PART 1 - The Sources of the Interior Life and Its End (cont)
Ch 7: The Growth of the Life of Grace by Merit, Prayer and the Sacraments
We cannot treat of the bases of the interior life, of its source, without speaking of the growth of sanctifying grace and of charity. No one can be saved without this supernatural virtue, the highest of all, which ought to inspire and animate the others. Moreover, it ought not to remain stationary, but should grow in us even until death.(1) This point of doctrine can and should throw great light on the spiritual life since it is the basis of every exhortation to make progress with great humility and generosity by ardently desiring the full perfection of charity, intimate union with God, by striving to obtain it, and humbly asking for it., The virtues of humility and magnanimity ought always to be united. We shall see, first of all, why charity ought ever to increase in us until death; then, how it should grow in three ways: by merit, prayer, and the sacraments.
We must first point out that no matter how low in degree, true charity, received in baptism or restored by absolution, already loves God, the Author of salvation, more than self and above all things, and one's neighbor as oneself for the love of God. The slightest degree of infused charity immensely surpasses the natural love that we can have for God, the Author of nature, and for man. Charity, no matter of how low a degree, excludes no one, for this exclusion would be a grave sin which would destroy it. Nevertheless this charity of beginners is not victorious over all egoism; far from it. Beside it we find in our souls an inordinate love of self which, without being gravely culpable, is an obstacle that takes from charity the freedom of its action or its radiation. Gray stands between black and white. Between the state of mortal sin and that of perfect and radiant charity, stands charity of a very low degree, the exercise of which is often hindered by a troop of habitual venial sins, of immoderate self-love, of vanity, of laziness, of injustice, and the like.
Undoubtedly, this charity of low degree ought to grow. St. Paul says to the Ephesians (4: 15): "But doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in Him." To the Philippians (I: 9) he declares: "I pray that your charity may more and more abound"; and in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians (3: 12 f.): "May the Lord multiply you, and make you abound in charity towards one another, and towards all men: as we do also towards you, to confirm your hearts without blame, in holiness, before God." In the Apocalypse (22: 11) we read: "He that is just, let him be justified still: and he that is holy, let him be sanctified still." In the Old Testament, the Book of Proverbs (4: 18) tells us: "The path of the just as a shining light, goeth forward and increaseth even to perfect day."
Why should charity thus grow in us? It should grow because the Christian on earth is a traveler, viator, who is advancing spiritually toward God. His spiritual advancement is made by more and more perfect acts of love, "steps of love," as St. Gregory says. We must conclude from this that charity on earth can and should always increase, otherwise the Christian would cease in a sense to be a viator; he would stop before reaching the end of his journey.(2) The way is intended for travelers, not for those who stop en route and sleep. Moreover, we are told in St. Luke (6: 25): "Woe to you that are filled: for you shall hunger," but on the other hand, we read in St. Matthew (5: 6): "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall have their fill." Christ also declared: "If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink. . . . Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (3)
Since every traveler toward eternity should while on earth grow in charity, not only beginners and proficients, but the perfect ought always to draw nearer to God. And what is more, these last ought to advance toward Him so much the more rapidly as they are nearer to Him and as He draws them more strongly. St. Thomas affirms this when he comments on the words of St. Paul to the Hebrews (10: 25): "Comforting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching." St. Thomas writes in his commentary on this verse of the epistle: "Some one might ask why we should thus progress in faith and love. The answer is that the natural (or connatural) movement becomes so much the more rapid as it approaches its term, while it is the inverse for violent movement." (As a matter of fact, we say today that the fall of bodies is uniformly accelerated, while the inverse movement of a stone tossed into the air is uniformly retarded.) "Now," continues St. Thomas, "grace perfects and inclines to good according to the manner of nature. It follows that those who are in the state of grace ought so much the more to grow in charity as they draw near their last end (and are more attracted by it). This is why St. Paul says here: 'Not forsaking our assembly. . . ; but comforting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching,' that is, the end of the journey. 'The night is past, and the day is at hand' (Rom. 13 : 12). 'But the path of the just, as a shining light, goeth forward and increaseth even to perfect day'" (Prov. 4: 18).(4)
This remark thus briefly made by St. Thomas, as it were in passing, has not been as much emphasized by theologians as it deserves. It is, however, striking that St. Thomas should have noted it in so simple, so rapid, and so beautiful a manner before the discovery of the law of universal gravitation and at a time when people knew only very imperfectly (without having measured it) the acceleration of the fall of bodies. St. Thomas means that in the saints the spiritual life is more and more intensified; the movement of their souls rises to the zenith and no longer descends. For them, there is no twilight; only the body weakens with age.
