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Course on Grace
Part Two - A

Grace Considered Intensively

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Chapter VIII.

Sanctifying Grace

St. Thomas, following St. Augustine, declares that "the justification of the ungodly … is greater than the creation of heaven and earth" (l-2qll3a9). Since the former is a supernatural work of the highest order and the other only natural, more glory is given to God in justification than by all perfections of nature. Is justification, then, the greatest supernatural work? No, the Incarnation of the Word and the beatification of the just in heaven are greater.

Causes of justification. What causes a sinner's justification? Many causes conspire harmoniously to bring it about. The efficient cause is God, the Triune God; its final cause is the glory of God and Christ and eternal life; its meritorious cause is Christ; its instrumental cause is baptism; its formal cause is sanctifying grace.

Nature of Sanctifying Grace. What is sanctifying grace? It has been called the "masterpiece of God's handicraft in this world … far more glorious than anything we can behold in the heavens above us or on the earth at our feet." Is it just God's favor toward us, as Luther wanted? No, it is much more. Is it God's life or nature or God's love, as some have called it? No, for God's life and love and nature are uncreated, are God Himself. Sanctifying grace is not God, it is not the Holy Spirit, it is not just God's favor. It is something created, given to us by God out of love and mercy, which gives us a created likeness of God's nature and life. It is a supernatural gift infused into our souls by God, a positive reality, spiritual, supernatural, and invisible.

Divine Quality. According to St. Thomas, sanctifying grace "is neither a substance nor a substantial form, but an accidental form, a permanent quality placed by God in the very essence of the soul, which causes it to participate by means of a certain likeness in the divine nature" (1-2q110aa.2-4). No wonder, then that the Roman Catechism calls it a "divine quality."

Sanctifying grace is not a substance, then, but an accident. But it is a most remarkable accident, sui generis, like no other. In terms of its supernatural perfection it is much higher than the soul in which it inheres. God has established a most wonderful harmony here: sanctifying grace "needing" my soul as subject of inhesion, my soul "needing" sanctifying grace so as to become deiform. Sanctifying grace is such an extraordinary thing that some have denied it could exist; they thought God could not make such a quality, or if He could it would do violence to nature. But God quietly infuses sanctifying grace into a soul without doing any violence to it. These two things fit perfectly together in a most remarkable union of nature and grace, to produce a most amazing new unit: a deiform soul.

Sanctifying grace is not a virtue, according to St. Thomas, not even the virtue of charity, but it is the foundation of all the infused virtues. It is a gift by which "the very nature of man is raised to a measure of dignity that places it in the same plane as its end." Just as our natural faculties (operative principles) derive from nature, "so in the faculties of the soul do the (infused) virtues that move them, derive from grace." While the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are supernatural operative and responsive habits, sanctifying grace is a supernatural initiative habit, somewhat as health is in the body in the natural order. Often theologians call sanctifying grace a quasi-nature, or a "super-nature."

Some of its Effects. Sanctifying grace has many, almost incredible effects. St. Thomas singles out especially four. 1. Destruction of sin, such that "the forgiveness of sin would be incomprehensible without the infusion of grace," 2. Deification, such that the creature is made deiform and shares in a sonship of adoption. 3. Inhabitation, a special presence of God to which sanctifying grace gives rise. 4. Merit, of which sanctifying grace is the essential foundation. To sanctifying grace the Council of Trent ascribes the supernatural justice and friendship with God and the interior renovation and sanctification of the just soul. Pope Pius XI called it the “permanent principle of supernatural life." According to theologians and saints it gives the soul a special supernatural beauty. Some of these effects we shall consider presently, others in the chapters that follow.

Justice. Through sanctifying grace we are made "just," with a mysterious justice that is hard to define precisely. It is not the cardinal virtue of justice, which inclines our will to give everyone his due, but involves this and much more. It is an internal, "deep down," supernatural justice or rectitude before God, whereby we are rightly ordered for supernaturally producing all acts of all virtues. Essentially it consists in sanctifying grace, adequately it involves also the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps the word that most vividly expresses this justice is rectitude, supernatural rectitude or righteousness. The man made just by God through sanctifying grace, is supernaturally right in the depths of his soul, mind and will; he is (ontologically) rightly ordered toward God, neighbor and self. Sanctifying grace is a principle of rectitude within his soul: by it his soul is supernaturally right with God. His mind (through faith) is right with God, not just with the God of the universe, of nature, but with the Triune God of faith. That is why it is easier for a sinner to come back: the virtue of faith is still in him. A picture of Christ on the Cross can be a most powerful motive, moving him to contrition. And as faith orientates the mind toward the "inside" of God, the essence of God and the Trinity of Persons, so the infused virtue of charity makes the will right, rightly orientated for loving the Triune God.

Sanctifying grace, then, in making us just, gives us a basic supernatural rectitude, a deep-down orientation and inclination to an all-virtuous life. We sometimes think it would have been convenient if God had put it "nearer the surface," so to speak. For persons and things around us often pull us strongly away from right action, We have adequate principles of right action deep within us, it is true, but we are very much affected by persons and things, and do not always act rightly. Our first aim, then, is always to act rightly. But a much higher degree of perfection would be not merely to do the right action, but to do it perfectly in God’s way and at God’s time, by habitually following the lead of the Holy Spirit drawing us through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Deletion of Sins. When a man is made just through sanctifying grace, all his mortal sins (and original sin, if he has it) are remitted; if he is justified through sanctifying grace in baptism, all his sins are remitted, and should he die then he is ready for immediate entry into glory.

