REASONS FOR CENTURIES-OLD IMPASSE
by Fr. William G. Most
Was Nestorius a Nestorian? The article on "Nestorianism" in
Encyclopedia of Early Christianity insists he was not a Nestorian.
So now we ask: Was St. Thomas a Thomist? Our answer is no for
FIRST REASON: St. Thomas follows excellent theological method. In
approaching the problem of predestination, he looked for more than
one starting point, and seemed to have found two. To visualize it,
we imagine him standing on the perimeter of a circle. He finds two
points from each of which he hopes to project a line to hit the
center, the correct answer.
The two points he found were these:
1) 1 Timothy 2:4: "God wills all men to be saved." He did this
especially in Contra gentiles 3:159 ff, though there are echoes of
it also in his commentary on Romans... Unlike others, who we will
consider presently, he accepted this clear truth of Scripture and
did not try to distort it into meaning the opposite.
2) Romans 8:29 ff: He inherited from St. Augustine the latter's
exegesis of Romans 8:29 ff. This included what Augustine called the
theory, in which all men form one damned and
damnable mass, which God could throw into hell without waiting for
anyone to sin personally. Augustine derived this from a purely
allegorical reading of Romans 9, which speaks of the mass of clay
from which the potter can make whatsoever he wills, a vessel of
honor or of dishonor. Again, there are echoes of this idea in
St. Thomas' commentary on Romans.
Thomas' attempt at a synthesis of the two points:
1) In his Commentary on Romans, Chapter 8, lessons 1,2,3 we find
indications of both tendencies:
a) Tendency to the view: "Since all men because
of the sin of the first parents are born exposed to damnation,
those whom God frees through His grace, He frees out of mercy
alone. And so He is merciful to certain ones whom He delivers; but
to certain ones He is just, whom He does not deliver."
b) Tendency to the opposite view:"...foresight of sins can be
some reason for reprobation... inasmuch as God proposes to punish
the wicked for sins which they have of themselves, not from God, but
He proposes to reward the just because of merits, which they do not
have of themselves. Osee, 13:9:' Your ruin is from yourself, Israel;
only in me is your help.' ... Those whom He hardens, earn that they
be hardened by Him."
2) In 3.159,161,163:
a) Universal salvific will in general: CG 159: "They alone
are deprived of grace who set up in themselves an impediment to
grace, just as when the sun shines on the world, he deserves blame
who shuts his eyes, if any evil comes thereby even though he could
not see without having the light of the sun." COMMENT: A broad
statement: God offers help to all; only they do not get it who shut
themselves off from it.
b) : CG 163: "...some by the divine working are
directed to their ultimate end, being helped by grace, but others,
deserted by the help of grace, fail to reach the ultimate end.
Because all things that God does are provided and ordained from
eternity by His wisdom, it is necessary that the difference of men
mentioned be ordained by God from eternity....Those whom He planned
from eternity that He would not give grace, He is said to have
reprobated or to have hated, according to what is said in Malachi
1:2,3: 'I have loved Jacob, but hated Esau.'" COMMENT: Here the
difference in men is not that they voluntarily close or do not
close their eyes: it is something God planned for from eternity. He
hated some as He hated Esau.
3) Conclusion on the method of St. Thomas:
He had, as we said, two starting points, the salvific will,
and Augustine's misunderstanding of Romans. Standing, as it were on
the rim of the circle, Thomas began to draw a line from each point.
But before going all the way, he pulled back, seeing that the lines
would not meet.
St. Thomas knew that at least part of this view of Augustine
was an error. For in q. 5. a. 3, ad 4: "The infants [who die
without baptism] are separated from God perpetually, in regard to
the loss of glory, which they do not know, but not in regard to
participation in natural goods, which they do know....That which
they have through nature, they possess without pain." In contrast,
Augustine, as his theory really required, held for the
positive damnation of infants: 93. Even he admitted
much discomfort with his conclusion, in Epistle 166.6.126: "But when
we come to the punishment of little ones, believe me, I am caught
in great difficulty, nor can I find at all what I should answer."
Centuries later Pope Pius IX was to confirm the position of Thomas
in regard to the lack of pain. In (DS
2866): "God...in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means
allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishment who does not
have the guilt of voluntary fault."
SECOND REASON: St. Thomas never denied the universal salvific will.
