1) Objection 1. It seems that the will of God is not always fulfilled. For the Apostle says (1 Timothy 2:4): “God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” But this does not happen. Therefore the will of God is not always fulfilled. . .
Reply to Objection 1. The words of the Apostle, “God will have all men to be saved,” etc. can be understood in three ways.
First, by a restricted application, in which case they would mean, as Augustine says (De praed. sanct. i, 8: Enchiridion 103), “God wills all men to be saved that are saved, not because there is no man whom He does not wish saved, but because there is no man saved whose salvation He does not will.”
Secondly, they can be understood as applying to every class of individuals, not to every individual of each class; in which case they mean that God wills some men of every class and condition to be saved, males and females, Jews and Gentiles, great and small, but not all of every condition.
Thirdly, according to Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii, 29), they are understood of the antecedent will of God; not of the consequent will. This distinction must not be taken as applying to the divine will itself, in which there is nothing antecedent nor consequent, but to the things willed.
To understand this we must consider that everything, in so far as it is good, is willed by God. A thing taken in its primary sense, and absolutely considered, may be good or evil, and yet when some additional circumstances are taken into account, by a consequent consideration may be changed into the contrary. Thus that a man should live is good; and that a man should be killed is evil, absolutely considered. But if in a particular case we add that a man is a murderer or dangerous to society, to kill him is a good; that he live is an evil. Hence it may be said of a just judge, that antecedently he wills all men to live; but consequently wills the murderer to be hanged. In the same way God antecedently wills all men to be saved, but consequently wills some to be damned, as His justice exacts. Nor do we will simply, what we will antecedently, but rather we will it in a qualified manner; for the will is directed to things as they are in themselves, and in themselves they exist under particular qualifications. Hence we will a thing simply inasmuch as we will it when all particular circumstances are considered; and this is what is meant by willing consequently. Thus it may be said that a just judge wills simply the hanging of a murderer, but in a qualified manner he would will him to live, to wit, inasmuch as he is a man. Such a qualified will may be called a willingness rather than an absolute will. Thus it is clear that whatever God simply wills takes place; although what He wills antecedently may not take place. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, P1. Q19. A6.
2) Objection 3. Further, election implies some discrimination. Now God “wills all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). Therefore, predestination which ordains men towards eternal salvation, is without election. . . .
Reply to Objection 3. God wills all men to be saved by His antecedent will, which is to will not simply but relatively; and not by His consequent will, which is to will simply. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, P1. Q23. A4.
3) Reply to Objection 3. Baptism contains in itself the perfection of salvation, to which God calls all men, according to 1 Timothy 2:4: “Who will have all men to be saved.” Wherefore Baptism is offered to all nations. On the other hand circumcision did not contain the perfection of salvation, but signified it as to be achieved by Christ, Who was to be born of the Jewish nation. For this reason circumcision was given to that nation alone. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, P1. Q70. A 1.
4) 55. Above, he taught Timothy how to form his people in the true faith; here he deals with matters pertaining to the faith’s worship, namely, prayers and obedience:
first, he presents the general doctrine on prayer; second, he applies it to the specific states of men, at I will, therefore.
First he distinguishes the various ways of praying; second, he shows for whom he should pray, at for all men; third, the reason, at for this is good.
56. He says, therefore: since it is a fact that Christ came to save sinners, I desire therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made. By this he shows that among all the things necessary for a Christian life the most important is prayer, which is powerful against the dangers of temptation, and helpful toward making progress in good: the continual prayer of a just man avails much (Jas 5:16).
Therefore, he distinguishes prayer into four kinds, namely, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings. The first three pertain to obtaining benefits, and the last one to benefits already obtained.
In asking for benefits three things are required: first, that the one beseeching mention the cause why he should be heard; second, that the cause be reasonable; third, that he conclude by stating the request. In our prayers, therefore, we should do as rhetoricians do: for they first think of a cause why they should be heeded; in the case of prayer this is not our merits but God’s mercy: it is not for our justifications that we present our prayers before your face, but for the multitude of your tender mercies (Dan 9: 18). This is achieved by the prayer called supplication, which is a testifying through sacred things, as when we say: by your passion and cross, deliver us, O Lord.
After this cause has been excogitated, it is necessary that we reflect on the fact that this sacred thing is a cause of salvation. This is why prayer is required, which is the ascent of the mind to God: but as for me, my prayer is to you (Ps 68:14). It is called prayer, because it is, as it were, the voice’s reason. For the persuasions of rhetoricians are called prayers, because they persuade; but it is done in ol1e way in their case, and in another way in our prayers to God: for we do not intend to bend God’s will, which ,is always prepared to do good; rather, it is in order that our heart be elevated to God in prayer.
