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Thomas Aquinas on Justification :: Summa Theologica

I have herein summarized and quoted from articles 1-10 of question 113 in the prima secunda of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica: “Of the Effects of Grace.”  I have organized my summaries more in tune with how Aquinas wrote them: 1) the sed contra (some authoritative statement Aquinas usually wishes to defend), 2) the respondeo (Thomas’s way of explaining things) and 3) adversus (Thomas’s responses to various objections).  I begin, however, with IN SUM (my summary of all ten articles of question 113).  All quotations from the Summa are taken from the English Translation, Summa Theologica, trans. the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 5 vols., rev. ed. 1948; repr., Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1981.

 

Some questions to ask when reading: (1) Does Aquinas use the term “remission of sins” forensically to refer to their being forgiven, or does he use this language psychologically to refer to the expelling of the sin within the heart? (2) Where does forgiveness fit into his doctrine of justification?  (3) Why does Aquinas choose to tackle the questions he does?  Can we discern a larger project driving his agenda?  (4) How does Aquinas handle the tension between grace and free will?  (5) In Aquinas, why is justification by faith rather than charity?  (6) Are there any questionable assumptions made by Aquinas’ Aristotelian anthropology that have been corrected by science (besides the obvious point that science admits of no “soul” that transcends the physical/material)?  If so, could his theology of justification be enhanced by holding on to his overall doctrine but updating where necessary?  (7) When Aquinas disagrees with objections to his position, is he ultimately disagreeing with them or finding a way to affirm the truth in their objection without it undermining his position?  In other words, what posture does Aquinas seem to take towards the objections?


 

Summa Theologica

IN SUM :: Justification  is the movement of a sinner from a state of interior injustice known as sin to a state of interior justice that expels such sin, caused instantaneously when the grace of God is infused and causes the sinner to accept grace by their free will and freely despise sin and turn from loving it and towards God and loving God.  The justice brought about by this grace in the interior of a human soul is such that the human intellect or reason is directed toward God to apprehend God as last end, and directs the human will to submit to the human intellect and therefore love God as last end or ultimate good.  Justification is by faith because the will only loves what it first apprehends as a fitting object of love by the intellect or reason, thus faith has a structural priority over charity (love for God) inasmuch as the intellect has a structural priority over the will.  Though justification is brought about by faith and is the sinner’s first movement toward God inasmuch as faith is the first effect of grace due to its structural priority, it more especially concerns or consists in charity because justice is especially concerned with the good, and the good is especially the object of the will, and charity is the will’s proper act (love) elevated and perfected.

 

ST I-II.113.1 :: The justification of the ungodly is the remission of sins.

sed contra :: The remission of sins is justification.

respondeo :: Just as making hot implies a movement towards heat, so justification implies a movement towards justice and includes a rectitude of order.  Justification as a virtue implies a making right of man’s act towards his neighbor.  Justification as legal justice implies a making right of man’s act in relation to the common good.  But justification takes its name from the rectitude of order it implies in the interior disposition of the person who is made just.  More specifically, the inferior or lower powers of the person’s soul are made subject to the superior or highest powers of the person’s soul, while the higher powers are in turn made subject to God.  Aristotle called this relationship between the higher and lower powers metaphorical justice.

Since Adam was created with original justice, his justice was simply generated, but what the Apostle Paul has in mind by “the justification of the ungodly” is the kind of justice that is brought about in a person by a movement from one contrary to another—namely, from an injustice in the interior of a person’s soul to justice in that same soul.  Since movements get their name not from their starting point (whence), but from the direction or termination of the movement (whereto), “this transmutation whereby the remission of sins from a the state of ungodliness to the state of justice borrows its name from its term whereto, and is called justification of the ungodly.”

adversus 1 :: Some might argue that sin is opposed to all virtues, not just justice.  Therefore the remission of sins in general is not the same as justification.  But I counter that all sin implies the disorder of the human mind—that is, it’s not being subject to God.  For this reason, the removal of any sin is called the justification of the ungodly.

adversus 2 :: Some might argue still as follows: everything ought to be named after what is predominate in it, as Aristotle argues (De Anima ii. text. 49).  The remission of sins is brought about chiefly by faith according to Acts xv. 9 and by charity according to Proverbs x.12).  Hence justification should be named after faith and charity rather than justice.  But I counter this argument as follows: faith and charity imply that the human mind is directed to God by the intellect (faith) and will (charity), but because justice implies a rightness of order in general the transmutation is named justification rather than charitification or faithification.

adversus 3 :: It could be said that the remission of sins is one and same with being called. A person called is afar off, and those afar off from God are so by sin.  Yet one is called prior to being justified if we go by Romans 8:30.  However, I would counter that being called refers to God’s help in exciting and moving our mind to give up sin, but God’s motion is not the remission of sins, but it’s cause.  God’s moving and exciting our mind to give up sin must be distinguished from it’s effect, which is our giving up of sin.  The former is the cause of their remission, while the latter is their remission.

 

ST I-II.113.2 :: The infusion of grace is required for the remission of guilt—that is, for the justification of the ungodly.

sed contra :: An infusion of grace is required for the remission of sins, for we are justified freely by grace.

respondeo :: Sin creates an offense to God, and offenses are only removed when the person who has been offended is at peace with the soul of the person who offended.  Therefore the remission of sins implies that God must be at peace with the one who sinned.  “This peace consists in the love whereby God loves us.”  As part of the divine actuality God’s love is eternal and unchangeable, but it’s effect on human persons can be interrupted inasmuch as we fall short of it through sin.  The effect of divine love in us (that can be interrupted by sin) is grace, and it is by grace that a person is made worthy of eternal life, and by sin that a person is made unworthy of eternal life.  Hence we could not conceive of the remission of guilt apart from the infusion of grace.

adversus 1 :: Now it might be argued that persons can be moved from one contrary without being led to another if the contraries are not immediate, and the state of guilt and grace are not immediate, for there is a middle state—namely, the state of innocence where a person is in neither state.  Hence a person can be pardoned his guilt without being brought to a state of grace.  But I counter that although there is a middle state imaginable where we would neither be hated by God nor moved to a state of grace, but simply pardoned of our wrongs, such a middle state would only be conceivable in a state of innocence, for once a person sins this creates an offense, and pardoning an offense requires more than neutrality, but a special good will.  God’s special good will is called grace.  Thus, although a person before sinning may be in a state without guilt and also without grace, once sin is introduced and pardon is necessary to restore peace, the remission of guilt requires the infusion of grace.

adversus 2 :: One might argue that the remission of guilt consists in the Divine imputation whereby God does not impute our sin to us.  However, such imputation requires the divine act of God’s love which implies a certain effect of grace (as we have established in Q 110.1).  Thus, not imputing sin implies a certain effect in the person whose sins are not held against her.  In other words, the divine imputation only proceeds from the same Divine love that is grace.

adversus 3 :: One might argue that sins which are contraries allow for sins to be remitted without grace, as a person guilty of wastefulness is thereby remitted of the sin of miserliness.  However, these sins may be contrary to one another in the ways they turn from God, but they are alike inasmuch as they both turn from God, wherein their sinfulness lies.  Furthermore, without grace the guilt of sin remains even if the act of it passes away.

 

ST I-II.113.3 :: A movement of free-will is required for the justification of the ungodly.

sed contra :: It is written that “every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to Me,” but learning implies assent to the teacher, hence no one comes to the Father (by justifying grace) without a movement of free will.

respondeo :: Justification happens when God moves a person to justice, but God always moves everything in its own manner, according to its nature and not against it.  It is human nature to have free will, thus when God moves a person to justice this cannot be without a movement of the free will.  “But he so infuses the gift of justifying grace that at the same time He moves the free-will to accept the gift of grace, in such as are capable of being moved thus” (that is, not infants or those in a comma).

adversus 1 :: Infants are not capable of the movement of free will, nor are madmen and mentally disabled who have never had a movement of their free will.  They are an exception and are justified by the infusion of their souls through a sacrament apart from a movement of their own free will.  In the case of someone who had use of their free will but lost it through sickness or sleep, they can only be justified if they intended to make use of the sacrament of Baptism or any other sacrament before they lost the use of their free will, otherwise the sacraments will not help them obtain justifying grace.

adversus 2 :: Some might argue that Solomon was moved to wisdom in his sleep, yet the movement of the free will does not occur during sleep.  Hence the gift of sanctifying grace could also be given apart from the movement of free will.  But this is wrong on multiple levels.  In the first instance, Solomon wasn’t given the gift of wisdom during his sleep, but it was rather announced to him in his sleep based on a pervious desire, or else it was “the sleep of prophecy” wherein the will is able to move.  Secondly, the gift of wisdom perfects the intellect which precedes the will, whereas the gift of justifying grace has especially to do with ordaining a person to the good, and the good is especially the object of the will.

adversus 3 :: One might argue that grace is preserved without a movement of the will, and this preservation is by the same cause that brings grace about in the first place.  Hence it can be brought about or infused apart from a movement of the will.  However, the preservation of grace does not require a transmutation of the soul, but only a continuation of the divine influx that caused the transmutation.  The infusion of grace in justification, however, does require a transmutation of the soul and therefore a proper movement of that soul is required in order for it to be moved according to its own manner, which involves the movement of the will.

