"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.


This question contains six articles that gradually develop the doctrine of the fitness of the Incarnation. St. Thomas begins by discussing:

(1) the fitness of the incarnation;

(2) its necessity for the reparation of the human race;

(3) its proximate motive, whether, if there had been no sin, God would have become incarnate;

(4) whether God became incarnate for the removal of original sin more chiefly than for actual sin;

(5) why it was not more fitting that God should become incarnate in the beginning of the human race;

(6) why it is not more fitting that the Incarnation should take place at the end of the world.

First Article: Whether It Was Fitting That God Should Become Incarnate?[190]

State of the question. In this article we are concerned with the mere fitness, not as yet with the proximate motive of the Incarnation. In other words, was the Incarnation not only possible, but was it expedient and fitting, that is, was it in agreement with God's wisdom and goodness? Taken in this sense, the question is whether it was fitting that God should become man; on the other hand, it does not seem fitting that God should become a lion, although this may perhaps be possible. But was it more fitting that the Son of God, rather than the Father or the Holy Ghost, should become incarnate?[191] Likewise, was it more fitting that the Word should assume the human nature rather than the angelic nature?[192]

This state of the question will be made clearer from the solution of the difficulties posited at the beginning of this article. They constitute, as it were, the nucleus of the difficulties to be solved.

The difficulties are the following.

(1) From all eternity God was separated from human nature. Therefore it was not fitting that He should be united to it.

(2) It is not fitting for those things to be united that are infinitely distant from each other. This seems to be against the principle of continuity, which states that the highest of the lowest order should reach the lowest of the highest, but not that the very lowest should reach the very highest. Hence it seems to be more fitting that God should have taken the nature of the highest angel, which is perhaps what Lucifer thought.

(3) It was not fitting that the supreme uncreated Spirit should assume a body, as indeed He would be assuming what is evil. This objection was raised by the Manichaeans, who held that matter is evil.

(4) It is unfitting that the infinite God, the Ruler of the universe, should remain hidden in the tiny body of an infant. So say Volusianus and many philosophers of modern times, who do not see anything unbecoming, however, in pantheism so that the divine nature be confused with the nature even of a stone. Several rationalists of our times say that the Incarnation would be the lapse or descent of the metaphysical absolute into the phenomenal relative, or the lapse of immutable eternity into mutable time. In like manner some go further and say that the Incarnation might perhaps be admitted by those who thought that the earth is the center of the universe, but not by those who hold that the earth is but like an atom among the millions of stars. They also say that the Incarnation is not only derogatory to God's supreme majesty, but also to His mercy, which is more strikingly manifested by simply forgiving the sin without demanding reparation.

Finally, if it were said to be fitting for God to become incarnate, we should also have to conclude that it was unfitting for God not to become incarnate. But this conclusion is false, because God could have willed not to become incarnate, without this being derogatory to Him.[193] All other objections even of modern philosophers are easily reduced to the above-mentioned objections.[194]

Yet the answer is that it was fitting for God to become incarnate.

Authoritative proof. St. Paul and St. Damascene say that it appears to be most fitting that the invisible things of God be made known by the visible things He has created. Thus God created the world in manifestation of His goodness and perfections. But, as Damascene says, the Incarnation shows the goodness, wisdom, justice, and omnipotence of God.

The goodness which Damascene speaks of includes mercy, and already Plato had defined divine goodness as diffusive of itself, it being the love of supreme opulence or perfection for extreme poverty. In a loftier strain, the Evangelist says: "For God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son."[195] This thought is developed below.

Theological proof. It starts from a consideration of God's goodness, on which the fitness of the Incarnation has its special foundation, and is a commentary on the words of St. John: "For God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son."[196] God's goodness is seen conspicuously in this supreme and most liberal gift, although His wisdom, justice, or omnipotence is also evident.

The argument may be reduced to the following syllogism.

It belongs to the idea of good to communicate itself to others, for good is self-diffusive.[197] But God's nature is essential goodness, or plenitude of being. Therefore it is fitting for God to communicate Himself to others in the highest degree, which finds its complete realization in the Incarnation.

The major is quoted from Dionysius,[198] and is explained by St. Thomas in various places. It contains three principles: Good is self-diffusive, primarily as the end that attracts and perfects. Secondly, inasmuch as the end attracts the agent to act at least immanently. Thirdly, inasmuch as the perfect agent acts to communicate its goodness externally.

Nevertheless, good does not consist essentially in the actual communication of itself, for this would result in pantheistic emanation; but good essentially implies an aptitude or propensity to communicate itself. This means that good is aptitudinally self-diffusive, not of necessity diffusing itself, and, when it does so, this diffusion is sometimes most free and entirely gratuitous; but sometimes this diffusion is a necessary act, if the agent is determined to act in only one way, as the primary purpose of the sun is to give light.

These truths have been explained by St. Thomas in various parts of his works. Thus he says: "Goodness is described as self-diffusive, in the sense that an end is said to move,"[199] namely, by attracting to itself, as to that which is perfect and perfective. Thus good is more of the nature of a final cause than of an efficient cause. But as stated in the argumentative part of this article just quoted, the end moves the efficient cause to act. Hence St. Thomas says: "The very nature of good is that something flows from it but not that it flows from something else.... But, since the First Good diffuses itself according to the intellect, to which it is proper to flow forth into its effects according to a certain fixed form, it follows that there is a certain measure from which all other goods share the power of diffusion."[200]

Thus, this law is verified, namely, that good is self-diffusive throughout the universe, as St. Thomas shows in illustrating the mystery of the Trinity. He says: "The nobler a nature is, the more that which flows from it is more intimate to it."[201] In other words, good is self-diffusive, and the nobler it is, the more fully and more intimately it is self-diffusive. For instance, the sun illumines and heats, or fire generates fire, the plant produces a plant, the grown-up animal or perfect animal generates an animal like itself. Similarly, a celebrated artist or a famous musician conceives and produces wonderful works of art; a prominent scientist or celebrated astronomer discovers and formulates the laws of nature, for instance, the courses of the planets. Great teachers, such as St. Augustine, impart not only their knowledge but also their spirit to their disciples; a virtuous man incites others to lead a virtuous life; great apostles, such as St. Paul, communicate to others their love for God. Hence good is self-diffusive, and the nobler it is, the more fully and intimately it is self-diffusive. We now see how this principle illustrates the mystery of the Trinity, inasmuch as the Father, generating the Son, communicates to Him not only a participation in His nature, His intellect, and His love, but His complete and indivisible nature, so that the Son of God is Light of Light, God of God, true God of true God. Likewise the Holy Spirit is true God proceeding from the mutual love between the Father and the Son.

There is, however, a difficulty. It is that the principle, good is self-diffusive, proves either too much or not enough. It proves, indeed, too much if we infer from it the moral necessity and a fortiori the physical necessity of the Incarnation. But it does not prove enough if the Incarnation is a most free decree, because then, whether God became incarnate or not seems to be equally fitting.

