"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

St. Thomas Aquinas on Angels and Grace


"The Fall of the Rebel Angels"
Luca Giordano (1666)

Today is the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas who is known as the Angelic Doctor. (He is also my patron saint). Pope Pius X, in Pascendi Gregis, wrote, "none can depart from St. Thomas's teaching, especially in metaphysics, without danger." One of the reasons Aquinas is the supreme Doctor of the Church is that his understanding of the angels allowed him better to understand both God and man, because in the order of being, angels stand between God and man. So consider Summa Theologica I Q.62 a.1. There Aquinas asks the following question: Were the angels created in beatitude? In other words, were the angels created such that they were already perfectly happy? (Aquinas's words are in green.) Aquinas begins his answer with a very simple argument. He writes:

"To be established or confirmed in good is of the nature of beatitude. But the angels were not confirmed in good as soon as they were created; the fall of some of them shows this. Therefore the angels were not in beatitude from their creation."

If the angels were not created in beatitude, does that mean that they were created in misery or wretchedness? No. Aquinas proceeds to show that there are two kinds of happiness possible for any rational creature. He writes:

"By the name of beatitude is understood the ultimate perfection of rational or of intellectual nature; and hence it is that it is naturally desired, since everything naturally desires its ultimate perfection. Now there is a twofold ultimate perfection of rational or of intellectual nature. The first is one which it can procure of its own natural power; and this is in a measure called beatitude or happiness. Hence Aristotle (Ethic. x) says that man's ultimate happiness consists in his most perfect contemplation, whereby in this life he can behold the best intelligible object; and that is God. Above this happiness there is still another, which we look forward to in the future, whereby "we shall see God as He is." This is beyond the nature of every created intellect, as was shown above (Question 12, Article 4)."

Every rational creature, by its very nature as a being with rationality, naturally desires its perfection. It can be perfected in two ways. First, by what it can attain by its natural power. This is the kind of happiness Aristotle describes in Book X of the Nicomachean Ethics. It consists in the contemplation of God, insofar as God can be known by us through our natural intellective power from the things that have been made. But there is a more perfect happiness possible for us, because there is a higher possible knowledge of God. That higher knowledge of God is knowing God as God knows Himself, in His essence, not merely from what He has made. Yet, as Aquinas as already shown in ST I Q.12 a.4 no rational creature can by its own natural power alone attain to the knowledge of God's essence, for God's essence is above our nature. Hence in ST I Q.12 a.4 his argument concludes:

"Therefore the created intellect cannot see the essence of God, unless God by His grace unites Himself to the created intellect, as an object made intelligible to it."

In order to attain perfect happiness, rational creatures need God to unite Himself to them in such a way that they participate in the divine nature, and thus can know God as God knows Himself. (That's what Aquinas means by "as an object made intelligible to it"). For Aquinas, this is precisely what grace is, a supernatural gift infused into the substance of the rational creature making the creature a participant in the divine nature, capable of knowing God as He is. Only in this way can the rational creature know God as He is in His essence, and thus attain perfect beatitude. Aquinas concludes ST I Q.62 a.1 by showing that the angels were created with natural beatitude, but not with the ultimate beatitude that consists in knowing God in His essence. Aquinas writes:

"So, then, it remains to be said, that, as regards this first beatitude, which the angel could procure by his natural power, he was created already blessed. Because the angel does not acquire such beatitude by any progressive action, as man does, but, as was observed above (58, 3,4), is straightway in possession thereof, owing to his natural dignity. But the angels did not have from the beginning of their creation that ultimate beatitude which is beyond the power of nature; because such beatitude is no part of their nature, but its end; and consequently they ought not to have it immediately from the beginning."

Aquinas explains that the angels, if left to their natural powers alone, could never have attained the perfect beatitude that consists in knowing God in His essence. Such a knowledge is beyond the power of their nature to attain. Hence, in the following article, Aquinas argues that the angels needed grace to turn to God as the object of perfect beatitude. He writes:

The angels stood in need of grace in order to turn to God, as the object of beatitude. For, as was observed above (Question 60, Article 2) the natural movement of the will is the principle of all things that we will. But the will's natural inclination is directed towards what is in keeping with its nature. Therefore, if there is anything which is above nature, the will cannot be inclined towards it, unless helped by some other supernatural principle.

