Garrigou-Lagrange has a chapter on the grace of a happy death. He refers to
book, Gift of Perseverance, which I
have not read. It is now on my list. St. Augustine
This chapter speaks to one of the most common heresies of our day, heresies which are common in both
and . America
The Semi-Pelagians, Protestants and Jansenists all have different views of death, as well as life. Garrigou-Lagrange does us a great favor by defining these heresies, which are so popular.
Here we go and pay attention to this post, as you most likely will encounter or have encountered people who believe in these false positions.
“The Semi-Pelagians maintained that man can have the initium fidei et salutis, the beginning of faith and a good desire apart from grace, this beginning being subsequently confirmed by God. According to their view, not God but the sinner himself takes the first step in the sinner’s conversion. On the same principles the Semi-Pelagians maintained that, once justified by grace, man can persevere until death without a further special grace. For the just to persevere unto the end, it is enough, they said, that the initium salutis, this natural good will, should persist.”
(Should I comment here that this is the case for so many Protestants, who do not believe in sanctifying grace or the sacraments, but think the initial grace of conversion is enough? See my posts on the types of grace and on converting Protestants.)
“It amounted to this, that God not only wills all men to be saved, but wills it to the same extent in every case; and further, that precisely the element which distinguishes the just from the wicked –the initium salutis and those final good dispositions which are to be found in one and not in another, in Peter and not in Judas—is not to be referred to God as its author; He is simply an onlooker.”
“It meant the rejection of the mystery of predestination and the ignoring of those words of our Lord: ‘No man can come to Me, except the Father, who sent me, draw him’ (John 6:44), words that apply both to the initial and to the final impulse of our hearts to God.”
All our thoughts for goodness and all our desires for God are from God and not ourselves.
Continuing, Garrigou-Lagrange notes that St. Augustine makes it clear that “prevenient grace cannot be merited or in any way be due to a purely natural good impulse, since the principle of merit is sanctifying grace, and this, as its very name implies, is a gratuitous gift….”
So, too, the grace of final perseverance is a gift, a special gift, as Garrigou-Lagrange notes referring to
. This is a gift of mercy, given
to the elect. St. Augustine
Now, here is the area which some people find difficult. And, in the future, I shall unpack Garrigou-Lagrange’s book, Predestination, which this section anticipates.
The Council of Trent makes it clear that God makes it possible for all people to be saved and observe His precepts, and in fact, helps the elect persevere to the end.
God does will a great good for one over another. There are “levels of holiness” according to our own make-up, our unique souls and unique bodies. But, God never asks the impossible and gives to all what is needed for salvation.
The Second Council of Orange used
’s arguments against the
Semi-Pelagians. “Thus it remains true,”
notes Garrigou-Lagrange, “that the grace
of a happy death is a special grace peculiar to the elect.” St. Augustine
Now, some Protestants err on the opposite end of this false thinking. This is the belief that God, indeed, asks for the impossible. The heresy of Jansenism falls into this error, of thinking that certain of God’s commandments are impossible, even for the elect, as they are denied graces to do certain things.
To think that God would ask or even command the impossible is a common thought among some Catholics today, who tolerate serious sin in their own or others’ lives, thinking that is all these people can do, or achieve. They are denying God’s justice and His mercy--His Providence.
I have heard people say, “Catholicism is too hard” as if God is not standing there giving grace to live up to the life of discipleship. If God does not give us sufficient grace to be saved, then human liberty or freedom is impaired as well.
What flows from this error are these fallacies: 1) sin cannot be avoided; 2) sin no longer exists as humans cannot choose; 3) there is no hell.
We have heard these arguments lately, have we not, from certain famous theologians? In their denial of hell, they deny both human liberty and God’s sufficient graces. The fallacy which follows is that of sola fide, maintaining that good works are totally impossible and unnecessary for salvation. I know many people who actually believe this.
There is no hope. There is only presumption, points out Garrigou-Lagrange. “Jansenism and Protestantism, in fact, oscillate between presumption and despair, without ever being able to find true Christian hope and charity.”
So, one of the Baptists I know sins and never goes to Confession, of course, not believing in the sacraments, and thinks he is saved because of his one moment of conversion. That he drinks too much, or sleeps around, or never goes to church on Sunday does not matter.
He is saved.
Now, the following points may have never been taught to my readers before this.
“…the principle of merit is the state of grace and perseverance in that state; but the principle of merit cannot itself be merited.” God continues grace in us, we do not. But, we cannot take this for granted.
It is a special gift to die in the state of grace. As Garrigou-Lagrange notes, the “just must humbly admit that they have really no right to the grace of final perseverance”.
Obviously, humility is key…the principle of merit cannot be merited. This means that the state of grace to get merit cannot be merited. Such is grace, freely given by God to us and none of our so-called meritorious acts mean anything if we are in mortal sin.
This is the sadness of those who have chosen heresy, even false religions. This is why it is our duty to be involved in evangelization.
At death, we need to be in the state of grace, we need to have lived in charity, and we need to have had our will correspond to the Will of God.
This is why we must pray for a happy death. We cannot take it for granted.
To be continued…