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Course on Grace
Part Two - B

Grace Considered Intensively

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

Chapter XIII.

Sanctifying Grace and the Indwelling Trinity

In considering sanctifying grace we have been considering created grace. But there is another grace, greater than sanctifying grace: Gods gift of Himself to us. In heaven God will give Himself to us in the Beatific Vision, but even here below He gives Himself to the just in a very real, if mysterious way, to help them to the Beatific Vision. God, the Triune God comes to dwell in our souls and there produces a supernatural organism which "deifies" our souls and enables them to perform deiform acts.

Fact of the Indwelling. The fact that the Blessed Trinity dwells in the just is beyond question. St. Paul wrote: "Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (I Corinthians 3, 16). But not only the Holy Spirit, but also the Father and Son dwell there, for "If anyone 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 14, 23).

All theologians agree that this Indwelling is common to the three Persons. And most of them hold that it is specially attributed to the Holy Spirit only by appropriation. This seems to be also the mind of Pope Leo XIII: “This wonderful union, which is properly called ‘in-dwelling,’ differing only in degree or state from that which binds the blessed to God in eternal happiness, although it is without doubt produced by the presence of the whole Trinity … is attributed in a peculiar manner to the Holy Spirit."

Explanation of the Indwelling. That the Indwelling is a special presence or special mode of presence is beyond question. For God is present everywhere and in everyone, even in sinners and infidels by His "ordinary” presence of immensity. But the Blessed Trinity dwells only in the just, not in sinners or infidels. How can God who is already present in every soul, become "newly," specially present in a soul that receives sanctifying grace? An explanation that satisfies all theologians has not yet been found.

Pope Pius XII touched on the matter in his encyclical on the Mystical Body: "The Divine Persons are said to indwell inasmuch as they are present to beings endowed with intelligence in a way that lies beyond human comprehension, and in a unique and very intimate manner, which transcends all created nature, these creatures enter into relationship with Them through knowledge and love." (n. 79: or: 94). He seems to say that the Indwelling involves two elements: 1. a unique presence of the Trinity to intelligent beings; 2. a unique knowledge and love of the Trinity by these intelligent beings.

Theologians have given many answers to this problem, which may be reduced to three. God is said to become newly present to the just because He produces in them something utterly new (specifically, essentially now). Or He becomes newly present to the just as the object of an utterly new knowledge and love. Or combining these two, God becomes newly present because He produces something utterly new and thereby becomes the object of an utterly now knowledge and love.

Present as Agent. How does God first "become present" to me? By producing me. This is the "old presence" of God, by way of operation, the presence of immensity. Does Cod become "newly present” when Ho produces new trees? No. Or when He produces something supernatural, like actual grace? No. These are just different effects of His presence of immensity, but not "specifically" or "essentially" different. So even when God produces actual grace in sinners and infidels, He does not dwell in them, He does not become present to them in a new way that is essentially other than that of immensity.

But when God makes sanctifying grace, He makes something utterly, "essentially" new and different, a deiform nature that is so entirely new and different, so very like the divine nature of the Trinity that God becomes newly present to the soul -- that the Trinity dwells in the soul. What is more, the words that Holy Writ uses to describe the production of a just man are: "born again of God" and "regenerated." Is this a hint that God's production of sanctifying grace involves a "special causality" (a special efficient-exemplary causality), a higher than ordinary operation and effect, an operation of "generation" that is remotely like the uncreated operation of generation within God; such that as by natural divine generation we have the one natural Son of God, so by this supernatural divine regeneration we have many adopted sons of God?

Present as Object. Many theologians find the first answer very unsatisfactory. For they believe that God's production of sanctifying grace does not and cannot involve any "essentially different" causality or operation, any essentially different kind of presence, but only a higher presence of immensity. If one views God merely as Agent, as producing an effect, the only presence involved will be that of immensity, never that of Indwelling, no matter how "great" the effect produced may be.

For them, God becomes newly present when He becomes the object of a "new," a "very special" knowledge and love on the part of the just, when He becomes the object of quasi-experimental knowledge and love. For this new presence of God, it is. not required that the just actually know and love Him experimentally; it suffices that they be capable of such experimental knowledge and love by the possession of the gifts of wisdom and love, as is true in the case of infants.

A number of theologians, such as Cajetan, John of St. Thomas, Cardeil, Garriou-Lagrange, Ciappi subscribe to this view. They say it was the doctrine of St. Thomas, at least in his later years (in the Summa Theologica) if not in his earlier year’s writings, like the Commentary on the Sentences.

However many proponents of the first view consider this very unsatisfactory. According to them, intentional presence alone cannot be the adequate formal reason for the indwelling.

