Thursday, June 4, 2015

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange on the Practical Consequences of Efficacious Grace

[95] St. Thomas [...] grasped the depth and the height of our Lord's words: "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and of St. Paul's words: "For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will" (Phil. 2:13). "For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?" (Cf. 1 Cor. 4:7). In the work of salvation we cannot distinguish any part that is exclusively ours; all comes from God, even our free co-operation, which efficacious grace gently and mightily stirs up in us and confirms.

This grace, which is always followed by its effect, is refused to us, as we said, only if we resist the divine, auxilium praeveniens, sufficient grace, in which the efficacious help is already offered us, as fruit is in the flower. If we destroy the flower, we shall never see the fruit, which the influence of the sun and of the nourishment of the earth would have produced. [...] [Man] is sufficiently assisted by God so that he falls only through his own fault, which thus deprives him of a new help. This is the great mystery of grace. [1]

[96] [...] All that is good in us, naturally or supernaturally, has its origin in the Author of all good. Sin alone cannot come from Him, and the Lord allows it to happen only because He is sufficiently powerful and good to draw from it a greater good, the manifestation of His mercy or justice. [...]

[This] doctrine should lead those who understand it well to profound humility, to almost continual interior prayer, to the perfection of the theological virtues and of the corresponding gifts of the Holy Ghost. [...]

This doctrine leads first of all to profound humility. According [97] to this doctrine man has as his own, as something coming exclusively from himself, only his sin, as the Council of Orange declared (Canon 22: "No one has anything of his own except his deceitfulness and his sin." Denzinger, no. 195). He never performs any natural good act without the natural aid of God, or any supernatural good act without a grace which solicits or attracts him, and also efficaciously moves him to the salutary act. As St. Paul says: "Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God" (Cf. 2 Cor. 3:5).

Even holy souls that have reached a high degree of charity are always in need of an actual grace in order to merit, to advance, to avoid sin, and to persevere in goodness (Cf. Summa Th. 1a2ae.109.2, 8-10). [...] After striving greatly, they should admit: "We are unprofitable servants" (Lk 17:10), for the Lord might have chosen others who would have served Him much better. In all truth we should say, according to the teaching of St. Thomas, that there is no sin committed by another man which I might not commit in the same circumstances by reason of the infirmity of my free will, and of my own weakness [....] And if actually I have not fallen, if I have persevered, this is doubtless because I worked and struggled, but without divine grace I should have done nothing (Cf. Del Prado, De gratia, III, 151). "Not to us, O Lord, not to us; but to Thy name give glory" (Ps 113:1); [...] "Thou hast redeemed us [98] to God, in Thy blood" (Apoc. 5:9). "If I have not perished, it is because of Thy mercy" (Lam. 3:22). "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit" (Ps. 30:6; Lk 23:46). "This," says St. Augustine, "is what must be believed and said in all piety and truth, so that our confession may be humble and suppliant, and that all may be attributed to God" (De dono perseverantiae, chap. 13). Such is true humility. "Or what has thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" (Cf. 1 Cor. 4:7).

The saints, considering their own failures, say to themselves that if such and such a criminal had received all the graces the Lord bestowed on them, he would perhaps have been less unfaithful than they. The sight of the gratuity of the divine predilections confirms them in humility. They recall our Lord's words: "You have not chosen Me: but I have chosen you."

This doctrine leads also to continual intimate prayer, to profound thanksgiving, to the prayer of contemplation.

It leads to intimate prayer; for this is a very secret grace that must be asked. We must ask not only the grace which solicits and excites the soul to good but also that grace which makes us will it, which makes us persevere, which reaches the depths of our heart and of our free will; that grace which moves us in these depths, so that we may be delivered from the concupiscence of the flesh and the eyes, and from the pride of life. God alone saves and snatches us from these enemies of our salvation. At the same time He does not wound our liberty, but establishes it by delivering us from the captivity of these things of earth.

Thus Scripture teaches us to pray: "Have pity on me, O Lord, according to Thine infinite mercy. Be propitious to a sinner. Help my unbelief. Create a clean heart in me, and [99] renew a right spirit within me. Convert me, O Lord, make me return to Thee, and I shall return (Lam. 5:21). Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Give me Thy sweet and mighty grace in order that I may truly accomplish Thy holy will. As St. Augustine says: "Lord, give what Thou dost command, and command what Thou pleasest."

