Sanctifying Grace – the Perfection of Free Will and Principle of Merit

Catholic Candle note:  Occasionally, we analyze the liberal statements of Bishop Richard N. Williamson.  Yet, someone could wonder:

Why mention Bishop Williamson any longer, since he is unimportant as merely one of very many compromising bishops and priests?  

It is true that a priest (or group) is of small importance when he (or the group) is merely one of the countless compromisers.  By contrast, an uncompromising and faithful priest or bishop is of great importance, even though he is only one.

However, we sometimes mention Bishop Williamson in particular for at least these five reasons, motivated by charity:

  1. New Catholic Candle readers might not be sufficiently informed of Bishop Williamson’s liberalism in order to avoid him.  Out of charity for them we occasionally provide these warnings to help those new readers appreciate the danger of the errors he spreads.
  2. Some longtime Catholic Candle readers might forget Bishop Williamson’s poison or vacillate in their resolution to stay away from him, if they never received a reminder warning about the danger inherent in his teachings.  This is like the fact that all it takes for many people to become conciliar is to never be reminded about the errors of Vatican II and the conciliar church.  Out of charity for these readers we occasionally provide these reminders lest readers “forget” to continue to avoid Bishop Williamson and his group.
  3. Bishop Williamson serves as an important study case to examine how leaving the truth often happens.  It is a warning to us all about a very common way to depart from the truth and become unfaithful.  Out of charity for ourselves, we occasionally provide these insights about becoming unfaithful by taking this common road of compromise that Bishop Williamson is taking.
  4. Over time, Bishop Williamson has provided us with a large catalogue of liberal errors.  Studying his compromises and errors along with the contrasting Traditional Catholic truth is a helpful means of studying our Faith and guarding ourselves against the principal errors of our time.  This helps us to fulfill our duty of continually studying the doctrines of our Faith.  Out of charity for ourselves, we use the occasion of Bishop Williamson’s liberalism to study our Traditional Catholic Faith better, in contrast to Bishop Williamson’s corresponding liberalism.

  1. Most so-called “bishops”, whether liberal/conciliar or sedevacantist, have doubtful consecrations and must be treated as invalid.[1]  By contrast, Bishop Williamson’s consecration is not doubtful.  Thus, if he ever were to return from his heresies, he could once again do important work for the Catholic Church, as he did years ago.

Finally, for those readers who are already resolute in their determination to completely avoid Bishop Williamson and his compromise group, they can receive just as much of the substance of this Catholic Candle article, if they substitute the phrase “a liberal could say” anytime they read “that Bishop Williamson teaches”.

Defending the Catholic Faith and Our Lady’s Perfection

Against Bishop Williamson’s Confusion and Heresies[2]


In a recent letter to his followers, Bishop Richard Williamson showed his confusion about the spiritual life when he taught that if God were to bestow grace in great enough abundance, it would:

  1. Take away a person’s free will; and
  2. Destroy the merit of prayers, virtuous acts, and good works.

These two conclusions are heresies. But this confused bishop also adds a third error:

  1. Because God wanted His elect to be able to merit, He could not avoid the world being a place where most people go to hell.

Below, we will examine each of these three errors.

  1. Bishop Williamson falsely claims that grace can take away a person’s free will.

Bishop Williamson (falsely) teaches that God would take away a person’s free will by giving that person grace in sufficiently great abundance.  Bishop Williamson says that, if God gave grace in such abundance, then “He [viz., God] would in effect be stopping human beings from exercising their free-will”.[3]

In other words, Bishop Williamson is falsely asserting that if grace is abundant enough, it takes away free will.  That is false and is heresy!

The truth is that grace always makes our will freer and less under the dominion of the wounds of original sin.  Man is not free to choose his goal (i.e., his end).  It is fixed by the nature God gave to him.  Man always seeks happiness as his end.  Man’s will is only free to choose the means to this end.  All of this is explained beautifully in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Libertas.

God can save the most hardened sinner by enlightening his mind and strengthening his will, so that the man sees more plainly the true means to obtain his happiness. When God gives this extra light and strength, any man freely chooses these means which God clearly shows him, and thus he attains happiness (especially heaven), which is the end which God fixed for him to seek.

Thus, the souls of the saints are most-free, because they follow God and reason in all of the various aspects of their lives. They are freest from the slavery to vices, such as pride and gluttony.[4]

The consequences of Bishop Williamson’s error are especially striking because of how his error insults the Blessed Virgin Mary.  If he were correct, then Mary would be the least free of all humans, since she has the greatest grace of any human person, as shown below.[5]


Mary has the greatest grace of any human person.

Mary is full of grace, as the Archangel Gabriel proclaimed: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”  St. Luke, 1:28.  

