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History and Theology of Grace

Chapter V

Sharing the Divine Nature

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

All religion is somehow based on the recognition of a superhuman Reality of which man is at least vaguely conscious and towards which he strives to orientate his life. This orientation may take on extreme forms, or it may be so simple as almost to elude inquiry, but its driving spirit is always the desire to communicate with the divine and, so far as possible, to share in the attributes of the one who is God.

It is the glory of Christianity that its faith and worship not only satisfy this profound hunger for union with the divine, but sublimate its appetite to a degree incomprehensible to the human mind; at the same time protecting it from those aberrations into which other religious systems have invariably fallen. Indeed nowhere else does the wisdom of Catholicism appear more evident than in its teaching on the effects of sanctifying grace. It is here that the infinite distance between the Creator and creature is carefully secured, while at the same time the highest aspirations of the will for communion with God are gratified.

The Church’s teaching on the formal effects of justifying grace will be better appreciated when seen against the background of the faltering efforts made by those who are not Christians to explain what it means to be joined with the Deity. This becomes more clear especially when viewed in the context of errors that were either propagated in Catholic circles or threatened the integrity of Catholic doctrine from outside. In fact, not to have understood something of this aspect of divine grace is to miss the full perspective of what St. Augustine meant when he defined the tru religion as “that by which the soul in united to God.”


It was Tertullian who coined the phrase, “the soul is Christian by natural instinct” (anima est naturaliter Christiana), partially to explain why the pagan religions of Greece and Rome placed so much emphasis on communion and even identification with the divine. His point was that alongside the divinized men and humanized gods are to be found numerous signs of belief which explain these transmutations at the natural desire of the human heart for some kind of communication with God.

Classic and Oriental Religion

At one extreme we meet such complaints as that voiced by Achilles in the Iliad, that “the eternal gods have assigned to us unhappy mortals hardship enough, while they enjoy bliss idly without end.” [1] At the other extreme we find what has been rightly called the culmination of Greek genius and the peak of natural religion, expressed by Plato as the hopeful destiny of man. “What shall we think,” he asked, “if it should befall anyone to perceived very Beauty itself, simple, pure and undefiled—not infected with flesh of men or human embellishment, or other such perishable folly, but absolute divine Beauty in its simplicity.” [2]

Although destined only for the highest minds and conceived only as possible, Plato speculated on what this vision of Beauty would effect in the human soul.

Do you think it would be a mean sort of life for a man, if his gaze were directed on that goal, and he not only beheld it in all its perfection but associated himself with the same? Do you not suppose that there alone, contemplating the Fair as best it may be seen, it will be his privilege to produce not mere images of virtue but true virtues themselves, since it is Truth which he embraces. And after rearing true virtue which he begot, shall he not become dear to the gods and immortal—if ever this lot may befall a man? [3]

Between these extremes, with varying degrees of clarity, the poets and philosophers among the Greeks and Latins voiced the common thirst of their people to partake in some way of the good things that were enjoyed by the gods. The gods would never die, so they pictured their heroes and great men as taken up to the heavenly regions to receive the elixir of life which gave them immortality. The gods were very powerful, so on occasion a deity came down to earth to beget an offspring of superhuman strength, as in the case of Hercules. The gods were very wise, so at times they joined in marriage with mortal women to produce such men as Plato, who was deified. The gods were handsome and the goddesses beautiful, so, in the case of Pandora, Vulcan made her of clay, but Venus gave her beauty. The art of captivating men was bestowed on her by the Graces.

If we examine the living religions of the East, notably Hinduism and Buddhism, we find the same eager longing for divine communion, only now projected into monistic extremes.

Among the sacred books of the Hindus, the most subtle for speculative insight are the Upanishads, which date back to at least the sixth century before the Christian era. The master idea of the Upanishads is the doctrine taught by previous sages and expanded into a means of redemption from the burden of life and the wearisome trials of reincarnation. This mystery of salvation is expressed by the equation: Atman equals the Brahman, in which Brahman stands for the transcendent yet immanent supreme deity and Atman for that eternal portion of Brahman which abides in every living being.

If the main theme of the Upanishads is that Brahman and Atman are the same, that the reality of the world outside is identical with the reality of the self within, then this final secret is found only as the crowning discovery of a long and painful search. On the way towards that solution many alternative suggestions are made and rejected. But when the ultimate revelation has been fully grasped, it can only be repeated again and again in a sort of rapture—“I am Brahman” and “You are That,”—the key words of the Hindu religion which unlock all beatitude.

In Zen Buddhism there is no dualism of heaven and earth, natural and supernatural, man and God, mortal and immortal, present existence and future destiny. “Buddhism,” the Zen monks declare, “places the center of the universe in the subjectivity of the individual mind, whereas other religions put it in the objectivity outside the individual mind.” In reply to the question, what is the first cause of all things, they say: “Some religions answer God, Allah, Brahman, or something outside the individual. Buddhism sweeps aside your idle speculation and tells you to find the answer in your own realization.” [4] Yet the same monks who sweep aside the “idle fancies” about God’s existence specialize in meditation beyond anything comparable in the Western world, and their purpose is to establish contact with ultimate reality.

Extremes in Christian History

A remarkable feature of Catholic Christianity is the fact that for centuries and up to the Middle Ages there was no occasion for a major ecclesiastical declaration about man’s union with God through grace. This is all the more striking if we consider the prevalent notions outside the Church during the whole patristic age, along with the variety of opinions on which the general councils passed definitive judgment in the field of grace, Christology, and the mystery of the Trinity.

The first significant exception occurred in the early fourteenth century, when the German mystic and preacher Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) began teaching his doctrine on the spiritual life. Eckhart has been the subject of extensive research and recently several of his previously unedited writings have appeared. A benign interpretation suggests that ambiguities arose from his attempt to express the inexpressible, and the fact that he was first rediscovered by romantic poets and philosophers out of sympathy with the theological tradition in which he stood. But this was not the judgment of the Holy See which condemns seventeen propositions excerpted from his works as heretical and eleven others as suspect of heresy.

In 1329, John XXII published the Constitution, In Agro Dominico, in which Eckhart was formally censured. [5]The Pope ordered the Archbishop of Cologne to issue the condemnation, lest the errors “should take deeper root in the hearts of those simple-minded persons to whom he had preached.” He also stated that before his death Eckhart had retracted twenty-six of the articles in question and everything that was capable of leading to error in his works “as far as it can be so understood.” He submitted formally to the Church’s authority. As he had declared before the Inquisition, he was “capable of error, but not of heresy, because the one depends on the understanding, the other on the will.”

Throughout his sermons and formal treatise runs the insistence on the nearness of a devout soul to God, such nearness that it becomes one with Him. Eckhart allows the just man to apply to himself the words of Wisdom in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, “Before the world, was I created,” which he changes to read, “Before the created world, I am.” The man of virtue, he said, “is raised up above time into eternity. He works there one work with God.” Such a man “works with God what God worked a thousand years ago and what He will work a thou-sand years hence. And this is for wise people a matter of knowledge, and for the ignorant a matter of belief.” [6]

Elsewhere he exclaims that “God performs such wonders in some people, (that) they become transfigured by the Divine Being and it is God who works in them and not they themselves.” [7]And in a closely reasoned exposition of St. Paul’s statement, how “he that cleaves to God is one spirit,” he simply identifies a justified man with God, on the grounds that both have the same mind.