As a matter of fact, there were extreme views both for and against this principle. Some pantheists, such as the Neoplatonists, in accordance with their emanatory theory, exaggerated this principle, saying that good is essentially and actually self-diffusive and also actually diffusing itself. But God is the highest good. Therefore He is essentially and actually diffusive externally by a process of necessary emanation. This teaching is contrary to the dogma of a free creation, which was explicitly defined by the Vatican Council in these words: "God created both the spiritual and corporeal creature with absolute freedom of counsel,"[202] and not from eternity.

Absolute optimists, such as Leibnitz and Malebranche, likewise erred.[203] Hence the principle that good is self-diffusive must be understood in the sense we already noted with the Thomists, as meaning that good does not consist essentially in the actual communication of itself, but that there is essentially in good an aptitude and tendency to be self-diffusive, first as the end proposed, and then as moving the agent to act. But actual diffusion of good is sometimes necessary if the agent is determined in one way, as the sun is to illumine; sometimes this diffusion is a most free and absolutely gratuitous act,[204] because God is not determined in one way in His eternal acts. He is already infinitely good and blessed in Himself, and created good does not increase His perfection; He is not more being after His action.

Thus creation and the Incarnation are absolutely free acts. The freedom of both is confirmed by the revelation of the mystery of the Trinity; for if there had been neither creation nor Incarnation, the principle that good is self-diffusive would be verified in the case of the internal divine processions.

This sufficiently explains the major of our syllogism, namely, that good is self-diffusive.

Minor. God's nature is essential goodness, for He is the self-subsisting Being and is therefore the very plenitude of being, which means that He is the essential, supreme, and infinite goodness.[205]

Therefore it is fitting for God to communicate Himself to others in the highest degree, and this is, indeed, most effectively accomplished by means of the Incarnation. For by this means God communicates to the creature not only a participation of being, as in the creation of stones, not only a participation in life, as in the creation of plants and animals, not only a participation in the intellectual and moral life of justice and holiness, as in the creation of Adam, the first man, but He communicates Himself in person. St. Thomas quotes St. Augustine in saying: "He so joined created nature to Himself that one person is made up of these three, the Word, a soul, and flesh."[206] Hence it is manifest that it was fitting for God to become incarnate.

This same principle (good is self-diffusive) illustrates the mystery of Redemption, the sacrifice of the Cross, and the institution of the Eucharist.

There is still another difficulty, namely, that this argument does not sufficiently prove. It is that if, in virtue of the principle that good is self-diffusive, the Incarnation is not even morally necessary but absolutely free and gratuitous, then it is equally fitting whether God become incarnate or not. This leaves the question either indifferent or undecided. Therefore, as the nominalists say, it is useless for theology to speak of the fitness of the mysteries that have been accomplished by God's liberality.

Reply. Billuart says: "The incarnation was fitting, not in the sense of its being necessary, but of its being a free act."[207] We say, for in stance, the motive for choosing this particular thing is fitting, not as necessitating the will, but it is fitting that this particular thing be a matter of free choice, and not because of any necessity. Thus it is fitting to preserve one's virginity, yet it is equally fitting to make use of matrimony, because each is a free decision. And so incarnation or no incarnation, each was equally fitting. As Cajetan says: "To communicate Himself to others does not denote a new perfection in God but in the creature to whom this perfection is communicated."[208]

Hence theology does not have recourse to useless speculations about the fittingness of the Incarnation, as several nominalists said, and certain philosophers and theologians who wrote that the Incarnation is said to be fitting because it was accomplished; but it would have been likewise and equally fitting for God not to have become incarnate if He had so willed. Therefore the arguments of fitness have no foundation.

This statement would be true if it were not more fitting for God to have chosen to become incarnate than for Him not to have chosen. In the opinion of St. Thomas, before the foreknowledge of merits it is not more fitting for God to choose Peter in preference to Judas; for this choice "depends on the will of God; as from the simple will of the artificer it depends that this stone is in this part of the wall, and that in another; although the plan requires that some stones should be in this place and some in that place."[209] The election of the predestined depends purely on the divine benevolence, which is the culmination of divine liberty.

In the matter we are discussing, it is a certain motive in the divine strategy or in divine providence that makes the Incarnation more fitting than no incarnation,[210] just as creation is preferable to no creation, and just as virginity consecrated to God is better than matrimony. But this reason of fitness does not even morally necessitate the divine will, which is independent of all created good, inasmuch as from all eternity God's goodness is infinite, and is not in need of any created good. Therefore the argument of fitness does not make it necessary for God to become incarnate, but it is advanced as showing the wisdom of such choice.

Difficulty. God would have communicated Himself still more if He had united all created natures with Himself.

Reply. The union is not an absolute impossibility, and it would not have been pantheism, because it would have been accomplished without confusion of the created nature with the uncreated; but then all men and angels would have been impeccable, as Christ is. It is also fitting that the Word be united with the human nature, which is the microcosm, the compendium of the universe, inasmuch as it includes corporeity, as also vegetative, sensitive and intellective lives.

It is even more perfect for the Word to be united only with the human nature of Christ, and not with others. The reason is that the whole world demands subordination of beings, and it is fitting that the created nature personally united with the Word be the highest in the order of created beings, as the efficient and final cause of those beings beneath it, as St. Paul says: "For all are yours. And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."[211]

Concerning this article, Medina asks whether there can be anything more excellent than the humanity of Christ. He replies that there can, indeed, be something more excellent than the humanity of Christ, but not anything more excellent than Christ.

1) God could not make anything that is better than Christ our I Lord, because Christ is truly God.

2) God could not elevate human nature to anything better than the hypostatic union.

3) God could have made something more excellent than the humanity of Christ, such as more perfect angels. In fact, as we shall state farther on, God, by His absolute power, could have given to the soul of Christ a higher degree of the light of glory, or one of greater intensity, because the highest possible degree of the created light of glory is inconceivable; for God can produce something still more perfect than anything He has produced. Thus the swiftest possible motion is inconceivable, because such swiftest motion would reach its terminus before it had left its starting point, and would no longer be motion, but immobility.

St. Thomas says: "God can make always something better than each individual thing."[212] Hence in created beings, there is no highest possible, and in this sense there is no highest creatable angel; but nothing can be higher than the hypostatic union of some created nature with some divine person.

What has just been said is the answer to the absolute optimism of Leibnitz and Malebranche.

Reply to first objection. "God was not changed by the Incarnation... but He united Himself to the creature in a new way, or rather united Himself to it," St. Thomas says; "or rather He united it to Himself," because there is a real relation of union of Christ's humanity to the Word, but not of the Word to the assumed humanity. It was fitting for Christ's humanity thus to be assumed.

Reply to the second objection. "To be united to God was not fitting for human flesh according to its natural endowments, but it was fitting by reason of God's infinite goodness that He should unite it for man's salvation."

