The Perfection of the Will: Another Example of Vermigli’s Thomism

Many within the more voluntarist strain of Christianity like to use slogans about conversion like “God dragged me kicking and screaming.”  This is usually meant to emphasize the person’s Calvinistic orthodoxy over the heterodoxy of those Arminian devils.  This is an extreme position.  Vermigli demonstrates the medium:  God doesn’t just idly propose that sinful man change his mind, as if supernatural truths were like sweet and sour pork at the Chinese buffet – take it or leave it.  Neither does God force man’s will to the extent that his choice in accepting the Gospel is involuntary.  That is a corruption of the will.  Vermigli explains:

Just as the senses cannot apprehend universals, so our mind cannot ascend to supernatural things vitiated and corrupt.  Some assert that it is enough to have the word and promises of God suggested to us by the Spirit.  I deny it, for unless these powers are corrected, we are quite unable to understand and embrace things divine and heavenly.  Nor is it within our capacity to be content with what is set before us; they must be proposed to us with force, efficacy, and power, so that the understanding may be affected with an uncommon light, and the will strengthened lest it submit to evil desires and temptations that call it away from spiritual things.  When this is done it assents to the words and promises of God, and justification follows. (Peter Martyr Vermigli, Philosophical Works, p. 285.)  

Vermigli does not say that God forces the will but that he proposes divine things “with force” etc.  He affirms that the intellect and will of man play an active part in this process: 

The intellect is actively predisposed to such assent, willing and agreeing to what is proposed; but it remains passive toward that power of God, the force and efficacy which heals and converts it; for through him all this is received and comes about.  Nor should this seem absurd, since as Scripture says, we are drawn, indicating a kind of passion and disposition.  It is also said that God stands at the door and knocks.  Hence those knocks and motions are received in the mind…” (Ibid.)

Not only does Vermigli present here St. Thomas’s distinction between active and passive willing, but the principle that governs his belief that God does not force the will is that “grace does not destroy but perfects nature.” (ST I, Q. 1, a. 8.) Vermigli says that God “does not compel or force, as if to corrupt the will or choice; rather he perfects it, since he adorns with form and fulfills matter but does not destroy it.” (Ibid., p. 286.)  The editors of Vermigli’s Philosophical Works include the Latin for comparison:

Vermigli:  potius perficit, quemadmodum forma ornat et absoluit materiam, non perdit.

Thomas:  Gratia naturam non tollit sed perficit.

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