The MOST Theological Collection: Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God: New Answers to Old Questions
I. A Brief Sketch of the Solution1 of the Problem of Predestination.
1. A great battle within the Catholic Church has raged for the past three hundred years on the subject of predestination. Briefly, the question is this: Before predestining (that is, decreeing to save a certain man) or reprobating (that is, decreeing not to save him), does God look at the merits and demerits of the man?
The chief opponents in the debate have been the older Thomists who hold that God decides both predestination and reprobation before2 considering merits and demerits, and the Molinists, who teach that He decides both after3 considering merits and demerits.
Most theologians of both major warring camps have taken it for granted that both predestination and reprobation must be decreed at the same stage of the process, that is, both must be before, or both must be after consideration of merits and demerits. The reason is, they say, that if a man is not predestined, he is reprobated, and if he is not reprobated, he is predestined.
A great dilemma has resulted: If both are decreed before consideration of merits and demerits, then, as the Molinists say, it is impossible for God to say that He sincerely wants all men to be saved, and yet to reject some without even looking at any demerits of theirs. But, if both are decreed after consideration of merits and demerits, then, according to the older Thomists, there is a vicious circle, since, they say, merits are an effect of predestination.
The dilemma can be solved, but only on one condition: We must in everything follow strictest theological method with perfect fidelity.
Now no one debates what strict theological method is. All concede what St. Thomas teaches:4 ". . . to argue from authority is especially proper to this science, because its beginnings come through revelation."
Yet, as a matter of fact, some who sincerely intend to follow St. Thomas are actually, without realizing it, trying to deduce the whole solution from metaphysics. For they do not start with revelation, but with a metaphysical analysis of a free human act or of the way in which God knows the future.
Actually, then, they are following a method more philosophical than theological. Such a deviation has been one of the chief reasons for the impasse in this controversy. For correct method is indispensable in each field of study. A striking example is seen in the field of the natural sciences. For many centuries "scientists" tried to work in science by philosophical methods. Now philosophical method is excellent in philosophy, but very poor in science. It is not surprising that their labours brought but little fruit. It was only when true scientific method was used in science that the magnificent progress of recent times began.
Similarly, the problem of predestination is a theological problem. Centuries of sad experience has proved that philosophical method cannot solve it.
Furthermore, it would be incorrect method for a theologian to say that he will give the prime weight to arguments from revelation, but then actually to turn first to metaphysical procedures. For in such a process there will be great danger that when he finally does take up the sources of revelation, he will have at least a subconscious reluctance against all interpretations of revelation that do not accord with the opinion he has previously formed through metaphysics.
Of course, we do not deny the great value of metaphysics: we shall use it plentifully in the course of this book-but only in its proper place.
To be fair to these theologians whose method we have criticized, we ought to add that they were severely hampered by a formerly current misinterpretation of certain passages of Scripture, especially Romans 8:28-9:24 and 1 Cor 4:7. These misinterpretations seemed to fit with their metaphysical conclusions. Today we know that these interpretations of Scripture were all erroneous for they are rejected with unanimity by all good exegetes of all schools, as we shall soon see in chapter 1.
2. A theologian who follows strict theological method will first examine, under the guidance of the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church, all passages in revelation that treat the question either directly or indirectly. He will try to work out the solution from each passage separately. A good comparison would be this: Let us imagine that this theologian is standing on the circumference of a circle. From each of two or more points on the circumference, he tries to draw a line that will reach the center of the circle, that is, the true solution. If he has done his work well, all lines will come to a focus in the center.
But what will a good theologian do if not all the lines seem to focus? First, he will recheck his work for possible errors. But what should he do if he finds no error? If he is following theological rather than philosophical method, he will not try to make one line focus with another line. Rather he will say: "Now we are in theology, in lofty divine matters. It is not strange if mysteries appear. Therefore, even though I cannot see how to reconcile two lines, yet I must hold both truths." And so, he will confess simply that he cannot go further.
3. St. Thomas followed this sound method. It is not necessary to merely make a vague general supposition that he did so: we can readily point to the precise places in revelation from which he explicitly tried to project his lines. In his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, he explicitly drew one line from Romans 8:28-9:24. The second line was projected from the words of St. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:4. He did this explicitly in Contra gentiles 3.159.
