Chapter 1: God Wishes All Men to be Saved;
Christ Died for All Men, Section 1, Part 2


    On the other hand, both the Scriptures and all the Fathers assure us that God sincerely and really wishes the salvation of all men and the conversion of all sinners, as long as they are in this world. For this we have, first of all, the express text of St. Paul: "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." The sentence of the Apostle is absolute and indicative-----"God wills all men to be saved". [1 Tim. 2: 4] These words in their natural sense declare that God truly wills all men to be saved; and it is a certain rule, received in common by all, that the words in Scripture are not to be distorted to an unnatural sense, except in the sole case when the literal meaning is repugnant to faith or morals. St. Bonaventure writes precisely to our purpose when he says, "We must hold that when the Apostle says, God wills all men to be saved, it is necessary to grant that He does will it."

    It is true that St. Augustine and St. Thomas mention different interpretations which have been given to this text; but both these Doctors understand it to mean a real will of God to save all, without exception.

    And concerning St. Augustine, we shall see just now that this was his true opinion; so that St. Prosper protests against attributing to him the supposition that God did not sincerely wish the salvation of all men, and of each individual, as an aspersion on the holy Doctor. Hence the same St. Prosper, who was a most faithful disciple of his, says, "It is most sincerely to be believed and confessed that God wills all men to be saved; since the Apostle [whose very words these are] is particular in commanding that prayers should be made to God for all."

The argument of the Saint is clear, founded on St. Paul's words in the above-cited passage-----"I beseech therefore, first of all that prayers should be made for all men"; and then he adds, "For, this is good and acceptable before God our Savior, Who wills all men to be saved." So the Apostle wishes us to pray for all, exactly in the same sense that God wishes the salvation of all. St. Chrysostom uses the same argument: "If He wills all to be saved, surely we ought to pray for all. If He desires all to be saved, do you also be of one mind with Him." And if in some passages in his controversy with the Semi-Pelagians, St. Augustine seems to have held a different interpretation of this text, saying that God does not will the salvation of each individual, but only of some, Petavius well observes that here the holy Father speaks only incidentally, not with direct intention; or, at any rate, that he speaks of the grace of that absolute and victorious will [voluntas absoluta et victrix] with which God absolutely wills the salvation of some persons, and of which the Saint elsewhere says, 'The will of the Almighty is always invincible." [Enchir. c. 102]

Let us hear how St. Thomas uses another method of reconciling the opinion of St. Augustine with that of St. John Damascene, who holds that antecedently God wills all and each individual to be saved: "God's first intention is to will all men to be saved, that as good He may make us partakers of His goodness; but after we have sinned, He wills to punish us as just." On the other hand, St. Augustine [as we have seen] seems in a few passages to think differently. But St. Thomas reconciles these opinions, and says that St. Damascene spoke of the antecedent will of God, by which He really wills all men to be saved, while St. Augustine spoke of the consequent will. He then goes on to explain the meaning of antecedent and consequent will: "Antecedent will is that by which God wills all to be saved; but when all the circumstances of this or that individual are considered, it is found to be good that all men should be saved; for it is good that he who prepares himself, and consents to it, should be saved; but not he who is unwilling and resists, etc. And this is called the consequent will, because it presupposes a foreknowledge of a man's deeds, not as a cause of the act of will, but as a reason for the thing willed and determined."

   So that St. Thomas was also of opinion that God truly wills all men and each individual to be saved. This opinion he reasserts in several other places. On the text-----"Him that cometh to Me I will not cast out," [John 6: 37] he quotes St. Chrysostom, who makes our Lord say, "If then I was incarnate for the salvation of men, how can I cast them out?" And this is what He means when He says, "Therefore I cast them not out, because I came down from Heaven to do My Father's will, Who wills all men to be saved."  And again, "God, by His most liberal will, gives [grace] to every one that prepares himself,"-----Who wills all men to be saved; "and therefore the grace of God is wanting to no man, but as far as He is concerned He communicates it to every one." Again, he declares the same thing more expressly in his explanation of the text of St. Paul-----"God wills all men to be saved." "In God," he says, "the salvation of all men, considered in itself, belongs to that class of things which He wishes, and this is His antecedent will; but when the good of justice is taken into consideration, and the rightness of punishing sin, in this sense He does not Will the salvation of all, and this is His consequent will."  Here we may see how consistent St. Thomas was in his explanation of antecedent and consequent will; for he here repeats what he had said in the passage quoted a little before. In this place he only adds the comparison of a merchant, who antecedently wills to save all his merchandise; but if a tempest comes on, he willingly throws it overboard, in order to preserve his own life. In like manner, he says, God, considering the iniquity of some persons, wills them to be punished in satisfaction of His justice, and consequently does not will them to be saved; but antecedently, and considered in itself, He wills with a true desire the salvation of all men. So that, as he says in the former passage, God's will to save all men is on His part absolute; it is only conditional on the part of the object willed, that is, if man will correspond to what the right order demands, in order to be saved. "Nor yet," he says, "is there imperfection on the part of God's will, but on the part of the thing willed; because it is not accepted with all the circumstances which are required, in order to be saved in the proper manner." [In I Sent. d. 46, q. 1, a. 1] And he again and more distinctly declares what he means by antecedent and consequent will: "A judge antecedently wishes every man to live, but he consequently wishes a murderer to be hanged; so God antecedently wills every man to be saved, but He consequently wills some to be damned; in consequence, that is, of the exigencies of His justice."

. . . it is certain that God creates all men for eternal life. . . . We ought to submit ourselves to the will of God, Who has chosen to leave this mystery in obscurity to his Church, that we all might humble ourselves under the deep judgments of His Divine Providence, And the more, because Divine grace, by which alone men can gain eternal life, is dispensed more or less abundantly by God entirely gratuitously, and without any regard to our merits. So that to save ourselves it will always be necessary for us to throw ourselves into the arms of the Divine mercy, in order that He may assist us with His grace to obtain salvation, trusting always in His infallible promises to hear and save the man who prays to Him.


HOME------------------------CATHOLIC CLASSICS