Intellect properly speaking belongs to God, and “God is one.” To the extent therefore that each thing possesses intellect or intellectual power, to that extent it possesses God and the one, and to that extent it is one with God. For the one God is intellect and the intellect is one God. Hence God is never and nowhere as God save in the intellect.
To ascend to the intellect therefore and to be subjected to it is to be united to God. To be united, to be one, is to be one with God for “God is one.” [8]

If it was possible to be still more explicit, Eckhart clarified what he meant in his commentary on the Gospel according to St. John. He is speaking of the just man, whom he describes as being “in justice itself, for how could he be just, if he were outside justice, if he stood without, separated from justice.” His exposition left nothing unclear, to prove that the justified person is literally and physically of one nature with the Father, even as Christ.

It is obvious from this that the just man is the offspring and son of justice. He is called, and actually is, the son because he becomes different in person but not in nature. “I and my Father are one.” We “are,” that is to say, distinct in person, since nothing begets itself, but “one” in nature, because otherwise justice would not beget the just man, nor the Father the Son, to become other than Himself.
Now if the Father and the Son, justice and the just man, are one and the same in nature, it follows that the just man is equal to, not less than justice, and similarly with the Son in relationship to the Father. This is expressed by “the word was with God.” The term “with” signifies equality. [9]

Eckhart has been acclaimed the forerunner of Martin Luther’s emphasis on faith, of Immanuel Kant’s critical idealism, and of Hegel’s evolutionary pantheism. Although Hegel’s acquaintance with Eckhart was superficial, it is certain that he regarded him as a predecessor and a kindred spirit. [10] Schopenhauer was also an admirer of Eckhart, whom he quoted more than once with approval.

The link between Eckhart and the Reformation is Martin Luther who read the Dominican mystic and was specially influenced by Eckhart’s fellow-religious, Johann Tauler (1300-1361). Tauler’s orthodoxy is unimpeachable but he never tired of repeating Eckhart’s injunction that God must be born in the soul. He was careful to add (as Eckhart had not been) that the soul is not God, that the Creator and creature are distinct, that they are of a different nature, and that in this life we can only be united with God as a result of divine grace. [11]

During the critical years 1515 to 1518, Luther read Tauler with enthusiasm and not without profit. Without distinguishing the genuine from the spurious writings of the preacher, he thought he saw in Tauler a support for the new doctrines that were developing in his mind. He felt that Tauler stood for an “evangelical Christianity,” without any adulteration of papistry. Four ideas are known to have attracted him particularly: the notion that we should completely resign ourselves to the will of God, the ostensible attacks on outer works as useless in themselves, the graphic description of the trials undergone by a devout soul, and the critical attitude towards Scholasticism.

No doubt, Tauler occasionally urged the renunciation of external works if these stand in the way of communion with god, but he was never in favor of passivity or quietism. He held that even a sinner can do good and prepare himself for sanctification. Also at times Tauler departed from strict Scholastic teaching, but only in incidentals. And the “dark night of the soul” he descried as a passing phase of spiritual loneliness, common to all the mystics. It was not Tauler but Pseudo-Tauler who had the most drastic effect on Luther. Both writers furnished the Reformer with an approach to religion that had partial validity in the limited sphere of mystical experience but that proved radically disruptive to the Catholic tradition of man’s relationship with God, when interpreted in the light of Luther’s theory of justification.

As we read through the writings of Luther and Calvin, it may seem surprising that the Council of Trent went to such great lengths to teach the extraordinary effects of sanctifying grace in the soul. Superficially it would seem the Reformers never questioned the fact, and even dwelt on the difference between themselves and those who could not grasp the idea of salvation by trust alone. Calvin quoted the words of Christ against his opponents: “My Spirit was unknown to the world; he is recognized only by those among whom he abides.” [12] In reality, however, whatever participation in the divine nature the Reformers admitted, they did not admit an intrinsic perfection abiding in the soul. Their premise was that justification itself meant only the external imputation of Christ’s merits.

If they spoke of the “indwelling Spirit,” His union with the soul may have been interior, but it was not due to any permanent physical reality which raised the soul to a share in the very life of God. It was either a moral connection arising from the sinner’s acceptance by God, or a literal substitution of the Spirit for that cooperative effort which became impossible on the hypothesis of an utterly depraved will.

Protestant scholarship has shown conclusively what a gulf divides the Catholic from the Reformation doctrine on the effects of justification. The acute change from Indeterminism to religious Determinism took place in Luther (and through him in Calvin) under the direct influence of German Mysticism. In the Servo Arbitrio (Enslaved Will) it attained its extremest limit. This is not explained, as some have thought, by Occamism, but by German Mysticism. After his period of mysticism, in which he replaced human freedom with the all-doing Spirit, Luther took leave altogether of what he called the “Semi-Pelagianism and Indeterminism” of the Scholastics. “Any concurrence between free will and its faculties and grace, or any kind of preparation for grace, is completely done away with. God’s grace alone works for salvation, and predestination is the only cause of salvation in those who are justified.” [13]

In this as in so many other areas, Baius and the Jansenists clarified Protestant theology by expressing it in terms familiar to Catholicism. Two propositions of Michael de Bay which Pius V censured deal specifically with the doctrine of partaking in the divine nature. “The raising of human nature,” said Baius, “to a participation of the divine nature was due to the integrity of man in his first state and for that reason should be called natural, not supernatural.” [14] And more pertinently, “The justice by which a sinner is justified through faith consists formally in obedience to the commandments, which is the justice of works. It does not consist in any kind of habitual grace infused in the soul, by which a man is adopted as a son of God, renewed according to the inner man and made a sharer in the divine nature, so that, renovated through the Holy Spirit he can thereby live a holy life and fulfill the precepts of God.” [15]

If the same position was less clear in the Reformers, this was not because of any basic difference from Bainism but because the Reformation principles had become more refined and their formulation more precise under the scrutiny of sympathetic theologians who sought to bridge the gap between Catholic and Protestant theologies of grace.

An extreme form of Quietism troubled the Church in the late seventeenth century, with the publication in 1675 of The Spiritual Guide by Michael Molinos, a Spanish priest then living in Rome. Although dangerous, the book was susceptible to an orthodox interpretation. The letters of spiritual direction which Molinos wrote, however, presented total passivity as the Christian ideal of perfection. After several years of sifting this correspondence, which amounted to twenty thousand pieces of mail sent to persons in every walk of life and rank in the Church, Molinos was finally arrested and found guilty of teaching erroneous doctrine. On September 3, 1687, he made a solemn abjuration, after which he was taken back to prison, where he died towards the end of 1696.

For Molinos, perfection of the interior life consisted in a perfect passivity of soul. This is the secret of peace, union with God and sanctification. One’s own activities or thoughts are the great enemies of the divine life. Whoever puts this doctrine into practice simplifies not only his prayer but the whole conduct of his life. To resist temptations, gain indulgences, recite vocal prayers, all of this is useless in the state of perfection, once God takes complete possession of man’s spirit.

