The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection
St. Alphonsus Liguori

Chapter 2: God Gives to All the Just the Grace Necessary for Observance of the Commandments and to All Sinners the Grace Necessary for Conversion, Section 1 


If then God wills all to be saved, it follows that He gives to all that grace and those aids which are necessary for the attainment of salvation, otherwise it could never be said that He has a true will to save all. "The effect of the antecedent will," says St. Thomas, "by which God wills the salvation of all men, is that order of nature the purpose of which is our salvation, and likewise those things which conduce to that end, and which are offered to all in common, whether by nature or by grace." [In 1 Sent. d. 46, q. 1, a. 1] It is certain, in contradiction to the blasphemies of Luther and Calvin, that God does not impose a law that is impossible to be observed. On the other hand, it is certain, that without the assistance of grace the observance of the law is impossible; as Innocent I declared against the Pelagians when he said, "It is certain, that as we overcome by the aid of God, so without His aid we must be overcome."  Pope Celestine declared the same thing. Therefore, if God gives to all men a possible law, it follows that He also gives to all men the grace necessary to observe it, whether immediately, or mediately, by means of prayer, as God gives Grace for Salvation.

 The Council of Trent has most clearly defined: "God does not command impossibilities; but by commanding He admonishes you both to do what you can, and to ask for that which is beyond your power, and by His help enables you to do it." [Sess. 6, Cap. 11] Otherwise, if God refused us both the proximate and remote grace to enable us to fulfill the law, either the law would have been given in vain, or sin would be necessary, and if necessary would be no longer sin, as we shall shortly prove at some length. BIG NOTE


And this is the general opinion of the Greek Fathers:

   St. Cyril of Alexandria says: "But if a man endowed as others, and equally with them, with the gifts of Divine grace, has fallen by his own free will, how shall Christ be said not to have saved even him, since he delivered the man and gave him the necessary aid to avoid sin." How, says the Saint, can that sinner, who has received the assistance of grace equally with those who remained faithful, and has of his own accord chosen to sin, how can he blame Jesus Christ, Who has, as far as He is concerned, delivered him by means of the assistance granted to him? St. John Chrysostom asks: "How is it that some are vessels of wrath, others vessels of mercy?" And he answers, "Because of each person's free will; for, since God is very good, He manifests equal kindness to all." Then, speaking of Pharaoh, whose heart is said in Scripture to have been hardened, he adds, "If Pharaoh was not saved, it must all be attributed to his will, since no less was given to him than to those who were saved." And in another place, speaking of the petition of the mother of Zebedee's sons, on the words, "It is not mine to give, etc.," [Matt. 20: 23] he observes: "By this Christ wished to show that it was not simply His to give, but that it also belonged to the combatants to take; for if it depended only on Himself, all men would be saved."

   St. Isidore of Pelusium: For God wills seriously, and in all ways, to assist those who are wallowing in vice, that He may deprive them of all excuse."
   St. Cyril of Jerusalem: "God has opened the gate of eternal life, so that, as far as He is concerned, all may gain it without anything to hinder them."

   But the doctrine of these Greek Fathers does not suit Jansenius, who has the temerity to say that they have spoken most imperfectly on grace: "None have spoken in grace more imperfectly than the Greeks." In matters of grace, then, are we not to follow the teaching of the Greek Fathers, who were the first masters and columns of the Church? Perhaps the doctrine of the Greeks, especially in this important matter, was different from that of the Latin Church? On the contrary, it is certain that the true doctrine of  faith came from the Greek to the Latin Church; so that, as St. Augustine wrote against Julian, who opposed to him the authority of the Greek Fathers, there can be no doubt that the faith of the Latins is the same as that of the Greeks. Whom, then, are we to follow? Shall we follow Jansenius, whose errors have already been condemned as heretical by the Church; who had the audacity to say that even the just have not the grace requisite to enable them to keep certain precepts; and that man merits and demerits, even though he acts through necessity, provided he is not forced by violence; these are all his other errors springing from his most false system of "the delectation relatively victorious".  . . .  


But since the Greek fathers do not satisfy Jansenius, let us see what the Latins say on this subject. But they in no wise differ from the Greeks.

   St. Jerome says, "Man can do no good work without God, Who, in giving free will, did not refuse His grace to aid every single work." Mark the words "did not refuse His grace for every single work."
St. Ambrose: "He would never come and knock at the door, unless He wished to enter; it is our fault that He does not always enter."
St. Leo: "Justly does He insist on the command, since He furnishes beforehand aid to keep it."
St. Hilary: "Now the grace of justification has abounded through one gift to all men."
Innocent I: "He gives to man daily remedies; and unless we put confidence in them and depend upon them, we shall never be able to overcome human errors."

   St. Augustine: "It is not imputed to you as a sin if you are ignorant against your will, but if you neglect to learn that of which you are ignorant. Nor is it imputed as a sin that you do not bind up your wounded limbs, but [mark these words] that you despise Him Who is willing to cure you. These are your own sins; for no man is deprived of the knowledge of how to seek with benefit to himself." In another place: "Therefore if the soul is ignorant what it is to do, it proceeds from this, that it has not yet learned; but it will receive this knowledge if it has made a good use of what it has already received; for it has received in this that it can piously and diligently seek, if it will;" [mark the words] "it has received power to seek piously and diligently."

