The MOST Theological Collection: Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God: New Answers to Old Questions
"Pt. 2: Predestination and reprobation - Ch. 14: The opinions of St. Thomas"
214. Between the time of the Fathers and the time of St. Thomas, not a few things were written and said on our problem. As we have seen,1 the definitions of the second Council of Orange are of special importance. However, these definitions, in spite of their importance, contain only principles that are useful for the solution. Nowhere in the time between the Fathers and St. Thomas do we find a better solution explicitly proposed.
215. The problem of interpreting St. Thomas: To be able to understand the view of St. Thomas, it is very necessary, as we said in the introduction, to keep in mind that he followed strict theological method with great fidelity. As a result of this there are, as we have seen,2 two series of texts in St. Thomas. For, in his fidelity to sound method, he tried to draw lines from two starting points in revelation, and, although they did not seem to harmonize, he abstained from forcing one line to fit with the other. He knew that in theology there are mysteries, so that at times it is necessary to hold two truths without being able to see how they can be reconciled.
We see this demonstrated especially in St. Thomas's commentary On the Epistle to the Romans, and in the Summa Contra Gentiles, book three, chapters 159-163. For in the former, which is the chief place where St. Thomas gives his reasoning based on Romans 8-9 (the massa damnata theory), there are still found traces of the line based on 1 Timothy 2:4. And in the Contra Gentiles, where he is chiefly presenting the line from 1 Timothy 2:4., we still find traces of Romans 8-9. So in the Commentary on Romans, Chapter 9,3 we read: "Since all men because of the sin of the first parents are born exposed to damnation, those whom God frees through His grace, He frees out of mercy alone. And so He is merciful to certain ones whom He delivers, but to certain ones He is just, whom He does not deliver."
But also: ". . . foresight of sins can be some reason for reprobation . . . inasmuch as God proposes to punish the wicked for sins which they have of themselves, not from God, but He proposes to reward the just because of merits, which they do not have of themselves. Osee, 13:9: 'Your ruin is from yourself, Israel; only in me is your help.' . . . Those whom He hardens, earn that they be hardened by Him."
And in Contra Gentiles 3.159, we find: "They only are deprived of grace who set up an impediment to grace in themselves; just as, when the sun illumines the world, he is charged with a fault who closes his eyes, if any evil comes of it, although he cannot see unless he first has the light of the sun."
But also, from the massa damnata theory: ". . . by the divine operation, some, helped by grace, are directed to their ultimate end, but others, deserted by the same grace, fail to reach the ultimate end; and since all things that are done by God are provided for and arranged from eternity by His wisdom . . . it is necessary that the above mentioned difference of men have been arranged by God from eternity. . . . But He is said to have reprobated those to whom from eternity He has arranged that He would not give grace."
But some theologians, even though they sincerely intended to follow St. Thomas, yet failed to keep sufficiently in mind that St. Thomas had followed this sound method. They themselves, being accustomed to begin with metaphysics, and thinking that they could find the whole solution by metaphysics, thought it necessary to force one of the lines drawn by St. Thomas to agree with the other. This attempt was regrettable. First, because sound theological method does not approve of any such straining. But especially, they were unfortunate in deciding which line to reinterpret so as to make it harmonize with the other. Actually, they forced the sense of passages of St. Thomas drawn from 1 Timothy 2:4 so as to make them agree with his conclusions drawn from Romans 8-9. This was, as we said, specially unfortunate, because we now know (as we saw in chapter 1) that the interpretation of Romans 8-9 which St. Thomas inherited from St. Augustine is erroneous.4
But if we keep firmly in mind the nature of the method which St. Thomas followed, we will abandon the conclusions he drew from the erroneous interpretation of Romans, and keep the conclusions he drew from 1 Timothy 2:4. This process will permit us to remove the obscurities that St. Thomas felt obliged to leave. For, as we have seen,5 he wrote less clearly than he was accustomed, in commenting on Romans, and also, he wrote less clearly in drawing out the final conclusions from 1 Tim 2:4. He did this because when he came, as it were, to the centre of the circle,6 where both interpretations should have focused and agreed, he saw that they were not going to agree. In his fidelity to sound method, and his intellectual humility, he forced neither line, but instead, merely wrote a bit less clearly than usual, not daring to speak with a clarity that he saw was unjustified.
216. The thought of St. Thomas based on 1 Tim 2:4: In Contra Gentiles 3.159-61, St. Thomas gives an excellent description of the process of the grant of grace, explains its principles, and draws out certain more specific applications. In chapters 162-63 he wanted to say explicitly where predestination and reprobation fit into this process. But, for the reason just explained, he spoke with less than his usual clarity in chapters 162-63. There was also, we suspect, another reason for the lesser clarity. We shall see it later in this chapter.
He describes the process of the grant of graces in two stages. That is, in chapter 159 he explains the general principles which apply to all men and all graces. Then, in chapters 160-61 he explains what happens, according to these principles, to men who do not have the state of grace. It will be well worthwhile to follow the thought of St. Thomas as he presents it through each of these stages:
217. 1) General principles: In chapter 159 he proposes a difficulty to himself: "Since . . . a man cannot be directed to his ultimate end except by the help of divine grace, without which also no one can have those things that are necessary for tending to the ultimate end, such as faith, hope, love and perseverance: it could seem to someone that a man should not be blamed if he lacks the aforementioned [graces]; especially since he is not able to merit the help of divine grace, nor to be converted to God unless God converts him; for no one is charged with that which depends on another."
First of all, it is clear that St. Thomas is speaking about the distribution of all graces in general. For he speaks of the first grace, and of the final grace. He says that no one can be directed to the ultimate end except by the help of grace, and adds that man "is not able to merit the help of divine grace, nor to be converted to God unless God converts him." Among the graces he enumerates he explicitly includes not only the grace of conversion but also the very grace of perseverance. Thus he makes clear that he is giving the principles that apply to all graces, even to the very end.
