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Course on Grace
Part One

Grace Considered Extensively

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Chapter I.

Why Grace?

Why do we have sacraments? To give us grace. But is grace the ultimate, the “end of the line?” Is it an end in itself, a gift of God which we are simply to have, a treasure just to be hoarded? No, grace is not just an ornament. It is that, but more; it is a marvelous reality that points and inclines us to something. To what? To the Beatific Vision, Love, Enjoyment (or Fruition – a word St. Thomas might prefer) of the Divine Essence and Persons. The end of grace is a sharing in the activity and happiness of God, in the Beatific Vision of the Divine Essence. In this almost incredible Vision, there will be no species, idea, thought between God and this inmost “me,” nothing created will intervene; the Divine Essence itself will be united to my mind as the quasi-species and the term of this Vision.

Benedict XII declared: “we define that the souls of the saints… behold the Divine Essence with intuitive vision, face to face, in such wise that nothing created intervenes as object of vision… and from this vision and enjoyment they are truly happy and have eternal life and rest.”

Happiness. Has the Beatific Vision been a motivating force in my life? There is a difficulty for many in seeing why the Beatific Vision will give eternal happiness, and a problem in giving a desire of it to youth. A child asked: Happiness? Just looking at God for all eternity? It is difficult to give others such a realization of the Beatific Vision that they desire it, that they want more than everything else to have God in this way and are willing to pay the price. Yet the Beatific Vision should be a powerful motivating force. We must let the idea grow more real and vivid within us, and then perhaps we can help others to realize it better.

All of us desire to be happy. We might sit down and think out the things that make us happy. Happiness comes to us in bits. Some may be caught by, lost in beauty, nature, art, music, love, color, companionship. But then they come to realize that all this is made, is finite, and therefore behind it there is something else: God has put the goodness, the beauty in each thing. Some happiness lasts just for a moment, some longer, to teach us that happiness may grow day by day, year after year.

If we ask children to draw up a list of things which make them happy – we may call them “happy-making” objects – each list will be different. These objects, of course, change with age. But this is one of the easiest ways of finding out what you are inside: by looking at the tendencies that are part of you. Your response can indicate the powers and tendencies in you. Happy-making objects may be graces – by which God draws you, builds you…

If we should stop in one of these happy-making objects, find one all-satisfactory, we know what God will do – especially to those of us in Religion: He will take it away, so that we may learn to find the unique and infinitely happy-making Object, God. He is the supremely Happy-Making Object. He has eminently and virtually all the “bits” of happiness we have had and loved. Here these happy-making objects have a function: to stretch and expand our mind, will, soul, so that God may come in more and more. Thus we grow in our capacity for the Beatific Vision.

All happiness in the world is a ray from the essence, the heart of God. All the rays of grace focus on the Beatific Vision. That is why we say that grace is pointing up: it points us towards the Heart of God, the essence of God – to be possessed in the Beatific Vision.

Deiformity. In order to enjoy fully, we must have, possess. Will the beauty, the perfection of God, will God be mine? Yes, I will not just be looking at God, I will be possessing God. But God possesses God by seeing the infinite, so if we do not see the infinite we do not see nor possess God. Shall we? Yes. And as God sees Himself? After the manner of the infinite? Yes, we shall see Him after the manner of the infinite, intuitively, facially, through the Divine Essence. But there must be a difference? God’s vision of God is infinite, ours will be finite. For God has a Light of Glory, so to speak, that is infinite, while the light of glory in us will be finite. There is always a limit, a measure to ours, but none to God’s; therefore our share in the Beatific Vision is according to this measured light of glory. The more sanctifying grace we have at death, the more light of glory we will get.

The expressions that we are “divinized,” “deified,” “deiform” refer in their fullest sense to this sharing the divine activity of the Beatific Vision. We shall then be supremely deiform, “like unto God,” doing what God does in the manner that God does it, but finitely, according to the finite degree of our light of glory. Where God has the Beatific Vision by His very nature, we will have it by grace, by gift of God. God’s aim for us is not to keep us down but to lift us up – as close to Him as we will let ourselves be drawn. The more we become like Christ, the more we become like God, deiform: “I am the Way – to the Heart of God.” In this Vision there will be nothing of God that we do not see, but we will not see Him infinitely, with the infinite clarity, intensity, profundity with which He sees Himself. But we shall really see intuitively and facially the divine essence, persons, attributes, and processions. We shall ecstatically contemplate with unceasing, unending fascination the Deity in its infinite purity and goodness, love and wisdom, beauty and majesty, power and sanctity – in the measure of our finite lumen gloriae. We shall be supremely active and alive!

The Key. The Beatific Vision is the key and explanation of most everything in the supernatural order. It was the reason for the Incarnation and the Redemption. Why did Christ come as man? Why the Sacraments? Why the Mass? Why Grace? Why the Church? That we might have the life and light of glory. “I am come that they may have Life and have it more abundantly.” We call Christ the Eternal Light, the Life of God. As members of His Mystical Body, as branches of His Vine, we share in the nature and activity of God. St. Augustine expressed it very strongly: “If God humbled Himself to become man, it was in order to make them gods” (Serm. 166). Christ took upon Himself our human nature that it might be made deiform, as like the divine nature as possible, having a share in the nature and activity of God. Christ died for all men, that all might be saved and reach the Beatific Vision. And Our Lady is Mediatrix of Graces to help men achieve this end.

We do not have the Beatific Vision here below. But many achieve a very high degree of knowledge of God. Some mystics even more. They “experience” God, the presence and activity of God. By mysterious spiritual “senses” they seem to sense the presence of God, feel the nearness and dearness and “touch” of Someone, of God, as we might experience the presence of someone in a mist. This is an ineffable experience of God, but not the Vision of God. Those who “experience” God and “savor” Him find in this their supreme earthly happiness, a joy, however, incomparably removed from that of heaven.

Conclusion. To our question, then, “Why do we need grace,” we may now answer: If our end, the Beatific Vision, is supernatural, then the means to achieve this end should be supernatural, too. And these supernatural means are: grace. We need grace, then, to achieve our supernatural end, the Beatific Vision.

