"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

— A Commentary on the Third Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


We must now discuss the mode of the union not on the part of the person assuming, but on the part of what was assumed; and here two things must be considered.

1) What the Word assumed:

a) The human nature itself (q. 4).

b) Of the parts of the human nature, which refutes Docetism and Apollinarianism (q. 5).

c) Of the order of this assumption, for example, whether the soul was assumed before the flesh (q. 6).

2) What things were co-assumed; (a) of perfections, where the habitual grace of Christ, His knowledge and power are discussed; (b) of defects, or of those defects which Christ voluntarily accepted for our satisfaction, such as passibility of the body, death, in which Christ's impeccability is discussed, as also His propassions. (q. 7-15)

Thus the treatise on the hypostatic union is complete, since we find discussed: (a) the union itself (q. 2); (b) the person assuming (q. 3); (c) the nature assumed, both as to its parts and those things co-assumed (q. 4-15). Afterward there will be a discussion of the consequences of the union, in themselves and in their relations both to the Father and to us.

The fourth question contains six articles, treating of the human nature in itself, both in its relation to human personality, which Christ did not have, and in its relation to individuals of the human nature.

First Article: Whether Human Nature Was More Assumable By The Son Of God Than Any Other Nature

State of the question. The inquiry concerns human nature as assumable, not according to its natural passive power nor according to its obediential power,[687] but according to its fitness.[688] The more common opinion among theologians affirms with St. Thomas[689] that according to God's absolute power any other nature is assumable. The discussion here concerns only its fitness.

This question is of some importance in determining whether besides the obediential power there is a fitness attached to the nature, but not necessarily so, for example, a fitness of assumption in the human nature rather than in the angelic.

First objection. The difficulty is that God's absolute power is not limited to one nature; for just as there is no such thing actually as the best of all possible worlds, so there is no created nature that is more fitted for the hypostatic union.

Second objection. The difficulty is that also in irrational creatures there is a trace of God's image.

Third objection. In the angelic nature we find a more perfect likeness of God than in the human nature, and there is need of redemption for angels that are sinners.

Fourth objection. Finally the whole universe is more capable of assumption than the human nature.

Conclusion. It was more fitting, says St. Thomas, for the human nature to be assumed by the Word, than any other nature.

Authoritative proof. This fittingness is intimated in various passages of Scripture. Thus the Wisdom of God is represented as saying: "My delights were to be with the children of men."[690] Similarly St. Paul writes: "For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, who had brought many children into glory, to perfect the author of their salvation, by His passion.... For nowhere doth He take hold of the angels, but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold. Wherefore it behooved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest before God, that He might be a propitiation for the sins of the people."[691] Christ had to be both priest and victim because no other victim was worthy of fulfilling this role.

Theological proof. It may be reduced to the following syllogism.

This greater fitness may be viewed both according to the dignity and the necessity or need of the assumable nature.

But the human is more worthy than the irrational nature since it can attain to union with the Word by knowledge and love.[692] Moreover, it needed reparation, since it was subjected to original sin, which is not true of the angels, for all did not sin, and those who did are already confirmed in their sin and incapable of redemption. Therefore it was more fitting for the human nature than any other nature to be assumed by the Word. This conclusion must be understood in the sense given by St. Thomas at the end of the argumentative part of this article, where he says: "Hence it follows that only human nature was assumable."

Moreover, as St. Thomas remarks in another of his works,[693] the human nature is a quasi-compendium of the universe, a microcosm, inasmuch as it contains within itself being, as in minerals, life as in the lower forms of living animals, intelligence as in the angels, although in not so perfect a way.

The solution of the difficulties raised in the objections confirms this last observation of St. Thomas.

