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Remissio Peccatorum in Thomas Aquinas’ Doctrine of Justification: Did Aquinas Hold a Forensic View of Justification?

Aquinas’ use of remissio peccatorum in his Aristotelian taxonomy of justification as the “remission of sins” has led some to conclude that ultimately he argues for a forensic understanding of justification.[1] This conclusion, however, is problematic on multiple grounds. Aquinas uses the term more like we use the term when referring to the remission of cancerous cells in the body through chemotherapy.

This is partly because justification prior to the Reformation was understood as the initial healing grace that converts the human soul to God rather than something that establishes a forensic status (much like the Reformation doctrines of regeneration and conversion).  Furthermore, for Aquinas, all language about God is analogical in nature because God’s true essence is so far beyond our comprehension that language is woefully inadequate.  The combination of these two facets in Aquinas lead him to interpret biblical and theological language of divine forgiveness in ways that transcend any one-to-one linguistic human analogy (where wrongs are simply forgotten or overlooked) and find their ultimate meaning in the ontological effects of God’s eternal love in time.  Correcting this common misunderstanding of Aquinas’ use of “forgiveness” will eventually lead us to a contextual analysis of an entire group of forensic terminology used in Aquinas.

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First, a forensic reading of Aquinas’ doctrine of justification does not reflect a familiarity with the historical context. Aquinas’ approach to the doctrine replicates the standard medieval subject matter, which focused on the processus iustificationis—the sequential ordering of all necessary components of the infusion of grace. The organizing principle is one of infusion. Virtually all medieval theologians took for granted that justifying grace was infused, whereas the controversies mostly surrounded the details of how best to logically divide and relate the various components of infused grace.[2] Remissio peccatorum was a standard component of justifying grace in the scholastic schema, but was not interpreted primarily or purely as forensic, as we will confirm from Aquinas’ own use of the language.[3]

Second, this view misses the sense given by Aquinas to iustitia. Although Aquinas lists legal justice as one use of iustitia, he forgoes this use entirely in favor of Aristotle’s metaphorical justice. None of the articles in this section on justification have as their focus or subject matter an extrinsic legal status that must be remedied or overlooked.[4]

Third, this reading dislodges the inward place or location given to remissio peccatorum in Aquinas’ processus iustificationis. Remissio peccatorum is the terminus of the human soul’s movement: the arrival of the soul to sin’s antipodal. This terminus of interior movement does not cause the remission of sins, but is the remission of sins by reason of interior justice being diametrical to interior sin. This interior exclusion of justice’s opposite is the negative aspect of the metaphysical state within the human soul caused by the iustitia infusa, not a forensic result within the mind or reckoning of God, which is neither the focus of the articles nor included as one of the requirements for justification.

Fourth, this interpretation conflicts with the dynamic understanding and interpretation of remissio peccatorum in Aquinas that can be seen in his varied expression when reasoning.[5] Aquinas varies his expression when discussing remission, pardon, the non-imputation of sin, and forgiveness as the taking away of sin, as the remission of guilt, and as the removal of offense within the human soul. The second article asks whether the infusion of grace is necessary for the remission of guilt, which is treated in the article as the remission of and taking away of, ontological sin. His respondeo and adversus in this question also illustrate how his reference point for the divine imputation, whereby God does not impute sin to the justified, is grounded ontologically. As Bruce D. Marshall has keenly argued, the reason divine imputation implies by its very meaning an inward reorientation of the soul is because divine imputation is never counterfactual, as in the reckoning of a guilty sinner as not guilty, but is a divine attribution of responsibility (praise or blame) to the guilty or praiseworthy agent, and thus implies a correlative merit of either reward or punishment. The interior effect implied by non-imputation is the infusion of justifying grace, which is in turn explained as the temporal effect of God’s atemporal love:

When God does not impute sin to a man, there is implied a certain effect in him to whom the sin is not imputed; for it proceeds from the Divine love, that sin is not imputed to a man by God.[6]

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Now the effect of the Divine love in us which is taken away by sin, is grace, whereby man is made worthy of eternal life, from which sin shuts him out. Hence we could not conceive the remission of guilt, without the infusion of grace.[7]

The influence of the Pauline discourse on sin in the opening of his epistle to the Romans (interpreted as the pretext for the apostle’s proposed solution in justification) and of St. Augustine’s theology of culpability can be seen in how Aquinas grounds guilt (culpa) in the ontology of sin (peccatum) rather than sin’s record.[8] The debt sin incurs, for example, is a mixed bag, some of which disappears at the moment of justification by the infusion of grace, but some of which remains because not all sin disappears for the justified.