But St. Thomas sees a great difficulty: Man must have all these to be saved. Yet, it is not in his power to get them for himself. So he asks: How can a man be blamed if he fails to reach his ultimate end?
218. He proposes the following solution: "To solve this problem, we must consider that although a man, by the movement of his free will, can neither merit nor obtain divine grace, yet he can impede himself from receiving it . . . And since this is in the power of free will [namely] to impede or not to impede the reception of divine grace, not undeservingly is he charged with a fault who sets up an impediment to grace. For God, so far as He is concerned is ready to give grace to all, 'for He wills all men to be saved . . .' but they only are deprived of grace who set up an impediment to grace in themselves; just as, when the sun illumines the world, he is charged with a fault who closes his eyes, if any evil comes of it, although he cannot see unless he first has the light of the sun."
219. Following sound theological method, St. Thomas begins his solution with Scripture: God "wills all men to be saved." He says that God is like the sun in the sky: He wants to give light to all, and He actually does so, unless they, by their own fault, impede: "For God, so far as He is concerned, is ready to give grace to all." Therefore, since God wants to give grace to all, St. Thomas can find the basic principles of the distribution of all graces (including, as we have seen, the first grace that converts a man from the state of sin, and the final grace of perseverance): "They only are deprived of grace who set up an impediment to grace in themselves."
We notice that St. Thomas distinguishes three things, of which the first is not in human power, but the other two are:
b) But yet "this is in the power of free will [namely] to impede or
c) not to impede the reception of divine grace."
220. St. Thomas' solution is admirably clear and simple: Man cannot do any positive salutary good by himself. As we have seen,7 this is the teaching of the Council of Orange. But God wants to give to all the graces they need, even perseverance itself, and He actually does give them to those who do not impede. For man, even though he cannot perform the positive salutary work of getting grace for himself, yet has two negatives in his power: He can impede grace. And he can also abstain from impeding it.8 So man can be really blameworthy if he does not attain salvation, because in this negative way he can control whether or not he attains salvation. He has two things in his power: impeding and not impeding. If he had only one possibility in his power, impeding, he could not be blamed for failing to reach salvation: "no one is charged with that which depends on another."
221. 2) The problems of men who are not in the state of grace: Having explained these general principles, St. Thomas comes to apply them to men who are not in the state of grace. At once he sees a problem:9 "Now that which we have said [namely] that it is in the power of free will not to place an impediment to grace, applies to those in whom the natural power is integral. But if a man, by a previous inordination, has declined to evil, it will not be entirely in his power to place no impediment to grace. For even though at a given moment, he can, by his own power, abstain from a particular act of sin: yet, if he is left to himself for a long time, he will fall into sin, through which an impediment to grace is placed. For when the soul of a man has declined from the state of rectitude, it is evident that he has receded from the order to the proper end. So that which should have had chief place in his affection, as the ultimate end, becomes less loved than that to which the soul has been inordinately turned, as though [the inordinate thing] were his ultimate end. So when something presents itself that is in harmony with the inordinate end, but is contrary to the proper end [the true ultimate end], it will be chosen, unless he is brought back to the proper order . . . So it is evident that after sin, a man cannot abstain from every sin before he is brought back to the proper order by grace."
222. First of all, we must notice to what men this problem applies: it applies only to men who are in the state of sin. It applies therefore to a man "before he is brought back to the proper order by grace." So it does not apply after he is brought back to the proper order by grace. Hence we can note in passing that St. Thomas is not saying that sometimes God gives merely sufficient graces [in the sense proposed by the older Thomists10] with which it is metaphysically inconceivable that a man would ever do good, and sometimes gives efficacious graces, with which it would be metaphysically inconceivable for a man to resist. Rather, St. Thomas is explaining the difficulties that apply only to men who are in the state of sin. They do not always apply precisely because he says that they apply only before a man is brought back to the proper order by regaining grace. But-the principles which the older Thomists propose about sufficient and efficacious grace ought to apply always, and to all men, even to those who have been brought back to the state of grace. Clearly, their description does not match his.
223. We must note carefully also the effect which St. Thomas says takes place in those who are in the state of sin. He does not say that they never can omit resistance. It is only finally, after a time, that they will surely resist: "If he is left to himself for a long time he will fall into sin through which an impediment to grace is placed."
224. It is important to determine whether the impediment that excludes grace, of which St. Thomas speaks, is an actual or a habitual impediment.
It is obvious that in a man in the state of sin there is an habitual indisposition or deordination, for he has declined to evil, away from the path to his ultimate end. So: Is the "impediment" of which St. Thomas speaks which deprives a man of receiving grace, this habitual indisposition? Or is it an actual resistance which at length-not at once-will inevitably occur unless the man "is brought back to the proper order by grace?"
225. It is clear that the impediment of which St. Thomas speaks, which deprives a man of grace, is not merely an habitual indisposition, consisting in his having turned to an inordinate end. It is the actual impediment of resistance. This is clear for the following reasons:
b) In chapter 159, among the graces that fall under the general principle, was also the grace of conversion from the state of sin. For St. Thomas had spoken about the grace that was needed, "since [a man of himself] is not able . . . to be converted to God unless God converts him." Now if a merely habitual indisposition, which is always present in the state of sin, and therefore is always present before conversion, were enough to automatically exclude the grace of conversion, then it would be idle, at least, to give a principle expressing the condition for conversion when the condition could never be realized, since the habitual indisposition is always present in those who need conversion.
c) The words "place an impediment to grace" at least seem to mean something active and not merely habitual. For to express an habitual indisposition it would have been more suitable to say: "he will be in an indisposed state" instead of: "he will place an impediment."
