Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The Father William Most Collection

St. Thomas on Actual Grace

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

Was St. Thomas a Thomist on actual grace? Definitely no, just as he was not a Thomist on predestination (please see "Predestination: Reason for Centuries-Old Impasse")

To see, we will first review the "Thomist" position, then see what Thomas really said.

"Thomist" position:

There are two kinds of actual graces, sufficient and efficacious. If God sends a sufficient grace, it gives the full and complete power to do something good; but it is infallibly certain we will not do good, but will sin. If He sends an efficacious grace, it is infallibly sure we will do good.

At first sight this seems folly. Yet it is not entirely so: the efficacious grace is the application of the sufficient grace. Compare a fire which has the full power to cook food, but never cooks anything unless a cook applies the fire to the food.

So, if God sends me a sufficient grace, what can I do to get the efficacious grace? The "Thomists" offer three answers:

(1) If He sends a sufficient grace, and I do not resist it, I get the efficacious grace. BUT: To nonresist a sufficient grace takes an efficacious grace of nonresistance. So no solution. In this vein, Garrigou-Lagrange wrote (De gratia, Turin, 1945, p. 63, note 2: ". . . a person is not able by himself alone to not place an obstacle [to sufficient grace - italics his]."

(2) If He sends a sufficient grace, and I pray, I get the efficacious grace. BUT: To pray takes an efficacious grace of prayer. Again, no solution.

(3) They say that God can and often does deny the application -- without which a man cannot do good--for a mere "inculpable inadvertence". P. Lumbreras (De gratia, Rome 1946, pp. 95-96, citing John of St. Thomas I - II q. 111. disp 14 a. 12, n. 12) wrote: "To be deprived of efficacious grace, it is not always required that we first desert God by sin. . . . on our part, there is always some impediment to efficacious grace, not by way of fault [italics added], but by way of inconsideration or some other defect . . . . 'Because of this defective consideration [in the human intellect] because of this voluntary defect - which is not yet a sin. . . . God can refuse a man efficacious grace.

Position of St. Thomas himself:

First, in ST I-II. 111 he divides grace in many ways -- but never at all into sufficient and efficacious. Yet that classification of sufficient/efficacious is central to the so-called Thomist theory proposed by Bañez.

Instead, in CG 3:159 he says: "Since this is in the power of free will [namely] to impede or not to impede the reception of grace, not wrongly is it charged as a fault against him who sets up an impediment to the reception of grace. For God, so far as is in Him, is ready to give grace to all . . . but they alone are deprived of grace who set up an impediment to grace in themselves."

So St. Thomas does teach that we really can resist, or really can omit resistance.

Not so within the "Thomist" system: sufficient grace, since it lacks the application, which is efficacious grace, cannot produce any good, it can only sin;it lacks the power of not resisting, as Garrigou-Lagrange, cited above, says. Metaphysically, it lacks application, and a power without application can do nothing but fail. So two comments:

1) To say that a man cannot do other than impede, is, as we said, contrary to CG 159 as we saw, which says "this is in the power of free will, to impede or not to impede the reception of grace." - We notice no distinction of sufficient vs efficacious grace - St. Thomas never makes that classification.

2) To say God would deprive a man of that without which he cannot help sinning means the salvific will is at zero, or close to zero. This is in contrast to the actual power of the salvific will as shown:

a) The Father accepted a price of redemption that is infinite, since it came from the work of an Infinite, Divine Person. So He bound Himself to make grace available without limit - surely an "inculpable inadvertence" would not be enough to void so powerful a salvific will.

b) Love can be measured by the obstacles it can overcome in trying to bring well-being and happiness to the beloved. Christ's love for us overcame an obstacle that was of measureless difficulty and suffering to make eternal life, and all grace available to us. Surely, He cannot refuse to give what He bought at such a price for an "inculpable inadvertence". So St. Paul in Romans 8:35ff grows exultant: "Who then will separate us from the love of Christ? Will it be tribulation? or being in a tight spot? or hunger? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword. . . ? But in all these we are superconquerors because of Him who loved us. . . . I am certain that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor present things, nor future things, nor strength, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus Our Lord." Surely, not just an "inculpable inadvertence".

