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Sanctifying Grace

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Grace (gratia, Charis), in general, is a supernatural gift of God to intellectual creatures (men, angels) for their eternal salvation, whether the latter be furthered and attained through salutary acts or a state of holiness. Eternal salvation itself consists in heavenly bliss resulting from the intuitive knowledge of the Triune God, who to the one not endowed with grace "inhabiteth light inaccessible" (1 Timothy 6:16). Christian grace is a fundamental idea of the Christian religion, the pillar on which, by a special ordination of God, the majestic edifice of Christianity rests in its entirety. Among the three fundamental ideassin, redemption, and gracegrace plays the part of the means, indispensable and Divinely ordained, to effect the redemption from sin through Christ and to lead men to their eternal destiny in heaven.

Before the Council of Trent, the Schoolmen seldom used the term gratia actualis, preferring auxilium speciale, motio divina, and similar designations; nor did they formally distinguish actual grace from sanctifying grace. But, in consequence of modern controversies regarding grace, it has become usual and necessary in theology to draw a sharper distinction between the transient help to act (actual grace) and the permanent state of grace (sanctifying grace). For this reason we adopt this distinction as our principle of division in our exposition of the Catholic doctrine. In this article, we shall treat only of sanctifying grace. (See also ACTUAL GRACE.)

Sanctifying grace

Since the end and aim of all efficacious grace is directed to the production of sanctifying grace where it does not already exist, or to retain and increase it where it is already present, its excellence, dignity, and importance become immediately apparent; for holiness and the sonship of God depend solely upon the possession of sanctifying grace, wherefore it is frequently called simply grace without any qualifying word to accompany it as, for instance, in the phrases "to live in grace" or "to fall from grace".

All pertinent questions group themselves around three points of view from which the subject may be considered:

I. The preparation for sanctifying grace, or the process of justification.
II. The nature of sanctifying grace.
III. The characteristics of sanctifying grace.

Justification: the preparation for sanctifying grace

(For an exhaustive treatment of justification, see the article JUSTIFICATION).

The word justification (justificatio, from justum facere) derives its name from justice (justitia), by which is not merely meant the cardinal virtue in the sense of a constant purpose to respect the rights of others (suum cuique), nor is the term taken in the concept of all those virtues which go to make up the moral law, but connotes, especially, the whole inner relation of man to God as to his supernatural end. Every adult soul stained either with original sin or with actual mortal sin (children are of course excepted) must, in order to arrive at the state of justification, pass through a short or long process of justification, which may be likened to the gradual development of the child in its mother's womb. This development attains its fullness in the birth of the child, accompanied by the anguish and suffering with which this birth is invariably attended; our rebirth in God is likewise preceded by great spiritual sufferings of fear and contrition.

In the process of justification we must distinguish two periods: first, the preparatory acts or dispositions (faith, fear, hope, etc.); then the last, decisive moment of the transformation of the sinner from the state of sin to that of justification or sanctifying grace, which may be called the active justification (actus justificationis) with this the real process comes to an end, and the state of habitual holiness and sonship of God begins. Touching both of these periods there has existed, and still exists, in part, a great conflict of opinion between Catholicism and Protestantism.

This conflict may be reduced to four differences of teaching. By a justifying faith the Church understands qualitatively the theoretical faith in the truths of Revelation, and demands over and above this faith other acts of preparation for justification. Protestantism, on the other hand, reduces the process of justification to merely a fiduciary faith; and maintains that this faith, exclusive even of good works, is all-sufficient for justification, laying great stress upon the scriptural statement sola fides justificat. The Church teaches that justification consists of an actual obliteration of sin and an interior sanctification. Protestantism, on the other hand, makes of the forgiveness of sin merely a concealment of it, so to speak; and of the sanctification a forensic declaration of justification, or an external imputation of the justice of Christ. In the presentation of the process of justification, we will everywhere note this fourfold confessional conflict.

The fiduciary faith of the Protestants

The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, cap. vi, and can. xii) decrees that not the fiduciary faith, but a real mental act of faith, consisting of a firm belief in all revealed truths makes up the faith of justification and the "beginning, foundation, and source" (loc. cit., cap. viii) of justification. What did the Reformers with Luther understand by fiduciary faith? They understood thereby not the first or fundamental deposition or preparation for the (active) justification, but merely the spiritual grasp (instrumentum) with which we seize and lay hold of the external justice of Christ and with it, as with a mantle of grace, cover our sins (which still continue to exist interiorly) in the infallible, certain belief (fiducia) that God, for the sake of Christ, will no longer hold our sin against us. Hereby the seat of justifying faith is transferred from the intellect to the will; and faith itself, in as far as it still abides in the intellect, is converted into a certain belief in one's own justification. The main question is: "Is this conception Biblical?" Murray (De gratia, disp. x, n. 18, Dublin, 1877) states in his statistics that the word fides (pistis) occurs eighty times in the Epistle to the Romans and in the synoptic Gospels, and in only six of these can it be construed to mean fiducia. But neither here nor anywhere else does it ever mean the conviction of, or belief in, one's own justification, or the Lutheran fiduciary faith. Even in the leading text (Romans 4:5) the justifying faith of St. Paul is identical with the mental act of faith or belief in Divine truth; for Abraham was justified not by faith in his own justification, but by faith in the truth of the Divine promise that he would be the "father of many nations" (cf. Romans 4:9 sqq.). In strict accord with this is the Pauline teaching that the faith of justification, which we must profess "with heart and mouth", is identical with the mental act of faith in the Resurrection of Christ, the central dogma of Christianity (Romans 10:9 sq.) and that the minimum expressly necessary for justification is contained in the two dogmas: the existence of God, and the doctrine of eternal reward (Hebrews 11:6).

The Redeemer Himself made belief in the teaching of the gospel a necessary condition for salvation, when he solemnly commanded the Apostles to preach the Gospel to the whole world (Mark 16:15). St. John the Evangelist declares his Gospel has been written for the purpose of exciting belief in the Divine Sonship of Christ, and links to this faith the possession of eternal life (John 20:31). Such was the mind of the Christian Church from the beginning. To say nothing of the testimony of the Fathers (cf. Bellarmine, De justific., I, 9), Saint Fulgentius, a disciple of St. Augustine, in his precious booklet, "De vera fide ad Petrum", does not understand by true faith a fiduciary faith, but the firm belief in all the truths contained in the Apostles' Creed, and he calls this faith the "Foundation of all good things", and the "Beginning of human salvation" (loc. cit., Prolog.). The practice of the Church in the earliest ages, as shown by the ancient custom, going back to Apostolic times, of giving the catechumens (katechoumenoi from katechein, viva voce instruere) a verbal instruction in the articles of faith and of directing them, shortly before baptism, to make a public recitation of the Apostles' Creed, strengthens this view. After this they were called not fiduciales but fideles, in contra-distinction to infidels and haeretici (from aireisthai, to select, to proceed eclectically) who rejected Revelation as a whole or in part.

