Grace: Commentary on the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas, Chapter Five
Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.


The question of sufficient grace and efficacious grace is here treated in four chapters according to the following summary.



I. Preliminary remarks: statement and difficulty of the question.

II. Doctrine of the Church on sufficient grace.

III. How did St. Augustine and St. Thomas understand this doctrine of the Church on sufficient grace?

IV. Doctrine of the Church on efficacious grace. 


I. Various systems of Catholic theologians with regard to Sufficient and efficacious grace. 

II. To what extent sufficient grace is to be admitted and how it is divided.

III. Refutation of the objections against the Thomistic doctrine of sufficient grace.

IV. What is to be thought of the opinion of J. Gonzales de Albeda, O.P.

V. The opinion of St. Alphonsus Liguori.


Conclusion I. Its efficacy cannot be attacked from without. Corollary with respect to spirituality. 

Conclusion II. Its internal efficacy is not sufficiently explained by moral motion.

Conclusion III. Its internal efficacy is properly and formally a pre determining physical premotion.

IV. Refutation of objections. 


I. Efficacious grace and easy acts conducive to salvation.

II. Efficacious grace in relation to spirituality.

III. Efficacious grace in holy wayfarers, particularly in martyrs.

IV. Efficacious grace in those burning with intense love of God.

V.  Efficacious grace in the impeccable and freely obedient Christ.



Terminology used. It is evident from revelation that graces are conferred by God and that some of them miss their final effect, whereas others achieve their effect. The former are called “truly sufficient” and “merely sufficient” since they give the power for a good work, but they are resisted. The latter are called “efficacious” since they really produce their effect in us, they act indeed that we may act.

From this difference the question arises: How are sufficient grace and efficacious grace distinguished from each other? In other words, is efficacious grace efficacious of itself, intrinsically, because God so wills, or is it efficacious extrinsically, that is, on account of our consent foreseen by God’s knowledge?

Underlying principles from the treatise on God: statement and difficulty of the question.

After St. Thomas, in the early days of Protestantism and Jansenism, this question has been widely debated and at length; it may fittingly be explained here, for its solution is deducible from what St. Thomas has said. (Ia IIae, q. 110, a. I; q. III, a. 2; q. 112, a.3.)

However, the basic principles of the solution are first enunciated in the treatise on God, Ia, q. 14, a. 8: “The knowledge of God is the cause of things inasmuch as His will is joined to it.” And further, Ia, a. 19, a.  4: “The effects determined by the infinite perfection of God proceed in accordance with the determination of His will and intellect” (that is, by a decree of the divine will). Again, Ia, q. 19, a. 6 ad I: “Whatever God wills absolutely, is done (otherwise He would not be omnipotent), although what He wills antecedently (or only conditionally) may not be done,” for in this instance God permits the opposite evil for the sake of a greater good; thus He wills antecedently that all the fruits of the earth come to maturity, but He permits that many actually do not reach this maturity. It is similar in the matter of the salvation of men. St. Thomas goes on to explain this in the same article (ad I ): On consequent or unconditional will. “The will is compared to things according as they are in themselves; but in themselves they are individual.

Hence we will something absolutely inasmuch as we will it considering all its individuating circumstances; this is to will consequently.” Thus whatever God (omnipotent) wills absolutely is done; although what He wills antecedently may not be done.

Antecedently God wills a thing according as it is good in itself, for example, that all men be saved, that all His commands be ever fulfilled; but at the same time He permits to some extent the opposite evil for the sake of a greater good, and thus “what He wills only antecedently or conditionally is not done.”

Hence it is said in psalm 134:6: “Whatsoever the Lord pleased He hath done, in heaven, in earth.” And the Council of Toucy (PL, CXXVI, 123) adds: “For nothing is done in heaven or on earth, except what God either graciously does Himself or permits to be done, in His justice.” That is to say, no good, here and now, in this man rather than in another, comes about unless God Himself graciously wills and accomplishes it, and no evil, here and now, in this man rather than another, comes about unless God Himself justly permits it to be done.  Nevertheless God does not command the impossible, and grants even to those who do not actually observe His commandments the power of observing them.

But those who observe His commandments are better than others and would not keep them in fact, had not God from eternity efficaciously decreed that they should observe these precepts. Thus, these good servants of God are more beloved and assisted by Him than others, although God does not command the impossible of the others.

Furthermore, this very resistance to sufficient grace is an evil which would not occur, here and now, without the divine permission, and nonresistance itself is a good which would not come about here and now except for divine consequent will. Therefore, there is a real difference between sufficient grace, to which is attached the divine permission of sin and by reason of which the fulfillment of the commandments is really possible, and efficacious grace, on the other hand, which is a greater help whence follows not only the real possibility of observing the commandments, but their effective fulfillment. 

