"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.


Tenth Article: Whether The Fullness Of Grace Is Proper To Christ

State of the question. The reason for inserting this article is that Sacred Scripture attributes at least a certain fullness of grace to some others. Thus the angel says to the Blessed Virgin Mary: "Hail, full of grace."[935] The Scripture also says: "Stephen, full of grace and fortitude."[936] In fact, St. Paul writing to the Ephesians, thus expresses his desire to them: "That you may be filled unto all the fullness of God."[937] Moreover, for all the blessed in heaven, beatitude is the fullness of all good, which presupposes a certain fullness of grace in this life. What is therefore the fullness of grace that is proper to Christ?

First conclusion. Absolute fullness of grace, but not relative fullness, belongs to Christ alone.

Scriptural proof. The Evangelist says: "We saw His glory, the glory as it were of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."[938] But to be the only-begotten of the Father, belongs to Christ alone. Therefore, too, does fullness of grace.

Theological proof. Absolute fullness of grace is attained when there is as much grace as can be had, at least according to God's ordinary power. But Christ alone had grace in the highest possible degree of excellence and intensity that can be had, at least according to God's ordinary power. Therefore Christ alone had absolute fullness of grace, both in its intensity and extent, as was stated in the preceding article.

Second conclusion. Relative fullness of grace does not belong to Christ alone, but is communicated to others through Him.

There is, indeed, relative fullness of grace when it is of such a nature and extent as demanded by the condition and office of the person to whom it is attributed.

But several saints, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, had grace that was perfectly proportioned to the state and duty assigned to them. Thus the Blessed Virgin is declared to be "full of grace."[939] Therefore relative fullness of grace does not belong to Christ alone.[940]

Corollary.[941] Christ's habitual grace, from the very moment of His conception, excelled in both intensity and extent all grace, even the ultimate grace of angels and men combined. The reason is that the grace in Christ is in proportion to the hypostatic union, and is in Him as the source from which it flows even to the angels; for, as will be stated farther on, Christ is the head of the angels at least as regards accidental grace and glory, inasmuch as the angels are His ministers in the kingdom of God. Jesus said, "The Son of man shall send His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all scandals, and all them that work iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire."[942] He likewise said: "He shall send His angels and shall gather together His elect."[943]

From these texts it is evident that Christ has a higher degree of grace than all angels and men combined, including the blessed, just as in a way the sun is brighter in its intensity than any lesser light whatever, and iron is of more value than a huge pile of common stones. Moreover, it is also said of the Blessed Virgin Mary that her first fullness of grace excelled in intensity the final degree of grace, though not the glory of angels and men combined, and so it is said: "The holy Mother of God has been raised above the choirs of angels to the heavenly kingdom."[944]

It even appears to be true that the grace received by the founders of religious orders excels, as regards the founding of the order, the grace of their combined associates, in this sense, that these associates, unless their founder had been especially inspired by God, would not have started this order, whereas, contrary to this, the founder, deputed by God for this work, could have done it with other companions. Thus the grace, either of St. Benedict or of St. Dominic or of St. Francis, seems to excel the grace of his companions. Likewise, the degree of grace in St. Thomas is greater than that of all his commentators combined. This is more readily understood in that grace is a quality and hence its perfection is qualitative but not quantitative. Consequently, grace that is equivalent for ten talents is of a higher degree than ten graces each of which is equivalent to one talent. Thus a saint, such as the saintly parish priest of Ars, has a greater degree of grace and accomplishes more than many of the faithful and even priests whose charity is of a less degree.

Thus St. Thomas shows[945] that charity—and he says that the same applies to habitual grace—is not increased in intensity by the addition of charity to charity; for this would be a multiplication of charity, but not an increase of it. It is increased, however, by becoming more firmly rooted in the recipient or, not using metaphysical language, by a greater actuation or determination of, and inherence in the recipient; for it is the nature of an accident to inhere.

All these statements are but one and the same way of expressing the intensification of qualities. A new degree of charity, and a more perfect actuation of this charity and of its inherence in the recipient, mean the same thing.

If, then, a higher degree of grace is taken in a qualitative sense and not in its quantitative sense, it is easy to see that Christ's habitual grace excels in intensity even every ultimate grace of men and angels combined. From the moment of His conception it excelled their glory.

