"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

 
REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.

CH50: THE THEOLOGICAL VIRTUES

Article One: Faith [1190]

The theological virtues and their acts, like faculties, virtues, and acts in general, are specifically proportioned to their formal object. The profound import of this principle went unrecognized by Scotus and by the Nominalists and their successors, as is clear from the controversies which, from the fourteenth century onwards, have never ceased.

Faith, says St. Thomas, [1191] has as its material object all truths revealed by God, but chiefly the supernatural mysteries not accessible to any natural intelligence human or angelic. But the formal object of faith, its formal motive of adherence, is God's veracity, [1192] which presupposes God's infallibility. [1193] The veracity here in question is that of God as author, not merely of nature, but of grace and glory, since the revealed mysteries, the Trinity, for example, and the redemptive Incarnation, are essentially supernatural. Let us quote the saint's own words:

"Faith, considered in its formal object, is nothing else than God, the first truth. For faith assents to no truth except in so far as that truth is revealed. Hence the medium by which faith believes is divine truth itself. [1194] Again: "The formal object of faith is the first truth, adherence to which is man's reason for assenting to any particular truth." [1195] Once more: "In faith we must distinguish the formal element, i. e.: the first truth, far surpassing all the natural knowledge of any creature; and second, the material element, i. e.: the particular truth, to which we adhere only because we adhere to the first truth." [1196] Lastly: "The first truth, as not seen but believed, is the object of faith, by which object we assent to truths only as proposed by that first truth." [1197].

Thomists, explaining these words, note that the formal object of any theological virtue must be something uncreated, must be God Himself. Neither the infallible pronouncements of the Church nor the miracles which confirm those pronouncements are the formal object of faith, though they are indispensable conditions. Faith, therefore, being specifically proportioned to a formal object which is essentially supernatural, must itself be essentially supernatural. Again we listen to Thomas.

"Since the act by which man assents to the truths of faith is an act beyond man's nature, he must have within, from God, the supernatural mover, a principle by which he elicits that act." [1198] And again: "The believer holds the articles of faith by his adherence to the first truth, for which act he is made capable by the virtue of faith." [1199].

In other words the believer, by the infused virtue of faith and by actual grace, adheres supernaturally to the formal motive of this theological virtue, in an order which transcends all apologetic arguments, based on evident miracles and other signs of revelation. His act of adherence is not discursive, but simple, since all through it is one and the same act. That act can be expressed in three ways: [1200] I believe God who reveals, [1201] I believe what has been revealed concerning God, [1202] I believe unto God. [1203] But by these three expressions, says St. Thomas, [1204] we designate, not different acts of faith, but one and the same act in different relations to one and the same object, as, we may add in illustration, the eye, by one and the same act of vision, sees both light and color.

Faith, therefore, has a certitude essentially supernatural, surpassing even the most evident natural certitude, whether that of wisdom, of science, or of first principles. [1205] God's authority claims our infallible adherence in an order far higher than apologetic reasoning, which is prerequired for credibility, i. e.: that the mysteries proposed by the Church are guaranteed by signs manifestly divine, and are therefore evidently credible. Even for the willingness to believe, [1206] actual grace is prerequired.

This essential supernaturalness of faith is not admitted by Scotus, nor the Nominalists, nor their successors. Scotus says that the distinction of grace from nature is not necessary, but contingent, dependent on the free choice of God, who might have given us the light of glory as a characteristic of our nature, [1207] since a natural act and a supernatural act can each have the same formal object. [1208] Neither is infused faith necessary by reason of a supernatural object, because the formal object of theological faith is not higher than acquired faith. [1209] Lastly, the certitude of infused faith is based on acquired faith in the veracity of the Church, which veracity is itself founded on miracles or other signs of revelation. Otherwise, so he claims, we would regress to infinity. This same doctrine is upheld by the Nominalists. [1210] Thence it passes to Molina, [1211] to Ripalda, [1212] and with slight modification to de Lugo [1213] and to Franzelin. [1214] Vacant [1215] shows clearly wherein this theory differs from Thomistic teaching.

Thomists reply as follows: The formal motive of infused faith is the veracity of God, the author of grace, and this motive, inaccessible to any natural knowledge whatsoever, must be attained by an infused virtue. If acquired faith, which even demons have, were sufficient, then infused faith would not be absolutely necessary, but would be, as the Pelagians said, a means for believing more easily. Against the Pelagians the Second Council of Orange defined the statement that grace is necessary even for the beginning of faith, for the pious willingness to believe.

Resting on the principle that habits are specifically differentiated by their formal objects, Thomists, since the days of Capreolus, have never ceased to defend the essential supernaturalness of faith, and its superiority to all natural certitude. On this point Suarez [1216] is in accord with Thomists, but with one exception. To believe God who reveals, and to believe the truths revealed concerning God, are for him two distinct acts, whereas for Thomists they are but one.

