Wednesday, June 24, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - What must be explicitly believed?

Having examined the end points of implicit and explicit faith, St. Thomas addresses whether certain dogmas must be believed explicitly or not.

As stated above (5; 1, 8), the object of faith includes, properly and directly, that thing through which man obtains beatitude. Now the mystery of Christ's Incarnation and Passion is the way by which men obtain beatitude; for it is written (Acts 4:12): "There is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved." Therefore belief of some kind in the mystery of Christ's Incarnation was necessary at all times and for all persons, but this belief differed according to differences of times and persons. [ST II-II, Q2, A7; emphasis added]

So we see that belief "of some kind" is always necessary - but this must be qualified by when and who. With regard to man before the Fall:

[B]efore the state of sin, man believed, explicitly in Christ's Incarnation, in so far as it was intended for the consummation of glory, but not as it was intended to deliver man from sin by the Passion and Resurrection, since man had no foreknowledge of his future sin. He does, however, seem to have had foreknowledge of the Incarnation of Christ, from the fact that he said (Genesis 2:24): "Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife," of which the Apostle says (Ephesians 5:32) that "this is a great sacrament . . . in Christ and the Church," and it is incredible that the first man was ignorant about this sacrament. [ST, op. cit.]

And with regard to man after the Fall, but before the Incarnation:

But after sin, man believed explicitly in Christ, not only as to the Incarnation, but also as to the Passion and Resurrection, whereby the human race is delivered from sin and death: for they would not, else, have foreshadowed Christ's Passion by certain sacrifices both before and after the Law, the meaning of which sacrifices was known by the learned explicitly, while the simple folk, under the veil of those sacrifices, believed them to be ordained by God in reference to Christ's coming, and thus their knowledge was covered with a veil, so to speak. [ibid.]

Now one thing that we ought to recognize here is that what St. Thomas seems to describe as an explicit belief in Christ here is not at all what we would think of in that way! For he acknowledges that this belief centered upon the sacrifices which foreshadowed the coming Messiah, and even that "their knowledge was covered with a veil." We see also the the distinction between what is required of the learned and what is required of the uneducated, something we looked at earlier.

These things, while important, are of more historical interest in comparison to the last division Aquinas has in mind – namely, the condition of those who have lived since Christ came.

After grace had been revealed, both learned and simple folk are bound to explicit faith in the mysteries of Christ, chiefly as regards those which are observed throughout the Church, and publicly proclaimed, such as the articles which refer to the Incarnation, of which we have spoken above (Question 1, Article 8). As to other minute points in reference to the articles of the Incarnation, men have been bound to believe them more or less explicitly according to each one's state and office. [ST II-II, Q2, A7 again; emphasis added]

Okay, so St. Thomas tells us that we are bound to explicitly believe in "the mysteries of Christ," and primarily those contained in the Creed. But that is not the last word, and it's probably a good thing, because apart from professional theologians I suspect that there aren't many folks who are competent to explicitly believe everything the Church teaches concerning the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity!

The third objection to II-II Q2 A7 asserts that there are non-Christians who "obtained salvation through the ministry of the angels, as Dionysius states (Coel. Hier. ix). Now it would seem that the gentiles had neither explicit nor implicit faith in Christ, since they received no revelation. Therefore it seems that it was not necessary for the salvation of all to believe explicitly in the mystery of Christ." St. Thomas replies (ad 3) first by offering examples of Gentiles who did receive revelations of Christ from God (including Job, 19:25). Even this is not the end, however:

If, however, some were saved without receiving any revelation, they were not saved without faith in a Mediator, for, though they did not believe in Him explicitly, they did, nevertheless, have implicit faith through believing in Divine providence, since they believed that God would deliver mankind in whatever way was pleasing to Him, and according to the revelation of the Spirit to those who knew the truth, as stated in Job 35:11: "Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth." [ST, op. cit.]

Hence we see that Aquinas allows even for implicit faith – under the proper circumstances and conditions – in those things that we must "explicitly" believe. This is consistent, for example, with Romans 2:14-15: "For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these, having not the law, are a law to themselves. Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them: and their thoughts between themselves accusing or also defending one another."

Once again, however, we dare not try to play games with God. We have brains, and he would have us use them. We ought not to ignore our duty to understand the truth as best we can, pretending that because it's difficult, or because we aren't able to understand it very well, we are free to leave such things to the experts. No. We must do our best. But God is merciful, and because we are saved by grace, and not by means of nor by virtue of anything that we believe, our weaknesses do not leave us condemned. Only we must not think that the weakness of the theologically flabby man who never lifts a two-pound doctrinal weight is the same as the weakness of those who through no fault of their own are not able to believe these things explicitly.


Amor veritate venit said...

