"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.


Treating the questions of God's foreknowledge, of predestination and of grace, many Molinists, in order to denote themselves as Thomists, refer to classic Thomism under the name of "Bannesianism." Informed theologians see in this practice an element of pleasantry, even of comedy.

Our purpose here is to insist on a principle admitted by all theologians, a principle wherein Thomists see the deepest foundation of the distinction between grace sufficient and grace efficacious.

The Problem

Revelation makes it certain that many graces given by God do not produce the effect (at least the entire effect) toward which they are given, while other graces do produce this effect. Graces of the first kind are called sufficient graces. They give the power to do good, without bringing the good act itself to pass, since man resists their attraction. The existence of such graces is absolutely certain, whatever Jansenists say. Without these graces, God, contrary to His mercy and His justice, would command the impossible. Further, since without these graces sin would be inevitable, sin would no longer be sin, and could not justly be punished. Judas could have really here and now avoided his crime, as could the impenitent robber who died near our Savior.

Graces of the second kind are called efficacious. They not only give us real power to observe the precepts, but carry us on to actual observance, as in the case of the penitent robber. The existence of actual efficacious grace is affirmed, equivalently, in numerous passages of Scripture. Ezechiel [1437] says, for example: I will give you a new heart and put in you a new spirit, I will take away your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit in you and bring it about that you follow My commands and observe and practice My laws. Again, the Psalmist says: [1438] All that God wills, He does. The word "wills" must here be understood as meaning all that God wills, not conditionally, but absolutely. Thus He wills a man's free conversion, that of Assuerus, e. g.: at the prayer of Esther: [1439] Then God changed the wrath of the King into mildness. God's omnipotence is, in these texts, assigned as reason for the infallible efficacy of God's decree. [1440].

The Second Council of Orange, against the Semi-Pelagians, after citing many of these texts, says of the efficaciousness of grace: [1441] Whenever we do good, God, in us and with us, brings our work to pass. Hence there is a grace which not only gives real power to act right (a power which exists also in him who sins): but which produces the good act, even while, far from excluding our own free cooperation, it arouses rather this cooperation, carries us on to consent.

St. Augustine [1442] thus explains these same texts: God, by His power, most hidden and most efficacious, turns the king's heart from wrath to mildness.

The great majority of older theologians, Augustinians, Thomists, Scotists, hold that the grace called efficacious is efficacious of itself, because God wills it to be so, not because we will it to be so, by an act of consent foreseen by God. God is, not a mere spectator, but the Author of salvation. How is grace self-efficacious? Here these older authors differ. Some recur to the divine motion called premotion, some to what they call "victorious delectation," some to a kind of attraction. But, amid all differences, they agree that grace is of itself efficacious.

Molina, on the contrary, maintains that grace is efficacious extrinsically, by our consent, foreseen by scientia media. This scientia media has always been rejected by Thomists, who say that it implies a passivity in God relative to our free determinations (futuribilia, and future): and that it leads to "determination by circumstances" (since it is by knowledge of these circumstances that God would foresee what man would choose). Thus the very being and goodness of the will and salutary choice would come from man and not from God. Granted equal grace to each, says Molina, [1443] it can come to pass that one is converted, the other not. Even with a smaller aid of grace one can rise, while another with greater grace does not rise, and remains hardened.

Molina's opponents answer thus: Here we have a good, the good of a salutary act, which does not come from God, Source of all good. How then maintain the word of Jesus: [1444] Without Me you can do nothing? Or that of St. Paul: [1445] What hast thou that thou hast not received? If, with equal grace, and amid equal circumstances, one is converted and the other not, then the convert has a good which he has not received.

Molinists object: If, in order to do good, you demand, besides sufficient grace, also self-efficacious grace, does sufficient grace really and truly give you a real power to act?

It does, so Thomists reply, if it is true that real power to act is distinct from the act itself; if it is true [1446] that the architect, before he actually builds, has a real power to build, that he who is seated has a real power to rise; that he who is sleeping is not blind, but has a real power to see. Further, if the sinner would not resist sufficient grace, he would receive the efficacious grace, which is offered in the preceding sufficient grace, as fruit is offered in the blossom. If he resists he merits privation of new aid.

