JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.


204. When the work of Redemption had been accomplished by Christ, the fruit of it was to be applied to men by the Holy Ghost, whose work is to continue till the end of time; for He is to abide with us forever (Jo. XIV, 16). His task is twofold: "He shall abide with you, and shall be in you" (ib. 17). a) He abides with the Church, by giving it permanence, infallibility, unity, sanctity, Catholicity, Apostolicity, as we have considered in the treatise on the Church. b) The Holy Spirit is in individual Christians, by accomplishing in their souls the work of sanctification, whereby He disposes them to enjoy hereafter the vision of God. Now this influence upon the soul, preparing it to receive eternal happiness, is called "grace". The term denotes something that is given gratis, that is given without being due. It is limited in this treatise to signify those gifts which aid man to obtain the vision of God hereafter. This vision, as we have seen (n. 172), is not due to our nature, but is supernatural. Therefore it cannot be reached by our natural powers; but these need to be elevated and aided by supernatural grace, and it is of this grace that we are treating here. This aid to salvation may be something exterior to man, for instance the preaching of the word of God; it is then called exterior grace. Or it may be interior to man, consisting of the direct action of God on the soul; it is then called interior grace.

Grace is either actual or habitual. In Chapter I we shall treat of actual, in Chapter II of habitual grace.

Actual Grace.

205. In our present state of repaired nature (n. 180), we usually mean by actual grace a supernatural influence which God exerts upon the soul, by way of a passing impulse or aid, in order that we may do an act which tends to our supernatural end. That the Holy Spirit aids men to attain salvation, and that such aid is needed by man to attain it, are truths taught throughout the Holy Scriptures, and upon which, therefore, nearly all who call themselves Christians are agreed. But with regard to the extent to which we need this grace, utterly false teachings are common outside of our holy religion, and these are of various kinds. It will contribute to the right understanding of Catholic doctrine if we first consider these errors.

Pelagius in the fifth century, as do the Unitarians and Universalists to-day, denied the necessity of all actual grace, in the sense in which we have just defined it, namely as a supernatural passing action of God upon the soul. The Semi-Pelagians taught that free-will sufficed for the first step; and that when man, unaided by supernatural grace, took the first step, he thereby earned, or merited, the grace he needed for his further progress. Calvin, going to the opposite extreme, regarded actual grace as absolutely necessary to all men, and nevertheless refused to many. The Catholic Church, avoiding both extremes, teaches that it is both necessary to all and refused to none. We shall prove, 1. That actual grace is necessary to man; 2. That it is not refused to any one; 3. That, when present, it does not take away freedom of choice.


206. The manner in which actual grace influences our meritorious acts may be thus explained. No action of man has any supernatural value unless it be elevated above its nature by the influence of the Holy Ghost; for this purpose, it must be wholly permeated with grace, which must therefore affect both the intellect and the will. First, grace presents an object to the mind as in some way desirable : this is called stirring grace; it enlightens the intellect. Secondly, while we are considering whether we will embrace the object or not, both intellect and will are at work, and helping grace assists both powers. Thirdly, when the will filially consents by its free choice, grace assists it in so doing. The doctrine of the need of grace for the intellect is implied in such texts as state that the Lord has revealed to little ones things which are hidden from the wise and prudent (Matt. XI, 25); that of the need of grace for the will is indicated in texts in which we beg that God would incline our hearts to His testimonies (Ps. 118). It may be well to remark that what we have called "stirring" grace is often styled preventing, while the helping grace is also styled subsequent or co-operating grace.

207. The Catholic Doctrine is thus stated by the Council of Trent (Canon 2 of Session 6th): "If any one say that Divine grace is given through Jesus Christ, only to enable man to live justly and earn eternal life, as if by power of his free-will he could without grace do both these things, although scarcely and with difficulty, let him be anathema." (Canon 3): "If any one say that without the previous inspiration and aid of the Holy Spirit man can believe, hope, love, and repent as he ought, let him be anathema."

The former of these canons condemns the Pelagian, the latter the Semi-Pelagian heresy. The phrase "as he ought" is important. Every man ought "to attain his end; it means therefore in a manner conducive to that end".

First, grace is needed for the beginnings of faith, and even for that pious affection towards believing which is the first condition of saving faith. For we are not "sufficient to think anything of ourselves as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Cor. III, 5). Now the beginning of faith is a kind of "thinking", therefore it needs grace.

