Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Aquinas on the Immaculate Conception

Often we hear opponents of Catholicism throw out St. Thomas Aquinas in the discussion of the Immaculate Conception, claiming he rejected the teaching completely.  Well, did he?

Br. Simon, OP on his blog states:
In this particular article, Aquinas considers whether the Blessed Virgin was sanctified before animation (animation is the infusion of the human body with the rational soul). Aquinas argues that the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin before animation is unintelligible for two reasons. First, only rational creatures can be sanctified, because the notion of grace, properly speaking, does not belong to non-rational beings. Thus, it would not make any sense to say that chairs, daffodils, earthworms, and human gametes are able to receive grace. Second, if the Blessed Virgin was sanctified before animation, she could not have incurred original sin. It would then seem that she would not be in need of a savior, which is false. Aquinas then comes to the conclusion that sanctification must have occurred after animation. But does this exclude the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception? In saying that sanctification occurred after animation, does this exclude the possibility of sanctification in the moment of animation?
I believe that one could reasonably argue for an answer in the negative to both questions. In order to see this point, we must make a distinction between posteriority in nature and posteriority in time. Posteriority in nature is the idea that a thing must be before it is of such a sort. For example, a flower must be before we can even begin talking about whether it is a rose or a daisy. But this notion does not imply posteriority of time. After all, it is not as if my flower exists at some moment in time before it is a rose—my flower is both a flower and a rose at the same temporal moment. Thus, ‘rose’ is posterior to ‘flower’ in nature, but not in time. In our case, it is clear that Aquinas has posteriority of nature in mind, especially in light of his first reason against sanctification before animation. But it is not entirely clear that Aquinas also has posteriority of time in mind. A reasonable conclusion is that Aquinas is silent on the matter of whether sanctification occurred at the temporal moment of animation. (Simon)
Catholic apologist, James Akin adds this:
Since Protestants have identified the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception with the doctrine of Mary's personal sinlessness, it is deceptive of them to say that Aquinas did not believe in the Immaculate Conception because this will imply to their audience--and to anyone else who doesn't have a good grasp on the doctrine--that he believed Mary sinned, which is simply not true. They will thus mislead their audience into thinking Aquinas said something he didn't, and to do that knowingly is deception, plain and simple.
In any event, here is what Aquinas said (Summa Theologiae III:27:4):
"I answer that, God so prepares and endows those, whom He chooses for some particular office, that they are rendered capable of fulfilling it, according to 2 Cor. 3:6: '(Who) hath made us fit ministers of the New Testament.' Now the Blessed Virgin was chosen by God to be His Mother. Therefore there can be no doubt that God, by His grace, made her worthy of that office, according to the words spoken to her by the angel (Lk. 1:30,31): 'Thou hast found grace with God: behold thou shalt conceive,' etc. But she would not have been worthy to be the Mother of God, if she had ever sinned. First, because the honor of the parents reflects on the child, according to Prov. 17:6: 'The glory of children are their fathers': and consequently, on the other hand, the Mother's shame would have reflected on her Son. Secondly, because of the singular affinity between her and Christ, who took flesh from her: and it is written (2 Cor. 6:15): 'What concord hath Christ with Belial?' Thirdly, because of the singular manner in which the Son of God, who is the 'Divine Wisdom' (1 Cor. 1:24) dwelt in her, not only in her soul but in her womb. And it is written (Wis. 1:4): 'Wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins.'
"We must therefore confess simply that the Blessed Virgin committed no actual sin, neither mortal nor venial; so that what is written (Cant 4:7) is fulfilled: 'Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee,' etc. "
Thus you should never tolerate someone to say that Aquinas endorsed the idea that Mary was sinful. He absolutely and unequivocally did not, and you should ask any Protestant who says this whether he has actually read what Aquinas said on the subject or whether he is repeating erroneous claims made in anti-Catholic sources. If he is doing the latter, he is repeating gossip. If he is doing the former, and really does know what Aquinas said, then he is being deceptive. (Akin)
Let us now look to the Summa Theologica itself and see what St. Thomas himself wrote:

On the contrary, The Church celebrates the feast of our Lady's Nativity. Now the Church does not celebrate feasts except of those who are holy. Therefore even in her birth the Blessed Virgin was holy. Therefore she was sanctified in the womb.
I answer that, Nothing is handed down in the canonical Scriptures concerning the sanctification of the Blessed Mary as to her being sanctified in the womb; indeed, they do not even mention her birth. But as Augustine, in his tractate on the Assumption of the Virgin, argues with reason, since her body was assumed into heaven, and yet Scripture does not relate this; so it may be reasonably argued that she was sanctified in the womb. For it is reasonable to believe that she, who brought forth "the Only-Begotten of the Father full of grace and truth," received greater privileges of grace than all others: hence we read (Luke 1:28) that the angel addressed her in the words: "Hail full of grace!"
Moreover, it is to be observed that it was granted, by way of privilege, to others, to be sanctified in the womb; for instance, to Jeremias, to whom it was said (Jeremiah 1:5): "Before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee"; and again, to John the Baptist, of whom it is written (Luke 1:15): "He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb." It is therefore with reason that we believe the Blessed Virgin to have been sanctified before her birth from the womb. (Summa Theologica III.27.1.4) (Aquinas).
According to Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, St. Thomas went through three stages in his life.  Early on he accepted and professed the concept of the Immaculate Conception, but in a second phase he questioned it - then in a third stage he comes back to acceptance of the IC.

And now to my personal commentary.  I believe it is adequately shown that while St. Thomas did not express the Immaculate Conception in the precise terms of the 1854 definition - HAD the definition been defined by the Church in his day, he would not object to it as he clearly accepts that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified before her birth from the womb.  Was there a period in St. Thomas' life where he made statements contrary to the Immaculate Conception?  Yes, and many of our challengers will gravitate to those out of context (of his whole life) statements.  If they were to honestly and objectively look at St. Thomas Aquinas - they would find they are wrong.  I would encourage anyone seeking truth and who can handle some deeper philosophical/theological thought to spend some time with St. Thomas.

In JMJ,
Scott<<<

Sources:
Akin, James http://www.cin.org/users/james/questions/q052.htm
Aquinas, St. Thomas  http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4027.htm#article1
Garrigou-Lagrange, OP  http://iteadthomam.blogspot.com/2010/01/did-aquinas-deny-immaculate-conception.html
Simon, OP, Brother http://opweststudents.blogspot.com/2010/12/aquinas-on-immaculate-conception.html

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