Thus again the Church prays in the Missal: "Lord, direct toward Thyself our rebellious wills; grant that unbelievers, who are unwilling to believe, may have a will to believe. Apply our hearts to good works. Give us good will. Convert us and draw us strongly to Thyself. Take from us our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh, a docile and pure heart. Change our wills and incline them toward what is good."

Such is the holy confidence of the prayer of the Church because she is sure that God is not powerless to convert the most hardened sinners. What should a priest do who cannot succeed in converting a dying sinner? Persuaded that God can convert this guilty will, above all the priest will pray. If, on the contrary, he imagines that God holds this will only from without, buy circumstances, good thoughts, good inspirations, which remain external to the consent to salutary goodness, will not the priest himself delay too long in the use of superficial means? Will his prayer possess that holy boldness which we admire in the saints, and which rests on their faith in the potent efficacy of grace?

Likewise prayer should be, in a sense, continual, since our soul needs a new, actual efficacious grace for every salutary act, for each new merit. With this in mind, we clearly see the profound meaning of our Lord's words: "We ought always to pray, and not to faith" (Lk 18:1). This truth is fully realized only in the mystical life, in which prayer truly becomes, as the fathers say, "the breath of the soul," which hardly ceases any [100] more than than that of the body. The soul constantly desires grace, which is like a vivifying breath renewing it and making it produce constantly new acts of love of God.

Such ought to be the prayer of petition. And we ought also to thank God for all our good actions, since without Him we could have done nothing. This is what makes St. Paul say: "Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all" (Cf. 1 Thess. 5:17–18). "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father" (Eph. 5:19–20).

This doctrine of the intrinsic efficacy of grace leads also directly to the prayer of contemplation, which considers chiefly the profound action of God in us to mortify and to vivify, and which is expressed by the fiat of perfect abandonment. In contemplation we see realized in the intimate depths of souls the words of Scripture: "Thou are great, O Lord, forever.... For Thou scourgest, and Thou savest: Thou leadest down to hell, and bringest up again" (Tob. 13:2). "Thy word, O Lord, which healeth all things" (Wis. 16:12). To utter a perfect fiat to this intense and hidden work of grace in us, even when it crucifies and seems to destroy all, is the most secret but also the most fruitful co-operation in God's greatest work. It is the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane and that of the blessed Virgin at the foot of the cross.

Lastly, this doctrine reminds us that even for prayer efficacious grace is necessary. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because He asketh for the saints [101] according to God" (Rom. 8:26–27). This mystery is verified especially in the mystical union, often obscure and painful, in which the soul learns by experience what great need we have of grace in order to pray, as also to do good. But, says St. John of the Cross (The Dark Night, Bk. II, chap. 20), souls that have reached a certain degree of union "obtain from God all that they feel inspired to ask of Him, according to the words of David, 'Delight in the Lord, and He will give thee the request of thy heart'" (Ps. 36:4). Moreover, every humble, confident, persevering prayer by which we ask what is necessary or useful for our salvation is infallibly efficacious, because our Lord uttered such a promise and because God Himself caused this petition to well up in our hearts. Resolved from all eternity to grant us His benefactions, He leads us to ask them of Him.

This doctrine of the powerful efficacy of grace leads finally to great heights in the practice of the theological virtues. This it does because it is intimately bound up with the sublime mystery of predestination, the grandeur of which it fully preserves. St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, tells us: "And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to His purpose, are called to be saints. For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son; that He might be the first-born amongst many brethren. And whom He predestinated, them He also called. And whom He called, them He also justified. And whom He justified, them He also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who is against us?" (Rom. 8:28–31). St. Paul teaches the same doctrine in the Epistle to the Ephesians. [2]

[102] St. Augustine [3] and St. Thomas [4] have explained these words of St. Paul without lessening their real meaning. Bossuet, their disciple, sums them up with his usual mastery by saying: "I do not deny the goodness of God toward all men, or the means which in His general providence He offers them for their eternal salvation. The Lord does not will that any should perish, but that all should return to penance (cf. II Pet. 3:9). But however great His designs may be on everyone, He fixes a certain particular gaze of preference on a number that is known to Him. All those on whom He gazes in this way, weep for their sins and are converted in their time. That is why Peter burst into tears when our Lord looked at him benignly. Peter's repentance was the result of the prayer which Christ had offered for the stability of his faith; for it was necessary, first of all, to rekindle his faith, and then to strengthen it that it might endure to the end. The same is true of all those whom His Father has given Him in a special manner. Of these He said: 'All that the Father giveth to Me shall come to Me.... Now this is the will of the Father who sent me: that of all that He hath given Me, I should lose nothing; but should raise it up again in the last day' (John 6:37, 39).