Mortal sin means a privation of sanctifying grace. So when grace comes, mortal sin must "go." It really "goes," is remitted and deleted; it is not just covered over as it were by a cloak of the merits of Christ, as Luther said. God does not just declare the sinner to be just and cover over his sins, but He makes him just and remits his sins by the infusion of sanctifying grace. God does not merely say something, as Luther thought, He does something. By infusing sanctifying grace He remits sin. For sanctifying grace (righteousness) and mortal sin (unrighteousness) are contraries which necessarily exclude each other. Mortal sin brings supernatural darkness and death: sanctifying grace brings supernatural light, beauty, life. Sanctifying grace just has to be there, and there is supernatural light, beauty and life in the soul (and mortal sin is gone). Sanctifying grace is beauty so it infuses beauty into the soul; it is light, so it gives infused light to the soul; it is life, so it gives deiform life to the soul. It is a form which simply by being in the soul, imparts what it is.

Beauty. Sanctifying grace gives the soul an ineffable, supernatural beauty. St. Chrysostome compares the beauty of a soul in sanctifying grace to a statue of gold, St. Basil to a shining light flooding a crystal and to transforming fire. St. Ambrose describes a soul as "painted by God," having "the loveliness of virtues" and reflecting "the image of divine activity." According to St. Thomas, "divine grace beautifies (the soul) like Light."

St. Catherine of Siena declared: "Had you, my father confessor, beheld the beauty of one soul adorned with grace, you would certainly for the sake of one such soul, gladly suffer death a thousand times." St. Teresa compared a soul in grace to a crystal globe illuminated from without by the rays of grace, and within by the rays of God’s own beauty.

Friendship. Closely connected with the beauty which sanctifying grace confers, is the supernatural friendship it establishes between God and the soul since true beauty elicits love and benevolence. By nature man is merely a servant of God; since the fall, he is His enemy, Sanctifying grace transforms this hostile relation into genuine friendship. For God loves the just man as His intimate friend, and enables and impels him by means of sanctifying grace and charity to reciprocate that love with all his heart. Here we have the two constituent elements of friendship.

Friendship according to Aristotle is "the conscious love of benevolence of two persons for each other." So there must be lovability in each friend. Love is measured by lovability, by goodness. Divine goodness in God, deiform goodness in man: these are the conditions of divine friendship. Through sanctifying grace man has deiform goodness, goodness and lovability like unto God’s. Through the infused virtue of charity he has the power to love as God loves. So God loves him with the pure love of friendship and draws man to reciprocate that love with all his heart.

Chapter IX.

Sharing the Divine Nature by Sanctifying Grace

The most radical and fundamental and radical effect of sanctifying grace seems to be deification. Sanctifying grace deifies the soul, renders it deiform, godlike in a wondrous way, partaker of the divine nature.

Can this really be true? The sources of revelation are clear. In the words of St. Peter, "By whom (Christ) He (the Father) hath given us great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1,4). St. John tells of being “born again of God" (John 1,13; 3,3) and to be born again implies receiving another nature – supernatural nature – of God. St. Paul says we are saved "through the bath of regeneration … by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3,5). As a human nature is the term of natural generation, this regeneration would imply another nature – a super-nature – of the Holy Spirit. Again and again the Fathers declare that man is "deified" by sanctifying grace. St. Augustine: "He who justifies, also deifies, because He makes (men) sons of God through justification." St. Cyril of Alexandria: "Partakers of the divine nature, not only in name but in reality." And St. Thomas: "the only begotten Son of God, desiring that we should be participants in His divinity, assumed our nature: ut homines deos faceret, factus homo"(Opusculum, 57).

Deification. What does this deification mean? Catholic theology has always held that it is no mere figure of speech but the declaration of a mysterious fact: we are in a true sense made partakers of the divine nature by sanctifying grace. Obviously by this deification man does not become God; he is not transformed into God. A few medieval "mystics" taught that sanctifying grace transforms the human soul into the substance of the God-head, but this doctrine was condemned. Sanctifying grace is not God, nor "part" of God, nor "part of God's nature" (there are no parts in God Who is utterly simple): hence it does not and can not identify us with God, make us God in any way. It is something produced by God, really distinct from God. My sanctifying grace is mine, "created" (i.e. produced) for me "educed from the potency of my soul," an accident that inheres in my substance. Hence if I commit a mortal sin, my sanctifying grace is "reduced to the potency of my soul" so to speak, i.e. goes out of actual existence by God’s withdrawal of His conservation.

Deiform nature. But though sanctifying grace is not God nor God's nature, it gives me such an amazing, supernatural likeness to God, to God's own intimate nature, that it can truly be said to "deify" me. It gives me not God's own divine nature (only the three divine Persons can ever have this), but a godlike nature, a deiform nature. Some theologians have even said that by sanctifying grace our souls are made a "miniature Trinity."

What is nature? The ultimate and basic principle of operation. The nature of God is the ultimate principle of divine operations. Angels have an angelic nature: the ultimate principle of doing angelic actions in an angelic way. Men have a human nature: an ultimate principle of doing human things in a human way. The Indwelling Trinity is the very divine nature itself specially present in us (as principle and term of sanctifying grace); sanctifying grace in us is our share in the divine nature, our likeness to It. It must somehow do for us what the divine nature does for God.

