Lesson 10: The Cause of Grace

Read: Summa Theologiae, I-II, 112.

The question of the cause of grace here refers to the efficient cause of grace. The efficient cause is the source of a given change or action in a being which that being did not possess before. The efficient cause of the statue is the sculptor. The efficient cause of the steam is the fire, which heats the water. The efficient cause imparts the form to a being, which did not possess that form before.

Grace is a supernatural form. It is the health of the soul. Man is enabled to participate in God's nature, to know as God knows and to love as God loves, by grace. This is a form, which is completely beyond the capability of human nature to produce. There is no power in man to obtain grace. God then is the only efficient cause of grace. After the coming of Christ, the human nature of Christ is the instrument by which God gives grace. The sacraments are extensions of that human nature. They are like the tools to the hand, which is connected to the divinity. The sacraments are the extension of Christ's flesh throughout time and space. Thus, they participate in God imparting grace because Christ institutes them as extensions of his own flesh and person.

Though God is the sufficient cause of God, God never acts in anything against its nature. Since the nature of man involves freedom in all moral experiences, the reception of grace also presupposes that man is open to this reception by acts of free will. Sanctifying grace requires some preparation to be received in freedom. God, however, aids the soul to this preparation by actual grace and no prior preparation is required to have God's help in this.

Man's preparation is from God moving and the free will being moved. If preparation is looked at from the point of view of the free will, grace is a sheer gift and God does not have to give it to anyone. But if preparation is looked on from God's point of view, then God necessarily gives grace to one whom He finds prepared. This is not a necessity of coercion as though God was forced by the justice of man or his works to bestow grace on the human being. It is a necessity of infallibility because God has infallibly promised that He will give grace to those whom He finds prepared, and God always keeps his promises. In a sense, God binds himself. "Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him, comes to me" (John 6:45). The fact that one does not receive grace is due to lack of preparation then. The first cause of loss of grace is not God, but man.

It follows then that the measure of grace received by each soul is due to its measure of preparation. All do not experience grace equally then. "But to each one of us is given grace according to the measure of the giving of Christ" (Ephesians 4:7). On the part of the object, which is God's own divine nature, God gives himself equally to all. But on the part of the subject's receptive capability, the one who is more freely prepared to receive grace experiences the mercy and love of God more. However, since God is the initiator in preparation, God must impart his love more to one than to another. In fact, the Church has a hierarchy of holiness like the hierarchy of being in creation. No one, for example, will ever be as loved by God or made as lovable by God's love as the Virgin Mary. She is his bride and therefore the highest human person (Jesus being a divine person) in the hierarchy of heaven.

Since grace is a supernatural habit, only God can know who is engraced with absolute certitude. God sometimes enlightens the engraced person by special private revelation that he is in the state of grace in order to prepare him for some very difficult work like martyrdom. Most Christians, though, only have a relative certainty that they are in the state of grace. Someone who does what he can to live the Christian life and is not aware of being in serious sin can be relatively sure he is in the state of grace. St. Thomas says that a person can have some knowledge he has grace if he "is conscious of delighting in God and of despising worldly things" and "is not conscious of any mortal sins". This knowledge is imperfect. The Catechism invokes the classic example of Joan of Arc to prove this principle. She was asked if she was in the state of grace. This was a trick question. Had she answered "yes", she would have been burned as a heretic because no one can know for sure that they are in the state of grace. Had she answered "no", she would be been burned as a witch because all she did would have possibly been a result of the inspiration of the devil. She answered, "If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God keep me there" (Cf. CCC n. 2005).


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