1)But the founder of the "Thomist" system, Domingo Banez wrote
( 1584. In I.19,6.col. 363): "Quia non est in Deo
formaliter talis voluntas, necessse est quod sit eminenter, cum
Deus sit causa illius in sanctis." That is: God does not really
will all to be saved: He just causes us to will that.
This is not too strange, since the system of Banez is
essentially the same as that of St. Augustine, who clearly denied
the salvific will:
a) 103: "when we hear and read in the sacred
Scriptures that He wills all men to be saved...we must...so
understand [it] as if it were said that no man is saved except whom
He wants [to be saved]....Or certainly it was so said...not that
there is no man whom He is unwilling to have saved, He who was
unwilling to perform the wonders of miracles among those whom He
says would have done penance if He had done them; but in such a way
that we understand 'all men' to mean the whole human race,
distributed into various categories: kings, private citizens,
nobles, ordinary men, lofty, lowly, learned, unlearned...."
b) 14.44: " And that which is written
that 'He wills all men to be saved,' and yet not all are saved, can
be understood in many ways, of which we have mentioned some in
other works, but I shall give one here. It is said in such a
way...that all the predestined are meant; for the whole human race
is in them."
c) Ibid 25.47: "That 'God wills all men to be saved' can be
understood also in this way: that He causes us to wish [that all
men be saved]...."
d) Epistle 217,5.19: "..and so that which is said 'God wills
all men to be saved' though He is unwilling that so many be saved,
is said for this reason: that all who are saved, are not saved
except by His will."
COMMENTS: Here are his solutions: 1)"All" means "some out of
every category of men." 2)No one is saved unless God wills it.
3)All the predestined. 4)God causes us to will that all be saved."
But this is a sad denial of the explicit teaching of
Scripture. His fourth reasoning is the same as that of Banez. His
result is the same as that of Banez.
All who follow Banez fail to see an equation: To love is to
will good to another for the other's sake (Cf. 1-11 26.4). Therefore
when God says He wills someone to be saved, it is the same as
saying He loves that one. If there is anyone He does not will to be
saved, He does not love that one. So to deny the salvific will is
to deny God's love. But God has proved His love: Romans 5:8.
St. Augustine himself at least five times implied the opposite
of the theory. Here are two examples: In LXXXII. 68.5": "For not all who were called willed to
come to that dinner which as the Lord says in the Gospel was
prepared, nor would they who came have been able to come if they
had not been called. And no neither should they who came attribute
[it] to themselves, for they came, being called; nor should those
who were unwilling to come attribute [it] to anyone but themselves,
for in order that they might come, they were called in free will."
Similarly in 2.8: "Felix said: You
call Manichaeus cruel for saying these things. What do we say about
Christ who said: Go into eternal fire? Augustine said: He said this
to sinners. Felix said: These sinners - why were not they purified?
Augustine said: Because they did not will [it]. Felix said: Because
they did not will it - did you say that? Augustine said: Yes, I
said it, because they did not will it."
Now Augustine's theory is called He meant that
by original sin all our race became a
God willed to display mercy and justice. To display mercy, He
rescues a small percent. To display justice, the rest go to hell,
to show that all should have gone to hell. But in the two quotes
just given, the basic reason for their loss is not God's desertion,
but man's desertion.
God does not love anyone in Augustine's view. for
even though He does will salvation to a small percent, He wills it
not for their sake, but just to make a point. But to love is to
will good to another for the other's sake.
2) Those who do not explicitly deny the salvific will propose
a position which is almost the same. They hold that actual grace,
which is needed for salvation, may be either sufficient or
efficacious. Sufficient grace they say gives the full power of
doing good, but it infallible that a man will not do good with it.
The reason is that the application of that sufficient grace is
still needed: without that application, it is metaphysically
impossible to have an actualization of the grace. Now Garrigou-
Lagrange (De gratia, Turin 1945, p. 63, note 2) wrote:"...a person is
not able by himself alone to not place an obstacle [to sufficient
grace]". This is even clearer in a later Thomist, P. Lumbreras O.P.,
(De gratia, Rome 1946, pp. 95-96, citing John of St. Thomas I -II,
q.111. disp. 14. a.1. n.12): "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, yet 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, since the consideration is for the sake of the judgment, and
the judgment for the sake of the work, that is, the consent - God
can refuse a man efficacious grace.'"
