Summa III, Question 21 – Christ’s Prayer

Article 1. Whether it is becoming of Christ to pray?

“And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain, and He passed the whole night in the prayer of God.”

There are two wills in Christ; one human, and one divine.  The human will, like all human wills, needs prayer to conform itself to the will of God.

In the reply to the second objection, it is said that “Amongst the other things which He knew would happen, He knew that some would be brought about by His prayer.” Now, we do not pray to change the mind of God, but we know that God has, from all time, decreed certain things to happen as a result of our praying for them.  He is a creator always respectful of His creation, including cause and effect.

Article 2. Whether it pertains to Christ to pray according to His sensuality?

Prayer transcends particular things, and rises above. It is a raising of the mind to God. The senses, however, do not transcend these particulars, and thus, although we can pray for things that our senses tell us are good (to not experience pain, etc) it is never in sensuality that we pray. Pray requires the intellect, which proper object is universal being and not particular things. Prayer is an act of reason.

Article 3. Whether it was fitting that Christ should pray for Himself?

The objection is made thatno one prays save for what He wishes, because, as was said, prayer is an unfolding of our will to God that He may fulfil it. Now Christ wished to suffer what He suffered. Therefore it was not fitting that He should pray for Himself.”

On the contrary, our Lord Himself said while praying to “Glorify Thy Son.”

Christ prayed for Himself, first, by expressing the desire of His sensuality, as stated in Article 2. He prayed “let this cup be taken from Me.” He also prayed by expressing the desire of His deliberate will when He prayed for the glory of His Resurrection.

Christ wished indeed to suffer what He suffered, at that particular time: nevertheless He wished to obtain, after His passion, the glory of His body, which as yet He had not. This very glory which Christ, while praying, besought for Himself, pertained to the salvation of others according to Romans 4:25: “He rose again for our justification.”

Article 4. Whether Christ’s prayer was always heard?

It is objected that “It would seem that Christ’s prayer was not always heard. For He besought that the chalice of His passion might be taken from Him, as we read (Matthew 26:39): and yet it was not taken from Him. Therefore it seems that not every prayer of His was heard.”

Christ was always heard in what He willed with reason, in conformity with the Divine will.  However, as man, He prayed for what His sensuality desired, as said above, and this was not always answered in the way His sensuality would prefer.  Nevertheless, His prayers were always heard, and His reason and will were always in conformity to that of the Divine reason and will.

Of note is the reply to the second objection:Our Lord did not pray for all those who crucified Him, as neither did He for all those who would believe in Him; but for those only who were predestinated to obtain eternal life through Him. Wherefore the reply to the third objection is also manifest.”

In 1722, certain professors try to censure this reply because, to them, it had Jansenistic tendencies. Indeed when I first read this, Calvinism came to mind (Christ died only for the elect).  We know, of course, that Thomas was not a Jansenist or a Calvinist.  How do we understand him here, then?

As always, Thomas makes careful distinction between conditional prayer, efficacious prayer, etc. Here, he is referring to Christ’s efficacious prayer. Earlier in the Summa, St. Thomas has said much on the difference of sufficient grace and efficacious grace, for example, and also of God’s antecedent will that all be saved.  For Thomas to remain consistent, we must understand his reply above in light of all he has earlier said.

Thus, the attempt at censure of this reply was condemned by Rome in 1726. St. Thomas is clearly no Arminian, but he is no Calvinist either.  There is great mystery in God’s antecedent will that all be saved and His consequent will that not all are saved.

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