If God’s nature is the ultimate principle of all divine operations, it is the ultimate principle of God’s own Beatific Vision, love and enjoyment of the divine essence. But our sanctifying grace also is an ultimate principle of the Beatific Vision: therefore it is a likeness to the divine nature, a godlike nature, a deiform nature. We have an ultimate principle of operation in God. I have in me now an ultimate principle of that divine operation called the Beatific Vision, its love and enjoyment, which God has infinitely but which I shall have finitely.

Once again, the Beatific Vision, love and enjoyment, is the key, as we said in the beginning. Sanctifying grace is made for it; by sanctifying grace we have a claim and title and an ultimate proportion to the Beatific Vision, love and enjoyment. The change in heaven is that faith goes out and the light of glory comes in. Sanctifying grace sets one for eternity: it can grow and grow in an adult so as to bring him a greater and greater degree of the light of glory and the love and enjoyment of the Beatific Vision, if he dies in sanctifying grace.

Nature. Is an ultimate principle always a nature? The term "essence" is also used to designate an ultimate principle; but the nature of a being is the essence considered as a principle of operation, considered as the ultimate principle in the order of activity. Essence rather connotes something static, nature something dynamic. Will the Beatific Vision, love and enjoyment, ultimately "flow out of" sanctifying grace? Yes. It does not actually "flow out" here and now, because we lack the necessary proximate principle of the Beatific Vision, love and enjoyment, the light of glory. Similarly, in us every thought flows from the soul through the intellect, every will-act through the will, every sensation through the sense-faculties. What thinks? The sup posit, the person, ultimately through the soul and proximately through the intellect. In us, the thinking power must have a properly disposed thinking apparatus: a person with defective material organs or connections in certain areas will find his thinking ability impaired or completely inhibited. Children born with such deficiencies could get sanctifying grace by baptism and (perhaps) by Confirmation got an increase of it; they could not lose sanctifying grace but they could not merit an increase of it or of light of glory.

Deiform Nature. A parallel between our human nature and deiform nature may be helpful. In a human nature, the soul, the form of the body, is the ultimate operative principle. From this ultimate operative principle flow all the powers of the soul, the faculties, which are the proximate operative principles. Instincts we may call proximate or immediate responsive principles. Flowing from all these principles are human acts. Man is made to act, to be more fully man by using his powers; his nature is dynamic, and he becomes more fully man by acting as man. But this is not enough,

For God wanted man to live a deiform life. For this he needs an ultimate deiform principle of operation: sanctifying grace. All proximate principles of deiform operation "flow from" it, We may think of sanctifying grace as something very like a human nature, but, it is a super-nature (in the form of an accident). Moreover, in the very heart of our natural faculties, flowing from this super-nature, will be deiform faculties, the infused virtues, enabling the deiform man to place the deiform acts that God wants. The gifts of the Holy Spirit act as immediate responsive principles; they are, so to speak, supernatural instincts giving seven kinds of "instinctive" response to the special stimuli sent by the Holy Spirit when He wants the operative powers to go into special, more prompt, higher, more deiform action.

Human Nature


Deiform Nature

Soul Ultimate operative principle Sanctifying Grace
Faculties Proximate operative principles Infused Virtues
Instincts Immediate responsive principles Gifts of Holy Spirit
Human Acts Effects Deiform Acts

When a man responds promptly and habitually to every stimulus of the Holy Spirit, we may say he is in the class of the "perfect:" habitually he acts when and as the Holy Spirit wants him to act. He is under the habitual direction of the Holy Spirit; he is no longer guided just by the slow, fallible direction of human reason, which so often sees many obstacles to action and therefore delays, and so some of the finest acts God wishes never get done. In the Gospel we read that Our Lord was "led by the Spirit" into the desert, and St. Paul was told to go here… there… he had a new Leader.

Evidently many people do not always follow His lead, do not respond quickly to His promptings. What makes this quick response easier, more habitual? Practice! This means achieving docility to the Holy Spirit, a fuller practice of the moral virtues, especially of temperance, so as to temper fear - of human respect, of new actions, of more perfect actions.

Sometimes it seems that we can judge the spiritual growth of another in terms of his response to grace -- quick and perfect -- or slow -- or no response -- or indecision -- or fear of response. As a matter of experience, we often learn to make the right responses only after making the wrong ones.

We like to call this "growing up in Christ" -- into perfectly deiform human beings. God puts sanctifying grace deep down inside us. As if He would say: do not develop your natural powers alone: by the sanctifying grace that is permeating you, you are made deiform, so use your natural and deiform powers together, deiformly. If you want greater union with Me, you will find it through quicker, surer, and more perfect response to the directive inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His inspirations are meant for "now", this moment, this place, this need. "Do not wait or argue, do right now what He is urging you to do." In the lives of saints we see that often there was no time lag between the stimulus of the Holy Spirit and their response. There are two powers in us: a power to say Yes to the Holy Spirit when He is drawing us to greater perfection, and a power to say No. Our model is Christ who said always: "Thy will he done," to show us the Way of perfect docility. And our Blessed Mother, whose "fiat" at Nazareth characterized her whole life. If we want a test or norm of sanctity, we have it in this responsiveness to the inspirations of God.

Deiform Activity. What kind of activity would come from our natural powers alone? Natural activity (good or sinful). What kind comes from our deiform powers? Deiform activity, so that persons in grace place actions which are truly like God's.

