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::: 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.


Thomas Aquinas on The Cause and Efficacy of Grace :: Summa Theologica

Some will be surprised to note that Aquinas believes that justification is by grace alone (sola gratia) and also articulates something very akin to a doctrine of irresistible grace, although he does not call it that (of course).  He prefers the term “infallible” (see below).

I have here summarized articles 1 through 3 of question 112 in the prima secunda of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica: ”Of the Cause 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.

112.1: God Alone is the Cause of Grace

IN SUM: “The cause must always be more powerful than its effect.”  Therefore, “nothing can act beyond its species” (I-II.112.1).  The gift of grace exceeds all natural created capabilities, “since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature.  And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace” (I-II.112.1).

Christ’s human nature per se is also not the cause of grace, for Christ’s humanity is “an organ of His Godhead,” as Damascene says in De Fide Orthod. 3:19.  “Now an instrument does not bring forth the action of the principal agent by its own power, but in virtue of the principal agent.”  In the case of Christ, the principal agent was the Divine Nature joined to his humanity.  Thus, while we might say Christ’s humanity caused grace, this must be understood to have taken place by virtue of his Divine Nature.  (I-II.112.1.ad.1)

Now created things can be said to cause grace in a certain sense—as we have seen in the case of Christ’s humanity.  Likewise, the sacraments of the New Law also cause grace “instrumentally,” but “principally by the power of the Holy Ghost working in the sacraments.”  (I-II.112.1.ad.2).

112.2: Some Preparations and Dispositions Are Required for Grace

IN SUM: No preparation for God’s grace moving the sinner to the good is necessary.  Grace can be considered to need a preparation only in the case of the bestowal of a habitual gift.  Even then, however, the preparation is simultaneous with the infusion of grace, and both are a part of the same operation of God.

Grace considered as God’s moving the soul to good needs no preparation on man’s part to “anticipate” the Divine help.  “Rather, every preparation in man must be by the help of God moving the soul to good.  And thus even the good movement of the free-will, whereby anyone is prepared for receiving the gift of grace is an act of the free-will moved by God.”  In this sense people are sometimes said to prepare themselves for grace even though they are moved “principally from God, Who moves the free-will” (I-II.112.2).  Thus, it must be remembered that the free-will only prepares inasmuch as it is moved by God.

Grace considered as a habitual gift of God (the gift of a new disposition in the heart) requires a “certain preparation of grace … since a form can only be in disposed matter” (I-II.112.2).  This certain preparation, however, “is simultaneous with the infusion of grace” (I-II.112.2.ad.1).  “When God infuses grace into a soul, no preparation is required which He Himself does not bring about” (I-II.112.2.ad.3).

Sometimes people even receive an imperfect preparation that “precedes the gift of sanctifying grace, and yet it is from God’s motion” even thought it precedes justification. (I-II.112.2.ad.1).  In other words, God sometimes moves people to the good instantaneously and perfectly (as with the apostle Paul), and sometimes through a process that culminates in perfect preparation.  Whether a person is moved instantly or step by step is “of no account” because a person is incapable of preparing herself unless God move her to the good.

No preparation of a person for grace is meritorious of grace.  However, perfect preparation and the infusion of grace are both part of the same operation of divine help, and this operation is meritorious of glory. (I-II.112.2.ad.1).  Again, “no preparation is required which He Himself does not bring about” (I-II.112.2.ad.1) and “merit can only arise from grace.” (I-II.112.2.ad.2).

“Merit can only arise from grace.” (I-II.112.2.ad.3).

112.3: The Movement of Free-will Does not Necessitate Grace, but God’s Intention Does

IN SUM: No movement of the free will necessarily obtains grace because such movement is the result of grace.  However, if God intends to move a person’s free will to obtain grace, it will necessarily happen, since God’s intentions cannot fail.

As already stated, a person’s preparation for grace is wholly from God “as Mover, and from the free-will, as moved.” (I-II.112.3).

