Rev. E. Towers, D.D., Ph. D
THE STATE OF GRACE
Sanctifying grace a positive reality
one of the most beautiful of the Psalms the royal singer gives expression
to the wonder which filled his mind when he looked out upon the glories of
God’s visible creation. “O
Lord our Lord: how admirable is thy name in the whole earth!
For thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens. . . . I will
behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which
thou hast founded.” And
then he marvels that a God of such magnificence and power should have any
care for feeble man. “What
is man that thou hart mindful of him?
Or the son of man that thou visitest him?
Thou has made him a little less than the angels: thou hast crowned
him with glory and honor, and hast set him over the works of thy hands. .
. . O Lord our Lord: how admirable is thy name in all the earth!” (Ps.
still greater reason can we proclaim the glory and the magnificence and
the condescension of the Lord our God when we consider, in the light of
Catholic theology, the wonders of a soul which God has beautified by the
gift of sanctifying grace. “All
the glory of the king’s daughter is within” (Ps.
xliv 14), and it is in a soul
which is in the state of grace rather than in the starry heavens or in the
wonders of the human mind that we are to find the masterpiece of God’s
handicraft in this world of ours. The
sanctifying grace with which the souls of God’s servants are endowed is
far grander, far more glorious than anything which we can behold in the
heavens above us or on the earth at our feet.
This is a truth which we have often heard–so often, perhaps, that
it has become a commonplace which we accept without appreciating its
significance. But the more we
study it the more we shall marvel, until we can make our own the words
with which the Blessed Virgin expressed her realization of the favor which
had been granted her: “he that is mighty hath done great things to me:
and holy is his name” (Luke i 49).
The state of
grace is not merely the absence of mortal sin, as many people seem to
imagine. They look upon the
soul as being in itself a very beautiful thing–a spirit, glorious in its
various natural qualities, and far grander than any material object;
mortal sin can defile it and make it hideous; but if there is no such sin
it remains resplendent in all the glory of its spiritual nature and is
thus (so it is thought) in the state of grace.
a view of the matter, however, falls far short of the truth.
The state of grace is thus made to be a mere negative
thing–namely, the absence of the defiling element of mortal sin.
But the fact which we have to remember is that grace (In
the course of this essay whenever we use the term “grace” we shall
understand by it “sanctifying grace” as opposed to “actual grace.”
Sanctifying grace, as we shall explain, is a permanent quality in
the soul; actual grace, of course, is a passing help given by God for the
performance of some act. See
Essay xvii of this work) is a
positive reality superadded to the glorious natural endowments of the
soul. These endowments are
not left in all their natural beauty; they receive an additional glory
which surpasses what they are in themselves far more than they themselves
surpass the glories of the world around us; and it is the possession of
this additional glory, rather than the mere absence of mortal sin, which
constitutes the state of grace.
Catholic doctrine on this point is in direct opposition to the strange
theories of Protestantism. Faced
by his failure to control his violent and sensuous character, Luther
evolved a theory which is a combination of pessimism and easy optimism.
Through the fall of Adam, he maintained, our nature has become
essential evil and must ever remain evil; it is a mass of corruption, and
even the redeeming blood of our Savior does not cleanse or heal it; and he
pressed his theory so far as to draw the conclusion that all our actions
are sinful, not excluding those which we look upon as virtuous.
Here we have the pessimism of the system: but now comes its easy
optimism. For Luther taught
that if only we will have complete confidence that the merits of Christ
are actually applied to us, our sins are ignored, as it were, by God; our
souls remain indeed hideous in themselves, but God covers them over with
the merits of Christ so that these are looked upon by him as being ours;
our sins are not “imputed” to us, but the merits of Christ are.
is the famous doctrine of Justification by Faith.
For the Lutheran, then, justification does not mean (as it means
for a Catholic) an inner change by which the soul becomes a sacred thing,
but a mere external non-imputation of sins; and faith means, not an assent
to truths divinely revealed, but a personal persuasion that the merits of
Christ have been applied to us. This
faith, in the Lutheran system, is the only thing which counts: good works
are of no avail–indeed, they are impossible, since all our actions are
made evil by the evil source from which they spring.
A further conclusion from Luther’s principles is that there can
be no such thing as Merit, a point with which we shall deal later on.
Protestant error explained and refuted
what follows there will be frequent reference to the Protestant theory of
justification. This is
inevitable, for, although our chief concern is with the positive statement
of Catholic truth, the official statement of this truth by the Council of
Trent was drawn up with direct reference to the errors of the sixteenth
In the first
place, then, the Council lays it down that we become just before God not
through a non-imputation of sin but by an interior renovation which blots
out sin. This is effected by
sanctifying grace, which is explained as a reality poured forth upon us
and inhering in us.
any doubt, this is the teaching of Scripture and of the great leaders of
Christian thought from the beginning.
Within the compass of a small essay like the present it is not
possible to give an adequate exposition of scriptural texts, still less to
set out the teaching of Christian writers through the ages, but there
readily come to the mind a number of expressions used in the Scriptures
which show most clearly that the state of grace involves a real interior
change in the soul. Consider
such expressions as “born again,” “regeneration,”
“renovation,” “new creature.”
Here, surely, we have the idea of an inner change and not of a mere
non-imputation of sin. Similarly
when St. Paul speaks of the “new man” who is “created i justice and
holiness of truth” (Eph. iv
24), he is alluding to a
marvelous change which is produced in us.
Very striking, too, is the parallel which he draws between the
results of Adam’s sin and the restoration which has been accomplished by
Christ. “As by the
disobedience of one man many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one
many shall be made just” (Rom. v 19).
But the disobedience of Adam certainly brought about a real change
in the souls of men, as Luther must be the first to admit: therefore
Christ produces an inner change when through his grace many are made just.
early teachers of Christian truth proclaimed the same doctrine in many
striking ways. Thus in
explaining the effects of Baptism they frequently compared the water of
the font to a mother: as the mother forms and fashions her child, so does
the baptismal water form and fashion a new creature for God.
Or as God in the work of creation produced living things out of the
waters, so does he bring the soul to a new life in the waters of baptism.
So insistent on this inner change are the early writers, and such a
high ideal did they form of it, that they did not hesitate to say that we
are deified; in fact they took this to be an admitted principle amongst
Christians, for they made it a basis of argument against those who denied
the divinity of the Holy Ghost. The
Holy Ghost, they argued, defies us: therefore he is God, since none but
God can deify the soul.
would be easy to quote many striking and beautiful passages from the
writings of the Fathers of the Church extolling the glory of the soul
which Christ has washed in his blood.
All this is directly contrary to the awful teaching of
Protestantism which would make the soul even of the just man a sinful
thing, essentially corrupt and loathsome. There can, then, be no doubt about what is the correct view
of the matter: sanctifying grace is a real quality, of surpassing beauty,
infused by God into the soul and making that soul worthy of the Creator
who fashioned it and the Redeemer who won it from the thraldom of sin (Here
no criticism is made of the Lutheran theory of Faith, but the point will
be dealt with later on when we consider faith in Christ as the fundamental
element in preparation for justification).
Grace wholly supernatural
then, must be our first point: grace is a positive reality superadded to
the soul. But what is the
nature of this positive reality? Here
we are faced by the inability of the human mind to grasp the magnificence
of the glorious truth. We may
use metaphors and comparisons; we may liken grace to the brightness of
white-hot steel or to the brilliance of a diamond that sparkles in the
light; but all such modes of speaking fall far short of the truth.
They fail in various ways, but principally in one most important
point which is necessary for a right understanding of what grace is.
In all such figures of speech we compare sanctifying grace with
something which is natural to the object to which it belongs; thus the
brilliance of the diamond is natural to the diamond and is in the same
order of being. But
sanctifying grace is not natural to the soul; it belongs to a higher order
of things. It is a
supernatural quality which no created cause could possible produce.
It belongs to a new and an altogether higher world.
This is an aspect of the matter which calls for careful
consideration, and we beg the reader’s attention to what follows.
The explanation shall be given with as little technicality as
the very form of the word indicate, the supernatural is something which is
above, or higher than, that which is natural.
But what are we to understand by the term “natural”?
In ordinary usage it has various meanings, but in Catholic
philosophy and theology it has a very precise meaning which must be
rigorously adhered to. The
natural, then, is something which belongs to the very essence or nature of
a thing (as the power of reasoning belongs to man), or flows from its
nature (as the kill of a workman flows from his nature), or is necessary
or suitable for the existence and development of a thing (as air is
necessary for man). Thus
“natural” is not to be contrasted with “artificial,” and if we are
to keep to the strict meaning of the words we ought not to say, for
example, that it is not natural for a diamond to sparkle since in its
original (or, as we say, in its natural) condition it is a dull stone. In the technical sense of the term it is quite natural for a
diamond to sparkle since this follows from its very nature.
course what is natural for one thing may be above the nature of another
thing. Thus it is natural for a man to reason, but not for a dog,
natural for wood to float in water, but not for a bar of iron.
the light of these explanations it will be seen that the supernatural is
something which is above, or higher than, what belongs “naturally” to
things; if this something is above that which belongs naturally to any
creature, it is said to be “absolutely” supernatural; if it is above
that which belongs naturally to some creatures but not to all, it is
“relatively” supernatural. Thus,
angelic knowledge in a man would be relatively, not absolutely,
supernatural; but for a man to enjoy the Beatific Vision of God, face to
face, is absolutely supernatural, since to see God by direct and immediate
vision is above the natural order of all created beings, angelic as well
the reader who desires no more than to have unfolded before him something
of the glories of sanctifying grace these explanations may appear
wearisome: but they are necessary not only for the avoiding of positive
error but also for the gaining of a clearer and grander idea of what this
wonderful gift is. Another
point must be explained before we pass on–a point of great importance.
A distinction has to be made between that which is supernatural
considered in itself (supernaturale in se), and that which is
supernatural because of the way in which it has been brought about (supernaturale
quoad modum). Thus the
restoration of a dead man to life is clearly supernatural: is it
supernatural in itself or only supernatural in the manner of its
production? The answer is
that it is supernatural not in the first way but in the second: for the
thing produced (namely, life) is not in itself supernatural, though it has
been produced in a supernatural way.