Is this Vision absolutely supernatural for us? Yes. Pius XII said: God was entirely free to “create intellectual beings without ordering and calling them to the Beatific Vision.” “Out of His infinite goodness God ordained man to a supernatural end.” No created nature had any claim to this vision. It is utterly beyond the reach of our natural powers, merits and exigencies: it is a form of knowledge that is proper to the Three Divine Persons alone, a Vision of the Triune God in His intimate life.

To achieve our end in the Beatific Vision: we need grace.

Chapter II.

What is Grace?

If we were to single out one word with which to start our definition of grace, what would it be? Gift. Grace is a free gift, a supernatural gift of God to rational creatures to help them attain the Beatific Vision (the end of all rational creatures).

Kinds. How many kinds of grace are there? The answer depends on what we mean by “kinds.” But we may mention now graces that are external to us (to our minds, wills, souls) and graces that are internal; grace that is uncreated and grace that is created; grace that is habitual and grace that is actual (a transient, “come-and-go aid). The “big” internal, habitual graces would be:

Indwelling Trinity
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Sanctifying Grace Infused Virtues Gifts of the Holy Spirit
(uncreated grace) (created grace) (created grace) (created grace)

Among the internal actual graces we might mention salutary:

illuminations – of the mind (discursive or supra-discursive)
inspirations – of the will (deliberative or supra-deliberative).

The Indwelling Trinity is the source of all other graces in us. By faith we can know that the three Persons are dwelling in just souls, but we cannot see Them. Our Lord while on earth had the Beatific Vision of the Triune God, not faith, but sight. God could give it to us here and now, absolutely speaking, but He does not. If He did, it would be “heaven” for us.

Connections. Are these “big” graces inter-connected? Yes, to some extent at least. To be saved, what grace must we have at death? Sanctifying Grace. If we have sanctifying grace, what other graces will we have? Indwelling Trinity – infused virtues – gifts of the Holy Spirit. May a person have faith and hope alone, without these other graces? Yes, a mortal sinner is often (ordinarily) in this condition.

There is an intimate, if mysterious, connection between sanctifying grace and the Indwelling Trinity: so that the Indwelling Trinity is the cause of sanctifying grace and sanctifying grace the necessary disposition for Indwelling Trinity. Hence if one is present in us, the other must be also. Through sanctifying grace (as cause or/and term of it?) the Trinity dwells within us, ready to be known experimentally. Why is it, then, that experimental knowledge of the Trinity is comparatively rare? We have the power for it (by charity and wisdom) it seems; but according to some theologians, we do not use the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit as we should – so as to obtain this experimental knowledge.

Why, when we have all these graces, do we not have the Beatific Vision? Because we have the light of faith and not the light of glory. When faith and hope are replaced by the light of glory we have the Beatific Vision. You can understand why faith thus is sometimes called the “dark light” and faith-knowledge is termed obscure. Our Lord had the light of glory and hence the Beatific Vision, love and enjoyment. What “light” we might ask, do the mystics have? They have, according to some theologians, the light of infused contemplation, which ranks them somewhere between mere faith and vision.

What graces are there in heaven? For the Beatific Vision, love and enjoyment: Indwelling Trinity – sanctifying grace – light of glory – charity – moral virtues – gifts of the Holy Spirit. The connection between these graces is mysterious, but probably this: sanctifying grace is the radical principle of the Beatific Vision, love and enjoyment of the Indwelling Trinity, while light of glory and charity are the proximate principles (of vision and love respectively). And as the degree of sanctifying grace will determine the degree of the light of glory, so the degree of the light of glory will determine the degree of our Beatific Vision, the degree of its intensity. In the Beatific Vision everyone sees all that is God, but not in the same degree of intensity. Here we have only a “knowing” love of God, there we will have a “seeing” love of God. The greater the amount of light, the more visible God will be to us and the more lovable. The more we see His goodness and lovableness, the more we will love Him. Here we have only the “dark” light of faith. Faith gives us solidity and assurance, and yet it bothers us. We say, “If I could only see – e.g., Our Lord in the Host – then I would truly “love.” In heaven we will see – God face to face, and not merely as He is reflected in nature.

The virtues of faith and hope drop away, but charity has an essential role in the pattern of heavenly graces. For it is the infused power to love God as He loves Himself, and in heaven it enables us to have the beatific love of the Triune God that is an essential part of our eternal happiness.

The moral virtues and gifts go with us into heaven (it seems), but add only an accidental perfection to our Beatific Vision; for example wisdom will give a special relish, a savor to our enjoyment. According to Leo XIII the gifts (and virtues?) work in a more eminent way in heaven than here on earth.

Why do we say we will have these gifts and moral virtues in heaven? The norm is Our Lord and the graces He had on earth – while enjoying the Beatific Vision. In Him we have reason to believe there were both the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the moral virtues – and so we will have them in heaven. Moreover God can give other gifts if He will. There were, too, for Our Lord, three kinds of knowledge: wisdom, infused knowledge and experiential knowledge. These, too, we expect for ourselves in heaven, as well as the preternatural gifts of integrity, impassibility and immortality of the body.

What is the grace-pattern on earth? The Indwelling Trinity – sanctifying grace – infused virtues – gifts of the Holy Spirit. No light of glory. Of course, both in heaven and on earth there is actual grace – actual grace, but of this we shall talk later, if we have time.

Chapter III.

Grace to the Angels

We might ask many questions about the angels. Did all angels have grace? Did they have these “big” graces we have mentioned? Which graces do the angels in heaven have now? This last question is perhaps most easily answered. For if they have the Beatific Vision it seems they have: The Indwelling Trinity – sanctifying grace – light of glory – charity – moral virtues – gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Did all the angels have grace before the fall? Theologians seem agreed that all had sanctifying grace (and hence the Indwelling Trinity) and the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit and actual grace, so that they could freely merit the Beatific Vision. Neither angels nor we could merit heaven by natural powers: grace is needed. For condign merit of the Beatific Vision, love and enjoyment, there must be sanctifying grace, for it is the radical principle of condign merit. It is the remote principle, but it does not do the work of merit by itself, so to speak – it has “henchmen,” the infused virtues. These are the proximate principles of condign merit. Sanctifying grace of itself gives a title to the Beatific Vision, love and enjoyment, but also gives the power to merit more of the Beatific Vision, its love and enjoyment. And God wanted the angels to merit heaven. He did not create angels in heaven, nor man. Deprived of heaven at first, creatures should desire Him and heaven. He wants us to realize what it is to be “outside” and therefore desire to be “inside.”

