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Grace Actual And Habitual by Joseph Pohle

Section 2. The Gratuity Of Actual Grace

All grace ex vi termini is a free gift.(406) This applies particularly to Christian grace, which is so absolutely gratuitous that its gratuity, together with its necessity, may be called the groundwork of the Catholic religion.

1. STATE OF THE QUESTION. -- To show what is meant by |gratuity| (gratuitas) we must first explain the technical term |merit.|

a) |Merit| (meritum=that which is earned) is that property of a good work which entitles the performer to receive a reward from him to whose advantage the work redounds.

{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}) An analysis of this definition shows that (1) merit is found only in such works as are positively good; (2) merit and reward are correlative terms which postulate each other; (3) merit supposes two distinct persons, one who deserves and another who awards; (4) the relation between merit and reward is based on justice, not on benevolence or mercy. The last-mentioned determination is by far the most important of the four.(407)

{GREEK SMALL LETTER BETA}) Ethics and theology clearly distinguish two kinds of merit: (1) condign merit,(408) which is merit in the strict sense (meritum adaequatum sive de condigno), and (2) congruous merit (meritum inadaequatum sive de congruo), so called because of the congruity, or fitness, that the claim should be recognized. Condign merit presupposes some proportion between the work done and the reward given in compensation for it (aequalitas s. condignitas dati et accepti). It is measured by commutative justice and thus confers a real claim to a reward. For example, a conscientious workman has a strict claim to his wage. Owing to the lack of intrinsic proportion between service and reward, congruous merit can claim a remuneration only on grounds of fairness.

A distinction between these two kinds of merit was already made by the Fathers, though not in the terms of present-day theology. It was known to the older Scholastics and emphasized anew by Luther's famous adversary Johann Eck.(409)

No relation of strict justice is conceivable between the Creator and His creatures. On the part of God there can only be question of a gratuitous promise to reward certain good works, -- which promise He is bound to keep because He is veracious and faithful.(410)

b) Two other terms must also be clearly defined in order to arrive at a true conception of the gratuity of Christian grace. They are prayer for grace,(411) and a capacity or disposition to receive it.(412) To pray means to incite God's liberality or mercy by humble supplication.

{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}) Despite the contrary teaching of Vasquez(413) and a few other theologians, congruous merit and prayer are really distinct because one can exist without the other. As the angels in Heaven are able to pray for us without earning a meritum de congruo, so conversely, all salutary works are meritorious even without prayer. Moreover, humble supplication does not involve any positive service entitled to a reward.

There is another important and obvious distinction, viz.: between purely natural prayer (preces naturae) and supernatural prayer inspired by grace (oratio supernaturalis).

{GREEK SMALL LETTER BETA}) Capacity or disposition, especially when it takes the form of preparation, may be either positive or negative. Positive capacity is defined as |that real mode by which a subject, in itself indifferent, becomes apt to receive a new form.| Such a capacity or disposition always entails a claim to its respective form.

Positive capacity or disposition differs from both prayer or quasi-merit (meritum de congruo). Quasi-merit is entitled to a reward on the ground of fairness, whereas the capacitas s. dispositio positiva is at most the fulfilment of an expectation based upon purely teleological considerations. Again, a reward can be bestowed upon some subject other than the one by whom the service was rendered, whereas the introduction of a new form necessarily supposes a subject disposed for or prepared to receive it. Thus only he who is hungry is disposed for the reception of food and entitled to have his craving satisfied.

Negative capacity consists in the absence or removal of obstacles that impede the reception of a new form, as when green wood is dried to become fit for burning.

c) There arises the important question whether or not divine grace is an object of merit, and if so, to what extent it can be merited by prayer and preparation.