And the same is to be said of all miracles.
On the other hand, whatever belongs to God himself, or involves
some sharing of what is proper to God, is supernatural in itself,
transcending the order not only of what creatures do but do of what they
Grace makes us share God’s nature and life
application of all this to the question of sanctifying grace will be seen
more and more as we proceed, but for the present we simply assert the
magnificent truth that grace is not only a positive reality in the soul,
not only a reality which no created being could produce, but a reality
which in itself is higher than the whole order of created things (even
angelic) and is truly divine. This
brings us at once to a wonderful phrase of St. Peter, who says that we are
made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. i 4).
Catholic theology has ever clung to the belief that here we have no
mere figure of speech but the declaration of a definite fact.
We really are made to be partakers of the divine nature.
It is not merely that our spiritual faculties of intellect and will
establish a special likeness to God in our souls; that is true enough, but
over and above this natural likeness to God a wholly supernatural quality
is given to us which makes us to be of the same nature as God.
In this connection we may recall the principle used by early
writers in arguing the divinity of the Holy Ghost:
the Holy Ghost deifies us; in other words makes us partakers of the
divine nature. St. Augustine
puts the matter thus: “He descended that we might ascend, and whilst
retaining his own divine nature he partook of our human nature, that we,
whilst keeping our own nature, might become partakers of his.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, echoing the constant teaching of the past,
declares in a passage which the Church uses for the feast of Corpus
Christi: “the only-begotten Son of God, wishing to make us partakers of
his own divinity, took upon himself our human nature that having become
man he might make men to be gods.”
And we know how the Church has enshrined this wonderful truth in
one of the most beautiful of the prayers of the Mass.
“O God, who in creating human nature, didst marvelously ennoble
it, and has still more marvelously renewed it, grant that by the mystery
of this water and wine we may be made partakers of his Godhead, who
vouchsafed to become partaker of our humanity, Jesus Christ, thy Son, our
then, has deigned to touch us with his finger, and in touching us has
transformed us into something like himself.
We shall never understand in our present life in what this
partaking of the Godhead consists: how could we understand it, seeing that
the nature of the Godhead is itself above our understanding?
We can, indeed, speak of it as the divine Light which shines in our
souls, or as the divine Beauty which is bestowed upon us; or we may use
illustrations such as that of St. Thomas Aquinas, who says that we share
the very nature of God as metal in the fire shares the nature of the fire.
Such ways of speaking and such illustrations are all helpful, and
the Christian soul, seeking to get some faint idea of the glory of
sanctifying grace, will dwell upon them with joy.
But a higher and truer way of viewing the matter is to think of
grace as a communication to us of the divine Life itself.
For God is a living being, not a lifeless thing like the shining
metal or the glistening jewel, and they who share his nature must
necessarily share his very life. A
wonderful thought, truly, and one which leads us far in our search for a
less inadequate idea of what grace is.
Let us dwell upon it for a moment.
are familiar with the grades of life in the world around us.
There is the life of the plant which separates it by an immense
ocean of reality from all non-living things; there is the life of the
animal with those wonderful powers of sensation and instinct which the
plant does not possess; and there is the life of a rational being whose
intellect and will raise him far above the brutes.
Higher, indeed, than man there are the angels, but their life does
not differ in order from the rational life of man; it is more perfect in
many ways and is not bound up with the animal life which is part of
man’s nature; but it is a life of intellect and will.
But there is yet a higher life, the incomprehensible, unutterable
life of God, who, as the Scripture says, dwells in light inaccessible.
This life of God is the fountain whence all life flows and, could
we understand it, is the explanation of how and why there are three
Persons in him. To share this
life is clearly the grandest thing that can be imagined.
It would seem, indeed, to be impossible; and impossible it
certainly would be if we were limited to the natural order of things.
Nothing in the world of created things could have brought it about
and no human mind could have guessed it.
Yet in this life God has made us share–a greater work than when
he called the world out of nothingness.
the next section something more will be said about the nature of this
partaking of the divine life, and we shall then see how it is a
preparation for the Beatific Vision, and the basis of our claim to be in
very truth the sons of God.
are also other wonderful aspects of the state of grace which remain to be
explained, but already we can see something of the grandeur of the
Catholic doctrine, which asserts for man, even in the days of his earthly
pilgrimage, a glory which raises him up to the Godhead and makes him most
beautiful in the sight of the angels.
so we make our own the words of David, “What is man that thou art
mindful of him? Or the son of man that thou visitest him?
Thou hast made him a little less than the angels; thou hast crowned
him with glory and honor. . . . O Lord our Lord: how admirable is thy name
in all the earth” (Sanctifying
Grace is regarded by theologians as a “Habit.”
The term may be misleading, for by a habit we usually understand a
customary mode of acting, and this does not seem to fit in with the idea
of Sanctifying Grace. But
habits may be either “operative” (which dispose one towards a
particular way of acting) or “entitative” (which give a particular
disposition to the thing itself, like beauty).
Sanctifying Grace is an “entitative” habit.
For an explanation of “Habits,” see Essay xviii, The
SONS AND HEIRS
this second section we are to consider two special aspects of the life of
grace which God bestows upon us; the first is the sonship which comes with
sanctifying grace, and the second is the fact that, in a fuller sense than
at first sight would seem possible, we are made heirs of God and have
already within us the beginnings of eternal glory.
John bids us see “what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon
us, that we should be called and should be the sons of God” (1
John iii 1).
In his infinite condescension God has made us his children. We know how sometimes a poor child is adopted, taken into a
home, made one of the family, treated as a son or daughter, and even given
a right to inherit all that belongs to those who have thus bestowed their
love. God has done this for
us–and much more. Through
the fall of our first parents we were cut off from him and came into
existence bearing the dread heritage of original sin.
But God ever wanted to bring us back, and to re-establish between
himself and us the sweet relationship of father and child.
For that purpose the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became
man and gave us “power to be made the sons of God” (John i 12).
Both St. John and St. Paul exult in proclaiming this act of divine
beloved,” the first writes, with all the earnestness of the disciple of
love, “we are now the sons of God: and it hath not yet appeared what we
shall be. We know that when
he shall appear we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he
is. And everyone that hath this hope in him sanctifieth
himself” (1 John iii 2-3).
To cherish the belief that we are really and truly the sons of God,
and to cling to the hope that as sons we shall one day be allowed to gaze
on the beauty and majesty of our heavenly Father, is to sanctify
ourselves. St. John himself
has written few more consoling words than these. And St. Paul announces the same great truth in sonorous terms
that ring through the ages: there is no mistaking their emphasis.
At the beginning of that wonderful little epistle to the Ephesians,
in which he expounds so beautifully the mystery of Jesus, he cries out:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath
blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly world, that we should be
holy and unspotted in his sight in charity.
Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through
Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will: unto the
praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath graced us in his
beloved Son.” Nothing,
surely, could be finer than this assertion of God’s condescension in
making us his sons through Jesus. And
to the Galatians, who were being led astray by the errors of Jewish
formalism which crushed all loving sense of sonship, he writes to remind
them that “when the fullness of the time was come, God sent his Son . .
. that he might redeem them who were under the law: that we might receive
the adoption of sons. And
because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into your
hearts, crying: Abba, Father” (Gal. iv 4-6).
This same idea of the liberty which belongs to us as sons dwelling,
as it were, in our father’s house, is expressed also in the epistle to
the Romans. “You have not
received the spirit of bondage again in fear: but you have received the
spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba, Father.
For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit that we are
the sons of God” (Rom. viii 15, 16).
More than legal adoption
the light of such luminous teaching it is clear that it is in a very
special sense that we are the children of God.
St. Paul, more particularly, assigns to us a sort of legal position
in the house of God, in virtue of which we have both the freedom and the
rights of sons: for, as he goes on to say at the end of the passage just
quoted: “And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs
with Christ” (Rom, viii 17).
We fail to do justice to a great and fundamental truth if we think
of our sonship in terms of some vague favor which God has shown to us in
virtue of which the term son could be used metaphorically.
We must at least assign to our sonship the meaning which adoption
had under the ancient Roman law. Amongst
the Romans an adopted son lost his legal position in the family to which
he belonged by blood, and became legally a member of the family into which
he had been adopted, acquiring all the dignities and rights which would
have been his if he had been a son by blood.
In such a sense at least we must be the sons of God.
But the truth carries us further than that.
Our sonship raises us much higher, for God does for us what no
Roman could do for the child whom he had adopted: He makes us, in a very
true and wonderful way, children “by blood.”
To appreciate this fact we have only to apply what has already been
explained about the nature of Grace.
grace, as we have seen, is a positive reality infused into the soul by
which we are made to share the divine life.
At once we see the difference between our sonship and the sonship
of those who are sons only by legal adoption.
This legal adoption may be an act of wonderful love and
condescension, and it may bring untold blessings with it; but the adopted
son remains of foreign blood, with the physical characteristics which he
inherited from his real parents. It
is their blood that flows in his veins, their features that are copied in
his face and form. But with the sons of God all is different.
By sanctifying grace the very life of God is imparted unto them;
they are grafted on to him, as it were; nay, they have been “born
again,” as our Savior teaches us; they are a “new creature”; they
have been “born of God”–“born again not of corruptible seed but
incorruptible” (1 Pet. i 23).
is what God has done for us when he gave us the gift of sanctifying grace,
so that we may well repeat, with that deeper gratitude which comes with
greater knowledge, the words of St. John which have been already quoted:
“Behold what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we
should be called and should be the sons of God.”
if sons, heirs also: heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
The Church ends that magnificent profession of faith which we call
the Nicene Creed with the words: “And I expect the resurrection of the
body and the life of the world to come.”
The Christian looks forward to heaven as his home, not
simply as a place of happiness which he may reach if he is fortunate.