In answer to the theological question: How many truths of faith must one expressly (fide explicita) believe under command (necessitate praecepti)? theologians say that an ordinary Catholic must expressly know and believe the most important dogmas and the truths of the moral law, for instance, the Apostles' Creed, the Decalogue, the six precepts of the Church, the Seven Sacraments, the Our Father. Greater things are, of course, expected from the educated, especially from catechists, confessors, preachers wherefore upon these the study of theology rests as an obligation. If the question be put: In how many truths as a means (necessitate medii) must one believe to be saved? many catechists answer Six things: God's existence; an eternal reward; the Trinity; the Incarnation; the immortality of the soul; the necessity of Grace. But according to St. Paul (Hebrews 11:6) we can only be certain of the necessity of the first two dogmas, while the belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation could not of course be exacted from ante-Christian Judaism or from Paganism. Then, too, belief in the Trinity may be implicitly included in the dogma of God's existence, and belief in the Incarnation in the dogma of the Divine providence, just as the immortality of the soul is implicitly included in the dogma of an eternal reward. However, there arises for any one baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, and entering thus the Church of Christ, the necessity of making an act of explicit faith (fides explicita). This necessity (necessitas medii) arises per accidens, and is suspended only by a Divine dispensation in cases of extreme necessity, where such an act of faith is either physically or morally impossible, as in the case of pagans or those dying in a state of unconsciousness. For further matter on this point see Pohle, "Lehrbuch der Dogmatik", 4th ed., II, 488 sqq. (Paderborn, 1909).

The "sola fides" doctrine of the Protestants

The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, can. ix) decrees that over and above the faith which formally dwells in the intellect, other acts of predisposition, arising from the will, such as fear, hope, love, contrition, and good resolution (loc. cit., cap. vi), are necessary for the reception of the grace of justification. This definition was made by the council as against the second fundamental error of Protestantism, namely that "faith alone justifies" (sola fides justificat).

Martin Luther stands as the originator of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, for he hoped that in this way he might be able to calm his own conscience, which was in a state of great perturbation, and consequently he took refuge behind the assertion that the necessity of good works over and above mere faith was altogether a pharisaical supposition. Manifestly this did not bring him the peace and comfort for which he had hoped, and at least it brought no conviction to his mind; for many times, in a spirit of honesty and sheer good nature, he applauded good works, but recognized them only as necessary concomitants, not as efficient dispositions, for justification. This was also the tenor of Calvin's interpretation (Institute, III, 11, 19). Luther was surprised to find himself by his unprecedented doctrine in direct contradiction to the Bible, therefore he rejected the Epistle of St. James as "one of straw" and into the text of St. Paul to the Romans (3:28) he boldly inserted the word alone. This falsification of the Bible was certainly not done in the spirit of the Apostle's teaching, for nowhere does St. Paul teach that faith alone (without charity) will bring justification, even though we should accept as also Pauline the text given in a different context, that supernatural faith alone justifies but the fruitless works of the Jewish Law do not.

In this statement St. Paul emphasizes the fact that grace is purely gratuitous; that no merely natural good works can merit grace; but he does not state that no other acts in their nature and purport predisposing are necessary for justification over and above the requisite faith. Any other construction of the above passage would be violent and incorrect. If Luther's interpretation were allowed to stand, then St. Paul would come into direct contradiction not only with St. James (ii, 24 sqq.), but also with himself; for, except St. John, the favourite Apostle, he is the most outspoken of all Apostles in proclaiming the necessity and excellence of charity over faith in the matter of justification (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1 sqq.). Whenever faith justifies it is not faith alone, but faith made operative and replenished by charity (cf. Galatians 5:6, "fides, quae per caritatem operatur"). In the plainest language the Apostle St. James says this: "ex operibus justificatur homo, et non ex fide tantum" (James 2:2); and here, by works, he does not understand the pagan good works to which St. Paul refers in the Epistle to the Romans, or the works done in fulfilment of the Jewish Law, but the works of salvation made possible by the operation of supernatural grace, which was recognized by St. Augustine (lib. LXXXIII, Q. lxxvi n. 2). In conformity with this interpretation and with this only is the tenor of the Scriptural doctrine, namely, that over and above faith other acts are necessary for justification, such as fear (Ecclus., i, 28), and hope (Romans 8:24), charity (Luke 7:47), penance with contrition (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19), almsgiving (Daniel 4:24; Tob., xii, 9). Without charity and the works of charity faith is dead. Faith receives life only from and through charity (James 2:2). Only to dead faith (fides informis) is the doctrine applied: "Faith alone does not justify". On the other hand, faith informed by charity (fides formata) has the power of justification. St. Augustine (On the Holy Trinity XV.18) expresses it pithily thus: "Sine caritate quippe fides potest quidem esse, sed non et prodesse." Hence we see that from the very beginning the Church has taught that not only faith but that a sincere conversion of heart effected by charity and contrition is also requisite for justification--witness the regular method of administering baptism and the discipline of penance in the early Church.

The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, cap. viii) has, in the light of Revelation, assigned to faith the only correct status in the process of justification, inasmuch as the council, by declaring it to be the "beginning, the foundation, and the root", has placed faith at the very front in the whole process.

Faith is the beginning of salvation, because no one can be converted to God unless he recognize Him as his supernatural end and aim, just as a mariner without an objective and without a compass wanders aimlessly over the sea at the mercy of wind and wave. Faith is not only the initiatory act of justification, but the foundation as well, because upon it all the other predisposing acts rest securely, not in geometric regularity or inert as the stones of a building rest upon a foundation, but organically and imbued with life as the branches and blossoms spring from a root or stem. Thus there is preserved to faith in the Catholic system its fundamental and co-ordinating significance in the matter of justification. A masterly, psychological description of the whole process of justification, which even Ad. Harnack styles "a magnificent work of art", will be found in the famous cap. vi, "Disponuntur" (Denzinger, n. 798). According to this the process of justification follows a regular order of progression in four stages: from faith to fear, from fear to hope, from hope to incipient charity, from incipient charity to contrition with purpose of amendment. If the contrition be perfect (contritio caritate perfecta), then active justification results, that is, the soul is immediately placed in the state of grace even before the reception of the sacrament of baptism or penance, though not without the desire for the sacrament (votum sacramenti). If, on the other hand, the contrition be only an imperfect one (attritio), then the sanctifying grace can only be imparted by the actual reception of the sacrament (cf. Trent, Sess. VI, cc. iv and xiv). The Council of Trent had no intention, however, of making the sequence of the various stages in the process of justification, given above, inflexible; nor of making any one of the stages indispensable. Since a real conversion is inconceivable without faith and contrition, we naturally place faith at the beginning and contrition at the end of the process. In exceptional cases, however, for example in sudden conversions, it is quite possible for the sinner to overlap the intervening stages between faith and charity, in which case fear, hope, and contrition are virtually included in charity.