St. Thomas teaches that this fullness of grace is of three kinds. He says: "There is sufficient fullness by which anyone has sufficient grace to perform meritorious and excellent acts, as St. Stephen did. There is likewise redundant fullness by which the Blessed Virgin excelled all the saints on account of the eminence and abundance of her merits. There is also efficient and affluent fullness, which applies to Christ alone as man, as to the quasi-author of grace. Thus there was an outpouring of grace on us by the Blessed Virgin, yet she was by no means the author of grace.... Christ's fullness of grace is the cause of all the graces in all intellectual creatures."[946]

St. Thomas says in this text, "of all graces" in general; he does not, however, determine the kind, and he does not say "even of essential grace and glory" in the angels, which elsewhere he denies.[947]

Objection. There would be great disproportion in the natural body if the head were larger than the rest of the body. Therefore, for a similar reason, there would be disproportion in the mystical body if the grace of Christ as its head were in intensity to exceed or equal all the grace of those that constitute His mystical body.

Reply. Gonet answers this objection by conceding the antecedent and denying the consequence, because, as he points out, a distinction must be made between quality and quantity, and there is by no means parity of argument between the mystical body and the natural body. There is indeed similarity of comparison between the two bodies as regards the influx of the head in the members and its pre-eminence over them. But in the natural body the substantial form demands a determinate quantity, both in the head and in the members, that the body may be able to perform its vital operations: and so it is necessary that our head be smaller than our body. Moreover, since habitual grace is the form that vivifies the mystical body of the Church, it does not demand a determinate intensity, but can be increased indefinitely.[948] Hence in the head of the mystical body there can be a greater intensification of grace than in all other persons, and this even pertains to the dignity of the head. Finally, there is in no way any vital dependence of the mystical body on the members, whereas, on the contrary, the head of the physical body depends on the heart, lungs, and other parts.

Eleventh Article: Whether The Grace Of Christ Is Infinite

State of the question. This article is evidently not strictly concerned with the increate grace of union, for St. Thomas said: "The grace of union is the personal being that is given gratis from above to the human nature in the person of the Word."[949] This increate grace of union is infinite inasmuch as it is identical with the very Word of God that terminates the human nature. But it is strictly a question here of habitual grace which is "an effect following the union."[950]

Theologians are not all agreed on this point. Major[951] asserts that Christ's grace is absolutely infinite in intensity. Maldonatus[952] and Hurtado[953] afterward said the same. St. Bonaventure, Durandus, Scotus, Ricardus, and the Thomists Cajetan and Nazarius are of the same opinion, since they taught that Christ's grace could not be increased by God's absolute power. But the opposite opinion seems far more probable and more in conformity with the teaching of St. Thomas, and it is commonly held by theologians, not only of the Thomist school of thought, but also of other schools.

St. Thomas splendidly presents the difficulty of the question at the beginning of this article, where he remarks that Christ's grace appears to be infinite, because the Gospel declares it to be measureless or immense, saying: "God doth not give His Spirit by measure";[954] whereas, contrary to this, St. Paul says of others: "To every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the giving of Christ."[955] Moreover, Christ's grace extends to the whole human race. Finally, if Christ's grace were finite, then some other person's grace might increase so much as to equal Christ's grace. These objections consider in habitual grace, not only the being of grace, but also the nature of grace.

Nevertheless it is evidently true to say that Christ's habitual grace, inasmuch as it is distinct from His grace of union, is something created. But everything created is finite, as stated in the counter-argument of this article. Therefore Christ's habitual grace must be finite.

How is this question to be solved? The article must be read.

First conclusion. The grace of union is infinite, because it is the very person of the Word, who terminates Christ's human nature, as stated above.[956]

Second conclusion. Christ's habitual grace, inasmuch as it is a being, or considered as an entity, is not physically infinite, because it is in Christ's soul, as an accident is in its subject. But Christ's soul is a certain creature having finite capacity. It will be made clear in the following article that grace can always be increased, but considered as a being, since it is something created, it can never be physically and actually infinite.

Third conclusion. Christ's habitual grace, not considered as a being, but according to what strictly pertains to the notion of grace, can be termed infinite.[957] Almost all Thomists understand this conclusion in this sense, namely, that Christ's grace is in its notion of grace morally infinite, though not physically so.[958] For St. Thomas says: "As stated above (q. 7, a. 12) there cannot be a greater grace than the grace of Christ with respect to the union with the Word; and the same is to be said of the perfection of the divine vision; although, absolutely speaking, there could be a higher and-more sublime degree by the infinity of the divine power."[959] He says the same in the reply to the second objection of the next article of this question.[960] Neither does St. Thomas say, concerning this third conclusion of ours: "We must say that Christ's grace, considered as grace, is infinite," but he says "it can be termed infinite," which means, if interpreted in some good sense.

Hence this third conclusion thus understood of grace that is morally infinite viewed in its specific nature of grace, is easily proved.

Two proofs are given in the body of this article, inasmuch as this grace is considered both intensively and extensively.