Incorporated in Christ who reigns in glory, a true son of God, made
already a sharer in the life of God, he may look upon eternal happiness as
the completion of God’s loving plan for him; and so in a calm spirit of
hope and love he awaits the day of the Lord, not as a day of wrath and
vengeance but as a day of home-coming.
He must for a time fight the good fight and keep the faith and
accept the sufferings which may be laid upon him, for he knows the truth
of the words which St. Paul added to his declaration of our heirship with
Christ: “Yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified
with him”; but his whole attitude is essentially one of gladness and
hope “in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Grace and Glory
is well that we should stress the fact–and rejoice in it–that grace
makes us truly sons and heirs, and that consequently we can look upon
heaven as truly our home. But
there is something more than the fact that grace gives us a right to an
eternal inheritance. Grace is
already the beginning of glory; the second grows out of the first, much as
the blossom grows out of the seed. How
this is, the following explanations will show.
catechism teaches us that the glory and happiness of heaven is “to see,
love and enjoy God for ever”; to behold him who is all Beauty and Truth,
to love him who is all Goodness, to enjoy him who is the Supreme Good; in
a word, to possess the Beatific Vision.
No created intellect can form an adequate idea of the Beatific
Vision until this be actually experienced, yet theologians–guided by
such hints as are given in Sacred Scripture and making use of forms of
reasoning which faith has enlightened–have sought to set out the
fundamental elements of the joy of the Saints. They call attention to the fact that in the Scriptures the
Beatific Vision is represented as “seeing” God. Our Blessed Savior himself told us that the pure of heart
“shall see God,” and that the angels in heaven “always see the face
of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt.
There is the well-known saying of St. Paul: “We see now through a
glass in a dark manner; but then face to face” (1 Cor. xiii 12).
And in St. John’s first epistle there is the very striking
passage which has been quoted already: “Dearly beloved, we are now the
sons of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be.
We know that when he shall appear we shall be like to him: because
we shall see him as he is.” Here,
as will be noticed, St. John makes our future likeness to God rest upon
our seeing him as he is. This
doctrine of a direct vision of God in heaven has been solemnly defined by
the Church and is thus a matter of faith.
with the glory of the direct vision of God, the soul necessarily is drawn
to him in a transport of love. It
sees him in all his overpowering goodness; it recognizes that only in him
can happiness be found, and that in him is all happiness: and the
will is drawn to him in an act of love that nothing can change.
It is a matter of dispute amongst theologians as to whether the
vision of God or the love of God is the essential element in the happiness
of the blessed in heaven, but we need not go into the question: in any
case, both belong to the happiness of heaven, and the love which the soul
has for God depends upon the knowledge which it has of him.
Hence, whatever view we hold about the essential element of
happiness in heaven we must recognize that the direct vision of God is the
foundation of the rest. Now,
this vision of God is wholly supernatural and this applies to angels as
well as to men. Consequently,
if the soul is raised so much above its natural condition as to have a
face-to-face vision of the infinite God, some change must be wrought in
it, elevating it to an order of things that is absolutely supernatural.
The change is brought about by what theologians have aptly called
the “light of glory.”
brings us to the point which we set out to explain, viz. the way in which
grace is already the beginning of glory, as the seed is the beginning of
the blossom. For grace is the beginning of that “light of glory”
whereby the blessed in heaven see God; it is something which grows into
the “light of glory,” and for that reason it has been called the
“seed of glory”–an expression which enshrines a great truth, and
recalls the words of St. John, who says: “Whosoever is born of God
committeth not sin: for his seed abideth in him” (1
John iii 9).
intrinsic connection between grace and glory is not the least of the
marvels of sanctifying grace. As
Bishop Hedley beautifully expresses it in his Retreat: “We are
given to possess on earth a gift of light and life which is substantially
the same as the light which shall flood us in the heavens!
For ‘the grace of God is life everlasting’ (Rom. vi 23).
The apostle is saying that the result of sinfulness is death, and
liberation from sinfulness is holiness; it is this holiness which he calls
the ‘charisma,’ or grace of God; and of this ‘charisma’ he says,
that it is life everlasting. One
would have expected him to say that its ‘result’ was life everlasting.
This would evidently be quite true.
But St. Paul’s vivid expression is more true; for grace not
merely deserves the vision of God, but (the veil being rent in two by
bodily dissolution) takes, of has, that vision, as the eye takes in the
morning when sleep departs.”
Sharing divine life
have just seen that the Beatific Vision consists in the face-to-face
vision of God as he is in himself, and that this vision of God is
accompanied by unutterable love and joy; we have also explained that
sanctifying grace is the beginning of this state of glory.
But to see God as he is in himself and to love this infinite good,
is the very essence of the divine life itself.
God alone can fully comprehend all his own infinite excellence, and
the first and most fundamental aspect of the inner life of God is
precisely this, that he gazes into the depths of his infinity: indeed, it
would seem that the existence of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity
is the result (so to speak) of this act of divine understanding.
In a way quite impossible for us to grasp, it is in knowing and
comprehending himself that God the Father begets the Son.
And out of this knowledge which God has of himself there arises a
mutual love of Father and Son: and this mutual love is the Holy Ghost.
Hence the remark which was made in the first section, that if we
could understand the divine life we should understand how and why there
are three Persons in God: for this trinity of Persons is the result of the
inner life of God, much as the existence of ideas in our intellect and of
pictures of individual things in our imagination is the result of our life
of thought and sensation. From
this it follows that when the blessed in heaven are raised to the Beatific
Vision they are given a real participation in the divine life itself; and
it follows also that since sanctifying grace is the “seed of glory,”
it is likewise, in its own measure, a sharing in the very life of God.
This sharing of the divine life will reach its fullness in the
Beatific Vision, but even during our present life it grows and increases,
as supernatural knowledge and love of God grow stronger.
“I am come that they may have life, and have it more
abundantly” (John x 10).
Finally, the intrinsic connection which we have shown to exist
between grace and glory throws into clearer light the wholly supernatural
character of grace itself. For
the Beatific Vision, as we have seen, is wholly supernatural; neither men
nor angels could possess it by any powers of their own.
But if the Beatific Vision is supernatural, grace which is its
“seed” must be supernatural also.
TEMPLES OF GOD
God in the soul
is a cherished part of Catholic faith that God dwells in an especial way
in a soul which is in a state of grace.
is the definite teaching of Christ himself.
“If any one love me, he will keep my word.
And my Father will love him: and we will come to him and will make
our abode with him” (John xiv
Elsewhere in the New Testament this indwelling of God is attributed
in an especial way to the Holy Ghost.
As is well known, St. Paul insists upon the fact that the very
bodies of Christ’s true followers are the temples of the Holy Spirit.
“Know you not that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost,
who is in you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor. vi 19)
Hence he draws the conclusion that these bodies which enshrine the
Spirit of God are sacred things and must not be defiled by sins of the
flesh. As he had said already
in the same epistle: “Know you not that you are the temple of God, and
that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? But if any man violate the temple of God, him shall God
destroy. For the temple of
God is holy, which you are” (1 Cor. iii 16-17).
Here he is but echoing the teaching of his Master who said to his
disciples on the last night of his life on earth: “I tell you the truth:
it is expedient for you that I go. For
if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you: but if I go, I will send
him to you” (John xvi 7).
is this great truth of the dwelling of God in the souls of his friends
that we must here consider, so that we may learn more about the wonders of
the state of grace.
Of course it is
true to say that God is everywhere, even in the soul of the sinner: but
what concerns us here is the special way in which he is present in the
soul of the just man. How is God present naturally, in everything that exists?
He is present in everything, first of all as the one who holds
every single being in existence. Not only has he brought all things into existence but he also
keeps them in existence by the direct exercise of his infinite power,
without which they would fall back into nothingness.
Just as light is dependent upon some source of light and would
disappear if its source disappeared, so the very “existing” of things
is dependent upon him who is the source of all existence.
But God is also present in things as the cause of their every
movement. He is the First
Mover and the source of every movement, just as he is the source of all
“existing.” Hence it is
true to say of every single being outside God that in him it lives and
moves and has its being.
be it noticed, is in the natural order of things.
Nothing could be, nothing could move, without this presence of God:
thus by an absolute necessity, if things exist at all God must be in them.
And the truth of this essential nearness of God is one of profound
there is another kind of nearness of God, based upon a totally different
action which God may exercise in the human soul.
Besides the acts of supporting his creatures in being and of
operating in all their actions, God deals in a totally different way with
the soul that is in the state of grace.
He impresses upon it that special likeness to himself of which we
have already spoken; he infuses into it a new and a higher life which is a
sharing of his own and the beginning of the life of the blessed; he
implants virtues within it and acts upon it in all sorts of loving ways;
and thus he penetrates it in an absolutely supernatural manner.
That he should hold us in being and should co-operate with us in
all our ordinary actions is part of the natural order of things; but this
is part of a supernatural order to which we have no right whatever.
And this supernatural action within us clearly establishes a
special kind of presence in our souls: he was present before, but now he
holds us closer to himself and establishes a new, vital union with us. God’s natural presence in the soul has often been liked to
the way in which water fills a sponge; let us imagine, however, that the
water possessed the power of producing at will various magnificent changes
in the sponge, vitalizing every particle of it, and permeating it with its
own reality in such a way that it received powers of sensation. We should then say that the water had entered into the sponge
in a new way. So it is with
God and the soul that he adorns with sanctifying grace.
He revitalizes it, makes it sensitive to the touch of heavenly
influences and bestows upon it something of his own beauty: and thus he
makes his “abode” there.
there is another side to this question of God’s presence in the soul.
How does the soul respond to the God who has deigned to come so
nigh? In virtue of the powers
which grace has brought to it, the soul has gained a knowledge and love of
God which could not have come to it otherwise.
It knows him–though darkly, in the twilight of faith–as the
supreme good; it sets him above all creatures; it loves him with the ardor
of supernatural charity; and it rejoices in the possession of him.