 

ST I-II.113.4 :: A movement of faith is required for the justification of the ungodly.

sed contra :: It is written “Being justified therefore by faith, let us have peace with God.”

respondeo :: A movement of the free will is required for the justification of the ungodly because in justification a person’s mind/soul is moved by God by turning it to himself.  Now the first turning to God is by faith, hence a movement of faith is required for the justification of the ungodly.

adversus 1 :: Now one might argue that faith is no more required for justification than any of the other virtues, since Scripture also teaches that fear drives out sin (Ecc 1.27), charity causes the forgiveness of sins (Luke 7.47), humility causes grace (James 4.6), and mercy purges away sin (Prov 15.27).  However, the movement of faith is not perfect unless it is quickened by charity, hence the infusion of faith is always accompanied by the infusion also of charity—they are infused together.  The free will is moved to God by being subject to Him, hence the acts of fear and humility also concur.  When mercy follows justification, it counteracts sin by satisfying for it.  When mercy precedes justification it prepares for it inasmuch as the merciful obtain mercy.  Mercy can thus both precede justification and concur with other virtues towards justification inasmuch as it is included in the love of our neighbor.

adversus 2 :: One might say that knowledge of God is required for justification, and this can be obtained through natural knowledge or the gift of wisdom and therefore faith is not necessary for justification.  But natural knowledge does not turn a person to God as the object of beatitude or the cause of justification, hence such knowledge does not suffice for justification.  The gift of wisdom on the other hand presupposes faith.

adversus 3 :: Some might say that because there are many articles of faith it is unreasonable to think a person must think upon all of them when he is first justified, since such thought would require a long delay of time.  However, the Apostle says “to him that believes in Him that justifies the ungodly his faith is reputed to justice, according to the purpose of the grace of God.”  This makes it clear that faith is required in order to believe that God justifies man through the mystery of Christ.

 

ST I-II.113.5 :: The justification of the ungodly requires a movement of the free will concerning sin.

sed contra :: It is written “I will confess against myself my injustice to the Lord; and Thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin.”

respondeo :: Justification of the ungodly is a certain movement whereby the human mind is moved by God from the state of sin to the state of justice, and this requires an act of the free will to regard both states.  Just as in local movement a body is related to the place it moves from as well as the place it moves to, so the human mind whilst being justified must by an act of the free will both withdraw from sin and draw near to justice.  If we understand how the will moves as Augustine did, this requires a despising of sin enough to move the will away from it, and a desire for justice enough to move the will toward it.

adversus 1 :: Now some might argue that charity is enough to take away sin, yet charity’s object is clearly not sin.  Likewise, therefore, no movement of the free will regarding sin is required.  However, one and the same virtue is responsible for the will’s movement to seek one thing and avoid it’s contrary.  Thus charity is responsible for both loving God and detesting the sin whereby the soul is separated from God.

adversus 2 :: Now scripture teaches that the one moving forward shouldn’t look back (Philippians 3.13-14), and whoever is striving after righteousness has his sins behind him.  Therefore, some conclude that this means no movement of the free will regarding sin is required for justification.  However, to return to the things behind in such a case would be to return to loving them.  The movement of the will required by justification is the opposite.  In fact, the one putting his sins behind him ought to recall his former sins to detest them, for this is the same as to flee from them.

adversus 3 :: Still some will say that expecting a half pardon from God is irreverent, and if a man considers his sins in justification it would need to be all of them, not just some.  But this doesn’t seem right, for it would require such a great effort to recall all of one’s sins and even then the sins that have been forgotten could not be forgiven.  Hence they conclude that no movement of the free will can be required for justification.  Now previous to justificationa person must detest each sin that one remembers, and from this the soul will continue this detestation to all sins in general, for it puts that person in a contrite frame of mind regarding sin such that were each sin to be recalled, they too would be detested.  This movement of the free will away from sin co-operates in one’s justification.

 

ST I-II.113.6 :: The remission of sins ought to be reckoned amongst the things required for justification.

sed contra ::  The end must be kept in mind when determining what is required for a thing, for the end is the chief part of everything and the remission of sins is the end of justification.

respondeo :: Four things are required for justification: 1) the infusion of grace, 2) the movement of the free will towards God by faith, 3) the movement of the free will towards sin, and 4) the remission of sins.  This all flows from what justification is—namely, a movement whereby the soul is moved by God from a state of sin to a state of justice.  In any scenario where one thing is being moved by another, three things are required: 1) the motion of the mover (in justification this would be the divine motion in the infusion of grace), 2) the movement of the moved (in justification this would be a departure from the term whence and an approach to the term whereto), and 3) the consummation of the movement, or the attainment of the end (the attainment of the end in justification is implied in the remission of sins, for in this the justification of the ungodly is completed).

adversus 1 :: One might argue that the the substance of a thing shouldn’t be called a “requirement” of that thing, and since the remission of sins is justification, it shouldn’t be considered also a “requirement” of justification.  But the only reason justification is considered to consist in “the remission of sins” is because a movement gets its name or species from its end or term, yet other things are required in order to reach the term.

adversus 2 :: Others might argue that since the infusion of grace is the same thing as the remission of sins just as the lighting of a room dispels it’s darkness, these are not two separate things, but the same.  Therefore the remission of sins shouldn’t be considered as a requirement for justification once the infusion of grace has already been listed.  But this only holds true when considering the substance of the act of infusion, for by the same act God both bestows grace and remits sin.  When considering the infusion of grace on the part of the objects, however, they differ by the difference between guilt, which is taken away, and grace, which is infused.

adversus 3 :: Still some will argue that an effect shouldn’t be enumerated together with its cause when things like this happen simultaneously.  The remission of sin is caused by the infusion of grace which moves the free will towards grace and away from sin simultaneously because it is by faith on the one hand, and contrition on the other, whereby sin if forgiven.  Therefore the remission of sins shouldn’t be enumerated and divided from its cause in this case as two different requirements for justification.  However, this argument misjudges the enumeration I have laid out, which is an enumeration not of a genus into its species, but a division of the things required for the completion of a thing.  In such enumerations, it is appropriate to have what precedes and what follows, since some of the principles and parts of a composite thing may precede, and some may follow.

 

ST I-II.113.7 :: The justification of the ungodly takes place in an Instant, not successively.

sed contra :: The justification of the ungodly is caused by the justifying grace of the Holy Spirit, who comes to people’s minds suddenly according to Acts 2:2: “and suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty wind coming.”  The gloss on this verse notes that the Holy Spirit “knows no tardy efforts,” therefore, the justification of the ungodly is not successive, but instantaneous.

respondeo :: “The entire justification of the ungodly consists as to its origin in the infusion of grace.  For it is by grace that free-will is moved and sin is remitted.  Now the infusion of grace takes place in an instant and without succession.  The only thing keeping a form from being impressed upon a subject is that subjects not being disposed to it, but a subject predisposed already has nothing hindering from receiving a form.  We have already established that God needs no disposition to infuse grace other than the one he Himself has made—and this sufficient disposition can be gradual or sudden.  Natural agents cannot dispose a matter suddenly if the matter is resistant or has some disproportion with the power of the agent, but the stronger the agent the more speedily that agent can dispose matter for a form.  Since God’s power is infinite, it can dispose instantly anything whatsoever to its form, and much more the free will of human persons, where the movement is by nature instantaneous.  For this reason, the justification of the ungodly by God takes place in an instant.

adversus 1 :: Some might argue that since choice requires deliberation of counsel, which implies a reasoning process, this implies succession.  But this type of consideration is not the substance of justification, but a way to justification.

