"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

— A Commentary on the Third Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


Having considered the nature that was assumed, we pass on to treat of what pertains to the perfection of Christ's human nature, namely, His grace, knowledge, and power; then we shall discuss His passibility together with His sensitive nature. The thirteenth question is concerned with Christ's human will, namely, with those things that pertain to the conformity of the two wills in Christ. There are two questions on Christ's grace, namely: (1) Christ's grace as an individual man (q. 7); (2) Christ's grace as the head of the Church (q. 8).

Theologians generally distinguish between two graces in Christ: (1) the grace of union, that is, His personal being that is gratuitously given by God to His human nature; (2) His habitual grace, as an individual man and as head of the Church.

In the seventh question St. Thomas, in discussing Christ's habitual grace as an individual man, includes the whole organism of the supernatural life in Christ's most holy soul, namely, the grace that is called "the grace of the virtues and of the gifts"; in that the virtues and the gifts belong properly to this grace. He also treats of the graces gratis datae and of the plenitude of Christ's grace. Some might object to the order followed in these questions, and say that the present problem, just as the question concerning the union of wills in Christ, ought to be relegated to the latter part of this treatise, when the consequences of the union are discussed.

The answer must be, in all probability, that the proper place to discuss the things co-assumed on the part of the human nature is here; whereas, on the contrary, from the sixteenth to the twenty-sixth questions inclusive, those things consequent to the union of the two natures are discussed, namely, Christ's unity as regards being, will, and operation, as also His relation to the Father, and to us, for example, that Christ must be worshiped as God.[800]

Hence the proper place to discuss the things co-assumed is here, this being the truly logical order, after the consideration of the nature that was assumed.

Hence, after consideration of the nature that was assumed, the truly logical order is to discuss the things that were co-assumed, from the seventh question to the fifteenth question.

There are three parts to this seventh question.

First part. It discusses habitual grace, the virtues and gifts in Christ (a. 1-6).

Second part. It treats of the graces freely bestowed upon Christ by His heavenly Father.

Third part. It is concerned with the plenitude of Christ's grace (a. 9-13).

All these articles pertain to Christ's sanctity. But after the time of St. Thomas, Christ's sanctity was discussed more in detail by way of a preliminary question, which is usually inserted here by way of a preliminary by the Thomists. The precise purport of this question is to settle the doubt whether the substantial grace of union sanctifies formally or merely radically Christ's human nature.

This question must be examined here since it serves as an introduction to the articles of the seventh question, enabling us to understand them better, for the substantial grace and uncreated grace of union is, so to speak, the radical cause of habitual grace, or the grace of the virtues and gifts in Christ.

Preliminary Question: Christ's Substantial Grace Of Union As The Source Of His Sanctification

State of the question. Gonet observes: "It is a question of three kinds of grace, to which St. John briefly and indirectly alludes. For concerning the substantial grace of union, he says: 'The Word was made flesh.’[801] Concerning Christ's habitual grace as an individual person, he adds: 'We saw His glory full of grace and truth.’ Finally, there is indirect allusion to Christ's grace as head of the Church when, farther on he says: 'And of His fullness we have all received.’ "[802]

Cajetan observes in his commentary at the beginning of this seventh question that St. Thomas already discussed the grace of union, not under the name of grace, however, but inasmuch as it is the hypostatic union of Christ's human nature with the Word. But when the question arose, whether Christ's human nature is formally sanctified by the substantial and uncreated grace of union, then Durandus[803] and the Scotists said that Christ's human nature is not formally but only radically sanctified by the grace of union. The affirmative opinion prevails as the more general one among, Thomist theologians and those of other schools, which is the conclusion we come to from the teaching of the councils and the Fathers of the Church, and there is more than an indirect reference to this opinion in the passages we shall quote from St. Thomas. Of this opinion are John of St. Thomas, Godoy, Soto, Salmanticenses, Gonet, Billuart, and more recent Thomists, as also Suarez, de Lugo, Valentia, Vasquez, Franzelin, Billot, Hurter, and Pesch. It is the common and certain doctrine.[804]

Thesis. Christ's human nature is not only radically, but also formally sanctified by the substantial and uncreated union of the Word with the human nature.

In other words, Christ's sanctity is not accidental, but it is also substantial and uncreated, because it began at the very moment of His virginal conception. To understand this doctrine we must recall what sanctity is. St. Thomas says that sanctity is steadfast union with God, which implies "stainless purity."[805]

This steadfast union is unchangeable in heaven or among the blessed. The just have not as yet in this life attained to this unchangeableness, but, as St. Thomas says,[806] the holiness of the wayfarer causes him to direct his thoughts and actions toward God or is firmly turned to Him.