Reply to first objection. Here it is shown that besides the obediential power, which includes everything that is not in itself repugnant to reason, there can be a certain fitness or congruity in the human nature for its being assumed by the Word in the hypostatic union, a fitness that is not found either in stones, plants, a lamb, or a dove. Hence St. Thomas says in this reply: "Therefore a creature is said to be not assumable, not as if we withdrew anything from the power of God, but in order to show the condition of the creature which has no capability for this." Therefore this capability, which is in neither stone nor dove, is not this obediential power for assumption, which is in either a stone or in any animal, for example, in the most spotless lamb.

As Cajetan remarks, St. Thomas did not ask whether the Word can assume the nature of a stone. There is nothing intrinsically impossible in this according to God's purely absolute power, but there would be no end or purpose in doing this. Thus God can by His purely absolute power annihilate the Blessed Virgin Mary, but there is no reason for doing so on the part of the end in view. Therefore this is repugnant, if not by God's purely absolute power, at least by His ordained power, either ordinary or extraordinary.

Yet there is truly in the nature of either a stone, a lamb, or a dove a non-repugnance or obediential power for the hypostatic union, although there is no capability in the sense of congruity.

From this reply to the first objection, it seems to follow that the capability or fitness of our nature to be elevated to the beatific vision is not this obediential power, which of itself requires nothing else but a non-repugnance to this elevation, inasmuch as God can do whatever is not repugnant. In fact, as will be stated farther on, there is in the most holy soul of Christ the obediential power for a greater degree of the light of glory.[694] The obediential power of our intellect is in itself unrestricted, because our intellect by God's absolute power, can always be raised to a higher degree of the light of glory, and our will to a higher degree of charity.

There remains this obediential power in the nature of the damned for being raised to the beatific vision, but it is no longer any fittingness in them.

Reply to second objection. "The irrational creature which falls short of the union with God by operation has no fitness to be united with Him in personal being."

Reply to third objection. Concerning the reply to this third objection, which must be real, Cajetan observes against Scotus, that for St. Thomas personality is something positive and real that is distinct from the individualized nature, for instance, from Michaelness, because St. Thomas says: "In this way, nothing pre-existing would be corrupted in it,"[695] if God, by producing a new angelic nature, were to unite it to Himself.

In this same reply, it is pointed out that the bad angels fell irreparably, though not indeed absolutely, but according to the way that is consistent with divine providence, as already explained by St. Thomas, for, when asking whether the will of the demons is confirmed in evil, he says: "The angel's free will is flexible to either opposite before the choice, but not after."[696] This means that the angel's choice elicited by means of intuitive and simultaneous knowledge of those things that must be considered in the object, is irrevocable, and thus it participates in the immutability of the divine choice, which is both most free and absolutely immutable. On the contrary, our choice is elicited by means of abstractive and discursive knowledge, which only gradually acquires the knowledge of all those things that must be considered. Hence it is revocable, inasmuch as after the choice we can consider certain new things not previously considered.[697]

Hence man is capable of redemption, but not the angel. Moreover, the first man was tempted by the devil and fell, whereas the devil fell solely by his own will. Hence the human nature is more worthy of compassion than the nature of the fallen angel.

First doubt. Can an irrational nature, such as that of a lamb or dove, be united befittingly with the person of the Word?

Reply. Several theologians give an affirmative answer, just as it was not unbecoming for the Word incarnate to be scourged, spit upon, and to die. In fact, during the three days of death, the Word remained hypostatically united to the corpse, not personally, but subsistentially. But these reasons do not rest on solid grounds, for the Word was united to the corpse of Christ, only because it was previously united to His human nature, and, if the Word was scourged and crucified, this was meritorious for our redemption. Whereas there is no comparison in the above-mentioned hypothesis, because the dove and the lamb are incapable of meriting and satisfying.

Second doubt. St. Thomas says in various passages that suppositum and nature are the same in the angels;[698] yet in his reply here[699] he holds that the angelic nature is assumable, which cannot be unless it is distinct from the suppositum.

