Free Will and Grace

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The way in which the fact of man's free choice is reconciled with the fundamental Christian truth of his total dependence on the grace of God is, ultimately, a mystery. The Catholic Church has always believed and taught both truths while allowing its theologians full liberty to attempt to explain their compatibility. This article concentrates on the history of the problem.

Sovereignty of Grace. Catholic belief in the sovereignty of grace holds that no free act leading to salvation can be performed unless it is initiated, sustained, and brought to completion by the merciful gift or grace of God. To deny this is to destroy the whole meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see, e.g., Jn 6.44; 15.5; Phil 2.13; 2 Cor 3.5; Rom 11.6), as the Church affirmed in its vigorous reaction to Pelagianism (H. Denzinger Enchiridion symbolorum, 222230, 371397; see pelagius and pelagianism). It even accepted with approval the judgment of the author of the Indiculus that the Pelagians are "very impious defenders of free will" (Enchiridion symbolorum 238).

With the rise of nominalism in philosophical and theological teaching, a latent Pelagianism came to infect many facets of popular piety and preaching. Against this tendency the voice of the Reformation thundered the absolute sovereignty of grace. Yet, as Augustine had observed, the question of the interrelation of grace and man's free act is so difficult that "there are some persons who so defend God's grace as to deny man's free will" (Grat. et lib. arb. 1.1; Patrologia Latina 44:881). The Reformation theologians were heirs of nominalism's extrinsicism as well as foes of its naturalism, and they could only conceive of free will and grace as standing in opposition to one another, not as set in a relationship of harmony and subordination.

Affirmation of Free Will. In the context of the strong statements of the Reformers [which at least some contemporary Protestant theology interprets in a way entirely acceptable to Catholicssee J. Dillenberger and C. Welch, Protestant Christianity (New York 1958) 33] the Church defined as a dogma that even sinful man has a truly free will (Enchiridion symbolorum 1555). This conviction it has from the revelation that the process of salvation is man's dialogue of love with Him who first loved man (1 Jn 4.1011; Mt 22.3740). This same fidelity to the Gospel would constrain it to reject the pseudo-Augustinianism of Baius (Enchiridion symbolorum 1939, 1966; see baius and baianism) and C. jansen (Jansenius) (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 2003), which would consider the gift of grace as an irresistible attraction that necessitates man's action, destroying freedom.

Catholic Theology. Every Catholic theology maintains that man's supernatural act is produced both by his free will and by God's grace, but the relationship between them is not that of two independent causes mutually cooperating. On the contrary, the free consent is itself a gift of grace. While one legitimately speaks of "cooperating with grace" (Enchiridion symbolorum 379, 397, 1525), this cooperation is given to men by the gracious God. He so gives it to men that it is truly theirs, but it is theirs without ceasing to depend on the saving good pleasure of God. God and man act on totally different planes. Only the divine freedom is absolutely independent. Man's freedom is a creaturely freedom, and even in its free activity it is dependent on Subsistent Freedom. Yet this dependence does not do away with human freedom, for God's causality transcends every category of cause man can imagine. It gives lesser causes their own action in a way that is totally in harmony with their natures. Beings that are not free He moves to an activity that is determined; beings that are free He moves to an activity that is free and responsible while not ceasing to be the product of grace. Herein there is mystery, but not absurdity.

Theological Controversy. The years that followed Trent's solemn definition of the dogma of human liberty in the presence of efficacious grace found theologians trying to explain in rational terms how the sovereign efficacy of God's grace is compatible with the psychological dominion of man's own act that is essential to his liberty. Luis de molina, SJ, wrote his famous Concordia liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis (Lisbon 1588), in which he postulated a scientia media as the special way God foresees the future free act of man prior to determining to give him the efficacious grace that will unfailingly bring about the free action. At the same time Domingo Báñez, OP, was expounding an approach to the problem in terms, he believed, of the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas (e.g., Summa theologiae 1a, 19.8; 105.5; 1a2ae, 10.4 ad 3; 112.3). He totally rejected the scientia media as an unnecessary innovation and as implying that God is somehow dependent on His creature (see bÁÑez and baÑezianism). Thence developed the debate between Bañezianism and Molinism, which the Church has refused to decide (Enchiridion symbolorum 2564). The unresolved debate remains as an occasion of suspicion to orthodox Protestant theology; e.g., Karl Barth distrusts any Catholic affirmation of the sovereignty of divine grace that leaves room for a scientia media (Kirchliche Dogmatik 2.1:640657).

The theologies of the Jesuit and the Dominican schools remain irreconcilably opposed in their manner of explaining how grace is efficacious to move the human will to its free act of encounter with God, but both affirm the fact that it is. Since faith is more concerned with revealed realities than theological explanations, the Church can tolerate the conflict.

The issue is not dead. It is a legitimate task of theology to seek a formula by which to express the complex data of the problem. In recent years there have been new efforts to express this reality within the general terms of the opposing camps (Bañezian: H. Guillermin, Marín-Sola, R. Garrigou-Lagrange, J. Maritain; Molinist: M. de la Taille, A. Michel, B. Lonergan, A. d'Alés, C. Boyer). Others (A. Sertillanges, C. Baumgartner), shunning both the scientia media and the physical premotion, are content to appeal to the transcendent character of the mysterious divine action.

See Also: grace, articles on; congregatio de auxiliis; grace, controversies on; grace and nature; molinism; synergism.

Bibliography: c. boyer, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, Tables générales 1:186268. k. rahner, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d new ed. Freiburg 195765) 4:996997. f. stegmÜller, ibid. 4:100210. m. j. farrelly, Predestination, Grace, and Free Will (Westminster, Md. 1964). r. guardini, Freedom, Grace, and Destiny, tr. j. murray (New York 1961). b. lonergan, "St. Thomas' Thought on Gratia Operans, " Theological Studies 3 (1942) 533578; Insight (New York 1957) 662664. t. u. mullaney, "The Basis of the Suarezian Teaching on Human Freedom," Thomist 11 (1948) 117, 330369, 448502; 12 (1949) 4894, 155206. m. pontifex, Freedom and Providence (New York 1960). n. del prado, De gratia et libero arbitrio, 3 v. (Fribourg 1907). h. rondet, Gratia Christi (Paris 1948).

[c. regan]

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Free Will and Grace

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Free Will and Grace