A man must learn to annihilate his own powers, according to Molinos, and this is the true interior way. “To wish to do anything actively is to offend God, who alone desires to be agent and “Natural activity is hostile to grace, impedes the operations of God and true perfection, because God desires to work within us but without us.” [16]

The foundation of this Quietism was a not-unfamiliar idea that might have been quoted from the sermons of Eckhart. “By doing nothing, the soul annihilates itself and returns to its first principle and origin, which is the essence of God, in which it is transformed and divinized, and God then abides in Himself. As a result there are no longer two realities united one to the other, but only one, so that God lives and reigns in us, while the soul ceases to be in its operative existence.” [17]

In Quietist spirituality, therefore, the ideal towards which a person must strive is self-annihilation to the passive condition of a “dead body,” which offers no resistance to whatever urges may arise, on the supposition that now God and not the will must do all the activity. Molinos began by commending devotion to the Church and progressing to devotion to Christ, who was deiformis non Deus, finally rising superior to both in devotion to God alone. Hence the state of perfection was to be reached by the total annihilation of the will. Following this doctrine, priests and religious whom Molinos directed began to refuse to say their office and to go to confession, they discarded their external forms of piety, made no effort to be rid of temptations, and communicated without confession, even when they had every reason to fear they had committed grievous sin.

Some idea of the extremes to which Quietists were led, appears from the direction they received about going to Holy Communion.

Neither before nor after Communion is there required any other preparation or thanksgiving than to remain in one’s customary passive resignation. This passivity more perfectly supplies for all the acts of virtue which can be and are produced in the ordinary way. Moreover, if at the time of Communion there arise feelings of humiliation, petition, or gratitude, they should be suppressed, unless recognized as coming by a special impulse of God. Otherwise they are movements of a nature which is not yet dead. [18]

Though bizarre, Quietism was consistent with itself, since it assume that the more perfect a man becomes the less active his own contribution to the spiritual life needs to be. The resulting complete perfection means complete divinization to the point of absolute domination by the Spirit of God. [19] Implicit always was the notion that man’s will is capable only of evil, and true virtue consists in the suppression of human volition. [20]

Far removed from spiritual direction but yet within the same general tradition as Quietism was a philosophy of religion that went the “whole way” in its theory of man’s communion with God. Modern pantheism in the Western world was born of German idealism under Immanuel Kant and has since penetrated into every form of religious thought.

European writers immediately after Kant tended to an extreme idealism that he personally never professed but which derived very logically from the principles he laid down. On the one hand he credited the mind with a unique power regarding external phenomena. It determined what features of reality are to constitute our phenomenal world. According to Kant, phenomena owe their fundamental patterns to the a priori categories which inspire all human thinking. Without the categories the objects of knowledge might well be given in experience, but they would never be known. From this point it was no great step to the idea that the world of external phenomena is in some way produced by the mind, not perhaps mine or yours, but a cosmic mind, perhaps a sort of pantheistic deity. Thus the very existence and the full structure of phenomena might be thought to depend upon the activity of consciousness which in this case is not merely selective and interpretative in function but actually creative. It was left to the post-Kantian idealists to take this final step and deify the human intellect.

The first of three philosophers who derived a form of pantheism from Kantian ideas was Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814). His starting point was the disunity in Kantianism which he tried to reduce to a single principle. Kant was aware he had failed to coordinate the dualism of the moral and speculative orders, or reconcile the dichotomy of a world of phenomena with things-in-themselves. Fichte discovered a basis of unity in the Ego, which replaces the essences of things as the ultimate reality, and becomes the ultimate criterion in the practical and speculative order.

In Fichte’s theory, all thought and all being, including the noumena of things, are derived from the Ego. The resulting system is a type of subjective idealism or pan-egoism, although Fichte protested against identifying the Ego with individual consciousness. It has been called “substantial pantheism,” where the only substance whose existence is admitted is the eternal Ego.

From his study of theology at the universities of Jena and Leipzig, Fichte retained enough theological vocabulary to give a new meaning to the sola fide doctrine of the Reformation. “I have found the organ by which to apprehend reality,” he wrote. “It is faith. It is not knowledge, but a resolution of the will. So has it been with all men who have ever seen the light of the world. Without being conscious of it, they apprehend all the reality which has an existence for them, through faith alone; and this faith forces itself on them simultaneously with their existence. It is born with them.” [21]

Like Kant, Fichte had to defend himself against the charge of undermining the Christian religion. His defense was anything but conciliatory. “No one who reflects a moment,” he maintained, “and honestly avows the result of his reflection, can doubt that the notion of God as a particular substance is impossible and contradictory. It is right candidly to say this, to silence the babbling of the schools, so that the true religion of cheerful virtue may be established in its place.” [22] It was no wonder the University of Jena dismissed him in 1799 for atheism; but soon after he was appointed to the newly founded University of Berlin.

Friedrich Schelling (1755-1854) was a disciple of Fichte, who later modified the latter’s subjective idealism by combining it with the theories of Spinoza into the System of Identity. Object and subject, the real and ideal, nature and spirit were made identical in the Absolute, which Schelling denominated as God. He made complete this identification of all things with the Absolute, not in the qualified sense that the Absolute has power to develop and produce all things, but because the Absolute indeterminately is all things.

Later Schelling changed his system to explain the origin of the universe as a “breaking away” or “falling off” from the Absolute. In his own words, “there is no continuous transition from the Absolute to the actual; the origin of the sensible world is conceivable only as a complete falling off from absoluteness, by a leap. The Absolute is what alone is real; finite things, on the other hand, are not real.” [23]

Schelling’s philosophy has been called “essential pantheism,” because it affirms the identity in essence of all things, notwithstanding his curious explanation of the world as “fall” from the Absolute.

The third and greatest post-Kantian thinker who tried to synthesize ultimate being was Georg Hegel (1770-1831), who reversed Schelling’s theory of the world as proceeding from the Absolute by postulating that the Absolute becomes successively matter and spirit and all things. Both made the Absolute the only principle of reality, but where Schelling called it a genetic source, Hegel believed it was a continuous process.

The essence of Hegel’s dynamic Absolute was the Idea, which continues to develop by successive stages—thesis, antithesis, and synthesis—into all the varieties of being. This idea is something present in all things, not only in those which are, but also in those which are not. It is simultaneously being and nonbeing, the negation of being and universal being, determined being and undetermined being. In a word, the foundation of Hegel’s philosophy was a denial of the principle of contradiction. His concept of universal being postulated a deity that is not yet but is becoming.

Unlike Fichte and Schelling, Hegel wrote so much on the subject of religion that some writers believe he was primarily a theologian and a philosopher only to support his theology. His preoccupation has earned him the title of “God intoxicated.”

Hegel’s influence on the sacred sciences has been immense. The modern study of ecclesiastical history began with the Tubingen School, which drew its inspiration directly from Hegel. Its outstanding figure, David Strauss (1808-1874), projected a theory of the Incarnation that has entered the stream of modern rationalism and was one of the main reasons for the condemnation of pantheism by the First Vatican Council. Where Hegel and others had stopped short of injecting their ideas into the Christian faith, the theologian Strauss used Hegelianism to explain man’s union with the divine in terms that represent the ne plus ultra of radical Western thought.

It is elementary Hegelianism that the initial figure in any historical development, here it is the Christian religion, cannot be the greatest in the series. It is also basic with Hegel that true reality is the fusion of the human and divine, in successive stages, until final perfection of the deity is achieved. Strauss applied these principles to the Christian Incarnation.