The "justification by faith alone" theory was by Luther styled the article of the standing and falling church (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae), and by his followers was regarded as the material principle of Protestantism, just as the sufficiency of the Bible without tradition was considered its formal principle. Both of these principles are un-Biblical and are not accepted anywhere today in their original severity, save only in the very small circle of orthodox Lutherans.

The Lutheran Church of Scandinavia has, according to the Swedish theologian Krogh-Tonningh, experienced a silent reformation which in the lapse of the several centuries has gradually brought it back to the Catholic view of justification, which view alone can be supported by Revelation and Christian experience (cf. Dorner, "Geschichte der protestantischen Theologie", 361 sqq., Munich, 1867; Möhler, "Symbolik", 16, Mainz, 1890; "Realencyk. fur prot. Theol.", s.v. "Rechtfertigung").

The Protestant theory of non-imputation

Embarrassed by the fatal notion that original sin wrought in man an utter destruction extending even to the annihilation of all moral freedom of election, and that it continues its existence even in the just man as sin in the shade of an ineradicable concupiscence, Martin Luther and Calvin taught very logically that a sinner is justified by fiduciary faith, in such a way, however, that sin is not absolutely removed or wiped out, but merely covered up or not held against the sinner. According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, however, in active justification an actual and real forgiveness of sins takes place so that the sin is really removed from the soul, not only original sin by baptism but also mortal sin by the sacrament of penance (Trent, Sess. V, can. v; Sess. VI, cap. xiv; Sess. XIV, cap. ii). This view is entirely consonant with the teaching of Holy Scripture, for the Biblical expressions: "blotting out" as applied to sin (Psalm 1:3; Isaiah 43:25; 44:22; Acts 3:19), "exhausting" (Hebrews 9:28), "taking away" [2 Samuel 12:13; 1 Chronicles 21:8; Mich., vii, 18; Psalm 10:15 and 102:12], cannot be reconciled with the idea of a mere covering up of sin which is supposed to continue its existence in a covert manner. Other Biblical expressions are just as irreconcilable with this Lutheran idea, for instance, the expression of "cleansing" and "washing away" the mire of sin (Psalm 1:4, 9; Isaiah 1:18; Ezekiel 36:25; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Revelation 1:5), that of coming "from death to life" (Col. ii., 13; 1 John 3:14); the removal from darkness to light (Ephesians 5:9). Especially these latter expressions are significant, because they characterize the justification as a movement from one thing to another which is directly contrary or opposed to the thing from which the movement is made. The opposites, black and white, night and day, darkness and light, life and death, have this peculiarity, that the presence of one means the extinction of its opposite. Just as the sun dispels all darkness, so does the advent of justifying grace drive away sin, which ceases from that on to have an existence at least in the ethical order of things, though in the knowledge of God it may have a shadowy kind of existence as something which once was, but has ceased to be. It becomes intelligible, therefore, that in him who is justified, though concupiscence remain, there is "no condemnation" (Romans 8:50); and why, according to James (i, 14 sqq.), concupiscence as such is really no sin; and it is apparent that St. Paul (Romans 7:17) is speaking only figuratively when he calls concupiscence sin, because it springs from sin and brings sin in its train. Where in the Bible the expressions "covering up" and "not imputing" sin occur, as for instance in Psalm 31:1 sq., they must be interpreted in accordance with the Divine perfections, for it is repugnant that God should declare any one free from sin to whom sin is still actually cleaving. It is one of God's attributes always to substantiate His declarations; if He covers sin and does not impute it, this can only be effected by an utter extinction or blotting out of the sin. Tradition also has always taught this view of the forgiveness of sins. (See Denifle, "Die abendländischen Schriftausleger bis Luther uber justitia Dei and justificatio", Mainz, 1905)

The Protestant theory of imputation

Calvin rested his theory with the negative moment, holding that justification ends with the mere forgiveness of sin, in the sense of not imputing the sin; but other Reformers (Luther and Melanchthon) demanded a positive moment as well, concerning the nature of which there was a very pronounced disagreement. At the time of Osiander (d. 1552) there were from fourteen to twenty opinions on the matter, each differing from every other; but they had this in common that they all denied the interior holiness and the inherent justification of the Catholic idea of the process. Among the adherents of the Augsburg Confession the following view was rather generally accepted: The person to be justified seizes by means of the fiduciary faith the exterior justice of Christ, and therewith covers his sins; this exterior justice is imputed to him as if it were his own, and he stands before God as having an outward justification, but in his inner self he remains the same sinner as of old. This exterior, forensic declaration of justification was received with great acclaim by the frenzied, fanatical masses of that time, and was given wide and vociferous expression in the cry: "Justitia Christi extra nos".

The Catholic idea maintains that the formal cause of justification does not consist in an exterior imputation of the justice of Christ, but in a real, interior sanctification effected by grace, which abounds in the soul and makes it permanently holy before God (cf. Trent, Sess. VI, cap. vii; can. xi). Although the sinner is justified by the justice of Christ, inasmuch as the Redeemer has merited for him the grace of justification (causa meritoria), nevertheless he is formally justified and made holy by his own personal justice and holiness (causa formalis), just as a philosopher by his own inherent learning becomes a scholar, not, however, by any exterior imputation of the wisdom of God (Trent, Sess. VI, can. x). To this idea of inherent holiness which theologians call sanctifying grace are we safely conducted by the words of Holy Writ.

To prove this we may remark that the word justificare (Gr. dikaioun) in the Bible may have a fourfold meaning:

Only this last meaning can be intended where there is mention of passing to a new life (Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13; 1 John 3:14); renovation in spirit (Ephesians 4:23 sq.); supernatural likeness to God (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Peter 1:4) a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15); rebirth in God (John 3:5; Titus 3:5; James 1:18), etc., all of which designations not only imply a setting aside of sin, but express as well a permanent state of holiness. All of these terms express not an aid to action, but rather a form of being; and this appears also from the fact that the grace of justification is described as being "poured forth in our hearts" (Romans 5:5); as "the spirit of adoption of sons" of God (Romans 8:15); as the "spirit, born of the spirit" (John 3:6); making us "conformable to the image of the Son" (Romans 8:28); as a participation in the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4); the abiding seed in us (1 John 3:9), and so on. As regards the tradition of the Church, even Harnack admits that St. Augustine faithfully reproduces the teaching of St. Paul. Hence the Council of Trent need not go back to St. Paul, but only to St. Augustine, for the purpose of demonstrating that the Protestant theory of imputation is at once against St. Paul and St. Augustine.

