Chapter 2: God Gives to All the Just the Grace Necessary for Observance of the Commandments and to All Sinners the Grace Necessary for Conversion, Section 2, Part 1

Obstinate or Hardened Sinners, and the Abandonment of Them by God

   I know well that there are theologians who maintain that God refuses to certain obstinate sinners even sufficient grace. And, among others, they avail themselves of a position of St. Thomas, who says: "But although they who are in sin cannot through their own power avoid putting or interposing an obstacle to grace, unless they are prevented by grace as we have shown; nevertheless, this also is imputed to them as a sin, because this defect is left in them from previous sin-----as a drunken man is not excused from murder committed in that drunkenness which was incurred by his own fault. Besides, although he who is in sin has not this is his own power that he altogether avoid sin, yet he has power at this present moment to avoid this or that sin, as has been said; so that whatever he commits, he commits voluntarily; and therefore it is properly imputed to him as sin."  From this they gather that St. Thomas intends to say that sinners can indeed avoid particular sins, but not all sins; because in punishment for sins previously committed they are deprived of all actual grace.

    But we answer that here St. Thomas is not speaking of actual, but of habitual or sanctifying grace, without which the sinner cannot keep himself long from falling into new sins, as he teaches in several places. And that he means the same in the passage just quoted is clear from the context . . .  Moreover, in the course of the chapter he says: "For when the mind of man has declined from the state of uprightness, it is manifest that it has fallen from its relation, 'order' [ordo], to its true end.  . . . Whensoever, therefore, anything shall have occurred to the mind conducive to the inordinate end, but improper for the true end, it will be chosen, unless the mind be brought back to its due relation, so as to prefer its true end to all others; and this is the effect of grace. But while anything repugnant to our last end is the object of our choice, it puts a hindrance in the way of the grace which conducts us to that end; whence n is manifest that, after sinning, man cannot altogether abstain from sin, before he is brought back by grace to the due order. And hence the opinion of the Pelagians is shown to be absurd, that man, being in sin, can without grace avoid [fresh] sin." And then he goes on with the sentence quoted above: "But although they," etc., of which our opponents make use.
    So that, in the first place, the intention of St. Thomas is not to prove that some sinners are deprived of all actual grace, and therefore, being unable to avoid all sin, they do commit sin, and are worthy of punishment; but his intention is to prove against the Pelagians that a man who remains without sanctifying grace cannot abstain from sinning. And we see that he is here certainly speaking of sanctifying grace, for this is that which alone brings the soul back to the right order. It is of this same sanctifying grace that he intends to speak, when he says immediately after, "Except he be prevented by the assistance of grace;" by which he means that if the sinner is not prevented-----that is, is not previously informed [informato]-----by grace, and brought back to the right order of holding God to be his last end, he cannot avoid committing fresh sins. And this is the meaning of the Thomists-----for instance, of Ferrariensis [Silvestre] and Father Gonet-----in their comments on this passage. But, without having recourse to other authors, it is quite clear from what St. Thomas himself says in his Summa, where he discusses the same point, and brings forward the identical reasons in the same words as in the 160th Chapter of his book Contra Gentes; and there he expressly says that he is only speaking of habitual or sanctifying grace.

    And it is impossible that the holy Doctor could have meant otherwise, since he elsewhere teaches that, on the one hand, God's grace is never wanting to anyone, as he says in his commentary on St. John: "But lest you might suppose that this effect was consequent on the removal of the true light, the Evangelist, to obviate this opposition, adds, that was the true light which enlightens every man. For the Word enlightens, so far as He is concerned, because on His part He is wanting to no one, but wishes all men to be saved. But if anyone is not enlightened, this is the fault of the man who turns himself away from the light that would enlighten him." And, on the other hand, he teaches that there is no sinner so lost and abandoned by grace as not to be able to lay aside his obstinacy, and to unite himself to the will of God, which he certainly cannot do without the assistance of grace: "During this life there is no man who cannot lay aside obstinacy of mind, and so conform to the Divine will." In another place he says, "So long as the use of free will remains to a man in this life . . . he can prepare himself for grace by being sorry for his sins." But no one can make an act of sorrow for sin without grace. In another place he says, "No man in this life can be so obstinate in evil but that it is possible for him to co-operate to his own deliverance." "To co-operate" necessarily implies grace to co-operate with.
   In another place he observes, on the text of St. Paul, "He wills all to be saved." "Therefore the grace of God is wanting to no man; but, as far as it is concerned, it communicates itself to all." Again, on the same words, "God, so far as He is concerned, is prepared to give grace to all men.  . . . Those, therefore, only are deprived of grace who permit a hindrance to grace to exist in themselves; and, therefore, they cannot be excused if they sin." And when St. Thomas says, "God is prepared to give grace to all," he does not mean actual grace, but only sanctifying grace.