This distinction is of greatest validity in showing the fitness of the elevation of our nature to the supernatural order, so as to solve the following objection, which is similar to the one raised by Baius: What is eminently fitting must be unconditional, and is opposed to what is gratuitous. But the beatific vision is for us eminently fitting, so that its privation is abject misery. Therefore the beatific vision is unconditionally fitting to our nature, and is not gratuitous.

Reply. I distinguish the major, in accordance with the distinction given in this article. What is eminently fitting according to our natural endowments must be unconditional, this I concede; what is according to God's infinite goodness, this I deny; and I contradistinguish the minor.

Reply to the third objection. It could be fitting for God to assume flesh but not evil, because flesh is from God the author of nature and is ordered to good, whereas evil is not.

Reply to fourth objection. St. Augustine replies to Volusianus that God by the Incarnation at Bethlehem did not lose the government of the world, just as He did not lose His divine nature, but united the human nature to it. "Hence (in the infant) Jesus the greatness of divine power feels no straits in narrow surroundings." God's immensity is not measured by space or by quantity, but it is greatness of power, supporting or preserving all things in being. If a word Uttered by a human being in some point of space can be heard by others also even far away, and its meaning has a moral influence upon the whole world, why could not the Word of God, present in the frail body of the child Jesus, still preserve in being and govern all things created?[213]

Finally, what must be said in reply to the objection of modern scientists, who say that the Incarnation perhaps could be admitted if the earth were the center of the universe, which it is not, for it is a planet among countless millions of heavenly bodies that are greater, namely, the stars and the nebulae?

Reply. It may be said: 1. Just as the a priori reason why the Savior was sent was not so that the Jewish race be chosen in preference to some other nation, or, among the women of this race, that Mary be chosen as the Mother of our Lord in preference to some other woman, or among the just of this race, there was no a priori reason that Joseph be chosen as the foster father of our Lord; so there is no a priori reason that the earth be chosen in preference to some other heavenly body that may possibly be inhabited, such as Sirius.

We may also say: 2. We do not know whether there are any other heavenly bodies suitable for human habitation, which are inhabited.

On this point both the positive sciences and theology can offer only hypotheses. Therefore it is not on conjectural grounds that the testimony about the Incarnation must be rejected; namely, the testimony of Christ, of the apostles, of so many martyrs, of the Catholic Church must be rejected concerning the Incarnation. This testimony is confirmed, indeed, by miracles and the wonderful life of the Church, which is fruitful both morally and spiritually in all good works.

If some of the other heavenly bodies are inhabited by human beings, God has not deemed it opportune to reveal this fact to us. Some say, if perhaps there are others inhabited, then these human beings are either in the purely natural state, or there was no case of original sin among them, or if there was, then they were regenerated in some other way than by the Incarnation. There is nothing intrinsically repugnant in all these views. It is difficult to say, however, whether these opinions can be reconciled with the free decree of the Incarnation in its relation to the human race. For revelation speaks of the human race as it exists on this earth.

Whatever is the fact about these gratuitous hypotheses, Christ, as the incarnate Word of God, is the culmination of the whole of creation, and, just as He is the head of the angels, at least as regards accidental grace, so He could be such with reference to human beings who might be living on some of the other heavenly bodies. Concerning these things and many others, we have no knowledge, and there is no need for us to stop and discuss them. Some men seem to be of the opinion that on other heavenly bodies perhaps there are rational animals of another species than man. But this seems to be false, for the term "rational animal" seems to be not a genus but the ultimate species, according to the principle of continuity; for the highest in the lowest order, for instance, the sensitive life, touches the lowest in the highest order, namely, the intellective life. Hence there is no conjunction of the highest in the sensitive life with the lowest in the intellective life, except in one species, and this is not susceptible to either increase or decrease.

Finally, it must be noted that even if the world were the mathematical center of the universe, this would be no reason why God should choose it for the Incarnation. Thus Christ was not born in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem. So also St. Augustine was the greatest theologian of his time, and yet he came into the world and taught not at Rome, which was the center of the world, but in Africa. He was only bishop of Hippo.

The mathematical position of a body is a matter of less importance with reference to a supernatural mystery, which infinitely transcends the spatial order.

What has been said suffices concerning the fitness of the Incarnation.

Second Article: Whether It Was Necessary For The Restoration Of The Human Race That The Word Of God Should Become Incarnate?

State of the question.

(1) We assume that the Incarnation was not absolutely necessary, as Wyclif contended, arguing from the false principle that "all things happen because of absolute necessity."[214] Presupposing the fact of creation, the Incarnation was not necessary, whatever absolute optimists, such as Leibnitz and Malebranche, said to the contrary; although the Incarnation may have increased the accidental glory of God, He is absolutely sufficient unto Himself, and is not at all in need of this accidental glory.

2) We assume that after original sin, it was in God's power not to will the reparation of the human race, and in this there would have been no injustice, as St. Augustine says.[215] Therefore we must thank God for having mercifully willed to free the human race from sin.

As a matter of fact, indeed, God did not reinstate the fallen angels; and why He permitted their fall was for a greater good, which must be the manifestation of infinite justice. St. Thomas considers the reparation of the human race to be most fitting, for the sin was not in itself irreparable, whereas he considers the devil's sin, which was committed with full knowledge, to be in itself irreparable, just as the sin of final impenitence is for man. He says: "So it is customary to say that man's free will is flexible to the opposite both before and after the choice; but the angel, s free will is flexible to either opposite before the choice but not after. So therefore the good angels who adhered to justice were confirmed therein; whereas the wicked ones, sinning, are obstinate in sin,"[216] because the angel immediately and intuitively sees whatever must be considered before the choice, with nothing to be considered after the choice.

The question of this article is posited on the understanding that God wills to restore the human race, so far as it is capable of restoration.

A thing is said to be necessary for the end in two ways:

a) simply, when the end cannot be attained in any other way. Thus food is necessary for the preservation of life;

b) in a qualified manner, when the end is attained more conveniently, as a horse is necessary for a journey.

Some thought that St. Anselm in his treatise on the Incarnation[217] taught its absolute necessity after the fall of the human race; but St. Bonaventure and Scotus interpret his statements in a benign sense; in fact, St. Anselm does so himself farther on.[218] Tournely holds that the Incarnation is absolutely necessary after the fall of the human race, if God wills to free the human race from sin.

On the contrary, it is the common teaching among theologians that the Incarnation is not absolutely necessary even after the fall of the human race, even if it is granted that God willed to free the human race from sin, because there were other means of liberation; but it was necessary secundum quid. Suarez thinks that it would be rash to deny this common opinion of the theologians; so does Lugo. In fact, Valentia says that the conclusion is most certain, which means that it is a theological conclusion commonly admitted by the theologians, one which is supported by many testimonies of the Fathers of the Church.[219]

St. Thomas, who firmly holds this conclusion, begins by positing difficulties that are against even the secundum quid necessity of the Incarnation. He argues that the Incarnation does not seem to be necessary even secundum quid because: (1) for the reparation of the human race, the non-incarnate Word can do whatever the incarnate Word can do; therefore the Incarnation is not absolutely necessary. (2) God must not demand from man greater satisfaction than man can give. (3) It is better if there had been no Incarnation, because the more men consider God as raised above all creatures and removed from sense perception, the more they reverence Him. But God's dignity seems to be lowered by assuming human flesh.

