Skip to comments.The Meaning of Grace
Posted on 06/17/2004 9:14:55 PM PDT by gbcdoj
IV. JUSTIFICATION, MERIT, CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE STATE OF GRACE
1. First of all, let us think about justification. This is a theological term, signifying the act by which God moves one who was in a state of sin into the state of grace. There is a passing over from the state of nonjustice in relation to God to the state of justice or holiness in relation to God; hence the word justification.
2. How is man's justification brought about? We recall the great sentence of St Augustine, so often forgotten by Protestants: 'God who created thee without thee will not justify thee without thee.' In the second discourse, we spoke of the cause of the good act. For Luther, it comes from God alone; for Pelagius, from man alone. Both these views misinterpret St Augustine's doctrine: God does not justify thee without thee. God justifies thee through the assent of thy free will; justification is an act of the free will moved by God. But is that possible? Certainly, says St Thomas, for God moves natures without doing them violence. God moves man, a free being, by actuating his free will, and God leads him from one free assent to another, if man does not frustrate his activations, to the assent of justification in which the decisive grace descends on him.
The one exception is in the case of the very young. Original sin, in which they are born, is transmitted to them by way of generation, without any personal culpability on their part. Consequently, God does not require of them any personal act for justification. Their parents, without any act of will of theirs, give them natural life; baptism, without any act of will of theirs, gives them the life of grace.
3. God's grace always comes beforehand to prompt me. How does he knock at the door of my heart? If I am in a state of sin, he starts by trying to move me to an act of faith: I begin to grasp the extent of the gulf between the misery of my state and the holiness of God. That is why we say that faith is the root of justification. Then comes the fear of God: if I were to die now, I would be separated from him for ever. This is not mere servile fear, for there is already in it a beginning of hope. Further, in this hope, there is not yet charity, but already a beginning of love. If I do not disrupt these successive movements of Godas the hail destroys the fruit in the flowerone grace calls up another, then another, and so on.
You have probably heard the axiom: 'To anyone who does what lies in him God does not refuse grace'. If you take it as meaning 'to anyone who does what lies in him with his natural powers alone', you will be misinterpreting it: nature can never be proportional to grace; that is quite out of the question. However you use nature, it will yield only natural results. You may give a horse oats, and he will run faster, but you will not enable him to produce a work of art or solve a mathematical problem; those things are of another order. But if you take the formula as meaning 'to anyone who does what lies in him by the action of antecedent grace (which is always knocking at the door of my heart, which is as much at my disposition as the oxygen I breathe) God does not deny further grace', then the axiom is correct. He moves me again and again, and if I do not break the sequence, leads me to the final outpouring of justification.
This is the great doctrine of St Augustine, which was settled at the Council of Orange; a whole congeries of propositions, woven from texts of St Paul, provide the answer to the men known as Semi-pelagians, and summarize the Church's teaching on grace. They were approved by Boniface II in 529. The Semi-pelagians said that the beginning of good acts comes solely from me, and God, seeing I have made a beginning, gives me the power to complete them. No! says the Church, if it is really an act good in relation to the heavenly life, it is God who gave you the beginning, and who gives also the middle and end. God is the first cause making your free will bear fruit, and you are the secondary cause. The only thing you can do of yourself is refuse. These propositions deserve to be translated one day into fine prose. Here, for example, is one of them:
If anyone says that increase of faith comes from God, but denies that the very beginning of the act of faith and the first act of trust in God is already a gift of God, and the effect in us of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who converts our will from infidelity to faith, from impiety to piety, he contradicts the Apostle, who says: I have confidence that he who hath begun a good work in you will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. i. 6)for unto you it is given [i.e., a grace] for Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him (Phil. i. 29); and again: What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it? (I Cor. iv. 7).