Again "What hast thou that thou hast not received"? (1 Cor. IV, 7). "If faith were given as a reward for natural merit it would not be grace, a gratuitous gift; Otherwise grace is no more grace" (Rom. XI, 6). But may not a man who has not faith still believe some revealed truths? He may accept them materially, but not in the manner "he ought" that they may be helpful to salvation. Can God then require of us what we cannot do? He helps us to do what we cannot do of ourselves, when He requires us to do it.

Secondly, grace is needed for every good work that it may receive a supernatural reward. For no man can come to Christ "unless the Father draw him" (Jo. VI, 44); "Without Me," He says, "you can do nothing" (ib. XV, 5). This grace must be interior (nn. 204): for we can bear no fruit unless we remain as branches in the vine, which is Christ (ib. XV, 1-10); and no exterior influence on branches will suffice to make them fertile the severed branch brings forth absolutely no fruit. St. Paul expresses time doctrine clearly; "It is God who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish" (Phil. II, 11). God offers to every adult grace to pray, and by prayer to obtain all other graces which are necessary for salvation: "Ask and it shall be given you" (Matt. VII, 7).

208. The grace so far explained is elevating grace, elevating the acts of man to a dignity superior to his nature; for evidently a merely natural act cannot earn a supernatural reward. We are now to consider our need of what is called healing grace. This is not necessarily a grace distinct from the elevating action of God; but it is viewed differently, namely as enabling us to overcome the leaning of our corrupt nature to evil, thus keeping us from falling into sin. The following is the doctrine of the Church regarding our need of this healing grace, the need varying with varying purposes, as we shall now explain.

1. Need of grace for sinlessness. The Council of Trent decreed: "If any one say that a man who is once justified can throughout his life avoid all sin, including even venial sin, except by a special privilege of God . . . , let him be anathema" (Sess 6, can. 23). It does not say that no one can hope with God's grace to escape mortal sin. It is even held by many that the ordinary aid of grace suffices to save a just man from the commission of fully deliberate venial sins. This incapacity to avoid all sin during a lifetime is moral, not physical; and it means that, while the will can always refuse its consent to sin it will not always do so. The proof is clear: "There is no man that sinneth not" (2 Paral. VI, 36); "There is no just man upon earth that doth good and sinneth not" (Eccles. VII, 21); "In many things we all offend" (James III, 2). All are taught to pray, "Forgive us our tresspasses" (Luke XI, 4). It is not known to how many the privilege of freedom from all actual sin has been extended.

2. Without God's protection no one could be long exempt from urgent temptation to grievous sin; and though he physically can, he morally cannot, that is he actually will not, resist many such temptations without the aid of grace. By a temptation is meant any influence which tends to lead the will to consent to sin; it may come from the world, i.e. from the allurements of external objects; or from the flesh, i.e. from the cravings of man's lower nature; or from the direct solicitations of the devil.

The Scripture teaches us to pray "Lead us not into temptation" (Luke XI, 4), and we are assured that "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will also with temptation make issue, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. X, 13). This doctrine of our need of grace to enable us to resist grievous temptation, though not defined, is a certain theological conclusion, the denial of which would, to say the least, be rash.

3. Perseverance, in theology, is the fixed will of a just man to retain sanctifying grace; and Final Perseverance is the great gift enjoyed by those who die in this state of grace. It implies a series of actual grace, without which such perseverance would bave been impossible; and it adds the special privilege of dying when in the state of grace. The Council of Trent calls it a "great gift", -- as it evidently is, -- and defines that Perseverance is impossible for a just man without special aid from God, but that with this aid it is possible (Sess. 6, can. 22). This special grace belongs to the ordinary providence of God. All this is a corollary of our doctrine respecting grievous temptations. Evidently, "Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He cometh, shall find watching" (Luke XII, 37).

Apart from a special revelation, no one can know that he will receive this blessing; it is not annexed to any works of piety; prayer is indeed an infallible means to obtain all needed aids of grace (Matt. VII, 7), but Perseverance is conditioned on our co-operation. The words "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil", are, as St. Augustine remarks, a prayer for Final Perseverance.

4. Confirmation in grace, granted to the Blessed Virgin, and, as is commonly believed, to the Apostles and others, is a Divine decree always to give a just man such grace as God knows will be efficacious in his case.

5. While without grace man can do nothing that draws him nearer to the supernatural possession of God, nor can resist all temptations to grievous sin, we assert that he is capable to resist the less urgent temptations that assail him, and to do acts that have natural goodness. For the Council of Constance, in 1418, condemned the following error of John Huss: "If a man is vicious and does any act, he acts viciously; if he is virtuous and does any act, he acts virtuously". Pope Leo X condemned the doctrine taught by Luther, that the just man sins in every good work. The Council of Trent condemned those who say that all works done before justification are truly sins, and the virtues of the philosophers are vices; that it is a Pelagian error to say that free-will was power to avoid sin; that whatever is done by a sinner, or servant of sin, is a sin. And the Bull Unigenitus condemned the proposition of Quesnel that the prayer of the impious is a new sin, and what God grants them is a new condemnation.