If man turns inordinately to a mutable good, without turning from God, as happens in venial sins, he incurs a debt, not of eternal but of temporal punishment. Consequently when guilt is pardoned through grace, the soul ceases to be turned away from God, through being untied to God by grace: so that at the same time, the debt of punishment is taken away, albeit a debt of some temporal punishment may yet remain.[9]

Mortal sin is said to be pardoned from the very fact that, by means of grace, the aversion of the mind from God is taken away together with the debt of punishment: and yet the material element remains, viz. the inordinate turning to a created good, for which a debt of temporal punishment is due.[10]

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Now it has been said above (A. 4) that the guilt of mortal sin is pardoned through grace removing the aversion of the mind from God. Nevertheless when that which is on the part of the aversion has been taken away by grace, that which is on the part of the inordinate turning to a mutable good can remain, since this may happen to be without the other, as stated above (A. 4). Consequently, there is no reason why, after the guilt has been forgiven, the dispositions caused by preceding acts should not remain, which are called the remnants of sin. Yet they remain weakened and diminished, so as not to domineer over man, and they are after the manner of dispositions rather than of habits, like the fomes which remain after Baptism.[11]

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Forgiveness is not comprehensive in justification because the infusion of grace pardons or takes away the will’s habit of aversion from God (mortal sin), but not all sin arises from aversion (i.e. venial sin). Sin and guilt are bound up together in the ontology of the disordered soul; their remission, forgiveness, or non-imputation is bound up with their coextensive removal, not merely a removal of a legal record of sinful acts extrinsic to the justified.

Similar varied expressions and reasoning appear when Aquinas elsewhere explains remissio peccatorum as the removal of offense by the infusion of grace, for the offense is understood to consist in a turned will. Aquinas’ discussion of penance’s ability to remit sin uses “taken away,” “blotted out,” “remission” and “pardon” interchangeably when arguing that sin can only be pardoned through the genuine repentance (i.e. the virtue of penance) caused by the power of infused grace which is effected through Christ’s Passion.[12] The divine pardon in Aquinas requires the soul of the offender be at peace with the offended in justification, but God’s peace with the offender is eternal and unchanging. When the latter is manifested in time as infused grace, sin and guilt are removed instantly and simultaneously. Aquinas’ respondeo in article two is worth quoting at length, as it captures well the orientation in his language of forgiveness, pardon, and remission:

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It is impossible for a mortal actual sin to be pardoned without penance, if we speak of penance as a virtue. For, as sin is an offense against God, He pardons sin in the same way he pardons an offense committed against Him. Now an offense is directly opposed to grace, since one man is said to be offended with another, because he excludes him from his grace. Now, as stated in the Second Part (I-II, Q. 110, A. 1), the difference between the grace of God and the grace of man, is that the latter does not cause but presupposes true or apparent goodness in him who is graced, whereas the grace of God causes goodness in the man who is graced, because the good-will of God, which is denoted by the word grace, is the cause of all created good. Hence it is possible for a man to pardon an offense, for which he is offended with someone, without any change in the latter’s will; but it is impossible that God pardon a man for an offense, without his will being changed. Now the offense of mortal sin is due to man’s will being turned away from God, through being turned to some mutable good. Consequently, for the pardon of this offense against God, it is necessary for man’s will to be so changed as to turn to God and to renounce having turned to something else in the aforesaid manner, together with a purpose of amendment; all of which belongs to the nature of penance.[13]

God is said to be offended by virtue of his excluding the offender from grace, thus the infusion of grace by definition removes the offense. In short, “sin is taken away by grace removing the offense against God.”[14]