226. Before going on, it will be worthwhile to stop to apply this thought of St. Thomas to various categories of sinners:
b) A man who has had original sin forgiven, and who is not now in the state of actual sin even though he has previously sinned: This man does not have the indisposition and deordination from the ultimate end under which the sinner labours so that the sinner must eventually fall into the inability of not resisting of which St. Thomas speaks. However, this man does have a smaller difficulty of a different kind in that he has a certain habitual inclination to sin which remains even after forgiveness of original sin. As a result of this, such a man needs a special grace to persevere to the end. However, St. Thomas taught in chapter 159, as we have seen, that even this grace of perseverance is given to all who do not resist. And men in this category are capable of not resisting it.12
c) A man who is in the actual state of personal sin: This man is in the same kind of difficulty as that which we spoke of above, in regard to the first category of sinners. However there is this difference, that he may have a difficulty greater in degree. For, by repeated sins, a man is more and more confirmed (if he is not converted) in his deordination, so that more and more-and eventually, even without advertence, out of mere habit-he resists grace. It is obvious that such a man if he continues to sin, can come into a dreadful state in which an extreme degree of difficulty will be at hand precisely because the man can become so hardened as to scarcely even perceive that grace is being offered to him when it is offered.13
227. Having given these explanations in chapter 160, St. Thomas goes on, in chapter 161, to consider the case of a sinner who places actual resistance to the grace of conversion, but who, nonetheless, is converted.
228. A sinner who places actual resistance to the grace of conversion when it is offered to him-whether he does this out of blindness and hardness or not-should not receive grace, according to the principle given in chapter 159. For grace, ordinarily, will not move a man who resists it. (We say "ordinarily" since there are extraordinary graces14 which forestall or even cancel out all resistance).
229. Here is what St. Thomas himself says about such a sinner:15 "Although he who sins places an impediment to grace, and, so far as the order of things calls for, should not receive grace: nevertheless, since God can work beyond the order that is built into things, as He does when He gives sight to a blind man or raises a dead man, sometimes God, out of the abundance of His goodness, forestalls by His help even those who place the impediment to grace, and turns them from evil and converts them to good. And just as He does not give sight to all the blind . . . so that in those whom He cures, the work of His power may appear, while in the others the order of nature is observed; so too He does not forestall by His help all those who impede grace so as to turn them from evil . . . but [He does this for] some, in whom He wishes His mercy to appear, in such a way [however] that in others, the order of justice is manifested. Hence it is that the Apostle says: "God, wishing to show his wrath and to make known his power, endured with much patience vessels of wrath, ready for destruction, that he might show the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he has prepared for glory."
230. It is important to note carefully the various elements of the description that St. Thomas gives. He is speaking about a man who places an impediment to grace, and sins. He says that so far as the order of things calls for, this man should not receive grace. This is in accord with the general principle explained in chapter 159: in general, grace is given to those who do not resist, and not to those who do resist. Since this is the general principle, God "does not forestall by His help all those who impede grace, so as to turn them from evil." The implication emerges that the conversion of a man who resists is extraordinary, precisely because it is done beyond the general principle. This implication is confirmed when St. Thomas says that "so far as the order of things calls for, [this sinner] should not receive grace: nevertheless, since God can work beyond the order that is built into things, as He does when He gives sight to a blind man or raises a dead man, sometimes God . . . forestalls by His help even those who place the impediment to grace." Now, if the conversion is so carried out that it is "beyond the order that is built into things", and is compared to the miracle of raising the dead or giving sight to the blind-such a conversion is obviously something extraordinary, for St. Thomas has used technical expressions that designate extraordinary things. Such a description would not apply to the conversion of ordinary sinners, because, as St. Thomas himself teaches, in general, the conversion of a sinner is not miraculous.16 But the conversion described in chapter 161 is compared to a miracle. It is such precisely because God is converting a sinner by forestalling or canceling out actual resistance. This can be done only by an extraordinary grace.17 Because this sort of conversion is extraordinary, God does not work it for all. Hence St. Thomas can apply the words of Rom 9:22, saying that God converts some even though it requires an extraordinary grace, to show His goodness, but that He does not convert all of this type, to show His justice.
So we conclude that in chapter 161, St. Thomas is not speaking of conversions of all sinners in general, but only of the conversion of sinners who resist the grace of conversion. He says that such a conversion is extraordinary, beyond the normal order of things, so that it is properly compared to a miracle.
231. Confirmation of our interpretation from the impossibility of other interpretations: Some theologians want to interpret chapters 159-61 in other ways. It will be helpful to consider their proposals.
1) The massa damnata theory: In this theory, God deserts men before considering their demerits or resistance to grace, so that they fall into sins, so that He condemns them, so that He can display vindicative justice. According to this theory, we would have to say that man, as a result of original sin, is always in a state of habitual indisposition and that this state always excludes the reception of grace, unless God wills to overcome the indisposition. The backers of this interpretation would add that grace is not owed to man: "so far as the order of things calls for [he] should not receive grace," because he has this habitual indisposition in him. Therefore, they say, God gives the grace to some, to show mercy, but refuses it to others, to show justice.
