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


To complete the teaching on grace efficacious in itself we must consider in this excursus: 1. efficacious grace and facile acts conducive to salvation; 2. efficacious grace in its relation to spirituality; 3. efficacious grace in wayfaring saints, especially in the martyrs;

4. the efficacious grace of most ardent love, according to St. Theresa; 5. efficacious grace in Christ, impeccable and freely obedient, for He is the highest example of the reconciliation between grace, efficacious in itself, and free obedience in a soul confirmed in good.



Recent opinion. Within the past few years a new opinion has been expressed, to which we referred in the Revue Thomiste of November, 1925, and March, 1926, and which is alleged as conforming to the teaching of certain Thomists, especially Gonzilez de Albeda, Massoulit, Bancel, and Reginaldus. It is, in fact, an unwarranted extension of their opinion. 

They maintained that sufficient grace confers not only the power to do good, but also the impulse toward a good act; further, according to them, sufficient actual grace is a predetermining physical premotion, although capable of failure since it does not overcome infallibly such impediments as may arise from temptation or from the free will itself; in this respect it differs from efficacious grace. This opinion of Gonzilez, Massoulit, Bancel, and Reginaldus differs from the general theory of Thomists only in this respect, that it offers a better explanation of the culpability of sinners and their real power of doing good and avoiding evil. Their opinion is presented at length in the Revue Thomiste, 1902, p. 654, and 1903, p. 20, by Father Guillermin, O.P., who defended it, but understood it correctly and not as it has recently been proposed. We have already discussed this theory of Gonzilez de Albeda.

According to the recent exposition, sufficient actual grace would be a fallible, predetermining, physical premotion which would incline one toward a good act, but would differ from infallible efficacious grace inasmuch as it would not always overcome the impediments which might arise. Indeed, it is held (whereas the above cited Thomists did not go so far) that frequently this impelling sufficient grace actually moves us to perform facile acts conducive to salvation, for example, to attrition or to imperfect prayer. Hence, infallibly efficacious grace is not necessary for such facile salutary acts, but only for difficult salutary acts, such as perfect contrition as distinguished from attrition. In other words, facile salutary acts presuppose only fallible divine motion and a fallible divine decree.

Critical analysis. To the mind of Thomists reading this new presentation, there immediately arises the objection: How can God know infallibly from all eternity, by a fallible decree, a free act of attrition that will occur here and now in time in the mind of this sinner? It should be remarked that this problem affects not only the predestinate, but also other men who sometimes elicit an act of attrition. The answer is that God knows infallibly this future act of attrition so far as it is already present in eternity, which encompasses all time.

However, this future act of attrition is not present in eternity, rather than the opposite act of resistance, unless by virtue of a divine decree; otherwise it would be present in eternity in the same manner as necessary truths, and we should run into fatalism. Therefore, if the divine decree regarding a future act of attrition is fallible, God can know it only fallibly. This objection is generally made to the Molinist theory of scientia media, and there is no escape other than by positing passivity or dependence in divine knowledge with respect to a conditioned, free future act; but no passivity can exist in Pure Act. 

According to this recent opinion, with the same impelling sufficient grace, one sinner elicits an act of attrition, while another perseveres in his obduracy; hence the former receives no greater help than the latter. And so we have reverted to Molina’s opinion, according to which, “equal help can cause one of those called to be converted and another not” (Concordia, pp. 51, 617).

But this is contrary to St. Paul (I Cor. 4:7): “For who distinguisheth thee? or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” St. Thomas declares, (Ia IIae, q. 112, a. 4): “The first cause of this diversity is to be attributed to God Himself, who dispenses the gifts of His grace in diverse ways.” Again, St. Thomas comments on Matt. 25:15: “He who strives more has more grace, but the fact that he makes a greater effort demands a higher cause.” The principle of predilection is thus formulated by St. Thomas (Ia, q. 20, a. 4): “Since the love of God is the cause of the goodness of things, no one would be better than another unless God willed greater good to one than to another.” In other words, no one would be better than another were he not loved and helped more by God. This is the dogmatic basis of Christian humility. And as a matter of fact, when one of two hardened sinners is converted rather than the other, the faithful are accustomed to say that this was done as a special dispensation of God’s mercy toward him.

If, of two sinners placed in the same circumstances and equally helped by God, one attains to an act of attrition and the other does not, the first has singled himself out. And so we are faced with an opinion in which, with regard to facile acts, we encounter all the difficulties of Molinism, as observed by Father Del Prado in his De gratia, III, 423.

Against this opinion there remains especially the irrefutable objection: How can God, in a fallible decree, foresee infallibly that one of two sinners, both equally assisted, will attain to attrition and the other not? At least there must be admitted for the second case a permissive decree of that resistance or defection. And therefore in the first case an infallibly efficacious positive decree (of future attrition) must be which will not take place.

Thus we return to the general doctrine of Thomists, which in fact was safeguarded by González, Massoulié, Bancel, and Reginaldus, since it is explicitly affirmed by St. Thomas when he distinguishes between antecedent and consequent will in God. Cf. Ia, q. 19, a. 6 ad I: “The will is related to things according to what they are in themselves (inasmuch as goodness resides in things themselves); but in when we will it with all the particular circumstances, here and now; that is willing consequently. (And on the other hand, antecedent will is concerned with the good taken categorically, and not here and now.) Thus it is manifest that whatever God wills absolutely is done, although what He wills antecedently may not be done.” Hence even the least and most facile good does not come about here and now unless God wills it absolutely with consequent and infallibly efficacious will.

But while resistance to sufficient grace is an evil coming, not from God, but from the defective creature, nonresistance to grace is a good existing here and now, which comes from God efficaciously willing it. This is what was affirmed at the conclusion of the controversies that arose over the writings of Gottschalk at the Council of Toucy, A.D.  860 (PL, CXXVI, 123): “‘Whatsoever the Lord pleased He hath done, in heaven, in earth’ (Ps. 134). For nothing is done in heaven or, on earth except what He Himself graciously accomplishes or justly permits to befall.” But God graciously causes attrition in one sinner and justly permits resistance in another. Thus the words of St. Paul are fully safeguarded: “For who distinguisheth thee? or what hast thou that thou hast not received?”

These metaphysical principles which are therefore absolutely universal, allowing of no exception, are not observed in the new opinion that has been proposed, although on the contrary González, Massoulié, Reginaldus, Bancel, and Guillermin retained them, as can easily be seen from their works.1


The teaching of St. Thomas on efficacious grace is generally not well understood except by speculative theologians who judge everything in relation to God, the universal first cause and author of salvation, or by souls that are advancing along the ways of passive purgation. These souls, as it were, experience within themselves that in the affair of salvation everything comes from God; that is, in a salutary, meritorious act, its free determination cannot derive exclusively from us. This is so because man has nothing which is exclusively his own except sin and lying, as declared by the Second Council of Orange (Denz., no. 195).

As we have seen, according to St. Thomas efficacious grace is not rendered efficacious by our consent foreseen by God in such a way that the free, meritorious determination would be, as determination, exclusively our own work. Rather is efficacious grace intrinsically efficacious; that is, it moves us gently and forcibly to consent to the good, so that this consent is entirely from God’s premotion, as first cause, and entirely ours as secondary, premoved cause. In other words, God produces in us and with us even the free mode of our choices. 

Herein lies no contradiction, but a sublime mystery, namely, that God is more intimately present to our liberty than it is to itself. And in this it appears that “the will of God is eminently efficacious, since it follows not only that those things are done which God wills should be done, but also that they are done in the manner in which He wills them to be done. But He wills that certain things should be necessary and others contingent (and free, as well) that there may be order among things for the completion of the universe.” (Ia, q. 19, a. 8). “It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will” (Phil. 2:13). The only thing that cannot derive from God is moral evil, which, however, He permits that from it greater good may proceed by the manifestation of His mercy and justice. Moral evil does not require an efficient cause, but rather a deficient cause. Every good thing is from God.

That it may be evident, then, how this doctrine of St. Thomas raises the mind to lofty contemplation of the action of God in the depths of our hearts, it suffices to show that this doctrine should lead to profound humility, to continual interior prayer, to the perfection of the theological virtues, and that, in point of fact, illustrious spiritual writers have accepted it. In the present excursus we shall develop by way of synthesis what we have already presented in the form of spiritual corollaries.

I. This doctrine leads to profound humility, since it follows that man has nothing exclusively his own except sin. He does no natural good without the natural help of God, no supernatural good without supernatural grace, which not only urges and attracts but also moves him efficaciously to the performance of good. Thus the word of God is given a profound significance: “Without Me you can do nothing”; and likewise St. Paul’s: “Not that we are sufficient to do anything ourselves as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.” And this is true even of the just who have already attained a high degree of charity, for they still require actual help in order to do good. And after they have done many and great things, they must say in all truth: “We are unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10). That is to say, according to the thought of St. Augustine: there is no sin which another man commits of which I am not capable from the weakness of free will and my own frailty, and for the fact that I do not commit it, not to us, O Lord, but to Thy name give glory. The words of St. Paul must ever be kept in mind: “What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received?” St. Francis of Assisi used to repeat this to himself whenever he saw a criminal being led to execution. All these considerations profoundly understood according to St. Thomas’ teaching incline the soul strongly toward true humility, “that all may be attributed to God.”

2. This doctrine leads to continual interior prayer, to a profound spirit of gratitude and, in fact, to contemplative prayer. To interior prayer, for that prayer of petition is more interior which asks of God the greater interior grace. But according to the opinion of St. Thomas, we should ask of God not only grace which will urge us to do good, but also that grace which actually moves us efficaciously toward right action and perseverance in good. We must ask for grace which will reach even unto the depths of our heart and free will, moving us, so that we may really be freed from perverse inclinations, from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; for only God our Savior can deliver our souls from all of these. Nor does He injure our liberty in so acting, but rather causes it, actualizes it, and raises it above the thralldom of lower creatures. Whatever actualizes our freedom cannot injure or destroy it.