Could the angels sin with all this battery of grace? Yes, many did, for they were only in the “vestibule” of heaven and they were free, Their sin probably was one of pride (Tob. 4,14; Eccl. 10,15), perhaps a proud desire to be like God, or proud complacency in self, or proud rejection of grace or refusal to bow down before Our Lord – or Lady.

How would you apportion grace to the angels? To which angel would you give the most grace? “To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal” (Eph. 4,11). But to each angel it seems grace was given according to (not because of) the measure of his natural perfection. St. Thomas said: “It is reasonable to suppose that gifts of graces and perfection of beatitude were bestowed on the angels according to the degree of their natural gifts… for they differ specifically, while men differ only numerically.” Thus the highest Seraphim would get the most grace. Note well that no angel has any claim to grace by the perfection of its nature, for every grace is wholly gratuitous. Grace is above the power, merit, exigence of every created nature: No creature has any claim to it.

Scotus would not admit the necessity or existence of infused moral virtues – for man or angel. But with St. Thomas we prefer to think that there are infused moral virtues; and to angels we assign all those that do not connote a sensitive appetite.

Angels likewise receive actual graces, it seem to us, just as Christ did (with the Beatific Vision). These actual graces take the form either of divine “premotions” or of “septiform inspirations” of the Holy Spirit (proportioned to their gifts of the Holy Spirit) or of both.

Chapter IV.

Grace to Adam

Deiform Man. What graces were given to Adam in the state of original justice? The array of graces that made him supernatural man: the Indwelling Trinity – sanctifying grace – infused virtues – gifts of the Holy Spirit. What kind of man may we now call him? Sanctified, divinized, deified – but the term we like best, the one which many Fathers and St. Thomas have used, is deiform. Adam was God-like; two complementary “natures” were united, interwoven, into one deiform man. Adam was not God; he was not made ever into God. But he was made god-like, a deiform man, lifted up as it were into the realm of God. And it was sanctifying grace that gave him this deiform nature, infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that gave him his deiform powers, the Indwelling Trinity that caused and conserved all these graces in him.

We find in him also certain preternatural gifts: integrity, impassibility, immortality, infused knowledge. We call these graces, too. But while the graces mentioned above (sanctifying grace, etc.) are absolutely supernatural, since they are not due to any created nature, the preternatural gifts are relatively supernatural (supernatural relatively to human nature) since they are undue to human nature, but are due to angelic nature.

Integrated Man. The gift of integrity effected a harmonious relation between flesh and spirit in Adam, by completely subordinating his animal passions to his reason. There was no precipitous pull of passion before or against reason. This gift that put harmony and order in Adam (and Eve) gave him another likeness to God, Who is perfect Order. With such perfect order and control it is hard to understand how Adam could sin. Yet we must remember that he was free, and freedom is a tremendous power – to say NO to God.

By these preternatural gifts in Adam, he became something that we are not, even when we are baptized. He became an integrated man. Human nature is not perfect in itself, and is certainly not the perfect thing that some would have us believe. If man had been created with natural endowments alone (pure nature), there would still have been the seeds of conflict within him. For in man, God has done the seemingly impossible: He has combined “incompatibles,” matter and spirit. The body goes quickly to the things of sense; the mind goes more slowly to things of the spirit. Thus, there are roots of disorder in man’s very nature. St. Paul spoke so eloquently of this battle, this conflict in man (Rom. 7). In Adam, God did not remove the disorderly tendencies, but by the gift of integrity He put in him a principle of control.

Adam likewise had, of course, natural endowments of body, mind, and a will which was free. His nature was like ours, but probably very much better.

Original Plan. What was God’s “original” plan with regard to men? All these gifts to Adam were intended for the human race. We, too, would have been born with the whole line of supernatural gifts, as well as with the preternatural gifts. (The gift of infused knowledge is disputed – perhaps it would have been given only to Adam, who was made “adult” and as King of Creation needed it – to know and name the animals, plants, etc., etc.). We would have been in sanctifying grace, but not confirmed in it; we would have been free to sin and might have sinned. But we, too, would have been: deiform and integrated human beings.

The Fall. What intervened to disrupt God’s plan? Sin, the sin of Adam. And was it a grave sin? Yes. The consequences for Adam were loss of the supernatural gifts (except faith and hope??) and of the preternatural gifts: he became subject to concupiscence, pain, suffering and death of the body. And hell – eternal “death” of the soul – would be his lot unless God would show special mercy. For us the consequences were the same.

Many struggled with this question of original sin. One of these was Pelagius, born either in England or Ireland. He later went to Rome. As spiritual director there, he heard people complaining in discouragement that they were unable to keep from sin, through lack of grace. From his own disturbance he emerged with an amazing answer: there is nothing wrong with human nature, no such weakness in it. Man is a moral superman, strong and independent, full master of his destiny: he can do anything, avoid every sin, do any good, even gain the Beatific Vision – without grace. Adam had no grace, lost none for us; in fact he never fell. There was no fall, there is no original sin and hence no need of grace or baptism to remit this sin.

St. Augustine of Hippo struck out fiercely against this, and wrote out boldly: Nature can do nothing without grace. The controversy was on – with some monks in Africa, who felt Augustine had gone too far. St. Augustine clarified his position: nature can do nothing salutary, nothing conducive to salvation, without grace. But can human nature do all things natural to it – can it keep the whole moral law – without grace? We answer with St. Thomas and the Church: for a short time, yes; but for a long time, no.