But this interpretation will not fit with the words of St. Thomas:
b) Because St. Thomas teaches that all graces, including the grace of conversion (from original or personal sin), and even the grace of perseverance, are given to those who do not resist. And he teaches that even a man in the state of sin will be incapable of omitting resistance only if left to himself for a long time. Before such a point, he really can omit resistance, and so by that means, he can really determine whether or not he will receive various graces, even perseverance itself. In fact as St. Thomas explains in the De veritate, after conversion, it is actually difficult for a man to resist grace, because18 "there is in him an habitual inclination to avoid sin. And so when anything presents itself to him in the form of mortal sin, out of habitual inclination he refuses it, unless he strives in the opposite direction . . ." [i.e., unless he positively labours contrary to his inclination].-But, such conditions as these cannot occur in the theory of the massa damnata. For a man who can "distinguish himself" in regard to rejecting or not rejecting the grace of perseverance, can also determine whether or not he will be reprobated.
c) In regard to the interpretation proposed by the backers of the massa damnata theory for the words "so far as the order of things calls for [he] should not receive grace,"-we readily concede that grace is not owed to a man in sin. But even so, the interpretation proposed does not harmonize with other expressions used by St. Thomas in chapter 161. For he uses technical expressions, saying that God in such a case can work "beyond the order that is built into things" and he compares the conversion of this type of sinner to miracles, so that it is clear that the type of conversion of which he speaks is extraordinary. But, the conversion of sinners in general is not extraordinary. Hence, chapter 161 does not apply to all sinners, as it would if St. Thomas meant the massa damnata theory. Furthermore, even though grace is not owed to man, yet, God does will to give it, as St. Thomas said in chapter 159. In fact, as we saw in chapter 4, God has bound Himself to offer it. The sinners mentioned in chapter 161 do not all receive it, because they resist: only to some does God give an extraordinary grace that either forestalls or cancels out resistance.
d) Again, as we have seen,19 St. Thomas rejects the theory of the damnation of unbaptized infants. But, their damnation flows necessarily from the theory of the massa damnata. Therefore, St. Thomas does not hold the theory of the massa damnata.
e) Even if it could be proved that St. Thomas really did teach the theory of the massa damnata in these chapters, we would still be obliged to abandon it, for it comes from an erroneous foundation (the mistaken interpretation of Romans 9) and contradicts the actual revelation about the salvific will, which we saw in chapter 5.
2) The theory that says St. Thomas is explaining exclusion from salvation as from a benefit that is not owed: As we have seen, St. Thomas teaches (chapter 159) that grace is offered even to men in the state of sin, so that they can be converted, and that "they only are deprived of grace who set up an impediment to grace in themselves." In chapter 160 he teaches that men in the state of sin can at least for some time omit resistance to grace. Therefore, such men can be converted if they want to. They can "distinguish themselves." But this cannot be admitted within the theory of exclusion from an undue benefit. Again, in that theory of exclusion, it could not be admitted that even a man who has been brought back to the state of grace could "distinguish himself" in regard to reprobation. But according to St. Thomas, a man can, for he can have even perseverance if he does not resist. Further, even in the theory of exclusion from an undue benefit, it is not said that every conversion is "beyond the order that is built into things," nor is every conversion compared to the great miracles of raising the dead or giving sight to the blind.
But, still more clearly, the theory of exclusion from an undue benefit implies that the universal salvific will is non-existent. For if God, for no other reason than that salvation is not owed, excludes some from salvation, He cannot simultaneously say sincerely that He wills that everyone, including these, be saved. For the fact that salvation is not owed is no real obstacle. But St. Thomas says, in chapter 159, that the salvific will is real. Further, we have seen above20 that the salvific will is actually a part or aspect of the love of God for men. Now, as we have seen21 love finds a measure in the obstacles which it can overcome. If the love of God and the salvific will were overcome by that which is really no obstacle at all-the mere fact that salvation is not owed-then the measure of the salvific will would be precisely zero. But revelation shows its measure is in infinite objective titles established for each individual, at the terrible price of the Passion.
3) The theory that says St. Thomas is merely explaining the grace of perseverance: In this interpretation, St. Thomas, in chapter 160, would be merely explaining how a man can have the power of avoiding individual sins, but still cannot persevere without a special grace but yet could be culpable even if denied this special grace. Thus God could refuse that special grace for no particular reason, and so no man could "distinguish himself" in regard to reprobation.
We reply that it is true that St. Thomas is speaking of perseverance in chapter 160. But he is not speaking of it on the broad plane, as referring to all. Rather, he speaks of the problem in those who are in the state of sin. The difficulty he explains in chapter 160 no longer applies, as he himself says, after a man is "brought back to the proper order through grace." Further, as we have shown above from the words of St. Thomas, even men in the state of sin can omit resistance for a time, for St. Thomas says that they inevitably resist only if "left to [themselves] for a long time." Within that period, abundant graces are offered. Men really can omit resistance, within that period, and so can "distinguish themselves," can determine whether or not they will be converted. After conversion, according to the principle of chapter 159, even the grace of final perseverance will be offered, and men can determine whether or not they will receive it by not resisting, of which they are fully capable after regaining the state of grace. In fact, it is actually difficult to resist, as we have seen.22 Hence, the explanation of St. Thomas is far different than the proposed theory would suppose. We can recall too that, as we have already seen,23 the resistance of which St. Thomas speaks is not a mere habitual indisposition, but actual resistance.
It is plain too, that this proposed third interpretation supposes a denial of the salvific will. For this reason alone it must be rejected.
4) The theory that says St. Thomas is speaking of sufficient and efficacious graces, in the sense intended by the older Thomists: We have already shown above24 that St. Thomas excludes this interpretation. We might add too that nowhere25 does he speak of such a theory and distinction of graces.
232. Therefore, since all other alternatives are excluded, we have an added confirmation of the interpretation we gave of the words of St. Thomas.
233. St. Thomas' conclusions on predestination and reprobation: After this excellent description of the process of conferring grace, which he gave in chapters 159-61, St. Thomas explains, in chapter 162, that even though God does not convert some of those of whom he spoke in chapter 161, He is not the cause of their sins.
Then, in chapter 163, he begins to speak explicitly of predestination and reprobation. It was necessary to do this explicitly, because it is one thing to describe the process of conferring graces and its principles, and another thing to point out precisely at what point in the process predestination and reprobation are decreed. It will be helpful to see first the implications on predestination and reprobation that are contained in the description given in chapters 159-61; and after that to see the explicit teaching of chapter 163.