Theologians often distinguish between antecedent and
consequent will in God. Antecedently, that is, in general, He wills
all to be saved; but consequently, that is, in view of their sins,
He may no longer will to save the man. If we express this view of
Lumbreras and John of St. Thomas just cited in those terms, then we
would have God saying, "I would like this man to be saved
[antecedent will], but not if he has an inculpable inconsideration
So we must ask: in this view, how strong is God's will to save
if it can refuse the indispensable means of salvation for something
that is no fault at all in the man? We reply: It is so feeble as to
be almost nonexistent.
A Scriptural approach, picking up where Thomas left off:
To complete the work he so well started by St. Thomas, we need
1) Remove the obstacle that held him back, i.e, Augustine's
2) Complete the line he started in CG 159 but did not complete;
3) Put together the two positions that are implied.
1) FIRST STEP: Complete the rejection of which
St. Thomas had begun. As we saw above, Thomas himself saw a truth
that eluded Augustine, that infants who die without baptism do not
go to hell. We saw that that bothered Augustine himself very much.
Yet his really required that conclusion. St. Thomas
courageously rejected that mistake.
He still needed to correct the other part of Augustine's
misunderstanding. St. Thomas was centuries early for that, for
Scripture studies had not yet developed far enough then. But today
they have. Pere Lagrange, in his great commentary on Romans,
supplies what was lacking. He showed that the texts of Scripture on
which both sides had relied in the debates were all
taken out of context. Scripture never explicitly speaks of
predestination to heaven or reprobation to hell. The predestination
it speaks of, according to Pere Lagrange, is always and only a
predestination to full membership in the people of God, the Church.
Now that we know this, we can get past the obstacle that stopped
Thomas. (Also, instead of using Scripture, their views were
predetermined by that they thought was metaphysics).
2) SECOND STEP: Do not reject, but accept the universal salvific
Unlike Banez and St. Augustine, St. Thomas never denied the
salvific will. Rather, he wanted to work out from it to reach the
true answer, but was hindered by the obstacle we have just seen. We
will not deny that salvific will either. We can fill in on it with
the help of an analysis of love.
Thomas said: Very true. How can
we measure it? St. Paul says in Romans 5:8: "God has proved His
love." If anyone loves another, which means to will the good and
well-being of another for the other's sake, as Thomas said: and if someone starts out to bring well-
being and happiness to another, but a small obstacle can stop him,
that love is weak. If it takes a great obstacle to stop him, the
love is great. But if even an immense obstacle will not stop him
then that love is immense, beyond our ability to measure. Such was
the love of the Father, sending His Son to a horrible death.
This is implied when St. Paul said that the Father will not
refuse to give us what that Son so dearly paid for. In Romans 8:31-
32: "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who
is against us? He even did not spare His own Son, but handed Him
over for us all - how will He not also give us all things with
Him?" In other words: The Father has already given His own Son to
a terrible death out of love of us - for And here the good He wills us is a share in the divine
nature (2 Peter 1:4). After all is bought an paid for, He
definitely cannot, will not stop giving out what that Son so dearly
paid for. Surely an inculpable inadvertence would not make Him
decide to let a soul go to hell!.
St. Paul continues (8:33-36): "Who will bring a charge against
God's chosen ones? Will it be God who makes them just? Who is there
who will condemn them? Will it be Christ Jesus who died, who even
rose, who is at the right hand of God, who even intercedes for us?"
Who are the chosen ones of God? They are those mentioned in
8:29, those whom He has called to be members of Christ. Who are
they? In 1 Tim 2:4 "God wills all men to be saved, and to come to
the knowledge of the truth." Really the whole of chapter 8 (and 9-
11 also) is about the Church considered just in itself as a fail-
safe means of bringing eternal happiness. We can fail it, but it
cannot ail us, according to Romans 8:9: "If anyone does not have
the Spirit of Christ, He does not belong to Christ." But He offers
that Spirit to all, for He wills that all should come to the
knowledge of the truth. As Thomas said, when the sun shines, only
they are deprived who close their eyes to the light. Further, if
one follows the Spirit of Christ, then: "We are heirs [of the
Father] together with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him, so
we may also be glorified with Him."
Then Paul gets 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 super-conquerers because of Him who loved
Finally Paul concludes: "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
So the fact that the Father has accepted the infinite price of
redemption, means He owes it to Himself to offer to all every grace
and forgiveness. It is only if as Thomas says, we close our eyes to
the light that we shall not have it.
But there is more. We could put this in legal language and say
that Christ has generated an infinite title to forgiveness and
grace for our race as a whole.