Moreover, this theory must be rejected as not being in accordance with reason. For in a man who is at once sinful and just, half holy and half unholy, we cannot possibly recognize a masterpiece of God's omnipotence, but only a wretched caricature, the deformity of which is exaggerated all the more by the violent introduction of the justice of Christ. The logical consequences which follow from this system, and which have been deduced by the Reformers themselves, are indeed appalling to Catholics. It would follow that, since the justice of Christ is always and ever the same, every person justified, from the ordinary everyday person to the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, would possess precisely the same justification and would have, in degree and kind, the same holiness and justice. This deduction was expressly made by Luther. Can any man of sound mind accept it? If this be so, then the justification of children by baptism is impossible, for, not having come to the age of reason, they cannot have the fiduciary faith wherewith they must seize the justice of Christ to cover up their original sin. Very logically, therefore, the Anabaptists, Mennonites, and Baptists reject the validity of infant baptism. It would likewise follow that the justification acquired by faith alone could be forfeited only by infidelity, a most awful consequence which Luther (De Wette, II, 37) clothed in the following words, though he could hardly have meant them seriously: "Pecca fortiter et crede fortius et nihil nocebunt centum homicidia et mille stupra." Luckily this inexorable logic falls powerless against the decency and good morals of the Lutherans of our time, and is, therefore, harmless now, though it was not so at the time of the Peasants' War in the Reformation.

The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, cap. vii) defined that the inherent justice is not only the formal cause of justification, but as well the only formal cause (unica formalis causa); this was done as against the heretical teaching of the Reformer Bucer (d. 1551), who held that the inherent justice must be supplemented by the imputed justice of Christ. A further object of this decree was to check the Catholic theologian Albert Pighius and others, who seemed to doubt that the inner justice could be ample for justification without being supplemented by another favour of God (favor Dei externus) (cf. Pallavacini, Hist. Conc. Trident., VIII, 11, 12). This decree was well-founded, for the nature and operation of justification are determined by the infusion of sanctifying grace. In other words without the aid of other factors, sanctifying grace in itself possesses the power to effect the destruction of sin and the interior sanctification of the soul to be justified. For since sin and grace are diametrically opposed to each other, the mere advent of grace is sufficient to drive sin away; and thus grace, in its positive operations, immediately brings about holiness, kinship of God, and a renovation of spirit, etc. From this it follows that in the present process of justification, the remission of sin, both original and mortal, is linked to the infusion of sanctifying grace as a conditio sine qua non, and therefore a remission of sin without a simultaneous interior sanctification is theologically impossible. As to the interesting controversy whether the incompatibility of grace and sin rests on merely moral, or physical, or metaphysical contrariety, refer to Pohle ("Lehrbuch der Dogmatik", II 511 sqq., Paderborn, 1909); Scheeben ("Die Myst. des Christentums", 543 sqq., Freiburg, 1898).

The nature of sanctifying grace

The real nature of sanctifying grace is, by reason of its direct invisibility, veiled in mystery, so that we can learn its nature better by a study of its formal operations in the soul than by a study of the grace itself. Indissolubly linked to the nature of this grace and to its formal operations are other manifestations of grace which are referable not to any intrinsic necessity but to the goodness of God; accordingly three questions present themselves for consideration:

(a) The inner nature of sanctifying grace.
(b) Its formal operations.
(c) Its supernatural retinue.

The inner nature

1. As we have seen that sanctifying grace designates a grace producing a permanent condition, it follows that it must not be confounded with a particular actual grace nor with a series of actual graces, as some ante-Tridentine theologians seem to have held. This view is confirmed by the fact that the grace imparted to children in baptism does not differ essentially from the sanctifying grace imparted to adults, an opinion which was not considered as altogether certain under Pope Innocent III (1201), was regarded as having a high degree of probability by Pope Clement V (1311), and was defined as certain by the Council of Trent (Sess. V, can. iii-v). Baptized infants cannot be justified by the use of actual grace, but only by a grace which effects or produces a certain condition in the recipient. Is this grace of condition or state, as Peter Lombard (Sent., I, dist. xvii, 18) held, identical with the Holy Spirit, whom we may call the permanent, uncreated grace (gratia increata)? It is quite impossible. For the person of the Holy Ghost cannot be poured out into our hearts (Romans 5:5), nor does it cleave to the soul as inherent justice (Trent, sess. VI, can. xi), nor can it be increased by good works (loc. cit., can. xxiv), and all this is apart from the fact that the justifying grace in Holy Writ is expressly termed a "gift [or grace] of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38; 10:45), and as the abiding seed of God (1 John 3:9). From this it follows that the grace must be as distinct from the Holy Ghost as the gift from the giver and the seed from the sower; consequently the Holy Spirit is our holiness, not by the holiness by which He Himself is holy, but by that holiness by which He makes us holy. He is not, therefore, the causa formalis, but merely the causa efficiens, of our holiness.

Moreover, sanctifying grace as an active reality, and not a merely external relation, must be philosophically either substance or accident. Now, it is certainty not a substance which exists by itself, or apart from the soul, therefore it is a physical accident inhering in the soul, so that the soul becomes the subject in which grace inheres; but such an accident is in metaphysics called quality (qualitas, poiotes) therefore sanctifying grace may be philosophically termed a "permanent, supernatural quality of the soul", or, as the Roman Catechism (P. II, cap. ii, de bap., n. 50) says "divina qualitas in anima inhaerens".

