“Domingo Báñez (1528-1604) was a feisty Basque Dominican Friar and a leading theologian of his era. He was part of the third generation of scholasticism’s Silver Age, centered around the University of Salamanca in Spain where he occupied the prestigious first chair of theology for nineteen years. His fierce intellect was often embroiled in theological controversy in an age when doctrine was a matter of life and death. He deployed his sometimes scathing prose—a departure from the usual academic reserve of the scholastics—in service to the adoration of God and the defense of Catholic teaching. He taught Saint John of Ávila, counseled King Phillip II, and was confessor and defender of Saint Teresa of Ávila.
Βáñez is best known for his leading role in the De auxiliis controversy concerning the grace of God. All Catholics agreed (and still agree) that we cannot be saved without God’s grace. Though we were broken by original sin, God deigns to dwell in our souls and raise us to new life. Our path to salvation has God as its first source at every step and in every good work. Unfortunately, some Protestants taught that there is no such thing as free will because God determines everything, and Catholics in the sixteenth century were divided on how to respond.
Some began to argue that God only gives grace to those whom He knows will make good use of it. Báñez, however, thought this theory was a disaster, worrying that it meant the ultimate reason for salvation was found, not in the mercy of God, but rather in the free choice of man. God would only be reacting to future human choices, instead of giving the grace to choose the good in the first place.
This touches upon many of the deepest and most difficult questions plumbed by man. What is free will? How does God relate to creatures? Why is there evil in our world? Báñez attacked these questions with the full force of the doctrine of the Master, Thomas Aquinas. He attended always to the authority of Scripture, the Fathers, and the Councils, particularly the writings of Saint Paul and Saint Augustine. Báñez contended that the difference between a sinner and a saint is first of all the mercy of God. Yet God never takes away our free will. Rather, he gives us the grace to use it well.
This may sound rather pedantic, but for Báñez the whole Christian life was at stake. Referring to a passage of St. Augustine in which he found his position articulated, the Dominican writes:
“I say before God who judges me, that reading this in St. Augustine and citing him, it gives me great wonder that men who teach prayer and the spirit come to feel so feebly the movement of the grace of God. . . . Because even I, being a sinner as God knows and a man of little spirit and less prayer, but knowing that I am the work of his mercy and that each day he suffers me my ingratitude, reading these words of St. Augustine, have held back tears and, knowing my faults, have invoked the mercy of God that it may efficaciously carry me to him. May God give light to all so that with humility we may attribute to God what is his own, and to ourselves what is our own, that is, sin, in which God has no part, although being able to impede the sin he permits it on account of his secret judgments” (Translated by the author of this post).
For Βáñez, doctrinal arguments mattered because God matters. He fought hard to secure what he believed to be the metaphysical foundation for any sound spiritual life. He remains controversial to this day, even within his own Order, for the views that he defended so vociferously. Nonetheless, when he died, the faithful Dominican commended all his teachings to the judgment of the Church.
May we, too, burn with the zeal for truth that once fired this towering intellect of the Order of Preachers.”
Love & truth,