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Grace Actual And Habitual by Joseph Pohle

Section 1. Definition Of Actual Grace

1. GENERAL NOTION OF GRACE. -- The best way to arrive at a correct definition of actual grace is by the synthetic method. We therefore begin with the general notion of grace.

Like |nature,|(3) grace (gratia, {GREEK SMALL LETTER CHI}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA WITH OXIA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER RHO}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER FINAL SIGMA}) is a word of wide reach, used in a great variety of senses. Habert(4) enumerates no less than fourteen; which, however, may be reduced to four.

a) Subjectively, grace signifies good will or benevolence shown by a superior to an inferior, as when a criminal is pardoned by the king's grace.

b) Objectively, it designates a favor inspired by good will or benevolence. In this sense the term may be applied to any free and gratuitous gift (donum gratis datum), as when a king bestows graces on his lieges.

c) Grace may also mean personal charm or attractiveness. In this sense the term frequently occurs in Latin and Greek literature (the Three Graces). Charm elicits love and prompts a person to the bestowal of favors.

d) The recipient of gifts or favors usually feels gratitude towards the giver, which he expresses in the form of thanks. Hence the word gratiae (plural) frequently stands for thanksgiving (|gratias agere,| |Deo gratias,| |to say grace after meals|).(5)

The first and fundamental of these meanings is |a free gift or favor.| The benevolence of the giver and the attractiveness of the recipient are merely the reasons for which the gift is imparted, whereas the expression of thanks is an effect following its bestowal.

Dogmatic theology is concerned exclusively with grace in the fundamental sense of the term.

e) Grace is called a gift (donum, {GREEK SMALL LETTER DELTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMEGA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER RHO}{GREEK SMALL LETTER EPSILON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA WITH OXIA}), because it is owing to free benevolence, not required by justice. It is called gratuitous (gratis datum), because it is bestowed without any corresponding merit on the part of the creature. A gift may be due to the recipient as a matter of distributive or commutative justice, and in that case it would not be absolutely gratuitous (gratis). Grace, on the contrary, is bestowed out of pure benevolence, from no other motive than sheer love. This is manifestly St. Paul's idea when he writes: |And if by grace, it is not now by works: otherwise grace is no more grace.|(6) It is likewise the meaning of St. Augustine when he says, in his Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, that grace is |something gratuitously given ... as a present, not in return for something else.|(7)

2. NATURAL AND SUPERNATURAL GRACE. -- Grace is not necessarily supernatural. Sacred Scripture and the Fathers sometimes apply the word to purely natural gifts. We petition God for our daily bread, for good health, fair weather and other temporal favors, and we thank Him for preserving us from pestilence, famine, and war, although these are blessings which do not transcend the order of nature.(8)

a) Our petitions for purely natural favors are inspired by the conviction that creation itself, and everything connected therewith, is a gratuitous gift of God. This conviction is well founded. God was under no necessity of creating anything: creation was an act of His free-will. Again, many of the favors to which human nature, as such, has a claim, are free gifts when conferred upon the individual. Good health, fortitude, talent, etc., are natural graces, for which we are allowed, nay obliged, to petition God. The Pelagians employed this truth to conceal a pernicious error when they unctuously descanted on the magnitude and necessity of grace as manifested in creation. It was by such trickery that their leader succeeded in persuading the bishops assembled at the Council of Diospolis or Lydda (A. D.415) that his teaching was quite orthodox. St. Augustine and four other African bishops later reported to Pope Innocent I, that if these prelates had perceived that Pelagius meant to deny that grace by which we are Christians and sons of God, they would not have listened to him so patiently, and that, consequently, no blame attached to these judges because they simply took the term |grace| in its ecclesiastical sense.(9)

b) Generally speaking, however, the term |grace| is reserved for what are commonly called the supernatural gifts of God, the merely preternatural as well as the strictly supernatural.(10) In this sense |grace| is as sharply opposed to purely natural favors as nature is opposed to the supernatural.

