(Cont. from the last issue of the S.B.)

Again in Question 23, Article 3, reply objection 1, Summa Theological, we read: “God loves all creatures and all men, inasmuch as He wishes them all some good; but He does not wish every good to them all. So far, therefore, as He does not wish this particular good—namely, eternal life—He is said to hate or reprobate them.”

In support of both the first, and second contentions we read in Article 7 of Question 23, Summa Theol. I:

“Reply obj. 3. The good that is proportionate to the common state of nature is to be found in the majority; and is wanting in the minority. Thus it is clear that the majority of men have a sufficient knowledge for the guidance of life; and those who have not this knowledge are said to be foolish or half- witted; but they who attain to a profound knowledge of things intelligible are a very small minority in respect to the rest. Since their eternal happiness, consisting in the vision of God, exceeds the common state of nature, and especially in so far as this is deprived of grace through the corruption original sin, those who are saved are in the minority. In this especially, however, appears the mercy of God, that He has chosen some for that salvation, from which very many in accordance with the common course and tendency of nature fall short.”

Taking these two teachings of Aquinas together, for they are indeed closely bound, what proper observations are allowed?

First of all, Thomas holds rather firmly, especially in the “Summa Theoiogica,” that the maxi in puris naturalibus can never merit grace. However, even this proposition is not maintained strictly in his Libri Sententiarum, where he speaks of “preparation for grace.” The man in puris naturalibus has only an “aptitude” for knowing and loving God, but that aptitude he does most certainly have, according to Thomas.

In the second place, it must be noted that the man in puris naturalibus is a good man, even though he lacks grace. This teaching is very prominent in both his “Tabri Sententiarum,” in the works of his transition period, and in the “Summa.” But he does make distinction between natural and super natural good. For example, in the “Libri Sententiarum,” II D 28, Thomas answers the triple question, “Whether man can do any good without grace, and whether without grace he can avoid sin and fulfill God’s commandments?” To the first question he answers, “Man through a free will is able to do both good and evil, not however in a meritorious act without the habitude of grace.” To the second, namely, “utrum homo sine gratia possit vitare peccatum,” he answers that man has also after the fall a free choice and pursuit of good and evil, wherein the potentiality of avoiding sin, at least the mortal sins, lies. To the third question he answers that the natural man can certainly fulfill the law of God in so far as the “substance of the work is concerned,” although not according to the intention of the Lawgiver.

The same contention is made in the “Summa Th.” I, qu. 28, art. 1, albeit in a somewhat different form: “The end towards which created things are directed by God is twofold; one which exceeds all proportion and faculty of created nature; and this end is life eternal, that consists in seeing God which is above the nature of every creature, as shown above. The other end, however, is proportionate to created nature, to which end created being can attain according to the power of its nature.”

In the third place, Thomas appears at times to place the teaching of God’s goodness to all men behind this ability of the natural man to do good. This is evident when the Roman Catholic philosopher answers the question, “Whether man by himself is able to prepare himself for grace without some grace?” (See “Libri Sententiarum”). It is further evident in Thomas’ discussions in the “Summa Th.”, questions 4, 5, 6, on whether the creature can attain at all to God’s perfections. In the “Summa”, however, man’s goodness is generally attributed to his nature, wherewith he was created, and the philosopher makes no further mention of any primary cause of man’s goodness.

What conclusions are warranted now as to Thomas’s teachings on common grace? First of all, the man in puris naturalibus as pronounced by Aquinas, and the man possessed of common grace as he is conjured up by the Christian Reformed Churches, are very much alike. The man who is capable of civic righteousness differs little if any from the man who can fulfill the Law of God “as far as the substance of the work is concerned”; nor does the man who is restrained in his sin by an operation (not saving) of the Holy Ghost upon his heart differ much from the man who can avoid the mortal sins.

In the second place, it is evident that the man in puris naturalibus and the common grace man are arrived at by different means. While Thomas denies completely that man became totally corrupt through the fall, the exponents of common grace agree that the first man would have been catapulted into deepest corruption, and even claim that man would have changed into a devil, had not God intervened with His common grace. The results of the two teachings are the same, but the means of arriving at the results differ, at least to some extent.

In the third place, we must observe the complete identity between the fundamental thesis of the first point of 1924 and Thomas’s teaching of a favorable attitude of God towards all men.

Fourthly, one cannot fail to note how similar the two heresies are when their mutual purposelessness (in so far as the man in puris naturalibus and the object of common grace themselves are concerned) is considered. Both the man in puris naturalibus and the common grace man are incapable of advancing one step from their respective positions. Thomas, however, carries his theory to its logical end, doing violence to the doctrine of predestination by reducing, with his strong emphasis upon the natural and supernatural, the gulf between the elect and the reprobate to a mere difference of degree, and wiping out the sharp antitheses which mark the Scriptural conception from Paul through Augustine and Calvin even to the present time. This at least is in favor of Thomas, that he is honest, while the exponents of common grace refuse to admit the logical end of their heresy.

Finally, it may be said from an epistemological point of view that those who accuse us of being hard- headed logicians and rationalists might well take stock of the class in which they are placed by their similarity to Aquinas, the “Christian Aristotle”.

In fine, what briefly, is the Scriptural and Reformed teaching on this subject?

  1. God created man in His own image. Gen. 1:26, 27.
  2. The man created in God’s image was a rational-moral creature. This is often referred to as the formal aspect of the image of God; also as man’s adaptability to the image of God. This rational-moral nature man retained after the fall, although it was no longer adaptable to the image of God.
  3. The material aspect of the image of God consists in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. These were not dona superaddita, however, for the image of God was very really part of the being of man in the state of rectitude. Col. 3:10, Eph. 4:24.
  4. Man was created with a free will, not so that he was independently free, nor yet free in the highest sense, for he was yet free to sin, also.
  5. Without entering detailedly into the nature of sill, suffice it to say that sin presupposed a rational-moral being through which it could come to manifestation, and in which it can work as an active lack (privatio actuosa). Rom. 8:7, Gal. 5:17.
  6. The result of sin is twofold: in the first place, man died the spiritual death. He not only lost God’s image but the true knowledge became the lie, the righteousness became unrighteousness, the holiness became unholiness. Man became prophet, priest, and king of the devil. The ethical working of his nature became nothing else than a working of death. And if we speak of remnants of God’s image in man, we understand only that man in his sin can still see that he was created in (but lost irrevocably), and is yet commanded to live in righteousness, truth, and holiness. Ps. 14, 53, Rom. 3:9-18, Rom. 5:12ff., and Rom. 8:5-8, and Eph. 2:1-3.

In the second place, man died the physical death, so that although death did not immediately take him, the power of death did take hold on all his members so that his life became “nothing but a continual death.” And this temporal death is the beginning of eternal death, that is, the relation of the rational-moral man became consistently and everlastingly a relation of wrath in place of love.

This and this only is the teaching of Scripture on this score; no man in puris naturalibus; no common grace; only the sharp antitheses of good and evil, sin and grace, election and reprobation, love and wrath, the Church and the world, salvation and damnation.

Editor’s Note: This article was one of several papers delivered at the meetings of the philosophy club of our seminary during the past year. More will appear in the future, D.V.