An objection on infallibly efficacious grace: Some will object that Thomas says in I - II 112. 3: "If it is the intention of God who moves that man, whose heart He is moving, should receive grace, he infallibly receives it."This means merely that when God so wills He can so move that the effect is infallibly received. It does not say that God lacks the ability to permit a man to impede grace. As we saw above, Thomas said: ". . . this is in the power of free will, to impede or not to impede the reception of grace." And the text of 2 Cor 6:1 makes clear also that we can cause grace to come in vain.

The real solution of St. Thomas, completed: How then put these things together? The answer is not difficult. God has two modes of moving, ordinary and extraordinary. In the ordinary mode, He does permit man to impede, as St. Thomas says. In the extraordinary mode, God, by transcendence, can prevent resistance from developing or cut through it if it has already arisen, without altogether taking away free will. But this is extraordinary. Because it is a reduction, though not a cancellation, of His commitment to give free will. The precise reason for calling it extraordinary will come out from the following.

In the ordinary mode: God sends me a grace which, with no help from me, causes two things: it causes me to see something as good (cf. 2 Cor 3:5) , it makes me well disposed toward it.

At this juncture where I could reject the grace, if I merely make no decision against it, then grace continues in its course, and "works in me both the will and the doing (cf. Phil 2:13) ."

However, in phase 2, after the omission of a contrary decision, then two things happen in parallel: first, grace works in me both the will and the doing, as we said; second, I am cooperating with grace by virtue of power being received at the same instant from grace.

Comments: 1) After grace has caused the two effects, I do not have the power to make a decision to accept (Phil 2. 13: it would be a good decision) . I do have the power to make no decision against it. (Grace sustains me in nonrejecting, without forcing nonrejection) . To act that way has the same effect as a good decision, but it operates in radically different way. By omission, not by commission.

2) What we have proposed is basically the same as Contra gentiles 3. 159, which we quoted above: A man has in his power to impede or not impede. Only they are deprived of grace who do impede, just as if someone closes his eyes when the sun shines, he is guilty of any harm that follows from closing his eyes.

In the extraordinary mode: God sends a grace, but the man resists it or has made himself blind, by much sinning, so he does not even perceive the good thought of what God wills and which grace tries to make clear in his mind. Such a thought is needed to start the process, but, according to 2 Cor 3:5: "We are not sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God."

In the ordinary mode, God would simply permit that resistance to have its effect, but in the extraordinary mode, He forestalls resistance or cancels it out. If He does this, that is, if He forestalls resistance or cancels it out, then the first decision on what is to happen does not come from the man as it would normally, in accord with CG 3:159 which says a man can impede, with which St. Paul agrees in 2 Cor 6:1: "We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain. Instead, in the extraordinary mode the decision on whether it will be effective or not comes from God.

As we said above, if God forestalls the resistance or cancels it out, then the first decision comes from God, not from the man. This is in accordance with what Thomas said in I - II, 112. 3: "If it is the intention of God who moves that man, whose heart He is moving, should receive grace, he infallibly receives it." But that, being a diminution of freedom, has to be extraordinary, since God normally observes His grant of free will. To routinely not observe that grant would be self-contradiction for Him. God can routinely do this.

Even in the ordinary mode, it is grace that is efficacious. At the critical juncture which decides everything my contribution is a metaphysical zero, the lack of blocking it.

When does He use this extraordinary mode? : Since He loves all that is right and good, it seems He will use the extraordinary mode only when someone other than the recipient - who would surely not do it for himself - puts an extraordinary weight into the scales of the objective order. That makes it suitable to grant an extraordinary grace, by way of exception. The extraordinary weight will be heroic penance and prayer, as in the case of St. Augustine's mother.

If as the"Thomists" say all grace were infrustrable, then there would be no point at all for Thomas to often appeal to eternity to show how God can know future contingents -- God would then know them merely by reason of His intention to cause them.

Philosophical view of the New Answers: The First Cause sends me a motion which actualizes the potency of my mind to see something as good, actualizes the potency of my will not as far as a decision, but only to the point of a favorable attitude. When these two things are in place, with no contribution from me, if I do nothing against the grace (this is a metaphysical zero from me) then the movement continues, and actualizes the potency of my will to accept. At the same instant it gives me the power to cooperate.