When we reflect on St Paul's teaching, there often comes to mind a Gospel text that says the same thing but more simply; we had noticed it, but St Paul was to make us aware of all its implications: 'Without me you can do nothing' (John xv. 5). And this 'nothing' consists in refusing; and by so acting you do 'nothing' positive at all.
4. So, then, grace is there with its antecedent motion and urges us on, step by step, to justification. But what precisely is justification? It is the moment when, the sequence of graces being unbroken, all at once the flower gives its fruit; the love of God invading the soul sets it on the plane of grace and charity, sanctifies it interiorly, and there results the indwelling of the Trinity. Justification, then, happens instantaneously, although including at one and the same time several aspects: God moves the soul to make an act of love of God and of renunciation of sin, and at the same instant remits its guilt and purifies it.
5. Justification is an act of unfathomable depth. St Thomas, following St Augustine, asks if 'justification is the greatest of God's works'. In this connection, he cites one of the Collects in the Missal: 'O God, who showeth supremely thy omnipotence in pardoning [giving over and above what he is bound to] and showing mercy . . .' (10th Sunday after Pentecost). He gives this answer: creation, in one way, is a greater work than the justification of a soul, since it consists in making something out of nothing; but, if we consider the plane on which an action reaches its culmination, then the justification of a soul is a greater work than the creation of the universe, for the term of creation is the good of a transitory nature, while the term of justification is the eternal good of participation in the divinityit is set on a higher plane. This heaven and this earth will pass away, but the justification of the elect will not pass away.
6. Is the justification of a soul to be called a miracle? St Thomas distinguishes various aspects:
a. life, he says, is given, naturally and normally, to an infant in its mother's womb. A corpse, on the other hand, is not fitted to receive life, and so the resurrection of a dead person is a miracle. Now, since the soul is spiritual, the image of God, although it certainly cannot claim it has a right to grace, yet it has the wholly passive capacity of receiving it. As distinct from resurrection, which goes against the laws of life, the grace of justification comes to a soul, not as contrary to, but as superior to its nature. In this aspect, justification is not a miracle in the sense in which the raising of Lazarus was.
b. Considering a second aspect, St Thomas asks: if we call miraculous what is done against the customary order of things, is justification a miracle? He answers: No, because it happens so frequently. It is in the ordinary course of divine goodness to justify men; it does so progressively, arousing in them successively sentiments of faith, fear, hope and a beginning of love, leading them by stages to their healing.
c. Yet, in certain cases, justification may be a miracle, when God all at once overwhelms a soul, as he did St Paul. Or it may be as in the case of the good thief, when a sudden light illuminated this common law criminal and he said, 'Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom', and he received the answer: 'This day, thou shalt be with me in Paradise'. Conversions such as these are miraculous chiefiy by reason of their suddenness; they pass over the stages normally leading to justification. Other conversions, such as that of the sinful woman related by St Luke (vii. 47), appear miraculous because they seem to blot out instantaneously not only all past sins, but also the temporal punishment due to sin, even, as it seems to have been with Charles de Foucauld, the remembrance and the traces of past sins.
My opinion is that miraculous conversions of the first kind are very numerous and that, thanks to the merits and prayers of saints and friends of God, many great sinners are converted at the last moment. Those members of the Church who pray fervently for the salvation of the world are destined to be saviours of others, in Christ. They bring forth members of the Mystical Body: 'Whosoever shall do the will of my Father that is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother' (Mt. xii. 50).
Persons who have lived far from God may, at the very last moment, turn to God without anyone knowing it. They may even seem to have rejected grace. I am reminded of a story by Lucien Marsaux. A girl living with her father, who had lost his faith, prayed constantly for his conversion. The moment of his death came, and she ventured to ask him, 'Shall I send for a priest?' At these words, the father's soul was filled with light; this was what he had secretly desired; he wished to say yes, but his movements failed him, he made a gesture of refusal, and died. (It may well happen that the external sign goes counter to the real intention. In Claudel's play, "l'Otage," Sygne de Coufontaine throws herself between Turelure and her former fiance; the bullet strikes her and she falls. The priest asks her, 'Do you forgive him?' But she had done so much violence to herself in marrying Turelure, had had to suppress her feelings so strongly, that the only gesture she could make spontaneously was one of refusal; and so she made it. At least, in the first version. Interiorly, she had not refused to forgive, she had too much generosity; but there may well be a kind of cleavage between the soul and the body with which it is clothed.)