Yet the answer is:

1) The Incarnation is not indeed absolutely necessary for the reparation of the human race. (2) But it was necessary secundum quid, namely, as a better and more convenient means.

First Part:

Authoritative proof. A. Billuart holds[220] that this second opinion is the unanimous teaching of the Fathers; he mentions SS. Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Theodoret, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory the Great, and John Damascene. Likewise St. Augustine in one of his works says: "Foolish people say that the only way by which God in His wisdom could liberate mankind was by becoming man, and by suffering all He did from sinners. To these persons we say that such was absolutely possible for God, but if He had done otherwise, this likewise would have been displeasing to your stupidity."[221]

B. Proof from reason. Concerning this first part of the thesis, St. Thomas says: "God of His omnipotent power could have restored human nature in many other ways."[222] What ways were these?

In the first place, God could have pardoned the offense committed against Him by sin. Tournely denies the possibility of this way by God's ordinary power, because the preservation of justice requires punishment of the offense.

We reply to this objection, according to the mind of St. Thomas,[223] by saying that the supreme judge and legislator can do so, since He is above other judges, and therefore enjoys the prerogative of being able to pardon offenders even without demanding reparation, just as sometimes kings bestow a favor upon or are merciful to those condemned to death.

Or again, God could have accepted some sort of satisfaction from man, or as it pleased Him to accept it; for there is no contradiction implied in these ways of pardoning by Him, and God is absolutely free in His operations ad extra.

Or, as we said in the statement of the question, God could even have willed not to restore the human race, although it is extremely fitting for Him to do so.

Proof of thesis (second part). This part states that the Incarnation was secundum quid necessary for the reparation of the human race, as being the better way.

First of all, there is the authority of St. Augustine, who holds that the Incarnation was more fitting than any other way for the reparation of the human race.

St. Thomas offers a fine theological proof, in which he shows the fitness of the Incarnation on the part of man, just as in the first article of this question he showed its fitness on the part of God, who, being the supreme good, is in the highest degree self-diffusive. His argument may be reduced to the following syllogism.

That way is better for the reparation of the human race, by which man is better and more easily urged to good and withdrawn from evil. But each of these results is obtained by the Incarnation. Therefore the Incarnation is the better way for the reparation of the human race. The major is evident.

The minor is proved, as regards our furtherance in good, by a consideration of the theological virtues, which are higher than all the other virtues, for God is their immediate object and the ultimate end to whom the sinner must be converted.

Faith is made more certain by the Incarnation, for the very reason that by it we believe God Himself who is speaking.

For the formal motive of faith is the authority of God revealing; but God, who is most exalted, remains hidden from us, even though He speaks to us through the prophets, whose preaching is confirmed by miracles. How much more we are confirmed in the faith, if God Himself comes to us, and speaks to us as a human being, not as the scribes did, but as one having authority, saying: "Amen, amen, I say unto you: he that believeth in Me, hath everlasting life."[224]

This argument seems paradoxical to those who say, as the liberal Protestants do, that Christianity is the most exalted type of religion, provided that the dogma of Christ's divinity be eliminated from it. They say this, since they are imbued with the spirit of rationalism that seeks to judge all things by human reason, and not as God sees them.

On the contrary, if we consider this matter in the spirit of faith, this argument is seen to be most fitting and also most exalted, and not one made up by St. Augustine, who is quoted in this article, but as contained already in the very preaching of Christ and His apostles. Jesus Himself says: "I am one that give testimony of Myself, and the Father that sent Me giveth testimony of Me."[225] No prophet spoke words like these, for only Christ can say such words, because He alone, as He Himself said, "is the truth and the life."[226] He is the First Truth, who gives testimony of Himself, and so He is the formal motive of faith, namely, the authority of God actually revealing, and this authority is confirmed by miracles evident to the senses. Similarly Jesus says: "The words which Thou gayest Me I have given to them. And they have received them and have known in very deed that I came out from Thee; and they have believed that Thou didst send Me."[227] Hence the Evangelist writes: "The Samaritans said to the woman: We now believe not for thy saying, for we ourselves have heard Him, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world."[228]

Likewise St. John says in his prologue: "And of His fullness we have all received.... No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him."[229]

Similarly St. John says: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the World of life. For the life was manifested, and we have seen and do bear witness and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father, and hath appeared to us."[230] This means that you can believe because what we announce to you we have heard from the Word incarnate, whom we saw by our sense of sight, whom we looked upon, and whom we touched with our hands.

Likewise St. Paul writes: "God who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all in these days hath spoken to us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He hath made the world."[231] And again he says: "For if the word, spoken by angels, became stead fast... how shall we escape... what has been declared by the Lord, ... God also bearing them witness by signs and wonders."[232] This means that Christ is a more exalted witness than the angels.

These texts serve to illustrate the argument of St. Thomas, who says that by the Incarnation our faith is reassured since we believe God Himself speaking to us, that is, speaking to us as man in His assumed nature. As St. Augustine says: "In order that man might journey more trustfully toward the truth, the Truth itself, the Son of God, having assumed human nature, established and founded faith."[233]

Certainly in this life we see Christ's divinity neither by the sense of sight nor mentally; but Jesus with so great authority speaks to us, saying: "I give testimony of Myself,"[234] making Himself equal to God, so that no man of good will can doubt that Jesus is truly the living God, who is speaking to us. I say: no man of good will in the salutary sense of the Gospel, that is, neither resisting revelation, nor internal inspiration given to one for the purpose of believing.

When Christ says, "Come to Me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you... he that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me,"[235] He means men of good will who do not resist the grace of faith, do not doubt that He is more than a mere man, more than a prophet, because no prophet uttered such words; and they are certain that Christ is the First Truth, who is speaking to us. And it is precisely such great authority as this that proves unbearable to the Pharisees, who therefore turn away from Him.

In other words, what is the greatest light on this earth for men of good will, becomes obscurity for them. This means that what most of all confirms the faith of men of good will, becomes a source of scandal for them, as Simeon foretold, saying: "Behold this Child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign that shall be contradicted."[236] For this reason Christ Himself said: "Blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in Me."[237] Our argument was imputed formerly as an objection to our Lord's opponents, and is so too in our days for the rationalists, who, so they say, would be willing to admit the truth of Christianity if it did not include the dogma of Christ's divinity, which means that they would accept Christianity if it were no longer Christianity, but only a higher form of the evolution of natural religion. Thus the greatest light is turned for them into obscurity; but this light is essentially illuminating, and it is only accidentally that it has a blinding effect, that is, on account of the bad disposition of the hearer. As St. Augustine says: "Light is annoying to those of defective eyesight, but it is very welcome to those of good eyesight."[238]

Thus the argument remains most firm, namely, that our faith is made more certain by the Incarnation, since we believe God who speaks to us as man in His assumed human nature. The formal motive of faith is reduced to almost sensible proportions inasmuch it is the supreme authority of Christ speaking. Hence we read in the Gospel that the ministers sent by the Pharisees feared to arrest Jesus, and replied to the chief priests: "Never did man speak like this man."[239] They meant, never did any man utter words so sublime, or in such an exalted and divine manner; for there was a sensible manifestation of something divine in Christ's tone and manner of speech.