Thomists are one in recognizing that the act of infused faith is founded [1217] on the authority of God who reveals, and hence that God is both that by which and that which we believe, [1218] as light, to illustrate, is both that by which we see, and that which is seen, when we see colors. [1219] But this authority of God can be formal motive only so far as it is infallibly known by infused faith itself. Were this motive known only naturally, it could not found a certitude essentially supernatural.

We may follow this doctrine down a long line of Thomists. Capreolus [1220] writes: "With one and the same act I assent, both that God is triune and one, and that God revealed both truths. By one and the same act I believe that God cannot lie, [1221] and that what God says of Himself is true." [1222] Cajetan [1223] writes: "Divine revelation is both that by which (quo) and that which (quod) I believe. Just as unity is of itself one without further appeal, so divine revelation, by which all else is revealed, is accepted for its own sake and not by a second revelation. One and the same act accepts the truth spoken about God and the truthfulness of God who speaks." [1224] "This acceptance of the first truth as revealing, and not that acquired faith by which I believe John the Apostle, or Paul the Apostle, or the one Church, is the ultimate court of appeal. The infused habit of faith makes us adhere to God as the reason for believing each and every revealed truth. 'He that believeth in the Son of God hath the testimony of God in himself.'" [1225] This same truth you will find in Sylvester de Ferraris, [1226] in John of St. Thomas, [1227] in Gonet, [1228] in the Salmanticenses, [1229] and in Billuart. [1230].

All Thomists, as is clear from these testimonies, rest on the principle so often invoked by St. Thomas: Habits and acts, since they are specifically differentiated by their formal objects, are in the same order as are those objects. This principle is the highest expression of the traditional doctrine on the essential supernaturalness of faith, and of faith's consequent superiority over all natural certitude. Let us repeat the doctrine in a formal syllogism, whereof both major and minor are admitted by all theologians.

We believe infallibly all that is revealed by God, because of the authority of divine revelation, and according to the infallible pronouncements of the Church. But revelation and the Church affirm, not only that the revealed mysteries are truths, but also that it is God Himself who has revealed those mysteries. Hence we must believe infallibly that it is God Himself who has revealed these mysteries.

Note, as corollary, that the least doubt on the existence of revelation would entail doubt on the truth of the mysteries themselves. Note further that infallible faith in a mystery as revealed presupposes, by the very fact of its existence, [1231] that we believe infallibly in the existence of divine revelation, even though we do not explicitly reflect on that fact. [1232].

An objection arises. St. Thomas teaches that one and the same truth cannot be simultaneously both known and believed. But, by the miracles which confirm revelation, we know the fact of revelation. Hence we cannot simultaneously believe them supernaturally. In answer, Thomists point out that revelation is indeed known naturally as miraculous intervention of the God of nature, and hence is supernatural in the mode of its production, like the miracle which confirms it. But revelation, since it is supernatural in its essence, and not merely in the mode of its production, can never be naturally known, but must be accepted by supernatural faith. By one and the same act, to repeat St. Thomas, [1233] we believe the God who reveals and the truth which He reveals.

"Faith," says the Vatican Council, [1234] "is a supernatural virtue by which we believe that all that God reveals is true, not because we see its truth by reason, but because of the authority of God who reveals." By the authority of God, as the phrase is here used, we are to understand, so Thomists maintain, the authority of God, not merely as author of nature and of miracles, which are naturally known, but the authority of God as author of grace, since revelation deals principally with mysteries that are essentially supernatural.

Is this distinction, between God the author of nature and God the author of grace, an artificial distinction? By no means. It runs through all theology, particularly the treatise on grace. Without grace, without infused faith, we cannot adhere to the formal motive of faith, a motive far higher than the evidence of credibility furnished by miracles. The believer holds the articles of faith, says St. Thomas, [1235] simply because he believes and clings to the first truth, which act is made possible by the habit of faith. Thus the believer's act, essentially supernatural and infallible, rises immeasurably above acquired faith as found in the demon, whose faith is founded on the evidence of miracles, or in the heretic who holds certain dogmas, not on the authority of God which he has rejected, but on his own judgment and will.

The consequences of this doctrine for the spiritual life are very pronounced. We see them in the teaching of St. John of the Cross on passive purification of the spirit. Faith is purged of all human alloy in proportion to its unmixed adherence to its formal motive, at a height far above the motives of credibility, including all accessory motives, life in a believing community, say, which facilitates the act of faith. [1236].