The importance of the distinction between supernatural and purely natural grace will appear from an analysis of the concept itself. Considered as gifts of God, the strictly supernatural graces (e.g., justification, divine sonship, the beatific vision) ontologically exceed the bounds of nature. Considered as purely gratuitous favors, they are negatively and positively undeserved. The grace involved in creation, for instance, is not conferred on some existing beneficiary, but actually produces its recipient. The creation itself, therefore, being entirely gratis data, all that succeeds it, supernatural grace included, must be negatively undeserved, in as far as it was not necessary for the recipient to exist at all. But the supernatural graces are indebitae also positively, i.e. positing the creation, because they transcend every creatural claim and power. Both elements are contained in the above-quoted letter of the African bishops to Pope Innocent I: |Though it may be said in a certain legitimate sense, that we were created by the grace of God, ... that is a different grace by which we are called predestined, by which we are justified, and by which we receive eternal beatitude.|(11) Of this last-mentioned grace (i.e. grace in the strictly supernatural sense), St. Augustine says: |This, the grace which Catholic bishops are wont to read in the books of God and preach to their people, and the grace which the Apostle commends, is not that by which we are created as men, but that by which as sinful men we are justified.|(12) In other words, natural is opposed to supernatural grace in the same way that nature is opposed to the supernatural. |[To believe] is the work of grace, not of nature. It is, I say, the work of grace, which the second Adam brought us, not of nature, which Adam wholly lost in himself.|(13) Adding the new note obtained by this analysis we arrive at the following definition: Grace is a gratuitous super-natural gift.(14)

3. THE GRACE OF GOD AND THE GRACE OF CHRIST. -- Though all supernatural graces are from God, a distinction is made between the |grace of God| and the |grace of Christ.| The difference between them is purely accidental, based on the fact that the |grace of Christ| flows exclusively from the merits of the atonement.

a) The following points may serve as criteria to distinguish the two notions:

A) The gratia Dei springs from divine benevolence and presupposes a recipient who is unworthy merely in a negative sense (=not worthy, non dignus), whereas the gratia Christi flows from mercy and benevolence and is conferred on a recipient who is positively unworthy (indignus).

B) The gratia Dei elevates the soul to the supernatural order (gratia elevans), while the gratia Christi heals the wounds inflicted by sin, especially concupiscence (gratia elevans simul et sanans).

C) The gratia Dei is a gratuitous gift conferred by the Blessed Trinity without regard to the theandric merits of Jesus Christ, whereas the gratia Christi is based entirely on those merits.

b) The Scotists hold that the distinction between gratia Dei and gratia Christi is purely logical. They regard the God-man as the predestined centre of the universe and the source of all graces.(15) The Thomists, on the other hand, regard the grace of the angels, and that wherewith our first parents were endowed in Paradise, purely as gratia Dei; they hold that the merits of Christ did not become operative until after the Fall, and that, consequently, there is a real distinction between the grace of the angels and that of our first parents on the one hand, and the grace of Christ on the other.

As it cannot reasonably be supposed that the angels are endowed with specifically the same graces by which mankind was redeemed from sin, the Scotists are forced to admit a distinction between the grace of Christ as God-man (gratia Christi Dei-hominis) and the grace of Christ as Redeemer (gratia Christi Redemptoris), so that even according to them, the dogmatic treatise on Grace is concerned solely with the grace of Christ qua Redeemer.

Hence, grace must be more particularly defined as a gratuitous supernatural gift derived from the merits of Jesus Christ.(16)

4. EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL GRACE. -- External grace (gratia externa) comprises all those strictly supernatural institutions which stimulate pious thoughts and salutary resolutions in the human soul. Such are, for example, Holy Scripture, the Church, the Sacraments, the example of Jesus Christ, etc. Internal grace (gratia interna) inheres or operates invisibly in the soul, and places it in relation with God as its supernatural end. Internal graces are, e.g., the theological virtues, the power of forgiving sins, etc. The Pelagians admitted external, but obstinately denied internal grace.(17)