Third, intercessions: let him ask in faith, nothing wavering (Jas 1:6).
Finally, for gifts received, thanksgivings: in all things give thanks (2 Thess 5:18); in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God (Phil 4:6).
Hence we find this prayer in the Church: almighty and eternal God, (this is the ascent of the mind, which is called prayer), who did grant such a favor to your Church (this is the thanksgiving), grant we beseech you (this is the supplication).
In the Mass also there is supplication up to the moment of consecrating the Body and Blood, because they bring to mind sacred things which give us the confidence to supplicate; in the mystery of consecration is prayer, because there is meditation on what Christ has done; from the consecration to the communion there are intercessions for the living, for the dead, and for oneself; and in the end there are thanksgivings.
Or these four refer to the four things we hope to obtain through prayer: then supplications refer to the things that are difficult to obtain, such as the conversion of sinners; prayers refer to the times we implore help for converts to make progress; intercessions ask that rewards be given according to one’s merits; and for favors already received there are thanksgivings.
57. Then when he says, for all men, he shows for whom we should pray.
In regard to this he does two things:
first, he shows that we should pray for everyone;
second, he mentions the fruit of prayer, at that we may lead.
58. In regard to the first, therefore, he says that we should pray for all men; the reason being that prayer is the spokesman of our desires; for by praying we give voice to our desires. But charity requires that we desire good for all to whom our charity extends: pray for one another that youmay be saved (Jas 5:16).
But for whom in particular? For kings and for all who are in high station: pray for the life of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and for the life of Balthasar his son (Bar 1: 11). And the Apostle says: let every soul be subject to higher powers (Rom 13:1); be subject therefore to every human creature for God’s sake: whether it be to the king as excelling, or to governors as sent by him (1 Pet 2: 13). Subjects, of course, ought to bestow upon their masters something from their own resources.
59. The utility of such subjection is that we thereby obtain our own good; hence he says, that we may lead a quiet and a peaceable life. In these two consists the peace of the world. The Church of course has its own peace, in which the world does not share, because there is no peace for the wicked. But there is another peace, which is common to both; and this the Church needs: seek the peace of the city to which I have caused you to be carried away captives (Jer 29:7).
Earthly peace can be disturbed sometimes from within and sometimes from without: combats without; fears within (2 Cor 7:5). In regard to the first he says, that we may lead a quiet, in regard to the second, and a peaceable life. And although earthly peace is shared both by the good and the wicked, yet the one does not use it in the same way as the other. For the wicked use it for two purposes, namely, to worship demons, because they attribute their prosperity to false gods; and to indulge in lewd actions, because in peaceful times the sins of the flesh abound: whereas they lived in a great war of ignorance, they call so many and so great evils peace (Wis 14:22). Holy men, on the other hand, use it properly, for they employ it for the worship of God and for chaste actions; hence he says, in all piety and chastity: let us live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world (Titus 2:12) .
60. Then when he says, for this is good, he gives the reasons for praying:
and he does two things;
first, he gives the reasons;
second, he proves something he had assumed, at for there is one God.
In regard to the first: first, he gives the reason from the nature of the work;
second, on the part of God, at and acceptable.
61. He gives the reason from the nature of the work, because when something is good in itself, we should do it; but prayer for others is this type of thing, because it is an act of charity.
Therefore, he says, for this is good: it is good in the sight of your saints (Ps 51: 11).
62. Also on the side of God, and acceptable in the sight of God: then you shall accept the sacrifices of justice (Ps 50: 21), which could be offered only under charity. And he says, our Savior, because God alone saves: there is no savior besides me (Isa 43:11).
And he proves that it is acceptable, when he says, who wills that all men be saved: not willing that anyone should perish (2 Pet 3:9).
But something contrary to this is found in the Psalms: he has done all things whatsoever he would (Ps 113:11).
Therefore, he saves everyone. But if you say that he does not, because man does not will it, then it seems that the omnipotent is frustrated by a will that is not omnipotent. The answer is that willing refers sometimes to the will of his good pleasure and sometimes to the signified will. By his Signified will he wills to save all, because he offers to all the precepts, counsels and remedies required for salvation.
As to the will of his causal utterance, this is explained in four ways. First, as when God is said to make something because he makes others do it: the Spirit asks for the saints (Rom 8:27), i.e., he causes them to ask. In this way God wills this, because he makes his saints will that all men be saved. This type of willing should be found in the saints, because they do not know who are predestined and who are not.
