"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.


Twelfth Article: Whether The Grace Of Christ Could Increase

State of the question. St. Thomas clearly sets forth the difficulty of this problem, for he says:

1) To every finite thing addition can be made. But Christ's habitual grace, as we said, considered as a being, is finite. Therefore it can be increased.

2) Also considered as grace, it seems that it can be increased, for increase of grace is effected by divine power; and since this power is absolutely infinite, there are no limits to it.

3) The Evangelist says that "Jesus advanced in wisdom and age. and grace with God and men."[979]

Conclusion. Christ's habitual grace could not be increased after the first moment of His conception, either on the part of the grace itself, or on the part of the recipient of this grace. Thus Christ differs from all others, even from the Blessed Virgin and the angels, who were wayfarers and not comprehensors.

Let us first of all examine the proofs of this article; afterward we shall consider Cajetan's interpretation; finally we shall discuss the interpretation of other Thomists.

Scriptural proof. The Evangelist says: "We saw His glory, the glory as it were of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."[980] "But nothing can be or can be thought greater than that anyone should be the begotten of the Father. Therefore no greater grace can be or can be thought than that of which Christ was full."[981] Thus we said in the preceding article that Christ's grace is at least morally infinite inasmuch as it is the principle by means of which He performed meritorious and satisfactory acts that are of absolutely infinite value. Thus Christ's habitual grace absolutely excels the grace of all men and angels combined.

Moreover, the Second Council of Constantinople defined: "If anyone defends the assertion that Christ... as He advanced in the performance of good works became better... let him be declared anathema."[982] This means that Christ did not either become more perfect, or was subjected to passions, or offered sacrifice for Himself.[983] In this Christ differs from all the just, even from the angels in heaven, who became more perfect in the second instant of their creation, since they were wayfarers and merited, and after this they were only comprehensors. But if St. Luke says that "Jesus advanced in wisdom and age, and grace with God and men,"[984] St. Thomas replies in this article, along with the whole of ecclesiastical tradition: "Christ did not increase inasmuch as the very habits of wisdom and grace were increased in Him..., but as regards the effects, ... since in the course of time He did more perfect works, to prove Himself true man, both in the things of God and in the things of man."[985] The Greek and Latin Fathers generally take this view when they speak of the fullness of Christ's grace.[986]

Theological proof. There are two subdivisions to this proof.

a) On the part of the recipient of this grace, Christ's grace could not be increased from the beginning, because as man He was from the first moment of His conception truly and completely comprehensor, as will be made clear farther on.[987] But in comprehensors, or in the blessed, there can be no increase of grace, subjectively speaking, for they have already reached their final end to which they were eternally predestined. Therefore, subjectively speaking, there can be no increase in Christ's grace.

b) On the part of grace. Christ's grace from the beginning could not be increased, because Christ as man was from the beginning personally united with the Word, and He already received, as St. Thomas says in this article, "the highest measure of grace."

This consequence is proved by one syllogism on which Cajetan very much insists.

It is in reference to the end that a measure is prefixed to each form; for example, in accordance with the physics of the ancients, there is no greater gravity than that of the earth because there is no lower place than that of the earth. Or, as we now can say, in our solar world there is no greater light and heat than the light and heat of the sun, which is the center of attraction of this solar world.

But the end of grace is the union of the rational creature with God, and there cannot be a greater union than the hypostatic union of Christ's human nature with the Word.

Therefore, from the moment of His conception, Christ's grace attained its highest degree of grace, and there was no possibility of its future increase; whereas, on the contrary, the first fullness of grace in the Blessed Virgin always received an increase of this grace until it acquired its consummate fullness when she entered heaven.

St. Thomas determines more clearly the force of this conclusion in his replies to the objections placed at the beginning of this article.

Reply to first objection. To the proposed difficulty that "to every finite thing addition can be made," St. Thomas replies by making the following distinction: that addition can be made to every finite mathematical quantity, namely, to every line, to every number, I concede; that addition can be made to every natural quantity I deny, for example, the quantity or height of a dog or a horse, or an elephant, or a man cannot always be increased. St. Thomas concludes at the end of his reply by saying: "Hence it is not necessary that addition should be capable of being made to Christ's grace," although it is finite in its essence, which means that it is finite as having reached "the highest measure of grace" as stated toward the end of the argumentative part of this article.

