by Fr. William G. Most
Was St.Thomas a Thomist on actual grace? Definitely no,just as
he was not a Thomist on predestination (please see file 1Thomist).
To see, we will first review the "Thomist" position, then see
what Thomas really said.
"Thomist position:" There are two kinds of actual graces,
sufficient and efficacious. If God sends a sufficient grace, it
gives the full and complete power to do something good; but it is
infallibly certain we will not do good, but will sin. If He sends
an efficacious grace, it is infallibly sure we will do good.
At first sight this seems folly. Yet it is not entirely so:
the efficacious grace is the application of the sufficient grace.
Compare a fire which has the full power to cook food, but never
cooks anything unless a cook applies the fire to the food.
So, if God sends me a sufficient grace, what can I do to get
the efficacious grace? The "Thomists" offer three answers:
(1) If He sends a sufficient grace, and I do not
resist it, I get the efficacious grace. BUT: To nonresist a
sufficient grace takes an efficacious grace of nonresistance. So no
solution. In this vein, Garrigou-Lagrange wrote ( Turin,
1945, p.63, note 2: "...a person is not able by himself alone to
not place an obstacle [to sufficient grace - italics his]."
(2) If He sends a sufficient grace, and I pray,
I get the efficacious grace. BUT: To pray takes an efficacious
grace of prayer. Again, no solution.
(3) They say that God can and often does deny the
application -- without which a man cannot do good-- for a mere
"inculpable inadvertence". P. Lumbreras ( Rome 1946, pp. 95-
96, citing John of St. Thomas I - II q. 111. disp 14 a. 12, n. 12) wrote:
"To be deprived of efficacious grace, it is not always required
that we first desert God by sin.... on our part, there is always
some impediment to efficacious grace, not by way of fault [italics
added], but by way of inconsideration or some other defect....
'Because of this defective consideration [in the human intellect]
because of this voluntary defect - which is not yet a sin....God
can refuse a man efficacious grace.
Position of St. Thomas himself:
First, in ST I-II. 111 he divides grace in many ways -- but
never at all into sufficient and efficacious. Yet that
classification of sufficient/efficacious is central to the so-
called Thomist theory proposed by Banez.
Instead, in CG 3:159 he says: "Since this is in the power of
free will [namely] to impede or not to impede the reception of
grace, not wrongly is it charged as a fault against him who sets up
an impediment to the reception of grace. For God, so far as is in
Him, is ready to give grace to all...but they alone are deprived of
grace who set up an impediment to grace in themselves."
So St. Thomas does teach that we really can resist, or really
can omit resistance.
Not so within the "Thomist" system: sufficient grace, since it
lacks the application, which is efficacious grace, cannot
produce any good, it can only sin; it lacks the power of not
resisting, as Garrigou-Lagrange, cited above, says. Metaphysically,
it lacks application, and a power without application can do
nothing but fail. So two comments:
1) To say that a man cannot do other than
impede, is, as we said, contrary to CG 159 as we saw, which says
"this is in the power of free will, to impede or not to impede the
reception of grace."- We notice no distinction of sufficient vs
efficacious grace - St. Thomas never makes that classification.
2) To say God would deprive a man of that without
which he cannot help sinning means the salvific will is at zero, or
close to zero. This is in contrast to the actual power of the
salvific will as shown:
a) The Father accepted a price of redemption that is
infinite, since it came from the work of an Infinite, Divine
Person. So He bound Himself to make grace available without limit -
surely an "inculpable inadvertence" would not be enough to void so
powerful a salvific will.