But how does the discussion of pardon through penance relate to justification? Aquinas’ opening articles on Penance establish in different ways that “mortal sin cannot be forgiven without true Penance, to which it belongs to renounce sin, by reason of its being against God, which is common to all mortal sins.”[15] Now as we have already seen, this renouncing is the same movement of the will caused by the infused grace of justification.[16] If the meanings of offense and sin are not identical (and my argument does not require this) their meaning is so difficult to disentangle they appear as the same substantive act of justification viewed in different anthropomorphic imagery, all amounting to a vital ontological change within the sinner’s soul by the infusion of grace, which takes its power from Christ’s passion. The pregnant silences add weight to this interpretation while making a Protestant forensic interpretation problematic, such as the absence of any questions on: (1) God’s reckoning of punishment towards Christ as the basis of forgiveness, (2) why the guilt of all future sins are not removed by justification and (3) why one’s debt of future punishment must be forgiven more than once and (4) why Aquinas would allow the removal of any particular sin after justification to be classified under the rubric of a non-technical non-Pauline sense of justification used in a broader sense if justification is the forensic acquittal which has already taken place for all sin in justification, etc. [17]

From Aquinas’ discussion above concerning Penance, we can add a fifth reason why a forensic interpretation of Aquinas’ doctrine of justification is problematic: It fails to fully calculate Aquinas’ doctrine of God, which drives him to reinterpret all theological language as anthropological accommodations aiding the understanding (forgiveness, pardon, debt, etc.) in ontological terms. The divine disposition never changes, which means whatever takes place in time—including the sinner’s justification—does not cause any change in God, only in the human person. It is impossible for God to literally be of one disposition prior to a person’s faith, then of a contrary disposition instantaneously once that person becomes just by grace: all such language in Aquinas represents the change or effect of the relationship between the temporal finite and the eternal infinite.[18] One might think Christ’s humanity could potentially offer wiggle room here, an exception in the divine Godhead since the human act of forgiveness on the part of the one forgiving need not imply a change in the human will of the offender from sin to justice, but Aquinas explicitly rejects this possibility.[19]

Sixth, and perhaps most important in confirming the above interpretations, this view of Aquinas’ doctrine of justification fails to properly synthesize Aquinas’s other definition of justification. Although Aquinas formally borrows the Aristotelian strategy of definition, he more consistently defines justification in non-forensic terms as a movement from internal sin to internal justice with no intention to switch “senses” of the word iustitia, having already forgone legal justice as the apostolic sense given to justification by Paul. This makes viewing the latter definition as his interpretation of the former natural and fitting.[20] Both definitions offer a terminus: remissio peccatorum in the first and iustitia infusa in the second. Understanding these as different ends in justification would require a strained interpretation, but understanding them as different aspects of the same end of justifying grace is logically and contextually sensitive and unproblematic. The soul’s movement in justification, by virtue of being a movement to justice, is also a movement away from non-justice. The substance of this end remains the same in either description. Although this can be referred to as a dual movement, this should not obscure Aquinas’ understanding of the movement’s singularity: the movement bears a dual relation to its respective objects because they are opposites, resulting in a dual relation of the terminus of the same.[21] In other words, the remission of sins in Aquinas should be seen much like a spiritual parallel to the remission of cancerous cells—it refers to the expulsion or termination of ontological sin and the guilt inherent therein. The definition of justification as the expulsion of sins rather than the infusion of justice in Aquinas can be seen as the result of Aquinas’ overall tendency to inherit his loci communes from the Christian Tradition while avoiding the redundancy of defining justification self-referentially by its root word—justice.

Finally, as McGrath points out, the processus iustificationis discussed by Medieval scholastic theologians was understood to refer to a distinct and irreducible package of grace in which the presence of any one of the elements logically entails the other elements and “therefore expressly includes” those correlated elements.[22] The remissio peccatorum is only the final element in a logical schema used to parse an instantaneous movement within the human soul. Thus, even if we were to mistake remissio peccatorum as merely God’s erasure of a sin record (an unperceptive reading as I have argued), any purely or primarily forensic reading of justification in Aquinas would still be a gross distortion of the substance of his doctrine, confused by lack of familiarity with the scholastic theological tradition that inspires the language of his formulations. The substance of the act of justification even upon this misreading of remissio cannot be reduced to its terminus, as this would exclude the middle term that logically comes between the infusio gratiae and this terminus.[23]

There is a purely forensic notion that can be reasoned from Aquinas’ doctrine of justification, although Aquinas does not include it in any of his articles on justification for reasons we will note below. The gift of justifying grace logically presupposes an eternal and deliberate forbearance of the penalty of mortal sin in the providence of God. As Marshall so deftly captures this in his article on the role of reckoning in Aquinas, he is worth quoting at length here:

Why does God cause this justice in the first place, the justice that actually heals the wound of sin, repairing sin’s interior damage and leaving nothing in us that merits the punishment of final separation from God? This doesn’t just happen, but is a deliberate divine action, and so presupposes a specific intention and disposition on God’s part. Essential to that disposition, it seems, is the non-imputation or non-reckoning of sins or faults. God forbears to count our sins against us, by imposing the penalty their guilt deserves, and instead restores the harmony and beauty of the creature by the utterly undeserved gift of sanctifying grace. The gift requires forbearance. God holds in check his right to punish the outrages we have committed against him, and instead treats us with patience and mercy.[24]

Marshall explores this aspect of grace under Aquinas’ rubric of “covering.” Its application is limited to the “stain” of specific acts of sin, not the sin disorder itself which causes the acts. As he further notes, the historical occurrence of such acts can no more be changed or erased than history itself can be altered or undone. It is important to note, in light of Marshall’s insight, that if the divine act of justifying regards a permutation, this act cannot be applied to facts about what happened in the past. However, the deliberate forbearance of God is related to this permutation in Aquinas as cause to effect.

Inasmuch as by the divine act whereby the guilty sinner is healed of her mortal sin wound and given the greatest good, Marshall argues that by this act God is effectively treating the unworthy sinner “as though [past acts of sin] had not been done.”[25] The divine covering as presented by Marshall is certainly the closest Aquinas’ theology of grace ever comes to affirming anything comparable to the Reformation views of justification. Marshall even argues that Aquinas’ view of grace in the divine covering approximates the view of Martin Luther because Aquinas views God as treating what is the case, as though it were not the case, but Marshall’s reason for the comparison may be misleading.[26] Technically this would be true only if we exclude the divine mercy from God’s ordering of providence, for the act of healing the cause of sinful acts presupposes them as a reason for the act: God is treating the acts of sin as though their cause needed to be expunged. Whether God punishes acts of sin in the executing of divine justice or heals their cause in the ordering of his mercy: in either case, God is not ignoring sinful acts committed as though they had never happened. Rather, God is treating them under different aspects of the divine providence. Although history cannot be changed, the divine act of justification changes what can, and at least part of the reason for the divine act lays in the very acts of sin committed. The divine act of justification stands in relation to what can be changed as the mover to the moved. This same act relates to what cannot be changed (the acts of sin committed) as a reason of movement.[27]

Thus even when we scrutinize Aquinas’ notion of covering and come to the brink of our quest to find a purely forensic notion comparable to strictly forensic Reformation renderings of sola fide, counterfactual interpretations are, in the end, only illusory. The anthropological language of God hiding his face, forgetting our sins, or covering them, all refer anthropologically to God’s will to order the acts of sin under one aspect of providence rather than another.[28] And what is more: the language of covering is wholly absent from Aquinas’ doctrine of justification proper in the Summa. It is neither one of the required elements nor a side discussion, as it belongs more properly to his doctrine of providence wherein he explores the eternal and unchanging divine wisdom in the mind of God. As I have already shown, grace is the effect of divine charity in time for Aquinas.[29] Justification therefore cannot be located in the divine providence, but only in the execution of divine providence, which Aquinas calls the divine government.

Two things pertain to providence—namely, the reason of order, which is called providence and disposition; and the execution of order, which is termed government. Of these, the first is eternal, and the second is temporal.[30]

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Every aspect of history fits under God’s order of providence by which he directs all things to an end.[31] Now predestination regards the ordering of some free agents to a particular end—namely, that of eternal life. Whereas humans are said to destine something by firmly planning it in the mind, so predestination “by reason of the antecedent nature it implies, can be attributed to a thing which does not actually exist” yet, and so has not only a future orientation but is firmly in the mind of God prior to the existence of anything outside of God.[32] This is why justification places something in the justified, but predestination does not place anything in the predestined, as infusion belongs rather to the execution of divine providence ex tempore [in time], whereas the predestination of such infusion is in the mind of God ab aeterno [before time].[33]

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[1] McGrath rightly points out that a forensic interpretation of justification in Aquinas is “a serious misunderstanding.” McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Doctrine of Justification, 3rd Edition (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 64. On the influence of Aristotelian physics within the Dominican school of theological speculation inherited by Aquinas in his doctrine of justification, see Ibid., 63-64. On this and other misguided reasons for taking Aquinas as a “proto-Protestant” see Francis Beckwith, “Doting Thomists: Evangelicals, Thomas Aquinas, and Justification,” Evangelical Quarterly 85 no. 3 (2013): 211-227.