It is obvious that he implicitly excludes negative reprobation before consideration of demerits. This is clear both from the general analysis of these chapters that we have just given, and also from the fact that we have shown27 that his words exclude various individual theories that involve reprobation before consideration of demerits.
Since he excludes reprobation before consideration of demerits, he obviously cannot hold any view of predestination that would be inseparable from such reprobation. Therefore, he does not hold a theory of predestination before consideration of merits in the form proposed by the Thomists.
However, his words in chapters 159-61 could really be harmonized with predestination after consideration of merits; or, they could fit with predestination before consideration of merits, but after consideration of the absence of grave resistance to grace. So we must try to determine which of these views St. Thomas held.
Can we conclude from the description St. Thomas gives of the process of conferring grace that he places predestination before consideration of merits, but after consideration of absence of resistance? For he does make this absence of resistance (and not merits) the condition in the conferring of individual graces. The answer is that we cannot with certainty deduce this conclusion from the description of the process that St. Thomas gives. First of all, St. Thomas nowhere expresses such a conclusion. But further, such an implication does not logically follow at once from the description he gives. For it is one thing to describe the process of conferring graces; another thing to find the place of predestination. For even though, in speaking of each individual grace, he says that it is given after consideration of the absence of resistance, it is quite a different thing to say the same of predestination. For predestination is not decreed after one absence of resistance, in the conferring of one grace, but after a whole series of graces, in which series the grant of many further graces depends on the outcome of previous graces. For if one thinks of such a series, he will see these things: (1) God offers one grace. (2) Man impedes or does not impede. (3) If he does not impede, grace moves him to positive consent, and a good and meritorious work is done. (4) After this, further graces are given, but in such a way that at least some of them would not have been offered if the man had rejected previous graces that lead up to later graces.-Therefore, it seems that in the actual prevision of the series, it is impossible not to foresee merits, for many graces are given, and, at least after some of them, merit will be present. So, since predestination is not decreed after just one grace is offered and not rejected, but after many graces are offered and not rejected, actually, it will be decreed after several merits are foreseen.-So, the description St. Thomas gives of the process of conferring grace not only does not necessarily imply that predestination is decreed before consideration of merits, but, on the contrary, it seems to imply that merits must be foreseen before the point at which predestination is decreed. So we cannot conclude from this description that St. Thomas puts predestination before consideration of merits, but after consideration of the absence of resistance.28
So, our conclusions as to the implications of chapters 159-61 are these: St. Thomas certainly holds that reprobation (even negative) comes after consideration of demerits. He certainly excludes any view of predestination that would imply that any reprobation comes before consideration of demerits. But we cannot be sure where he will put predestination: after consideration of merits, or before consideration of merits but after consideration of the absence of grave resistance.
234. b) The explicit conclusions of chapter 163: When we turn to chapter 163, we not unnaturally expect to find explicit applications of the principles given in chapters 159-61. Yet, St. Thomas makes no such explicit application in this chapter. Instead, he speaks in a more general, not too clear fashion. He teaches only one thing clearly: Merits are not the cause of predestination.
From the fact that he teaches that merits are not the cause of predestination, can we conclude that, in chapter 163, he puts predestination before consideration of merits? This conclusion could not be proved. The most important words come in the last paragraph of chapter 163: "The fact that predestination and election are not caused by any merits can be shown from the fact that the grace of God, which is the effect of predestination, is not preceded by merits, but precedes all human merits, as we have shown (chapter 149): but it also can be shown from the fact that the divine will . . . is the first cause of the things that happen, for nothing can be the cause of the divine will and providence. . . ."
Now from these words it cannot be proved that St. Thomas placed predestination before consideration of merits: (1) Because in these words he is trying to prove only one thing, namely, that merits are not the cause of predestination and of the divine will. But it is one thing to say that predestination or the decision of the divine will is caused by, or because of merits; quite another thing to say it is merely logically after, but not because of prevision of merits. (Something can be logically after another thing if the first thing is even a condition: it need not be a cause); (2) From the fact that St. Thomas says: ". . . the grace of God, which is the effect of predestination, is not preceded by merits, but precedes all human merits" some would like to argue thus: "God first wills the end, namely, eternal life to a predestined man. After the end, He wills the means, namely, grace. Since merits do not come without grace, predestination must be before consideration of merits." But this conclusion is not certain. For, to understand the words of St. Thomas, we must ask: what does he mean by the word "grace" in this passage?
2) He cannot mean efficacious grace in the sense the older Thomists propose, and be saying that efficacious grace is given only to the elect.-For we have already shown above29 that St. Thomas does not know such a distinction and that he implicitly excludes the older Thomists' system.
3) He might perhaps mean a grace of perseverance that would be infrustrable and would be given to all the elect and only to them. It would be given, however, after, but not because of, consideration of the merits flowing from previous graces. Or, it might be given after consideration of absence of resistance to previous graces. In as much as only those who would be foreseen as such would be predestined, this grace would be given only to the predestined: thus it would be a special and proper effect of predestination.-This interpretation would not contradict the principles of chapters 159-61. Nor would it contradict the statement of chapter 163 that the special grace of predestination is not preceded by merits in the category of causality, even if it came after merits that would be foreseen as a condition, not a cause. For in the context of chapter 163, St. Thomas wants to exclude merits only as a cause. This conclusion is confirmed from chapter 149, to which we are referred in the passage cited. For in chapter 149, St. Thomas says that "man cannot merit divine help," and he clearly is arguing against the Pelagian error that says that such help is given "because of merits, and that the beginning of justification comes from us. . . ." But in the interpretation we are now considering, predestination would not be given because of merits, nor would man make the beginning: for grace comes first, before any act on the part of man, according to the explanation given by St. Thomas in 159-61, in which he expressly sets out to solve the difficulty that arises from the fact that man "is not able to merit the help of divine grace."
