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.