Aquinas’ Distinction Between Membership in the New Covenant and the era of the New Covenant

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brandonadams

Puritan Board Freshman
Augustine limits the Old Covenant to temporal, earthly promises and argues that OT saints were saved by the New Covenant.

[T]he happy persons, who even in that early age [the Old Testament] were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament to the ancient people of God
Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist

Aquinas followed Augustine on this point, citing him several times in Summa Theologica I-II, 106-107 (Old “Law” = Old Covenant; New “Law” = New Covenant).

[T]he Old Law, which was given to men who were imperfect, that is, who had not yet received spiritual grace, was called the “law of fear,” inasmuch as it induced men to observe its commandments by threatening them with penalties; and is spoken of as containing temporal promises…

the New Law which derives its pre-eminence from the spiritual grace instilled into our hearts, is called the “Law of love”: and it is described as containing spiritual and eternal promises…

although the Old Law contained precepts of charity, nevertheless it did not confer the Holy Ghost…

the New Law is chiefly the grace itself of the Holy Ghost, which is given to those who believe in Christ…

Nevertheless there were some in the state of the Old Testament who, having charity and the grace of the Holy Ghost, looked chiefly to spiritual and eternal promises: and in this respect they belonged to the New Law…

As to those under the Old Testament who through faith were acceptable to God, in this respect they belonged to the New Testament: for they were not justified except through faith in Christ, Who is the Author of the New Testament…

No man ever had the grace of the Holy Ghost except through faith in Christ either explicit or implicit: and by faith in Christ man belongs to the New Testament. Consequently whoever had the law of grace instilled into them belonged to the New Testament…

at all times there have been some persons belonging to the New Testament, as stated above.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifically quotes Aquinas on this point (1964).

There were . . . under the regimen of the Old Covenant, people who possessed the charity and grace of the Holy Spirit and longed above all for the spiritual and eternal promises by which they were associated with the New Law… [E]ven though the Old Law prescribed charity, it did not give the Holy Spirit, through whom “God’s charity has been poured into our hearts.

I do not agree with everything he has to say, but I highly recommend reading Joshua Moon’s dissertation “Jeremiah’s New Covenant: An Augustinian Reading” (PDF) as he explains Augustine’s view of Jeremiah 31, as well as how that Augustinian reading was held down through church history up until the Reformation. Below is an excerpt (66-74 PDF) of his account of Aquinas’ Augustinian reading of Jeremiah 31.




In summary form the lex nova for Thomas is the grace of God through the Holy Spirit.64 Thomas identifies the lex nova with the Law of the novum testamentum (‘lex nova est lex novi testamenti’), and defines the new law as the grace of the Holy Spirit:


‘Each thing appears to be that which is foremost in it,’ as the Philosopher states (Ethic., ix). That which is foremost in the Law of the novum testamentum, and in which all its power consists, is the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is given through faith in Christ. Consequently the lex nova is principally the grace itself of the Holy Spirit, which is given to those who believe in Christ.65

To establish his position he cites Jer 31:31,33, followed by two citations of Augustine from the De spiritu, the second of which reads: ‘What else are the Divine laws written by God Himself on our hearts, but the very presence of his Holy Spirit?’ From Augustine, Thomas reads the contrast in Jer 31 as between an old law without further power, and the ‘new’ work of the Spirit in those who believe.


The consequences of this for Jer 31 are then spelled out by an objection now somewhat familiar: what of those prior to the nova lex? If the new law is the Spirit’s work by which people are made friends of God, and if the ancient faithful had that Spirit’s work, then you have the novum testamentum in the era of the vetus. Thus, the objection runs, the new law cannot be defined this way:


The Law of the Gospel is proper to those who are in the state of the novum testamentum. But the Law that is inscribed [on the heart] is common both to those who are in the novum testamentum and those who are in the vetus testamentum. For it is said in Wisdom 7[:27]: ‘Divine wisdom conveys herself through the nations into holy souls; she establishes the friends of God and the prophets.’ Therefore the lex nova is not the Law inscribed.66

Thomas answers by appeal to an implicit distinction between membership in the novum testamentum and the ‘state (or era) of the novum testamentum:


No one ever possessed the grace of the Holy Spirit except through faith in Christ, explicit or implicit. Through faith in Christ a man belongs to the novum testamentum. Thus whoever had the Law of grace infused, accordingly belonged to the novum testamentum

At first glance it does not appear that Thomas answers the objection. He solves the dilemma by agreeing that there have always been those who had the Law of grace and belonged to the novum testamentum. The implicit point, however, is that Thomas does not see ‘belonging to the novum testamentum’ as the same as being in the statu novi testamenti – otherwise the reply would not at all address the objection. Thomas thus drives a distinction between two realities, that of the era of the Gospel or the statu novi testamenti, and that of
membership within the novum testamentum. And Jer 31:33-34 is addressed to the latter. Thus, in article 4 of the same question he asserts that the state of the new law succeeds the state of the old law (‘successit enim status novae legis statui veteris legis’), a claim he finds consistent with the novum testamentum existing during the state of the old law.