4) However, since we have shown above30 from St. Paul and from the Council of Trent that the grace of perseverance is not ordinarily an infrustrable grace, and because St. Thomas, in chapter 159, lists perseverance under the same general principle as other graces (which he says are given to those who do not resist them), it is better to suppose that, in the passage we are considering, "grace" means that grace which consists in special providential provision of the assignment of a place in the external order, of the time of death, and all else;31 which providence is such that, taken together with the graces granted according to the principle of chapter 159, the predestined man will infallibly arrive in heaven. In this interpretation it will still be true that "the grace of God which is the effect of predestination is not preceded by merits, but precedes all human merits" in the category of causality, of which St. Thomas speaks.32
However, we must admit that in the last two proposed explanations, it is necessary to have recourse to distinctions that St. Thomas does not expressly give. Yet, on the other hand, if we add no distinction at all to his words, we would have to say that no grace is given to the reprobate. That would be heretical.
Therefore, we are forced to conclude that St. Thomas wrote somewhat obscurely33 in chapter 163. We can suggest two reasons why he did so:
b) Very probably also, he saw the problem that we explained above about placing predestination in the series in which merits cannot be not foreseen. Probably he did not like to place predestination after consideration of merits, but yet did not see how else he could apply the principles of chapters 159-61.
Seeing these things, and not knowing the full answer, he quite prudently did not wish to affirm clearly more than what was clear.
So we conclude that St. Thomas gave an excellent description of the process of conferring graces, and that he found the essential principles. His description clearly implied that no reprobation of any kind comes before consideration of demerits. He thus implicitly excluded the type of predestination before consideration of merits that the Thomists propose. He also teaches plainly that merits are not the cause of predestination. But beyond this he did not go, not even by implication. Therefore, he might have thought that predestination comes before consideration of merits but after consideration of the absence of resistance;35 or he might have thought it comes after consideration of merits.
235. Confirmation of our interpretation from other passages of St. Thomas:
In many other passages, St. Thomas said various things that express at least part of the truth we have deduced:
1) Summa theologiae:36 "Antecedently God wills all men to be saved; but consequently, He wills that certain men be condemned, according to the exigence of His justice." And:37 ". . . that which seems to recede from the divine will according to one order, falls back into it according to another order: just as a sinner, who, so far as in him lies, recedes from the divine will by sinning falls into the order of divine will when he is punished by His justice." In other words, God primarily and antecedently wills all to be saved, but after and because of human faults, He wills that certain ones be condemned "according to the exigence of His justice." Hence St. Thomas also says:38 ". . . the first cause of the lack of grace is from us, but the first cause of the granting of grace is from God, according to the words of Hosea 13:9: 'Your ruin is your own, O Israel; [but] your help is only from me.'" Now, if God were to desert us before any fault of ours, so that we would sin, so that He could punish, then the first cause of the lack of grace would not be from us, but in desertion by God. And we must note carefully that St. Thomas is not speaking of the first cause of sin, but of the first cause of the lack of grace. If he were speaking of the first cause of sin, someone might wish to say: Even though God deserts before any fault of ours, He is not the cause of sin, but only permits sin.39 But, as we see, St. Thomas speaks of the first cause of the lack of grace, and he says that that first cause is in us. Therefore it is not in desertion by God.
2) Commentary on the Books of Sentences:40 ". . . God wills the non-occurrence of moral faults in His antecedent will, but not in His consequent will except in the case of those whom He knows do not will to commit moral fault: because the consequent will takes in [consideration] the condition of the creature." That is, in His antecedent will God wills that moral evils should not occur. But the same cannot be said without qualification about His consequent will. For in this He wills to impede sins only "in the case of those whom He knows do not will to commit moral fault." And he gives the reason: "the consequent will takes in [consideration] the condition of the creature." For He makes His decrees about the free acts of the creature in His consequent will only in consideration of the free dispositions of creatures. Hence, as St. Thomas says in Contra Gentiles 3.159: "they only are deprived of grace who set up an impediment to grace in themselves."
3) Quaestiones disputatae de malo:41 ". . . God, for His part, communicates Himself to all in proportion to their capacity: hence, the fact that any thing fails in participation of His goodness is from the fact that in it there is found some impediment to divine participation. Thus, therefore, the cause of the fact that grace is not given to someone is not in God, but in the fact that he to whom grace is presented sets up an impediment to grace, in as much as he turns himself aside from the light that does not turn itself aside. . . . "-This is precisely the same teaching as we saw in Contra Gentiles.
4) Quaestiones quodlibetales:42 "God moves all things according to their own manner. And so some things participate in the divine motion by necessity, but rational creatures [participate] with freedom, since the power of reason is [capable of turning] to either direction [for or against]. And therefore God so moves the human soul to good, that it can still resist this motion: and hence, the fact that a man prepares himself for grace, comes from God-but the fact that he lacks grace, has no cause in God, but in the man, according to the words of Hosea 13:9: 'Your ruin is your own, O Israel; [but] your help is only from me.'"-Again, the same distinction that we saw before. He says that positive salutary good cannot come from man's own power, but yet says that man is the first cause of the lack of grace, as we saw above in the citations from the Summa.43
5) Contra Gentiles:44 "The power of the divine incarnation is indeed sufficient for the salvation of all. The fact that some are not saved thereby comes from their indisposition, because they are unwilling to receive the fruit of the incarnation within themselves. . . . For freedom of will, by which he can adhere or not adhere to the incarnate God, was not to be taken away from man lest the good of man be forced, and so be rendered meritless and unpraiseworthy." We have already shown45 that in this passage St. Thomas implicitly excludes the system in which everything is governed by infrustrable decrees. Instead, he says that all are saved who are not unwilling to receive grace.