The Fall, then, was devastating. And its extent? Is there complete darkness of mind? Complete loss of freedom? Is man a slave to his passions? Is he depraved? Is his nature corrupted? Luther and Calvin said, Yes. But the Church says, No: man is only deprived – of superadded gifts. The Fall wrought great harm: man lost those supernatural and preternatural gifts, but not free will. Without grace man can still know God and other speculative and moral truths, and can do naturally good acts. But he cannot keep the whole natural law, without grace, for a long time. He is not corrupted or depraved; he is deprived of supernatural and preternatural gifts.

God has not made man too strong in himself. As if perhaps to say: “I made angels strong, and many of them did not need Me. I will make man to lean on Me.” So it is God’s part to give grace, and man’s to pray for it and use it. Prayer is man’s expression of his need, salutary prayer; grace is God’s answer to man’s need expressed in salutary prayer.

Orginal Sin. Man in the state of original sin lacks sanctifying grace, and this is not mere absence; it is a privation. Something is not there in the soul which should be there. Moreover, there is the habitual inordinate tendency of the sense appetite, the proneness to inordinate appetition that we call concupiscence.

If God had washed His hands of man, so to speak, and left him alone, what would have happened to him? All those dying as infants would have gone to Limbo, it seems. All adults would have gone to hell, since without grace they could not long keep the entire natural law, could not long keep out of mortal sin. So if they lived long enough they would sin, die in sin and go to hell. Would there be anything contrary to justice in this? No. God could have left man thus; but we say He would not, and He did not.

The Promise. God promised man a Redeemer. This was a serious, operative promise – that would be infallibly fulfilled. And something happened immediately. Grace flowed again into the world as soon as God made that Promise – in virtue of the foreseen merits of the Redeemer. “I will put enmity between thee and the Woman, between her seed and your seed:” these were not empty words. God acted. Instantly a whole new providence, so to speak, comes into play.

God’s providence is amazing, infallible, inscrutable, reaching from end to end mightily, ordering all things smoothly. Now grace was given to Adam in view of the merits of Christ. Adam is no longer King and Center, and Eve is no longer Queen. Christ is the King of the New Order; Our Lady replaces Eve as its Queen.

Is the “second providence” greater that the first? It seems so. The Church in her liturgy sings, “O felix culpa.” Man is now centered in someone else than Adam: in Christ, the God-Man, King of angels and men. All creation is turned to this new Center. Angels apparently had the first and greatest place. Yet it seems that God loved man more than the angels. When man sinned, God sent God in the form of man so that what man had undone, Man would restore. And Our Lady? She is Woman. Again and again the bond between the New Testament and the Old seems reiterated when Our Lord speaks to Our Lady as Mulier, “Woman”, with no further qualification. “Woman, what is that to Me and to thee?” “Woman, behold thy son.” We feel carried back to the promise in the Garden, “I will put enmity between thee and the Woman.” Who else was the Woman of the Garden – but Our Lady, the Second Eve?

Who received the first grace after the Fall? Adam, it seems to us, then Eve. This first grace might well have been an actual grace of repentance. Did this grace flow, so to speak, from precisely the same source as before? No; before Adam sinned he had the grace of God; after he sinned he had the grace of Christ, that is, grace dependent on the merits of Christ, the Redeemer, Who would surely come and redeem.

Chapter V.

Grace in the Old Testament

Justification in the Old Testament. Justification may be described simply as the acquisition of sanctifying grace (or of infused justice). If a man is in the state of sin (original or mortal) justification will mean for him a transition from the state of sin and injustice to the state of sanctifying grace and justice. Justification is all-important for salvation, for only the just – those in sanctifying grace – at the moment of death will be saved and reach the love and enjoyment of the Beatific Vision.

Could men be justified in the Old Testament after the fall of Adam? Yes. From the moment God promised a Redeemer, the grace of Christ began to flow out, so to speak, in view of His future merits and by its help men could achieve justification. This meant concretely that there was a remedy for original sin, open to all men, whereby they could gain remission of original sin, infusion of sanctifying grace and the right to the Beatific Vision, its love and enjoyment.

This remedy, according to many theologians, took two forms, that of “sacrament” and that of an interior act – or perfect love or contrition. The Old Law “sacraments,” however, were not the cause of sanctifying grace, as ours are, but only conditions. Still, sanctifying grace did come to men when they received these “sacraments.”

1. Infants

“Sacrament of Nature.” How could infants be justified before the institution of the sacrament of baptism? They would be born in original sin, they would need sanctifying grace. How would they get it? Who will do what to get it for them, since they can do nothing for themselves? They could get sanctifying grace, according to theologians, through a so-called “sacrament of nature,” and “remedy of nature” (not a cause but a condition – occasion of sanctifying grace). What was this “sacrament of nature?” Probably a sensible sign, an exterior rite by which parents (or others) manifested their desire of salvation for the infants and their faith in the Redeemer to come. Perhaps the rite consisted in an offering of the child to God, an invocation, a blessing, a purification.

Circumcision. From the time of Abraham there was another remedy for original sin, the “sacrament of circumcision,” applicable to Jewish boys (and men). For all other infants the remedy continued to be the “sacrament of nature,” until the New Law of Baptism was sufficiently promulgated.

The Illumination Theory. Is usually applied only to infants of the New Testament, but perhaps it could also be applied to infants of the Old Testament. Whether this theory has any validity, we shall try to indicate later, when we consider infants in the New Testament.

2. Adults

“Sacraments.” How would adults be able to achieve justification in the Old Testament? By way of the Jewish “sacrament” it seems, or by an act of perfect contrition or love.

That there were “sacraments” in the Old Testament, different from those in the New Testament is clear from the Councils of Florence and Trent. As such “sacraments” among the Jews, many theologians cite “circumcision,” the “paschal lamb,” “ablutions and ablations,” “rites for consecrating priests and levites.” A few theologians say “the sacraments of the Old Law possessed a moral causality, and Circumcision at least conferred grace ex opera operato passive (cf. The Thomist, July, 1955, p. 355).” But more generally they hold that these “sacraments” did not cause sanctifying grace ex opera operato as ours do, but only an external, legal sanctity; however, on the occasion of their reception, the faith and piety of the recipients obtained for them sanctifying grace.