This is a new bond of union. When
a natural object is thought about, longed for, loved, we say that it is
enshrined in the heart: we have made it present to us, though in its
actual reality it be far away. But
in the case of a soul in grace the God who is thought about, loved,
rejoiced in, is already actually present: and by its own action the soul
clasps him and will not let him go. “I
found him whom my soul loveth. I
held him: and I will not let him go” (Canticle
of Canticles iii 4).
Thus there is a closeness more intimate than could be imagined if
faith did not make it known to us: a closeness based upon the natural,
physical presence of God within us, made immeasurably greater by God’s
most loving supernatural action upon us, and crowned by the final touch of
sacred intimacy when the soul clings to him as its Lord and God.
does the God of heaven dwell in human souls.
He dwells there as in a temple: for his sovereign rights as God are
there recognized, he is adored and praised, petition is made to him; and
there he dispenses his favors. He
dwells there also as a guest in a home where he is ever welcome: all that
the home can produce is prepared to do him honor.
And he dwells there as Friend.
Between God and the soul there is mutual love–not the feeble
sentiment which sometimes passes for love amongst men, but a love that is
strong and true. Each, we may
say, seeks the good of the other–God enriching the soul with wonderful
gifts and protecting it by his loving Providence, the soul devoting itself
and all its powers to God. And
though God remains invisible as long as this life lasts, faith enables the
soul to realize his presence and to rejoice therein.
There is a striking passage in The Interior Castle in which
St. Teresa expresses this realization of God in a very vivid manner.
“It is as if, when we were with other people in a well-lighted
room, some one were to darken it by closing the shutters; we should feel
certain that the others were still there, though we were unable to see
them” (Seventh Mansion,
chap. i 12).
Such is the
wonderful privilege of the soul that is in the state of grace.
We may rightly say that it already stands in the ante-chamber of
heaven and is separated only by the thinnest of veils from the face of
God. That veil is being worn
thinner and thinner as the supernatural life of the soul increases, and
when it altogether disappears the presence of God will take on a new and a
higher form. God will then
penetrate the soul more intimately still: he will be known not by images
and comparisons, not in the obscurity of faith, but directly, as he is in
himself, in the full brilliancy of the Light of Glory.
But already the splendor of his face is breaking upon us, and the
sound of that final approach is in our ears.
may indeed be said that this presence of God in the soul is not recognized
by us, or at least that it is not recognized by many of those who are in
the state of grace. This is
true, and one is inclined to echo the words of our Savior: “if thou
didst know the gift of God” (John
Though God is present he is not directly perceived.
He is to be known by faith, and faith in such matters presupposes
instruction in the truth. It
is often want of knowledge which holds back the Christian soul from a
sense of God’s presence which would fill it with joy and lead it on,
with giant strides, towards true perfection of life.
Or perhaps it is that one knows theoretically the doctrine of
God’s indwelling but has never made it one’s own through the
distractions and earthly interests of a life which, though free from
serious sin, is still held down by constant tepidity.
Such a life is indeed to be pitied–and to be feared: is it
difficult to understand the language of the Lord who dwells in a tepid
soul? “I know thy works,
that thou art neither cold nor hot. I
would thou wert cold or hot. But
because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit
thee out of my mouth” (Apocalypse iii 15-16).
Indwelling specially attributed to the Holy Ghost
this exposition of the doctrine of the indwelling of God in the soul, we
have thought of the presence of God as such–God who is three in one,
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. But
this indwelling is commonly attributed to the Holy Ghost, as was seen in
the texts which were quoted at the beginning of the section.
The reasons for this “appropriation,” as it is called, are set
out both in the essay on the Blessed Trinity and in that on the Holy
Ghost; here we need say no more than that the indwelling of God in the
soul is pre-eminently an act of love, and since the Holy Spirit proceeds
from Father and Son as their mutual Love it is becoming that the divine
indwelling and all the operations of grace should be attributed to him,
just as the works of creation are attributed to the Father.
THROUGH JESUS CHRIST
All grace from Christ
have seen how intimate are the relations between God and the soul that is
in the state of grace; and now we must see how intimate are the relations
between that soul and Jesus Christ our Lord.
For it is through Christ in his sacred humanity that we receive all
the treasures of grace, and this in a deeper and fuller sense than many of
us realize. Hence the present
section: “Through Jesus Christ.”
we know, Jesus himself declared that he came into this world to restore
supernatural life to fallen man. “I
am come that they may have life and have it more abundantly” (John
x 10), and the evangelist who
records these words tells us that “as many as received him, he gave them
power to be made the sons of God” (John i 12). “He that hath the Son hath life,” proclaims the same
Apostle, and “he that hath not the Son hath not life” (1 John v
12). St. Peter likewise tells us in terms that are stamped with
his intense conviction of our dependence on Christ: “There is no other
name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts
Christ merits and produces grace
then, does Christ procure for us that life which he came to give?
In the first place, by meriting it for us.
By the whole of his life on earth, and especially by his Passion
and death, Christ merited that the supernatural life which we had lost in
Adam should be restored to us. “And
being consummated, he became to all that obey him the cause of eternal
salvation” (Heb. v 9). More than that, he actually produces grace in the soul by his
action upon us. Just as he
healed bodies by the touch of his hand or by the word of his mouth so also
does he heal souls and bring back to them the life of grace. But in a deeper sense than this Christ is the cause of grace
within us, and unless we have grasped this deeper sense our understanding
of grace–nay, of Christianity itself–is incomplete. We refer to the important truth that the supernatural life of
the soul comes to us through actual union with, or incorporation in,
Christ. It is not by mere
external action upon us, like the action of a seal upon the wax in which
it leaves the impression of itself, or like the action of steam upon the
engine which it sets in motion, that Christ produces grace in us.
Rather is it like the action of a living organism that draws
particles of matter into union with itself and thus makes them live.
This is the very way in which Jesus himself expressed what happens.
We all know his wonderful figure of the Vine and its branches.
“Abide in me: and I in you.
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the
vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine; you the branches.
He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit:
for without me you can do nothing” (John xv 4-5).
Hence the extraordinary significance of Holy Communion, the
external union of the Body and Blood of Christ with our own frail humanity
being both a symbol and a cause of the inner union which is aimed at.
“Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood
you shall not have life in you. . . .
He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I
in him” (John vi 54-57).
Incorporation in him
union with Christ is especially dear to St. Paul, who made it one of his
guiding thoughts. “You are
in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and
sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. i 30).
According to the great Apostle of the Gentiles, all who are
redeemed are incorporated in Christ and live by his life, so that he
actually becomes to them “wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and
redemption.” This is no
mere metaphor; in the eyes of St. Paul it is a tremendous but simple
truth, upon which he insists time after time, which he uses in all sorts
of connections and upon which he builds much of his preaching.
Thus it is not merely “though” Christ that redemption and grace
come to us, but “in” him–as he says many times.
“You are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ shall appear, who is your life, you shall appear with
him in glory” (Col. iii 3-4).
“God (who is rich in mercy) . . . hath quickened us together in
Christ (by whose grace you are saved), and hath raised us up together and
hath made us sit together in the heavenly places through Christ Jesus (In
the original Greek, and also in Latin, this is “in Christ Jesus.”
Abbot Vonier remarks: “The phrase ‘in Christ’ occurs nearly
eighty times in St. Paul’s epistles; frequently it is translated into
‘by,’ ‘through,’ ‘for the sake of’ Christ.
Yet such alterations ought not to deprive us of the wealth of
mystical meaning contained in the original phrase ‘in Christ.’”
The Personality of Christ, p. 108).
That he might show in the ages to come the abundant riches of his
grace, in his bounty towards us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. ii 4-7).
Hence he bids us “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom.
xiii 14), and tells us that
“’in Christ’ we are a new creature” (2 Cor. v 17).
All this leads him to that triumphant exclamation: “I live, now
not I; but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. ii 20)–an
exclamation which was echoed by the great St. Augustine in the words:
“Let us break forth into thanksgiving, we are become not only
Christians, but Christ” (The implications of this doctrine are
more fully developed in Essay xix, The Mystical Body of Christ).
Function of faith in Christ
question now arises, how is this incorporation in Christ and
sanctification of the soul brought about?
We answer, primarily and fundamentally by true faith in him. He is the one source of grace for fallen man; we depend
entirely on the grace which he won for us by his Passion and death; but
this grace comes only to those who believe in him (The case of
Infant Baptism is an exception, for the child is incorporated into Christ
without any actual faith on its own part.
This is an exception which God in his goodness has deigned to make.
The special consideration of this case does not belong to the
present place, but it may be remarked that according to the traditional
teaching the faith of the Church takes the place of the faith of the
child). It is to those who “receive” him and “believe in his
name” that he gives the “power to be made the sons of God.” Thus before Christ can sanctify us and make us sons of God,
we must “receive” him and believe in his name.
And St. Paul tells us that the just man lives by faith (Rom.
i 17), and that we are “the
children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. iii 26). As a modern writer has well expressed it, faith is “a kind
of psychic link between the soul and Christ” (Vonier: A Key to
the Doctrine of the Eucharist, p. 6)
–a bond without which there can be no “incorporation” and no
transmission of supernatural life.
first sight it might seem as if this insistence on the function of faith
were akin to the Protestant theory of Justification by Faith.
But Catholic doctrine is very different.
Luther held that faith alone brought Justification, to the
exclusion of all good works. “Good
works,” in fact, were impossible, according to his theory of the
essential corruption of our nature. And
the very faith which he so extolled was not so much an intellectual assent
to the divinity of Christ and to the doctrine of the Redemption, as a
personal persuasion that our sins are “covered over” and no longer
imputed to us.
which Luther placed on the fundamental importance of recognizing Christ as
our redeemer must not blind us to the essentially vicious character of
this theory, which leads logically and inevitably to disregard of the laws
of right conduct. We must not
treat our Savior as a cloak to cover up our own transgressions.
He is indeed our hope, our life, of whose fullness we have all
received. But it is not by
the Lutheran “faith” that his grace comes to us.
The process of Justification is much more complex, as we now
proceed to show.
