The MOST Theological Collection: Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God: New Answers to Old Questions
"Pt. 1: Research in the sources of revelation - Ch. 8: The virtue of hope, and final perseverance"
145. Preliminary note: Often in this chapter we will speak of the grace "with which a man can persevere." We do not mean these words in the sense of "sufficient grace" as Garrigou-Lagrange defines this. Rather, we use the expression in the light of what we have seen in chapter 7, namely, that man can really resist or not resist ordinary graces in such a way that he can "distinguish himself" in regard to doing or not doing evil. And we hold, as we will explain in this chapter, that the gift of perseverance is not, in all cases, an extraordinary grace, i.e., a grace that forestalls or overcomes all human resistance. We hold that the grace of perseverance in ordinary cases is a special grace but that it is not an extraordinary grace. For if it had to be extraordinary, then it would follow that no one could be saved by ordinary means. No theologian would say that. Therefore, we shall show that God is accustomed to offer to all the graces with which they really can persevere. We concede, of course, that in extraordinary cases, God can give a grace of perseverance that is extraordinary so that it converts or saves even a man who resists.
146. In the Old Testament: Even in the Old Testament we seem to find the implication that God, so far as He is concerned, is disposed to offer to all the grace with which they can persevere. For He solemnly announced through Ezekiel the prophet:1 "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live." Therefore, since God wills that the wicked man be converted and live, He must be disposed to give the grace with which a man can really be converted. And further, it seems to be implied that God does not want the wicked man to return to his impiety after his conversion, for He says that He desires "that he may live." Therefore, He seems to want the converted wicked man to persevere. But God could not sincerely say He wanted the wicked to be converted and to remain in piety if He were not disposed to give the graces without which this could not be done. So it seems to be implied that God offers them the grace of perseverance.
147. We find a similar statement in the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians:2 "God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." We note specially the word "faithful." As we saw above,3 by this word St. Paul implies the fact that God has bound Himself in the covenant to give the requisite graces in all temptations. Therefore, if God has promised that He will never allow a man to be tempted above what he is able to bear, and if He has also promised to "provide the way of escape," then there will never be a temptation in which a man cannot really come out victorious. It is unthinkable that God would make such a promise and at the same time intend to give only that with which it would be metaphysically inconceivable for a man to have a way out of the temptation.
A similar implication appears in texts on the firmness of hope. For St. Paul writes to the Romans that:4 ". . . hope does not disappoint us. . . ."
In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read:5 "We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as forerunner. . . ." And again: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." Now if God were not ready to give all that is required for a man to really and actually persevere, Scripture could not call hope "a sure and steadfast anchor" which "does not disappoint." For if God wished to desert some without the means of persevering, hope would not be sure and firm, but instead, it would disappoint many.
148. But a much clearer and more explicit promise is found in three Epistles of St. Paul. For he wrote to the Corinthians:6 ". . . in every way you were enriched in him . . . so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called. . . ." He wrote similarly to the Thessalonians:7 "May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it." And to the Philippians:8 ". . . he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
So, St. Paul promised the Philippians, Corinthians, and Thessalonians that God would keep them blameless up to the day of Christ, that is, until the second coming. In other words, he promised the grace of perseverance to the end.
How should these words be explained? Are they a special revelation for the Corinthians, Philippians, and Thessalonians, saying that all the members of those churches were infallibly predestined to heaven?
No one would hold that Paul gave a revelation of a special privilege for these three churches. For the words of St. Paul are not limited to these churches, but are valid for all. So, will all Christians be infallibly saved? No one would hold this either. Therefore, St. Paul is revealing that God promises to all the grace with which they can actually persevere. It is clear, however, that men can resist this grace: for otherwise, all would be infallibly saved.