No movement of free will necessarily obtains grace, but is rather the result grace.  In this sense, there is no necessity about free will obtaining grace.  On the other hand, inasmuch as the preparation of a person is wholly worked by God as Mover, it does have a kind of necessity—“not indeed of coercion, but of infallibility—as regards what it is ordained to by God, since God’s intention cannot fail” (I-II.112.3).  “Hence if God intends, while moving, that the one whose heart He moves should attain to grace, he will infallibly attain to it” (I-II.112.3).

Any act of the free-will the towards the good is “already informed with grace” (I-II.112.3.ad.1).

If there is any defect in grace in a person, the person is it’s “first cause,” but if there is any bestowal of grace on a person, God is it’s “first cause” (I-II.112.3.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)

Let’s give thanks; but let’s also BE thankful

I remember when I was still a pre-teen, I used to get into fights with my older brother.  And, of course, I had good parents who, being the good parents they were, would always make my brother say he was sorry when he did something mean to me.  In a way, I guess you could say that was part of his “punishment.”  He had to apologize.  Sometimes we both had to apologize to each to each other at the same time in order to not get in trouble.  We would tell each other we were sorry and, as if that wasn’t punishment enough (we weren’t really sorry), we would be forced to hug each other!  For two kids who had been fighting all day and felt not an ounce of remorse for what we had done to each other, that was certainly an awkward moment.  There we were, saying what we didn’t mean and acting like we meant it (by giving each other a superficial, awkward feeling hug).

What does this have to do with Thanksgiving?  Well ….

Thanksgiving = the giving of thanks.  Giving of thanks to who you ask?  Who else could we thank for having family, friends, and lots of food (and so many other things above and beyond what we need)?  It would have to be God.  Who else would it make sense to thank?  No single person, not even both of my parents combined, are the sole source of all that is precious to me in my life.  I could only thank them for certain things.  But with one swift bow of my head, I can thank God for everything, knowing that if it wasn’t for his creative hand, I would not exist, much less have all the things I enjoy about life.  It just happens to be that I live in the most free (as far as I can tell) and richest nation in the world, and grew up in a middle class family (i.e. not “poor”).  If I was born, say, in northern China, I would probably not have been exposed to Christianity in the way I was here: maybe I would be a atheist.

So … what does this have to do with the story about me and my brother?  Well …

Giving thanks with your lips is one thing.  Giving thanks from your heart is another.  Just like you can say “I’m sorry” and not mean it, or hug someone even while you are hating their guts, so you can “give thanks” on Thanksgiving, and not really mean it.  You can go through all the motions with your family and still not feel very thankful.  Giving thanks to God without actually being grateful is something like telling your brother you are sorry for calling him a @#$*%, then as soon as you are out of the sight of your parents, calling him a @#$*% all over again and laughing about it.  When we are young, we give apologies when we don’t really feel sorry because it’s expected of us from our parents.  When we get older, we can give thanks when we don’t really feel very thankful (if at all) because it’s expected of us from our culture.

This Thanksgiving, I hope you don’t find that the corporate prayer moment where your family pauses to pray to God before the meal as the “awkward moment” of the holidays when everybody goes through the motions of thanking God even though they don’t really feel very thankful.  Thanksgiving, without a focus on God, is likely to have only a miniscule chance of engendering a heightened sense of gratitude in our hearts for all we have.  How thankful a person is always can be seen best in his or her actions.  Are we thankful for our life?  Then let’s not do things that destroy it.  Are we thankful for our salvation?  Then lets not do things that hinder our walk with Christ.  Are we thankful for our religious freedom?  Then let’s make the most of it for Christ and reach out to those who need the love of God.  Are we thankful for the abundance of food we have?  Then let’s not become gluttons and overeat.  Are we thankful for our wives and/or husbands?  Then lets treat our spouses with more patience and forgiveness.  Are we thankful for God’s grace?  Then let’s show lots of grace to others.

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