But if when I see the two actualizations in me (coming from the movement from the First Cause) the fact does not please me -then the actualization of my will (up to a favorable attitude) collapses back to potency (I can collapse without help) . Then The First Cause will actualize the potency of my will to reject.

Corollary for spirituality: Imagine a ledger for me. On the credit page I write the number for what I have contributed to a good act. It is a metaphysical zero. On the debit page, the number for my sins. So 1 Cor 4:7: "What have you that you have not received? And if you have received it, why boast as if you had not received it? " (As if you had made it yourself) . Thus my self esteem goes to zero, seeing I contribute only a zero. It sinks below zero, seeing my sins. - But on the secondary level, I am wonderful: an adopted child of God, with a share in the divine nature. So I am simultaneously worse than worthless and marvelous.

This is how the Saints could say terrible things about themselves, in all truth. Humility is the virtue that gets me to see myself in myself, in relation to God and others, as I really am, and then, to accept that at all levels of my being. Our explanation above helps to show how this is possible. We added "at all levels of my being" because it seems the Pharisee in the temple was grabbing some credit for himself, in a not fully conscious way. He began: "O God I give you thanks. . . ." But without consciously fully realizing it, he was subconsciously grabbing credit for himself. Hence he was not justified, as the publican was.

The Scriptural framework presupposed in the above: There are two sets of texts of St. Paul which seem to completely clash ( we translate them in accord with canons 4 and 7 of the second Council of Orange 529 AD. DS 374 & 377) . Although a local council, the special approbation of Boniface II made its canons equal to those of a general council) :

1) 2 Cor 3:5:"We are not sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as from ourselves. Our sufficiency is from God. Phil 2:13: "It is God who works [produces] in you both the will and the doing."

2) 2 Cor 6:1: "We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain." (Many texts all over Scripture imply the same, by asking that we turn to God, change our heart etc. ) .

One set seems to make us without freedom, like puppets on a string; the other set shows that in some way when grace comes we control the outcome.

The Church has never told us how to put the two together. We have just one small help from the Council of Trent (DS 1554, Canon 4 on Justification) . That canon says that under actual grace we are not entirely passive.

When debates became acute in Spain, and people were becoming disturbed, Clement VII in 1597 ordered both sides to send a delegation to Rome to have a debate before a commission of Cardinals.

In March 1602 Clement VIII began to preside in person. In 1605 he very much wanted to bring the debate to a conclusion. So he worked long into the night, and finally came up with a 15 point summary of Augustine's doctrine on grace, intending to judge Molina's proposals by it. That would have meant condemnation of Molina and probable approval of the so-called Thomists. But according to an article in 30 Days, No. 5 of 1994, on p. 46, "But, it seems barely had the bull of condemnation been drafted when, on March 3, 1605 Clement VIII died." Another Pope had died at the right time centuries earlier. The General Council of Constantinople in 681 had drafted a condemnation of Pope Honorius for heresy - which was untrue - Pope Agatho had intended to sign it. But he died before being able. The next Pope, Leo II, having better judgment, agreed only to sign a statement that Honorius had let our doctrine become unclear, in his letters to Sergius, which did not teach the Monothelite heresy, but left things fuzzy.

So it seems if there be need, God will take a Pope out of this life if needed to keep him from teaching error.

At the end of the 10 years of debates ordered by Clement VIII in 1597, Paul V closed the sessions in 1607. On the advice of St. Francis de Sales, whom he consulted, the Pope refused to approve either the "Thomist" or the Molinist solutions.

Appendix: the Molinist solution: Sufficient and efficacious grace are the same. If I cooperate, it become efficacious. BUT: On any given occasion, God is apt to have more than one kind of grace to offer. We imagine a case in which He has graces a - b - c and d. He knows if He sends a or b, I will cooperate, but if He sends c or d, I will not. Question: How does He decide which kind to send? Reply: For some He has a special benevolence. To them at least commonly He sends the kind that will work for them. Otherwise, the kind that will not.

We conclude: this is playing with a stacked deck again.

See also the third file of this group of three, "Predestination".



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