If reality is ascribed to the idea of the unity of the divine and human natures, is this equivalent to the admission that this unity must actually have been once manifested, as it never had been, and never more will be, in one individual? This is indeed not the manner in which the (Hegelian) Idea realizes itself. It is not wont to lavish all its fullness on one exemplar, and be niggardly towards all others—to express itself perfectly in that one individual, and imperfectly in all the rest. It rather loves to distribute its riches among a multiplicity of exemplars which reciprocally complete each other—in the alternate appearance and suppression of a series of individuals.
Is this not the true realization of the Idea? Is not the concept of the unity of the divine and human natures a real one in a far higher sense, when I regard the whole human race as its realization, than when I single out one man as such a realization? Is not an incarnation of God from eternity a truer one than an incarnation limited to a particular point of time? [24]

This was no passing observation, but the key to a right understanding of Christianity. “As subject of the predicate which the Church assigns to Christ, we place instead of an individual, an idea; but an idea which has an existence in reality, not in the mind only.” Therefore “humanity is the unity of the two natures, God become man, the infinite spirit remembering its infinitude. It is Humanity that dies, rises, and ascends to heaven, for from the negation of its phenomenal life ever proceeds a higher spiritual life.” [25]

Strauss’s work, which exercised a profound influence on subsequent German Protestant theology, roused a storm of indignation and led to his dismissal from Tubingen. Yet the principle on which he built was nothing new. It had already been seen in the off-guarded statements of Eckhart. “If God and man are in themselves one,” Strauss observed, “and if religion is the human side of this unity: then must this unity be made evident to man in religion,” which he proceeded to do. [26]

From the proceedings of the First Vatican Council we know that the main adversaries that the council had in mind when drafting the definitions on God’s nature and His real distinction from the world were the pantheists then current in Germany. The familiar declarations of Vatican I take on new meaning when seen in the light of the errors against which they are aimed: the conception of a deity who was somehow confused with the universe and who needed the world and man in order to fulfill his own nature.

There can be no question whether God needs man or anything outside Himself since He is “all powerful, eternal, unmeasurable, incomprehensible, and limitless in intellect and will and in every perfection.” Since He is one unique and spiritual substance, absolutely unchangeable, “He must be declared really and essentially distinct from the world.” [27]

This is also to say that God did not create the world “to intensify His happiness nor to acquire any perfection,” since He is infinitely happy and perfect in Himself. He created “by a complete free decision” and “in order to manifest His perfection through the benefits which He bestows on creatures.” [28]

Accordingly the union which Christian revelation tells us God desires to establish and perfect between Him and the souls He justifies must begin with the antecedent axiom that God is infinite. Even the highest of creatures is a finite being. Therefore God never ceases to be God and creatures never cease to be creatures no matter how closely He unites Himself with them. In only one case, in the Person of Christ, is the union substantial or hypostatic, where the human nature of the Savior was wholly assumed by the divinity to become the exemplar and meritorious cause of our participation in the Godhead.


Before examining the Catholic doctrine on how we share divine nature, it will be useful to place the matter in focus. We have already seen that justification means the infusion of sanctifying grace in the soul as a permanent, physical reality that inheres in the soul’s substance as a qualitative habit that perfects the human spirit and gives it supernatural life. We now ask what are the formal effects of this sanctifying grace or, in other words, what are the “built-in” consequences that logically and necessarily flow from the mere fact that the soul has been animated by its form of life.

Theologians commonly recognize five such effects consequent on the reception of sanctifying grace: supernatural justice or righteousness, which includes the remission of sins; participation in the divine nature; adopted divine sonship, with its correlative right to the inheritance of heaven; divine friendship; and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. While there is still some discussion about which of these are primary and which secondary, the fundamental effect is generally considered to be sharing in the divine nature, and serves as basis for all the others. [29]

Sharing in the Divinity

It is no exaggeration to say that a correct knowledge of how we partake of God’s nature by grace is the key to a right understanding of the supernatural order. Evidently the operative word is “participation,” which means to have a part of, to share in, to partake of what someone else possesses. When we participate we receive from another what before had belonged only to the person who gave us a share in his own possession.

In quantitative terms, to participate means to divide, as when a man shares his wealth with another and is consequently poorer because of his benefaction. Spiritual things can also be shared, as when a teacher communicates knowledge to his students, or a mother gives her affection to a child. The object of communication—wisdom, love, skill—is in no way lessened because it is shared, since spiritual realities cannot be divided or broken into parts. The giver still retains what he had, and the receiver is enriched by what he obtained. This is a mystery that we cannot fully explain and yet know as a matter of experience.

As we approach the immensity of God, we see immediately that the divine perfections can be viewed from different aspects, and on a clear distinction here largely depends a true appreciation of what sharing God’s nature by sanctifying grace really means.

There are perfections in God that by their essence constitute the Divinity. Thus self-subsistence, pure act, absolute and perfect self-sufficiency are perfections that cannot be predicated of any creature in their strict and formal implication, not even analogously. Every creature is essentially dependent, essentially composed of act and potency, and essentially a contingent being. It is impossible formally (and intelligibly) to speak of a creature partaking of God’s self-existence, because its essence is to have a dependent existence and God cannot contradict Himself by “sharing” what uniquely makes Him God.

At the other extreme are divine perfections that by their formality prescind from the Divinity, and that are naturally communicated to creatures by their very creation. Thus God communicates to others outside Himself the properties of being, substantiality, life, knowledge, volition and a myriad of other perfections that run the gamut of natural participation in the attributes of God.

However, there are still other perfections in God which do not formally include the concept of Divinity, and yet are so properly divine that no creature has or can have any claim upon them. They are the ability to see and actually to see the divine essence intuitively in itself, with no creature between as a means of having this knowledge; to have the very “quiddity” of God, namely, that which makes God what He is in Himself as the object and source of beatitude. Whatever perfections by their nature belong to such beatitude, whether they constitute or derive from it—all these may be communicated to rational creatures supernaturally and, in fact, are what God allows us to share with Himself by reason of sanctifying grace.

If we ask why the intuitive vision of the divine essence belongs by right to God alone, and why only He has a natural claim on the happiness which is consequent on such intuition, we have a dimly analogous answer from human life. In a very true sense, no one except a person himself can literally “see himself” by direct insight into his own soul and operations. No one else can have the knowledge that comes only from “self-intuition,” as no one else can love himself in the way that follows on such immediate self-cognition. We admit, of course, that this self-knowledge is not strictly intuitive and that even here we have to reflect on the soul’s activity and reason to certain conclusions. The difference between how a man knows himself and how he knows anything else is so profound that nothing can bridge the gap. It is a part of his personality and proper to no one but the man himself.

Continuing the analogy, knowledge of self has a depth and intimacy for which there is no counterpart. It has extension and a variety of detail that cannot be acquired about another person. It has penetration into meaning and a personal character which find reflection in the autobiographies of men, Augustine and Rousseau, but can never be fully expressed. It has a breadth of perception which suffuses the whole man and a distinctiveness that sets us apart as individuals with a personality all our own. If experience is the mother of wisdom, then self-experience is the parent of the self-knowledge which psychologically makes us what we are.

As we transfer this pale comparison to God, we begin to see both how truly the intuitive vision of His essence is properly divine, and what happiness must be the fruit of such intuition. For the degree of joy that the will derives from a loveable object is proportioned to the goodness it finds in that which it loves. When this object is nothing less than the ocean of infinite bounty, the beatitude takes on immeasurable dimensions.

