When talking with Protestants, I have become aware more and more that there is a problem with the word "grace".
When talking with Catholics, I have become aware more and more that there is a problem with the word "grace".
Unless one clarifies definitions in a discussion, many problems can arise.
Here is a quick summary of Catholic vs. Protestant ideas of grace. I hope this helps those who evangelize. This is Part One out of Five, and by no means is exhaustive. Quite the contrary--this is a toe in the water.
First, the Protestants broke away from the Catholic ideas of grace in order to separate grace from nature and grace from the sacraments.
Second, the definitions reveal a different relationship between the person and God.
Therefore, I am going to start with the Catholic definitions of grace and then move on to the Protestant ones.
Catholics believe in actual grace, prevenient grace and sanctifying grace.
Actual grace is, simply, grace given for a particular action.
Prevenient grace is described well in the Council of Trent as
....Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace.
And in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this grace is here described and defined as God's favor--
1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.46
This is prevenient grace--the initial call to conversion and new life. Justification is a dual response of the will of the person to whom this grace is given and the call of God. Free will answers the call. It is also defined in 2001 below.
Sanctifying grace is that which is actually a sharing of God's Life. It is given in baptism and the other sacraments and becomes a habit of living. We cooperate, again, with sanctifying grace.
The third type is actual grace, which is grace given her and there to help us on our way. It is not habitual grace. The name tells us what it does-help us in an action. It is called a "help of God for salutary acts",
and, importantly, it solely comes from the merits of Christ Himself, as does all grace, but is passing. On the other hand, one lives in sanctifying grace.
Now, the Catholic Church teaches that actual grace illumines the mind and builds on nature. We are empowered by grace.
This is from the Catholic Encyclopedia...on Augustine and grace: this is the grace which makes the will strong-as against the problem of the weakened will, an inheritance of Original Sin.
The celebrated Provincial Council of Carthage (A.D. 418) confirmed his teaching when it declared that grace does not simply consist in the manifestation of the Divine precepts whereby we may know our positive and negative duties, but it also confers upon us the power to love and accomplish whatever we have recognized as righteous in things pertaining to salvation (cf. Denzinger, "Enchiridion", 10th ed., n. 104, Freiburg, 1908)
And again from the CE: the functions of the grace of the will may be systematically focussed in love; hence the concise declaration of the above-mentioned Synod of Carthage (1. c.): "Cum sit utrumque donum Dei, et scire Quid facere debeamus et diligere ut faciamus" (Since both are gifts of God -- the knowing what we ought to do, and the desire to do it). But care must be taken not to understand immediately, by this "love", perfect love of God, which comes only at the end of the process of justification as the crowning-stone of the edifice, even though Augustine (De Trinit., VIII, 10, and frequently) honours with the name caritas the mere love for good and any good motion of the will whatsoever. Berti (De theol. discipl., XIV, 7)...
And from the CCC:
1997 Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an "adopted son" he can henceforth call God "Father," in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.
1998 This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God's gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. It surpasses the power of human intellect and will, as that of every other creature.47
1999 The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification:48Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.49
2000 Sanctifying grace is an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love. Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God's call, is distinguished from actual graces which refer to God's interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification.
2001 The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace. This latter is needed to arouse and sustain our collaboration in justification through faith, and in sanctification through charity. God brings to completion in us what he has begun, "since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it:"50
- Indeed, we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without him we can do nothing.51
- Now, a huge distinction between the Protestants and Catholics is the idea of the intellect and therefore, reason being able to bring one to God and the Truths of the Church.
- We also believe that good works can come from reason, and not just grace: here is the CE again:
- (The Catholic Church believes)...that natural man is capable of performing some naturally good works without actual grace, and particularly without the grace of faith, and that not all the deeds of infidels and pagans are sins. This is evidenced by the condemnation of two propositions of Baius by Pope Pius V in the year 1567: "Liberum arbitrium sine gratiae Dei adjutorio nonnisi ad peccandum valet" ("Free will without the aid of God's grace avails for nothing but sin." -- Prop. xxvii), and again: "Omnia opera infidelium sunt peccata et philosophorum virtutes sunt vitia " ("All the acts of infidels are sins, and their virtues are vices." -- Prop. 25). The history of paganism and everyday experience condemn, moreover, with equal emphasis these extravagant exaggerations of Baius. Among the duties of the natural moral law some -- as love for parents or children, abstention from theft and drunkenness -- are of such an elementary character that it is impossible to perceive why they could not be fulfilled without grace and faith at least by judicious, cultured, and noble-minded pagans. Did not the Saviour himself recognize as something good natural human love and fraternal greeting, such as they exist also among publicans and pagans? He denied to them only a supernatural reward (mercedem, Matt., v, 46 sq.). And Paul has explicitly stated that "the Gentiles, who have not the [Mosaic] law, do by nature [naturaliter, physei] those things that are of the law" (Rom., ii, 14). The Fathers of the Church did not judge differently.
And, yet, the pagans do not merit heaven by those good acts, as all merit is in and through Christ.
- One more look at initial or prevenient grace in the CCC:
- 2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.
2011 The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.
- After earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.63
- However, only sanctifying grace, as the name notes, can make one holy and persist in holiness.
- Now, there is another division in grace which I shall look at in the next post...