St. Thomas Aquinas, greatest Doctor of the Church, teaches the same truth:

So full of grace was the Blessed Virgin, that it overflows onto all mankind.  It is, indeed, a great thing that any one saint has so much grace that it is conducive to the salvation of many; but it is most wondrous to have so much grace as to suffice for the salvation of all mankind. Thus, it is in Christ and in the Blessed Virgin.[6]

Indeed, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Doctor of the Church, teaches that Mary has more grace than all of the other saints together.  Here are his words:

Let us conclude that our heavenly child [Mary], because she was appointed mediatrix of the world, as also because she was destined to be the Mother of the Redeemer, received, at the very beginning of her existence, grace exceeding in greatness that of all the saints together.[7] 

So, we see that Our Lady has the greatest grace of any human person – i.e., more than any person except Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Does this grace impede the Blessed Virgin Mary from exercising her free-will, as Bishop Williamson teaches?  Absolutely not!

Anyone who receives grace becomes freer because of the grace.  With the greatest abundance of grace, Our Lady is the freest of all.  This truth is the opposite of Bishop Williamson’s distortion of the spiritual life and his erroneous and confused teaching about grace and free will.

  1. Bishop Williamson falsely claims that abundant grace can take away a person’s opportunity to merit.

Bishop Williamson (falsely) teaches that a person’s ability to merit would be taken away if God gave him grace in sufficiently great abundance.  Bishop Williamson says that, if God gave very abundant grace, then “He [viz., God] would in effect be stopping human beings … from meriting for Heaven”.[8]

In other words, Bishop Williamson is falsely asserting that if grace is abundant enough, then a person cannot merit.  That is false and is heresy!  If he were correct, then Mary would be most greatly prevented from meriting since she has the greatest grace of any human person.  However, she has the greatest merit, as shown below.

Our Lady’s merit is greatest among all of the saints

The Blessed Virgin Mary is not only full of grace but this is the reason for the great merit she earned by every thought, word and deed.

St. Alphonsus beautifully explains this truth in these words:

If Mary, as the already destined Mother of our common Redeemer, received from the very beginning the office of mediatrix of all men, and consequently even of the saints, it was also requisite from the very beginning [that] she should have a grace exceeding that of all the saints for whom she was to intercede.  I will explain myself more clearly. If, by the means of Mary, all men were to render themselves dear to God, necessarily Mary was more holy and dearer to Him than all men together.  Otherwise, how could she have interceded for all others?  That an intercessor may obtain the favor of a prince for all his vassals, it is absolutely necessary that he should be dearer to his prince than all the other vassals.  And therefore St. Anselm concludes that Mary deserved to be made the worthy repairer of the lost world, because she was the purest of all creatures. ‘The pure sanctity of her heart, surpassing the purity and sanctity of all other creatures, merited for her that she should be made the repairer of the lost world.’[9]

St. Alphonsus further teaches:

Let us conclude that our heavenly child [Mary], because she was appointed mediatrix of the world, as also because she was destined to be the Mother of the Redeemer, received, at the very beginning of her existence, grace exceeding in greatness that of all the saints together.  Hence, how delightful a sight must the beautiful soul of this happy child have been to heaven and earth, although still enclosed in her mother’s womb!  She was the most amiable creature in the eyes of God, because she was already loaded with grace and merit. …  And she was at the same time the creature above all others that had ever appeared in the world up to that moment, who loved God the most; so much so, that had Mary been born immediately after her most pure conception, she would have come into the world richer in merits, and more holy, than all the saints united.[10] 

With the most abundant grace, Our Lady also had the most abundant merits.  Contrary to Bishop Williamson’s heresy, a greater abundance of grace does not impede merit, but rather causes it.

  1. Bishop Williamson falsely claims the world is not the most perfect world but is the best world God was able to create and still have heaven be a great place.

Bishop Williamson not only shows his confusion about grace, free will, and merit (as shown above), but also, he asserts that God did not make earth a better place than He did, because that would have made heaven a worse place.  Bishop Williamson (falsely) teaches that if God had not made a world where most people go to hell, then heaven would be worse.  This is false and is heresy.  Here are Bishop Williamson’s words:

[A]n unmerited Heaven could not have the quality of a merited Heaven, which is why we live in this “vale of tears” – God created us only for the best, even if it necessitated the “collateral damage” of a “vale of tears” in which a majority of all souls created would choose Hell.[11]

In other words, Bishop Williamson falsely asserts God made a world where most men go to hell because otherwise, He could not have made heaven as great.

The truth is that the world that God made is the best of all possible worlds.[12]  God allows evil for His greater glory and in order to bring about greater good.[13]  God allows some people to (voluntarily) sin and to damn themselves because their damnation manifests God’s Justice more clearly than if damnation had been something which never occurred but which we understood only as something that could have – but didn’t – ever happen.