Act of Perfect Contrition. Most adults were not Jews. How could they (and Jews – in certain cases) be justified? The way to salvation for them was substantially the same, it seems, as that outlined by the Council of Trent. To be justified, to receive sanctifying grace, they had to prepare themselves – with the help of actual grace – by salutary acts of faith, hope, fear, love, contrition. If they prepared themselves properly, they would be given sanctifying grace, the infused virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Indwelling Trinity.

If they then elicited condignly meritorious acts of these virtues, they would increase in habitual grace. And if they prayed humbly, confidently, perseveringly they would infallibly impetrate the grace of final perseverance – and die in the state of grace; then they would go to the Limbo of the Fathers, to wait until the Redeemer would release them and take them with Him into heaven.

No natural act, then, would bring them to sanctifying grace – would dispose them for it; no natural act of prayer or faith or contrition. Only a salutary act – one flowing out of actual grace – would remotely or proximately dispose them for sanctifying grace.

And among the salutary acts required for an adult’s justification, one stands out; the act of perfect contrition (or love). For this act is the proximate disposition for justification: as soon as this act is elicited God infuses sanctifying grace into the soul. It is a most powerful act for it brings (but not as a sacrament does) sanctifying grace.

An act of perfect contrition involves an act of perfect love: of love of God above all things, for what He is in Himself: “I want God above all things,” “I love God above all things.” Even the angels’ test was fundamentally this: “Do you love me above all things?” An act of perfect love really must go out to God as above all things, or it does not go to Him as He is in Himself: for He is above all things. Such an act must flow from actual grace and must presuppose salutary faith: assent to revealed truth on the authority of God Who reveals it. For such faith, natural reason and natural revelation – that take us only to God as reflected in nature – are not enough. There must be actual grace and supernatural assent to at least two supernaturally revealed truths: one must believe “that God exists and is a rewarder to those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11,6).

Could adults in the Old Testament elicit such an act of perfect love or contrition? Yes. But would they not need actual grace for this? Yes. And God would give them actual grace sufficient for them to pray – to believe – to be perfectly contrite – if they cooperated properly. What would be the first actual grace God gave them? We do not know; for every one it may have been a different grace. But many think it was an actual grace to pray, perhaps to say: “God, I need You.” For the grace of prayer seems to be the grace most commonly given to each one. For us in the New Testament, who are in sanctifying grace, it is ready and waiting all the time. If we need help in temptation, regularly, it seems, we first get the grace to pray.

Actual Grace. We might well pause here and ask; What is actual grace? We know it is necessary for a salutary act (one that positively conduces to salvation), and that a salutary act of perfect contrition (or love) brings sanctifying grace.

Where is actual grace? It is in the faculties – in the mind and will; sanctifying grace is in the essence of the soul. Actual grace can come from God in different ways. It can come directly into the mind, in spite of complicated thought processes. It is not dependent on them. The mind can be occupied with many things; then “out of the blue” may come a holy thought which has no connection with the matter agitating you at present. God is acting most directly, right here and now, divorcing Himself from the normal psychological procedure. However, most actual graces seem to come in very quietly, as part and parcel of the picture. The supra-discursive, supra-deliberative actual graces, the interior actual graces that are entirely disconnected from preceding external graces, these are rather more unusual. The “supra” types go with very special activity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They relieve one of the task of reasoning and deliberating: the Holy Spirit leads and directs; in fact, you do not bother to reason (or cannot) for fear that you will spoil it. But this is the “easy way;” normally one gets to this easy way only by traveling the hard way a long time.

Actual graces regularly seem to involve a salutary thought of and desire (aversion) for something; a thought of praising, thanking, loving, obeying God or Christ or parents, superious; a thought of being sorry for sin and amending, etc. Suppose you wanted to produce an act of contrition in someone: you would first try to put into him the thought of being sorry, then try to move him to desire to be sorry. An act of contrition could then follow, but it might not. For he is quite free to assent or dissent to the “pressure” you are putting on him to be sorry. In much the same way God can give us the (supernatural) thought and desire of an act of contrition: and these would be actual graces of the mind and will. But man stays free to assent or dissent to the “push or pull” of God’s actual grace.

There is no such thing (ordinarily) as grace that “compels” or forces us. But there is such a thing as efficacious grace, but it does not force or necessitate the will to consent to it. God gives sufficient motion and power to the mind and will to place this act: if the will freely consents, the act is placed by the grace-moved will, and the grace is called efficacious (from eternity God foresaw this grace, if given, would effect this act). If, however, the will dissents, the act that could have been elicited is not elicited, and the grace is called merely sufficient. It is a matter of dogma that grace leaves one free: one can dissent to it, resist it. This was defined against the Reformers and Jansenius who said that efficacious grace necessitated the will to consent to it. Jansenius distinguished between two delights, the celestial and the terrestrial. The celestial pull (of grace) and the terrestrial pull (of concupiscence) are such that man will inevitably go according to whichever has the greater attractive power, greater intensity: and he will go thus by a necessitating traction. Besides being condemned and wrong dogmatically, Jansenius is even wrong psychologically. He said that man necessarily acts according to the strongest pull, the greater delight. But experience often show the contrary. With the gift of integrity gone, material sense pulls and delights are at times very strong: yet often grace wins out with its tiny spiritual pull. We must remember this in dealing with souls.

Essentially or partially (according to many theologians) actual grace is a supernatural motion or promotion of the mind and will to a certain salutary act. God takes the initiative physically. If I say “yes,” God “moves along with me” and I (my grace-moved will) produce the act under God, so that the act proceeds from God and from me moving under God. God starts the process in my mind and will. I assent. God and I produce the act. The salutary value of it is due to God: He is acting with an eye to the Beatific Vision.

God is the God of the present, and He uses things which move me now. Often His starting point is a prayer, but not always. Sometimes it is love of mother, sickness, death, or any apparently fortuitous event. God works in many ways. He appeals to people in different ways and to the same person in different ways at different periods of life. We outgrow certain things. So He calls, draws us in another way.