Such is the law of universal attraction in the spiritual order. As bodies are attracted in direct ratio to their mass and in inverse ratio to the square of their distance, that is, they are so much the more attracted as they draw near each other; in like manner souls are drawn by God so much the more as they approach Him. Alluding to the end of His course, Christ said with this meaning: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth (on the cross), will draw all things to Myself." (5) "No man can come to Me, except the Father, who hath sent Me, draw him." (6) The higher one rises, the more the efficient cause, which leads to action, and the final cause, which attracts to it, tend to become identified. God moves us and draws us to Himself. He is the beginning and the end of all, sovereign Good, who attracts love so much the more strongly as one draws nearer to Him. Thus, in the lives of the saints the progress of love during their last years is much more rapid than in their earlier life. They advance, not with an equal but with a quickened step, in spite of the heaviness of old age and a certain enfeebling of the sensible faculties, such as the sensible memory. Yet they hear and live the words of the psalm: "Thy youth shall be renewed like the eagle's." (7) Grace and, in particular, charity continually grow in them.
This increasingly rapid progress existed especially in the life of the Blessed Virgin for it found no obstacle in her, and it was so much the more intense as the initial speed, or the first grace, was greater. There was in her a marvelous acceleration of the love of God, an acceleration of which that of the fall of bodies is but a remote image.
We see thus why charity ought not only to grow in us until death, but to increase more and more like a falling body, the speed of which increases until it reaches its last end.
How, then, does charity grow in us? To be sure, in its lowest degree charity already loves God above all else with a love of esteem, and its neighbor in general, without excluding anyone. In this sense it cannot have a greater extension; but it can grow in intensity, takedeeper root in our will, more strongly determine its inclination to turn to God and to flee sin by more generous acts. As a matter of fact, charity does not grow by addition, like a heap of wheat.(8) This addition would multiply charity without making it more intense. The increase would be in the order of quantity rather than of qualiity, which is quite a different thing.(9) In reality, charity increases in us in so far as it becomes stronger, takes deeper root in our will, or, speaking without a metaphor, in so far as it inheres more strongly in our will and determines it more profoundly toward supernatural good by withdrawing it from evil. As in the scholar learning be comes more profound, more penetrating, more certain, without always reaching out to new conclusions, so charity grows in us by making us love God more perfectly and more purely for Himself, and our neighbor for God. If people had a better understanding of this doctrine, as St. Thomas expounds it, they would see more clearly the necessity of the passive purifications of the spirit, which St. John of the Cross speaks of. The purpose of these purifications is to free the highest virtues of all alloy, and to bring into powerful relief their formal objects: divine truth and divine goodness. Charity increases, therefore, like a quality, like heat, by becoming more intense, and that in several ways: by merit, prayer, and the sacraments.
A meritorious act is one which proceeds from charity, or from an inspired virtue vivified by charity, and which gives a right to a supernatural reward: first of all, to an increase of grace and of charity itself.