b) Love can be measured by the obstacles it can
overcome in trying to bring well-being and happiness to the
beloved. Christ's love for us overcame an obstacle that was of
measureless difficulty and suffering to make eternal life, and all
grace available to us. Surely, He cannot refuse to give what He
bought at such a price for an "inculpable inadvertence". So St. Paul
in Romans 8:35ff grows exultant: "Who then will separate us from
the love of Christ? Will it be tribulation? or being in a tight
spot? or hunger? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the
sword...? But in all these we are superconquerors because of Him
who loved us...I am certain that neither death, nor life, nor
angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor present things, nor
future things, nor strength, nor height, nor depth, nor any other
creature will be able to separate us from the love of God which is
in Christ Jesus Our Lord." Surely, not just an "inculpable
An objection on infallibly efficacious grace: Some will object
that Thomas says in I - II 112.3: "If it is the intention of God
who moves that man, whose heart He is moving, should receive grace,
he infallibly receives it." This means merely that when God so wills
He can so move that the effect is infallibly received. It does not
say that God lacks the ability to permit a man to impede grace. As
we saw above, Thomas said: "...this is in the power of free will,
to impede or not to impede the reception of grace." And the text of
2 Cor 6:1 makes clear also that we can cause grace to come in vain.
The real solution of St. Thomas, completed: How then put these things
together? The answer is not difficult. God has two modes of moving,
ordinary and extraordinary. In the ordinary mode, He does permit
man to impede, as St. Thomas says. In the extraordinary mode, God, by
transcendence, can prevent resistance from developing or cut
through it if it has already arisen, without altogether taking away
free will. But this is extraordinary. Because it is a reduction,
though not a cancellation, of His commitment to give free will. The
precise reason for calling it extraordinary will come out from the
In the ordinary mode: God sends me a grace which, with no help
from me, causes two things: it causes me to see something as good
(cf. 2 Cor 3:5), it makes me well disposed toward it.
At this juncture where I could reject the grace, if I merely
make no decision against it, then grace continues in its course,
and "works in me both the will and the doing (cf. Phil 2:13)."
However, in phase 2, after the omission of a contrary decision,
then two things happen in parallel: first, grace works in me both
the will and the doing, as we said; second, I am cooperating with
grace by virtue of power being received at the same instant from
Comments: 1) After grace has caused the two effects, I do not
have the power to make a decision to accept (Phil 2.13: it would be
a good decision). I do have the power to make no decision against
it. (Grace sustains me in nonrejecting, without forcing
nonrejection). To act that way has the same effect as a good
decision, but it operates in radically different way. By omission,
not by commission.
2) What we have proposed is basically the same as
Contra gentiles 3.159, which we quoted above: A man has in his power
to impede or not impede. Only they are deprived of grace who do
impede, just as if someone closes his eyes when the sun shines, he is
guilty of any harm that follows from closing his eyes.
In the extraordinary mode: God sends a grace, but the man resists
it or has made himself blind, by much sinning, so he does not even
perceive the good thought of what God wills and which grace tries
to make clear in his mind. Such a thought is needed to start the
process, but, according to 2 Cor 3:5: "We are not sufficient to
think anything of ourselves, as from ourselves, but our sufficiency
is from God."
In the ordinary mode, God would simply permit that resistance
to have its effect, but in the extraordinary mode, He forestalls
resistance or cancels it out. If He does this, that is, if He
forestalls resistance or cancels it out, then the first decision on
what is to happen does not come from the man as it would normally,
in accord with CG 3:159 which says a man can impede, with which
St. Paul agrees in 2 Cor 6:1: "We urge you not to receive the grace
of God in vain. Instead, in the extraordinary mode the decision on
whether it will be effective or not comes from God.
As we said above, if God forestalls the resistance or cancels
it out, then the first decision comes from God, not from the man.
This is in accordance with what Thomas said in I - II, 112.3: "If it
is the intention of God who moves that man, whose heart He is
moving, should receive grace, he infallibly receives it." But
that, being a diminution of freedom, has to be extraordinary, since
God normally observes His grant of free will. To routinely not
observe that grant would be self-contradiction for Him. God can
routinely do this.
Even in the ordinary mode, it is grace that is efficacious. At
the critical juncture which decides everything my contribution is
a metaphysical zero, the lack of blocking it.
When does He use this extraordinary mode?: Since He loves all
that is right and good, it seems He will use the extraordinary
mode only when someone other than the recipient - who would surely
not do it for himself - puts an extraordinary weight into the
scales of the objective order. That makes it suitable to grant an
extraordinary grace, by way of exception. The extraordinary weight
will be heroic penance and prayer, as in the case of St. Augustine's
If as the "Thomists" say all grace were infrustrable, then
there would be no point at all for Thomas to often appeal to
eternity to show how God can know future contingents -- God would
then know them merely by reason of His intention to cause them.
