Infinitude of Christ’s Grace

The possession of infinite grace is restricted to Christ. According to the testimony of John the Baptist, “God doth not give the Spirit by measure” to the man Christ (John 3:34). But to others the Spirit is given in measure, as we read in Ephesians 4:7: “To everyone of us is given grace ‘according to the measure of the giving of Christ.” If this refers to the grace of union, no doubt can arise about what is here stated. To other saints is given the grace of being gods or sons of God by participation, through the infusion of some gift. Such a gift, being created, must itself be finite, just as all other creatures are. To Christ, on the contrary, is given, in His human nature, the grace to be the Son of God not by participation, but by nature. But natural divinity is infinite. Through that union, therefore, He received an infinite gift. Hence beyond all doubt the grace of union is infinite.

Concerning habitual grace, however, a doubt can be raised as to whether it is infinite. Since such grace is a created gift, we have to acknowledge that it has a finite essence. Yet it can be said to be infinite for three reasons.

First, on the part of the recipient. The capacity of any created nature is evidently finite. Even though it is able to receive an infinite good by way of knowledge and fruition, it does not receive that good infinitely. Each creature has a definite measure of capacity in keeping with its species and nature. This does not prevent the divine power from being able to make another creature with a greater capacity; but such a creature would no longer be of the same nature with regard to species. Thus if one is added to three, a different species of number will result. Consequently, when the divine goodness that is bestowed on anyone does not completely exhaust the natural capacity of his nature, we judge that what is given to him has been apportioned according to some measure. But when the whole of his natural capacity is filled up, We conclude that what he receives is not parceled out to him according to measure. For although there is a measure on the part of the recipient, there is no measure on the part of the giver, who is ready to give all; if a person, for instance, takes a pitcher down to the river, he finds water at hand without measure, although he himself receives with measure because of the limited size of the vessel. In this way Christ’s habitual grace is finite in its essence, but may be said to be given infinitely and not according to measure, because as much is given as created nature is able to receive.

Secondly, grace may be said to be infinite on the part of the gift itself that is received. Surely we realize that there is nothing to prevent a thing that is finite in its essence, from being infinite by reason of some, form. Infinite according to essence is that which possesses the whole fullness of being; this, of course, is proper to God alone, who is being itself. But if we suppose that there is some particular form not existing in a subject, such as whiteness or heat, it would not, indeed, have an infinite essence, for its essence would be confined to a genus or species; but it would possess the entire fullness of that species. With respect to the species in question, it would be without limit or measure, because it would have whatever could pertain to that species. But if whiteness or heat is received into some subject, the latter does not always possess everything that necessarily and invariably pertains to the nature of that form, but does so only when the form is possessed as perfectly as it can be possessed, that is, when the manner of possessing is equal to the thing’s capacity for being possessed. In this way, then, Christ’s habitual grace was finite in its essence; but it is said to have been without limit and measure because Christ received all that could pertain to the nature of grace. Other men do not receive the whole: one man receives grace in this measure, another in that. “There are diversities of graces,” as we learn from 1 Corinthians 12:4.

In the third place, grace may be called infinite on the part of its cause. For in a cause is contained, in some way, its effect. Therefore, if a cause with infinite power to influence is at hand, it is able to influence without measure and, in a certain sense, infinitely; for example, if a person had a fountain capable of pouring forth water infinitely, he could be said to possess water without measure and, in a sense, infinitely. In this way Christ’s soul has grace that is infinite and without measure, owing to the fact that it possesses, as united to itself, the Word who is the inexhaustible and infinite principle of every emanation of creatures.

From the fact that the singular grace of Christ’s soul is infinite in the ways described, we readily infer that the grace which is His as head of the Church is likewise infinite. For the very reason that He possesses it, He pours it forth. And since He has received the gifts of the Spirit without measure, He has the power of pouring forth without measure all that pertains to the grace of the head, so that His grace is sufficient for the salvation, not of some men only, but of the whole world, according to 1 John 2:2: “And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world”; and, we may add, of many worlds, if such existed.

Reference

St. Thomas Aquinas. (1265-1274). Compendium Theologiae: Infinitude of Christ’s Grace, trans. by Cyril Vollert. St. Louis & London: B. Herder Book Co., 1947

All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

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