God wants to draw all people to Himself. He involves us in the process in our coming to Him and bringing others to Him. St. Thomas teaches:
“It is a greater perfection for a thing to be good in itself and also the cause of goodness in others, than only to be good in itself. Therefore God so governs things that He makes some of them to be causes of others in government; as a master who not only imparts knowledge to his pupils, but also gives the faculty of teaching others” (1a. 103, 7).
“Every creature participates in the Divine Goodness, so as to diffuse the good it possesses to others; for it is of the nature of good to communicate itself to others … So the more an agent is established in the share of Divine goodness, so much the more does it strive to transmit its perfections to others as far as possible” (1a. 106, 4).
God enables us to be instruments of His goodness. Although many of us have heard St. Paul’s words that “all scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), we may not have realized that, even in the composition of Scriptures, God involved human cooperation.
In the “Constitution on Divine Revelation” (Dei Verbum), the Second Vatican Council states: “To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while He employed them in this task, made full use of their powers and faculties so that, though He acted in them and through them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever He wanted written, and no more” (Constitution on Divine Revelation, 11).
How were the sacred writers “true authors,” who “made full use of their powers and faculties? St. Thomas Aquinas didn’t explicitly comment on the revelation given to the authors of the Scriptures, but his reflection on the revelation that is given to prophets gives us a few basic ideas.
Prophecy is a charism, that is a “gift… given for the good of others…” (2a2ae. 172, 4, ad 1). Thomas explains that “The capacity of their [the prophets’] minds is raised to the point of perceiving divine truth… brought about by the motion of the Holy Spirit. After the mind has been raised to perceive heavenly things, it perceives the things of God” (2a2ae. 171, 1, ad 4).
Thomas asserts “… inspiration is requisite for prophecy as regards the raising of the mind… while revelation is necessary as regards the perception of divine things” (2a2ae. 171, 1, ad 4). The prophet’s mind is “raised,” that is “inspired” but the prophet is also given a “revelation”: “… in prophetic knowledge the human intellect is passive to the enlightening of the Divine light” (2a2ae. 171, 2, ad 1).
According to Thomas, the prophetic light is transitory and needs to be renewed: “Just as the air is ever in need of fresh enlightening, so the prophet’s mind is always in need of a fresh revelation…” (2a2ae. 171, 2).
Thomas notices that the prophets attribute their message to God’s intervention: “The Lord said to me”… “the Word of the Lord came to me, saying”… “the hand of the Lord was upon Him.” While the prophets must wait to be enlightened, “… there remains an aptitude to be enlightened anew” (2a2ae. 171, 2, ad 2).
In some similar way, God, through the Holy Spirit, intervenes in our lives, by raising our minds to listen to Him and to speak to us. Yet, the Spirit cannot speak unless we are attentive. Thomas recalls the words of Isaiah: “In the morning He wakens my ear that I may hear” (Isaiah 1:4). The Lord did not speak to Elijah in a powerful wind, an earthquake or a fire but in a gentle whispering breeze (1 Kings 19:12).
Of course, we have to be careful when we think God is giving us messages. Thomas acknowledges that even prophets needed discernment: “… he is unable to distinguish fully whether his thoughts are conceived of Divine instinct or of his own spirit. And those things we know by Divine instinct are not all manifest with prophetic certitude, for this instinct is sometimes imperfect” (2a2ae. 171, 5).
Scripture is not given for its own sake, as St. Paul declares: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching – for reproof, correction and training in holiness so that everyone who belongs to God may be competent and equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Thomas explains: “The knowledge a man receives from God cannot be turned to anyone’s profit, except by means of speech” (2a2ae. 177, 1). Paul instructs Timothy: “I charge you to preach the word, to stay with it this task, whether convenient or inconvenient – correcting, reproving, appealing – constantly teaching and never losing patience” (2 Tim 4:3-4).
Thomas reflects on this ministry of preaching and teaching: “The gratuitous graces are given for the profit of others… The Holy Spirit does not fail in anything that pertains to the welfare of the Church. He provides also the members of the Church with speech; to the effect that a man … speaks with effect, and this pertains to the grace of the word” (2a2ae. 177, 1).
Thomas affirms that the Spirit “instructs the intellect when a person speaks so as to teach.” The Spirit also “moves the affections, so that a person willingly hearkens to the word of God.” Thomas notes: “This is the case when a person speaks so as to please his hearers, but not with a view to his own favor, but in order to draw them to listen to God’s word” (2a2ae. 177, 1).
The Spirit also acts “in order that people may love what is signified by the word and desire to fulfill it, and this is the case when a person speaks as to sway his hearers. In order to effect this, the Holy Spirit makes use of the human tongue as of an instrument; but He it is who perfects the work within” (2a2ae. 177, 1).
Thomas recalls a homily for Pentecost of St. Gregory: “Unless the Holy Spirit fill the hearts of the hearers, in vain does the voice of the teacher resound in the ears of the body” (Homily XXX).
Thomas believes that “The Holy Spirit effects more excellently by the grace of His words that which art can effect in a less efficient manner” (2a2ae. 177, 1, ad 1).
At times, God withholds this “grace of the word,” either because of the fault of the hearers of the faults of the speaker: “… the good works of either of them do not merit this grace directly but only remove the obstacles” (2a2ae. 177, 1, ad 3). In other words, this gift is truly a grace that God gives freely.
Thomas’ words regarding prophecy may also apply to the “grace of words”: “God’s gifts are not always bestowed on those who are simply the best, but sometimes are given to those who are the best at receiving this or that gift. God grants His gifts to those who He judges best to give it to” (2a2ae. 172, 4, ad 4).
In some ways, God gives each one of us a “grace of words” to speak His message to others in various ways, and thus draw others to Him.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae give the part of the Summa, for instance, in this article the second part of the second part. Then the particular question is given, as in this article, questions 171, 172, and 177. Then the article is given, such as the 4th. If the reference is from Thomas response to an objection, the number of the objection is added, with the Latin word, “ad,” meaning “to,” in this case, it is the reply to the first objection.