But does St. Thomas explicitly distinguish self-efficacious grace from that grace which gives only the power to act?He does, and often. God's aid, he says, [1447] is twofold. God gives the power, by infusing strength and grace, by which man becomes able and apt to act. But He gives further the good act itself, by interiorly moving and urging us to good... since His power, by His great good will, operates in us to will and to do. Again: [1448] Christ is the propitiation for our sins, for some efficaciously, for all sufficiently, because His blood is sufficient price for the salvation of all, but does not have efficacy except in the elect, because of impediment. Does God remedy this impediment? He does, often, but not always. And here lies the mystery. God, he says, [1449] withholds nothing that is due. And he adds: [1450] God gives to all sufficient aid to keep from sin. Again, speaking of efficacious grace: [1451] If it is given to this sinner, it is by mercy; if it is refused to another, it is by justice.

Thomists add, [1452] in explanation: Every actual grace which is self-efficacious for an imperfect act, say attrition, is sufficient for a more perfect salutary act, say contrition. This is manifestly the doctrine of St. Thomas. [1453] If man resists the grace which gives him the power to do good, he merits privation of the grace which would carry him on to actual good deed. But the saint has not merely distinguished the two graces, he has pointed out the deepest foundation for this distinction.

The Divine Will, Antecedent And Consequent

"The will," says St. Thomas, [1454] "is related to things as they are in themselves, with all their particular circumstances. Hence we will a thing simply (simpliciter) when we will it with all its concrete circumstances. This will we call the consequent will. Thus it is clear that everything which God wills simpliciter comes to pass."

If, on the contrary, we will a thing in itself good, but independently of its circumstances, this will is called the antecedent will, or conditional will, since the good in question is not realized here and now. That man should live, says St. Thomas, [1455] is good. But if the man is a murderer, it is good that he be executed. Antecedently, God wills that harvests come to maturity, but He allows for some higher good, that not all harvests do in fact mature. Similarly, He wills antecedently the salvation of all men, though for some higher good, of which He alone is judge, He permits some to sin and perish.

But, since God never commands the impossible, His will and love make the observance of His commandments possible to all men, to each according to his measure. He gives to each, says St. Thomas, [1456] more than strict justice requires. It is thus that St. Thomas harmonizes God's antecedent will, of which St. John Damascene speaks, with God's omnipotence.

The Supreme Principles

Nothing comes to pass, either in heaven or on earth, unless God either brings it to pass in mercy, or then in justice permits it. This principle, taught in the universal Church, shows that there is in God a conditional and antecedent will, relative to a good which does not come to pass, the privation of which He permits in view of some higher good.

To this principle we must add another: [1457] God does not command the impossible. From these two revealed principles derives the distinction between God's efficacious consequent will and His antecedent will, which is the source of sufficient grace.

All that God wills, He does. This principle has no exception. All that God wills (purely, simply, unconditionally) comes to pass without our freedom being thereby in any way forced, because God moves that freedom sweetly and strongly, actualizing it, not destroying. He wills efficaciously that we freely consent and we do freely consent. The supreme efficacy of divine causality, says St. Thomas, [1458] extends to the free mode of our acts.

Many repeat these principles, but do not see that they contain the foundation of the distinction between the two kinds of grace, one that is self-efficacious, the other simply sufficient which man may resist, but not without divine permission.

Hence we find that in the ninth century, to terminate the long controversy with Gottschalk, the Council of Thuzey (860): at the instance of the Augustinian bishops, harmonized God's will of universal salvation with the sinner's responsibility. That Council's synodal letter [1459] contains this sentence: Whatever He has willed in heaven or on earth, God has done. For nothing comes to pass in heaven or on earth that He does not in mercy bring to pass or permits to come to pass in justice.

Since God's love is the cause of created goodness, says St. Thomas, [1460] no created thing would be better than another, if God did not give one a great good than He gives to another. This is equivalent to St. Paul's word: [1461] What hast thou that thou hast not received?


Christian humility rests on two dogmas, that of creation from nothing, and that of the necessity of grace for each and every salutary act. Now this same principle of God's predilection contains virtually the doctrine of gratuitous predestination, because the merits of the elect, since they are the effects of their predestination, cannot be the cause of that predestination. [1462].