Thus only can the petitions found in Holy Scripture be understood: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy . . . O God, be merciful to me a sinner . . . Help Thou my unbelief . . .Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a right spirit in my bowels . . . Convert me, O Lord, unto Thee, and I shall be converted . . . Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” that is, give me effcacious grace that I may really do Thy will, or in the words of St. Augustine: “Give, O Lord, what You command, and command what You will.” Only thus can the prayers of the Church contained in the Missal be profoundly understood. For the Church prays “that God may force our rebellious wills; . . . that He may transform unbelievers who refuse to believe into men willing to believe; . . . that He may incline our hearts to good works; . . . that He may give us a good will; . . . that He may convert and draw us to Himself; . . . that He may take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh, that is, docile hearts; . . . that He may change our wills and incline them to good.”

Hence, also, the priest who attends the dying must pray for them with great confidence, in the name of Christ, for God is not powerless to convert even hardened sinners. For the formal motive of hope is the merciful assistance of God. Therefore, at that moment, the priest should bear in mind the words of Christ: “Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in My name, that will I do: that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13 ); “Amen, amen I say to you: if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you” (John 16:23).

Moreover, this prayer must be continual for our soul is in continual need of efficacious actual grace in order to perform any new work conducive to salvation. This is the deep meaning of the word of God: “Pray always,” and of the expression used by the Fathers: “Prayer is, as it were, the breath of the soul.” For, by means of prayer, the soul inhales grace, and thereupon exhales, or elicits, a meritorious act.

Likewise, according to this doctrine, thanksgiving should be rendered for every good without exception: “in all things giving thanks” (I Thess. 5:18). We should say with all our hearts: “It is the mercy of God that we have not been destroyed. Thy hands have made me and formed me; and Thou hast redeemed us by Thy blood. The mercy of God is above all His works.” Furthermore, this teaching of itself leads properly to contemplative prayer which, considering especially the profound action of God within us, whether mortifying or vivifying us, responds: “Thy will be done.” “The Lord killeth and maketh alive, He bringeth down to hell and bringeth back again” (I Kings 2:6). Such passivity expressed by the word “fiat” is the most profound cooperation with the highest works of God. Thus did Christ pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, thus did the Blessed Virgin utter: “Be it done unto me according to thy word” in joy on the day of the Annunciation, in suffering on Calvary.

Finally, the significance of St. Paul’s words with reference to the grace necessary for prayer is fully manifest from this doctrine (Rom. 8:26 f.): “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because He asketh for the saints according to God.” This is verified particularly in mystical contemplation, which is often painful and obscure, so that the soul therein recognizes how necessary grace is for praying well, just as it is for right action.

3. This teaching of St. Thomas on grace raises the theological virtues to a higher level, because it is closely connected with the very sublime mystery of predestination, in the words of St. Paul (Rom. 8:28-30): “And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to His purpose, are called to be saints. For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son; that He might be the first-born among many brethren. [St. Thomas understands this as referring to gratuitous predestination unto glory.] And whom He predestinated, them He also called. And whom He called, them He also justified. And whom He justified, them He also glorified.” Such is the process of predestination.

This demands great faith in the wisdom of God, in the sanctity of the divine good pleasure, in His omnipotence, His supreme dominion, in the exceedingly great efficacy of the merits of Christ. Faith in the wisdom of God is thus acclaimed in the words of St. Paul (Rom.11:33-35): “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways! For who hath known the mind of the Lord?  Or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him, and recompense shall be made him?” Faith in the sanctity of the divine good pleasure is magnified in accordance with the text: “Nor are your ways My ways, saith the Lord,” and the words of Christ: “I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight” (Matt. 11:25 f.); and again, Jesus said to the Pharisees: “Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to Me, except the Father, who hath sent Me, draw him” (John 6:43 f.). 

So, too, in the spirit of this teaching, faith in the divine omnipotence is extolled, whereby God can convert even the most hardened sinners to good, according to Prov. 21:1: “The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: whithersoever He will He shall turn it”; and Phil. 2:13: “It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will.” Faith in the supreme dominion of God is expressed Jer. 18:6: “As clay is in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.” And St. Paul develops the same figure (Rom. 9:21-23): “Or hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction [persecutors, for example], that He might show the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He hath prepared unto glory?” So, finally, is faith in the exceedingly great merits of Christ demonstrated, in accordance with the words of St. John: “The Father loveth the Son: and He hath given all things into His hand” (3:35); “Now this is the will of the Father who sent Me: that of all that He hath given Me, I should lose nothing; but should raise it up again in the last day” (6:39); “Thine they were, and to Me Thou gavest them . . . Those whom Thou gavest Me have I kept; and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the scripture may be fulfilled” (17:6-12).

Likewise, according to this doctrine of grace a truly supernatural hope is required, that is, one founded uniquely upon this formal motive: the help of God. For we should not rely upon our own powers or free will to attain to a supernatural end, as it is written: “He that trusteth in his own heart, is a fool” (Prov. 28:26). Rather, considering our weakness, we should “with fear and trembling work out our salvation” (Phil. 2:12); and “he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12).

On the other hand, contemplating God, we should say to Him: “In Thee, O my God, I put my trust; let me not be ashamed” (Ps. 24:2); “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit” (Ps. 30:6). Further, we are assured, “he that trusteth in Him, shall fare never the worse” (Ec-clus. 32:28); “The Lord is sweet: blessed is the man that hopeth in Him” (Ps. 33:9); “Behold, God is my savior, I will deal confidently and will not fear” (Isa. 12:2); “Preserve me, O Lord, for I have put my trust in Thee” (Ps. 15:1); “In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded” (Ps. 30:2; 70:1); and in St. Paul’s epistles:

“To them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to His purpose, are called to be saints . . . What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who is against Us?” (Rom. 8:28-31); “I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).

In the passive purifications, the soul is frequently tempted against hope, and when all created aids fail, must hope against hope, or beyond all human hope, because of the one formal motive, the help of God. “When I am weakest then am I strong.” But God helps us most efficaciously when He confers upon us, not only the grace which urges and stimulates, but grace which is efficacious in itself. Thus does the soul attain to holy abandonment in the hands of God.

Similarly, by means of this teaching on grace, charity toward God is strengthened. “In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10). For our charity is based upon the divine communication of the life of grace, and the more intimately and efficaciously grace is bestowed upon us, the more we ought to love God, or to return His love. Hence, after enunciating the mystery of predestination, St. Paul adds (Rom. 8:35-39): “Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or famine . . . or persecution or the sword? . . . But in all these things we overcome, because of Him that hath loved us [that is, by the grace of Christ]. For I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels…nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” For Christ declares: “Those whom Thou gavest Me have I kept,” and Christ can always keep our souls efficaciously: “And I give them life everlasting . . . and no man shall pluck them out of My hand” (John 10:28).

But these truths are not fully grasped except in the mystical life. Therefore it must be said that St. Thomas’ sublime doctrine of grace is rejected by many precisely on account of its exceeding sublimity, but because, by really preserving the deep sense of Holy Scripture, it leads us to the highest contemplation of God, the author of salvation.

Confirmation. This doctrine of efficacious grace is accepted by great mystics and eminent spiritual writers. It is found in St. Paul, as we have already shown, and in St. Augustine, whose teaching abides in the decrees of the Second Council of Orange which defined that “no man has anything of his own but sin and lying” (chaps. 20, 22; Denz., nos. 193, 195). St. Augustine says (De praedestin. sanct., chap. 5 ): “A haughty man may indeed say to another: ‘My faith, my justice, or some other thing distinguishes me.’” To one to whom such thoughts occur, the good Doctor puts the question: “What hast thou that thou hast not received? And from whom, unless it be from Him who distinguishes thee from another, to whom He did not give what He gave to thee? But if thou hast received, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received? Can that be glorying in the Lord? But nothing is so contrary to this disposition as to glory in one’s own merits as if in something which one was responsible for effecting, rather than the grace of God; for it is grace which distinguishes the good from the bad, not what is common to the good and the bad.” “Therefore, although it might be believed that Cornelius has done something well, the whole must be attributed to God, lest anyone should be exalted” (ibid., chap. 6). “This grace is exceedingly hidden; but who doubts that grace really exists? And so it is this grace, which is secretly imparted by the divine bounty to human hearts, that it may remove their hardness of heart for the first time” (ibid., chap. 8). “God, in fact, does what He wills in the hearts of men” (ibid., chap. 20). “We therefore assert that perseverance is a gift of God whereby one perseveres in Christ unto the end” (De dono. persever., chap. I). “Hence we ask that we may not be lead into temptation, that this may not occur. For nothing is done except what He Himself does or permits to be done. He is therefore powerful both to bend wills from evil unto good and to convert those inclined to fall, as well as to direct toward Himself an agreeable course” (ibid., chap. 6).

St. Prosper and St. Fulgentius spoke in terms similar to those quoted above. With respect to the Fathers who wrote before St. Augustine on grace and predestination, consult Bossuet’s Défense de la tradition et des saints Pères, Bk. XII, chap. 39. Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism had not yet arisen, and consequently the question had not yet been explicitly posed.

Together with Augustine, St. Bernard demonstrates (De grat. et lib. arbitr., c. I, no. 2) that grace saves while free will is safeguarded: “Free will enables us to will, grace enables us to will well” (ibid.,chap. 6, no. 16). How do grace and free will operate? “Together, not singly; simultaneously, not in turn; not partly grace and partly free will, but they perform the whole by a single, undivided act” (ibid., chap. 14, nos. 46 f.). Consequently, when God crowns our merits in heaven, He crowns His own gifts: “His gifts, which He gave to men, He divided unto merits and rewards” (ibid., chap. 13, no. 43). Cf.  Dict. de théol. cath., article “St. Bernard” by Vacandard, col. 776 ff.  St. Bonaventure speaks in similar terms (II Sent., dist. 26, q. 2): “This is also the disposition of the pious, that they attribute nothing to themselves, but all to the grace of God.”

