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History and Theology of Grace

Chapter IV

Sanctifying Grace

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

The nature of grace cuts so deeply into the Christian religion that a proper understanding of what revelation means by this gift of divine love practically identifies the Catholic faith as distinct from all other forms of Christianity, whether as historical phenomena or still existing church institutions.

Since the order of grace is analogous to that of nature, we should expect that just as naturally God exercises His goodness towards us in two different ways. He gives us the nature we have as human beings and by concurring with that nature through His sovereign providence, He acts supernaturally in similar fashion. By giving us a supernature which places us into the divine family where we are enabled to offer our minds and wills toward acquisition of, retention of and growth in the supernatural order to which we have been raised.

The first species of grace was implied in the statement of St. Athanasius, that “God has not only made us out of nothing; but He gave us freely, by the grace of the Word, a life in correspondence with God”; the second was described by St. Ambrose, that “every holy thought is the gift of God, the inspiration of God, the grace of God.” [1] In technical terms, the first is called sanctifying grace, the second actual, although the terminology is fluid and a variety of synonyms is used for both concepts. Our concern here is with the habitual, supernatural state of soul, as distinct from the transitory assistance received from God, comparable to the principle of rational life which makes us men as distinguished from the passing divine influence that concurs with our every action.

Extrinsic Imputation

Catholic teaching on sanctifying grace reaches back to patristic times, when the early Fathers commented on the numerous passages in the New Testament which speak of a grafting into Christ, a renewal of life through incorporation onto the Vine or, in the words of St. John, parturition of those who are born not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

But the first detailed examination of what this doctrine implies was occasioned by the Reformation, when Luther, Calvin and the early Reformers reinterpreted the teaching of St. Paul in a way consistent with their prepossessions on the nature of fallen man. Since they regarded man himself as thoroughly corrupted by the sin of Adam, so that all his actions were intrinsically vitiated and sinful, they logically conceived of man’s restoration as a purely extrinsic operation on the part of God. In the exercise of his will, man has no real power of free choice. Whatever good he does is attributable solely to God. Thus the whole process of justification is entirely God’s with no vital contribution on man’s side to change his status from the essential sinfulness to which original sin had reduced him.

Once a Christian is righteous by faith, Luther taught, he should not console himself that he is no longer a sinner. “He is righteous and holy by an alien or foreign holiness,” which means “he is mercy and righteous by the mercy and grace of God.” But lest he be misunderstood, he added, “this mercy and grace is not something human (intrinsic to man); it is not some sort of disposition or quality of heart.” Indeed, “it consists completely in the indulgence of another and is a pure gift of God, who shows mercy and favor for Christ’s sake.” This theory is contraposed to the Catholic notion of a formal righteousness, whereby a man is not only considered but actually is right with God.

The Christian is not formally righteous (formaliter justus), he is not righteous according to substance or quality - I use these words for instruction’s sake. He is righteous according to his relation to something; namely, only in respect to divine grace and the free forgiveness of sins, which comes to those who acknowledge their sin and believe that God is gracious and forgiving for Christ’s sake, who was delivered for our sins and is believed in by us. [2]

Throughout his writings, but especially in the commentary on the Psalm Miserere, Luther insists on the paradox that a man is simul justus et peccator, at once righteous and sinful: righteous by reason of the imputed merits of Christ and a sinner because his inherited guilt remains. He admitted the function of the word of God and baptism in purifying the soul, yet the cleanness is not within. According to this purity, “the Christian is rightly said to be purer than snow, purer than the sun and stars, even though the defilements of spirit and flesh cling to him. These are concealed and covered by the cleanness and purity of Christ, which we obtain by hearing the Word and by faith.” However, “we should note diligently that this purity is an alien purity, for Christ adorns and clothes us with His righteousness. So if you look at a Christian without the righteousness and purity of Christ, as he is in himself, even though he be most holy (sanctissimus), you will find not only no cleanness, but what I might call diabolical blackness.” [3]

John Calvin professed the same theory, but developed and amplified it in more theological language. A man is justified, he said, who although a sinner, “is reckoned in the condition not of a sinner, but of a righteous man.” Accordingly, “we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into His favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.” [4] The expression, “remission of sins,” should not mislead. Calvin meant to combine the two ideas: remission and imputation, i.e., an imputed remission which left the sinner internally unchanged.

We are justified before God solely by the intercession of Christ’s righteousness. This is equivalent to saying that man is not righteous in himself (hominem non in se ipso justum esse), but because the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation (quia Christi justitia imputatione cum illo communicatur), - something worth carefully noting.
You see that our righteousness is not in us but in Christ, that we possess it only because we are partakers in Christ; indeed with Him we possess all riches.
To declare that by Him alone we are accounted righteous, what else is this but to lodge our righteousness in Christ’s obedience, because the obedience of Christ is reckoned as though it were our own. [5]

All the Protestant Churches followed the same tradition and profess it in their modern creeds. The eleventh of the Thirty-nine Articles of the English (and Episcopalian) Church reads that, “We are accounted (reputamur) righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” [6] In the Presbyterian Confession of Faith, justification is defined as “an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” [7]

This concept of imputed justice has been forthrightly described in Karl Barth, whose devotion to Calvin appears in every page of his eleven volume Die Kirchliche Dogmatik. Barth is examining the notion of the pardon of man, and asks himself “What does the forgiveness of sins mean?” What is meant by the often-repeated Scripture assurance that our past has been cancelled?

The man who received forgiveness does not cease to be the man whose past (and his present as it derives from his past) bears the stain of his sins. The act of the divine forgiveness is that God sees and knows this stain infinitely better than the man himself, and abhors it infinitely more than he does even in his deepest penitence - yet He does not take it into consideration, He overlooks it, He covers it up, He passes it by, He puts it behind Him, He does not charge it to the man, He does not “impute” it, He does not sustain the accusation to which the man has exposed himself, He does not press the debt with which he has burdened himself, He does not allow to take place the destruction to which he has inevitably fallen victim. [8]

It would be impossible to improve on the foregoing description of what classic Protestantism calls justification, whose quintessence is the merciful attribution of righteousness to man whose inner being remains objectively sinful.

It is not easy for a Catholic to understand what this means. None of his categories of thought allows for this idea, in the words of the Formula of Concord, that “The word ‘justification signifies the declaring anyone just, on account of the justice of Christ, which is by God imputed to faith,” so that “our justice is not of us.” [9]

Perhaps the best explanation is to conceive this justification as a judicial act of God, whereby the believing (trustful) sinner is delivered from the punishments of sin, but not from the sin itself. The great difference, therefore, between the Catholic and Protestant doctrines is that according to Catholic principles the justice of Christ is immediately appropriated by the believer to become part of his inward self and changes his whole moral existence; [10] whereas by Protestant norms the justice remains in Christ, does not pass into the sinner’s inward life and stays in a purely outward relation to him. His injustice is indeed covered, but has not been removed, since his will has not been healed.

Seen from another viewpoint, the Protestant theory pictures Christ casting only His shadow on the believer, so that the latter’s continued sinfulness is merely not observed by God. Hence the explicit dogma of the Formula of Concord that “the just are pronounced and reputed such on account of faith, through the obedience of Christ. But because of their corrupt nature they still are and remain sinners as long as they bear this mortal body.” [11] It may be added that the Formula of Concord is the most definitive confession of Evangelical (Lutheran) faith, drafted in 1577 as the last of the so-called symbolical (creedal) documents of continental Protestantism. Its authority is incontestable in all Lutheran Churches.

If we look for a basis for the theory of imputation, we find it in the Protestant identification of original sin and concupiscence. Where Catholics admit that concupiscence remains after a man if justified, but he is not per se stained by this inherent drive; Protestants represent concupiscence as sin in itself, and in fact as the yet subsisting original sin. They dismiss as unimportant and untrue the distinction between the mere feeling of that incitement to sin and the consent to the same. It is precisely on this ground that they rest their assertion that justification consists in the mere declaration of the remission of sin; but not in the purification from sin itself, because original sin (painfully recognized by everyone in the risings of concupiscence) still continues after baptism, and no amount of prayer or grace from God will just make it go away forever.

