ARTICLE V - ACTUAL GRACE AND ITS DIVERS FORMS
We shall recall here: (1) the necessity of actual grace; (2) its
divers forms; and (3) the general nature of fidelity to grace.
THE NECESSITY OF ACTUAL GRACE
Even in the natural order, no created agent acts or operates
without the cooperation of God, first Mover of bodies and spirits. In
this sense, St. Paul says in his discourse on the Areopagus: "Although
He (God) be not far from every one of us; for in Him we live and move
and are." (1) With even greater reason in the supernatural order, that
we may produce acts of the infused virtues and of the gifts, we need a
divine motion, which is called actual grace. It is a truth of faith
defined against the Pelagians and the Semi-Pelagians,(2) that, without
this grace, we can neither dispose ourselves positively to conversion,
nor persevere for a notable time in good, nor above all persevere
until death. Without actual grace, we cannot produce the slightest
salutary act, or, with even greater reason, reach perfection. This is
what Christ meant when He said to His disciples: "Without Me you can
do nothing." (3) St. Paul adds with regard to the order of salvation:
"Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of
ourselves," (4) and that "It is God who worketh in you both to will
and to accomplish," (5) by actualizing our liberty without violating
it. It is He who gives us to dispose ourselves to habitual grace and
to act meritoriously. When He crowns our merits, it is still His gifts
that He crowns, says St. Augustine. The Church has often recalled this
idea in her councils.(6)
This explains why we must always pray. The necessity of prayer is
founded on the necessity of actual grace. Except for the first grace,
which is gratuitously given to us without our praying for it, since it
is the very principle of prayer, it is a thoroughly established truth
that prayer is the normal, efficacious, and universal means by which
God wishes that we should obtain all the actual graces we need. This
is why our Lord inculcates so often the necessity of prayer to obtain
grace. He says: "Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall
find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone that asketh,
receiveth: and he that seeketh, findeth: and to him that knocketh, it
shall be opened." (7) He recalls this necessity of prayer to obtain
actual grace, especially when temptation is to be resisted: "Watch ye,
and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is
willing, but the flesh is weak." (8) In prayer we ought to recognize
that God is the Author of all good; and therefore all confidence not
founded on prayer is presumptuous.(9)
Therefore the Council of Trent declares in St. Augustine's own
words: "God never commands the impossible, but in commanding He tells
us to do what we can, to ask for that which we are not able to do, and
He helps us in order that we may be able." (10) By His actual grace He
even helps us to pray. There are, consequently, actual graces which we
can obtain only by prayer.(11)
We could not insist too strongly on this point, for many beginners,
unwittingly impregnated with practical naturalism, as the Pelagians
and the Semi-Pelagians were, imagine that everything can be attained
with will and energy, even without actual grace. Experience soon shows
them the profound truth of Christ's words: "Without Me you can do
nothing," and also that of St. Paul's statement: "It is God who
worketh in you both to will and to accomplish." Therefore we must ask
Him for the actual grace ever more faithfully to keep the
commandments, especially the supreme precept of the love of God and of
THE DIFFERENT ACTUAL GRACES
Actual grace, the necessity of which we have just recalled, presents
itself under many forms which it is highly useful to know in the
spiritual life. It will be well at this point to review the principles
as clearly as possible, without failing to recognize the mystery they
express. It is one of the most remarkable partly clear and partly
obscure mysteries of Christian doctrine.
Actual grace is often given to us as a light or interior
illumination. For example, while reading the Epistle or Gospel of the
day at Mass, an interior light is given to us that we may better grasp
its meaning. We are struck by these words of Christ to the Samaritan
woman: "If thou didst know the gift of God," (12) or by those of St.
Paul: "The Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself for me,"
(13) and we consider that He continues to offer Himself for us in the
Mass and that, if we wish, He will give Himself to us, especially in
Holy Communion. This light constitutes a grace of interior
illumination.(14) It is followed by a grace of inspiration and
attraction, for, in thinking of the generous and disinterested love of
the Savior, we feel ourselves strongly led to return Him love for
love. This is an actual grace which acts on the will and leads to love
and to action. At times it even brings one to will to give oneself
fully to God, to suffer, and if need be, to die for Him. Then it is
not only a grace of attraction, but a grace of strength, which, though
often received without our being at all aware of it, makes it possible
for us in aridity to endure and to wait (15)
How does actual grace, which moves the will, influence it? It does
this in two ways: either by proposing to it an object which attracts
it, or by a motion or interior impulse which God alone can
give.(16) God can evidently incline our will toward good by proposing
an object to it, for example, by the promise of eternal beatitude, or
of progress in love. Thus a mother inclines the will of her child to
good, either by proposing to him a sensible object which attracts him,
or by persuading him to conduct himself in a becoming manner. Our
guardian angels can do this also by suggesting good thoughts to us.