In the Following of Christ, Bk. III, chap. 4, no. 2, we read: “Never esteem thyself to be anything on account of thy good works . . . Of thyself thou always tendest to nothing, speedily dost thou fail, speedily art thou overcome, speedily disturbed, speedily dissolved.  Thou hast not anything in which thou canst glory, but many things for which thou oughtest to abase thyself; for thou art much weaker than thou canst comprehend.” Ibid., chap. 8, no. I: “I am nothing, and I knew it not. If  I am left to myself, behold, I am nothing, and all weakness; but if Thou suddenly look upon me, I presently become strong, and am replenished with new joy. And truly wonderful it is that I am so quickly raised up and so graciously embraced by Thee; I who, by my own weight, am always sinking down to the lowest depths.” Ibid., chap. 9, nos. 2-3: “Out of Me both little and great, poor and rich, as out of a living fountain, draw living water . . .Therefore thou must not ascribe any good to thyself, nor attribute virtue to any man; but give all to God, without whom man has nothing. I have given all, I will also have all again; and with great strictness do I require a return of thanks. This is that truth by which all vainglory is put to flight. And if heavenly grace and true charity come in, there shall be no envy nor narrowness of heart, nor shall self-love keep possession. For divine charity overcometh all, and enlargeth all the powers of the soul, If thou art truly wise, thou wilt rejoice in Me alone, thou wilt hope in Me alone; for none is good but God alone, who is to be praised above all, and to be blessed in all.” Ibid., chap. 55, nos. 4-5: “Without it [grace] I can do nothing; but I can do all things . . . come, descend upon me, replenish me early with thy consolation, lest my soul faint through weariness and dryness of mind. . . . in Thee, when grace strengtheneth me. . . . Oh, most blessed grace, This alone is my strength, this alone giveth counsel and help. This is more mighty than all my enemies, and wiser than all the wise.” Ibid., chap. 58: “I am to be praised in all My saints; I am to be blessed above all and to be honored in each, whom I have so gloriously magnified and predestinated, without any foregoing merits of their own.”

St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle, stanza 38, no. 10: “In that day of eternity, that is, before the creation and according to His good pleasure God predestined the soul unto glory and determined the degree of glory that He would give it. From that moment this glory became a property of the soul and this in a manner so absolute that no event or accident, temporal or spiritual, can ever take it away radically, for what God has given it gratuitously will always remain its property.” Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, chap. 5: “God determines the degree of union freely as He determines the degree of the beatific vision to each one.”

St. John of the Cross declares that it depends on the good pleasure of God alone that this particular soul should be predestined to such and such a degree of glory; in other words, predestination to glory is prior to any foreseen merits. Prière de l’âme embrasée (Carmelite ed., I, 475): “If Thou awaitest my works, O Lord, to grant me what I ask, give them to me, effect them in me, and join thereto the sufferings Thou deignest to accept from me.”

Although St. Francis de Sales does not always follow St. Thomas in this matter, he holds in the Treatise on the Love of God, Bk. II, chap. 12; that “Grace . . . touches powerfully but yet so delicately the springs of our spirit that our free will suffers no violence from it.  . . . She acts strongly, yet so sweetly that our will is not overwhelmed by so powerful an action. . . . The consent to grace depends much more on grace than on the will, while the resistance to grace depends upon the will only. . . . If thou didst know the gift of God.”

Indeed, almost all spiritual writers, dealing with souls that are being led along the passive ways are in accord with the Thomistic doctrine. (Cf. J. Grou, S.J., Spiritual Maxims, second maxim; L. Lallemant, S . J., Spiritual Doctrine, fourth principle: “Docility to the Holy Ghost,” chaps. I and 2; J. P. de Caussade, S.J., Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, Bk. III, chaps. I and 2.)

Let us conclude this application of the Thomist doctrine to spirituality with a quotation from Bossuet, Elévations sur les mystères (eighteenth week, fifteenth elevation, “Practical humility solves difficulties”): “Contradictions against Jesus Christ regarding the mystery of grace. Behold another terrible stumbling block for human pride. Man says in his heart: I have my free will; God has made me free, and I will to become a just man; I will that the stroke which decides my eternal salvation should come originally from me. Thus does he seek, on some pretext, to glorify himself. Whither are you bound, O fragile craft? You are about to strike against a reef and deprive yourself of the help of God, who assists only the humble, making them humble that He may help them. . . .

“I can. I wish to find something to cling to in my free will, that I cannot reconcile with this abandonment to grace. Proud contradictor, do you wish to reconcile these things yourself or are you willing to believe that God reconciles them? He reconciles them to such an extent that He wills, without releasing you from your action, that you should attribute the whole achievement of your salvation to Him. For He is the Savior who declares: ‘there is no Savior beside Me’ (Isa. 43:11). Believe firmly that Jesus Christ is the Savior, and all difficulties will vanish.”2

This great doctrine of grace is wonderfully presented to the modern world by St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, in her way of spiritual childhood, which is suitable to all Christians, even the perfect, since they are all adopted children of God; see the last chapter of this book on the spirit of adoption of sons of God. Among the children of God, they are more truly His children who place greater trust, not in themselves, but in God and His help.3


We shall now present eminent examples which confirm the Thomistic teaching. Our adversaries say: Efficacious grace is not efficacious of itself, nor is it a predetermining motion. To be sure, it is not the formal determination of this free act toward which it moves us, for it precedes this formal determination by a priority not of time but of nature and causality. Nevertheless, inasmuch as this efficacious motion depends on a positive, predetermining divine decree, it moves us infallibly to determine ourselves freely (often by discursive deliberation) in the same sense as this divine decree, for example, to obey here and now rather than not to obey.

Thus efficacious grace infallibly moved the Blessed Virgin Mary freely to say on the day of the Annunciation: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word.” Hence the Blessed Virgin infallibly and freely uttered her fiat ordained toward the incarnation of the Word, which was the object of an eternal decree to be fulfilled infallibly. And again the Mother of God repeated her fiat on Calvary, infallibly and freely, with the highest degree of merit.

Likewise and with still greater reason, grace efficacious in itself moved the most holy soul of Christ to will freely and meritoriously to offer the sacrifice of the cross for us, as had been announced by the prophets according to an eternal decree of consequent will, to be accomplished infallibly. But if in a single case, in the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary or in the most holy soul of Christ, grace efficacious in itself did not destroy liberty, but rather actualized it, no one can maintain that of itself it destroys or injures liberty. 

In wayfaring saints, especially during the exceedingly painful passive purification or dark night of the soul, described by St. John of the Cross, temptations against faith, hope, and charity are often so vehement that a heroic act is required to resist them; hence the souls thus tried earnestly beg for the most efficacious help of God. St. John of the Cross (Dark Night, Bk. II, chap. 23) writes: “There is in the soul thus tried a struggle or contest between the spirit of God and the spirit of evil.” Therefore does this soul then pray thus: “If Thou awaitest my works, O Lord, to grant me what I ask, give them to me, deign to effect in me both to will and to accomplish, together with the trials which I offer Thee according to Thy good pleasure.”

Thus in particular did St. Paul of the Cross pray, he who was to walk this road of suffering for forty years, that he might become an example of the life of reparation. He wrote to a certain religious of his Order whom he directed: “In your case there will be a different sort of blade; in fact it is there already; love will be the executioner, let him do what he wills, for he is a master craftsman. When he inflicts the martyrdom, one has need of extraordinarily great assistance and strength coming from God; without that, one will not endure the thrust.” (Letters, III,158.)4

The efficacy of grace is especially evident in the martyrs, since they must traverse the path to sanctity in a short space of time by acts which are entirely heroic. In them are verified the words of St. Paul (Rom. 8:35-39): “Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or famine or nakedness or danger or persecution or the sword? (As it is written: For Thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) But in all these things we overcome, because of Him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers . . . nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

In regard to this text, St. Thomas says in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans: “Every benefit is conferred upon us by divine Providence, and so efficaciously that nothing can withstand it. . . .In all these things we overcome, not by our own strength, but through the help of Christ. Hence it is said: ‘because of Him that hath loved us,’ that is, on account of His help. . . .The Apostle is speaking in the person of all the predestinate, concerning whom he declares that, in view of the certainty of their predestination, nothing can separate them from charity.”

Truly, then, does the effect of grace become marvelously evident in the martyrs. It suffices to call to mind their heroic fortitude which manifests the exceedingly efficacious help of God in the midst of unendurable adversities. For the virtue of fortitude differs greatly from the pertinacity or stubbornness of pride. Fortitude is not a virtue with the status of a virtue which is reserved for the dispositions difficult of attainment unless it is connected with other virtues, such as humility, meekness, piety; for it must come under the direction of prudence really to confirm a man in the goodness of virtue and not in the ob-stinacy of pride. (Cf. Ia IIae, q. 65, a. 1, 2,3.) Moreover, in order to be heroic, fortitude must perform works exceeding the ordinary powers of men promptly, with alacrity, whenever the occasion presents itself, frequently, if need be, and constantly (Benedict XIV, De canoni. sanct., Bk. III, chap. 21).

Thus did the martyrs endure the most atrocious torments. They were certainly not insensible to fear before the moment of trial; Jesus Himself began to fear and to be heavy; but they prayed and overcame their fear. They were not moved by rash impetuosity, but in tranquillity of soul and meekness of spirit, praying for their persecutors, they fulfilled their martyrdom with eagerness and constancy “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation” (Rom. 12:12). 