St. Paul(18) emphasizes the distinction between external and internal grace by designating the former as |law| (lex, {GREEK SMALL LETTER NU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON WITH OXIA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER MU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER FINAL SIGMA}) and the latter as |faith| (fides, {GREEK SMALL LETTER PI}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA WITH OXIA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER SIGMA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER TAU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER FINAL SIGMA}). With one exception, (viz., the Hypostatic Union, which is the climax of all graces), external is inferior to, because a mere preparation for, internal grace, which aims at sanctification. We are concerned in this treatise solely with internal grace. Hence, proceeding a step further, we may define grace as a gratuitous, supernatural, internal gift of God, derived from the merits of Jesus Christ.(19)

5. |GRATIA GRATIS DATA| and |GRATIA GRATUM FACIENS.| -- The supernatural grace of Christ, existing invisibly in the soul either as a transient impulse (actus) or as a permanent state (habitus), tends either to the salvation of the person in whom it inheres or through him to the sanctification of others. In the former case it is called ingratiating (gratia gratum faciens), in the latter, gratuitously given (gratia gratis data). The term gratia gratis data is based on the words of our Lord recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew: |Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils: freely have you received, freely give.|(20)

a) The gratia gratum faciens is intended for all men without exception; the gratia gratis data only for a few specially chosen persons. To the class of gratuitously bestowed graces belong the charismata of the prophets and the ordinary powers of the priesthood.(21)

Each of these two species of internal grace may exist independently of the other because personal holiness is not a necessary prerequisite for the exercise of the charismata or the power of forgiving sins, etc.

b) Considered with regard to its intrinsic worth, the gratia gratum faciens is decidedly superior to the gratia gratis data. St. Paul, after enumerating all the charismata, admonishes the Corinthians: |Be zealous for the better gifts, and I show unto you yet a more excellent way,|(22) and then sings the praises of charity:(23) |If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy and should know all the mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, I am nothing, etc.|(24) Charity is a gratia gratum faciens. Hence, since the gratia gratis data is treated elsewhere (Apologetics, Mystic and Sacramental Theology), we must add another note to our definition: Grace is a gratuitous, supernatural, internal gift, derived from the merits of Jesus Christ, by which man is rendered pleasing in the sight of God.(25)

6. ACTUAL AND HABITUAL GRACE. -- The gratia gratum faciens is given either for the performance of a supernatural act or for the production of a permanent supernatural state (habitus). In the latter case it is called habitual, or, as it sanctifies the creature in the eyes of God, sanctifying grace.

Actual grace comprises two essential elements: (1) divine help as the principle of every salutary supernatural act, and (2) the salutary act itself. Hence its designation by the Fathers as {GREEK CAPITAL LETTER THETA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER EPSILON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER UPSILON WITH PERISPOMENI} {GREEK SMALL LETTER EPSILON WITH PSILI}{GREEK SMALL LETTER NU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER EPSILON WITH OXIA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER RHO}{GREEK SMALL LETTER GAMMA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER EPSILON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}, {GREEK SMALL LETTER ETA WITH DASIA} {GREEK SMALL LETTER TAU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER UPSILON WITH PERISPOMENI} {GREEK CAPITAL LETTER LAMDA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON WITH OXIA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER GAMMA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER UPSILON} {GREEK SMALL LETTER CHI}{GREEK SMALL LETTER EPSILON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA WITH OXIA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER RHO}, {GREEK SMALL LETTER THETA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER EPSILON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA WITH OXIA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA} {GREEK SMALL LETTER KAPPA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA WITH OXIA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER NU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ETA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER SIGMA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER FINAL SIGMA}, or, in Latin, Dei auxilium, subsidium, adiutorium, motio divina, -- all of which appellations have been adopted by the Schoolmen. Actual grace invariably tends either to produce habitual or sanctifying grace, or to preserve and increase it where it already exists. It follows that, being merely a means to an end, actual grace is inferior to sanctifying grace, which is that end itself.

Actual grace may therefore be defined as an unmerited, supernatural, internal divine help, based on the merits of Jesus Christ, which renders man pleasing in the sight of God, enabling him to perform salutary acts; or, somewhat more succinctly, as a supernatural help bestowed for the performance of salutary acts, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ.