Similarly, God’s Mercy and Goodness in saving the elect is more manifest in contrast to the actual damnation of other souls, since the damned very evidently manifest what could have happened to the elect, had God not chosen to save them because of His Mercy and Goodness.

Although sin itself is evil, this world which God made, in which He allows sin and damnation, is better as a whole because it manifests God’s Mercy, Goodness, and Justice better than if there had been no sin.  By better manifesting God’s perfections, the universe gives greater Glory to God.[14]  For God’s only end is His Own Glory, that is, Himself.  Any other end (less than God) is unworthy of God.[15]

Thus, we see that, for His own Glory and to manifest His perfections, God saves some persons and gives them happiness.  Likewise, for His own Glory and to manifest His perfections, God allows some persons to damn themselves and be unhappy.[16]

Thus, Bishop Williamson errs that God made the earth imperfect because, if He had made the earth better, it would have made heaven worse.  The truth is that God could have made a world where everyone received superabundant grace and where everyone went to the perfect heaven which He made.  But this would have been a less-perfect world.

Similarly, God could have made a world where everyone received superabundant grace and there were no tears and no suffering, and everyone loved Him greatly.  However, such a world would have been less perfect because it would have failed to manifest His Honor and Glory as perfectly as the world He actually made.  

Conclusion

We must be vigilant to guard against Bishop Williamson’s fundamental errors concerning the spiritual life.  In contrast to his errors, the truth is that:

  • Grace always makes a man’s will freer.  

  • Grace always increases the merits of his actions.  

  • The heaven and earth that God made are the most perfect ones possible, although most men choose sin and choose to damn themselves.

[1]          For further information about the doubtfulness of the conciliar “consecration” rite, read this analysis: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B49oPuI54eEGZVF5cmFvMGdZM0U/view?resourcekey=0-d98Ksw0xkbtafE2fYSTq8A

[2]          Heresy is an error about the Catholic Faith.  Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas explains this truth:

We are speaking of heresy now as denoting a corruption of the Christian Faith.  Now it does not imply a corruption of the Christian faith, if a man has a false opinion in matters that are not of faith, for instance, in questions of geometry and so forth, which cannot belong to the faith by any means; but only when a person has a false opinion about things belonging to the faith.

Now a thing may be of the faith in two ways, as stated above, in one way, directly and principally, e.g., the articles of faith; in another way, indirectly and secondarily, e.g., those matters, the denial of which leads to the corruption of some article of faith; and there may be heresy in either way, even as there can be faith.

Summa, IIa IIae, Q.11, a.2, respondeo.

[3]          Here is the longer quote:

God is absolute Goodness because He is absolute Being, only a lack of being can be evil. It is absolutely impossible for God to cause directly moral evil. What He can do is cause it indirectly by not giving the grace or graces which would have prevented that moral evil from happening. In that case He is not acting positively, He is refraining from acting, or acting negatively, to allow the evil to happen. Those graces that would have prevented the evil, He is entirely free to give or not give, and if He always gave them, He would in effect be stopping human beings from exercising their free-will and from meriting for Heaven. But an unmerited Heaven could not have the quality of a merited Heaven, which is why we live in this “vale of tears” – God created us only for the best, even if it necessitated the “collateral damage” of a “vale of tears” in which a majority of all souls created would choose Hell (Mt. VII, 13–14).

Eleison Comments by Mgr. Williamson – Issue DCCXXXII (732) (underline emphasis in original; bold and italic emphasis added).

[5]          We must defend Our Lady against such insults to her prerogatives.  As St. Louis de Montfort teaches in his book, True Devotion to Mary, ¶265:

Finally, we must do everything for Mary.  Since we have given ourselves completely to her service, it is only right that we should do everything for her as if we were her personal servant and slave.  This does not mean that we take her for the ultimate end of our service, for Jesus alone is our ultimate end.  But we take Mary for our proximate end, our mysterious intermediary and the easiest way of reaching Him.

Like every good servant and slave, we must not remain idle, but, relying on her protection, we should undertake and carry out great things for our noble Queen.  We must defend her privileges when they are questioned and uphold her good name when it is under attack.

[6]          St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Angelic Salutation.

[7]         St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary — discourse #2 the birth of Mary (emphasis added).