An illustration may help to clarify this "intentional" presence on which the second view builds. Suppose a child has been born blind and never met her father, who is away at war, The father can "become present" to the child in varying ways and degrees. First, the mother tells the child about her father and describes him to her: he then becomes present to the child as an object of faith. Secondly, the father eventually comes home and the child hears his voice, touches him, feels the contours of his face: he is now present to her as an object of experience, coming into her mind through her senses. Finally, if her sight were to be restored either by surgery or by miracle, he would then become present to her as an object of vision, Similarly, in a sinner God can be present as object of faith (through infused faith), in a mystic as object of experimental knowledge and love (through infused wisdom and charity) and in the blessed as object of vision (through infused light of glory). When a soul is given sanctifying graces it is given the capacity for "experiencing" God, and God is then present to it in the new way of indwelling, i.e., as object of experimental knowledge. God was not present to the soul before as object of experimental knowledge (only as object of natural or faith-knowledge); as object of experimental knowledge He is newly present (by a presence essentially, specifically different from that of immensity). And He is waiting, so to speak, for the time when the soul will actually use its powers of experimental knowledge and love and actually ''experience” God. He is newly present to the baptized baby and waiting to be experienced; in the mystic He is being experienced (not seen); in the blessed He is being seen face to face, in the most intimate presence possible,

Present as Agent and Object. Some theologians think that neither of the preceding views, taken separately, adequately explains the Indwelling or adequately presents the mind of St. Thomas. So they combine both, somewhat in the way we have hinted, or by resorting to the theory of "created actuation by Uncreated Act." God’s new presence as object must presuppose, they say, His new presence as agent. His production of sanctifying grace makes Him newly present ontologically; the mystic's experimental knowledge and love of God makes Him newly present intentionally. And both the ontological and the intentional elements are necessary for an adequate explanation of the Indwelling.

Which of these three "explanations" is the best? It is hard to say. Each has its attractive features -- and its unresolved difficulties. To us the third view seems the best, but in this matter we are still free to follow any one of the views mentioned (or variants of these views).

Response to the Indwelling. If out of a very special love for us the Blessed Trinity dwells within us, there should be some - regular - response to the God dwelling within. A response of adoration, love, thanks. Yet few of Catholics seem even to think about the Indwelling Trinity, much less do anything about it.

St. Paul told the Corinthians, "Know you not that you are temples of the Holy Spirit?" He implied there should be some use made, some care taken of such a temple. It is a temple made by God for a purpose: a place for a man to meet his God, to go to His God -- to beg His light and strength -- to adore and love and thank Him, as the Indwelling Trinity.

Inhabitational and Eucharistic Presence. A clear-cut distinction between the Inhabitional Presence of the Blessed Trinity and the Eucharistic Presence of Our Lord is important to avoid a confusion that sometimes occurs. In the Indwelling the three divine Persons are present in the soul, but the Second Person is present only in His divinity, not with His nature. In the Eucharistic Presence it is Jesus Who is present, with His humanity and divinity hypostatically united in the Person of the Word. Since the Blessed Trinity dwells within our soul and our soul informs our entire living body, the Trinity penetrates our whole being and each part. The Eucharistic Presence is localized, however, by the accidents of the bread and wine, so that Christ is present sacramentally wherever these accidents are and as long as they exist uncorrupted: The Inhabitational Presence is as permanent as sanctifying grace, but the Eucharistic Presence of Christ disappears with the accidents of the bread and wine. There is a close relation between the two Presences. For the Inhabitational Presence cannot be obtained without at least an (implicit) desire to receive the Body of Christ, and grace is not given except by the mediation of Christ. On the other hand the Eucharistic Christ by bestowing grace helps us achieve greater deiformity and greater union with the Indwelling Trinity.

The Eucharist contains truly, really and substantially the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, with His Soul and Divinity. Since His Divinity is identically the same as that of the Father and the Holy Spirit, wherever He is the other two Persons must also be. In fact, each of the Divine Persons "inexists" in the others. This mutual inexistence of the Divine Persons is cell "Circumincession" or "Perichoresis." In virtue of this circumincession the Son does not "come" alone into the soul in Communion, He comes with the Father and the Holy Spirit. No doubt, the Three Divine Persons are already in us by grace, but at the moment of Communion They are present within us because of another, a special title: as we are then physically united to the Incarnate Word, the Three Divine Persons also are, through Him and by Him, united to us, and They love us now as They love the Word-Made-Flesh, Whose members we are. So that Holy Communion is an anticipation of heaven.

Chapter XIV.

Sanctifying Grace and the Mystical Body

The Roman Catholic Church that Christ founded, the Church Militant on earth, is the Mystical Body of Christ. In the words of Pius XIII, "Only those are to be included as actually members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed. Not every sin, however it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy."

To become an actual member one must be baptized and thereby receive (ordinarily) sanctifying grace, the principle of deiform life. An actual member in sanctifying grace will thus be a living member. But there can be in the Mystical Body "dead" members: Catholics who by mortal sin lose sanctifying grace and the Indwelling Spirit. They still retain ordinarily the virtues of faith and hope; the baptismal character still marks them as persons configured to Christ and dedicated to His service. And this remnant of divine life and of union, though it leaves sinners weak members of Christ, enables them to remain in the Mystical Body. Schism, heresy, apostasy, excommunication, however, sever a man from the Body of the Church.