There is a twofold acceptation of sanctity as thus defined.

1) It may mean the proximately operative virtue of good, and in this sense there is no difference between it and the virtue of religion that is commanded by the theological virtues and that firmly directs all our actions to the worship of God.

2) It may be regarded as the foundation for this union with God, and thus in us it is habitual grace, which for this reason is called sanctifying grace, or the grace that unites us with God and makes us pleasing to Him.

All admit that Christ, as God, possesses essential and uncreated sanctity. But the question is whether the uncreated and substantial grace of union sanctifies Christ's human nature radically, namely, in that it is the source of habitual grace, or whether it sanctifies His human nature formally, that is, in the true and strict sense of the word, independently even of habitual grace. Likewise, farther on there will be a question of whether the grace of union suffices for the negative effect of sanctity, namely, impeccability; and the answer will be in the affirmative.

1) Teaching of the Fathers on Christ's sanctity. The passages commonly quoted are as follows:

St. Cyril: "Christ was anointed not as other saints and kings are; but because the Word is flesh,"[807] that is, because the Word was made flesh.

St. Gregory Nazianzen: "Christ is so called because of His divine nature; for that is the unction of His human nature, which is not effected by operation, as in others that are anointed, but Christ is sanctified by the presence of the whole divine unction."[808]

St. John Damascene: "He[Christ I anointed Himself, which means that as God, He anointed His body by His divine nature; He was anointed, however, as man.... Moreover, the divinity is the unction of His humanity."[809]

St. Augustine, commenting on this scriptural text, "that they also may be sanctified in truth,"[810] says: "The Son of man was sanctified from the beginning of His creation, when the Word was made flesh; because one person became Word and man. Therefore He was sanctified by Himself in Himself; because the one Christ, who is Word and man, sanctifies the man in the Word."[811]

In another work St. Augustine says likewise: "Christ... was known to be anointed by that mystic and invisible union, at the time when the Word was made flesh, namely, when the human nature, without any previous merits because of good works, was united with the Word of God in the womb of the Virgin so as to become one person with the Word."[812]

2) St. Thomas says in a similar manner: "The grace of union is the personal being that is given gratis from above to the human nature in the person of the Word, and it is the term of the assumption, whereas the habitual grace pertaining to the spiritual holiness of the man is an effect following the union."[813] But the effect, inasmuch as it is a consequent accident, presupposes substantial sanctity.

Likewise St. Thomas,[814] in proving the necessity of habitual grace in Christ, does not seek the reason for it in His already established sanctity by the grace of union, but he explains it: (1) because of the union of His soul with the Word; (2) because it had to be the connatural principle of knowledge and love in the supernatural order; (3) on account of Christ's relation to the human race, since He is its head.

Hence St. Thomas does not say that Christ's habitual grace is sanctifying grace. In fact, he says farther on that Christ's human nature during the Passion had "the actual holiness of a victim, from the charity which it had from the beginning, and from the grace of union sanctifying it absolutely."[815] St. Thomas speaks in similar terms when discussing the plenitude of Christ's grace. After having said that by habitual grace man is united to God by love, he adds: "There is another kind of union of man with God, which is not only accomplished by love or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but also by the unity of the hypostasis.... And this belongs properly to Jesus Christ...and makes Him most pleasing to God, so that it may be said of Him as an individual: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."[816]

Again, when St. Thomas asks whether Christ can be called the adopted Son of God, he replies: "The sonship of adoption is a participated likeness of natural sonship; nor can a thing be said to participate in what it has essentially. Therefore Christ, who is the natural Son of God, can nowise be called an adopted Son."[817]

He also shows that Christ, as man, was predestined primarily and principally for natural and divine sonship, or for the grace of union, and secondarily and consequently for habitual grace and glory, as the effects of the grace of union.[818] St. Thomas, in his comment on the scriptural text, "Whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world,"[819] referring to St. Hilary, likewise says: "He precedes the rest by this, that He was sanctified as the Son."[820] Hence St. Thomas taught even explicitly the doctrine of the present thesis, and, though he did not use the same terminology as nowadays, yet he expressed himself in equivalent terms.

Theological proof. This proof from reason that is proposed in various ways by the Thomists, may be clearly expressed by the following syllogism.

Formal sanctity which the just possess by reason of sanctifying grace, includes but four requisite conditions. But these four requisite conditions are found in Christ solely because of the grace of union, even independently of habitual grace. Therefore the substantial grace of union is what formally constitutes sanctity in Christ. Therefore His sanctity is innate, substantial, and increate. Accidental sanctity, which results from habitual grace is derived from this grace of union.