External Actual Graces. Actual grace can be internal or external (to one’s mind or will). External grace alone is not enough for salvation; there must be rectitude in the will (transiently and/or permanently) and for this internal grace is necessary. But God normally seems to use external graces as occasions for giving the much more important internal (salutary) graces. Of course, He can give such internal graces independently of external graces, but He usually seems to use external graces to “prepare” the way for internal graces. Hence external graces can be very important as “leads” to internal (salutary) graces.

What are some of the external graces of the New Testament? We may divide them into persons, places, things. The greatest external grace is, of course, Our Lord – His life, His example, His Cross, His Book (the New Testament); Our Lady, parents, priests, teachers, friends – all can be an external grace. How can I be a potential external grace? By being what I am meant to be, and doing what I am supposed to do. Among places, some churches stand out, for God seems very near to us in them and very active. Home, retreat houses, shrines can be strong external graces. Among things, the Mass looms very large, and sacraments, and the Rosary, and often Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is a very powerful external grace for non-Catholics, exerting a very “tangible” pull on them.

External graces in the Old Testament would be similar to ours: persons, places, things that would help stir up in adults good thoughts and desires, help dispose them for the reception of their “sacraments” or for a salutary act of perfect contrition. Such persons might have been prophets, parents, children, friends. Places might have been temples, shrines; things might have been sickness, pain, suffering. Over and over, it seems, God has tied some of His greatest graces to such things: some of His finest interior illuminations and inspirations. Often He plays the contrasts – light following on desolation. He breaks man’s pride by sorrow, suffering; loss; then He works in him and pours grace that points to the salutary act and gives the power to place that act.

Summary. For Old Testament adults generally the way to sanctifying grace was an act of perfect contrition or love. For Jewish adults certain “sacraments” were also available. For Old Testament infants generally the way to sanctifying grace was the so-called “sacrament of nature,” an outward sign serving as a condition or occasion for internal grace. For Jewish boys there was the “sacrament of circumcision.”

Chapter VI.

Grace to Christ

Grace to Human Nature of Christ. In the divine nature of Christ there was, of course, no grace, no place for grace, no need for grace, no possibility of grace. Grace is a super-added gift, and there is nothing addable to the divine nature. Grace is a supernatural gift of God to a creature; only in a rational creature is there grace.

Could grace be given to, was it given to Christ in His human nature? Could His perfect human nature be made more perfect? Even when it was substantially united to the divine nature in the Person of the Word? Yes, for the humanity of Christ is not “physically altered by the divinity to which it is personally united.” “Each nature keeps what is proper to it.”

Christ is a true man, in the perfect sense of the word, and the divine nature adds nothing to the human nature. Rather, the divine Person of the Word terminates the human nature. But, “although the hypostatic union thus raised that human nature to an ineffable dignity and confers upon it a substantial sanctity which is rightly said to be infinite… yet it brings about no physical change in the human nature assumed; it does not make it a partaker in the divine life, unless there are infused into the human soul those finite habits, sanctifying grace with the supernatural virtues, which are the principles of supernatural operation.”

Sanctifying grace, then, was not superfluous for Christ: it had many functions to perform in His human nature. It made it supremely deiform; it gave it a principle of condign merit, whereby He could condignly merit for us all graces and glory; it gave it the proportionate disposition for the Beatific Vision.

Hence from the very first instant of its existence the soul of Christ was endowed with the supreme plenitude of sanctifying grace, of the infused virtues (except faith and hope, repentance, temperance) and of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: it was thus supremely deiform, capable of the most perfectly meritorious deiform acts day in day out. And from the very first instant the soul of Christ also had the light of glory (proportioned to its sanctifying grace) and thus always enjoyed the Beatific Vision in the highest degree.

Besides these infused habits, Christ was given all the actual graces and special inspirations of the Holy Spirit needed for the perfect operation of His deiform organism, and to make it perfectly responsive to the Holy Spirit and an “apt instrument upon which God played that symphony of celestial melody and harmony which is the life on earth of the Word Incarnate.”

Though He could not merit any increase of sanctifying grace and glory for Himself, He could and did throughout His life on earth merit for us, so that all graces given to the children of Adam (and to Adam himself after the fall) came from the merits of the life, passion and death of Jesus Christ, and are “”marked with the sign of the Cross.” So that He might suffer and die for us, He was not given the preternatural gifts of impassibility and immortality.

But while sanctifying grace made Christ’s soul deiform, and beautified it as it does ours (though to a much higher degree), “it was largely for man’s sake that He accepted this grace.” Why? If He would be the source and lord and model of sanctifying grace, it was fitting that He Himself possess this very grace. By possessing it on earth He showed us how a soul in the state of grace should live.

Christ, then, is the Model of grace-living, the Model of deiformity. And we may judge the deiformity in us, the God-likeness, by the gifts of the Holy Spirit in action. Supreme docility to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit will give the greatest deiformity: The greatest likeness to God. The more like to Christ we become, the more deiform we become, the more we love God, the more we walk God’s way. “I am the Way,” the way to God, the way that will make you more and more like God. Docility to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is the measure for me: more and more I will come to purge myself of selfishness, of the things that hold me back, of my own will and my own way. More and more I will become like to Christ, like to God.

Distribution of Grace. It is clear that Christ in His humanity merited all grace for men. Does He also distribute grace to them? In the distribution of grace in the Old Testament, since His humanity did not then exist, it seems that it played no part. But now “He selects, He determines, He distributes every single grace to every single person, ‘according to the measure of Christ’” (Mystici Corporis, n. 51.)

How can the humanity of Christ, His soul, concur in the production of grace? Not as a physical principal cause, but as an instrumental cause (moral or physical) of a unique type: as an instrument conjoined to divinity – hypostatically united to the Word.

Chapter VII.

Justification in the New Testament


In the Old Testament justification came to infants by way of the “sacrament of nature” or the “sacrament of circumcision.” But with the promulgation of the gospel of Christ, these two “sacraments” were replaced by the sacrament of baptism, a sacrament that is not merely an occasion or condition of justification but its instrumental cause. In how many ways, then, can infants be justified now? Abstractly, there might seem to be three possibilities: baptism of water, of blood, of desire.

