For those who follow our blog you might remember a post I wrote last year on grace. The question I addressed was whether God’s grace is always absolutely free. The position I took was that sanctifying grace (bestowed at baptism) is free. We must have sanctifying grace to inherit eternal life. Since the reward for sanctifying grace is Heaven, the grace must be free. There is nothing in our nature that can equal the reward, so the gift of sanctifying grace is just that. It is a freely-given grace by God. We can not earn sanctifying grace.
I took a bit of a different stance in regards to actual grace. Unfortunately, I don’t think I did the best job of explaining the stance. It must be understood that my stance is the Catholic Church’s stance. It is my desire that the Catholic stance be understood by all. One reading my previous post on grace might misunderstand the Catholic position. Thus, I feel the need to again explain, in part, the Catholic stance on actual grace. We could get into extremely great detail here, but most of my readers would not be interested in such a discussion. I will here only clarify what I poorly conveyed in my previous post on grace.
As I said, sanctifying grace is, and must be, freely-given by God. Actual grace is, to some extent, given freely by God. What I did not convey so well in my previous post on grace is that God always gives us grace before we do any good act. He gives us the grace to will to do good. In other words, grace must precede any good action. Yet, there are graces bestowed on us during the doing of a good action, and after the consummation of a good act.
Grace comes from the Latin “gratia”. This word means something like “gift”. The very nature of a gift requires that it be freely-given. So, to be a grace, we must receive it from God freely. Technically-speaking, every grace is given freely. Although we do receive graces upon consummation of a good act, God still technically bestows these graces freely. Because God is infinite and we are not, He does not technically owe us anything. We can make no demands on the Almighty God. So even actual grace is, technically, freely-given.
Yet, God promises graces in reward for certain good actions. Such works or actions are known as congruo meritum (congruent merit). We can never demand a reward from God, but He Himself has freely promised a reward for actions. So, while such graces are technically still freely bestowed on us by God, we earn the graces insofar as God has promised to bestow them in return for certain good works.
Still other actual graces are bestowed on us by God for actions which, while not possessing a promise of reward, nonetheless, still pleases God. So, He decides to give us graces for the works. Actual grace received in such a way is known as condigno meritum (condine merit). Again, these graces are still bestowed freely by God, but are earned insofar as the works done pleased God, and prompted Him to bestow the graces.
We must remember several things here about actual grace. We receive actual grace from God before any good works are done. These graces prompt us to desire good works. Now, our wills have the power to reject these graces, and not even desire to do good. We also possess the power inherently to accept the graces, and desire to do good. God does not impose His grace on us.
We then are given graces to actually perform the good works. These graces are, again, bestowed freely. We possess the inherent power to reject these graces and not perform the works, or accept the graces and perform the works.
During the performance of our good works we are freely given graces from God to continue until the completion of our good works. We may reject these graces, and cease our good works. Then, again, we may accept them, and complete our good works.
After the completion of our good works, we receive more graces. We may accept or reject them. Either way, we are free.
In conclusion, technically, all grace is free. Yet, it can not be ignored that God has very clearly attached rewards for certain actions. While we can not ever demand God give us even those rewards He has promised, we know that God always keeps His promises. We can not ignore that still other actions do merit a reward due to the fact that they please God, though no reward is promised for these actions. We may trust, however, that God will reward any good work done. Thus, only in this sense can we say that actual grace is ever earned. Technically, actual grace is a free gift. Yet, we are free to accept or reject these gifts. Accepting those graces preceding good works prompts God to give us other graces to compel us to complete the works. Our free acceptation of these graces prompts God to gives us yet more grace upon the completion of good works.
Actual grace is freely-given. Yet, it is, in a sense, earned. If you wish to dive deeper into this issue, I suggest reading “The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” by Dr. Ludwig Ott.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
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