Meritorious acts do not themselves directly produce the increase of charity; for charity is not an acquired virtue produced and augmented by the repetition of acts, but it is an infused virtue. It was given to us by baptism, and as God alone can produce it in us, since it is a participation in His intimate life, He alone also can increase it. The growth of charity and the infused virtues, which are united to it, is like a continuous production. Thus St. Paul says: "I have planted (by preaching and baptism), Apollo watered, but God gave the increase. Therefore, neither he that planteth is anything, nor he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase (is all). . . . For we are God's coadjutors: you are God's husbandry; you are God's building." (10) "He. . . will . . . increase the growth of the fruits of your justice." (11)
Although our acts of charity cannot produce the increase of this virtue, they concur in it in two ways: morally, by meriting it; and physically, by preparing us to receive it. Merit is a right to a recompense; it does not produce this reward, it obtains it. By his supernatural good works the just man merits the increase of charity,(12) as the Council of Trent defined.(13) While awaiting the reward of heaven, the Lord gives a just man even here on earth the recompense of growing in divine love, that is, of having a stronger and purer love. Quietism, which showed a want of esteem for the divine reward under the pretext of absolute disinterestedness, forgot that the more disinterested the soul is, the more it desires this recompense: that is, more purely and more strongly to love its God. This love is accompanied by an increase of hope, of the other infused virtues, and of the gifts of the Holy Ghost.
The acts of charity and of the virtues inspired by it do not merit, from the moral point of view, solely the increase of charity, but they dispose the soul physically to receive it, in the sense that, as it were, they open our faculties that they may receive more. They deepen them, so to speak, that the divine life may better penetrate them and elevate them while purifying them.(14)
This is true especially of intense or very fervent acts of charity. A very generous act of love of God sometimes decides a whole life and merits a great increase of charity by disposing us to receive it immediately. It is as if a person were raised to a higher level, and in this ascent he has a new view of the things of God and a new pulse. He who had two talents thus immediately obtains one or two more, perhaps an even greater number, and, as St. Thomas says, the Holy Ghost is then sent anew to us, for He becomes present in us in a new, more intimate, and more radiating manner.(15)
This, however, brings up a difficult problem that has often been discussed by theologians and that is of great practical importance. Since it is clear that an intense or fervent act of charity disposes us to receive immediately an increase of this infused virtue and of all the others connected with it, it is not at all certain that a weak act of charity, an act lacking intensity and generosity (remissus), immediately obtains an increase of the life of grace. Does he who has five talents and acts weakly as if he had only two, obtain at once by this feeble and imperfect meritorious act an increase of charity? Several modern theologians, who follow Suarez, think so.(16) Such is not the thought of St. Thomas and of the early theologians in general. The holy doctor says: "Every (even imperfect) act of charity merits an increase of charity; however, this increase does not always come at once, but only when we strive generously for it." (17) The reason is that the increase of sanctifying grace and of charity is conferred by God only according to the disposition of the subject who is to receive it, just as, at the moment of conversion or justification, sanctifying grace is given in a more or less elevated degree according to the fervor of the contrition of him who is converted. (18) Evidently he who has five talents and acts as if he had only two, does not, in fact, as yet dispose himself to receive a sixth, for the act, although good, is notably inferior to the degree of virtue from which it proceeds. In this is a quite manifest analogy between supernatural acts and natural acts: a very intelligent man who is only slightly studious makes little progress in learning, whereas another who is less gifted but very hard working achieves good results. Likewise in the natural order, a friendship is strengthened only by more generous acts; very imperfect acts serve only to maintain it, not to make it grow. Therefore it seems we must conclude with St. Thomas that imperfect acts (remissi) of charity, although meritorious, do not at once obtain the increase of grace which they merit.(19)
This doctrine should lead us often to make generous acts of charity. We might note, in passing, that particularly on the day of the monthly retreat or the first Friday of the month, we would do well to multiply generous acts of love of God, not in a mechanical fashion, like counting them, but on every opportune occasion, in order to preserve the spirit of fervor and to avoid growing tepid. We should recall also that the Holy Ghost generally moves souls according to the degree of their infused virtues and of the seven gifts, or of their habitual docility. It would be incomprehensible that He would without reason move the soul to imperfect acts, for in that case the soul would have received in vain a high degree of infused virtue and of the gifts. Therefore, if the just man does not place an obstacle to the divine action, he will normally receive increasingly elevated graces of light and love that he may generously ascend toward God.