God's infinite Beatific Vision of the divine essence is a strictly divine activity. But the finite Beatific Vision of the divine essence -- that the blessed in heaven have -- is an activity like God's very own. Hence the Beatific Vision of the blessed is the supremely deiform activity.

Since sanctifying grace is the radical principle of this activity, we call sanctifying grace a deiform principle. And any earthly activity that flows from this principle (sanctifying grace) and condignly merits the Beatific Vision we also call, and properly, a deiform activity.

Such are all the condignly meritorious acts of the just -- which flow from sanctifying grace through the infused virtues - and gifts. Such would seem to be, in a minimal sense, even their imperfections, for if these are not sins then they would seem to be -- for St. Thomas -- meritorious. Highest among these deiform acts on earth would be the mystical acts of the saints, their infused contemplation or experimental knowledge and love of divine realities -- an earthly foretaste of the heavenly Beatific Vision and love of the divine essence itself.

In studying this deiform activity, it may help to distinguish four phases; one heavenly phase; the beatific; and. three earthly phases, the incipient, the proficient, the perfect.

Phases of Earthly Deiform Activity. We cannot hope, of course, to gauge with any accuracy the deiformity of any particular individual. But in a more general way, it seems that the deiformity of persons in grace can be measured to some extent by the habitual perfection of certain things, such as the actual graces given them, or their charity, their prayer, their docility to the Holy Spirit, their self-abnegation.

Thus for the “incipients” (those in the purgative way), actual graces will be largely "purgative" graces (initially at least), aimed at purging them more and more from inordinate attachments; for the "proficients" they, will largely be "illuminative" graces, aimed at illumining Christ and His virtues so as to procure their imitation; for the "perfect" they will largely be "unitive" graces, aimed at uniting their minds and wills more and more closely with God’s and with God. Or we might say that for the incipient graces are aimed at preventing mortal sin and overcoming its attraction; for the proficient, they are aimed at preventing deliberate venial sin and overcoming its attractions; for the perfect, they are aimed at preventing positive imperfections (e.g. violations of counsels and religious rules).

In terms of docility we might say that the incipient are docile to God in the matter of the major commandments, the proficient are docile also in the matter of the minor commandments, while the perfect are docile also in the matter of the counsels and beatitudes.

In terms of Christ, we could say that He is in the mind of the incipient at times, but not often, in the mind of the proficient much more; in the minds of the perfect, habitually, as a moving, guiding factor. Again, in the incipient there is initial self-abnegation, in the proficient, progressive self-abnegation, in the perfect, complete self-abnegation.

In the incipient there will be incipient charity, in the proficient, proficient charity, in the perfect, perfect charity. For the incipient, deliberate, conscious acts of love of God and neighbor may be infrequent and mild in intensity; for the proficient more frequent and greater in intensity; for the perfect, they may be practically habitual, exclude no neighbor, be very intense. In the incipient, there will be affective love and the beginnings of truly effective love of God and neighbor; in the proficient there will be a much more effective love, moving into better action and -- sacrifice, which is the real test; in the perfect, effective love will be relatively perfect, and will mean a complete surrender to God's will so as to do whatever God wants, whenever, wherever, however He wants it.

Charity, love of God and neighbor, is the best test of deiformity; by the extension, intensity and effectiveness of their charity you shall know them -- and their degree of deiformity. What counts is not affective love alone; this is not enough for married life or for religious life, either, for it can be very selfish. What counts is the affective-effective love that say's, "I love You so much that I will do whatever You want, whenever You want it." To do out of love whatever God wills, as soon as He wills it, and just as He wills it: this is highest perfection, highest deiformity. The incipient achieves this now and then, the proficient much more often, the perfect practically always. For the incipient, love of God and neighbor is often verbal or mental, but not so much a matter of full doing or deeds. The function of grace is gradually to change these more or less verbal velleities into actions of highest love.

The prayer of the incipient is predominantly vocal and mental discursive prayer. The prayer of the proficient is largely affective, more a prayer of loving than of thinking; it does not bother much with reasoning but quickly goes to loving, either with or without words of love. In the perfect we find contemplative prayer (acquired, infused or both) which on its highest levels involves an ineffable "experience" of God's presence and an "experimental" perception of divine mysteries and realities,

Of all these qualities, which is looked at most carefully in canonizations? Charity, it seems. Proof of infused contemplation does not seem to be demanded, But heroic virtue is demanded of those not martyrs. A person must have practiced (demonstrably) faith, hope and charity and the moral virtues to a heroic degree and habitually for a sufficiently long time. Such a one gradually came to place arduous acts of virtue easily and habitually, spontaneously, joyfully, because by repetition such acts had become a kind of "second nature." Sometimes the heroicity of faith and hope may be somewhat hard to prove directly; it can be proved indirectly from a long exercise of charity in an heroic degree. Charity is thus the norm as well as the essence of perfection and charity.

Is all heroic virtue canonizable? Usually the Church canonizes only those whose heroic virtue has a certain resplendence, such that it can be seen and recognized by the faithful, influence them and serve as a model for at least partial imitation. She does this when God by miracles gives a sign that He wants a canonization.

For most Christians (also called to be saints), their immediate task is to become as deiform as possible by avoiding more and more deliberate sins and imperfections, by intensifying their love of God and neighbor, by growing more and more in prayerful union with God, by living out more and more perfectly during each day the offering made to the Sacred Heart that morning -- of all their prayers, works, suffering and joys of the day -- for the greater glory of God and the greater deiformity of all men.

