Essay Sample on The Doctrine of Grace in Aquinas and Augustine

Published: 2023-05-01
Essay Sample on The Doctrine of Grace in Aquinas and Augustine
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  God Christianity Philosophers
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1897 words
16 min read

Grace is arguably the most critical concept in Christianity. The doctrine of the grace of God is the very core of the Bible. This grace is expressed in the promises of God in the scripture and is also embodied in Christ. Grace can be defined as the love, peace, mercy, and favor of God that is shown to those who do not deserve it. Grace best comes alive in the midst of sin, brokenness, and suffering. Since the world is full of these, everyone needs grace. Over the years, various scholars and theologists have tackled the issue of grace. Aquinas and Saint Augustine, who are known for their theological and philosophical explorations, are among them. Augustine wrote in the late 4th and early 5th century while Aquinas wrote in the 13th century. While Augustine took a more Platonic route in his writings, Aquinas adopted a more Aristotelian approach. Though their writings bear several differences, the two also agree on various issues. This paper seeks to discuss the take of the two theologists on the doctrine of grace. Their arguments, differences, and agreements will also be explored.

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Thomas' View of Grace

Thomas Aquinas lived between 1225 and 1274. He is considered to be to theology what Shakespeare was to literature. His output and influence in the discipline has been enormous throughout history. Summa Theologiae is his best-known work (Aquinas, 2006). In the book, he presents his understanding of the relation between freedom and law, as well as freedom and grace. On free will, he writes, "Man has free will: otherwise, counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments would be in vain" (Aquinas, 2006). In this, he does not only claim that freedom and the natural are identical but also holds that freedom is a natural standard that enables man to uphold moral responsibility (Arioli). He also maintains that if man cannot be held accountable for his actions, then both law and grace are meaningless. In his understanding, therefore, law and grace are completions of human free will.

Aquinas presents grace as a quality that is God adds to human nature to help human beings attain their supernatural end, which is the union with God (Arioli). Aquinas is also very clear in his argument that grace presupposes both nature and law. Though free will is man's nature, grace helps him make efficacious choices. First, he defines grace as a person's love. To this effect, he gives the example of the king who favors a soldier and hence is said to be in the king's good graces (Aquinas, 2006). Secondly, he presents grace as any freely bestowed gift. Third, he understands grace as a form of gratitude for a gift that one has received. Grace, according to him, therefore, is a supernatural quality given to men by God. This quality is brought about by God rather than through secondary causation.

To understand the relation of grace and free will, according to Thomas, it is important to first look at his definition of sin. Human rationality and reason are the standards by which sin should be judged according to Aquinas. He also argues that sin, evil, and vice oppose virtue in a person. As such, he advances that sin is the movement against rationality. Aquinas further states that though the fall affected rationality, it did not destroy or functionally hinder it. Hence, rationality still opposes the faculties of passion and will, which have been weakened (Wawrykow, 2016). Sin, therefore, according to Aquinas, is only a weakening of nature, and not the death of it. In this light, there is a need for restoration of the faculties back to the complete form (Long, 2010). In this light, he advances that since grace makes human nature perfect, it cannot be a violation of their free will (Arioli). Thomas' definition of grace, therefore, is wholly anchored on the character of sin, the need for restoration, and the place of man's free will. He sees grace as an external entity implanted in disordered individuals by God. The restoration occurs in two ways (Long, 2010). First, grace wills or moves a person to do good. Second, grace is a habitual gift that inclines them towards certain acts. In totality, grace enables man to exercise his free will without hurting natural integrity (Long, 2010).

As mentioned earlier, Aquinas leaned more towards Aristotelian philosophy. It is, therefore, no surprise that his definition of grace significantly borrows from the philosophy. He argues that grace is a soul instead of a substantial form. He states, "' because grace is above human nature... it... is an accidental form of the soul" (Aquinas, 2006). According to Aristotle, the substantial form indicates the essence of a thing (O'Meara, 1988). As such, Aquinas concludes that grace is something that completes nature rather than destroying it (Arioli). Since free will is natural to man, grace, therefore, does not violate free will. His definition of grace as quality also heavily borrows from the Aristotelian metaphysical framework. Quality can be categorized into natural capabilities and incapabilities, habits and dispositions, affective qualities and affections, as well as shape. Grace, according to Thomas, falls under habits and dispositions. Grace is, therefore, a supernatural habit or disposition that helps men lead lives that please God (Colberg S. M., 2016). Also, grace supplements the essence of man and does not change it. Ultimately, grace makes men complete in God.