Moreover, in sufficient grace, efficacious grace is offered to us, as the fruit is in the flower; but if resistance is made on account of our defectibility, then we deserve not to receive efficacious grace. For this reason Bossuet declares: “Our intellect must be held captive before the obscurity of the divine mystery and admit two graces (sufficient and efficacious) of which the former leaves our will without any excuse before God, and the latter does not permit the will to glory in itself.” (Œuvres complètes, Paris, 1845, I, 644.)

St. Thomas states further (Ia, q. 19, a. 8): “Since the divine will is efficacious in the highest degree, it follows not only that those things are done which God wills to be done, but also that they are done in the way God wills them to be done. But God wills certain things to be done necessarily, others contingently, that there may be order among things for the completion of the universe.” This is the basis of grace efficacious in itself. Again (Ia, q. 20, a. 2): “The will of God is the cause of all things, and hence, necessarily, to the extent that a thing has being or any good whatever, it is willed by God. Therefore, since loving is nothing else but wishing well to someone, it is evident that God loves all things that are, but not in the way that we do. . . . Our will is not the cause of goodness in things,” including the goodness of our choices, as appears from Ia, q. 19, a. 8.

There follows from this the great principle of predilection, by which the whole treatise on grace is elucidated and which is formulated in Ia, q. 20, a. 3: “Since the love of God is the cause of the goodness of things, no one would be better than another if God did not will a greater good to one than to another.” Likewise, in article 4 of the same question and also in Ia, q. 23, a. 4: “In God, love precedes election.” Already it is evident that the man who, in fact, observes the commandments is better than the one who is able to do so but actually does not. Therefore he who keeps the commandments is more beloved and assisted. In short, God loves that man more to whom He grants that he keep the commandments than another in whom He permits sin.

This principle of predilection is valid for all created being, even free beings, and for all their acts, natural or supernatural, easy or difficult, initial or final; in other words, no created being would be in any respect better if it were not better loved by God. This truth is clear in the philosophical order, for it flows from the principle of causality and of the eminently universal causality of the will or love of God. In the order of grace, this principle is revealed by several scriptural texts, for instance: “I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please Me” (Exod. 33:19); and “For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” (I Cor. 4:7.)

This principle of predilection presupposes, according to St. Thomas, a decree of the divine will rendering our salutary acts intrinsically efficacious (Ia, q. 19, a. 8). For, if they were efficacious on account of our foreseen consent, of two men equally loved and helped by God, one would be better in some respect. He would be better of himself alone and not on account of divine predilection. But this principle must be reconciled with another which ought to be maintained with equal firmness: “God does not command the impossible, but He teaches thee by commanding to do what thou canst and to ask what thou canst not, and He helps thee that thou mayest be able” (St. Augustine, De natura et gratia, chap. 43, no. 50, and the Council of Trent, Denz., no. 804). Herein lies a great mystery of reconciliation between infinite mercy, infinite justice, and supreme liberty. They are indeed reconciled in the intimate life of the Deity, but of Deity as such we have no positive or proper conception: “Deity is above being, above unity, which are contained in it formally and eminently.” (Cf. Revue thomiste, May-June, 1937, the author’s article, “Le fondement suprême de la distinction des deux grâces suffisante et efficace.”)1 These conclusions from the treatise on God are, then, presupposed in the present discussion.

This question must now be divided into two sections. First the dogmas of faith must be sought out dealing with grace which is truly, yet merely, sufficient, and with efficacious grace which nevertheless does not take away man’s freedom. Secondly, we must consider the various notions of theologians with respect to the nature of sufficient grace and of efficacious grace, whether the latter is efficacious intrinsically or extrinsically, that is, on account of our foreseen consent. 2

With the object of better determining the status of the question, it will be well to consider the differences which exist in this matter between the opposing heresies of Pelagianism and Jansenism, and between the theological notions of Molinists and Thomists. 

For the Pelagians, actual grace (such as the preaching of the gospel) is either efficacious on account of man’s consent to the good, or inefficacious on account of the evil will of man.

For the Jansenists, internal actual grace is twofold: one is efficacious of itself, the other inefficacious and insufficient as well. 

For Thomists, internal actual grace is twofold: one is efficacious of itself, producing of itself the virtuous act; the other is inefficacious at least remote, of acting virtuously.

For the Molinists, sufficient actual grace itself is either efficacious from its effect, or from our consent foreseen by mediate knowledge, or else inefficacious and merely sufficient.



 Grace is given which is truly yet merely sufficient: “truly” because it really confers the power; “merely” because, through the fault of the will, it fails in its effect, with respect to which it is said to be inefficacious, but sufficient. This doctrine of the Church is formulated against the Predestinationists and later, much more explicitly, against the Jansenists. (Cf. De praedestinianismo, Denz., nos. 316 ff., 320 ff.)