Reply. Cajetan, Medina, Alvarez, Gonet, and Billuart say that St. Thomas in the passage cited above[700] means that the angelic nature is not distinct from its individualizing notes; but he holds that the angel has its own subsistence or personality that is distinct from its nature, which it would lose if the angelic nature were united with the Word. On several occasions St. Thomas says that there is a difference between what is (suppositum), and being (existence).[701] For it is manifest that Michael has not only his nature or Michaelness, but also his being and accidents, such as successive intellections and volitions.

Second Article: Whether The Son Of God Assumed A Person

State of the question. The difficulty is that the Son of God assumed an individualized nature and thus it appears that He assumed this particular man or person.

Reply. Nevertheless, the answer is that He did not assume a person, which is of faith against Nestorius,[702] inasmuch as the Church defined the union to be subsistential, so that there is only one person in Christ. the counterargument gives a quotation from St. Fulgentius, under the name of St. Augustine.

The theological explanation is given in the body of the article, which may be explained by the following syllogism. What is assumed must be presupposed to the assumption. But a person in human nature is not presupposed to assumption, but is rather the term of the assumption. Therefore the human person is not assumed; but the person of the Word assumed to Himself the human nature.

Indirect proof of minor. If the person were presupposed, then it was either corrupted, in which case its assumption was to no purpose; or it remained after the union, and then there were two persons in Christ, which is contrary to revelation, and then the union would not be personal, but accidental, as Nestorius contended.

Reply to first objection. The Son of God assumed an individualized human nature, or a singular human nature, namely, this human nature of Christ.

Reply to second objection. It is pointed out that "the nature assumed did not have its own personality through the loss of anything pertaining to the perfection of the human nature, but through the addition of something which is above human nature, which is union with a divine person." Concerning this difficulty, St. Thomas had said: "It is a greater dignity to exist in something nobler than oneself than to exist by oneself."[703]

Reply to third objection. St. Thomas says: "The divine person by His union hindered the human nature from having its own personality." Therefore St. Thomas considers personality to be something positive, real, and distinct from the nature. It is not identical with existence, because existence is a contingent predicate of any created person, whose formal constituent is personality. No created person, even created personality, is his or its existence. Thus St. Thomas often says that in every creature there is a difference between quod est and esse, namely, between suppositum and existence.[704]

Concerning Cajetan's great commentary, it suffices to note that he shows there is a distinction even between the individualized nature and subsistence. He says: "The whole force of the argument consists in this, that the constituent of a thing, in this respect, is that a being intrinsically and primarily susceptive of real entity, must be some reality. But this man, in this respect, differs from this humanity, because he includes in himself something by which he is primarily and intrinsically susceptive of some real entity that is repugnant to this human nature. Therefore he includes in himself a reality that constitutes him in being, by which he differs from this human nature. But he differs only in personal being, whereby this man is a hypostasis or person, which this human nature is not. Therefore the person of this man adds some reality that intrinsically constitutes him a human person, which this human nature is not."[705] This man is what is, whereas his individualized humanity is that whereby he is constituted in a certain species.

Wherefore St. Thomas says in the present article: "If created personality were presupposed to assumption, then it must either have been corrupted... or there would be two persons." And also in his reply to the third objection, he also says: "The divine person by His union hindered the human nature from having its personality." Hence Cajetan's interpretation, by which he shows that created personality is a substantial mode, truly has its foundation in this text quoted from St. Thomas.

More briefly, Cajetan's whole argument may be reduced to the following syllogism. The created suppositum differs from the nature inasmuch as it is what is, namely, the real subject of existence, which is attributed to it contingently. But that whereby anything is a real and not merely a logical subject of existence is something real, distinct from this nature and from existence, which is predicated contingently of a created person already formally constituted as a person. Therefore the created suppositum is something real that differs both from the individual nature and from existence.

Hence the whole of Cajetan's interpretation has its foundation in the legitimate transition from the common sense notion of personality to its philosophical notion, namely, from its nominal definition to its real definition, or from the Christian acceptation to its theological notion, as Cajetan himself remarks.[706]

Cajetan's opinion asserts only what is required for the verification of the following three arguments of common sense.