Mystic Union. What kind of union is there between us and Christ? How are we "one” with Christ and with one another? How can you make “one thing" out of many members in many places and with their Head in heaven? This unity cannot just be due to sanctifying grace, for each living member has his own numerical sanctifying grace; not just to the baptismal character, for once again each has his own character. However, there is one vital principle, numerically the same in each living member of the Body: the Holy Spirit, Christ's own Spirit of holiness dwelling in Him and in sanctified souls. There is identically the same Holy Spirit in Christ, in you and in every living member of the Mystical Body. Since the Holy Spirit links Christ and ourselves, our mystic union is sacred and supernatural.

We together with Christ our Head make up the Mystical Christ. He, Son of God by nature, we sons of God by adoption: we and He are the family of God's children on earth, with a common bond of "sonship." As in each member of the Mystical Body the Father sees His child and another Christ, so in the living group He beholds His mystical Son, Jesus, enlivened by the Spirit of Christ and showing the likeness of Christ before all men. Within the Blessed Trinity the Holy Spirit "links" the Father and Son in one Godhead; within the Mystical Body the Holy Spirit vitally binds all the members into one divine sonship, mystical Christ. The union within this Mystical Body is spiritual, not material, supernatural, not natural, and properly "mystical,” i.e. mysterious and transcending any natural union we know.

Pope Pius XII strongly insists that the Mystical Body is the Roman Catholic Church. Those who are invincibly ignorant of the Church but have sanctifying grace (e.g. through baptism of desire), are not actually members but "by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer." This implicit desire (vetum) can bring them within the sphere of the Church's influence sufficiently to allow for the possibility of their salvation,

Some theologians, in explaining the Catholic Church's necessity for eternal salvation, employ the distinction between the "body" and the "soul" of the Church and state that it is necessary with the necessity of means to belong to the "soul," while it is necessary only with the necessity of precept to belong to the "body" of this society. But there is a definite tendency among modern writers to recognize the radical inadequacy of this terminology. Furthermore the Holy Father in his Encyclical Mystici Corporis did not employ it. This terminology has the disadvantage of leading to the inference that the internal bond of union within the Church could be regarded as requisite for salvation without any adequate reference to the outward bond or to the visible Church itself. What is by far the most acceptable presentation … is the one which describes the Church (not merely the "soul" or the "body" of the Church) as necessary for salvation with the necessity of means in such a way that no one can be saved unless he either belongs to the Church in re (as a member) or is related to her in voto, as one who intends to become a member, whether explicitly or implicitly.

Figures of the Mystical Body. Many figures have been used to express the "mystical" union between Christ and His members. The two that stand out most are St. Paul's metaphor of the "Body of Christ," and St. John's of the Vine and the Branches. Another, that vividly expresses certain aspects of the Mystical Christ, is that of a candle: "put upon a candlestick that it may shine to all." (Matthew 5, 15). The Mystical Christ is the great Candle, and each member a small one, with the obligation to shine forth Christ, the Light of the World, everywhere he goes, by using the grace and virtues and gifts of Christ to live a Christ-like life, so that Christ can thus co on living and shining out in the world.

Another powerful figure is that of an army, since the Church Militant is the Mystical Body on earth. The Mystical Body is an army on the march, battling for the salvation and sanctification of souls, against the "world, the flesh and the devil." An array led by Christ, its invisible Commander-in-Chief, by the Pope and Bishops and Priests! An army of missionaries, nuns, lay apostles, preachers, teachers, theologians, contemplatives, men, women and children: all soldiers of Christ, each fighting in his own way to spread the Kingdom of Christ. An army with a miraculous unity! Unity of aim: that all may be one! One Body! all members of the same Head! Unity of soul: all living members "vitalized" by the same Holy Spirit! Unity of life : all living the same deiform life! Unity of character: all marked with the sign of Christ! Unity in faith and obedience, unity in sacraments and the Mass, unity in doctrine, prayer and mortification.

Double Life of the Mystical Body. The life of the Mystical Body is a double life. Each Catholic is called to an individual grace-life, to a growth in interior deiformity through better and better use of his sanctifying grace, infused virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit. But he is also called to a group-life, for whose growth he must also answer to God. A group-life that the world can see: attendance at Sunday Mass, in Friday abstinence, in Lent and Advent mortification, in Ash Wednesday ceremonies, in Eucharistic Congresses; group manifestation that makes a powerful impression by radiating the Light and Life of Christ to a skeptical world. A group-life that means a growing union between members, through Christ-like love and action toward one another. A group-life of prayer: that the number of members may grow, that their perfection and union with one another may increase, that they may draw others into the Mystical Body by living out Christ's virtues, by gaining for them more graces through prayers, works, suffering, Masses and Holy Communions, "that all may be one, even as thou, Father, in me and I in thee; that they also may be one in us." (John 17, 21).

Chapter XV.

Sufficient and Efficacious Grace.

It is a dogma of the Catholic faith that there exists a truly sufficient but inefficacious grace, and also that there exists a truly efficacious grace which, however, is not necessitating.

A truly sufficient grace is sufficient for placing a salutary act. It carries with it the power of producing such an act. Jansenius denied "merely sufficient grace." He could not see how a grace could be truly sufficient and yet not be efficacious. He conceded that a grace could be absolutely sufficient for man, if it were viewed apart from his present circumstances and difficulties; but if it were viewed relative to these circumstances and remained "sterile," then it was not sufficient in his present condition. Against him we hold that there exists a grace that is truly and relatively sufficient, and yet inefficacious.