However, this heroic fortitude, witnessed by all, can be explained only by grace which is efficacious of itself; indeed, it is a miracle of the moral order. For such fortitude, with the other related virtues, demands heroic acts of the principal virtues frequently repeated on the part of countless men, women, and young girls of every condition, eagerly and perseveringly carrying on amid the most intense physical and moral sufferings without the least hope of earthly reward, nay rather in spite of all worldly promises and allurements.

But heroic acts of the principal virtues cannot be performed so often nor with such alacrity and constancy, in the midst of frightful torments, by a multitude of human beings of every condition, sex, and age, without any natural motive, unless the most efficacious and, in fact, extraordinary intervention of God accompanies them. For sanctity, or a very steadfast union with God, cannot exist without efficacious help from on high, nor extraordinary sanctity without extraordinary help from God; for the order of agents must correspond to the order of ends, and only the supreme agent can move efficaciously toward the supreme end.

Lastly, the martyrs themselves declared that they were aided by efficacious divine help without which they could not have endured their torments. St. Polycarp:5 “Leave me as I am; for He who enabled me to endure the fire will also enable me to remain motionless on the pyre, without your precaution of lock and key.” St. Felicitas while in prison experienced the severe pains of childbirth, so that one of the guards said to her: “If you suffer so much now, what will you do when you are thrown to the beasts?” But she replied confidently:6 “Now it is I who suffer what I suffer, but then another will be in me who will suffer for me, since I am to suffer for His sake.” In the same way Andronicus said to his judge: “Armed by my God I stand before thee in the faith and power of the Lord God almighty.”

The Levite, Vincent, amid the most severe tortures of the rack, exclaimed: “Bestir yourself, and let loose all the intensity of your malice. You will see me able, by the power of God, to endure more torments than you yourself can inflict.” As we read in the Martyrology for January 19: “In Smyrna, blessed Germanicus…put away by the grace of the might of God the fears of bodily weakness, and…provoked the wild beast prepared for him and, being devoured by the teeth of the beast, merited to be made one with the true bread, the Lord Jesus Christ, by dying for His sake.”

It is enough, too, merely to recall the Office of St. Agnes martyr, in which is marvelously combined the natural weakness of this holy girl and the efficacious grace of God: “In the midst of the flames, Blessed Agnes extended her hands and prayed: ‘I entreat Thee, O Father, worthy of all adoration, worship and fear, since by Thy holy Son I have escaped the threats of the sacriligeous tyrant and by an unspotted path have avoided the defilements of the flesh: behold now I come to Thee whom I have loved, whom I have sought, and for whom I have always longed.’”

Lastly, Christ had predicted this victory on the part of the martyrs: “It shall be given you in that hour what to speak” (Matt. 10:19). In their victory is likewise manifested in a wonderful manner both the free will of the martyrs who said in full liberty: “Rather to be tortured and put to death than to deny faith in God,” and the efficacy of divine grace, which for three centuries continued to be the cause of this triumph. Their memory abides in Rome through the Colosseum, and no higher tribute can be paid “unto the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephes. 1:6).

Thus are verified the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians (I :4-6): “As He chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world.  that we should be holy and unspotted in His sight in charity. Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto Himself: according to the purpose of His will: unto the praise of the glory of His grace.” With regard to these words St. Thomas says in his Commentary on the Epistle: “He chose us not because we should be holy nor because we were, but He chose us for this reason: that we might be holy in virtues and unspotted from vices. For He makes His choice according to both elements of justice: the withdrawal from evil and the doing of good. . . . The twofold cause of this immense benefit is indicated. One is efficient, that is, the absolute will of God: “according to the purpose of His will,” and further (Rom. 9:18): “He hath mercy on whom He will; and whom He will, He hardeneth.” The other cause is final, namely, that we should praise and know the goodness of God, as expressed in the words: “unto the praise of the glory of His grace.”


In chapter two of the sixth mansion and in her autobiography as well (chap. 29), St. Theresa speaks of the prayer of impulse in which the soul receives certain impulses from our Lord, under the stimulation of which it tends toward Him with a great vehemence of spirit.  I present briefly what the mystical theologians hold in this regard.7

These impulses are the effect of efficacious actual grace anticipating the soul. The soul experiences them in its innermost center as at once strong and gentle. They are so delicate and subtle that they can scarcely be described by any comparison, as the mystical writers declare. They differ markedly from any sensible movement that we may induce by our own effort. For it sometimes, even frequently, happens that the soul, while thinking of nothing of the sort, suddenly feels inflamed as if by a dart from the hand of God or a thunderbolt, and although it does not perceive any audible sound, it is conscious that the wound has been made by the divine Spouse, and hears Him calling by so evident an interior sign that it cannot doubt His being present to it.  It feels plainly that it is with God and nevertheless experiences pain.  But this pain is sweet to it so that it wishes the pain would never cease. This delightful pain is not always equally intense; sometimes it lasts a long while, at other times it passes quickly, depending upon the good pleasure of God.

A person who is not familiar with such movements cannot recognize them. They do not resemble those vehement impulsions caused by sensible devotion, for in these latter nature has a part and, if they are not modified, they destroy health. However, these movements of which we are speaking are very different; we do not cooperate in them naturally, rather do they proceed from God. The soul feels a dart thrust into the depths of its heart and is impelled to the most ardent love of God, in obedience to whom it would gladly lose its life. It is the effect of actual grace at once exceedingly efficacious and most profound. Words are incapable of expressing the manner in which God thus wounds the soul. This pain is so exquisite that there is no delight in this life that satisfies to such an extent. The soul would wish to be forever dying of such a malady. This pain blended with joy keeps the soul beside itself, nor does it understand how such a thing can be.

Sometimes this wound is merely spiritual; sometimes it extends even to the body, to the organ of the heart. When the wound of love is not inflicted so intensely, the soul may apply a remedy to it by certain mortifications, which however are scarcely felt even when carried to the extent of shedding blood. That is, the first spiritual pain is so oppressive and penetrating that it cannot be driven out but only somewhat mitigated. Only God can apply the remedy which appears to be nothing less than death, by means of which the transpierced soul attains to immediate vision and perfect fulfillment.   

When the afore-mentioned wound of love is vehemently inflicted in the interior of the heart or penetrates the very depths of the will, no remedy is of any avail to assuage that delightful pain; it racks and weakens the body to such an extent that complete ecstasy follows. However, the soul is by no means weakened, but on the contrary its vigor is greatly augmented. A sign of the divine origin of this favor is the great humility which a person experiences after the ecstasy. The soul receiving such a favor should not fear deception on the part of the demon, but rather ingratitude on its own part. Hence, rendering thanks to God, the soul should strive to submit to Him faithfully.

The value of this most efficacious profound grace is apparent from its effects. Thus the first effect of the prayer of impulse is the most complete contempt for the world, a much deeper understanding of the words of Ecclesiastes: “vanity of vanities, and all is vanity,” except to love God and serve Him alone. The second effect is an intense desire for eternal things; the soul continually sighs after God. The third effect is a love of trials for the sake of God. So strong was this impulse in St. Theresa that she used to say: “Lord, either let me suffer or let me die”; nor did she ask this only on account of its merit but also because of the solace which she found in enduring pains.

There results a most ardent thirst for the living God and the almost continual exercise of heroic virtues, of the perfect imitation of Jesus Christ, and of a life of reparation for the conversion of sinners.  The soul so disposes itself finally for eternal life that it has no need after death of passing through purgatory.

These effects produced in the lives of the saints render apparent the supreme efficacy of grace, arousing that which is best in them, namely, the free determination of their meritorious acts, which proceed from the infused virtues with the help of the gifts. Thus do they penetrate much more deeply the sense of our Lord’s words: “Without Me you can do nothing” in the order of salvation, and those words of St. Paul: “For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” “I know both how to be brought low, and I know how to abound…. I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me.” That is, as St. Thomas observes in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians (4:13): “I should not be able to endure these offenses unless the hand of God sustained me, according to Ezechiel (3:14): ‘The hand of the Lord was with me,’ and Isaias (40:31): ‘They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’”

All this evidence confirms the doctrine according to which the grace of God is efficacious not extrinsically, on account of our foreseen consent, but of itself, intrinsically, because God wills it to be efficacious and, by it, to lead us, even through the greatest persecutions, unto life eternal.

Further confirmation from the inspiration of the Bible. Leo XIII, in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus, 1893 (Denz., no. 1952), thus explains the inspiration of the Bible through a movement which infallibly impels the intellect and will of the sacred writer to write freely what God wills and nothing else: “God by His supernatural power so stirred and moved them to write and so assisted them while they wrote that they might rightly conceive, will to set down faithfully, and aptly express with infallible truth all and only that which He should commend; otherwise He Himself would not be the author of the whole of Sacred Scripture.” But if in this case infallibly efficacious divine motion does not destroy liberty, neither does it do so in other cases.8


The question of the eflicacy of grace is illustrated by what is said on the part of St. Thomas and his school by way of reconciling the free obedience of Christ with His impeccability; cf. IIIa, q. 18, a. 4. Christ was freely obedient unto the death of the cross, thus meriting our salvation, and yet He obeyed infallibly, through efficacious grace, so that He could not have sinned by disobedience; for He was not only sinless, but absolutely impeccable. Nowhere else does it appear so clearly that the predetermining divine decree with grace infallibly efficacious of itself (in respect to the heroic acts of Christ suffering for us on the cross) was simultaneous with the free will requisite for strictly meritorious acts (otherwise Christ would not have merited for us, properly speaking).

But if in one single instance grace efficacious in itself does not destroy free will, but rather actualizes and perfects it, no one can say that this grace, when given, of itself destroys our liberty. Hence this question should be carefully studied with reference to Christ Himself.