Among the meditations of Cardinal Newman is one on the prospects of heaven that brings out the meaning of what God has prepared for those who die in His grace.

My God it was Thy supreme blessedness in the eternity past, as it is Thy blessedness in all eternities, to know Thyself, as Thou alone canst know Thee. It was by seeing Thyself in Thy co-equal Son and Thy coeternal Spirit, and in Their seeing Thee, that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Three Persons, One God, was infinitely blessed. My God, what am I that Thou shouldst make my blessedness to consist in that which is Thy own! That Thou shouldst grant me to have not only the sight of Thee, but to share in Thy very own joy! Prepare me for it, teach me to thirst for it. [30]

Through justification a soul is elevated to that high nature which is destined to enjoy this intuitive vision of God. He alone has the connatural power of seeing His own divine essence; yet by the condescension of His love those who live the supernatural life are made capable of the same intuition and the same resulting beatitude—by reason of the sanctifying grace they possess. [31]

Divine Sonship by Adoption

Closely associated with sharing in the divine nature is the gift of divine filiation effected in those who are justified. The precise nature of this filiation has been the shoals on which more than one theological speculation has been wrecked. The same biblical texts which Chalcedon used to establish Christ’s divinity, Arius quoted to bolster his theory to the contrary, and Eckhart, to illustrate our oneness with God.

Scriptural terminology is fluid, since the expression “Son of God” may refer to any one of a broad variety of divine relationships. [32] At the lowest scale all rational creatures, whether angels or men, are sons of God. All have come from His creative hands and are made to His image and likeness in having an intellect and a will. On the highest level is “the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father,” who is generated by the Father from all eternity and became man for our salvation. There is finally a spiritual generation, of which St. John says that “to as many as received Him, He gave the power of becoming sons of God, to those who believe in His name.” [33] This is the adopted filiation which divine grace produces in the souls of the just.

In order to recognize the dignity of our adopted divine filiation we should view it by comparison with the other two. “Man is made to the image of God,” says St. Thomas, “because he is created with an intelligence. Only intelligent beings are said to be made in His image; they alone can be called His sons, and can be adopted through grace.” However, adoption goes further than natural creation, for a right to inheritance is implied. “God’s heritage is His own happiness, of which only intelligent creatures are capable, though they have no strict title to it from the fact of their creation. Such happiness is a gift, the gift of the Spirit. Sharing of possessions is not enough; there must be a sharing of heritage. And so the adoption of creatures mean their communion in the divine happiness.” [34]

In contrast with us, Christ should not be termed God’s Son by adoption because He is begotten eternally by the Father. His divine nature has the heritage of beatitude by natural right, not by additional concession, since, as He declared of Himself, “all things that the Father has are mine.” [35]

Adoption therefor means the gratuitous acceptance of another person into sonship with the right of inheritance. In human relations it is a free choice made by the adopting parent. A person other than one’s own flesh and blood is acknowledged as son in name and dignity, with the title to receiving the paternal heritage. By transfer to the supernatural plane, the heritage in store for us comes due to us at the end of mortal life. Then we may enter into possession of the infinite riches which are intrinsic to God, namely His consummate beatitude.

There is this difference between natural and adopted filiation that the latter is analogous to the former. In natural sonship the father communicates his own nature to the child and thereby gives him a right to the paternal inheritance. In adopted filiation this communication of nature occurs by an act of the will, by which the one adopted is accepted as a son and, in a sense, reborn by this act of charity. Thus the normal connection between father and child is established by procreation. It is supplied by effective love in the case of adoption.

The difference is still greater between human and divine adoption. When a child is adopted by human parents, this presupposes a certain fitness in the child, mainly that he has the same nature as the people who receive him into their family. Once adopted, nothing intrinsic changes in the child. He remains essentially the same, except for the moral and civil ties that now bind him to his legal parent. He has a claim on their love and a title to sharing in their possessions.

In divine adoption, on the other hand, God does not presuppose our fitness for the role of adopted sons but effects it. Mysteriously but truly God communicates His divine nature to us, making ours deiform through the infusion of sanctifying grace. What He confers is no mere moral acceptance as His children, but the physical principle of a new life and a supernatural reality that makes us like to Himself. We could never say of a child adopted by human parents that he was born of them, in the way that we may and must say that those adopted by God are born of Him.

The dogmatic ground for both these mysteries, of sharing the divine nature and adopted filiation, is the recurrent teaching of the New Testament. St. Peter began his second epistle by urging Christians to the practice of virtue because Christ “has granted us the very great and precious promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption of that lust which is in the world.” [36] The apostle does not here specify in what this partaking of the Godhead consists, but the rest of Scripture supplies the answer.

We are sharers in God’s nature because we have been reborn to a new life through grace, having been given “the power to become sons of God,” because we “were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” [37] This on the word of Christ that unless a man be reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. For we have received “the spirit of adoption as sons, by virtue of which we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are sons of God. But if we are sons, we are heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ.” [38]

For ages the world had been enslaved in sin. “But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman” in order that “He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” [39] Twice St. Paul repeated the tautology “Abba, Father,” which the Spirit bids the justified address to God, because he wished to stress the central importance of this supernatural Father-and-son relationship in the Christian faith. The word Abba is an emphatic statement of the Aramaic term Ab and corresponds to the vocative expression, “My Father!” Christ used it regularly to describe His relation to the First Person of the Trinity, since He spoke in Aramaic. Once only do the evangelists give the interpretative combination, when Mark quotes the Savior’s prayer, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee.” [40] St. Paul does the same in writing to the Romans and Galatians, who would not be expected to understand Aramaic. And since they would not be much impressed if he gave the Greek alone, he added the Aramaic to make sure they understood that the mystery and its expression came from Christ Himself.

The Council of Trent crystallized the doctrine in a series of statements declaring that the justified are “reborn” and “regenerated by the Holy Spirit,” that they are “created according to God, are made beloved sons of God, heirs, indeed, of God and co-heirs with Christ.” Justification itself is called “the state of grace and adoption as sons of God.” [41] Shortly after Trent, Baius was condemned for denying that elevation to a share in the divine nature was supernatural and claiming it consisted in nothing more than obedience to God’s commands. [42]

However, the most elaborate teaching on the subject in the Church’s magisterium came from Leo XIII, at the very time that rationalism was in its heyday and Adolph Harnack was saying that the essence of Christianity is the purely naturalistic recognition of the Fatherhood of God. [43] “No one can express the greatness of this work of divine grace in the souls of men,” the Pope explained. “Wherefore, both in Holy Scripture and in the writings of the Fathers, men are styled regenerated, new creatures, partakers of the divine nature, godlike and the children of God.” If physical procreation arises from the love of parents for their offspring, “spiritual generation proceeds from love that is infinitely more noble, coming from the uncreated Love” of God for His creatures. [44]

As we might expect, there is a close connection between our own adopted filiation and the natural filiation of the Son of God. Ours is at once a likeness to His, and intends for us to become more and more like the divine exemplar. In terms of the Mystical Body, there can be no relation of Head and members unless both share in the same nature. This conformity is an accomplished fact on the side of Christ, since He assumed our nature in all its perfection, along with its limitations except sin. Having once become man, Jesus remains the God-man for eternity, in a substantial union of our humanity with His divinity. But on our side the divinization depends on the grace of God and our effort to become assimilated to the Word Incarnate.