What God alone can do, is to move our will to good by an interior
motion or impulse, for He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. He
preserves in existence our soul and our faculties, of which He is the
Author; and, without doing violence to them, He can move them from
within according to their natural inclination by giving us a new
energy. An example will help to make this understood: In order to
teach her child to walk, a mother takes hold of him under his arms and
helps him not only with her voice by showing him an object to attain,
but by her gesture; by lifting him up. What the mother does thus in
the corporeal order, God can do in the spiritual order. He can lift
up, not only our body but our will itself, to lead it to good. He is
the very Author of our will; He has given it its fundamental
inclination to good, and in consequence He alone can move it from
within according to this inclination. He acts thus in us, in the very
inmost depths of our will, to make us will and act. The more urgently
we ask Him to do this, the more strongly does He act to increase in us
the love that we should have for Him.
Moreover, actual grace is called prevenient grace when it arouses a
good thought or good feeling in us, when we have done nothing to
exciJe it in ourselves. If we do not resist this grace, God adds to it
a helping or concomitant grace, which will assist our will to produce
the salutary act demanded and to realize our good designs. Thus, as
St. Paul says: "God works in us both to will and to accomplish."
Finally, we must note that God sometimes moves us to act by
deliberation according to the human mode, and at other times by
special inspiration to act in a superior manner without deliberation
on our part. The following is an example of the first case: I see that
the habitual hour to recite the Rosary has come, and of my own accord
I am led by deliberation to recite it. I do so under the influence of
a common actual grace, called cooperating, for it cooperates in my
action according to the human mode of deliberation.
The second mode may be illustrated by the following example: It may
happen that in an unexpected way while doing absorbing work, I receive
a special inspiration to say a short prayer, and I immediately do it.
This special inspiration is called an operating grace, for it operates
in us without deliberation on our part, not however without vital,
free, and meritorious consent. (17) In the first manner, God generally
moves us to act according to the human mode of the virtues; in the
second manner, He moves us to act according to the superhuman mode of
the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Our ship then advances no longer solely
by dint of rowing, but by the superior impulse of a favorable wind.
All that we have said about the different modes of divine motion
may be summed up in the following table, which should be read upward.
in the natural
||- above deliberation, by special inspiration
to which the gifts of the Holy Ghost render us docile
- after deliberation, to will a definite act of a specific
infused virtue, for example, of religion directed by
- before deliberation, to will efficaciously the
supernatural last end
- above deliberation, by special inspiration, for example,
in poetic order
- after deliberation, to will a definite
act of a specified acquired virtue.
- before deliberation, to will good in general and
Under operating grace, we are more passive than active, and our
activity consists especially in consenting freely to the operation of
God, in allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Ghost, in promptly
and generously follbwing His inspirations.(19) But even under
cooperating grace all our salutary action is from God as from the
First Cause, and it is all from us as from the second cause.
FIDELITY TO GRACE
Fidelity to grace is of the utmost importance, and especially so is
increasing fidelity to the actual grace of the present moment, that we
may correspond to the duty of that moment, which manifests the will of
God in our regard. St. Augustine says: "God who created you without
yourself, will not sanctify you without yourself." (20) Our consent is
needed and likewise our obedience to the precepts. God's help is given
us, he says again, not that our will should do nothing, but that it
may act in a salutary and meritorious manner. Actual grace is
constantly offered to us for the accomplishment of the duty of the
present moment, just as air comes constantly into our lungs to permit
us to breathe. As we must inhale in order to draw into our lungs the
air which renews our blood, so we must will to receive with docility
the grace which renews our spiritual energies in the journey toward
God. A person who does not inhale will die of asphyxiation; he who
does not receive grace with docility will eventually die of spiritual
asphyxiation. This is why St. Paul says: "And we helping do exhort you
that you receive not the grace of God in vain." (21) We must
correspond with it and cooperate generously with it. Were this
elementary truth put into practice daily, it would lead to sanctity.
