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. 12: The ordinary teaching of the Church, and the faith of the people"


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170. The unanimity of preaching: The teaching of the ordinary preachers in the Church and the faith of the people are not of themselves infallible. But they can provide a not inconsiderable indication of the faith of the Church, which cannot err. Now, although many theologians, from the various schools, defend various theories about grace and predestination, still, as soon as they ascend the pulpit to preach to the people, all from all schools, preach the same way.

For, the people believe, and the preachers preach, that God is our most loving father, who out of the most intense love wants to save all His children. Never do the preachers preach, nor do the people suspect, that God really would want to desert many with no consideration of their faults, so as to have some to punish.1

The people believe, and the preachers preach, that God is the Father who wants the return of the prodigal. Never do the preachers teach, nor do the people suspect, that the Father wants the return of only some prodigals, but that He not only does not want the return of the others, but excludes the possibility by deserting them.2

The people believe, and the preachers preach, that Christ is the good shepherd, who even gives His life for His sheep. Never do the preachers teach, nor do the people suspect, that Christ said this only about some, while as to others, He not only does not seek when they wander, but rather, deliberately deserts them, so that they wander and perish, so He can have some to punish.

The people believe, and the preachers preach, that Christ, when He wept over Jerusalem, had not failed to give abundant graces with which Jerusalem really could have been converted. Never do the preachers teach, nor do the people suspect, that Christ really had given Jerusalem only such graces that with them it would be metaphysically inconceivable for her not to reject Christ.

The people believe, and the preachers preach, that the words of St. Paul,3 "With the temptation [he] will also provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it," always apply to all, so that man really and truly does have the needed means to overcome temptation. Never do the preachers teach, nor do the people suspect, that God really has so marvellously adjusted His graces that many men, with no personal fault preceding, are put into such a state, and receive such graces, that it would be metaphysically inconceivable for them to overcome the temptation.

And similarly from many other passages of Scripture, as they are explained by the preachers of all schools, the people do not even suspect that God would wish to desert many without even considering their demerits.

171. Popular books of theology: These too hand down the same sound doctrine as the preachers preach. For example, in an excellent book, A Primer of Theology, by J. W. Regan, OP, J. A. Henry, OP, and T. C. Donlan, OP, we read:4 ". . . attached to God's promise of eternal beatitude there is the assurance of every single detailed help that is necessary to reach that great destiny. . . . They are as dependable as the word of God himself, on which indeed they do depend. St. Paul says:5 'And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.'" And in another passage in the same book:6 ". . . can a man be certain in his hope? Faith is certain, and so hope that is rooted in faith is touched with its certitude. The elements of hope that involve God-omnipotence, mercy, fidelity-of these a man can be certain. But he himself is unpredictable. If he is faithful to his faith as he lives his life, his hope will be fulfilled certainly and abundantly."

We read similar excellent theology in another outstanding popular book:7 "The act of hope gives its possessor absolute certainty of salvation, because from faith we have certitude that the omnipotence of God cannot fail: so we are infallibly sure that God's power can, and will, assist us in attaining salvation and the means of salvation. . . . But on the part of the subject of hope8 there is no such certainty: our own free will can place sin as an obstacle to our attaining heaven." Therefore the author teaches the same as we have already taught,9 namely, that hope is altogether certain on the part of God, even though incertitude remains on our part, since we can resist grace and so sin.

The same book adds:10 "Note that the motive of our hope is not the mere omnipotence of God; the knowledge that God could11 aid us by his power is not enough. It is his actual exercise of that power on our behalf which is our assurance that our hope is not vain." In other words it is not enough to believe in a general way that God could help me. It is required that He actually do so: Only then is hope really firm.

172. If, on the contrary, it were true that God would desert some without considering their personal demerits, then theologians should have written in a different way. For example, they should write as follows: "Those elements in hope that involve God-omnipotence, mercy, fidelity-are also uncertain in our regard. For it is certain that God will give the graces without which they cannot be saved to some: but He does not want to give these to all, for He deserts some. Nor can any individual man know whether God means to give them to him or not. It is only certain that God wills to give these to some. To others He gives grace that12 is certainly not of itself sufficient for salvation, because it cannot produce any acts by itself. And so, although the help of God will certainly be given to some, it is quite uncertain in our regard, for there is no way in which we can be sure whether He intends to give the needed help to us-or instead, to desert us."

Similarly, the ordinary preaching in the Church should be made in approximately the following vein: "God wants to show that He is both merciful and just. To show that He is merciful, He gives to many men such graces that they will actually be saved. But, to show Himself just, He gives grace indeed to the others-but such graces that it would be metaphysically inconceivable for anyone to be saved with them. For man cannot "distinguish himself" in regard to reprobation. How can we know in which class we are? We cannot knoq. For perhaps God wants to give us effective graces for a time-but later will withdraw them, so that we will most certainly fall into sin, and afterwards into hell."

