"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 revealed doctrine of predestination and of the will to save mankind is like a mountain peak towering above the two precipices of Pelagianism and Semipelagianism on the one hand, and predestinarianism on the other.

This representation makes it easier to see how the different theological systems are at variance with one another. There seems to be nothing wrong in saying that on one side of this mountain, halfway up, we find Molinism, and a little farther up the congruism of Suarez. On the other side we have the rigid systems of Augustinianism and Thomism, which modify, so it seems, God's universal will to save by making negative reprobation consist in the positive exclusion from heavenly glory as from a favor to which one is not entitled. Still midway between the two sides we find the eclecticism of the congruists of the Sorbonne, who admitted the efficacy of grace for difficult salutary acts and not for those easy of accomplishment.

The mountain peak, which is above the various systems, seems inaccessible to the pilgrim here on earth, to any created intellect, even enlightened by supernatural faith and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. To see this culminating point, the light of glory would be indispensable, that light by which the blessed in heaven see directly the divine essence, the Deity, which contains eminently and formally the attributes of infinite mercy, justice, and sovereign liberty, without any real distinction between them.

This peak is inaccessible to earthly pilgrims. Before it is reached, there is a doctrine which directs us unfailingly to it, and which, though we do not see the peak, enables us to determine its exact location. It is the doctrine that rests upon the most sublime and universal of principles which mutually adjust one another. It is a doctrine that deducts nothing from these principles and that by means of them surmises where the culminating point is to be found from which these principles are derived and toward which all things converge.

Is not this the doctrine whose major principle is that "the love of God is the source of all good"? Subordinate to it and offsetting each other are two other principles: God by His love makes it possible for all to obey His precepts and attain salvation; one person would not be better than another, unless he were loved more by God.

We are thus led to a methodical classification of the systems. It is not from the defense of any Scholastic doctrine that this classification must receive its inspiration, but this must come from the two great principles of our faith. The first is the omnipotence of God, who in His sovereign goodness predestines and who is the author of all salvation. The second principle is His will to save all men.

The theological systems relative to predestination have been classified in three ways. The first classification, which is the one more commonly proposed, considers not so much the principles as the conclusions of the theologians. The second, proposed by Father Billot, S.J., is from the Molinist point of view and considers rather the principles adopted by the theologians. The third, proposed by Father del Prado, O.P., is from the Thomist point of view and likewise considers not so much the conclusions as the principles of the theologians.

1) According to the commonly proposed classification, there are two tendencies. Some say the predestination of adults to glory is the result of foreseen merits; these are sponsors of the purely Molinist view, such as Vasquez, Lessius. Others say that the predestination of adults to glory is previous to foreseen merits, and that negative reprobation or non election is previous to foreseen demerits. This view is upheld by the Thomists, the Augustinians, the Scotists, and even those congruists who are of the Bellarminian and Suarezian type.

But of these theologians who admit the absolute gratuity of the predestination of adults to glory, almost all of the old school, i. e., the Thomists, the Augustinians, and the Scotists, hold that this predestination has its foundation in the divine predetermining decrees, whereas the congruism of Bellarmine and Suarez rejects these decrees and retains the theory of the scientia media to explain the distribution of the grace that is called "congruent," and God's certain knowledge of the consent given by the elect.

2) A second mode of classification was proposed by Father Billot.(1) Whereas for some, he says, the foundation of foreknowledge, which implies predestination, is in the divine predetermining decrees, for others it is in the scientia media. Among these latter Father Billot distinguishes between those who, like Vasquez and Lessius, admit the predestination of adults after foreseen future merits, and the non-election of certain ones after foreseen future demerits. He also distinguishes between those who, like Suarez, say that the predestination of adults to glory is even before conditionally future foreseen merits, and that negative reprobation or non election is even before conditionally future foreseen demerits. Lastly, he distinguishes between those who hold that the predestination of adults to glory is after foreseen merits as conditionally future, but not as simply future. Father Billot admits the last opinion, maintaining that it is the one Molina taught. In other words, for Father Billot, what is absolutely gratuitous is the divine choice of circumstances in which God places a certain person, after having foreseen by the scientia media that in these circumstances the consent would be freely given. As for individual cases of negative reprobation or non-election, Father Billot's view does not differ much from that of Vasquez, which latter is very difficult to establish.

3) A third classification has been proposed by Father del Prado, O.P.(2) He also takes especially into consideration the principles of the two leading schools, according as they admit either the divine predetermining decrees or the scientia media. But he insists that only the theologians admitting the divine predetermining decrees are faithful followers of St. Thomas, who wrote: "Whatsoever is in man disposing him toward salvation, is all included under the effect of predestination, even the preparation for grace."(3) This includes, therefore, even the free determination of the salutary act in so far as it is in this one rather than the other, and not vice versa. This is truly what St. Thomas meant, who previously in the article just quoted had written: "Now there is no distinction 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."