True preparation for justification
first element in the great work of Justification is the grace of
God–actual grace. No man
can have faith in Christ, no man can even have a genuine desire to possess
it, unless the grace of God first draw him (Our dependence in this
respect on God’s help is explained in the Essay Actual Grace in
the present volume, section iv, to which the reader is referred for
several important points which have a bearing upon the present question).
It is for man to accept this grace or to reject it.
If he accepts it and listens to the voice of God speaking to him,
he is led on to make a true act of faith; that is, he is enabled by God to
believe what has been divinely revealed, and more particularly the
doctrines of the Redemption and of the forgiveness of sins.
With this belief in his heart he is moved to hope in God and to
love him, and to turn his heart away from sin.
Thus, under the influence of actual grace, a soul is prepared for
Justification. Hence it is
not a matter of faith alone, but of faith which leads to hope and love and
genuine sorrow: yet faith is the foundation of the whole process, or, as
the Council of Trent puts it, “the beginning, the foundation, and the
root of all Justification” (Session vi, chap. viii.
The whole process of preparation for Justification was carefully
explained by the Council: the account in the text is a brief summary of
what may be read at much greater length in this famous 6th
Sacraments and faith in Christ
is now ready for actual incorporation in Christ, which will bring grace
and life to the soul. It is
part of his gracious purpose that this should be accomplished by means of
the sacrament of Baptism, which is essentially the sacrament of a new
birth in Christ Jesus. It is
thus that a man “puts on” Christ.
“As many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on
Christ,” says St. Paul (Gal. iii 27);
or, as he expresses it elsewhere, taking his idea from the ancient
ceremony of Baptism when the neophyte was plunged under the baptismal
water: “Know you not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are
baptized in his death? For we
are buried together with him by baptism into death: that as Christ is
risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in
newness of life” (Rom. vi 3-4). But Baptism itself presupposes the living faith in Christ of
which we have spoken. “He
that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that
believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark xvi 16).
And sometimes, as we know, the soul is justified before the waters
of Baptism have flowed over it; for faith can inspire a love and a sorrow
for sin so intense that Christ does not wait for the divinely appointed
sacrament of initiation but draws the soul to himself and makes it one
are speaking here of the case of one who has lived in infidelity and
without Baptism and in mature years first turns to God.
But faith is equally necessary for him who has lost the grace which
once he had and turns again to God. Just
as for the first there is Baptism, for the second there is Penance: but
neither is of any avail without faith.
Indeed, faith is necessary for every sacrament, whether it restores
a man to the friendship of God or increases the grace which he already
possessed; for as St. Thomas says, “the sacraments are certain signs
which profess the faith by which a man is justified” (S. Theol.,
III, Q. 61, a. 4).
Of course they are more than signs of faith; they are signs of the
inner grace which is produced in the soul, and of this grace which they
signify they are at the same time the instrumental causes; but it is well
to insist that without faith they will not achieve their effect (The
reader is referred to Abbot Marmion’s beautiful book, Christ the Life
of the Soul, for the development of points which have been briefly
touched upon in the present section).
Sanctifying grace and supernatural action
the course of the preceding pages much emphasis has been laid upon the
fact that sanctifying grace is a form of supernatural life.
But all life is essentially a power of internal action, of
self-movement, such as the process of growing, feeling, thinking, willing;
and every different grade of life has its own special forms of activity.
It is therefore natural for us to ask the question: What special
forms of activity belong to the life of grace?
is well to keep before our minds the truth that sanctifying grace of its
very nature leads to the ineffable activity of the Beatific Vision.
The life of grace is at present incomplete; it is like the life of
an embryo which does not yet show the marvels which will be revealed in
the fully developed organism. It
is the “seed” of a more wonderful life than has yet appeared.
The full activity, then, which is proper to sanctifying grace is
the activity involved in that intuitive vision of God, and that
overwhelming love of him, which constitutes the happiness of the blessed
in heaven. But the life of
grace has already its own special form of activity: What can we say about
first thing to be said about it is not easy to understand unless one is
used to theological and philosophical forms of thought: but it is of
fundamental importance in the present connection.
To put it in a sentence, as a result of sanctifying grace actions
which would have remained “natural” become intrinsically
again, we have these ideas “natural” and “supernatural,” and in a
somewhat different connection. We
have had occasion to speak of sanctifying grace as a supernatural quality,
and of the Beatific Vision as something proper to God and therefore
absolutely supernatural, and in these cases it is not difficult, in the
light of the explanations which have been given, to understand what is
meant. But perhaps it is less
easy to understand what is meant when we speak of an action becoming
supernatural. Let us put the
matter as follows. At the
present moment the light of the sun is streaming into the room where these
lines are written, through panes of ordinary clear glass; what would be
the effect if richly colored glass were to be substituted for the ordinary
glass? The light itself would
be affected and would be tinged with various colors.
In a similar sort of way, when actions proceed from a soul that is
enriched with sanctifying grace they receive (or may receive) a new
quality because of the source from which they come.
Or, just as water which comes from a peaty soil carries with it the
characteristics of peat, so do the actions which proceed from grace carry
in themselves the characteristics of grace itself.
We cannot submit a human action to any process of examination like
a chemical analysis, but if we could we should discover a new element in
the activities of grace just as the chemist discovers a new element in a
peaty water. And that new
element is “supernatural”: it belongs to the order of divine things.
we say, then, that grace gives us the power of performing supernatural
actions we do not mean that we receive the power of producing supernatural
effects, like changing water into wine or the substance of bread into the
body of Christ; nor do we mean that we become capable of doing such things
as reading the future or seeing the thoughts of our fellow-men; but we
mean that we become capable of performing actions which are not in any
sense miraculous but are intrinsically elevated so as to become in
themselves of a higher order and value.
this somewhat difficult line of thought there lies a very glorious
reality. Not only is the soul
made beautiful by the grace which is given to it; not only does it become
a temple and a home in which God deigns to dwell; but it receives a power
of performing actions which, apart from the reward which is promised them,
are more wonderful in themselves than the noblest natural efforts of the
greatest genius whom the world has ever known.
As breezes that blow from a land of spices are laden with perfumes,
so are the supernatural actions which come from a soul in grace laden with
the perfume of God himself. Nor
is this surprising, for they are the actions not of man as he is in
himself, but of man as he is incorporated in Christ and engrafted on the
Vine whose life flows through his veins.
the natural order of things a man acts through his various faculties; he
thinks and reasons by his intellect, chooses by his will, sees by his
sight, and so on. In the
supernatural order of which we have been speaking something of the same
holds good. We have said that
together with sanctifying grace man receives power to perform supernatural
actions. Now, according to
the common explanation of theologians, this power of performing
supernatural actions is exercised through certain quasi-faculties which
always accompany grace. Grace itself is a new nature–a “new creature”–and
just as my ordinary nature has natural faculties which flow from it and
through which I perform my natural actions, so this new nature has
corresponding “faculties” by which it performs its natural acts (One
uses the word “faculties,” or “quasi-faculties,” though strictly
speaking they are rather special qualities superadded to the ordinary
faculties in virtue of which these are “supernaturalized” and become
capable of performing supernatural actions). These faculties” are known as Infused Virtues and they
differ in various important respects from ordinary virtues–so much so,
indeed, that there is a danger of confusion in the use of the term virtue
as applied to them. In the
first place they are not acquired as the result of repeated efforts and
for this reason they are called “infused”–that is, produced directly
in the soul by God. In the
second place they do not (at least directly and immediately) give us a
faculty and readiness in acting: what they do is to give us a power of
performing actions which are supernatural in character (There is a
difference of opinion amongst theologians as to whether Infused Virtues
give a facility in action or not. The
matter is discussed in technical works on theology; but in any case a
point to insist upon is that their direct effect is to make us capable of
performing acts which are intrinsically supernatural and therefore quite
different in character from actions performed through a natural virtue.
One important result of this is that such supernatural acts have a
true value towards eternal life, as we shall see when we deal with the
question of merit. But the question of the Supernatural Virtues is dealt with in
a special essay (xviii) of this work: they are spoken of here only in so
far as they enter into the working of sanctifying grace in the soul).
among the Infused Virtues are the three Theological Virtues by which the
soul raises itself to God in supernatural Faith, supernatural Hope,
supernatural Charity. That
these three virtues are infused into our souls, together with sanctifying
grace, is the explicit teaching of the Church: but it is the common
teaching of theologians that the other virtues–Moral Virtues as they are
called–are also infused by God. Thus
endowed, the sons of God are enabled to live a life on earth which is
glorious in the sight of their Father who is in heaven.
They must struggle, indeed, against many enemies both within and
without them; the practice of virtue remains difficult, and there may be
many setbacks; as it was with labor and oil and in the sweat of his face
that Adam was set to labor, so too, is it with much strain and tribulation
that they must work out their salvation; but they are the sons of God, and
besides the new nature which has been given to them they possess these
wonderful springs of supernatural activity.
it is not sufficient that God should have given to his children this new
nature and these supernatural powers of action.
If these are to do all that this new life involves they have need
of constant assistance. Supernatural
life requires not only sanctifying grace and the Infused Virtues but also
the constant assistance of actual grace–of supernatural assistance given
us for the performance of special actions.
This actual grace is a complement of sanctifying grace.
Sanctifying grace is the essential thing; it is this which gives us
supernatural life; but we are so weak that we cannot keep that life or do
all the things which it involves unless from time to time, as
circumstances require it, God comes to our assistance and gives us present
help (The necessity under which
we labor of being thus helped by God is explained in Essay xvii, Actual
Consequently when we enumerate the great things which God has done
for us in order that we may become his sons and live as heirs of heaven,
we may put it thus: first he draws the soul by actual grace and thus
prepares it for Justification; then he breathes into it the breath of
supernatural life by means of sanctifying grace; at the same time he
places in it those powers of supernatural life which we call the Infused
Virtues, and subsequently, instead of leaving the soul to struggle on with
the means already at its disposal, he assists it in all sorts of ways by
further actual graces.