Without a doubt, God takes the first step toward us by His
prevenient grace, then He helps us to consent to it. He accompanies us
in all our ways and difficulties, even to the moment of death. On our
part, we should not forget that, instead of resisting His prevenient
graces, we should be faithful to them. How can we do this? First of
all, we can do so by joyfully welcoming the first illuminations of
grace, then by following its inspirations with docility in spite of
obstacles, and finally by putting these inspirations into practice no
matter what the cost. Then we shall cooperate in the work of God, and
our action will be the fruit of His grace and of our free will. It
will be entirely from God as First Cause, and entirely from us as
The first grace of light, which efficaciously produces a good
thought in us, is sufficient in relation to a voluntary good consent,
in this sense, that it gives us, not this act, but the power to
produce it. However, if we resist this good thought, we deprive
ourselves of the actual grace which would have efficaciously led us to
a good consent. Resistance falls on sufficient grace like hail on a
tree in bloom which promised much fruit; the flowers are destroyed and
the fruit will not form. Efficacious grace is offered us in sufficient
grace, as the fruit is in the flower; moreover, the flower must not be
destroyed if the fruit is to be given to us. If we do not resist
sufficient grace, actual efficacious grace is given us, and by it we
advance surely in the way of salvation. Sufficient grace thus leaves
us without excuse before God, and efficacious grace does not allow us
to glory in ourselves; with it we advance humbly and generously.(22)
We should not resist the divine prevenient graces of Him who has
given us sanctifying grace, the infused virtues, the gifts, and who
daily draws us to Himself. We should not be content with living a
mediocre life and with producing only imperfect fruits, since our
Savior came that we "may have life, and may have it more abundantly,"
(23) and that from within us "shall flow rivers of living water," (24)
that we may eternally enjoy His beatitude. God is magnanimous; let us,
too, be so.
This fidelity is required, first of all, that we may preserve the
life of grace by avoiding mortal sin. The life of grace is
incomparably more precious than that of the body, than the power to
perform miracles; it is of such worth that our Savior delivered
Himself up to death in order to restore it to us. If were given to us
to contemplate unveiled the amazing splendor of sanctifying grace, we
should be ravished. Moreover, fidelity is required to merit and obtain
the increase of the life of grace, which ought to grow until our
entrance into heaven, since we are travelers on the road to eternity
and since we advance toward our goal by growing in the love of God.
Thence comes the necessity of sanctifying each and every one of our
acts, even the most ordinary, by accomplishing them with purity of
intention, for a supernatural motive, and in union with our Lord. If
we were thus faithful from morning until evening, each of our days
would contain hundreds of meritorious acts, hundreds of acts of love
of God and of neighbor, made on every pleasant or painful occasion,
and when evening came, our union with God would be more intimate and
much stronger. It has often been said that to sanctify ourselves there
is no more practical and more efficacious means that is more within
the reach of all, than thus to supernaturalize each of our acts by
offering them in union with our Lord, to God for His glory and the
good of souls.(25)
||1. Acts 17:27f.
2. Cf. The Council of Orange
(Denzinger, Enchiridion, nos. 176-200) and also St. Thomas, Ia
3. John 15:5.
4. See II Cor. 3:5.
5. Phil. 3:13.
6. Denzinger, nos. 182-200 and 141.
7. Matt. 7:7 f.
8. Ibid., 26:41.
9. Summa, IIa IIae, q.83, a.2, c. and ad 3um.
10. Session VI, chap. II (Denzinger,804)
11. Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part IV, chap. I, no. 3.
12 John 4: 10.
13 Gal. 2:20.
14. Sometimes a very elevated luminous grace gives the impression
of obscurity: the obscurity is transluminous, like the excessively
strong light of the sun which dazzles the weak eyes of an owl.
15. Many of these graces are not felt at all when received; they
are of an entirely spiritual and supernatural order and consequently
surpass our natural means of knowledge. Some of them are felt by
reason of the repercussion they have on our sensibility, for example,
under the form of sensible consolations. Of others, which do not have
this repercussion, we may, nevertheless, be conscious, in the sense
that God, especially by the gift of wisdom, makes Himself spiritually
felt by us as the principle of the filial love for Him which He
inspires in us. Cf. St. Thomas, In Ep. ad Rom., 8: 16.
16. See Ia, q.105, a.4; Ia IIae, q.9, a.6; q.10, a.4; q.109,
17. See Ia IIae, q. III, a.2. Under cooperating grace, the will
moves itself deliberately in virtue of an anterior act. It is thus
that, already willing the end, it is led to the choice of means;
whereas under operating grace it is moved not by virtue of an anterior
act, but of a special inspiration.
18. Here there is certainly deliberation. It is not, however, by
virtue of deliberation and of an anterior act that the sinner, at the
moment of his conversion, is moved efficaciously to will the
supernatural last end, for every anterior act is inferior to this
efficacious will, and can only dispose to it. Consequently a special
operating grace is necessary here. This grace is not required when,
already efficaciously willing the end, we are led of ourselves to will
the means. Then, only cooperating grace is required.