By a truly efficacious grace is meant one that will be (is) infallibly followed by the act to which it tends, e.g. contrition. If you receive such a grace, even before your will consents to it, that grace is infallibly “sure of success;” it will infallibly procure your consent, produce that act – of contrition. But although it infallibly procures your consent, it does not necessitate you to consent: it leaves you free to dissent. Your will will infallibly say "yes" to it, but it is free to say "no.” Luther, Calvin, and Jansenius denied the existence of such a non-necessitating efficacious grace: an efficacious grace, they maintained, necessitates you to consent: you cannot resist it or dissent from it.

The disagreement between the Dominicans and the Jesuits is, of course, not over Catholic dogma: both sides firmly maintain the existence of a truly sufficient inefficacious grace and of a non-necessitating efficacious grace. They differ over the best way to explain these two graces; how are we to reconcile the infallible efficacy of efficacious grace with 1. human liberty and 2. truly sufficient but inefficacious grace? The Jesuits point out to the Dominicans that their grace is “so efficacious” it seems logically incompatible with human freedom and with a truly sufficient but inefficacious grace; the Dominicans in turn point out to the Jesuits that their human freedom is “so extreme” it seems to make man determine God’s operation.

Banezian Efficacious Grace. The theory of efficacious grace held by the Dominicans was developed by the Spanish Dominican, Banes, not by St. Thomas (we maintain). This efficacious grace of Banes is a physical predetermining grace, one that physically (not morally, not suasively) premoves and predetermines our will to e.g. consent. Without such a grace we cannot “not" place a salutary act -- and indeed that one act to which it predetermines us. Such a grace is efficacious "ab intrinseco" (from its very intrinsic nature); there is something in the grace that will get this effect; and when grace has that something in it, then the will infallibly consents; but when a grace lacks it, then the will cannot give a salutary consent.

Many theologians hold (according to St. Thomas) that the will cannot go from potency to act except in virtue of a divine premotion. For the Dominicans, however this cannot be an "indifferent" premotion but must be a strictly predetermining physical promotion, a “praedeterminatio ad unum.” And precisely in this physical predetermination of the will lies the great difficulty of the Dominican theory, for to very many theologians (and not just Jesuits) it seems extremely difficult if not impossible to reconcile such a predetermination with any real human freedom.

A non-necessitating physical predetermination of my will seems like a contradiction in terms. How else would one ordinarily describe a physical necessitation of the will than by saying that it is a physical predetermination of that will to one alternative? Attempts to show that St. Thomas "fathered" this theory -- made by Garrigou-Lagrange and others before him -- have been futile (we think!). Its true "father" seems rather to be Scotus. Early Scotists held "predetermining decrees," and early Thomists opposed them with the same objections that Jesuits later urged against Banezians. And the early Scotists gave practically the same answers as their early Dominican opponents. After a while the Scotists abandoned their "predetermining decrees" and espoused instead "condetermining decrees," so that they might be better able to maintain a proper human freedom. And then, by one of those strange "twists" of history, the Dominicans "went all out" for predetermining decrees, using them even to explain Gods knowledge of futuribles.

Theologically, such physically predetermining efficacious graces seem unsatisfactory, for several reasons. Human freedom, under grace is a dogma. According to the Councils of Trent and Vatican, human freedom means that man has the power to resist grace, to answer it with dissent rather than consent. How a grace that physically predetermines my will to consent, leaves me any real power to dissent, is more than Jesuits can see. Freedom to most everyone means a duality of choice, a power to do or not to do, to do this or that, to dissent or consent: otherwise what free choice have I, what freedom is left me? If I can only do what God is physically predetermining me to do, what real freedom have I? What power to dissent? Not to do this? What real power to determine myself to this or that, if I am always utterly physically predetermined to this?

There are, it seems, only three "freedoms" that might count here: freedom of reception, freedom of exercise, and freedom of specification (what is called objective indifference or freedom will manifest itself in one of these ways). The physically predetermining grace seems to leave us none of these. Certainly no one claims for it freedom of reception, i.e. that we are free to receive it or not. For no will can "reject" such a premotion from God Who is producing it in the will so that the will can act. Hence this freedom is ruled out. However, Ballarmine inclined to give our will this "freedom of reception" -- by way of a peculiar “negative determination" of itself to this premotion; and more recently Maritain seems to have a similar view.

The freedom of exercise -- to act or not to act -- seems likewise ruled out in the Banezian system. For without such a predetermining grace they say the will is not able to act salutarily; with it, it is not able not to act salutarily, for this is the "grace of action." Also ruled out is the freedom of specification -- to choose this or that, either of two alternatives -- for this intrinsically efficacious grace physically predetermines you to this and only this (e.g. to consent) and gives you no possibility, no power for that (e.g. to dissent). You have no free choice of this or that: all you can do is this. It is futile to say that the will was free before the grace came -- free to do what, we ask? Without such grace it is not free to place any salutary act, for it has not the power to place any.