173. The words of the saints: It would be easy to heap up citations from works of many Saints, who expressed the same sound teaching as that which the people believe and have always believed. Here are a few examples:

St. John of the Cross, the great mystical doctor, in his Living Flame of Love, writes:13 "If in this way the soul is free of all these things, which is . . . that which the soul is able to accomplish, it is impossible, when it does its part, that God should fail to do that which is His part in communicating Himself, at least in secret and in silence. It is more impossible than that the sun should fail to shine in a clear and open sky; for just as the sun rises in the morning to enter your house if the shutters are opened, thus God . . . will enter into the soul that is empty and fill it with divine goods. God is like the sun above souls, to communicate Himself to them."

St. John is speaking about the gift of infused contemplation. He teaches that God wants to give this gift to all, for he stands "like the sun" in the sky "above our souls to communicate Himself to them." To which souls does He communicate Himself? To all who do not impede: "if the shutters are opened." The soul cannot positively obtain this gift for itself; rather, it must do something negative: the soul voids itself of all things so that the shutters are open and do not impede the sunlight. Of course, St. John is not talking about predestination. But if he, in speaking of the highest gifts of infused contemplation, teaches that God denies these lofty graces to no one, for if the soul does its negative part, "it is impossible . . . that God should fail to perform His own part by communicating Himself to the soul"-then a fortiori, St. John could hardly think that the same God would want to desert anyone before any consideration of personal demerits. St. John teaches that the role of the soul in preparation for contemplation is a negative one: to void itself, so as not to resist the grace of contemplation. Therefore, at least probably, St. John would say that the role of the soul in receiving other graces is something parallel.

It seems, then, that St. John believes the same as St. Thomas, who said in a passage we have already seen:14 ". . . they only are deprived of grace who set up an impediment to grace in themselves; just as, when the sun illumines the world, he is charged with a fault who closes his eyes, if any evil comes of it. . . ."15

174. St. Thomas: We have already seen much of his views from his strictly scientific works of theology. But we find the same view also in his more popular works, for example in the Sequence, Lauda Sion, which the Church herself sings in the Mass of the Feast of Corpus Christi:

Good receive [it], wicked receive [it], but with a different lot of life or death

It is death to the wicked, life to the good: see, how different is the outcome of an equal reception.

That is, Christ desires to give Himself to all. But whether the outcome of receiving Him is good or ill depends not on a difference in the gift of God-for the Eucharist is always good-but on men. The outcome of the "equal reception" [reception of the same gift] is different, because both good and wicked persons receive: It is death to the wicked, life to the good.

So in this way St. Thomas teaches-or rather, the Church herself teaches through his words-that even the effects of the Eucharist, the greatest sacrament, are conditioned by human conditions.

175. St. Teresa of Jesus: She clearly teaches the same sound doctrine in her work, Conceptions of Love of God:16 "God would never want to do other than give if He found souls to whom He could give."

According to St. Teresa, God so loves to give graces that He would never wish not to give. Why then does He not always give, and give more? The sole reason is the resistance of men, for God would "give if He found souls to whom He could give." Therefore, two things are clear: (1) God, so far as He is concerned, wants to give abundant graces to all, (2) But the actual conferring is conditioned by human conditions.

In other words, St. Teresa agrees with St. Thomas:17 ". . . they only are deprived of grace who set up an impediment to grace in themselves. . . ."

176. St. Therese of Lisieux: She also held the same view. For she wrote, speaking to God:18 "It seems to me that if you would find souls offering themselves as Victims of holocaust to your Love, you would swiftly consume them, it seems to me that you would be happy to not repress the waves of infinite tenderness that are in you. . . ."

Even without the need of comment it is obvious that the younger St. Therese held the same as the elder St. Teresa.

177. St. Rose of Lima: She seems to have had a private revelation on predestination:19 "One day, when the thought of the mystery of predestination caused St. Rose of Lima to fear greatly, Jesus said to her: 'My daughter, I condemn only those who will to be condemned. Therefore, from today forth banish from your mind all uneasiness on the point.'"

Now of course, no valid dogmatic proof can be had from private revelations. Yet, it is at least certain that this great Saint held such a view on predestination, namely, that God reprobates "only those who will to be condemned." We notice that the saint did not say that Christ chooses men after considering merits: rather, He spoke in the negative form: "I condemn only those who will [by demerits] to be condemned." So it appears that St. Rose holds that reprobation is conditioned by human negative conditions, that is, by the grave resistance of a man. Most certainly, St. Rose did not believe that God would will to desert anyone before considering demerits.