Let us add to this what Father del Prado elsewhere points out, that only the theologians who admit the intrinsic efficacy of the divine decrees and of grace recognize the absolute and universal validity of the principle of predilection formulated by St. Thomas in these words: "Since God's love is the cause of goodness in things, no one thing would be better than another, if God did not will greater good for one than for another."(4) Further on in the same work St. Thomas likewise wrote: "He who is better prepared for grace, receives more grace. Yet it is not man who prepares himself for grace, except inasmuch as his free will is prepared by God. Hence the first cause of this diversity is to be sought on the part of God, who dispenses His gifts of grace variously."(5) Similarly St. Thomas says: "He who make a greater effort does so because of a greater grace; but to do so, he needs to be moved by a higher cause."(6) This principle of predilection, as we shall see, presupposes that the divine decrees concerning our future salutary acts are intrinsically and infallibly efficacious. Otherwise the case might arise in which of two persons who are loved and helped to the same extent by God and who are placed in the same circumstances, one would correspond with the grace received and the other would not. Thus without having been loved and helped more by God, one would prove to be better than the other by doing something either easy or difficult to perform, whether this be the first or final act. This is what, in opposition to St. Thomas, Molina maintained. He thus reduced the principle of predilection to the choice of favorable circumstances in which God places those whom He foresaw by His scientia media will of necessity make good use of the grace in these circumstances.


This comparison, after what has just been said, brings us back to the question of the value of the principle of predilection, namely, "that one thing would not be better than another, if God did not will greater good for one than for the other."(7) Is this principle of absolute and universal validity, as the early theologians maintained, or has it merely a relative and restricted value, as the Molinists and the congruists think?

As we shall see when we come to explain the doctrine of St. Thomas, in the philosophical order this principle seems to be a corollary from the principle of causality applied to God's love which is the cause of all good: "Since God's love is the cause of goodness in things,"(8) says St. Thomas. In the supernatural order this principle of predilection has been revealed. St. Paul expresses it in these terms: "For who distinguisheth thee? Or what has thou that thou hast not received?"(9) He finds the answer in the Old Testament, saying: "For He saith to Moses: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. And I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy."(10) It is to this principle of predilection that St. Augustine appeals in support of all his opinions. When the occasion arises he applies the principle even to the angels, remarking that, if the good and bad angels were created equally good, the former were more abundantly assisted and attained eternal happiness, whereas the latter, through their own defectibility, fell from grace.(11) Hence St. Augustine's famous saying: "Why He draweth one and not another, seek not to judge, if thou dost not wish to err."(12)

Moreover, this principle of predilection is absolutely universal. That is why St. Thomas formulates it in the neuter: "One thing would not be better than another, if God did not will greater good for one than for another."(13) This principle is true in every order. It is true of plants with reference to minerals, of animals, of human beings, of angels and their acts, of things in which there is less of perfection or of goodness. It is also true of every man who, from whatever point of view, is better than another, whether this is because of a naturally or supernaturally good act performed, of an act easy or difficult to perform, of an act begun or sustained, of a first or final act.

We shall see that the attempts at synthesis proposed by the Molinists and the congruists after the time of St. Thomas, far from rising to the loftiness of these higher principles formulated by him, failed to realize the sublimity and universality of these principles as well as their philosophical and theological validity. The principle dominating the whole question is this: "God's love is the cause of all goodness." It follows first of all from this that God, by reason of His love, wills to make it possible for all to obey His commandments and be saved. This real possibility is a good that is the result of God's love or of His universal will to save mankind. It is not effective, however, in all cases, and sometimes God permits the presence of evil in view of a greater good, which often eludes us, and the reason for which we shall see clearly only in heaven. There is in this a very great mystery.

Since God's love is the cause of all goodness, it follows that one thing would not be better than another if God did not will greater good for one than for another. From this principle of predilection St. Thomas deduces all his conclusions about predestination. For them it is like the keystone of an arch, the principle upon which they depend for their preservation and unity.

Index Top


1. De Deo Uno, p. 290 (last ed.).

2. De gratia et libero arbitrio, III, 188

3. Summa theol., Ia, q. 23, a. 5.

4. lbid., q. 20, a.3.

5. Ibid., Ia IIae, q. 112, a. 4.

6. Com. in Matt. 25: 15.

7. Loc. cit., Ia, q. 20, a. 3.

8. Ibid., Ia, q. 20, a. 3.

9. I Cor. 4: 7.

10. Rom. 9: 15.

11. De Civ. Dei, XII, 9.

12. On St. John, hom. 26, the beginning.

13. Loc. cit., Ia, q. 20, a. 3.

14. Ibid., a. 2.


"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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"Obedience is the true holocaust which we sacrifice to God on the altar of our hearts."

St Philip Neri

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"Happy is the youth, because he has time before him to do good. "

St Philip Neri

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