This theory of “physical predetermination" also seems to make God the author of sin. For if no "free act" can be placed without a corresponding physical predetermination, then a sinful act requires such a predetermination also, What, then, of Judas? He would have been predetermined by God to that sin, so that without that predetermination he could not have done that sin, with it he could not but do that sin. This seems hard doctrine! To escape this difficulty somewhat it has been suggested that perhaps Judas had a "predisposition" to that sin, an evil tendency to it, to which God merely gave the corresponding physical predetermination'. Is this much of a solution? Suppose we apply it to another sin: that of Adam. Certainly in Adam there was no such "predisposition" to sin, no evil tendency to it. Why, then, did God give him the physical predetermination which infallibly meant "that sin?”

Not only is it extremely difficult to reconcile Banezian efficacious grace with proper human freedom; it is also hard to square it with a truly sufficient but inefficacious grace. It is true, of course, that all defendants of this system sincerely maintain the existence of such a merely sufficient grace. But they must make it a rather "peculiar" grace, so that it will not derogate from the primacy and necessity of their efficacious grace. For if they gave it "too much power," i.e. all the power needed for the actual placing of a salutary act, then it could conceivably "become efficacious" and produce a salutary act – and then no strictly efficacious grace would be needed for every salutary action, as the system demands. Hence their "sufficient" grace cannot be (and is not for them) immediately sufficient for any salutary act, but only mediately sufficient. For of itself it gives a peculiar "power to act" which by itself cannot produce any salutary act, but which "must be complemented" by another grace, i.e. efficacious grace.

The rub in this part of the system is how to get from grace "A" which is only mediately sufficient, to grace "B", which is immediately sufficient and efficacious at the same time? Some "bridge" seems needed. The transition cannot be automatic, or else the grant of a merely sufficient grace would always mean the grant of an efficacious grace, and all those who received sufficient grace would never commit any sins, something which is definitely not the case. To say that the "bridge" to the efficacious grace is “non-resistance" to the sufficient grace, is inadequate for at least two reasons: 1. the simple fact that "one cannot but resist sufficient grace, if he is not further aided by efficacious grace (De Lemos, O.P., Panopl. grat. t.4, IV p.2tr.3)." Where only resistance to sufficient grace is possible, non-resistance cannot be a bridge to efficacious grace. 2. If God be said to deny efficacious grace to one whom He foresees resisting sufficient grace, this answer really makes no sense in the Banezian system, for in it God has no "scientia media," and hence cannot know what a free creature would do, unless He first predetermines him to do it.

Jesuit Explanation. The common Jesuit explanation takes as its starting point three solid dogmas; the existence of a non-necessitating efficacious grace, of a truly sufficient but inefficacious grace and of human freedom (under grace). And it says quickly: let us so explain merely sufficient grace that it remains truly sufficient, and so explain efficacious grace that it remains truly non-necessitating.

This means that a truly sufficient grace rust be just that: truly sufficient for placing the salutary act for which it is given. It is given not for an ornament but for a salutary act. And it must be truly sufficient by itself for the act for which it is proximately given, for that is what Holy Writ and the Fathers and the "sensus fidelium" understand by a truly sufficient grace. God gives us an actual grace that we may place a definite salutary act; if it is a truly sufficient grace (and what other kind would He give?), then it gives me the full power here and now to place that act which He wants and which without this grace I could not place. So everything must be in this grace that is needed for it to be immediately sufficient for this salutary act. If I freely consent to it, to use it, then this salutary act is produced by my grace-aided will. If I dissent to it, resist it, the salutary act toward which it was urging me does not take place. The truly sufficient grace is thus inefficacious (and so God foresaw it would be from all eternity by Scientia Media). But it was by itself truly sufficient, and it is my fault that the act did not take place: I did not want to place the act, which I should have and could have placed then and there.

An efficacious grace, to be non-necessitating must leave me my freedom to resist it, to dissent from it. It must give me the full power to place a salutary act, e.g. of contrition, and at the sane time leave me free not to place that act of contrition or to place another act. For that is what the Ecumenical Councils say such a grace must do: it must not necessitate me, it must leave me free to dissent, to resist it. But if it is to leave me free to dissent, to resist it, then it cannot predetermine me to consent, either physically (as the Banezians hold), or morally (as the Augustinians hold). It simply cannot be a predetermining grace, for such a grace seems utterly incompatible with any real freedom. It cannot be an intrinsically efficacious grace, one that by its very intrinsic nature says infallibly that this precise effect will take place now. It must be a grace that is extrinsically efficacious, so that its infallibility does not derive from the intrinsic nature of the grace but from God’s infallible prevision from eternity of my free consent to this grace. If this grace cannot be a physical predetermination of my will, what is it? For many Jesuits (not all) it is a physical premotion, not a predetermining one but an "indifferent" or rather an "impedible" one, to which God foresaw from all eternity -- by scientia media -- that I would consent, and moved by it would place the salutary act for which it would be given, e.g. contrition. It is a grace which premoves me (impedibly, not predeterminingly) to this salutary act in such a way that I freely consent to it, although I am fully and proximately able to dissent to it.