However, it would be a mistake to suppose that such radical departure from traditional Christian teaching remained long unchallenged, or that all Protestants always held and still profess this doctrine. Within the ranks of Protestantism is a strain of Arminian theology on grace that deserves closer study among Catholics than it has so far received. As an attempted compromise with Catholic doctrine it offers prospects for ecumenical discussion that are impossible with orthodox Calvinism or modern Barthianism.

Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) was a Dutch Reformed theologian whose studies in St. Paul led him to question Calvin’s theories on predestination, justification and grace. He was charged with heresy and, though his efforts to liberalize Dutch Calvinism quite failed, he exercised a great modifying influence on subsequent generations of Protestants, notably in the English-speaking countries. The Arminians, as his followers were called, insisted that the divine sovereignty was compatible with a real free will in man; that God’s predestination to salvation rests upon His foreknowledge that certain people will believe in Christ and persevere in this belief to the end; that Christ died for the whole human race and performed atonement for all men, though only believers share in His benefits; that the grace of God is not irresistible, for man can resist the Spirit of God; that it is not certain a man cannot fall from grace once he has received it.

Arminians went still further. They traced five stages in the history of a sinner who has already obeyed the divine call, been converted to faith and, under the assistance of grace, is obeying the divine precepts. The first stage is election, by which true believers whom God marks off as His own, are separated from the profane crowd of those who perish. After election comes adoption, whereby the elect are received into the family of God and admitted to the rights of a heavenly destiny, which they will finally achieve. The third is justification, which they described as the gracious absolution from all sin, by means of a faith “working by charity” in Christ Jesus, and by His merits. Sanctification goes beyond justification, to effect a perfect, inward separation of the sons of God from the children of this world. And lastly the sealing through the Holy Spirit is a firm and solid confirmation of a person in true confidence, in the hope of eternal glory, and in the assurance of divine grace.

Though remarkably close to Catholic doctrine Arminianism is still Protestant in several ways. Justification is taken as only a step in the process of man’s restoration to grace, whereas there are no partial justifications. A man is either wholly restored to God’s friendship or not. Moreover justification itself is considered only a judicial act on the part of God; only later, through sanctification and the sealing, does the soul approach what Catholics believe is a unitary effect, occurring at the moment when sanctifying grace is infused. There may be growth in holiness, of course, but this means a development ab esse ad bene esse, from good to better, and not a drawn out fieri that finally terminates in what we would call “the state of grace.” Equally un-Catholic was the Arminian insistence that all of this movement from sin to grace happens under the unique impulse of trustful confidence (faith) and independent of good dispositions in the believer. They were inconsistent in making this concession to Reformed theology, but the inconsistency is part of their system.

We have some idea of how influential Arminianism has been over the centuries if we read John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of the Methodists and greatest figure in post-reformation Protestantism. Reared in the Anglican Church and steeped in its teaching on grace, he sought to reform the prevalent theory of justification by adopting a type of Arminian theology which has since become known as perfectionism. In 1764 he made a review of the subject in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, that stands poles apart from orthodox Protestantism and that has incalculably affected the lives and conduct of a large segment of non-Catholic Christianity. He described what he means by “rising above justification” in a series of short propositions.

There is such a thing as perfection; for it is again and again mentioned in Scripture.
It is not so early as justification; for justified persons are to “go on unto perfection” (Hebrews 6:1).
It is not so late as death; for St. Paul speaks of living men that were perfect (Philippians 3:15).
It is not absolute. Absolute perfection belongs not to man, nor to angels, but to God alone.
It does not make a man infallible; none is infallible while he remains in the body.
Is it sinless? It is not worth while to contend for a term. It is “salvation from sin.”
It is “perfect love” (I John 4:18). This is the essence of it: its properties, or inseparable fruits, are, rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, and in everything giving thanks (I Thessalonians 5:16).
It is improvable. It is so far from lying in an indivisible point, from being incapable of increase, that one perfected in love may grow in grace far swifter than he did before.
It is amissible, capable of being lost; of which we have numerous instances. [12]

Wesley was convinced of his position and so critical of the opposition he urged that “all our preachers should make a point of preaching perfection to believers constantly, strongly, and explicitly; and all believers should mind this one thing, and continually agonize for it.” [13] His urgings produced results that have been far-reaching. It is a safe estimate that, except for Arminianism on the continent and Methodism in England and America, Protestantism would not have survived as a system to the present time. As it was, though, its compromise with the Catholic doctrine on sanctifying grace and growth in holiness has both kept the system alive and given it vigor which the negative theory of “extrinsic imputation” could never have supplied.

Spiritual Rebirth

In meeting the challenge of the Reformed teaching on justification, the Council of Trent ranged through both Testaments of Sacred Scripture as well as both Western and Eastern patristic traditions It took more than passing cognizance of the scholastic developments incorporated in the writings of St. Thomas, and used the whole corpus of ecclesiastical documentation, conciliar and papal, to an extent previously unknown in any Council of the Church.

Decree on Justification. Preparatory to its sixth session, which opened in January, 1547, the Council impressed upon the assembled bishops and theologians the importance of studying the problem of justification from both sides, i.e., from the side of the Reformers and of Catholic tradition. The delegates were instructed to read Protestant writers with impartiality, so they could censure what they considered erroneous but also approve what deserved approbation. After private conferences, the theologians were to submit their opinions to the Fathers of the Council, who would discuss what was submitted and individually state their judgments. Finally a preliminary set of decrees was drafted, which underwent numerous revisions before voting. To the very end there were changes in wording, deletions and additions to produce the masterful Decretum De Justificatione, whose Proemium, Chapters and Canons are the most authoritative declaration of Catholic thought we have on the subject.

The cardinal issue on the nature of justification was the familiar Protestant theory that when a man is justified two things happen to him. His sins are forgiven in the sense that they are covered over and not imputed to him, while internally he remains a sinner: And positively the justice he “acquires” is not his own as something inhering in his soul; but the alien justice of Christ or of God which is credited to him without being really his.

Trent defined justification as “a passing from the state in which man is born a son of the first Adam, to the state of grace and adoption as sons of God (Romans 8:15), through the second Adam, Jesus Christ our Savior.” [14]

There is no doubt, therefore, that justification implies the remission of sins, as a true, internal and unequivocal removal, and not a mere covering-over. The year before, and four months after Luther’s death, Trent had defined that through the grace of baptism “everything having the true and proper nature of sin is taken away,” and not “only brushed over (radi) or not imputed.” [15] This is not to say, as Barth insinuated, that forgiveness means “to make what has happened not to have happened.” [16] It means that the guilt and stain of soul contracted by sin are completely taken away. There is also a sense in which our sins are no longer imputed to us, once we receive grace, for the good reason that the sins are gone; which is quite otherwise than the non-imputation of guilt for a sinful condition that still perdures.

What sins are removed by justification? If baptism is received, all sins are deleted: original and personal, mortal and venial. If remission takes place through the sacrament of penance or by an act of perfect love, the amount of venial guilt remitted depends on a person’s dispositions.

However, this is only the beginning. Besides remission of sins, when a person receives sanctifying grace there is also “sanctification and renovation of the interior man.” [17] No doubt the forgiveness of sins is also a kind of renewal, which theologians call negative or moral, since a defect is cleared away and the person becomes morally clean. And there is more. Renovation in the Tridentine sense means a positive and physical change in the soul “through the voluntary reception of grace and gifts.” [18]

It may seem like theological hair-splitting to insist there is no middle ground between intrinsic and extrinsic justification, except that the question was one of the most heatedly discussed at the Council of Trent and is currently of major importance in the ecumenical movement, where some sort of compromise is sought between Catholic and Protestant theologies of grace.

