The works then of a sinner, while he is deprived of holy love, are not profitable to eternal life, and therefore they are called dead works: on the contrary the good works of the just man are said to be living, inasmuch as divine love animates and quickens them with its life. But if afterwards they lose their life and worth by sin, they are said to be works in death (amorties), extinguished, or killed, but not dead works, especially with regard to the elect. For as our Saviour speaking of the little Talitha, the daughter of Jairus, said she was not dead, but slept only, because, being about to be raised to life, her death would be of such short duration that it would resemble sleep rather than a true death; so the works of the just man (and especially of the elect) which the commission of sin makes to die, are not called dead works but only deadlike, killed, stupefied or put into a trance, because upon the approaching return of holy love, they will, or at least can, soon revive and return to life again. The return of sin deprives the heart and all its works of life: the return of grace restores life to the heart and all its works. A sharp winter makes all the plants of the earth die down, so that if it always lasted, they also would always continue in this state of death: sin, that most sad and dreadful winter of the soul, kills all the holy works which it finds therein, and if it always continued, never would anything recover either life or vigour. But as at the return of the fair spring, not only do the new seeds which are sown under the favour of this beautiful and fertile season germinate and agreeably bring forth their plants, each one in its kind, but also the old plants, which the rigour of the past winter had bitten, withered, and made die down, grow green and vigorous, and take up again their strength and their life: -- so sin being blotted out, and the grace of divine love returning into the soul, -- not only do the new affections which the return of this sacred spring brings into the soul blossom and bring forth ample merits and blessings; but the works also that were dried up and withered by the rigour of the winter of past sins, delivered from their mortal enemy, resume their strength, grow vigorous, and, as if risen from the dead, flourish anew, and bring forth fruit of merits for eternal life. Such is the omnipotence of heavenly love, or the love of heavenly omnipotence. When the wicked turneth himself away from his wickedness, which he hath wrought, and doth judgment and justice, he shall save his soul alive. Be converted and do penance for all your iniquities; and iniquity shall not be your ruin, says the Lord Almighty. And what means -- iniquity shall not be your ruin, but that the ruin which it made shall be repaired? So, besides a thousand endearments which the prodigal son received from his father, he was re-established, even with advantage, in all his privileges, and in all the graces, favours and dignities which he had lost. And Job, that innocent image of a penitent sinner, in the end received twice as much as he had before. In truth the most holy Council of Trent desires that we should encourage penitents who have returned to the sacred love of the eternal God, in these words of the Apostle: Abound in every good work, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. For God is not unjust, that he should forget your work and the love which you have shewn in his name. God then does not forget the works of those who having lost love by sin recover it by penance. Now God forgets works when they lose their merit and sanctity by sin committed, and he remembers them when they return to life and vigour by the presence of holy love. So much so, that for the faithful to be rewarded for their good works, as well by the increase of grace and future glory, as by the actual enjoyment of eternal life, it is not necessary that they should never relapse into sin, but it is enough, according to the Sacred Council, that they depart this life in the grace of God and charity.
God has promised an eternal reward to the works of a just man. But if the just man turn himself away from his justice by sin, God will no more remember his justices and good works which he hath done. But yet if this poor fallen man afterwards rises and returns into God's grace by penance, God will no longer remember his sin: and if he do not remember his sin, he will then remember the former good works, and the reward which he had promised them; because sin, which alone had blotted them out of the divine memory, is totally effaced, destroyed and annihilated. So that then the justice of God obliges his mercy, or rather the mercy of God obliges his justice, to regard anew the former good works, even as though he had never forgotten them; otherwise the holy penitent would never have dared to say to his master: Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit. For, as you see, he not only demands a newness of heart and spirit, but he expects to have the joy given back to him which sin had bereft him of. Now this joy is nothing but the wine of heavenly love, which cheers the heart of man.
It is not with sin in this matter as with the works of charity. For the works of the just man are not effaced, destroyed or annihilated by the commission of sin, they are only forgotten; but the sin of the wicked is not only forgotten, but also blotted out, cleansed away, abolished and annihilated by holy penance. Wherefore the sin that is committed by the just man, does not cause the sin that was once pardoned to live again, because it was entirely annihilated: but when love returns into the penitent soul, it makes her former good works return to life again, because they were not abolished but only forgotten. And this oblivion of the good works of the just who have forsaken their justice and charity consists in this, that they are made unprofitable to us so long as sin makes us incapable of eternal life, which is their fruit; and therefore as soon as by the return of charity we are put back in the ranks of God's children, and consequently made capable of immortal glory, God recalls to mind our good works of old, and they again become fruitful. It were not reasonable that sin should have as much power against charity as charity has against sin; for sin proceeds from our infirmity, charity proceeds from God's power. If sin abound in malice to ruin us, grace superabounds to restore us; and God's mercy, by which he blots out sin, is continually exalted and becomes gloriously triumphant over the rigour of the judgment, by which God had forgotten the good works which went before sin. So in the corporal cures which our Saviour wrought by miracles he not only restored health, but moreover added new blessings, making the cure far excel the disease, so bountiful is he to man.
I never saw, read, or heard, that wasps, gadflies, flies, and such little noxious insects when once dead could come to life and rise again, but that the dear bees, those virtuous insects, can live again, every one says, and I have often read it. It is said (these are Pliny's words) that if one keep the dead bodies of drowned honey-bees all winter indoors, and expose them to the sunbeams the following spring, covered over with ashes of the fig tree, they will live again and be as good as ever. That iniquities and sinful works can return to life, after they have once been drowned and abolished by penance, truly, my Theotimus, never did the Scripture, nor, as far as I know, any theologian, aver it: yea the contrary is authorized by holy Writ, and by the common consent of all Doctors. But that good works, which, like sweet bees, compound the honey of merit, being drowned in sin, can afterwards regain life, when, covered with the ashes of penance, they are exposed to the sun of grace and charity, is held and clearly taught by all theologians: nor are we to doubt but that they become profitable and fruitful as before. When Nabuzardan destroyed Jerusalem, and Israel was led into captivity, the holy fire of the altar was hidden in a well, where it was turned into mud, but this mud being drawn out of the well and exposed to the sun after the return from captivity, -- the dead fire kindled again, and the mud was turned into flames. When the just man becomes a slave to sin, all the good works which he had done are miserably forgotten and turned into mud, but being delivered out of captivity, when by penance he returns into the grace of heavenly charity, his former good works are drawn out of the well of oblivion, and touched with the rays of heavenly mercy they return to life, and are converted into as clear flames as ever, to be replaced on the sacred altar of the divine approbation, and to have their original dignity, their first price, and their first value.