As good theologians teach,(20) God is more glorified by a single act of charity of ten talents than by ten acts of charity of one talent each. Likewise a single very perfect just soul pleases God more than many others who remain in mediocrity or tepidity. Quality is superior to quantity. This is why the plenitude of grace in Mary surpassed from the first day of her existence that of all the saints, as a single diamond is worth more than a quantity of other precious stones.
Charity, therefore, ought by our merits to grow until death. With this infused virtue, our aptitude to receive a new increase grows,(21) our spiritual heart dilates more and more, and our divine capacity is enlarged according to the words of the psalm: "I have run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou didst enlarge my heart." (22) St. Paul also says: "Our heart is enlarged. . . . Be you also enlarged." (23)
We too often forget that we are en route to eternity, and we try to settle down in the present life as if it were going to last forever. We resemble those travelers who install themselves in one of the great international trains where people sleep and eat as if they were in a hotel. They sometimes forget that they are on a journey. Then they look out of the window, see the vanishing countryside, notice that the train stops and that some people are getting off, and say to themselves that they also will soon reach their destination. The present life is like one of these great trains where people forget that they are on a journey. Then some persons alight from the train, that is to say, they die, and we are reminded that we must alight also. But, although we see many persons die, we do not succeed in realizing that some day our turn will come. Let us live, on the contrary, with our eyes fixed on the end of the journey; then we shall not lose the time that is given us, and it will become more and more filled with merits for eternity.
The growth of charity, of the infused virtues, and of the gifts which accompany it, is obtained not only by merit, but by prayer. We ask daily, in fact, to grow in the love of God when we say: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come (more and more in us), Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (may we observe Thy precepts more perfectly)." The Council of Trent (24) reminds us that this growth of the virtues is asked by the Church when it prays thus: "Increase, O Lord, our faith, hope, and charity" (Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost).
We should recall here the difference between the prayer of petition and merit. The sinner who has lost sanctifying grace cannot merit in this state, for sanctifying grace is the radical principle of all supernatural merit. Yet, by an actual transitory grace, the sinner can pray; he can ask for the grace of conversion; and, if he asks for it with humility, confidence, and perseverance, he will obtain it. Whereas merit, which is a right to a reward, is related to divine justice, prayer is addressed to the mercy of God, which often restores fallen souls and hears their prayers without any merit on their part.(25) From the depths of the abyss into which it has fallen and where it can no longer merit, the most wretched soul may utter that cry to the divine mercy, which is prayer. The abyss of wretchedness calls to that of mercy, abyssus abyssum invocat, and if the sinner puts his whole heart into this appeal, he will be heard. His soul will be lifted up, and God will be glorified, as was the case with Magdalen. The impetrating power of prayer does not presuppose the state of grace, whereas merit does.
After conversion or justification, we can obtain the increase of the life of grace both by merit and by prayer. When prayer is humble, trusting, and persevering, it obtains for us a more lively faith, a firmer hope, a more ardent charity, all of which we ask for in the first three petitions of the Our Father.(26) The mental prayer of a just man, who delights in meditating slowly on the Our Father, in nourishing his soul profoundly with each of its petitions, in remaining at times for half an hour in the loving contemplation of one of them, is at once meritorious and impetrating.(27) It gives a right to an increase of charity, from which it proceeds, and by the impetrating power of prayer it often obtains more than it merits. Besides, when mental prayer is truly fervent, it obtains this increase immediately. Thereby we see how fruitful mental prayer can be; how it draws God strongly toward us that He may give Himself intimately to us and that we may give ourselves to Him. We should often recite the beautiful prayer of Blessed Nicholas of Flue: "Lord Jesus, take me from myself, and give me to Thyself." In it is a fervent meritorious act which immediately obtains the increase of charity that it merits, and a supplication which obtains even more than it merits. Then one's heart dilates more and more in order to receive divine grace more abundantly; the soul empties itself of every creature and becomes more eager for God, in whom it finds in an eminent degree all that is worthy of being loved. It would be impossible to live too deeply by these things in recollection; sometimes it is given to a soul to live profoundly by them in the absolute silence of the night when everything is quiet and the soul is completely alone with its God, with its Savior, Jesus Christ. It then experiences His immense goodness and, by its mental prayer, which is at once meritorious and supplicating, it offers itself entirely to Him and receives Him in a prolonged spiritual communion that has a savor of eternal life. This is eternal life begun, as St. Thomas says.(28) Often, therefore, the impetrating force of prayer is united to merit in order to obtain an increase of charity, a purer and stronger love of God.