The Predestinationists, including Lucidus, a fifth-century priest, Gottschalk in the ninth century, and later revivers, taught predestination to evil, before the prevision of demerits, and consequently must have denied the existence of sufficient grace; for, according to them, those who are damned lack the power of doing good (Denz., no. 321, at the end); and those who are saved are so necessitated to the good that they cannot resist grace. “Therefore the wicked themselves are not lost because they could not be good, but because they would not,” declares the Council of Valence (Denz., no. 321). Calvin followed the ways of Predestinationism (cf. Inst., Bk. III, chaps. 14-21). 

At first, the Jansenists denied sufficient grace. Jansen himself (De gratia Christi, Bk. III, chap. I) admits no grace that is not efficacious. Quesnel (Denz., nos. 1359 ff.) and the Pistoians (Denz., no. 1521) adhere to this fully. Jansen’s first proposition (Denz., no. 1092) should be cited in particular: “Some commands of God are impossible to just men who are willing and striving, according to their present powers; moreover they lack grace which would make their observance possible to them.” In other words, many just men of good will, who make an effort, are deprived of sufficient grace which gives a real power or faculty for good works commanded by God; it would follow that the wicked are punished unjustly, since they could not be good. This proposition is declared heretical.

The second proposition is closely related to the first: “In the state of fallen nature, interior graces are never resisted,” that is to say, interior grace is always efficacious, which is heresy.

Likewise the third proposition of Jansen: “For meriting and demeriting in the state of fallen nature man does not require freedom from necessity; freedom from constraint is sufficient.” This proposition pertains rather to efficacious grace which, according to the Jansenists, removes freedom from necessity and leaves only spontaneity. Their fourth proposition is that the Semi-Pelagian heresy consisted in maintaining that the human will can resist or obey grace. The fifth proposition declares that Christ did not die for all men.

Quesnel’s propositions (Denz., nos. 1359-75) were also condemned for the same reason, that is, for denying sufficient grace and reducing all internal grace to efficacious, under which, for him, liberty from necessity would not remain. Similarly, the twenty-one propositions of the Synod of Pistoia (Denz., no. 1521) were condemned. The motive for their condemnation, as set down, is that, like the Jansenists, they hold “the interior grace of Christ is not given to him by whom it is resisted. . . . but only that is properly the grace of Christ which makes us act.” Hence, according to the Pistoians, the only sufficient grace which is given is external, such as preaching or good example.

However, it should be remarked that, after the condemnation of the five propositions of Jansen, several of his followers, including Arnauld (dissertation in four parts: De gratia efficaci and Apologie pour les saints Pères, Bk. IV), to avoid being held as heretics, admitted a little interior grace which might be given to certain of the just. But what is this little grace of Arnauld’s? According to him, it is grace which may be given in general, but not here and now in particular; or it is sufficient for acting generally, but not sufficient with respect to such and such a precept to be fulfilled or some particular temptation to be overcome. This little grace, according to Arnauld, is remiss charity; when charity is really intense and predominant, it is truly sufficient even here and now in particular, to such an extent that man resists temptation, and hence it is efficacious.3 This is the famous theory of little grace which certain Jansenists hit upon to avoid the condemnation of the Church. (Cf. Guillermin, Revue thomiste, 1902, pp. 47 ff .; Paquier, Le Jansénisme; and Petitot, Revue thomiste, September, 1910, “Pascal et la grâce suffisante.”)4 It should be observed that the Augustinians admitted little grace, but not in the sense of the Jansenists; for them it is really sufficient but remiss.

Does Arnauld’s explanation preserve sufficient grace? I reply: not really, but only as a matter of verbiage, for actions to be accomplished are not general but concrete and individual. Hence, if grace does not suffice for each particular precept or each individual temptation, it is simply insufficient. Therefore Arnauld does not escape from Jan-sen’s first proposition: “Some commands of God are impossible to just men who are willing and striving, according to their present powers; moreover, they lack grace which would make their observance possible to them” here and now.

Since this proposition is condemned as heretical, it is a dogma of faith that at least grace which is truly, yet merely, sufficient is not lacking to the just; truly, since it confers a real power of acting virtuously; merely, since it is resisted and fails of its final effect. This dogma of faith had already been equivalently expressed in several councils. The Council of Orange (Denz., no. 200) declared that “all the baptized, by the help and cooperation of Christ, can and ought to accomplish whatever pertains to salvation, if they are willing to work faithfully.” The Second Council of Valence maintained against Scotus Erigenus (Denz., no. 321): “Therefore the wicked themselves are not lost because they could not be good, but because they would not.” And the Council of Trent (Denz., no. 804) adopts the formula: “God does not command the impossible, but by commanding He teaches thee to do what thou canst and to ask what thou canst not, and He assists thee that thou mayest be able.” Therefore God confers sufficient help to enable us, not only in general, but in individual cases, to observe His commandments.