adversus 2 :: One might make the argument that free will’s movement requires actual consideration, but it’s impossible to consider many things actually and at once.  But I counter that nothing prevents two things being understood as one, so long as the two things considered are two sides of the same coin and are therefore somehow one, as when we understand the subject and predicate as one affirmation, or as when a person moves away from one place and towards another place at the same time all as one movement.  Thus in the justification of the ungodly a person’s free will detests sin and turns to God simultaneously in one movement.

adversus 3 :: Still some might make the case that a form that can be greater or less is received successively by its subject, as blackness and whiteness.  Grace may be greater or less, therefore, the infusion of grace is not received suddenly by its subject but successively.  But this is flawed reasoning, for the reason a form is not received instantly in the matter is not that it can inhere more or less, otherwise light would not suddenly illuminate.  The reason form inheres gradually is owing to the disposition of the matter or subject as we have seen.

adversus 4 :: It could be argued that the free will’s movement co-operates and is meritorious, hence it must proceed from grace, without which there can be no merit.  But a thing receives its form before operating by this form.  Hence grace must be infused first before the free will can move towards God and away from sin.  Hence justification cannot be all at once.  However, I counter that in the same instant a form can be acquired and begin to operate, as when fire is received it also moves upward in the same instant.

adversus 5 :: Finally, some argue that if grace be infused this implies an instant when it first dwells in the soul.  Likewise, for sin to be forgiven, there must be a last instant that man is in sin.  If it’s the same instant, opposites would be in the same instant simultaneously—inhering grace and inhering sin would be included in the same instant.  But this argument fails to see that the succession of opposites in the same subject in time are different than those that are above time.  Affections and intellectual concepts are not measured by continuous time, but by discrete time.  In these, there is a last instant in which the preceding is, and a first instant in which the subsequent is, but there need by no time in between since there is no continuity of time.  The human mind, which is justified, is, in itself, above time even though it is subject to time accidentally [inasmuch as it understands with continuity and time with respect to phantasms].  We must rather say that there is no last instant in which sin inheres, but a last time, whereas there is a first instant that grace inheres in which sin, which inhered in all previous time, no longer inheres.

 

ST I-II.113.8 :: The infusion of grace is naturally the first of the things required for the justification of the ungodly.

sed contra :: The cause is naturally prior to its effect, and the infusion of grace is naturally the cause of whatever is required for the justification of the ungodly.  Therefore, it is naturally prior to it.

respondeo :: The four things required for the justification of the ungodly are all simultaneous in time rather than successive, as we have established.  But in the order of nature, one is prior to another logically.  Thus the first is the infusion of grace, the second, the free-will’s movement towards God, the third, the free will’s movement away from sin, and the fourth, the remission of sins.  This is because in every movement the motion of the mover is naturally first (this would be the infusion of grace), the disposition of the matter or the movement of the moved is second (this would be the free will’s movement towards God).  The end or term of the movement of the moved is last (this would be the free will’s movement away from sin).  Since sin is detested because it is against God, the movement towards God is prior to the movement away from sin.  The remission of sins is last inasmuch as it is caused by the end or term of the movement.

adversus 1 :: Some argue that we withdraw from evil before drawing near to the good per Psalm xxxiii.15 “turn away from evil, and do good.”  Thus the remission of sins is naturally prior to the infusion of grace.  But I counter that withdraw from a term and approach to another can be understood in more than one way.  From the perspective of the thing moved, the withdraw of a term naturally precedes the approach to a term because in the subject of movement the opposite which is put away is prior to the opposite attained by the movement.  On the part of the agent, however, it’s the other way around since the form pre-existing in the agent acts to remove the opposite form, as the sun by its light acts for the removal of darkness, and illumination is thus logically prior to the removal of darkness even though on the part of the atmosphere being freed from darkness is prior to illumination—even though both are simultaneous in time.  Since the remission of sin is about the God who justifies, the infusion of grace is considered prior to being freed from sin, but if we look at it from the perspective of the justified, being freed from sin is prior to the obtaining of justifying grace.  In other words, the whence of justification is sin; the term whereto is justice.  Grace causes both the forgiveness of sin and the obtaining of justice.

adversus 2 :: Others argue that the disposition naturally precedes the form to which it disposes and the free will’s movement disposes for the reception of grace.  Therefore, it naturally precedes the infusion of grace.  And this is true from the perspective of the moved, for the disposition of the subject precedes the reception of the form in the order of nature.  However, the disposition of the subject follows the action of the agent that disposes.  The free will’s movement, then, precedes the reception of grace in the order of nature, and follows the infusion of grace.  [NOTE: disposing grace vs. infusing grace refer to the same grace from different perspectives here—but Aquinas does not distinguish it’s effects by giving them different ends or names]

adversus 3 ::  Sill one might make the case that since sin hinders the soul from freely tending to God, and such hinderance must be removed before the soul can freely move towards God, the remission of sins and the free will’s movement against sin must be considered naturally prior to the infusion of grace.  But I counter that Aristotle has pointed out that the soul’s movements toward the speculative principles or the practical end comes first, even though in exterior movements the removal of hindrances are prior the attainment of the end.  Likewise the free-will’s movement is a movement of the soul, so in the order of nature it moves towards God as to its end prior to removing impediments of sin.

 

ST I-II.113.9 :: The justification of the ungodly is God’s greatest work.

sed contra :: Ps cxliv.9 says “his tender mercies are over all his works” and in a collect it is said “O God, Who dost show forth Thine all-mightiness most by pardoning and having mercy.”  And Augustine said “for a just man to be made from a sinner, is greater than to create heaven and earth.”

respondeo :: This can be seen in a number of ways.  From the perspective of the mode of action in which creation is the greater work since God creates something from nothing, or on the part of what is made, in which case the justification of the ungodly is greater since it results in eternal good and a share in the Godhead, whereas the universe’s good terminates at the good of mutable nature.  This is why Augustine says “heaven and earth shall pass away, but the justification of the ungodly shall endure.”  Keep in mind the word “great” also can be seen in more than one way.  In absolute quantity glorification is greater than the gift of grace that sanctifies the ungodly.  In proportionate quantity the gift of grace that justifies the ungodly is greater than the gift of glorification that justifies the just because the gift of justification so far exceeds the worthiness of the subject who deserves punishment instead.  Those who are glorified on the other hand, by the fact of their justification are worthy of the gift of glorification.

adversus 1 :: It might be argued that by justification we only obtain the grace of a foreigner or traveller, but glorification causes us to obtain heavenly grace and is therefore greater.  But this objection has been answered already, as this looks at the question in terms of what is made rather than mode of action, and also in absolute quantity rather than proportionate quantify.

adversus 2 :: It could also be argued with good reason that justification of the ungodly is ordained only to the good of one person, but the creation of heaven and earth benefit the universe and is therefore greater.  But this applies only if we consider both in the same genus since the good of the universe is greeter than the good of one.  The good of grace in the one justified, however, is greater than the good of nature in the whole universe.

adversus 3 :: It could be argued with good reason that to create something from nothing is greater, for when God did this there was nothing to co-operate with the agent as in justification.  Since in justification God creates something from something, and there is co-operation, but in creation God creates something from nothing, creation is a greater work than justification.  But as we have already established, this considers only the manner of acting as the criterion for being greater, not what is made.  If what is made be considered the criterion, the justification of the ungodly is greater, as we have established.