6) No passage in St. Thomas would explain why this particular sin rather than another is permitted at this particular time by this particular man in these particular circumstances, if our interpretation were not true. The distinguished Thomist, J. H. Nicolas, OP, says well:46 "That which remains impenetrable, since it depends solely on infinite liberty, is the reason why such a particular sin is permitted rather than a different one. . . . this difficulty arises from the incontestable truth, admitted by all, that God could prevent moral evil in general, and that he could, in each particular case, preserve a given creature from it without violating its liberty. . . ." The distinguished author seems to defend the theory in which there are infallible permissions of sinning, and he draws from it the inescapable conclusion: It is totally inexplicable, within such a theory, why God permits one sin rather than another. For whether one says that God permits sins for the good of the order of the universe, or because all men are a massa damnata, or because he wants to exclude a given man from an undue benefit-all these things (if they were true) could explain only why God would will to permit some sins in general. But, in no way does the order of the universe, or the massa damnata, or the exclusion from an undue benefit designate precisely which individual men should be reprobated or precisely which individual sins should be permitted, and when.-But if we say that God offers each man a rich abundance of graces without which men could not do good, but does it in such a way that men themselves can "distinguish themselves," by resistance or the lack thereof, as to whether or not they will sin-then a perfectly clear explanation is provided for why this particular sin is permitted rather than a different one. In regard to God's power of always being able to impede sin-it is true, He has this power. But, according to good order, He does not will to exercise it in ordinary providence in such a way as to infrustrably keep men from sin. For to move a man infrustrably, forestalling or cancelling out resistance, pertains to extraordinary providence, as we have already shown.47
236. What point in revelation is St. Thomas' starting point in the Summa? It is evident that nearly all passages of the Summa can agree with the line drawn from 1 Tm 2:4. The chief passage about which a doubt could be raised is ST 1.23.5, and especially, the response to the third objection: "For God is said to have made all things because of His own goodness in such a way that the divine goodness is represented in things. Now it is necessary that the divine goodness, which in itself is one and simple, be represented in a manifold way in things . . . And hence it is that various grades of things are needed for the completion of the universe, of which some hold a high, others a low place. And that this variety of degrees may be preserved in things, God permits some evils to happen, lest many goods be impeded. . . . God wished, then, to represent His goodness by way of mercy, by sparing, in some men, whom He predestines; but by way of justice, in others by punishing. And this is the reason why God chooses some, and reprobates others. And the Apostle gives this reason in Rom 9:22-23, saying: 'God, wishing to show His wrath. . . .' But why He chooses these for glory and reprobates those, has no reason except the divine will."
237. These words could be explained in three ways:
1) According to the theory of the massa damnata: Garrigou-Lagrange argues against this interpretation:48 "In regard to negative reprobation . . . since original sin is the same in all the predestined and in the reprobate, it cannot be the cause, in the reprobate, for the permission of sins that will not be remitted. Hence St. Thomas does not speak of original sin in this article . . . . This is the opinion of the theologians of Salamanca, Alvarez, John of St. Thomas." J. H. Nicolas speaks similarly:49 "Really, St. Thomas, in the 23rd question of the Summa, in no way appeals to the notion of the massa damnata, a thing that would be inexplicable, if for him it were the notion that explains the mystery of predestination. . . . He wrote at the beginning of the Summa 1.23.1 ad 3: 'It is to be said that it is suitable for both angels and men to be predestined, even though they never were miserable. . . . For it makes no difference in regard to the characteristic of predestination whether or not it is from a state of misery that one is predestined to eternal life.'"
2) According to the theory of negative reprobation, independently of the massa damnata theory: In this sense Garrigou-Lagrange writes:50 "So the reason for negative reprobation, absolutely considered, is this: the manifestation of divine goodness by way of justice. . . ."
3) According to the thought of Contra Gentiles 3.159-61: The interpretation could be made approximately as follows: In the passage cited from the Summa, St. Thomas is saying, in general, that God wills to manifest Himself in many ways, using varied creatures, since no single creature could adequately represent the infinity of divine perfection. In the course of doing so, He permits many evils to exist, for to prevent them would necessarily entail the loss of many goods. But, to understand this statement rightly, it is necessary to distinguish between various types of evils. St. Thomas himself elsewhere explicitly gives us the needed distinctions:51 ". . . in regard to all evils in general, it is true that if [none of them] were permitted to be, the universe would be more imperfect, because there would not exist those natures that are such that they can fail-if these were taken away, the universe would be more imperfect, for not all degrees of goodness would be present. . . . There are some evils that are such that if they did not exist, the universe would be more imperfect, namely, those evils upon which follow a greater perfection than the perfection that is taken away, such as [is the case with] the corruption of elements which is followed by mixture and the nobler forms of mixed elements. However there are certain evils such that if they did not exist, the universe would be more perfect, namely, those evils by which greater perfections are taken away than are acquired in another, as is chiefly the case in moral faults, which take from one grace and glory and give to another the good [of seeming better] by comparison, or some characteristic of perfection [such that] even without it, the ultimate perfection could be had. . . ." The words that he cites from Rom 9:22-23 could be understood in the same sense as that in which he himself explains them in CG 3.161 (as we saw it above). The words "why He chooses these . . . and reprobates those, has no reason except the divine will" could mean that there is no cause (article 5 is devoted to showing that predestination has no cause) that moves the divine will, and also, that, in a concrete case, we cannot know for certain what precise extent of the negative conditions God requires. Further, they could be taken as referring only to the one category, to which he applies Rom 9:22-23 in CG. 3.161. This interpretation fits with the statement St. Thomas quotes from St. Augustine (immediately after the passage we cited from ST I.23.5 ad 3): "Do not wish to judge, if you do not wish to err." But, St. Augustine himself did not hold that God decides blindly. For example, in ST I.23.4 ad 2, St. Thomas quotes him saying: "nor does He err who chooses." And St. Augustine, even when he is speaking of the massa damnata often says that God judges justly.
