"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2


by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


In two works (1) published some years ago, we discussed the fundamentals of the teaching on predestination, but we did not come directly to grips with this famous question, and a separate study of it was felt necessary. The opportunity presented itself when we had to write on Predestination, Providence, and Premotion for the Dictionnaire de theologie, several articles that had previously been published on these problems in different reviews.(2) The purpose of the present work is to give substantially and in compact form the result of those labors. St. Augustine's phrase, "The predestination of the saints," reminds us that predestination to grace alone, which does not in fact bring us to eternal life, is not in the true sense predestination, since this latter includes the gift of final perseverance.

In the first part of this book our studies will be concerned with the meaning of predestination according to Scripture and the teaching of the Church. Then we shall consider the principal difficulties of the problem, the method to be followed, the classification of the theological systems, and the stand taken by St. Augustine.

In the second part we shall give the history of the various solutions of the great problem, insisting upon the teaching of St. Thomas, which we shall compare with the tentative solutions proposed by theologians of later date, and especially with the solutions proposed by the post-Tridentine theologians.

In the third part we shall treat of grace, especially of efficacious grace, by which the effects of predestination are realized in this life. These are vocation, justification, and merit. We shall make a special study of efficacious grace in its relation to sufficient grace that is offered and even given to all.

The scope of this book from beginning to end is the reconciliation of the two principles of divine predilection and possible salvation for all. On the one hand, "no one thing would be better than another, if God did not will greater good for one than for another."(3)   On the other hand, God never commands what is impossible, but makes it possible for all who have come to the use of reason to fulfil the precepts that are of obligation, at the time they are of obligation, when and as these are known by them.

The intimate reconciliation of these two principles is beyond our power of perception. Before our admission to the beatific vision, this would be impossible for any created intellect, either angelic or human. But we must attach equal importance to both principles. They counteract each other, and the history of theology as well as a thorough knowledge of the teaching of St. Thomas, enables us to estimate each principle at its true value, so that we vaguely foresee how infinite mercy, justice, and sovereign liberty are intimately reconciled in the eminence of the Deity, or of the intimate life of God.

It will serve a useful purpose to study these great questions again at the present time, all the more so as people today very often are not aware of the reality and value of divine grace; for without it we can do nothing in the way of saving our souls. The eternal reality of the problem studied in these pages becomes more strikingly evident from the light thrown on it by the following reflections taken from the fine book recently published by a friend of ours. (4) "The mystery of the incarnation," says St. Thomas, "is considered as a condescension of the fulness of the Godhead into human nature rather than as the promotion of human nature already existing, as it were, to the Godhead."(5)

"There are thus two movements in the Christian world. The movement by which it ascends to God is but the result of the movement by which God descends into it, and this is the first movement. And the more it yields to this movement by which God gives Himself to it, the more the movement is awakened in it by which it gives itself to God. For grace has a vivifying effect, and is not, as Luther thought, a mantle cast over a dead person. The creature, profoundly stirred to act, arises from sleep and becomes all vigilance and activity. In its final stage this activity is one of pre-eminence, of loving contemplation, and of superabundance. But at the same time it is also a moral, ascetic, practical, and militant activity. . . .

"A time came when man took this second movement for the first. In the age of anthropocentric humanism, which is Pelagianism in action, man forgot that God is the first Mover in the act of love, as He is the first Cause of being. Man acted as if the creature owed its advancement to itself and not to the operation of the divine plenitude in it. When these conditions prevailed, the Christian world,(6) laboring under the triple ferment of the Renaissance, of rationalism, and of its contrary Jansenist or Protestant tendency (which, as it seeks to nullify man's efforts as regards the supernatural, in the same degree seeks to exalt them in the natural order), was inevitably doomed to disintegration.

"Even though as Christians we remain truly loyal and obedient to all that has been revealed, since grace is something hidden, the movement by which we ascend to God, that is, our indispensable effort to attain spiritual perfection, may veil from our eyes the descending movement and the gift of uncreated love in us. Then is struck a discordant note, increasing in volume, between life as we Christians should live it and our consciousness and interpretation of it. Religion tends to become less and less existential; it is swept away by appearances, and we live but a superficial life. We shall always believe in grace, but we shall act as if it were but the pediment of an edifice, and as if, even without it, on the chance supposition that it did not operate, things would still be the same, because of precautions taken by human aids and conditions deemed to be sufficient. When such periods occur, which act as counter currents to grace, should we be astonished at their anemia?

"To be sure, the Middle Ages were not such a period. The enormous activity manifested during that period, though it may deceive the historian, did not deceive the period itself. The Middle Ages knew that this great and constructive work was but the mask cloaking an invisible mystery of love and humility. Those ages obeyed the law of the incarnation, which continued to accomplish its effects in them. . . . Medieval Christianity knew in a practical way that the Word came down and was made flesh, that the Holy Spirit, following this movement, also comes down. Medieval Christianity opened the world of knowledge to the stream which coursed through it gradually. Thus the world was enabled to know the order of wisdom, and for a time it experienced in itself the realization of the peaceful encounter and harmony of the three wisdoms: the infused, the theological, and the metaphysical."

We should like to set forth here the nature of the union of these three wisdoms, as described by St. Thomas apropos of one of the greatest problems, of this most exalted part of divine providence - predestination.

When we consider the disorder in Europe at the present time, and when we think of what has been happening in Russia and in Mexico for the past several years and of what has happened in Spain, it is good to recall our Lord's words about predestination, words that will infallibly be fulfilled in spite of all difficulties: "My sheep hear My voice. . . . I give them life everlasting, and they shall not perish for ever. . . . No one can snatch them out of the hand of My Father."(7) It occurs also at an appropriate time for us to remember that St. Paul sees in predestination a great motive for hope, when he writes: "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. . . . And whom He predestinated, them He also called. . . justified. . . and glorified."(8) St. Paul also says: "Blessed be God . . . who hath blessed us in heavenly places. As He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in His sight. . . unto the praise of the glory of His grace, in which He hath graced us in His beloved Son."(9)

Index Top


1. Dieu and Providence. Both have been published in English translation.

2. Cf. infra. p. 292, note 29.

3. Cf. St. Thomas, la, q.20, a.3.

4. J. Maritain, Science et Sagesse, pp. 43-47.

5. St. Thomas, IlIa. Q.34, a.1 ad 1um.

6. By this expression the author does not mean the Church, but Christendom; that is to say, the assembly of nations united officially even by their legislation to the Church, and it refers especially to the condition that prevailed in Europe before the coming of Protestantism.

7. John 10: 27-29.

8. Rom. 8: 28-30.

9. Eph. 1: 3-6.



"The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you."

Thomas á Kempis

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"The greatest glory we can give to God is to do his will in everything."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"When the devil has failed in making a man fall, he puts forward all his energies to create distrust between the penitent and the confessor, and so by little and little he gains his end at last."

St Philip Neri

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