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Henri Bouillard introduced us to the idea that, while in Italy, Thomas Aquinas, likely with access to the Papal Court’s library, encountered Augustine’s two later anti-Pelagian works De Praedestinatione Sanctorum and De Dono Perseverantiae. All evidence indicates that these tracts influenced Aquinas’s account of grace. Bouillard’s research is groundbreaking, but not complete. Having confined himself to the topics of grace and conversion, Bouillard does not expound on a second insight Thomas gleaned from Augustine in those works. Further evidence shows that Aquinas’s Augustinian discovery altered how he thought about the human agent’s ability to merit the grace of perseverance. This has ramifications for how Thomas understands one’s ability to continue in a life of virtue simpliciter.
Throughout our study, we have remained close to the texts of Aquinas and emphasized accepting those texts as a whole. The treatise on good habits (i.e., virtue and gifts) must be read in light of the treatise on bad habits (i.e., sin and vice). This latter treatise, again, must be read in the light of the treatise on grace. To approach our investigation with our own modern criteria of the kind of texts and arguments we would accept from Aquinas would do nothing but reveal what we implicitly expected to find. Despite the attention we have given to these texts, until now we have failed to discuss Thomas’s most obvious declaration on virtue, his formalized definition of it. In closing our examination, then, we turn finally to this formal definition not as a point of departure but as a point of arrival. It acts as a confirmation of what we have now worked out.
The themes of grace and nature were in a phase of development even in the years preceding Thomas Aquinas. This was, in part, due to the innovations within and between speculative frameworks involving the categories of both nature and the supernatural. These developments both were Aquinas’s inheritance and would become the subject of his own innovations. Scholars of Aquinas’s writings throughout the centuries, including Bouillard, Lonergan, and Wawrykow, have gestured toward systematic developments in Aquinas’s theology of grace. While each of these voices has made use of Thomas’s transformations for his own purpose, I have found no study throughout this history that traces the impacts of these shifts on Aquinas’s account of virtue. This is a major aspect of our challenge. Both the dynamic situation occurring in the mid-thirteenth century, combined with Aquinas’s own textual discoveries in the early 1260s, moved his theology of grace in such a manner that one can worthily examine his account of God’s grace for clues to how he understood virtue to act in our moral lives.
At the beginning of our survey regarding the conditions for virtue, we called attention to the various gradations in virtue.* While the taxonomy made it possible for our disquisition to presuppose what Aquinas had in mind when he speaks of virtue simpliciter, we stopped short of identifying that form of virtue secundum quid most advantageous for us to explore. Unsurprisingly, within our schema, there can be only one notion of virtue simpliciter. However, as noted, Aquinas’s readers have distilled at least four other gradations of virtue. In one way or another, each of these inferior gradations takes the nomination of “virtue,” but certainly not in the full sense of the term.
As our study draws to a close, we can make a few final observations. We need not re-present each of our conclusions here. We have devoted a great amount of time to those conclusions in their respective chapters, especially at the end of Chapters 6 and 9. The general contour of our study has been a presentation of Aquinas’s account of the virtue to reveal its inner logic. That account’s interconnection with theological topics becomes obvious when we attend to his own language and various senses of virtue. The reasons by which Aquinas presents his account of virtue are inextricably woven together with his account of grace, sin, and God’s divine providence and governance of creation.
The last aspect of our analysis of virtue secundum quid falls to determining its end and conditions.1 Before broaching the conditions that enable us to speak of the end of pagan virtue, we must briefly lay out some metaethical points. Chapter 6 revealed that virtue simpliciter’s end meant considering the perfect happiness of the one who has arrived at journey’s end, the status comprehensoris. Now we take up that sort of end that is had by the one on earth, the status viatoris. This agent is propelled on his journey by desire. Because a desire for the good in general is hardwired into the human agent and constitutes the catalyst of agency itself, we must begin by examining what Aquinas holds to be the metaethical connections between goodness, goods, desirability, and ends.
Seeking to understand the necessary conditions of grace for virtue simpliciter, we have demonstrated that such virtue both begins and continues only through the supernatural grace of God. Not only that, but as his thought matures Thomas Aquinas comes to recognize that the human agent can, in virtue simpliciter’s beginning and continuance, do little to guarantee her obtaining and perseverance in that grace. Principally, the life of grace that founds and helps continue that life of virtue simpliciter lies locked within God’s providential wisdom. The agent’s choices, even perfectly virtuous choices, are only secondary, in terms of efficacious causality. At best, the human agent is able to cooperate with what God has begun and continues of God’s own gratuitous initiative. Having considered the beginning and continuance of virtue simpliciter’s necessary conditions, we consider the conditions pertaining to its end.
Throughout his writings, Thomas Aquinas exhibited a remarkable stability of thought. However, in some areas such as his theology of grace, his thought underwent titanic developments. In this book, Justin M. Anderson traces both those developments in grace and their causes. After introducing the various meanings of virtue Aquinas utilized, including 'virtue in its fullest sense' and various forms of 'qualified virtue', he explores the historical context that conditioned that account. Through a close analysis of his writings, Anderson unearths Aquinas's own discoveries and analyses that would propel his understanding of human experience, divine action, and supernatural grace in new directions. In the end, we discover an account of virtue that is inextricably linked to his developed understanding of sin, grace and divine action in human life. As such, Anderson challenges the received understanding of Aquinas's account of virtue, as well as his relationship to contemporary virtue ethics.
Virtue in the writings of Thomas Aquinas is inseparable from his understanding of sin, grace, and God’s presence in human life and action. The logic inherent to his account of virtue, virtue both with and without grace, requires us to speak of grace and sin. Because it pertains to the very logic of virtue to address these theological topics, it becomes impossible to treat them as mere addenda or to bracket them in favor of a supposedly complete philosophical account. This last point comes into greater relief when we acknowledge, with centuries of other readers of Aquinas, that his theology of grace underwent development throughout his writings. Yet little attention has been given to the effects this development exercises on both his understanding of virtue and the role it can take up in our moral lives. This is largely because readers of Aquinas, friends and adversaries alike, have become satisfied addressing the intersection of grace and virtue in terms of the infused and acquired virtues alone. While such a vector is certainly an interesting and demanding study, it fails to acknowledge the effects his developments in topics like operative grace, God’s influence in human action, and sin have for his account of virtue.
Since we wish to examine the conditions under which Aquinas thinks one can possess virtue, we must attend to the momentous shifts that occurred within his theology of grace. To ignore these changes would only be done to the peril of our inquiry. Because of the nature of the shifts, the issues they address, and the direction in which Aquinas moves, they are particularly important to understand accurately the place Thomas allots to virtue in the moral life.
While investigating the sources from which pagan virtue can spring, we distilled three necessary conditions for that virtue to count as authentic virtue: ordainability, good source, right reason. Each of these three conditions is necessary, without any one alone sufficient to establish the graceless agent in a virtuous life. Perhaps because Aquinas explicitly discusses it in relation to pagan virtue, most contemporary attention focuses on the ordainability condition. But it is not fair to say this is the only one to which he attends. Not only does he treat of the right reason condition, but it is easily foreseen given the role recta ratio serves in Aquinas’s moral science. It is certainly one of the ways his moral science is so indebted to Aristotelian ethics.