Among the proponents of the via media were Martin Bucer (1491-1551) among the Protestants and Cardinal Seripando, Master General and zealous reformer of the Augustinians. Seripando ardently advocated his theory before the Council of Trent, in the laudable effort to meet, if possible, the Reformers half way. He said there were two kinds of justice, one intrinsic and the other extrinsic. In virtue of the former we pass from the state of sinners to that of children of God, and are enabled to practice good works with the help of divine grace. The latter is not intrinsic to us but belongs to Christ alone. It consists of His justice and merits, which He imputes to us as though they were ours, according to His own good pleasure. He felt the first without the second is imperfect and insufficient to make us reach heaven.

Only a handful of theologians (five to be exact) approved Seripando’s theory, that to obtain eternal glory the justice of Jesus Christ must be imputed to us. Everyone else was against the idea, and particularly James Lainez of the Society of Jesus, who produced a long reply. Seripando’s critics explained there are two kinds of causes: one type produce and effect but is not needed to keep the effect in existence and operation, like the father whose son can live quite independently of his parent. Another kind is continually required to preserve what it produces, as light is constantly dependent on the sun. Our need of God belongs to the second class, since we depend on Him absolutely in every aspect of life, whether in the temporal or supernatural order. Accordingly there is no call for imputing the merits of Christ to us, over and above the intrinsic effect produced in the soul when grace enters. The same intrinsic justice which is the effect of Christ’s merits makes us rise from sin and gives us power to perform acts of virtue that are meritorious of heaven. All of this follows on the strength of God’s promise in consequence of the passion and death of the Savior.

Briefly stated, therefore, the sanctifying grace which God infuses into our souls perfectly applies to us the merits of Christ through a constant and perennial inflow in our favor. Hence the Tridentine declaration that “the one and only (unica) formal cause” of justification “is the justice of God, not by which He is Himself just, but the justice by which He makes us just, namely, the justice which we have as a gift from Him, and by which we are renewed in the spirit of our mind.” [19] Any compromise with this intrinsic rebirth would deprive us of merit in the spiritual life, make satisfaction and reparation for sins impossible, and subvert a cardinal principle of Catholicism, which holds that we have been truly elevated to a supernatural order of reality which is physically inherent to our being and is not a mere putative declaration.

Protestant theologians sincerely concerned to bridge the gap with the Catholic Church feel that we misunderstand them when, in spite of their readiness to admit some kind of internal righteousness, they refuse to let go of the idea of imputation. K.E. Skydsgaard, for example, is an outstanding Danish Lutheran who has done yeoman work in the ecumenical movement, but he is bewildered by Catholic intransigence.

Roman theology often misunderstood the Evangelical point of view. The accusation is made that, according to the Evangelicals, righteousness is nothing more than an “imputed” righteousness, which does not penetrate into the person but only clothes the man as a coat. It is laid upon him without the slightest consequence in him.
This cannot possibly be accepted as a correct description of the Evangelical position. God forgives sinners. This must be understood absolutely literally, and if this were not true, then everything else would be vain. This forgiveness has its root and its power in God’s mercy alone, in His grace. That man whose sins are forgiven by God remains a sinner as long as he is on earth. [20]

The last sentence is the “give away.” It reveals that no matter what protestations are made that righteousness means forgiveness and does not mean only imputation, in the last analysis Evangelical theory leaves the justified man still in his sins and does not renew him to the marrow of his spiritual being.

There is no mistaking what Trent had in mind by this intrinsic change. Those who are justified are sanctified “through the voluntary reception of grace and gifts.” [21] No one can be just unless he shares in the merits of Christ’s passion, whereby “the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Spirit into the hearts of those who are justified and remains (inhaeret) in them.” So that, at the same time as his sins are remitted, “a man receives through Jesus Christ to whom he is joined, the infused gifts of faith, hope and charity.” [22] Consequently the justice we possess “is said to be ours because it inheres in us,” and because God “has poured it into us through the merit of Christ.” [23] Then the Council Fathers summarily censure anyone who says that “men are justified either through the imputation of Christ’s justice alone, or through the remission of sins alone, excluding grace and charity which is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit and inheres in them, or also that the grace which justifies us is only the good will of God.” [24]

Commenting on this doctrine, Barth sadly observed that “the Roman Church adopted an official attitude to the Reformation teaching in the decree of the Council of Trent on justification. And, unfortunately, we have to admit that in this decree it laid down its attitude for all time. The decree itself is theologically a clever and in many respects a not unsympathetic document, which has caused superficial Protestant readers to ask whether there might not be something to say for it.” [25] But that is wishful thinking, which Barth spends over two volumes to dissipate.

Pauline Theology. The Tridentine decree on justification was almost a tessera of citations from St. Paul, whose letters are the wellspring of Catholic doctrine on the “new man” reborn in Christ Jesus.

The men justified are said to be regenerated. From having them unwise, unbelieving, going astray, and slaves to lust and pleasure, “when the goodness and kindness of God our Savior appeared,” all this was changed. “He saved us through the bath of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit; whom He has abundantly poured out upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior, in order that, justified by His grace, we may be heirs in the hope of life everlasting.” [26] If we are regenerated, this implies we have received a new principle of life, for as generation means the communication of nature from one person to another, so rebirth, by definition, signifies that a new principium vitae has been received, whose nature is in the same order of reality as the generator, who in this case is God. That is why Paul could keep coming back to the same theme, that, “you are now dead (to the world), and your life is hidden with Christ in God”; and that “we are buried with Him by means of baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ has arisen from the dead through the glory of His Father, so we also may walk in newness of life.” [27]

The roots of Pauline thought on regeneration are, of course, found in the teaching of Christ, recorded in St. John. Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, Christ told Nicodemus, he cannot see the kingdom of God. As interpreted by Nicodemus himself, the Savior must have spoken of second birth, other than one’s first natural birth, to justify our rendering anôthen by “again” which is not only the Latin version but also the Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopic and Georgian. [28] Without this second birth, that is “from above,” a man cannot belong to the kingdom of God. Christ spoke of seeing the kingdom, which has the sense of experience or enjoyment in Scripture language. Strangely, the term “kingdom of God” occurs only once in St. John, in this particular text, though frequently in the Synoptics. It corresponds broadly to the word life in Joannine terminology and to justice in St. Paul.

Justification is also called renovation. “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind,” Paul told the Ephesians, “and put on the new man, which has been created according to God in justice and holiness of truth.” [29] Renovation means nothing less than a restoration of that justice which was lost by man’s fall through original sin. If the sin was intrinsic to man’s nature and deeply penetrated in his soul, his deliverance from sin must be at least equally intrinsic to the spirit in which it inheres. “How can we be said to be renovated,” St. Augustine asked, “unless we receive that which the first man (Adam) lost, in whom we have all died? Clearly there is something we receive and something we do not. We do not get immortality of a spiritual body, which man did not have yet (when he sinned); but we do get the justice from which he fell by his sin. We are therefore renewed in the spirit of our mind, according to the image of Him who created us, which Adam had lost when he sinned.” [30]

Augustine is most helpful in untangling the sense in which Christ’s justice is received by those in His grace, that what we obtain is truly ours and no mere judicial attribution. Commenting on the text in Romans which speaks of “the justice of God through the faith of Jesus Christ upon all who believe,” he explains that “just as this faith is said to be Christ’s, not because Christ believed (since He enjoyed the beatific vision), so also this justice is of God, but not that by which He is just. For both are our own; yet they are called God’s and Christ’s because we received them of His bounty.” [31]

In order to stress the utter newness of this life of grace, St. Paul frequently calls it a creation and those who receive it “a new creature in Christ.” The letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians and Galatians emphasize this notion. [32] It was impossible to use a stronger term to show how complete a change takes place within the soul through justification, where the two termini, by analogy with God’s creative act, are as far distant from each other as “nothing” and “something,” wherein God exercises His infinite power to bring “existence” out of “non-existence.”