Cardinal Gotti justly contradicts those who say that God keeps ready at hand the aids necessary for salvation, but in matter of fact does not give them to all. Of what use would it be to a sick man [says this learned author] if the physician only kept the remedies ready, and then would not apply them? Then he concludes [quite to the point of our argument] that we must necessarily say, "God not only offers, but also confers on every individual, even on infidels and hardened sinners, help sufficient to observe the Commandments, whether it be proximate or remote."

<>    For the rest, St. Thomas says that it is only the sins of the devils and the damned that cannot be wiped out by penance; but, on the other hand, "to say that there is any sin in this life of which a man cannot repent is erroneous, because this doctrine would derogate from the power of grace." [P. 3, q. 86, a. 1] If grace were wanting to anyone, certainly he could not repent. Moreover, as we have already seen, St. Thomas expressly teaches in several places, and especially in his comment on Heb. 12, that God, as far as He is concerned, refuses to no man the grace necessary for conversion: "The grace of God is wanting to no man; but, as far as it is concerned, communicates itself to all." So that the learned author of the Theology for the use of the seminary of Peterkau says, "It is a calumny to impute to St. Thomas that he taught  that any sinners were totally deserted by God."

Bellarmine makes a sound distinction on this point, and says that for avoiding fresh sins every sinner has at all times sufficient assistance, at least mediately: "The necessary and sufficient assistance for the avoidance of sin is given by God's goodness to all men at all times, either immediately or mediately.  . . . We say "or mediately" because it is certain that some men have not that help by which they can immediately avoid sin, but yet have the help which enables them to obtain from God greater safeguards, by the assistance of which they will avoid sins." But for the grace of conversion, he says that this is not given at all times to the sinner; but that no one will be ever so far left to himself "as to be surely and absolutely deprived of God's help through all this life, so as to have cause to despair of salvation."
   And so says the theologians who follow St. Thomas-----thus Soto: "I am absolutely certain, and I believe that all the holy Doctors who are worthy of the name were always most positive, that no one was ever deserted by God in this mortal life." And the reason is evident; for if the sinner was quite abandoned by grace, either his sins afterwards committed could no longer be imputed to him, or he would be under an obligation to do that which he had no power to fulfill; but it is a positive rule of St. Augustine that there is never a sin in that which cannot be avoided: "No one sins in that which can by no means be avoided." And this is agreeable to the teaching of the Apostle: "But God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will also make with the temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it." [1 Cor. 10: 13] The word "issue" means the Divine assistance, which God always gives to the tempted to enable them to resist, as St. Cyprian explains it: "He will make with the temptation a way of escape." And Primasius more clearly: "He will so order the issue that we shall be able to endure; that is, in temptation He will strengthen you with the help of His grace, so that ye may be able to bear it." St. Augustine and St. Thomas go so far as to say that God would be unjust and cruel if He obliged anyone to a command which he could not keep. St. Augustine says, "it is the deepest injustice to reckon anyone guilty of sin for not doing that which he could not do." And St. Thomas: "God is not more cruel than man; but it is reckoned cruelty in a man to oblige a person by law to do that which he cannot fulfill; therefore we must by no means imagine this of God." [In 2 Sent. d. 28, q. 1, a. 3] "It is, however, different," he says, "when it is through his own neglect that he has not the grace to be able to keep the Commandments," [De Ver. q. 24, a. 14] which properly means, when man neglects to avail himself of the remote grace of prayer, in order to obtain the proximate grace to enable him to keep the law, as the Council of Trent teaches: "God does not command impossibilities; but by commanding admonishes you to do what you can, and to ask for that which is beyond your power; and by his help enables you to do it." [Sess. 6, Cap. 11]

     St. Augustine repeats his decision in many other places that there is no sin in what cannot be avoided. In one he says, "Whether there be iniquity or whether there be justice, if it was not in the man's power, there can be no just reward, no just punishment." Elsewhere he says, "Finally, if no power is given them to abstain from their works, we cannot hold that they sin." Again, "The devil, indeed, suggests; but with the help of God it is in our power to choose or to refuse his suggestions. And so, when by God's help it is in your power, why do you not rather determine to obey God than him?" Again, "No one, therefore, is answerable for what he has not received." Again, 'No one is worthy of blame for not doing that which he cannot do."