It is always advisable to have recourse to the great theological problems which are often not correctly propounded and the profundity of which always demands greater penetration. In these lofty matters, positive theology does not suffice; it gathers up certain documents of Holy Scripture and tradition, but does not furnish a deep understanding of them. Thus frequently various opinions of theologians are set forth and discussed from the historical aspect, and thereupon many writers choose from among these opinions by the eclectic system whatever subjectively appeals to them, without any objective reason. Indeed, it is said over and over again that one should proceed historically and critically; but this eclectic method does not produce a scientific theological work. It would be necessary, to begin with, to state the difficulty of the problem accurately so that its depth and significance may appear; and then, for its solution, it does not suffice to have recourse to whatever appeals to one subjectively, but rather to very certain objective principles. Otherwise the sublimity of faith is minimized, and theology is not directed toward the fruitful understanding of revealed mysteries nor toward their contemplation.

An example of this defect in method is to be found in the great problem of reconciling the free obedience of Christ with His impeccability. In the question of harmonizing two extremes difficult to reconcile, the first rule of method is this: not to deny one of the two extremes to be reconciled. Such an attempt would not solve the problem, but only do away with it. Nor have many authors been sufficiently aware of this with reference to the present question.

If  Christians are asked: “Did not Christ obey the commands of His Father in perfect liberty and with real merit?” all, or almost all, reply in the affirmative. Likewise, their answer is an assent when questioned: “Was not Christ impeccable?” But frequently they do not concern themselves with the difficulty involved in reconciling these two statements which they accept as certain and utterly tenable.

The crux of the problem. However, the difficulty in such a harmonization is made manifest by the following classical objection: He who obeys freely is capable of not obeying. Hence if Christ obeyed the commands of His Father freely, He was capable of not obeying, that is, able to sin; therefore He was thoroughly sinless but not absolutely impeccable, as is generally held. On the other hand, if Christ was absolutely impeccable, He did not obey freely, with freedom from necessity or free will, but only with freedom from coercion, or spontaneity, which exists even in brute beasts. So did the Jansenists declare. According to them, “in order to merit, man does not require freedom from necessity; freedom from coercion suffices,” that is, spontaneity (Denz., no. 1094). For the Jansenists and, with still greater reason, for the Calvinists, efficacious grace united with a precept does not permit of any power to do the contrary; in their opinion this power appears only at the expense of efficacious grace. This is the divided sense of Calvin which is confused in several, even recent, manuals with the divided sense of Thomists whose doctrine would thereby become heretical. Such confusion denotes an ignorance of the question, as will be made evident below.

Briefly stated, the present difficulty now to be examined is: either Christ could refrain from a commanded act and thus could sin, even if He did not in fact sin; that is, in that case He would not be impeccable although He would be sinless; or He could not refrain from a commanded act and thus would not be free in obeying with freedom from necessity, nor consequently would He merit. Hence it seems that impeccability and free obedience exclude one another in Christ. This is the antinomy to be solved.

That the difficulty may appear in a clearer light, it should be remarked that, just as Christ was not only unerring, but infallible, so was He not only sinless in fact, but absolutely impeccable de jure, by right, i.e., He could not sin. Christ was actually sinless i.e., de facto, according as efficacious grace was always given to Him. Thus those who preserve their innocence until death are saved at least from mortal sin by efficacious grace. But under this efficacious grace they never resist, although they are capable of resisting, so far as there remains in them the wretched power of sinning, which did not exist in Christ. Not only was efficacious grace always given to Him in fact, but it was due to Him de jure, i.e., by right, and thus not only was Jesus actually sinless, but absolutely impeccable de jure, by right of law of His nature, and this for three reasons.

1. By reason of the divine person of the Word, or the hypostatic union, He absolutely could not sin, either by bringing sin into contact with this union or by sin destroying the hypostatic union. For the sin would recoil upon the very person of the Word, inasmuch as actions are imputed to the person. Furthermore, all the actions of the human will of Christ were not only eminently righteous but theandric, and of infinite meritorious value by reason of the divine person of the Word.

2. Christ was absolutely impeccable by reason of the inamissible fullness of grace and charity which was, in Him, the sequel to the hypostatic union.

3. Christ was absolutely impeccable by reason of the beatific vision which He received at the instant of His conception and of the creation of His soul. Like the blessed spirits, He could not turn away from the clear vision of God nor could He love any the less God thus clearly seen.

How, then, could Christ, who was not only sinless but absolutely impeccable on three scores, freely obey the commands of His Father?  It seems that He could not, since He could not disobey. In form the difficulty is thus stated formally: He who obeys freely is capable of disobeying. But Christ, who was absolutely impeccable, could not disobey. Therefore Christ did not obey freely the divine precepts whether positive or of the natural law.

At first sight, this objection appears to be thoroughly scientific, critical, and irrefutable. But, after the fashion of nominalism or empiricism, it considers only the facts and not the nature of things. It does not grasp the nature of the specifying object of free choice, which is an object not good in every respect; nor does it fathom the nature of the command and the grace which are given for the fulfillment of a free act and not for the destruction of liberty. Thus, under the appearance of keen intelligence, this beautiful sophism masks an utter misapprehension of the problem, just as in present-day existentialism, which is merely a new form of radical nominalism and absolute empiricism, there is a complete lack of understanding with regard to human life as such and its end. This failure to comprehend the higher realms of theology is known as spiritual dullness and blindness of soul, which are opposed to the gifts of wisdom and understanding. St. Thomas expressly refers to them when he treats of these gifts.

I am dwelling on this fundamental objection, which is stronger than all others that may be proposed. And it should be remarked that this objection is easier to understand than the reply to it, since the former proceeds by the inferior method of our knowledge which scarcely goes beyond sensible objects, while, on the contrary, the real reply is drawn from the sublimity of the mystery to be safe-guarded, and requires great penetration and intellectual maturity.

It is indeed easy enough to see vaguely what is erroneous in this objection, but it is most difficult to set down precisely in what this ment of a clock or of a diseased heart or in the voice of a great singer, but often most difficult to discover precisely the cause of the disturbance and the effective remedy to be applied.

St. Thomas’ solution. The Angelic Doctor recognized this difficulty and thus expressed it in III Sent., d. 18, a. 2, objection 5: “By natural (operations, such as breathing) we do not merit because of the fact that they are determined to one end. But in Christ, free will was determined to the good (since He was impeccable); therefore He could not merit by His free will, and accordingly by no means at all, since all merit depends upon free will.” Hence it seems that two fundamental truths of Christian religion are contrary one to the other; error consists, just as it is easy to detect some disturbance in the move namely, that Christ was impeccable, and that, by obeying, He freely merited our salvation. But our whole Christian life is based on the infinite value of the merits of Christ, and in particular on His heroic obedience.

St. Thomas states the same objection more succinctly and boldly in the Summa theologica, IIIa, q. 18, a. 4: Whether there was free will in Christ. In the third objection he says: “Free will possesses the alternative (of willing or not willing). But the will of Christ was determined to the good, since He could not sin, as declared above.  Therefore in Christ there was no free will.” Consequently He did not obey freely, nor did He merit, strictly speaking. It is clear from this that our adversaries did not discover this objection; it is already admirably formulated in the works of St. Thomas.

The holy doctor answers in the Summa theologica, as in the Commentary on the Sentences: “The will of Christ, although determined to the good, is not however determined to this or that good (for instance, to choosing Peter rather than John as His vicar). And therefore it pertained to Christ to choose, by His free will confirmed in good, as in the case of the blessed.”

This was the lofty solution which many theologians subsequently failed to consider as they should have done. St. Thomas also declared in Sent., loc. cit.: “To be capable of sin is neither freedom of will nor a part of liberty, as St. Anselm says. And in fact this determination (that is, to moral good) is identified with the perfection of free will whereby, through the habit of grace and glory, it terminates in that to which it is naturally ordained, namely, the good.”

Hence St. Thomas’ solution is that Christ freely obeyed the precepts of His Father by His free will confirmed in good, in the same way as pertains to the blessed in heaven. Further, the holy doctor shows (IIIa, q. 47 ad 2) in the course of the article that Christ died through obedience, according to the words of St. John (10:18): “I have power to lay it [My life] down….This commandment have I received of My Father.”

Many later theologians have failed to consider these golden words attentively. In St. Thomas, however, they were highly characteristic and are verified in his opinion wherever confirmation in grace is involved. Thus after Pentecost the apostles were confirmed in grace and henceforth could not sin, at least gravely; but they obeyed the commands of God freely when something not good in every respect was commanded them, since the indifference of free will remained with regard to such an object. Likewise the Blessed Virgin Mary, confirmed in grace, freely obeyed the precepts of the Lord. In the same way the souls in purgatory, confirmed in good, can no longer sin and freely adore God whom they do not yet clearly see. And similarly, as already remarked by St. Thomas (Sent., loc. cit.), although the blessed in heaven do not freely love God clearly seen (since God clearly seen is an object in every respect good), they nevertheless freely obey God in the accomplishment of any particular good; and they freely pray for such and such a wayfarer rather than for another. In sum, God Himself is at the same time absolutely impeccable and utterly free to create, and to create this world rather than another. And likewise, at the opposite extreme, the demon hates God freely, not of necessity, but through his freedom confirmed in evil, as St. Thomas observes in several places.

In the mind of the Angelic Doctor, confirmation in grace, which excludes sin, in no wise excludes free obedience to the divine commands which involve an object that is not, in every respect, good, Wherefore? Because, as explained in Ia IIae, q. 10, a. 2: “If some object is proposed to the will which is universally good and is so from every aspect (such as the clear vision of God), the will tends to it of necessity (although spontaneously) if it wills anything at all; for it cannot will the opposite. But if some object is proposed to it which is not good from every possible aspect, the will does not incline to it necessarily,” but freely. In short, the will retains a dominating indifference with regard to any object which is not in every respect good, for example, regarding the acceptance of the painful death of the cross for our sake. Furthermore, neither the divine command nor efficacious grace deprives the soul of this psychological liberty, since they are given precisely to actualize free will, and that which actualizes free will does not destroy it.

