Grace and Merit in the Creation of Man

When we look to the world around us it is hard to believe that there once was a world without sin.  In Question 95 of Thomas Aquinas’s masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, he describes the relationship between grace and merit in pre-lapsarian man.  Was man initially created in a state of grace, and if so how does that relate to merit?  In answering this question Aquinas first looks to sacred scripture.  He quotes a section of Ecclesiastes 7:30 which states, “God made man right” (Douay-Rheims).

Aquinas concludes that man was created in a state of grace.  The reason of man was subject to God and the lower powers of man to reason, and the body to soul (ST1, Q95, A1).  After the fall the lower parts, of man that were once captive to reason, were not longer captive to reason.  If this were the case, then Adam and Eve would not have been ashamed when they noticed they were naked.  Their reason was subject to God and the loss of grace “dissolved the obedience of the flesh to the soul” (ST1, Q95, A1).

So, if in a pre-lapsarian state was created in a state of grace, then how does merit relate to grace?  Regarding merit Aquinas writes, “the degree of merit is measured by the degree of the action itself” (ST1, Q95, A4).  When one thinks of merit one thinks of a reward.  Man was made in a state of innocence and God said that man was good (GN 1:31).  For a period, man lived in a state of innocence.  During this period of innocence, the work of man is more meritorious than when man is in a sinful state (ST1, Q95, A4).  This brings us to the two kinds of merit:  absolute and proportional.  When in a state of innocence man, the absolute work done would made greater virtue in man because of the work.  In proportion a greater need for merit exists after sin, and this can only be done through grace.  Pre-lapsarian man, though created in grace, still used grace in an absolute manner to do meritorious works.

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981.  Accessed July 17, 2018.

Grace, Free Will, and the Beatific Vision

Grace is a free gift that is given by God.  What does one do with the grace received?  When a gift is given to someone it requires upkeep or it will deteriorate and decay.  In the gift of grace, we must cooperate through our own free will, or we can destroy this divine gift (Journet 2.1).  Grace cleanses us from original sin, we cooperate with this grace through free will, and as a result we get oriented toward our divine destiny in the beatific vision (Hardon).  The three work together in such a way that their relationship is integral to each other.

The Catholic tradition is not a type of semi-pelagian motif, but views grace as of first importance.  One cannot earn their way into Heaven because without grace there is no salvation (Hardon).  One cannot get to Heaven, no matter how many good works, without grace.  If one is estranged from God, then grace is needed to be disposed to justification (Hardon).  Once received there is the possibly, through free will, to reject this grace.

St. Augustine observed this struggle with free will and grace quite brilliantly.  Regarding this Dr. Ireland writes, “When he places side by side the consequences of his sin and the effects of God’s grace in his life, he detects two wills in conflict with each other:  the corrupt will turn away from God, the pristine will turn toward God” (Ireland 24).  In one scenario the grace of God is rejected, and we go our own way.  In another we embrace this gift, it is free, but some action was taken on our part (i.e. accepting).  Charles Journet uses an analogy of two men stuck in a well.  God reaches out his hand to save and one takes his hand while the other does not (Journet 2.3).  In this scenario each used their free will to accept the gift or deny it.  By accepting the gift of grace through free will daily we reach a higher stage in sanctifying grace.  God calls us to be like him and we must be willing to take that extra step, take his hand, and be obedient to his call.  Through his mercy we can accept this grace and embrace the beatific vision.

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Works Cited

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Ireland, Patricia.  Guardian of a Pure Heart: St. Augustine on the Path to Heaven.  Staten Island:  St. Pauls/Alba House, 2009.

Journet, Charles.  The Meaning of Grace.   Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 1997.

What is Pelagianism?

Many Protestant Christians say that the Catholic church teaches Pelagianism, or at the very least semi-Pelagianism.  This line of reasoning shows a fundamental misunderstanding of not only what the church teaches, but what Pelagianism is.  Pelagianism is a heresy that was condemned by the church and is superfluous for beatitude.

What is Pelagianism?  It is a system that relies on the sufficiency of man’s will (Hardon).  Pelagianism was started by a Bishop named Julian who had been a friend of St. Augustine.  It would later become more popular by a British theologian by the name of Pelagius.  At the heart of the movement were two issues:  the denial “for the need of divine grace and the doctrine of the generative transmission of original sin” (Ireland 38).

As noted above, Pelagianism teaches that original sin does not exist and that Adam left us a bad example.  Since his sin was merely a bad example, our nature is not corrupted, and we acquire the penalty of sin by our misdeeds.  This has huge ramifications when it comes to the concept of grace.  At its root it teaches the unrealistic thought that we can get to heaven by what we do, without the help of God.  Regarding this John Hardon writes, “We can always will and do good, even when de facto we will and do otherwise, depending entirely on our own moral strength” (Hardon).

