"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.



The teaching of the Church on this subject was formulated on the one hand against Pelagianism, and on the other against predestinarianism, Protestantism, and Jansenism.


The meaning and scope of the declarations of the Church against Pelagianism and Semipelagianism are evident, if we bear in mind the principles of these condemned doctrines and the bearing they have on predestination.

1) The Pelagians held that grace is not necessary for the observance of the precepts of the Christian law, but merely for greater facility in their observance, and that by our naturally good works we may merit the first grace. Hence they said the foreknowledge of good works, whether natural or supernatural, is the cause of predestination. Pelagianism was first condemned in the two councils of Carthage and Milevi (416). It was afterward condemned in the Council of Carthage held in 418, but the canons of this council have been assigned by mistake to the Second Council of Milevi. Canon 6 especially has in mind this false teaching, that "without grace we can keep the commandments. . . and that grace is not necessary except for making it easier to keep them."

2) The Semipelagians, as we see from the letters of SS. Prosper and Hilary to St. Augustine, admitted: (1) that man does not need grace for that beginning of faith and good will spoken of as the "beginning of salvation," and that he can persevere until death without any special help; (2) that God wills equally the salvation of all, although special graces are granted to some privileged souls; (3) consequently predestination is identical with the foreknowledge of the beginning of salvation and of merits by which man perseveres in doing good without any special help; negative reprobation is identical with the foreknowledge of demerits. Thus predestination and negative reprobation follow human election, whether this be good or bad.

Such an interpretation eliminates the element of mystery in predestination spoken of by St. Paul. God is not the author but merely the spectator of that which distinguishes the elect from the rest of mankind. The elect are not loved and helped more by God.

Concerning children who die before the age of reason, the Semipelagians said that God predestines or reprobates them, foreseeing the good or bad acts they would have performed if they had lived longer. That means a foreknowledge of the conditionally free acts of the future or of the futuribilia, previous to any divine decree. This reminds us of the theory of the scientia media, which was proposed later by Molina. The opponents of this doctrine reply that such an interpretation would mean that children are marked for reprobation on account of sins they did not commit.

Against these principles, St. Augustine, especially in his writings toward the end of his life(1), shows from the testimony of Holy Scripture that: (1) man cannot, without a special and gratuitous grace, have the "beginning of salvation," and that he cannot persevere until the end without a special and gratuitous grace; (2) that the elect, as their name indicates, are loved more and helped more, and that the divine election is therefore previous to foreseen merits, which are the result of grace; (3) that God does not will equally the salvation of all.

The Council of Orange (529), in condemning Semipelagianism, took many of its formulas from the writings of St. Augustine and St. Prosper. All historians agree that it disapproved of the Semipelagian denials of the gratuitousness of grace and of its necessity for the beginning of salvation and for final perseverance.(2)

That is the minimum and it is admitted by all. But many historians and theologians, among whom are the Thomists and Augustinians, considering the obvious sense of the terms employed by the Second Council of Orange and of the various statements of St. Paul, see therein an additional affirmation of the intrinsic efficacy of grace, presupposed by the principle of predilection.

We shall return to this point. But in any case, from this minimum admitted by all we get three propositions to which all Catholic theologians subscribe. They are: (1) Predestination to the first grace is not because God foresaw our naturally good works, nor is the beginning of salutary acts due to natural causes; (2) predestination to glory is not because God foresaw we would continue in the performance of supernaturally meritorious acts apart from the special gift of final perseverance; (3) complete predestination, in so far as it comprises the whole series of graces from the first up to glorification, is gratuitous or previous to foreseen merits. These three propositions are admitted by all Catholic theologians. But Thomists and Augustinians on the one hand, and Molinists and congruists on the other, differ in their interpretation of them.

a) The first proposition which concerns the beginning of salvation is understood by Molina, in accordance with his principle, as meaning that "whenever the free will by its own natural powers attempts to do what it can, God bestows the prevenient grace, on account of Christ's merits."(3) The Thomists and Augustinians understand this proposition in a different sense, so that it reads: To the man who does what he can with the help of actual grace, God does not refuse habitual grace. This safeguards much better the gratuity of both actual and habitual graces, as defined by the Council of Orange. (4)