Second, when it is applied to a limited number, i.e., to all who are saved, because no one is saved except through his will; just as in one school the teacher teaches all the boys of this city, because no one is taught by anyone but he.
In a third way, when it is applied to the species of each individual but not to the individual of each species, i.e., no species of men are excepted from salvation; because formerly it was offered to the Jews only, but now to all men.
Fourth, according to Damascene, so that it is understood to be about his antecedent will, and not the consequent. For in God’s will, although there are no prior things and subsequent things, his will is nevertheless described as antecedent and consequent. Likewise, according to the order of things willed, according to which the will can be considered in two ways: namely, in general or absolutely, and according to certain circumstances, and in particular. Here the absolute and general consideration is considered prior to the particular and relative consideration. Then the absolute will is, as it were, antecedent, and the will of anything in particular is, as it were, consequent. For example, a merchant who absolutely wills to save all his goods, and this by his antecedent will; but if he considers the safety factor, he does not will all his goods to be saved, through comparison to others, namely, when the Sinking of his ship follows the saving of all his goods. And this will is consequent.
Similarly, in God’s case, the salvation of all men considered in itself has a reckoning so that is might be desirable; which is what the Apostle means here: therefore, he is speaking of his antecedent will. But if the good of justice is considered, and that sins be punished, thus he does not want; And this is his consequent will.
And he adds, and come to the knowledge of the truth, because salvation depends on knowing the truth: you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).
63. Then when he says, for there is one God, he proves what he had said with reasons. And he gives three proofs: one is on the side of God; another on the side of Christ as man; the third on the side of Christ’s witnesses. He says, therefore: it is obvious that God wills all men to be saved, because for all men there is one God who saves: is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the gentiles? Yes, of the gentiles also: for there is one God who justifies circumcision by faith and uncircumcision through faith (Rom 3:29).
64. Then he gives the reason taken from the side of Christ as man, at and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus. First, he proves his intent; second, he proposes a sign, at who gave himself.
He says, therefore: one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, and not of some men only, but of all; and this would not be true, unless he willed all men to be saved.
And it can be said that Christ is a mediator who is like each of the extremes, namely, God and man, inasmuch as he is God and inasmuch as he is man; because a mediator should have something common to both extremes: and these are man and God.
But because a mediator is distinct from both extremes, and the Son is not a different God from the Father, it is better to say that as man he is the mediator. Then he shares something in common to both extremes:
for there are two things in God, namely, justice and immortality, whereas in man are injustice and mortality. Then there are two things intermediate: one in which there is justice and mortality; the other in which there is immortality and injustice. Both are intermediate; but the first is Christ, the second is the Devil. Consequently, the Devil is a medium which keeps the extremes apart, because by injustice he separates us from God’s justice; but Christ is a medium which joins, because he is just and mortal, and by his death joins us to the God of justice: he is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2); for some in an efficacious way, but for all in a sufficient way: because the price of his blood is sufficient for the salvation of all, but because of obstacles it does not take effect in any but the elect.
65. Above, he said that God wills that all men be saved, and he proved this on the side of God, who is one for all men; and on the part of Christ, who is the one mediator. Now he proves it from testimony:
first, of other witnesses;
second, of himself, at to which I am appointed.
66. He says, therefore: who gave himself a redemption for all. But did it suddenly come to God’s mind, who had chosen to save the Jews alone, also to save the whole world? He rejects this when he says that his testimony is in due times. As if to say: this law is not something sudden, but something attested to from of old by the law and by the prophets: you are my witnesses (Isa 44:8); to whom all the prophets give testimony (Acts 10:43). It has been confirmed, namely, by its fulfillment through the showing forth of signs and the preaching of the apostles in due times, i.e., when these things were predetermined to occur: all things have their season (Eccl 3: 1). Or the testimony of the apostles has been confirmed at the appointed time: you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1: 8).
Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letters of Saint Paul to the Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, tran. F.R. Larcher, ed. J. Mortensen and E. Alarcon (Lander, Wyoming: The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, 2012), 261-266. [Some reformatting; italics and bold original; underlining mine.]
[Notes: For more from Aquinas on 1 Timothy 2:5, see: Thomas Aquinas (c.390-c.455) on 1 Timothy 2:5 and Christ’s Sufficient Universal Redemption. For a “compare” and “contrast” see, Vermigli, C. Hodge and Dabney.]