This was the magnificent, sublime solution offered by St. Thomas.  He did not deny the impeccability of Christ nor His free obedience to commands properly so called, but found their harmonization in the lofty concept of the confirmation of free will in good. Thus did he offer a fertile understanding of the mystery and disposed it for St. Thomas’ solution may be stated briefly as follows: an object which is not in every respect good, such as a painful death for our contemplation.

St. Thomas’ solution may be stated briefly as follows: an object which is not in every respect good, such as a painful death for our salvation, is chosen freely; moreover, the confirmation of free will in good does not take away free will with regard to things commanded, but rather perfects it. Such is the case with the blessed. And so, in Christ, while He was both a wayfarer and a comprehensor, there was the freedom necessary for merit when He obeyed, in the strict sense, unto the death of the cross. This most painful death was not an object in every respect good; it did not draw the will of Christ irresistibly, as a work of God clearly seen would do. Further, the command and the efficacious grace were conferred for freely accomplishing this holocaust; they therefore did not take away the liberty of this infinitely meritorious act. Hence Christ was the supreme exemplar of obedience. Thus the elements of the problem are perfectly reconciled, in spite of the obscurity of the mystery.

Nevertheless many subsequent theologians have failed to under-stand this sublime solution, taking another direction wherein the problem became insoluble and therefore was left unsolved; rather, by negation, did it deprive Christ of obedience in the strict sense, so that He would not have been free with respect to things commanded but only in other matters. Thus there was no longer a question of reconciliation, since one of the two extremes to be reconciled was denied.

What, then, is the source of these other solutions? Many theologians since the time of St. Thomas, notably the Molinists, began with this assumption: To preserve psychological liberty, or free will under precept and efficacious grace, it does not suffice that power to do the opposite should remain, but it is required that the will be able to unite the opposite act with the divine command and efficacious grace, or at least the omission of the command, that is, by sinning at least through omission.

The answer to this is: If this is so, that Socrates may freely sit down, it does not suffice that he be capable of standing up or of remaining seated at the same time, but it is required that he unite the very act of standing with sitting, or that he has the power to sit and to stand at the same time, which is impossible. Efficacious grace united to actual resistance would no longer be efficacious.

But even if we admit this presupposition, the problem originally proposed becomes insoluble. There could not be agreement between Christ’s free obedience to the commands of His Father and His absolute impeccability. Hence, if they were commands in the strict sense, an impeccable Christ did not obey them freely, and consequently did not merit by the merit of obedience properly so called. The problem is not solved, but declared unsolvable and dismissed. Anyone who is willing to accept such a verdict while at the same time holding to the principles of St. Thomas injects the most acute dissonance into Thomism, comparable to the striking of a false note in a Beethoven symphony.

The difficulty is evidently connected intimately with the subject of efficacious grace. For it poses the question, whether under divine precept and grace efficacious of itself, in the impeccable Christ, His obedience remained free and meritorious. Does the confirming of free will in good take away free will regarding precepts? This is precisely the question to be solved.

Besides the opinion of St. Thomas and Thomists, there are two other opinions. Some authors maintain that Christ did not receive by Lorca, who quotes Paludanus, and later by Petau, Franzelin, L. Billot, in his De incarnatione, these 29 and 30, and with some modification, by Father M. de la Taille: Mysterium fidei, elucid. 7 and 8.9 According to this opinion, Christ was not free in things of precept, either of natural or of positive law, because it is physically impossible for a comprehensor to will not to obey. And Christ would not have been free unless He could combine disobedience with the precept. Thence arises a great disadvantage in this opinion; namely, Christ would not be the supreme exemplar of obedience “unto death, even the death of the cross.”

Others, after an eclectic fashion, declare that Christ received from His Father a precept determining only the substantial element of death, but not the circumstances of time, manner, the cross, etc. This opinion is maintained by Vasquez, Disp. 74, c. 5; De Lugo, Disp. 26, sect. 7, no. 82; sect. 8, no. 102; Lessius, De summo bono, Bk. II, no. 185. Tournely holds that Christ could obtain a dispensation from the precept. This eclectic viewpoint agrees with the preceding one that Christ was not free with respect to things of precept, for example, He did not freely accept the precept of dying for our sakes, but only the circumstances of His death which were not of precept. This solution does not penetrate the intellectual problem to be solved, but is only a material transposition of the elements of the problem. Moreover, the Church has always affirmed that Christ merited our salvation by His death and passion, and not merely by the circumstances of His death. Cf. Council of Trent (Denz., nos. 799 ff.).

Thomists hold, on the other hand, that Christ received from His Father a true precept, in the strict sense, to accept death for our sake, a precept determining both His death and the circumstances of His death, which Christ nevertheless freely offered on the cross; that is, He was properly free also in things strictly of precept, by a perfect liberty confirmed in good. (Cf. among Thomists, John of St. Thomas, Gonet, the Salmanticenses, Billuart, etc. ; see also Dictionnaire de Théologie catholique, article “Jésus Christ” by A. Michel, col. 1304.) I have dealt with this question at length in a recent work, De Christo salvatore, Turin, 1946, pp. 324-44. To a certain extent, St. Robert Bellarmine agrees with Thomists in this matter (De justific., Bk. V, chap. II), but, together with Suarez, he explains it by scientia media, which Thomists do not admit. Long before, St. Bernard had beautifully said of Christ: “He lost His life, lest He should lose obedience” (Sermon on the Temple soldiery, chap. 13).

Nevertheless this is a question of grave significance. For if Christ’s liberty in things of precept is denied, He is no longer the exemplar of every virtue and of conformity with the divine will which issues precept. But to maintain such an opinion seems entirely thoughtless and injurious to Christ. Nor should the highest mysteries of faith be minimized for the sake of reaching an apparent clarity, which rather withdraws one from divine contemplation than disposes for it. The first thing to be considered is that faith deals with things unseen and likewise contemplation proceeding from a lively faith, illuminated by the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Hence the theological method in such matters, as it should be remarked, must not deny or minimize truths that are most certain in the present question: Christ’s impeccability and His free obedience. 

In these great questions some neglect the best commentators on St. Thomas, even when they are in agreement. Nevertheless they understood his teaching much more perfectly than we do. On the contrary; Leo XIII, in his encyclical Aeterni Patris warns: “And, lest it happen that the counterfeit supplant the genuine, and the impure instead of the pure waters be drunken down, see to it that the wisdom of Thomas be drawn from its own fountains, or from streamlets running directly from the fountain itself, which are adjudged fresh and pure by the positive and unanimous verdict of learned men.” Therefore Leo XIII desired the commentaries of Cajetan and Ferrariensis to be reprinted in the Leonine edition. To attempt to reach a deep grasp of the doctrine of St. Thomas while neglecting the best commentators is like undertaking the ascent of a lofty mountain without an experienced guide, with the danger of wandering from the right path and falling into a precipice.

Proof of the Thomistic opinion. The opinion of Thomists, however, is thus proved. 1. Christ received a precept in the strict sense of the word to accept the death of the cross for our salvation. 2. Nevertheless Christ’s liberty remained, as a perfect image of the impeccable liberty of God; the precept was given for the free accomplishment of the act and hence did not deprive Him of psychological liberty.

1. Christ had a real obligation of accepting death for our sake on account of the Father’s precept. For we read in John 10:17 f.: “Therefore doth the Father love Me: because I lay down My life, that I may take it again. No man taketh it away from Me: but I lay it down Myself, and I have power to lay it down; and I have power to take it up again. This commandment have I received of My Father.” There is no reason for saying that this is a command in the broad sense of the term. Indeed somewhat further on in St. John’s Gospel (14:30 f.) after the account of the Last Supper, occur the words of our Lord: “For the prince of this world cometh, and in Me he hath not anything. But that the world may know that I love the Father: and as the Father hath given Me the commandment, so do I.” It is strictly a question of a precept to die for our salvation, for the word: έγтλλω, ενтολη used to express the command of the Father in these two places is always, in the New Testament, a technical term signifying a divine command in the strict sense; cf. Matt. 5:19 and 22:36: “He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments,…shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven”; “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Moreover, we find in St. John (15:10): “If you keep My commandments, you shall abide in My love; as I also have kept My Father’s commandments, and do abide in His love.” In this text, Christ uses the same word for the precepts imposed upon Him by His Father and those which He imposed upon His apostles; but the latter were precepts strictly speaking. Thus Christ was an exemplar of perfect obedience. Furthermore, this last text is concerned not only with the precept of dying, but with all the precepts of the Father which Christ observed and in fact observed freely and meritoriously for our sake.  The thesis which affirms that Christ was not free regarding things of precept appears to be irreconcilable with the text just quoted. But many of these precepts, those, for instance, of the natural law, are antecedent to Christ’s spontaneous oblation and therefore do not have their force from it, as Father de la Taille thought. 