But even more: St. Paul in Gal 2:20 says: "He loved me, and
gave Himself for me." Was that a special privilege for Paul, a
special person? No, Vatican II, Church in Modern World #22 wrote:
"Each one of us can say with the Apostle: the Son of God loved me,
and gave Himself for me." So - a staggering perspective -there is
an infinite objective title to forgiveness and grace for each
individual man! No mere inculpable inadvertence could cancel all
Other Fathers of the Church: Do they agree with Thomas as we have
developed his thought? Very definitely yes, the Eastern Fathers are
absolutely unanimous in teaching that there is no reprobation, not
even negative, without our own fault - without our closing our eyes
to the light.
What of the Western Fathers? Absolutely the same: Jerome,
Ambrose, Hilary and others. After Augustine made his slip what
happened? Authors today often say that St. Prosper of Aquitaine was
the great defender of the theory. But they have not
read Prosper. In the first God deserts a man, then
the man deserts God. But Prosper wrote three times ( 3) : "For this reason they were not
predestined, because they were foreseen as going to be such as a
result of voluntary transgression.... They were not deserted by God
so that they deserted God; but they deserted and were deserted."
THIRD STEP: Combine the two insights: Here we use the most basic
analogy of the Gospels, the Father analogy. That can be used in a
foolish sentimental way so as to say: He is so good He would not
send anyone to hell. Thomas knew that was not true. He did know the
love of the Father.
Now we can distinguish three steps - logical momenta, not
chronological periods --
1) The Father wills all men to be saved. This is real, as we
have seen. Thomas accepted it in spite of the denials of Augustine
2) Notice that the children in a family do not think they must
help around the house, cut the grass, dry dishes etc. so as to get
the love and care of their Father (and Mother). They know they get
that not because they are good, but because their parents are good;
3) But the children also know that if they are bad, they can be
punished. And if this goes on far, they can sense they might be
thrown out of the home, be disinherited.
It is the same with our Father in Heaven. His Son said: "If
you do not become like little children, you will not enter the
mansions of the Father in Heaven. St. Paul, who is so often
misunderstood - witness 2 Peter 3:16 on that - when he preached:
"You are free from the law", meant merely that we do not have to
earn a place in our Father's house. We get that by inheritance (Rom
8:17): "We are heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, provided we
suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him." And in
Romans 6:23 Paul compactly made the needed distinction: "The wages
[what we earn] of sin is death; the free gift [what we do not earn]
of God is eternal life". In other words as a student of mine long
ago said: "Salvation, you can't earn it, but you can blow it."
What is this in more technical language?: 1) predestination to
the Father's mansions without having earned it: it is an
inheritance. Both St. Thomas and St. Augustine knew this and
insisted on it. 2) Reprobation only in view of demerits. Absolutely
all the Fathers of the East, and all those of the West except
Augustine saw this. And the other Western Fathers agreed with the
We could express this in other language. There are three
logical momenta in God's decrees:
1) He wills all to be saved - - very strong, very genuine
2) He looks to see who resists His graces both gravely and
persistently, so persistently that the man throws away the only
thing that could have saved him. With regrets, the Father decrees
to let him go: negative reprobation; 3) All not discarded in step 2
are positively predestined. But it is not because of merits, which
have not even been mentioned. Nor is it even because of the lack of
persistent resistance - no, there is something more basic: this is
what the Father has wanted all along, and these souls are not
stopping Him from carrying out His will.
We seem then, to have completed the work so well begun by
Thomas. He did indeed well. We should recognize that fact, and not
blame him for the mistake of those who later mistakenly tried to
[As we said, the chief defect in old exegesis was ignoring the
context. So all the early writers thought, for example, that the
parable of the dinner referred to predestination to heaven. In
context, it did not mean that at all. It meant all the Jews were
invited to the messianic kingdom and banquet. Most of them were
refusing. Many are called, few are chosen.]
[Discard errors of Augustine, as St. Thomas had already begun to
do. Now with the help of the work of Pere Lagrange, in his
commentary on Romans, using correct exegetical methods, we can
dismiss the remainder of the error. This frees us up to extend the
line Thomas had started using 1 Tim 2:4. The chief reason the
debates proved futile was that all parties normally
ignored scriptural context. In addition, they tried to solve many
things by metaphysics. Metaphysics is very good, but we must not
ask it to do what it can never do, to determine an answer in which
a free decision of God or man is a factor.]