Aquinas Not a Safe Guide for Protestants – Part 2

Why Aquinas is not a theologian you should closely study or follow.

There are more quotes from Aquinas that could be given, but these are sufficient to show that he taught that baptism bestows forgiveness, the grace and virtue of the Holy Spirit, incorporation into Christ, newness of life in Christ, enlightenment, and the opening of the gates of the heavenly kingdom. Anyone familiar with the Federal Vision (FV) will quickly see the close connection between the system of Aquinas and the FV.

 

In my previous article on The Aquila Report concerning Thomas Aquinas (Aquinas is Not a Safe Guide for Protestants), I laid out in general terms why Aquinas is not a theologian that you should closely study. In this article, I want to illustrate that position by quotes from Aquinas himself.

First, Aquinas did not believe in the great Protestant principle of Sola Fide– faith alone. Concerning the gospel, he wrote:

There is a two-fold element in the Law of the Gospel. There is the chief element, viz., the grace of the Holy Ghost bestowed inwardly. And as to this, the New Law justifies. . .  The other element of the Evangelical Law is secondary: namely, the teachings of faith, and those commandments which direct human actions. And as to this, the New Law does not justify.[1]

Aquinas initially places regeneration, or the Holy Ghost bestowed inwardly, as the chief element of justification. Then, he places faith on the same level as the commandments, neither of which justify us. In such a way, Aquinas contributed to the confusion of Rome on the doctrine of justification and the anathemas proclaimed by the Council of Trent against justification by faith alone.

Second, he ties the grace of God to the receiving of the sacraments.

The sacraments of the new law cause grace, for they are instituted by God to be employed  for the purpose of conferring grace.[2]

Wherefore it is manifest that the sacraments of the Church derive their power especially from Christ’s passion, the virtue of which is in a manner united to us by our receiving the sacraments.[3]

Aquinas was certainly not the father of sacerdotalism, but he was the greatest expositor of that heresy. The Pharisees held to the magical efficacy of sacraments before Christ was born and they tied grace to them. Many early church leaders followed them in their heresy, but the first great proponent of sacramentalism was Pelagius. You can find ample evidence of this fact in Pelagius’ commentary on Romans. The sacramental views of Pelagius influenced a large part of the church even among those who thought they followed the teachings of Augustine, such as Aquinas. Indeed, Rome allowed both the theological systems of Augustine and Pelagius to grow together without deciding in favor of one or the other and that holds true even for today. The Council of Trent was very careful not to condemn Augustinianism directly. Aquinas developed Pelagius’ views even more consistently. For instance, Aquinas said about the graces received through the sacraments, especially baptism:

Consequently every sin is taken away by Baptism.[4]   

Therefore the grace of the Holy Ghost and the fulness of virtues are given in baptism.[5]

By Baptism, man is incorporated in Christ, as one of His members.[6]

Now newness of life is through grace and virtue. Therefore children receive grace and virtue in Baptism.[7]

The baptized are enlightened by Christ as to the knowledge of truth, and made fruitful by Him with the fruitfulness of good works.[8]

The effect of baptism is to open the gates of the heavenly kingdom.[9]

There are more quotes from Aquinas that could be given, but these are sufficient to show that he taught that baptism bestows forgiveness, the grace and virtue of the Holy Spirit, incorporation into Christ, newness of life in Christ, enlightenment, and the opening of the gates of the heavenly kingdom. Anyone familiar with the Federal Vision (FV) will quickly see the close connection between the system of Aquinas and the FV.

Of course, if all these things are received by every person who is baptized, then why and how do any apostatize? Aquinas has an answer close at hand:

For to many grace is given to whom perseverance in grace is not given.[10]

That sounds very much like the statement of Peter Leithart before Pacific Northwest Presbytery when he said that the Committee had convinced him that there were some things that were not given to every baptized person, with perseverance being the chief one. When I first read that statement by Leithart, I questioned why the Committee of Pacific Northwest Presbytery did not convince him that there were many other things the all who are baptized do not receive, such as: new life, forgiveness of sins, justification, the Holy Spirit, union with Christ, etc. All grace is given to us by the Holy Spirit directly and immediately; not indirectly and mediately through the sacraments. The work of salvation is accomplished by Christ and applied by the Holy Spirit. The sacraments are signs and seals of that saving grace, but they do not confer such grace. The office of the Holy Spirit is to confer grace and God will not give His glory to another, whether person or thing. Yet, Aquinas and the Federal Vision agree that perseverance is uncertain, whereas the Scripture teaches that it is certain for all those effectually called.

Then, Aquinas’ teaching on apostasy was confusing and illogical. He wrote:

Apostasy denotes a backsliding from God. This may happen in various ways according to the different kinds of union between man and God. . .  A man may also apostatize from God, by rebelling in his mind against the Divine commandments: and though this man may apostatize in both the above ways, he may still remain united to God by faith.[11]

So, Aquinas equates apostasy with rebellion in the mind, in whatever degree, and then teaches that it is consistent with remaining united to God by faith. He is touted as being able to make fine distinctions that are helpful to reformed ministers, but the above quote shows how utterly confused he was concerning the true nature of salvation. Aquinas was a master at making fine distinctions. All the Schoolmen were. The problem with Aquinas and the other Schoolmen is that their distinctions were often wrong, and almost always when it concerned the great truths concerning the ordo salutis.

If you want fine distinctions of the doctrines of salvation, then read the Puritans; read the great reformed creeds and confessions; read the great Protestant theologians; but, by all means, do not read Thomas Aquinas. He was entirely clueless concerning the Scriptural doctrine of salvation. There is not one sentence in his entire Summa Theologica that will point you in the right direction concerning salvation. He is wrong at every point on the matter of the gospel.

Dewey Roberts is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, Fla. He is the author of Historic Christianity and the Federal Vision.

[1] Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans., St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica in 3 Volumes, Vol. 1 (New York, Boston, Cincinnati, Chicago, San Francisco: Benzinger Brothers, Inc., 1947), 1103.

[2] Ibid., Vol. 2, 2356.

[3] Ibid., 2359.

[4] Ibid., 2409.

[5] Ibid., 2411.

[6] Ibid., 2412.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., Vol.  1, 1131.

[11] Ibid., 1228.