Second objection. "It is by divine power that grace is increased and, since this power is infinite, it is confined by no limits."

Reply. St. Thomas answers by saying: "Although the divine power can make something greater and better than the habitual grace of Christ, yet it could not make it to be ordained to anything greater than the personal union with the only-begotten Son of the Father; and the measure of grace corresponds sufficiently (not adequately) to this union, in accordance with the definition of divine wisdom." This text is of great importance. Similarly farther on it is stated that, "absolutely speaking, there could be a higher and more sublime degree[of the beatific vision] by the infinity of the divine power."[988]

Concerning the interpretation of this second reply and of what is said in the body of this article, Cajetan and Nazarius differ from the rest of the Thomists, both ancient and modern. Let us consider each interpretation.

Cajetan's interpretation.

Cajetan gives the following interpretation to this article. He himself says: "What is substantially for the end must be commensurate with the end (as the shape of the saw for the cutting of wood), ... wherefore, since the tendency of a heavy object is to fall down, ... the lowest point to which an object can fall must be governed and measured only by the maximum influence exerted on it by the law of gravitation. Thus the greatest union of the rational creature with God must be measured only by the greatest grace."[989] Farther on Cajetan remarks: "Therefore Christ's grace is finite and at the same time it excludes addition."[990]

In the reply to the second objection, when St. Thomas says that "God can make something greater and better than the habitual grace of Christ," Cajetan introduces the following distinction: that God can make something greater and better inasmuch as it is a being, this I concede; inasmuch as it is ordained to its proper end, which is the hypostatic union, this I deny.[991]

Criticism. Cajetan does not sufficiently explain the words of St. Thomas in his reply to the second objection, when he says: "To this[hypostatic] union such measure of grace is correspondingly sufficient, according to the definition of divine wisdom" or the divine ordination. He also does not explain the similar and clearer text of St. Thomas concerning the higher degree of the light of glory that is possible by God's absolute power.[992]

It is of no avail to say that God can produce something better than Christ's grace because this is an accident, and God can produce substance or even give to an angel the same degree of the light of glory.

In these considerations Cajetan, who almost always views problems in their formal aspect, seems to understand the reply to the second objection of this article in a material sense, as well as the other reply similar to this.[993]

He seems to stress too much the quasi-material aspect in the subject of grace and the fact that grace is an accident, and not a substance.

Now indeed, as St. Thomas says: "The good of grace in one is greater than the good of nature in the whole universe"[994] that is, than all created and creatable creatures. Hence, when St. Thomas says, "The divine power can make something greater and better than the habitual grace of Christ,"[995] his purpose is not to speak of substance God can produce. Nor does it seem true, as stated above, that an angel, who would have the same degree of the light of glory as the soul of Christ, would have a clearer vision of the divine essence, because the divine essence is an essentially supernatural object, which does not seem to be seen more clearly because of the keener penetration of a material and created intellect.

Common interpretation of Thomists.

Such are Capreolus, Bannez, John of St. Thomas, Salmanticenses, Gonet, Billuart, and others.

To understand this interpretation, we must bear in mind the division commonly admitted by the Thomists about the divine power. It may be expressed by the following schema.[996]

[diagram page 303]


  • absolute
  • ordained
    • extraordinary
    • ordinary
      • according to hypostatic order
      • ascending to order of grace
      • according to natural order
        • spiritual
        • corporal

The merely absolute divine power is the divine power considered apart from the ordination of divine wisdom, and so considered it refers to all things not intrinsically repugnant even though they may be extrinsically repugnant on the part of the end.[997]

Thus God, by His merely absolute power, could annihilate all the blessed in heaven, even the Blessed Virgin and Christ's human nature, since He freely preserves these in being. This annihilation is not intrinsically repugnant but extrinsically repugnant on the part of the end, for on the part of the end there can be no purpose in this annihilation. Hence this annihilation is repugnant to God's power as regulated by divine wisdom.

The ordained divine power is that which refers to the ordaining of divine wisdom, and it concerns everything that is neither intrinsically repugnant, nor extrinsically repugnant on the part of the end.

It is divided into ordinary and extraordinary. The ordinary ordained divine power is that which operates in accordance with the laws as established by God, either in the natural order, or in the supernatural order, or even in the order of the hypostatic union.