A final Pauline figure to describe the proprietorship of sanctifying grace is taken from contemporary Greek and Latin life, where the terms “seal” and “pledge” were the ultimate expressions signifying ownership and personal right. The Corinthians are told that Christ has “stamped us with His seal, and gave us the Spirit as a pledge in our hearts.” [33] The seal (sphragis) was used to mark something as a man’s property, so that God has marked the faithful as His own by the indelible character of baptism. Moreover the presence of the Spirit, which we denominate as grace, is the pledge (arrabona) or security of eternal life.

Permanent Gift

According to St. John, grace is the very life of Christ. Its origins begin at baptism and its development spans the whole of man’s earthly existence. Christ communicates this life to us by giving us His Spirit, who abides in our hearts and by whose inspiration we are enabled to live the new life of God. St. Paul complements this doctrine by stressing the function of the Holy Spirit who takes up abode in the souls of the just..

This raises two problems. Is this gift of God’s love something created, or is it not rather the Holy Spirit and God Himself, according to the statement of St. John, that “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him”? [34] And whether this gift is uncreated or not, is it something physically permanent in the soul, or only a moral quality comparable to the moral perdurance of guilt after a person sins?

The common teaching of theology drawn from the authoritative documents of the Church, is that sanctifying grace is not the Holy Spirit Himself but a created gift of God which inheres in the soul as a perduring reality that perfects the spirit of man, not unlike the way his body is informed by the rational soul.

Created Grace. Patristic tradition among the Greek Fathers uniformly elaborated the concept of grace as a communication of the life of Christ by the Holy Spirit, who comes to us and takes up His abode in our souls. During the Middle Ages, a number of scholastics, notably Peter Lombard (1100-1160), went a step beyond the Greek Fathers to claim that justifying grace is identical with charity, and charity is the person of the Holy Spirit.

There was quite a difference, however, between Lombard and the Fathers. The latter distinguished two gifts in sanctifying grace, one was uncreated, namely, the three persons of the Trinity, the other a created gift, which is the effect produced in the soul by the Holy Spirit, to whom the work of sanctification is specially attributed. Peter Lombard seems not to have sufficiently dwelt on this distinction. Together with others, like Hugh of St. Victor, he made grace identical with charity, charity with the Third Person, and the only source of acts of charity is the Spirit of God Himself, and not unfused habits, as with faith, hope and other virtues.

This raised a storm of protest. No one questioned that the Holy Spirit, along with the Father and the Son, dwells in the souls of the just; but to say that this Spirit was literally the forma informans animan, giving supernatural life to the soul which is materia informata, provoked strong criticism. The divine indwelling was admitted, but always on the supposition that in some mysterious way the Third Person was united to the soul through some created forma of unique character. There were two gifts, it was argued: the Holy Trinity as the uncreated donum Dei, and the created form which results from the presence and action of the Spirit in the justified soul.

It is to the lasting credit of St. Thomas that, although he taught the Lombard for years and used him as principle guide, he did not hesitate to depart radically from his former preceptor in the interests of theological clarity and truth. His treatment of sanctifying grace as a created gift is a case in point.

Peter Lombard held that charity was not a created reality, but the Holy Spirit dwelling in the soul. He did not mean that the Holy Spirit was identified with our movement of love, but that charity, unlike the other virtues, such as faith and hope, was not elicited from a habit which was really ours. He was trying to enhance charity.
Ponder well, that this opinion tends rather to discredit charity. It would mean that active charity rises from the Holy Spirit so moving the mind that we are merely passive, and not responsible for our loving or otherwise. This militates against the character of a voluntary act. Charity would not then be a voluntary act. There is a snag here, for our loving is very much our own.
Nor is the situation eased by the additional qualification that the Holy Spirit moves the will as a principal cause moves an instrumental cause. An instrument, of course, is a principle, but not of the kind which decides its own activity or inactivity. The implication would be that the voluntary character of charity was made away with, and merit banished.
No, the Holy Spirit moves the will to love, but in such a way that we are principal causes. [35]

Relying on the authority of the ancient Fathers, St. Thomas argued that sanctifying grace must be a created gift because of the universal norm of Providence, which implants in creatures forms and powers that are principles of action for the natures in question. Consequently it would be unthinkable that on the supernatural plane God would act in any other way. Those whom He is leading to the everlasting mansions, “He infuses into them certain forms or supernatural qualities, through which they are gently and promptly directed by Him in order to obtain the eternal supernatural good” to which they are destined. [36]

Physical Reality. St. Thomas and scholastic theologians after him have further refined the precise nature of sanctifying grace. It is, first of all, not a substance but an accident. For, as Thomas explained, “every substance is either the very nature of a thing whose substance it is, or it is part of the nature, as matter and form are called substances. Now since grace is above human nature, it cannot be a substance or a substantial form; but it is an accidental form of the soul itself. For what is substantially in God, becomes accidentally present in the soul which participates in the divine goodness, as is evident with knowledge.” [37]

Moreover sanctifying grace is an absolute, and not merely relative or modal, accident. It is therefore not a simple relation or pure mode, but has its own proper entity, and becomes the foundation for other supernatural relations with God. It is capable of growth and decline, of strength and weakness, in a manner similar to other spiritual accidents. It is a quality, since it makes the soul qualitatively different than it was or would be without such modification; and it is also really distinct from the soul, as logically follows from its absolute and supernatural property.

Most important, sanctifying grace is a habit. This means a permanent and not transient quality, as would be single acts, by which the soul is disposed for a supernatural life. Spiritual habits in general are those abiding qualities which perfect the very substance of the soul or its faculties, enabling them to respond to the qualitative perfection they possess. There are two kinds of habits, one that perfects the soul in its being, and the other perfecting the soul’s faculties in order to assist them in the performance of their proper actions. [38]

Sanctifying grace is a unique kind of habit, which St. Thomas called entitative, as distinct from the other type, or operative. The difference between the two species is subtle. An entitative or existential habit disposes a thing in ordine ad ipsam naturam, i.e., in the order of its very nature; it may be described as an inherent quality by which a substance is rendered inherently good or bad, like beauty, health or disease. An operative habit, on the other hand, gives not only the power to act, but also a certain ease or facility, which in turn may be good, bad, or morally indifferent, like the habit of honesty, prudence or an artistic ability to paint.

Strictly speaking Aristotelian philosophy has no category for a purely entitative habit, namely one which imparts no facility to act but merely a disposition to certain forms of being. The nearest approximations are such things as beauty or health, noted above. Hence St. Thomas observed that “grace belongs to the first species of quality (entitative), though it cannot properly be called a habit, because it is not immediately ordained to action, but to a kind of spiritual being which it produces in the soul.” [39]

Still another reason why grace is not a habit in the ordinary philosophical sense is the fact that it supplies no acquired facility to act. Suarez was so impressed by this, he avoided speaking of grace as habit, and seems to have induced Bellarmine to describe sanctifying grace as a quality per modum habitus (like a habit), to accentuate that grace is sui generis among habits; it imparts a supernatural perfection of being rather than a facility to action. The Council of Trent was aware of these difficulties, and as a consequence defined sanctifying grace simply as a permanent quality.

In scientific theology, however, there is no choice but to use the categories at our disposal. Moreover sanctifying grace does bear a relation to activity, which is common to habits in general, although it imparts no facility. It gives the power to perform supernaturally meritorious acts, so that it is more than just an entitative habit; it is also remotely an operative habit whose terminal effects are acts deserving of reward. [40]

One more familiar distinction in philosophy breaks down in connection with grace. In psychology we speak of native and acquired habits, where the first are part of man’s nature and the second are cultivated by practice. Supernatural habits cannot be a part of nature or an acquisition of mere natural effort. Consequently supernatural habits of whatever type, whether entitative (like sanctifying grace) or operative (like the virtues), can be imparted to the soul only by infusion from God Himself. For this reason they are called infused habits, which the Holy Spirit pours into the human spirit. When He infuses sanctifying grace, the result is an existential quality which gives the soul a supernatural principle of being. When He infuses the virtues, He confers on the soul supernatural powers that, by faithful cooperation with actual grace, can develop into facilities for performing salutary acts.

