Saturday, 15 February 2014

Question 100 – The Condition of Progeny with Respect to Justice

Why this Question Matters

Adam and Eve were created in a state of original justice. Would this supernatural gift of grace have been passed on to their progeny had the fall not intervened? And if such progeny did inherit this state, would they have been confirmed in that state to such an extent as they would necessarily achieve the beatific vision?

The Thread of the Argument

A1: In Ia.q95.a1 Aquinas argues that human beings were originally created in a state of grace that conferred upon them a sort of rectitude rendering them upright in the sight of God; a state of original justice. In this article he offers more precision to this argument by considering the question of whether such a state would have been passed on to children born to humans in this state. The major argument against such a state being passed on in generation is that it would then seem to be something natural to the human being; therefore continuing after the fall.

Aquinas observes that humans by their nature generate what is similar to themselves and that any proper accidents (that is, accidents that follow from the very nature of the species) do pass to progeny. On the other hand, children do not have to be like their parents in non-proper accidents. For example, children inherit the ability to laugh, as this follows from the nature of being a human; but Fred may sport a handsome tan when neither of his parents do. The gift of original justice, however, is a special case. It is a supernatural gift given to the species, but it does not follow on from the nature of the species itself. So in the prelapsarian state of innocence, original justice is proper (in an analogous sense) to the species and is therefore passed down to children from their parents. In reply to the second objection Aquinas points out that it is therefore not passed down, strictly speaking, by the process of generation but rather is infused by God as soon as the body of the child is ready for it.

Having recognized the state of original justice as being a supernatural gift to the species, it immediately follows that original sin is a sin that affects the whole species, as it is associated with the removal of the supernatural gift of grace from the species. So when we say that human nature was not changed by the fall we are saying that what is natural to the species was not changed, but the supernatural gift to the species was lost.

A2: We saw back in 1a.q64.a2 that when an angel takes the decision, at the moment of its creation, for or against God, that decision is irrevocable; the angel is confirmed in its decision. Aquinas now asks about the state of justice for progeny born before the fall; would they have been confirmed in this state of justice? That is, would they of necessity have been unable to turn away from God and away from the state of justice?

Angels differ from humans in that human beings have freedom of choice both before an act of choice and after that act. If an angel turns to or from God, that choice is immediately binding forever; if a human turns to or away from God in this life it is always open to them to change their mind and reverse the decision. However, those granted the beatific vision are confirmed in that vision; a human being cannot turn away from the ultimate good once it has been granted. The initial state of innocence did not involve the gift of the beatific vision, therefore human beings (whether Adam or Eve as originally created, or any of the progeny that might have been generated from them in such a state) in the state of innocence retained the free will ability to turn away from God.

Handy Concepts

  • Original justice was a supernatural gift to the human species that was lots in the fall.
  • Human free-will allows for a turning to or away from God; until the gift of the beatific vision is given, this decision is reversible.


  • Understanding the precise relation of human nature and the gift of grace in the state of innocence is important to understanding the twentieth century controversy over the supernatural. Aquinas’s position that this supernatural gift of grace is analogously proper to human nature but does not follow on from human nature itself is a subtlety that can be missed.

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