[8]          Here is the longer quote:

God is absolute Goodness because He is absolute Being, only a lack of being can be evil. It is absolutely impossible for God to cause directly moral evil. What He can do is cause it indirectly by not giving the grace or graces which would have prevented that moral evil from happening. In that case He is not acting positively, He is refraining from acting, or acting negatively, to allow the evil to happen. Those graces that would have prevented the evil, He is entirely free to give or not give, and if He always gave them, He would in effect be stopping human beings from exercising their free-will and from meriting for Heaven. But an unmerited Heaven could not have the quality of a merited Heaven, which is why we live in this “vale of tears” – God created us only for the best, even if it necessitated the “collateral damage” of a “vale of tears” in which a majority of all souls created would choose Hell (Mt. VII, 13–14).

Eleison Comments by Mgr. Williamson – Issue DCCXXXII (732) (underline emphasis in original; bold and italic emphasis added).

[9]         St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary – discourse #2 the birth of Mary

 

[10]         St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary — discourse #2 the birth of Mary (emphasis added).

[11]          Here is the longer quote:

God is absolute Goodness because He is absolute Being, only a lack of being can be evil. It is absolutely impossible for God to cause directly moral evil. What He can do is cause it indirectly by not giving the grace or graces which would have prevented that moral evil from happening. In that case He is not acting positively, He is refraining from acting, or acting negatively, to allow the evil to happen. Those graces that would have prevented the evil, He is entirely free to give or not give, and if He always gave them, He would in effect be stopping human beings from exercising their free-will and from meriting for Heaven.  But an unmerited Heaven could not have the quality of a merited Heaven, which is why we live in this “vale of tears” – God created us only for the best, even if it necessitated the “collateral damage” of a “vale of tears” in which a majority of all souls created would choose Hell (Mt. VII, 13–14).

Eleison Comments by Mgr. Williamson – Issue DCCXXXII (732) (underline emphasis in original; bold and italic emphasis added).

[13]          Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas (the Greatest Doctor of the Catholic Church) explains this truth, quoting St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church:

As Augustine says (Enchiridion xi): “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.”  This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.

Summa, Ia, Q.2 a.3, ad 1 (emphasis added).

[14]
         Here is St. Thomas’ fuller explanation of this truth:

It is the part of the best agent to produce an effect which is best in its entirety; but this does not mean that He makes every part of the whole the best absolutely, but in proportion to the whole; in the case of an animal, for instance, its goodness would be taken away if every part of it had the dignity of an eye. Thus, therefore, God also made the universe to be best as a whole, according to the mode of a creature; whereas He did not make each single creature best, but one better than another.  And therefore, we find it said of each creature, “God saw the light, that it was good” (Genesis 1:4); and in like manner of each one of the rest.  But of all together it is said, “God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Summa, Ia, Q.47, a.2, ad 1 (emphasis added).

[15]
         Here is how St. Thomas explains this truth:  

[E]ach and every creature exists for the perfection of the entire universe.  Furthermore, the entire universe, with all its parts, is ordained towards God as its end, inasmuch as it imitates, as it were, and shows forth the Divine goodness, to the glory of God.

Summa, Ia, Q.65., a2, respondeo (emphasis added).

God loves mankind and the rest of creation because they are His work and He gave them whatever goodness they have.  But they are finite goods which God loves finitely as part of His infinite love for Himself.  For a fuller explanation of this truth, read this article: https://catholiccandle.neocities.org/faith/god-does-not-infinitely-love-any-creature.html

[16]
         Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas (quoting St. Paul) explains this Truth of the Catholic Faith:

Let us then consider the whole of the human race, as we consider the whole universe.  God Wills to manifest His goodness in men; in respect to those whom He predestines, by means of His mercy, as sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of His justice, in punishing them.

This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others.  To this, the Apostle refers, saying (Romans 9:22-23):

What if God, willing to show His wrath [that is, the vengeance of His justice], and to make His power known, endured [that is, permitted] with much patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction; that He might show the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He hath prepared unto glory;

and (2 Timothy 2:20):

But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver; but also, of wood and of earth; and some, indeed, unto honor, but some unto dishonor.

Summa, Ia Q. 23 a.5, ad 3 (emphasis added).  The bracketed words (in the quotes from St. Paul) are contained in the Summa.

Our Life is a Personal Gift from God

A gift-giver has the moral right to expect the gift to be spent, used, or lived as intended by the giver.  If you inherited a large sum of money from your (traditional Catholic) parents that they worked hard all their lives to accumulate, they’d have a right to expect you to use it wisely, and above all, not to use it in an evil way, putting your salvation in greater doubt.