Intensive proof. Christ's habitual grace is intensively infinite because it has whatever can pertain to the nature of grace, and it is not bestowed "in a fixed measure," just as we may say that the light of the sun is infinite, not indeed in being, but in the nature of light, inasmuch as it has whatever can pertain to the nature of light.

This means that Christ's habitual grace is according to its intensity in the highest degree of its excellence capable of being bestowed on others, at least according to God's ordination and His ordinary power.[961]

We shall see that it can be increased by God's absolute power.[962] Moreover, it must be noticed that the three objections placed at the beginning of the present article conclude that Christ's grace, considered in its specific nature, is also infinite, and that this is denied in the counter-argument.

Something of very great importance must be added here which is implied in the present article,[963] namely, that this habitual grace of Christ, by reason of its union with the Word, is the principle by which Christ performs meritorious and satisfactory acts that are intrinsically and absolutely infinite in value. This infinity, although it comes from the divine person as the principle that operates, nevertheless redounds in moral value and worth on the habitual grace that is the principle by which Christ performs meritorious acts that are strictly and intrinsically infinite in value. Farther on we discuss the commonly accepted thesis of Thomists and almost all theologians, with the exception of Scotists, namely, that Christ's operations were not only extrinsically accepted by God, but they were also intrinsically "absolutely infinite in value both for meriting and for satisfying."[964]

All these things considered, it is no wonder that St. Thomas says in this article, concerning Christ's habitual grace taken in its intensity, that it can be termed infinite, viewed in its specific nature of grace, though he afterward adds that it can be increased by God's absolute power.[965]

Extensive proof. Christ's habitual grace is at least morally infinite because, as St. Thomas says in this article, it is bestowed on Christ's soul, as on a universal principle for bestowing grace on human nature. St. Paul says: "He hath graced us in His beloved Son."[966] This means that Christ's habitual grace extends to all effects that pertain to the nature of grace, even to those that are syncategorematically infinite. Thus we shall see that this habitual grace is called the grace of headship, inasmuch as by it there flows from Christ upon the members of the Church (through the influx of His merits) grace and glory; but glory is without end, since it is eternal life.[967]

But if Christ's grace does not extend so far as to merit the essential grace of Adam in the state of innocence and of the angels, this is not because it did not have the power, but because these were not included in the divine ordering. Hence Christ's grace viewed in its specific nature of grace is morally infinite, both in intensity and extent.

The answer of St. Thomas, as understood in the sense stated above, receives its confirmation in the solution of the objections.

First objection. The Gospel declares: "God doth not give the Spirit by measure[to the Son]."[968] Therefore Christ's grace is infinite.

St. Thomas replies that the words of the Baptist as recorded by St. John can refer: (1) either to the eternal and infinite gift, namely, to the divine nature which the Father from all eternity communicated to the Son; (2) or to the grace of union that is infinite inasmuch as the Word terminates the human nature; (3) or to habitual grace inasmuch as it extends to all that pertains to grace, namely, to the word of wisdom or to the word of knowledge, or to other such gifts.

Hence St. Thomas does not concede the conclusion of the objection, that Christ's habitual grace is absolutely and physically infinite, so that it cannot be greater by God's absolute power.

Reply to second objection. "The grace of Christ has an infinite effect," which means that it includes the salvation of the whole human race "both because of the aforesaid infinity of grace," which for this reason is called the grace of headship, and because of the unity[969] of the divine person, to whom Christ's soul is united. Thus, as we said, Christ's habitual grace, because of its union with the Word, is the principle by which His meritorious and satisfactory acts for us were intrinsically of absolutely infinite validity, and He could have merited eternal life for an ever greater and vast number of human beings, even though, for example, the generations of human beings were to continue even after the end of the world.

By this reply St. Thomas shows that he does not concede the conclusion of this second objection, which is that Christ's habitual grace viewed in this sense is absolutely and physically infinite, so that it cannot by God's absolute power be increased.

Third objection. It states that, "if Christ's grace were finite, then the grace of any other man could increase to such an extent as to reach to an equality with Christ's grace." The Beghards were condemned for saying: "If one could always advance in perfection, then someone more perfect than Christ could be found."[970]

Reply. St. Thomas does not say that Christ's habitual grace is physically and absolutely infinite viewed in its specific nature of grace, but he says: "The grace of any man is compared to the grace of Christ as a particular to a universal power." By way of illustration, the light of the moon, no matter how much it may increase in intensity, cannot equal in intensity the light of the sun from which it receives its light. For the moon does not have its own light, but transmits the light it has received from the sun. St. Thomas, in accordance with the physics of ancient times, made use of another example because he thought the stars were incorruptible, and the light and heat of the sun were of a kind different from the heat of terrestrial fire. Spectral analysis, however, has established the fact that the stars are not incorruptible, but that the same chemical combinations take place in these as on this earth.