Matthew Levering summarizes the distinction being made this way: ‘The state of the new law begins after the Incarnation, while the new law itself, as the grace of the Holy Spirit, is found in all places and times.’68 Or more fully is Colman O’Neill:


the new law exists as the mystery of salvation at work in the world from the time of the restoration of man to grace. Yet, though the new law thus transcends historical periods, the state of the new law does not. For the state of the new law is precisely that third state of revelation and faith which was initiated in the Incarnation and in the mysteries of Christ.69

That Thomas owes this position to Augustine is clear: Augustine is cited no fewer than 8 times in answer to this one question. One can speak two different ways of the vetus and novum testamentum (or lex): either to a ‘state’ or era, or with respect to the thing itself. If the former, then one can speak of the economical differences. But if the latter, then any view of temporal succession is impossible. And Jeremiah is speaking of the latter. The lex nova, spoken of in Jer 31:33-34, is available throughout all ages and without the possession of it, one’s happiness (proper end) is unattainable – for that which is outside of a person cannot justify. The virtue of being just before God cannot be acquired unless given by God, and clearly those faithful of the ancient era were just. Thus ‘in all times there have been some belonging to the novum testamentum’, even if the statu novi testamenti awaited the coming of Christ.70


This point is made concrete in Thomas’ treatment of David in Psalm 51 (Vg. 50) and Thomas’ view of David as having the Holy Spirit (i.e. the lex nova):


The reason for this manifestation [of guilt (culpa) being wiped clean] is a divine mercy; for the manifestation of righteousness (iustis) is useful so that we do not presume on his righteousness (iustitia). For if David sins – after all of his victories, after the gift of the Holy Spirit, after all his familiarity with God and prophecy – how much more ought we to fear how weak and sinful we are?71
If Jeremiah’s prophecy of the new covenant is a prophecy of the lex nova, which is contained fundamentally in the giving of the Holy Spirit, then David is here explicitly counted as a member of the new covenant. The exhortation even hinges upon an a fortiori privileging of the place of David: if even David can sin, how much more should we fear? There is only one way by which anyone is made right with God, and that is through the novum testamentum or the lex nova, which is the grace of the Holy Spirit given to those who believe. This is true for Augustine and Thomas regardless of era, and this right standing before God is the substance of Jeremiah’s new covenant.72
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm not sure how helpful it is to try to learn from Thomas or Augustine's formulations in covenant theology without dealing with their errors. It's not a coincidence that they use the terminology of "new law" rather than "covenant". In the Roman Catholic reading of Galatians 2 and Romans 3-4, Paul is saying one cannot be saved by the old law, not the law simpliciter, as Protestants assert. They must therefore be saved by fulfilling the new law, which requires opera caritatis, works of charity, enabled by the sacraments of the Catholic Church, in order to obtain the merits of salvation. The similarities between their formulation and 1689 federalism are ultimately superficial in light of their corruption of the gospel.
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm not suggesting that we try to learn from them without dealing with their errors.

The similarities between their formulation and 1689 federalism are ultimately superficial in light of their corruption of the gospel.

That is incorrect. The point of similarity is the recognition that OT saints were saved by the New Covenant. That is not superficial, even if we disagree on how they were saved by the New Covenant.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm not suggesting that we try to learn from them without dealing with their errors.



That is incorrect. The point of similarity is the recognition that OT saints were saved by the New Covenant. That is not superficial, even if we disagree on how they were saved by the New Covenant.
They don't actually agree on that though. One says the Old Testament saints were under the New Law; the other says the were under the New Covenant. The Reformed don't even agree that there is a New Law. So at most you could say that they agree that the old testament saints are under the same sort of thing as the new testament saints - but that proposition is shared with Reformed Covenant Theology, and is not unique to 1689 Federalism. Roman Catholic theology does not provide a unique precedent for 1689 Federalism, and to be honest, I'm not sure why one would want for it to.
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Freshman
Brother, go read the context. By "New Law" Aquinas clearly refers to the "New Covenant."

Furthermore, as you acknowledge, Augustine does say that OT saints were saved by the New Covenant not the Old Covenant, which is a distinctive of 1689 Federalism and all that I am pointing out here. Boiling Augustine down to "Roman Catholic theology" is quite unhelpful. Calvin had no problem appealing to him abundantly. My only point in mentioning Aquinas is to show that this Augustinian reading continued to have a strong representation down through the centuries up until Calvin and the reformed departed from it. The "subservient covenant" tradition goes back many, many centuries.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
The "subservient covenant" tradition goes back many, many centuries.
With all due respect brother, all you have shown is that the "subservient something" tradition goes back centuries, because Aquinas never expresses a doctrine of salvation by gracious covenant, but by the merits of the law, and his whole system is built around explaining how the new law saves a man. This is not a minor equivocation. I grouped Augustine with Aquinas because he makes many of the same errors, as I have shown elsewhere.
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Freshman
If anyone is interested in this topic, I encourage them to read the full contexts as well as Moon's dissertation. I'm afraid Charles has missed the point.
 
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KMK

Administrator
Staff member
If anyone is interested in this topic, I encourage them to read the full contexts as well as Moon's dissertation. I'm afraid Charles has missed the point.

I am having trouble understanding what the topic is. Does the thread title accurately define the topic? If so, how does that relate to the Puritanboard?
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Freshman
Ken,

I guess I needed more of a preface, sorry.

The thread is about covenant theology. In the reformed tradition there are various understandings of covenant theology. Some view all the post-fall covenant as one and the same (in substance) and thus argue that OT saints were saved by the Old Covenant, which was the pre-Christ administration of the Covenant of Grace. Others disagree and argue that the Old Covenant was limited to temporal life and blessing in Canaan and that OT saints were saved by the New Covenant (working in their own day and time, prior to its establishment). This thread is simply highlighting the historicity of the latter view.
 
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