Lesson 9: The Definition and Kinds of Grace

Read: Summa Theologiae, I-II, 110-111.

Grace must involve an interior change in the very essence of the soul of man. Luther taught that grace was forensic justification. This was as though man came into a court condemned of a capital crime and God, the judge, chose merely to overlook the crime without any punishment which would resolve for the evil and make the criminal a worthy citizen again. Luther used to call man in the state of grace "a lump of dung covered by snow." St. Thomas is of the opposite idea. He compares the love of God to human love and demonstrates that real human love has to respond to a real good in the being of the other. The same must be true, mutatis mutandis, with divine love.

Human love is expressed as grace in three ways.

  1. The love of someone for someone else as in the phrase, the soldier enjoys the king's grace.
  2. The gift given by the lover to the beloved as a sign of his grace as in the phrase, "I confer this grace on you."
  3. The gratitude of the Beloved for both the love and gift of the Lover which is expressed in thanksgiving as in the words used by Romance languages to express thanks, e.g. gracias and grazie.

St. Thomas says that each further sense depends on the prior ones. So Thanksgiving depends on gifts, which in turn are an expression of love. Man's love always responds to a good in the soul, which he finds there already existing. Man's love must truly respond to a good really existing in the soul. Were someone to love someone thinking there was a real good present which was not there, this would not be true love but false love. In the last two senses, the gift and response, love entails something truly in the soul.

God's love differs from man's in that when God loves someone, he creates the good in him or her by his gift. His love does not have to find a prior good in the person, but makes the person good in loving him. The first good God creates in a being by loving it is existence. Everything, which exists, exists and moves as an expression of divine love. "God saw everything, and it was good."

But towards man, God has a special regard. In addition to the primary love by which He creates good in all things, God also creates a special good in man. His love towards man is a special love. He loves him in the most complete and simple sense of the word (simpliciter) because He elevates man to be like Him. He gives him a self-communication of His nature. This is not only given to men, but also to angels. This communication in nature is completely beyond the power of human nature. Man cannot attain it. He can only receive it.

Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the head of his Body. As an 'adopted son' he can henceforth call God 'Father,' in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and forms the Church. (CCC n. 1997)

Since God communicates his nature to man, this must involve a change which is not just a psychological change. The change is ontological. God creates a new quality in the soul. This is a supernatural quality of life. It is metaphysically an accident, which is not an unforeseen event. An accident in philosophy is a being which can only exist in another being, as opposed to a substance, which is a being which can exist in its own right. Grace is an accident like health. In fact, it is the health of the soul. The body can exist without health, but not in natural wholeness. In the same way, the soul can exist without grace, but not with natural wholeness. This is because without grace, man cannot arrive at heaven, his natural destiny.

The soul is the life of the body as form; God is the efficient cause of the soul. But, God is the life of the soul through grace as form. Man is not corrupted and changed substantially into God. He still remains man. But, he receives an accidental form, a quality by which he is elevated to partake of divine nature. As the soul is the life of the body, so God is the life of the soul. What is substantially in God is accidentally in the soul.

Grace is less perfectly in the soul than the soul subsists in itself because it is a supernatural habit. But it is nobler than the nature of the soul since it expresses a participation in divine goodness itself. Grace is also not the same as virtue. Virtues are in the powers of the soul. Just as human virtues which are acquired by human acts perfect human powers of intellect, will and emotions and make them more disposed to free actions according to man's nature, so grace is an interior change in the essence of the soul which enables man to form virtues according to God's nature. There are called supernatural infused virtues and theological virtues. These virtues perfect man according to a new standard, which is God's own inner nature.

The subject of grace or its material cause is then the very essence of the soul itself. One could summarize the nature of grace using the four causes of Aristotle in this way:

Final Cause: The Vision of God and love for this vision on earth

Efficient Cause: God Himself acting in a prepared soul

Formal Cause: An accidental quality by which the soul can know as God knows and love as God loves

Material Cause: The Essence of the Soul

One could schematize the relation of grace to nature as follows:

 Grace  ===--> virtues ===--> meritorious actions     GRACE
Essence -----> powers  -----> actions of nature       NATURE

The primary division of grace is between that which makes a person pleasing to God, also called gratia gratum faciens (henceforth GGF) and the grace which is freely given, also called gratia gratis data (henceforth GGD). In modern terminology, GGF is sanctifying grace and GGD is charismatic grace. What is the difference between the two? Charismatic grace is freely given by God and not based on prior merit, but it has to do with the sanctification of others. Sanctifying grace is freely given, not based on prior merit and is the sanctification of the person who has it. Charismatic graces in the Church are either ordinary (e.g. power of the priest to consecrate at Mass or the infallibility of the Pope) or extraordinary (e.g. tongues, preaching, healing, etc.) The extraordinary graces are enumerated in 1 Cor. 12. One can exercise both these graces and the ordinary charisms and be in the state of mortal sin. Not so sanctifying grace. This is a true quality or habit in the soul which is the true interior change spoken of in the previous lesson.

In addition to sanctifying grace, the interior aid of God is also a grace. This is called actual grace. Since it is not a quality in the soul, but merely divine aid, it does not in itself sanctify, but aids one to convert or live conversion. Two definitions of sanctifying and actual grace might read as follows:

Sanctifying grace: a created supernatural gift, a divine habit of being infused by God, which permanently inheres in the soul by which we participate in the divine nature of God Himself.

Actual grace: a temporary supernatural act of God by which He directly and interiorly enlightens the understanding and strengthens the will for the purpose of moving the person to a supernatural act.

Sanctifying grace is a habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love. Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God's call, is distinguished from actual graces which refer to God's interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification. (CCC n. 2000)

Assignment Three

Explain why it is much more logical given the various explanations given for grace for Catholics to have treatises on progress in the presence of God and Mystical Prayer and Protestants to be peculiarly lacking in these.


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