7. There are one or two further remarks to be made here on sin and grace.
First of all, a person in the state of grace may well be able to avoid all mortal sin, but not all venial sins (except towards the end of his life, if grace is very powerful in him). For the Christian has to live on a plane at which seemingly opposed virtues are reconciled to each other. He has to be, at one and the same time, prudent as the serpent and simple as the dove. This reconciliation is difficult; in his concentration on one virtue, he is in danger of momentarily neglecting its complement, and committing a venial sin. So he prays God each day to forgive his daily faults (Mt. vi. 12). He is mindful of the words of St John: 'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves' (I John i. 8).
Likewise, a man irl the state of mortal sin cannot long remain without committing fresh mortal sins. He is drawn into them, when occasion arises, by the weight of sin in his heart. So, if anyone commits a mortal sin, let him not remain in that state, but rise to his feet again as soon as possible, and begin once more to live according to the impulse of grace, according to the 'weight of grace' within him.
A second remark concerns the effects of venial sin. We begin with a comparison to show the difference between mortal and venial sin. If I pour acid on an oil-painting, the painting is ruined; such is mortal sin. But if I throw dust on it, it can be removed with a sponge and the picture reappears in all its splendour; such is venial sin. Venial sin does not destroy sanctifying grace, it prevents it from spreading its light.
Sanctifying grace inclines me towards God; I would not for anything desire to renounce this basic attitude but, through negligence, I ignore one or other of his invitations to perform a good act in matters of lesser importance, somewhat like a sick man, who, though anxious all the time to be cured, departs occasionally from the prescribed regime. Are we, then, to say that venial sin does, at least, diminish sanctifying grace? No. Soiling a lamp-glass does not diminish the light itself, but only its brilliance. Yet deliberate and constant venial sin, as opposed to unpremeditated sin, does give rise to a state of tepidity; it digs, as it were, a ditch round the soul and, when the storm of temptations arises, the soul is in danger of being drawn into mortal sin, which would immediately destroy all its beauty.
Finally, what happens to the soul which, after losing grace, regains it by an act of love and contrition? Does it return to the level of grace it had before? It may, or it may not, according to the intensity of its sorrow. Suppose it had previously a level of ten talents; it may return to God with a love of five talents, or ten, or even twenty. That is the teaching of St Thomas.
8. The second subject I want to speak about is that of merit. The very word is a source of contention; when we use it in talking to Protestants, they are put off and refuse to listen. It is better, in fact, not to use the word but to explain the thing. Perhaps they will find they have believed it all the time.
What is the doctrine of merit? It is that God is so good that he places in me his grace, by whose power I can face in the direction of eternal life, move towards it, adapt myself to it. In his simile of the vine, Christ said, 'I am the vine, and you the branches. He that abideth in me beareth much fruit' (John xv. 5). You see, God sets in us the sap of grace and of charity, I with which we can produce repeated acts of grace and charity with growing intensity; they are the fruits, and the final fruit will be entrance into the heavenly kingdom. Merit is a title to reward in justice. But can God be obliged in justice towards us? Can there be any proportion between what we give himwe who have received all we possess from himand the supreme gifts of his grace and his love? Not, indeed, if we are left to ourselves and our own efforts. But yes, there is, if he sets in us the sap of his grace and love, and asks us to make it bear fruit in still further grace and love. Once we are able to produce acts vivified by the sap of grace there is, in fact, a proportion between these acts and their fruit; first between the stem and the flower, and then between the flower and the fruit. So that our very merits are the gifts of God. Hence the saying of St Augustine: 'When God crowns our merits, he crowns his own gifts'.