Chapter X.

Deiform Life by Sanctifying Grace

When a person is justified, does he have a new life? It would seem so, for if sanctifying grace makes us sharers of the divine nature, must it not also make us sharers of the divine life, since God's nature is nothing if not vital. And yet, a new life is a difficult concept.

However, Sacred Scripture, the Father of the Church, Popes and theologians all join in proclaiming that in the just -- those born again of water and the Holy Spirit -- there is new life. Besides his triple natural life the just man enjoys a new, higher, supernatural life of grace. This is what puzzled Nicodemus: he already had human life and thought it absurd to be "born again." Our Lord, however, told him that he was wrong: what is born of flesh has the nature of flesh, but what is born of the Spirit is of the nature of the Spirit.

In St. John we read that Christ said: "I am come that they may have life… and have it more abundantly," and "unless a man be born again" (i.e. to a new - supernatural life). The Evangelist adds: "These are written that…believing you may have life in His Name," not a natural life, which they already have, but new, supernatural life. (John 10, 10; 3, 1; 21, 31.) St. Paul calls it a new life (Romans 6,4), and for him it involves the infusion of a new vital principle (sanctifying grace) whereby man is regenerated, renovated, interiorly transformed. Pope Pius XI called sanctifying grace the "permanent principle of supernatural life (Casti Conubii, December 31, 1930)." Theologians call it supernatural life, or the life of grace,

Divine Life. But may we call this new life "divine life?" This new life of grace cannot be strictly divine. Only the Three Divine Persons have and can have divine life, properly so-called, for that life is identified with the divine nature. Only God can have such life, and He cannot give it to any creature. Pope Pius XII warns the faithful not to try 'in any way to pass beyond the sphere of creatures and wrongly enter the divine, were it only to the extent of appropriating to themselves as their own but one single attribute of the eternal Godhead. (Mystici Corporis, n. 78)." Strictly divine life is eternal and uncreated.

And yet this same Pope calls the sacraments "rivers of divine grace and divine life (Mediator Dei, November 20, 1947)." What does he mean?

St. Basil long ago expressed it very simply when he called this new life "a similitude of the divine life." It is just that -- a likeness of God's own life -- a God-like life. It is a life above that of the angels, a life that is closest to and most like God's own life, a deiform life. It is a "share in" the divine life, but it is not God's own life. When we are justified, we have God dwelling in us; there He lives and produces in us a life like His, Since He cannot give us His own life, He gives us the best next thing, a life like his own, as like to God's life as life can ever be; we cannot have a higher.

Do we have this deiform life here on earth or only in heaven? We have a deiform life here, just as we have a deiform nature here. Once again we may use the Beatific Vision as the integrating factor in our explanation. God’s Beatific Vision is a vital, immanent activity. Our Beatific Vision will also be a vital activity, since it is God-like, deiform; in fact it is the supreme deiform activity, the highest vital activity we can have. But where you have a vital activity, there you must have a vital principle. And where you have a deiform vital activity, there you must have a deiform vital principle. And that is precisely what sanctifying grace is, a deiform vital principle of the supremely deiform vital activity that we call the Beatific Vision. But more than that, it is also the vital principle of all the deiform activity on earth.

Deiform Life on Earth. Do we really have vital deiform activity here on earth? In a justified adult, Yes; in a justified infant, No. But without any vital deiform activity, can this infant have deiform life? Yes.

Do we say than an infant has human life? Yes. Does it think or freely will anything? No, it is incapable of any specifically human activity. Yet we say that it has human life. We ask, than, must you act humanly to be human? No, but you must have the ultimate principle of human life, a human soul. So we see that to have life can mean two things: 1. to have a vital principle, the principle of life, life in principle; 2. to have also vital activity, the activity of life, life in exercise. A human child has a human vital principle, but until it reaches the age of reason, no specifically human vital activity. A deiform infant similarly, has a deiform vital principle (sanctifying grace) but no specifically deiform vital activity. It has deiform life in principle.

But in the justified adult there is deiform life both in principle and in activity. For in him there is both the vital deiform principle, sanctifying grace, and vital deiform activity in the form of condignly meritorious acts. Every such act merits an increase of the Beatific Vision (the supremely deiform activity) and of sanctifying grace (the deiform principle). And since every such act makes him more God-like, more deiform, and proceeds from a deiform principle, it can quite properly be called a deiform act. Which acts of this deiform adult would be deiform acts? St. Thomas seems to say that every one of his good acts would be deiform (condignly meritorious).

Deiform acts, of course, admit of a hierarchy. The highest is the Beatific Vision of heaven, followed by the "experimental knowledge and love" of the mystics. The ascending order of deiform activity on earth would be; 1. incipient (purgative) deiform activity; 2. proficient. (illuminative); 3. perfect (unitive). These will find their consummation in the supreme deiform activity, the beatific activity of heaven. Purgative deiform activity in a sense is largely negative, intent on avoiding sin and removing things that take us away from God; illuminative deiform activity is more intent on practising virtue, on doing good rather than avoiding evil; unitive deiform activity is intent on ever greater, more habitual and perfect union with God and may (God willing) find its earthly climax in "experimental knowledge and love of God and things divine."