What, then, is the scriptural basis for this dogma of sufficient grace? Especially worthy of citation are the words of the Lord in Isa. 5:4: “What is there that I ought to do more to My vineyard, that I have not done to it?” For if God ought not to do anything more, then His help is truly sufficient. However, in this text it does not say: “What is there that I could do more,” and we shall see that God can do more, although not bound to do so.

Again, Scripture often bears witness to graces offered or conferred whereby God calls and urges, and which are nevertheless resisted, or received in vain. Thus we read: “I called, and you refused” (Prov. 1:24); “I have spread forth My hands all the day to an unbelieving people, who walk in a way that is not good after their own thoughts” (Isa. 65:2); “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldest not! Behold, your house shall be left to you, desolate” (Matt. 23:37).5

Commenting on St. Matthew, St. Thomas says of the passage just  quoted: “This is that Jerusalem of which Ezechiel (5:6) declares: ‘This is Jerusalem, I have set her in the midst of the nations, and the countries round about her. And she hath despised My judgments.’ They might excuse themselves saying: ‘We had no one to tell us’; therefore does Jesus add: ‘and stonest them that are sent unto thee,’ whereupon I sent prophets and many helps and thou didst not recognize them. ‘How often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldest not?’ The perpetuity of His divinity is here implied, as declared explicitly in His words: ‘Before Abraham was made, I am’ (John 8:58). Hence Christ Himself sent the prophets, patriarchs, and angels. As often as He sent, He wished to gather the Jews together. Those who were converted to the Lord were indeed gathered, for they are united in Him; whereas sinners, who are withdrawn from unity, are dispersed. Wherefore: I wish to gather as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings. It is said that no animal is so solicitous for its young as the hen. She defends them against the hawk and endangers her own life for them, gathering them under her wings. So is Christ solicitous for us; ‘surely He hath borne our infirmities’ (Isa. 53:4); and likewise exposed Himself to the hawk, that is, the devil. 

Sed contra: the Lord willed thus to protect them, but they refused; therefore their evil will prevailed over the will of God. Hence it could be said: As often as I willed, I acted; but I invite thee, acting as I did (for instance, sending the prophets); whereupon thy will prevented My action. Or again, the fact that He sent the prophets was a sign that He wished to gather thee in, and thou wouldst not. Then follows the punishment: behold, your house shall be left to you, desolate.” So speaks St. Thomas. This is the great mystery of antecedent will and the simultaneous permission of sin, but the grace was really sufficient; had there not been resistance to it, the Lord would have given greater grace.

Similarly, we read in the Acts (7:51): “You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost”; and in II Corinthians (6:1): “We . . . do exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain”; cf. St. Thomas on this text. This is the case often when habitual grace is lost by mortal sin; likewise prevenient grace is received in vain when man does not persevere in good. However, graces of this kind are really suffcient, for through them God truly invites, but they are merely sufficient since they fail in their effect. Whence many accusations are unjustifiably adduced against us by the Molinists on the basis of these texts, to show that grace is not intrinsically efficacious; but as a matter of fact, these texts are not concerned with efficacious grace, but with merely sufficient grace, since it fails in its effect.

The aforesaid dogma of faith regarding sufficient grace is also based on I Timothy (2:4-6) where it is written: “God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth”; and “Christ Jesus . . . gave Himself a redemption for all.” For if God really wills the salvation of all, He offers truly sufficient helps to all; many, however, are not saved, and thus it is evident that these helps often remain actually inefficacious or merely sufficient. Cf. St. Thomas on I Tim. 2:9, and Ia, q. 19, a. 6: Whether the will of God is always accomplished. In this article, replying to the first objection, St. Thomas maintains that God wishes all men to be saved, not by His consequent or efficacious will, but by His antecedent will, “as a just judge antecedently desires all men to live, but wills consequently that a murderer should be hanged. In the same way, God wills antecedently the salvation of all men (for this is good absolutely), but He wills consequently that some should be damned according to the requirements of justice.” Further, He permits sin to happen, since it is not to be wondered at that what is defective should fail to a certain extent, that a greater good may issue from it, such as the manifestation of divine mercy and justice. With respect to this antecedent will, cf. the commentators on Ia, q. 19, a. 6 (Billuart); moreover, from this antecedent will for the salvation of all men proceeds the aggregate of sufficient graces to all adults.

It would be equally easy to find among patristic writings the aforesaid dogma of the faith on truly, yet merely, sufficient grace, in equivalent terms at least, when they declare that we need divine aid and with it are able to do good, even if we do not, so that man remains inexcusable after sin, for he could have avoided it. Thus the wicked are justly to be punished. Cf. St. Irenaeus: “They did not do good when they could have done it” (Contra haereses, Bk. IV, chap. 37, no. 9.) Commenting on the Epistle to the Hebrews (12:13), St. John Chrysostom writes: “Unless you receive heavenly aid, all your actions are in vain; but it is evident that you will attain whatever you apply yourself to, with that help, provided you are also attentive and desirous of doing so.” This text affirms the existence of really suscient grace but does not deny the existence of grace which is efficacious of itself.6



How did they understand the aforesaid doctrine of the Church on suffcient grace?

