"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.


Charismatic graces [1311] are given chiefly for the good of others, to instruct them in revelation (by the word of knowledge, by the word of wisdom): or to confirm that revelation (by miracles, prophecies, discernment of spirits, etc. ). Here we restrict ourselves to underlining the Thomistic doctrine regarding prophecy, revelation, and biblical inspiration.

1. Prophetic Revelation

Prophecy has degrees. [1312] On the lower level the prophet (Caiphas, for example) may not know that he is prophesying. On the higher level, in perfect prophecy, the prophet needs first the supernatural proposition of a truth so far hidden, secondly a supernatural knowledge that that proposition is divine in its origin, thirdly an infused light by which he judges infallibly regarding the truth itself and its divine origin. In giving the prophet this revelation, God may use as intermediary the prophet's external sense power, or his internal sense power, or his intellect. [1313] As to his physical state, the prophet can be either awake or in ecstasy or in dream. [1314] The object revealed may be either a truth in itself essentially supernatural, or a future contingent event, which, when it comes to pass, can be naturally known. In either of these cases the prophecy thus becomes, like miracles, a supernatural proof of divine revelation. [1315].

2. Biblical Inspiration [1316]

Under the name "prophecy," St. Thomas includes all charismatic intellectual graces. Hence biblical inspiration is a special kind of prophecy, which, in the words of St. Augustine, he defines thus: "a hidden and divine inspiration which human minds receive unknowingly." [1317] Thus inspiration differs from revelation. In receiving revelation the mind receives new ideas, whereas in simple inspiration, unaccompanied by revelation, no new ideas are infused, but only a divine judgment on the ideas which the inspired writer has already acquired, from experience, say, or from human testimony, as the Evangelists, for example, knew before inspiration the facts of our Lord's life which they report. And since it is in judgment that truth or falsity resides, the infused judgment of the inspired writer is divinely and infallibly certain. [1318].

Biblical inspiration, then, is a divine light which makes the judgment of the inspired writer divine, and consequently infallible. Yet this scriptural inspiration, which has as its object a written book, is not only a divine light for the writer's spirit, but also a divine motion, which energizes the writer's will, and through his will all his other faculties which cooperate in producing the inspired book. But his charismatic grace of inspiration is not a permanent and habitual grace, but is transient and intermittent. [1319].

Thus Scripture has two authors, one divine and principal, the other human and instrumental. [1320] This doctrine, generally held both in medieval times and in our own, is clearly expounded in the Providentissimus of Leo XIII. As instrumental cause, the inspired writer attains the goal intended by the principal cause, and yet retains his own character and style, and adopts any literary genus he finds suited to his purpose.

Inspiration, then, to repeat, is a divine causality, physical and supernatural, which elevates and moves the human writer in such fashion that he writes, for the benefit of the Church, all that God wills and in the way God wills. [1321] Hence God's causality enters not only into the truth conceived by the human writer, but into the very words employed by the human writer to express those truths, as is seen by the very terms Holy Scripture, the Holy Books, the Holy Bible, which faith, according to Jewish and to Christian tradition, employs to express the results of inspiration. These terms imply that the human author's decision to use this set of words rather than another is also an effect of inspiration.

Hence we are not to conceive inspiration as a mere material dictation, whereby the human author would have no freedom in the choice of words. Verbal inspiration, as here defended, leaves the inspired authors even more free and personal than authors who are not inspired, since God moves all second causes in conformity with their individual natures. Hence, although verbal inspiration is necessarily implied if the book is to be God's book, we must, if we are to understand the literal meaning of that book, be fully aware of the personal characteristics of the human writer, in whom, as in every writer, style is subordinated to thought. [1322].

Lastly, let us notice that statements may be infallible without being inspired. Thus the definitions of the Church, although they express divine truth infallibly, are not spoken of as inspired. Infallibility is indeed the work of the Holy Ghost, but not in the form of biblical inspiration. [1323].

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