It is of faith that the just man, by the performance of supernaturally good deeds, can merit de condigno an increase in the state of grace and eternal glory, and that the sinner is able to earn justification de congruo. On the other hand, it is also an article of faith that divine grace is strictly gratuitous.(414) The two dogmas seem incompatible, but they are not, as will become evident if we consider that the good works of the just and the salutary works of the sinner are entirely rooted in divine grace and consequently the merits which they contain are strictly merits of grace in no wise due to nature.(415) When we speak of the absolute gratuity of grace, therefore, we mean the very first or initial grace (gratia prima vocans), by which the work of salvation is begun. Of this initial grace the Church explicitly teaches that it is absolutely incapable of being merited; whence it follows that all subsequent graces, up to and including justification, are also gratuitous,(416) i.e. unmerited by nature in strict justice, in so far as they are based on the gratia prima.

2. THE GRATUITY OF GRACE PROVED FROM REVELATION. -- Keeping the above explanation well in mind we now proceed to demonstrate the gratuity of divine grace in five systematic theses.

*Thesis I: Mere nature cannot, in strict justice (de condigno), merit initial grace (gratia prima), nor, consequently, any of the series of subsequent graces in the order of justification.*

This proposition embodies an article of faith.

Proof. It was one of the fundamental errors of Pelagius that grace can be merited by purely natural acts.(417) When, at the instance of the bishops assembled at Diospolis (A. D.415), he retracted his proposition that |the grace of God is given according to our merits,|(418) he employed the term gratia Dei dishonestly for the grace of creation. The Second Council of Orange (A. D.529) formally defined that grace cannot be merited, but is purely and strictly gratuitous.(419) And the Council of Trent declared: |In adults the beginning of justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called....|(420) The non-existence of merits prior to the bestowal of the prima gratia vocans, so positively asserted in this definition, plainly excludes any and all natural merit de condigno.

a) St. Paul demonstrates in his Epistle to the Romans that justification does not result from obedience to the law, but is a grace freely bestowed by God.

The Apostle regards the merciful dispensations of Providence in favor of the Chosen People, and of the entire sinful race of men in general, as so many sheer graces. Rom. IX, 16: |So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.|(421) The gratuity of grace is asserted in terms that almost sound extravagant two verses further down in the same Epistle: |Therefore he hath mercy on whom he will; and whom he will, he hardeneth.|(422) The same truth is emphasized in Rom. XI, 6: |And if by grace, it is not now by works: otherwise grace is no more grace.|(423) Lest any one should pride himself on having obtained faith, which is the root of justification, by his own merits, St. Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians: |For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man may glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God hath prepared that we should walk in them.|(424) These and many similar passages(425) make it plain that grace cannot be merited without supernatural aid.

b) The leading champion of the dogma of the gratuity of grace among the Fathers is St. Augustine, who never tires of repeating that |Grace does not find merits, but causes them,|(426) and substantiates this fundamental principle thus: |Grace has preceded thy merit; not grace by merit, but merit by grace. For if grace is by merit, thou hast bought, not received gratis.|(427)

c) The theological argument is based (1) on the disproportion between nature and grace and (2) on the absolute necessity of grace for the performance of salutary works.

There is no proportion between the natural and the supernatural, and it would be a contradiction to say that mere nature can span the chasm separating the two orders. To assume the existence of a strict meritum naturae for it, would be to deny the gratuity as well as the supernatural character of grace. To deny these would be to deny grace itself and with it the whole supernatural order that forms the groundwork of Christianity. We know, on the other hand,(428) that grace is absolutely indispensable for the performance of salutary acts. Hence, to deny the gratuity of grace would be to credit nature with the ability to perform salutary acts by its own power, or at least to merit grace by the performance of naturally good deeds. In the first hypothesis grace would no longer be necessary for salvation; in the second, it would be proportionate to natural goodness, and therefore no grace at all. Consequently, the gratuity of grace cannot be consistently denied without at the same time denying its necessity.(429)

*Thesis II: There is no naturally good work by which unaided nature could acquire even so much as an equitable claim to supernatural grace.*

This proposition may be technically qualified as fidei proxima saltem.

Proof. The Semipelagians held that, though nature cannot merit grace in strict justice, it can merit it at least congruously, i.e. as a matter of fitness or equity.(430) This contention was rejected by the Second Council of Orange (A. D.529), which defined that |God works many good things in man that man does not work, but man works no good deeds that God does not give him the strength to do.|(431) And again: |[God] Himself inspires us with faith and charity without any preceding [natural] merits [on our part].|(432) The phrase |without any preceding merits| (nullis praecedentibus meritis) excludes both the meritum de condigno and the meritum de congruo.

a) The Scriptural argument given above for thesis I also covers this thesis.