St. Augustine, in particular, defends efficacious grace, as will be explained later; here it suffices to quote the classic words found in the book, De dono perseverantiae, chap. 14: “Those who are set free are most certainly set free by the help of God”; and again in the De praedestinatione sanctorum, chap. 8: “Grace which is not rejected by any hardheartedness, since it is bestowed, in the first place, to remove hardness of heart.” Likewise in the book, De gratia Christi, chap. 24, he described efficacious grace: “internal, hidden, wonderful, and ineffable power by which God effects in the hearts of men not only true revelations but even upright wills.”

Augustine also admitted the principle of predilectio: no created being would be better in any respect if it were not better loved and assisted more by God. This principle is affirmed in various terms; for example, in the City of God, Bk. XII, chap. 9, referring to good and bad angels, he says: “Thus, both were created equally good, these falling on account of their bad will, and those, receiving greater help, attaining their full beatitude, from which they most assuredly would never fall.” Similarly, in De dono perseverantiae, chap. 9, we find: “Of two adults leading lives of great wickedness, that one should be called in such a way as to follow the call, while the other is not called, or not called in that way, is in the inscrutable judgments of God.”  

But this principle of predilection presupposes, as we have said, that grace is efficacious of itself. For if it were efficacious on account of our foreseen consent, then, of two angels or men equally loved and assisted by God, one would be better than the other; he would be better on his own account and not as a result of divine predilection. This is contrary to St. Paul’s “For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” These words of St. Paul are often quoted by Augustine.

2. Nevertheless, St. Augustine elsewhere maintains very definitely that “God does not command the impossible, but by commanding He instructs thee both to do what thou canst and to beg what thou canst not, and He assists thee that thou mayest be able” (De natura et gratia, chap. 43, no. 50, cited at the Council of Trent; Denz., no. 804). In this last text Augustine affirms sufficient grace without any ambiguity, and God’s will that the fulfillment of His commands should be really possible to all, and, in this sense, His will that all should be saved.  Hence St. Augustine admits that before efficacious grace, in the state of fallen nature, sufficient grace is given, without which the keeping of the commandments of God would be really impossible.  And it is this grace which is called truly sufficient, in opposition to the Jansenists. Likewise in the book De correptione et gratia, chap. 7, discounting the excuse of those who say: we did not persevere because we did not have perseverance, he declares: “Man, thou mayest persevere in that which thou hearest and holdest, if thou willest.” Again in De natura et gratia, chap. 67: “Since God…recalls the hostile, teaches the believing, consoles the hopeful, encourages the loving, assists him who strives, and hears him who prays, thou art not condemned to sin because thou art ignorant against thy will, but because thou dost neglect to seek after what thou knowest not; not because thou failest to bind up the wounded members, but because thou disdainest the will to be healed.” And similarly, commenting on psalm 40:5: “Do not say: I am not able to restrain, endure, and bridle my flesh; for you are assisted that you may be able.”

Furthermore, St. Augustine presented the best formulated distinction between that help without which we cannot act and that help by which we infallibly act, just as later Augustinians and Thomists distinguish between sufficient grace, which gives the power to act, and efficacious grace, which infallibly imparts that action itself. This Augustinian distinction is found in De correptione et gratia, chap. II, where he teaches that Adam in the state of innocence had received sufficient help with which he could persevere in good, but not efficacious help whereby he would infallibly persevere; however, both helps are conferred on the predestinate.

St. Augustine’s words are as follows: “The first grace is that which enables a man to have justice if he so wills; therefore more is possible with the second, whereby it is also brought about that he does will. . . . Nor was the former by any means small, through which the power of free will was demonstrated; for the help is such that without it he would not have continued to do good; but if he wills, he may forfeit this help. The latter, however, is so far superior, that it is not enough for man to recover his lost liberty through it …unless it is effected that he wills. . . . In fact, it lies within us, through this grace of God received with good dispositions and perseveringly maintained, not only to be able to will but also to will actually what we will. This was not so in the first man; for he possessed one of these but not the other.” (Cf. Salmanticenses, Cursus theol., De gratia, q. III, disp. V, dub. VIII, no. 173.) After Augustine, the older theologians generally used the expression “help without which we cannot” for what, since the condemnation of Jansenism, has been commonly referred to as sufficient grace, and “help whereby” we do good for what is now called efficacious grace.