Most people take their gift of life for granted and live it as they see fit, without considering restrictions from God or anyone else.  WRONG!  Your life is a magnificent gift from God, and in justice, ought to be lived as He requires.  The Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about supernatural gifts:

A supernatural gift may be defined as something conferred on nature that is above all the powers of created nature.  When God created man, He was not content with bestowing upon him the essential endowments required by man’s nature.  He raised him to a higher state, adding certain gifts to which his nature had no claim.[1]

***

The absolutely supernatural gifts, which alone are the supernatural properly so called, are summed up in the Divine adoption of man to be the son and heir of God.  This expression, and the explanations given of it by the sacred writers, make it evident that the sonship is something far more than a relation founded upon the absence of sin; it is of a thoroughly intimate character, raising the creature from its naturally humble estate, and making it the object of a peculiar benevolence and complaisance on God’s part, admitting it to filial love, and enabling it to become God’s heir, i.e., a partaker of God’s own beatitude.  “God sent His Son…that He might redeem them who were under the law: that we might receive the adoption of sons.  And because you are sons, God hath sent the spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying: Abba. Father. Therefore, now he is not a servant, but a son.  And if a son, an heir also through God.”[2]

In the present world, life is not valued as the precious gift that it is.  Therefore, it is easy for people to think they have the right to use it in any way they want – ignoring God’s Ten Commandments, one (or all), and thinking they are living a fuller, more enjoyable, and happy life.

But in reality, it is a most unfulfilled life, filled with drugs and alcohol, pleasure-seeking, futilely chasing after money, success, satisfaction, and happiness. It is like one of God’s fish trying to live out of water.

Real happiness in life is based on understanding and real appreciation of God’s gift of your life, and living it according to the Giver’s intention and plan.

God picked you to receive His gift of life.  He could have chosen not to create you and to create someone else instead.

Show your appreciation by living a holy life to please Him.  This has the (intended) consequence of bringing you untold happiness.  You were created to be happy on earth and then to be perfectly happy with God forever in heaven.

When it comes to generosity, God is never outdone.  In reality, you take far more than you give, whereas God gives and gives, wants your love, and waits for you to love Him in return.

So, realize Who is the Giver, and who is the one always taking.  Your life will be happier if you make a real effort to live your gift of life by standing up for Him in this sea of evil called “the civilized world”.

Don’t worry.  He knows of your love and appreciation of His gifts. He can read your heart.  Oh, what a gift!

 

          



[1]           The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909, Vol. 6, Page 553, article: Gifts, Supernatural.


[2]           The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909, Vol. 6, Page 553, article: Gifts, Supernatural.

Sanctifying Grace – the “Companion” of Charity

Catholic Candle note: We should study the Catholic Faith our whole life.  Part of this duty is to understand more fully the truths of the Faith we already learned as children.  Thus, for example, concerning the question “Who is God?”, we know from our First Communion Catechism that “God is the Supreme Being Who made all things.”  During our life, we should learn more about God, as best we can, little-by-little, using the opportunities we have.

The article below is an aid to help us “peering a little more deeply” into a few related truths of the Faith which we already learned in our catechism as children.  The article below is merely one more step in the journey of learning our Faith better.


What is Charity, and How does it relate to Sanctifying Grace?

Charity is friendship with God.[1] 

Without charity, a man is an enemy of God, since every man is at enmity with God through Original Sin[2] (and mortal sin), unless (and until) he becomes His friend through the friendship of charity[3], which is only acquired with Sanctifying Grace.[4] 

Sanctifying Grace is God’s Life within us[5] and makes us holy and pleasing to God.[6]

Let us summarize what we covered so far:  God’s life is to know and love Himself, and that life is pure and perfect bliss; He is the only worthy object of His love and knowledge.[7]

Yet the astounding fact is this:  When we possess charity and Sanctifying Grace, we also participate in that very life of God – His love and knowledge for Himself!  We know and love God in a way similar to the way that He Himself knows and love Himself.  Note that we said “in a way similar to how He knows and loves Himself” – but not to the same extent. 

This qualification of “in a way similar to” is very important.  Perhaps an example might help: let us suppose a very bright philosopher who knows and can prove many truths about God, yet who lacks Sanctifying Grace.  This man might be able to explain many natural truths about God (truths knowable by the human intellect without Revelation) which many or even most Catholics cannot prove because of a lack of education.  Yet this bright man is not able to know God in the way that the simplest peasant can know Him when he has Sanctifying Grace. 

What is the way the bright man knows God?   He can prove things about God from a distant and cold perspective, in a dry, academic way.  For example, he can prove there must be a God, because of such-and-such human reasoning.  He can prove that this God must be eternal, and can prove many other truths.  This is all good, but yet it is a “far cry” from what Sanctifying Grace does for the soul. 

Let us now contrast:  What can the peasant in the state of grace do which the bright philosopher in the state of mortal sin cannot do?  The peasant is able to know God as a loving Father – a personal God Who cares about each of us deeply, Who was born and died for us, Who is always looking out for us, guiding us, showering us with gifts, and Who longs to have us with Him forever in heavenly bliss.  But love requires knowledge of the thing loved.  Thus, because the peasant is able to know God in this way, he is also able to love God in a way that bright philosopher is simply not able to.