But these lines did not seem to him to agree completely with each other and to come to one focus. For, from the Epistle to the Romans it seemed that God deserts many men because of original sin, before any consideration of the foreseen personal demerits of those same men. Yet, on the contrary, it was clear from the Epistle to Timothy that God said, even after original sin, that He wants all men to be saved.
What then did St. Thomas do? He rejected neither line, even though he could not see how to reconcile the two. He only wrote a bit less clearly than usual when he was approaching the center of the circle from each of the two starting points. Thus, in his commentary on Romans although that line seemed to say that the most basic reason for the eternal ruin of the lost is God's desertion of them after original sin, yet St. Thomas (without denying original sin) again and again attributed the ruin of Pharaoh (spoken of in Rom 9) to the personal sins of Pharaoh. Similarly, he was less clear in drawing out the conclusions implied in his interpretation of 1 Tm 2:4.
4. Today, however, as we have said, exegetes of all schools teach a different interpretation of the passage from the Epistle to the Romans. As a result, we are able to know clearly that which was hidden in the days of St. Thomas, namely: St. Paul, in Romans 8-9, was not speaking about the infallible predestination of individuals to eternal glory, but about the plans of God for the call of peoples to be members of the Church, in the Old or New Testament, in the full sense5, and about the divine plans for those who already are members of the Church in the full sense.
So today, since the obstacles that arose from the erroneous interpretations of the Epistle to the Romans (and a few other passages in St. Paul) have been removed, and since the Church, benefiting from the cumulative light which the Holy Spirit has now sent throughout so many centuries, teaches many truths more clearly, especially the salvific will of God, we can easily and without obscurity complete that line which St. Thomas wanted to draw, and actually almost did draw, to the center. For he found almost the entire solution because he followed strict theological method so faithfully.
St. Thomas does not deserve criticism because he was not able to remove those obscurities, for the impressive weight of the prestige of St. Augustine made St. Thomas think it necessary to accept St. Augustine's interpretation.6
Therefore we can reach the true solution if we follow the example and the principles of St. Thomas and if we use his remarkable discoveries. However, we will work to the solution not only with the help of St. Thomas, but also, or rather principally, from the various passages of Scripture and the Fathers, following the official interpretations of the Magisterium of the Church.
5. In brief, the solution will be as follows. There are three logical stages in the process of predestination:
1) The universal salvific will, which is sincere and extremely strong.
2) The reprobation of all whom God foresees will gravely and persistently resist grace: Reprobation after and because of foreseen demerits.
3) Predestination of all others, in whom God does not foresee grave and persistent resistance.7 This decree of predestination is a continuation and positive carrying out of the initial universal salvific will. The cause of this decree is not human merits-up to this stage, God has not looked at human merits, for, in the logical series at which God looks, merits are neither a cause nor a condition-the sole cause of this decree of predestination is the goodness and generosity of the Father who from the beginning wanted to save all and, at this point, actually decrees the salvation of all who do not resist gravely and persistently. No positive condition needs to be placed by man in order that God may predestine, because the strong universal salvific will continues in its course by its own force. A grave condition would have to be placed by man to interrupt the course of this will, but, precisely because this will continues in its course by its own force, nothing is required from man that it may continue, and at the proper point, decree predestination. For without predestination, that salvation which God willed from the beginning and still wills to confer could not be had: Predestination before consideration of merits.
If someone prefers, he could invert the order of the second and third stages. We will explain more fully in chapter 17 how to do this.
What does this explanation of predestination imply in regard to the debates on the way in which grace is efficacious? The solution we have sketched does not restrict us to just one possible solution on the question of the efficacy of grace. It merely marks out an area (rather ample) within which the solution must be found. In chapter 18 we shall explain a simple solution, which at least seems to be that of St. Thomas.
But we must proceed in good order and with sound method. We will investigate both predestination and the way in which grace is efficacious. In each subject, we will first study, as theological method requires, all passages in revelation that directly or even indirectly refer to our question. After that we will gather and explain more fully the conclusions from all passages. Finally, we will add metaphysical considerations.
So we turn first to the task of investigating the sources of revelation. We will do this under the light of the declaration of the Magisterium of the Church. We will use not only solemn definitions, but also the words of the Ordinary Magisterium, e.g., Encyclicals. For we must not forget what Pope Pius XII taught in the Encyclical, Humani generis:
II. The Opinions of the Principal Schools of Theologians
In investigating the sources of revelation, we will speak chiefly on the positive side, i.e., we wish to see chiefly what the sources actually teach about our question. But it will be very useful also to see what the sources exclude, of the points proposed in previous solutions.