Moreover, the just man may by prayer obtain certain graces which he could not merit, in particular the gift of final perseverance. This gift cannot be merited, for it is nothing other than the continuation until death of the state of grace, which is the principle of merit. Obviously it would be impossible to merit the very principle of merit.(29) However, final perseverance or the grace of a happy death can be obtained by humble, trusting, daily prayer. For this reason the Church invites us to say daily with fervor in the second part of the Hail Mary: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen." Here prayer goes farther than merit, addressing itself, not to divine justice but to infinite mercy.
We can also ask God for the grace to know Him in an ever more living and intimate manner, by that knowledge which is called infused contemplation, and which results in a closer and more fruitful union with God. In this sense the Book of Wisdom (7: 7-9) says: "I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me: and I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her. Neither did I compare unto her any precious stone: for all gold in comparison of her, is as a little sand, and silver in respect to her shall be counted as clay." We find also in Ps. 54: 23: "Cast thy care upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall not suffer the just to labor forever." Not only will He come and sustain us, but He will come and nourish us with Himself and daily give Himself more profoundly to us. And again in Ps. 26:4 we read: "One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life," that I may daily see a little more clearly that He is infinitely good to those who seek Him and to those who find Him.
By addressing infinite mercy, prayer manifestly exceeds merit. The sinner who is still incapable of meriting, may by prayer obtain the grace of conversion. By prayer, the just man often obtains graces which could not be merited, such as final perseverance and the efficacious graces which lead to it.
Lastly, we must recall here that charity and the other infused virtues, as well as the seven gifts, grow in us through the sacraments. The just man grows thus in the love of God through absolution and especially by Communion. The merit and prayer of the just soul obtain the gifts of God ex opere operantis, by reason of the faith, piety, and charity of him who merits, but the sacraments produce grace ex opere operato in those who do not place an obstacle to it; in other words, by themselves they produce grace from the fact that they were instituted by God to apply the merits of the Savior to us. They produce grace independently of the prayers and the merits, either of the minister who confers them or of those who receive them. This explains why a bad priest, and even an unbeliever, may validly administer baptism, provided he has the intention of doing what the Church does in conferring it.
But, although the sacraments of themselves produce grace in those who do not place an obstacle to it, they produce it more or less abundantly according to the fervor of him who receives it. The Council of Trent (30) says that each one receives justice "according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to everyone as He wills and according to each one's disposition." In the natural order, as St. Thomas observes, although an open fire of itself gives heat, a person benefits more from its influence in proportion as he draws closer to it. Likewise, in the supernatural order a person benefits so much the more from the sacraments as he approaches them with a more lively faith and a greater fervor of will. From this point of view, St. Thomas and many of the early theologians hold that, according as the sinner receives absolution with greater or less repentance, he recovers or does not recover the degree of grace which he had lost. "Now the intensity of the penitent movement," says St. Thomas, "may be proportionate sometimes to a greater grace than that from which man fell by sinning, sometimes to an equal grace, sometimes to a lesser. Wherefore the penitent sometimes arises to greater grace than that which he had before, sometimes to an equal, sometimes to a lesser grace." (31) It may be that a Christian who had five talents and who loses them by mortal sin has afterward a contrition equal to only two talents; he then recovers grace in a degree notably inferior to that which he had previously. On the contrary, he may by reason of profound repentance recover grace in a more elevated degree, as was doubtless the case with St. Peter when he wept bitterly immediately after denying Christ.(32) This teaching is of great importance in the spiritual life for those who fall in the middle of their ascent; they can rise immediately and fervently and continue their ascent from where they left off. But it is also possible that they may rise only tardily and listlessly; they then remain midway instead of continuing the ascent.