Jesuits are charged with making the human will so free that it predetermines God. They reply simply that in their theory neither does man predetermine God nor God predetermine man. But God freely premoves man to a certain act, and under this divine premotion man freely moves and determines himself to that act. Man thus neither predetermines God nor is independent of God, but simply acts in the way in which God arranged that a free creature should act freely.

The "crux" of the Jesuit explanation is said to be scientia media, God's infallible, non-predetermining knowledge of futuribles (the free acts that rational creatures would place in various circumstances). By scientia media, e.g. God foresaw from eternity that I would freely consent to this grace, without being physically predetermined by Him to do so, and hence it would be an efficacious grace for me. Dominicans consider this scientia media "impossible," "contradictory," something that simply does not explain "how" God knows futuribles. To which Jesuits often reply that it is not intended to explain "how" God knows futuribles (that is a mystery), but "how He does not know them" i.e. by means of Dominican predetermining decrees (for if He did know them that way they would not be free acts). And so the controversy continues, as it has for a long, long time.

What has the Church said about the matter? Pope Benedict XIV declared in 1748 that the Dominican, Augustinian and Jesuit theories were all tenable and that declaration remains still in force. Today the Augustinian view seems to lack defenders. But the other two theories are strongly defended, along parallel lines that will probably not meet here below.

Chapter XVI.

External Graces in the Spiritual Life

Spiritual writers often describe the activity of God as embracing all time and all things, operating without ceasing and with divine surety for the sanctification of human souls. They see all creation as unified in this divine operation and consequently regard every creature, in its way, as a predestined means to lead men to their supernatural end; in other words, as a grace of God. "The order established by God, the good pleasure of God, the will of God, the action of God – grace -- all of these are the same thing in this life. It is God laboring to make the soul like to Himself. And perfection is nothing else than the soul's faithful cooperation with this labor of God." Moreover, what may not seem immediately evident, since the power of God is infinite, it is not only the good things but also the evil which He can use to accomplish His eternal designs upon men; so that "everything succeeds in the hands of God, He turns everything into good."

Although writers on the subject seldom distinguish between internal and external graces, but consider everything in some sense as a grace of God, yet it is not difficult to trace such a distinction in their writings. Following the common terminology, graces are called external when they are outside of man's intellect and will and internal when they are immediately and specially received from God within the intellect and will. In answer to the question, What is an external grace? we are told, "Every creature which is not an internal grace of God." "The divine order gives to all things, in favor of the soul which conforms to it, a supernatural and God-given value. Whatever this order imposes, whatever it comprehends, and all objects to which it extends, become sanctity and perfection; for its virtue knows no limits, but divinizes all things which it touches." As extensive as it is, this concept of external grace is in full accord with Catholic theology. St. Augustine, for example, does not hesitate to call external graces all the effects of supernatural providence which help the human will to perform acts of virtue and those which under divine guidance, prevent men from committing sin.


An exhaustive classification of the various types of external grace would run into a score of items. But these can easily be reduced to several large divisions.

Everything Which Is Good. As a general principle, the love of God transforms into grace everything which is, good, nor does it limit this transformation only to such things as appear good to us. For divine love is present in all creatures, with the sole exception of those which are sinful and contrary to the law of God.

Temporal Afflictions and Adversities. God uses them to convert and sanctify our souls, No matter how painful, sickness and physical suffering are in reality a grace of God, always intended as such for the one suffering and sometimes used by Him for the conversion and sanctification of others. Writing on one occasion to a friend whose fields were destroyed in a storm, Caussade expressed his sympathy that "hail and the rains have done great damage in many provinces, including your own. But God intends this as a grace, that we may derive profit from all the plagues of heaven for the expiation of our sins."

Spiritual and Psychological Trials. It is generally easier to accept sickness and temporal adversity as coming from God than to recognize His gift in the negative conditions of our mind and emotions: aridity in prayer, coldness in spiritual things, anxieties, discouragements, and fears. We do not subscribe to the theory that these states of mind and feeling are a certain sign of negligence on the part of the soul. Without denying this possibility, we prefer, with St. John of the Cross, to consider them as species of divine grace. "Just as God converts, reproves, and sanctifies people living in the world through afflictions and temporal adversities, so He ordinarily converts, reproves and sanctifies persons living in religion by means of spiritual adversities and interior crosses, a thousand times more painful, such as dryness, fatigue and distaste" for the things of God.

The Actions of Others. God uses the actions of other people as graces for our sanctification. Their ordinary words, conduct, and gestures are intended as means of producing supernatural effects in our souls. This is particularly hard to see where the actions are offensive and the offender is personally not wicked, and may even be highly virtuous. Hence the exclamation. "Blessed be the God of all things for sanctifying His elect through one another … He often uses a diamond to polish another diamond. How important is this thought for our consolation, that we may never be scandalized at the petty persecutions which good men sometimes occasion against each other," In this connection, St. John of the Cross used to say that a religious is refined and sanctified in word, thought, and action by the character and manner of conduct of his fellow religious.