"And why does He make us penetrate these sublime truths? Is it to trouble us, to alarm us, to cast us into despair, [103] to disturb us and make us question whether or not we are of the elect? Far be it from us to indulge in such thoughts, which would make us penetrate the secret counsels of God, explore, so to speak, even into His bosom, and sound the profound abyss of His eternal decrees. The design of our Savior is that, contemplating this secret gaze which He fixes on those whom He knows and whom His Father has given Him by a certain choice, and recognizing that He can lead them to their eternal salvation by means which do not fail, we should thus learn first of all to ask for these means, to unite ourselves to His prayer, to say with Him: 'Deliver us from evil' (Matt. 6:13); for, in the words of the Church: 'Do not permit us to be separated from Thee. If our will seeks to escape, do not permit it to do so; keep it in Thy hands, change it, and bring it back to Thee'" (Bossuet, Méditations sur l'Évangile, part, II, 72nd day).

This prayer assumes its full value in the plenitude of the life of faith, which is the mystical life; faith, as practical as sublime, in the wisdom of God, in the holiness of His good pleasure, in His omnipotence, in His sovereign dominion, in the infinite value of the merits of Jesus Christ, and in the infallible efficacy of His prayer.

Faith in the wisdom of God: "O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways! ... Or who hath first given to Him, and recompense shall be made Him? For of Him, and by Him, and in Him, are all things: to Him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:33–36).

Faith in the holiness of the divine good pleasure. "I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight" (Matt. 11:25–26). Jesus spoke in the same manner [104] to the Pharisees: "Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to Me, except the Father, who hath sent Me, draw him; and I will raise him up in the last day" (John 6:43–44).

Faith in the divine omnipotence. God can convert the most hardened sinners. "The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: withersoever He will He shall turn it" (Prov. 21:1). "For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will" (Phil. 2:13). "My sheep hear My voice; and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them life everlasting; and they shall not perish forever, and no man shall pluck them out of My hand. That which My Father hath given Me, is greater than all; and no one can snatch them out of the hand of My Father. I and the Father are one" (John 10:27–30).

Faith in the sovereign dominion of the Creator. "Behold as clay is in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hands, O house of Israel" (Jer. 18:6). "Or hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured 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?" (Rom. 9:21–23).

Faith in the infinite value of the merits and of the prayer of Jesus. "The Father loveth the Son: and He hath given all things into His hands" (John 3:35). "Amen, amen I say unto you: He that believeth in Me, hath everlasting life" (John 6:47). "I have manifested Thy name to the men whom Thou hast given Me out of the world. Thine they were, and to Me Thou gavest them; [105] and they have kept Thy word.... I pray for them.... Holy Father, keep them in Thy name whom Thou hast given Me; that they may be one, as We also are.... While I was with them, I kept them in Thy name. Those whom Thou gavest Me have I kept; and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, and the Scripture may be fulfilled.... I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from evil.... And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in Me.... Father, I will that where I am, they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me; that they may see My glory which Thou hast given Me, because Thou hast loved Me before the creation of the world" (John 17:6, 9, 11, 12, 15, 20, 24).

This act of serene and invincible faith in the infinite merits of Christ ravishes the heart of God, who at times allows everything to seem outwardly lost, that He may give His children the opportunity to prove their faith in Him by such an act.

This doctrine of grace leads us also to an entirely supernatural hope composed of confidence in the divine mercy and abandonment to it. The formal motive of hope is, in fact, the infinitely helpful divine mercy (Deus auxilians). That this virtue of hope may be divine and theological, we must hope in God and not in the power of our free will. "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool; but he that walketh wisely, he shall be saved" (Prov. 28:26). Considering our weakness, we must "with fear and trembling work out our salvation" (Phil. 2:12), and "he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall" (see I Cor. 10:12). But, considering God's infinitely helpful goodness, we must say to Him: "In Thee, O my God, I put my trust; let me not be ashamed" (Ps. 24:2). "Into Thy hands I commend my [106] spirit" (Ps. 30:6). "O taste, and see that the Lord is sweet; blessed is the man that hopeth in Him" (Ps. 33:9). "Preserve me, O Lord, for I have put my trust in Thee" (Ps. 15:1). "In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded" (Ps. 30:2). "Behold, God is my savior, I will deal confidently, and will not fear: because the Lord is my strength, and my praise, and He is become my salvation" (Is. 12:2). "I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13).