 

ST I-II113.10 :: Justification is not a miraculous work.

sed contra :: Miraculous works are beyond natural power, but Augustine makes clear that to be capable of faith and charity belongs to the nature of humans, but to have faith and charity belongs to the grace of the faithful. Therefore the justification if the ungodly is not miraculous.

respondeo :: Three things are usually found in miraculous works: 1) the active power is divine and the cause therefore hidden, in which case justification can be considered miraculous, 2) the form introduced to the matter is beyond natural power of that matter (as in the resurrection of the dead), in which case justification is not a miraculous work since the soul is capable of, and fit for, grace having been made in the image of God, and 3) something that departs from the usual cause and effect relationship, such as when a sick person beyond the wonted course of healing by nature or medicine is yet suddenly well, and in this matter justification is sometimes miraculous and sometimes not.  “For the common and wonted course of justification is that God moves the soul interiorly and that person is converted to God, first by an imperfect conversion, that it may afterwards become perfect; because charity begun merits increase, and when increased merits perfection, as Augustine says.”  But sometimes God moves persons to perfect justice all at once, as he did with the apostle Paul, and in which case it was accompanied by miraculous external prostrate.  Thus Paul’s conversion is celebrated in the church as miraculous.

adversus 1 :: Some might argue that miraculous works are greater than non miraculous works, and since justification is greater than even miraculous works, as Augustin makes clear, therefore justification must be a miraculous work.  But although certain miraculous works are less than the justification of the ungodly in terms of the good that is caused by the work of justification, yet certain miraculous works are beyond the wonted order of such effects, and thus have more of the nature of a miracle than justification does.

adversus 2 :: It could be argued that the movement of the will in the soul works like the inclinations in nature.  When God moves natural things against their natural inclination, it is considered a miracle.  Since the will of the ungodly is bent on evil, God’s moving it to good, as happens in justification, should be considered miraculous.  But I would counter by arguing that for a natural thing to be moved against its inclination is not necessarily a miraculous work, otherwise it would be a miracle for a stone to be thrown upwards.  It could only be a miracle if this takes place beyond the order of the natural proper cause (like using a feather to spring a heavy rock upwards in the air).  However, only God can justify the ungodly just as much as only heat could warm up cold water, so even in this regard justification of the ungodly cannot be seen as miraculous.

adversus 3 :: One might say that justice is a gift from God just like wisdom is, and it is miraculous for someone to obtain wisdom suddenly without study.  Therefore, it is also miraculous for God to justify the ungodly.  Wisdom is attained naturally through talent and study, so it is miraculous when this is attained apart from such order.  But a person does not naturally acquire justifying grace by his own action ever, so these two works cannot be compared as if they were exactly the same.

Aquinas the Calvinist (via Eastern Orthodoxy?)

Was Aquinas a Calvinist?  Well … sort of.  I realize the question is anachronistic, but Aquinas retained the doctrines of grace propogated by Augustine that the Calvinist tradition borrowed from during the Protestant Reformation (e.g. the doctrine of unconditional election, predestination, infallible grace, etc.).  There are many qualifications to this claim I do not have time to write about here (perhaps in a future post).

Those who hold a Calvinistic notion of predestination have also been known to hold that nevertheless God desires that all people be saved because Scripture affirms it.  For this reason 1 Timothy 2:1-4 also appears to many to be a major stumbling block (read: contradiction) to the entire soteriological system known as Calvinism.  How can we say that God desires all people to be saved when we know that ultimately God decides who is and who is not saved, yet does not choose everyone.  Does God not always do whatever he desires?  Does he not desire that all be saved?

I will now call upon Thomas Aquinas, however, to explain to us why this verse, and God’s desire that all be saved, does not contradict the doctrine of predestination.  I will first quote the verse itself, then Aquinas:

First of all I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority. … This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. — 1 Tim 2:3-4 (NASB)

Aquinas thinks that the word “all” in this passage likely means “applying to every class of individuals, not to every individual of each class; in which case they mean that God wills some men of every class and condition to be saved, males and females, Jews and Gentiles, great and small, but not all of every condition” (ST I.19.6.ad.1).

He also offers Damascene’s notion of “the antecedent will of God” which is to be contrasted to “the consequent will” of God.  Here the point is this: God’s will considered absolutely entails that all men should be saved, but by adding “some additional circumstances” or “by a consequent consideration” the verdict of God’s will may turn out to be reversed (ST I.19.6.ad.1).

For example, considered absolutely it is good that all men should live and be free, unless or until that one person is considered an extreme danger and menace of society by killing and raping others, in which case a good judge may will him to hang or be thrown in jail rather than live and be free.

Thus it may be said that a just judge will simply the hanging of a murderer, but in a qualified manner he would will him to live … Such a qualified will may be called a willingness rather than an absolute will.  Thus it is clear that whatever God simply wills takes place; although what He wills antecedently may not take place. (ST I.19.6.ad.1).

While Damascene refers to “antecedent will” and “consequent will,” Aquinas prefers to speak of the former as “willingness” and the latter as “simple will.”  Willingness is what God wills with all things being “equal” (as it were), apart from circumstantial suppositions.  Simple will is God’s final will once all circumstantial considerations are in view.  Not that Aquinas would imagine that there is ever a time when God’s brain fails to consider something with all its attendant circumstances (God is outside of time and doesn’t have a brain).  Rather, this language is metaphorical and taken from human speech.  God wills that all be saved in the same way that a judge wills all men to be free and live, although given good reason, this will may be reversed.  But this does not destroy the “good will” of the judge; therefore, neither should it cause us to call into question God’s good will to those who are damned.

It is indeed striking to me that I had only been exposed to this kind of reasoning through the Calvinist tradition, yet here Aquinas is found using the same reasoning.  But my amazement does not stop there, since Aquinas gets his distinctions from St. John of Damascus (Damascene), a Syrian Christian monk and priest († 676-749) venerated as a Saint in both the Catholic Church and in Eastern Orthodoxy.

St. John of Damascus 

Aquinas’s Posture of Humility to the Tradition

Although one of the chief virtues of Aquinas’s Summa is its careful reason and rational consistency, there do seem to be areas of tension in spite of its exceptional logical rigor.  What I mean is this: Thomas has positional tensions, even if they are not necessarily logical tensions.  If one wished to be critical she might consider his explicit reasons for his positional posture as itself illogical inasmuch as he might appear to be somewhat arbitrary (although as I will argue in my conclusion, he is not being arbitrary).

I hope to show that Aquinas’s humility to the Tradition did not entail his absolute rejection of propositions contrary to the Tradition.  Instead, Aquinas sought to simultaneously defend the Tradition while aiming to parse in what senses contrary claims might also be true.  For a brief post, one example will have to suffice from his treatise on Charity (which is love for God as last end).

Proper Objects of Charity: A Positional Tension

Thomas excludes irrational creatures from the list of objects of charity on the basis that they can have no share in the rational life of man, since charity consists in a certain fellowship of life in the enjoyment of God; a life that irrational creatures have no share in.  However, Aquinas allows the body to be considered an object of charity even though he does not consider the body as having the capacity of reason.

Although our bodies are unable to enjoy God by knowing and loving Him, yet by the works which we do through the body, we are able to attain to the perfect knowledge of God.  Hence from the enjoyment in the soul there overflows a certain happiness into the body, viz., the flush of health and incorruption, as Augustine states (Ep. ad Dioscor. cxvii).  Hence, since the body has, in a fashion, a share of happiness, it can be loved with the love of charity.  (ST II-II.25.6.ad.2)

Here Aquinas concedes that the body does not know or love, but the person can come to know and love through the deeds of the body.  The instrumentality of the body in knowing and loving, then, is his basis for allowing the body to be considered an object of charity.  Hence the body, being “used” by the person for serving God, can in this way become an object of charity even though Aquinas does not consider the body to have the capacity of reason, which belongs to the soul.

This is not a logical contradiction, however, since in the same way Aquinas allows for irrational creatures to be objects of charity.

All friendship is based on some fellowship in life; since nothing is so proper to friendship as to live together, as the Philosopher proves (Ethic. viii. 5).  Now irrational creatures can have no fellowship in human life which is regulated by reason.  Hence friendship with irrational creatures is impossible, except metaphorically speaking.  … Nevertheless we can love irrational creatures out of charity, if we regard them as the good things that we desire for others, in so far, to wit, as we wish for their preservation, to God’s honor and man’s use; thus too does God love them out of charity. (ST II-II.25.4)

Thus, while considered from a logical perspective, Aquinas is being quite consistent.  For he affirms that in the most proper sense of the term charity, irrational creatures and the human body cannot be charity’s object since they do not posses the life of reason.  On the other hand, inasmuch as they are instrumental to charity, being used in service to God, they can be considered the objects of charity.

However, when we consider Aquinas from a positional perspective, he has postured himself contrary to the former position (that irrational creatures can be the objects of charity) and in defense of the latter position (that the human body can be the object of charity).  To say it yet another way, although the sense in which irrational creatures and the human body can be considered objects of charity—by reason of their being instrumental to knowing and loving—is the same in both cases, Aquinas postures himself contrary to the former and in defense of the latter in his dialogical structure.

Aquinas’s Posture as Humble, Not Arbitrary 

Is this arbitrary?  It may seem arbitrary to us, but most likely Aquinas postures himself throughout the Summa in such a way as to be defending what he considers to be the sacred Tradition.  Thus, he is trying to give priority to the senses of propositions that he thinks have been intended by the Tradition, while still conceding the same logic when found in other propositions set against the Tradition.