In Aristotelian terminology, then, sanctifying grace is a kind of entitative habit because it lays the foundation for permanent righteousness, holiness and divine sonship. It is also an infused habit because a person is not conceived or born with it, nor can it be acquired by sheer natural practice. All the terms used in Scripture to describe grace warrant this classification: it is a re-creation, a regeneration, a life from above (anôthen), and, most graphically, in the words of St. John, “whoever is born of God does not commit sin, because His seed abides in him.” [41] Those who are justified have a new life, which stems not from nature but from the generative powers of God Himself.

Distinct from Charity. A practical question has been raised since before the Council of Trent, as to whether sanctifying grace is really distinct from the infused habit of charity. The problem would not even be raised if we took sanctifying grace in the broad sense of a complexus of all the gifts we receive in justification, and by which we are internally sanctified. But sanctifying grace can also be taken in a more restricted sense as that specific donum which is distinguished from the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Understood thus, we reasonably ask if sanctifying grace is a distinct entity or not. We know, for instance, that when a person sins mortally he loses sanctifying grace and infused charity, but may retain faith and hope. But sanctifying grace and charity are never thus separable; they are always together, either both present or both absent. So we ask: are they really distinguishable, or should they be objectively identified, while allowing for a purely rational distinction between them?

Most theologians follow St. Thomas to say the two are really distinct. They reason from the numerous statements of the Church, like the Council of Trent, where the terms grace and charity are separately described, and from the writings of the Popes, where similar disjunctions occur. Thus Pius XII said that “men my lose charity and divine grace through sin, and yet not be deprived of all life, if they hold on to faith and hope,” and he urged the faithful to “advance generously in grace and virtue.” [42] Why disjoin the two concepts in speaking of them if the realities they express are not objectively different?

St. Thomas’ own explanation is so lucid it deserves citation in full, especially because of the practical consequences that follow on distinguishing sanctifying grace from the infused virtue of charity. [43]

During his lectures in Paris (1256-1259), which grew into the De Veritate, Aquinas said there were two schools of thought on the subject: on one side were Peter Lombard, Alexander of Hales and Bonaventure, and on the other was his former teacher, Albertus. The first school said that grace is essentially the same as virtue in reality, though it differs conceptually, so that virtue is often spoken of in so far as it perfects an act, and grace in so far as it makes man and his act acceptable to God; and among the virtues they especially identify charity with grace. The second school, which he favored, held that grace and charity differ essentially, so that no virtue is essentially grace.

The reasoning behind this conclusion begins with the premise that different natures have different ends; and there are three prerequisites for obtaining any end among natural things: a nature proportioned to that end, and inclination which is a natural appetite for that end, and a movement toward the end. In the natural order, man is proportioned to a certain end for which he has a natural appetite and for getting which he can work by his natural powers. That end, Thomas declared, is a contemplation of divine things such as is possible to man according to the capacities of his nature. Philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Philo, Avicenna and Averroes have placed man’s ultimate happiness in this kind of natural contemplation.

But there is an end for which man is prepared by God which surpasses the proportion of human nature, that is, eternal life, which consists in the vision of God by His essence. That vision is not proportioned to any creature whatsoever, being connatural only to God.
It is therefore necessary that there be given to man not only something by which his appetite should be inclined to that end, but also something by which man’s very nature should be raised to a dignity which would make such an end suited to him. For this, grace is given him. But to incline his will to this end, charity is given; and for carrying out the works by which that end is acquired, the other virtues are given.
Accordingly, just as in natural things the nature itself is distinct from the inclination of the nature and its motion or operation, in the same way in man’s gratuitous gifts, grace is distinct from charity and the other virtues. [44]

St. Thomas concludes by saying that no one can have a spiritual operation, in this case a supernatural one, unless he first receives a spiritual existence, just as he cannot perform the actions of a particular nature unless he first has existence in that nature. An animal must first have a rational nature before it can act rationally. Even so a man must first have a supernature before he can act supernaturally. [45]

The functional value of this idea is incalculable. Once we see that sanctifying grace has an entity all its own, it becomes the foundation for the whole theological edifice of our deiform nature, whose transcendent qualities we can understand by comparison with human nature without grace. [46]

Both nature and supernature have an ultimate operative principle of activity, the soul in one and sanctifying grace in the other. Both have proximate principles of operation, the sensitive and spiritual faculties in one case, and the infused virtues in the other. Both have immediate responsive principles, instincts in nature and the gifts of the Holy Spirit in nature deified. Finally both have their proper effects, which are human acts for us as human beings and deiform acts produced by men who have been elevated to a share in the very life of God.

In a later context we shall examine the implications of this relationship more closely. For the present it was necessary to have seen the metaphysical basis on which the relationship rests, namely, the divine consistency between the two orders of reality.

Supernatural Life

Before entering on a dogmatic analysis of the supernatural life, it is well to recall that the Church has given us the principles by which the mysteries of faith can be understood, however dimly, by the aid of divine grace. In treating of the relation between faith and reason, the Vatican Council stated that although divine mysteries can never be comprehended by reason alone, nevertheless, when enlightened by faith, “reason attains some, and that a very fruitful understanding of mysteries, from the analogy of those thins which it naturally knows.” [47]

Accordingly, though revealed truths like the Trinity, Incarnation and the supernatural life are beyond the capacity of the human mind to comprehend directly until the beatific vision; we can, by means of comparisons and similarities with known things in nature, penetrate ever more deeply into the mysteries of religion. [48] The foundation for the comparison must be derived from Scripture or revealed tradition. The process should be guided by the Church’s teaching, telling us how far the correlation may go. Within these limits, however, the method of analogy is not only useful but imperative for understanding and communicating the truths of revelation.

The most fruitful analogy that revelation gives us for sanctifying grace and the state of righteousness is the concept of life, which the Greek authors of the New Testament regularly rendered by the word zôê, in preference to two other terms they might have used, bios and psuche.

Where English and Latin have only one word, life and vita, the Greek has three; and the choice of one of these to describe the divine life we receive through grace must be significant. The true antithesis of zôê is thanatos (death), and means life taken intensively, as contrasted with bios, which refers to life extensively, or its duration, and with psuche, the breath that in animated beings is a sign of life.

The term zôê is used selectively and exclusively to designate the supernatural life which God communicates to us through Christ; indeed, He is our life and its Author. Most often the combination, zôê aiônios (eternal life), is found in the Gospels and St. Paul; yet the same zôê that we possess on earth will continue into eternity. This is the divine life that was in the Word from the beginning, “and the life was the light of men.” [49] It is also the life that the Persons of the Trinity have in common. “For the Father has life in Himself, even as He has given to the Son to have life in Himself.” [50] It is a participation in this life that those who believe in Christ have received.

Nature and Origins. In order to appreciate what our sharing in the divine life means, we should begin by inquiring what life itself is. As explained by St. Thomas, the higher a nature the more intimate what comes from it, for its inwardness of activity corresponds to its rank in being. [51] Inanimate bodies hold the lowest place of all; because nothing emanates from them except by the action of one thing on another.

Above inanimate bodies are plants, in which there is an issuing from within, since they can grow and reproduce themselves. They represent the first degree of life, for living things are those that set themselves into activity, whereas things that are in motion only inasmuch as they are acted upon from the outside are lifeless. This is the index of life in plants, that within them is a principle of motion.

Yet plant life is very imperfect, for though the emanation is from within at the beginning, that which comes forth gradually becomes wholly extraneous in the end. The blossoms change into fruit distinct from the boughs on which they grow, and presently these, when ripe, fall to the ground and become other plants. Scrutiny shows that the principle of this process is extrinsic to the plant.

