Luther, Calvin, and Aquinas: On Grace
It has been said that neither Luther nor Calvin had read Thomas Aquinas; my proposal is that if they had, the Protestant Reformation might never have occured. Consider, for instance, how Aquinas (the explicator of RC doctrine) deals with grace in a way that fully accommodates Reformation concerns:What is grace?
a. Grace is God’s favor or love for us—this is the primordial meaning of grace. God’s free, non-required favor toward us or good will toward us. Like in human relations (we have favor toward one another).
b. Grace is a gift freely given (e.g., when we say “I do you this favor”), the gift that God gives as a result of this favor or love. Again, analogy to human relations (we give gifts to those whom we favor).
c. Grace is also the response to a gift freely given (e.g., when we give thanks for benefits received). The response that the receiver makes to the gift. Gratias agere: Latin for “to give thanks” (lit: “to do grace”).
• The three meanings are linked, in sequential order (110, 1, c):
• The second depends on the first: it is out of love for another whom one holds in favor that one freely bestows a gift upon that person.
• The third depends on the second: gratitude is due to gifts freely given.
3. Grace is uncreated in one sense and created in another.
a. Fundamentally, grace is uncreated because it is God himself. So God’s favor is uncreated because it is God, and God is uncreated.
b. But the effect or outcome of God’s favor (which is uncreated) is something created in the soul. It is the created form in the soul or the shape that human beings take on when they are conformed to Christ.
(E.g., consider the signet ring which impresses a seal in the wax. The soul is like the wax, and God is like the ring. When the ring impresses itself in the wax, the wax takes on the shape of the ring. Created grace is not the wax or the ring but the shape or indentation that the ring makes in the wax—which is not a barrier to the conformity of the soul to God but precisely is the conformity of the soul to God.
4. There are two kinds of grace:
• habitual grace
• and actual grace or the grace that is auxilium (“aid” or “help”)
a. habitual grace (or dispositional grace): a habit or steady disposition to act in a certain way. It adds power to the person, thus rendering possible acts of a certain kind. By habitual grace, God imparts to humans in the very depths of the soul a form or shape on their souls (i.e., the shape of Christ). To anticipate a little bit, habitual grace is conformity to Christ, the soul’s union with Christ by which the soul itself in its deepest recesses takes on the shape of Christ.
b. actual grace / grace that is auxilium: God’s active involvement in human acting, or God’s direct action on the human will. A power is needed for an action, and yet a power does not reduce itself to an act. Rather, something already in act must reduce the potential to act. For Aquinas, when talking about the movement of rational creatures to God as their end, this something in act is God. God reduces the potential constituted by habitual grace, the added endowment of the person, to act, by auxilium.
5. In both habitual grace and actual grace, when grace is understood to mean the gracious moving by which God moves us to meritorious good, then grace is appropriately divided into operative and co-operative grace.
• operative grace: “An operation which is part of an effect is attributed to the mover, not to the thing moved. The operation is therefore attributed to God when God is the sole mover, and then the mind is moved but not the mover” (I-II, 111, 2, c).
• co-operative grace: “when the soul is not only moved but also a mover, the operation is attributed to the soul as well as to God” (I-II, 111, 2, c).
In this case there is a twofold action within us:
1. the inward action of the will, in which the will is moved by God (especially when a will which previously willed evil begins to will good) = operative grace.
2. the outward action, in which operation is attributed to the will, since it is commanded by the will = co-operative grace.
…God helps us even in outward actions, by outwardly providing the capacity to act as well as inwardly strengthening the will to act.
Grace is necessary to know any truth and to do any good; there is a pervasive necessity of God’s grace. In order to know any truth and do any good, we need God to move us. Every human act, insofar as there is goodness in it, is the gift of grace, the result of God’s free action in our life. (This would be true even without sin. For Aquinas, there is a deep need for grace in even the pre-fallen state of human nature. Even in our created original state we would need grace in order to know any truth and to do any good.)
God is the efficient cause of truth and goodness in our actions, minds, and wills. A man can do nothing unless he is moved by God (I-II.109.7 ad 2).
Grace is also necessary to attain the knowledge of God in which salvation consists. We are created desiring by nature an end which we cannot reach by nature. The only way we can reach it is by the gracious elevation of our nature beyond its natural capacities. Grace is absolutely essential for the successful completion of the journey to God: it overcomes the obstacles that separate people from the transcendent end that is God, and renders them fit for their direct encounter with God in the next life.
HT: My classmate KL.