178. Conclusion: It is entirely obvious that the faithful-both the ordinary faithful and the great saints-believe, and the preachers preach, that God deserts no one before considering demerits. And, especially from the fact that even those theologians who speak otherwise in their technical works speak thus in their sermons, we have a strong argument, pointing to the constant faith of the Church.

179. But we can also add: From the abundant experience of many it is clear that not a few of the faithful are gravely disturbed when they learn of the theory of negative reprobation before consideration of demerits. But, a truth about God cannot be such as to cause such fear in a devout man. It is not strange if divine truth frightens the sinner, but, according to the classic rules for the discernment of spirits, divine truth does not upset a good man. Hence Pope Pius XII wrote in the encyclical Mystici Corporis:20 ". . . mysteries revealed by God cannot be harmful to men, nor should they remain without fruit, like a treasure hidden in a field; rather, they were divinely given precisely in order to contribute to the spiritual progress of those who devoutly contemplate them."

If, then, a theory is such that, in view of the abundant experience of those who hold it, the theory should be hidden from the faithful, so that preachers never dare to present it in the churches, such a theory cannot be among the mysteries revealed by God-which cannot be harmful to men, nor should remain without fruit like a buried treasure.

180. Objection: But if the theory of negative reprobation and predestination before consideration of merits and demerits is well presented, it does not cause fright. Rather, some listeners thank the professors who explain it.

Answer: It is true, this does happen in some cases. But one must wonder: Is the theory really clearly presented in such cases, so that nothing is hidden or veiled? Or do some professors perhaps say that "God reprobates no one, except for his demerits"-when they mean only positive reprobation-and say nothing about negative reprobation before consideration of demerits? Do the professors sometimes quote the words Garrigou-Lagrange;21 ". . . no one who has the use of reason is deprived of the efficacious grace required for salvation except for having, by his own fault, resisted a sufficient grace . . ."-and fail to add: No one can abstain from resistance unless he receives efficacious grace-so that a vicious circle is established, as we explained above?22 The situation seems to be this: The clearer the presentation, the more the listeners are upset.23


1 Cf. § 51.
2 Cf. § 51.
3 1 Cor 10:13.
4 A Primer of Theology, Priory Press, Dubuque, 1955. III. pp. 30-31.
5 2 Cor 9:8.
6 A Primer of Theology, p. 32.
7 F. L. B. Cunningham, OP, (ed.) The Christian Life, Priory Press, Dubuque, 1959, p. 373.
8 Italics in original.
9 In chapter 8.
10 The Christian Life, p. 369.
11 Italics in original.
12 Cf. § 51.
13 Living Flame of Love 3.46-47.
14 CG 3.159. Cf. §§ 133-38 and chapters 14 and 18.
15 A difficulty can be raised about the opinion of St. John from the fact that he says elsewhere (Dark Night 1.9.9.) "God does not raise to contemplation all those who train themselves purposely in the way of the spirit; not even half of them. As to the reason: He knows." Now if only God knows the reason for the denial, in cases where this gift is denied, then it seems that the man to whom it is denied does not know the reason. And if the man does not know, it seems that, at least often, it is not denied because of man's demerits or resistance. (Not everyone knows himself perfectly. But at least some could know whether their demerits make them deserve to be deprived of the higher gifts). Therefore, if the gift is not denied because of demerits of the man, then it seems that the gift is, at least in one aspect, charismatic. For charismatic gifts pertain to the external economy, and are not given or refused according to merits.

But in the Living Flame (2.27) St. John says: "At this point it is proper to note the reason why so few come to such a high state of perfection of union with God. In this regard we must know that it is not that God wills that so few be raised, for rather He would want all to be perfect, but that He finds few vessels which stand so lofty and hard a work."

So in one text (Dark Night), St. John speaks of this gift according to the principles of the external economy; while in the other (Living Flame), he speaks according to the principles of the internal economy. Therefore, it seems likely that the same gift has two aspects, so that, at least probably, St. John holds this: (1) To give or deny contemplation in general, pertains to the internal economy. Therefore, God gives it to all who do not resist. (2) But as to the type of contemplation-arid or sweet-that a man receives, this does not depend on merits because the matter pertains to the external economy. Cf. also the second citation in note 16 below.

16 Conceptions of the Love of God 6.
17 CG 3.159.
18 Sainte Therese de l'Enfant Jesus, Manuscripts autobiographiques, Carmel, Lisieux, 1957, p. 210. Fol. 84 r°.
19 In: A Saudreau, Divine Communications, Burns, Oates & Washburn London, 1935, I, p. 55.
20 Mystici Corporis. AAS 35.197.
21 Cf. note 18 on the introduction to this book.
22 Cf. §§ 6.5, 131-132, 309-322.
23 Cf. § 132.