St. Thomas says that by the Incarnation we are greatly strengthened in hope. Why is this? It is because hope is a theological virtue that longs for the supreme future and possible good, indeed, but difficult of attainment. Its formal motive is God helping, who has promised us His help not only to keep His commandments that are always possible to observe, but also to save our souls.

Hence hope is trust in God, and this trust increases in us inasmuch as God not only promises His help, but actually bestows it, and manifests His benevolence even in a way that appeals to our senses. Thus we place our trust especially in friends, because we know their help comes from motives of true and deep love for us.

But by the Incarnation God not only gives us His help, which means not only His grace, but He gives us the Author of grace, who remains present in the Holy Eucharist, which very much increases the virtue of hope in us. It is what St. Augustine says in the passage quoted by St. Thomas in this article.

Thus the virtue of hope is very much strengthened in us since Christ says more reassuringly than any prophet: "Come to Me all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you."[240] I am He who helps, I am the Author of salvation. Similarly, when Jesus says to the paralytic, before healing him: "Thy sins are forgiven thee,"[241] that is, your soul is healed, whereas you were demanding only the cure of a bodily ailment. Likewise St. Paul formulated this argument in equivalent words when he wrote: "The mystery which hath been hidden from ages and generations, but now is manifested to His saints, to whom God would make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you the hope of glory."[242] Again he writes: "Christ our hope,"[243] for Christ Himself, as God, is both the object and the motive of our hope, for God Himself is both helper and helping.

The following special text of St. Paul must here be quoted: "If God be for us, who is against us? He that spared not even His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also, with Him, give us all things? Who shall accuse against the elect of God?... Who is He that shall condemn? Christ Jesus that died, yea that is risen also again, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or famine... or persecution or the sword?... But in all these things we overcome because of Him that has loved us."[244] In other words, in all these things we overcome, because of the efficacy of the help of Him who loved us; and in the opinion of St. Augustine and St. Thomas this help is of itself efficacious, and not because our consent was foreseen by God.

The formal motive of hope is not man's effort cooperating with God's help, but it is God helping, who, by the Incarnation is with us and remains present in the Holy Eucharist. Thus we have the greatest reason for trusting in God.

Thirdly, by the Incarnation "charity is greatly enkindled," says St. Thomas, who quotes here St. Augustine as saying: "What greater cause is there of the Lord's coming than to show God's love for us?" And St. Augustine afterward adds: "If we have been slow to love, at least let us hasten to love in return."[245]

Charity obliges us to love God more than we love ourselves, loving Him as our friend, the formal motive of our love being His goodness, which infinitely surpasses all His favors bestowed upon us. This means that we must will efficaciously the fulfillment of His will, that He may reign truly and profoundly in souls and be glorified forever, since the Scripture says: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us; but to Thy name give glory."[246] What has been said constitutes the definition of charity that surpasses hope, just as the love of benevolence surpasses the love of concupiscence, no matter how much this latter be upright and ordered to its proper end. By the virtue of hope, I desire God for myself, but as my final end, indeed, because He is God. By the virtue of charity, however, I love God efficaciously as my friend, and I love Him more than I love myself, and I will Him all befitting good. This most sublime aspect of charity, more than anything hope can offer, will enable us to cease worrying, too, about the mystery of predestination, notwithstanding its great obscurity. By charity I love God more than myself, and in a general way whatever God has eternally decreed in manifestation of His goodness. Thus God, who is infinitely good, is the eminent source of all goodness being a quasi-ego to myself, and in a certain sense more an ego than I am, for whatever good I possess already is contained in Him in a far more eminent manner. This is that true mysticism which is certainly the normal way to holiness.

But this divine goodness, which is the formal object of charity, is especially made manifest by the supreme act of love in which God gave us His only-begotten Son.[247] It is the fundamental truth of Christianity, because this love is the fountain source of the very gift of the Incarnation. Hence Jesus says: "As the Father hath loved Me, I also have loved you. Abide in My love."[248] And again: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."[249] St. John writes: "By this hath the charity of God appeared toward us, because God hath sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we may live by Him. In this is charity, not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. My dearest, if God hath so loved us, we also ought to love one another."[250] Farther on he says: "Let us therefore love God, because God first hath loved us."[251]

Likewise St. Paul says: "But God commendeth His charity toward us, because when as yet we were sinners, according to the time, Christ died for us."[252] Writing to Titus, he says: "For the grace of God our Savior hath appeared to all men, instructing us, that denying ungodliness and worldly desires... we should live Godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ."[253]

Thus these three arguments of St. Thomas not only result in a theologically certain conclusion, but they pertain to the faith, and are the sublime object of contemplation. It is also evident that this contemplation, which proceeds from faith illumined by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, is the normal way to holiness of life.

Fourth, the incarnation of the Word sets us an example in the practice of all virtues, whereas Diogenes and several other philosophers said that the search for an exemplar in virtues is a vain quest. It is only Christ who could say to His adversaries: "Which of you shall convince Me of sin?',[254] Hence holiness of life consists in the imitation of Christ.

Fifth. The Incarnation is most appropriate for withdrawing us from evil.

1) Because man by the Incarnation is instructed to despise the devil conquered by Christ even as man, as stated in the legend of St. Christopher.

2) Because by the Incarnation we begin to realize the dignity of our human nature, so that we are urged not to stain our soul by sin.

3) Because the Incarnation takes away all presumption from us since God, s grace, regardless of any previous merits on our part, is approved in us or bestowed upon us through Jesus Christ, so that St. Paul is able to say: "By the grace of God I am what I am."[255] The sinner, too, who has committed all crimes, can repent by trusting in the infinite merits of Christ.

4) Pride is removed and cured by a consideration of the humiliating conditions of the passion of our Lord.

5) Man is freed from the slavery of the devil and of sin. As St. Thomas says in this article in equivalent words: God, by assuming our human nature, did not lessen His majesty and attracted us more by this means to know Him.[256]

Therefore the Incarnation is a more fitting way of freeing the human race from sin. Nevertheless, God could have chosen not to become man, and this would not have been derogatory to Him, for the Incarnation was a most free act, and an absolutely gratuitous gift.

Hence we must say that it was more fitting for God to become incarnate, but it would not have been inconsistent with God's goodness if He had not become incarnate. Similarly, it was more fitting for God to have created and raised man to the supernatural order, but it would not have been derogatory to His goodness if He had not done so. Thus in human actions, virginity is more perfect than matrimony, but there is nothing unbecoming in matrimony. There is freedom of choice in both cases.

