Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Question 95 – The First Man’s Will: Grace and Justice

Why this Question Matters

In the previous question, Aquinas discussed the state of the first human being’s intellects in the state of innocence before the fall. It is natural then that he should turn to a treatment of the wills of Adam and Eve in the same state.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: As was remarked in the preamble to this section, that Adam and Eve were created in a state of grace is a standard tenet of Christian theology. This is precisely Aquinas’s subject in this article, but he is not concerned with the fact of Adam and Eve’s state of grace in the Garden of Eden but of exactly when they received that grace; was it coincident with their creation, or was it a gift that followed later?

In their initial state, Adam and Eve were created in a state of rectitude; that is, their reason was subject to God, their lower powers were subject to their higher powers and their bodies were subject to their souls. This fact is given to us in the content of divine revelation (for example, in Ecclesiastes 7:30). Aquinas observes that, although such a state of rectitude is consistent with a human nature, it is not in itself natural. If it were itself part of human nature then it would have remained after the fall. Therefore this state of rectitude must be considered to have stemmed from a supernatural gift of grace. As Adam and Eve were created in this state of rectitude, they must therefore have been created in grace. One should notice that Aquinas doesn’t claim that every grace that they had in paradise was received at their creation; indeed, in the reply to the fourth objection he allows for the possibility that the first humans made progress in merit by the gift of additional graces.

A2: In the Ia-IIae of the summa, Aquinas will devote an entire treatise to the human passions (Ia-IIae.qq22-48). In anticipation of this Aquinas asks about the passions of the first humans in the state of innocence. If we at least think informally about what passions are, we might suspect that the initial state of rectitude is inconsistent with the existence of at least some of them. Indeed, this is the position that Aquinas will argue for.

It’s important to understand that Aquinas considers the passions to be parts of the sensitive appetite; they are not associated with the will which is the intellectual appetite. The passions have objects that can be good or bad: so love and joy, in the appetitive sense, are passions whose objects are good; the objects of fear and sorrow are bad. In paradise, there were no present or threatening evils, nor were any goods absent. Therefore passions whose objects are bad or which relate to a desire for an absent good were not present in the initial state of human beings. Even those passions that were present in Adam and Eve were present in a different way than they are present in us. In us it is perfectly possible for a passion with good object to exist in a disordered way; in the initial state of rectitude only the passions that were consistent with the judgement of reason were present.

The reply to the second objection makes some remarks about the human body and soul being impassible in the state of innocence. Exactly what this means and why it is so will be dealt with in detail in Ia.q97.a2.

A3: As with the passions, Aquinas will spend considerable effort discussing human virtue (Ia-IIae.qq55-70). These are stable dispositions (habitus as Aquinas calls them) towards the good and away from evil. Aquinas asks whether Adam had all of the virtues in the state of innocence.

As the objections identify, many of the virtues are ordered towards constraining immoderation of the passions or in combating evil. If we follow the pattern of the previous article on the passions then we might expect Aquinas to argue that virtues wholly associated with the good existed in Adam in the state of innocence and that those associated with combating some form of evil did not. This is roughly the path that Aquinas takes, but with an important caveat: the modes of existence of the passions and of the virtues are different and this has consequences for how this question should be answered. In the absence of its object a passion, which is simply a movement of the sensitive appetite, does not exist. In contrast, a habit is a stable disposition of the soul that exists as a habit (that is, precisely as that stable disposition) even if it is not in act.

With this distinction in mind, we can identify that certain virtues such as charity and justice, which involve no imperfection, existed absolutely speaking in Adam in the state of innocence. On the other hand, some virtues, such as faith and hope, involve some imperfections (in this case absence of things seen or had) that are not necessarily inconsistent with the state of innocence. Adam and Eve did not enjoy the beatific vision in paradise, so faith and hope could exist in them. Finally some virtues, such as repentance, sorrow and shame, are associated with objects that are inconsistent with the state of innocence. These virtues were present in Adam as stable dispositions but they did not exist in actuality.

A4: In Ia-IIae.q114 Aquinas will turn his attention to the notion of merit. Merit is a tricky and often misunderstood theological concept that is associated with a human being’s cooperation with the grace of God. As God created humans with free-will and allows them the exercise of this free-will, humans in receipt of certain gifts of grace can cooperate with them or resist them (otherwise humans simply become divine puppets). Provided that we recognize that the ability to cooperate with grace is itself a grace, then the term merit is applied to the eternal consequences of the gift of grace and cooperation with grace considered as rewards. Much more detail will be given in the Ia-IIae, but for now Aquinas simply inquires as to whether Adam’s deeds were more or less meritorious than ours can be.

The objections suggest that Adam’s deeds were done in circumstances that made good works supremely easy and that therefore we require greater gifts of grace to progress in merit than Adam required. As grace is at the root of merit this means that Adam’s deeds were less efficacious for meriting than ours. Aquinas answers by making a distinction in ways of understanding how we might approach a notion of quantification of merit. The first approach is to look at the root of merit in charity and grace; the reception of greater grace corresponds to the bringing forth of greater charity which corresponds to a greater degree of participation in the beatific vision. The second approach to the notion of quantifying merit is to look at it from the point of view of quantifying the works that flow from the corresponding gifts of grace, both absolutely (i.e. simply how much is done) and proportionally (i.e. how much is done considered in proportion to how much is available). So when we try to quantify merit we can think in terms of the amount of grace received or in terms of the absolute or proportional amount of work done in consequence of that grace. The former way should be seen as primary (or essential) to the notion of merit and the latter as secondary (or incidental).

Seen from the point of view of the first way of quantifying merit, works done in the state of innocence are more efficacious for merit than post-lapsarian works; the state of innocence corresponds to an extraordinarily copious outflowing of grace from God. The same reasoning applies to a quantification based on the absolute quantity of good works; in the state of innocence the extraordinary outpouring of grace facilitated much greater works. However, seen from the point of view the proportional quantity of works, we see that the weakness of human beings after the fall implies that the graced works that they do achieve should be seen in the context of the widow of Mark 12:41. In giving a tiny amount she was giving all that she had; in this sense we can understand post-lapsarian works are more efficacious for grace than pre-lapsarian.

Handy Concepts

  • Adam and Eve were created in a state of grace. This state did not preclude them from progressing in grace with additional gifts.
  • Only passions consistent with the good existed in paradise.
  • Only virtues consistent with or commensurate to the good existed in actuality in paradise; virtues associated with the suppression of evil were only habitually present.
  • Adam’s works were more efficacious of merit that are ours, seen from the point of view the grace standing behind them and also from their sheer quantity of goodness. Seen from the point of view of proportionality, our works mat be considered more efficacious.


  • In the second article Aquinas introduces us to the passions, which are movements of the sensitive appetite. Much more will be said later in the Treatise on the Passions. For now we might wish to remember that English words like love can be associated with a movement of the sensitive appetite but also with a movement of the intellectual appetite. One must be careful of equivocation!

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