Baptism of Water. This is the ordinary way for the justification of infants. Is it the only way (apart from martyrdom or baptism of blood)? Theologians commonly say, Yes, and add that this is theologically certain. Their arguments are very strong. They cite: 1) the Council of Florence: “they cannot be helped by any remedy but the sacrament of baptism;” 2) the Roman Catechism: “infants have no other manner of reaching salvation, if baptism is not administered to them” (p. II c. II. N. 34); 3) the Council of Cologne: “adults who are prevented from actually receiving baptism can be saved by the desire of it. But infants… since they are incapable of this desire, are excluded from heavenly kingdom, if they die without being reborn through baptism” (Coll. Lac. V, 320); 4) Pope Pius XII: “an act of love can suffice for an adult to acquire sanctifying grace and supply for the lack of baptism; to the unborn or newly born infant this way is not open” (AAS: XLIII (1951) p. 84). These arguments, in their cumulative force seem inescapable.

Limbo. What happens to infants who die unbaptized – in original sin – without sanctifying grace? They undergo the pain of loss of the Beatific Vision for all eternity. Where do they go? We usually say: to Limbo. Where is that? We actually do not know; but as the conciliar documents say: “in infernum” (DB 464, 693) we may perhaps call it the “ante-chamber of heaven.”

Do they also undergo a pain of sense, besides the pain of loss? St. Augustine seems to subject to a mild pain of sense. But his real mind on this point is not clear. Moreover he was battling against a Pelagian error in this field. However, his supposed “rigorism” influenced others for a long time, and produced some followers called “torturers of infants.” Some other theologians, among them Bellarmine, while not assigning to these infants a strict pain of sense (i.e. of fire), do ascribe to them a “sadness” over the loss of the Beatific Vision.

But most theologians hold, with St. Thomas, that these infants undergo simply the pain of loss, without pain of sense or sadness. Why no sadness over their loss? Because they will not know of it. St. Thomas says in one text (De Malo q5a3). Because their knowledge of it will not make them sad; in another text (2d33q2a2), since their perfectly ordered minds will “see things God’s way.”

Some have indulged in various speculations about the Limboites, e.g., that they may now and then “visit heaven” or that Heavenites may visit Limbo, or that there may be “fusion days” on earth where Limboites and Heavenites may meet and mingle (the Beatific Vision would be no problem, for the Heavenites take it with them wherever they go – Our Lord had it on earth). How old will the Limboites be? Will they mature? Perhaps to an “ideal” age. But all this is conjecture.

The Church neither affirms nor condemns such speculations; it simply makes no declaration. The common opinion of theologians today is that infants dying without sanctifying grace will have the highest natural happiness.

Baptism of Blood. Martyrdom or baptism of blood, as instanced by the Holy Innocents, is an extraordinary way to salvation for infants. Some few theologians have tried to extend this way to all (or many other) infants. Schell tried to make their death a real imitation of the death of Christ and a quasi-martyrdom by which original sin would be deleted. But this theory was condemned by the Congregation of the Index in 1898. More recently Dom Bruno Webb varied this view by having Mother Church exercise her own faith and charity at the moment of their death in the souls of infants who die unbaptized, operating through the quasi-sacrament of death – by virtue of the sacrament of baptism. But he offers no real evidence.

Baptism of Desire. Some theologians do not believe it is theologically certain as yet that infants who die without the sacrament of baptism (or martyrdom) are automatically excluded from the Beatific Vision in perpetuity. They have looked to some form of “baptism of desire” as a way of saving infants who die without sacramental baptism. Thus a) some have proposed the illumination theory, according to which dying children receive a sudden illumination, which enables them to receive baptism of desire by making an act of perfect love (Klee, Fangauer); b) others placed the desire of baptism not in the infants themselves but in the parents, the mother or father; c) others placed this desire on behalf of the infant in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ so that thus – the Church desires salvation for them, and the Church is very powerful.

The illumination theory is beset with difficulties. There is no convincing scriptural or patristic evidence for it. And it would seem, practically speaking, to do away with the existence of Limbo or at least with the occupants of Limbo (if it is applied to all infants). For every infant, sufficiently illuminated by grace would have to make a free choice: if it said Yes to the grace given, it would go to heaven; if it said No, it would go to hell. Then what is Limbo? While its existence is not a matter of faith, like that of heaven, hell and purgatory, still it seems to be theologically certain, according to most theologians. But if nobody went to it, it would be a place (or state) without occupants.

What if the desire is ascribed to the parents? The Dominican, Cajetan, espoused this view, but Pope St. Pius V had the passage expunged from Cajetan’s works. In 1947, a Dominican professor of theology defended the tenability of Cajetan’s position. But if this theory had any real validity, the Church would tell parents to desire salvation for unborn infants who die without baptism: but she does not.

Is there a saving desire on the part of the Church? If the Church had such power, she would certainly know it and put it to use. But there is no sign in her prayers or consciousness that it is her role to obtain the salvation of unbaptized infants through the “votum ecclesiae.”

The following judgment by a modern theologian summarizes this critical question. “We are in the presence of a common theological teaching and a conviction which runs through a number of documents of the Church contrary to the new positions,” suggesting the possibility of baptism in voto for infants. “This evidence of a common teaching of theologians and of a sensus Ecclesiae blocks the way to the various solutions seeking salvation for the infants dying without baptism. Nor does the recent wave of literature change the situation. Analysis of this literature reveals clearly that we are not in the presence of a new theological movement, properly so called.” On the other hand further clarification and certainly more definitive declaration are still open. “As matters stand now, the question is not definitively closed. We are in the presence of a theological tradition whose critical evaluation may well call for more delicately nuanced positions; and of a gensus Ecclesiae whose dogmatic force can be determined ultimately only by a dogmatic decision of the magisterium.” (Gregorianum, 1954, p. 406-473; Theology Digest, Winter, 1955, p. 3-9).