In ST I Q.60 a.2, Aquinas taught that angels were created with a natural love, that is, a fundamental appetite toward their end (i.e the beatitude of knowing God). Their natural love is like our natural desire for happiness; it is part of our nature, and we cannot remove it or change it. The angels also have what he calls "love of choice". That is a love which they freely will for the sake of their natural love. This is akin to what we freely choose to love, for the sake of attaining happiness. Here in ST I Q.62 a.2, he is arguing that the will's natural inclination is directed towards what is in keeping with its nature, which in the case of angels is a knowledge of God as known through the angelic nature, not as God is in His essence. For Aquinas,
without supernatural help the angel's natural inclination cannot be directed toward the beatific vision. He continues:

Now it was shown above (12, 4,5), when we were treating of God's knowledge, that to see God in His essence, wherein the ultimate beatitude of the rational creature consists, is beyond the nature of every created intellect. Consequently no rational creature can have the movement of the will directed towards such beatitude, except it be moved thereto by a supernatural agent. This is what we call the help of grace. Therefore it must be said that an angel could not of his own will be turned to such beatitude, except by the help of grace.

Then in Q.62 a.3, drawing from Augustine, Aquinas argues that angels were created with grace. This entails, of course, that those angels who rebelled, did so while in a state of grace. Aquinas anticipates this objection and replies:

Every form inclines the subject after the mode of the subject's nature. Now it is the mode of an intellectual nature to be inclined freely towards the objects it desires. Consequently the movement of grace does not impose necessity; but he who has grace can fail to make use of it, and can sin. (ST I Q.62 a.3 ad 2)

Here we see Aquinas making use of the principle that grace perfects nature. Grace does not impose coercive necessity on the will, or hinder the freedom of the will. Those who while having grace reject God are more culpable than they would have been had they rejected Him without grace. Aquinas then addresses the question of the role of merit with respect to angelic beatitude. He writes:

Perfect beatitude is natural only to God, because existence and beatitude are one and the same thing in Him. Beatitude, however, is not of the nature of the creature, but is its end. Now everything attains its last end by its operation. Such operation leading to the end is either productive of the end, when such end is not beyond the power of the agent working for the end, as the healing art is productive of health; or else it is deserving of the end, when such end is beyond the capacity of the agent striving to attain it; wherefore it is looked for from another's bestowing. Now it is evident from what has gone before (1,2; 12, 4,5), ultimate beatitude exceeds both the angelic and the human nature. It remains, then, that both man and angel merited their beatitude. And if the angel was created in grace, without which there is no merit, there would be no difficulty in saying that he merited beatitude: as also, if one were to say that he had grace in any way before he had glory.

This is a fairly straightforward argument. Only God has beatitude intrinsically. (cf. ST I Q.26) Creatures attain their end through their proper operation, which either directly produces the end (when the end is within the creature's powers) or, when the end is beyond the creature's powers, merits the end to be bestowed by a higher power. Since ultimate beatitude exceeds the natural capacity of angels and humans, therefore both angels and humans attain that end not by direct production but by merit. But there cannot be merit [to the ultimate end] without grace. Why? Aquinas explains in ST I-II Q.114 a.2, writing:

Now no act of anything whatsoever is divinely ordained to anything exceeding the proportion of the powers which are the principles of its act; for it is a law of Divine providence that nothing shall act beyond its powers. Now everlasting life is a good exceeding the proportion of created nature; since it exceeds its knowledge and desire, according to 1 Corinthians 2:9: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man." And hence it is that no created nature is a sufficient principle of an act meritorious of eternal life, unless there is added a supernatural gift, which we call grace.

Therefore, angels could only fulfill their proper operation and reach their ultimate end by merit, and they could only merit this if endowed with the supernatural gift of grace.Then in the fifth article of Q.62, Aquinas asks whether the angels obtained beatitude immediately after one act of merit. He writes:

The angel was beatified instantly after the first act of charity, whereby he merited beatitude. The reason whereof is because grace perfects nature according to the manner of the nature; as every perfection is received in the subject capable of perfection, according to its mode. Now it is proper to the angelic nature to receive its natural perfection not by passing from one stage to another; but to have it at once naturally, as was shown above (1; 58, 3,4). But as the angel is of his nature inclined to natural perfection, so is he by merit inclined to glory. Hence instantly after merit the angel secured beatitude. Now the merit of beatitude in angel and man alike can be from merely one act; because man merits beatitude by every act informed by charity. Hence it remains that an angel was beatified straightway after one act of charity.