So that every one receives at least the remote grace to seek; and if he makes good use of this, he will receive the proximate grace to perform that which at first he could not do. St. Augustine founds all this on the principle, that no man sins in doing that which he cannot help; therefore, if a man sins in anything, he sins in that he might have avoided it by the grace of God, which is wanting to no man: "Who sins in that which cannot in any way be helped? But a man does sin, therefore it might have been helped." "But only by His aid, Who cannot be deceived." An evident reason, by which it becomes quite clear . . . [that when we speak of the sin of the obstinate], that if the grace necessary to observe the Commandments were wanting, there would be no sin.

St. Thomas teaches the same in several places. In one place, in explaining the text, "Who wills all men to be saved," [1 Tim. 2: 4] he says, "and therefore grace is wanting to no man, but [as far as God is concerned] is communicated to all; as the sun is present even to the blind." So that as the sun sheds its light upon all, and only those are deprived of it who voluntarily blind themselves to its rays, so God communicates to all men grace to observe the law; and men are lost simply because they will not avail themselves of it. In another place: "It belongs to Divine Providence to provide all men with what is necessary to salvation, if only there be no impediment on man's part." [De Ver. q. 14, a. 2] If, then, God gives all men the graces necessary for salvation, and if actual grace is necessary to overcome temptations, and to observe the Commandments, we must necessarily conclude that He gives all men either immediately or mediately actual grace to do good; and when mediately, no further grace is necessary to enable them to put in practice the means [such as prayer] of obtaining actual proximate grace. In another place, on the words of St. John's Gospel, "No man cometh to Me", etc., he says, "If the heart of man be not lifted up, it is from no defect on the part of Him Who draws it, who as far as He is concerned, never fails; but from an impediment caused by him who is being drawn." Scotus says the same: "God wills to save all men, so far as rests with Him, and with His antecedent will, by which He has given them the ordinary gifts necessary to salvation." The Council of Cologne in 1536: "Although no one is converted except he is drawn by the Father, yet let no one pretend to excuse himself on the plea of not being drawn. He stands at the gate, and knocks by the internal and the external Word."


Nor did the Fathers speak without warrant of the Holy Scriptures; for God in several places most clearly assures us that He does not neglect to assist us with His grace, if we are willing to avail ourselves of it either for perseverance, if we are in a state of justification, or for conversion, if we are in sin.

    "I stand at the gate and knock; if any man shall hear My voice and open to Me the gate, I will come in to him." [Apoc. 3: 20] Bellarmine reasons well on this text, that our Lord Who knows that man cannot open without His grace, would knock in vain at the door of his heart, unless He had first conferred on him the grace to open when he will. This is exactly what St. Thomas teaches in explaining the text; he says that God gives every one the grace necessary for salvation, that he may correspond to it if he will: "God by His most liberal will gives grace to every one that prepares himself: Behold I stand at the door and knock. And therefore the grace of God is wanting to no one, but communicates itself to all men, as far as it is concerned." In another place he says, "It is the business of God's Providence to provide every one with what is necessary to salvation." So that as St. Ambrose says: "The Lord knocks at the gate, because He truly wishes to enter; if He does not enter, or if after entering He does not remain in our souls, it is because we prevent Him from entering, or drive Him out when He has entered: Because He comes and knocks at the door, He always wishes to enter; but it is through us that He does not always go in, nor always remain."

  "What is there that I ought to do more to My vineyard that I have not done to it? Was it that I expected that it should bring forth grapes, and it hath brought forth wild grapes?" [Is. 5: 4] Bellarmine says on these words, "If He had not given the power to bring forth grapes, how could God say, "expected?" and if God had not given to all men the grace necessary for salvation, He could not have said to the Jews, 'What is there that I ought to have done more?" For they could have answered, that if they had not yielded fruit, it was for lack of necessary assistance. Bellarmine says the same on the words of our Lord: "How often would I have gathered together thy children, and thou wouldst not?"  [matt. 23: 37] "How did He wish to be sought for by the unwilling unless He helps them that they may be able to be willing?"
    "We have received Thy mercy, O God, in the midst of Thy temple." [Ps. 47: 10] On this St. Bernard observes: "Mercy is in the midst of the temple, not in any hole and corner, because there is no acceptance of persons with God; it is placed in public, it is offered to all, and no one is without it, except he who refuses it."

   "Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness? Knowest thou not that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance?" [Rom. 2: 4]  You see that it is through his own malice that the sinner is not converted, because he despises the riches of the Divine goodness which calls him, and never ceases to move him to conversion by His grace. God hates sin; but at the same time never ceases to love the sinful soul while it remains on earth, and always gives it the assistance it requires for salvation: "But Thou sparest all, because they are Thine, O Lord, Who lovest souls." [Wisd. 11: 27] Hence we see, says Bellarmine, that God does not refuse grace to resist temptations to any sinner, however obstinate and blinded he may be: "Assistance to avoid new sin is always at hand for all men, either immediately or mediately [i.e., by means of prayer], so that they may ask further aid from God, by the help of which they will avoid sin." Here-----we may quote what God says by Ezechiel: "As I live, saith the Lord God, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live." [Ezek. 33: 11] St. Peter says the same: "He beareth patiently for your sakes, not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance." [2 Peter 3: 9] If, therefore, God wishes that all should actually be converted, it must necessarily be held that He gives to all the grace which they need for actual conversion.



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