149. We notice again that St. Paul says that God will give this grace because He is "faithful." In this way, as we have already noted in speaking of other texts, St. Paul refers to the Old Testament teaching in which God is called "faithful" inasmuch as He always does that to which He has bound Himself in His covenant9 with His people. So, when St. Paul calls God "faithful" in the context of the grace of perseverance, he is saying that we are certain God will offer that great grace, because He is faithful to the New Covenant in which He bound Himself by infinite objective titles for each individual man (cf. chapter 4). As we saw in chapter 4, the obedience of Christ is by its nature of infinite value, so that the graces which the Father has pledged Himself to give in the covenant include absolutely all graces of ordinary providence. Only extraordinary graces are not pledged: for the extraordinary cannot become ordinary. Since, as we have seen, the grace of perseverance is not extraordinary, it is clear that it comes under the covenant, so that the Father, in His fidelity, will most surely offer it. Its offer is not owed to our merits, but it is owed to the merits of Christ.
Still another implication emerges: since Christ died for all, even for each individual, as we have seen, and since He likewise offers Himself in the Mass for each individual, to obtain the dispensation of graces "for our salvation and that of the whole world," therefore, the grace with which a man can really persevere is offered not only to those who are members of the Church in the full sense, but also to others "of the whole world" provided that in some way they pertain to the Church. It is true, St. Paul does not explicitly mention these latter. But, since among those of whom St. Paul does speak explicitly (all Christians) there are both reprobate and elect, it is not absurd to suppose that his words apply also to all good men who pertain in some way to the Church.
150. This interpretation is confirmed by the revelation on the universal salvific will, which we studied in chapter 5. For if God so vehemently wills all men to be saved that He established infinite objective titles for each individual man, certainly He will not refuse the means without which no one could be saved: among which means is perseverance. The infinite objective titles extend to all ordinary graces. But the grace of perseverance is an ordinary, not an extraordinary grace. Therefore He intends to offer it to every man for He wills every man to be saved.
St. Thomas reasons similarly in Contra gentiles 3.159, as we have already seen above.10 For among the graces which He says God is ready to give as a result of the universal salvific will, he explicitly names perseverance.
151. It is evident from the words of St. Paul that the grace of perseverance is not, ordinarily, an infrustrable grace. For St. Paul promises this grace to all. But not all persevere. If it were infrustrable, all would persevere. (He does not, however, imply that the grace is a merely sufficient grace in the sense meant by the Thomists: for we have shown above that their system contradicts revelation).11
152. In the Council of Trent: In regard to the gift of perseverance in general, the council said:12 ". . . in regard to the gift of perseverance . . . let no one promise himself anything certain with absolute certitude, although all must put and place most firm hope in the help of God. For God, unless they fail His grace, just as He has begun a good work, so He will complete it 'working both the will and the performance.'"
We must note two things in this teaching of the council: (1) Some incertitude remains, for the council warns "let no one promise himself anything certain with absolute certitude." (2) However, "all must put and place most firm hope in the help of God."
How can these two assertions be reconciled? How can the council prohibit certitude and still command all to have most firm hope? The council itself gives the explanation: "For God, unless they fail His grace, just as He has begun a good work, so He will complete it. So the reason for incertitude is that man can fail grace. For he can really resist grace. But the reason for the firmness of hope is this: Unless a man does resist God, just as He has begun the good work, so He will complete it." So all the incertitude comes from man's resistance. All the firmness comes from God. That is, God is faithful, as St. Paul tells us. God began the good work, giving the first grace and many subsequent graces. He wills likewise to complete the work, and He most certainly will do it, giving perseverance "unless they [men] fail His grace" by resisting.