b) The second proposition, which concerns final perseverance, is understood by Molinists and congruists as meaning that the actual grace of final perseverance is extrinsically efficacious inasmuch as our consent is foreseen by means of the scientia media. On the contrary, Thomists and Augustinians understand this grace to be intrinsically efficacious; and this seems to be far more in agreement with the tenor of canon ten of the Council of Orange which reads: "God's help is always to be sought even for the regenerated and holy, that they may come to a happy end, or that they may continue in the performance of good works." (5) This canon summarizes the teaching of St. Prosper.(6) Now St. Prosper follows St. Augustine, who considers the great grace of final perseverance as belonging properly to the elect, and as efficacious of itself. "It is a grace," he says, "that is spurned by no one whose heart is hardened, and it is therefore given that the hardness of heart may first be eliminated." (7) Molina, admitting his departure from the teaching of St. Augustine, in opposition to him says: "It may happen that two persons receive in an equal degree the interior grace of vocation; one of them of his own freewill is converted, and the other remains an infidel. It may even happen that one who receives a far greater prevenient grace when called, of his own free will is not converted, and another, who receives a far less grace, is converted."(8) It seems difficult to reconcile this with what the Council of Trent affirms of the great gift of final perseverance, stating that it is a "gift which cannot be obtained from any other than from Him who is able to establish him who standeth (9) that he stand perseveringly, and to restore him who falleth." (10) All these expressions seem to denote a grace that is efficacious of itself and not because of our foreseen consent. The Council of Trent, too, calls this grace "that great and special gift of final perseverance." (11) It is hard to see how this can finally be construed as a case of being placed in favorable circumstances in which God foresaw that of two persons who receive equal help from Him, one would persevere, and the other would not. Is not any devaluation of God's gift a corresponding devaluation of the mystery?

The Council of Trent also says: "No one, moreover, so long as he is in this mortal life, ought so far to presume as regards the secret mystery of divine predestination as to determine for certain that he is assuredly among the number of the predestined; as if it were true that he who is justified either cannot sin any more, or, if he do sin, that he ought to promise himself an assured repentance. For except by special revelation it cannot he known whom God hath chosen unto Himself."(12)

In favor of the Augustinian and Thomist doctrine, the following argument has also in all fairness been brought forward that, according to the Council of Trent, the grace of final perseverance cannot be merited, at least de condigno; for the council states that the just man can merit eternal life, "provided he die in the state of grace."(13) Now this latter cannot be merited, for the state of grace and continuation in the same, since these are the principle of merit, cannot be merited. From this it follows that predestination to the grace of final perseverance, by which one is ultimately disposed for heavenly glory, is not because of foreseen merits. Therefore predestination to heavenly glory, which is included in the former, is also gratuitous.

If then we wish to affirm that predestination to heavenly glory is the result of foreseen merits, we must add what would seem to nullify this affirmation and say: provided that God gratuitously maintains us in the possession of these merits until death. As a matter of fact, Molina says, true to his principle - and it is the indispensable minimum - provided that God, according to His entirely gratuitous good pleasure, wills to place man in those circumstances in which He foresees by His scientia media that this man will persevere. From this and from his pact theory concerning the beginning.of salvation,(14) Molinism avoids Semipelagianism; the Thomists, however, think it seems to depreciate the first grace and that great and special gift of final perseverance.

c) The third proposition. In this last case we are concerned with complete predestination, which includes the whole series of graces. All theologians are unanimous in saying against the Semipelagians, that this is gratuitous or previous to foreseen merits. Molina admits it, but he adds: "To the foreknowledge which is included in predestination on the part of the intellect, there is attached the condition of the use of free will without which there would have been no preordaining by God."(15) Contrary to this, Augustinians and Thomists understand complete predestination as it is explained by St. Thomas: "It is impossible that the whole of the effect of predestination in general should have any cause as coming from us; because whatsoever is in man disposing him toward salvation, is all included under the effect of predestination; even the preparation for grace."(16) Thus even the free determination disposing one toward salvation is entirely included in the effect of predestination. "There is no distinction," says St. Thomas, "between what flows from free will, and what is of predestination; as there is no distinction between what flows from a secondary cause and from a first cause."(17)

It is clear that this way of interpreting complete predestination presupposes the intrinsic efficacy of the divine decrees and of grace. It also includes, as a natural consequence, the absolute validity of the principle of predilection; whereas these are not presupposed in the interpretation given by Molinists and congruists. Now St. Thomas is apparently persuaded that the proposition "whatsoever is in man disposing him toward salvation, is all included under the effect of predestination," as well as the intrinsic efficacy of grace and the principle of predilection express the teaching of St. Augustine and of the Second Council of Orange. We shall leave this for the reader to judge, and all that we shall do is to quote the principal canons of this council.

The whole process of salvation and each of its salutary acts, with all the goodness in them, is attributed to God by the council. Canon 9 reads: "It is God's gift when we think aright and restrain ourselves from walking in the path of error and corruption. As often as we do good, it is God who works in us and with us enabling us to act."(18) This canon is a recapitulation of Prosper's twenty-second sentence, which repeats the teaching of St. Augustine.

It concerns efficacious grace by which we not only can but actually do what is right. The fact that God operates in us, enabling us to act, is verified in every free act disposing us to salvation. We cannot at all see how this free determination disposing us to salvation, as a free determination, should escape the divine causality. The obvious sense of the text is, that God works in us and with us, as St. Paul says: "It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish."(19) There is a grace that is efficacious in this sense that it is effective of the act, although it does not exclude our co-operation, but in a mysterious way starts it. Canon twelve formulates the principle of predilection: "God so loves us, as we shall be by the gift of His grace, not as we are by our own merit." Taken from Prosper's fifthy-sixth sentence, it follows immediately from this that God so much the more loves us, as we shall be better by the gift of His grace. In other words, no one would be better than another, if he were not loved more by God. In the quotation of this canon,(20) there is reference in the margin to the "Indiculus" on the Grace of God,(21) where it is said: "There is no other way by which anyone is pleasing to God except by what He Himself has bestowed." Therefore, one is not more pleasing to God than another, without having received more from Him. If, on the contrary, grace became efficacious in actu secundo by our consent, then it would follow that of two men who received equal help, one would become better, and this without having been loved more, helped more, or having received more from God. This is not what the Council of Orange declares, or the "Indiculus" on grace, which latter is a collection of the declarations of the Roman Church, compiled in all probability by the future pope St. Leo I. This collection of declarations by the Church met with universal reception about the year 500.(22) If it be so, how is it possible for the salutary act, in so far as it is a free determination, not to depend upon the efficacy of grace, but to be the cause of this efficacy?

