Grace and the Sacraments: Part One

Grace is, in one sense, the means offered to us by God, to enable us to believe His truths and to observe His precepts to the end, that we may faithfully serve Him as our Lord and Master, and be united with Him eternally in His kingdom. The way grace is accessed is through prayer and the Sacraments which constitute and include the entire scope of Christian worship. Despite what the heretics might say, we are in dire need of such help. Without grace we can do nothing to merit heaven. Apart from Christ we can do nothing whatsoever. We are weak and helpless creatures, and, while we can point to the fact that our nature surpasses all other creatures in this lower world, we should not be forgetful of, or insensible to the weakness of, the human reason and the human will. We are completely corrupt. The blind need a guide to direct them and save them from falling into the ditch; the sick need medicine to enable them to recover their strength; (1 John 15:5) the tree planted on stony ground requires rain and moisture for its growth; and likewise man, in this state of fallen nature, needs supernatural help to enable him to avoid evil, to do good, and to enter the kingdom of God. Man, though feeble in himself, becomes strong and invincible when, and only when, assisted by God. Through the divine aid of grace there is no duty we can't fulfill, no sin we can't avoid, no virtue we can't acquire, no disordered passion we can't overcome, and no victory which we can't obtain. The word grace is derived from the Latin gratus, agreeable, and in its ordinary acceptation it signifies:

  • benevolence, which inclines a man to do good;

  • a favor or benefit received at the hands of another;

  • gratitude for a benefit received and a giving thanks for favors;

In theological language, however, grace has a definite and distinct meaning that we should use for precision. Even in modern theological language it isn't free from ambiguity and uncertainty. Thus, it is said to be:

  • the free, unmerited love and favor of God, the. spring and source of all benefits men receive from Him;

  • the favorable influence of God's influence in renewing the heart and restraining from sin;

  • or the application of Christ's righteousness to the sinner ;

  • or a state of reconciliation to God, etc.

Grace may mean all these things as it may be viewed in relation to various things, but it will be necessary to confine ourselves to its strict and admitted theological meaning, one which is consistent with the historical understanding of the Christian Faith. Grace in this sense is defined as a supernatural gift of God, freely bestowed upon us through the merits of Jesus Christ, for our sanctification and salvation. Let's look deeper into this definition. Grace is a gift which God bestows upon us freely or gratuitously, something which God gives us out of His pure benevolence, to which we have no right whatsoever. It is true that all that we are and all that we have come to us from God, freely and benevolently. He wasn't bound to create us, or to preserve us, and we neither had nor have any right to the one or to the other; and although these natural gifts may in a very general sense be called graces, inasmuch as they are favors of God, and not merited by us, the grace of which we here speak is limited to the supernatural, or those gifts above nature. It is for this reason that grace is called a supernatural gift. That is, a gift that raises us above ourselves, and enables us to live and act in a divine and holy manner. It is a supernatural gift of God which God alone can grant, as He alone is the Source of all good. And it is granted to us through the merits of Jesus Christ. In the state of innocence in which Adam was created, grace would be imparted through the pure benevolence of God; the merits of Christ would have no part in obtaining it. In that state, besides the gifts of nature, God endowed our first parents with many supernatural gifts; and had they persevered in innocence, we would all have been born with similar gifts. Our bodies in a state of innocence would be immortal, and not subject to death or to any pain or suffering, and they would be entirely under the dominion and control of our souls. Our souls would be endowed in all their faculties with supernatural gifts. The intellect or understanding would receive a clear and exact knowledge, not only of those things that are natural, but also of those thing that are Divine, such as the mysteries of faith. Our wills would be endowed with an inclination to all good, and our affections would also be holy, and all of them subject to the will, and the will itself in perfect submission to the holy will of God. Our first parent by his fall and disobedience lost all those supernatural gifts of body and soul, and as a result of the loss, he became defective in all his faculties in his fallen state. The state of fallen nature is that in which we are all born by reason of Adam's rebellion. In that state we are subject to sickness, suffering, and death. In this fallen state the wounds or injuries are ignorance in the intellect, obstinacy in the will, and the revolt of the passions against the dictates of reason and the control of the will. We were rendered, therefore, incapable of ever raising ourselves from that state of ruin and misery, and as a consequence we would have been eternally lost, were it not that the Logos, Eternal Word, moved by an infinite compassion towards us, offered Himself to His Father to satisfy His justice in our place, to merit our pardon, and to purchase for us once more the grace we lost, and the right to our everlasting inheritance. God, foreseeing the merits of Christ's life and sufferings, and having accepted His infinite atonement, consented to pardon us and to receive us once more into favor and to restore us to a state of grace, and from that moment we were raised from a state of fallen nature to the state of repaired nature. This is the state in which Adam lived after his sin, and the state in which all his posterity has lived, and will live, until the end of time. It is for this reason we say that all supernatural gifts which have come to us from God have been granted through the merits of Jesus Christ, and this is true in the case of those who lived before His coming as well as of those who have lived since that time. The former were able to obtain grace and salvation only through the foreseen merits of Christ, just as we can obtain grace and salvation through the same merits already offered for us by our Redeemer in His life, sufferings, and death. Nevertheless, according to the just judgment of God, even in the state of repaired nature, man is not restored to all the graces and privileges lost by the Fall. He is re-established in the right to aspire to heaven, to live faithfully, and do good works, and, as a necessary consequence, God will grant him all the graces he may need for this end. But in all that concerns sufferings, sicknesses, death, ignorance, and the revolt of the passions, from which Adam in a state of innocence was exempt, God has wished and ordained that we should remain subject to them and have to bear them in this state of repaired nature. Grace is granted to us for our sanctification and salvation. That is, to enable us to live and die in a holy manner, to work out our salvation, and to receive the gift of eternal life with God.

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