It is called extraordinary, when it is called into action and reaches beyond the above-mentioned laws either of the natural order (as when miracles of the physical order are performed) or of the supernatural order (such as a sudden and miraculous conversion as in the case of the conversion of St. Paul) or of those that pertain to the hypostatic union. Thus the question is put, whether Christ's habitual grace could have been greater by God's absolute power, and also by His ordained power and His extraordinary power, so that the Incarnation could have taken place without Christ suffering. There seems to be no doubt that the fullness of even the grace acquired by the Blessed Virgin Mary at the time of her death could have been intensively greater not only by God's absolute power but even by His ordained power and also His extraordinary power.

These principles established, Thomists almost unanimously hold that by God's absolute power Christ's habitual grace could have been increased in intensity, although He actually had the highest possible degree of such grace by God's ordained and ordinary power. So say Capreolus,[998] Bannez, Medina, John of St. Thomas, Alvarez, Suarez, Vasquez, and others, against the Scotists and Cajetan.

John of St. Thomas says that this opinion is more probable and undoubtedly more according to the mind of St. Thomas. This seems to be proved when he says: "As stated above, there cannot be a greater grace than the grace of Christ with respect to the union with the Word; and the same is to be said of the perfection of the divine vision; although, absolutely speaking, there could be a higher and more sublime degree by the infinity of the divine power."[999] So says St. Thomas in this passage, and he is plainly speaking of God's absolute power and he cites and explains what he had said previously about Christ's grace.[1000]

To be sure, Cajetan says that Christ's beatific vision could increase, not because of a greater light of glory but because of a greater natural power, for example, if the Word were to assume an angelic nature.

Reply. The beatific vision is regulated and measured only according to the elevating power which is the light of glory; for the vision itself is an essentially supernatural act, specified by an essentially supernatural object, which infinitely transcends the natural vigor of any created or creatable intellect whatever.

Doubt. Is it possible to conceive a grace and light of glory of a higher species, and can Christ's grace be of a higher species than ours?

Reply. The answer is, No, for the following reasons. (1) Because grace, as in the just and in Christ is already a formal and physical participation in the Deity, having in each case the same definition, and there cannot be anything capable of participation that is higher than the divine nature or the Deity as it is in Itself, or in other words, God's intimate life; this view is against a certain thesis of Father Billot.[1001]

2) Because otherwise Christ would not contain in Himself all the effects of grace if He did not have a certain species of grace. Therefore the only possible conception of a higher beatific vision is that resulting from a greater penetration of the divine essence and from an increase in the intensity of habitual grace and of the light of glory in the same species.

This same interpretation is also proved from the previous reply of St. Thomas to his query about the possibility of charity being increased infinitely. He says: "In no way, either on the part of the form or of the agent or of the subject is a limit to be set to the increase of charity in this life. For there is no limit to the increase of charity in what properly belongs to it in its species, for it is a certain participation of infinite charity, which is the Holy Spirit. Similarly also the causal agent of charity is infinite in power, for it is God. Similarly, too, on the part of the subject, there can be no pre-assigned terminus set to this increase since the greater the increase, the greater the aptitude for further increase."[1002] because as St. Thomas also says here, "by it[charity] the heart expands."[1003] As we already remarked, St. Thomas says: "The obediential power, inasmuch as it can receive something from God, is not limited in this respect, because whatever God does in the creature, there still remains in it the power to receive something from God";[1004] for the obediential power in the creature has immediate reference not to some object that must be known or loved, or to some act that must be elicited, but it has reference to the absolutely free agent, who is infinite in power, whom it obeys and from whom it can always receive something.

Hence we must conclude, as St. Thomas says in this article: "By the purpose of divine wisdom, the measure of grace is sufficient for this[hypostatic] union."[1005]

John of St. Thomas remarks: "Clearly St. Thomas signifies that the end in view of that grace is union with the Word, not in the absolute sense, but as it serves the purpose of divine Wisdom, who assigned such measure of grace to Christ. Hence we conclude that by another purpose of divine Wisdom, there is nothing repugnant in a different measure and increase of grace being given to Christ."[1006]

Solution of objections.

Objection. St. Thomas says in his counter-argument to this twelfth article: "Therefore no greater grace can be or can be thought than that of which Christ was full."

Reply. That St. Thomas says this about Christ's grace with reference to its extrinsic end, which is the hypostatic union, of which he speaks in the preceding article of this question, and as it serves the purpose of divine Wisdom, with which his reply to the second objection of this article is concerned, this I concede; that he says this about Christ's grace taken in the absolute sense of the term and independently of the purpose of divine Wisdom, this I deny.

