Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Grace and Rationalization: Closely Linked

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 17, 2011

In studying the Catholic doctrine on grace, a fascinating connection emerges between rationalization and grace—or rather resistance to grace. I believe this explains quite a bit of what we instinctively sense about those who live and foster immoral lifestyles. It explains why those who are sensitive to these things always wonder what people are running away from when they come up with the usual inadequate reasons for their behavior.

The Catholic doctrine of grace holds first that grace is offered to all men, second that we are incapable of doing any good thing in a meritorious way without it, and third that we are nonetheless fully responsible if we do evil instead. Here’s how it works:

  1. God gives us a grace which causes the intellect to recognize some good and the will to take an initial complacency in that good.
  2. Recognizing this, we either initially resist the grace through the free exercise of our will, or we do not resist it but instead initially simply do nothing at all.
  3. If we do nothing at all, the grace moves us toward the good and, utilizing the power of grace, our own wills freely choose the completion of the necessary good action in cooperation with the grace.
  4. But if we initially resist, the grace that has been given fails in its effect, and we choose to sin. We are capable of doing this under our own power because sin is a deficiency, and man is capable of deficiency unaided by grace.

Now note what resistance to grace consists of. It consists of a turning of the will away from the good God has brought to our attention through grace. And part of this turning occurs when the will commands the intellect to cease to recognize the goodness it has apprehended.

Then the intellect serves the will either by a simple darkening or, more likely, by the exercise of its natural ability but in such a way as to satisfy the will’s command that what was momentarily apprehended as good is really not good at all, or at least not a necessary good. This, of course, is the beginning of rationalization.

If we are habitually properly responsive to grace, we learn to recognize this sort of rationalization in ourselves, either looking back on earlier situations, or in present moments of weakness. Those who are habitually responsive to grace also perceive it very clearly in those who are not. But it remains very difficult to convince people that they are rationalizing, for the whole point is that the will refuses to permit the intellect to admit the truth because the will has rebelled against this particular good.

I suspect our readers will see this, now that I’ve pointed it out: Rationalization is what the intellect does when the will commands it to turn away from some good that grace has enabled it to apprehend.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: koinonia - Nov. 18, 2011 7:32 AM ET USA

    In order to avail ourselves more effectively of this grace, it is important to frequent the holy sacrifice of the Mass and to receive the sacraments- especially Penance and Holy Communion. With sanctifying grace in our souls and the sacramental graces unique to each sacrament, we may live virtuously and "share in the life of God himself." The Catholic Church provides our means to sanctification, and participation is vital so that our wills are directed properly with the help of the Holy Spirit.