Summary Against Modern Thought: You Cannot Merit Divine Help In Advance

Summary Against Modern Thought: You Cannot Merit Divine Help In Advance

Previous post.

Key quote: “knowledge of the supernatural end comes to man from God, since man could not attain it by natural reason because it exceeds his natural capacity.”


1 From what has been said it is quite manifest that man cannot merit divine help in advance. For everything is related as matter to what is above it. Now, matter does not move itself to its own perfection; rather, it must be moved by something else.

So, man does not move himself so as to obtain divine help which is above him; rather, he is moved by God to obtain it. Now, the movement of the mover precedes the movement of the movable thing in reason and causally. Therefore, divine help is not given to us by virtue of the fact that we initially move ourselves toward it by good works; instead, we make such progress by good works because we are preceded by divine help.

Notes This paragraph is key. It explains in the most succinct way possible, both physics and, if you like, metaphysics. No “movement” of any kind is possible without God.

2 Again, an instrumental agent is not disposed to he brought to perfection by the principal agent, unless it acts by the power of the principal agent. Thus, the heat of fire no more prepares matter for the form of flesh than for any other form, except in so far as the heat acts through the power of the soul. But our soul acts under God, as an instrumental agent under a principal agent. So, the soul cannot prepare itself to receive the influence of divine help except in so far as it acts from divine power. Therefore, it is preceded by divine help toward good action, rather than preceding the divine help and meriting it, as it were, or preparing itself for it.

3 Besides, no particular agent can universally precede the action of the first universal agent, because the action of a particular agent takes its origin from the universal agent, just as in things here below, all motion is preceded by celestial motion. But the human soul is subordinated to God as a particular agent under a universal one. So, it is impossible for there to be any right movement in it which divine action does not precede. Hence, the Lord says, in John (15:5): “without Me you can do nothing.”

4 Moreover, compensation is in proportion to merit, because in the repaying of compensation the equality of justice is practiced. Now, the influence of divine help which surpasses the capacity of nature is not proportionate to the acts that man performs by his natural ability. Therefore, man cannot merit the aforesaid help by acts of that kind.

Notes You can earn the infinite by finite works.

5 Furthermore, knowledge precedes the movement of the will. But the knowledge of the supernatural end comes to man from God, since man could not attain it by natural reason because it exceeds his natural capacity. So, divine help must precede the movements of our will toward the ultimate end.

Notes The unmeasureable cannot be measured; therefore, Science will never be able to provide all answers.

6 Hence, it is said in Titus (3:5): “Not by the works of justice which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us.” And in Romans (9: 16) the action of willing is “not his who wills,” nor is the action of running “his who runs,” but both are “of God who shows mercy.” For, to perform a good act of willing and of doing, man must be preceded by divine help.

For instance, it is customary to attribute an effect not to the proximate agent of operation, but to the first mover; thus, the victory is ascribed to the general even though it is accomplished by the work of the soldiers. Not that free choice of the will is excluded by these words, as some have wrongly understood them, as if man were not the master of his own internal and external acts; the text shows that man is subject to God. And it is said in Lamentations (5:21): “Convert us, O Lord, to You, and we shall be converted.” From which it is clear that our conversion to God is preceded by God’s help which converts us.

Notes I hope you delight in this analogy about the general and his troops. It is telling because it is fading. Bad generals and bad bosses used to be fired when their battles or objectives were not won, even though it was not they doing the work, which is impossible. Now since everybody is seen as more nearly “autonomous”, the troops are fired, while those responsible for defeats blame their underlings, and the blame is accepted.

7 However, we read in Zechariah (3:3) a statement made in the name of God: “Turn to me… and we shall turn to you.” Not, of course, that the working of God fails to precede our conversion, as we said, but that He subsequently assists our conversion, whereby we turn to Him, by strengthening it so that it may reach its result and by confirming it so that it may obtain its proper end.

8 Now, by this we set aside the error of the Pelagians, who said that this kind of help is given us because of our merits, and that the beginning of our justification is from ourselves, though the completion of it is from God.


  1. Michael 2

    The things to be measured are typically the same or similar materiality as the measuring instrument; a ruler, yardstick or tape measure is a physical object to measure the dimensions of other physical objects.

  2. Joy

    Meaning you work independently or without commands. Therefore responsible for your actions.

    You work by command directly, without a brain or opportunity to think. Like a cyborg or a machine.
    No responsibility.
    Did you mean the latter?

  3. Uncle Mike

    Dear Joy,

    You have succinctly hit upon the Augustine/Pelagius controversy. The latter asserted that free will allows one to choose virtue or sin, whereas the former thought that God’s grace moves a partially free will towards virtue, i.e. the autonomous vs. the automaton. Pelagius held that good works were pleasing to God; Augustine held that God’s grace moved men towards good works.