Even all there is of being and action in sin must come from God, Source of all being and of all activity. [1463] As the divine will cannot indeed, either directly or indirectly, will the disorder which is in sin, so neither can divine causality produce that disorder. Disorder is outside the adequate object of God's omnipotence, more than sound is outside the object of sight. As we cannot see sound, so God cannot cause the disorder of sin. Nothing is more precise and precisive, if we may use the word, than the formal object of a power. [1464] The good and the true are not really distinct in the object, yet the intellect attains in that object only the truth, and the will only the good. In our organism, it is impossible to confuse the effects of weight with the effects of electricity, say, or of heat. Each cause produces only its own proper effect. And thus God is the cause, not of the moral disorder in sin, but only what there is in sin of being and action. No reality comes to pass, to repeat the principle, unless God has willed it, and nothing of evil unless God has permitted it. How necessary, then, it is that the theologian, after drawing conclusion from principles, should remount from conclusions to principles, thus clarifying his conclusions for those who do not see the bond that binds all consequences to the primal verities.

If, then, one of two sinners is converted, that conversion is the effect of a special mercy. And if a just man never sins mortally after his baptism, this perseverance is the effect of a still greater mercy. These simple remarks are enough to show the gratuity of predestination.

Molina, refusing to admit that grace is intrinsically self-efficacious, maintains that it is efficacious only by our consent, foreseen from eternity by scientia media. Thus we have a good which comes to pass without God having efficaciously willed it, contrary to the principle we have just laid down.

Molina does indeed attempt to defend that principle. God, having seen by scientia media that Peter, placed in such and such circumstances, would with sufficient grace be in fact converted, wills to place him in those favorable circumstances rather than in others where he would be lost. But this explanation surely reduces the absolute principle of predilection to a relative, indirect, and extrinsic principle. Grace is efficacious, not of itself and intrinsically, but only by circumstances which are extrinsic to the salutary act. With equal aid, yea with less aid, says Molina, one rises, the other perseveres in obstinacy. One who thus rises, St. Paul would say, has something he has not received.

The Mystery

Who can resist God's will? St. Paul [1465] answers this question with a hymn on the mysterious depths of God's wisdom. Why God draws this man and not that man, says St. Augustine, [1466] judge not unless you would misjudge. Predestination, says St. Thomas, [1467] cannot have the merits of the elect as cause, because these merits are the effects of predestination, which is consequently gratuitous, dependent on the divine good pleasure.

Not infrequently we meet authors who, in explaining this mystery, wish to speak more clearly than St. Paul, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas. Superficially, they may be more clear. But is not this superficial clarity incompatible with the sense of mystery? Willy-nilly, these authors return to Molina. One of them recently wrote as follows: "Here is the mystery of predestination. Since God knew from all eternity that Judas would not profit by the sufficient grace accorded to him, why did God not give to Judas, as He did to the good robber, those graces to which He knew that Judas would correspond? ".

This explanation is Molinistic, since it rests on scientia media, since it implies in God's foreknowledge a passivity, depending on the course man would take, were he put in such and such circumstances, and which he will take if in fact he is placed there. The dilemma remains: Is God's knowledge causal and determining? Or is it rather caused and determined? There is no medium.

If we follow the principle commonly received that all good comes from God's efficacious will and all evil from God's permission, then it is not sufficient to say with the author just quoted: God knew what would happen if, etc. We must rather say: God permitted the final impenitence of Judas. Had God not permitted it, it would not have come to pass and God could not have infallibly foreseen it. And God would not have permitted it, had He willed efficaciously to save Judas. But God did efficaciously will the conversion of the penitent robber, because He willed efficaciously his salvation (gratuitous predestination to glory). [1468].

The free will moved and aroused by God, says the Council of Trent, can dissent if it will. This declaration, which was prepared by Dominic Soto, a Thomist, and by many Augustinians, is not a condemnation of self-efficacious grace. Grace actualizes our liberty, but leaves intact the freedom to resist. [1469] As he who is seated retains real power to rise, so he who chooses a particular road has real power to refuse it freely. Real power to resist is one thing, actual resistance is something else. [1470].

No one, then, can be better than another unless he be loved more by God. Divine predilection is the foundation of predestination. [1471] Bannez says nothing more than does St. Thomas. [1472] Molina, more frank than some of his followers, recognized that his own doctrine is not that of St. Thomas. [1473].