Experimental Knowledge. We have already spoken of this "experimental" knowledge of God as something of a "spiritual sensing," which is remarkably similar to what happens in this form of perception and what is experienced in sense perception. St. Bonaventure speaks of "the taste and experience of the divine suavity." Thus the mystic "tastes" the sweetness of God without seeing Him, or "feels" His presence by an almost physical "touch" of God -- so that he knows he is being touched and knows the Source of the touch. How that happens, is still an open question. We are sometimes said to be "touched" by an inspiration, but without clear consciousness of being touched by God. Mystical experiences are not all delightful. God may "touch" one to intense love and desire, and then He may not "be there" anymore. What ensues can be intense pain, desolation, dereliction -- a deep purgation, as deep, perhaps, as purgatorial pain. Normally such graces follow on a certain preparatory disposition, and if a person is unwilling to go through such purgations, he may not advance further -- at least not then. Transitions to higher deiform activity seem ordinarily to involve added purgation -- aimed at fuller and fuller detachment from sensible consolation, from spiritual consolation, and finally from all selfishness. God aims at a deeper and deeper purification so there can be a greater and greater union of the soul with God.

Realization of Deiform Life. To realize this deiform life and to live it to the full, as God wishes, is not easy. To do this we just open wide the "Eyes of Faith" that "see" this hidden life. For though it is very real, and important for eternity, it is hidden away and its growth imperceptible to ordinary eyes. But deiform life has laws of birth, growth, death, and resurrection, that are remotely analogous to the laws of natural life,

Origin. As our natural life comes to us through generation, so deiform life comes to us by "regeneration (John 3, 5)." Ordinarily this deiform life first comes by the sacrament of baptism. In certain cases it may derive from baptism of blood or baptism of desire. Meritoriously it is a life that came out of Christ: it took the Death of Christ on the Cross to give it to us.

Growth. Our natural life grows through food, exercise and activity, and living in the proper atmosphere of warmth, light, and care. Our deiform life grows by the performance of deiform (condignly meritorious) acts, and by the fruitful reception of the sacraments. For proper growth three things are particularly important: 1. food -- and the special food of this life is the Eucharistic Bread; 2. atmosphere – and the ideal atmosphere of deiform life is prayer and sacrifice; 3. exercise -- and the ideal exercise of this life is the proper and continual use of the infused theological and moral virtues. Special strength comes from the "strong-making" virtues: fortitude and temperance, which also produce that docility to the Holy Sprit which is necessary for high sanctity through development of the divine Gifts.

In deiform growth the value of the Eucharistic Bread is hard to over-estimate. It makes the soul grow more into Christ, like to Christ, like to God. Take that Food away and God must resort to special devices to make up for its absence. Take the Eucharist out of some part of the world, and the Church suffers immediately, because deprived of the Sacrament of life, love, and union. Take it away, and faith weakens, for it is the Sacrament of faith. No amount of prayer, it seems, will ordinarily supply for the Eucharist. It is supreme. Some theologians say that without desire (at least implicit) of the Eucharist, there can be no salvation: "Unless you eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, you shall not have life in you (John 6, 55)." "Unless," they say, is a very strong word; so they make the Eucharist one of the principal links in the chain of perseverance.

Deiform growth depends on the graces God gives and the use we make of them. The state in which God places a person is the scene of merit and growth for him: those graces will ordinarily be given which fit these circumstances and fit the person into these circumstances. God's graces to parents are directed to make them more deiform mothers and fathers; His graces to religious are to make them more deiform religious. To "active-life" religious He gives "active-life" graces; to "contemplative-life" religious He gives "mixed.-life" graces. Consequently His purpose is to make us more and more like to Himself in mind, heart and will: there where He places us.

Perseverance. This deiform life requires proper food, atmosphere and exercise. But can every deiform adult infallibly get the grace of final perseverance in sanctifying grace? Yes. He cannot merit this condignly, but he can infallibly impetrate it by humble, suppliant, confident, persevering prayer. The early Fathers singled out one prayer as peculiarly the prayer of perseverance: the Our Father. The Church has added another, the Hail Mary, which has special value and unction. Combine the Nine Fridays and Five Saturdays, the Rosary and Scapular, with zeal for perfection, deep love of God and neighbor, and particularly daily Mass and Communion and we have the highest assurance of final perseverance.

It is true that without a special revelation no one can know with the certitude of faith that he has sanctifying grace. Our Lord gave this certitude to a few mentioned in the Gospels, e.g. when He said, "Thy sins are forgive." But we can have a moral assurance of being in sanctifying grace that is sufficient for all practical purposes, such as the reception of Holy Communion. Theologians commonly say that a "taste for things spiritual; contempt of earthly pleasures; zeal and perseverance in doing good; love of prayer and meditation; patience in suffering and adversity, a fervent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary; frequent reception of the sacraments," are all valid signs of being in sanctifying grace… Ordinarily, when one is living a good life observing the "grave" commandments, and has no consciousness of mortal sin, he need not worry, 'though a salutary fear of offending God is always in order. For such a fear will induce fervent prayer and effort never to offend God.

Weakening. While every just man has the power of persevering to the end of his life in sanctifying grace, he also has the power of losing this deiform life by mortal sin. And just as germs and disease can play a part in the loss of man’s natural life, so in a similar way the life of grace may be lost. Temptations are sometimes called germs -- that lodge in the imagination, mind, or memory and weaken attachment to good while drawing to sin. Often they need the same drastic treatment that we give to germs that lodge in our bodies. Venial sins are often called disease. They cannot of themselves kill the deiform life but they can weaken and enfeeble it, by cooling the ardor of love and intimacy with God. They are particularly dangerous if habitual, for then they make a person accustomed to offending God and yielding to sinful attraction. They deaden his sensibility to the horror of sin, and gradually, almost insensibly, lead to mortal sin.