Philosophical view of the New Answers: The First Cause sends me a
motion which actualizes the potency of my mind to see something
as good, actualizes the potency of my will not as far as a
decision, but only to the point of a favorable attitude. When
these two things are in place, with no contribution from me, if I
do nothing against the grace (this is a metaphysical zero from
me) then the movement continues, and actualizes the potency of my
will to accept. At the same instant it gives me the power to
But if when I see the two actualizations in me (coming from
the movement from the First Cause) the fact does not please me -
then the actualization of my will (up to a favorable attitude)
collapses back to potency (I can collapse without help). Then The
First Cause will actualize the potency of my will to reject.
Corollary for spirituality: Imagine a ledger for me. On the credit
page I write the number for what I have contributed to a good act.
It is a metaphysical zero. On the debit page, the number for my
sins. So 1 Cor 4:7: "What have you that you have not received? And
if you have received it, why boast as if you had not received it?"
(As if you had made it yourself). Thus my self esteem goes to
zero, seeing I contribute only a zero. It sinks below zero, seeing my
sins. - But on the secondary level, I am wonderful: an adopted child
of God, with a share in the divine nature. So I am simultaneously
worse than worthless and marvelous.
This is how the Saints could say terrible things about
themselves, in all truth. Humility is the virtue that gets me to see
myself in myself, in relation to God and others, as I really am, and
then, to accept that at all levels of my being. Our explanation
above helps to show how this is possible. We added "at all levels
of my being" because it seems the Pharisee in the temple was
grabbing some credit for himself, in a not fully conscious way. He
began: "O God I give you thanks..." But without consciously fully
realizing it, he was subconsciously grabbing credit for
himself. Hence he was not justified, as the publican was.
The Scriptural framework presupposed in the above: There are two
sets of texts of St. Paul which seem to completely clash ( we
translate them in accord with canons 4 and 7 of the second
Council of Orange 529 AD. DS 374 & 377). Although a local
council, the special approbation of Boniface II made its canons
equal to those of a general council): 1) 2 Cor 3:5: "We are not
sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as from ourselves. Our
sufficiency is from God. Phil 2:13: "It is God who works
[produces] in you both the will and the doing." 2) 2 Cor 6:1: "We urge you
not to receive the grace of God in vain." (Many texts all over
Scripture imply the same, by asking that we turn to God, change our
One set seems to make us without freedom, like puppets on a
string; the other set shows that in some way when grace comes we
control the outcome.
The Church has never told us how to put the two together. We
have just one small help from the Council of Trent (DS 1554, Canon
4 on Justification). That canon says that under actual grace we
are not entirely passive.
When debates became acute in Spain, and people were becoming
disturbed, Clement VII in 1597 ordered both sides to send a
delegation to Rome to have a debate before a commission of
In March 1602 Clement VIII began to preside in person. In 1605
he very much wanted to bring the debate to a conclusion. So he
worked long into the night, and finally came up with a 15 point
summary of Augustine's doctrine on grace, intending to judge
Molina's proposals by it. That would have meant condemnation of
Molina and probable approval of the so-called Thomists. But
according to an article in 30 Days, No. 5 of 1994, on p.46, "But,
it seems barely had the bull of condemnation been drafted when, on
March 3,1605 Clement VIII died." Another Pope had died at the right
time centuries earlier. The General Council of Constantinople in
681 had drafted a condemnation of Pope Honorius for heresy - which
was untrue - Pope Agatho had intended to sign it. But he died
before being able. The next Pope, Leo II, having better judgment,
agreed only to sign a statement that Honorius had let our doctrine
become unclear, in his letters to Sergius, which did not teach the
Monothelite heresy, but left things fuzzy.
So it seems if there be need, God will take a Pope out of this
life if needed to keep him from teaching error.
At the end of the 10 years of debates ordered by Clement VIII
in 1597, Paul V closed the sessions in 1607. On the advice of
St. Francis de Sales, whom he consulted, the Pope refused to approve
either the "Thomist" or the Molinist solutions.
Appendix: the Molinist solution: Sufficient and efficacious grace
are the same. If I cooperate, it become efficacious. BUT: On any
given occasion, God is apt to have more than one kind of grace to
offer. We imagine a case in which He has graces a - b - c and d. He
knows if He sends a or b, I will cooperate, but if He sends c or d,
I will not. Question: How does He decide which kind to send?
Reply: For some He has a special benevolence. To them at least
commonly He sends the kind that will work for them. Otherwise, the
kind that will not.
We conclude: this is playing with a stacked deck again.