This seems the most satisfying solution to Aquinas’s otherwise arbitrary posture—his posture is one of humility to the Tradition.  Irrational creatures can be the objects of charity in some sense, but this isn’t as important to Aquinas as the fact that the deep fellowship we have with God, as creatures made in his image, is not something irrational creatures can have.  For the same reason the human body can be considered as not the proper object of charity by reason of its lack of the faculty of reason.  But this is not as important to Aquinas as polemicizing against the Manichean pretensions about the body having been created by an evil principle, thus in article five he postures himself as for the human body as a proper object of charity.

Aquinas did not simply reject the truth claim of the Manichean absolutely, however, for he concedes that if we consider the body under the aspect of sin and corruption, it must be loathed as an evil.

Our bodies can be considered in two ways, first, in respect of their nature, secondly, in respect of the corruption of sin and its punishment.  Now the nature of our body was created not by an evil principle, as the Manicheans pretend, but by God.  Hence we can use it for God’s service, according to Rom. vi. 13: Present … your members as instruments of justice unto God.  Consequently, out of the love of charity with which we love God, we ought to love our bodies also; but we ought not to love the evil effects of sin and the corruption of punishment; we ought rather, by the desire of charity, to long for the removal of such things. (ST II-II.25.5)

Aquinas is here trying to both defend the Tradition and also affirm what he sees as the truth in Manicheanism, which often quoted from biblical passages, as in objection 1:

It would seem that a man ought not to love his body out of charity.  For we do not love one with whom we are unwilling to associate.  But those who have charity shun the society of the body, according to Rom vii. 24: Who shall deliver me from teh body of this death? and Philip. i. 23: Having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.  Therefore our bodies are not to be loved out of charity. (ST II-II.25.5.obj.1)

In his response to this objection, Aquinas again draws from his synthetically designed distinction.

The Apostle did not shrink from the society of his body, as regards the nature of the body, in fact in this respect he was loth to be deprived thereof, according to 2 Cor v. 4: We would not be unclothed, but clothed over.  He did, however, wish to escape from the taint of concupiscence, which remains in the body, and from the corruption of the body which weighs down the soul, so as to hinder it from seeing God.  Hence he says expressly: From the body of this death. (ST II-II.25.5.ad.1)

Conclusion

Are we to loathe the body or to love it?  Aquinas says, in a word: both (but in different senses).  This way of approaching theology might have its misfortunes (such as technical language and “death by a thousand distinctions”), but it has even more to recommend it.  By such a synthetic approach, Aquinas has done what so desperately needs imitating in the church today.  He fails to allow heat to block out light.  Instead of letting his zeal polarize truth claims by defending the Christian Tradition as “true” and attacking every other proposition that seems to contradict it as absolutely “false” or “unbiblical,” he was instead careful to affirm all truth he could see in the opposing positions set against his Tradition.

In doing so, he let as much light in as possible while maintaining the humility necessary in defending a Tradition.  If Thomas were to have been so zealous for the Tradition that he failed to look for the truth in other Traditions (which sometimes involved acknowledgment and affirmation of propositions that seemed to be contrary to it), his theological vision would have been myopic and his Summa would not have the synthetic brilliancy that gives it a great deal of its luster and theological durability.

Protestants especially could learn something from Aquinas’s method of synthesis.  It is not by accident that the Catholic Tradition (with Thomas as their leading theologian) has been considered the “both/and” tradition, and Protestants have been considered more of an “either/or” tradition (with Luther and Calvin as the leading theologians).  I would consider Thomas’s method especially resourceful for ecumenical dialogue, which requires a similar kind of humility that we find Aquinas striving for in his Summa.

::: What do Catholics Mean by “Infusion”? ::: Thomas Aquinas

Catholics often speak of the “infusion” of grace.  Protestants are often allergic to this language, perceiving it to be a threat to the legal status of our justification.  But in fact, Protestants also believe in the “infusion” of grace, and some Protestant theologians (read: the brightest ones) are not shy to speak this way (e.g. Jonathan Edwards).

What do Catholics mean when they speak of “infusion”?  That’s like asking what Protestants mean when they speak of God’s “giving” grace; it all depends on which Protestant you talk to; there are likely ten different answers for every ten theologians answering.  However, a certain continuity can easily be found in the Catholic ways of speaking about “infusion” just as a certain continuity can be found in Protestants who talk about “giving [of grace].”

No theologian influences Catholic ways of theological language more, probably, than St. Thomas Aquinas.  What does Aquinas mean when he speaks of “infusion”?  For example, Aquinas believes that charity (love for God) is a divine gift of the Holy Spirit that is “infused” into us.  What does he mean?  Here is a few small excerpts from his writings I believe partly illuminate an answer to this question.

[Charity] is not founded principally on the virtue of a man, but on the goodness of God. ST II-II.23.3.ad.1

Charity is superior to the soul, in as much as it is a participation of the Holy Ghost. ST II-II.23.3.ad.3

The infusion of charity denotes a change to the state of having charity from the state of not having it, so that something must needs come which was not there before.  On the other hand, the increase of charity denotes a change to more having from less having, so that there is need, not for anything to be there that was not there before, but for something to be more there that previously was less there.  This is what God does when He increases charity, that is He makes it to have a greater hold on the soul, and the likeness of the Holy Ghost to be more perfectly participated by the soul.  ST II-II.24.5.ad.3

Here Aquinas distinguishes between infusion and increase.  God infuses charity instantaneously (from not having to having is like from not-pregnant to pregnant), and this is different from our increase in charity.  Our increase in charity does have a similarity to infusion, however, for according to the Doctor, God is the one who works both in us.

Freedom for Excellence: Pinckaers Alternative to “Ockham’s Other Razor”

In our last post we looked at Pinckaers criticisms of Ockham’s Other Razor (i.e. William of Ockham’s notion of free will), which he calls “freedom of indifference.”  This post is Pinckaers description of what he thinks is a more accurate notion of human freedom: freedom for excellence.

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Pinckaers, Servais, O.P. The Sources of Christian Ethics, Translated by Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.

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Freedom for Excellence

Freedom for excellence is first illustrated as akin to a child learning to play the piano.  She must have some predispositions to learn—an attraction to music and an “ear for it” (354).  In this case, her predispositions enable her to develop the freedom to play beautifully after much discipline (355).  Progress is developed by regular exercise, or, a habitus (355).  The ability, in the end, to play with ease, compose new music, and delight oneself and all who hear, is the stage of maturity corresponding to freedom (355).  Similarly, the virtue of courage is “acquired far more through small victories of self-conquest, repeated day after day, than through dreams of great actions” (356).  The author briefly mentions what he calls “the internal harmony of the virtues”—“true courage is worth little without wise discernment as to what should be done, and without self-control, justice, and generosity” (357).  A notion of freedom in this framework places predispositions and natural inclinations in service of freedom (rather than opposed to it, as with Ockham’s Other Razor), in fact enabling it (357).

The root of freedom is twofold: 1) a sense of the true and good and 2) a desire for knowledge and happiness (357).  These are the semina virtutum (the seeds of virtue).  Our natures are inclined to sense the virtues and give spontaneious praise to them, and this is the sequi naturam (follow nature) principle of the ancients and what St. Thomas calls the instinctus rationis (rational instinct).  “Far from lessening our freedom, such dispositions are its foundation.  We are free, not in spite of them, but because of them” (358).

The Stages of Development

Freedom for excellence “requires the slow, patient work of moral education in order to develop” (359).  The author takes us through these stages as he sees them.

Childhood corresponds to what we shall call the stage of discipline, adolescence to the stage of progress, and adulthood to the stage of maturity or the perfection of freedom. (italics added, 359)

The first stage is a delicate affair in which the moral educator must be neither authoritarian nor libertarian, but somewhere in between, making sure the “child” understands that the “discipline, law, and rules are not meant to destroy his freedom … Their purpose is rather to develop his ability to perform actions of real excellence by removing dangerous excesses” that “jeopardize his interior freedom” (360).  The student must experience the love of his teacher and the love of God (362).  This discipline “appeals to natural dispositions, to a spontaneous sense of truth and goodness, and to the conscience” (360).

The key characteristic of the next stage, the stage of progress is “taking one’s own moral life in hand, by a predominance of initiative and personal effort, by the development of and appreciation and taste for moral quality, and the deepening of an active interiority” (363).  In is in this stage that the virtues begin to form and take shape and the “adolescent” begins to find joy in the virtues themselves and develops strong dispositions for action (363).