Proof of major. Formal sanctity about which we are concerned, is not a proximately operative virtue that is really distinct from the virtue of religion, but it is that union with God which the just have by reason of habitual or sanctifying grace. This formal sanctity, however, includes but four necessary conditions, so that the just person be formally holy. These conditions are the following.

1) That the person be united with God and somehow drawn into union with the divine being.

2) That the person be constituted the son of God, heir of His kingdom, pleasing to Him and loved by Him.

3) That the person be radically disposed to perform supernaturally good works.

4) That the principle of life is in such a person, which principle is incompatible with mortal sin.

All these four conditions are fully explained in that part of the treatise in which habitual or sanctifying grace is discussed, or that grace which makes us pleasing to God.

Minor. But Christ possesses these four conditions in a much higher degree by reason of His substantial and increate grace of union, even independently of habitual grace. For 1) by the grace of union, Christ's human nature is more perfectly drawn to and united with the divine nature than by habitual grace. For Christ's human nature is drawn to the divine nature as it is in Itself, and not merely to a participation in the divine nature. It is also united with the divine nature not merely accidentally and lovingly, but substantially and personally.

2) By the grace of union, Christ as man becomes the natural Son and heir of God, most pleasing to Him and loved by Him, whereas by habitual grace man becomes merely the adopted son of God. St. Thomas shows that love on God's part is the diffusion of good, and He could not confer a greater good on the human nature than to give Himself substantially to it.[821]

3) The grace of union makes Christ the principium quod[822] of theandric operations that are infinitely meritorious, whereas Christ has need of habitual grace only so that these supernatural operations be elicited connaturally by His human faculties.

4) Finally, the hypostatic union implies greater incompatibility with sin than habitual grace does, for, as will be stated farther on, not only is this union incompatible with mortal sin, but even with the slightest sin, and it makes such a man not only sinless, but absolutely impeccable.[823]

Therefore the conclusion follows that the substantial grace of union is what makes Christ formally holy, and this holiness is not accidental, but substantial, increate, and also innate.

Confirmation. By the grace of union, Christ is the natural Son of God. To be the natural Son of God means the maximum of sanctity, or the greatest of union with God and of supernatural union with Him, in accordance with what the Father said: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."[824]

Objection. The grace of union cannot make a man formally blessed. Therefore it cannot make him formally holy.

Reply. I deny the consequent. The difference between the two is that formal blessedness is a vital act consisting in the vision and love of God; formal holiness, however, with which we are here concerned, consists in habitual union with God, which is ordered to right action; and just as habitual grace gives one a right to eternal happiness, provided this grace be not lost by mortal sin, so a fortiori does the grace of union..

Again I insist. But if the Word were to assume an irrational nature, for example, a dove or a lamb, such a creature would not be sanctified by the Word.

Reply. The reason for this lack of sanctification would be that such subject or nature that is assumed is incapable of it; in fact, the Word would not give personality but only subsistence to such a nature. Likewise during the three days of Christ's death, the Word remained united with Christ's corpse, not because it was a person, but because it was a suppositum.

Another objection. The divine nature can formally sanctify Christ's human nature only by intrinsically perfecting it and really changing it as its intrinsic form. But the divine nature cannot be in relation to Christ's human nature as its intrinsic form. Therefore the divine nature cannot formally sanctify Christ's human nature. This means that Christ's human nature would be holy only by extrinsic denomination.

Reply. I distinguish the major: unless the divine nature intrinsically perfected the human nature as the intrinsic form that terminates it, or rather as the act that intrinsically terminates it, this I concede; that the divine nature could formally sanctify it only as its intrinsic form that informs it, this I deny. And I contradistinguish the minor.

For just as Christ's human nature is really and intrinsically perfected, not because it is a nature, but because it is a suppositum, inasmuch as it is terminated by the Word, so it is really and intrinsically sanctified by its personal union with the Word.

But I insist. There can be no holiness without the intrinsic form that excludes sin. But this intrinsic form must inform, just as sin is an inherent privation; so also blindness is removed only by the inherent power to see, and not as proposed by reason of the terminating object.

Reply. I concede the major. I deny the minor, for sin is absolutely impossible in Christ's human nature solely because this human nature is assumed by the Word. The reason is that sin is a privation that introduces disorder in the entire suppositum, and the divine suppositum cannot be subjected to disorder. On the contrary, blindness is only the privation of some particular accident, namely, the power to see, and hence this blindness is removed only by the restoration of the inherent visual faculty.