Objection. It seems that Augustine does not mean, by the difference between “help whereby” and “help without which,” the same distinction which is now understood between efficacious help and sufficient help. For in many instances he excludes “help whereby” from the state of innocence. If therefore “help whereby” were admitted to represent grace efficacious in itself, it would follow that efficacious grace was not necessary for Adam and the angels to persevere. 

Reply. This question was discussed at great length in the time of the Jansenist heresy, as can easily be seen from Billuart’s Cursus theol., De gratia, diss. II, a.4. But from the many texts of St. Augustine quoted there it appears that the holy doctor excluded from the state of innocence the “help whereby” for being healed, but not for being assisted.7 And he holds that grace efficacious of itself was necessary for perseverance even in the innocent Adam and in the angels. To prove this it suffices to quote the very famous passage in the City of God, Bk. XII, chap. 9, regarding the good and bad angels: “Thus both were created equally good, these falling on account of their bad will, and those, receiving greater help, attaining their full beatitude, from which they most assuredly would never fall.”

This is affirmed by Augustine in virtue of the principle of predilection: “For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” In other words, no man or angel, in any state, would be better than another, if he were not more loved and assisted by God. The angels who fell had sufficient grace, which they resisted; the others, that is, the predestinate, were more loved and assisted. This is the doctrine of predestination itself.

Moreover, as Bossuet demonstrates (Défense de la tradition, Bks. X and XI, chaps. 19-27), Augustine, as well as many others of the Greek and Latin Fathers, maintains, when explaining the threefold denial of Peter during our Lord’s passion, that Peter could have avoided that sin, for he was not deprived of all grace; but on account of his previous movement of presumption, he lacked the efficacious help by which he later came even to martyrdom. Cf. Bossuet, ibid., where several texts from Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, and Gregory the Great are quoted and also Book XII, De doctrina Augustini de praedestinatione, wherein Bossuet distinguishes very well between sufficient and efhcacious grace in accordance with tradition. 

The whole question is briefly formulated in the proposition already quoted from the same authority: “Our intelligence must be held captive before the divine obscurity of this great mystery, confessing these two graces (sufficient and efficacious), the first of which leaves our will without an excuse before God, while the second does not allow it to glory in itself.8 In other words, “It must be admitted (in opposition to the Jansenists) that there are two interior graces, of which one (namely, sufficient grace) leaves our soul inexcusable before God after sin, and of which the other (that is, efficacious grace) does not permit our will to glory in itself after accomplishing good works.” “What hast thou that thou hast not received? For who distinguisheth thee?”

These two propositions, thus formulated, are as two very luminous semicircles surrounding the deepest obscurity of the mystery. Above these semicircles is the mystery of the divine good pleasure, combining infinite mercy, infinite justice, and supreme liberty, which are identified in the Deity. Below, however, is the abyss of our defectibility and the gravity of mortal sin.

Finally, this doctrine of really sufficient grace distinct from efficacious grace is expressed in several texts from St. Thomas.

Cf. IIIa, q. 79, a. 7 ad 2: “The passion of Christ does indeed benefit all men, with respect to its sufficiency, the remission of sin, and the attainment of grace and glory, but it produces its effect only in those who are united to the passion of Christ by faith and charity.” Likewise IIIa, dist. 13, q. 2, a. 2; qc., 2 ad 5: “Christ satisfied for all human na-ture sufficiently, but not efficiently, since not all become participants in His satisfaction; but this is the result of their unfitness, not of any insufficiency in His satisfaction.” Similarly in De veritate, q. 29, a. 7 ad 4.

Again on the First Epistle to Timothy (2:6), with reference to the words, “Christ gave Himself a redemption for all,” St. Thomas explains: “For some efficaciously, but for all sufficiently, since the price of His blood is sufficient for the salvation of all; but it is not efficacious except in the elect on account of impediments.” Therefore in like manner, according to St. Thomas, sufficient helps and efficacious helps are given, which may correspond for their effect to the aforesaid passion and the mode by which it benefits us. And in Ia IIae, q. 106, a. 2 ad 2: God “gives sufficient help to avoid sin”; and again on the Epistle to the Ephesians, chap. 3, lect. 2.

In certain texts of St. Thomas the term “sufficient” is not explicitly contrasted with “efficacious,” and his meaning is not always clear except from the context; but in many instances we really find this explicit contrast or distinction which was already common among theologians long before Jansenism and the discussions which it aroused. Moreover, in the Tabula aurea of St. Thomas’ works, under “satisfactio,” no. 36, are given eighteen quotations from the Angelic Doctor wherein he declares substantially that Christ satisfied for the whole of human nature sufficiently, but not efficaciously. 

Lastly, St. Thomas evidently holds that all infused virtue gives the power to do good in the order of grace, but not the actual doing good, for which divine motion is necessary; and furthermore, the divine motion which inclines one effectively toward a good thought does not suffice to incline one efficaciously toward a pious desire nor toward agreeing to a good or proposing it, nor, for still greater reason, toward carrying out this proposal. The actual motion which inclines one to have a good thought does give the potentiality with respect to the pious desire, but not the actual desire itself, and so on through the series. The mind of St. Thomas is clear on this point and may be demonstrated by many texts quoted below.