The final stage is that of maturity (or “perfection” in the human sense of “complete,” 366).  This includes mastery of excellent actions and creative fruitfulness (366).  In this stage charity is “perfected” or matured such that the persons “chief concern is to be united to God and to find all their joy in him” (368).  Yet this joy passes from God to others so as to make their virtue beneficial for the community (367).  Pinckaers clarifies that this description in “stages” does not necessarily mean that in experience the process is perfectly “linear,” but involves a “certain dialectic” (372).  Also, one should not get the idea that once “maturity” or “perfection” is reached there is no room for growth (373).

Compared with Freedom of Indifference

Compared with the “delicate” process of moral education here, the “theory of freedom of indifference robs discipline and education of the profound, intimate rootedness they require.  Education becomes a battle; it can no longer be service or collaboration” (360).  Pinckaers attributes the cut-off point in moral education after only the first stage to the position found in the freedom of indifference (362).  Whereas freedom to do evil is essential in freedom of indifference, it is a lack of freedom in this model (376).  The reduced role of Scripture is also to be blamed on Ockham’s freedom of indifference (377).  Pinckaers concludes that freedom for excellence offers “a far better foundation for receiving revelation and grace, particularly through freedom’s natural openness to the true and the good” (377).

Ockham’s Other Razor: Pinckaers Account of Ockham’s Notion of Free Will

The following is the first of two posts dealing with Servais Pinckaers account of two different conceptions of human freedom: freedom for excellence vs. freedom of indifference.  Pinckaers thinks that the notion of “freedom of indifference” is bogus, and that the more classical view of free will, freedom for excellence, is much better.  NOTE:  Ockham’s Other Razor is my label, and does not occur in Pinckaers.

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Pinckaers, Servais, O.P. The Sources of Christian Ethics, Translated by Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.

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Freedom for Excellence vs. Freedom of Indifference

Moral theories characteristic of the patristic age and the great scholastic periods were dominated by questions of human happiness and the virtues and conceived of human freedom as freedom for excellence.  Modern moral theories are predominated by notions of obligation and commandments and assume a notion of human freedom called freedom of indifference (329).

St. Thomas explained freedom as a faculty proceeding from reason and will, which unite to make the act of choice. … For him, free will was not a prime or originating faculty; it presupposed intelligence and will.  It was rooted, therefore, in the inclinations to truth and goodness that constituted these faculties (331).

Ockham, on the contrary, maintained that free will preceded reason and will in such a way as to move them to their acts.  ‘For I can freely choose,’ he said, ‘to know or not to know, to will or not to will.’  For him, free will was the prime faculty, anterior to intelligence and will as well as to their acts. (331).

Ockham’s Other Razor: Pinckaers’s Short Narrative of Moral Theory

Pinckaers is partial to Thomistic moral theory and assumes that freedom for excellence is much richer a concept for moral theory than notions of freedom of indifference (329).  His disdain for moral theories based on the notion of freedom from indifference is not intended to be subtle in his account of its origins and contours.  Pejorative language pervades his description of what he thinks the notion of freedom of indifference causes in moral theory—a “destruction” of the harmony between humanity and nature (333), a “banishing” of considerations of human nature and spiritual spontaneity (333), a “rupturing” of the human soul (335), “the upheaval of all moral ideas and their systematic organization” (335), a “shattering” of the beautiful Thomistic order (337), a “disruption” of the field of moral theory that yields bizarre and uncoordinated contours of human action (338).

The chapter’s basic narrative goes something like this: Moral theories were getting along wonderfully with a rich and orderly account of human nature and morality (based on Aristotle and the Fathers but expressed perhaps most fully in St. Thomas) when Ockham came along and tampered with the notion of human freedom in a way that ruptured the unity and coherency of moral theory and led to unnecessary disjunctions and false dichotomies.  Ockham’s view of human freedom was like a germ that infected every aspect of moral theory, completely restructuring it and redefining all its parts.  Moral theories have been infected with this disease ever since.

Although perhaps less known, this was Ockham’s Other Razor—the one that took the harmonized parts of the beautiful Thomistic synthesis between human nature and morality and cut them up into disjointed pieces.  By Pinckaers’s judgment, Ockham’s Other Razor slit the throat of Thomas’ brilliant synthesis, bleeding the life out of dynamic moral theory.

Pinckaers’s Fuller Account of Ockham’s Other Razor

In Ockham’s view of human freedom, although many things can potentially influence the will, nothing can be allowed to determine the will outside itself—not human reason, not God’s will, or human emotions/desires/passions (331).  Thus, it has to have the ability to choose to do what is contrary to reason, God’s will, and human passions.  So, for example, it can choose to be happy or not be happy.  This will is the ultimate self because even if one aspect of “the self” desires something with great passion, the will has to have the power to say “No!”  This freedom was thought to be at the very core of human nature—the very “being” of a person (332).  Pinckaers concludes that “this is doubtless the origin of the divorce between moral theory and the desire for happiness, which has been effected in our times” (333).

It is called freedom of indifference not because the human will cannot be influenced by something other than itself, but that it always must retain enough “indifference” (or autonomy) to never be determined by such outside influences, for if it is determined by anything outside itself, it is not ultimately “free.”  In fact, “it even seemed that freedom could find no better way of asserting itself than to struggle against” human sensibilities, habits, passions, etc. (335).  Only one passion can be considered primitive to man—his passion to self-affirmation, “to the assertion of a radical difference between itself and all else” (338).

No past action can determine any future action; all human action occurs in “isolated succession” such that personality, Pinckaers argues, becomes unintelligible (336-37).  Pinckaers complains: “Human discontinuity is one of the basic tenets of Ockham’s psychology” (338).  In this view of human freedom, anything that one might conceive of as being able to have a great deal of influence over the will is set against it (loyalty, reason, natural inclinations, desires, God will)—they become a threat to human freedom (340).  This also effects the doctrine of God.  The moral will is capricious because God is absolutely free—it cannot be derived from the nature of things (342).  Since God’s will is revealed in the human conscience, moral theory can be worked out apart from an account of God (349).  Reason’s imperatives, however, are irrational (they are not grounded in the nature of things or in the nature of God, 348).

Conclusion

A litany of accusations is leveled throughout Pinckaers’s account of Ockham’s view of human freedom that the reader must carefully consider.  It is the “origin of the divorce between moral theory and the desire for happiness” (333); it demands  human action occur in “isolated succession,” and thus makes what we call “personality” ultimately unintelligible (336-37); it sets God’s will over against the human will as one higher capricious will against a lower capricious will (342); it makes God’s will irrational because it is not based on the nature of things or on the nature of God himself (348); it creates all sorts of unnecessary dichotomies between freedom and law, freedom and grace, subject and object, etc. (350).  There is much overlap between Pinckaers’ critique of freedom of indifference and the more extensive critique leveled by American theologian Jonathan Edwards.

The next post will explore what Pinckaers offers as an alternative to Ockham’s notion of freedom: freedom for excellence.

Book Review: Participatory Biblical Exegesis by Matthew Levering

The following is a book review of: Levering, Matthew. Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008. 310 pp. For the audio version (which has a more elaborate conclusion) click the play button below or download it to your itunes.  For a PDF version of this book review, click here.

Levering’s proposal in Participatory Biblical Exegesis poignantly addresses what R.W.L. Moberly calls “a curious situation” in Christian biblical exegesis (2). Modern Christian biblical interpretation has heavily relied on historical-critical methods that tend to preclude interpretations that invoke the most important divine and spiritual realities to which the biblical texts refer (2).  Since historical-critical inquiry and discovery has proven fruitful for a fuller understanding of the linear-historical realities of the biblical texts, rather than propose something less than historical-critical methodology, Levering hopes to redeem the valuable finds of historical-critical methodology for Christian interpretation by proposing something more: a broader understanding of history as including also a participatory dimension (1).

His proposal is that history is not merely linear-historical but also metaphysically participatory (finite participation in divine being).  Therefore in order to do justice to the human and historical aspects of exegesis, Levering argues that one must go beyond the linear-historical dynamics of the text to account for the realities beyond the words (the res, 11).  The ultimate argument of the book, then, is about the nature of history (3).

The Advent of Historical Critical Methods

Chapters one and two seek to demonstrate the “gradual displacement” of the patristic-medieval participatory approach to scripture (14). Levering hopes to shine light on exactly why history came to be conceived as purely linear-historical and divine realities as extrinsic.  This metaphysical shift takes place in “the Scotist rupture” of the fourteenth century (19).  Scotus rejected the Platonic understanding of participation and the Aristotelian understanding of ultimate teleology that Christian theology had, up to this point in history, largely appropriated in Christian theology (19).