The “Companionship” of Sanctifying Grace and Charity: Sanctifying Grace and Charity always come into a soul together[8] and increase together (and they leave together, in any soul that has the great tragedy of committing a mortal sin).[9]

Thus, we can see that Sanctifying Grace and charity are inseparable “companions” in the supernatural life.  Here is how God’s Life and His Love for Himself are reflected in our possessing Sanctifying Grace and charity:

  God is His Own Divine Life; Sanctifying Grace is God’s Life in us by participation.

 

  God has one act, which is to love Himself.[10]  By charity, we love God in a similar way.


Without Charity and Sanctifying Grace, we cannot merit.

What is merit?

To “merit” means “to be worthy of or entitled or liable to earn”.[11]

Merit is a right to a reward.   For example, let us suppose a man who is in mortal sin discovers a plot to kill and overthrow the king.  The man informs the king.  This deed deserves praise and reward, because perhaps it not only saved the king himself, but also the whole kingdom.  Thus, the king – if he is a just man – might say to the man, “Well done!  You have merited a reward and my gratitude.”  In that case, the man merited a natural reward from a mere man. 


Merit can be natural or supernatural.

But what if the man did the same thing, but this time possessed Sanctifying Grace and charity?   When in the state of grace, the motive behind our actions can be that of love of God, and thus take on a supernatural dimension.   In such case, not only would the man gain natural merit from the human king, but also supernatural merit.  God, Who is Justice itself, might well give him natural gifts (e.g., good health, success), but also supernatural gifts (e.g., a right to a higher place in heaven, an increase of virtue and grace).

But without Sanctifying Grace, we cannot merit anything from God.[12]

This is not surprising, since those without Sanctifying Grace are God’s enemies.[13]  How could God’s enemies ever merit from Him while remaining His enemies and remaining in mortal sin – with their wills turned against Him?[14]

Let us “unpack” the consequences a little further, of the truth that without Sanctifying Grace, a person can merit absolutely nothing from God.  This means that:

  A man in the state of mortal sin who builds orphanages, schools, or monasteries (which are good works) does not merit even the slightest thing from God, by doing so.[15]

  A man in the state of mortal sin who teaches the Catholic Faith, does not merit even the slightest thing from God, by doing so. [16]

 

  A man in the state of mortal sin who dedicates his life to fighting communism or disease, or who dies trying to rescue a child in a burning building, does not earn anything at all from God, by doing so.[17]

This is true even if the man’s work was an instrument to save many other souls and brought about much good in other ways.  Persons without Sanctifying Grace never merit from God by the good works they do.  On the other hand, though, those persons are able to commit further evil.  By choosing to commit more sins, they offend God further and deserve further punishment.

This does not mean that a man in mortal sin never does anything good and that he cannot have any natural virtues.  When the man teaches the truth or constructs a building, those are truly natural good works and this fact is not “taken away” by the man’s inability to merit from God for those works.[18]  Again, a man might merit natural rewards, such as from the human king, as explained in the above example.

Natural virtue is not a source of supernatural merit, when a man is in mortal sin.[19]  For example, a Satanist (or other enemy of God) could possibly have the habit of being patient with his neighbor or be habitually generous to a crippled child.  These habits (patience and generosity) would be natural virtues.  What is impossible is for such a man to merit supernaturally from God, by his (natural) good acts and virtues.

We ordinary Catholics, who are unaccustomed to the ways of God, might tend to falsify the truths (above) by supposing that there is a way “through the back door” for a man in mortal sin to merit in some way.  For example, although we know that a man in mortal sin cannot merit from God, we might suppose that, when God sees the man’s (human) good works or (natural) virtues, God might decide to give that man grace on that basis, i.e., for this reason.  But our supposition (viz., that God might act this way) would contradict the truth that a man in mortal sin never merits from God by anything he does.  In other words:

Nothing done by a person without Sanctifying Grace inclines God to give him any blessing or good.

Remember the explanation above: to “merit” is to be a cause of good or to earn good in some way.  If a man in mortal sin were to influence God favorably toward him in any way, through the good works that man did, so that God gave him something which the man would not have otherwise received, then that man has merited while in mortal sin.  In other words, that man’s good works would have been a cause of the good he received from God.  This is impossible.[20]  Thus, God never gives any good to a man because of that man’s good works while he is in mortal sin, because that man cannot merit anything by his works.

However, this truth certainly does not mean that God could never (or would never) give grace to a man in mortal sin.  Rather, the Sanctifying Grace and other good things which God gives to a man in mortal sin are in no way merited by him.  They are given as a free, undeserved gift of God, not based on anything he did.