2. Sanctifying grace cannot be termed a habit (habitus) with the same precision as it is called a quality. Metaphysicians enumerate four kinds of quality:

Manifestly sanctifying grace must be placed in the first of these four classes, namely habit or disposition; but as dispositions are fleeting things, and habit has a permanency theologians agree that sanctifying grace is undoubtedly a habit, hence the name: Habitual Grace (gratia habitualis). Habitus is subdivided into habitus entitativus and habitus operativus. A habitus entitativus is a quality or condition added to a substance by which condition or quality the substance is found permanently good or bad, for instance: sickness or health, beauty, deformity, etc. Habitus operativus is a disposition to produce certain operations or acts, for instance, moderation or extravagance; this habitus is called either virtue or vice just as the soul is inclined thereby to a moral good or to a moral evil. Now, since sanctifying grace does not of itself impart any such readiness, celerity, or facility in action, we must consider it primarily as a habitus entitativus, not as a habitus operativus. Therefore, since the popular concept of habitus, which usually designates a readiness, does not accurately express the idea of sanctifying grace, another term is employed, i.e. a quality after the manner of a habit (qualitas per modum habitus), and this term is applied with Bellarmine (De grat. et lib. arbit., I, iii). Grace, however, preserves an inner relation to a supernatural activity, because it does not impart to the soul the act but rather the disposition to perform supernatural and meritorious acts therefore grace is remotely and mediately a disposition to act (habitus remote operativus). On account of this and other metaphysical subtleties the Council of Trent has refrained from applying the term habitus to sanctifying grace.

In the order of nature a distinction is made between natural and acquired habits (habitus innatus, and habitus acquisitus), to distinguish between natural instincts, such, for instance, as are common to the brute creation, and acquired habits such as we develop by practice, for instance skill in playing a musical instrument etc. But grace is supernatural, and cannot, therefore, be classed either as a natural or an acquired habit; it can only be received, accordingly, by infusion from above, therefore it is a supernatural infused habit (habitus infusus).

3. If theologians could succeed in establishing the identity sometimes maintained between the nature of grace and charity, a great step forward would be taken in the examination of the nature of grace, for we are more familiar with the infused virtue of charity than with the hidden mysterious nature of sanctifying grace. For the identity of grace and charity some of the older theologians have contended--Peter Lombard, Scotus, Bellarmine, Lessius, and others--declaring that, according to the Bible and the teaching of the Fathers, the process of justification may be at times attributable to sanctifying grace and at other times to the virtue of charity. Similar effects demand a similar cause; therefore there exists, in this view, merely a virtual distinction between the two, inasmuch as one and the same reality appears under one aspect as grace, and under another as charity. This similarity is confirmed by the further fact that the life or death of the soul is occasioned respectively by the presence in, or absence from, the soul of charity. Nevertheless, all these arguments may tend to establish a similarity, but do not prove a case of identity. Probably the correct view is that which sees a real distinction between grace and charity, and this view is held by most theologians, including St. Thomas Aquinas and Francisco Suárez. Many passages in Scripture and patrology and in the enactments of synods confirm this view. Often, indeed, grace and charity are placed side by side, which could not be done without a pleonasm if they were identical. Lastly, sanctifying grace is a habitus entitativus, and theological charity a habitus operativus: the former, namely sanctifying grace, being a habitus entitativus, informs and transforms the substance of the soul; the latter, namely charity, being a habitus operativus, supernaturally informs and influences the will (cf. Ripalda, "De ente sup.", disp. cxxiii; Billuart, "De gratia", disp. iv, 4).

4. The climax of the presentation of the nature of sanctifying grace is found in its character as a participation in the Divine nature, which in a measure indicates its specific difference. To this undeniable fact of the supernatural participation in the Divine nature is our attention directed not only by the express words of Holy Writ: ut efficiamini divinae consortes naturae (2 Peter 1:4), but also by the Biblical concept of "the issue and birth from God", since the begotten must receive of the nature of the progenitor, though in this case it only holds in an accidental and analogical sense. Since this same idea has been found in the writings of the Fathers, and is incorporated in the liturgy of the Mass, to dispute or reject it would be nothing short of temerity. It is difficult to excogitate a manner (modus) in which this participation of the Divine nature is effected. Two extremes must be avoided, so that the truth will be found.

An exaggerated theory was taught by certain mystics and quietists, a theory not free from pantheiotic taint. In this view the soul is formally changed into God, an altogether untenable and impossible hypothesis, since concupiscence remains even after justification, and the presence of concupiscence is, of course, absolutely repugnant to the Divine nature.

Another theory, held by the Scotists, teaches that the participation is merely of a moral-juridical nature, and not in the least a physical participation. But since sanctifying grace is a physical accident in the soul, one cannot help referring such participation in the Divine nature to a physical and interior assimilation with God, by virtue of which we are permitted to share those goods of the Divine order to which God alone by His own nature can lay claim. In any event the "participatio divinae naturae" is not in any sense to be considered a deification, but only a making of the soul "like unto God". To the difficult question: Of which special attribute of God does this participation partake? Theologians can answer only by conjectures. Manifestly only the communicable attributes can at all be considered in the matter, wherefore Gonet (Clyp. thomist., IV, ii, x) was clearly wrong when he said that the attribute of participation was the aseitas, absolutely the most incommunicable of all the Divine attributes. Ripalda (loc. cit., disp. xx; sect. 14) is probably nearer the truth when he suggests Divine sanctity as the attribute, for the very idea of sanctifying grace brings the sanctity of God into the foreground.

The theory of Francisco Suárez (De grat., VII, i, xxx), which is also favoured by Scripture and the Fathers, is perhaps the most plausible. In this theory sanctifying grace imparts to the soul a participation in the Divine spirituality, which no rational creature can by its own unaided powers penetrate or comprehend. It is, therefore, the office of grace to impart to the soul, in a supernatural way, that degree of spirituality which is absolutely necessary to give us an idea of God and His spirit, either here below in the shadows of earthly existence, or there above in the unveiled splendour of Heaven. If we were asked to condense all that we have thus far been considering into a definition, we would formulate the following: Sanctifying grace is "a quality strictly supernatural, inherent in the soul as a habitus, by which we are made to participate in the divine nature".

Formal operations

Sanctifying Grace has its formal operations, which are fundamentally nothing else than the formal cause considered in its various moments. These operations are made known by Revelation; therefore to children and to the faithful can the splendour of grace best be presented by a vivid description of its operations. These are: sanctity, beauty, friendship, and sonship of God.

1. Sanctity

The sanctity of the soul, as its first formal operation, is contained in the idea itself of sanctifying grace, inasmuch as the infusion of it makes the subject holy and inaugurates the state or condition of sanctity. So far it is, as to its nature, a physical adornment of the soul; it is also a moral form of sanctification, which of itself makes baptized children just and holy in the sight of God. This first operation is thrown into relief by the fact that the "new man", created in justice and holiness (Ephesians 4:24), was preceded by the "old man" of sin, and that grace changed the sinner into a saint (Trent, Sess. VI, cap. vii: ex injusto fit justus). The two moments of actual justification, namely the remission of sin and the sanctification, are at the same time moments of habitual justification, and become the formal operations of grace. The mere infusion of the grace effects at once the remission of original and mortal sin, and inaugurates the condition or state of holiness. (See Pohle, Lehrb. der Dogm., 527 sq.)

