Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

The Father William Most Collection

Human interaction with actual grace

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

(Documentation and details in: W. Most, New Answers to Old Questions, London, 1971; 2nd ed. Christendom Press, Front Royal, Va. , 1997. )

The problem: There are two sets of texts of St. Paul which seem to completely clash ( we translate them in accord with canons 4 and 7 of the second Council of Orange 529 AD. DS 374 & 377). Although a local council, the special approbation of Boniface II made its canons equal to those of a general council):

1) 2 Cor 3:5:"We are not sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as from ourselves. Our sufficiency is from God. Phil 2:13: "It is God who works [produces] in you both the will and the doing."

2) 2 Cor 6:1: "We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain." (Many texts all over Scripture imply the same, by asking that we turn to God, change our heart etc.).

One set seems to make us without freedom, like puppets on a string; the other set shows that in some way when grace comes we control the outcome.

The Church has never told us how to put the two together. We have just one small help from the Council of Trent (DS 1554, Canon 4 on Justification). That canon says that under actual grace we are not entirely passive.

At the end of the 10 years of debates ordered by Clement VIII in 1597, closed by Paul V in 1607, the Pope refused to approve either the Dominican or the Molinist solutions.

"Thomist" solution: There are two kinds of actual graces, sufficient and efficacious. If God sends a sufficient grace, it gives the full complete power to do something good; but it is infallibly certain we will not do good, but will sin. If He sends an efficacious grace, it is infallibly sure we will do good.

At first sight this seems folly. Yet it is not entirely so: the efficacious grace is the application of the sufficient grace. Cf. a fire which has the full power to cook food, but never cooks anything unless a cook applies the fire to the food.

Question: If God sends me a sufficient grace, what can I do to get the efficacious grace? The "Thomists" offer two answers: (1) If He sends a sufficient grace, and I do not resist it, I get the efficacious grace. BUT: To non-resist a sufficient grace takes an efficacious grace of nonresistance. So no solution.

(2) If He sends a sufficient grace, and I pray, I get the efficacious grace. BUT: To pray takes an efficacious grace of prayer. Again, no solution.

Molinist solution: Sufficient and efficacious grace are the same. If I cooperate, it become efficacious. BUT: On any given occasion, God is apt to have more than one kind of grace to offer. We imagine a case in which He has graces a - b - c and d. He knows if He sends a or b, I will cooperate, but if He sends c or d, I will not. Question: How does He decide which kind to send? Reply: For some He has a special benevolence. To them at least commonly He sends the kind that will work for them. Otherwise, the kind that will not.

We conclude: this is playing with a stacked deck again.

New Answers to Old Questions Solution: God sends me a grace which, with no help from me, causes two things: it causes me to see something as good (cf. 2 Cor 3:5), it makes me well disposed toward it.

At this juncture where I could reject the grace, if I merely make no decision against it, then grace continues in its course, and "works in me both the will and the doing (cf. Phil 2:13)."

However, in phase 2, after the omission of a contrary decision, then two things happen in parallel: first, grace works in me both the will and the doing, as we said; second, I am cooperating with grace by virtue of power being received at the same instant from grace.

Comments: 1) After grace has caused the two effects, I do not have the power to accept (Phil 2. 13: it would be a good decision). I do have the power to make no decision against it. (Grace sustains me in non-rejecting, without forcing non-rejection). To act that way has the same effect as a good decision, but it operates in radically different way. By omission, not by commission.

Philosophical view of the New Answers: The First Cause sends me a motion which actualizes the potency of my mind to see something as good, actualizes the potency of my will not as far as a decision, but only to the point of a favorable attitude. When these two things are in place, with no contribution from me, if I do nothing against the grace (this is a metaphysical zero from me) then the movement continues, and actualizes the potency of my will to accept. At the same instant it gives me the power to cooperate.

But if when I see the two actualizations in me (coming from the movement from the First Cause) the fact does not please me -then the actualization of my will (up to a favorable attitude) collapses back to potency (I can collapse without help). Then The First Cause will actualize the potency of my will to reject.

Corollary: Imagine a ledger for me. On the credit page I write the number for what I have contributed to a good act. It is a metaphysical zero. On the debit page, the number for my sins. So 1 Cor 4:7: "What have you that you have not received? And if you have received it, why boast as if you had not received it?" (As if you had made it yourself). Thus my self esteem goes to zero, seeing I contribute only a zero. It sinks below zero, seeing my sins. - But on the secondary level, I am wonderful: an adopted child of God, with a share in the divine nature. So I am simultaneously worse than worthless and marvelous.

This is how the Saints could say terrible things about themselves, in all truth. Humility is the virtue that gets me to see myself in myself, in relation to God and others, as I really am, and then, to accept that at all levels of my being. Our explanation above helps to show how this is possible. We added "at all levels of my being" because it seems the Pharisee in the temple was grabbing some credit for himself, in a not fully conscious way. He began: "O God I give you thanks..." But without clearly realizing it, he was taking some credit for himself.



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