After locating the origins of the modern understanding of history in medieval nominalism, Levering hopes to show the implications such a view of history has for biblical exegesis.  He does this by looking at how biblical commentary of the same text (John 3:27-36) drastically changes over time, starting with Aquinas’ exegesis that illumines the participatory elements of historical reality (25) and ending with modern modes of biblical exegesis that marginalize all such approaches (53).  For Christian interpreters, “commentaries do not [easily] blend history and theology” because the modern idea of history makes history “exegetically problematic” (52).

Participatory Biblical Exegesis

In chapter three, as Levering begins to offer a vision for participatory biblical exegesis, the real concerns come to the fore as he warns that notions of history and biblical interpretation that do not involve recognition of divine realities are ultimately “anthropocentric (and thus, from a Bible’s perspective, idolatrous)” (64).  Renewing the tradition of patristic medieval participatory biblical exegesis, on the other hand, offers Christian interpreters the sorely needed “theocentric model of biblical interpretation” (64).  Levering marshals the brilliance of St. Augustine’s insight into the nature of teaching: “all teaching is about res, realities” and therefore, “in order to understand true teaching one must learn how to judge the relative importance of various res, so as to be able to get to the heart of the teaching” (65).  To do otherwise would be to cling to “created realities, loving them without reference to their Creator”—a “doomed enterprise” that confuses the means as above the end (65).  (Here is the real heart of Levering’s proposal; the rest of the book is historical/theological/exegetical troubleshooting. In this chapter, most of his ideas find expression.)

The ultimate end of all teaching “aims at building up love of God and neighbor in ecclesial communion” (68). Humility requires that one recognize the “norm of Scriptural reading” of the Body of Christ (68). The scriptures ultimate telos (my word, not his) is to mediate an encounter with God: “’existential’ participation” that amounts to God’s own teaching which “re-orders” one’s loves (69).  This effectively reverses the hermeneutical priority from linear-historical to existential-participatory (69).  The author then further expounds on this key idea through Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of Scripture as “transformative sacra doctrina” (71) that must be understood as a unified whole rather than “a mere repository of facts and ideas” (75).

In the second half of chapter three, Levering is forced to take the reader a step back from the euphoric teachings of Augustine and Aquinas to revisit the muddled issues of contemporary biblical interpretation (76).  Levering by then, however, has made his point well: linear-historical tools cannot be employed in a “neutral” fashion (77): they either include or preclude the divine realities as part of real history.  Levering claims not only that a participatory mode of exegesis is necessary for discerning the divine res, but he makes the further claim that this approach is “required to account for even the linear-historical complexity of the biblical texts” (77).  But is such a participatory perspective able to capture fully the “unsystematic” messiness of human authorship and intention?

Levering argues that his approach does not demand “that all biblical authors/redactors, working in various genres, are saying and intending the same thing,” but only “that Scripture’s human authorial teachings and intensions be recognized as belonging to the participatory framework—divine revelation and inspiration—of the Trinitarian doctrina” (80). Problematic passages must be governed by the schema of doctrina, which includes abandoning a particular explanation of any passage “if it be proved with certainty to be false”  (81).  Levering backs this claim by appealing to Dei Verbum’s doctrine of inspiration that claims that Biblical interpretation “seeks salvific truth” (83-84).  This chapter concludes by an affirmation of the “centrality of God the Teacher, in whose teaching exegetes participate” (89).

God as the Teacher

Chapter four is concerned with affirming the necessary locus of receptivity to God the Teacher—the “divinely ordained fellowship” (90).  Here Levering is concerned to show that his proposal is more promising for finding common ground for dialogue with Jewish interpreters than the “comparative textology” of mere historians who ignore the divine and ecclesial aspects of biblical exegesis (96).  The Pontifical Biblical Commission document, in spite of its “good job” in some respects, is troubling on account of its “presumption of a solely linear-historical model” to both Jews and Christians who see Scripture as more than just “ancient texts” (96).  To do justice to real history, including the “communal participatory appropriation” of Scripture, biblical interpretation must heed the communal traditions in which the biblical texts are “operative” (99).  This aspect of historical transmission should distill the fears of “total semantic indeterminacy” (100).  To ignore communal interpretation is fatal because the true meaning of Scripture is “embodied” in this “communal, intellectual, moral, and liturgical” history (104, 102).

Communal Context of Kenotic Love

As we discover in chapter five, for Levering, the communal teaching of the Christian church that sets the context for all exegesis is “kenotic love” that includes “cruciform peace” and is therefore more promising that the Spinozian undermining of ecclesial authority (140).  In the end, Levering comes through with a robustly Christian biblical exegesis that “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” in ecclesial communion, understands the fullness of sacred scriptures because it participates in the realities to which they refer—specifically the “Christological plan of human salvation” (143).

Conclusion

Levering’s narrative of the origins of modern notions of history will need to be evaluated by interested historians, and his peculiar Platonic understanding of participation (though nowhere extensively explained) may not be shared by all Christians (although some account of our participation in God is indeed necessary).  Certainly, however, Levering has exposed a naïveté in Christian biblical exegesis by showing the woeful inadequacy of any interpretation that does not take the divine realities into account as real history.  In this respect, his work is a brilliant myth buster, forcibly deconstructing the illusion of neutrality in historical-critical methods that exclude the divine realities in history and perhaps an eye-opener to what should be more obvious to those who cherish this aspect of Scripture above all else.  This insight is especially relevant to those who use the historical-critical method in apologetic postures.

Although Protestants will perhaps wish to dispute his argument for ecclesiologically governed interpretation, I would argue (as a Protestant) that such Protestants engage in performative contradictions anytime they use the word “heretic.” Although Levering’s work still leaves certain questions unanswered, it appears to be more suggestive than comprehensive, inviting other Christians to join him in rethinking an authentically Christian hermeneutical framework that does not shy away from all useful critical tools but keeps the divine realities central to the task of interpretation.

by Bradley R. Cochran

• a u d i o p o s t • :: On the Necessity of Grace by Thomas Aquinas

• a u d i o p o s t • ::  On the Necessity of Grace

Click the player below to listen my new audiopost, or just go to my  •audiopost•  page.

NOTE :: This audio post is a mixture of Aquinas’s words and my own paraphrasing of his words from a section in the Summa Theologica.

Thomas Aquinas on Operating, Co-Operating, and Prevenient Grace :: Summa Theologica

I have summarized articles three and four of question 111 in the prima secunda of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica: ”Of the Division of Grace.”   All quotations from the Summa are taken from the English Translation, Summa Theologica, trans. the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 5 vols., rev. ed. 1948; repr., Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1981.

Grace Is Fittingly Divided Into Operating and Co-Operating Grace

IN SUM: Operating grace refers to God’s gracious work in a sinner, i.e. God’s gracious “operating.”  Co-operating grace is the human effect of God’s operating, namely, the human will moving the person unto meritorious works.  Operating grace always comes first, for all co-operating grace is the effect of God’s operating grace.  A person is justified by operating grace, and subsequently consents with this operating grace as a result of such grace.

Grace can refer to God’s moving of the human to will and to act, or it can refer to God’s bestowal of a habitual gift (the gift of a new disposition which then becomes the principle of meritorious works).  Each of these graces can be thought of in terms of operating grace and also co-operating grace.

First, with regard to God’s moving of the human to will and to act, “the operation of an effect is not attributed to the thing moved but to the mover” (I-II.111.2).  Thus, since the human is moved but does not do the moving, this kind of grace is called operating grace, since God is the only one operating.  However, this operating grace causes an effect in the human whereby by the human mind, after being moved, also moves (i.e. moves the other powers—i.e. the will begins to will the good, which moves the person to act exteriorly, etc.].  Thus there is an interior act of the will (ceasing to will evil and beginning to will the good) and also an exterior act subsequently commanded by the will.  In these operations of the human (both interior and exterior) God strengthens the will interiorly “so as to attain the act” and also grants the outward capability of the exterior operation.  Since the human will is also operating as the effect of God’s operating, this kind of grace is called co-operating grace. Augustine says: “He operates that we may will; and when we will, He co-operates that we may be perfect.” (I-II.111.2).