2. Beauty

Although the beauty of the soul is not mentioned by the teaching office of the Church as one of the operations of grace, nevertheless the Roman Catechism refers to it (P. II, cap. ii, de bap., n. 50). If it be permissible to understand by the spouse in the Canticle of Canticles a symbol of the soul decked in grace, then all the passages touching the ravishing beauty of the spouse may find a fitting application to the soul. Hence it is that the Fathers express the supernatural beauty of a soul in grace by the most splendid comparisons and figures of speech, for instance: "a divine picture" (Ambrose); "a golden statue" (Chrysostom); "a streaming light" (Basil), etc. Assuming that, apart from the material beauty expressed in the fine arts, there exists a purely spiritual beauty, we can safely state that grace as the participation in the Divine nature, calls forth in the soul a physical reflection of the uncreated beauty of God, which is not to be compared with the soul's natural likeness to God. We can attain to a more intimate idea of the Divine likeness in the soul adorned with grace, if we refer the picture not merely to the absolute Divine nature, as the prototype of all beauty, but more especially to the Trinity whose glorious nature is so charmingly mirrored in the soul by the Divine adoption and the inhabitation of the Holy Ghost (cf. H. Krug, De pulchritudine divina, Freiburg, 1902).

3. Friendship

The friendship of God is consequently, one of the most excellent of the effects of grace; Aristotle denied the possibility of such a friendship by reason of the great disparity between God and man. As a matter of fact man is, inasmuch as he is God's creature, His servant, and by reason of sin (original and mortal) he is God's enemy. This relation of service and enmity is transformed by sanctifying grace into one of friendship (Trent, Sess. VI, cap. vii: ex inimico amicus). According to the Scriptural concept (Wisdom 7:14; John 15:15) this friendship resembles a mystical matrimonial union between the soul and its Divine spouse (Matthew 9:15; Revelation 19:7). Friendship consists in the mutual love and esteem of two persons based upon an exchange of service or good office (Aristot., "Eth. Nicom.", VIII sq.). True friendship resting only on virtue (amicitia honesta) demands undeniably a love of benevolence, which seeks only the happiness and well-being of the friend, whereas the friendly exchange of benefits rests upon a utilitarian basis (amicitia utilis) or one of pleasure (amicitia delectabilis), which presupposes a selfish love; still the benevolent love of friendship must be mutual, because an unrequited love becomes merely one of silent admiration, which is not friendship by any means. But the strong bond of union lies undeniably in the fact of a mutual benefit, by reason of which friend regards friend as his other self (alter ego). Finally, between friends an equality of position or station is demanded, and where this does not exist an elevation of the inferior's status (amicitia excellentie), as, for example, in the case of a friendship between a king and noble subject. It is easy to perceive that all these conditions are fulfilled in the friendship between God and man effected by grace. For, just as God regards the just man with the pure love of benevolence, He likewise prepares him by the infusion of theological charity for the reception of a correspondingly pure and unselfish affection. Again, although man's knowledge of the love of God is very limited, while God's knowledge of love in man is perfect, this conjecture is sufficient--indeed in human friendships it alone is possible--to form the basis of a friendly relation. The exchange of gifts consists, on the part of God, in the bestowal of supernatural benefits, on the part of man, in the promotion of God's glory, and partly in the performance of works of fraternal charity. There is, indeed, in the first instance, a vast difference in the respective positions of God and man; but by the infusion of grace man receives a patent of nobility, and thus a friendship of excellency (amicitia excellentiae) is established between God and the just. (See Schiffini, "De gratia divina", 305 sqq., Freiburg, 1901.)

4. Sonship

In the Divine filiation of the soul the formal workings of sanctifying grace reach their culminating point; by it man is entitled to a share in the paternal inheritance, which consists in the beatific vision. This excellence of grace is not only mentioned countless times in Holy Writ (Romans 8:15 sq.; 1 John 3:1 sq., etc.), but is included in the Scriptural idea of a re-birth in God (cf. John 1:12 sq.; 3:5; Titus 3:5; James 1:18, etc.). Since the re-birth in God is not effected by a substantial issuance from the substance of God, as in the case of the Son of God or Logos (Christus), but is merely an analogical or accidental coming forth from God, our sonship of God is only of an adoptive kind, as we find it expressed in Scripture (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5). This adoption was defined by St. Thomas (III:23:1): personae extraneae in filium et heredem gratuita assumptio. To the nature of this adoption there are four requisites;

Applying these conditions to the adoption of man by God, we find that God's adoption exceeds man's in every point, for the sinner is not merely a stranger to God but is as one who has cast off His friendship and become an enemy. In the case of human adoption the mutual love is presumed as existing, in the case of God's adoption the love of God effects the requisite deposition in the soul to be adopted. The great and unfathomable love of God at once bestows the adoption and the consequent heirship to the kingdom of heaven, and the value of this inheritance is not diminished by the number of coheirs, as in the case of worldly inheritance.

God does not impose His favours upon any one, therefore a consent is expected from adult adopted sons of God (Trent, Sess. VI, cap. vii, per voluntariam susceptionem gratiae et donorum). It is quite in keeping with the excellence of the heavenly Father that He should supply for His children during the pilgrimage a fitting sustenance which will sustain the dignity of their position, and be to them a pledge of resurrection and eternal life; and this is the Bread of the Holy Eucharist (see EUCHARIST).

The supernatural retinue

This expression is derived from the Roman Catechism (P. II., c. i, n. 51), which teaches: "Huic (gratiae sanctificanti) additur nobilissimus omnium virtutum comitatus". As the concomitants of sanctifying grace, these infused virtues are not formal operations, but gifts really distinct from this grace, connected nevertheless with it by a physical, or rather a moral, indissoluble link--relationship. Therefore the Council of Vienne (1311) speaks of informans gratia et virtutes, and the Council of Trent, in a more general way, of gratia et dona. The three theological virtues, the moral virtues, the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, and the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul are all considered. The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, c. vii) teaches that the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity are in the process of justification infused into the soul as supernatural habits. Concerning the time of infusion, it is an article of faith (Sess. VI, can. xi) that the virtue of charity is infused immediately with sanctifying grace, so that throughout the whole term of existence sanctifying grace and charity are found as inseparable companions. Concerning the habitus of faith and hope, Francisco Suárez is of the opinion (as against St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure) that, assuming a favourable disposition in the recipient, they are infused earlier in the process of justification. Universally known is the expression of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:13), "And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity." Since, here, faith and hope are placed on a par with charity, but charity is considered as diffused in the soul (Romans 5:5), conveying thus the idea of an infused habit, it will be seen that the doctrine of the Church so consonant with the teaching of the Fathers is also supported by Scripture. The theological virtues have God directly as their formal object, but the moral virtues are directed in their exercise to created things in their moral relations. All the special moral virtues can be reduced to the four cardinal virtues: prudence (prudentia), justice (justitia), fortitude (fortitudo), temperance (temperantia). The Church favours the opinion that along with grace and charity the four cardinal virtues (and, according to many theologians, their subsidiary virtues also) are communicated to the souls of the just as supernatural habitus, whose office it is to give to the intellect and the will, in their moral relations with created things, a supernatural direction and inclination. By reason of the opposition of the Scotists this view enjoys only a degree of probability, which, however, is supported by passages in Scripture (Proverbs 8:7; Ezekiel 11:19; 2 Peter 1:3 sqq.) as well as the teaching of the Fathers (Augustine, Gregory the Great, and others). Some theologians add to the infusion of the theological and moral virtues also that of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, though this view cannot be called anything more than a mere opinion. There are difficulties in the way of the acceptance of this opinion which cannot be here discussed.

