Final perseverance is the preservation of the state of grace till the end of life. The expression is taken from Matthew 10:22, "He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved." A temporary continuance in grace, be it ever so long, evidently falls short of the obvious meaning of the above phrase, if it fails to reach the hour of death. On the other hand the saying of St. Matthew does not necessarily imply a lifelong and unbroken continuance in grace, since it is of faith that lost grace can be recovered. Between the temporary continuance or imperfect perseverance and the lifelong continuance or most perfect perseverance there is room for final perseverance as commonly understood, i.e., the preservation of grace from the last conversion till death. It may be viewed as a power or as an actual fact. As a power it means the ensemble of spiritual means whereby the human will is enabled to persevere unto the end if it duly co-operates. As an actual fact it means the de facto preservation of grace and implies two factors, one internal, i.e., the steadfast use of the various means of salvation, the other external, i.e., the timely coming of death while the soul is at peace with God. Theologians, aptly or not, call the former active and the latter passive perseverance. There may be passive perseverance without active, as when an infant dies immediately after Baptism, but the normal case, which alone is considered here, is that of a good death crowning a greater or lesser duration of well-doing. By what agency the combined stability in holiness and timeliness of death are brought about is a problem long debated among Christian writers. The Semipelagians of the fifth century, while forsaking the sweeping ethical naturalism of Pelagius and admitting on principle the graces of the will, contended nevertheless, that the final perseverance of the justified was sufficiently accounted for by the natural power of our free will; if sometimes, in order to tally with conciliar definitions, they called it a grace, it was but a misnomer, as that grace could be merited by man's natural exertions. Oppositely, the Reformers of the sixteenth century, partly followed by the Baianist and Jansenist school, so minimized the native power and moral value of our free will as to make final perseverance depend on God alone, while their pretended fiducial faith and inadmissibility of grace led to the conclusion that we can, in this world, have absolute certainty of our final perseverance.
The Catholic doctrine, outlined by St. Augustine, chiefly in "De dono perseverantiae" and "De correptione et gratia", and the Council of Orange in Southern Gaul, received its full expression in the Council of Trent, sess. VI, c. xiii, can. 16 and 22:
Canon 22 (Si quis dixerit justificatum vel sine speciali auxilio Dei in accepta justitia perseverare posse, vel cum eo non posse, anathema sit), by teaching that the justified cannot persevere without a special help of God, but with it can persevere, not only condemns both the naturalism of the Semipelagians and the false supernaturalism of the Reformers but also clearly implies that the power of perseverance is neither in the human will alone nor in God's grace solely, but in the combination of both, i.e., Divine grace aiding human will, and human will co-operating with Divine grace. The grace in question is called by the Council "a special help of God", apparently to distinguish it both from the concurrence of God in the natural order and habitual grace, neither of which were denied by the Semipelagians. Theologians, with a few exceptions, identify this special help with the sum total of actual graces vouchsafed to man.
The Council of Trent, using an expression coined by St. Augustine, calls it (magnum usque in finem perseverantiae donum) the great gift of final perseverance. "It consists", says Newman, "In an ever watchful superintendence of us on the part of our All-Merciful Lord, removing temptations which He sees will be fatal to us, succouring us at those times when we are in particular peril, whether from our negligence or other cause, and ordering the course of our life so that we may die at a time when He sees that we are in the state of grace." The supernatural character of such a gift is clearly asserted by Christ: "Holy Father, keep them in they name whom thou has given" (John 17:11); by St. Paul: "he, who hath begun a good work in you, will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6); and by St. Peter: "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will himself perfect you, and confirm you, and establish you" (1 Peter., v,10). The extreme preciousness of that supernatural gift places it alike beyond our certain knowledge and meriting power.
That we can never in this life be certain of our final perseverance is defined by the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, can. xvi): "Si quis magnum illud usque in finem perseverantiae donum se certo habiturum, absoluta et infallibili certitudine dixerit, nisi hoc ex speciali revelatione dedicerit, anathema sit". What places it beyond our meriting power is the obvious fact that revelation nowhere offers final perseverance, with it retinue of efficacious graces and its crown of a good death, as a reward for our actions, but, on the contrary, constantly reminds us that, as the Council of Trent puts it, "the gift of perseverance can come only from Him who has the power to confirm the standing and to raise the fallen". However, from our incapacity to certainly know and to strictly merit the great gift, we should not infer that nothing can be done towards it. Theologians unite in saying that final perseverance comes under the impetrative power of prayer and St. Liguori (Prayer, the great means of Salvation) would make it the dominant note and burden of our daily petitions. The sometimes distressing presentation of the present matter in the pulpit is due to the many sides of the problem, the impossibility of viewing them all in one sermon, and the idiosyncrasies of the speakers. Nor should the timorousness of the saints, graphically described by Newman, be so construed as to contradict the admonition of the Council of Trent, that "all should place the firmest hope in the succour of God". Singularly comforting is the teaching of such saints as St. Francis de Sales (Camus, "The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales", III, xiii) and St. Catherine of Genoa (Treatise of Purgatory, iv). They dwell on God's great mercy in granting final perseverance, and even in the case of notorious sinners they do not lose hope: God suffuses the sinners' dying hour with an extraordinary light and, showing them the hideousness of sin contrasting with His own infinite beauty, He makes a final appeal to them. For those only who, even then, obstinately cling to their sin does the saying of Sirach 5:7, assume a sombre meaning "mercy and wrath quickly come from him, and his wrath looketh upon sinners". (See GRACE).
ST. THOMAS, Summa theologica, I-II, Q. exiv. A. 9; WILHELM AND SCANNELL, A Manual of Catholic Theology, II (London, 1901), 242; HUNTER, Outlines of Dogmatic Theology, III (New York, 1894), 47; NEWMAN, Perseverance in Grace in Discourses to Mixed Congregations (London and New York), 1906); LABAUCHE, L1Chomme dans l'etat de grace in Lecons de theologie dogmatique (Paris, 1908); BAREILLES, Le catechisme romain (Montrejeau, 1906-10), III, 417, and VI, 434. See also current theological treatises De gratia.
APA citation. (1911). Final Perseverance. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11711a.htm
MLA citation. "Final Perseverance." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11711a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to all of us who struggle in day to day life.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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