It follows also from these principles that one fervent Communion is worth more than many tepid Communions taken together. The more a person approaches with lively faith, firm hope; ardent love, and fervor of will, our Lord present in the Eucharist, radiant source of graces, the more he benefits from our Lord's influence by graces of light, love, and strength. The Communion of St. Francis, St. Dominic, or St. Catherine of Siena was on certain days extremely fervent and proportionately fruitful; their dilated souls approached our Savior to receive abundantly and even superabundantly from Him that they might later in their apostolate give Him to other souls.
It may happen, on the contrary, that the fruit of Communion is least when a soul approaches the holy table with dispositions sufficient only not to hinder the effect of the sacrament. This should make us reflec seriously, if we show no true spiritual advancement after years of frequent or daily Communion.(33) Possibly by reason of a growing attachment to a certain venial sin, the effect of our daily Communion may be ever weaker, as the movement of a stone thrown vertically into the air is uniformly retarded until the stone falls down. God grant that this may never be our condition!
On the contrary, we should have sufficient generosity to permit the
realization in us of that superior law which is verified in the lives
of the saints. In other words, because each of our Communions ought
not only to preserve but to increase charity in us, each Communion
should be substantially more fervent and more fruitful than, the
preceding one; for each one, by increasing the love of God in us,
ought to dispose us to receive our Lord on the following day with not
only an equal but a superior fervor of will. Often, however,
negligence and tepidity hinder the application of this law, of which
that of the progressive attraction of bodies is only a symbol. Bodies
are attracted to each other in increased ratio as they draw near to
each other. Souls ought to make proportionately more rapid progress
toward God as they draw near to Him and are more drawn by Him. Thus we
see the meaning of our Savior's words: "If any man thirst, let him
come to Me and drink. . . . Out of his belly shall flow rivers of
living water," (34) the streams of living water which flow into the
infinite ocean that is God, known and loved as He knows and loves
Himself, for all eternity.
|1. See IIa IIae, q.24, a.4-10
2. Ibid., a.4.
3. John 7:37 f.
4. See St. Thomas, In Ep. ad Hebr., 10:25. See also St. Thomas, I, De coelo, chap. 8, lect. 17: "Terra (vel corpus grave) velocius movetur quanta magis descendit." Cf. Ia IIae, q.35, a.6: "Every natural movement is more intense in the end, when a thing approaches the term that is suitable to its nature, than a the beginning, . . . as though nature were more eager in tending to what is suitable to it than in shunning what is unsuitable." This growing rapidity of the natural movement of bodies has been measured by modern physics and is explained in the law of acceleration of falling bodies, a particular case of the universal gravitation of bodies, symbol of what the gravitation of souls toward God should be. We studied this analogy at considerable length ill L' amour de Dieu et la croix de Jesus (I, 150-62).
5. John 12:32.
8. See IIa IIae, q.24, a.5.
9. If, in fact, the second degree of charity were thus added to the first, it would be its equal or superior. If it were equal, charity would only be multiplied like the grains of wheat in a pile; it would not be rendered more intense. If, on the contrary, the second degree of charity were superior to the first, the latter would become useless.
10. See I Cor. 3:6-9.
11. See II Cor. 9: 10.
12. Summa, Ia IIae, q.114, a.8.
13. Sess. VI, can. :24, 32.
14. See IIa IIae, q.24, a.7, corp. and ad :2um.
15. See Ia, q.43, a.6 ad 2um.
16. Suarez, De gratia, VIII, chap. 1.
17 See IIa IIae, q.14, a.6 ad 1um; Ia IIae, q. 114, a.8 ad 3um.
18. See Ia IIae, q. 112, a.2; IIa IIae, q.24, a.3.
19. When do they obtain this increase of grace? It is very difficult to answer this question on which Thomists themselves are divided.