238. There are difficulties against each of these interpretations:
1) Against the interpretation which Garrigou-Lagrange proposes, in which there is negative reprobation, but not the massa damnata:
a) Garrigou-Lagrange says that "St. Thomas does not speak of original sin in this article." But actually, he does speak of it, in the very objection to which our passage replies: "Besides, 'there is no injustice with God' as Rom 9.14 says. Now it seems to be unjust that unequal things be given to equals. But all men are equal both in regard to nature, and in regard to original sin: there is inequality in them according to the merits or demerits of their own actions."
b) If St. Thomas, in this article, were really teaching that there is negative reprobation for a reason other than original sin (and independently of original sin)-then he would have not two but three theories, namely: In the commentary on Romans, he teaches the massa damnata theory (as we saw in chapter 1). In CG. 3. 159-61 he certainly teaches a different theory, based on 1 Tm 2:4. And the third theory would come in this article 5. Now it is not difficult to explain how it happened that St. Thomas came to have the first two theories: he did this out of outstanding fidelity to strictest theological method, as we have seen. But how would we explain the addition of the third theory? It would be much easier to say that St. Thomas joined speculative considerations on the order of the universe with the theory of the massa damnata.
2) Against the interpretation that would make St. Thomas speak of the massa damnata theory in this passage, Father Nicolas argues, as we saw above, that if "it makes no difference in regard to the characteristic of predestination whether or not it is from a state of misery that one is predestined to eternal life," then the massa damnata, the state of misery, makes no difference in the theory of St. Thomas.-But the argument is not conclusive. For in the line cited by Nicolas, St. Thomas says it makes no difference whether or not it is from misery that one is predestined to eternal life. But St. Thomas does not say the same-nor could he say-the same about reprobation. For, according to the backers of the massa damnata theory, the reason why God could justly leave many in the massa was original sin. Without original sin, this would be unjust.
So no conclusive argument can be brought against the interpretation of this passage of St. Thomas according to the massa damnata theory. His words could agree with that theory; and he does cite Romans 9. But, no conclusive argument for this interpretation can be given either.
3) Against the interpretation according to CG. 3. 159-61, no conclusive argument can be brought. But neither can a conclusive argument be given in its favour. Rather, we must admit that it is not entirely easy to interpret the Summa passage in line with CG. 3.159-61. However, we must recall that St. Thomas was constantly under the pressure of holding two conclusions which really could not be reconciled. Hence some obscurity is to be expected.
239. Conclusion on the interpretation of the thought of ST 1.23.5 ad 3: It is difficult to be sure what Scriptural starting point was dominating the thought of St. Thomas in this passage. Reasons that are not to be scorned can be found for the various positions, and great commentators, not without reason, differ. But, one thing still remains entirely certain: If St. Thomas really does teach the theory of the massa damnata in this passage, the passage will require correction for, as we have shown in chapters 1, 4, and 5, that theory is based on an erroneous interpretation of Romans 9, and contradicts the actual revelation on the salvific will, as well as other revealed truths. Similarly, if St. Thomas really teaches negative reprobation without the massa damnata theory, the passage will still need correction, for, as we have seen many times over, any such reprobation contradicts many revealed truths, especially the revelation on the salvific will.
So, whatever may be the true thought of the Summa passage, it does not prevent us from retaining the teaching of St. Thomas that is found CG 3. 159-61, which is founded on a true interpretation of Scripture.52
240. General conclusions from St. Thomas:53
1) No reprobation, either positive or negative, is decreed before consideration of personal demerits. It is decreed only after and because of foreseen grave resistance to grace.
2) Predestination is decreed for all in whom this grave resistance is not found. It is not clear from the words of St. Thomas whether it is decreed after consideration of merits, or before merits but after consideration of the absence of grave resistance. More probably he would have preferred to put it before consideration of merits. He seems not to have known how to solve the speculative difficulty about the position of predestination in regard to the series of graces. Or if he knew, he gave no indication of knowing, although he normally raises and solves every difficulty he can think of, even difficulties of much lesser importance than this one.
3) St. Thomas deserves high praise for finding at least the major part and chief elements of the true solution, and this, in spite of the truly great difficulties under which he laboured from the erroneous interpretation of Romans 8-9. He accomplished so much through complete fidelity to precise theological method. To understand his thought, we must realize that he did this for if we followed a method more philosophical than theological, and assumed he did the same, we would be inclined to force the interpretation of his words in CG. 3.159-61 to fit with the erroneous interpretation of Romans 9.
241. Objections: We have already answered the most direct objections against our interpretation, for we presented and answered other proposed interpretations.
We already answered above54 the objection based on the order of the universe. A more complete treatment of the matter will be given in the appendix. Here we can note particularly that according to St. Thomas: "they only are deprived of grace who set up an impediment to grace in themselves"-he does not say that: "they also are deprived of grace who have to be deserted for the good of the universe."
We have also replied at the end of chapter 7 to many other objections pertinent to this material, based on other passages of St. Thomas.
242. Here we can also add something to the reply we gave to the objection 1 in chapter 7, on the theory of the older Thomists about sufficient and efficacious grace. This theory contradicts the teaching of St. Thomas in CG 3. 159-61. For the objection which St. Thomas proposes to himself in chapter 159 would retain its force if the theory of these Thomists were correct. For in their theory, man cannot really "distinguish himself" in regard to sinning or not or in regard to being reprobated or not.55 Rather, the decision would be made by God alone. But, as St. Thomas says in CG. 3.159: "no one is charged with that which depends on another." We also have shown above56 by analysis of other parts of chapter 159 that there is no room for the theory of these Thomists.
Several objections can also be raised from passages of St. Thomas on the way in which grace is efficacious. These passages will all be presented, and explained in chapter 18.
An objection could be raised about the sense in which we can omit resistance. St. Thomas does not explain this matter. We have already explained it in chapter 7.57