Hence it is very important to have a very precise notion of what the principal schools teach on this matter. This is especially necessary because not all theologians always present all parts of their views with all desired clarity.
It will be sufficient for the present to examine the opinions of the two principal schools. Afterwards, in the course of this book, we will see also the more recent opinions.
When we speak without qualification of Thomists in this book, we refer to those who follow the older interpretation of St. Thomas, e.g., R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP. In so naming them, we are following current usage, and do not mean to concede that they really have found the true opinion of St. Thomas on all matters. They sincerely try to do so, and really do so in many things. However, as we shall see, they have not understood him correctly on some important points.
We shall take up the more recent Thomistic interpretation separately. Similarly, not all those who are called Molinists really follow Molina in everything. In fact, many of them readily admit that they differ from him on certain important points.
6. The opinion of the older Thomists:
1) Predestination and reprobation: They hold that God decrees predestination before consideration of merits. In regard to reprobation, they make a distinction between:
b) Positive reprobation: which,10 "is the will to inflict damnation for the fault. It comes after prevision of demerits. . . ."
Certain Thomists add that negative reprobation is11 "a positive exclusion from glory as from a benefit that is not due. This was the view of Alvarez, the theologians of Salamanca, John of St. Thomas, Gonet, Contenson." Others, with Garrigou-Lagrange, do not wish to consider negative reprobation as a positive exclusion, but prefer to consider it as the will of permitting a fault that will not be forgiven, as we saw above.
2) The reason for negative reprobation: Garrigou-Lagrange says:12 "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. . . . This is the opinion of the theologians of Salamanca, Alvarez, John of St. Thomas." Rather, he himself holds:13 "So the reason for negative reprobation, absolutely considered, is this: the manifestation of divine goodness by way of justice. . . ."
3) The distinction of sufficient and efficacious grace: The reason why sins and positive reprobation infallibly follow after negative reprobation is found in the explanation of the distinction and distribution of sufficient and efficacious graces. For there is14 "a twofold internal actual grace. One is efficacious of itself, and gives the good act itself; the other is inefficacious, but really sufficient, giving the ability to perform a good act, either proximately, or at least remotely." By efficacious grace God "directly and infallibly moves a human will to choose. . . . The efficacy of grace comes . . . properly and formally from a predetermining physical premotion."
4) For what does sufficient grace suffice? It is true, as we have seen that sufficient grace really gives "the ability to perform a good act." So it suffices for that ability. But it does not suffice for salvation, nor even for actually performing a good act:15 "Sufficient grace is certainly not of itself sufficient for salvation, because it cannot produce any acts by itself." Now the fundamental reason for this assertion is:16 ". . . efficacious grace . . . is required as the application of the power to action, not as the power, or part of the power. . . ." St. Thomas himself explains the need of the application by a comparison:17 ". . . an artisan . . . applying the power of a natural thing to some action is said to be the cause of that action, just as a cook [is said to be] the cause of cooking, which is [done] through fire." In other words, just as fire in itself really has the ability or power to cook food, yet never will cook food unless the cook applies the fire to the food; similarly, through sufficient grace a man really has the power or ability to perform a good action, yet will not perform it unless God gives also the application, that is, efficacious grace.
Hence, if we ask: "Can a man perform a good act with sufficient grace?" the answer requires a distinction:
b) He cannot perform it in another sense: He still lacks the application. And without the application, it is impossible that a good act be produced, just as it is impossible for fire to cook food unless it is applied to the food.
5) How is the application or efficacious grace obtained? To reply, we must make a distinction. For we could speak either of what is required on man's side or on God's side:
2) Efficacious grace will be given if a man prays properly. In regard to prayer, they say:22 "If a man would not resist the sufficient grace to pray, he would receive the efficacious grace to pray. . . ." But, in regard to not resisting the sufficient grace to pray, it is still true, according to the Thomists: ". . . efficacious grace is required that a man may not fail [to cooperate with] sufficient grace, that is, that he may not resist."
b) On God's side: God's reason for refusing the application, efficacious grace can be even an inculpable defect in man: 23"Because of this defective consideration [of the rule of morality in the intellect, before the will acts] . . . which is not yet sinful . . . God can deny efficacious grace to a man."