There are other texts which express Christ’s free obedience to the divine precepts: “Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from Me: but yet not My will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42). The purport of the words is almost identical in Heb. 10:7: “Behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of Me: that I should do Thy will, O God.” And again in Phil. 2:8: “He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross”; and Rom. 5:1g: “For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners; so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just.” Here it is a question of obedience properly speaking, as it is of Adam’s disobedience in the strict sense. But obedience properly so called has as its formal object the command of a superior in the strict sense, not his mere counsel. It should be added that having recourse to a counsel does not help in saving Christ’s liberty, for it is inconsistent with our Lord’s consummate sanctity that He should be capable of omitting or neglecting the counsels of God the Father, especially counsels supported by an eternal decree and ordained for the salvation of men as well as to the greater glory of God. In fact, regardless of any precept, the death of Christ with all its circumstances remains predetermined by the absolute will of God; cf. Luke 22:22: “The Son of man indeed goeth, according to that which is determined: but yet, woe to that man by whom He shall be betrayed”; and Acts 2:23: “This same [Jesus] being delivered up, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you by the hands of wicked men have crucified and slain.” Since Christ knew this divine will, it would have been no less inconsistent for Him not to conform to it than to sin. Nor may it be held, therefore, with Tournely, that Christ could have obtained a dispensation from the precept; for thus the merit of obedience would disappear, and the argument would not hold in the case of the precepts of the natural law, which did not depend upon Christ’s acceptance of them.

2. How, then, under the precept to die and under efficacious grace, did the impeccable Christ remain freely obedient? In the first place, it is certain that the human liberty of Christ is the purest image of impeccable, uncreated freedom. But God is at the same time absolutely impeccable and perfectly free, for instance, to create or not to create, or to create this world rather than another. Hence Christ, likewise, as man, has a will which was at once impeccable and free with regard to every object which is not good in every respect. Christ as God possessed liberty only in the order of good, not indeed in the order of evil; since the power of sinning or peccability, like fallibility, is a form of our defectibility, which cannot exist in perfect liberty. For liberty is defined as "the faculty of choosing the means properly ordained to the end” (Ia, q. 62, a. 8 ad 3). Hence the choice of something which deviates from the order of the end is a defect of liberty, just as it is a defect of reason to proceed while overlooking the order of principles. This is quite obvious.

In order that it may be evident that Christ’s liberty is the purest image of the liberty of God, it must be emphasized that, whereas God does indeed love Himself of necessity, yet He loves His creatures freely, that His goodness may be manifested, as it is the reason for loving creatures. Similarly, Christ as man, at once a wayfarer and a comprehensor, loved God clearly seen with a necessary, although spontaneous, love; but He loved the divine goodness freely as it is the reason for loving creatures, that is, an object not in every respect good.10

It is true, of course, that uncreated, impeccable liberty is not subordinate to any precept, while, on the contrary, Christ as man was obliged to obey the precepts of His Father, as has been said; and it seems that a precept deprives one of liberty.

Reply. A precept indeed morally binds, that is, it takes away moral freedom with respect to the evil forbidden by it; in other words, it renders illicit the contrary act or even the contrary omission. But a precept does not deprive one of psychological liberty with respect to the thing commanded, since it is given precisely that the act may be accomplished freely and meritoriously. Hence, if the precept took away psychological liberty, it would destroy itself. St. Thomas speaks in equivalent terms, IIIa, q. 47, a. 2 ad 2. The fact remains that free choice is specified by the object of the precept itself; and this object, for example, a painful death accepted for our sake, is something not good under every aspect, and hence not attracting the human will infallibly.

A precept extrinsic to the will and superimposed upon it neither changes the will psychologically nor the nature of the eligible object by which free choice is specified. Rather, as has been said, the precept is given that the act of obedience may be fulfilled freely and also meritoriously, in the same way as efficacious grace itself is given.  Therefore neither the precept nor the grace destroys liberty, since indifference of judgment remains regarding the aforsaid specifying object which is not in every respect good.

Refutation of the objection in form. There still remains, however, as we are told, the problem of solving the objection proposed in form as follows: He who obeys freely is capable of not obeying. But Christ who was absolutely impeccable could not disobey, that is, He did not even have the power of disobeying which we possess even when we actually do obey. Therefore Christ did not obey freely.

It is easier, as we have already observed, to understand this objection drawn from the inferior mode of our cognition, scarcely rising above sensible objects, than the solution which derives from the sublimity of the mystery to be safeguarded. The answer of Thomists is subtle, but at the same time profound, if carefully considered.

They answer: I distinguish the major; He who obeys freely is capable of disobeying either privatively, that is, by sinning at least through omission, or negatively only as, while obeying, he retains the power of not willing the object of choice commanded in some other way: granted. I counterdistinguish the minor: But the impeccable Christ could not disobey privatively, that is, by sinning: granted. That he could not disobey negatively I deny, since, while obeying, He retained the power of not willing the object of choice commanded in some other way.

This subtle distinction appears to some mere verbiage. On the contrary its significance becomes evident psychologically, for instance, when an excellent religious is obliged by obedience to accept a very difficult sacrifice. Often he is not even tempted to disobey privatively by sinning; but he sees perfectly well that the sacrifice asked of him is an object not good from every aspect and at the same time freely eligible. And so it was with Abraham in his sacrifice and with the Blessed Virgin Mary on Calvary.

However, that the profundity of the foregoing answer may be manifest, it should be recalled that there is a great difference between a simple negation and the privation of a good which is due, that is, an evil. Thus nescience, which is a mere negation, is commonly distinguished from ignorance, which is a privation, and with still greater reason from error. The Blessed Virgin Mary was nescient of many things, but not ignorant of them, strictly speaking, nor in error, since she knew all that she should know. To be ignorant, in the strict sense, is not to know that which we ought to know. I am nescient of the Chinese language, but not strictly ignorant of it.

There is another example of the distinction between negation and privation. If God had not created the world, there would not be the privation of any perfections in Him, but only their negation. For God is not better or wiser because He freely created the universe. “God is no greater for having created the universe,” as Bossuet remarked, in opposition to Leibnitz. Free creation is indeed befitting, but it would not be less fitting not to create. God would not thereby have remained sterile, nor was He sterile from all eternity before He created. 

What then is meant precisely by being capable of not obeying negatively as it is distinguished from the privation of obedience, or from the sin of disobedience? It is the power not to choose the object in some other way commanded according as this specifying object of choice is not good in every respect, but rather good under one aspect and not good under another.

Such, for Christ, was the death of the cross: most painful from one standpoint, and most fruitful from another. Thus Christ, so generously obedient, was capable of not obeying negatively, in the divided sense; that is, under this command and under efficacious grace, there remained in Him a power for the opposite, which was not the wretched power of sinning. Thus, He was not only sinless in fact but absolutely impeccable de jure, that is, by the very law of His nature, and nevertheless still free in things of precept.

In other words, there remained in Christ indifference of judgment and of will toward this eligible object; and in order that a choice should be made in fact, the liberty of Christ had to intervene; but this never failed to choose aright since, as St. Thomas said, it was “con-firmed in good.” That is, the freedom of Christ always intervened in favor of perfect righteousness: 1. because Christ was an impeccable divine person; 2. because He possessed an inamissible fullness of grace and charity; and 3. because He had the beatific vision, and, moreover, always received efficacious grace to obey freely and meritoriously, nor was there in His soul even the slightest inclination to privative disobedience, or sin. If Abraham, preparing to immolate his son, had not the least inclination to disobey privatively, if the same is true of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Calvary, with still greater reason is it true of Christ Himself. Thus, psychologically, there is a great difference between being capable of disobeying privatively, or sinning, and being capable of not obeying negatively, that is, of not choosing the eligible object in some other way commanded.

Hence Christ had the power of refusing death as such and as in some other respect commanded, but not death as a command. In other words, Christ obeyed freely, not in the sense that He could have done anything contrary to the precept, but in the sense that He was capable of not doing that which was in some other respect commanded. Thus freedom of exercise remained to Him. Christ was not able to divide positively, that is, as it were, He could not separate the negation of death from the command; but He could have divided the negation of death and the command precisively. Similarly, in an object which is at once true and good, the intelligence, on attaining the true, does not separate it from the good, but it does prescind from the good. Likewise the essence of an angel or of an immortal soul cannot be separated from its existence, and yet it is in reality distinct from the latter, since, as our mind considers them, the angel is not its own essence, nor is the immortal soul its own essence, in which respect they differ from God.

Again, under efficacious grace, our will can resist if it wills, but under this grace it never wills to do so. But this is unintelligible to the nominalists who consider only the fact, which in the present case is the concrete act of the will, and not its nature specified by an object not in every respect good.

Furthermore, it should be remarked that liberty of equal choice or balance is rare, that is, with regard to two equally good and eligible objects, as when a mason builds a wall of identical stones, and freely chooses any stone for the upper part of the wall and any other for the lower part. Generally liberty is present without this perfect balance; for example, when a man chooses the virtuous good in preference to a delectable but vicious good. Hence liberty is defined by St.  Thomas (la IIae, q. 10, a. 2) as the dominating indifference of the will with regard to an object not in every respect good; he does not say, with regard to an object equally good from one aspect and not good from another. Even if the goodness of the object in one respect seems far to exceed its deficiency in another (for instance, God not yet clearly seen), liberty still remains.

Moreover, our mind does not pass from a speculative-practical judgment (I see what is better and approve) to a practico-practical judgment (I pursue the worse, judging here and now that it should be chosen), unless our will is already incipiently and actually attracted to the object which, in fact, it chooses. Thus an adulterer never abstains from his sin unless his attachment to this sin is actually removed; nevertheless as long as this attachment remains, he freely commits sin.

Likewise in the present case, Christ would never have refrained from the act of obeying unless the precept had been removed, but as long as this precept remained He obeyed freely. The eligible object specifying His choice was not in every respect good, and the superimposed precept given for the free accomplishment of the act did not destroy liberty. Similarly, confirmation in good, conferred for the perfecting of His liberty, did not destroy it, obviously. Therefore freedom from necessity remained with regard to an object not in every respect good, and hence not infallibly drawing the will.

