"And I beheld, and heard the voice of one eagle flying through the midst of heaven,
saying with a loud voice: Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth....
[Apocalypse (Revelation) 8:13]

Sunday, August 16, 2015

St. Thomas Aquinas on the Extreme Fewness of the Saved

St. Thomas Aquinas on the Extreme Fewness of the Saved

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches in the Summa that relatively very few people will be saved.  He explains that salvation is a good which is way above the normal human state or ability, and therefore very few will attain to it.  I have had to turn to the Latin of the Summa Theologica to confirm the full extent of his teaching about this, as I will explain after I have given the text in English.

“Reply to Objection 3. The good that is proportionate to the common state of nature [e.g., not being disabled, being healthy] is to be found in the MANY; and is wanting in the FEW [paucioribus]. The good that exceeds the common state of nature is to be found in the FEW [paucioribus], and is wanting in the MANY. Thus it is clear that MANY men have a sufficient knowledge for the guidance of life; and the FEW [pauciores] who have not this knowledge are said to be morons or foolish; but they who attain to a profound knowledge of things intelligible are MOST FEW [paucissimi] in respect to the rest. Since their eternal happiness, consisting in the vision of God, exceeds the common state of nature, and ESPECIALLY in so far as this is deprived of grace through the corruption of original sin, there is a SELECT FEW [pauciores] who are saved. In this especially, however, appears the mercy of God, that He has chosen some for that salvation, from which VERY MANY [plurimi] in accordance with the common course and tendency of nature fall short.” (Summa Theologica Part I, Question 23, Article 7; emphasis is mine.)

 The key word which St. Thomas uses is “plurimi”.   As salvation is above the ability of common nature, this would mean that “few” attain to it.  However, he explains that due to the original sin, man is even less capable of salvation. This is likened to the “most few” (paucissimi) whom he says attain to what is way above common nature, such as profound knowledge.  He emphasizes the extreme fewness of the saved  by comparing it with the “very many” (plurimi) who are damned.  “Plurimi” is the superlative of “multus” (many).  The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines the “superlative” as follows:

“1 : of, relating to, or constituting the degree of grammatical comparison that denotes an extreme or unsurpassed level or extent
2 a : surpassing all others : SUPREME”

The superlative “plurimi” is used in comparison with the “select few” [pauciores], and emphasises just how few it will be who are saved.  The difference between the number of the saved and that of the damned is, St. Thomas tells us in the Summa by using the superlative, “extreme, of unsurpassed extent, surpassing all others, supreme”, as the Merriam Webster online dictionary explains the superlative.  In other words, he says that very, very few (an extreme or unsurpassed fewness) will be saved.  The fewness of the saved is, in a word, superlative.


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