Gifts of the Holy Ghost
this is not the whole story of the provisions which God has made, in the
ordinary dispositions of his grace, for the supernatural life of the soul.
Besides sanctifying grace and actual grace and the Infused Virtues
there are also what are known as the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, seven in
number. These seven Gifts are
mentioned by the prophet Isaias who speaks of them as endowments of the
future Messias. “The spirit
of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and of
understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of
knowledge and of piety: and he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear
of the Lord” (Isa. xi 2-3). There can be no doubt that God produces in the soul of the
just man supernatural realities corresponding to the seven great names
here used by the prophet, and the Church teaches us to pray that the Holy
Ghost may give us this seven-fold gift; but there is some obscurity about
the way in which they are to be explained, not only in regard to each
considered by itself but also in regard to their general character.
What is a “gift of the Holy Ghost”?
What does it do for us? Does
it differ from the Virtues? The
answer which theologians commonly give to these questions (following St.
Thomas Aquinas) runs thus. The
gifts of the Holy Ghost are special dispositions produced by God in the
soul in virtue of which we become sensitive to the touch of actual grace.
Just as some people are peculiarly sensitive to various impressions
in the natural order–of sight, sound, touch, etc.–so are the children
of God made sensitive to the influences which their Father exercises upon
them and by which he would lead them on in the way of sanctification. A little thought will show that these dispositions produced
in the soul are of very great importance in the spiritual life.
By means of them the soul is brought more directly under the hand
of God, responds instinctively to the touch of his grace and may be led on
to the heights of sanctity.
does not allow that we should explain in detail the special
nature of each of the seven gifts, but a few words about one or two
of them may help to explain their general character and their importance
in the life of grace. Let us
take the first of them, the gift of Wisdom.
In virtue of this gift the soul is disposed to recognize in God the
infinitely good, the infinitely lovable.
It does this not as the result of a cold process of reasoning, but
instinctively as though by actual contact with God.
It has been prepared by God to see him as the sovereign good and
the moment he reveals himself it recognizes him for what he is, and
cleaves to him. And this is done with all the ardor of a loving son.
Charity, the queen of the virtues, is thus perfected, for its
operations receive a keenness and a promptness which otherwise they would
not possess, and the soul is led on by rapid strides if only it does not
put obstacles in the way of grace. Similarly the gift of knowledge gives to the soul a readiness
in the perception of the true value of earthly things. Here again it is not a matter of cold reasoning: it is rather
a sort of instinct by which the soul almost intuitively recognizes that
creatures are of no real value save in so far as they minister to eternal
interest. Who does not see
the supreme importance of such gifts in the supernatural life of the soul?
gift might well be studied by itself in order that its vast, practical
importance may be recognized and appreciated.
We can truly apply to them those words of St. Paul: “Whosoever
are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom.
Assuredly the sons of God are led on by the Spirit of God: and the
more they surrender themselves to this divine influence, the more they
will approach that state of perfection to which they are called and that
state of union with God which is the prelude to the end of sanctifying
grace, the Beatific Vision (A further study of the Gifts of the
Holy Ghost would show the important part they play in Divine Contemplation
and the Mystical Life. Indeed
the whole theology of sanctifying grace bears upon the question of true
Mysticism: but the connection between the one and the other cannot be
worked out here. Much
important matter can be found in three works by three modern French
Dominicans: De l’Habitation du Saint-Esprit dans les Ames Justes
(Froget), La Contemplation Mystique (Joret), and Perfection
Chretienne et Contemplation (2 vols.), by Garrigou-Lagrange. Another very beautiful work on somewhat different lines is La
Grace et la Gloire (2 vols.), by Pere Terrien, S.J.).
GROWTH IN GRACE
We re not in a
better position to realize how wonderful is the supernatural
“organism” which God has fashioned in the souls of his children.
First there is sanctifying grace itself which affects the very
substance of the soul, making it a new creature, giving it a new life.
Then there are the Infused Virtues which affect the faculties of
the soul and give them the power of performing supernatural actions. Further, by the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, God gives to our
faculties, already elevated by the Infused Virtues, that special
sensitiveness which makes them respond more readily to his touch And on the soul thus prepared he is ever acting by
Actual Grace, as a musician might play upon an instrument of unwonted
this loving action of God it is our task to respond, so that the life of
grace may grow more and more within us “unto a perfect man, unto the
measure of the age of the fullness of Christ” (Eph.
It is this growth in grace which we must now briefly study.
itself is a free gift of God who gives it in the measure which seems good
to him. “To every one of us is given grace according to the measure
of the giving of Christ” (Eph.
To one man there are given five talents, to another two, whilst
another receives only one; but all must trade with what they have and
labor to increase their store. How
is this increase to be brought about?
Caused by God
may say at once that the increase of grace is the work both of God and of
ourselves, but in very different ways.
First, it is the work of God.
In some cases he gives this increase in answer to prayer.
The Church teaches us to pray for such an increase, and for this
purpose puts beautiful prayers upon our lips.
Take as an example the well-known Collect for the Mass of the 13th
Sunday after Pentecost: “Almighty
and eternal God, give unto us an increase of faith, hope, and charity.”
Here we look to God to increase the supernatural life of our souls
as an act of his goodness. But
perhaps we may say that the normal and most efficacious way in which God
provides for an increase of the supernatural life of our souls is by the
sacraments. The sacraments
are not merely touching ceremonies, beautiful in their prayers, their old
associations, their symbolism, but they are actually causes of grace.
God uses them as his instruments for the production, or the
increase, of supernatural life, and they are meant to play an important
part in our spiritual history. This
part is dealt with in a special essay of this work (Essay xxi, The
Sacramental System) and its
importance cannot easily be exaggerated.
We cannot deal here with the way in which the sacraments cause or
increase grace in our souls, but we would remind the reader of two things.
First, that the grace caused in us by the valid reception of a
sacrament is due not to our own efforts in the receiving of the sacrament,
but to the sacrament itself. Of
course we have certain things to do before the sacrament can produce its
effect, but the effect is due not to these things which we do but to the
sacrament. This is expressed
by theologians technically by saying that the grace of the sacraments is
produced ex opere operato and not ex opere operantis.
thing to which we would call attention is the truth that in the use of the
sacraments it is God who is the ultimate cause of grace; the outward rite
is but an instrument which he uses for the production of this effect.
Hence it is quite a mistake to suppose (as Protestants do) that the
sacrament comes between the soul and God, and lessens our dependence upon
him. Still less is it true
that we look upon the sacraments as having a sort of magical power.
Of themselves they are merely signs;
they produce grace only as used by God from whom the grace flows as
from its source, and they are not independent of our dispositions.
How caused by ourselves
this part of our subject with these brief remarks, we pass on to consider
how our own actions can produce an increase of grace in the soul.
Of course this cannot be by our own unaided efforts; if we can do
anything in this respect it is only in response to, and with the help of,
the grace which God gives us. It is a fundamental principle of Catholic theology that we
can do nothing of ourselves towards our salvation (See Essay xvii, Actual
Grace, III); and this is true
of the growth in grace which we are here considering.
But we can correspond with grace; and by corresponding with grace
we can increase the supernatural life which we already possess.
This is evident from the teaching of the New Testament.
We have already heard St. Paul speaking of the development of the
life of grace within us “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age
of the fullness of Christ,” and it is clear that this development is at
least in part dependent upon our own personal efforts.
A few verses further on he exhorts his readers; “that henceforth
we be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every
wind of doctrine . . . but doing the truth in charity, we may in all
things grow up in him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. iv
And St. Peter says; “Wherefore, laying aside all malice and all
guile and dissimulations and envies and all detractions, as new-born
babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grow
unto salvation” (1 Pet. ii 1-2). But this is surely an exhortation to use our own efforts so
that we may deepen within ourselves the supernatural life of grace.
Hence in his second epistle he writes: “Grow in grace and in the
knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. iii 18).
we have another difference between the Protestant theory of Justification
and the true doctrine of the New Testament.
In the Protestant theory, it will be remembered, Justification is a
mere external non-imputation of sin, and this does not admit of growth;
our sins are either imputed to us or they are not.
The passages which we have quoted are meaningless unless there be,
as the Church teaches, a supernatural life in which we go from virtue to
virtue, are renewed from day to day and thus become more and more
justified (See Trent,
Session VI, chap. x).
fact being admitted that we can grow in grace as the result of our own
efforts (as contrasted with the growth which comes from God in answer to
prayer or through the use of the sacraments), the question arises: How do
our efforts bring about this increase?
We answer that it is by meriting an increase of grace that
we are able to develop our supernatural life.
Our own efforts do not actually produce the increase, but God
grants it as a reward. And
together with the increase of sanctifying grace there is a corresponding
increase in the Infused Virtues and the Gifts of the Holy Ghost–all as a
result of merit. Hence there
are important differences between the growth of natural life and the
development of supernatural life. To
a certain extent natural life may be said to grow of itself: there is a
natural development and gradual unfolding of powers, given a fit
environment. Besides this,
the very actions of a living thing may be said to quicken and develop its
life in so far as they perfect its natural powers by producing in them
promptness, ease and accuracy in their operations.
But in the supernatural life it is different.
Grace does not grow of itself; neither do the supernatural
activities of the soul produce, or increase, the grace within it; God
alone gives grace and God alone increases it; but, as we have said, the
increase can be merited, and it is in this sense that, with the help of
God, our own actions can bring about the growth of the life of grace (We
have here assumed that there is such a thing as Merit in the eyes of
God–a fact which was denied by the Reformers.
The general question of Merit will be discussed in the next
section. Our present purpose
is to explain that increase of grace may be merited by us but is not
directly produced by us
Natural facility in good and growth in grace
might be objected that supernatural virtues, and with them the whole
supernatural life, are directly increased by our very efforts, for it is a
matter of experience that a good man who possesses the infused moral
virtues is able to increase them by the practice of virtue. Take, for example, an earnest person who for the love of God
sets himself the task of acquiring greater patience; day by day he puts a
guard over himself, and checks the various movements of impatience which
arise within him, and gradually acquires a habit of self-control. During all this time he is exercising the supernatural virtue
of patience, and consequently it would seem that by his own efforts he is
developing this virtue just as a non-religious man might develop a natural
habit of patience.
objection is worth considering for it introduces an interesting point in
connection with the life of grace. In
the case supposed we must notice the distinction between two quite
different things. These two
things are, facility in practicing patience and the increase of the
infused, supernatural virtue of patience.