Thus Christ's grace on account of the union of His human nature with the person of the Word, was the greatest in this order in which it is produced; that is, it is connaturally the greatest, for the purpose or ordination of divine Wisdom that pre-assigned the connatural limits to all forms, according to the connatural order in which these were established by this Wisdom. As God, who gave to St. Peter, to St. John, and to St. Paul, also to St. Augustine, and to St. Thomas a fitting degree of wisdom and charity, could have given them a higher degree, so He gave Christ a higher degree of grace, but on absolute consideration He could have given Christ a higher degree, because the highest possible degree cannot be conceived. Thus the final argument fittingly terminates the best sermon, although, absolutely speaking, there could still be another exhortation.

Another objection. St. Thomas said in the preceding article: "Christ's grace has whatsoever can pertain to the nature of grace."

Reply. This must be understood from the immediate context and from other texts of St. Thomas in this same question, because we cannot suppose that He contradicted himself. In other words, he meant that Christ's grace has whatever pertains to the nature of grace, considered in its moral aspect and with reference to its union with the Word.

Finally, God's power would be exhausted if He could produce nothing more perfect by His absolute power, and even by His extraordinary ordained power.

Final objection. If a higher degree of grace were possible, then Christ would have merited this grace, for His merits were of infinite value.

Reply. That Christ would have merited a higher degree of grace if He had not already been a comprehensor and beyond the condition of wayfarer, let this pass without comment; but although the comprehensor, by means of grace performs many good works, this neither increases grace nor merits an increase of it in the comprehensor, as is evident in the blessed, who in this respect are like to God, inasmuch as God's works can in no way increase His perfection. God did not become better by the fact that He created the universe or sent His Son into the world for our salvation.

If Christ merited the glorification of His body, the reason is that the temporary lack of this glorification of the body was conducive to the end of redemption; whereas, on the contrary, He had from the beginning grace in the highest degree according to His connatural state both as comprehensor and as wayfarer, and thus He absolutely transcended all the just, both angels and men. The Second Council of Constantinople declared that Christ was not made better by advancing in the performance of good works.[1007] On the contrary, the Blessed Virgin, by her continuous and uninterrupted performance of meritorious acts until death, was made better.

Corollary. Hence Christ adored God's supreme good pleasure by which He simultaneously freely willed the Incarnation and determined the degree of habitual grace befitting the Word incarnate. In this also Christ could say: "I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth... for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight."[1008] God's most free decrees must be adored and they are infinitely good, since they are decrees that are the result of infinite wisdom and of infinite love. From this the sublimity of the Deity and of grace taken in the absolute sense, which by God's absolute power can always be increased, is more clearly seen since it is a participation of the divine nature, which is always capable of participation in a more sublime way.

Thirteenth Article: Whether The Habitual Grace Of Christ Followed After The Union

Reply. The grace of union precedes the habitual grace of Christ, not in order of time but by nature and in thought, and this for three reasons.

1) Because of the principles of both graces. For the mission of the Son by the Incarnation precedes by nature the mission of the Holy Spirit by habitual grace and charity, just as in the order of nature the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.

2) Because of the relation of grace to its cause. For Christ's habitual grace is caused by God's presence in Him through His personal union with the Word just as the brightness of the sun comes from the sun.

3) Because of the end of grace. For the purpose of grace is good action, and actions belong to the suppositum and presuppose the suppositum constituted in being. Therefore Christ's habitual grace, since the purpose of it is good action, presupposes the union of the human nature with the Word.

Reply to second objection. "Habitual grace is not understood to have preceded the union but to have followed it, as a natural property"; however, as already stated, the degree of this habitual grace does not flow of necessity from the Word, but "the measure of grace is sufficient to this union by the purpose of divine Wisdom."[1009]

This terminates the question of Christ's grace inasmuch as He is a certain individual man. This question presents to us a sublime illustration of the definition of grace, inasmuch as now we see more clearly that there cannot be a nobler species of habitual grace than ours, or a more exalted species of the beatific vision than that which the blessed possess.

Index Top




"God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray."

St Augustine

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"Those who love God are always happy, because their whole happiness is to fulfill, even in adversity, the will of God."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God."

Thomas Kempis

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