9. But are they our merits or the merits of Christ? The Protestant procedure, here as elsewhere, is to oppose instead of to subordinate. To the merits of Christ alone it opposes the merits of man alone. It pronounces for salvation by the merits of Christ alone, and imputes to us the theory of salvation by the merits of man alone, the Pelagian view condemned by the Church as heretical. What then is the real Catholic doctrine? It is summed up in one sentence: our merits are from God and Christ as first cause, and from us as second causeGod gives us, in Christ, the power to assent to him.
If I give this assent, uttered here in time and penetrated by the light of divine grace, it leads me towards my final end, entrance into heaven; it makes me fit to enter heaven, and when I do, it bears its normal fruit, it 'merits' my entry into heaven. It is my own assent, my own merit; at times it will have caused me real anguish, will have entailed victory over my passionsit is indeed my own. But it is due even more to God than to me, and the first thought that will come to my mind will be to say, 'Thanks be to you, my God, for having given me the power to answer your call; to you be the glory'.
To illustrate this Catholic doctrine, that it is God who gives man the ability to merit, we must constantly recur to Christ's comparison: 'I am the vine, and you the branches. He that abideth in me beareth much fruit'. Neither Calvin nor Barth is able to explain this text. Calvin says: So you see, the branch severed from the trunk is thrown into the fire; it cannot, therefore, produce anything. We agree; the severed branch withers, but what if it remains attached to Christ? Then it bears fruit. Does the fruit come from the trunk or the branch? From the trunk through the branch. If we ask Barth whether it is God or man who produces the good act, God or the rose-tree that produces the rose, he answers that we base our reasoning on a simile. But the simile is taken from the Gospel!
One further observation on merit. As we have seen, I cannot merit the first grace of all; it is always an antecedent gift. But once in the state of charity, I can always, through charity, merit an ever greater degree of charity and, at the moment of death, eternal life.
10. Grace in this life fits us for the glory of heaven, bears fruit in the glory of heaven, merits the glory of heaven; all these expressions are synonymous. Glory is given to grace as its fruit, as its term, as its reward.
This idea of reward occurs frequently in Scripture. St Paul says, 'I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice which the Lord, the just judge, will render to me in that day; and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming' (II Tim. iv. 7-8). God who gave Paul grace antecedently will also crown him. As a judge, he will give him what is due in justice. The same is true of all Christians.
The Gospel says that, when you suffer all things, you must 'be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven' (Mt. v. 12). Christ himself said that. At the last day, when the Son of Man comes in glory with all his angels, he will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess ye the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me to eat, thirsty and you gave me to drink . . .' (Mt. xxv. 34-35). In the same chapter, we are told of the servant who received five talents and gained five more, of the one who received two and gained two; but the one who buried his talent was cursed (Mt. xxv. 14-30).
How is it possible for Protestantism to deny these ideas of merit and reward, of a God who, when he crowns our merits, is crowning his own gifts? All this recurs constantly in the Gospel. The Pelagian doctrine, of the branch which, severed from the trunk, is held to produce fruit by itself, is imputed to us. But we denounce both errors. They tell us, in accents of reproach, that we Catholics act in view of reward. My answer would be, 'Yes, we do, for we know that the reward given by Love is union with the Beloved.' 'No other reward than you, Lord,' said St Thomas. And St Paul wrote: 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those that love him' (I Cor. ii. 9). What is this reward? Union with the Beloved is a thing sublime and inexpressible. How can it be called unworthy to seek such a reward? They are forced to distort this sublime doctrine in order to attack it. 'We shall see him face to face,' says St Paul again (I Cor. xiii. 12); and St John: 'We shall see him as he is [sicuti est]' (I John iii. 2). Not to desire this reward, this union, would be not to love. Not to desire some day to see the fatherland, when we are born in exile, would be not to love it.