There are still other ways in which the Council of Orange has expressed the principle of predilection. Canon sixteen reads: "Let no one glory in what he may seem to have, as if he had not received it." And canon twenty states: "God does many good things in man, which man does not accomplish; but there is no good work done by man which God has not assisted him to do."(23)

Taken from St. Augustine and the three hundred and twelfth of Prosper's sentences, these canons point out that all good comes from God either as the author of nature or of grace; hence it is only through having received more from God that one is better than another. This is also the meaning of canon twenty-two, which reads: "No man can claim as his own anything except lying and sin. If a man hath anything of truth and righteousness it is from that fountain which it behoves us to thirst after in this desert that being, so to speak, refreshed with some of its drops we may not faint by the way."(24) This canon which is taken from the writings of St. Augustine,(25) speaks of God as the author of good things both in the order of nature and of grace; and this is more clearly expressed in canon nineteen.(26) Hence it does not follow that all the works of infidels are sins. Some of them are morally good in the natural order, such as paying one's debts and providing for the support of one's children. But even this natural goodness comes from God, who is the author of all good; and it is not independently of Him that such a naturally good act is performed by this particular man and not by that other, who is permitted to act contrariwise and sin.

All these canons of the Council of Orange, which are taken from the writings of St. Augustine or of St. Prosper show that the least we may say is what H. Leclercq affirms in his French translation of Hefele's work. He writes: "What seems to be an undeniable fact is, that the Church adopted (in the Second Council of Orange) the Augustinian theory in its defense of the fundamental principles against the Pelagians and Semipelagians, of original sin, of the necessity and gratuitousness of grace, and of our absolute dependence upon God for every salutary act."(27) There is no reason therefore to be astonished that Augustinians and Thomists detected from the obvious sense of the terms of this council the principle of predilection, this principle which presupposes the intrinsic efficacy of grace. They also detect this principle in the epistles of St. Paul, for he says: "It is God who worketh in you, according to His good will. For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?"(28)

Is it not this that the Semipelagians denied in saying that God wills to save equally all men and that He is not the author but the onlooker of what distinguishes the just from the impious, and the elect from the rest of mankind?


Index Top


1. PL, XLIV, 959; XLV, 993.

2. Denz.. nos. 176, 177. 179. 183. 806.

3. Concordia, disp. 10, q.14, a.13 (1876 ed., p. 564).

4. Denz., nos. 176-78, 199, 200.

5. Ibid., no. 183.

6. PL, XLV, 1815.

7. De praed. sanct., chap. 8.

8. Loc. cit., disp. 12, p. 51.

9. Rom. 14: 4.

10. Denz., no. 806.

11. Ibid., no. 826.

12. Ibid., no. 805.

13. Ibid., no. 842.

14. This pact theory between God and Christ the Redeemer is thus expressed in Molina's Concordia, disp., 10, p. 43: "Among the laws which Christ and the eternal Father decreed concerning the aids and gifts which Christ merited for us simply and freely to be bestowed upon us, there is one which was most in conformity with reason, and it is this, that as often as we attempt to do what we can by our own natural powers, the assistance of grace is at our disposal for us to succeed in doing those things we ought for our salvation.

15. Concordia, Q.23. sept. concl., p. 516.

16. Summa theol., Ia, Q.23, a.5.

17. Ibid.

18. Denz. No. 182.

19. Phil. 2: 13.

20. Denz., no. 185.

21. Ibid., no. 134.

22. As a proof of this, consult the Indiculus, Denz., nos. 131. 133. The opening words of this latter canon are: "It is only by Christ's help that anyone makes good use of free will." Cf. also nos. 134, 135. 137. 141. In this last reference we read: "By God's help free will is not taken away but made free. . . . He acts to be sure, in us so that what He wills we both will and do." In no. 142 we read: "There must not be the least disparagement of the effect and esteem of God's grace."

23. Denz., nos. 189, 193.

24. Ibid., no. 195.

25. Hom. on John 5:1.

26. Denz., no. 192.

27. Cf. Histoire des conciles, II, 1102 note.

28. Phil. 2: 13: I Cor. 4: 7.


"A tree that is cultivated and guarded through the care of its owner produces its fruit at the expected time. "

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and in the next."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"He who wishes to be perfectly obeyed, should give but few orders."

St Philip Neri

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