Whether the Justification of the Ungodly is achieved Instantaneously or Gradually
We proceed to the seventh article thus:
1. It seems that the justification of the ungodly is not instantaneous, but gradual. For it was said in Art.3 that justification requires a movement of the free will, and the action of the free will is that of choice, which presupposes thoughtful deliberation, as was said in Q.13, Art.1. Now deliberation implies a certain amount of reasoning, and reasoning involves a degree of succession. It seems, therefore, that the justification of the ungodly is gradual.
2. Again, there is no movement of the free will without actual consideration, and it was said in Q.85, Art.4 that we cannot actually understand many things at the same time. Now the justification of the ungodly requires a movement of the free will in different directions -- in relation to God, and in relation to sin. It seems, therefore, that the justification of the ungodly cannot be instantaneous.
3. Again, a form which admits of more and less is received by its subject gradually, as is obvious in the case of whiteness or blackness. Now it was said in Q.112, Art.4, that grace admits of more and less. Hence grace is not received suddenly. Since the justification of the ungodly requires an infusion of grace, it seems that it cannot be instantaneous.
4. Again, the movement of the free will which contributes to the justification of the ungodly is meritorious. It must therefore have its origin in grace, since there is no merit without grace (as will be shown later, Q.114, Art.2). Now a thing receives its form before it acts by means of it. Grace must therefore be first of all infused, and the movement of the free will in relation to God and sin must follow. Hence justification is not entirely instantaneous.
5. Again, if grace is infused into the soul, there must be a first instant in which it is present in the soul, and if guilt is remitted, there must likewise be a last instant in which one is under guilt. Now these instants cannot be the same, since opposites would be in the same thing at the same time if they were so. There must therefore be two successive instants, and these must have a period of time between them, as the philosopher explains in 6 Physics, text 2. It follows that justification is achieved not instantaneously, but gradually.
On the other hand: the justification of the ungodly is by the grace of the Holy Spirit, which justifies us. Now the Holy Spirit comes to the minds of men suddenly, according to Acts 2:2: |And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind,| on which the gloss says: |the grace of the Holy Spirit knows no tardy travail| (and also a gloss by Ambrose on Luke 4:1: |he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness|). The justification of the ungodly is therefore instantaneous, not gradual.
I answer: the justification of the ungodly in its entirety has its origin in the infusion of grace. The free will is moved by grace, and guilt is removed by grace. Now the infusion of grace takes place in an instant, without any succession. For if any form is not imprinted on its subject suddenly, the reason is that its subject is not disposed to it, and that the agent needs time to make it so. Hence we see that a substantial form is received by matter at once, whenever matter becomes disposed to it through preliminary alteration. Hence also the atmosphere is at once illuminated by a body which is actually bright, since it is of its own accord disposed to receive light. Now we have already said that God needs no disposition, other than that which he himself creates, in order to infuse grace into the soul. As we said in Q.112, Art.2, he sometimes creates a disposition sufficient for the reception of grace all at once, sometimes by gradual degrees. A natural agent cannot adapt matter in an instant, because there is something in matter which resists his power. Matter is consequently adapted the more quickly the stronger is the power of the agent, as we may observe. The divine power can therefore adapt any created matter whatsoever instantly to its form, since the divine power is infinite. Much more can it so adapt the free will, the movement of which can be instantaneous by nature. The justification of the ungodly is therefore achieved by God in an instant.
On the first point: the movement of the free will which contributes to the justification of the ungodly is the consent to abhor sin and adhere to God. This consent is instantaneous. Deliberation may sometimes precede consent. But this is a way to justification, not the substance of it, just as local movement is a way to light, and change a way to generation.
On the second point: as we said in Pt. I, Q.85, Art.5, there is nothing to prevent us from understanding two things at the same time provided that they are in some way one. We understand a subject and a predicate simultaneously, since they are unified in a single affirmation. The free will can likewise be moved in two ways at the same time, provided that the one movement is subservient to the other. Now the movement of the free will in relation to sin is subservient to its movement in relation to God, since a man abhors sin because it is opposed to God, to whom he wills to adhere. Thus in the justification of the ungodly the free will abhors sin and turns to God simultaneously, just as a body simultaneously removes from one place and approaches another.
On the third point: there is no reason why a form which admits of more and less should not be received by matter instantaneously. If this were impossible, light could not be suddenly received by air, which can be illuminated in greater or in less degree. The explanation of this is to be found in the disposition of the matter or subject, as we have said.
On the fourth point: a thing begins to act by its form in the same instant in which the form is received. Fire moves upwards immediately it is kindled, and its upward movement would be completed at the same instant, if it were instantaneous. Now the movement of the free will, which is to will, is instantaneous, not gradual. The justification of the ungodly cannot therefore be gradual.
On the fifth point: the succession of two opposites in one subject which is in time must be considered differently from their succession in supra-temporal things. With things in time, there is no last instant in which a previous form inheres in its subject, although there is a last period of time in which it does so, and a first instant in which a succeeding form inheres in the matter, or subject. The reason for this is that there cannot be in time one instant which immediately precedes another, because instants are not continuous in time, any more than points are continuous in a line, as is proved in 6 Physics, text 1. A period of time, however, terminates at an instant, and hence a thing is under one opposite form during the whole period of time which precedes its movement to the other. But in the instant in which this period ends and the following period begins, it has the form which it attains by this movement.
But it is otherwise with supra-temporal things. For if there is any succession of affections or intellectual conceptions in them (e.g., in angels), this succession is measured by time which is discrete, not continuous, as we explained in Q.53, Arts.2 and 3. In such succession there is a last instant in which the former was, and also a first instant in which that which follows is. But there cannot be any intervening period of time, because there is no continuous time which could require it.
Now the mind of man which is justified is in itself supra-temporal. But it is in time accidentally, in so far as it understands things under the aspect of continuous time, in terms of the phantasms by means of which it appreciates intelligible species, as we said in Pt. I, Q.85, Arts.1 and 2. It is according to this latter context, therefore, that we must judge of its change from one condition to another by movement in time. We must say, accordingly, that although there is a last period of time, there is no last instant in which guilt inheres; but that there is a first instant in which grace inheres, and that guilt inheres during the whole of the preceding period.