The Semipelagians quoted Matth. XXV, 15 in support of their teaching: |To one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to every one according to his proper ability.|(433) But this text is too vague to serve as an argument in such an important matter. Not a few exegetes treat it as a kind of rhetorical figure. Others, following the example of the Fathers, take |talents| to mean purely natural gifts, or gratiae gratis datae, while by |ability| (virtus) they understand the already existing grace of faith or a certain definite measure of initial grace.(434) But even if virtus meant natural faculty or talent, it cannot be identical with |merit.| Considering the common teaching of theologians that the angels were endowed with grace according to the measure of their natural perfection,(435) we may well suppose that man receives grace likewise according to his natural constitution (gratia sequitur naturam) -- a predisposition or aptitude which God ordained in His infinite wisdom to be the instrument through which His graces should operate either for personal sanctification or the good of others.

b) St. Augustine and his disciples, in defending the orthodox faith against the Semipelagians, strongly insisted on the gratuity of the grace of faith, and above all of the initial gratia praeveniens.

{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}) St. Augustine comments on 1 Cor. IV, 7 as follows: |Nothing is so opposed to this feeling as for any one to glory concerning his own merits in such a way as if he himself had made them for himself, and not the grace of God, -- a grace, however, which makes the good to differ from the wicked, and is not common to the good and the wicked.|(436) And in another place he says: |For it would not in any sense be the grace of God, were it not in every sense gratuitous.|(437)

{GREEK SMALL LETTER BETA}) Certain of the Greek Fathers have been suspected of Semipelagian leanings because they appear to assign the chief role in the business of salvation to nature.(438) A careful study of their writings, however, shows that these authors had in mind co-operating, not prevenient grace. The general teaching of the Orientals on the gratuity of grace is sufficiently indicated by the demand made at the Council of Lydda (A. D.415), that Pelagius be compelled to retract the proposition: |Gratiam Dei secundum merita nostra dari.| The Fathers who have been accused of Semipelagian sympathies merely wished to emphasize free-will and to incite the morally indifferent to co-operate heartily with divine grace.

St. Chrysostom, in particular, expressly asserts the absolute gratuity of grace when he says of faith: |That which is a merit of faith, may not be ascribed to us, for it is a free gift of God,|(439) and directly contradicts Cassian and the Massilians when he declares: |Thou hast it not of thyself, thou hast received it from God. Hence thou hast received whatever thou hast, not only this or that, but all thou hast. For it is not thine own merit, but the grace of God. Although thou allegest the faith, thou hast received it by vocation.|(440)

c) The theological argument for our thesis may be succinctly stated thus: The grace of God is the cause of our merits, and hence cannot be itself merited. Being the cause, it cannot be an effect.(441)

*Thesis III: Nature cannot merit supernatural grace even by natural prayer.*

This thesis, like the preceding one, may be technically qualified as fidei proxima saltem.

Proof. Let us first clearly establish the state of the question. Our thesis refers to that particular kind of prayer (preces naturae) which by its intrinsic value, so to speak, obliges Almighty God to grant what the petitioner asks for, as is undoubtedly the case with supernatural prayer, according to our Saviour's own promise: |Ask and ye shall receive.|(442) The inefficacy of natural prayer asserted in our thesis, is not, as in the case of merit,(443) due to any intrinsic impossibility, but to a positive divine decree to grant supernatural prayer.