    The question of predestination arises. Can one earn Heaven, or is one pushed into Heaven by the Will of God? Is eternal reward a prize to be won, or is it a foreordained gift?

    I readily admit that all the above is an oversimplification. The controversy began ~400 AD and has not subsided. Many deep thinkers have chimed in with volumes and volumes for 1,600 years.

  4. C-Marie

    We are subjected to the effects of Adam’s Original Sin. Why ever he and Eve were not satisfied with their life prior to the satanic temptation, we have no idea, I think. Enter free will with which ever human being is endowed by our Creator, with which we come into agreement with God and obey Him, or we yield to the temptations of the world, the devil, and or, our own adamic nature.

    Due to that Original Sin, we could not reach God because the Way to Him was utterly closed, which is why only His only begotten Son, who took on human nature in sinless form, and Who by His Life, Sufferings, Death, and Resurrection, could open the Way to God for us so that we could become His adopted children, co-heirs with Christ, with the same Father as Jesus as Jesus says in the Gospel of John.

    So yes, God created us, and He set the “rules” and rightly so, as we are His creation, then it was up to Him to make it possible for us to have relationship with Him after Original Sin was committed.

    And through it all, God fathered us, loved us, poured out His mercy upon us, sent His healing to us, sent His Holy Spirit to teach us His ways, and more.

    If one believes the Bible, it is simple, but reason will have its day, and hopefully, ends up with a correct assessment. It is all a matter of Faith in Jesus Christ. Believe Him, receive Him as Lord, God, and Saviour, be baptized and be filled with His Holy Spirit, and work on relationship with God our Father. Nothing is better!

    God bless, C-Marie

  5. Joy

    Thank you for your insights UncleMike.
    If I know God, he knows me (us), before I (we), make a decision.
    He knows why I make my decisions, good or bad, and there’s no kidding him. Same fore everybody else. No lying, only honesty.
    That is one of the things which I find most comforting.

  6. Joy

    John B, thank you, Before I read your links, I’ve been thinking about the analogy of the hounds of hell and the hounds of ‘heaven’.
    It’s one of the many themes which come to mind in a manner not properly formed into words, if you get my meaning.

  7. Joy

    John B
    that is profound
    How did the poem pas by unnoticed?

    He also has a similar story to Keats, I can hear Ode To A Nightingale, in one of the lines.

    It seems the poem is on the curricula in the US. Not so here, shame.

    Yet some people don’t know they’re alive, it seems to me.

  8. John B()


    I tell you this,” Jesus added, “prophets are never welcomed in their hometown.”
    I first heard of him through Ravi Zacharias Ravi gave a thunbnail sketch of his life and discovery.

    The third link discusses the failure of even his own hometown to acknowledge him.
    (At least the likes of J R R Tolkien and G K Chesterton gave him high regard)

    I don’t know that much about keats

  9. Joy

    I listened to a Gresham college lecture on his life with reference to the Nightingale poem. I think it would be boring for others to listen to.
    Apart from his Ode to Autumn, which is my favourite, (maybe everybody’s), I found his thoughts and interest with communication and expression enlightening. I’m sure most people think he writes nonsense.

    He’s the nearest to Shakespeare’s writing in that the writer is brought to life along with the subject of the writing.
    Anyway, I can’t explain.

    My favourite poem from Thomas Hardy has also the influence of Keats, I noticed, on reading Keats Ode to a Nightingale. The Darkling Thrush is the Hardy one.

    Weirdly I was listening to a David Starkey lecture on the Monarchy and noticed what stood out clearly as a Tolkien poem from a blessing of the coronation of one of our Catholic Kings. So it’s interesting how the threads weave through the years. I’ll have a look for it and post it as it brings things back around to. the Catholic theme of this post.

  10. Joy

    Just shows where some of the trouble started!
    From King Edgar’s second coronation:

    Here was Edgar lord of the English, hallowed to king, at Aikemanchester the ancient city who’s modern sons the island dwellers have called, ‘Bath’.

    “Let thy most sacred unction flow upon his head and descend into his heart and enter his soul and let him by The Grace be worthy of the promises which the victorious kings have obtained. That in this present life, he may reign with happiness and finally attain to their fellowship in the kingdom of heaven.

    Receive this ring;
    the seal of the holy faith,
    the strength of thy kingdom
    and the increase of thy power.
    Whereby thou mayest learn to drive back thy foes with triumph,
    destroy heresies, Unite those whom though hast conquered
    and bind them firmly to the Catholic faith.“

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