The only remaining difficulty is the one proposed in the second objection of this article, namely, that it does not seem proper for God to demand greater satisfaction than man can give.

St. Thomas replies to this objection by giving a brief summary of the doctrine on satisfaction. He remarks that it would not, indeed, be fitting if God had not given His Son as Redeemer to make the greater satisfaction. But God gave His Son. This difficulty gives us the opportunity to present certain doubts that must be examined in amplification of the doctrine of this article.

First doubt. Was the Incarnation necessary so as to have condign satisfaction for sin?

St. Thomas examines this question in his reply to the second objection of this article.

State of the question. Satisfaction is the compensation or voluntary payment of any debt. It is of various kinds, as may be seen by the following schema.


considered as a formal act of justice, it is called rigorous satisfaction; considered on the part of the offense, it is called condign satisfaction.

  considered also on the part of the offense it is called congruent satisfaction.

St. Thomas distinguishes between two kinds of satisfaction.

1) Satisfaction is perfectly sufficient, he says, when it is condign, being in a certain sense adequate in reparation of the fault committed. Thus, if anyone has to pay another a debt of one hundred dollars, and returns the complete sum, then he is said to have made perfect satisfaction in a material sense. Moreover, that the satisfaction be perfect in the formal sense, or as an act of justice, the restitution must be made out of the debtor, s own belongings, and must not be owing to the creditor on some other account, nor in any way under his dominion. The last condition is that the creditor is bound to accept the payment as satisfaction.

Perfect satisfaction considered merely materially is called condign satisfaction. Perfect satisfaction in the formal sense is called rigorous or according to the strictest standard of justice.

2) Imperfect satisfaction also in the material sense, or what is not condign, is that which is deemed sufficient, and which a person is contented to accept as satisfactory. Thus, if anyone is bound to pay back one hundred dollars, and returns eighty, the creditor being satisfied with this sum, such satisfaction is often called congruent.

Three certain conclusions follow from these distinctions.

1) Mere man can in the material sense satisfy imperfectly for sin. This conclusion is expressed in equivalent words by St. Thomas toward the end of his reply to the second objection. The expression "mere man" does not mean the exclusion of grace, but only of the divine nature. Thus a just person can satisfy imperfectly for his own mortal sin, or for another's, by a satisfaction which God can accept, if He so wills, and which He could have accepted, if He had not willed to free man from sin by the Incarnation. So also in this life our satisfactions for our sins, or in reparation for the sins of others, are imperfect even in the material sense. Hence St. Thomas says: "The satisfaction of every mere man has its efficiency from the satisfaction of Christ,"[257] even the satisfaction of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Therefore she is not called co-redemptress except in a subordinate sense to Christ, as being quasi sub-redemptress.

Hence Pope Pius X ratified the common teaching of theologians, when he said: "That which Christ merited for us de condigno, the Blessed Virgin Mary merited for us de congruo."[258] And likewise she did not satisfy for us de condigno, but de congruo. Pope Benedict XV declared: "It can truly be said that along with Christ she redeemed the human race,"[259] that is, subordinate to Christ with Him, and through Him, the Blessed Virgin Mary's satisfaction was not condign but congruent, or an imperfect satisfaction, which was not of itself (apart from Christ's redemption) perfectly sufficient.

2) Mere man cannot offer complete satisfaction to God for his own sin or for another's. This means that he cannot satisfy according to the strictest standard of justice, because there is nothing either in the natural order or in the supernatural order that he can offer to God which has not been bestowed upon him by God who is His creditor and which God is bound to accept in satisfaction. Thus the Holy See approved the following statement of a provincial council: "No one but the God-man was able to satisfy in strict justice."[260]

3) Mere man could not satisfy de condigno for his own or another's mortal sin; and for such condign reparation the Incarnation was necessary.

This conclusion, which is commonly admitted by theologians, is considered certain by St. Thomas, and occurs in the beginning of his reply to the second objection. However, some theologians. following Scotus and Durandus, admitted that some creature, adorned with a very high degree of grace, such as the Blessed Virgin Mary, could satisfy adequately for mortal sin.

There are proofs for this third conclusion.

Authoritative proof. St. Augustine says: "We would not have been liberated through the one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ, unless He were also God."[261] Likewise, St. Leo says: "It He were not truly God, He could not apply the remedy; if He were not truly man, He could not give us the example."[262]

This traditional and common opinion among theologians was approved recently by Pope Pius XI, who wrote concerning Mary reparatrix: "If the Son of God had not assumed our human nature for the purpose of repairing it, no created power sufficed to expiate the crimes of men."[263]

Thus the traditional thesis is now a ratified pontifical document, and is theologically certain, being an approved theological conclusion.

Theological proof. St. Thomas gives two reasons why adequate satisfaction was impossible. This he does in his reply to the second objection of this article.

a) Condign satisfaction was impossible by mere man "because the whole of human nature has been corrupted by sin," and only a just person can merit de condigno and satisfy. But some may say that God could have preserved some man from original sin, or could have sanctified him after the sin was committed and bestowed a high degree of grace upon him so that he could satisfy for it.

The second reason replies to this suggestion.

b) This reason may be presented by the following syllogism. Mortal sin committed against God has a certain infinity considered as an offense. But condign satisfaction must be adequate reparation. Therefore condign satisfaction must have infinite efficacy, as being the satisfactory act of one who is both God and man.

St. Thomas proves the major by saying: "A sin committed against God has a kind of infinity from the infinity of the divine majesty, because the greater the person we offend, the more grievous the offense."[264]

Yet not all Thomists interpret this major in the same sense.[265]

Some theologians say that St. Thomas wrote that "mortal sin has a kind of infinity"[266]. as an offense. Therefore its gravity is not absolutely infinite, but only in a qualified sense and objectively; for sin as an act of the will is always finite. Likewise, its malice, since it is a turning to changeable good, is finite; so it does not merit absolutely infinite punishment, for the penalty of damnation consists in the deprivation of the beatific vision, which is something created, although it concerns God objectively. So say certain Thomists such as Soto, Conradus, along with Scotus, Suarez, and Vasquez.

Others say that the gravity of mortal sin is absolutely infinite, not indeed considered as a physical act, nor as a moral act because of its malice and demerit, but because it is an offense. Briefly, a grievous offense against God is absolutely infinite. Such is the view of Capreolus, Cajetan, Gonet, Salmanticenses, and John of St. Thomas.[267]

These theologians say that, more probably mortal sin, because it is an offense, is absolutely infinite in gravity, and this for the reason given by St. Thomas, namely, "because the greater the person we offend, the more grievous the offense."[268] But He who is the supreme good, who is the ultimate end, who is practically denied by mortal sin, is absolutely infinite in dignity; whereas man prefers the creature to God and loves himself more than God. If it were not so, then St. Thomas would be wrong in concluding the necessity of infinite satisfaction.