1) This man, Peter, is not his human nature, which is attributed to him as an essential part, and the part is not predicated of the whole; for the whole is not the part, but has the part.

2) This man, Peter, is not his existence, which is attributed to him contingently and not essentially. This means that it constitutes neither the essence nor personality of Peter, but is really distinct from them. Thus in every creature there is a real difference between suppositum and existence.[707]

3) This man, Peter, is existing, namely, it is the same suppositum that is existing. In this judgment the word "is" affirms real identity between subject and predicate, which means that the predicate is identical with the suppositum. Therefore subsistence is that whereby anything is what; and as a substantial mode, it is distinct both from nature, whereby anything is constituted in a certain species, and from existence, whereby anything is established outside nothing and its causes.[708]

Likewise, applying this doctrine to Christ, in accordance with revelation, we say: "This man Jesus is God,"[709] meaning that this man is the same suppositum that is God, or is the same person. But the divine personality of Christ is distinct from the human nature He assumed.

Doubt. Could the Word have assumed a nature terminated by its own subsistence, this latter remaining.

Reply. The answer is in the negative. The reason is that it implies a contradiction for the same nature to subsist and not to subsist in a suppositum different from its own.

Objection. The divine nature is terminated simultaneously by the three personalities. Therefore, in like manner, the human nature could be terminated simultaneously by two personalities.

Reply. The comparison does not apply, for the three divine personalities are not foreign to but belong properly to the divine nature,[710] and from several subsistences that belong properly to the divine nature there follows one effect which is to subsist and be terminated in itself, although in divers ways. On the contrary, from a subsistence proper to a person and one foreign to it there follows a double effect that is repugnant, inasmuch as the person subsists in itself and not in another, and also subsists in another and not in itself.

Third Article: Whether The Divine Person Assumed A Man

Is it strictly true to say that God assumed a man?

Reply. It is not, because man is the name of a person that signifies the human nature as subsisting. But God did not assume a created person. Hence, in the strict sense, it is not true to say that the Word assumed a man. After the Incarnation, however, it is true to say that the Word is man.[711] Similarly, the proposition, "God is man," and also the proposition, "man is God," are true, because of the unity of the person.[712] The word "is" expresses real identity between subject and predicate, and this identity is identity of suppositum or person, which means that this man Jesus is the same being or suppositum that is God.

Reply to first objection. If the Fathers at times said that the Word assumed a man, this word "man" must not be taken in the strict sense of the term.

Fourth Article: Whether The Son Of God Ought To Have Assumed Human Nature Abstracted From All Individuals

This article is inserted here to refute the error of certain Platonists, who admitted that the Son of God ought to have assumed such a nature.

It is denied that the Son of God assumed a nature abstracted from individuals, because such a nature has only mental existence,[713] and also because by the very fact that the nature is assumed by some person, it belongs properly to this person. Moreover, only common and universal operations can be attributed to the common nature, by which a person does not merit, because merit pertains to a particular circumstance and time. Finally, even though the human nature were to exist apart from sensible things, as Plato contended, the assumption of this kind of separated human nature would not be fitting, because the Son of God assumed the human nature so that He could be seen by men.

Reply to first objection. Nevertheless, it remains true that Christ is "the universal cause of human salvation," for this universality is not of predication, but of causation.

Fifth Article: Whether The Son Of God Ought To Have Assumed Human Nature In All Individuals

Reply. It is denied that the human nature should be assumed by the Word in all individuals: 1. because the multitude of supposita which are natural to human nature, would thus be taken away; 2. because this would be derogatory to the divinity of the incarnate Son of God since He is the first-born of many brethren according to the human nature, even as He is the first-born of every creature according to the divine nature. Finally, divine wisdom demands this subordination, for St. Paul says: "For all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."[714] It must be noted that, if the Son of God had assumed the individualized nature of all human beings, then all human beings would have been impeccable.