209. In opposition to the Catholic doctrine, the 13th of the 39 Articles of the English Establishment says "Works done before the grace of God and the Inspiration of His Spirit are not pleasant to God, for as much as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or, as the school authors say, deserve grace of congruity; yea rather, for that they are not done as God commanded and willed them to be done we doubt not but that they have the nature of sin." This is the doctrine of Luther, less bluntly expressed.

All these forms of error suppose that an act is evil because it has no supernatural goodness. Now this cannot be; for sin necessarily takes men from God; but almsdeeds and prayers of sinners do not take them farther from God, for sinners are encouraged to pray (3 Kings VIII, 38), the prayer of time Publican procured him pardon (St. Luke XVIII, 14), and Daniel urged Nabuchodonosor to redeem his sins with alms (Dan. IV, 24); therefore such works are not sins.


210. As God wills all men to be saved, and Christ gave Himself as an atonement for all (n. 200), So likewise God distributes His grace in such a manner that all men who attain the use of reason receive, throughout their lives, the grace necessary to enable them to attain salvation, or at least the means of obtaining such grace. To explain and prove this doctrine, we shall consider various classes of men for whom grace is needed.

1. To begin with the Just. Jansenius taught that the observance of some commandments of God is impossible to the just. This was condemned as heretical by Innocent X in 1653. For, "God will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able" (1 Cor. X, 13); and Christ says: "My yoke is sweet and my burden light" (Matt. XI, 30); and St. Augustine: The Lord will never be wanting to you; be it your care never to be wanting to the Lord, never wanting to yourself" (In Ps. 39, n. 27).

2. Grace for Sinners. A man in sin needs grace to avoid further sin, -- which grace, however, is given to all (n. 208, 1), -- and also grace to turn away from his sin and gain the friendship of God. Luther and Calvin held that sinners were unable to escape from their sin; they were condemned for this teaching by the Council of Trent. For, "As I live, says the Lord, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezech. XXXIII, ii).

3. The Obdurate are those on whom the ordinary means of grace have been tried, but fruitlessly. Theologians regard it as certain that grace is offered even to these, in such measure that it lies with them to repent of their sins and regain the favor of God. For sinners are reproved in Scripture for their obstinacy, which is therefore wilful (Acts VII, 51). No priest would refuse to exercise his ministry in the case of some dying sinner on the ground that the man was obdurate and deserted by God, unless he was known to continue in his obstinacy.

But does not the Scripture say that God Himself hardens some sinners? The hardening spoken of is merely negative; God gives them grace sufficient by which they can be saved, but they will not co-operate. As to St. Paul's words, "It is impossible for those who were once illuminated . . . and are fallen away, to be renewed again to penance" (Hebr. VI, 4-6), many of the Fathers understand them to mean that Baptism, which is often called "illumination", cannot be received a second time. There is a famous difficulty concerning a sin which is often called "blasphemy against the Holy Ghost", which shall not be forgiven either in this world or in the world to come (Mark III, 29). St. Mark adds: "Because they said, He has an unclean spirit", and thus indicates that the sin spoken of is that of the Jews, who maliciously and obstinately rejected the proofs of Christ's mission by attributing His miracles to the evil spirit. The same sin is committed by those who persistently refuse to accept the truth when it is clearly presented to them, and die in this state of obstinacy. The pride involved in hardened malice is rarely vanquished by grace (n. 259).

Of Esau it is said (Hebr. XII, 16) that "he sold his birthright" and that "he found no place of repentance, though with tears he sought it": but he regretted only the foolish bargain which he had made and remained in sin, resolved to kill his brother (Gen. XXVII, 41).

4. Infidels are those who have not the faith; if they wilfully rejected it when it was proposed to them, they are called positive infidels, and these are included among the sinners considered in the preceeding paragraphs. If the Catholic faith has never been proposed to them in such a manner as to bring home to their minds that they cannot prudently decline it, they are negative infidels. That grace is given to them is taught by the Bull Unigenitus. All receive, proximately or remotely, such grace as is necessary for their salvation. For "God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. II, 4). Some writers of weight believe that these words apply to the human race at large and not to every man; but St. Thomas says (De Ver. q. 14. a. II, ad 1); "It is the course of God's providence to supply every man with what is needed for salvation, if there be no hindrance on his part. For if one who is brought up in the woods, among brute beasts, follow the leading ot natural reason by seeking good and avoiding evil, we must certainly hold that God would either reveal to him by internal inspiration what it is necessary for him to believe, or would send him a preacher, as he sent St. Peter to Cornelius" (Acts X).