The article of faith goes only to this extent, that Christ as man possessed the seven gifts (cf. Isaiah 11:1 sqq.; 61:1; Luke 4:18). Remembering, however, that St. Paul (Romans 8:9 sqq.) considers Christ, as man, the mystical head of mankind, and the August exemplar of our own justification, we may possibly assume that God gives in the process of justification also the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.

The crowning point of justification is found in the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is the perfection and the supreme adornment of the justified soul. Adequately considered, the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit consists of a twofold grace, the created accidental grace (gratia creata accidentalis) and the uncreated substantial grace (gratia increata substantialis). The former is the basis and the indispensable assumption for the latter; for where God Himself erects His throne, there must be found a fitting and becoming adornment. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul must not be confounded with God's presence in all created things, by virtue of the Divine attribute of Omnipresence. The personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the soul rests so securely upon the teaching of Holy Writ and of the Fathers that to deny it would constitute a grave error. In fact, St. Paul (Romans 5:5) says: "The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us". In this passage the Apostle distinguishes clearly between the accidental grace of theological charity and the Person of the Giver. From this it follows that the Holy Spirit has been given to us, and dwells within us (Romans 8:11), so that we really become temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 3:16 sq.; 6:19). Among all the Fathers of the Church (excepting, perhaps, St. Augustine) it is the Greeks who are more especially noteworthy for their rapturous utterances touching the infusion of the Holy Ghost. Note the expressions: "The replenishing of the soul with balsamic odours", "a glow permeating the soul", "a gilding and refining of the soul". Against the Pneumatomachians they strive to prove the real Divinity of the Holy Spirit from His indwelling, maintaining that only God can establish Himself in the soul; surely no creature can inhabit any other creatures. But clear and undeniable as the fact of the indwelling is, equally difficult and perplexing is it in degree to explain the method and manner (modus) of this indwelling.

Theologians offer two explanations. The greater number hold that the indwelling must not be considered a substantial information, nor a hypostatic union, but that it really means an indwelling of the Trinity (John 14:23), but is more specifically appropriated to the Holy Ghost by reason of His notional character as the Hypostatic Holiness and Personal Love.

Another small group of theologians (Petavius, Scheeben, Hurter, etc.), basing their opinion upon the teaching of the Fathers, especially the Greek, distinguish between the inhabitatio totius Trinitatis, and the inhabitatio Spiritus Sancti, and decide that this latter must be regarded as a union (unio, enosis) pertaining to the Holy Ghost alone, from which the other two Persons are excluded. It would be difficult, if not impossible to reconcile this theory, in spite of its deep mystical significance, with the recognized principles of the doctrine of the Trinity, namely the law of appropriation and Divine mission. Hence this theory is almost universally rejected (see Franzelin, "De Deo trino", thes. xliii-xlviii, Rome, 1881).

The characteristics of sanctifying grace

The Protestant conception of justification boasts of three characteristics: absolute certainty (certitudo), complete uniformity in all the justified (aequalitas), unforfeitableness (inamissibilitas). According to the teaching of the Church, sanctifying grace has the opposite characteristics: uncertainty (incertitudo), inequality (inaequalitas), and amissibility (amissibilitas).


The heretical doctrine of the Reformers, that man by a fiduciary faith knows with absolute certainty that he is justified, received the attention of the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, cap. ix), in one entire chapter (De inani fiducia haereticorum), three canons (loc. cit., can. xiii-xv) condemning the necessity, the alleged power, and the function of fiduciary faith. The object of the Church in defining the dogma was not to shatter the trust in God (certitudo spei) in the matter of personal salvation, but to repel the misleading assumptions of an unwarranted certainty of salvation (certitudo fidei). In doing this the Church is altogether obedient to the instruction of Holy Writ, for, since Scripture declares that we must work out our salvation "with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12), it is impossible to regard our individual salvation as something fixed and certain. Why did St. Paul (1 Corinthians 9:27) chastise his body if not afraid lest, having preached to others, he might himself "become a castaway"? He says expressly (1 Corinthians 4:4): "For I am not conscious to myself of any thing, yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me, is the Lord." Tradition also rejects the Lutheran idea of certainty of justification. Pope Gregory the Great (lib. VII, ep. xxv) was asked by a pious lady of the court, named Gregoria, to say what was the state of her soul. He replied that she was putting to him a difficult and useless question, which he could not answer, because God had not vouchsafed to him any revelation concerning the state of her soul, and only after her death could she have any certain knowledge as to the forgiveness of her sins. No one can be absolutely certain of his or her salvation unless--as to Magdalen, to the man with the palsy, or to the penitent thief--a special revelation be given (Trent, Sess. VI, can. xvi). Nor can a theological certainty, any more than an absolute certainty of belief, be claimed regarding the matter of salvation, for the spirit of the Gospel is strongly opposed to anything like an unwarranted certainty of salvation. Therefore the rather hostile attitude to the Gospel spirit advanced by Ambrosius Catherinus* (d. 1553), in his little work: "De certitudine gratiae", received such general opposition from other theologians. Since no metaphysical certainty can be cherished in the matter of justification in any particular case, we must content ourselves with a moral certainty, which, of course, is but warranted in the case of baptized children, and which, in the case of adults diminishes more or less, just as all the conditions of, salvation are complied with--not an easy matter to determine. Nevertheless any excessive anxiety and disturbance may be allayed (Romans 8:16, 38 sq.) by the subjective conviction that we are probably in the state of grace.