Since we can do it on our own it lends to the ineffectiveness of sacraments, particularly that of baptism.  In this system baptism becomes a public declaration of faith and an incorporation into the church.  In fact, this is eerily similar to most Protestant denominations today.  Pelagianism makes grace superfluous to beatitude because it removes the need for grace.  If one can do it himself what is the need for God to be involved.  It makes Jesus into a wise moral teacher instead of the divine Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

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Works Cited

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Ireland, Patricia.  Guardian of a Pure Heart: St. Augustine on the Path to Heaven.  Staten Island:  St. Pauls/Alba House, 2009.

Grace and Liberation

In the New Testament there are many passages that speak of grace as liberation.  Sin is a plague that has overtaken the world, and it enslaves us (Stevens 9).  We are born in original sin, and though that is washed away through the sacrament of Baptism, concupiscence remains.  Concupiscence is the tendency to still drift toward sin.  This concept of liberation is seen in Romans 5:17 where St. Paul writes, “because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (NRSV).  St. Paul states this again in Romans 7:6 where he says we are no longer slaves and held captive.

In bestowing grace, the Blessed Trinity looks to the bounty, or freedom of the one who receives (Hardon).  In the grace of God, we discover our true freedom.  When we have a new life in Christ the destructive power that evil had over us is no more (Stevens 10).  Some may call this being born again, and it is a concept that is discussed frequently throughout the New Testament.  When we have this new birth the bonds that held us captive to sin are now shattered.  Just as God gave life to Adam in the garden of Eden, we are given new life through grace (Stevens 11).  Adam sinned, and through his sin death came into the world.  Through Christ we are free from that and we can live.  Regarding this Charles Journet writes, “Since the soul of Christ is so close to the person of the Word, grace finds there its true home, and there unfolds itself in perfect freedom” (Journet 2.12).

This liberation is also much more than being free from the bonds of sin.  Liberation in the New Testament grace established a union between the Christian and Christ (Stevens 17).  This is open to all men who are seeking the light of Christ and not seeking the attachment to sin (Stevens 17).  Grace is thus liberation because it breaks the bonds of death and united us fully to the source of life.

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Works Cited

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Journet, Charles.  The Meaning of Grace.   Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 1997.

Stevens, G. The Life of Grace. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1963. 1-65. Print.

Chalcedon and the Condemnation of Nestorianism

The Council of Chalcedon took place a mere twenty years after the Council of Ephesus.  Its impact on Christology and doctrine is one that cannot be understated.  The council came about because of a new teaching on the nature of Christ by a monk by the name of Eutyches.  To summarize his view, he taught that Christ had two natures, but after they were united they were only one.  He was an opponent of Nestorius, and his way of describing the nature of Christ was damaging.  This way of putting it seems to destroy both the humanity and the divinity of Christ. Sadly, this is not far from the belief of many Christians today.

Chalcedon affirmed that the natures of Christ do not change, and in doing so they avoided Nestorianism.  However, the story of the council started before that with the afore mentioned story of the monk Eutyches.  Upon hearing of Eutyches explanation regarding the nature of Christ, Patriarch Flavian felt he had to respond to the matter.  Flavian, then patriarch of Constantinople, held a synod and condemned the teaching of Eutyches.  Flavian was upholding orthodox teaching, but issues of Christology were still being worked out in the ancient world.  Eutyches would find an ally in the bishop of Alexandria by the name of Dioscorus, who just happened to be Cyril of Alexandria’s cousin (Norris 29).  According to Richard Norris, “Dioscorus, with imperial support, presided over a council in Ephesus” (Norris 29).  This council deposed of Patriarch Flavian and restored Eutyches.

Prior to this deposition, Pope Leo had sent a letter of support to Flavian accepting the decision of the synod he held on behalf of the whole church.  Pope Leo called the council that reinstated Eutyches a “rubber synod” and invoked the authority of the Roman church (Norris 29).  Leo’s demand for a new council was answered and Bishop Dioscorus was removed from his bishopric immediately.

The council’s statement of faith was not trying to declare how the natures of Christ could be, but was declaring what over 400 years of Christian witness could not deny.  The council reiterated the two natures of Christ, which was a concern Nestorius had though he argued for it in a heretical manner.  The council also affirmed the view held by Cyril at the Council of Ephesus within the tradition established at Nicea.  The Tome of Leo was also a factor in the definition at Chalcedon.

The “definition” at Chalcedon affirms the creeds of Nicea and Constantinople when it comes to defining the redemption and the person of Christ (Norris 30).  The council also stated that the extreme forms of Christological tradition in the Antiochene and Alexandrian schools were now condemned (Norris 30).  The definition is closed with a statement that was composed based on the wishes of the emperor.  As Norris writes, “This statement, draws for its language on Cyril, Leo, and the Formula of Reunion” (Norris 30).  It emphasizes the Unity of Christ in his complete deity and complete humanity.  More importantly it says that Christ exists in two natures and not out of two natures.  It is because of this language that the definition accepts the emphasis of both Antiochene and Alexandrian schools.

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Works Cited

Norris, Richard A.  The Christological Controversy.  Fortress Press Philadephia: PA, 1980.  Print.

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