St. Thomas also says: "Since God infinitely transcends the creature, mortal sin committed against God is an infinite offense, by reason of the dignity of Him to whom somehow harm is done by sin, since God Himself and His precept are despised."[269]

Moreover, the offense is morally in the person offended, inasmuch as the person offended is truly the victim of injustice. Hence the greater is the dignity of the person offended, the greater is the offense. Thus it is a greater offense to insult a genera than a soldier, and a king than a general. Hence to insult God is absolutely infinite as a moral act, inasmuch as it practically denies God the infinite dignity owing to Him as the ultimate end or as the infinite good.

Nevertheless, one mortal sin can be more grievous than another in three ways, either because it is committed with greater deliberation and consent; or, objectively considered, because it is more directed against God; or by reason of the circumstances.

Most certainly the gravity of the offense is estimated according to the dignity of the person offended, whereas the value of the reparation is estimated according to the dignity of the person who makes reparation. The whole force of the argument rests on this statement.

Objection. Some say that although God, who is infinite, is the object of the act of charity, this act is not absolutely infinite in dignity as a moral act. Therefore, although mortal sin offends God who is infinite, considered as an offense in the moral order, it is not absolutely infinite in gravity.

Reply. The difference is that, as regards charity, God is only its object and not its subject; but He is the subject of the moral offense committed against Him. Thus, as stated, the greater the dignity of the person offended, the greater is the gravity of the offense. On the contrary, although God can be the object of venial sin, it does not deny Him the infinite dignity owing to Him as the ultimate end, and thus its offense is not absolutely infinite.

Briefly, a grievous offense against God is absolutely infinite, since it is practically a denial of His absolutely infinite dignity.

This comparison between a mere man's act of charity that is of finite value, and a grave and absolutely infinite offense against God, is founded on the principle that in our negations concerning God there is more of denial than there is of assertion in our affirmations.[270]

A practical denial of the dignity of the ultimate end denies more about it, than its practical affirmation can affirm about it. Hence the general saying that it is easier to destroy than to build. In a moment a man can destroy very precious objects, which only after a long time can be replaced; and it is generally admitted that an inferior can do more against a superior than for him. Matter, by escaping from the domination of its form, can do more against the form of a corporeal thing, such as a plant or an animal, than for it by remaining under it, because without matter this form, for instance, of a lion, totally disappears, but matter alone is not sufficient for the sensitive life of the lion. The mineral kingdom can do more harm to man, for instance, in an earthquake, than good to him; likewise the lack of air necessary for breathing causes death, whereas its presence is not sufficient; for life, food and other things are also required.

Similarly in the human order, a common man can do great harm to a king, but he cannot render him all the honors that are due to him. Likewise the common people can be the source of more affliction to men of great ability than joy to them. In like manner, if it is said of a good doctor that he is not so in the medical art, this judgment grieves him more than the opposite judgment could cause him to rejoice.

Generally speaking, the inferior can do more harm to the superior than good to him. Proud Satan is conscious of this; the devil wishes to have power not from grace, but in his own right; and so he wishes to have the power to destroy, which is tantamount to saying: I am preventing the development of the kingdom of God; it is for this reason that I exist and have power.

Hence the truth of the principle: the inferior can do more harm than good to the superior.

Thus it is that the subordination of the inferior helps to some extent the action of the superior, whereas his insubordination sometimes totally impedes it.

The reason is that frequently the inferior is an indispensable condition for the action of the superior, and the lack of this cooperation results in not only a partial but a total frustration of the action of the higher power, as in the case of insanity resulting from a cerebral lesion there follows a total impossibility of judgment. When the brain is in good condition it is of some help to the reasoning faculty, whereas, if seriously damaged, it completely prevents the act of reasoning. Thus many men who enjoy the best of health have not much intellectual ability; but a man of great intellect suddenly becomes insane because of a cerebral lesion.

Likewise, man of himself can do more against God, against the kingdom of God by blaspheming, than he can do for God by honoring Him. Man in the purely natural state suffices for the complete denial of God's ineffable greatness, but he is afterward incapable of completely affirming this greatness, even though restored by grace. Our negations are more absolute in their effect than our affirmations. When the impious person denies God, he denies God completely in his heart; when the just person affirms God, he does not affirm Him completely, but in a finite manner, and, as St. Thomas says, "we cannot know what God is, but rather what He is not."[271] To comprehend is to equate in knowledge the knowable object. God alone has comprehensive knowledge of Himself, which attains to the whole of Him and to all that is contained in Him.[272]

In like manner anyone who denies the principle of finality, completely denies it; on the contrary, anyone who affirms the principle of finality, does not completely understand it. This principle, that, "every agent acts for an end," is known better by an angel, and a fortiori by God. Therefore a grievous offense against God is absolutely infinite, since it denies to God absolutely infinite dignity of the ultimate end, or the supreme Good.

Our grave disobedience toward God is graver because of the offense, than our due subjection to Him contributes to His eternal glory. It remains true, therefore, that the gravity of the offense is estimated according to the dignity of the person offended, whereas the value of the reparation is estimated according to the dignity of the person making reparation.

But what is the validity of the minor, that is, that condign satisfaction must be adequate reparation, and hence it must be of infinite value?

Proof of minor. Condign compensation must offer to God what is no less or more pleasing to Him than the offense is displeasing to Him.

St. Thomas says: "He properly atones for an offense who offers something which the offended one loves equally or even more than he detested the offense. But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race. First of all because of the exceeding charity from which He suffered; secondly on account of the dignity of His life which He laid down in atonement, for it was the life of one who was God and man; thirdly on account of the extent of the Passion, and the greatness of the grief endured."[273]

The reason why this satisfaction is of infinite value is that it was offered to God from the charity of the Word incarnate, namely, of the divine person whose theandric act is of infinite price, since the estimated value of the satisfaction is derived from a consideration of the person making satisfaction.

On the contrary, an absolutely infinite injury cannot be condignly repaired by a satisfaction of finite value. But the satisfaction of any creature whatever is of finite value; for the value of the satisfaction is derived, as has been said, from a consideration of the person satisfying, inasmuch as this person is the subject who satisfies. Hence the common saying that honor is in the person honoring.

Therefore the greater the dignity of the person satisfying, the greater the estimate of the satisfaction. Hence the satisfaction of Christ is absolutely infinite, because the person satisfying is divine and infinite. On the contrary, the dignity of the creature who satisfies is finite, no matter what may be the number of his supernatural gifts. Therefore a finite creature cannot give adequate satisfaction for an absolutely infinite offense.

This is the reason given by St. Thomas in his reply to the second objection of this article. But on this point, the knowledge acquired through the gifts of the Holy Ghost is of a much higher order and more striking than discursive knowledge.

Second doubt. Would the Incarnation be necessary if the gravity of the offense were only in a qualified manner infinite?