In a future article, we will look at how someone can merit supernatural good in some way (called “condignly”), when he is already in the state of Sanctifying Grace.


Conclusion

A man in mortal sin cannot merit Sanctifying Grace or any other good from God, by the (human) good works he does or by the (natural) virtues he has.  Sanctifying Grace is a free gift of God, not merited in any way by the man in mortal sin.



[1]           Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas, greatest Doctor of the Church, explains this truth:

It is written (John 15:15): “I will not now call you servants . . . but My friends.”  Now this was said to them by reason of nothing else than charity. Therefore, charity is friendship.  …

According to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 2,3) not every love has the character of friendship, but that love which is together with benevolence, when, to wit, we love someone so as to wish good to him.  If, however, we do not wish good to what we love, but wish its good for ourselves, (thus we are said to love wine, or a horse, or the like), it is love not of friendship, but of a kind of concupiscence. For it would be absurd to speak of having friendship for wine or for a horse.

Yet neither does well-wishing suffice for friendship, for a certain mutual love is requisite, since friendship is between friend and friend: and this well-wishing is founded on some kind of communication.

Accordingly, since there is a communication between man and God, inasmuch as He communicates His happiness to us, some kind of friendship must needs be based on this same communication, of which it is written (1 Corinthians 1:9): “God is faithful: by Whom you are called unto the fellowship of His Son."  The love which is based on this communication, is charity: wherefore it is evident that charity is the friendship of man for God.

Summa, IIa IIae, Q.23, a.1, sed contra and respondeo (emphasis added).

[2]           As the psalmist teaches, concerning everyone being born with Original Sin: “I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me.”  Psalm, 50:7.  St. Paul teaches that, because of Original Sin, we are all “by nature children of wrath”.  Ephesians, 2:3. 

[3]           Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas teaches this truth, following and quoting St. Augustine: “whosoever has not charity is wicked, because ‘this gift alone of the Holy Ghost distinguishes the children of the kingdom from the children of perdition’”.  Summa, IIa IIae, Q.178, a.2, sed contra, quoting St. Augustine’s treatise on the Blessed Trinity, De Trinitate, bk.15, ch.18.

St. Paul teaches: “the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us.”  Romans, 5:5.

[4]           Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas teaches this truth, quoting St. Augustine:

Sanctifying Grace is given chiefly in order that man’s soul may be united to God by charity.  Wherefore Augustine says (De Trin. xv, 18): “A man is not transferred from the left side to the right, unless he receives the Holy Ghost, by Whom he is made a lover of God and of his neighbor.”

Summa, IIa IIae, Q.172, a.4, respondeo.

[5]           Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas teaches this truth:

[T]he light of grace which is a participation of the Divine Nature is something besides the infused virtues which are derived from and are ordained to this light ….

Summa, Ia IIae, Q.110, a.3, respondeo

See also, St. John of the Cross, the Mystical Doctor of the Church, where he teaches the same truth: Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 38, §4.

St. Peter refers to Sanctifying Grace as making us “partakers of the Divine Nature”.  2 Peter, 1:4.

[6]           Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas teaches this truth:

Even as when a man is said to be in another’s good graces, it is understood that there is something in him pleasing to the other; so also, when anyone is said to have God’s grace – with this difference, that what is pleasing to a man in another is presupposed to his love, but whatever is pleasing to God in a man is caused by the Divine love, as was said above.

Summa, Ia IIae, Q.110, a.1, ad 1.

A little below these words of St. Thomas, he says “we speak of grace inasmuch as it makes man pleasing to God”.

Summa, Ia IIae, Q.110, a.3, respondeo (emphasis added).

Here is how the Baltimore Catechism #3 explains this truth:

Q. 461. What is sanctifying grace?

A. Sanctifying grace is that grace which makes the soul holy and pleasing to God.

[7]               The only way God knows creatures is through knowing Himself and knowing us as His works.  Summa, Ia, Q.14, a.7, respondeo; Ia, Q.16, a.7, respondeo.  The reason why God loves us creatures is because we are His works and He loves His works and the good He put into us.  Summa, Ia, Q.14, a.5; Ia, Q.20, a.2.

[8]           Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas teaches this truth:

Sanctifying Grace is given chiefly in order that man’s soul may be united to God by charity.

Summa, IIa IIae, Q.172, a.4, respondeo.

[9]           Mortal sin deprives a man of sanctifying grace.  Summa, Ia IIae, Q.109, a.7, respondeo.  Mortal sin deprives a man of charity.  Summa, Ia IIae, Q.88, a.1, respondeo.