19. We treated this subject at greater length in Christian
Perfection and Contemplation, pp. 285-310; "The special
inspiration of the Holy Ghost and common actual grace." According to a
number of texts from St. Thomas, and following several great Thomists,
in particular Father del Prado, we showed in that article that God
moves the will, either before deliberation (when He leads it to will
beatitude in general, or also the supernatural last end), or after
deliberation, or with it (when He moves it to determine by discursive
deliberation to will the means in view of the previously willed end),
or above deliberation (by special inspiration, in particular by that
to which the gifts of the Holy Ghost render us docile).
St. Thomas enumerates these three modes of motion in various
passages: Ia IIae, q.9, a.6 ad 3 um; q.68, a.2 f.; q.109, a.1, 2, 6,
9; q.III, a.2; De veritate, q.24,a.15.
It suffices here to quote the classic text of Ia IIae, q. III, a.
2, on the distinction between operating and cooperating grace: "The
operation of an effect is not attributed to the thing moved but to the
mover. Hence in that effect in which our mind is moved and does not
move, but in which God is the sole mover, the operation is attributed
to God, and it is with reference to this that we speak of operating
grace. But in that effect in which our mind both moves and is moved
(virtute prioris actus), the operation is attributed not only to God,
but also to the soul; and it is with reference 'to this that we peak
of cooperating grace." The operating grace may, however, present
itself under several forms: (1) it may be only exciting, leading to a
salutary good thought, which, as a matter of fact, remains sterile;
(2) it may lead even to a salutary act of faith or hope, without there
being the influence of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, as happens in the
believer in the state of mortal sinl; (3) it may lead even to a
salutary and meritorious act of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. In this
last case particularly, there is a special inspiration, not
only before deliberation but above it. We can either be moved, or we
can move ourselves to an act of faith (although it may be simple and
not discursive), whereas we cannot of ourselves move ourselves to an
act of the gifts.
20. Sermon 15, chap. I.
21. See II Cor. 6: I.
22. Herein lies the great mystery of grace; its two aspects, which
are to be harmonized, may be expressed in the following manner: this
mystery contains a striking light and shade: the light is expressed in
two principles; the shade is their intimate harmonization. On the one
hand, God never commands the impossible (that would be neither just
nor merciful); but out of love, He makes the duties to be performed
really possible for all. No adult is deprived of the grace necessary
for salvation unless he refuses it by resisting the divine call, as
did the bad thief dying beside the Savior. On the other hand, "since
the love of God for us is the cause of all good, no one would be
better than another if he were not more greatly loved by God," as St.
Thomas says (Ia, q.20, a.3). In this sense, Christ said: "Without Me
you can do nothing" (John 15:5); and in speaking of the elect, He
added: "No one can snatch them out of the hand of the Father" (John
10:29). St. Paul also asks: "For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast
thou that thou hast not received?" (I Cor. 4:7.) What more profound
lesson in humility could be taught?
As a council of the Middle Ages states: "If some are saved, it is
by the gift of the Savior; if others are lost, it is through their own
fault." (Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 318.) Resistance to grace
is an evil which can come only from us; non-resistance is a good which
springs from the Source of all good. These formulas reconcile the two
aspects of the mystery, and the principles that we have just recalled
are incontestable. Each of these two principles ta en separately is
absolutely certain. That salvation is possible to all is a principle
as certain as that "no one would be better than another if he were not
more loved by God." "What have we that we have not received?" But how
can these two incontestable principles be intimately reconciled? No
created intellect can see this harmony before receiving the beatific
vision. In fact, were we to see it, we would see how infinite mercy,
infinite justice, an.d sovereign liberty harmonize in the eminence of
the Deity. We explained this problem in its relations to the spiritual
life at greater length in Christian Perfection and Contemplation,
pp. 80-113; Providence (English translation), pp. 334-40;
Predestination (English translation), pp. 221 ff., 335 ff.
23. John 10: 10.
24. Ibid., 7:38.
25. Some have thought that the special inspiration of the Holy
Ghost diminishes the liberty of our act and that the act immediately
caused by it, is not meritorious. This special inspiration no more
diminishes our liberty than the absolute impeccability of Christ
diminished His perfect liberty of obedience to the precepts of His
Father. He could not disobey; He obeyed infallibly, but freely, the
precept to die, for He preserved the indifference of judgment and of
choice in the face of the painful death of the cross, which did not
invincibly attract His will, as did the immediate vision of the divine
goodness. We have explained this at length elsewhere (Le Sauveur,