Second, with regard to God’s bestowal of a habitual gift, “inasmuch as this gift heals and justifies the soul, or makes it pleasing to God, is called operating grace; but inasmuch as it is the principle of meritorious works, which spring from the free-will, it is called co-operating grace.” (I-II.111.2)

However, such free will and such works are the effect of God’s operating grace.  “God does not justify us without ourselves,” as Augustine says: “He Who created thee without thyself, will not justify thee without thyself.”  “Whilst we are being justified we consent to God’s justification (justitiae) by a movement of our free-will.  Nevertheless this movement is not the cause of grace, but the effect; hence the whole operation pertains to grace.” (I-II.111.2.ad2).

“Operating and co-operating grace are the same grace” only “they are distinguished by their different effects.”  (111.2.ad.4).

111.3 Grace is Fittingly Divided into Prevenient and Subsequent Grace

IN SUM: Grace refers to the temporal effect of God’s eternal love.  Prevenient grace refers to grace that causes a subsequent effect, subsequent grace refers to this effect inasmuch as it is an effect of the prevenient grace.

“God’s grace is the outcome of His mercy” (I-II.111.3, cf. Ps 59:10; 23:6)

“There are five effects of grace in us:” (I-II.111.3)

  1. to heal the soul
  2. to desire good
  3. to carry into effect the good proposed
  4. to persevere in good
  5. to reach glory

“Grace, inasmuch as it causes the first effect in us, is called prevenient with respect to the second, and inasmuch as it causes the second, it is called subsequent with respect to the first effect.” (I-II.111.3)  Likewise, from #2 on, each grace can be considered both prevenient to the next and subsequent to the previous.

While God’s love is eternal, grace refers to a temporal effect of this love. (I-II.111.3.ad.1)

This division does not divide grace with regard to its essence but only with regard to its effects (as with operating and co-operating grace).  “For even the charity of earth is not voided in heaven.” (I-II.111.3.ad.2)

Through prevenient grace “we are presently justified” (I-II.111.3.ad.2).

Thomas Aquinas on the Essence of Grace :: Summa Theologica

I have summarized all four articles of question 110 in the prima secunda of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica: “Of the Grace of God As Regards Its Essence.”   All quotations from the Summa are taken from the English Translation, Summa Theologica, trans. the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 5 vols., rev. ed. 1948; repr., Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1981.


110.1 Grace Implies Something in the Soul

IN SUM: Grace is not limited to the forgiveness of sins, but signifies various gifts bestowed on man by God including God’s causing good in the soul of the creature.  Thus, grace implies something in the soul, which is God’s love effecting new goodness in the soul of the creature.

Grace can mean three things.

  1. anyone’s love (e.g. the “good graces” of someone)
  2. any gift freely bestowed (i.e. given gratis) (e.g. someone’s “act of grace”)
  3. a grateful recompense of a gift given gratis (someone’s gratitude)

Any gift freely given depends on the love, and likewise any gratitude for a gift freely given depends on the gift freely given.  Therefore, each subsequent definition after the first depends on the previous notion (#2 presupposes #1, #3 presupposes #2).

With regard to #1, a distinction must be made.  Whereas a creature’s love presupposes a perceived good without wholly causing that good, God’s love is always the cause of any creaturely good.  “Therefore it is clear that every love of God is followed at some time by a good caused in the creature but not co-eternal with the eternal love” (I-II.110.1).

Now God’s common love causes the good of any creature’s existence and “natural being,” but God’s special love “draws the rational creature above the condition of its nature to a participation of the Divine good” and “it is by this love that God simply wishes the eternal good, which is Himself, for the creature” (I-II.110.1).

Thus, on the one hand, the grace of God implies a gift freely given to a rational creature and his special love even signifies something bestowed on the soul of a created person.  On the other hand, the “something” in the soul is simply God’s eternal love.

The word “grace” has been especially applied to the forgiveness of sins, but as Augustine said, we must not limit the word “grace” merely to forgiveness of sins.  Yet even “the remission of sins does not take place without some effect divinely caused in us, as will appear later (Q. 113, A. 2)” (I-II.110.1.ad.3).

110.2 Grace Refers to Qualities of the Soul

IN SUM: God not only moves natural creatures to natural good but also bestows upon them certain forms and powers that are principles of acts in order that they be inclined to these movements in an easy and natural way, so also God not only moves the soul in grace, but freely bestows upon the soul new qualities in order that it might be moved easily and sweetly to the supernatural good.

Whoever has God’s grace should be understood to have also some effect of this grace within them, as stated previously.  People are helped by God’s gratuitous will in two ways.  First, God moves the soul of a person to know, will, and do something, and in these ways the grace of God is not considered a quality per se, but a movement of the soul.  “Motion is the act of the mover in the moved” (I-II.110.2).  Second, God infuses a habitual gift into the soul so that they are enabled to acquire the supernatural good with ease [and pleasure?].  In this second way, grace can be considered a quality or as consisting in qualities.

Grace acts upon the soul after the manner of a formal cause, “as whiteness makes a thing white, and justice, just” (I-II.110.2.ad.1).

Grace is not considered a “substance” of the soul because it is not part of the soul’s nature but the soul obtains it through a participation in the Divine goodness.  Thus, what is substantial in God becomes accidental in the soul by participation.  Grace can be considered as simply a participation in this divine goodness.  This participation, however, is imperfect.  While grace is nobler than the substance of the soul, the soul “has its being” more perfectly in its own substance than in grace, since grace is accidental to the soul by participation. (I-II.110.2.ad.2).

The being of an accident is to inhere,” thus accidents are said to have being inasmuch as “by them something is.”  Thus accidents belong to beings, but are not called “beings” proper.  Properly speaking, then, no accident comes into being or is corrupted.  However, the subject of an accident can begin or cease to be in act while having this accident. “And thus grace is said to be created inasmuch as men are created [anew] with reference to it, i.e., are given a new being out of nothing, i.e. not from merits, according to Eph. Ii. 10, created in Jesus Christ in good works.” (I-II.110.2.ad.3).

110.3 Grace is Not the Same as Virtue

IN SUM: Because grace precedes charity and the virtues, it is not itself a virtue.  However, the infused virtues are oriented to grace (i.e. participation in the Divine nature) as acquired virtues are oriented to human nature.  Faith is the first manifestation of grace, but grace cannot be reduced to faith or any of the virtues because it is the root of all infused virtues.  Grace is a certain disposition presupposed by the infused virtues [i.e. the disposition of God himself?].

Grace is neither faith nor hope, and as Augustine says “grace foreruns charity.”  Therefore it is not a virtue. (I-II.110.3)

Aristotle defined virtue as “a disposition of what is perfect—and I call perfect what is disposed according to its nature” (I-II.110.3).  But infused virtues are disposed according to a higher end than human nature—namely, our participation in the nature of God (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4).  “And it is in respect of receiving this nature that we are said to be born again sons of God” (I-II.110.3).

Just as “the acquired virtues enable a man to walk, in accordance with the natural light of reason, so do the infused virtues enable a man to walk as befits the light of grace” (I-II.110.3).

“Augustine calls faith that worketh by charity grace, since the act of faith of him that worketh by charity is the first act by which sanctifying grace is manifested.” (I-II.110.3.ad.1).

Grace is “the root of goodness in man” (I-II.110.3.ad2).

Grace can be reduced to a habit or disposition, yet is not the same as virtue because grace “is a certain disposition which is presupposed to the infused virtues, as their principle and root” (I-II.110.3.ad.3).

110.4 Grace Presides Principally In the Essence of the Soul

IN SUM: Since grace is prior to virtue, it must be in the essence of the soul rather than in the powers of the soul.  Grace is the principle of meritorious works through the virtues.

“By grace we are born again sons of God.  But generation terminates at the essence prior to the [exercise of?] powers.  Therefore grace is in the soul’s essence prior to being in the powers.” (I-II.110.4)

If grace were virtue, grace would necessarily reside in the powers of the soul.  But since, as we have seen, grace is prior to virtue, it must have a subject prior to the powers of the soul.  Therefore, it must be in the essence of the soul.  Just as a person’s will participates in the Divine love through the virtue of charity, so does the nature of her soul participate in the Divine Nature (and become more like that Divine Nature) through regeneration or re-creation.

The powers of the soul flow from the essence of the soul.  It is through the powers of the soul that the essence of the soul is the principle of vital deeds.  Likewise, it is through the medium of the virtues that grace is the principle of meritorious works. (I-II.110.4.ad.1)

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