Several times in scripture, both in the Old Testament and in the New, reference is made to the “Book of Life”. Clearly this book has something to do with the ultimate destiny of individual humans. In the article Aquinas clarifies the meaning of this term and reconciles some different accounts of its meaning found in the Christian tradition.
The Thread of the Argument
A1: As the “Book of Life” has something to do with the ultimate destiny of individual humans, a good question to ask is if this “book” is identical to predestination. Aquinas answers that, primarily speaking, the “Book of Life” is God’s knowledge of who He has predestined to eternal life and that the terminology of a “book” is a metaphor with the human activity of recording facts in books. However, Aquinas is willing to concede that the term “Book of Life” is open to more than one meaning. In particular, it can also refer to the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible inasmuch as the latter record those things that lead to life and it can also refer to the divine force which enables all to remember their deeds inasmuch as they lead to life. So although the “Book of Life” is about predestination there is a conceptual distinction between the two.
A2: One may also ask whether the “Book of Life” refers only to the elect predestined to glory or whether other things (such as God’s life or the life of all of nature) are recorded there. Aquinas insists that the “Book of Life” refers to those destined to glory because it is primarily to do with election to something beyond the natural. Neither God’s life, nor the course of the natural world involve election beyond what is natural to them, therefore they are not the subject of the “Book of Life”. In replying to the last of the objections, Aquinas observes that the life of grace is not in itself the end of life, but rather a means to the end. So one is only elected to the life of grace insofar as one is elected to the life of glory; conversely the fact that one is at some time granted grace does not imply that one is therefore predestined for glory. Those who ultimately fall from grace are said to be conditionally elected and their names are written in the book of life conditionally rather than absolutely. Aquinas will return to this point in the third article.
A3: It would seem that if one’s name is written in the “Book of Life” then it cannot be erased from there, as the election to eternal life is infallible. Aquinas recognizes that sometimes something is said to be done when it becomes known; therefore one might argue that one can say that a person is entered into the “Book of Life” when their grace becomes known and their name erased when it is clear that they have fallen from grace. Having said this, Aquinas still insists that human opinion is of secondary importance here; the “Book of Life” concerns objectives facts rather than human opinions. However, continuing the thread of argument in the reply to the final objection in Article 2, he recalls that the “Book of Life” is to do with elevation to the supernatural order and that therefore the “Book of Life” also contains the names of those who are conditionally elected. It is almost as if the “Book of Life” contains two sections: those unconditionally elected to glory and those conditionally elected. The names in the first part cannot be erased, but those in the second part can.
- It seems a little curious that Aquinas makes no mention of the other books referred to in Apoc. 20: 11-12 out of which the deeds of all (predestined and reprobated) are recalled.