinance gives our good acts a title of justice, intrinsically proportioned to eternal life. [1181] But if the man falls into sin and dies in that state, he loses all his merits. Hence the necessity of the grace of final perseverance, either to preserve or to recover merit.

It is above all by charity that sanctifying grace is the principle of merit, since it is by charity, either actual or virtual, that we tend to our last end. [1182] Merit is therefore greater as charity is higher and its influence greater. Thus an act objectively easy, if it comes from great charity, is more meritorious than a difficult act arising from a lower degree of charity. Mary, the mother of God, merited more by easier acts than the martyrs by their torments.

3. What can we merit? We can merit whatever our acts have been ordained by God to merit. This truth includes implicitly a second truth: We cannot merit the principle of grace.

The just man, then, so faith teaches, can condignly merit growth of grace and charity, and a corresponding degree of glory. [1183] Further, he can merit, not indeed condignly, but congruously and properly, the graces of conversion and spiritual advancement for his neighbor. Temporal favors, as far as they are conducive to salvation, also fall under merit.

But the first grace, actual or habitual, being the presupposed principle of merit, cannot itself be merited, either condignly or congruously. This truth of faith rests on the disproportion between naturally good works and the supernatural order. [1184] Neither can man merit in advance a grace of contrition to be given after a fall into mortal sin. [1185] This position is not admitted by all theologians. St. Thomas defends it, by pointing out that, since all merits are lost by mortal sin, the sinner must begin a new road of merit, on which contrition is the first step, the presupposition of merit, which cannot itself be merited, either condignly or congruously. Further, if men could merit this act of contrition in advance, they would obtain it infallibly, and thus persevere unto death. Thus all men now in grace would belong to the predestinate. Nevertheless the man in sin can, by the merit of improper congruity, by prayer to the divine mercy, obtain the grace of contrition.

Lastly, the just man cannot merit the grace of perseverance, i. e.: the grace of a good death. Since the Council of Trent, [1186] this point of doctrine is admitted by all as theologically certain, at least if merit is understood as condign merit. The Council quotes this word of Augustine: "This gift can come from one source only, from Him who is able first to so establish man that man will stand perseveringly, and, second, to raise up the man who has fallen." [1187].

St. Thomas [1188] supports this commonly received truth by the axiom: The principle of merit cannot be itself merited. Now the gift of perseverance is nothing but the state of grace itself, the principle of all merit, preserved by God up to the moment of death. Hence it cannot be merited, certainly not by condign merit, and only certainly not by merit of proper congruity, which also has its source and principle in grace and charity. God has not promised that each man who has performed meritorious acts for a period of time more or less long has thereby a right to final perseverance. A man may now be just without being among the elect. Hence man cannot merit either condignly or congruously that efficacious concurrence of grace which alone can preserve him from mortal sin. If he could merit it, he would infallibly obtain it; he could then likewise merit a second and a third efficacious concurrence, and thus infallibly obtain the grace of perseverance.

Still we can obtain this grace of final perseverance. How? By humble, confident, persevering prayer. In this sense, by the merit of improper congruity, we may say that man merits perseverance. This kind of merit addresses itself, not to divine justice, but to divine mercy. In this sense we understand the promise of the Sacred Heart to Margaret Mary, that He will give the grace of a good death to those who receive Holy Communion on nine successive first Fridays.

Here emerges an objection: If we can merit eternal life, which is something higher than final perseverance, why can we not merit perseverance itself? The answer runs thus: Eternal life, as the goal of perseverance, is higher than perseverance. But God, while He has ordained that eternal life shall be merited, has not ordained that the state of grace, the presupposed source of merit, can itself be merited, though He has ordained that the grace of perseverance, though unmerited, can be obtained by prayer.

But how, the questioner continues, can man merit eternal life if he cannot merit perseverance, which is a prerequired condition of obtaining eternal life? You cannot merit eternal life, so runs the answer, unless you preserve your merits to the end, and that preservation, being the principle of your merits to eternal life, cannot itself be merited. You merit eternal life, and, if you die in grace, the actual attainment of that eternal life. [1189]. Such are the operative principles in the treatise on grace. St. Thomas, here again, is a summit, rising above two radically opposed heresies, above Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism on the one hand, and, on the other, above Predestinarianism. Against Pelagianism, which denies elevation to grace, the saint insists on the immeasurable distance between the two orders, one of nature, one of grace, the latter being a formal participation in the deity as deity. "Without Me," says our Lord, "you can do nothing." Hence the absolute necessity of grace in the order of grace. "What hast thou that thou hast not received? " Hence the absolute gratuity of grace. If one man is better than another, let him thank God who has loved him more. God alone, the Author of grace, can move man to a supernatural end, and only God's self-efficacious grace can, by actualizing our freedom, carry us on effectively to acts that are meritorious and salutary.

Against Predestinarianism, to reappear later in Protestantism and Jansenism, the saint insists that God cannot command the impossible, and that God's sufficient grace makes universal salvation genuinely possible. But, if man resists, he merits deprivation of efficacious grace. Lastly, man can merit everything to which the meritorious act is by God's ordination proportioned, but he cannot merit the very principle of merit.

Between these opposed heresies lies the mystery, descending from the transcendental deity which binds in one God's infinite mercy, His infinite justice, and His sovereign freedom.

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