Death. Mortal sin brings death to this deiform life of grace. Sanctifying grace is lost, together with the infused virtues of charity, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, the gifts of the Holy Spirit; the Indwelling Trinity, the friendship of God, the merits acquired and the power to merit condignly.

Resurrection. This comes through the sacrament of Penance or an act of perfect contrition that involves at least an implicit desire of this sacrament, Once more sanctifying grace and all the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Indwelling Trinity -- return to the soul and faculties; together with friendship of God, the merits acquired, and the power to merit condignly an increase of sanctifying grace and glory.

Chapter XI.

Adoptive Sonship by Sanctifying Grace

The most fundamental effect of sanctifying grace seems to be the deiform nature that it gives us, whereby we are made capable of the supremely deiform activity we call the Beatific Vision and love of the divine essence. But by sanctifying grace, as Holy Scripture tells us, we are also made sons of God, children of God by adoption.

Sons of God. Some have called men God's children by virtue of creation alone, whereby He becomes their lord and Caretaker and they depend on His providence in all things. But strictly the relation of a creature to the Creator is different from that of a child to his father. A child has the right to share his father's home and happiness and intimate companionship. Creation hardly gives man title to any such union as this; it makes him God’s servant, a servant who may claim that God as his Master should protect and provide for him. But it does not make him God's child: it gives him no natural right to share God's home and happiness and intimate companionship.

But by sanctifying grace men become sons of God. Those "born again of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3, 5)" -- through the "laver of re-generation (Titus 3, 5)” become "sons of God," and are "called and are children of God (1 John 3, 1-2)." He who proceeds by generation is a son. So we are "born again of God" through "the laver of regeneration" and thus we become sons of God, sharing the nature of God.

Adopted Sons. Though by sanctifying grace we become sons of God, yet not, of course, in the same way as Christ! For He is the only-begotten natural Son of God -- with the same identical nature as God the Father. He is God of God. We are only sons of God by adoption: "God sent His Son … that we night receive the adoption of sons (Galatians 4, 4)."

But ours is a divine adoption, far surpassing a merely human adoption, wherein one who has human nature adopts another who has human nature -- into his family. In divine adoption God who has a divine nature adopts one who has only a human nature -- into the divine family. To fit us for this divine adoption He has us "born again of God," so that by this regeneration we may "share in the divine nature" and thus be "qualified" for adoption into the divine family.

Since we are adopted sons of God, we also become heirs of God. "We are sons of God. But if we are sons, we are heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8, 17)." Heirs of what? Of heaven, of the very riches of God Himself, i.e. His Beatific Vision of the divine essence and persons. Heaven is thus a patrimony we claim because of our divine sonship. Infants, reborn in baptism and dying before the use of reason, inherit heaven as a "birthright." Heaven will be our inheritance, and even now we have a pledge of that inheritance, the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1, 22) dwelling in us as a foretaste and first share of our heavenly inheritance, the Beatific Vision, love and enjoyment.

Members of a divine family are all deiform sons of God. They are children born of the same Father, "born of God." Here is a real brotherhood of the adopted sons of God, deeper and richer than any brotherhood of mere men.

If we are brothers and sisters in a divine family, then Christ is our Brother. He is "the first-born among many brethren (Romans 8, 29)." It is not surprising, then, that He once said to St. Margaret of Cortona: "Remember that you are My slave by your sins, but My sister through your state of grace." Christ our Brother owes and gives us a special love, a brother’s love. He is the elder Brother, seeking to raise us up to His stature, He is the model of how we should be filial and lead a filial life in the divine family. There lies our glory and our task: to grow more and more into the likeness of our Brother: Christ the image of God (2 Corinthians 4, 4)."

Consequently we are to live as He did. Devotion to the Father was the very heart of His life and holiness. His will, desire, and "business" were always that of the Father: "I do always the things that please Him (John 8, 29)." Then to us, "I have given you an example that as I have done to you, so you do also (John 13, 15)." This means showing devotion to the Father after the example of Christ by obedience (Hebrews 12, 9), by keeping the commandments (John 14, 23), by prayer (Matthew 6, 9), by forgiveness (Matthew 6, 14), by love and conformity of will (John 14, 31); He came that men might know the Father, realize and love the Father and come ever closer to Him. For that way they would have eternal life, the life of Vision -- not just knowledge, or even knowledge about god, but the Vision of God. He lived on earth to make known the name of the Father, the dignity and glory of the Triune God: "that all may be one, even as thou, Father, in Me and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us (John 17, 21)."

Devotion to His Mother. His was deep and rich. Mary was kept in the shadow often, so that He and His Father might stand out. For thus it had to be. If He were to make His Mother stand out too much, this would convince some that He had a human father. But He came to make the heavenly Father and the Blessed Trinity known. So He had to make the Son known in order to show men that "inside God" there is a Father and a Son and a Holy Spirit. That was His task, and slowly, quietly He made His revelation, choosing His words so carefully: "Philip, he who sees Me sees the Father," And at the Last Supper with the lights and shadows playing on His countenance, He "poured out" the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love. For that was the night of love, when He made the sacrament of love and began the Sacrifice of love – that all might be one in the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

But He loved His Mother intensely. His conception turned on her Fiat, She gave Him the Precious Blood He shed for us, and under the cross became spiritual Mother of the human race. By her Fiat and agony on Calvary she mothered mankind to deiform life, under and with and through Him on the Cross

Adopted Sons of the Trinity. So far we have said that by sanctifying grace we become adopted sons of God. Now we go a step further and say with St. Thomas that by sanctifying grace we become adopted sons of the Trinity: “for He (God the Father) is Christ’s Father by natural generation, whereas He is our Father by a voluntary operation, which is common to Him and to the Son and the Holy Spirit; so that Christ is not the Son of the whole Trinity, as we are (3q23a2ad2)." But while our adoption is the work of the entire Trinity, it can be appropriated to the Father as its author, to the Son as its pattern, and to the Holy Spirit as its conveyor (3q23a2ad3).

