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Thomas Aquinas: Nature and Grace

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by skypair, Jul 25, 2007.

  1. skypair

    skypair New Member

    Jun 25, 2006
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    I've been rereading Sproul's very good offering "The Consequences of Ideas" and taking notes. One thing about Thomas Aquinas jumped out at me this time --- his thoughts on "efficient causes" as 2nd proof of the existence of God.

    "Every effect has an antecedent cause.

    In Aristotle's scheme the efficient cause is that which produces the effect. In the case of a statue, it is the sculptor."
    In the case of a believer, God?

    Connected to this is his notion of the separation of nature and grace. It seems biblically based -- natural man vs spiritual man -- philosophy or science vs theology. Aquinas sees them separate totally realms (according to his critics). Sproul says not so much.

    But to get to the point ---- Doesn't Aquinas 2nd proof teach us that the "efficacious calling" cannot have a natural cause? Isn't this the argument of Calvinism? That God has to directly change the heart because there is nothing in the natural that changes the spiritual? In fact, imagine this happening in any Calvinist proposition -- prayer (our speaking to God) doesn't change God or His "plan." Evangelizing doesn't change who He saves/elects. There does seem to be a kind of "wall" between the two in Calvinism as well, no? What is the "efficient cause" of salvation -- spoken gospel or God?

    Sproul gives an example: In Islam, "what may be true in faith may be false in reason. Just as Protestant theologians distinguish between general (or natural) revelation and special (biblical) revelation, so Thomas distinguishes between nature and grace."

    Now to be fair, Aquinas and Sproul didn't see nature and grace as diametrically exclusionary. However, think about the concepts for a minute and see that the only "effective cause" of regeneration would not occur in the natural man but from God alone, right? Hearing words (naturally) would be of no "effect" in the realm of the spirit or grace. Regeneration and faith have to be some intervention of the spirit (or, perhaps, intellect) by God.

    Now the question is --- is this a valid truth?

    #1 skypair, Jul 25, 2007
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 25, 2007
  2. Humblesmith

    Humblesmith New Member

    Mar 11, 2005
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    Well, I haven't read this book by Sproul, so I can't comment on that. But I know a little about Thomas Aquinas.

    When you read Aquinas, he was a midieval theologian / philosopher, and a student of Aristotle. Aristotle defined four types of causes, and the midievals defined two more. So that there are six causes. For example, in the case of a carpenter building a chair:

    Efficient Cause: The carpenter.
    Formal Cause: The nature of a chair....the structure of a chair.
    Final Cause: to provide something to sit on (something to sit on is needed).
    Material Cause: The wood used in the chair.
    Exemplar Cause: The blueprints used by the Carpenter.
    Instrumental Cause: The tools used by the carpenter.

    To this, we can also add at least two dimensions: primary cause, and secondary cause. A primary cause might be a master carpenter giving the commands to an apprentace, but then the apprentace would be the secondary cause of building a chair.

    So in the case of salvation, God is the primary efficient cause of our salvation. On this, most all Christians agree, Calvinist or otherwise.

    Some doctrinal statements such as the Westminster Confession recognize God as the primary cause of salvation, but our free will as secondary causes. Of course, there is some debate about this.

    So regarding your question, God is the efficient cause of our salvation. God's plan is the exemplar cause of our salvation. The question then surrounds what is the instrumental cause, and do we recognize secondary causes?

    Some theologians hold that while God is the primary efficient cause of our salvation, done according to his plan, while God's plan also specifies the instrumental causes of preaching, free choice, prayer, etc.
  3. skypair

    skypair New Member

    Jun 25, 2006
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    Thanks humblesmith! :applause: I saw the 4 causes but you added some good "brain food" to the mix.

    Did Westminister really see a free will aspect in salvation? Trying to compare:

    Efficient Cause: God
    Formal Cause: glorified, eternal children
    Final Cause: fellowship of those created in His image
    Material Cause: Sinful mankind
    Exemplar Cause: Justification, sanctification, glorification pattern of design?
    Instrumental Cause: Scripture, Christ, believers

    The only place I can find man having an active part is as a "secondary cause," right? Do you think Calvinism overlooked secondary causes in their sotierology?? It often seems Calvinists think man has no part in sanctification either being as they see it "all of God."

    Am I missing something? Cause is cause and in the above, I don't see man's involvement except in the Instrumental cause if my analogy is right.

    #3 skypair, Jul 28, 2007
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 28, 2007