211. Most Protestant sects, following the lead of Luther and Calvin, suppose that actual grace, when it is interior, that is, when there is a real influence exerted by the Holy Ghost upon the soul, cannot be resisted by the free-will of man. The Catholic Doctrine, on the contrary, teaches that a grace may be fully sufficient to enable a man to do a supernaturally good act, and yet the man may freely refuse to comply with it, so that, through his own fault, the grace is not efficacious. For the freedom of the will consists exactly in this, that, when every thing is ready for action, we can still act or not act, as we please, or do one act or another. The efficacy of grace depends, therefore, on the compliance of our free-will; and we call grace efficacious if it is freely complied with while if it is rejected we simply call it sufficient. We shall next show that this is truly the doctrine of the Church and of the Scriptures.

212. The Council of Trent defines the share that our free-will has in working out our salvation: "If any one say that the free-will of man when moved and stirred by God, does not co-operate by its assent to the stirring and calling of God, so as to dispose and prepare itself for obtaining the grace of justification, and that it cannot dissent if it please, but, like an inanimate object, it does nothing, and remains merely passive, let him be anathema" (Sess. 6, can. 4). St. Augustine insists on the principle that God, who has created us without us, will not save us without our co-operation (Serm. 169).

Scripture is clear on this point: it praises the man "who could have transgressed and has not transgressed" (Ecelus. XXXI, 10), and "him that has determined, being steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but having the power of his own will" (1 Cor. VII, 37). If a man sinned because he cannot help sinning, what becomes of morality? The Reformers admitted that their doctrine had lain hid for many centuries.

They however object the words of Christ: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who hath sent Me draw him" (Jo. VI, 44). If a thing is drawn, they say, it does not move itself. But that depends on the manner of drawing. For, as St. Augustine remarks on this very text, "A cart is drawn by a horse, a lamb by a tempting wisp of grass, a child by a handful of nuts; we are freely drawn by love" (In Jo. 7). Whoever is freely drawn has the power to resist the attraction.

213. The limited intellect of man cannot reasonably pretend to answer all questions regarding the distribution and the efficacy of grace. If nature is full of mysteries, the supernatural is far more mysterious. In particular, much difficulty is found in trying to understand how the action of efficacious grace is to be reconciled with the free-will of man. In explaining this matter, theologians are divided into various schools. The account which we have given of efficacious and of sufficient grace (n. 211) is very commonly accepted. It reconciles the grace of God with the free-will of man in this way: God by His scientia media, explained above, (n. 135), knows whether a man would freely use a certain grace if it were given him, or would freely reject it. If the man use it, (and he does so freely), he thereby makes it efficacious. If he freely refuses to comply with it, he freely makes it inefficacious. God knows that if another grace had been given, the man would freely have used it; but of course God was not bound to give such grace as He knew would overcome the bad will of the man. Why in a certain case He gives one grace and not another, is His own secret.

214. This remark opens up the question of predestination, which it is necessary, in this place, to explain with some fulness. God has destined all men to everlasting happiness; and, as He has done so by His antecedent will, He may be said with truth to have predestined all to salvation. Still usage has confined the term "predestined" to those who will eventually obtain salvation. Now, 1. It is of faith that God seriously and sincerely wills the salvation of at least some who are not of the number of the predestined, and that Christ did not die for the predestined only; for the contradictories of these statements are declared to be heretical, one by the Council of Trent (Sess. 6), the other against Jansenius. The truth is clear from the fact that Christ declared: "This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all that He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again in the last day" (John VI, 39). Judas was among those whom the Father had given to Christ, who gives thanks to His Father that of those that He had given none were lost but the son of perdition; where this solitary exception undoubtedly refers to Judas. And Judas is among the lost, else Christ could not have said, "It were better for him if that man had not been born" (Matt. XXVI, 24). Therefore this one whom the Father willed to be saved is lost.

2. That God's will to save embraces all mankind, is asserted in Scripture with no less plainness: "Who (our Saviour) will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator of God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a redemption for all" (1 Tim. II, 4). He certainly wished to save those for whom He died.

As to the text in which Christ said, "I pray not for the world, but for them that Thou hast given Me" (Jo. XVII, 9), it will be noticed that He does not say that He never prayed for the world, but only on that occasion: and even then He prayed for it indirectly, "That the world may believe" (ib. V, 21).