[2] For an informed summary of the medieval theological context, see McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 55-207. It might be added, given McGrath’ summary, that if Aquinas held a forensic doctrine, so did most Medieval theologians, as Aquinas’ understanding of justification in terms of the remission of sins was apparently ubiquitous. Aquinas cannot be singled out in this regard as unique.

[3] Bruce Marshall, “Beatus Vir: Aquinas, Romans 4, and the Role of ‘Reckoning’ in Justification” in Reading Romans With St. Thomas Aquinas, ed. Mathew Levering and Michael Dauphinais (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012), 219-231. As Marshall points out, language that has come to be seen by post-Reformation eyes as forensic Thomas (and others) had never understood as purely forensic, but actually interpreted these notions in transformational terms. For example, “for God to forgive our sins or not to impute them is for him to keep the damage they have caused from standing,” which damage is repaired by the infusion of grace. This way of reading biblical forensic language was well established by the medieval period. Ibid., 227.

[4] We will consider later whether a purely forensic element can be found in Aquinas’s thought, however peripheral it is to his choice articles on justification in the Summa.

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[5] For terminological clarity, see Marshall, “Beatus vir,” Reading Romans, 219 ff. I will be borrowing here from Marshall’s apt language which is the only source I know that captures Aquinas’ forgiveness and imputation language within a careful taxonomy of a nexus of kindred concepts such as guilt (culpa), stain (macula), sin (peccatum), evil (malum), reckoning (imputare or repatare), penalty (poena), etc. Marshall discusses, for example, how the kindred concepts such as “sin” and “guilt” by virtue of their interchangeability are practically equated in Aquinas, even though elsewhere he clarifies that each term covers a different aspect of a singular reality. He also shows how terms like “forgiveness” and “non-imputation” amount virtually to the infusion of grace as the repair of sin’s internal damage. My argument here is based on similar reasoning.

[6] ST I-II.113.2.ad.2. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from the Summa are taken from the English translation, Summa Theologica, trans. by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 5 vols., rev. ed. (1948; repr., Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1981). To be as specific as possible, I have distinguished between Aquinas’s “On the Contrary” (the sed contra, herein abbreviated as sed.), his “I answer that” (the respondeo, herein abbreviated as resp.), and his answers to objections (the adversus, herein abbreviated as ad).

[7] ST I-II.113.2. resp.

[8] On Augustine’s doctrine of culpability, see Gerald Heistand, “Augustine and the Justification Debates: Appropriating Augustine’s Doctrine of Culpability,” Trinity Journal 28 no. 1 (2007): 115-139. In Aquinas, see for example how guilt is said to be capable of being “brought back to justice,” by which he means interior justice. ST III 86.4.resp. If by “guilt” he intended a record of sins and by justice he intended to refer to an exterior forensic justice, he would be arguing here that sin’s record can be converted to a just record, which would be intelligible. How a record of sin becomes a proper constitution of the soul, however, is so difficult to see that it demonstrates the absurdity that ensues when confusing Aquinas’ language of sin, guilt, and forgiveness as forensically oriented.

[9] ST III 86.4.resp.

[10] ST III.86.4.ad.1. Italics added.

[11] ST III.86.5.resp. Italics added; Italicized “fomes” original. Here we can also see that justification does not take away all sin so as to perfect the justified, but only takes away sin’s dominance over the will, or what Aquinas calls “mortal sin.” The justice in justification therefore is pivotal but not comprehensive.

[12] ST III.86.1.resp.

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[13] ST III.86.2.resp. Italics added.

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[14] ST III.86.3.resp.

[15] ST III.86.3.resp.