Actual grace is (1) a help (auxilium), because it consists in a transient influence exercised by God on the soul. (2) A supernatural help, to distinguish it from God's ordinary providence and all such merely natural graces as man would probably have received in the state of pure nature.(26) (3) It is attributed to the merits of Jesus Christ, in order to indicate that the graces granted to fallen man are all derived from the atonement both as their efficient and their meritorious cause. (4) Actual grace is said to be given for the performance of salutary acts to show that its immediate purpose or end is an act, not a state, and that the acts for which it is given must be in the order of salvation.

7. THE TWOFOLD CAUSALITY OF ACTUAL GRACE. -- If grace is a supernatural help, mere nature cannot, of its own strength, perform salutary acts. Consequently, actual grace exercises a causal influence without which man would be helpless in the matter of salvation.

The causality of actual grace is both moral and physical.

a) As a moral cause grace removes the obstacles which render the work of salvation difficult. Besides this negative it also has a positive effect: it inspires delight in virtue and hatred of sin.

This mode of operation manifestly presupposes a certain weakness of the human will, i.e. concupiscence, which is an effect of original sin. Actual grace exercises a healing influence on the will(27) and is therefore called gratia sanans sive medicinalis. |Unless something is put before the soul to please and attract it,| says St. Augustine, |the will can in no wise be moved; but it is not in man's power to bring this about.|(28) Concretely, this moral causality of grace manifests itself as a divinely inspired joy in virtue and a hatred of sin, both of which incline the will to the free performance of salutary acts. These sentiments may in some cases be so strong as to deprive the will temporarily of its freedom to resist. The sudden conversion of St. Paul is a case in point. Holy Scripture expressly assures us that God is the absolute master of the human will and, if He so chooses, can bend it under His yoke without using physical force. Cfr. Prov. XXI, 1: |The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: whithersoever he will, he shall turn it.| |Who will be so foolish as to say,| queries St. Augustine, |that God cannot change the evil wills of men, whichever, whenever, and wheresoever He chooses, and direct them to what is good?|(29) It is but rarely, of course, that God grants to any man a summary victory over his sinful nature; but this fact does not prevent the Church from praying: |Vouchsafe, O Lord, to compel our wills to thee, even though they be rebellious.|(30)

b) Even more important than the moral causality of grace is its physical causality. Man depends entirely on God for the physical strength necessary to perform salutary works. Grace elevates the faculties of the soul to the supernatural sphere, thereby enabling it to perform supernatural acts.

Physical is as distinct from moral causality in the order of grace as in the order of nature. The holding out of a beautiful toy will not enable a child to walk without support from its elders. Moral causality is insufficient to enable a man to perform salutary acts. Grace (as we shall show later) is absolutely, i.e. metaphysically, necessary for all salutary acts, whether easy or difficult, and hence the incapacity of nature cannot be ascribed solely to weakness and to the moral difficulty resulting from sin, but must be attributed mainly to physical impotence. A bird without wings is not merely impeded but utterly unable to fly; similarly, man without grace is not only handicapped but absolutely incapacitated for the work of salvation. Considered under this aspect, actual grace is called gratia elevans, because it elevates man to the supernatural state.(31)

This double causality of grace is well brought out in Perrone's classic definition: |Gratia actualis est gratuitum illud auxilium,(32) quod Deus(33) per Christi merita(34) homini lapso(35) largitur, tum ut eius infirmitati consulat,(36) ... tum ut eum erigat ad statum supernaturalem atque idoneum faciat ad actus supernaturales eliciendos,(37) ut iustificationem possit adipisci(38) in eaque iam consecuta perseverare, donec perveniat ad vitam aeternam.|(39) In English: |Actual grace is that unmerited interior assistance which God, by virtue of the merits of Christ, confers upon fallen man, in order, on the one hand, to remedy his infirmity resulting from sin and, on the other, to raise him to the supernatural order and thereby to render him capable of performing supernatural acts, so that he may attain justification, persevere in it to the end, and thus enter into everlasting life.| This definition is strictly scientific, for it enumerates all the elements that enter into the essence of actual grace.

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