“It is the will of Jesus Christ,” therefore, “that the whole body of the Church, no less than the individual members, should resemble Him.” [45] Another name for this call to resemblance is the imitation of Christ, as found in the Gospels and Christian tradition. “Learn of me,” is the Master’s invitation to His followers. St. Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” and Ignatius of Antioch, “be imitators of Jesus Christ, as He is of the Father.” [46] According to St. Augustine, a man is perfect if he follows Christ perfectly, and to follow perfectly is to imitate.

We may legitimately ask why the imitation of Christ should be so essential to Christian perfection. The reason is that this was one of the motives for God becoming man. Since mankind needed to be taught the way to God, “it had to be formed after some model. The first thing necessary was that some norm or pattern of discipline be demonstrated. This was done by the divinely appointed method of the Incarnation, in order that from it should follow our knowledge, through the Son, of the Father.” [47]

Accordingly we become more like our divine Head as we more closely imitate His practice of virtue during His visible stay on earth, and more faithfully conform to the pattern He daily shows us through His infallible Church. Viewed in this double aspect, the imitation of Christ becomes more than prayerful reflection on the biography of the Gospels. It includes a responsiveness to the norms of holiness presented by the Mystical Christ through His appointed teachers and through the members of his Body who approached nearest to the sanctity of their Head.

Divine Friendship and Righteousness

In a special way, sanctifying grace also makes us the friends of God, endowing with spiritual rectitude or righteousness as defined by the Council of Trent and derived from the constant teaching of the Church. “The justified become both friends of God and members of His household.” And when Faith operates along with other works, “the justified increase in the very righteousness which they received through the grace of Christ and are justified the more.” [48]

What does it mean to become a friend of God through the infusion of His grace? Negatively it means the removal of sin which stands at enmity with God, and positively it stands for all the evidences of divine love that only the justified enjoy. Friendship has been defined as the mutual and manifest benevolence, which is not hid but outwardly shown and that shows itself by an exchange of what the friends possess. Each element is significant in the analysis of divine friendship through grace.

When I love a person with benevolence, my motive is not selfish advantage but the sheer excellence of the person loved. [49] His good-ness in and of itself impels me to love him, not merely gratitude for what I may have received in the past, and still less what I hope to get in the future. From the divine side God cannot love in any other way than benevolently, since He never seeks (or could possibly desire) any benefit from His creatures. But from our side we are quite capable of loving God from motives lower than His infinite goodness; in fact the virtues of hope and fear are directly motivated by self-concern, either of receiving what is good or avoiding what is evil. These virtues are good and demand cultivation, but they are not yet that pure form of love of which we are supernaturally capable through justification.

True friendship does not hide its affection. There is a self-revelation of one to the other, without which the love would be suspect. In the words of Christ, “No longer do I call you servants, because the servant does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends, because all things that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” [50] The consequent intimacy is bilateral. The soul is self-revealing to God in a way that may surprise the natural man and, in the lives of the saints, may seem almost extreme. God reveals Himself with manifestations that are commonplace in hagiography and familiar to all Christians in the degree of their nearness to Him.

But most important, friendship is communicative. It presupposes a certain equality between the two who love, either natural, as among man, or of dignity, as happens when God raises man to a level comparable to His own nature. It also presupposes a certain agreement of mind and will, which in human society may be as trivial as two people having the same taste in sports. But divine friendship is a consensus of ultimate purpose—the glory of God and our beatitudes. Divine friendship presupposes, especially, that the parties mutually exchange what they possess—which prompts the soul to give itself and all it has to God for the advancement of His honor; while God more than requites the generosity by giving Himself. He does this as man in the person of Christ, as the God-man in the Eucharist, as the indwelling Spirit who abides in the soul, and, in heaven, as the object of eternal happiness.

Correlative with friendship, sanctifying grace confers a righteousness that gives the soul power and facility to direct its actions rightly, i.e., to that proper end to which humanity is destined in the beatific vision. [51]

This orientation is the bedrock of the supernatural order, since order is the right use of means to a given end. A man in grace is thus directed from within to employ his faculties and whatever enters his life to the attainment of the heavenly goal to which his deiform nature is spontaneously impelled. From the side of God, there is a special providence in favor of the justified, a protection and guidance that follow logically on adopted filiation and divine friendship and that were promised in both the Old and New Laws. “Can a woman forget her child,” the Lord asked, “so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet I will not forget you,” He promised to those whom He chose. [52] Nothing is excepted from the scope of this provident care, since “we know that for those who love God all things work together unto good, for those who, according to His purpose, are saints through His call,” that is, are made holy through the grace to which He invited them. [53]


Few doctrines of the Catholic faith are more personally satisfying than the mystery of divine inhabitation, assured us by Christ at the Last Supper. “I will ask the Father,” He promised, “and He will give you another Advocate to dwell with you forever, the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you shall know Him, because He will dwell with you and be with you.” Then to clarify the Trinitarian nature of this indwelling, He added, “If anyone love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our abode with him.” [54]

For the earliest Christian tradition, the faithful reflected on the love which prompted God to give the souls in grace not only the created gift of supernatural life but the uncreated gift of Himself. “We believe in the Holy Spirit,” the Credo of Epiphanius read, “who dwells in the saints.” [55] St. Augustine summarized the patristic tradition at the beginning of the fifth century.

Although God is everywhere wholly present, He does not dwell in everyone. It is not possible to say to all what the apostle says, “Know you not that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
Who would dare to think, unless he were completely ignorant of the inseparability of the Trinity, that the Father or the Son could dwell in someone in whom the Holy Spirit does not dwell, or that the Holy Spirit could be present in someone in whom the Father and the Son were not present? Hence it must be admitted that God is everywhere by the presence of His divinity, but not everywhere by the grace of His indwelling.
He that is everywhere does not dwell in all, and He does not dwell equally in those in whom He does dwell. It is (moreover) remarkable how God dwells in some souls who do not yet know Him and does not dwell in others who do. We say, then, that the Holy Spirit dwells in baptized children although they do not know it. They are unconscious of Him although He is in them. He is said to dwell in such as these because He works in them secretly that they may be His temple, and He perfects His work in them as they advance in virtue and persevere in their progress. [56]

The Council of Trent made several references to the indwelling Spirit, for example in speaking of those who fall into mortal sin after having been justified. Their sin is more serious who, “after they have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, have not been afraid to destroy knowingly the temple of God and grieve the Holy Spirit.” [57] But the most detailed authoritative exposition was given by Leo XIII, in the Encyclical Divinum Illud, written, as the pontiff said, to remind “preachers and those having care of souls that it is their duty to instruct the people more diligently and more fully about the Holy Spirit.” His analysis is the best single dogmatic source on that presence of God in the soul which differs only in degrees and fruition from His union with the saints in glory.

Mode of Presence

We begin with the established fact, universally taught by faith, that God is present in a special manner in the justified, other than in sinners, unbelievers, or the unbaptized. The precise mode of this presence, called inhabitation, has not yet been determined. However certain features of it must be verified.