Above plants there is a higher grade of being, that namely of sensitive things. Otherwise than with plants, their process, though initiated from without, terminates within the animal; and the more perfect the animal the more interior this result. A sensibly perceptible object impinges on the external senses; the impression goes into the imagination and then deeper into the store of memory. So that what began from the outside is thus worked up within, for the sensitive powers are conscious within themselves. Consequently the vital process in animals is superior to what it is in plants, because of its greater immanence. However it is not wholly perfect, since the emanation is always from one thing to another.

Only in the mind do we reach the highest and perfect grade of life, where a person reflects on himself and understands himself. Yet there are various degrees of intelligence. At the lowest rung is the human intellect, which can know itself but must start from outside objects and cannot know these without accompanying sense-images. Above the human level are angels, or pure spirits, whose mind does not proceed from outside things to know itself; but knows itself by itself, without prior dependence on phenomena outside.

Even angelic knowledge is not the highest form of life. Though the ideas which angels have are deeply immanent, they are not identical with the substance of their minds, since the being is not the same thing as the understanding in spiritual creatures. The highest perfection of life is in God, where activity is not distinct from being, and where knowledge is the divine essence.

By His infinite goodness and in a way that “eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man,” God has made possible a participation in this divine life by His rational creatures, to be had in faith and hope on earth and through sight and possession in heaven.

As defined by Benedict XII, the angels and blessed in heaven “see the divine essence with an intuitive and even face-to-face vision, without the interposition of any creature in the function of object seen; rather the divine essence manifests itself to them plainly, clearly, openly.” [52] The possession of sanctifying grace on earth is on the same level of reality as the vision of God in heaven; objectively the same participated divine life is had by the soul in grace as by the souls in glory. Only the subjective effects are different, although even these tend to merge in the mystical experiences of some of the saints, where something approximating the beatific vision may be enjoyed even before eternity. A person in the state of grace, therefore, is already living the deiform life that elevates him to the divine family, and has only to wait until heaven to enter its glorious fruition.

Following the basic analogy of grace as a form of life, we find that it, like other types of life, has a beginning. There is such a thing as being born into the supernatural life of grace. [53] As our natural life comes to us through generation, so deiform life begins through the spiritual birth of baptism, according to the words of Christ, that unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

The Council of Trent described justification as a passing from the state in which a man is born a son of the first Adam, to the state of grace and adoption as sons of God, through the second Adam, Jesus Christ our Savior. “Since the Gospel was promulgated, this passing cannot take place without the water of regeneration or the desire for it.” [54] In the Church’s liturgy, the role of baptism as the lavacrum regenerationis, the source of a new life, is forcefully brought home to the faithful. During the blessing of the baptismal water, the priest asks God to “send forth the Spirit of adoption to re-create a new race whom the font of baptism will bear to Thee.” He asks that it “may be a living fountain, a water that gives rebirth,” and that every man who enters this sacrament of regeneration be born again in a new childhood of true innocence.” And in the actual ceremony of baptism, after the rite is performed, comes an invocation to “almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you a new birth by means of water and the Holy Spirit.”

However, baptism is only the normal sacramental agency for conferring the life of grace. It presupposes the profession of faith, personally in adults and vicariously in those responsible for the baptism of infants. This presses the analogy with natural life a stage further, since no one comes to the Christian faith (except by a miracle) unless someone who already believed had first brought him the message of salvation. Just as it is in the natural order, no one brings himself into the world. He depends absolutely on the previous and loving cooperation of others, his parents in the flesh, to make his conception and eventual birth possible.

St. Paul had this law of communication in mind when he told the Romans that “with the heart a man believes unto justice,” i.e., unto supernatural life, which rests on belief in the Lord, and calling upon His name.

How then are they to call upon Him in whom they have not believed? But how are they to believe Him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear, if no one preaches? And how are men to preach unless they be sent? [55]

The duty of communicating the supernatural life to those who do not yet have it rests not only on the successors of the apostles, the bishops and priests of the Church, but on all members of the Mystical Body. “Christ before His ascension into heaven,” wrote Pius XII, “confided to His apostles, and through them to His whole Church, the responsibility of evangelizing the whole world in His name. Every Christian ought, therefore, to be persuaded that a part of this responsibility rests on his shoulders and that no one can relieve him of this responsibility.” [56]

Perseverance and Growth. Since the deiform life is eminently vital, it requires the proper nourishment, atmosphere and exercise to remain alive and to grow. The indispensable means for this perseverance and development is grace, which Christ has promised to furnish us by the sacramental system, through prayer, and the practice of virtue.

St. Thomas summarizes the function of the sacraments, spanning the whole of the supernatural (already seen or to be seen), by comparing the two courses of the physical and spiritual life which run parallel, and that “the sacramental elements correspond to the provision of bodily needs.” They fall into two groups, affecting respectively the life-receivers and the life-givers.

The first group covers three essential phases in human development. A man must be born to begin with, afterwards he must reach his proper stature, and in order to be sustained and grow he must eat. These three correspond to the three vegetative functions of reproduction, growth and nourishment. They are matched in the life of the spirit. Baptism is a spiritual birth, confirmation a setting up in full strength, and the Eucharist a special food. Then there is the case of sickness, an incidental phase. For our healing Penance cures our soul only, but the effects of Extreme Unction (anointing of the sick) may well spread from the soul to the body. [57]
Of the people who give and govern life, some are responsible for its natural origin, namely parents, others for its civilized and peaceful continuance, namely rulers and leaders. Matrimony is for a man and a woman to beget children and bring them up in God’s service; they bear them physically and rear them spiritually. Holy Orders are for those who kindle and keep the life of the spirit through their spiritual ministrations. [58]

Among the sacraments, the Eucharist is par excellence the nourishment of the supernatural life. The two “unity” councils (Florence for the Greeks and Trent for the Protestants) dealt at length with the absolute need we have of the Blessed Sacrament to retain and grow in the life of grace. Its immediate effect “in the soul of a person who receives it worthily, is to unite him with Christ. Since it is by grace that a man is incorporated into Christ and united to Christ’s members, it follows that those who receive this sacrament worthily, receive an increase of grace. And all the effects which material food and drink have on the life of our body - maintaining and increasing life, restoring health and bringing pleasure - all these effects this sacrament has on our spiritual life.” [59]

To meet the widespread neglect of the Eucharist in Reformation times, and its denial by the Reformers, the Council of Trent further delineated the fruits of Holy Communion. Our Savior instituted this sacrament just before leaving the world to return to His Father. He poured out the riches of His love by its institution, and ordered us to receive it for the preservation of His memory.

It was His will that this sacrament be received as the soul’s spiritual food, to sustain and build up those who live with His life, as He said, “He who eats me, he also shall live because of me.” This sacrament is also to be a remedy to free us from our daily defects and to keep us from mortal sin. It was Christ’s will, moreover, that this sacrament be a pledge of our future glory and our everlasting happiness and, likewise, a symbol of that one Body of which He is the head. [60]

The unitive purpose of the Eucharist is more than symbolic. Our physical lives are not only individual but social, and we should expect Christ to provide for the corporate dimension of our life of grace by giving us the means to cultivate that God-like charity which joins the members of His Mystical Body. [61]

Illustrated in the liturgical prayer that has come down to us from the first century, “as this broken Bread was scattered over the hills and then, when gathered became one mass, so may Thy Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom. For Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for evermore.” [62] The unitive power of the Eucharist is contained in the person of the Savior, the Author of grace and Head of the Mystical Body, who is offered in the Mass and received in Holy Communion. Receiving our Lord in Holy Communion is to receive His love which enables us to live beyond ourselves by loving Christ in His Mystical Body.

Similar to the necessity of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, to retain and grow in the supernatural life, is the need of constant prayer, of which St. Robert Southwell wrote in a set of verses prefixed to his Short Rules of Good Life, shortly before his martyrdom in 1595. “Nothing more grateful in the highest eyes, nothing more firm in danger to protect us, nothing more forcible to pierce the skies, and not depart till mercy do respect us: and as the soul life to the body gives, so prayer revives the soul, by prayer it lives.” [63]

It is not by chance that the Pelagians opposed prayer on philosophical grounds, on the logical supposition that if a man’s native powers are enough to make him reach his destiny, why should he pray? St. Augustine pointed out that not the least effect of Pelagianism would be to erase all the prayers of petition in the Church of God. He explained that while there are certain blessings of grace which God gives without request on our part, like the gift of baptism for those baptized in infancy, others He will not grant except in answer to fervent prayer. This includes the grace of perseverance in the supernatural life.