Infidels make up the majority of mankind. All can be saved; to be saved they must die in sanctifying grace. Therefore all can get sanctifying grace. But how? They must do something, since they are adults: they must dispose themselves for justification, for sanctifying grace. How? By salutary (grace-elevated) acts of faith and fear and repentance and love etc. God, then, must first “lean down” and give them grace, for nature alone cannot produce salutary acts.

Sequence of Actual Graces for them. Just when does God give the first actual grace to an infidel – which can gradually or quickly lead him to the “big” graces of revelation and faith (i.e. assent to this revelation in a salutary act of faith)? At the time that God judges to be opportune, which according to many theologians is the infidel’s first full use of reason, when he distinguishes between good and evil.

Just what is the first grace God gives to a particular infidel, we do not know. It could take many forms. It might be a grace to turn to God, to acknowledge Him, to express his need of God or of divine help. It could involve both an external grace and an internal grace (e.g. of prayer). But sometime, somehow every adult infidel will get this remote vocation to faith and sanctifying grace. If he cooperates properly with this, God gives him further graces and ultimately the grace that is proximately sufficient for the act of faith, i.e. the grace of revelation and the grace of faith to assent to this revelation.

What is the minimum of revealed truths that he must believe in this act of faith? This is disputed. Thomists usually hold that he must believe explicitly at least four revealed truths: that God exists and is Rewarder, the Trinity and the Incarnation. Many other theologians hold that more probably it is not absolutely necessary to believe explicitly in the Trinity and Incarnation. But if it is, God will put these revealed truths also within the infidel’s grasp.

To be justified, is it enough for the infidel to believe, to make this act of faith? No. He will be further drawn by grace to make an act of hope and fear and repentance and love – and to receive the sacrament of baptism. And by the grace of this sacrament he will be justified.

But what if he knows nothing of this sacrament, or is unable to receive it? Can he still be justified? Yes, by what is called baptism of desire, if with the help of grace he elicits the act of perfect love of God (and contrition). For in this act of love he really wills whatever God desires, and hence, implicitly desires the sacrament of baptism, (for that is what God desires), even though he is invincibly ignorant of the sacrament. If this act of love were intense and perfect enough, and he were to die immediately after making it, it seems that he would be ready for immediate entry into heaven. If, however, he lived on and later heard of the sacrament of baptism and its necessity, he would have to receive it; its reception would bring him added sanctifying grace and make it possible for him to receive other sacraments and their special graces.

Outside the Church. Where is the Church in this picture? It is a matter of dogma that outside the Church there is no salvation! How then can an infidel be saved, unless he actually becomes a member of the Roman Catholic Church, or at least explicitly desires this?

The Holy Office wrote in the so called Boston heresy case: “No one will be saved who, knowing the Church to have been divinely established by Christ, nevertheless refuses to submit to the Church or withholds obedience from the Roman Pontiff… But… that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing… This may be an implicit desire – when a person is in invincible ignorance – but it must be animated by perfect charity – and suppose… supernatural faith.” (AER Oct., 1952, 311).

Thus there are two “salvational” ways of being related to the Church: a) as actual members by baptism of water and b) by intention and longing (explicit or implicit) through baptism of desire, Without the Church, without being related to the Church, in one of these two ways, there is no salvation: this is why we say there is no salvation outside the Church. Where there is real inability to pertain to the Church in the first way (e.g. a man does not know of the church or its necessity or cannot get baptism), the second way is open to him.

In Summary, then, we may say that God gives all adult infidels sufficient grace for salvation, and if they use it properly they will be saved. Their way to justification, to sanctifying grace is as follows:

First Grace  
  Grace of Revelation  
  Grace of Faith
  Act of Faith
(Hope, Faith, …)  
  Sanctifying Grace thru the baptism: of water
: of desire

Infants have objectively sufficient means of salvation in the Church and sacraments. But it seems that not all of them get subjectively sufficient means – actual graces.


“Faithful” Sinners. We now turn to sinners, “faithful” sinners, those who had sanctifying grace and lost it, but did not lose the infused virtues of faith and hope. Other sinners are infidels.

We may divide “faithful” sinners into two classes: ordinary sinners and obstinate sinners. In the first class are those who, although in mortal sin, still fear God and hell, and dread punishment and desire to come out of their sin; but their desire is not yet an efficacious will to do so. Obstinate sinners are those who have become hardened in their sins by repeatedly and maliciously transgressing God’s laws, and now seem to have no fear of God or hell, and no desire to get out of their sins.

Does God give to all these sinners grace sufficient for conversion and salvation? Yes, for He sincerely wills every sinner to be saved. Even the obstinate? Yes, though it seems that He does not grant as much grace to these as to ordinary sinners. But the grace He gives is not always proximately sufficient for the necessary act of contrition. Especially in the case of the obstinate sinners, it seems to many theologians that the grace God gives them at first is only remotely sufficient, e.g. a grace to pray or give alms or do some good work that will lead to illumination of mind and compunction of heart. But if the sinner uses this grace it will be followed by a more proximately sufficient grace.

When do sinners receive grace? Not at every single moment but at a time and place opportune for a good work or repentance. Such a time and place are had when exterior graces are present, such as a sermon, tribulations, danger of death, the death a relative or friend, a First Communicant, example of a saint and the like.

Since the grace given to sinners is so often a grace to pray, in our dealings with them we should urge and help them to pray; and pray for them constantly. They will get more graces if they have people praying for them. Conversion can be extremely hard for them, unless someone interested in their welfare commends their needs to God.

Chaplains during the last war were often disturbed about the number of Catholic boys who did not know the act of perfect contrition, or thought it was too hard to make. For they realized that this act could mean eternal life for many boys. They wished that all our young people would be taught its power and importance, taught how to make it, taught to make it regularly, so that if they ever really needed it to regain sanctifying grace, it would do just that for them.

This act can be of vital importance to non-Catholics. For if they should fall into mortal sin after baptism, it is the only way for them to regain sanctifying grace. It would be a great act of charity, if Catholics told their Protestant and Jewish friends about this act of perfect contrition: what kind of love of God it involves, what kind of sorrow for sin it means, and how to make it.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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