[10]         This same one act of loving Himself is also an act of knowing Himself.  It is hard for us to understand this, but God is wholly simple and has only one act, which is to know and to love Himself.  Summa, Ia, Q.3; Ia, Q.16, a.5, ad 1.

[11]         https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/merit (definition of the transitive verb, “merit”).

 

[12]         Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas teaches this truth, referring to Sanctifying Grace using its other name, i.e., “habitual grace”, since Sanctifying Grace remains in (inhabits) those in the state of grace:

The preparation of the human will for good is twofold: the first, whereby it is prepared to operate rightly and to enjoy God; and this preparation of the will cannot take place without the habitual gift of grace, which is the principle of meritorious works ….

Summa, Ia IIae, Q.109, a.6, respondeo (emphasis added).

Here is how the Catechism of St. Pius X teaches this truth:

5 Q. Why do not those who are in mortal sin participate in these goods [shared in the Communion of Saints]?

A. Because that which unites the faithful with God, and with Jesus Christ as His living members, rendering them capable of performing meritorious works for life eternal, is the grace of God which is the supernatural life of the soul; and hence as those who are in mortal sin are without the grace of God, they are excluded from perfect communion in spiritual goods, nor can they accomplish works meritorious towards life eternal.

Catechism of St. Pius X, section, Ninth Article of the Creed, subsection, Communion of Saints (bracketed words added to the question, to show the context).

Here is how the Baltimore Catechism #3 teaches this truth:

Q. 141. Why then do we say a soul is dead while in a state of mortal sin?

A. We say a soul is dead while in a state of mortal sin, because in that state it is as helpless as a dead body, and can merit nothing for itself.

[13]         Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas teaches this truth, following and quoting St. Augustine: “whosoever has not charity is wicked, because ‘this gift alone of the Holy Ghost distinguishes the children of the kingdom from the children of perdition’”.  Summa, IIa IIae, Q.178, a.2, Sed contra, quoting St. Augustine’s treatise, De Trinitate, bk.15, ch.18.

As the psalmist teaches: “I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me.”  Psalm, 50:7.  St. Paul teaches that, because of Original Sin, we are all “by nature children of wrath”.  Ephesians, 2:3. 

[14]         Concerning three ways that all sin is an infinite offense against Almighty God and concerning a fourth way in which mortal sin is an infinite offense against God, read this article: https://catholiccandle.neocities.org/faith/the-infinite-evil-of-sin.html

[15]         We already implicitly know this truth, since we know what St. Paul teaches regarding the importance of Charity, which is the inseparable “companion” of Sanctifying Grace:

And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, … and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.     

1 Corinthians, 13:3.

[16]         We already implicitly know this truth, since we know what St. Paul teaches regarding the importance of Charity, which is the inseparable “companion” of Sanctifying Grace:

If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.  …  And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

1 Corinthians, 13:1-2.

[17]         We already implicitly know this truth, since we know what St. Paul teaches regarding the importance of Charity, which is the inseparable “companion” of Sanctifying Grace:

If I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

1 Corinthians, 13:3.

[18]         Here is one way St. Thomas Aquinas teaches this truth:

Yet because human nature is not altogether corrupted by sin, so as to be shorn of every natural good, even in the state of corrupted nature it can, by virtue of its natural endowments, work some particular good, as to build dwellings, plant vineyards, and the like ….

Summa, Ia IIae, Q. 109, a.2, respondeo.

[19]         Here is one way St. Thomas Aquinas teaches this truth:

[W]ithout grace man cannot merit everlasting life; yet he can perform works conducing to a good which is natural to man, as "to toil in the fields, to drink, to eat, or to have friends," and the like, as Augustine says.  …

Summa, Ia IIae, Q. 109, a.5, respondeo.

[20]         St. Thomas teaches that: “Man by himself can no wise rise from sin without the help of grace.”  Summa, Ia IIae, Q.109, a.7, respondeo.

St. Thomas teaches that a man in mortal sin is as unable to merit return to grace, as a dead man is unable to cause his soul to return to his body.  Here are St. Thomas’s words:

[M]an cannot be restored by himself; but he requires the light of grace to be poured upon him anew, as if the soul were infused into a dead body for its resurrection.

Summa, Ia IIae, Q.109, a.7, ad 2.

Here is how the Catechism of St. Pius X teaches this truth:

5 Q. Why do not those who are in mortal sin participate in these goods?

A. Because that which unites the faithful with God, and with Jesus Christ as His living members, rendering them capable of performing meritorious works for life eternal, is the grace of God which is the supernatural life of the soul; and hence as those who are in mortal sin are without the grace of God, they are excluded from perfect communion in spiritual goods, nor can they accomplish works meritorious towards life eternal.


Catechism of St. Pius X, section, Ninth Article of the Creed, subsection, Communion of Saints.