Nor does St. Thomas merely distinguish between sufficient grace and efficacious grace; he indicates the supreme basis of this distinction when, in Ia, q. 19, a. 6 ad I, he establishes the difference between antecedent will (or the will for universal salvation) and consequent will. We explained this in our treatise, De Deo uno, 1937, p. 425. According to his argument, antecedent will is concerned with the good considered absolutely and not here and now, whereas consequent will has to do with the good considered here and now. But since the good which exists in things themselves is effected only here and now, it follows from this that the antecedent will of itself alone, without the addition of the consequent will, remains inefficacious. Hence the division into these two wills is the supreme basis of the distinction between sufficient grace which proceeds from the antecedent will and grace which is efficacious of itself proceeding from the consequent will. But man, on account of his resistance to sufficient grace, deserves to be deprived of efficacious grace.

Objection. This distinction between efficacious actual grace and sufficient grace is not found in the early Councils, not even Trent, which treated of grace and free will more accurately in order to counteract Lutheranism.

Reply. Granted that these identical terms are not encountered in the pronouncements of the councils, nevertheless terms in every respect equivalent are to be found; for instance, it is a question of efficacious grace when the Council of Orange declares (chap. 9, Denz., no. 182): “Whenever we do good, God operates in us and with us in order that we may act”; and again when the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, chap. 4, Denz., no. 814) defines “free will moved and stimulated by God, as that which assents to cooperate with God who stimulates and invites.” Likewise, the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, chap. II, Denz., no. 804) refers equivalently to sufficient grace when it states that “God does not command the impossible, but by commanding He teaches thee both to do what thou canst and to ask what thou canst not, and He assists thee that thou mayest be able.” It was fitting, moreover, for theologians in their disputations to avoid such complex terms as “sufficient grace and efficacious grace.”

Finally, the aforesaid dogma of faith regarding grace which is truly yet merely sufficient is confirmed by theological argument. God, even in the present economy of salvation, imposes the observance of the commandments upon all most rigorously, and the delinquents who die in final impenitence will be punished by eternal torments. But God cannot impose a precept unless at the same time He supplies the necessary means for observing it, nor justly punish him who cannot avoid evil. Therefore God offers helps by which man may be sufficiently equipped to keep the commandments and avoid sin. He does not provide less in the order of grace than in the order of nature, in which latter there are truly sufficient principles, that is, faculties, which nevertheless require final application to the act. (Cf. the Salmanticenses.)

This, then, is the dogma of faith regarding truly and merely sufficient grace. Later we shall examine the various opinions of theologians on the nature of sufficient grace. Let us first consider the Church’s teaching on efficacious grace.



This doctrine contains two articles: 1. efficacious grace is conferred; 2. with efficacious grace, liberty remains. 

First article. Efficacious, or effective, grace is conferred which causes us to act. This is maintained especially in the condemnation of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. For the Pelagians did not precisely deny that grace confers the power of doing good, but that it bestows the very willing and acting. Against them the Second Council of Orange (can. 9, Denz., no. 182) defined: “Whatever good we do, God operates in us and with us that we may operate.” Hence a certain grace is given which is effective of an operation, although it does not exclude our cooperation but rather demands it.

This is the meaning of the words of Ezechiel (36:27): “I will cause you to walk in My commandments, and to keep My judgments, and do them.” And the Council of Orange quotes in the same sense (no. 177): “It is God who works in us both to will and to do.” But the grace which causes us to act, whatever it achieves of willing or completing, is efficacious, not only with the efficacy of powers, in the sense that it confers real and intrinsic powers in the supernatural order (this is already given by interior sufficient grace), but it is efficacious with an efficacy of operation, or effective, since it produces the very operation with us, whatever may be the mode whereby the will and grace concur in the act.

This is confirmed by the condemnation of the pseudosynod of Pistoia (Denz., no. 1521) where it is stated that this false synod is condemned “in that it maintains that alone to be properly the grace of Jesus Christ as creates holy love in the heart and causes us to act… and also that the grace whereby the heart of man is touched by the illumination of the Holy Ghost is not, strictly speaking, the grace of Christ, and that the interior grace of Christ is not really given to him who resists it.” Thus the Church affirms the existence of efficacious grace while maintaining that it is not the only grace. 

Moreover, this dogma of the existence of efficacious grace is confirmed by theological argument for it is de fide that no act conducive to salvation can be performed without grace, and no man can persevere without grace (Council of Orange; Denz., no. 182). But experience proves that many acts conducive to salvation are performed and many men persevere in the accomplishment of salutary acts. Therefore grace is given which achieves its effect and which is therefore rightly called efficacious. We shall consider below, in explaining the Thomistic doctrine of efficacious grace, the texts of Sacred Scripture which refer to this grace.