Herein appears the vast difference between our adherence to the ontological value of the first principles of reason and Christ’s adherence to the precept of dying for our sake. I have never retracted what I said against the philosophy of action: it erroneously maintains that our adherence to the ontological value of the first principles of reason is free. As St. Thomas declares (Ia IIae, q. 17, a. 6), speaking of the real value of first principles: “Assent or dissent to these is not within our power, but in the order of nature; and therefore strictly speaking, is subject to the command of nature.” On the contrary, Christ freely chose to accept the death of the cross for our salvation; this object, from one aspect, was most painful, from another exceedingly noble and fruitful. Thus it was freely willed, not with a diminished liberty, but with perfect liberty, since the precept given for the free accomplishment of the act directed but did not destroy liberty. Likewise confirmation in good did not injure it, but brought it to the highest perfection.

This sublime doctrine is wonderfully expressed by St. Thomas in the classic text we have already quoted at the beginning of this discussion, IIIa, q. 18, a. 4 ad 3: I. “The will of Christ, although determined toward the good, is not however determined toward this or that particular good. And therefore it pertains to Christ to choose by means of His free will confirmed in good, as in the case of the blessed.”11 If this were so, Christ would not be the supreme exemplar of obedience in the strict sense of the word.

The absolute impeccability of Christ is therefore not irreconcilable with His liberty with regard to things of precept. Consequently neither His freedom nor His merit should be set within limits. It suffices to consider: 1. that the will of Christ is the purest image of the divine will, at once utterly impeccable and perfectly free with regard to creatures; and 2. that a precept, although it withdraws moral freedom regarding the object forbidden, does not remove psychological liberty with respect to means not necessarily and intrinsically connected, here and now, with beatitude. Indeed, every precept presupposes and affirms this psychological liberty, so far as it is ordained to the accomplishment of a free act and, were it to take away such liberty, it would destroy its own nature as a precept.

This illuminating doctrine yields a fruitful understanding of the mystery of Redemption and disposes one for the contemplation of divine things, inasmuch as this opinion, and it alone, presents Christ as the supreme exemplar of obedience to the divine commands, in the strict sense of the term. Thus, the sublimity of His words suffers no diminution: “Therefore doth the Father love Me, because I lay down My life…for My sheep….This commandment have I received of My Father.” “As the Father hath given Me command-ment, so do I.” “If you keep My commandments, you shall abide in My love; as I also have kept My Father’s commandments, and do abide in His love.” “Behold I come: …that I should do Thy will, O God.’’ Thus truly and strictly “Christ was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” May those who do not accept this opinion St. Thomas himself so taught.

Corollary. But if Christ’s liberty remains under grace efficacious in itself, notwithstanding the triple cause of His impeccability (the hypostatic union, His inamissible fullness of grace, and the beatific vision), with still greater reason does our liberty remain under grace efficacious of itself; with it we indeed never sin, but we possess the mournful power of sinning, which Christ did not have; under grace which is efficacious in itself our free will is capable of dissenting if it so wills, but with this grace it never does so will. That is, we cannot, of course, unite actual resistance with grace that is efficacious of itself; it would no longer be efficacious. In the same way Socrates cannot unite the act of sitting with that of standing; he cannot do both at the same time fact that unite the act of sitting with that of standing; he cannot do both at the same time. This would be absolutely impossible and contradictory. 

But for Socrates to be free to seat himself it suffices that, at one and the same time, he be capable of rising and standing erect. Similarly, that we be at liberty to follow the impulse of grace efficacious in itself, it suffices that the power to do the opposite remain in us. In other words, under efficacious grace the free will is capable of dissenting, in the divided sense. This is the meaning of the divided sense for St.  Thomas and Thomists, entirely different from the divided sense of Calvin, who maintained that under efficacious grace the power to do the opposite did not remain, but that, once this grace had been removed, the power to do the opposite was restored to us. Hence it must be concluded: If in Christ, infallibly and freely obedient, grace, efficacious in itself, did not destroy His liberty, there is no basis for the statement that this grace of itself destroys our liberty. On the contrary, far from injuring it in any way, it actualizes and perfects it, causing together with us our free choice; cf. Ia, q. 19, a. 8. 

So ends this excursus on efficacious grace as related to the spiritual life, in the saints, more especially the martyrs, and in the impeccable and freely obedient Christ. Let us now return to the explanation of the text of St. Thomas treating of the cause of grace.

1 Cf. Guillermin, Revue Thomiste, 1903, pp. 23 ff., 27; Gonzalez de Albeda, Comment. in lam, disp. 58, sect. III (ed. 1637): “Efficacious grace is necessary for the verification of the fact that our consent is involved in the matter”; Bancel, Brevis univ. theologiae cursus, Vol. II, tr. IV, q. 4, a. 4. Also Massoulié, Divus Thomas sui interpres, Vol. II, diss. III, q.6, a.2, pp. 206, 213 (ed. Rome, 1709).

Indeed, González expressly says (op. cit., disp. 58, 11, 97): “Of two men equally tempted, the one who consents to the Holy Ghost is always prepared by greater intrinsic prevenient grace than the one who consents to the devil.” All these Thomists admit what Alvarez writes in the third Book of his De auxiliis, disp. 80: “All help which is sufficient with respect to one act is at the same time efficacious in the order

of another (less perfect) act, for the effecting of which it is ordained by an absolute decree of divine providence, so that it is sufficient absolutely and efficacious under a particular aspect.” Thus all Thomists admit that help which is efficacious for attrition is sufficient with regard to contrition. For all of them, facile salutary acts require infallibly efficacious help.

2 Cf. also what Bossuet says in his Méditations sur l’Evangile, Part II, chap. 72: Jesus Christ is always heard; the predestination of the saints. As we have already noted, he says elsewhere: “We must admit these two graces (sufficient and efficacious), of which the former leaves the will without any excuse before God, and the latter does not permit it to glory in itself.” Bossuet, Œuvres complètes, I, 643; cf. also general index under “Grâce (rèsistance à la grâce).”

3 St. Theresa of the Child Jesus says in the History of a Soul, chap. 9: “I read these words uttered by the Eternal Wisdom Itself: Whosoever is a little one, let him come to Me’ (Prov. 9 4 ). Wishing to know further what He would do to the little one, I continued my search and this is what I found: ‘You shall be carried at the breasts and upon the knees; as one whom the mother caresseth, so will I comfort you’ (Isa. 66:12 f.)

“Never have I been consoled by words more tender and sweet. Thine arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto heaven. To get there I need not grow; on the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.” The soul must, in fact, realize more and more that it is a child of God and that it can do nothing without Him in the order of salvation; it is thus led to enter eventually into the passive ways which are the prelude to heaven. 

St. Theresa of the Child Jesus further declared: “To remain little consists in not attributing anything to oneself in the practice of virtue and in recognizing that everything comes from God,” who draws us to Himself and causes us to act and to merit. When He crowns our merits, it is His own gifts that He crowns.

4 Cf. Oraison et ascension mystique de Saint Paul de la Croix, by Father Gaētan du Saint Nom de Marie, Passionist, Louvain, 1930, p. 130.

5 Epistle to the Church of Smyrna, chap. 13.

6 Ruinart, Acta martyrum, 1731, p. 86.

7 Cf. Philip of the Holy Trinity, C.D., Summa theologiae mysticae, Brussels, 1874, III, 98: “De oratione impulsus”; Anthony of the Holy Ghost, C.D., Directorium mysticum, Venice, 1732, p. 156: “De oratione impulsus”; Thos. of Vallgornera, O.P., Mystica theologia S. Thomae, 3rd ed., 1911, II, 255-69.

8 Cf. J. M. Vosté, O.P., De divina inspiratione et veritate S. Scripturae, Rome, 1932, 2nd ed., pp. 45-47, 66-68.

9 Father de la Taille concedes to Thornists, however, that Christ had a real moral obligation to die, hut, according to his view, this obligation did not arise from a command of the Father; Christ contracted it by offering Himself to the Father at the Last Supper, that He might die for us. But this does not hold for the precepts of the natural law, which do not depend on their acceptance by Christ, nor for the precept received from the Father of which Christ speaks (John 10:18) before offering Himself to the Father at the Last Supper, that He might die for us.

10 Furthermore, as Capreolus, Ferrariensis, and Soto remark, in Christ His love of God, regulated not by the beatific vision but by infused knowledge, was free, and distinguished in its modal species from the beatific love of God known as He is.

11 In the same way, according to St. Thomas, our will, under efficacious grace, is capable of resisting (the power of the opposite act remains), but it never does. For, as the holy doctor writes (Ia IIae, q.10, a.4 ad 3): “if God moves the will toward anything, it is incompatible with this assumption that the will should not be so moved (otherwise divine motion would not be efficacious). But it is not absolutely impossible,” since the power of the opposite act remains.

Ia, q.19, a.8:  “Since the divine will is most efficacious, it not only follows that those things are done which God wills should be done, but that they are done in the way God wills them to be done; but God wills that certain things should be done of necessity, others contingently.” And in the answer to the second objection (ibid.): “From this fact that nothing resists the divine will it follows not only that those things are done which God wills should be done, but that they are done contingently or of necessity, according to His will.”

De veritate, q. 22, a.8: “Every act of the will, inasmuch as it is an act, is not only from the will as its immediate agent, but also from God as its primary agent, who impresses it even more forcibly; hence, just as the will can change its act, so to a still greater extent can God.”

De malo, q. 6, a.1 ad 3: God moves the will immutably on account of the efficacy of His moving power, which cannot fail; but because of the nature of the will moved, which is indifferent to various things, necessity is not produced and liberty remains….God moves all things proportionately, each according to its mode.”

Thus did St. Thomas ever interpret the words of Holy Scripture: “The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: whithersoever He will He shall turn it” (cf. Contra Gentes, Bk. III, chap. 89); “It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will”; “For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” It is therefore not a useless process to explain the Summa theologica article by article; it is not enough merely to consult it, dip into it, or quote one part while neglecting another.


Provided Courtesy of:
Eternal Word Television Network
5817 Old Leeds Road
Irondale, AL 35210