By repeated acts a man increases what we may call his natural power
of restraining himself; this increase follows the ordinary psychological
laws according to which habits are developed; but the increase of the
supernatural virtue (and of grace itself) is another matter altogether.
As we have already tried to explain, the infused, supernatural
virtues are not so much new powers of action as qualities superadded to
our natural powers of action which supernaturalize these and make them
capable of performing acts which are supernatural in character.
The development of facility in operation (apart from some
extraordinary grace of God) must be the result of effort on our part; the
growth of grace and of the infused virtues is produced not by ourselves
but by God, though it can be merited by us.
we are touching upon points which are dealt with in the Essay on The
Supernatural Virtues, to which the reader is referred; it was
necessary, however, to say something about the matter in this discussion
of Sanctifying Grace.
Christian soul, then, has it within his power to increase the treasure of
grace which has been committed to him.
He can pray for it, he can approach the sacraments with the
knowledge that these are divinely appointed means of advancing in grace,
he can exercise himself in good works.
And thus his soul will become more and more God-like, and the glory
of the Beatific Vision (to which the whole of the supernatural order is
directed) will be intensified. For there is a proportion between Grace and Glory; the
greater the first, the greater the second.
But that brings us to the question of Merit, which we shall discuss
in the following section (Whilst
grace can be increased within us, it is never diminished (although, of
course, it can be lost altogether). This
statement probably runs counter to the idea which many Catholics form of
the effects of venial sin; they look upon venial sin as weakening the
supernatural life of the soul and diminishing the amount of sanctifying
grace which we possess. But
there is no such diminution: if there were, long continuance in a course
of venial sin could extinguish grace altogether: and this is not the case.
Yet venial sins certainly imperil the life of the soul.
If a man becomes habituated to venial sins he loses his sense of
the sanctity of God, his self-control is weakened, self-love gets the
upper hand and sooner or later a big temptation will overthrow him.
Besides, a man who is careless in regard to venial sins is less
likely to receive great helps from God).
GRACE AND MERIT
Possibility of merit
is treasured belief of the Catholic Church that the soul which is in the
state of grace can merit eternal reward.
This was denied by the Reformers who urged two objections against
the Catholic doctrine of Merit. First,
they said, if we merit in the eyes of God we are making God our debtor,
which cannot be; and secondly, they urged that to claim merit for our own
actions is to take away from the sovereign merits of Christ who alone has
merited for us the rewards of eternal life.
We have now to show that the doctrine of Merit is clearly contained
in Sacred Scripture and that the objections which we have mentioned are
based upon a misunderstanding and are without any force.
justification of the assertion that man can merit eternal reward stands
out very clearly in the pages of the New Testament.
St. Paul certainly believed that he had merited when he wrote the
well-known words: “I have fought a good fight: I have finished my
course: I have kept the faith. As
to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice which the Lord the
just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me but to them
also that love his coming” (2
Tim. iv 7-8).
Notice the words “crown of justice: and “just judge” which
express so forcibly the idea of a recompense which has been merited and is
due in justice. And those who
suffer for Christ are encouraged by him with the thought of the reward
which will be theirs. “Be
glad and rejoice,” he says, “for your reward is very great in
heaven” (Matt. v 12).
Very striking, too, is the glimpse which our Savior gives us of the
great reckoning which will take place at the last day.
Some souls are damned. Why?
Because their bad lives have deserved it. Others are admitted to glory.
Why? Because their
good lives have merited it. Just
as evil action deserves its punishment so does virtuous action deserve its
reward: such is the only conclusion which can be drawn from our Savior’s
does not this doctrine of Merit mean that God is made our debtor?
And is not this quite impossible?
The answer to this argument of the Protestants is easy. I may have a right to recompense from another either because
I have done him a service which has put him under an obligation to me, or
because he had previously promised me this recompense if I did certain
things. Now it is quite true
that I cannot claim a return from God on the first of these grounds, since
that would indeed be to make him my debtor; but does the objection hold if
my claim is based upon a promise which he has made?
Clearly it does not. In
this case God has shown himself a most bountiful Lord in promising me a
reward. Apart from his
promise I could have no right to a return for what I have done.
This would be true even if the reward were something in the natural
order of things, such as health or wealth; still more true is it when the
reward is supernatural: the Beatific Vision.
But, given his promise, I have a right to the reward if I do what
was required of me: God owes it not so much to me as to himself.
this connection it is worth noticing that eternal life is both a reward
and a gift. It is a gift,
since we owe it to the bountiful love of God who freely chose to set it as
the end of our action, and freely gives us the means of attaining it; it
is at the same time a reward, because in his wisdom God has made the
possession of it dependent upon our own action.
there is no force in the second objection that the doctrine of merit takes
away from the sovereign merits of Christ.
For we owe it entirely to the merits of Christ that we are able to
merit for ourselves. He has
won for us the power of meriting; without him we could never do anything
which would merit in the sight of God.
This is more wonderful than if eternal life were in no way
dependent upon our own actions.
Conditions for merit
the light of what has been said it is evident that a promise (or something
equivalent to a promise) on the part of God is an essential condition for
real merit in his sight. But
there are other conditions which it is important that we should notice.
First of all no man can really merit before God unless he be in the
state of grace. It is only as
part of the living vine that we can bear fruit, according to Christ’s
own saying: “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide
in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John xv
And St. Paul tells us that “if I should have prophecy and should
know all mysteries and all knowledge . . . and have not charity, I am
nothing. And if I should
distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body
to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1
Cor. xiii 2-3). In other words, unless I am in the friendship of Christ by
divine love, which is inseparable from sanctifying grace, I cannot merit
in the slightest way, even though I seem to perform acts of heroic virtue.
Hence a man is indeed sowing the sands if he remains in a state of
sin and yet fancies that by performing good actions he can merit before
is not surprising that sanctifying grace should be a condition for all
real merit before God. Without
it, we are cut off from God and in a state of enmity with him, whether we
have fallen from grace or have never become his children by Baptism: how
then can we expect anything from him in return for our actions?
Still more, how can we merit to share his life in heaven?
But with sanctifying grace, we are his sons, sharers of his nature;
and it is not difficult to see how becoming it is, and how much in harmony
with God’s loving plan, that to such sons there should be given a
promise of reward for the good actions which they perform.
condition for merit is that the act should be done for God.
This is a point concerning which there has been considerable
discussion amongst theologians who differ at least in the way in which
they express themselves. Our
statement of this condition does not mean (as the reader may be pardoned
for thinking it means) that before an act can be meritorious it must be
done with the express intention of doing it for God.
In fact it would seem certain that all morally good acts which are
performed by a soul in the state of grace are meritorious in the sight of
God, even though he is not thought of in any way when they are done.
Such a soul has chosen God as its supreme good to whom all other
things are subordinated; hence until that choice is retracted all its
actions are governed by the principle “God first”–in other words, by
the principle of Divine Charity. Consequently
we can say that every morally good action which we perform comes under
this great principle and is meritorious in the sight of God.
It is “done for God” in so far as it is part of a mode of life
in which all is directed to God.
may seem to be too comfortable a doctrine, since it makes the sphere of
supernatural merit extremely wide and very easy of access; but it rests on
sound theological principles, and is generally admitted by theologians.
And in this connection we must remember another principle which is
widely admitted, viz. that all actions which we freely perform are either
definitely good or definitely bad; there is no such thing in practice as a
free act which is neither good nor bad.
Considered in itself, and apart from its circumstances, an act may
be “indifferent,” as all admit; but it would seem that in the
circumstances in which it is performed an act must be either good or bad.
If we follow this opinion, which has the authority of St. Thomas
Aquinas, and many great thinkers, we must say that the possibility of
merit for the children of God is indeed wide.
As long as no warping element of self-love or other similar fault
enters into their actions, they will merit all the day long, even though
they do not consciously refer all their actions to God.
Nevertheless the merit of their actions will be greater in
proportion to the way in which love of God becomes more and more a
directive principle in all they do, so that the more frequently and
fervently they refer their actions to God the greater will be their merit.
these conditions for supernatural merit there are certain others which
need not detain us, as they are more or less obvious.
Thus, the act must be free and it must be performed during the
course of life, since there is no merit after death.
The conditions which we have explained are the important ones and
others which might be mentioned are reducible to them.
What we can merit
is eternal life the only thing which we can merit from God?
No, there are other things which we can merit.
In the preceding section we saw that the just man can merit an
increase of grace–a truth which is taught explicitly by the Council of
Trent. But whilst it is
reasonably certain that we merit eternally by all good actions, it is not
so certain that every good action merits an increase of grace.
Many theologians hold that in order that we should merit an
increase of grace our actions must reach a certain degree of fervor
corresponding to the degree of grace which we already possess.
Thus, according to this view, if our present degree of grace and of
the Infused Virtues which accompany it is equivalent to 5, and the fervor
of our action is equivalent to 3, we shall indeed win a title to eternal
reward corresponding to the value of our action, but we shall not obtain a
present increase of grace and the Infused Virtues.
Whatever may be thought about this, it is certain, and a matter of
Catholic faith, that increase of grace can be merited.
sanctifying grace is necessary for merit it will be realized that there
are many important things which no man can merit.
Thus the first actual grace which a man requires to lead him to
faith in God is quite outside the sphere of merit; it is God’s pure
gift, and no amount of natural virtue can establish a title to it.
Similarly the first infusion of sanctifying grace cannot be
merited. Nor can the man who has fallen away from God really merit his
restoration to grace, or even the actual graces which he needs in order to
recover the life which he has lost. We
may, indeed, pray whilst we are in the state of grace that if we should
ever be so unfortunate as to lose the friendship of God there may be given
to us the grace of repentance. But
God is in no way bound to hear this prayer.