The second point of the Church’s doctrine on efficacious grace is that, with it, liberty, not only from coercion but from necessity, remains, as required for merit. Cf. Hugon, De gratia, p. 339. This can be drawn from the condemnation of Predestinationism (Denz., no. 317): “We have a free will for good, anticipated and assisted by grace, and we have a free will for evil, devoid of grace.” Likewise in the condemnation of Calvinism by the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, chap. 7, Denz., no. 797): “freely assenting to and cooperating with the same grace”; and again (ibid., can. 4, Denz., no. 814): “If anyone should say that the free will of man, moved and stimulated by God, in no wise cooperates by assenting to the encouragement and invitation of God, whereby he disposes himself and prepares to receive the grace of justification, and further, that he cannot refuse if he so wills, but, as if he were something lifeless, does not act at all, but merely keeps himself in a passive state, let him be anathema.” Similarly, against the third proposition of Jansen (Denz., no. 1094) it is declared that “for meriting and demeriting, liberty is required both from constraint and from necessity.”

This dogma is confirmed by the following theological argument.  Faith teaches that glory is conferred upon merit. (Councils of Orange, Denz., no. 191; Trent, nos. 809, 842.) But merit is an act which proceeds from liberty and efficacious grace. Therefore the coexistence of liberty and eficacious grace is a fundamental truth. Hence St. Augustine says: “He who made thee without thy help, does not justify thee without thy help” (Sermon 15 de Verb. Apost., chap. II, no. 13; PL, XXXVIII, 923).

These two dogmas on truly and merely suflicient grace and on efficacious grace are wonderfully coordinated in the proposition quoted above from Bossuet which expresses the Christian idea profoundly: “We must admit two graces of which the one leaves our will without any excuse before God, while the other does not permit it to glory in itself.”

1 This article will also be found in the last section of the present volume. 

2  Cf. John of St. Thomas, O.P., Cursus theol., De gratia, disp. XXIV; the Salmanticenses, Cursus theol., De gratia, disp. V , dub. 7; Lemos, O.P., Panoplh gratiae, Vol. IV, Part II, p. 36; Del Prado, O.P., De gratia, Vol. 11, chaps. 1-3.

3 This theory is similar to the doctrine of those who, following Leibnitz’ idea, maintained that man is indeed free, as a class, inasmuch as his will is specified by a universal, abstract good, so to speak, surpassing any particular good; however, actually and in the concrete, here and now, our choice is never free, since nothing is willed unless it is foreknown, and nothing is preferred unless it is foreknown as more advantageous here and now. That is, the will always follows the leadership of reason and whatever is, in the judgment of reason, here and now, the stronger motive. Hence this stronger motive is always efficacious as a victorious satisfaction, and the opposite motive is not, in fact, really sufficient. Thus psychological determinism is arrived at.  Man would be free in the abstract but not in the concrete. And this theory persists in a certain sense in Kant, who holds that man has liberty in the noumenal order which may be conceived, but not in the phenomenal order. But this doctrine is subjective conceptualism, to which moderate realism is opposed, declaring that the human will is specified by the universal good not only according to our abstract conception, but in reality; our will even here and now preserves its nature and capacity, which infinitely surpasses any particular, eligible good. Hence the stronger objective motive even here and now is indeed fully sufficient for choosing freely, but not for necessitating the will; in this respect it differs from the clear vision of God. 

Arnauld in his theory seems to proceed in conformity with the idea of subjective conceptualism, according to which really and merely sufficient grace may be given in the abstract but not in the concrete; as if, for instance, man might be conceived but a real man could not be given in the concrete, in whom human nature would really exist with individuating conditions.

4 Cf. Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, “Jansénisme,” col. 388-99; “La grace suffisante,” col. 431-47; “La prédestination” (J. Carreyre); also the articles “Prémotion” and “Prédestination” (Garrigou-Lagrange).

5 With regard to this symbolic expression of divine truth, cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q.1, a.9 ad 3: “It is more fitting that the divine things in the Scriptures should be presented under less dignified bodily figures.”

6 Cf. Rouet de Journel, Enchir. putrid., theological index, nos. 310, 318, 330. God does not command the impossible; all the just can persevere if they so will, but not for long without the help of grace; on assistance whereby and on assistance without which one cunnot, nos. 1556, 1850, 1954 ff.

7 That is, Adam in the state of innocence required grace effcacious in itself to persevere, by reason of his dependence on God, not by reason of any weakness in himself.

8 “Avertissement sur le livre des Réflexions morales,” a brief treatise in the Œuvres complètes, Paris, 1845, I, 643; see also the index to Bossuet’s works under “grâce, . . . résistance à la grâce.”


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