The Fathers commonly confirm our doctrine. Even St. Augustine, who by some is quoted against us in this matter, writes: "The will of God is that all men should be saved, but not in such sort as to take from them their free-will" (De Spir. et Lit. c. 33, n. 57). The antecedent will of God is frustrated, in the case of adults, when they freely refuse to do their share of the work. But may not a sinner die and be lost because a priest has neglected his duty, or has failed to reach him without fault to any man? We answer that God's justice does not require that He shall interfere by miracle with the course of nature or the free-will of men; if the sinner is lost, he deserves it. When an infant dies in original sin, the antecedent will of God for its salvation is frustrated; but no injustice is done to the infant, because the vision of God is not due to it.

Certainly great responsibility thus rests on priests for the faithful performance of their sacred duties; and similar responsibility rests on those young men who, in God's mercy, are called to the priesthood, if they refuse to follow their holy vocation. On the other hand, the richest rewards are in store for all who generously cooperate with Christ in procuring the salvation of souls: "They that instruct many to justice (shall shine) as stars for all eternity" (Dan. XII, 3).

215. The false doctrine of Predestinarianism originated in the time of St. Augustine, and reappeared at various times in various shapes. The man who put this doctrine into its modern shape was John Calvin, from whom it is named Calvinism. The heads of Calvin's system are summarized as follows by Cardinal Franzelin: "Of men some are created for eternal life, others for eternal damnation: and so we say that a man is predestined for life or death according as he is created for one or the other end. To be ordained to death does not follow on sin; but the sin of Adam, and the ruin his sin entailed to the race, is itself the effect resulting from this antecedent Divine predestination of many to eternal death. This decree of God is put in execution when He grants, to those whom He has antecedently chosen, the call to faith and the external declaration that they are just: while to others who are antecedently reprobated He refuses all grace, and hardens them in iniquity. Faith and other gifts in the elect have no character of merit, but are symbols and testimonies of the antecedent election: similarly in the reprobate, their infidelity and sins are indication of their reprobation which has gone before" (De Deo Uno, Th. 54). A much later form of this heresy considered the Divine decree of reprobation as subsequent to the foreknowledge of Adam's sin.

Calvinism was adopted by the more radical sects of Protestants, especially in France, Switzerland, and Scotland; also in England by the Puritans, who are now represented both by the Low Church party, and by the Congregationalists and Baptists. The formularies of the Established Church have a convenient vagueness; its High and Broad sections prefer Arminianism, so named from a Dutch divine called Arminius, whose tenets, while unsound and vague on other points, scarcely differ from ours on the all-embracing will of God to save men (n. 361).

Certain doctrines akin to Calvinism were taught by Baius in the Catholic University of Louvain; and in 1567 seventy-six errors taught by him were condemned by Pope St. Pius V.

In 1640, a book called "Augustinus" was published, two years after the death of its author, Cornelius Jansen, of the same University. It contained a system of theology which pretended to be founded on the teachings of St. Augustine, but it reproduced some errors of Baius. Five of its propositions were condemned by Innocent X in 1653. But the Jansenists, real heretics, strove long to remain in the Church, appealing to the Church of the past and of the future. Theirs was a subtle and insidious spirit, putting private study of Scripture above the living authority of the Pope, setting up an impossible standard of morality, keeping away the faithful from the Sacraments as if unworthy of them, and vigorously opposing the spread of devotion to the Sacred Heart, which so directly promotes the spirit of love towards God. The heresy was supported by many of the statesmen of France, for the purpose of resisting the Pope and defending their Gallican liberties; its ultimate effect was to spread immorality among the people.

216. The Book of Life, frequently mentioned in Scripture, signifies God's knowledge of the eternal decree whereby He has predestined somne to glory. This decree is formed in the light of the Divine foreknowledge of what the conduct of man will be. The Book of Life in the Apocalypse (XXII, 19) denotes tIme state of grace; for a name may be taken away from it.

As to the number of the predestined, it is impossible to conjecture with confidence. Many think, with little probability however, that they form but a small proportion, even of those who belong to the body of the Church (n. 96); others believe that at least the great majority of Catholics will be saved; others that those saved bear no small proportion to the whole number of men. The Council of Trent teaches that no one without a revelation of it can be certain of his predestination (n. 208, 3); for "He that thinketh himself to stand let him take heed lest he fall" (1. Cor. X, 12); and we are with fear and trembling to work out our salvation (Phil. II, 12). The reason is that God's decree is an act of His free-will, which cannot be known to us unless He make it known. We may have great, but not absolute confidence that we are in the state of grace; but who can know that he will not sin again? And yet Calvin made justification to consist in certain assurance of predestination.

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