According to Aquinas, angels have a higher nature than do humans. That is why they do not reason discursively, or by composition and division into subject and predicate. Unlike humans, who learn in time, what angels can know through their intellect they perceive all at once. Furthermore, grace perfects nature according to the manner of that nature; every perfection is received in a subject capable of perfection, according to the mode proper to the nature of that subject. Also, as the angel is by his nature inclined to natural perfection, so by merit (for which grace is a prerequisite), he is inclined to glory (i.e. beatific vision). Therefore, by one act of charity, that is, a free grace-enabled movement of the will toward God, the angel instantly merited perfect beatitude. Likewise, by one act of rebellion, the fallen angels instantly merited eternal damnation.

Aquinas goes on to say that there are different degrees of glory in the various angels, according to their various gifts. He also argues that in acquiring the knowledge of God as He is in Himself (i.e. knowledge of God's essence), the angels do not lose their natural knowledge of God. In addition he argues that once the angels have attained the beatific vision, they cannot advance in happiness, because their happiness is perfect. In article eight he points out that the angels who chose to love God and so have attained the beatific vision
, can never sin. There he writes:

The beatified angels cannot sin. The reason for this is, because their beatitude consists in seeing God through His essence. Now, God's essence is the very essence of goodness. Consequently the angel beholding God is disposed towards God in the same way as anyone else not seeing God is to the common form of goodness. Now it is impossible for any man either to will or to do anything except aiming at what is good; or for him to wish to turn away from good precisely as such. Therefore the beatified angel can neither will nor act, except as aiming towards God. Now whoever wills or acts in this manner cannot sin. Consequently the beatified angel cannot sin.

Once again Aquinas is applying the principle that grace perfects nature. He is drawing from Aristotle's elucidation of the intrinsic and unchangeble directedness of rational creatures toward goodness. We cannot choose evil except under an aspect of goodness. That is, we can never choose evil for its own sake. It is impossible for us to do so. We do not perceive this intrinsic and unchangeable directedness of our will toward goodness as restricting or limiting our freedom. We recognize, on a few moments reflection, that it is a good thing that our will is intrinsically and immutably aimed at goodness, for otherwise we would necessarily have no criteria for deciding anything; we would not be rational, and hence *we* would not exist. Just as we do not perceive our intrinsic and immutable directedness toward goodness as a restriction on our freedom, but as a necessary condition for our freedom, so also in the beatific vision, when we are confirmed in beatitude through our will being immutably directed to God in charity, our 'inability' to turn away from God will not be perceived as a restriction on our freedom, but as an enhancement and perfection of our freedom.

What does all this have to do with the union of all Christians? It provides an explanation for why it is that the claim that we are "justified by grace alone through faith alone" entails that the faith is not entirely alone. Faith is produced by grace that has been infused into the soul by the Holy Spirit. Grace cannot be mere divine favor, because mere divine favor would not by itself enable the angels to attain to the knowledge of God's essence and thus to attain their ultimate beatitude. Man, like the angels, is a rational creature, and likewise needs a supernatural gift in order to attain his supernatural end. So when Aquinas reaches the question, "Was the first man created in grace?" (ST I Q.95 a.1), he first refers back to what he has already said regarding the angels. (I have discussed here Aquinas' argument that Adam and Eve were created in grace.)

In ST I-II Q.113 a.2, Aquinas asks whether the infusion of grace is required for the remission of guilt, i.e. for the justification of the ungodly. He answers:

By sinning a man offends God as stated above (Question 71, Article 6). Now an offense is remitted to anyone, only when the soul of the offender is at peace with the offended. Hence sin is remitted to us, when God is at peace with us, and this peace consists in the love whereby God loves us. Now God's love, considered on the part of the Divine act, is eternal and unchangeable; whereas, as regards the effect it imprints on us, it is sometimes interrupted, inasmuch as we sometimes fall short of it and once more require it. Now the effect of the Divine love in us, which is taken away by sin, is grace, whereby a man is made worthy of eternal life, from which sin shuts him out. Hence we could not conceive the remission of guilt, without the infusion of grace.

Here's Aquinas's argument. We cannot truly be at peace with God (due to our sin) until there is mutual love between God and us. But God's love for us is eternal and unchangeable. So, in order for us to be at peace with God, we must love God. We cannot do that without grace, for grace disposes us to know God and love God, and so be worthy of eternal life (i.e. to share in God's divine life). So therefore, we cannot be at peace with God without the infusion of grace. But wherever there is remission of sins there is peace with God. Therefore, there cannot be remission of sins without the infusion of grace.

1 comment:

Tim A. Troutman said...

This is an incredibly helpful post for a fledgling Thomist like me.