Perseverance, too, is a thing which cannot be merited in the strict sense
of the word
This great gift is bound up with the problem of Predestination and
is dealt with in the essay on Actual Grace.
Merit “de condigno” and merit “de congruo”
we merit graces and blessings for others?
Strictly speaking, we cannot.
Only our Savior, who was constituted the head of human race in all
matters that pertain to eternal life, could truly merit for others.
The rest of men can pray for others, and they can even make
satisfaction for the sins of others, but they cannot merit for them.
To merit is entirely a personal affair.
But there is a title to reward which is lower than that of merit in
the strict sense, yet is of real value.
It is what theologians call merit “de congruo” (merit of
congruity), as contrasted with that strict merit of which we have been
speaking, and to which they give the name merit “de condigno” (merit
of desert). This merit of
congruity is based not upon a title in justice, but upon a certain
fitness, or what we may call a reasonable expectation that in view of what
we have done a return will be made. Thus
if I have shown great kindness to another, and he in turn has an
opportunity of doing me some service, I shall feel it to be only natural
that he should do the service. There
is no question of justice; it is a matter of what we may call
“decency”–of merit “de congruo.”
Now, as between ourselves and God there are several things which
cannot be merited in the strict sense of the word, yet they come under the
head of this merit “de congruo.”
Hence, although the man who has not yet been justified cannot
strictly merit justification, nevertheless by responding to the actual
graces which are given to him he can merit it “de congruo”; and in a
similar way the sinner by his response to actual grace can merit further
grace “de congruo.” And
this applies to meriting for others.
Though we cannot merit for them in the strict sense of the word, we
can merit for them “de congruo” whatever we can merit for ourselves.
Hence in our efforts to obtain favors for others we must go on in
patience and in trust, relying upon God to do what is best for his own
glory. We cast our bread upon
the running waters, trusting that God will use it for those whose welfare
we have at heart (The conditions for merit “de congruo” are, of
course, different from the conditions for merit “de condigno.”
They are that the act must be morally good, it must be free, and it
must be supernatural. Hence
(in regard to the last condition), if a man be not in a state of grace his
actions, to be meritorious “de congruo,” must proceed from an impulse
of actual grace. This is one
reason why the first grace which a man receives cannot be merited even
LOSS AND REGAIN
Loss of grace a possibility
was a peculiarity of the teaching of Calvin that he held it to be
impossible for a man who had once been justified to fall away. Luther did not go quite so far as this, but he taught that
justification can be lost only by the sin of infidelity; in other words,
by the loss of that faith which, according to his system, justifies a man.
teaching of the Catholic Church is that sanctifying grace is lost by every
mortal sin. That grace is a
thing which can be lost is clear enough.
Our Lord warned us of the danger in which we stand when he said:
“Watch ye and pray that ye enter not into temptation” (Matt:
St. Paul gives the warning: “He that thinketh himself to stand,
let him take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. x 12).
In the same epistle the great Apostle of the Gentiles expresses the
fear which he felt: “I chastise my body and bring it into subjection:
lest perhaps when I have preached to others I myself should become a
castaway” (1 Cor. ix 27).
Scripture and Tradition are unanimous on this point of the
possibility of losing the grace which we have once acquired.
Grace and mortal sin
little thought will show the essential opposition which exists between
sanctifying grace and mortal sin. They
are contraries which necessarily exclude each other. On the one hand, he who is in the state of grace is the son
of God, a sharer in his nature, an heir to heaven, incorporated in Christ;
on the other hand, he who sins mortally deliberately turns himself away
from God and seeks his good in something which is opposed to him, so that
God is rejected, his enemy enthroned.
It is clearly impossible, therefore, that a man should be at one
and the same time in the state of grace and in the state of mortal sin.
It is for this very reason that such sin is called “mortal,”
because it deprives the soul of its supernatural life just as a mortal
wound deprives the body of its natural life.
There is no such opposition, however, between sanctifying grace and
venial sin, for the adequate reason that in the case of venial sin a man
does not set before himself some other end than God.
There is indeed something inordinate in his action, but he does not
directly turn away from God and prefer some other thing to him.
Restoration of grace
Had God wished,
he could have ordained that grace once lost was lost for ever, as he did
in the case of the fallen angels. But
in his compassion he has made it possible for us to recover grace after it
has been lost. There is no
sin, and no combination of sins, for which he refuses forgiveness.
Yet it is well that we should remember that of himself the sinner
is in a helpless condition. He
is dead, as far as the spiritual life of the soul is concerned, and can do
nothing towards his own spiritual resurrection.
thing which is necessary, then, is the assistance of Actual Grace (See
Essay xvii, Actual Grace), which God never withholds completely
from the sinner. If his sorrow is perfect, grace is restored to him even
before he approaches the consoling sacrament of Penance; if it remains
mere Attrition, the absolution of Christ’s minister is required, or some
other sacrament which, under the special circumstances of the case,
carries with it forgiveness. But
these points are explained more fully in other essays in this work and do
not call for special treatment here (See Essay xxvi, Sin and Repentance).
It is more to our present purpose to call attention to two points
which arise more directly in connection with our discussion of sanctifying
grace, namely: how much grace is restored to us?
And what happens to the store of merit which we had acquired before
our fall and lost by our sin?
these questions theologians do not give a uniform answer.
St. Thomas Aquinas held that the amount of sanctifying grace which
a sinner receives when he obtains forgiveness is proportionate to the
dispositions in which he returns to God; hence grace after forgiveness may
be greater than it was before, it may be less, it may be equal (S.
Theol., III, Q. lxxxix, a. 2). Other theologians maintain that after repentance and
forgiveness the amount of sanctifying grace is always greater than it was
before, because the whole of that which was lost is restored and an
increase of grace is obtained through the sacrament which has been
received and the various acts of the penitent which have merited grace.
Whichever of these opinions be true (and one ought to be slow in
setting aside the opinion of St. Thomas) it is evidently a matter of
extreme importance that the sinner should return to God with all the ardor
of his soul; then he may hope that in the infinite mercy of God all the
grace which he had lost has been restored to him and he may begin again
with renewed energy, hope, and gratitude.
of the recovery of merit is closely akin. That merit is restored to us when we return to God after a
fall, is the teaching of the Church: but it is explained in different ways
by theologians. As in the
case of the restoration of sanctifying grace, some make it proportionate
to the dispositions of the penitent sinner: but others hold that the full
measure of lost merit is always restored, with an addition due to present
repentance. The point is one
concerning which a Catholic is free to hold either opinion.
In any case the goodness of God is apparent.
Like the father of the Prodigal Son, he is ever ready to receive
his erring child and restore him to the inheritance which he had lost.
can be no doubt that the Catholic teaching on sanctifying grace does much
to encourage within us the spirit of hope.
He that is mighty has done great things for us.
He has made us his children, he has raised us up to a share in his
nature, he has set the Beatific Vision as the end towards which we must
aspire, and he has given us most wonderful endowments to enable us to
reach that end. Well, then,
may we hope. Yet in our hope
there ought ever to be an element of salutary fear. Why?
of all because we cannot indulge in that strange security which the
Reformers declared to be the one condition for justification.
It was part of their system that in order to be justified we must
have the unwavering certainty of faith that we are justified. This was condemned by the Council of Trent, which lays it
down that “just as no pious man ought to entertain a doubt about the
mercy of God, the merits of Christ and the efficacy of the sacraments; so
everyone can have uncertainty and fear concerning the possession of grace,
when he considers himself and his own infirmity and want of good
dispositions; since no one can know with the certainty of faith, which
admits of no error, that he has obtained the grace of God.”
cannot, then, have the certainty of faith that we are in grace; but we can
have an assurance which is sufficient for all practical purposes.
Concerning the precise degree of this assurance there has been
considerable discussion amongst theologians, but at any rate we can say
without hesitation that a man can have a degree of certainty which
excludes all real and prudent doubt.
And indeed we are often expected to have such a certainty, as when
we receive Holy Communion; at such times we must be able to tell ourselves
that we really and truly are in God’s grace.
To open the door to doubt upon our state of grace when our
conscience can discover no serious sin would be to enter upon a life of
anguish and stress of mind which God most certainly does not intend.
If we are faced by the thought of past sins we must mourn for them
and renew our heartfelt sorrow, but we must at the same time put our trust
in the goodness of God and in the efficacy of the sacrament of Penance.
A condition of morbid fear is altogether foreign to the spirit of
is greater ground for fear in regard to the future.
I may have reasonable certainty that I am in the grace of God, but
do I know that I shall die in that grace?
I do not. Far from the
mind of a Catholic must be the thought of those who look upon themselves
as most certainly amongst the number of the elect, for the Church teaches
that apart from a special revelation it is impossible to know which souls
God has predestined. When we consider the weakness of our nature and the strength
of the enemies of our soul we may well fear lest we fall from grace.
Hence our Savior teaches us to pray that we be saved from
temptation. “Lead us not
into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
“Be sober and watch,” says St. Peter, “because your adversary
the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.
Whom resist ye, strong in faith” (1
Pet. v 8).
Truly it is with fear and trembling that we must work out our
salvation, as St. paul tells us (Phil. ii 12). Nothing which we can do can really merit this “great
gift” of final perseverance. We
must pray for it, we must hope for it, but we cannot be certain that we
shall obtain it.
hope must surely temper the fear which the thought of our uncertainty
creates; not the hope of one who is conscious of his own strength, but the
hope of one who, knowing his own infirmity, looks up to God in childlike
trust. He has been so good to
us; he has made such wonderful provision for us; so, whilst we fear our
own weakness we are confident of his strength and his love.
It is in this spirit that we listen to the words of St. Paul which
the Church puts before us when she celebrates the mystery of Christ’s
coming on Christmas night. “The
grace of God our Savior hath appeared to all men, instructing us, that
denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and
justly, and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming
of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave
himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and might
cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works.
These things speak and exhort” (Tit.
Rev. E. Towers