Augustine's View of Grace

St. Augustine lived between 354 and 430 AD (Augustine, 2010). He wrote more than 100 works on Christian doctrine, as well as apologetics against various heresies. His take on grace is among the most powerful throughout history. He was among the first philosophers and theologists to synthesize and reconcile the theories of the fall of man, grace, and free will. His theology on grace persisted throughout the era of the early church and also rose again, triumphantly during the Reformation era through Calvin and Luther (Trueman & Hughes, 2017). Over time, his doctrine of grace has been passed onto Puritans and Evangelicals. Augustine considered grace and free central to understanding and explaining human responsibility. To fully understand Augustine's view on grace, therefore, it is crucial to understand his take on free will first. Regarding free will, Augustine argues that God holds absolute sovereignty over the will by His grace. He maintains that man's free will enables him to make choices, whether good or evil. The possession and exercise of free will are central to man's moral action, according to Augustine (Augustine, 2010). For the choices to be efficacious, man needs grace, though it does not cancel their responsibility.

As such, all acts of virtue, even those committed by infidels, are God's gift. Grace, therefore, leaves man's freedom intact. He also argues that though under grace, man is still free (Long, 2010). It is important to note that in his doctrine, he is not opposed to the argument that the fall of man led to the loss of freedom. Instead, he holds that man did not lose the freedom to choose between good and evil (Augustine, 2010). Rather, sin disrupted the perfect and calm liberty that existed. Resultantly, man faces struggles in exercising his free will. In his words, "All agree that they want to be happy, just as, if they were asked, they would all agree that they desired joy" (Augustine, 2010). In this statement, he means that though all men desire happiness, they cannot will themselves to achieve it, since true happiness is found only in God, who cannot be delighted by men living in the flesh.

Using the above analogy, grace can be viewed as God's way of giving man sovereign joy that transcends all other joys and hence directs our will. Grace, therefore, is God's active way of changing the desires of the hearts of men to truly desire him above everything else, as well as freely choose and love him (Augustine, 2010). Though man's will is free to choose what he delights in, he cannot choose what their will delight in. This is the reason why God's grace is needed in man's life. In this aspect, Augustine's understanding of grace bears several similarities to Aquinas' (Colberg S., 2019). In his argument, Augustine also opposes both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism (Augustine, 2010). The former states that man is morally neutral while the latter holds that man is spiritually sick. Instead, Augustine advances that though man was righteous before the fall, he is now dead in sins (Rackett, 2002). According to Pelagianism, original sin did not affect human nature, and man retained his ability to choose between good and evil without necessarily depending on divine help. Though Adam's sin set a bad example for mankind, it did not have any further consequences, which is in direct contradiction with 1 Corinthians 15:22. Pelagianism further states that Jesus only came to set a good example and hence counteracts that set by Adam. One of the reasons for developing the doctrine of grace was to counter this view (Augustine, 2010).

Augustine argues that though man was created in a state of grace, the fall displaced the love of God. It is important to note that, according to Augustine, man was without sin or fault in the beginning. However, all spiritual graces that man had enjoyed before were lost, and a sentence of death was also justifiably inflicted on man following the fall. The understanding of man was also darkened, and his will became enslaved by sin such that man could not stop sinning and could not choose God. He then holds that man cannot reach God using rationality. Instead, it is only God who can reach down to them through grace, which then restores the original relationship between man and God. Grace, therefore, is God's unmerited gift to man (Augustine, 2010).

Men's good deeds cannot earn one grace since the deeds themselves are an effect of grace. Hence man cannot perform any worth-while act without the help of God. Through this argument, Augustine shows that God's grace is efficacious. He also holds that grace is particular, and hence some are chosen while others are reprobated. He contradicts semi-Pelagians when he asserts that reprobation or election is not done based on one's faith. Instead, this happens due to God's inscrutable will (Augustine, 2010). This stands on eternal reprobation and election can be seen when he says, "And these we also mystically call the two cities, or the two communities of men, of which the one is predestined to reign eternally with God, and the other to suffer eternal punishment with the devil" (Cranz, 1950).

As seen, Augustine's doctrine of grace consists majorly of two dominant aspects. First, he emphasizes the need for grace to enable men to will and do good (Karfikova, 2012). This grace should be persistent and uninterrupted rather than singular. Else, man will be drawn to sin and inevitably fall. He also argues that few are meant to encounter perseverance of grace till death.

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