It is of special importance to see God operating in the persecution or perhaps criminal actions of others, He permits these things in order to draw good out of them. Thus St. Paul's inspired panegyric on the great believers of the Old Law -- Noe, Abraham, Moses, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph -- is an application of this principle, that God tries His chosen servants by sending them trial and opposition; and their sanctification is determined by the measure of faith which recognizes in these human obstacles the workings of divine grace. This was the spirit in which David accepted the cursing of Semei, as just punishment ordained by God for his spiritual welfare. With St. Augustine, therefore, we should "marvel at the way God uses even the malice of those who are wicked in order to help and elevate those who are good.”

Temptations. If considered as coming from the devil, temptations are directed only to the destruction of souls; but from the viewpoint of God’s permissive will, which never allows us to be tried beyond our strength, they are true graces. And "violent temptations" are especially "great graces for the soul." By the same token, the revolt of the passions, which is often a cause of anxiety to spiritual persons, should not be regarded as evidence of aversion from God, but, "on the contrary, as a greater grace than you can conceive.” Troubles of conscience may be estimated in the same manner.

Sins at least might seem to be excluded from the category of external graces. Evidently God does not want anyone to commit sin. And yet, "we must remember that, without willing sin, God uses it as an effective instrument to keep us in humility and self-depreciation." This thought is very much like that of St. Augustine who, when speaking of Peter's denial of his Master, explained that God permitted this humiliation to teach him not to trust in himself --thus turning a grievous fault into spiritual acquisition.


The sanctifying effect of external graces was already familiar to Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, who recognized that God exercises a special supernatural providence over souls who are living in His friendship. The contribution of modern spiritual writers is the tie-up which they make between external graces and the sacramental system; while only analogous, there is real similarity between the two. In both cases, the external element is an instrument for the communication of grace.

External graces are sanctifying in countless ways. But in general we may concentrate on the three most familiar in the spiritual life; namely, by purification, illumination, and union with God. This is not to say that only these effects take place, or that they occur in any particular sequence; and least of all does it mean that we may ignore the correlative necessity of internal grace to purify, enlighten, and unite the soul with God,

I. Purification. A great deal of spiritual literature is mainly concerned with the purifying effect of external grace, achieved through detachment from creatures and stripping of self. Repeatedly the axiom is stated that “a person cannot be united with God, source of all purity, except through detachment from everything created, source of impurity and continual corruption.” To this end “it is necessary that our souls be emptied of creatures, before God can fill them with His own Spirit.”

By means of external graces, and especially suffering, God accomplishes in us this detachment from creatures and self. There is a difference, however, in His way of acting with different persons. Those already advanced in the spiritual life, He is accustomed to “(?) of all gifts and sensible fervor,” whereas “the effect of His mercy is to deprive worldly persons of temporal goods in order to detach their heart from them.”

Time and again, writers stress the same truth: God purifies the soul by suffering and trial. But they go beyond the ordinary interpretation of the statement in Scripture that the just man is tried by afflictions as gold is tried by fire. “Crosses and tribulations,” they say, “are such great graces that generally sinners are not converted except through them, and good persons are not made perfect except by the same means.”

Following the analogy used by the saints, God is compared to a doctor who administers bitter medicine to restore health to the soul and removes with the scalpel of suffering whatever stands in the way of our spiritual progress. According to St. Augustine, "in those whom He loves, God, like a wise physician, cuts away the tumor” of overweening self-confidence. To be specially noted is that this law of purification is universal; it applies as well to worldly minded as to saintly souls; it affects temporal goods as well as spiritual attachments; and it is proportionally more intense and complete as the degree of union with Himself to which God intends to raise a soul is greater. Thus St. John of the Cross: "according to the proportion of its purity will also be the degree of enlightenment, illumination and union of the soul with God, either more or less;" and the requisite purity is obtained in the crucible of purification. We may therefore, conclude that "the more God retrenches nature, the more He bestows the supernatural."

II. Illumination. External graces also enlighten the soul to recognize the will of God in its regard. We may look upon this, manifestation of the divine will as the "spiritual direction of God," One of the surest means of sanctification is simply to use whatever God, the supreme Director of souls, places before us moment by moment, either to do or to suffer. Souls who thus abandon themselves to the will of God find evidence everywhere of what He wants them to do. They are directed "by the intermittent actions of a thousand creatures, which serve, without study, as so many graces of instruction."

Consequently, God is seen as leading us as much by the external events of our life as by the internal inspirations of His grace. He “speaks" to us as He spoke to our Fathers, to Abraham and to the chosen people, showing us His will in all the circumstances which befall us.

Addressing ourselves to God, we can say, "You speak, Lord, to the generality of men by great public events. Every revolution is as a wave from the sea of Your providence, raising storms and tempests in the minds of those who question Your mysterious action. You speak also to each individual soul by the circumstances occurring at every moment of life. Instead, however, of hearing Your voice in these events, and receiving with awe what is obscure and mysterious in these Your words, men see in them only the outward aspect, or chance, or the caprice of others, and censure everything. They would like to add, or diminish, or reform, and to allow themselves absolute liberty to commit any excess, the least of which would be a criminal and unheard-of outrage.

