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Nature And Grace by Aquinas

Article Three Whether Grace is the same as Virtue

Whether Grace is the same as Virtue

We proceed to the third article thus:

1. It seems that grace is the same as virtue. For Augustine says |operative grace is faith that works by love| (De Spiritu et Littera 14, 32). But faith that works by love is a virtue. Therefore grace is a virtue.

2. Again, whatever a definition fits, fits the thing defined. Now the definitions of virtue fit grace, whether they are given by saints or by philosophers -- |it makes him who possesses it good, and his work good,| |it is a good quality of mind, whereby one lives rightly,| etc. Therefore grace is a virtue.

3. Again, grace is a quality of some kind. But it manifestly does not belong to the fourth species of quality, which comprises |the form or unchanging pattern of things.| Neither does it belong to the third species, since it is neither a |passion| nor a |passionate quality.| These belong to the sensitive part of the soul, as is proved in 8 Physics, text 14, whereas grace is principally in the mind. Nor does it belong to the second species, which includes |natural power and impotence.| It must therefore belong to the first species, which is that of |habit| or |disposition.| But habits of mind are virtues, since even knowledge is in a sense a virtue. Hence grace is the same as virtue.

On the other hand: if grace is a virtue, it must certainly be one of the three theological virtues. But grace is neither faith nor hope, since these occur without sanctifying grace. Nor is it charity, since |grace precedes charity,| as Augustine says (De Dono Persev.16). Hence grace is not a virtue.

I answer: some have held that grace and virtue differ only as different aspects of one identical essence, which we call grace in so far as it is freely given, or makes men pleasing to God, and which we call virtue in so far as it perfects us in well-doing. So indeed the Master seems to have thought, in 2 Sent., Dist.26. But this cannot be maintained if one pays due attention to the meaning of virtue. As the philosopher says in 7 Physics, text 17: |virtue is the disposition of the perfect, and I call that perfect which is disposed according to nature.| This makes it clear that the virtue of any particular thing is determined by a nature which is prior to it, and means the disposition of all its elements according to what is best for its nature. Now the virtues which a man acquires through practice, of which we spoke in Q.55 fF., are obviously dispositions by which he is disposed in a manner which befits his nature as a man. But the infused virtues dispose men in a higher way to a higher end, and therefore according to a higher nature, indeed according to the divine nature in which he participates. We call this participation |the light of grace,| on account of what is said in II Peter 1:4: |Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.| It is in fact as receiving this nature that we are said to be born again as sons of God. Hence just as the natural light of reason is something over and above the acquired virtues, which are called virtues because they are ordered by this light, so the light of grace, which is a partaking of the divine nature, is something over and above the infused virtues, which are derived from it and ordered by it. Thus the apostle says in Eph.5:8: |For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.| Just as the acquired virtues enable a man to walk by the natural light of reason, so do the infused virtues enable him to walk by the light of grace.

On the first point: Augustine gives the name of grace to |faith that works by love| because the act of faith which works by love is the first act in which sanctifying grace is manifest.

On the second point: the term |good,| as used in the definition of virtue, means conformity with a nature which is either prior, essential, or partaken. It is not applied in this sense to grace, but to the root of goodness in man, as we have said.

On the third point: grace belongs to the first species of quality. But it is not the same as virtue. It is the disposition which the infused virtues presuppose as their principle and root.

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