153. What is the nature of the gift of final perseverance? We note that Trent does not speak just of the grace of perseverance. Rather, the council uses more general words. For it speaks of the "gift of perseverance",13 and calls it a "great gift",14 and teaches that we cannot persevere "without special help."15 Probably the council speaks thus because at least in some cases, more is required than an internal grace in order that men may actually persevere. For it is one thing for God to offer to all the grace with which they can persevere; it is another thing for men to really and actually persevere: What is needed for actual perseverance may differ in different cases:
1) In the case of many men, probably an internal grace is all that is needed. This grace could be either a special quality added to usual actual graces, or another grace accompanying usual actual graces. It will be required at the times at which something additional is needed to overcome the special difficulty of not resisting that will eventually be present.16 It is obvious that this added special quality need not necessarily work infrustrably,17 so as to overcome or forestall all human resistance. It is enough, at least in many cases, that it provide the help required to overcome or compensate for the special difficulty that will eventually be present. In those who do not resist, this internal grace will suffice for actual perseverance. As we have already seen, it is clear from the teaching of Trent and from Scripture that God offers this interior grace to all. (The same things are true of the grace needed to persevere for a long time).18
2) But it is possible to resist this interior grace, as we have seen. Hence, some will resist it, and so fall into mortal sin. Hence Trent says that perseverance can be had only19 "from Him who is able to make to stand him who stands . . . and to restore him who falls. . . ." This restoration would not necessarily require a special grace. But the care of divine providence will be needed so that death does not find such a man during the interval in which he is in the state of sin.
So we must ask: Does God provide such providential care even for all who fall into grave sin in spite of the special interior grace?
In order to find the answer, we recall20 that infinite objective titles were established in the redemption for each individual. These titles or claims by their nature apply to all interior graces of ordinary providence. Although they do not so directly apply to the external providential assignment of the time of death, yet, in another way, they lead us to the answer. For if the universal salvific will is so great that the Father sent His Son to a most dreadful death to establish infinite titles for each individual, therefore, from the very infinity of the titles we can see the measure of the salvific will: God Himself on His part sets no limits to what He will do in virtue of the salvific will. (It is true, one mortal sin has a sort of infinity from the infinite majesty of the Person offended. However, the meritorious and satisfactory value of the Passion of Christ, which was offered for each individual, surpasses even the collective gravity of all the sins of the whole world taken together). Therefore, because the salvific will holds in all classes of things, even in regard to external providence, God will refuse nothing short of the extraordinary in external providence. However, not all men are saved, because men themselves set limits, by refusing graces to such an extent that they become incurable. Now a man becomes incurable in two ways:
a) Physical incurability: A man becomes physically incurable, i.e., such that he cannot be healed by ordinary graces, if, by repeated sins he makes himself so hardened and blinded that he can no longer perceive ordinary graces, and so that by the very force of bad habit, even without deliberation, he resists ordinary graces. It is obvious that such a man cannot be converted by ordinary graces: an extraordinary grace will be required, so as to forestall or overcome all human resistance.21 Now even the most vehement salvific will does not mean that God will regularly grant extraordinary graces: the extraordinary cannot become ordinary.
b) Moral incurability: A man becomes morally incurable if he sins persistently for a very long time, even though in brief intervals he returns (or seems to return) to the state of grace through the sacrament of penance. (For even slight and unstable dispositions can suffice for a return through this sacrament). Yet, such a man cannot be said to be really cured of his wickedness, since he is not really converted to a sound way of life: for he quickly returns each time to the same sins. Certainly, the immense mercy of God does save some such persons. But even His vehement salvific will does not demand that He regularly, by special providence, send death precisely within the brief interval in which such a man is in the state of grace.
So, the answer to our question about the use of external providence to save a man who resists the interior grace of perseverance and so falls, is this: Because the salvific will is so great, no limits are imposed by God either in regard to interior ordinary graces, or in regard to providential control of external events (including the moment of death). But man does impose limits, by making himself incurable.22 Therefore, God will so govern the time of death that those who are not foreseen to be incurable may not be caught by death in the state of sin.
Of course, we do not say that God will regularly work miracles to prevent a man from dying in the state of sin. But, at least in general, God can govern the time of death without miracles.23 If however in some cases He could not do this without a miracle, then we must say that the man who is thus caught in the state of sin would have received from God a different assignment of external place,24 carrying with it a different time of death, if he had not been foreseen as going to be incurable.