11. Can we merit grace for others? There is someone in my life whom I love but who is in a state of sin, can I merit his conversion? Not if it is a question of merit "de condigno," which makes the person acting fit to receive the reward. But certainly, says St Thomas, if it is a question of merit "de congruo"; it is fitting that the Lord should grant the desires of those who love him. If I do that on which his heart is set, he will do that on which I have set mine. A kind of symmetry comes into being. Only there may be an obstacle on the part of the person for whom one suffers or intercedes. St Catherine prayed for a monk she knew to be in anguish, but he hanged himself. On another occasion, she asked of God the conversion of a young man condemned to execution, and he was converted. Those who live on the heights of love can ask great things of God; their wishes may be frustrated by outside resistance, but God may often answer their prayers.
Merit "de congruo" is one thing, and simple prayer another. If I am in a state of sin, I can merit neither for myself nor for others, but I can still pray, both for myself and for others. Prayer is not based on integrity of life, but is an appeal to the pure mercy of God. Even from the depths of sin, I can cry to God; prayer is a grace by which he invites me to approach him, so that in the end he may forgive me. And, though a sinner, I may still pray for others who are better than I, for the Church and the salvation of the world.
12. Can we merit temporal goods? St Thomas says that we can, in so far as they are necessary to bring us to eternal life. God is the judge of that. If he sees that a certain temporal good is for my benefit he may give it to me; and, for the same reason, he may send me troubles. In this sphere, God's gifts are dissimilar. The final part of St Thomas's treatise on grace teaches that all things come equally to the just and the unjust as regards the nature of temporal goods and evils, but that the whole difference lies in the use that each makes of these goods and evils. If an epidemic occurs, we must not suppose that it will afflict the ungodly and spare the pious. It will strike indifferently, blindly, at both good and evil men. But if you accept the sickness in a spirit of love, it will bring you nearer to heaven; if you suffer it in a rebellious spirit, it will lead you away from heaven. The whole matter is on a different plane.
Mary of the Incarnation relates that those of the Hurons who were converted all died of the plague, and the others escaped. To preach the Gospel in these conditions was no joke; for those who accepted it seemed to be punished by God. Her answer was: We shall see about that in heaven. Recently, a missionary told how, in a village adjoining his in India the chief, who had become a Christian along with some of his people, had a buffalo fall illan important matter. He began a novena. Everyone betted on the prospect of a cure: the pagans against, the Christians for. When the nine days were up, the buffalo died. The chief complained to the missionary, who replied that God's ways are not ours.
According to St Augustine and St Thomas, what counts is the use we make of temporal good and evil. To one in the state of charity, evils, persecutions, reverses are more salutary than success. In his commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, St Thomas makes the terrible statement that continuous success in temporal affairs may, in some cases, be a sign of reprobation.
It seems, in those cases, as if God wishes to reward in this life acts that are valueless for heaven. Speaking of the virtues of Cyrus and Alexander, St Augustine considers that God raised up these men 'for the adornment of this present age [ut ordinem praesentis saeculi ornaret]'. There have been numbers of great artists and geniuses who have worked for the world of culture and neglected the warnings given by love. St Augustine held that they have received their reward in this life, a reward which was futile as they were futile. (Cf. Kierkegaard's terrible remark: 'God is so great a Lord that, far from making it difficult, he makes it exceedingly easy to deceive him; he goes so far as to give his prizes to the deceivers and to reward them with all the goods of the earth.') Though time may redeem the work of a poet, as Shelley said, and remove its poison, it does not redeem his soul.
All this brings home to us that the only thing which counts before God is the use we make of things and the love which prompts it, but also that his love is always at hand to urge us on. We must never be in doubt about this.