Final objection. But in such a case, Christ's human nature is sanctified by the increate sanctity and consequently would be God or the Godhead. Confusion of the nature would follow the form.

Reply. I distinguish the consequent as in the previous objection. That Christ's human nature would be God or the Godhead, if it were sanctified by the divine nature, as the informing form, this I concede; as the act that properly terminates the nature, this I deny. Therefore Christ's sanctity is substantial, increate, and also innate.

Doubt. Is Christ's human nature formally and substantially sanctified by the divine nature that is included in the personality of the Word, or is it sanctified by His relative personality, because of what this adds to the absolute perfections, or even by the very mode of the union?

Reply. Gonet, Billuart, and several other Thomists say that Christ's humanity is substantially sanctified by the divine nature that is included in the personality of the Word, but not in the other two ways. There is authoritative proof for this affirmation from the quotations of the above-mentioned Fathers, especially St. Gregory, who says: 'Christ[anointed] is so called because of His divine nature, for that is the unction of the human nature."[825] But what anoints the human nature is formally what sanctifies it. Therefore the human nature is formally sanctified by the divine nature.

Theological proof. Christ's human nature is formally sanctified by the divine sanctity. The divine sanctity, however, is the divine nature as such, which is included in the personality of the Word, and therefore the three divine persons are holy by the same essential holiness.[826]

Confirmation. Habitual grace formally sanctifies inasmuch as it is a participation of the divine nature, and thus it is the source of strictly divine operations and ultimately of the beatific vision. Therefore, in like manner, what formally sanctifies Christ's human nature is precisely the divine nature that is included in the personality of the Word.

Hence the other two modes are rejected. First of all, it is clearly evident that Christ's human nature is not formally sanctified by the mode itself of the union, because, in our opinion, there is no such mode of union; and if there were, it would not formally sanctify the nature, because it would not be the sanctifying form, but merely the application of the nature to the form. Thus the just person is not said to be sanctified by the mode of union with habitual grace, but by habitual grace itself.

Finally, Christ's human nature is not formally sanctified by the relative personality of the Word because of what this personality adds to the absolute perfections of the divine persons, for, according to the more probable opinion of several Thomists as explained in the treatise on the Trinity, the divine personalities considered as such or because of the notion of reference to the opposite correlative in the order of divine relations (esse ad), which they add to the divine essence, do not declare a new perfection, and therefore sanctity, but rather they abstract, as the free act of God does, from both perfection and imperfection. Otherwise we should have to say that the Father is lacking in a certain perfection since He does not have sonship, or that subsistent relation which constitutes the person of the Son. Hence the subsistent, divine relations, that are opposed to one another and God's free act, are not absolutely simple perfections at least in the strict sense; for an absolutely simple perfection is defined as a perfection the concept of which implies no imperfection, and which is better to have than not to have. Thus the Father has all absolutely simple perfections, otherwise He would not be God, but He does not have the correlative opposite relation of sonship. It is also not better for Him to have the free act of creating than not to have it. For God is not better because He created the universe.

Objection. Some say that Christ's nature is formally sanctified by that with which it is immediately united. But it is more immediately united with the subsistence of the Word than with the divine nature. Therefore Christ's nature is formally sanctified by the subsistence of the Word.

Reply. I distinguish the major. If this to which the human nature is immediately united is the sanctifying form, then I concede the major; otherwise I deny it.

It is not unbefitting Christ's human nature to be united with the divine nature through the medium of the personality of the Word, because this union cannot be effected in the nature, but only in the person. Likewise it is only through the medium of the person of the Word that the human nature is united with the one and only divine nature.[827] Similarly habitual grace sanctifies the whole being of man, although it is not united immediately with the whole of his being.

Thus it remains true that Christ's human nature is formally sanctified by the substantial and increate grace of union, but with a union not by participation with the divine nature, but with the divine nature itself, in the person of the Word. Thus, as already stated, Christ's sanctity is not only a transport of joy experienced in His intellect and will, but it is also the transport of joy that is felt in His whole being.

This preliminary article does not give the complete teaching of St. Thomas on this question, but it covers a particular phase of it, for this is what he had already said in equivalent words.

Having discussed Christ's substantial sanctity, we must now consider the question of His accidental sanctity, which consists in habitual grace that was infused into His soul at the moment of His conception. St. Thomas treats of this grace throughout the whole of this seventh question.

Index Top




"Obedience is a short cut to perfection."

St Philip Neri

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"A person who rails at God in adversity, suffers without merit; moreover by his lack of resignation he adds to his punishment in the next life and experiences greater disquietude of mind in this life."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. "

Thomas á Kempis

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