There is question here of a hidden mystery, which during this earthly exile can only be dimly seen through a veil, and which no human words can express. The Divine Persons are said to indwell inasmuch as they are present to beings endowed with intelligence in a way that lies beyond human comprehension, and in a unique and very intimate manner, which transcends all created nature, these creatures enter into relationship with Them through knowledge and love. [58]

Theologians agree that whatever the indwelling is, it must be more than the ordinary presence of God everywhere by His immensity, which is common to all creatures and without which they would not exist. However it cannot be a substantial union between the soul and God to coalesce into one nature or one person: because God cannot be fused with a creature to form one nature with it, and because revelation tells us that there is only the one hypostatic (personal) union in Jesus Christ. Hence the warning of the Church “to reject every kind of mystic union by which the faithful of Christ should in any way 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.” [59]

One theory of inhabitation explains it as a presence of production, which conceives God dwelling in the just man by affecting in him something entirely new and above his nature, namely sanctifying grace with all its concomitants. The principle behind the theory is the familiar one that God becomes present to me in the first place by producing me, which is the presence of His operation or immensity. Taking this as a general norm, any subsequent and higher “presence” should be explained in the same way. When I receive sanctifying grace, God produces something entirely different and essentially superior to the human nature I already possess. He gives me the deiformity of a life comparable to His own divine Son, which whom I become a joint heir of heaven.

Another explanation goes further, saying that if inhabitation were only a kind of higher production in the soul the result would not be radically different from God’s omnipresence but only a matter of degree. The real newness of the indwelling should be sought in God’s presence as the object of a special knowledge and love, which need not be actual here and now but has at least the capacity for realization, in varying stages. These stages take us from the dawn of reason (and the exercise of faith), through spiritual growth, to the beatific vision.

Some theologians stress the element of quasi-experimental knowledge, others of loving friendship, in which God becomes the new object for the soul. Regarding knowledge, this might be illustrated from human experience in the vastly different ways that people can know one another. In a broad sense I can say that I know every person in the world to the extent that I understand what human nature is; therefore everyone who answers this basic definition is “known” to me. But people in my own country, or city, or neighborhood are better known still. If we continue refining these kinds of knowledge we finally come to the members of our own family, and to the alter ego whom I feel I know almost as well as myself. Something comparable to this is suggested as taking place through the divine inhabitation, where the soul is enabled to “know God” with a depth and intimacy that beggar description and yet are as real as a man’s own existence.

Part of this intimate knowledge of God is an insight into divine Truth, which the mind acquires quite without effort and with a clarity that no amount of natural reflection could provide. In the lives of the mystics this may reach extraordinary proportions, as happened to St. Ignatius in his famous vision at the river Cardoner.

The eyes of his understanding were open. He beheld no vision, but he saw and understood many things, spiritual as well as those concerning faith and learning. This took place with so great an illumination that these things appeared to be something altogether new. He cannot point out the particulars of what he then understood, although they were many, except that he received a great illumination in his understanding. This was so great that in the whole course of his past life right up to his sixty-second year, if he were to gather together all the helps he had received from God and all that he knew, and add them together, he does not think they would equal all that he received at that one time. [60]

What is most distinctive, however, about the knowledge that some would identify with the indwelling is not only its intensity but its span of perception of divine objects, accepted now by faith but which one day will be seen in vision. No mystical experience is needed to recognize the chasm that separates the believing from the unbelieving mind, the one having the Spirit of Truth and the other (perhaps naturally much superior) operating on its own. “This is eternal life,” Christ defined, “that they may know You, the only true God,” on which St. Thomas commented that “this supernatural knowledge is now entered by faith, which believes, through infused light, truths exceeding our natural understanding.” [61] Mysteries like the Incarnation and Real Presence, the solidarity of the faithful in the Mystical Body and the Church’s power of forgiving sins, doctrines like papal infallibility and the Catholic teaching on divorce and birth control are believed with a conviction that scandalizes those who do not have the Light of the abiding Spirit.

This special knowledge is associated with a love for the things of God, i.e., the coextensive object of the divine indwelling. Again the same serial analogy can be made, starting from the generic sort of love we have for “the human race,” on through the various persons who have more and more intimately entered our lives, until we come to the one person above all others whom we love the most. In comparable fashion the soul in whom the Trinity dwells has the capacity for loving God in a way that far exceeds the native power of the will as the supernatural is above nature. Once again the mystics give us an insight into the extremes of this love, as in the famous passage where Teresa of Avila describes the rapture of having her heart pierced through with a long spear of gold. When the angel of the vision “drew it out, he seemed to draw out my very entrails also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God.” She writes in her autobiography—

The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God. It is not bodily pain, but spiritual, though the body has a share in it—indeed, a great share. So sweet are the colloquies of love which pass between the soul and God that if anyone things I am lying I beseech God, in His Goodness, to give him the same experience.
During the days that this continued, I went about as if in a stupor. I had no wish to see or speak with anyone, but only to hug my pain, which caused me greater bliss than any that can come from the whole of creation. [62]

As before with knowledge, so with the love that comes from the Spirit of God, its experimental character is not limited to certain saints, whose raptures (according to the norms set down in canonical processes) do not prove sanctity. This love is the common experience of all believers, graded from the lowest to the highest, depending on the measure of God’s presence in the soul. [63]

Still another explanation of the divine indwelling does not deny the preceding but seeks to combine the two theories of God’s presence as agent and object of knowledge and love, and to place the ensemble on metaphysical grounds.

According to this theory, God is aid to “actuate” the essence of the soul, without informing it, i.e., without being its form, which would make God depend upon the soul as upon a material cause. He unites Himself to the soul by giving Himself to it. Actuation here means a “joining with” the human spirit in the way God will unite and give Himself to our minds in the beatific vision. The souls of the just are considered actuated in the sense of a previously existing substance, having its own rational life, made live under the influence of an added divine life stemming from a vital, uncreated principle which is God Himself. This principle communicates itself to the soul, without becoming its formal cause, and by this communication gives it the fundamental capacity to fulfill the functions of a new life whose plenitude is the face-to-face intuition of God.

Sanctifying grace thus becomes the created communication of the Spirit of life to the essence of the soul, even as the light of glory is the created communication of divine Truth to the faculty of the mind. In both cases God dwells within us, through grace, in the whole substance of our spirit and through the light of glory in the intellect of the blessed.

Once more the principle of analogy will help to explain. The indwelling may be compared to the interpenetration of our body by the soul, which is whole and entire in every part of the body and not less in one portion than in another. Analogously God compenetrates every portion of the soul, to the very depths of its being. He is united with the soul by permeating its essence, yet always by a union which is only accidental and not substantial, albeit permanent and habitual and destined to continue for eternity.

The supernatural union consequent on the indwelling is also a possession of God. He gives Himself personally so that He is not only in the soul but belongs to the soul. The soul of the just man possesses Him as its property, since “by the gift of sanctifying grace the rational creature becomes capable of enjoying not only the created gift but even the divine Person.” [64] Our having God is ontologically the same by grace as it will be in glory. In this life the enjoyment is through a mirror, darkly, but in heaven there will be no created medium between the soul and God.