Therefore on his side, man cannot obtain efficacious grace, because efficacious grace is not given to those who resist sufficient grace, but, in order that he may not resist, efficacious grace is required. On God's side, efficacious grace is often denied without any moral fault on the part of man.
6) Divine foreknowledge: It is obvious that God can foresee by means of His grant or refusal of these graces. For if He gives only a sufficient grace, man infallibly sins:24 "To fail or to resist sufficient grace is not to consent to it, that is, to sin at least by a sin of omission." Man sins infallibly, because,25 "although a man [having only sufficient grace] can perform the act only defectively [because he cannot add the application needed for a good act], and although if God moves the man, it is inconceivable that the man will not be moved to act [because the divine motion is physical] . . . [nevertheless] God moves [the man who does a bad action] to that which is physical . . . in that action, . . ." that is to the exercise of the act. Now if a will that is not able to rise to produce the good application is moved physically, a bad decision, sin, is produced infallibly and infrustrably.
If however God gives an efficacious grace, since God physically moves the man's will to good, man always does good under it.
Obviously, by His decree to give such or such a grace, God infallibly knows what a man will do.
7) Human freedom: Man remains free even though God moves him physically and infallibly or infrustrably. For the will of God is transcendent.
It is obvious that this freedom is not an autonomous freedom, since the first decision, from which all else follows infrustrably, as we have seen, is made by God alone before any consideration of human conditions. For before the divine decree to give sufficient or efficacious grace, there will be neither good nor bad in man. (We could call this freedom secondary freedom).
8) The principle of predilection: This principle underlies the whole opinion of the Thomists, both in regard to predestination and reprobation, and in regard to sufficient and efficacious grace:26 ". . . this principle of predilection is revealed in these words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, 4:7: "'For who distinguisheth thee?'"27 Therefore:28 "According to the above mentioned words of St. Paul, the distinction of one man from another ultimately must be found not on the side of the human will, but in God who distinguishes one from another by His grace." Therefore the distinction between the elect and the reprobate ultimately does not depend on the things that men do. Rather, God, before any consideration of merits or demerits, absolutely and infrustrably determines the eternal lot of each man. Otherwise, it could29 "happen that out of two men, equally loved and helped by God, in the same circumstances, one would be converted and the other not. And someone, without being more loved and helped by God, would become better than another by a salutary act, easy or difficult, initial or final."
9) Metaphysical foundations: 30". . . this principle of predilection, in the philosophical order, is a corollary of the principle of causality. . . ." That is, all good, and all being come from God alone. In performing a good act a man must pass from potency to act. But a man cannot cause himself to pass from potency to act. Therefore, this takes place only when and if God so wills. So a man acts well when God wills: otherwise, a man is metaphysically incapable of doing anything but falling. It follows that there is nothing in a man according to which he could "distinguish himself." Therefore, the predestination or reprobation of each man does not depend ultimately on his actions, but solely on God, who "distinguishes" one man from another. Besides, if these things were not true in no way could God foresee the free actions of a man.
7. Summary of the older Thomistic opinion: Before any consideration of the merits and demerits of men, God determines the eternal lot of each man. Man is completely incapable of "distinguishing himself." If God decrees to save him, He sends efficacious graces which will move him to freely and infallibly do good. If God does not decree to save him, He does not send him efficacious graces (at least, not to such an extent as to save him) but He sends only sufficient graces. These graces give the ability to do good, but do not give the application. For the application, efficacious grace is required. Without the application, a good act is metaphysically impossible. The application is given to those who do not resist sufficient grace. But efficacious grace is required not to resist. Efficacious grace is required because not to resist is good. Man has the ability of not resisting, but he does not have the application of the ability of not resisting. This application is given only to those who do not resist. Therefore, man has the ability for both the good work for which a sufficient grace is given, and the ability not to resist that grace. But in both instances, application is required, and application is given only to those who do not resist. On God's part, efficacious grace is denied as God wills; for He can deny it, even without moral fault on the part of a man, because of an inculpable inadvertence in man.