The range of efficacy through prayer is all but infinite. For “as God created all things by His word, so man by prayer obtains whatever he wills. Nothing has so great a power to obtain grace for us as prayer when rightly made; for it contains the motives by which God easily allows Himself to be appeased and incline to mercy.” [64]

Hidden in the mystery of prayer is the supernatural providence by which God had predetermined from eternity to bestow the graces which He foresaw we would pray for. Bellarmine showed that here, too, the order of grace is fully consistent with the order of nature. In both cases the ultimate effective agent is the almighty power of the First Cause; and equally in both cases, secondary causes must be cooperative, at the risk of not obtaining the effect desired. In the natural order, God has decreed to give us food and drink, and all that we need to sustain the life of the body. “He has also ordained to give us these necessities through human effort, by which the fields and vines are cultivated. Would anyone deny the need of plowing and sowing, of planting and digging, and or other like labors, if we want to reap and gather in the harvest?” [65] The same is true in the realm of grace. Prayer corresponds to the secondary cause in nature; in the providence of God, it is the ordinary means of obtaining sustenance for the supernatural life.

Law of Conflict and Struggle. The reason for this necessity of constant prayer is the inevitability of conflict which the deiform life must face, not unlike the struggle for survival that is common to all living things, from the lowest among the animal species to the physical well-being of man.

There are few things on which Christ was more insistent than the universal visitation of trials to be experienced by those who follow Him and live by His Spirit. The eight beatitudes are a summary of the difficulties and obstacles to be overcome by the faithful Christian. He spoke of persecution for justice’ sake; of being brought before tribunals and put to death for belief in His name; of the inner struggle within men’s hearts when they are torn between fidelity to Him and to their relatives, friends, and all natural loves; of the need His disciples would have of patience under duress, in which alone they would “possess their souls”. His parable of the seed which fell amid thorns and briars was to stress that faithfulness to the Gospel brings conflict with the world, the flesh and the evil spirit. In the Lord’s Prayer, He epitomized this militia Christiana by bidding us pray not to be led into temptation but to be delivered from evil. In a word, He came, as He said, to bring not peace but the sword.

Christianity is quite unique in recognizing the element of trial at the heart of man’s religion, and that “it seems to have been determined in the designs of God that there would be no salvation for men without struggle and pain.” The very redemption of the human race was conditioned on the Lord’s becoming man and expiating sin to the last degree. Though Christ might have satisfied the divine justice in other ways, He chose to do so by enduring the worst kind of suffering and the sacrifice of His very life.

Therefore He has imposed it upon His followers as a law signed with His blood, that their life should be an endless strife with the vices of their age. What made the apostles unconquerable in their mission of teaching truth to the world? What strengthened our countless martyrs in bearing witness by their blood to the Christian faith? Their more than readiness to obey fearlessly this law. All who have taken heed to live a Christian life and to seek after virtue have trodden the same path. We, too, must walk along this road if we desire to assure our own salvation or that of others. [66]

But man’s powers alone are unequal to the responsibility of so many and varied contest. Consequently, “as we must ask God for our daily sustenance of the body, so we must pray to Him for strength of soul that we may be sustained in virtue.” [67] Hence that universal condition and law of our supernatural life, which is a perpetual warfare; and the correlative indispensability of prayer.

Among the writers who urged the need of praying for help, St. Alphonsus Liguori (universal patron of moral theologians) was, perhaps, the most outspoken. What disturbed him, he said, was to see preachers and confessors paying so little attention to telling their listeners and penitents about constant petition for aid.

The spiritual books which presently circulate among the faithful also do not speak of it; when all preachers and confessors and books should insist on nothing with so much urgency and ardor as this prayer. Well do they inculcate the many excellent means given to the soul to keep itself in the grace of God, as fleeing occasions, frequenting the sacraments, resisting temptations, hearing the word of God, and meditating on eternal truths, all most useful, no doubt. But to what purpose, I ask, are sermons, meditations and all other means, except to produce spiritual harm, without prayer, when the Lord has declared that He does not will to give graces except to one who prays?
To actually do good, to overcome temptation, to exercise virtue, in a word, entirely to keep the divine precepts, it is not enough to receive lights and make reflections and resolutions. We still need the actual help of God. And the Lord does not grant this actual aid except to one who prays and prays with perseverance. The lights received, the reflections and good resolutions conceived serve this purpose, that, in the dangers and temptations of transgressing the divine law, we actually pray; and with prayer we obtain the divine help which preserves us then from sin. But if at the time we do not pray, we are overcome. [68]

Since the whole of life is a probation, the constancy of prayer for help is a revealed necessity. It ends only with death, which itself should be the special object of supplication, to persevere in God’s friendship in spite of the assaults of fallen nature and the enemy of the human race.

Intensity and Variety. We saw that the biblical term for the life of grace communicated to souls is zôê whose characteristic feature is life taken intensively. The principle of analogy with living things in nature allows us to speak of degrees of intensity and variety in the supernatural life, since no two people are equally vibrant with physical energy, and no two of them are perfectly alike. Even so there are modes of supernatural vitality and varieties of form that the divine life may take in the soul.

The number of factors which determine the variations of sanctifying grace is myriad. According to the divine will, “each one has his own gift from God, one in this way, and another in that.” [69] It would be an impertinence to inquire why St. Paul did not have the grace of Peter, why Augustine was not Jerome, or Ignatius not a Francis of Assisi. The best we can say is that God is mysteriously glorified by this diversity, and His infinite perfections more manifest as we see them participated in so many different ways.

But if Providence ultimately determines the degree and variety of spiritual vitality, our cooperation with graces offered is also a large determining factor. The supernatural life is capable of increase and depth, depending on the frequency and fervor with which the sacraments are received. Devotion to prayer and, in fact, the whole gamut of good works performed, helps to merit growth in sanctifying grace and advancement in the soul’s nearness to God.

It was not a passing remark when the Council of Trent described justification as a “renovation of the interior man through the voluntary reception of grace,” since our free wills have much to do with setting limits to divine generosity. St. Francis de Sales observed that in the measure to which we divest ourselves of self-love, so that our heart does not refuse consent to the divine mercy, God “ever pours forth and ceaselessly spreads His sacred inspirations, which ever increase and make us increase more and more in heavenly love.” He than asks how it happens that we are not so advanced in the love of God as some of the saints.

It is because God has not given us the grace. But why has He not given us the grace? Because we did not correspond with His inspirations as we should have. And why did we not correspond? Because being free we have herein abused our liberty. But why did we abuse our liberty?
We must stop there for, as St. Augustine says, the ill-use of our will proceeds from no cause, but from some deficiency in the agent who commits the sin. And we must not expect to give a reason for the fault that occurs in sin, because it would not be a sin if it were not without reason. [70]

The same principle was enunciated by St. Ignatius Loyola in his Constitutions for the Society of Jesus. “Generally speaking,” he said, “the more closely a person binds himself to God and the more generous he is in dealing with His sovereign Majesty, the more generous will he find God towards him. He will also become daily better disposed to receive graces and richer spiritual gifts (dona spiritualia uberiora).” [71] Living the deiform life, therefore, is a vital process from the divine side and from ours. God is free to confer this life and to confer it in the degree that pleases His unfathomable will. We are free to receive what He offers and to receive as much as we choose according to our generosity.