The Second Council of Orange defined against the Semipelagians: |If any one says that the grace of God can be obtained by human [i.e. natural] prayer, and that it is not grace itself which causes us to invoke God, he contradicts the prophet Isaias and the Apostle who say: I was found by them that did not seek me; I appeared openly to them that asked not after me.|(444)

a) Sacred Scripture teaches that, unless we are inspired by the Holy Ghost, we cannot pray efficaciously. It follows that to be efficacious, prayer must be an effect of prevenient grace. We should not even know for what or how to pray, if the Holy Ghost did not inspire us. Cfr. Rom. VIII, 26: |For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us [inspires us to ask] with unspeakable groanings.|(445) 1 Cor. XII, 3: |No man can say: Lord God, but by the Holy Ghost.|(446) Supernatural union with Christ is an indispensable condition of all efficacious prayer. John XV, 7: |If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you.|(447)

b) This is also the teaching of the Fathers. |Who would truly groan, desiring to receive what he prays for from the Lord,| says St. Augustine,(448) |if he thought that he received it from himself, and not from God? ... We understand that this is also itself the gift of God, that with a true heart and spiritually we cry to God. Let them, therefore, observe how they are mistaken who think that our seeking, asking, knocking is of ourselves, and is not given to us; and say that this is the case because grace is preceded by our merits; that it follows them when we ask and receive, and seek and find, and it is opened to us when we knock.|(449)

c) From the theological point of view the inefficacy of purely natural prayer in matters pertaining to salvation can be demonstrated thus: Revelation tells us that the work of salvation requires for its beginning an initial supernatural grace. Now prayer, that is to say, efficacious prayer, is in itself a salutary act. Consequently, there can be no efficacious prayer without prevenient grace, and purely natural prayer is inefficacious for salvation.

Ripalda holds that, in an economy different from the present, natural prayer would have a claim to be heard. This opinion can be defended without prejudice to the dogma of the gratuity of grace. No doubt God might condescend to hear such petitions if He would, though, of course, He is not bound to do so by any intrinsic power inherent in natural prayer. Unlike merit, prayer appeals to the mercy of God, not to His justice. Ripalda's theory, however, rests upon an unprovable assumption, namely, that man in the state of pure nature would be able to know of the existence, or at least the possibility, of a supernatural order and to strive for the beatific vision as his final end.(450)

*Thesis IV: Man cannot move God to the bestowal of supernatural grace by any positive disposition or preparation on his part.*

This thesis may be qualified as propositio certa.

Proof. Positive preparation or disposition for grace (capacitas sive praeparatio positiva) is practically on a level with natural prayer. The positive disposition for a natural good sometimes includes a certain demand to satisfaction, as e.g. thirst demands to be quenched. This is still more the case when the disposition has been acquired by a positive preparation for the good in question. Thus a student, by conscientiously preparing himself for examination, acquires a claim to be admitted to it sooner or later. Can this also be said of grace? Does there exist in man a positive disposition for grace in the sense that the withholding of it would grievously injure and disappoint the soul? Can man, without supernatural aid, positively dispose himself for the reception of supernatural grace, confident that God will reward his efforts by bestowing it on him? Both these questions must be answered in the negative.

a) If there were something in the natural make-up of man which would move the Almighty to give him grace, the bestowal of grace would no longer be a free act of God. But to assert the consequent would be Semipelagian, hence the antecedent must be false.

b) This truth can easily be deduced from the teaching of the Fathers in the Semipelagian controversy. They declare, in perfect conformity with St. Paul, that grace is bestowed gratuitously because God can give or withhold it as He pleases. St. Augustine says(451) that the grace of Baptism is granted freely, that is, without regard to any positive disposition on the part of the baptized infant. It should be remembered, moreover, that nature never existed in its pure form, and is now tainted by original sin.(452) Surely a nature tainted by sin cannot possibly possess the power of meriting divine grace.

c) The contention of the so-called Augustinians, that pure nature needs actual grace to save itself, and consequently has a claim to such grace at least ex decentia Creatoris and ex lege iustissimae providentiae, perilously resembles Baius' condemned proposition that the state of pure nature is impossible.(453)

*Thesis V: Man may prepare himself negatively for the reception of supernatural grace by not putting any obstacles in its way.*

This proposition is held by a majority of Catholic theologians (sententia communior).

