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

Habitual Grace.

Actual grace aids us to obtain the infusion and increase of habitual grace, and ultimately eternal happiness. We shall explain, 1. The true doctrine concerning habitual grace; 2. The chief modern errors on the subject; 3. Merit acquired with the aid of grace.


217. Habitual grace makes the soul holy, and is therefore called sanctifying grace. The Council of Trent defines it, in words taken from St. Paul, as "charity which is poured forth in the hearts of men by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them" (Rom. V, 5). Its nature is fully set forth in the Epistle to Titus (III, 5-7). "By it", says the Council of Trent, "we are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and . . . actually are just when we receive justice in ourselves, . . . which the Holy Ghost imparts to each as He pleases, and according to the disposition of each, and his co-operation" (Sess. 6, c. 7).

The principal effects of sanctifying grace, or justification, are. 1. The destruction of all grievous sin, both original and actual. For we have seen (n. 179) that the state of sin consists in the privation of sanctifying grace, which ought to adorn the soul; when therefore sanctifying grace is obtained, grievous sin is thereby destroyed. 2. We are made by it like to Christ: "As many of you as are baptized have put on Christ" (Gal. III, 27). 3. Holy and supernaturally pleasing to God, "Partakers of the divine Nature" (2 Pet. I, 4. We thus become adopted sons of God, so that we are called and are sons of God (1 Jo. III, 1). 5. Sanctifying grace brings with it many infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost (n. 303).

218. There are many grades of habitual grace; for the Council of Trent teaches that men grow in grace when their faith goes along with good work (Sess. 6, ch, 10). Many texts of Scripture say the same thing: "Peter, lovest Thou Me more than these? (Jo. XXI, 15); "He shall go from virtue to virtue" (Ps. 83); "Grow in grace" (II Pet. III, 18). If sin were only covered, or merit only imputed, all Christians would be equal in grace; and this equality is actually taught by Luther (n. 361, I). The following are some signs from which the presence of sanctifying grace in the soul may be inferred. 1. Faithful observance of God's commandments: "He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me" (Jo. XIV, 21). 2. A love of our neighbor for the sake of God: "By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jo. XIII, 35). 3. If we love to think of God: "Where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also" (Matt. VI, 21). 4. If we love to hear the word of God: "He that is of God heareth the word of God". 5. If we have within us the testimony of a good conscience: "If our heart do not reprehend us, we have confidence towards God" (1 Jo. III, 21), But in applying these tests to ourselves, we must beware of self-deceit, lest we be of those "who trusted in themselves as just and despised others" (Luke XVIII, 9). A strong safeguard is perfect openness in our dealings with our confessor, and obedience to his directions.

219. The Council of Trent has also defined that one may fall from grace into sin (Sess. 6, can. 23). For the Apostles were in the friendship of God when Christ said to them: "Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation" (Matt. XXVI, 41); and yet St. Peter fell into sin. So did Saul, David, and Solomon: "He that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. X, 12). Calvin maintained that the man who sinned had never had grace. Luther more boldly declared that acts which would be sins in others, when committed by the just man were not sins at all; still he inconsistently admitted that one might fall from grace (n. 361, I).

Habitual grace is wholly lost by mortal sin; but there is a general agreement that it cannot be partially lost by venial sin; else multiplied venial sin would be equal to a mortal sin, which is a contradiction (n. 311). But venial sin tends to lessen the supply of actual grace, and thus paves the way for mortal sins.

220. The preceeding explanations of grace, actual and habitual, enable us to understand clearly the Catholic doctrine of justification, which may be stated thus. It is the mercy of God alone that offers to man supernatural happiness; He makes this offer known to man through the preaching of His Church, which He accompanies by an interior stirring grace (n. 206). If man co-operates with this grace, he believes the truth with a certainty that nothing can shake, and is moved on learning the love of God for mankind; he sees reasons to fear God's justice, and throws himself on God's mercy, trusting in the merits of Christ; hence he conceives a love of God and a detestation of sin. Thus, by the operation of grace and the co-operation of free-will, the way is prepared for justification; and, provided that man puts no obstacle in the way, the Holy Spirit works this justification by pouring charity into his soul, thereby destroying sin. The man now purified enters upon a virtuous life, hoping to become by the merits of his Saviour an heir of the kingdom of Heaven; but he has no certainty of salvation.


221. The leading Reformers of the sixteenth century have perverted this doctrine utterly. They totally denied sanctifying grace, or the real holiness of the soul, and made justification consist in freedom from responsibility for sin; the merits of Christ were simply imputed to the sinner without making any change in his soul (n. 361).

The Lutheran doctrine, as explained by Moehler in his Symbolik, is that Justification is the work of the Creator alone, in which the creature does not even cooperate. The sinner, on hearing the Christian law preached, is seized with intense fear; and learning that the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world, he lays hold of the merits of Christ, by means of the faith which alone justifies. On account of Christ's merits God reputes the sinner innocent, though he remains guilty of his own sins and of original sin. Good works follow, but faith alone justifies, and this faith contains certainty that his sins are pardoned.

The Calvinist doctrine differs from the Lutheran in three points. 1. Fear does not precede faith, but the thought of God's mercy touches the sinner, and leads him to hate his sins, and so to pass to faith and repentance. 2. The Divine action is exercised on the elect alone, as was explained in n. 215. 3. The faith which saves a man is a firm belief that he is predestined to eternal happiness.

222. All Christians agree that faith of some kind is necessary for salvation: "He that believeth not shall be condemned" (Mark XVI, 16). But what is meant by faith? Saving faith, say the Lutherans, is believing that for Christ's sake your sins are not imputed. It is believing that you are predestined to bliss, said Calvin. The Council of Trent condemns these doctrines, and teaches that by faith we believe all that God has revealed, as was explained above (n. 118). That faith thus belongs mainly to the intellect is fully explained by St. Paul (Hebr. X, 38 to XI, 7); and he puts fear among its fruits; now fear cannot be the fruit of confidence, which the Lutherans miscall faith.

That faith alone is not sufficient is explicitly taught by the Council of Trent. It was declared by Christ Himself, who said "Unless you do penance you shall all likewise perish" (St. Luke XIII, 3); and by St. Peter: "Do penance and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins" (Acts 11,38). It was already taught by Ezechiel: "When the wicked turneth himself away from his wickedness which he hath wrought, and doeth judgment and justice, he shall save his soul alive" (XVIII, 27). And still the opposite doctrine, of justification by faith alone, is at the foundation of the whole Lutheran system. True St. Paul had written: "We account a man to be justified by faith without the works of the law" (Rom. III, 28). But the context shows that he was speaking of circumcision and the other works of the Jewish law; and he had said in the same epistle (II, 13): "Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified". St. James avowedly teaches the Catholic doctrine: "By works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (II, 24); solely on account of its doctrine, attempts have been made to exclude his Epistle from the Protestant canon.

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