Such is the abandonment which Christ wishes us to learn. It has no quietism in it, as Bossuet so well explains. He says: "We must abandon ourselves to the divine goodness. This does not mean that we need not act and work, or that, in opposition to God's command, we may yield to unconcern or to rash thoughts. Rather, while acting to the best of our ability, we must above all abandon ourselves to God alone for time and for eternity....

"A proud man fears that his salvation will be uncertain unless he keeps it in his own hand, but he is deceived. Can I rely on myself? I feel that my will escapes me at every moment. If Thou, O Lord, didst wish to make me the sole master of my fate, I should decline a power so dangerous to my weakness. Let no one tell me that this doctrine of grace and preference leads good souls to despair. How mad for me to think I can be reassured by being hurled back on myself and delivered up to my inconstancy! To this, O my God, I do not consent. I find assurance only in abandoning myself to Thee. And in this abandonment I find even greater trust, for those to whom Thou dost give this confidence in entire abandonment, receive in this gentle impulse the best mark we can have on earth of Thy goodness. Increase this desire in me; and by this means [107] put into my heart the blessed hope of being at last among the chosen number.... Heal me and I shall be healed; convert me and I shall be converted" (Bossuet, Médit. sur l'Évangile, Pt. III, 72nd day).

In the painful, passive purifications of the spirit, souls are often tempted against hope and are troubled about the mystery of predestination. In this temptation all created helps fail them, and they must hope heroically against all hope for this single, pure reason, namely, that God is infinitely helpful and does not abandon the just unless they desert Him, that He does not let them be tempted beyond their strength aided by grace, that He sustains them by His all-powerful goodness, as He said to St. Paul: "My grace is sufficient for the; for power is made perfect in infirmity." "Gladly, therefore," says the great Apostle, "will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am week, then am I powerful" (See. 2 Cor. 12:9, 10).

We ought in great difficulties to think of this formal motive of hope: God our helper; for He comes efficaciously to our assistance by the grace that urges us to the practice of goodness, and in a gentle and powerful way causes it to be accomplished (cf. Catechism of the Council of Trent, chap. 45, "On temptation"). "But the salvation of the just is from the Lord, and He is their protector in the time of trouble. And the Lord will help them and deliver them: and He will rescue them from the wicked, and save them, because they have hoped in Him" (Ps. 36:39f).

Lastly, this doctrine of the efficacy of grace confirms our charity toward God and souls. This charity is a friendship based on God's communication to us of the divine life through grace. Therefore the more intimate and efficacious the grace which is given us, the more we should love God and correspond [108] to His love. "Not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us" (See 1 John 4:10). The Master Himself said to His Apostles: "You have not chosen Me: but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit: and your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in My name He may give it you" (John 15:16). And in the exercise of the apostolate, because he believed in the potent efficacy of grace, St. Paul wrote: "Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulations? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword? ... But in all these things we overcome, because of Him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present ... nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:35, 37–39). [...]

No power is gentler than the infallibly efficacious grace of God. It diffuses itself gently in the soul which begins to will; the more the soul wills and the greater its thirst for God, the more it will be enriched. When God becomes more exacting and wishes pure crystal where there has been only sin, then He will give His grace in abundance that the soul may correspond [109] to His demands: "I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). The purified soul ends by praising the power of God: "The right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength. I shall not die, but live: and shall declare the works of the Lord" (Ps. 117:17). [...]

St. Bernard says: "Grace is necessary to salvation, free will is equally so; but grace in order to give salvation, free will in order to receive it.... Therefore we should not attribute part of the good work to grace, and part to free will. It is performed in its entirety by the common and inseparable action of both; entirely by grace, entirely by free will, but springing completely from the first in the second" (De gratia et libero arbitrio, chaps. 1 and 14.).

St. Bonaventure is of the same opinion: "Devout souls do not seek to attribute to themselves in the work of salvation some part that does not come from God. They recognize that all issues from divine grace" (See II Sent., dist. 26, q. 2).

Tauler speaks of the efficacy of grace as St. Thomas does.

