Grace and Sin at the Dawn of Moral Experience
William H. Marshner
In a notorious article of the Prima Secundae, Aquinas claimed that the first moral decision of an unbaptized child could not result in a venial sin. If the decision was bad, the sin could only be mortal. On the other hand, if the decision was good, the same unbaptized child was freed from original sin. The common doctor’s argument for these claims wove together threads of psychology, moral theology, and eschatology, to fashion a controversial doctrine — elegant, but hard to defend, and in conflict with his own work on faith and justification. This paper will unravel the threads and propose a revised doctrine, less elegant but more plausible, and free of conflict.
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The Twenty four Thomistic Theses
Newly translated and annotated by
W. H. Marshner
Decree of the Sacred Congregation for Studies
July 27, 1914
1. Act and potency divide the set of beings in such a way that anything which “is” has to be either (1) pure act or else (2) a combination of potency and act, having these as the primordial factors within it.
2. Since anything’s “act” is a completion it has, act is limited only by a potency which is the thing’s capacity for being completed. Hence, in any order of being where there is a “pure act,” the pure act is unlimited and unique; but wherever an act is limited and has more than one instance, it is occurring in a genuine composition with potency.
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Three Problems in Calvinism
W. H. Marshner
Suppose God pulls me up by my armpits to make me stand. If my legs stay jelly, does He succeed in making me stand? No. My muscles and sinews must become such that, in real terms, I am standing on them. The same is true when we take ‘stand’ more broadly to refer to our being alive and upright before God spiritually. God lifts me up by His grace to make me alive and upright. If my inner faculties remain dead as doornails, does He succeed in making me alive? If they remain utterly prostrate in sin, does He succeed in making me stand? No. My mind and will must be-come such that, in real terms, I am living-for-God in them. This point Calvinism recognizes (against Luther) and rightly so: in those whom He is saving, God accomplishes a real work of sanctification.