As regards reprobation, it consists precisely, says St. Thomas, [1474] in God's will to permit sin (negative reprobation) and of inflicting punishment of damnation for sin (positive reprobation).

Hence it is wrong to say, as has been recently said, that permission of sin is found in the same way among the elect as it is among the reprobate. Final impenitence is never found among the elect.


Nothing comes to pass unless God wills it efficaciously, if it is good, or permits it if it is evil. God never commands the impossible. From these two most fundamental principles arises the distinction between efficacious grace, which is the effect of the intrinsically efficacious will of God, and sufficient grace, which is the effect of God's antecedent will, accompanied by permission of sin. The first grace gives the actual doing of salutary acts, the second gives real power for salutary acts. But—we cannot repeat it too often—sufficient grace is a blossom wherein efficacious grace is offered, yet so that, if man resists, he merits privation of the efficacious grace which, without this resistance, he would have received.

A very great mystery, certainly. God cannot be unjust, cries St. Paul. [1475] What creature can claim to have first given anything to God, so as to claim a reward? But this much is manifest in this chiaro oscuro: we are dealing here with the transcendent pre-eminence of the deity, wherein are harmonized infinite justice, infinite mercy, and supreme freedom. Final perseverance comes from infinite mercy. Final impenitence is a just punishment. The infinity of all God's attributes will be manifest only in the immediate vision of God as he is in Himself.

Let us learn, says Bossuet, [1476] to make our intelligence captive, to confess these two graces (sufficient and efficacious): one of which leaves our will without excuse before God, while the other forbids all self-glorification. Resistance to grace is an evil which comes only from ourselves. Non-resistance to grace is a good, which would not come to pass here and now, had not God from all eternity efficaciously willed it so.

Let us notice some common errors, especially in the minds of those who are just being introduced into this doctrine. It is an error to think that some receive only efficacious graces and others only those which are sufficient. All of us receive both kinds of graces. Even those in mortal sin receive from time to time efficacious graces, to make, say, an act of faith, or of hope. But often too they resist the sufficient grace which inclines them to conversion, whereas good servants of God often receive sufficient graces which they do not resist and which are followed by efficacious graces.

We should note too that there are various kinds of sufficient grace. There are first exterior graces, as, e. g.: a sermon, a good example, a proper guidance. Then interior graces, as, e. g.: that of baptism, the infused virtues and graces, which give us the proximate power to act supernaturally. Thirdly, there are actual graces, graces of illumination, which give us good thoughts, graces of attraction which incline us to salutary consent, even though consent does not follow. [1477] A grace which efficaciously produces attrition is, as regards contrition, a sufficient grace. [1478].

Sufficient grace often urges us insistently not to resist God's will, manifested to us by our superior, say, or by our director. For a year, it may be, or two years, or many years, circumstances strengthen what is demanded of us in God's name, and still we remain deceived by our selfishness, though prayers are said for us, and Masses celebrated for our intention. Notwithstanding all light and attraction that comes from these graces, we may still reach a state of hardening in sin. Behold I stand at the gate and knock.

Resistance comes from the soul alone. If resistance ceases, the warmth of grace begins, strongly and sweetly, to penetrate our coldness. The soul begins to realize that resistance is her own work, that non-resistance is itself a good that comes from the Author of all good, that it must pray for this good, as the priest prays just before his Communion at Mass: "Grant, O Lord, that I may ever cling to Thy precepts, and let me never be separated from Thee."

One who keeps the commandments sincerely is certainly better than he who, though fully able, does not keep them. He is therefore bound to special gratitude to God who has made him better. Hence our present distinction, between grace sufficient and grace efficacious, is the foundation of a gratitude intended to be eternal. The elect, as St. Augustine [1479] so often says, will sing forever the mercy of God, and will clearly see how this infinite mercy harmonizes perfectly with infinite justice and supreme freedom. [1480].

The Thomistic synthesis sets all these principles in bold relief, thereby preserving the spirit of theological science which judges all things, not precisely and primarily by their relation to man and man's freedom, but by their relation to God, the proper object of theology, to God, the source and goal of all life, natural and supernatural. Truth concerning God is the sun which illumines our minds and wills on the road that rises to eternal life, to the unmediated vision of the divine reality.

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