[16] In light of Aquinas’ interpretation of forensic language, although one might still say forensic elements exists in Aquinas’ soteriology in one sense, because they are interpreted ontologically as shown one could equally say forensic elements do not exist in the same. The sinner has a debt of punishment with respect to his future prior to justification, which Aquinas allows to be removed by justification. However, even in this case the debt of punishment is still interpreted ontologically and not legally, as Aquinas locates the debt in the ontological sin of the soul rather than on a legal record, so that when the ontological sin is removed no legal debt can possibly remain.

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[17] Aquinas inextricably attributes forgiveness of sins to the virtues of faith, penance, and charity. E.g. ST III.86.6.ad.1-3.

[18] “Two things pertain to providence—namely, the reason of order, which is called providence and disposition; and the execution of order, which is termed government. Of these, the first is eternal, and the second is temporal.” ST I.22.1.ad.2.

[19] He quotes the authority of Gregory of Nyssa on Christ’s pardon of the adulterous woman to justify his position: “He drew inwardly by grace, i.e. by penance, her whom He received outwardly by His mercy.” ST III.86.2.resp.

[20] My point here goes beyond McGrath’s point that elsewhere Aquinas defines justification in non-forensic terms. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 64-65. My argument is that the forensic concept of remissio peccatorum in Aquinas is ultimately interpreted primarily in non-forensic terms in such a way that both definitions refer to the same substantive act.

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[21] McGrath’s labeling of this movement as a “dual motion” is not incorrect, as “motion” here is singular. However, referring to the motion as a singular motion with a dual relation better captures the type of duality involved. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 65.

[22] McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 64.

[23] Perhaps this point might be better appreciated by Protestants through pointing out that likewise, inasmuch as being declared righteous per se could be on the basis of infused or forensic righteousness, if a declaration were considered the terminus apart from its logical relationship to something else (such as the reasons for the declaration), this too would be inadequate as a sufficient summary of the forensic doctrines of justification in Protestant theologies.

[24] Marshall, “Beatus vir,” 228-229.

[25] Aquinas, Lectures on the Letter to the Romans, trans. Fabian Larcher, ed. Jeremy Holmes (unpublished), §338. Quoted from In ad Rom by Marshall, “Beatus vir,” 232.

[26] Marshal, “Beatus vir,” 232. Footnote 40.

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[27] “… the type of things ordered towards an end is, properly speaking, providence. For it is the chief part of prudence, to which two other parts are directed—namely, remembrance of the past, and understanding of the present; inasmuch as from the remembrance of what is past and the understanding of what is present, we gather how to provide for the future.” ST I.22.1.resp. Providence is eternal

[28] Aquinas’ reply to the objector in adverses 4 of Tertia Pars’ 88th article, quoted by Marshall, is a shorthand reply restating what Aquinas has already argued in the main article: When an act of mortal sin incurs a debt of eternal punishment for one who previously enjoyed the benefits of grace, this does not mean former acts of sin and the debt incurred by them have simply “returned.” The newly committed sins and the corresponding debt they incur and distinct from the specific acts of sin and their corresponding debt previously committed, for the latter were already “overlooked” (i.e. ordered to the divine mercy) in the first showing of grace. This first showing of grace is a temporal and therefore historical effect of God’s eternal love in time and therefore cannot be undone anymore than history can be undone: “what grace has once done, endures for ever.” ST III.88.1.ad.4. Quoted by Marshall, “Beatus Vir,” 236. Now in this context what is “covering” the stain of past sins if not the past forbearance shown by God in the first showing of grace? The function of covering here reaffirms the main logic in Aquinas’ respondeo and closely resembles the function of pardon and forgiveness in every showing of grace that removes mortal sin.

[29] The effect of eternal divine charity in time is nothing less than the effect of God’s essence on created objects, for “eternity is nothing less than God himself.” ST I.10.2.ad.3.

[30] ST I.22.1.ad.2.

[31] “The providence of God is nothing less than the type of the order of things towards an end.” ST I.22.2.resp.

[32] ST I.23.2.ad.2.

[33] Harm Goris, “Divine Foreknowledge, Providence, Predestination, and Human Freedom,” in The Theology of Thomas Aquinas, eds. Rik Van Nieuwenhove and Joseph Wawrykow (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 101. Goris notes that while Augustine, Boethius, and Anselm denied foreknowledge and foresight in God on the basis that God is timeless, Aquinas did not believe God’s timelessness excluded the use of such language by temporally situated creatures from whom there is a past, present, and future. Ibid., 103.

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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.

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