"They respect the Holy Scriptures, however, and will not permit the addition of a single comma. ‘It is the word of God,' they say, 'and is altogether holy and true. If we cannot understand it, it is all the more wonderful and we must give glory to God, and render justice to the depths of His wisdom.' All this is perfectly true, but when you read God's word from moment to moment, not written with ink on paper, but on your soul with suffering, and the daily actions that you have to perform, does it not merit some attention on your part? How is it that you cannot see the will of God in all this?"

Every circumstance, therefore, of our daily life is an expression of the divine will for us at that moment. And, correspondingly, every external grace is meant for our "guidance and illumination."

Commenting on this doctrine, Garrigou-Lagrange points out another function which external grace may serve as a means of our instruction. “In this way,” he says, "within us is formed that experimental knowledge of God's dealings with us, a knowledge without which we can hardly direct our course aright in spiritual things or do any lasting good to others. In the spiritual order more than anywhere else real knowledge can be acquired only by suffering and action." For example, “we foresee that a very dear friend who is sick has not long to live, yet when death does come and if our eyes are open to see, it will provide a new lesson in which God will speak to us as tine goes on. This is the school of the Holy Ghost, in which His lessons have nothing academic about them, but are drawn from concrete things. And He varies them for each soul, since what is useful for one is not always so for another."

An important element in this experimental knowledge is the experience it gives us of our weakness and imperfection in the face of trial and temptation. These occasions -- external graces of tribulation --- show us how impotent we are to do any good without the help of God, and teach us to turn to Him instead of depending on ourselves. We must be thoroughly convinced that our misery is the cause of all the weaknesses we experience, and that God permits them by His mercy. Without this realization we shall never be cured of secret presumption and self-complacent pride. We shall never understand, as we should, that all the evil in us comes from ourselves, and all the good from God. But a thousand experiences are needed before we shall acquire this two fold knowledge as an abiding habit; experiences which are more necessary the greater and more deeply rooted in the soul is this vice of self-complacency."

III. Union with God. The most important effect of external graces is the union with God which they develop in the soul, to which purity and illumination are only contributing means. We may properly regret that more people do not appreciate this power that creatures have to unite us with the Creator. "What great truths are hidden even from Christians who imagine themselves most enlightened. How many are there among us who understand that every cross, every action, every attraction according to the designs of God, gives God to us in a way that nothing can better explain than a comparison with the most august mystery? Nevertheless there is nothing more certain. Does not reason as well as faith reveal to us the real presence of divine love in all creatures, and in all the events of life, as indubitably as the words of Jesus Christ and of the Church reveal the real presence of the sacred flesh of our Savior under the Eucharistic species? Do we not know that by all creatures and by every event, the divine love desires to unite us to Himself, that He has ordained, arranged, or permitted everything about us, everything that happens to us with a view to this union? This is the ultimate object of all His designs, to attain which He makes use of the worst of His creatures as well as the best, of the most distressing events as well as those which are pleasant and agreeable."

It nay be added by way of explanation that union with God may be understood in two ways, as active and as passive. In active union, the soul gives itself to God by conformity to His will; in passive union, however, besides the active conformity of will, God Himself acts in the soul by the gifts of His interior grace. Obviously, external graces cannot of themselves produce the latter kind of union; they only dispose the soul to receive it. Yet, in the ordinary providence of God, they are the conditio-sine-qua-non for passive union with God.

This doctrine which regards external graces as disposing the soul for passive union is familiar from the writings of St. John of the Cross. God uses external events, persons, places, and circumstances to perfect a human soul in His love. This may take place in a variety of ways.

  1. External graces give us occasion to resist temptation and acquire the contrary virtues. In general, temptations are said to be the effect or permissive result of "one and the same mortifying and life-giving operation of God. On the one hand, He allows the various movements of passion to give you an opportunity for combat and development in the opposite virtues. On the other hand, He establishes in you, in the midst of these agitations, the solid foundation of perfection, namely, understanding, profound humility, and hatred of self." Thus conceived, the fight against temptations takes on a nobler meaning. Without them we should remain satisfied with a minimum of effort, with less intense acts of virtue. They spell the difference between a certain regularity in well doing and the fervor which leads to high sanctity.

  2. These trials not only help us acquire solid virtue, but they prepare us for union with God, that "you may love God for Himself at the cost of yourself." We are also given occasion to prove our love, as declared by St. Francis de Sales, that "it is not in abnegation, nor in action, but in suffering that we give the best evidence of our love … To love suffering and affliction for the love of God is the high-point of heroic charity; for then nothing else is lovable except the divine will."
  3. Finally, external graces assist our growth in sanctity and render us more apt for union with God by increasing the store of supernatural merit. Divorced from the spirit of faith, the routine details of domestic and religious life seem to be quite meaningless. In reality "these ‘trifling' daily virtues, faithfully practiced, will bring you a rich treasure of graces and merits for eternity."

More heavy trials can be more meritorious. This does not mean that the degree of merit corresponds to the difficulty of the work performed, which is false. But in supporting burdens that are more difficult, we generally give a greater proof of virtue than when doing actions which are more agreeable. Difficult tasks not infrequently demand the outpouring of all the generosity of which a soul is capable.*

* Direct quotations in this chapter are drawn from L’Abandon a la Providence Divine of Père Caussade, who has been properly described as “the classic teacher of resignation to the will of God.”

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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