8. The opinion of the Molinists: It is not easy to be entirely certain of what Molina himself held on some points, and further important Molinists readily admit that they do not intend to follow Molina on all matters. However, in general, the Molinists hold the following:
1) Predestination and reprobation: All Molinists hold that,31 "predestination considered in its totality, or adequately is . . . gratuitous, that is, the divine decision to predestine, considered as efficaciously determining as a whole the entire order guiding and moving a rational creature to its ultimate ends is conceived entirely gratuitously and freely by God, and not as it were in consideration of some natural work." However, Molinists generally distinguish predestination considered in its totality from predestination to glory considered separately, that is,32 "when it [predestination] is considered as affecting one particular effect . . . glory."
In regard to predestination to glory considered separately33 "more commonly the Jesuit theologians, along with [some] others . . . hold . . . that it is [decreed] after consideration of merits." However, many other Jesuits, among whom are Suarez, and St. Robert Bellarmine, hold34 "that predestination or election to glory is entirely gratuitous, and [is decreed] before consideration of merits. . . ." In regard to this disagreement, I. M. Dalmau, SJ, says,35 "The authors on both sides agree in the essential lines. The differences among those who hold the same opinion do not directly concern this question, but other questions more or less related to it. The chief difference between Thomists and Molinists is in the explanation of the efficacy of grace. . . ."
In regard to reprobation: the theologians who hold predestination before consideration of merits, in general also hold negative reprobation before consideration of demerits, in a sense similar to that which we explained above in speaking of the Thomists. The theologians who hold that predestination to glory, considered separately, is decreed after consideration of merits, hold that there is no reprobation, positive or negative, before consideration of demerits.
2) Distinction of sufficient and efficacious grace:36 "Molinists say that sufficient grace confers the power to act in such a way that nothing needs to be added to it so that it can produce a salutary act. Hence, if such an act is omitted, the omission depends only on human freedom, and not on the lack of any principle of action. Hence [sufficient grace] gives the complete and ready sufficiency not only for the ability to act, but also for the act [itself]."
But the Molinists differ among themselves in explaining efficacious grace:
2) Cognoscitive: From scientia media38 by which God knows that that consent of the will will be given if this grace is given.
3) Affective: From an absolute divine decree which (as the Congruists say) prearranges that consent which will take place from the giving of this grace, which is foreseen as efficacious, or (as the Molinists say) which prearranges this grace, which is foreseen through scientia media as going to be effective if given in these circumstances etc., [and which is given] from a benevolent intention [on the part of God] that that consent actually be given under this grace."
b) A few Molinists have held that grace is efficacious only in actu secundo, 39that is, it is efficacious "because it obtains its effect through the use of free will. . . ."
b) In a system in which graces are efficacious only in actu secundo, not in actu primo, this predilection is not present.
4) Divine foreknowledge: All Molinists hold that God can foreknow the acts that a man will freely perform, or which he would perform in certain conditions without the use of divine decrees as means of foreknowledge: 42". . . we hold that the reason why God certainly knows which alternative of any group of alternatives that depend on a free created will will take place, is not the determination of the divine will bending and determining the free created will, but that it is the free decision [on the part of God] by which He decided to create this free will in this or that order of things and circumstances; but [we hold that] this decision is not the only [reason why God foreknows] but [that the reason is] this divine decision together with His understanding, in His essence, of any free created will whatsoever, by His natural knowledge; by which knowledge He knows with certitude before that created will makes its decision, what that particular will would do, in its freedom, in the supposition and condition that He would create it, and place it in that particular order of things. . . ."
9. Summary of the Molinistic opinion: By means of scientia media, God knows what this particular man would do with these graces, in these circumstances etc. According to those Molinists who hold that efficacious graces are such in actu primo, God chooses, for those men for whom he has predilection or special benevolence, graces with which He knows they will perform good acts. He would employ other graces if the first graces He considered would not be foreseen to be effective. Therefore these men perform good actions. After foreseeing their merits, God predestines them to the glory of Heaven. But for other men, for whom God does not have predilection or special benevolence, God does not act thus. So these do not perform good actions (at least, not to such an extent as to be saved). After foreseeing their demerits, God reprobates them.
According to those Molinists who hold that efficacious graces are such only in actu secundo, God first chooses the order of things in which He will place each man. He does this before considering the merits and demerits of men. Then He sends to them various graces, but does not choose them in the manner described above. After foreseeing the merits of those who actually perform good acts, God predestines them to the glory of Heaven. After foreseeing the demerits of the others, God reprobates them.