The gifts which correspond to the virtue of faith are, first, understanding, which enables us to penetrate the revealed mysteries, [1237] second, knowledge, which illumines our mind on the deficiency of second causes, on the gravity of mortal sin, on the emptiness of a worldly life, on the inefficacy of human concurrence in attaining a supernatural end. [1238] This gift thus also facilitates a life of hope for divine gifts and eternal life.

Article Two: Hope [1239]

We dwell here, first on the formal motive of hope, secondly on its certitude.

1. Hope tends to eternal life, i. e.: God possessed eternally.

The formal motive of hope is not our own effort, is not a created thing, but is God Himself, in His mercy, omnipotence, and fidelity. All these divine perfections are summed up in the word: God the Helper. [1240] Only the supreme agent can lead to the supreme end. Since an uncreated motive is the characteristic of each theological virtue, hope's uncreated motive is God as source of unfailing succor, transmitted to us by our Savior's humanity and Mary auxiliatrix. [1241].

Thus the infused virtue of hope, preserving us equally from presumption and from despair, is something immeasurably higher than the natural desire, conditional and inefficacious, to see God, or the confidence born from the natural knowledge of God's goodness.

Infused hope necessarily presupposes infused faith, by which we know, first the supernatural end to which God has called us, secondly the supernatural aid in attaining that end which He has promised to those who pray for it.

Is hope inferior to charity? Certainly; but this inferiority, as Thomists hold against the Quietists, does not mean that hope contains a disorder, and that consequently we must sacrifice hope in order to arrive at disinterested love. By infused hope, says Cajetan, [1242] I do indeed desire God for myself, yet not for my own sake, but for His sake. By hope we desire God as our supreme Good, not subordinating Him to ourselves, but subordinating ourselves to Him, whereas in the case of a good inferior to ourselves, we wish it not only to ourselves, but as subordinated to ourselves. [1243] Here the Quietists did not see clear. The last end of hope is God Himself. To that end we subordinate ourselves. Thus also God the Father, giving us His only Son as Redeemer, subordinated us to that Son. "All things are yours," says St. Paul, "but you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."

But when we say that hope desires God for His own sake, are we not confounding hope with charity? No, because this phrase, "for God's sake," means, when used of hope, that God is the final cause, whereas when used of charity it means the formal cause. Charity loves God, primarily as He is in Himself, infinitely good, secondarily as desirable to ourselves and to our neighbors. But hope, though inferior to charity, still has God as its last end, even when, in the state of mortal sin, it is separated from charity. In the state of grace hope has God efficaciously loved for His own sake as final motive. But when this love is inefficacious by disordered self-love, it can still be good and salutary, though not meritorious of life eternal. The sinner's hope, though it remains a virtue, is still not in a state of virtue, because its act is not efficaciously related to man's last end.

But when, on the contrary, hope is vivified by charity, it grows with charity, and is a great virtue though not the greatest of virtues. To understand this truth better, we may note that acquired magnanimity, and still more infused magnanimity, which are closely related to hope, make us strive for great objectives, to which we dedicate ourselves, a truth which we see exemplified in the labors and struggles of founders of religious orders. Now the infused virtue of hope stands still higher, because it aims, not at great deeds merely, but at God Himself, to whom we dedicate ourselves. Hope desires, not merely a precise degree of beatitude, but eternal life itself. Hope carries us ever onwards toward God as our supreme goal.

Consequently, whatever Quietists may say, we are not to sacrifice hope and desire of salvation when we are undergoing that passive purification of the spirit described particularly by St. John of the Cross. Far from it. As St. Paul says, we are to "hope against hope." Passive purification, in truth, outlines in powerful relief the supreme formal motive of this theological virtue. While all secondary motives all but disappear, the supreme motive, "God is my support," remains always. God abandons not those who hope in Him.

Further, in these passive purifications, confidence in God is ever more animated and ennobled by charity. In adversity, in seeming abandonment by God, hope is purified from all dross and selfishness, and the soul desires God ever more keenly, not only to possess Him but to glorify Him eternally.

2. The Certitude of Hope [1244]

St. Thomas has already noted four kinds of certitude: (a) the certitude of science, founded on evidence; (b) the certitude of faith, founded on revelation; (c) the certitude of the gift of wisdom, founded on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; (d) the certitude of prudence in the practical order. It remains to show precisely in what the certitude of hope consists. Hope resides, not in the intellect, but in the will, under the infallible guidance of faith. Hope, then, has a participated certitude. It has, to speak formally and precisely, a certitude of tendency to our last end, notwithstanding the uncertainty of salvation. Thus, to illustrate, the swallow, following animal instinct under the guidance of providence, tends unerringly to the region which is its goal. Just as moral virtues, under the guidance of prudence, tend to their goal, viz.: to the right medium of their respective fields, so does hope tend with certainty to the last end.