13. Can we merit final perseverance, which is the coincidence of the state of grace with the instant of death? Can we merit it beforehand? We cannot, for this reason: precisely, because it is the conjunction of the moment of death with the state of grace, that is to say with the root of all merit and fruitfulness. But the fruit is not the root; the fruit of the state of grace is not the state of grace itself. Once in the state of grace, I can merit an increase of grace and also eternal life, but not perseverance in the state of grace, not final perseverance. However, I can and must hope that God will keep me in grace at the moment of death; and I know that this grace will not be taken from me unless I reject it myself. Whenever we say the Hail Mary, we ask for the grace of perseverance: 'Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death'. A similar petition is enshrined in all Christian prayers, and is contained in the last petition of the Our Father, when we ask to be delivered from evil.
14. There is one more question to be discussed here, namely: Can we know whether we are in the state of grace?
Here, as on the whole of this subject, there is a great difference between the Catholic doctrine and the Protestant, which has been so vitiated by its conception of corrupted nature and imputed justice. According to the Lutheran teaching, if I have faith, that is to say the absolute personal conviction that, in spite of my total corruption, God regards me as just on account of Christ, then I am just, I am justified. For Calvin, if I have faith, that is to say this same personal conviction, I am, in addition, certain of being predestined. Thus, according to these men, the Christian has the absolute certainty, he is certain by divine faith, of being justified, and even predestined. That is authentic Protestant doctrine.
15. What is the Catholic doctrine? To begin with, justification is quite a different thing. God cannot love me or look on me as his child, without intrinsically justifying me, without pouring his grace into me, without sending down a ray of his holiness into the fragile vessel that I am. But am I certain of having this grace? The answer given by St Thomas, and repeated by the Council of Trent, expresses the Church's traditional doctrine: apart from a private revelation, I cannot have a certainty that is absolute and infallible of being in the state of grace and predestined. It does happen to individual servants of God that he makes known to them that they are in charity, that they will not lose it, and that they will be with him in Paradise. The certainty he gives them is a source of unspeakable interior joy.
16. Why is it that, apart from this very rare privilege, which is known as 'confirmation in grace', we cannot infallibly, still less as a matter of divine faith, know that we are in grace? The reason is that, grace being a participation in the divine nature, whoever saw it directly would be seeing its very Source, the inscrutable mystery of the divine Being. God is not visible to us face to face in this life; he is apprehended only in a dark manner and his presence in us is a presence in the night. Grace is indeed a splendour, but a nocturnal one; not that it is dark in itself, but that our sight cannot apprehend it. In relation to it and to God who gives it us, we are like the owl in the light of the sun.
St Thomas cites the verse of the book of Job: 'Behold the great God who is beyond all our knowledge'; and Job continues: 'If he comes to me, I shall not see him; and if he departs, I shall not understand'. God is so utterly mysterious! A soul may have him as its guest without knowing it, may even be in sadness and distress. He may leave it, too, without withdrawing its assurance and joy, which are both, in consequence, liable to mislead. God, you see, is outside our knowledge. That is why St Paul says, in the first Epistle to the Corinthians (iv. 3): 'To me it is a very small thing to be judged by you or by man's day. But neither do I judge my own self. For I am not conscious to myself of anything. Yet I am not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord.' I do not then ask myself about my state, but leave my fate in God's hands. All I can do is to say to him, 'Lord, if I ought to be punished, then punish me. I would rather be in your hands than in my own.'
17. So there is no infallible certainty for me about my state as regards the world of grace; but a practical or moral certainty is indispensable to us, and that we can have. How will it make itself known? According to St Thomas I know, with moral certainty, that I am in the state of grace if the things of God fill my heart, satisfy my desires; if the things of this world do not hide all else from my view; if my hope, in the words of Claudel at the end of his great "Ode on St Teresa," is to 'scuttle my ship beneath me and to travel forward on the wings of passion and desire'. Not that we must 'despise' creatures; but their beauty issues from an infinite Source, which alone is able to fill our souls. In addition, St Thomas gives a negative sign: to have no consciousness of mortal sin. Other indications, too, might be mentioned. St Francis de Sales, for example, gives as one a profound devotion to Our Lady.
