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Article Nine

Whether the Justification of the Ungodly is the Greatest Work of God

We proceed to the ninth article thus:

1. It seems that the justification of the ungodly is not the greatest work of God. By the justification of the ungodly one obtains the grace of the wayfarer. But by glorification one obtains the grace of heaven, which is greater. The glorification of men and angels is therefore a greater work than the justification of the ungodly.

2. Again, the justification of the ungodly is ordained for the particular good of an individual man. But the good of the universe is greater than the good of an individual man, as is clear from 1 Ethics 2. The creation of heaven and earth is therefore a greater work than the justification of the ungodly.

3. Again, to make something out of nothing, when there is nothing which co-operates with the agent, is greater than to make something out of something else with the co-operation of the subject. Now in the work of creation something is made out of nothing, and there is consequently nothing which can cooperate with the agent. In the justification of the ungodly, on the other hand, something is made out of something else. That is, God makes a just man out of an ungodly man, who, moreover, co-operates by the movement of his free will, as was said in Art. 3. Hence the justification of the ungodly is not the greatest work of God.

On the other hand: it is said in Ps. 145:9: “his tender mercies are over all his works,” and the collect says: “O God, who declarest thy Almighty power especially by pardon and mercy.” Further, expounding John 14:12, “and greater works than these shall he do,” Augustine says: “that a just man should be made out of an ungodly man is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth” (Tract. 72 in Joan.).

I answer: a work may be said to be great in two ways. It may be said to be great in respect of the manner of action. In this respect, the greatest work is the work of creation, in which something is made out of nothing. But a work may also be said to be great in respect of what it achieves. Now the justification of the ungodly terminates in the eternal good of participation 200in the divine nature. It is therefore greater in respect of what it achieves than the creation of heaven and earth, which terminates in the good of changeable nature. Hence, when Augustine says: “that a just man should be made out of an ungodly man is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth,” he adds: “for heaven and earth shall pass away, but the salvation and justification of the predestined shall remain.”

But we must observe that there are two senses in which a thing is said to be great. The first sense is that of absolute quantity. In this sense, the gift of glory is greater than the gift of grace which makes an ungodly man just, and the glorification of the just is a greater work than the justification of the ungodly. The second sense is that of relative quantity, in respect of which we may say that a mountain is small, and a millet great. In this sense, the gift of grace which makes the ungodly just is greater than the gift of glory which beatifies the just. For the gift of grace exceeds the worthiness of an ungodly man, who is worthy of punishment, by more than the gift of glory exceeds the worthiness of a just man, who is worthy of glory since he is justified. Hence Augustine says in the same passage: “Let him judge who can whether it is greater to create just angels than to justify the ungodly. If these are equal in respect of power, the latter is assuredly greater in mercy.”

From this the answer to the first point is obvious.

On the second point: the good of the universe is greater than the good of an individual man, if we consider them as in the same genus. But the good of the grace given to one man is greater than the good of the whole natural universe.

On the third point: this reasoning argues about the manner of the agent’s action. The creation is the greatest work of God in this respect.

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