It is true that we cannot, without a special revelation of our predestination, be certain of our individual salvation. But, notwithstanding this incertitude, we tend certainly to salvation, resting on faith in the promises of God, who never commands the impossible, but wills that we do what we can and pray when we cannot. The passenger from Paris to Rome, to illustrate, even while he knows of accidents which make his arrival uncertain, still has a certitude of final arrival, a certitude which grows with nearness to his goal.

Infused hope, like infused faith, can be lost only by a sin contrary to itself, i. e.: by a mortal sin either of despair or of presumption. But though it remains in the soul under mortal sin, it does not remain in a state of virtue, because the soul deprived of grace is not a connatural subject of virtue.

The gift which corresponds to the virtue of hope is the gift of filial fear, which turns us away from sin and preserves us from presumption. [1245].

Article Three: Charity [1246]

St. Thomas devotes to this subject twenty-five questions. We single out two points: first, the formal object of charity; second, its characteristics. [1247].

1. Charity is that infused theological virtue by which, first, I love God the author of grace, for His own sake, more than I love myself, more than His gifts, more than all else; by which, secondly, I love myself, and then my neighbor because he like myself is loved by God and is called to glorify God both here and in eternity. Charity is not indeed identified, as the Lombard thought, with the Holy Spirit, but it is a gift created in the will by that uncreated charity, which loved us first, and which constantly preserves, vivifies, and re-creates our love.

Charity is, properly speaking, supernatural friendship, [1248] friendship between God's children and God Himself, mutual friendship among all the children and that one Father in heaven. Friendship is a love of mutual benevolence, founded on life in common, a life which is a participation in God's own inner life, a life which enables us to see Him without medium, to love Him without end. [1249].

The formal motive of charity is, therefore, the divine goodness, supernaturally known and loved for its own sake. We must, it is true, love God by reason of His gifts to us. But this love of gratitude, though it is a disposition toward loving God for His own sake, is not as such an act of charity, [1250] since the goodness of the divine benefactor far surpasses all His gifts. Hence charity desires eternal life in order to glorify God's incommunicable goodness.

Charity, further, attains God without medium. Whereas in our natural knowledge sense creatures are the medium, and whereas, in the knowledge of faith, the ideas abstracted from the sense world are the medium, in charity, on the contrary, our love of God has no medium, and we love creatures only because we first love God. "Charity," says St. Thomas, "tends to God first, and from God goes out to all else. Hence charity loves God without medium, and all else with God as mediator." [1251].

This unmediated love of God above all else must be objectively universal and efficacious, but we should aim also at affective intensity, at that conscious enthusiasm of the heart possessed by God which in its full perfection is realized in heaven. [1252].

By one and the same act of charity we love God, and in God our neighbor. [1253].

2. The first characteristic of charity is universality. No one can be excluded from our love, though we love those who are nearer to God with a greater love of esteem, and those who are nearer to us with a greater intensity of feeling. [1254] And this love for charity's secondary object, i. e.: myself and my neighbor, is a love essentially supernatural and theological, far above that affection which is merely natural.

Further, charity on earth is specifically identified with charity in heaven, because the object, God's goodness, is the same when not seen as when seen, the intellectual grasp of that object being the condition indeed but not the cause of our love. Hence charity, even here on earth, is, as St. John and St. Paul never cease to proclaim, the most excellent of all virtues. Hence too, whereas in heaven knowledge of God is higher than charity, here on earth charity is higher than knowledge, since the latter is somehow limited by its medium, i. e.: our finite ideas of God. [1255].

Being the highest of virtues, charity inspires and commands the acts of all other virtues, making them meritorious of eternal life. In this sense, charity is the form, the extrinsic form, of all other virtues. Without charity the other virtues may still exist, but they cannot exist in a state of virtue. Mortal sin brings with it an enfeeblement of all virtues, hinders their living connection, and allows none of them to be in a state of virtue, i. e.: a state which can be changed only with difficulty. [1256].

Charity grows by its own acts. [1257] An imperfect act of charity, an act inferior in intensity to the virtue it proceeds from, still merits condignly an augmentation of charity, but will not receive that augmentation until its intensity disposes it thereto. [1258].

The gift of the Holy Ghost which corresponds to the virtue of charity is wisdom, which gives a connatural sympathy for and appreciation of things divine. [1259] Faith, illumined by the gifts of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, is the source of infused contemplation.

The formal motive, which is the guiding star of St. Thomas in studying each of the three theological virtues, has important consequences in the spiritual life, notably in the passive purification of the spirit. It is in this process that these virtues are purified from human dross, that their formal motives are thrown into powerful relief far beyond all inferior and accessory motives. First truth, supporting omnipotence, infinite goodness, shine in the spirit's awful night like three stars of the first magnitude. [1260].

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Footnotes

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