Proof. The solution of this question is intimately connected with the famous Scholastic axiom: |Facienti quod est in se Deus non denegat gratiam,| that is, to the man who does what he can, God does not refuse grace. This axiom is susceptible of three different interpretations.

a) It may mean: Facienti quod est in se cum auxilio gratiae Deus confert ulteriorem gratiam, i.e., to him who does what he can with the help of supernatural grace, God grants further and more powerful graces up to justification. This is merely another way of stating the indisputable truth that, by faithfully cooeperating with the grace of God, man is able to merit additional graces, and it holds true even of infidels and sinners. The first freely performed salutary act establishes a meritum de congruo towards other acts disposing a man for justification. And since the first as well as all subsequent salutary acts, in this hypothesis, are pure graces, this interpretation of our axiom is entirely compatible with the dogma of the gratuity of grace.(454)

b) Facienti quod est in se ex viribus naturalibus Deus non denegat gratiam (to him who does what he can with his natural moral strength, God does not refuse grace.) This does not mean that, in consequence of the efforts of the natural will, God may not withhold from anyone the first grace of vocation. In this sense the axiom would be Semipelagian, and has been rejected by a majority of the Schoolmen. It is said of Molina that he tried to render it acceptable by the hypothesis that God bound Himself by a contract with Christ to give His grace to all men who would make good use of their natural faculties. But how could the existence of this imaginary contract be proved? In matter of fact Molina taught, with a large number of other divines,(455) that God in the bestowal of His graces freely bound Himself to a definite rule, which coincides with His universal will to save all mankind. In the application of this law He pays no regard to any positive disposition or preparation, but merely to the presence or absence of obstacles which would prove impediments to grace. In other words, God, generally speaking, is more inclined to offer His grace to one who puts no obstacles in its way than to one who wallows in sin and neglects to do his share.(456)

c) Facienti quod est in se ex viribus naturae negative se disponendo [i.e. obicem non ponendo] Deus non denegat gratiam (to the man who does what he can with his natural moral strength, disposing himself negatively [i.e., by not placing any obstacle] God does not deny grace. In this form the axiom is identical with our thesis. The question arises: Can it be made to square with the dogma of the absolute gratuity of grace? Vasquez,(457) Glossner,(458) and some others answer this question in the negative, whereas the great majority of Catholic theologians hold with Suarez(459) and Lessius,(460) that there is no contradiction between the two. Though Lessius did not succeed in proving his famous contention that the axiom Facienti quod est in se Deus non denegat gratiam, was for three full centuries understood in this sense by the schools,(461) there is no doubt that many authorities can be cited in favor of his interpretation.(462)

The theological argument for our thesis may be formulated thus: The gratuity of grace does not imply that the recipient must have no sort of disposition. It merely means that man is positively unworthy of divine favor. Otherwise the Church could not teach, as she does, that the grace bestowed on the angels and on our first parents in Paradise was absolutely gratuitous, nor could she hold that the Hypostatic Union of the two natures in Christ, which is the pattern and exemplar of all true grace,(463) was a pure grace in respect of the humanity of our Lord. The dogma of the gratuity of grace is in no danger whatever so long as the relation between negative disposition and supernatural grace is conceived as actual (facienti=qui facit), not causal (facienti=quia facit). The motive for the distribution of grace is to be sought not in the dignity of human nature, but in God's will to save all men. We must, however, guard against the erroneous notion that grace is bestowed according to a fixed law or an infallible norm regulating the amount of grace in accordance with the condition of the recipient. Sometimes great sinners are miraculously converted, while others of fairly good antecedents perish. Yet, again, who could say that to the omniscient and all-wise God the great sinner did not appear better fitted to receive grace than the |decent| but self-sufficient pharisee?

READINGS: -- Hurter, Compendium Theologiae Dogmaticae, Vol. III, thes.187. -- Oswald, Lehre von der Heiligung, § 8, Paderborn 1885. -- *Palmieri, De Gratia Divina Actuali, c.3, Gulpen 1885. -- Heinrich-Gutberlet, Dogmatische Theologie, Vol. VIII, § 417-420, Mainz 1897. -- Chr. Pesch, Praelectiones Dogmaticae, Vol. V, 3rd ed., pp.105 sqq., Freiburg 1908. -- Schiffini, De Gratia Divina, pp.468 sqq., Freiburg 1901.

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