Aquinas, Grace, and Sacrament

Aquinas speaks to the relation between nature and grace concerning the sacraments.  However, we should first understand the value of grace according to Aquinas and his predecessors.

In Question 2, Article 10, he references Augustine:  “By the same grace every man is made a Christian, from the beginning of his faith, as this man from His beginning was made Christ.”  Aquinas follows by underscoring the unity of nature and grace, “But this man became Christ by union with the Divine Nature.  Therefore this union was by grace.”  He continues in Question 7, Article 11 by stating that grace is taken in two ways:  the will of God graciously given and as the free gift of God.  Finally, he speaks to the unending effect of grace because of its unity with the Divine Nature.

Aquinas later addresses sacrament and grace in Question 38, Article 6.  He again references Augustine in reminding us that “our sacraments are signs of present grace,” and he contrasts our present grace with the Old Law which were signs of a future grace.

Understanding the nature of grace and what a sacrament is a signifier of, Continue reading “Aquinas, Grace, and Sacrament”

Hangover from Superstition?

Stained Glass 5


In the next chapters of McGrath’s Christian Theology, he covers substantial topics including salvation, sin, grace, and predestination.

While McGrath does not focus on political or sociological concerns, historical events appear as an underlying thread influencing soteriology in this chapter.  He explores Kahler’s idea regarding the role that Christ plays in salvation.  Did Jesus accomplish what already existed, or did He do something entirely new (317)?  Following Kahler, Wiles states, “Christ is here understood to reveal the saving will of God, not to establish that saving will in the first place” (317).  Wiles’ statement reflects Matthew 5:17, “Do not suppose that I came to throw down the law or the prophets — I did not come to throw down, but to fulfill.”  McGrath posits salvation as either an event or a process by discussing justification, sanctification, and salvation (318-319).  Additionally, the cross is a representation or a substitution for humanity’s sin (328-329).  McGrath next explores the question: to whom did Christ pay this ransom? God? The Devil? (326-327).  Anselm proposes that the critical components for man to be saved were both the incarnation and the exaltation (326).  Next, the Enlightenment brings a rationalist approach to the relationship between God and man and reduces the cross to only a demonstration of love (333) and perceiving sin, “as a hangover from superstition, which the modern age could safely dispense with” (335).  McGrath points to the Pauline approaches to salvation (338-339) and to deity and holiness existing within sinful man (339-342).  He concludes the chapter with three theories: only believers will be saved, only an elect will be saved, or all will be saved (344-346).

Next, McGrath explores man as the image of God versus the likeness of God (348-350).  McGrath then explores free will from Augustine versus those akin to Pelagius and Luther.  Augustine states that man exercises a free will directly distorted by sin, and he requires divine grace for restoration (351).  He posits that man is born “contaminated” by sin at birth and is dependent on God for salvation; grace is internal (352-354).  Conversely, Pelagius, and later Luther, states that man is born sinless, and “humanity is justified on the basis of its merits” (354-355).  Grace is external (354, 361).  These conflicting approaches inspires Aquinas, Ockham, Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, and Trent.  The Reformation brings Luther to the forefront regarding sin, grace, and redemption.  Justification, at this time, is viewed as what must man do to be saved and is contrary to the answer given from Paul and Silas, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).  McGrath continues by discussing predestination.  Regarding the chosen, he cites Godescalc, “if [Christ] had, he would have died in vain, for their fate would be unaffected” (366).  McGrath concludes with evolution, young earth creationism, old earth creationism, intelligent design, and evolutionary theism (371-374).

Ultimately, these theological concepts were significantly impacted by both the historically powerful Enlightenment and the Reformation movements.