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 2, Part 2

Other Fathers have taught the same doctrine. So St. Jerome, "We are not forced by necessity to be either virtuous or vicious; for where there is necessity, there is neither condemnation nor crown." Tertullian: "For a law would not be given to him who had it not in his power to observe it duly." Marcus the Hermit: "Hidden grace assists us; but it depends on us to do or not to do good according to our strength." So also St. Irenaeus, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Chrysostom, and others.

   Nor is there any difficulty in what St. Thomas says, that grace is denied to some persons, in punishment of Original Sin: "To whomsoever the assistance of grace is given, it is given through simple mercy; but from those to whom it is not given, it is withheld justly in punishment of previous sin, or at least of Original Sin, as Augustine says." For, as Cardinal Gotti welt observes, St. Augustine and St. Thomas are speaking of actual proximate grace to satisfy the precepts of faith and charity, of which, indeed, St. Thomas is speaking in this place; but, for all this, they do not intend to deny that God gives every man interior grace, by means of which he may at any rate obtain by prayer the grace of faith, and of salvation; since, as we have already seen, these holy Doctors do not doubt that God grants to every man at least remote grace to satisfy the precepts. Here we may add the authority of St. Prosper, who says, "All men enjoy some measure of heavenly teaching; and though the measure of grace be small, it is sufficient to be a remedy for some, and to be a testimony for all."

   Nor could it be understood otherwise; for if it were true that any had sinned for want of even remote sufficient grace, withheld through Original Sin being imputed to them as a fault, it would follow that the liberty of will, which by a figure of speech we are said to have had in the sin of Adam, would be sufficient to make us actual sinners. But this cannot be said, as it is expressly condemned in the first proposition of Michael Baius, who said, "That liberty which caused sin to be voluntary and free in its cause-----namely, in Original Sin, and in the liberty of Adam when sinning-----is sufficient to [cause] formal sin [in us], and to make us deserve punishment." Against this proposition we may make use of what Bellarmine said, that to commit a personal sin distinct from the sin of Adam a new exertion of free will is requisite, and a free will distinct from that of Adam, otherwise there is no distinct sin; according to the doctrine of St. Thomas, who teaches, "For a personal sin, absolute personal liberty is requisite." Further, with respect to the Baptized, the Council of Trent has declared that in them there remains nothing to condemn: "God hates nothing in the regenerate; for there is no condemnation to them who are truly buried with Christ by Baptism unto death." And it is added that concupiscence is not left in us as a punishment, "but for our trial; and it cannot harm those who do not consent to it." On the contrary, the concupiscence left in us would do exceedingly great harm to man, if, on account of it, God denied him even the remote grace necessary to obtain salvation.

    From all this, several theologians conclude that to say that God refuses to anyone sufficient help to enable him to keep the Commandments would be contrary to the faith, because in that case God would oblige us to impossibilities. 
. . .  this doctrine, that a man when fallen sins, not having liberty to do otherwise than to choose what sin he will commit, and is necessitated to commit some sin, justly offends Monsignor de Saleon, Archbishop of Vienne, who, in his book Jansenismus Redivivus, writes as follows: "Who will endure to hear that a man once fallen, being deprived of grace, can enjoy no other liberty than that of choosing one sin rather than another, being necessitated to sin in some way." So that a criminal condemned to death, who has no other liberty allowed him than to choose whether he will die by the sword, by poison, or by fire, may be said, when he has made his choice, to die a voluntary and free death. And how can sin be imputed to a man who might sin in some way or another? The 67th of the condemned Propositions of Baius is as follows: "Man sins damnably even in that which he does through necessity." How can there be liberty, where there is necessity to sin? Jansenius answers, that the liberty of will, which by a figure of speech we are said to have had in Adam's sin, is sufficient to make us sinners. But this too was condemned in Baius' first proposition, "That liberty;" etc., as we have seen above.

    . . . in the Holy Scriptures God is often said to do what He only permits; so that if we would not blaspheme with Calvin, and say that God positively destines and determines some persons to sin, we must say that God permits some sinners, in penalty of their faults, to be on the one hand assailed by vehement temptations [which is the evil from which we pray God to deliver us when we say, "Lead us not into temptation," and, on the other hand, that they remain morally abandoned in their sin; so that their conversion, and the resistance they should make to temptation, although neither impossible nor desperate, is yet, through their faults and their bad habits, very difficult; since, in their laxity of life, they have only very rare and we desires and motions to resist their bad habit and to regain the way of salvation. And this the imperfect obstinacy of the hardened sinner which St. Thomas describes: "He is hardened who cannot easily co-operate in his escape from sin and this is imperfect obstinacy, because a man may be obstinate in this life, if he has a  so fixed upon sin, that no motions towards arise, except very weak ones." On the one side, the mind is obscured, the will is hardened against God's inspirations, and attached to the pleasures of sense, so as to despise and feel disgust for spiritual blessings; the sensual passions and appetites reign in the soul through the bad habits that have been acquired; on the other side, the illuminations and the callings of God are, by its own fault, rendered scarcely efficacious to move the soul, which has so despised them, and made so bad a use of them, that it even feels a certain aversion towards them, because it does not want to be disturbed in its sensual gratifications. All these things constitute moral abandonment; and when a sinner has once fallen into it, it is only with the utmost difficulty that he can escape from his miserable state, and bring himself to live a well-regulated life.

In order to escape, and pass at once form such disorder to a state of salvation, a great and extraordinary grace would be requisite; but God seldom confers such a grace on these obstinate sinners. Sometimes he gives it, says St. Thomas, and chooses them for vessels of mercy, as the Apostle calls them, in order to make known His goodness; but to the rest He justly refuses it, and leaves them in their unhappy state, in order to show forth His justice and power:

 "Sometimes," says the Angel of the Schools, "out of the abundance of His goodness He prevents with His assistance even those who put a hindrance in the way of His grace, and converts them, etc. And as He does not enlighten all the blind, nor cure all the sick, so neither does He assist all who place an impediment to His grace, so as to convert them. "This is what the Apostle means when he says that God, "to show forth His anger, and to make His power known, endured with much patience the vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction, that He might show the riches of His glory upon the vessels of mercy, which He hath prepared unto glory." [Rom. 9: 22] Then he adds, "But since out of the number of those who are involved in the same sins, there are some to whom God gives the grace of conversion, while others He only endures, or allows to go on in the course of things, we are not to inquire the reason why He converts some and not others. For the Apostle says, "Has not the potter power over the clay, to make of the same mass one vessel to honor; and another to dishonor? [Ibid., 21]

  We do not then deny [to bring this point to a conclusion] that there is such a thing as the moral abandonment of some obstinate sinners, so that their conversion is morally impossible; that is to say, very difficult. And this concession is abundantly sufficient for the laudable object which our opponents have in defending their opinion, which is to restrain evil-doers, and to induce them to consider, before they come to fall into such a deplorable state. But then it is cruelty [as Petrocorensis well says] to take from them all hope, and entirely to shut against them the way of salvation, by the doctrine that they have fallen into so complete an abandonment as to be deprived of all actual grace to enable them to avoid fresh sins, and to be converted; at any rate, mediately by means of prayer [which is not refused to any man while he lives . . .], whereby they can afterwards obtain abundant help for placing themselves in a state of salvation: since the fear of total abandonment would not only lead them to despair, but also to give themselves more completely to their vices, in the belief that they are altogether destitute of grace; so that they have no hope left of escaping eternal damnation.