In The Imitation of Christ we read: "Never esteem thyself to be anything because of thy good works.... Of thyself thou always tendest to nothing: speedily art thou cast down, speedily overcome, speedily disordered, speedily undone. Thou hast not whereof to glory, but many things for which thou oughtest to account thyself vile; for thou art much weaker than thou art able to comprehend." "For I am nothing and I knew it not. IF I be left to myself, behold I become nothing but mere weakness; but if Thou for an instant look upon me, I am forthwith made strong, and am filled with new joy." "From Me, as from a living fountain, the small and the great, the poor and the rich, do draw the water of life; and [110] they that willingly and freely server Me, shall receive grace for grace.... Thou oughtest, therefore, to ascribe nothing to thyself, nor attribute goodness unto any man, but give all unto God, without whom man hath nothing. I have given thee all, and My will is to have all again.... This is the truth whereby vainglory is put to flight, and if heavenly grace enter in and true charity, there will be no envy or narrowness of heart, neither will self-love busy itself. For divine charity overcometh all things and enlargeth all the powers of the soul" (Bk. IV, chap. 4, no. 2; chap. 8, no. 1). [...]

[St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross say the same doctrine.] [111]

St. Francis de Sales states this doctrine in the following terms: "The chains of grace are so powerful, and yet so sweet, that though they attract our heart, they do not shackle our freedom.... Our yielding to the impulse of grace is much [112] more the effect of grace than of our will, and resistance to its inspirations is to be attributed to our will alone.... 'If thou didst know the gift of God'" (Treatise on the Love of God, Bk. II, chap. 12) [5, 6]. [...]

All the difficulties of the mystery of grace are solved practically by humility. Bossuet says: "Behold a terrible danger for human pride. Man says in his heart: I have my free will. God made me free, and I wish to make myself just.... In my free will, which I cannot harmonize with this abandonment to grace, I wish to find something to cling to. Proud foe, do you wish to reconcile these things, or rather to believe that God reconciles them? He reconciles them in the way He wishes, without releasing you from your action and without ceasing to demand that you attribute to Him all the work of your salvation, for He is the Savior, and He said: 'I am the Lord; and there is no savior besides Me' (Is. 43:11). Believe firmly that Jesus Christ is the Savior, and all difficulties will vanish" (Bossuet, Elévations sur les mystères, 18th week, 15th elevation).

[...] This great doctrine [...] [113] manifestly turns souls toward the loftiest mystical union, which is none other than the fulness of the life of faith.



1. [...] It is God who anticipates us by His grace when He justifies us, and it is we who are the first to abandon Him when we lose divine grace: "God will not desert the justified, unless He is first deserted by them" (Council of Trent, Sess. VI, chap. 2).

2. St. Paul also says in the Epistle to the Ephesians, 1:3–6, 11–12: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings, in heavenly places, in Christ: as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in His sight in charity. Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto Himself: according to the purpose of His will: unto the praise of the glory of His grace, in which He hath graced us in His beloved Son.... In whom we also are called by lot, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things according to the counsel of His will. That we may be unto the praise of His glory, we who before hoped in Christ."

3. De praedestinatione sanctorum, chaps. 3, 6–11, 14, 15, 17; De dono perseverantiae, chaps. 1, 6, 7, 12, 16–20, 23; De correptione et gratia, chaps. 9, 12, 13, 14. See also on these texts, Del Prado, De gratia et libero arbitrio, III, 555–564; II, 67–81, 259; and Bossuet, Défense de la tradition, Bk. XII, chaps. 13–20.

4. In Ep. ad Rom. 8:28; In Ep. ad Ephes., I, nos. 5; Summa Th., Ia, q. 23.

5. The author says in the same chapter: "Grace is so gracious and so graciously seizes on our hearts to draw them, that it in no way offends the liberty of our will; it touches powerfully but yet so delicately the springs of our spirit that our free will suffers no violence from it."

6. Father Grou, S.J. (MAximes spirituelles, 2d maxim) writes as do the most faithful disciples of St. Thomas: "Grace alone can free us from the slavery of sin and assure us true liberty; whence it follows that the more the will subjects itself to grace , the more it will do all that depends on it to become absolutely, fully, and constnatly dependent, the more free it will be.... Thus for the will all consists in putting itself in the hands of God, in using its own activity only to become more dependent on Him.... Is not our salvation incomparably more certain in God's hands than in our own? And fundamentally what can we do to save ourselves except what God enables us to do?"


Source: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Christian Perfection and Contemplation, trans. by M. Timothea Doyle (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 2003), 95–113.

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