Thomas Aquinas on Massa Damnata


Hello, I was speaking with a friend of mine earlier who objects to my belief in the massa damnata theory. I told him that I thought he was being prideful by disagreeing with so many saints; the main one I referenced being Aquinas. I was just wondering if anybody had any quotes from the summa about this. I already looked through my copy and can’t find anything. Also googled it, they all talk about how he supported it, but no direct quotes.




Actually, it is OK to disagree with the saints on this one, because it is not a theory that has been accepted by the Church’s Magisterium. You will find no such thing, for example, in the Catechism.

In reality, that theory is to be ascribed to St. Augustine. His theology is in general quite sound, of course, but he tended to exaggerate in defending the necessity of grace for salvation. (Not that grace is not necessary for salvation—it is—but he seemed to think that relatively few would be chosen to receive it.)

Augustine is practically along among the Church Fathers in proposing the massa damnata. He was, however, extremely influential in Medieval Europe, including on St. Thomas Aquinas.

I am of the opinion that Aquinas’ theory of the massa damnata is a much more nuanced than people realize. For example in the Ia, q. 23, a. 7, ad 3Summa theologiae, He does not speak about massa damnata so much as the “the greater number” (plures) versus the “lesser number” (pauciores). I do not think it is Aquinas’ intention to say that he knows for sure what the numerical proportions are.

The objection he is answering is in essence, “there good is found in the majority of natural things. God’s action should be more efficacious than the actions of natural things. Hence, if the majority of persons are condemned, then that must mean that God’s goodness is somehow defective.” Aquinas says no, because the that God achieves in man by saving him exceeds the capacities of human nature.

Hence we could easily interpret Aquinas answer as being, “if there were a massa damnata, it would not prove that there is a defect in God’s goodness.” I don’t think he is taking a strong position one way or the other here, as regards the actual proportion of saved/condemned persons.

What should Catholics believe about the proportion between the saved and condemned? That we cannot know it, because God has not revealed it to us. I think it is anthropologically unrealistic to go so far as to say, or hope, that Hell is empty of human beings (as some have recently asserted), but neither can we categorically say that the majority of us are condemned. (And neither, in my opinion, did Aquinas assert that, at least not strongly.)



And not just this one. Saints are NOT infallible.

As noted, if the saint happens to speak on a mater the Magisterium has codified, its the dictate of the Magisterium, not the opinion of the saint that settles the case.

As you read more and more from the Church Fathers and saints, you will see things that are not doctrinal or dogmatic that might be quite disagreeable to you…and that’s fine.


Augustin contended Mark was more or less a plagiarist of Matthew, and that Luke and Mark’s gospels did not hold the water that John and Matthew’s did, because they were not written by the Apostles.

John Chrysostom concluded that the difference in timing and message in John’s Gospel on the Cleansing of the Temple, and that of the synoptic gospels was because Jesus cleansed the temple twice.

You can accept what they say if you wish, but you can also question their thoughts…it will not jeopardize you salvation.

Peace and all Good!


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