Sixth Article: Whether It Was Fitting For The Son Of God To Assume Human Nature Of The Stock Of Adam

The Son of God could, indeed, have assumed the human nature created anew, just as Adam was created.

Reply. The answer is, nevertheless, that it was fitting for the Son of God to assume the human nature of the stock of Adam, and this for three reasons: 1. so that He might satisfy for the race that had sinned; 2. because the conqueror of the devil should come from the race conquered by the devil; 3. to manifest God's omnipotence that. raised a weakened and corrupt nature to such virtue and dignity. God permits evil only for a greater good.

Hence in the Roman Breviary, the Church recites: "That flesh hath purged, what flesh hath stained."[715] The Scripture says: "Who can make him clean that is conceived of unclean seed. Is it not Thou who only art?"[716] Thus there are sinners in Christ's genealogy, although He is separated from sinners in this respect.

Reply to first objection. Christ's innocence is the more wonderful in this, that, although He assumed His nature from a mass tainted by sin, it was endowed with such purity.

Reply to second objection. It was not fitting for the Word to assume the particular nature of Adam, who was a sinner; because Christ, who had come to cleanse all sinners, had to be separated from all who sinned.

Third objection. The difficulty is this: "If the Son of God wished to assume human nature from sinners, He ought rather to have assumed it from the Gentiles than from the stock of Abraham, who was just."

Reply to third objection. Christ, indeed, had to be like sinners in His assumed nature, but He also had to be separated from them as regards sin. Hence it was fitting that between the first sinner and Christ, some just men should intervene, who were to be in certain respects conspicuous types of Christ's future holiness, and these began in Abraham.

But why the Jewish race was chosen in preference to any of the Gentile nations depends on God's absolute free choice, just as the predestination of Christ, of His Blessed Mother, of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets are so dependent. The mystery of predestination is apparent in the whole course of Jewish history, since one is chosen in preference to another, for instance, Abel to Cain, Noe to those who died in the flood, Isaac to another son of Abraham, Jacob to Esau; and so it is with other descendants. It must be noted that the merits of the elect are not the cause of their predestination, because they are its effects. This is especially evident both as regards Christ's predestination to divine natural sonship, and the predestination of the Blessed Virgin Mary to divine maternity.

Supplementary Questions

First doubt. Does the human nature united with the Word still have an innate desire for its own subsistence?

Reply. The common opinion of the Thomists, especially of Cajetan and John of St. Thomas, is that it has no such desire as a reflected act (actus secundus), because it is perfected by a more perfect subsistence, which contains formally and eminently absolutely whatever there would be in its own subsistence. Therefore the natural desire of the assumed human nature rests satisfied in the higher subsistence.[717]

Second doubt. Can incomplete substances and accidents be assumed immediately by the Word, such as prime matter, non-subsistent forms, for instance, the substantial form of bread, or of another body?

Reply. The query is denied, because these incomplete realities are intrinsically incapable of having their own subsistences. Thus prime matter, the substantial form of bread, and accidents cannot be assumed except mediately, that is, through the mediation of substance, whose parts they are, or in which they inhere. But the rational soul separated from the body, which is capable of having its own subsistence and existence, is assumable.

Corollary. Integral parts of the human body, such as the hand, the head, feet, so long as they are united to the whole, cannot be assumed unless the whole is assumed. But if these parts are separated by death, they can remain united with the Word, because these parts separated from the whole are capable of having their own subsistence and existence, distinct from the subsistence and existence of the whole.

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"Lord, here burn, here cut, and dry up in me all that hinders me from going to You, that You may spare me in eternity."

St Louis Bertrand

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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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"Whoever wants to stand alone without the support of a master and guide will be like the tree that stands alone in a field without a proprietor. No matter how much the tree bears, passers-by will pick the fruit before it ripens. "

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

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