Therefore Christ's habitual grace is a finite being, and viewed in its specific nature of grace, if it is not physically infinite, is at least morally infinite, both in its intensity and in its extent, inasmuch as it concurs with the grace of union to produce merit that is intrinsically of infinite validity.

Cajetan, in his commentary on this article, adverting to the fact of his recent elevation to the cardinalate, considers this all the more a reason why the mysteries of Christ should be examined and made known to all. His purpose is to show that Christ's habitual grace is in Him in all the perfection that grace as such can have. In other words, this grace is in Christ "as in the whole that is equivalent to it as such," just as heat is not in the air but in the fire; just as a line could be infinite in length, viewed as a line, although finite as a being, just as whiteness, which is finite indeed, as a being, since it is an accident, is intensively infinite in its nature of whiteness, since there could not be a more perfect whiteness.

Nevertheless Cajetan maintains[971] that Christ's habitual grace, as well as that of others, is of the same most particular species, as regards its essence; the difference is only as regards the mode of its being, just as heat differs in its mode of being as found in terrestrial fire and in the air.[972]

Let us see in what Cajetan agrees and disagrees with other Thomists.

Cajetan[973] maintains, indeed, with other Thomists, that charity can always be increased in this life, and that charity in itself has no ultimately possible degree, because it is a participation of infinite charity and so it differs from heat and from whiteness. But Cajetan is not in agreement with other Thomists when he says that charity in itself does not exclude the highest possible degree of this virtue, especially so if it is ordered to the greatest possible union, namely, the hypostatic union, for then it has, as proportionate to this union, the highest possible degree of this virtue, as heat in fire, and whiteness in snow.

Other Thomists justly reply to him by saying that there is a greater difference between habitual grace or charity and natural qualities, such as heat in fire and whiteness in snow.

First difference. These natural qualities have their own intrinsic and finite specification, and are not defined with reference to something else; whereas habitual grace is defined as a formal and physical participation in the divine nature, the possibility of this participation being infinite. Thus of itself there is no limit to it, but it even excludes this, which means that it seeks intrinsically to have syncategorematically no limitation, which means that the highest possible degree of habitual grace, or of charity or of the light of glory, is intrinsically repugnant, just as the absolutely swiftest motion is a contradiction in terms, for it is always possible to conceive a swifter motion, accomplished in a shorter time, that is however distinct from the indivisible instant of time.

Second difference. Natural qualities, such as heat in fire—a better illustration is whiteness in snow—are natural properties of some natural and finite substance; whereas habitual grace is not a natural property of the created intellectual substance, not even of Christ's soul as united with the Word, because it flows in a certain measure not necessarily, but freely from the Word, a point that will be more clearly explained in the following article.[974]

Third difference. Natural qualities, such as heat and whiteness, are received in the subject according to its passive and finite natural power, whereas habitual grace is received in the subject not according to its natural power, but its obediential power. And St. Thomas says: "The obediential power, inasmuch as it can receive something from God, is not limited in this respect because, whatever God does in the creature, there still remains in it the power to accept something from God."[975]

Finally, grace is something freely given that is dependent in its measure on the divine good pleasure.

Cajetan seeks to defend his opinion and says: "It is possible for one to have a higher degree of the vision of God (than the degree granted to the soul of Christ) from a more sublime intellect equally illumined,"[976] in other words, if to an equal degree of the light of glory an angel were assumed by the Word of God into unity of person.

Other Thomists reply that then the degree of the beatific vision would not be formally more sublime but only materially; in fact, not even materially, because this angel would not have a clearer vision of the divine essence, which is an essentially supernatural object that absolutely transcends the power of whatsoever created intellect, as Alvarez remarks.[977]

Cajetan likewise sets forth his same view in his treatise on charity.[978] He maintains especially in his great commentary, that charity in this life can always be increased and in itself this virtue is not found in the highest possible degree, though it does not exclude this degree, as it excludes mortal sin. In fact, for it to be proportionate to this union, then charity must be in the highest possible degree.

Cajetan, seeking to magnify Christ's habitual grace, minimizes the sublimity of absolutely assumed grace, as we shall see in the explanation of the following article.

So far, Cajetan asserts but he does not prove that Christ's habitual grace is not in the highest possible degree. We shall see in the explanation of the following article what he adds in confirmation of his special opinion.

Index Top




"Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise. "

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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"Try to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God. "

Thomas á Kempis

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