Then why, in this view, are we "adopted sons of God?" Because we have been given a likeness to the nature of God and a right to an eternal inheritance. And "this likeness and right are the characteristic notes of divine sonship and impart the quality of adoptive sons." We are, therefore, adopted children of the Trinity because the donation of this likeness and this right is made by all three Persons in God.

Adopted Sons of the Father? Can we go still another step further? Can we see in our adoptive sonship a special relation to the natural sonship of Christ, so that as He is the natural Son of the Father we would in a real but mystical sense be the adopted sons of the Father, and not just by appropriation. While only probable, the idea has been defended by more than one theologian.

By sanctifying grace we are made partakers of the divine nature and become "sons of God." This suggests that mysteriously, but truly, we share the divine nature in a "filial" way, remotely similar to the way in which the Son has the uncreated divine nature. For while the Three Divine Persons have the same divine nature, they do not have it in the way: the Father and the Holy Spirit do not have it in a "filial" way, i.e. so as to be Son, so as to be "generated." Only the Son has it in this way.

If the Father alone gave us -- by way of regeneration -- our deiform nature -- then our deiform nature would easily be seen to be "filial" and we would in a singular sense be adopted sons of the Father. But this is impossible, for not just the Father but the entire Trinity gives us our deiform nature. But could it be that although all three divine Persons give us our deiform nature, they give that deiform nature a filial character, a special likeness to the natural sonship of Christ? In other words, they would give us not just a "share in the divine nature” but a “filial share in the divine nature?"

St. Thomas has several pertinent statements. "Adoptive sons," he says, "are made to the 1ikeness of the natural Son," and "as a certain likeness of the divine goodness is conferred on all creatures by the act of creation, so a likeness of natural sonship is conferred by the act of adoption (3q39a8ad3; q23alad2; q45a4)."

Ferdinand Prat infers from St. Paul that "from the supernatural being received at baptism, special relations with each of the three divine Persons are derived: a relation of sonship with the Father, a relation of consecration to the Holy Spirit; a relation of mystical identity with Jesus Christ (II 320)." And according to Mersch, while "divine words ad extra are common to the Trinity, still … our adoptive sonship, as a state though not as an operation, has a real relation to the Son alone. We become by grace what Christ is by nature … by union through grace with the person of Christ and the Son … we are sons by adoption (369-372)."

Chapter XII.

Christ-Life by Sanctifying Grace

Do we obtain a Christ-life by sanctifying grace? Formerly a person baptized was said to be "christened" or "Christed," to indicate the close relationship between him and Christ, a relation of great likeness or quasi-identity, as expressed by St. Paul, "I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me."

In Christ "was life," the fullness of divine and human and deiform life, and He had the power to give life: "For as the Father gives life: so the Son also gives life to whom He will (John 1, 4; 5, 21)." "Of His fullness we have all received," writes St. John. Have we then received His very own life? Certainly not His divine life, nor yet His human life. Perhaps, then, His own deiform life, His own life of sanctifying grace? No, not even this. It is false, says Pope Pius XII, "that one and numerically the same grace unites Christ with the members of His Mystical Body (Mediator Dei, n. 203)."

He has His own sanctifying grace, and I have my own. Mine is an accidental form infused into (educed from) the substance of my soul. It is specifically like His indeed, but numerically different. He has in His soul the supreme degree of sanctifying grace, I only a small degree in mine, His sanctifying grace is the principle of the deiform life in His soul; my sanctifying grace is the principle of my deiform life in my soul.

Yet in several ways, my grace-life is a Christ-life. It is a Christ-life in the sense that He merited this life for me by His Passion and Death. So in a true sense my deiform life is not mine, but His, bought by His Precious Blood. He really "owns" it. My grace-life is also a Christ-given life, He produced in my soul the sanctifying grace that started my deiform life and every subsequent increment of sanctifying grace. Moreover my grace-life is a Christ-like life. It is specifically like the deiform life of Christ. Finally my grace-life is a Christ-modeled life. For Christ showed me by His life how a soul in the state of grace should live.

How does grace-life become more Christ-like? By "putting on Christ" more and more: "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13, 14)," through a fuller faith, accepting and living out His teaching; through a stronger hope, trusting in Him and in the Triune God with a mighty confidence; through a more intense affective and effective love of God and of men for the love of God. This means putting Christ in the mind, will, and heart, by taking on His thoughts, desires, and affections. The great exemplar of this growth in Christ-likeness was St, Paul, who had so completely identified his mental and volitional life with that of the Master that he finally said, "I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me."*

* Direct quotations in this chapter are drawn from L’Abandon a la Providence Divine of Père Caussade, who has been properly described as “the classic teacher of resignation to the will of God.”

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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