Nevertheless already by grace God’s abiding union with the soul can effect supernatural happiness that faith tells us is a foretaste of final beatitude. “Whoever possesses God is happy,” wrote St. Augustine. [65] In the City of God he expanded on the principle that underlies this concept of the indwelling as an inchoate beatific vision. There are two kinds of persons, those who seek their happiness in God and those who look for it in themselves; the first have the Spirit of the Lord within, the second are dwelling alone. “If it is asked why the ones are happy, the right answer is, because they cleave to God. If it be asked why the others are miserable, the right answer is, because they do not cleave to God. There is no good capable of making any rational intellectual creature happy except God.” [66]

Accordingly in the measure that God, who alone can satisfy the heart of man, is present in the soul, and the soul responds to His presence, true happiness will result. For there are two kinds of happiness for mortal men: that which is carnal and earthly and hangs on the changing circumstances of life, and that which is spiritually perfect, which depends on the possession of God.

Appropriation to the Holy Spirit

Although we normally speak of the third Person inhabiting the souls of the just, there is a real problem if we take the ascription literally. At the Last Supper, when Christ foretold the mystery, He affirmed that all three Persons would come and make their abode in the faithful. Interpreted by tradition, this means that “God the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit come to us, as we come to them; they come to assist and we to obey; they to illuminate and we to behold; they to supply and we to receive that our vision of them be not external but deeply within; that their dwelling in us should not be for time but for ever.” [67]

We are further led to the same conclusion by the fact that all the divine operations outside of God, except the hypostatic union, are performed by the whole Trinity. [68] Certainly the union of the soul with the Holy Spirit through sanctifying grace is not hypostatic, otherwise He would be assuming each soul into a substantial union of person—which cannot be held because the only hypostatic union admissible is that of the Incarnate Word.

Nevertheless there is a peculiar fitness if we appropriate the indwelling to the Third Person in preference to the other two. To appropriate means to apply to one Person some action common to all three. Of course this is not to say that one of the Persons is more active in producing a certain effect, since that would destroy their absolute equality of nature. It is simply a human way of saying that some effect outside of God (ad extra) bears a greater resemblance to an operation within God (ad intra), which pertains to one divine Person rather than another. In this way goodness may fitly be ascribed to what is proper to the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father because power, as such, is a kind of principle or source, and it is proper that the First Person be the principle of the whole Divinity. By the same token whatever involves wisdom in creation can be referred to as the Son because it is characteristic of Him who proceeds from the Father as the Word of God by means of intellectual generation.

Since the manifestations of divine love in the world are analogous to the Holy Spirit who is the hypostatic love, proceeding from the Father and Son, they are rightly attributed to Him in the workings of grace consequent on the divine indwelling. Hence the statement of St. Paul, that “the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” [69]

It is also proper to the Third Person to proceed from the other two by way of sanctity, since the essence of divine sanctity is the infinite love of an infinite good, so that the two processions by way of love and sanctity are really the same. For this reason, “because the divine Person proceeds through the love by which God is loved, it is properly called the Holy Spirit.” [70] Consequently though all three Persons are essentially holy, holiness is specially applied to the Holy Spirit, and the indwelling which makes us holy is likewise ascribed to Him.

Finally we may speak of the Holy Spirit as the nature of a personal gift, since love carries the connotation of a primary gift through which all other gifts are freely granted. “A gift is freely given, and expects nor return. Its reason is love. What is first given is love; that is the first gift. The Holy Spirit comes forth as the substance of love, and Gift is His name.” [71] Among the blessings of divine generosity none ranks higher than the personal dwelling of the Trinity in the just, which the Church therefore attributes to the Holy Spirit, whom we invoke as “the Giver of gifts” and “the Gift of God most high.”

[1] Homer, Iliad, 26, 526.

[2] Plato, Platonis Opera, II, “Symposium” (Oxford: Clarendon, 1957), 210; CCC 2519.

[3] Ibid., 211-12; CCC 2784 (quote from St. Gregory of Nyssa).

[4] Senzaki, Nyogen, Buddhism and Zen (New York: Philosophical Library, 1953), 11.

[5] DS 951-79.

[6] Treatises and Sermons of Meister Eckhart, trans. James Clark and John V. Skinner (New York: Octagon Books, 1958), 55.

[7] Ibid., 107.

[8] Ibid., 212.

[9] Ibid., 238.

[10] Hegel, Werke, Vol. XII, 1925, 257.

[11] CCC 1997.

[12] John 14:17.

[13] “Luther und die deutsche Mystik,” Neue Kirchliche Zeitschrift, 19 (1908), 985-88; CCC 1993, 2002.

[14] DS 1921.

[15] DS 1942.

[16] DS 2204.

[17] DS 2205.

[18] DS 2232.

[19] Paul Dudon, Le Quietiste Espagnol Michel Molinos (Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne, 1921), 91-92.

[20] CCC 1749.

[21] Johann Fichte, The Vocation of Man (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1956), 99-101.

[22] Johann Fichte, Popular Works (London: Trübner, 1873), 1:122-23.

[23] Friedrich Schelling, Werke (Augsburg: J.G. Cotta, 1856), 6:38.

[24] David Strauss, The Life of Jesus (London: Sonnenschein, 1892), 3:437.

[25] Ibid., 437-38.

[26] Ibid., 433.

[27] DS 3001; CCC 293.

[28] DS 3002.

[29] CCC 654.

[30] John Henry Newman, Meditations and Devotions (London: Longmans, Green, 1893), 425.

[31] CCC 1028.

[32] CCC 441.

[33] John 1:12, 18; CCC 1692.

[34] St. Thomas Aquinas, III Sententiarum, 10, 2, 2.

[35] John 16:15; CCC 423, 454.

[36] 2 Peter 1:4.

[37] John 1:13.

[38] Romans 8:15; CCC 1265.

[39] Galatians 4:4.

[40] Mark 14:36.

[41] DS 1514-15, 1523-24, 1528-29.

[42] DS 1921, 1942; CCC 1998.

[43] Adolph Harnack, What is Christianity? (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1908).

[44] Leo XIII, On the Holy Spirit [Divinum Illud Munus] (1897), 8.

[45] Mystici Corporis 47.

[46] 1 Cor. 11:1; St. Ignatius of Antioch, “Epistle to the Philadelphians,” 7.

[47] St. Augustine, “Sermo 142,” MPL 38:783-84.

[48] DS 1535; CCC 277.

[49] CCC 1767.

[50] John 15:15; CCC 1972.

[51] CCC 1266.

[52] Isaiah 49:15; CCC 219.

[53] Romans 8:28; CCC 313.

[54] John 14:23, CCC 260.

[55] DS 44; CCC 1197.

[56] St. Augustine, “Epistola ad Dardanum,” MPL 33:837-38.

[57] DS 1690.

[58] Mystici Corporis 79.

[59] Ibid., 78.

[60] St. Ignatius’ Own Story, trans. W.J. Young, S.J. (Chicago: Regnery Co., 1956), 23-24.

[61] John 17:3; De Veritate XIV, 2.

[62] St. Teresa of Avila, Autobiography, trans. E. Allison Peers. Complete Works of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Vol. I (NY: Sheed & Ward, 1957), 192-193.

[63] CCC 2093.

[64] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 43, 3, 1.

[65] St. Augustine, De Vita Beata, IV, 35; CCC 1718.

[66] St. Augustine, City of God, XII, 1; CCC 2548.

[67] St. Augustine, In Joannem 76, 7; CCC 260.

[68] CCC 258.

[69] Romans 5:5.

[70] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 36, 1.

[71] Ibid., I, 38, 2.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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