Nor does our answer give grounds for presumption, or void the Gospel warning to watch. For we hold that God can, if He so decides, send death even to a man who has just committed one, or few, mortal sins, even though he is not yet actually incurable, but is forseen as going to be incurable if he lives. An early death for such a man would be a great mercy, for it would mean that his eventual eternal ruin-which is certain even if he lives-will be less. And, because the man in question has already sinned mortally, his damnation is just. Nor does God in this way violate the covenant, for He is not supposed to have intended to bind Himself to give many graces not only in vain, but to the eternal ruin of the recipient.
3) God can also use an infrustrable grace to bring about perseverance. We have already seen above25 from the words of St. Paul, that the grace of perseverance regularly is not an infrustrable grace. The same conclusion seems at least to be implied in the words of Trent: "God, unless they fail His grace, just as He has begun a good work, so He will complete it. . . ." We note that the council added a condition, "unless they fail His grace." But no one fails an infrustrable grace. So the addition of such a condition would be superfluous if the council believed the grace of perseverance to be infrustrable-unless perhaps the council had meant that an infrustrable grace of perseverance is given to those who do not resist previous graces. But such a distinction is neither expressed nor implied in the words of the council.26 The presumption is that the council is expressing the same teaching as that of St. Paul.27
Neither does the fact that the council calls the gift of perseverance a special gift mean that it is also infrustrable.28 For it is one thing to call a gift special, another to call it infrustrable. The gift is special because it differs from usual graces both in regard to the special interior grace, and (in cases where it is needed) in regard to the special providential provision for the time of death.
It is good to recall also that St. Thomas, without any distinction, enumerates perseverance among the graces that are given to those who do not resist.29
Nor need we fear that in considering the grace of perseverance as a frustrable grace, we reduce predestination to mere foreknowledge. For it always includes special providential care so that the external place a man has in the world, its circumstances, the time of his death, and all other things are such that the predestined man really is saved. Nothing in the sources of revelation requires us to hold more-in fact, it is not easy to prove from the sources even the existence of an infallible predestination to heaven. A fortiori, it is not easy to show precisely what must be the effects of this predestination. We admit that St. Augustine does speak of the certitude of predestination, but he does not make sufficiently clear on precisely what the certitude depends. And, whatever may have been his thought, nothing can be proved from the words of only one Father, especially when his opinions on this matter are so coloured by an erroneous interpretation of the Epistle to the Romans.
1) The interior grace with which a man really can persevere is offered to all. On the part of God, there is certitude. On the part of man, there is incertitude, because man can, by his resistance, fail grace. This interior grace, in ordinary providence, is not infrustrable.
2) It is plain that St. Paul and the Council of Trent do not suppose that God will desert some before considering demerits. For if God did that, hope would be uncertain not only on the side of man, but also on the side of God, and the council could not order us all to have most firm hope, if it believed that God would deny this grace to many even without considering demerits.
3) God adds also a special external providence governing the time of death, when that is needed, for those who do not make themselves physically or morally incurable.
155. Objection: Trent defined30 "If anyone says that he, with absolute and infallible certitude, will surely have that great gift of persevering to the end . . . let him be anathema." Therefore, there is incertitude even on the side of God. No one can know for sure he will have this grace.
Answer: In regard to the interior grace, it is one thing to say: "God will offer this grace," and another thing to say: "This man certainly will have this grace." For even though God offers the grace, man can resist. If man resists, he will not have it, even though God offers. Furthermore in some, because they at least sometimes resist this interior grace, the added providential care is needed so that death may not find them in sin. As we have seen, God does provide this care for those who are not foreseen as going to be incurable-but not for others, hence another source of incertitude. But the sole cause of this incertitude is again in man, since God will provide this providence unless a man makes himself incurable.