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Nature And Grace by Aquinas

Article Five Whether a Man can Merit the First Grace for Himself

Whether a Man can Merit the First Grace for Himself

We proceed to the fifth article thus:

1. It seems that a man can merit the first grace for himself. For Augustine says that |faith merits justification| (Praef. Ps.32), and a man is justified by the grace first given to him. It follows that a man can merit the first grace for himself.

2. Again, God gives grace only to those who are worthy. But we do not say that anyone is worthy of something good unless he has merited it condignly. It follows that one can merit the first grace condignly.

3. Again, with men, one can merit a gift which has already been received. One who has been given a horse by his master, for example, may deserve it through using it well in his master's service. Now God is more generous than a man. Much more, then, can a man merit the first grace which he has already received from God, by reason of his subsequent works.

On the other hand: the very meaning of grace excludes the notion of reward for works, according to Rom.4:4: |Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.| But what a man merits is credited to him as a reward for works. Hence he cannot merit the first grace.

I answer: we may think of a gift of grace in two ways. If we are thinking of the gratuitous character of the gift, it is obvious that all merit is opposed to grace, since the apostle says: |and if by grace, then it is no more of works| (Rom.11:6). If, on the other hand, we are thinking of the nature of what is given, such a gift cannot be merited by one who does not have grace. For not only does grace exceed what is commensurate with nature, but a man in the state of sin before grace is prevented from meriting grace by the impediment of sin. Neither can grace already possessed be merited subsequently, since a reward is the outcome of work, and grace is the principle of all our good works, as we said in Q.109. Finally, if one should merit another gratuitous gift by virtue of grace already received, this would not be the first grace. It is apparent, then, that no man can merit the first grace for himself.

On the first point: as Augustine says in 1 Retract.23, he was at one time deceived in this matter, when he believed that the beginning of faith lay with ourselves, although its consummation was a gift of God. He retracts this belief, but it is apparently on this assumption that he declares that faith merits justification. But if we suppose that faith is begun in us by God, this being indeed a truth of faith, then even the act of faith follows the first grace. It cannot then merit the first grace. Hence a man is justified by faith not in the sense that he merits justification by believing, but in the sense that he believes while he is being justified. This movement of faith is required for the justification of the ungodly, as we said in Q.113, Art.4.

On the second point: the reason why God gives grace only to the worthy is not that they were previously worthy, but that by grace God makes them worthy, who alone |can bring a clean thing out of an unclean| (Job.14:4).

On the third point: every good work which a man does proceeds from the first grace as its principle. But it does not proceed from any gift of man. We cannot therefore argue in the same way about a gift of grace and a gift of man.

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