One aspect of this subject which may be overlooked, however is that when God wishes to communicate His graces to souls He normally uses human instruments that are possessed of the kind of divine life He intends to give. Again Ignatius points out how philosophy and experience teach us that in the generation of man or animals a cause or agent of the same species is required which possess the same form as that which is to be transmitted. “In like manner, to transmit the form of humility, patience, charity, and so forth, to others, God wills that the immediate cause which He uses as instruments, such as the preacher, or confessor, be humble, charitable, patient.” [72] The implications of this principle for the apostolate are self-explanatory.

Weakness, Death and Resurrection. The natural life of the body is liable to sickness and debility arising from alien forces or weakness from within. In similar fashion the spiritual life of the soul may be injured and debilitated through conflict with temptations and yielding to what are called venial sins. Moreover, as the physical body may be not only ill or suffer injury, but cease to retain its principle of life; so the soul can lose sanctifying grace through mortal sin and supernaturally cease to live.

Scholastic theology explains the difference between mortal and venial sin in terms of a soul’s proper orientation to its last end, the triune God, by analogy with the respective conditions in a human body.

The degrees of disorder may be marked. One turns the whole order upside down; the other leaves the principles intact, but muddles the details and subordinate pattern. The balance of health may be so utterly wrecked that life is destroyed; or it may be upset so as to cause sickness, but not death. The final purpose of life is the key to the moral order. When our acts are so deranged that we turn away from our last end, namely God, to whom we should be united by charity, then the sin is mortal. Short of that, the sin is venial. [73]

This means that a soul in grave sin is spiritually dead because it is no longer united with God who gives it supernatural life, even as a body is dead on separation from its animating principle, which is the soul. While still on earth, this union with God is both a possession and a movement. We possess Him by grace and in faith, and we are moving towards Him in the beatific vision of glory. When a man sins mortally, he is dead twice over -- once because he loses the gift of divine life he formerly had, and once again because he is no longer moving towards the consummation of that life in heaven.

St. Thomas further compares the two types of sin in terms of their curability. “Bodily death is incurable by nature, but for sickness remedies may be found.” The same thing holds true in the supernatural order. “Turn away from your last end, then of itself your sin is mortal and beyond repair, with everlasting penal effects. But venial sin can be repaired, and is undeserving of interminable punishment. [74]

This difference explains why grave sins are called mortal, and light sins venial. The former are not remissible through any intrinsic power within the soul itself; much as the human body, once dead, cannot be brought back to life except by a special intervention of God. But venial faults are venial (from venia, pardon) precisely because the soul still has the vital principle that allows a cure ab intrinseco, just as in the healing of a sick or diseased body, whose source of animation (the soul) is still present, the ailing bodily function is restored to health.

Both kinds of sin are detrimental, but in vastly different ways. Deliberate venial guilt is a disease that slackens the spiritual powers, lowers a man’s resistance to evil, and causes him to deviate from the path which leads to glory. It places obstacles in the way of virtue and reduces fervor for the things of God. “Can this be of little consequence?” asked Theresa of Avila. Yet the person who sins venially, even through inveterate habit, is supernaturally alive. Not so the man estranged from God. He is spiritually dead, and in patristic literature the restoration is compared to the resuscitation of Lazarus from the grave. The exercise of almighty power in either case is the same. “Every one who sins dies,” said St. Augustine. Only the Lord, “by His great grace and great mercy raises souls to life again, that we may not die eternally.” [75] It is only the frequency of this wonder that makes people forget the divine love and condescension it implies.

Chapter IV - References

[1] St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione Dei Verbi, 5; St. Ambrose, De Cain et Abel, I, 45.

[2] Luther, Enarratio in Psalmum 51, 2.

[3] Ibid., 7; CCC 2023.

[4] Calvin, Institutes, III, 11, 2; CCC 1701.

[5] Calvin, Institutes, III, 23.

[6] The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Oxford University Press, 1944), p.605.

[7] Constitution of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, (Philadelphia: Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1955), pp.214-215.

[8] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), Vol. IV, Part 1, p.597.

[9] Formula of Concord, III, “On Justifying Faith,” (n.p.: Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States, 1986), 11.

[10] CCC 1266.

[11] Formula of Concord, 15.

[12] John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, (London: Epworth Press, 1952), p.106; CCC 1709.

[13] John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, (London: Epworth Press, 1952), pp.107-108.

[14] DS 1524; CCC 1996.

[15] DS 1515; CCC 997-98, 1987.

[16] Barth, op. cit., p.597.

[17] DS 1528; CCC 1266.

[18] DS 1528.

[19] DS 1529.

[20] K.E. Skydsgaard, One in Christ (University of Copenhagen lectures on Roman Catholicism and Protestantism), Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957, pp.141-142.

[21] DS 1528.

[22] DS 1530; CCC 1266.

[23] DS 1547.

[24] DS 1561.

[25] Barth, op. cit., p.624.

[26] Titus 3:4; CCC 1215.

[27] Colossians 3:3; Romans 6:4; CCC 654, 1003.

[28] John 3:1-15.

[29] Ephesians 4:23.

[30] St. Augustine, “De Genesi ad Litteram” 6:24, MPL 34, 353.

[31] St. Augustine, “De Spiritu et Littera” 9, MPL 44, 209.

[32] II Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10; Galatians 6:15.

[33] II Corinthians 1:22; CCC 698, 1296.

[34] I John 4:16.

[35] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa, II-II, 23,2; CCC 798, 1813.

[36] Ibid., I-II, 110,2.

[37] Ibid.; CCC 1997.

[38] CCC 2000.

[39] St. Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, XXVII, 2, 7.

[40] CCC 2008, 2009, 2011.

[41] I John 3:9.

[42] Pius XII, Mystici Corporis 87.

[43] CCC 1813, 1999-2000.

[44] St. Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, XXVII, 2 (corpus).

[45] CCC 260, 356, 1998.

[46] CCC 1999.

[47] DS 3016; CCC 286.

[48] CCC 40. 41.

[49] Colossians 3:4; Acts 3:15; John 1:4.

[50] John 5:26.

[51] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 11.

[52] DS 1000; CCC 1023.

[53] CCC 168.

[54] DS 1524; CCC 1265, 1266.

[55] Romans 10:14-15; CCC 875.

[56] Pius XII, Discorsie Radiomessaggi (Vatican City: Tip. Polyglotta Vaticana, 1940-1959), 19:438; CCC 905.

[57] CCC 1212, 1420-1421.

[58] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 58; CCC 1581, 1641; cf. Lumen Gentium 11 Section 2.

[59] DS 1322; CCC 1392.

[60] DS 1638; CCC 1393-96.

[61] CCC 1331; 1396, 1398.

[62] “The Fathers of the Church”, vol., The Didache, chap. 9.

[63] St. Robert Southwell: Verses Prefixed to “Short Rules of Good Life.” (Charlottesville: Folger Shakespeare Library, University Press of Virginia, 1973).

[64] Leo XIII, On the Right Order of Christian Life Encyclical [Exenunte Iam Anno], (1888), 12.

[65] St. Robert Bellarmine, De Bonis Operibus in Particulari, “De Oratione,” I, 3.

[66] Pope Leo XIII, Exenunte Iam Anno 11. English trans.: Letter of Our Holy Father by Divine Providence Pope Leo XIII. On the Closing Year of his Sacerdotal Jubilee (London: “Tablet” Off., 1888).

[67] Ibid.

[68] St. Alphonsus Liguori, Opere Ascetiche (Turin: Marietti, 1845), vol. II, p.576; CCC 2744.

[69] I Corinthians 7:7.

[70] St. Francis de Sales, The Love of God, II, Chapter 11, third ed., trans. Rev. Henry Benedict Mackey, O.S.B. (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1997).

[71] Constitutiones Societatis Jesu (Rome: In Collegio Eiusdem Societatis, 1583), III, 1, 22.

[72] Letters of St. Ignatius Loyola, trans. William John Young, S.J. (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1959), p.129.

[73] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa I-II, 72, 5; CCC 1854-55.

[74] Ibid; CCC 1863.

[75] St. Augustine, “In Joannis Evangelium Tractatus,” 49, MPL, 35, 1747.

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