Some Thomists, Banez, Contenson, and others, thought that imperfect meritorious acts obtain the increase of charity as soon as the just man makes a fervent act which disposes to this increase; but they add that this increase, which corresponds to this last disposition, would be as great if the imperfect meritorious acts had not preceded the fervent act. Other Thomists (John of St. Thomas, the Carmelites of Salamanca, Gonet, Billuart, and others) quite commonly answer this opinion by stating that then the imperfect meritorious acts already accomplished would be defrauded of the increase which they merited. Therefore the merit of these acts would no longer be true, condign merit in justice. By these imperfect good acts, the just soul would not grow in charity, an idea contrary to the declaration of the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, chap. 10), that a just man by his good works grows in grace and charity. If anyone who has ten talents acts for many years as if he had only eight, and when dying makes an act of charity employing his ten talents, he ought to have, it seems, a greater essential reward (praemium essentiale) than he who when dying makes an identical act after having spent his whole life in mortal sin. Imperfect good acts seem, therefore, truly to merit a special increase of grace distinct from that due to the fervent act which follows them. But when does the just man receive this special increase of charity that is due to his imperfect meritorious acts (which are very frequent in our lives)? We can hardly admit that it may be here below when one performs a more fervent act, for then the increase received seems to correspond only to the disposition realized by this last act (d. Salmanticenses, De caritate, disp. V, dub. 3, § 2).
Cajetan is sometimes credited with this opinion, that the increase due to weak acts of charity may be granted at the moment of a fervent Communion, for grace is granted then according to the dispositions of the subject, dispositions in which the merits of remissi acts enter. This opinion may be held.
Good Thomists, like John of St. Thomas, the Carmelites of Salamanca, Gonet, and Billuart, hold that if the just man goes to purgatory, he receives there this increase of grace when he makes intense acts of charity, which are no longer meritorious, since the hour of meriting is passed, but which prepare the soul to receive the increase already merited and not yet obtained for lack of sufficient dispositions. This opinion is seriously probable.
According to these same theologians, if the just man in question does not have to go to purgatory, the increase of charity due to his imperfect meritorious acts is granted to him at the instant of his entrance into glory, for in that instant the separated soul, which can no longer merit, makes as intense an act of love of God as possible. This act corresponds to all the merits of his past life. This opinion conforms to the general principle that the ultimate disposition to a form or perfection is realized at the same indivisible instant as this very perfection itself, as happens in the justification of an adult.
The theology of these very elevated and mysterious matters can
scarcely go beyond these solutions, which are seriously probable.
21. See IIa lIae, q.24, a.7: "Whenever charity increases, there is a corresponding increased ability to receive a further increase."
Ibid., ad 2um: "The capacity of the rational creature is increased by charIty, because the heart is enlarged thereby, according to II Cor. 6: 11: 'Our heart is enlarged'; so that it still remains capable of receiving a further increase."
22. Ps. 118:32.
23. See II Cor. 6: 11, 13.
25. Cf. IIa IIae, q.83, a. 16, c. and ad 2.um.
26. Ibid., a.2, 9, 15.
27. Ibid., a.16.
28. Ibid., q.24, a.3 ad 2um; Ia IIae, q.69, a.2; De veritate, q.14, a.2.
29 See Ia IIae, q. 1 14, a.9
30. Sess. VI, chap. 7.
31. See IIIa, q.89, a. 2.
32. The merits deprived of life by mortal sin thus revive according to the measure of the penitent's fervor. They revive truly with their right to a special essential reward. For example, if a Christian, who has served the Lord generously for seventy years, should sin mortally and then before death be converted with a contrition equal to five talents, he will have in heaven a higher degree of glory than one who had lived badly all his life and who before death also had a contrition equal to five talents. The long merits of the first man's life revive, and, as they are chiefly a right to eternal life, to essential beatitude, this right revives with them. We see also in this case the intervention of infinite mercy. Cf. Billuart, Cursus theol. de poenitentia, dis. 3, chap. 5, "De reviviscentia meritorum per poenitentiam."
33. True, we must take into account the fact that the soul which advances knows its own wretchedness so much the more as it more clearly sees the grandeur of God.
34. John 7:37 f.