We may also say that God, hidden in the soul, makes his presence secretly felt by his movements, inspirations, illuminations. In the Apocalypse (ii. 17), it is said: 'To him who overcomes I will give a hidden manna that no one knows except him who receives it'. Already in this life the man who receives this hidden manna experiences that he is in the love of God; while fully aware of his own frailty, he has an experimental knowledge of God's working in him and the sweetness of his presence. This knowledge is obscure, instinctive, at times dazzling, but always liable to fluctuations.
18. Notice that there is something analogous in the order of nature. What am I? At certain moments, I seem to be someone, to possess positive certainties, to have values to communicate. Then, the next moment, a ray of God's light falls on me and shows me my nothingness; I feel that I am no more than a husk, a sinner full of lies and darkness. I know nothing any more, I stagger, everything seems empty. The same thing happens to the artist. He conceives some work or other. He feels how great it is going to be. His certainty buoys him up and brings about the realization of his vision. But once the work is done, he wants to destroy it, (Gogol burnt his manuscripts, and Rouault his pictures). It no longer says anything to him. That is not what he meant! Yet perhaps it has real value; he cannot tell. Even the greatest artists cannot judge, they do not know whether they have produced a masterpiece or have utterly failed. After he had written all his great tragedies, Corneille was convinced that he was still writing masterpieces; but those plays no one ever reads nowadays. Picasso submitted to the judgment, not indeed of the public, but of Matisse and Braque, and they to his. These doubts and apprehensions on the part of creative artists are like an interior tragedy. The man who succeeds too easily, the painter who sells his pictures in advance, they are the unfortunate ones; they will never again produce anything truly great.
In the supernatural order, men are subject to still greater fluctuations of feeling. At certain moments, the saints will tell you, 'Whatever the devil may say to me, I am sure of being in grace'. St Ignatius of Loyola said that, even if he had no faith, the experiences in his retreat at Manresa would be enough to give him absolute certainty. They all speak like this. At other moments they wonder if they are not under an illusion. These vacillations are not completely overcome except by the special revelations God gives to some towards the end of their life, at the moment of their 'confirmation in grace'.
The conclusion to be drawn is contained in the words of St John of the Cross, 'Fear, but with confidence'. Fear, for you may not be in grace; but not with a fear that would prevent your acting, make you ask: what is the use? or stifle all your good impulses. That is how the devil sets about using your uncertainty to make you destroy yourself. But do not have, either, a presumptuous confidence, a comfortable self-assurance. No, indeed, you must be on the cross. I am afraid, because I am well aware that if God were to exact a strict account I should be lost; but I know too that he loves me with a love of which I can have no idea in this life. In this way I veer between my wretchedness and his love; but my faith keeps on telling me: God's love will be victorious, for it is greater than my wretchedness.
That is the state of the Christian. Even the poorest Christian has his moments of joy and optimism; then it is as if Paradise had come down into his heart. He needs such moments. Then comes a time of trial and he does not know in the least how he stands. The apostles themselves experienced these alternations. At the moment of the Transfiguration, the cloud came upon them and the glory of Jesus enveloped them. Peter, James and John felt as if they were on the threshold of Paradise: 'Lord, let us make three tabernacles....' They wanted to stay there for good. But what was the reason for the Transfiguration? Because afterwards the agony would come, when the same three apostles would see Jesuswho wanted to save the worldseemingly overcome by the forces of evil. If the memory of the Transfiguration had not upheld them at that moment, they would have lost their faith. God controls these alternations. All we can do is to say with the poet: 'My soul in thy hands is no mere toy, and thy prudence is infinite.'
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Cardinal Journet defends from the Scriptures and Augustine the Catholic views on justification, grace, and the assurance of salvation.
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