If man, as the Protestant theory of justification teaches, is justified by faith alone, by the external justice of Christ, or God, the conclusion which Martin Luther (Sermo de nat. Maria) drew must follow, namely that "we are all equal to Mary the Mother of God and just as holy as she". But if on the other hand, according to the teaching of the Church, we are justified by the justice and merits of Christ in such fashion that this becomes formally our own justice and holiness, then there must result an inequality of grace in individuals, and for two reasons: first, because according to the generosity of God or the receptive condition of the soul an unequal amount of grace is infused; then, also, because the grace originally received can be increased by the performance of good works (Trent, Sess. VI, cap. vii, can. xxiv). This possibility of increase in grace by good works, whence would follow its inequality in individuals, find its warrant in those Scriptural texts in which an increase of grace is either expressed or implied (Proverbs 4:18; Sirach 18:22; 2 Corinthians 9:10; Ephesians 4:7; 2 Peter 3:18; Revelation 22:11). Tradition had occasion, as early as the close of the fourth century, to defend the old Faith of the Church against the heretic Jovinian, who strove to introduce into the Church the Stoic doctrine of the equality of all virtue and all vice. St. Jerome (Con. Jovin., II, xxiii) was the chief defender of orthodoxy in this instance. The Church never recognized any other teaching than that laid down by St. Augustine (Tract. in Jo., vi, 8): "Ipsi sancti in ecclesia sunt alii aliis sanctiores, alii aliis meliores." Indeed, this view should commend itself to every thinking man.

The increase of grace is by theologians justly called a second justification (justificatio secunda), as distinct from the first justification (justificatio prima), which is coupled with a remission of sin; for, though there be in the second justification no transit from sin to grace, there is an advance from grace to a more perfect sharing therein. If inquiry be made as to the mode of this increase, it can only be explained by the philosophical maxim: "Qualities are susceptible of increase and decrease"; for instance, light and heat by the varying degree of intensity increase or diminish. The question is not a theological but a philosophical one to decide whether the increase be effected by an addition of grade to grade (additio gradus ad gradum), as most theologians believe; or whether it be by a deeper and firmer taking of root in the soul (major radicatio in subjecto), as many Thomists claim. This question has a special connection with that concerning the multiplication of the habitual act.

But the last question that arises has decidedly a theological phase, namely, can the infusion of sanctifying grace be increased infinitely? Or is there a limit, a point at which it must be arrested? To maintain that the increase can go on to infinity, i.e. that man by successive advances in holiness can finally enter into the possession of an infinite endowment involves a manifest contradiction, for such a grade is as impossible as an infinite temperature in physics. Theoretically, therefore, we can consider only an increase without any real limit (in indefinitum). Practically however, two ideals of unattained and unattainable holiness have been determined, which nevertheless, are finite. The one is the inconceivably great holiness of the human soul of Christ, the other the fullness of grace which dwelt in the soul of the Virgin Mary.


In consonance with his doctrine of justification by faith alone, Luther made the loss or forfeiture of justification depend solely upon infidelity, while Calvin maintained that the predestined could not possibly lose their justification; as to those not predestined, he said, God merely aroused in them a deceitful show of faith and justification. On account of the grave moral dangers which lurked in the assertion that outside of unbelief there can be no serious sin destructive of Divine grace in the soul, the Council of Trent was obliged to condemn (Sess. VI, can. xxiii, xxvii) both these views. The lax principles of "evangelical liberty", the favourite catchword of the budding Reformation, were simply repudiated (Trent Sess. VI, can. xix-xxi). But the synod (Sess. VI cap. xi) added that not venial but only mortal sin involved the loss of grace. In this declaration there was a perfect accord with Scripture and Tradition. Even in the Old Testament the prophet Ezechiel (Ezekiel 18:24) says of the godless: "All his justices which he hath done, shall not be remembered: in the prevarication, by which he hath prevaricated, and in his sin, which he hath committed, in them he shall die." Not in vain does St. Paul (1 Corinthians 10:12) warn the just: "Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall"; and state uncompromisingly: "The unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God...neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers.... nor covetous, nor drunkards...shall possess the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9 sq.). Hence it is not by infidelity alone that the Kingdom of Heaven will be lost. Tradition shows that the discipline of confessors in the early Church proclaims the belief that grace and justification are lost by mortal sin. The principle of justification by faith alone is unknown to the Fathers. The fact that mortal sin takes the soul out of the state of grace is due to the very nature of mortal sin. Mortal sin is an absolute turning away from God, the supernatural end of the soul, and is an absolute turning to creatures; therefore, habitual mortal sin cannot exist with habitual grace any more than fire and water can co-exist in the same subject. But as venial sin does not constitute such an open rupture with God, and does not destroy the friendship of God, therefore venial sin does not expel sanctifying grace from the soul. Hence, St. Augustine says (De spir. et lit., xxviii, 48): "Non impediunt a vita Aeterna justum quaedam peccata venialia, sine quibus haec vita non ducitur."

But does venial sin, without extinguishing grace, nevertheless diminish it, just as good works give an increase of grace? Denys the Carthusian (d. 1471) was of the opinion that it does, though St. Thomas rejects it (II-II:24:10). A gradual decrease of grace would only be possible on the supposition that either a definite number of venial sins amounted to a mortal sin, or that the supply of grace might be diminished, grade by grade, down to ultimate extinction. The first hypothesis is contrary to the nature of venial sin; the second leads to the heretical view that grace may be lost without the commission of mortal sin. Nevertheless, venial sins have an indirect influence on the state of grace, for they make a relapse into mortal sin easy (cf. Sirach 19:1). Does the loss of sanctifying grace bring with it the forfeiture of the supernatural retinue of infused virtues? Since the theological virtue of charity, though not identical, nevertheless is inseparably connected with grace, it is clear that both must stand or fall together, hence the expressions "to fall from grace" and "to lose charity" are equivalent. It is an article of faith (Trent, Sess. VI, can. xxviii, cap. xv) that theological faith may survive the Commission of mortal sin, and can be extinguished only by its diametrical opposite, namely, infidelity. It may be regarded as a matter of Church teaching that theological hope also survives mortal sin, unless this hope should be utterly killed by its extreme opposite, namely despair, though probably it is not destroyed by it second opposite, presumption. With regard to the moral virtues, the seven gifts and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, which invariably accompany grace and charity, it is clear that when mortal sin enters into the soul they cease to exist (cf. Francisco Suárez, "De gratia", IX, 3 sqq.). As to the fruits of sanctifying grace, see MERIT.

About this page

APA citation. Pohle, J. (1909). Sanctifying Grace. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Pohle, Joseph. "Sanctifying Grace." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Scott Anthony Hibbs & Wendy Lorraine Hoffman.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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