I haven't posted here before, but I have been following for close to two years, I must say, this blog is fantastic, and I pray the Lord will continue to bless us with your excellent commentary!

Ludovicus said...

"If, however, some were saved without receiving any revelation, they were not saved without faith in a Mediator, for, though they did not believe in Him explicitly, they did, nevertheless, have implicit faith through believing in Divine providence, since they believed that God would deliver mankind in whatever way was pleasing to Him, and according to the revelation of the Spirit to those who knew the truth, as stated in Job 35:11: "Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth."

St. Thomas does not mean to assert here that some people can be saved after the coming of Christ with merely an implicit faith in Christ. He is answering the objection that some people seemed to have been saved before Christ without an explicit faith in Him. He responds that these were saved through implicit faith.

However, as he says in the body of the article, all people now, both learned and simple are bound to explicit faith in Christ.

We can see clearly that this is his position if we look at the parallel article in De Veritate, Q.14, A11. He basically makes the same points in that article, and even gives the same objection there, but answers it by saying that implicit faith was sufficient for salvation before the coming of Christ.

However, his first objection in this article is most relevant to the point:

1. We should not posit any proposition from which an untenable conclusion follows. But, if we claim that explicit belief is necessary for salvation, an untenable conclusion follows. For it is possible for someone to be brought up in the forest or among wolves, and such a one cannot have explicit knowledge of any matter of faith. Thus, there will be a man who will inevitably be damned. But this is untenable. Hence, explicit belief in something does not seem necessary.

Ad 1. Granted that everyone is bound to believe something explicitly, no untenable conclusion follows even if someone is brought up in the forest or among wild beasts. For it pertains to divine providence to furnish everyone with what is necessary for salvation, provided that on his part there is no hindrance. Thus, if someone so brought up followed the direction of natural reason in seeking good and avoiding evil, we must most certainly hold that God would either reveal to him through internal inspiration what had to be believed, or would send some preacher of the faith to him as he sent Peter to Cornelius.

Thus, it is very clear that St. Thomas holds that after the coming of Christ everyone is bound to explicit faith in Christ for salvation, regardless of their circumstances.

Nevertheless, St. Thomas's position is much more nuanced even than this. His final position boils down to this. A man who follows reason insofar as he can will be justified and freed from sin through an implicit faith in Christ, and even God, but God will always bring such a person to an explicit knowledge of himself.

I have done a detailed treatment of St. Thomas's position on justification by implicit faith on my blog:

You might be interested in that. God bless,

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello AVV,

Thank you! I appreciate your kind words very much. Thank you for taking the time to post them.



Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Ludovicus,

Do you agree with what is written in LG 16:

"Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience."

If you do agree with that, I think the disagreement is more a matter of things left unsaid by me in the post, particularly what's said in CCC §848: "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."

God willing, a future series of posts here will deal with what Vatican II and the CCC say about justification, comparing them with St. Thomas. I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that what I have written in the post, and what I understand St. Thomas to be saying in the passages quoted in the post, are consistent with the passages from VII/CCC that I've quoted here.



Ludovicus said...

Hi RdP,

Yes, I agree fully with what Lumen Gentium says. The whole purpose of my blog is to defend its teaching against those who twist it.

I think what St. Thomas says is fully consistent with Lumen Gentium. I think St. Thomas holds that Divine Providence ordains that every man who is justified by implicit faith will be led to an explicit faith before he dies.

However, as I mention in my post on St. Thomas, he does not hold that explicit faith is absolutely necessary, but necessary by an ordination of God, precisely in the sense that God would give it to all men who are saved. Thus, he would admit that if God were to allow someone who had been justified with implicit faith to die without explicit faith, that man would be saved.

This is contra the feeneyites and ultra-traditionalists, who would deny this.

God bless,

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Ludovicus,

Thanks very much for your reply, which gladdens my heart :-)

I'm pretty sure that if there appears to be disagreement between us, it is probably due to a lack of clarity of expression and misunderstanding, both on my part. My intent was to say that according to St. Thomas, explicit faith is not absolutely required; I did not intend to say anything about the means by which God deals with those having implicit faith only, nor some mixture of explicit and implicit faith (like most of us). I don't think that I would be capable of that anyway :-)

I misunderstood your comments here and thought perhaps you might be rad/ultra-traditionalist, and consequently was a bit confused by what I read in your blog post (which didn't seem to be); so I thought I needed to ask the LG question. I've been challenged by "rad trads" before. :-(

I appreciate your taking time to address this, though, because I stand by what I wrote in the Point of Clarification in the sidebar. I was a Protestant for decades, and consequently know that I am far from immune to error.



Reginald de Piperno said...

And if I had read this excellent post of yours, I would not have had to ask the LG question at all. :-) My apologies for doubting you initially, sir. And well done.