Would the reason given by St. Thomas still be valid if the grievous offense against God were not absolutely infinite, but only in a qualified manner, that is, objectively, as the act of charity is said to be objectively infinite?

Some Thomists, such as Billuart,[274] reply that the reason given by St. Thomas has still some value, in this sense, that the gravity of mortal sin does not consist only in this, that it denies God His dignity as the ultimate end, but that also the depreciation and contempt of the divine majesty comes from a vile creature, who presumes to offend Him. This injury is not compensated by an act of charity of a mere man, because it is more injurious to God to be subjected to a vile creature than the subjection of this creature to Him pays Him honor. Similarly it is more against the king's dignity to be insulted by one of his ministers, than it adds to his honor for him to accept the apology of his minister.

But the reason as proposed is no longer strictly the reason given by St. Thomas, which is derived not from a consideration of the vileness of the person offending, but from the supreme dignity of the person offended. Hence from what St. Thomas says,[275] it is clearly enough evident that he considers a grievous offense against God to be absolutely infinite, inasmuch as it is practically a denial of His absolutely infinite dignity. We have said that such is the conclusion of very many Thomists, namely, of Capreolus, Cajetan, Salmanticenses, Godoy, Gonet, John of St. Thomas, Billuart.

Third doubt. Can a just man offer condign satisfaction for venial sin?

Reply. The answer is that he can; for a just man can make reparation for venial sin and therefore satisfy for it, because venial sin does not take away from the soul habitual grace, which is the root of the supernatural life, nor does it turn us away from the ultimate end. Moreover, the injury included in venial sin does not deny God His absolutely infinite dignity as the ultimate end. Therefore this injury is not absolutely infinite but finite. Therefore it can be repaired by what remains of the virtue of charity.

Cajetan in his commentary on this article examines other objections raised by Scotus; but these belong more properly to the article on the passion of our Lord, in which St. Thomas asks whether it brought about our salvation by way of atonement.[276]

It must be noted that the thesis of St. Thomas on the necessity of the Incarnation so as to satisfy de condigno for mortal sin is absolutely in conformity with tradition. The Fathers frequently have proved, from the dogma of the redemption admitted by heretics, that Christ was truly God.[277]

Solution Of Objections Against The Reply To The First Doubt

The Incarnation was not necessary to satisfy de condigno for sin.

First objection. Condign satisfaction returns to the one offended all that was taken away by mortal sin. But mere man justified by an act of charity returns to God all that was taken away by mortal sin, namely, it returns lovingly what is His due as being the ultimate end. Therefore mere man justified can offer condign satisfaction to God for mortal sin, and so the Incarnation is not necessary.

Reply. I distinguish the major. Condign satisfaction that returns all, and all that is implied by an act that is equal to the gravity of the offense, then I concede the major.

That returns all, but not all that is implied by an act that is not equal to the gravity of the offense, then I deny it.

I contradistinguish the minor in the same way.

Satisfaction for wrong done requires more than the mere restitution of the object stolen; it also requires that the object taken be returned with due compensation for slighted honor. Thus, if a commoner snatched a king's daughter, it would not suffice for condign satisfaction that the daughter be returned, for in this way reparation for the wrong done to the king would not be made. Similarly, God's dignity is far more offended when the creature despises Him, than honor is paid to Him by the creature's subjection to Him even by an act of charity. Insubordination is not sufficiently repaired by the restitution of subordination that is already due Him.

Mortal sin of any kind offends God's right, His right of being the ultimate end, and therefore every mortal sin is an insult to God, not always explicitly intended as in blasphemy, but resulting as a consequence of the sin. Although man cannot render to God whatever is due Him according to strictest justice, yet he can be strictly unjust to Him by practically denying Him His absolutely infinite dignity to which He is entitled as the ultimate end.

Second objection. He who can merit de condigno for others the grace of forgiveness of mortal sin, can likewise satisfy de condigno for the mortal sin of others. But a mere man mercifully justified and constituted the head of the human race could merit de condigno for others the grace of forgiveness of sin, which is admitted by several Thomists, such as John of St. Thomas. Therefore this mere man could satisfy de condigno for the mortal sin of others.

Reply. I deny the major, because there is no parity between merit and satisfaction. Merit is the right to a proportionate reward in accordance with distributive justice, whereas satisfaction concerns the equal compensation of another, in accordance with the standard of commutative justice, by making equivalent reparation for the wrong done. Hence this mere man would give only a modified satisfaction that would fall short of condign satisfaction, and thus God would condone the offense without receiving condign satisfaction, just as the father in family life condones the offense of a younger son on account of the merits of an elder son. Mere man cannot "offer to God offended something He loves equally or even more than He detests the offense."[278]

Another objection. The incarnate Word did not have a higher degree of virtue than the non-incarnate Word. But the incarnate Word could satisfy de condigno. Therefore the non-incarnate Word could satisfy de condigno.

Reply. I distinguish the major. That the Word incarnate had also certain virtues properly His own as man, this I concede. Otherwise I deny the major.

I contradistinguish the minor. That the Word incarnate could satisfy as the Word in the divine nature, this I deny. As the incarnate Word, that is, as man, this I concede.

God could have restored the human race by condoning the offense without demanding satisfaction; but as God, He could not have obeyed, suffered, prayed, offered sacrifice of reparation to God, and merited.

But I insist. The non-incarnate Word also had strictly the power to satisfy. The power to satisfy implies any good without admixture of evil. But the non-incarnate Word has whatever is good without any admixture of evil. Therefore the non-incarnate Word has strictly the power to satisfy.

Reply. I distinguish the major; that it implies any good without admixture of moral evil, this I concede; no admixture of physical perfection on the part of created nature, this I deny.

I contradistinguish the minor. That the non-incarnate Word has all good without admixture of any imperfection whatever, this I concede; otherwise, I deny the minor.

In other words, mixed perfections are not contained formally, but only virtually in the non-incarnate Word.

Still I insist. The non-incarnate Word can have formally, without becoming incarnate, strictly the power to satisfy. The Word can assume the angelic nature. But by assuming this nature the Word can satisfy formally. Therefore the Word can satisfy formally without becoming incarnate.

Reply. I concede the major.

I distinguish the minor. That the Word can satisfy by satisfaction improperly so called that is freely accepted by God, let it pass without comment; by satisfaction in the strict sense, as offered by the Word in the human nature for our redemption, this I deny.

In like manner I distinguish the conclusion.

Final objection. Mere man can satisfy for venial sin. But a slight offense is infinite, if the distance between the offender and the offended is infinite.

Reply. The gravity of the offense is not estimated formally from the distance, but it is estimated from the dignity of the person offended; and the dignity of God as the ultimate end is practically denied only by mortal sin.

Index Top




"O Lord, my God, who will seek you with simple and pure love, and not find that you are all one can desire, for you show yourself first and go out to meet those who seek you? "

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"God speaks to us without ceasing by his good inspirations."

The Cure D'Ars

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"Try to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God. "

Thomas Kempis

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