Whether a Man can rise from Sin without the Help of Grace
We proceed to the seventh article thus:
1. It seems that a man can rise from sin without the help of grace. For what grace presupposes occurs without grace, and the light of grace presupposes that we rise from sin, according to Eph.5:14: |arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.| It follows that a man can rise from sin without grace.
2. Again, it was said in Q.71, Art.1, that sin is opposed to virtue as disease is opposed to health. Now a man may recover from illness by his natural strength, without the artificial aid of medicine, if there remains within him the principle of life on which the natural process depends. It seems then that for a similar reason he may recover from a state of sin, and return to a state of justice, without the external help of grace.
3. Again, every natural thing can of itself recover the action which befits its nature. Thus water, when heated, returns to its natural coolness of its own accord, and a stone thrown upwards returns to its natural movement. Now sin is action contrary to nature, as the Damascene shows (2 De Fid. Orth.30). It seems, then, that a man can of himself return from sin to a state of justice.
On the other hand: as the apostle says in Gal.2:21: |If righteousness come by the law, then is Christ dead in vain,| that is, to no purpose. But by the same reasoning Christ is dead in vain, that is, to no purpose, if man possesses a nature through which he can become just. It follows that a man cannot become just through himself, that is, cannot return from a state of guilt to a state of justice.
I answer: a man can in no wise rise from sin by himself, without the help of grace. Sin endures as guilt, though it is transient as an action. (Q.87, Art.6.) To rise from sin, therefore, i? not the same as to cease from the action of sin, but involves the restoration of what a man has lost through sinning. We have already shown that a man incurs a threefold loss through sin, namely, the stain on the soul, the corruption of natural good, and the debt of punishment (Qq.85, 86, 87, Arts.1). He incurs a stain, since the deformity of sin deprives him of the comeliness of grace; natural good is corrupted, since his nature is deranged by the insubordination of his will to the will of God, which disruption of the order of things leaves his whole nature disordered; finally, by mortal sin he merits eternal damnation as the debt of punishment. Now it is obvious that none of these can be restored except by God. The comeliness of grace cannot be restored unless God sheds his light anew, since it is derived from the shining of the divine light, and therefore depends on an enduring gift of the light of grace. Neither can the natural order of things be restored, in which a man's will is subordinated to the will of God, unless God draws his will to himself, as we said in the preceding article. Nor can the debt of punishment be forgiven save by God alone, against whom the offence is committed, and who is the judge of men. The help of grace is therefore indispensable if a man is to rise from sin. It is needed both as an enduring gift and as the inward moving of God.
On the first point: what a man is bidden to do pertains to the act of free will which his recovery from sin involves. When it is said |arise, and Christ shall give thee light,| we must understand not that the whole recovery from sin precedes the light of grace, but that when a man strives to rise from sin of his own free will as moved by God, he receives the light of justifying grace.
On the second point: natural reason is not the sufficient principle of the health which is in a man through justifying grace. The principle of this is the grace which has been taken away on account of sin. A man cannot then restore himself, but needs the light of grace shed on him anew, like a soul re-entering a dead body to bring it back to life.
On the third point: when nature is unimpaired, it can restore itself to what befits it as commensurate with it, though it cannot without external help be restored to what exceeds this. But when human nature is impaired by sin, so that it is no longer pure, but corrupt, as we said in Q.85, it cannot even restore itself to the good which is natural to it, much less to the supernatural good of justice.